Montreal Canadiens: Is Centre Depth Good Enough For Deep Playoff Run?

Feb 20, 2021; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Montreal Canadiens Nick Suzuki Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 20, 2021; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Montreal Canadiens Nick Suzuki Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports /

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has pretty much pushed all his cards into the middle of the table on this season.

When most teams were avoiding spending money during the offseason, Bergevin committed over $100 million in salaries to bring in Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry and Michael Frolik as well as extend the contracts of Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher.

When the team hit its first rough patch, Bergevin fired head coach Claude Julien, assistant coach Kirk Muller and goalie coach Stephane Waite.

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The next person to be heading out the door if things don’t work out will be Marc Bergevin. So, he needs this team to get things together and get into the postseason and then make a little noise in this North Division. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets look like really strong teams, so the Habs will have their hands full trying to go on a deep playoff run with those opponents standing in the way.

While Bergevin upgrade almost every position in the offseason, he did not change anything at centre ice. In fact, he traded away Max Domi who would have been the team’s only insurance policy as a centre on the top three lines.

With Domi in Columbus, the Canadiens are forced to make it work with Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Phillip Danault as the team’s top three centres.

Suzuki and Kotkaniemi have plenty of skill but are still young. They look good on the ice, but their stats aren’t exactly jaw dropping numbers, especially when you consider who their opponents are likely to be in a playoff series.

The other three Canadian teams in a playoff spot at the moment are the Maple Leafs, Jets and Edmonton Oilers. The Maple Leafs have Auston Matthews and John Tavares at centre ice, while the Jets can go with Mark Scheifele on one line and Pierre-Luc Dubois on the next. The Oilers top everyone with a pair of Hart Trophy candidates in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

No matter how you rank those players, there is no question they are all better than anyone the Canadiens can trot out at centre ice.

Suzuki leads the Habs centres in scoring with five goals and 17 points in 24 games. Kotkaniemi is next with two goals and 12 points and Danault is yet to score a goal this season, though he has ten assists. Evans has four points in 23 contests.

That is a total of nine goals from the middle of the ice and we are almost halfway through this shortened season. (These stats are before last night’s games but I live in Halifax and the game literally started just after midnight here.)

A lot of Stanley Cup winning teams have tremendous depth down the middle of the ice. You think of Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeni Kuznetsov and way back to Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg.

Suzuki looks like a budding star, but is he ready to be the first line centre on a Stanley Cup winning team? Kotkaniemi has plenty of skill but at 20, is he ready to take on a huge role in a lengthy playoff run? Can Danault provide some offence to go with his great defensive play?

It doesn’t look promising for this season as the three have combined for seven goals. With Kotkaniemi moving up the lineup last night, will he break out and give the team more scoring from the middle of the ice?

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If so, the Canadiens are far more dangerous but if not, they might need to be looking outside the organization for a scoring centre before the trade deadline.