Monday, 26 August 2013

Les Canadiens sign Douglas Murray to a one-year contract, plug a lot of holes in one fell swoop

There is some controversy regarding the Canadiens' acquisition of free agent defenceman Douglas Murray, but I don’t understand what the objections could be. He wasn’t signed because he’s Shea Weber, he was signed because his skillset complements what the Canadiens have already on the blue line. He fits in the puzzle really well. We get a big tough crease-clearer, what we’ve been pining for, at a reasonable cost for one year. No massive contract needed, no skin off our nose. If he doesn’t work out, we’ll be able to flip him for a draft pick.

The announcement makes Raphaël Diaz more effective and valuable.  We spent the entire last season moaning about how our defencemen were too small, they were all puck movers, we needed to improve our mix.  Well, we did that, we bought out Tomas Kaberle, let Yannick Weber go as a free agent, re-signed Davis Drewiske and added Douglas Murray.

Raphaël Diaz can be paired with a more physical defensive defenceman who can do more mucking in the corners, and feed him the puck when it's time to counter-attack.  They'll cover each other's weaknesses and can be an effective pair.

So we have Andrei Markov, P.K. and Raphaël Diaz to move the puck and work the powerplay, Josh Gorges, Francis Bouillon, Davis Drewiske and now Douglas Murray to play more defensively.  Alexei Emelin will add to this latter group halfway through the season.

In Hamilton, getting ready are Jarred Tinordi, Greg Pateryn to pitch in defensively, and Nathan Beaulieu and possibly Magnus Nygren if we need help in the offensive zone.

So with Douglas Murray we have a much better mix, a much better complement of skills.  I’m sure there are more talented d-men out there with better numbers, but that’s not the issue. With Daddy Campbell as the NHL Executive VP of Hockey Operations (what madness), Mr. Murray will play an important role on the team.

When the going gets absurd, and the refs are trying to 'not inject themselves in the game', and 'letting them play' and 'letting the game flow', and elbows are flying, we now have options, some players who can deal with the rough stuff.  George Parros was brought in on a reasonable one-year deal, at little cost to the organization, in that the trade to the Panthers cost us a seventh-round pick next season, and a throw in minor-leaguer.  He will serve as the heavyweight policeman.  He knows his job and will neutralize the other team's Designated Puncher when necessary.

Mr. Murray is also able to take on heavyweights, based on his history, but we assume he'll only do that in rare occasions.  Still, the Threat of Murray will exist and cool the tempers of various Wayne Simmondses and Ryan Malones and Dion Phaneufs, the tough guys who feel tough when confronted with Brian Gionta and Yannick Weber.  We can expect him to play a regular shift, so he'll be in the lineup every game, compared to George Parros who may sit out a significant number of games.

We also have Brandon Prust, who now can concentrate more on being an 'energy', gritty player, and who'll still fight 10-15 times next season, but won't have to answer the bell against a heavyweight every night.  He'll instill respect, but won't get worn down so much as the season progresses.  I suspect he'll be more effective that way.

Ryan White can also focus on the same role, an energy player who'll be the middleweight, can adjust an opponent's attitude when necessary (and hello to you, Johnny Boychuk), but doesn't have to right all wrongs and take on all comers, like he did two seasons ago along with Brad Staubitz.

Which brings us to Travis Moen.  Rightly or wrongly, he was expected, at least by the fans, to do the heavy lifting along with Brandon Prust when it came to pugilism.  He's a big boy at 6'2" and 220 lbs, and has been effective doing this before, but was clearly uncomfortable and unwilling to assume that role last season.  We all suspect his recent concussion history, and his nothing-left-to-prove veteran status made him very cautious.  Now, with two heavyweights on his side, and with a respectable cadre of physical players, that expectation is removed, his load is reduced.  We can hope that he can take his fair share, and can focus on being an effective fourth-liner, be defensively responsible, throw some hits, and answer the bell when appropriate.

And now the mix on our team is much improved.  It is much better suited to the conditions that prevail currently in the NHL.  When we meet the Red Wings and they want to skate against us, we can adjust our roster and do that.  When the Senators or the Leafs or Bruins want to slash and crosscheck their way to a win, we'll be able to counter that too.

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