Monday, 22 September 2014

Canadiens won't have an enforcer, will use 'team toughness' concept in 2014-15

As relates to the toughness-goon question, and whether the Canadiens will import an enforcer at this late stage to start the season, Dave Morrissette of TVA Sports asked Marc Bergevin that very question during their interview.  Mr. Bergevin said that he discussed this with Michel Therrien, and they feel comfortable going into the year with the roster they have.  He says Michel Therrien wants to roll four lines, and that they'll use a 'team toughness' concept.

So it seems that Marc Bergevin isn't biding his time to pick up an enforcer from a cap-strapped team, as we we sort of assuming.  He mentioned that the team will have more size generally, and specifically referred to Dale Weise as one example.  The simple subtraction of Daniel Brière, Brian Gionta and even Josh Gorges, all of who will be replaced by players of a larger stature, will ensure the team isn't such a small team, such an inviting target.

This team toughness approach doesn't worry me when it comes to playing a team like the Sharks if they dress John Scott, for example, he'll know he doesn't have a partner to dance with, will generally be unable to catch up to anyone with the puck, and any of his three or four minutes of icetime will be clearly in our advantage.  What I'm more concerned with are the teams like the Bruins and Flyers (as always), teams that have some behemoths who actually play for them and who we know from empirical evidence are much more tame when a Douglas Murray and George Parros is cruising the ice occasionally.

I'm also concerned that our pugilists aren't up to snuff, even to the moderate level we've decided to aspire to.  Brandon Prust is a willing combatant, and is very skilled at it.  I'm not as fatalistic as everyone seems to be that he's 'done'.  Sure he had a difficult season last year, but that doesn't mean his career is over, or his shoulders are shot, as a lot of aspiring Dr. Recchis are quick to assume.  I'd just like him to tone it down a bit, he has nothing to prove.  He can answer the bell, but maybe not go looking for trouble, or starting it, or accommodating young up-and-comers who want to make a name for themselves.

Travis Moen and Dale Weise aren't very good scrappers.  Travis is big and tough, but he's getting up in years and lost a bit of nasty.  The elephant in the room is whether his next concussion will be his last, or even whether the last one should have been.  Two seasons ago, Travis had a poor season, and caught some heat for not 'stepping up' sometimes, but that changed last season, he seemed more ready to take up some of the load.  I deduced, from what insiders were saying and from his behaviour, that he didn't mind being a bit player behind a George Parros, as long as he had support by the likes of Brandon, Douglas Murray, Jarred Tinordi, etc.  It'll be interesting to see if he'll be reluctant once again to tangle with heavyweights, whether he decides that this isn't his job, that he'll take on a Johnny Boychuk or an Evander Kane, but a Matt Kassian is out of his league, and not part of his job description.

Dale Weise had a big impact on the team upon his arrival last season, and it was discussed at length how he's best used as a fourth-line forechecker and energy player, but was miscast when asked to be a scrapper by Mike Gillis, Alain Vigneault and John Tortorella.  It's strange that he couldn't refocus his game once Tom Sestito joined the team, or that he wasn't allowed to.  In any case, Dale can cancel out another team's middleweight, he can answer the bell, but that's about the extent of his expected contribution to the cause.  Which could/should be enough, hopefully.

Another player this team toughness philosophy will affect is Jarred Tinordi.  This will play in his favour, in that in his training camp battle with Nathan Beaulieu for the available third-pairing job, he can bring a lot of snarl to the table.  If we had an extra Mike McPhee or Chris Nilan on the roster now, Nathan would have the inside track, but as it is, Jarred has that extra arrow in his quiver.

One final point is the icetime given to Brandon Prust.  He was brought to sign as a free agent with the Habs when Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin showed up on his doorstep on July 1 with a generous contract offer, and probably a lot of promises as to the importance of his role with the team, and how he'd be used.  We see this somewhat in how Michel Therrien doesn't hesitate to move him up the lineup when possible, whether with the kids for a while two seasons ago, or to a higher line when injuries strike, or to kill penalties.

I was worried a little bit about whether Brandon might be bound for, almost locked into a fourth-line role, and what that might do for his morale.  Michel Bergeron on L'Antichambre used to repeat that you can't put a heart-and-soul player like Brandon Prust, a guy who gives you everything and sacrifices himself every game for his teammates, on a fourth line.  He'd argue that he had to be on a third-line and be given a leadership role equal to his contribution.

We see the importance of Brandon Prust on the team when watching him interact with his teammates on 24CH.  He's obviously a beloved teammate, one of the ringleaders.  He's forever tussling and play-fighting with Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, P.K., always involved in the pranks going on in the dressing room.  In that context, you can grasp the validity of Michel Bergeron's observation even better.

My fears are allayed somewhat by the 'roll four lines' philosophy the team will use.  The fourth line won't be the mismatched cast of horrors from three years ago, an indigestible Aaron Palushaj-Petteri Nokelainen-Frédéric St. Denis-Brad Staubitz-Rajesh Koothrappali goulash.  It won't be centred by Ryan White and used sparingly.  The addition of a credible checking centre in Manny Malhotra, and potential linemates Dale Weise and Michaël Bournival means they'll get around twelve minutes a night, not three or four.

Add in penalty kill time and Brandon will be kept busy, will get his minutes and won't be embittered as is feared by Michel Bergeron, by being shunted aside until it's time to square off with a Colton Orr.  He'll be an integral part of the team, even on a fourth line.

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