I wonder about this almost every day. Do the Habs’ brass actually have a plan for the future? I sincerely don’t know. Today I’ll be talking about the Canadiens’ future plan at the Center position. Here ‘s what we know.
The following players, barring trades (or further injuries) will all be in the starting lineup next year:
Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Lars Eller
I didn’t include Scott Gomez in that list because I think there is little to no chance he is back on the team next season. I can understand if the team decides to wait until next year to begin buying him out (in order to save money on the cap), but to go any longer than that would be basically saying to the fans, “we have no intention of winning until his contract ends.” It’s as simple as that. If they had any balls at all, they would just put him in the minors till his contract expires in 2014. Glen Sather has been doing it with Wade Redden for the last two years, freeing up 6.5m a year of cap space in the process. Geoff Molson would have to pay Scott Gomez 7.3m a year to play in the AHL, but at least his chances of making that money back in the playoffs would be greatly improved, no?
The center situation is an interesting one for me. It appears clear that Desharnais is a quality top 6 center. His work ethic is top shelf, he has great vision on the ice, and he’s proven night in, night out, that his small frame is not as big a concern that many would have imagined. The amount of times that he comes out of a battle along the boards with the puck is shocking, really. In the end, I see no reason to believe that he will do anything but continue to improve.
I feel the same way about Lars Eller. Here I see a player who consistently makes smart decisions with the puck. He doesn’t have the overall skillset that a Jordan Staal has, but they play a similar style of game. In a perfect world, Eller would be a lock at the no.3 center spot for years to come. However, a lot of that hinges on the team having a real no.1 center, which we do not currently have.
I like Tomas Plekanec, really I do. He’s a player who you can count on to deliver his all, every night. Unfortunately, his all, which includes his professionalism and dedication to the team, is simply not a good enough fit for this team. I know that sounds harsh but consider this. When the Canadiens traded Halak for Eller 2 seasons ago, their plan was what exactly? To mold this 13th overall pick into a winger? I seriously doubt it.
No, I think they were thinking that they got a guy who could eventually be a bigger, better version of Plekanec. Today, all the signs are there: Like Plex he plays a smart two-way game, sees the ice well and has an excellent work ethic. Just like Plekanec he’s starting off as the 3rd line center, but unlike Plekanec, that’s WHERE HE SHOULD STAY.
What this team needs (and always seems to need) is a top line center. What we’ve done over the last 15 years or so, is promote guys who have 2nd/3rd line talent, to the top spot, because there’s nobody better. We’ve been fooling ourselves into believing that players like Plekanec, Gomez, Koivu, Ribeiro, etc., were actually No.1’s, but they were far from it.
So my answer is simple: focus all your energy on procuring a first line center. I’m not saying jump the gun and trade for him this year, or even next. I’m just saying HAVE A PLAN. Maybe it starts at the upcoming draft. Two centers, Mikhail Grigerenko and Alex Galchenyuk jump out as players that have top line center potential written all over them. If I was able to grab one of these two players I would do it, without hesitation. After all, what better way to build a team than through the draft. Also, it’s not like teams in the NHL are that big on trading away their best centers. It’s usually the kind of player you’d like to hang onto.
The other great thing about the draft is that there is no bidding war: if he’s available, you just take him. When you trade for a top line center, the cost isn’t just high because he’s good, it’s exorbinately high because EVERYONE WANTS HIM. We saw this season the Columbus Blue Jackets trade one of their best young star wingers Jaboc Voracek, their top pick which turned into Jordan Staal clone Sean Couturier, and a 3rd round pick for center, Jeff Carter. Carter is good, no doubt about it, but when you trade young quality players for a guy that is signed to 5.273m/11 year contract, you better hope he’s more than good. Last time, I checked he hasn’t been.
No, the smart money is doing what all the current champions have done: Drafted a winner. My plan at center would be this:
· Put all my eggs into a drafting a top flight center
· Trade Plekanec when said center is ready, for a veteran, shutdown D
· Keep Desharnais and Eller at the two and three spot
· Stick to the plan
And that’s the most important part about all this. If there’s a plan (and I’m not convinced there is) than let it play out. The fans deserve that at the very least.
Tomorrow I'll be discussing the situation at wing. It will also be a doozy...