most of, if not all of the pieces in place after a busy offseason, there’s still
plenty to talk about. Over the past little while, I’ve received lots of
questions from Habs fans regarding a variety of topics. Rather than just
give my 2 cents of each topic, I’ve asked some of our other writers for their
opinions. In this mailbag, thoughts on the #2 centre, as well as Max
Pacioretty and Mike Cammalleri’s roles for the upcoming season.
Joining me to answer these questions are Mike Bitton, Fred Doyon, and Matt
Despite the team’s situation with the cap, who would you rather
have as the 2nd line C? Koivu, or Plekanec?
Mike Bitton: Although Saku Koivu is more proven as a top 2 center on an
NHL team, I would rather have Tomas Plekanec manning the second line behind
Scott Gomez. Bob Gainey had to face the fact that his team had an aging,
probably dysfunctional core, and that his team is going to live and die with the
production of his young core players like Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Guillaume
Latendresse and Carey Price. With local stars like Koivu and Alex Kovalev out of
the way, these players have been given the opportunity to establish themselves
as top level players at the NHL level. Plekanec has three consecutive 20-goal
seasons under his belt and demonstrated his offensive potential two seasons ago,
having scored 69 points on Montreal’s top line. I think this challenge is a
necessary part of his development. I also think that Gainey was right in
ejecting the core of the “old team” and starting anew. Unfortunately, this made
the Koivu non-move a necessary one.
Fred Doyon: Plekanec is my pick. Like many others, I was kind of tired
of Koivu being the leader and captain. I liked his leadership, but I also
think that this team needed a brand new start. I also believe that
Plekanec had a bad (really bad) season in 2008-09 and I’m confident that he’ll
rebound. And I just cannot go without thinking about the cap space,
Plekanec wins again. With the 3 aspects mentioned, Plekanec is a better
fit on the 2nd line.
Matt Godbout: No doubt about it…Koivu. This is a question that goes
without asking. One of those "who would you rather have Jean Beliveau or Sean
Avery?" Koivu is the captain, has produced over his entire career and inspires
people who not only don’t play the game, but don’t know anything about it. Can
Plekanec do any of that?
Brian La Rose: Considering there’s always some creative ways to work around
the cap, I’d have to say Koivu here. The leadership debate aside, you know
what you’re going to get with Koivu while Plekanec remains somewhat of an
enigma. Plekanec certainly is younger and has more upside but I’d take a
guaranteed 50 points rather than a could be 40, 50, or 60 point player.
The other concern with Plekanec for me is that he struggled in a contract year,
and with him signing a 1 year deal last week, he’s in another contract year.
Some thrive under that type of pressure, while others fold. I’m not sure
I’m confident that he’ll rebound into the 65+ point player of 2 years ago.
Also, Koivu is the better raw playmaker than Plekanec and considering his
linemates could be Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn, a pair of goal scorers, his
setup skills would have been quite beneficial.
Question 2: Where should Max Pacioretty start the season, Hamilton, or
Mike Bitton: Max Pacioretty may very well be ready to play NHL hockey
this October but his waiver ineligibility makes him likely to start the season
in Hamilton. Both Kyle Chipchura and Matt D’Agostini can not be sent to Hamilton
without hitting the waiver wire and this means that their spots in Montreal are
virtually reserved. Barring an extremely impressive showing from Pacioretty at
training camp and in the preseason, I expect to see him sent back to the AHL
where he can gain experience as a valuable player on the Bulldogs. He may as
well get the experience and ice time there, rather than being restricted to a
fourth line or depth role in Montreal. The Canadiens have rushed a lot of
prospects lately and I would like to see them give a big power forward like
Pacioretty the time to develop and grow in the AHL before getting a permanent
spot on the big club.
Fred Doyon: In my opinion, Max Pacioretty is too good a prospect and should
at least start the season in Montreal. I’d even say that I see him playing
with Gomez and Gionta on the top line. He would add size to this line and
could develop faster. But, if Bob is too tight against the cap and is
concerned that he’d lose D’Agostini or Chipchura on waivers (which I think could
happen), then maybe Pacioretty could be sent to Hamilton. Then again, if
he’s playing really well, he could force Gainey to move a player and make a spot
for him on the roster.
Matt Godbout: Not only should Max Pacioretty be in Montreal, he should be on
the top 2 lines and able to produce. Gainey has cleaned house this summer and
now size on the wing is at a premium in Montreal; no better time for a budding
power forward to show his stuff and take the next step. I would be lying if I
said I expected less than 20 goals and 50 points from Patches this season…but
he expects that much out of himself as well.
Brian La Rose: Hamilton without question. Of the players that are on
the bubble, he’s the most expensive and doesn’t add to the team’s bonus cushion
like Sergei Kostitsyn does. With the depth the team has right now, there’s
no need to rush him and he could certainly stand to benefit from being the go-to
guy with the Bulldogs, at least to start the season. Is he good enough to
make the team? Probably, but allowing him to hone his skills in the AHL
with some of the other top prospects is in my opinion the most beneficial option
for him at this time.
Question 3: Should Mike Cammalleri play with Gionta and Gomez, or lead
the 2nd line?
Mike Bitton: Perhaps on the power play. At even strength, I would
use Cammalleri on the second line with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn,
while giving Guillaume Latendresse the spot on the top line. Those combinations
give the Canadiens two threatening offensive lines, while giving responsibility
to experienced and (relatively) unexperienced players alike. I know that some
would rather see Latendresse stick on the third line with his friend, Lapierre,
but the fact is that Latendresse’s upside is much greater than Lapierre’s and
that he deserves a chance to prove himself on a scoring line. I do not feel that
youngsters like Sergei Kostitsyn, Matt D’Agostini and Max Pacioretty belong on
one of the top two lines of a healthy roster.
Fred Doyon: Very tough question to answer. In terms of keeping your
promises (I think Gainey told Cammalleri when he signed that he would play with
Gomez), Martin will have to use him on the first line. This line could be
split sometime during the season though. On the other hand, I’d like to
see him on the 2nd line with Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. With
Pacioretty or Latendresse on the first, that would definitely improve the 2nd
line and balance the 2 scoring units. Cammalleri-Gomez-Gionta should be
the first PP unit though no matter what.
Matt Godbout: Cammalleri will at least start on the second line, but the 2nd
line could quickly become the first line as well. Mike can play anywhere at the
forward position and still be a consistent threat, so if the top line falters he
could either be thrust into top line duty for a shot in the arm or his 2nd unit
could overtake Gomez et al for the honors. Let’s not forget, Cammalleri has some
potentially explosive scoring on his "2nd" line in Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas
Brian La Rose: The old debate of whether to throw your eggs in one basket
strikes again. I’d prefer to see him play a regular shift on the team’s
second line, as you have to believe Gomez and Gionta will be focused on
rekindling their chemistry first and foremost. This means there’s a good
chance whoever’s with them won’t see the opportunities they probably should.
If that’s indeed the case, then he should play on the 2nd line where he’ll have
the opportunity to be the go-to guy. That being said, if the Habs need a
goal in the dying minutes, I want the best players playing together which means
he should play on the top unit in those instances.
If you have a question you’d like to see answered in a future edition of the
mailbag, please e-mail me at