HabsWorld.net -- 

In this edition of the mailbag, our writers once again tackle a trio of
pressing issues.  Was the call to sit Subban the right one to make, is
Pacioretty the solution to the scoring woes on the 2nd line and if the Habs
decide to spend the potential savings from Markov being placed on LTIR, what type of player(s)
should the money be spent on?

Joining me to answer these questions in this mailbag are Matt Dilworth and
Louis Moustakas.

Question 1: Did Jacques Martin make the right move in sitting P.K.
Subban for 3 games?

Matt Dilworth: This is a tough question to answer, as we fans are likely
missing key information about the whole situation.  On the one hand, the
Canadiens won those 3 games, and we were shown Yannick Weber’s potential as a
quality NHL defenceman.  That being said, at the time of this writing, P.K.
seems to have lost a step and some confidence on the ice as a result of his
benching.  But before we jump to any conclusions, I think we need to ask
ourselves whether this is truly a result of Martin’s actions or if P.K.’s
struggles had started long before the benching. Did being a healthy scratch
simply draw more attention to his declining performance?  P.K.’s mark on the
game is so much more than what shows up on the scoresheet, but from a points
perspective, his 3 points in the 15 games prior to his benching weren’t what
we’ve come to expect from the rookie.  I think Martin rightfully identified some
problems in Subban’s game, and with Weber needing some ice time, wisely sat him
out.  I personally didn’t think that P.K. needed a 3-game break, but I firmly
believe that he will return to form and will be better off for the experience.

Brian La Rose: It was a gutsy call and one that I agreed with.  His
play had been slipping and it came around the same time that we found out that
veterans weren’t too impressed with the way Subban had been carrying himself in
the room.  Sitting Subban when they did basically dealt with both issues at
once, killing two birds with one stone so to speak.  No one player should
be above the team, and this hopefully knocked him down the pedestal a couple of
steps.  Hockey wise, it’s not uncommon to bench a rookie, look at Boston
and Tyler Seguin earlier in the week.  The only difference there was that
Boston sugarcoated it by claiming he was ill, Seguin’s reaction dispelled that
notion pretty quickly though.  If the #2 pick can be sat down, so can
Subban.  His play is starting to improve each game as he gets back into the
flow of things, which is what the benching was supposed to do on the hockey side
of things.  3 games seemed a little long, but as Matt mentions, that helped
the Habs give Weber a legitimate look which must be factored as well.  Time
will tell if it truly was the right call but so far, so good.

Louis Moustakas: Yes. In the most recent
Around
The Boards
column, I pointed out a few numbers that, I feel, demonstrate
that Subban’s offensive contributions are not where they should be. In short,
in spite of leading all defensemen in powerplay ice time, he had not scored a
point with the man advantage in 15 games. On top of that, his defensive play
had been slipping and some of his behaviors seem to have rubbed some teammates
the wrong way. Obviously, as Matt points out, we do not hold all the facts,
but letting the rookie take a step back and gain some perspective can hardly
be a bad thing. His confidence may be bruised for a time, but overall I
believe that, in time, the experience will be a beneficial one for the young blueliner. 

Question 2: Is Max Pacioretty the solution to the 2nd line’s
scoring woes?

Matt Dilworth: Not yet.  As much as I like Pacioretty, and the fact that
he’s been tearing up the AHL with 17 goals in 27 games, I don’t think he’s the
answer at this time.  His size and skill ensure that he will be a force to be
reckoned with, but I don’t think that it will be this year.  His development was
hindered right off the bat when he was thrust into a role with the Canadiens
that he was ill-prepared for.  The organization has tried to fix that this year,
by keeping him in the minors and letting him develop in a top-6 role.  It seems
to be working, but in my opinion, 27 games aren’t enough to prepare him to excel
at the NHL level.  That all being said, I hope to be proven wrong and the
results he and his linemates generated this week were certainly encouraging.

Brian La Rose: Despite the immediate success (2 points in 2 games), I’m
not convinced he is the long term solution to play with Gomez and Gionta…though
I’ll gladly be wrong.  I’ve long felt his best upside is as a 3rd line
scoring forward.  The Habs under Jacques Martin have had such a line and I
could very easily see Pacioretty being moved to, and succeeding in that type of
role alongside the other young forward in the lineup, Lars Eller. 
Unfortunately, he was the only winger who was scoring regularly in Hamilton so
if he isn’t the answer, they’ll more than likely need to look outside the
organization to find it.

Louis Moustakas: Hard to tell. On one hand, he does have a fair amount of
NHL experience; he possesses a solid frame and is the AHL’s leading goal scorer.
Those factors alone seem to indicate a potential to handle the responsibility
that accompanies playing on a scoring line. In reality though, it is unclear if
he can maintain any sort of scoring pace in the NHL. And, since he is saddled
with the underachieving Scott Gomez, it is hard to imagine him doing what
Kostitsyn, Cammalleri and Gionta all failed to do: spark the Alaskan
native.  However, in the very short-term, he may simply provide a similar,
ephemeral boost to the team, much like Matt D’Agostini or Marcel Hossa did when
they were brought up some years ago.

Editor’s note: HW’s Mark Della Posta also chimed in
on this
topic
earlier in the week.

Question 3: If the Habs look for a replacement with Andrei Markov
out for the season, should they seek a rental player or someone under contract
beyond this year?

Matt Dilworth: When Spacek got injured Saturday, it emphasized that our
depth on defense had grown significantly smaller with the loss of Markov and
O’Byrne’s trade.  With Spacek and Hamrik playing unrealistic minutes for their
age, it seems inevitable to me that Pierre Gauthier will seek another quality
defenceman between now and the deadline.  With only Subban and Spacek inked to
contracts next year, Gauthier can either choose to keep this same core intact,
or blow it up.  That being said, Gill has reportedly started extension talks,
Weber and Gorges (both RFA’s) will be retained and I would be shocked if Markov
signed elsewhere.  If Hamrlik re-signs, presumably at a discount, then there is
no need to sign any new D beyond this year.  If that is the case, then I think
it would be wise for Gauthier to target an offensive minded or 2-way defenceman
to compensate for the Markov-sized void on the blueline, and let him walk at
year’s end.  However, if the Habs plan on letting Hamrlik walk next season, then
it might behoove Gauthier to seek a more physical, stay-at-home defenceman to
protect the likes of Markov, Subban and Weber on the back end in the upcoming
years.

Brian La Rose: It’s a cop-out answer, but it depends on the player. 
The Habs are well positioned with expiring contracts to turn over a large part
of their roster should they deem it necessary, I’d hate to see them weaken that
position for just any player, forward or defence.  All things even,
a rental would be the way I’d like them to go, particularly if they try and get
a replacement d-man.  Not only will said player likely cost less (unless
the Habs are trading for a bad contract…why would they do that though?) to
acquire but just because the player is a rental, it doesn’t mean they can’t
re-sign him when the season’s done.  If the player fits in well on the
roster and team culture, then you try and keep him; if not, let him go and the
flexibility that you had before remains.  That said, if the best fit is
someone under contract beyond this year who can help now and adequately supplant one of the veterans next season, make the
move and try to recoup the extra cost later. 

Louis Moustakas: While the blueline may be set for the next one or two
seasons, depending on who Pierre Gauthier chooses to re-sign, if the team can
get a hold of a top defensive player, then it should pursue that opportunity
vehemently. For a time, I felt that the Habs needed to address their offense,
but I now feel a team is meant to be built from the net outward. And, in a
conference featuring offensive juggernauts such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and
Washington, a dominant backend is a must to contend.  

If you have a question you’d like answered in a future edition of the
mailbag, please e-mail me at [email protected]