Last offseason, the Habs felt that they needed to add a tough guy to help
take some of the fighting pressure off of the likes of Brandon Prust and Travis
Moen, so they acquired George Parros from Florida. As we all know, that
didn’t go over well as Parros suffered multiple concussions and struggled to
keep up with the pace of the play when he was healthy. As of yet, Montreal
hasn’t acquired a replacement enforcer. The question is, should they?
Arguments for an enforcer
Despite the fact that several teams around the league have let their tough
guys go, there are still quite a few heavyweights in the division, such as Chris
Neil (OTT), Shawn Thornton (FLA), and Colton Orr (TOR). Given that the
Habs play these teams more than anyone else, there’s a case to be made to have a
player on the roster that can offset those players (amongst other tough guys).
As things stand, Prust is back to being the tough guy by default.
Given his frequent shoulder woes in recent years, it’s likely that if he’s asked
to fight even more, he’s going to get hurt even quicker this time around.
There aren’t many players who can fight behind him either. Dale Weise is
probably the only other one who figures to be a regular in the lineup while
Moen (a likely scratch based on the playoffs) and Jarred Tinordi (in a
battle for a third pairing spot) could also contribute periodically when they
actually draw in. There aren’t any fighters on the Bulldogs who are
capable of playing a regular role either at this time.
Although it’s not quantifiable in terms of an on-ice effect, many players on
the Habs and around the league have said that they’re more confident and
comfortable when they have an enforcer around. Despite the fact that
Parros didn’t play much (or well), several Canadiens last year echoed these
sentiments. Is that a feeling that management would want to take away?
Arguments against an enforcer
Michel Therrien likes to roll four lines and with the bottom six depth that
the team currently has, the personnel is there do so confidently. Most
goons aren’t capable of logging upwards of 8-10 minutes a night meaning that
someone else has to be double-shifted while the coaches have to be extra careful
in when to actually deploy the enforcer. Montreal’s fourth line is going
to be a defensive one and trusting any tough guy to log primarily defensive
minutes is asking for trouble.
Adding in an enforcer also takes a more talented player out of the lineup
which is never a good thing. However, it also takes a more talented player
off the roster entirely, whether it’s via trade, waivers, or sending down a
waiver-exempt player. Montreal is going to be carrying 23 players to start
the year by all accounts, whether it’s a 3/7/13 (G/D/F) or a 2/7/14 split.
Is it worth losing (or risking losing) a better player to have a guy at the end
of the bench whose job is primarily to punch people?
There’s no link between having a goon and the Habs playing better. When
the games mattered most (the playoffs), Parros had a regular seat in the press
box. Late in the year where there were battles for playoff seeding, Parros
seldom played (just six GP in the final two plus months of the regular season).
They were fine without one then, so why do they need a new enforcer now?
As a result of several teams letting their goons go, there are quite a few
options via free agency. Here are some of the notables:
Krys Barch: He had the most major penalties of any of the remaining
free agents last year and at 34, isn’t quite over the hill yet. He won’t
put up many points but could safely log a couple more minutes than Parros did
Nicolas Blanchard: This name won’t be familiar like the others as he
primarily has been an AHL tough guy in recent years. If the Habs opt to
try to bring in a player on a two-way deal and, assuming he’d clear waivers,
keep him in the minors until there are games where his services are required,
Blanchard would make some sense.
Paul Bissonnette: While he’s well known for his Twitter prowess, it’s
not so well known that Bissonnette used to play defence back in the day.
Accordingly, he, unlike many goons, has a bit of a clue as to what to do in the
defensive zone. He also is accustomed to not playing every game, having
been in-and-out of the lineup with the Coyotes for several years now.
Daniel Carcillo: Though he recently inked a PTO with Pittsburgh, he is
still free to sign a contract elsewhere. Carcillo, unlike many of the
enforcers out there, can actually log fourth line minutes without hurting the
team too much. However, his reputation and suspension history will work
against him. Any iffy move he makes is probably going to result in some
sort of supplemental discipline and when players are suspended, that teams’
active roster gets reduced to 22.
Matt Kassian: One of the youngest options out there (he’s 27), Kassian
is very familiar with the division having spent the last two years with Ottawa.
Like Parros last year, he’s not capable of being trusted with any sort of
meaningful minutes though. There would be a lot of in-game line juggling
when he’d be in the lineup.
Zenon Konopka: He has carved out a niche for himself by not only being
good at fighting but also being a faceoff specialist. Unfortunately, a
failed drug test has resulted in a 20-game suspension to start the season, one
that won’t be served until he latches onto a NHL roster. If the Habs were
to sign him, they’d be dealing with a 22-man roster for those first 20 games.
Kevin Westgarth: After joining Calgary last year, Westgarth actually
provided a bit of value for the Flames. Not only did he manage to pick up
seven points in just 36 games, he also averaged seven minutes a night which
isn’t bad for a goon. That said, it was Calgary, who didn’t exactly have a
lot of depth so he was bound to play and produce a bit more.
Regardless of what side of the coin you’re on when it comes to this, there
are certainly plenty of options for the Habs to choose from. If they sign
one, we’ll know how they feel about keeping one around. Conversely, if
they don’t, we’ll know they no longer feel that one is necessary as there’s no
way they’ll be able to argue that they weren’t able to pick one up as several of
these players will probably be on the outside looking in when training camps
begin. We’ll see their answer soon enough.