Two weeks into the season, the Canadiens sit in a tie atop the NHL standings
and optimism is high amongst much of the fan base. However, one concern
that is often brought up is that the Habs don’t have that truly elite centre
that seems to accompany many Stanley Cup winning teams. Just how important
is a high end top centre? Our writers offer up their thoughts on that and
how not having one affects Montreal’s chances.
While most would acknowledge that Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Lars
Eller, and Manny Malhotra are all quality NHL centres, I don’t think many would
mistake them for the NHL’s elite at that position. Is that something that
they can overcome to be a legitimate Cup contender or will not having one hold
Simon Aronson: History has not been kind to teams without an
elite centre when it comes to their quest for the Stanley Cup. Only four
teams in the last ten years have made it to the Final without an elite number
one centre and all of them have lost; Calgary in 2004, Edmonton in 2006, New
Jersey in 2012, and the New York Rangers in 2014. If Montreal were to make
it out of the Eastern Conference which is a realistic possibility although in no
way assured, I would consider them an underdog to Chicago, LA, and by no means a
favourite vs. St. Louis, Dallas, Anaheim or San Jose. What Montreal does
posses however is elite goaltending, above average defence corps and depth up
front which includes some elite to fringe elite pieces in Max Pacioretty, Alex
Galchenyuk, and Tomas Plekanec. When it comes to Plekanec, I would
consider him in the same realm as a Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci even if he
may be the third best of the group and those centres were good enough to bring a
Cup to Boston.
Elite goaltending will always give you a chance to win. Despite not
having a truly elite centre, Montreal does have depth at the position with David
Desharnais continuing to be underappreciated. I believe if everything went
just right Montreal could absolutely win the Cup with their current roster but
until they have that truly elite centre they will likely remain in the second
tier of contenders.
Matt Dilworth: I don’t believe that there is a distinct roster
makeup that will guarantee a Stanley Cup, so in my opinion, a team without an
elite centre can still win. Montreal’s lines are suited to their strengths
(i.e., speed and depth), and Michel Therrien tends to roll three scoring lines
somewhat evenly; on any given night one of those lines may receive more ice time
and/or put more points up on the scoreboard. On paper, this can be an
advantage when compared to a team with an elite centre (but lacks a decent
supporting cast or depth). A truly elite centre can contribute
consistently, game after game, but by virtue of essentially being his team’s
game-plan, that player can be shut down by effective coaching and line matching.
I think that Montreal’s depth through all four lines gives them a shot at the
Cup, and an elite number one centre isn’t needed as long as at least one line
can contribute every game.
Brian La Rose: Although it’s ideal to have the prototypical #1
centre, the Habs, or any other team, can win without one if the rest of the
supporting cast chips in. That means the goaltending is top notch, the
defence is sharp, and the depth forwards contribute on the scoresheet. If
all of those happen, that team is going to be a legitimate contender, even
without a top notch pivot. The Habs have the potential for all three of
those elements to occur while rolling three lines capable of scoring (assuming
the Eller line hits their stride at some point). They made it work for
them last year to the Eastern Conference Final and there’s little reason to
think they can’t make a similar strategy work again should they get to the
Alex Létourneau: While having a star centering your top line
would be ideal, I don’t think it necessarily translates into sure fire success
at season’s end. With the exception of a few players in the NHL, and even
then, no one is truly unstoppable. A strong proponent of success has been depth
and goaltending. While you can corner and isolate an elite player, and to
a certain extent, an elite line, you can’t isolate a hot goalie. If a
goaltender is playing lights out hockey, sometimes as little as a goal or two
across four lines is enough to win games – which brings up depth in the lineup.
Having a deep bench with players spread across offensive and defensive lines
throughout an 82-game season, and into the playoffs, has played its fair share
of starring parts in the postseason over the years. Yeah, a top notch
centre would certainly help, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say Montreal doesn’t
stand a chance without one.
Matt Macaskill: Short answer: Yes. Long answer: No.
With a #1 defenceman in P.K. Subban and a world class #1 goaltender in Carey
Price, the Habs could steal a Stanley Cup with the current cast of centres.
However, in my opinion the Habs’ next Cup will come with Alex Galchenyuk in his
natural position. The kid proved he can produce at both centre and on the
wing through preseason, but he could be a year or two away from becoming a
dominant and defensively reliable presence on the ice – especially under Michel
Paul MacLeod: While there has been a lot of discussion and
angst among the faithful about the Habs lack of an elite centre, I do not
believe that this lack absolutely means that the Habs cannot win the Stanley
Cup. In other words, they can win the Cup without one.
What they need instead is four productive lines. They need production
from Parenteau, Bourque, Eller, and Sekac. If they get it at the right
time, if the defence tightens up and Price and Subban elevate their game like
they did in last season’s playoffs, the Habs could win the Cup this year.
Am I going to bet the house on the potential convergence of all those "ifs"?
No way, but I am optimistic about the team’s chances. To quote the old
chestnut: "first, make the playoffs and then anything can happen".
Norm Szcyrek: Eventually, the Habs will need an elite centre to
win the Stanley Cup, but the team is not at that point yet. I believe the
ultimate goal of management is that Galchenyuk will grow into that role, and
he’s taking strides this season as a top-2 line winger with his current point a
game pace. But at times Alex has not shown to be as proficient on defence
as he is skilled on offence. Now, one could argue that David Desharnais
does not have that defensive awareness either yet he is the current #1 centre on
the Habs. Desharnais has shown steady improvement in that area and is an
average to above average defensive player from game to game. With
Galchenyuk’s size, speed and hockey sense, he’s capable of more than we’ve seen
from him to date. With that in mind, he’s still a few seasons away from
being anointed the Habs elite centre, given his current development and the log
jam of veteran centres ahead of him in Desharnais and Tomas Plekanec.