In the grand scheme of things, a fourth line winger isn’t going to make much of an impact in a series. Even knowing that, it’s time for Claude Julien to see what everyone else has known for quite some time now and pull Dale Weise out of the lineup.
As I sit here trying to figure out why he has been in there to begin with, I’m struggling to come up with a logical reason. He can kill penalties a little bit and is part of the third pair when the team is shorthanded. But so can Ryan Poehling who also brings a lot more to the table than the ability to log 20 seconds or so at 4-on-5 from time to time. Jake Evans would have been on that list as well had he not been injured on Wednesday which probably takes him out of the equation for a while. Ditto for Alex Belzile who has been skating but probably isn’t ready to return yet.
Weise is a bigger body and is one of the few players that can play physical. That’s not entirely meaningless but it’s not as if Pittsburgh is a tough team. They’re a team built on skill and finesse so having a guy that can crash and bang a bit doesn’t mean much. If you look at the laughable hit totals so far in this series, it’s not as if they need him to get credited with throwing a hit or two (there are plenty of phantom hits to go around). And when it comes to responding to any big hits from Pittsburgh, he was on the ice when Evans was injured on the hit from Brandon Tanev and did nothing about it. Instead, he tried to run around on his next two shifts and escaped one, if not two deserved penalties over that span, hardly an ideal response.
Then there’s the old adage that everyone loathes, veteran presence. In all honesty, I think this is actually what Julien is relying on. He’s relatively safe and safe is good. That’s what most coaches think at least. But something that’s better than safe is talent. And let’s face it, Weise is the least talented forward on the roster. He struggled mightily in Laval this season and did next to nothing when he was brought up after the trade deadline to play out the stretch run. If they want some offence, Charles Hudon becomes an option and there’s a case to make for Jordan Weal to return under that line of thinking as well.
It’s not as if Weise has been particularly effective out there either where his shortcomings could be overlooked. In terms of 5-on-5 shot attempt percentages, he checks in at a whopping 37.2% so that’s not very good and they’re not playing against the Crosby and Malkin lines all that often. The fourth line has done nothing in terms of generating quality chances either. Max Domi is a talented player but he can only do so much with a player who had all of four goals on the season (three of which were with the Rocket where he played to an underwhelming 3-4-7 stat line in 27 games).
Look, I don’t dislike Weise. In his prime, he was a quality player for the Canadiens. He was part of a deal that yielded Phillip Danault and Alexander Romanov, one that will pay dividends for a while yet. He’s genuinely happy to be in Montreal and he has gone out of his way to praise the organization going back to his first stint with the team. Not everyone does that and the fact he has isn’t lost on me. But his time is up and quite frankly, it has been for about two years now.
There is a reason that Weise acknowledged back in April that he was considering playing overseas next season. He sees the writing on the wall; he knows his NHL days are numbered as soon as the Habs are eliminated. If he knows he’s not an NHL player anymore, why can’t Julien see that? Here’s hoping he figures it out by Friday afternoon. He’s already going to have to mess with a winning lineup by replacing Evans who is listed as doubtful so the time is right to take Weise out as well.
Personally, I’d put Poehling and Weal in if the plan is to keep Domi on that fourth line. That way, the rarely-used penalty kill option is there while Poehling is one of their bigger forwards as well. Weal and Domi actually made sense as a duo and Poehling’s skill set should be a better complement to them than Weise’s. We’ll find out soon enough if Julien sees things the same way.