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- Peter Budaj received just 2.13 goals per game in support from the Habs last year. That's the lowest goal support total for a Montreal goalie (min. 10 GP) since Jocelyn Thibault (2.10) in 1998-99 (before getting traded to Chicago).
Despite the never ending discussion of when Carey Price will re-sign with the Habs, there is still plenty to talk about. In this week's mailbag, our writers discuss who the best option for the 7th defenceman is, whether or not David Desharnais has a future in the NHL, and whether Alex Auld was a better choice for Price's backup over the other in-house options.
Joining me to answer these questions are HW writers Matt Dilworth and Louis Moustakas.
Question 1: Who is most likely to crack the roster out of training camp as the 7th d-man with Markov likely to miss the start of the season?
Matt Dilworth: I think it comes down to Picard, Weber, and Carle to claim the 7th spot as their own. Barring any training camp breakouts, I think that Picard stands the best chance to make the big squad. Of the 3 players, Picard has the most NHL experience (193 GP vs 4 GP (Carle) and 8 GP (Weber)), the lowest salary cap hit ($600K versus $660K (Carle) and $875K (Weber)) and likely has the least to learn at the AHL level. Carle and Weber could still benefit from big minutes in the minors whereas Picard would likely be okay watching the game from the press box. This all makes sense in theory, but having witnessed a few of Picard's gaffes first hand, I certainly don't place an absolute amount of faith in Picard making the team.
Brian La Rose: I see the race being basically between Picard and Carle. Picard has been a full-time NHL'er for the past 3 seasons and is the most proven out of any of the potential options. However, he's disappointed wherever he's went and doesn't bring a lot of upside. Carle though does bring some upside, he's played quite well in the AHL the last few years to the point where I think there's nothing left to prove and he didn't look out of place in a brief stint with the Habs last season. It should be noted that both players must clear waivers. It's for that reason I think Weber is most likely heading back to Hamilton. A darkhorse candidate to consider? Recently signed Kyle Klubertanz who is coming off an impressive season in Sweden, he could turn some heads at camp.
Louis Moustakas: The newly signed Alexandre Picard, Yannick Weber and Mathieu Carle have to be considered the three serious contenders for the 7th spot. Their respective performances in camp will go a long way to obtaining that spot, but the issue is also very much about their contractual situations. Weber may be sent down without having to clear waivers, however that is not the case for Picard or Carle. While losing a journeyman like Picard may not be an unbearable blow, the prospect of sacrificing the still promising Carle is much more worrisome. Over the past few seasons, the Canadiens have lost bonafide NHL blueliners François Beauchemin and Ron Hainsey to waivers and that fact will certainly impact the decisions management will make come September. Look for Carle to get a chance out of camp.
Question 2: David Desharnais - does he have an NHL future?
Matt Dilworth: Yes, but a better question is whether Desharnais has a place with the Montreal Canadiens; I don't have a clear answer to that one. First off, there is no doubt that Desharnais has some impressive skills, but those skills are unproven at the NHL level. Presently, he hadn't been given a good look at the NHL level, but there were some (albeit brief) moments where he shone in his 6 games with the Canadiens. Suffice it to say, he wasn't given many minutes, playing less than 10 minutes in all but one game, and one must question how he would fare with more icetime, PP time and with better linemates. But while I'm mostly optimistic that he may eventually compete at the NHL level, I'm not as confident that he'll be a good fit with the Habs. As it stands there are too many small forwards in the Habs' top 6, and I think his skills would be ill-used in a different role. My gut feeling is if he doesn't light it up for Montreal soon, Steve Yzerman will be making Pierre Gauthier an offer by year's end.
Brian La Rose: Like Matt above, I too see Desharnais' NHL future, if there is one, coming outside of Montreal. There's no denying he has the offensive skills, but the intangibles (skating and defensive play in particular) need to improve for him to avoid becoming the second coming of former prospect Corey Locke. Fortunately, there's no rush for him to crack the league right away, he is waiver exempt to start the season. I personally would like to see new coach Randy Cunneyworth get creative with him and try him on a defensive line rather than stick him back in his comfortable offensive role. The road to the NHL, on any team, almost always begins on the bottom line. If Desharnais' defence improves, he may very well have a legit shot down the road somewhere.
Louis Moustakas: Yes. He has been prolific everywhere he has been. With Chicoutimi in the QMJHL, he racked up an impressive 374 points during his four years playing junior hockey. After failing to be drafted, he played for the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL, potting 106 points while also winning the Rookie of the Year, Scoring Champion, and League MVP awards. And, over the last two seasons in Hamilton, he obtained 136 points in 137 games while also being named to the All-Star squad this year. At one point, the minors can only offer so much to a player of Desharnais' talent. Someone, hopefully the Canadiens, will give him a long look in the big leagues.
Matt Dilworth: Although I wasn't a big fan on Auld being brought on board, I think he'll serve as a better back-up than Sanford or Desjardins. He has a proven (however spotty) record at the NHL level, and like so many have pointed out, he's no threat to Price's number 1 status. I think Desjardins could still benefit from some AHL time, and I've heard reports that Sanford has helped Cedrick's game on many levels, and might be better served in Hamilton. Furthermore, Auld has a reputation of being one of those "team guys" that everyone likes to play with, and here's to hoping that will help Carey with the mental element of his game. And we all know that Carey has enough to worry about.
Brian La Rose: If you're looking for a safe pick as a backup goalie, Auld is one of the best options out there, since you know what you'll get (a .500 record with SV% and GAA near the median). That seemed to be the direction the Habs wanted to go which makes him the best option of the 3, though Desjardins potentially has the most upside. Sanford was hot and cold last year and to be quite honest, I'm a little perplexed as to why the Habs brought him back as now Desjardins, soon to be 25, is stuck being the second stringer on the farm once again. On a 1-year deal, Montreal could have done a lot worse as Price finally gets a veteran to work with (with more experience than any other goalie he's been teamed with). If it works, great; if not, the issue can be re-visited next year, there's no long term risk.
Louis Moustakas: Right off the bat, I am not certain Alex Auld would have been my signing of choice for the backup role. Regardless, of the three above choices, my selection is nonetheless Auld. He has held down the fort as a starter on many occasions, has decent career numbers and knows his role. Sanford is certainly a serviceable netminder, but his pedigree is not quite as good. As for Desjardins, if he puts up another stellar year in Hamilton, he definitely deserves a shot in Montreal.
If you have questions you'd like answered in a future edition of the mailbag, please feel free to e-mail me.