HabsWorld.net -- 

This week’s trade that sent Cedrick Desjardins to Tampa Bay created quite a
stir despite its insignificance in the grand scheme of things (one potential
backup for another).  Fortunately, there are lots of other things to
discuss in this week’s mailbag.  On tap this week: Finding the final top-6
forward, piecing together the 4th line, and who is likely in a make or break
situation with the Habs this season.

Joining me to answer the questions this week are HW writers George K. and
Louis Moustakas.

Question 1: Who will round out the top six (assuming Gomez, Gionta,
Plekanec, Cammalleri and Kostitsyn have spots nailed down)?

George K.: I would have to think that the final spot in the top
six would be Pouliot’s to lose.  It has been reported by some that Pouliot
stopped contributing on the scoresheet at season’s end and in the playoffs
because of lack of conditioning.  They say that because Pouliot spent much
of his time in Minnesota playing fourth line minutes or festering in the press
box, he did not have the proper conditioning to play top six minutes and
therefore ran out of steam by the end of the season.  If this story is
true, and if I am Pouliot, then I am spending most of my summer training like crazy and
getting into the best shape of my life.  If Pouliot shows up to
camp in great shape and works hard, I would be shocked to find him out of the
top six.  If he doesn’t earn the spot, then the door is open for another
player, but hoping Lars Eller can step in right away may just be wishful

Brian La Rose: Knowing how much coach Jacques Martin likes balance on
his lines in terms of offence and defence, I’m going to go a different route
here.  We mostly all bemoaned the fact that Tom Pyatt was playing with
Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta last year but if he did so then, why couldn’t he
now?  Travis Moen is another option if the Habs want a 3rd line with some
offensive upside (I’m assuming Pouliot and Eller would be on that unit), he
would ideally serve as somewhat of a protector for Gomez/Gionta.  I think
this much is safe to say though based on last season – virtually everyone
will get their chance at some time.

Louis Moustakas: While the prospect of putting newly acquired Lars Eller on the wing has been
mentioned quite often, that is not his natural position and would probably
force Lapierre to take one of the bottom pivot roles. And, considering how
comfortable Lapierre looked playing on the wing during the playoffs, I would not
be keen on putting him in a situation where he has much more defensive
responsibility. As such, unless someone else truly shines at camp, that leaves a
wing open for Benoit Pouliot. However, with his underwhelming postseason
performance, many will be displeased to see him in that position. It’s not too
late to sign Raffi Torres, is it?   

Question 2: Who do you think will make the fourth line on opening

George K.: Since the top six is pretty much set, and whomever
of Pouliot and Eller doesn’t make the top six will most likely get third line
duty with Lapierre and Moen, I’m guessing the fourth line will consist of Boyd,
Darche and Pyatt.  This is a fourth line custom-designed for Jacques Martin;
full of smart, hard-working players.  It is clear at this point that Martin
likes to use Pyatt, Darche is on a one-way contract, and Boyd is also a bonafide
NHL’er.  Unless one of the kids from Hamilton has one heck of a camp, my guess
is that these three will make up the Habs fourth line on opening night.

Brian La Rose: I suspect that there will be a second rookie forward
cracking the lineup out of camp (with Eller) that hopefully isn’t a regular
scratch.  If I had to pick today, that forward would be Ryan White for the
physical contributions he brings but I wouldn’t rule out Max Pacioretty either
depending on where he is after some recurring shoulder woes last year. 
That said, working off my Pyatt on the 2nd line prediction from the previous
question, my guess at the 4th line shapes up a little differently, with Boyd
centering Moen on the LW and White on the RW.  Mathieu Darche isn’t a
prototypical 4th liner, I would suspect he’ll be the 13th forward who is brought
in for games against less-tough opponents, when the team needs an offensive
spark…or when it’s his turn to play with Gomez and Gionta.

Louis Moustakas: Mathieu Darche proved to be a useful role player last season and earned
himself a one-way deal for the coming season, so he seems like a virtual lock
for one of the wing positions. Tom Pyatt’s work ethic and impressive speed
should earn him the other wing while newly acquired Dustin Boyd will most likely
center the aforementioned two checking forwards.

Question 3: Who, if any, are the "make or break" players this

George K.: This one seems pretty cut and dry to me: Andrei Kostitsyn. 
I have noticed a pattern with Kostitsyn over the past few seasons.  He usually
gets off to a slow start, but eventually he will get going and start to score at
the rate we expect from a top ten draft pick and a top six forward.  Then he
will get injured and miss 10-20 games.  After he returns from injury, it takes
him a while to get going again, and usually the season will end before he can
regain his pre-injury form.  So the question remains, how will Andrei perform if
he is able to stay healthy for a full season?  Will he always find his way into
a mid-season funk, whether he is injured or not?  Or is he a player governed by
momentum that will continue to produce as long as he is hot?  If Kostitsyn can
score 20-30 goals this season, it will give the Habs greater scoring depth, two
dangerous scoring lines, and a greater chance at winning hockey games.

Brian La Rose: Though my colleague below disagrees, I think this is a
crucial year for Ben Maxwell.  It’s his last year of waiver exemption and
thus far, he’s yet to show much of anything at the NHL level.  With lots of
C’s coming up in the organization, he needs to show something quickly before
he’s permanently on the outside looking in.  The other forward I’ll mention
is Maxim Lapierre.  He struggled for most of last year before coming on in
the playoffs but once again is on a 1 year contract.  If he repeats last
season, he could become too pricey.

On defence, Ryan O’Byrne is most definitely in this boat.  Given his
contractual status ($1.4 million qualifying offer required for next year), he
will need to take some significant steps forward to justify receiving such an
offer.  Otherwise, he could very well be let go in June or earlier. 
Kostitsyn and Pouliot, noted above and below are also certainly in this
situation as well.

Louis Moustakas: Benoit Pouliot needs to demonstrate consistency
throughout an 82 game schedule this year. He has but sporadically lived up to
his high draft billing and was invisible in last years playoffs. If he is unable
to profit from his opportunity in Montreal, he may well find himself on the list
of first-round busts. This is also a big year for Andrei Kostitsyn, who is not
only playing for a contract but also without the excuses created by his younger
brother’s antics. As for those who feel that this is a determining year for the
likes of Ben Maxwell and David Desharnais, let’s remember that they are only 22
and 23 years old respectively.  

If you have questions you’d like answered in a future edition of the mailbag
(we are planning a Bulldogs-based one as well), please feel free to
e-mail me.