HabsWorld.net -- 

Imagine if you could be a fly on the wall and you get to hear the lowdown on how the Habs see their team evolving into next year. By breaking down the roster, we can see the issues and how the team may deal with them. It should be noted that management has been very clear about not signing 27 or 28-year-old free agents who will not help the team long-term; they don’t want quick fixes. Two of those 27 or 28-year-olds are Jonathan Drouin and Sean Monahan (who is a slight possibility).

The results of this exercise will be built on some very shifting sands. There is a plethora of NHL talent (and deadwood) on the wing and something has to give. Players like Juraj Slafkovsky, Sean Farrell, and Emil Heineman are going to have a tough time making the team, but there will be changes from trades to draft picks and finally injuries. Bottom line, we are going to examine what the team is now.

I have split up the team into four units: 1) Wingers, 2) Centres, 3) Defencemen, 4) Goalies

Each unit’s players will be further broken down into four categories that identify their status going into next season;

  1. Lock (unless traded they are surefire locks to make the team)
  2. Contract (Players who are here “mostly” because they have term left on their deals. This is not to say they don’t have talent.)
  3. Bubble (Players who might make the team including all forms of free agents.)
  4. Youth (Players who have played at most 6 NHL games.)

Since Martin St. Louis likes wingers to occasionally play their off-wing, let’s treat right and left wingers the same. I am seeking out eight starters and two backup players who can rotate in and out if needed.

Cole Caufield: Lock – of course.

Josh Anderson: Lock – unless he’s traded in a huge deal.

Mike Hoffman: Contract – Management is hoping he has a better year and could be traded at the deadline. He was not horrible (not the greatest compliment).

Brendan Gallagher: Contract – If he’s healthy he will be an asset. He might be a comeback of the year candidate. Otherwise, if he’s hurt a lot…that’s a lot of tied up money.

Joel Armia: Contract – Armia is the ultimate teaser. Sadly, he has reached the point in his career where he’s not the past, present, or future of this team. He could be bought out. Trading him and a fourth for a bag of pucks would be a coup.

Rem Pitlick: Contract – A Swiss army knife backup.

Rafael Harvey-Pinard: Bubble – He could start the year in Laval, but hopefully not.

Michael Pezzetta: Bubble – I love this guy, but talent-wise, he has huge limitations. If hockey doesn’t work out he can always be a mascot for Pizza Pizza Pezzetta.

Denis Gurianov: Bubble – Management and the coaches are concerned about his play without the puck. Gurianov is not a beloved prospect, but he does have skills, size, and speed. The issue might be the $2.9 million qualifying offer owed which is way too high. Perhaps they offer him $3 million over two years or $2 million for one year. I have him on the team right now, but otherwise, his space will be for a young talent or an acquired vet (for mentorship).

Jesse Ylonen: Bubble – Skating – check – Shooting – check – Intangibles – ???

Anthony Richard: Bubble – Is he a true NHLer? Certainly possible. Will that be enough for him to re-sign?

Juraj Slafkovsky: Bubble – Should they pull a Justin Barron and give him a ½ season in Laval? He needs to dominate and learn how to keep his head up. Training camp will reveal more.

Jonathan Drouin: Bubble – No. But he’s so talented! No. Hard worker? No.

Sean Farrell: Youth – Might have to start in Laval. Very exciting prospect.

Emil Heineman: Youth – Guessing Laval. His value is trending up!

Joshua Roy: Youth – Laval, but excited to see what might happen!

Filip Mesar: Youth – Laval or Junior. Not a good season in the OHL.

Joel Teasdale: Youth – His year ended stunningly well. Laval with call-up potential.

Given no trades (and there will be trades), given health for all (good luck), my top 10 wingers are two locks, four contracts, and four bubbles, but no Slafkovsky for now.  Among youth, even Farrell starts in Laval unless management clears some lumber. Those are some tough contracts to move.

Now let’s look at the centres.

Nick Suzuki: Lock – duh. Potential Swiss army knife star… does it all.

Kirby Dach: Lock – More than earned. Dach represents so much how this team is being built. Still very young. His numbers should rise over the next few years.

Christian Dvorak: Contract – Could be traded, should be traded, but competent.

Sean Monahan: Bubble – No one knows if this is a good idea; bringing back Monahan. Just in – big news – while no one knows we just found out the Shadow knows. We’ve called out for a comment and we’ve been ghosted.

Jake Evans: Bubble – He’s a bit of a lock, but is he part of the future? Will Owen Beck replace him in two years?

Alex Belzile: Bubble – He’s the perfect 13, 14 forward assuming he re-signs. He’s Montreal’s handyman.

Owen Beck: Youth – Needs to dominate offensively in the OHL and World Juniors.

Riley Kidney: Youth – The kid’s on fire in the QMJHL, is he for real?

So, unless Dvorak is traded, or Monahan signed, the centres will be very familiar.

Defence could be a little different. Some of the younger locks might start in Laval, but as you will see there are eight natural choices. Please trade the last guy!

Mike Matheson: Lock – Jeff Petry 2.0 (now)

Kaiden Guhle: Lock – Ryan McDonagh 2.0 (In a year or two)

Justin Barron: Lock – Mikhail Sergachev 2.0 – Okay, a reach, but kind of fun.

Jordan Harris: Lock – I’d love to hear about his ceiling as a player from people who really know. Has talent, but enough heft?

Arber Xhekaj: Lock – How good is this guy? Mythical in stature. But seriously, how good is he and what is his ceiling?

Johnathan Kovacevic: Lock – Solid talent. Part of the future? Maybe too much of the “Jolly” Green Giant.

David Savard: Contract – Like a coach on defence. Would like to see him play maybe 50 games while he sits for the younger talents occasionally. Rested he also might be quite enticing at the trade deadline.

Joel Edmundson: Contract – Please trade the guy. Nothing personal, but he’s a pain in the – back.

Chris Wideman: Contract – Laval. Why not? If he plays well he could be an injury replacement.

Logan Mailloux: Youth – Lost a year in development – Beautiful Laval.

Jayden Struble: Youth – A Bull.

William Trudeau: Youth – Has the best name other than Richard.

So, all the locks plus Savard. Edmundson has to go even for an Nth-round pick. There is a chance some of the younger players split time between the AHL and the NHL. This would especially happen if they brought in a veteran. Yet Edmundson might be there at the start so some locks are potentially destined for Laval.

The Goalie situation is slightly cluttered.

Samuel Montembeault: Lock – Entering the second of his two-year audition for the top spot on the Habs.

Jake Allen: Contract – The guy is a pro and probably still has some left in the tank, but there is no guarantee whether he’ll be back or not.

Cayden Primeau: Youth – Not waiver exempt. I can say with absolute confidence I have no idea what will happen to him next season. Three possibilities; 1) He makes the team as a backup and plays 32 games. 2) He clears waivers and is #1 in Laval. 3) He doesn’t clear waivers or is traded.

Goaltending will, most likely, be the same. Montembeault needs to have another solid season while still improving. He just might be the real deal.

So here are the starters and the depth. There’s an extra spare for injuries.  A number of these players might be moved during training camp, leaving room for more youth. Pezzetta, Pitlick, and Gurianov could easily be traded or let go. Ylonen has to grab his spot and players like Slafkovsky and Farrell might be too good to demote. Here are two lineups, one with and without Slafkovsky.

#1: Slafkovsky has a weak camp and starts in Laval. 

Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson – Not perfect, but potentially very good.
Harvey-Pinard – Dach – Gallagher – Lavalagher, Gallagher, and Dach Inc.
Ylonen – Dvorak – Gurianov – Maybe only one survives the year. Maybe none.
Pezzetta/Pitlick –Evans – Hoffman/Armia – Maybe all gone after a season or two.

Belzile should be in the mix because the handyman can.

#2: Slafkovsky has a solid camp and makes the team.

Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Slafkovsky – Dach – Gallagher  – Two behemoths and a dinged fire hydrant.
Ylonen – Dvorak – Gurianov
Harvey-Pinard –Evans – Hoffman/Armia – Could that be a 40+ goal fourth line?

Unlike the forwards, which thins out fast after the first two lines, the defence has a fair amount of depth with a plethora of upcoming NHL talent.

Matheson – Guhle – If Guhle feels comfortable – solid #1 duo.
Harris – Kovacevic – They are a real NHL duo.
Xhekaj – Barron/Savard – Might be good.
Edmundson – Could start the season with the purpose of trading.

For goalies, I’m thinking Montembeault and Allen with Primeau in Laval.

These lineups have flaws, but from the back end up, the team is evolving. The forwards are not very strong, so hopefully they draft a forward first next month.

Trades and draft picks could change everything, but as things stand, this is the team now. Slafkovsky is really my only controversial choice and training camp will decide his fate. I would love to see him dominate the AHL… if he can.

Without Farrell and Slafkovsky, the left side is weak, but these two might need some cooking before they’re ready. The defence is one year more mature and also has two potential talents, Hutson and Mailloux, possibly a year or two away from being NHL-ready. (Also keep your eyes open for a quality Swedish D-man: Adam Engstrom.) The X factors are the draft and trades, making this an exciting time to be a Hab fan.

Except for keeping one extra forward and defenceman there has not been a discussion about how injuries might affect next year’s team. I mean … what can go wrong? Right?