30 IN 30 - MONTREAL CANADIENS (7th place)
The Montreal Canadiens continue to get it done on the regular season stage, despite rather anemic numbers from some of their top-ranked players. Thankfully the Habs have continued their trend of turning seemingly mediocre skaters into quality contributors. No one could have predicted Paul Byron's 20-20 season, Phillip Danault's rapid ascent into a scoring line centre, or Artturi Lehkonen's 18 goal rookie campaign. Yet here we are, confused as to how the Canadiens vaulted their way to the top of the Atlantic Division.
Maybe there's something about wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge that get's a guy going, or maybe it's the all-world goaltending of Carey Price year-in-year-out that allows this team to get away with some questionable roster decisions. Either way, management has to be better in trade negotiations. Although Jordie Benn displayed surprising stability on the back end, bringing in the likes of Steve Ott, Dwight King, and Andreas Martinsen to add size to the lineup all but made this team worse. We could go on for days about the long-term outlook of the Weber-Subban deal last summer, but for now, let's not. Instead let's hope the Canadiens' crop of young prospects can either make the jump to the big club next season, or help this team reel in a big fish up front via trade.
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Petry (*NMC)
The debate between 8-1 and 7-3-1 is an unnecessary one for GM Marc Bergevin. Priority must be placed on having a larger forward group under the scope of protection, as their group of second tier defenders will soon be made redundant by top prospect Mikhail Sergachev. Although Alexei Emelin provides a physical presence this team needs, he stands in the way of fellow left shot defender Nathan Beaulieu in the lineup. Although Beaulieu's season ended on a low note, he's still the younger (24) rights-restricted (RFA) option, who would undoubtedly get selected if left unprotected. Such a move would be a mistake for this team, as his market value sits much higher than the 30 year-old Russian with only one year left on his contract. Toss in the overall impressive statistical outlook of his season and the decision to keep him becomes a little easier. Whether the team intends to trade him or keep him, Beaulieu is the logical choice to remain protected.
The decision with the Canadiens forward group will likely divide fewer fans. Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, Gallagher, and Danault are going nowhere, while 'late-bloomer' Paul Byron did enough in one season at a measly $1.167M cap hit to assure his inclusion on this list as well. Spots six and seven, on the other hand, provide this management with a bit more flexibility. Bergevin has made it abundantly clear that he sees a need for size and toughness within the Montreal lineup. Therefore, Andrew Shaw and his strong possession numbers as a checking line centre all but assure him a spot as well. So with one pick to go, do the Canadiens continue a trend towards size in the lineup with Jacob De La Rose, or do they continue their development of diminutive forward Charles Hudon?
KIDS ON THE LOOSE
The Canadiens have three young forwards to consider for their last protection list slot. Although we haven't yet mentioned his name, Daniel Carr has seen the most action with the big club out of this group. The Union College alum has quickly proven his worth as an NCAA free agent by channeling the workman-like scoring mentality big league clubs convey. For a player of such a slight build, Carr manages to get to the net effectively and score most (if not all) of his goals within a couple feet of the net. Overall, his ability to move up and down the lineup provides a team valuable flexibility.
Jacob De La Rose provides the Montreal Canadiens a commodity they are sorely lacking: size up front. A 6'3 215lb frame and overall unknown scoring potential makes our assessment of De La Rose a tough one. Reports indicate he has taken on key face-off and penalty killing duties for the farm team in St. John's (soon to be Laval). Stints with the club in Montreal haven't exactly drawn rave reviews, but De La Rose was always going to be a bit of a project; frankly, most power forwards are. Habs management will likely remain hopeful in his development as a strong skating, physical third-line contributor. Whether or not his scoring touch progresses along with that is another story altogether.
Charles Hudon feels a bit like a forgotten man in Montreal. The Habs have called him up for only 6 total NHL games, despite his resounding success at the AHL level. Unlike the previously mentioned De La Rose, offensive ability is definitely not in question for Hudon, but surviving the physical toll of the NHL and finding opportunity within the Canadiens' top-six could be. Although he lacks the same versatility of Carr to play within either the Habs top-six or bottom-size, talent alone should separate Hudon as the player to protect. If not, his potential scoring production at the top level will all but guarantee a Golden Knights selection of the dynamic winger. Thus, we will act first and take Hudon off the table.
RISK/REWARD - THE VEGAS SELECTION
The remaining group left for Vegas to pick from includes aformentioned forwards Carr and De La Rose, along with defencemen Jordie Benn and Alexei Emelin.
At a $1.10M cap hit, Jordie Benn has drawn attention as a possible Vegas selection option. His Corsi over the last three years has remained on par with league average and his ice-time consistent with a bottom pair defender. The soon-to-be 30 year-old offers value as an NHL veteran to a defensive core likely built on youth. But the supposedly stable force he brought to his D-partners like Nathan Beaulieu, in reality just brought down their goal differential. Discounted rate or not, better options will be available come expansion night.
Alexei Emelin, on the other hand, comes in at a comparably steep rate of $4.10M next season. His role has never been one of offence, so his generally low point production isn't a concern. What is a concern, however, is his ability to play big minutes on a predictably young expansion team without the likes of Shea Weber beside him. Emelin, for the most part, has been relied upon as a shut-down defender, which he has managed to accomplish in terms of possession but not goal differential. His stats speak to a player that allows fewer, albeit higher quality chances against, and noticeably negative impact on his D-partners' offensive capabilities. In an exclusively shut-down role, Emelin has effect, but expectations of the two-way defender should be suppressed, impacting his overall ability as a top-four defender. With that said, $4.10M remains a hefty price tag for a defender with role-specific play. Toss in his impending 2018 UFA status, and we'll pass on Emelin for a younger option instead.
Carr and De La Rose are very different players, and the selection of either could well and truly come down to management's targeted style of play. Carr would likely fit within the Golden Knights lineup immediately as a young spark plug somewhere on the 3rd line, whereas De La Rose could take another year before a full time jump to the lineup. For us, that's a non-issue. The 22 year-old Swede provides a vital combination of size and skating ability too valuable to pass up. Risk notably remains with his scoring ability, but if he develops into a solid defensive forward that can change momentum of a game with a big hit or big penalty kill, the Golden Knights still come out with a winner here. For that reason, Jacob De Le Rose is our choice from the Montreal Canadiens.
The push for Alex Galchenyuk's departure feels a bit premature. Sure he had a bit of a down year, and has seen time at both centre and wing, but the former 3rd overall pick is just one year removed from a 30 goal campaign. Maybe we're just missing the bit about how a point per game average pre-knee injury last year means nothing anymore, who knows. But if the Habs think they can get a quality number one centre in return without selling the farm, that's their prerogative.
Next up: Anaheim Ducks