With training camp right around the corner and the start of the NHL season about 40 days away, NHL rosters are coming into form.
Closer to home with 21 players already under contract, the Montreal Canadiens will be looking to add to the success they experienced in the 2010 campaign.
With $4.0 million in cap space remaining and with only number one goalie Carey price remaining to sign, the team looks to be icing much of the same core line-up that took them to the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Finals.
There has certainly been some tweaking with our bottom six forwards losing NHL veterans Glen Metropolit, Dominic Moore and Georges Laraque as well as disgruntled prospect Sergei Kostitsyn and replacing them with a younger and bigger group of forwards which include Dustin Boyd, Lars Eller and Ryan White.
However the overall team core has gone virtually unchanged and the newly added elements, on paper at least, certainly make the team harder to play against.
With that being said I am not completely satisfied with how this roster is built.
Don’t get me wrong I am sticking by this team through thick and thin and I think that the moves that were made this off season were all for the better. However there is still an element that is lacking on this team; size and toughness.
Like any arm chair GM sitting at home reading this, when a number of UFA names became available I drooled at the thought of adding them. Players like Colby Armstrong or Raffi Torres or Evgeny Artyukhin, but ultimately none of these guys will be heading to the Bleu Blanc Rouge.
There is, however, a player that is still available who ultimately would make us better; Bill Guerin.
By the Numbers
At 6’2, 220 lbs and 41 years of age, Guerin is a 19-year NHL veteran who has already played for eight NHL franchises, amassing 429 goals and 427 assists in 1263 games. Although not Hall of Fame numbers, he has scored 21 or more goals in 10 of his last 11 seasons and in 17 of his overall 19 seasons as an NHLer.
Guerin has furthered his success in the post-season having played in 140 playoff games netting 39 goals and 35 assists—with of course one Stanley Cup ring as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-09.
More importantly however, despite netting a consistent 20+ goals per season Guerin is willing to play for a limited salary, having been paid just $2 million in 2009-10.
Getting accustomed to a new NHL city is often difficult so relying on players whom you are familiar can have a very positive effect.
Guerin has played 19 seasons in this league and in that time he has become very familiar to current Montreal Canadiens players Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, and Hal Gill.
Having played with them in various International settings including three Olympic games and two World Championships.
Guerin has also played part of one season in San Jose in 2006-07 with Josh Gorges and Mathieu Darche and in that same season played more than 60 games alongside current AHL goaltender Curtis Sandford while in St-Louis.
Having been part of this league for such an extended period of time it is also a pretty safe bet to say that he has likely had more than one conversation with guys like Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik, Mike Cammalleri and many more.
No Right Wingers
In 2009-10 the Habs went into the season with only three right wingers who were NHL ready; Gionta, Matt D’Agostini and Georges Laraque.
The remaining 10 forwards were all Centers or Left Wingers.
As a result of this need, players like Andrei Kostitsyn were forced to switch to the right side in order to make room for and accommodate new-comers like Cammalleri to top line minutes.
Unfortunately this season as the roster takes shape we appear even thinner on the right side with D’Agostini and Laraque no longer part of the team and with no other natural right wingers added to replace them.
By adding a player of Guerin’s ability it would mean that players like Kostitsyn would be able to return to their natural wing, which he has played at for more than 20 years.
This of course would also have a trickle down effect throughout the organization.
With Guerin playing RW on the first line, Kostitsyn would slide down to LW on the second. This would therefore dictate that Benoit Pouliot slide down to the third and Travis Moen to the fourth.
Furthermore having Pouliot on the third line will, in my opinion, pay the biggest dividends for this team. The reason I say this is because Pouliot is a big body but he is not a grinder and does not play overly well along the boards.
Pouliot is a slot presence who can score when people get him the puck. It is absolutely crucial to pair someone of his ability with two players who work hard and who can fore check like Maxim Lapierre and Lars Eller. This would ultimately allow Pouliot to concentrate on what got him drafted fourth overall in 2005; scoring.
Truth be told, there is also the little kid in me who envisions a line of Pouliot-Eller-Lapierre, where Big Max would be the smallest guy on the ice.
Lack of Size
And here is the big one.
I realize that most fans overlook the weaknesses of their team and ultimately look at the positives, but from what I can see with this team, size is a major concern.
As mentioned earlier our bottom six forwards all look more than capable of competing against any group of forwards in the league. However our top-six is undersized and this impacts the game in a multitude of ways.
Carey Price faced the 8th most shots per game out of all goaltenders in the league during the regular season, last year. This issue was further echoed in the playoffs when Jaroslav Halak once again faced more rubber than any other goalie.
It is my belief that this issue can be based primarily on a lack of size.
In the defensive zone our forwards (specifically our centers) lack the size to physically compete with the much bigger bodies in the league. As a result of this, Martin’s system requires our wingers to drop down even lower in the defensive zone to out-number the opposition down low.
As our wingers drop down below the harsh marks the defensive zone points free up in space resulting in shots coming in from all angles and, more often than not, with the goaltender unable to see the puck through the traffic.
On the defensive side of the puck, having a player of Guerin’s size would allow physical containment because there would be less of a need to out-number the opposition while battling below the goal line or along the boards.
Ultimately if there is no need to out-number the opposition then it would allow our forwards to cover the points a little closer, which would certainly reduce the amount of shots and traffic in the slot.
Common sense dictates that the less shots against and with the opposition more closely watched, the time spent in our own zone will certainly diminish. Moreover, our forwards will have the ability to focus their energy on scoring rather than wasting most of it in defensive physical battles.
On the offensive side of the puck Guerin knows his role and knows what it takes to be successful. He keeps his game simple, drives to the net and creates space for his linemates.
When five of your six forwards have trouble getting on all the rides at LaRonde and who also lack the physical stature to create turnovers using their body, simply put, Guerin is needed.
A forechecking presence will ultimately free up loose pucks, allow the smaller forwards to look for open ice and consequently expose the opposition to turnovers because of the lack of time to make the perfect play.
I will end this piece by explaning my simple organization philosophy:
For years I have been saying that the Habs rarely give our young players a chance at the NHL level. When push comes to shove I would much rather see a roster spot go to someone we have drafted and developed rather than a player who is acquired for a year or two.
With that being said, adding a player like Guerin—despite his 41 years of age—is a necessity. We have limited cap space and still need a top-six forward with size.
Guerin is familiar with almost half of the roster, has been a model of consistency throughout his career, and can be had with a very inexpensive contract.
Guerin needs to be a member of the blue blanc rouge come October.
Willey was the shinning light among the wicked growing up as the lone Habs fan in Toronto. Pray to Holy Ghosts of the old forum and all shall be answered I was told, and just like that my family was transferred back to Montreal and away from the damned. Olé Olé Olé.