Off-Season Rankings: The Top Six Forwards

Late last summer, I ranked, scored, and projected all the players on the Montreal Canadiens in four glorious posts, based on their prior season’s performance, and what was expected for them in 2010-11. Some players missed those expectations, others exceeded them, some were of course traded off the team.

With the new season fast approaching, it’s time, once again, to rank your Montreal Canadiens, and look at what we should expect from each of them in the new year. Today, we look at the top six forwards. We’ll then move on to the “best of the rest” of the forwards, the defense, goaltending, and finally, management and the team in general.

Below, you’ll find our rankings for the top six forwards, based on ice time from the previous season. We’ll break down every player’s 2010-11, before scoring their performance, and looking ahead to what they should do in 2011-12. Keep in mind these are my opinions, so feel free to rank and score them yourself in the comments below!

1. BRIAN GIONTA
2010-11: 82GP - 29G - 17A - 46PTS - +3
Change: +21GP - +1G - (-1A) – 0PTS  - EVEN

Last Year: A-

Brian Gionta started off his second year as a Hab with a bang, earning the captaincy after much speculation last summer. Needless to say, he had a lot to live up to now that he was the “official” leader of the team, especially coming off a year that saw him miss 21 games due to injury, not to mention a run to the Eastern Conference finals.

In last year’s rankings, I stated that Gionta should easily hit the numbers he had last season. He literally ended up with the exact same point totals. I also asked whether his 2009-10 goal totals were anomalous, whether he was still capable of being a 30 goal scorer. He nearly hit that mark, with 29 goals. He came just shy of the 50 point goal I had set for him, but you have to keep in mind that he spent the entirety of the season playing next to a player who had the worst season of his career and was completely useless offensively (more on this player below). When you consider that Gionta scored 29 goals IN SPITE of his “playmaking” center, it becomes all the more impressive.

That said, despite putting forth a good year with bad linemates, it was far from his best. He had literally nothing to show for the extra 21 games he played, so his rating has to drop slightly.

2010-11 Grade: B+

2011-12 Expectations:Now that we’ve seen Gionta play a full, productive season with the Habs, what should be expected of him is a little clearer. Thirty goals and sixty points is the perfect balance for him, but to accomplish that, Jacques Martin is going to need to play around with who centers him during the season.

- 30 goals / 60 points.
- Find someone to play with that isn’t Scott Gomez.
- Continue to lead team well and with pride.
 
 
2. MAX PACIORETTY
2010-11: 37GP - 14G - 10A - 24PTS - -1
Change: (-15GP) - +11G - (-1A) – +10PTS  - +4

Last Year: C-

It’s pointless for me to rehash the negative from Max Pacioretty’s latest season with the Habs. It’s not only the Chara incident, but also the controversy he created when he stated he’d rather stay in Hamilton, back in November, and the questions surrounding his ability. Thankfully, there’s plenty of positive for us to talk about. When Pacioretty finally made the team in mid-December, he was a revelation. It was clear that this player had learned from his extended time with the Bulldogs, and, consequently, from his time player under Guy Boucher last year and Randy Cunneyworth this year, from being cut from the team mid-season last year, and at training camp in 2010.

Pacioretty put up 14 goals in 37 games, a pace that would have had him easily hit 30 goals over the course of a season. He got the Gomez/Gionta line finally going, and he gave depth to a team that desperately needed it in its top six. Unfortunately, that success was stopped right in its tracks thanks to a goon with a grudge. And that incident stops us from being able to give Pacioretty the grade he truly deserves. But for the half-season Pacioretty was with the team, he was tremendous. It’s pretty clear the Habs have a great power forward in the making, and it won’t be long until the rest of the NHL takes notice.

2010-11 Grade: B+

2011-12 Expectations: Projecting Pacioretty’s performance is going to be a little tricky. It seems as if he’s fully recovered from his broken neck and concussion, but we won’t know for sure until he hits the ice in October. Assuming he’s 100% ready to go, the stars seem to be aligning for him to have a real breakout season. He plays well under Jacques Martin. Randy Cunneyworth, who coached him in Hamilton, will be there to help him as well, and a player who can mentor him – both in terms of the broken neck and style of play – has been added to the team in Erik Cole. It’s up to Pacioretty to put the incident with Chara behind him and have an epic season.

- Play a full season with the team.
- 25 goals / 50 points.
- Don’t let the bastards bring you down.
 
 
3. TOMAS PLEKANEC
2010-11: 77GP - 22G - 35A - 57PTS - +8
Change: (5GP) - (3G) - (10A) - (13PTS) - (-3)

Last Year: B+

2009-10 saw Tomas Plekanec put up career numbers on his way to leading the team in scoring. 25 foals, 70 points, and a brand new 6-year, $30 million contract set the expectations high for the young Czech center in 2010-11, but it was understandable that he likely wouldn’t live up to the same career numbers. Unfortunately, he didn’t even live up to the modest offensive totals we had set for him, falling shy of the bare minimum 60 point projection.

That said, Plekanec still led the team in scoring for a second straight year. You also have to consider the fact that the Canadiens played much of the season without two of their top defensemen, which means that a lot of that defensive responsibility fell onto Plekanec’s shoulders. By the three-quarter mark of the season, it was evident that Plekanec was burnt out. Between being the team’s top offensive forward, top defensive forward, and all the special teams work he had to do, you can’t really blame the guy for dropping off a bit offensively. And you can likely put some of that blame on Mike Cammalleri, who had kind of an inconsistent season with only 19 goals. When you play most of your ice time next to someone like Cammalleri, you have to rely on his ability to put pucks in the back of the net, and a lot of the time, Plekanec didn’t have that reassurance.

We can’t give Plekanec the score he got last season, it simply wouldn’t be fair. But we understand why he dropped off, and for that, Pleks stays steady with a B.

2010-11 Grade: B

2011-12 Expectations: Expect Plekanec’s responsibilities to be more balanced this season. With potentially three scoring lines on the roster, the team won’t rely on him as much offensively. But he’s still the team’s number one center, and he’s still playing with their best offensive weapons, so he’ll be expected to lead the team in scoring for a third straight year. Hopefully, that means he can once again match his career totals with 70 points, but a lot of that is contingent on what Mike Cammalleri can provide for him.

- 25 goals / 70 points.
- Simplify game. Doing too much isn’t doing the team any favors when you break down in February.
- Play solid on both ends of the ice.
- Make Mike Cammalleri the player he needs to be.

 

4. ANDREI KOSTITSYN
2010-11: 81GP - 20G - 25A - 45PTS - +1
Change: +22GP - +5G - +7A – +12PTS  - +2

Last Year: C-

This may surprise you, but I actually liked what Andrei Kostitsyn brought to the team last season. He may have had better years, in terms of goal production, and he may frustrate the Hell out of you more often than not, but there’s no denying that he actually had a decent season with the Habs. Despite all the rumors of potentially getting shipped out of town, despite apparently being in the coach’s doghouse for a lot of the season, Kostitsyn still managed 20 goals and 45 points, and to play all but one of the games during the season. He was seemingly defensively responsible, he used his weight properly (140 hits), and he managed to escape the negative energy left by his brother Sergei the year before.

Call me crazy, but I hope the Canadiens keep Andrei Kostitsyn. He’s a good player, he adds a little European flare to an otherwise North American-style roster, and the dude can score. I consider his 2010-11 season to be an improvement over the season he had before it.

2010-11 Grade: B-

2011-12 Expectations: This is going to be a make-or-break for Kostitsyn. A lot of people don’t see what I see in the Belorussian forward, and certain remarks he made on a Russian website may work against him this upcoming season. Moreover, it’s pretty clear that there isn’t a spot for him in the top six, which makes his life even more difficult. He’s going to have to play his way onto the top six or hope for an injury. But he can still be a very useful member of a third scoring line with the likes of Lars Eller and David Desharnais. If he can put his apparent feud with Martin on the backburner, and just play some damn hockey, there’s no reason he couldn’t emerge as a force and a true top six forward once again. Now, all of this could change, as the likelihood of seeing Kostitsyn in a different uniform next season is at an all time high. But assuming he stays with the team, these are the expectations we have for him:

- Produce the same numbers as last year.
- Be available for top six duty the moment an injury hits.
- Don’t be discouraged when you don’t get minutes.
- Prove why you deserve to stay on this team, and get ice time.

 

5. MICHAEL CAMMALLERI
2010-11: 67GP - 19G - 28A - 47PTS - +2
Change: +2GP - (7G) - +4A - (3PTS) - +5

Last Year: A-

Here’s the deal. Mike Cammalleri is a great player. The dude can score, he can even be a playmaker, and he’s committed to the success of this team. More importantly, the dude is clutch. In the Canadiens Eastern Conference Final run in 2009-10, Cammalleri led everyone in the playoffs in goals scored. This year, despite falling a single goal short of beating the eventual cup champs, Cammalleri led all players in first-round scoring with 10 points.

So, what’s the problem? Why has he dropped off so much during the season? In 2008-09 with the Flames, Cammalleri was a point-per-game player and put up 39 goals. When he signed with the Habs, we knew he likely wouldn’t match those totals, but he still managed 26 goals, despite a pretty severe knee sprain that saw him miss nearly 20 games. So far, so good, especially when matched with his amazing playoff performance. But this past season, Cammalleri couldn’t even muster 20 goals. Now, we’re aware that he had a shoulder injury, and that usually affects one’s ability to shoot pucks, but when you consider Cammalleri kept the same goalscoring pace after his injury, not to mention his amazing playoff performance, this theory can’t really hold true.

The simple fact is that for three years straight, Cammalleri’s performance has dropped off, and in both seasons with the Canadiens, he’s suffered a major injury. Neither injury was his fault, of course, but I’m sorry to say that Cammy’s running out of excuses. The Canadiens signed him to score goals, and regardless of injuries or what have you, it seems like his mind is on bigger things. And it’s that lack of focus which has led to his numbers dropping off more than those injuries. Not even hitting 20 goals in unacceptable, no matter what injury excuses Cammalleri might have.

2010-11 Grade: C+

2011-12 Expectations: The odds of Cammy suffering a major injury for a third straight here have to be pretty low. Now, we’re talking about the team that employs Andrei Markov, so we don’t want to get too cocky, but let’s assume that Cammy won’t miss any significant time this season. With that said, there are no more excuses. Cammalleri’s playoff performances are a clear indication of what he’s capable of, so it’s time for him to bring that to the team during the regular season. It’s time he leads the team to home ice by putting the puck in the back of the net, and nothing else. It’s time he lived up to his potential, and to the numbers that got him a contract with the Canadiens in the first place.

- Play at least 75 games.
- 35 goals / 75 points – no more excuses. You came here to score goals, and you should be a point per game player like your linemate. And frankly, I think I’m being modest.
- Focus on scoring goals. Leave the playmaking and the defensive play to those who specialize in it.

 

6. SCOTT GOMEZ
2010-11: 80GP - 7G - 31A - 38PTS - -15
Change: +2GP - (5G) - (16A) - (21PTS) - (-16)

Last Year: A-

There really isn’t much we can say about Scott Gomez that we don’t already know. His contract is an albatross. He’s at the lowest point of his career. Simply put, he sucks. Looking at his numbers from this past season, there’s simply no excuse for him anymore. As much as people will say that he’s in better shape now, that he’s motivated, that he’s bound to bounce back, I don’t really care. Even if he puts up 70 assists and 80 points next season, it won’t be enough to cover the grief he’s given these fans. The only expectation I have for Scott Gomez in 2011-12, is that this team’s management finds a way to get rid of him, and it doesn’t even matter whether they have someone to replace him or not.

2010-11 Grade: F

2011-12 Expectations

- Retirement

Incoming:ERIK COLE

2010-11: 82GP - 26G - 26A - 52PTS - -1
Change: +42GP - +15 - +21A - +36PTS – +8

Last Year: N/A

Erik Cole had a great last season in Carolina. He finally played a full 82 game schedule, he overcame the negative energy surrounding him following a devastating neck injury, and he put good numbers with 26 goals and 52 points. Unfortunately, Cole still has to overcome some of that negative energy coming into Montreal. Despite proving that he can play great against the Habs at the Bell Centre, it remains unclear whether he can play for them, or rather, with any team other than the Carolina Hurricanes, and any player other than Eric Staal. A brief experiment playing in Edmonton ended in disaster and a trade back to his old team, so there’s definitely going to be some pressure on the 32-year-old to earn his contract in Montreal.

That said, Cole enters a new role in Montreal, as a mentor to players like Max Pacioretty, and as support to a top six that desperately needed some size and grit. If he can provide that, and match his 2010-11 point totals, he’ll be a welcome addition to the team, in the eyes of the fans.

2011-12 Expectations

- Play 80 games.
- Repeat previous year’s numbers.
- Find chemistry with someone who isn’t named Staal.
- Do what you did to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre, but instead, for them.
- Mentor Max Pacioretty.
- Use size to make up for lack thereof in linemates.

 

Outgoing:BENOIT POULIOT
2010-11: 79GP - 13G - 17A - 30PTS - +2
Change: +26GP - (4G) - +6A - +2PTS – (-6)

Last Year: D

Benoit Pouliot was kind of in the same boat Andrei Kostitsyn was last year. In the coach’s doghouse, inconsistent performance, incredibly short leash. So when you really think about it, Pouliot’s performance wasn’t THAT terrible, considering he barely got 10 minutes of ice time most nights and not many chances on top lines. But it’s pretty clear that there was more to Pouliot’s dismissal than his on-ice performance. He didn’t fit, he didn’t perform, he didn’t even come close to living up to expectations, so now he’s gone. Considering what team he signed with when the Canadiens let him go, all I really have to say is good riddance.

2010-11 Grade: D

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Early next week, we’ll look at the rest of the team’s forwards. With the Canadiens looking like they’re going to ice three scoring lines next season, the “bottom six” forwards actually present some interesting possibilities if the Habs happen to make any more changes. As you can probably tell, the top six is a little crowded, so Andrei Kostitsyn is almost guaranteed to drop down to the third line at the start of the season. Guys like Desharnais, Eller, and others could very well find themselves alongside the Giontas and Plekanecs at one point or another next season as well.

But of course, that’s a discussion best saved for next week. For now, let us know what you think of these rankings in the comments below, and post your own scores, rankings and expectations.

Prax

Twitter.com/GeorgePrax

15 Comments

Phil T's picture

Disagree with Cammy's grade. Should have been B or at the VERY LEAST a B-.

He was lights out with Pleks + Kostitsyn at the beginning of the year until JMART started screwing around with the lines to get Gomez going. Add in the injuries (including a separated shoulder -- which takes a while to fully recover from) and you've got the reason for an "average" regular season performance. 47pts in 67 games extrapolates to about 58pts in a full season; enough for the team lead (Plekanec had 57pts in 77 games). He started to pick it up at the end of the year (shoulder probably getting better) and led the playoffs in scoring while the Habs were in the race.

You can't really give Kostitsyn a better grade than Cammy; it just doesn't work.

Until the Habs trade for Iginla, I have my doubts Cammy will ever hit 35 goals D:

George Prax's picture

Here are some interesting stats:

Cammalleri had 3 goals in October. Four goals in November. Five goals in December. He actually wasn't on fire at all at the beginning of the year. His pace in the first half was better than his return, but not really by much. It's not like he was completely shut down by the injury. Sure, it takes time to recuperate but my gripe with his season was actually more in the first half than the second. If he kept his pace and didn't get injured he would have had max 25 goals, and that's not really acceptable. I understand that 39 goals isn't going to happen, but 30 should be the bare minimum. We know he can do it. We know the dude can perform in the playoffs, why can't he bring that same level of firepower to the season?

As for Kostitsyn, it's about perspective. Cammy averaged 18:28 per game last season, and put up 19 goals in 67 games. Andrei averaged 15:53, played much of the season in the doghouse, and put up 20 goals in 81 games. Considering he's obviously not as good a player as Cammy, and isn't really a top forward for the team either, this is pretty impressive. I actually didn't even realize he had another 20 goal season until I was putting the stats together here. Not to mention the guy actually hits a lot of the time and provides a physical dimension that the team obviously lacks. If those comments didn't kill him in Martin's eyes I think the guy can have a really surprising season and earn a spot in the top six.

It's a matter of expectations. I didn't expect Kostitsyn to have those kinds of stats, so his score improved from last year. Cammy didn't even hit 20 goals, while making double Kostitsyn's salary and having more ice time, so his grade worsens, regardless of injury or playoff performance. It's about time Cammalleri stepped up, that's all, really.

Phil T's picture

It seems like you're judging Cammalleri's contribution solely on goal scoring. The Habs aren't a high scoring team by any stretch of the imagination, so I'm not sure why you expect Cammalleri to score so many goals.

George Prax's picture

This is why:

SEASON NHL SALARY CAP HIT
2009-10 $5,000,000 $6,000,000
2010-11 $5,000,000 $6,000,000
2011-12 $6,000,000 $6,000,000
2012-13 $7,000,000 $6,000,000
2013-14 $7,000,000 $7,000,000

He was signed as a goalscorer, therefore, he should score goals. Tide goes in, tide goes out.

Phil T's picture

You can't explain that

Phil T's picture

But realistically, Cammalleri is the kind of player who needs strong linemates or added pressure (playoffs) in order to be effective. Also keep in mind that should Markov stay healthy this year (knock on wood), the cross-ice pass to Cammy's one-timer on the powerplay should be back for some extra goals (:

George Prax's picture

Cammy played with Plekanec all season, who makes just as much money as he does and is more than capable of putting up 45+ assists. Look at the numbers. Plekanec's assists dropped about the same amount as Cammy's goals did. That's not a coincidence, nor do I think it's Plekanec's fault. Pleks was going his job, Cammy just wasn't doing his as effectively.

Phil T's picture

I remember a point in the season where Cammy was put on Gomez' line to get Gomez going, and that he was never the same afterwards

Phil T's picture

I think it was around the 12-15 game mark

George Prax's picture

He played around 15% of his ice time with Gomez. That's no excuse for the other 85% though. Gionta scored 29 in spite of Gomez.

habbykins's picture

Cammalleri last season was off all year - started in preseason with his stick work on Islanders Niedereiter - was suspended and was just off. I do not know the reason for this funk. Hopefully he has a better start.

George Prax's picture

I agree. Something was off, even before the injury. Three goals in october is proof of that. It's a make or break year for him IMO, he NEEDS to score 30.

George Prax's picture

Wish I had seen this earlier:

"I expect this to be my best season ever," said Cammalleri.

Obviously, Cammalleri too feels that he hasn't been playing up to par these last couple of years.

http://images.tsn.ca/images/stories/2010/10/2/cammalleri-sm_75788.jpgCanadiens' Cammalleri feeling fit, expects strong season
Nick Lovett's picture

Why can't people just leave Gomez alone? It's not his fault he signed a huge contract, or that the Habs were foolish enough to pick up the slack, where if he were on NYR he might be in the minors. He's a second line center, who averages between 40-70 points a year, this year was just the other side of his variance. I think he will bounce back, but let's face it, 45-60 points is all he's capable of.

George Prax's picture

I was always willing to expect 60-70 points from him, because that's what he's averaged for the most part during his entire career. He didn't have the best season here in his first year, but it was decent, and he clearly had chemistry with Gionta, so I had no problem with him as he brought another dimension to the team defensively. Unfortunately, at this point, he's bringing the team down. His contract stops management from doing anything significant to improve the team other than plug holes for the most part. He brings nearly nothing to the table offensively and his defensive contributions have become negligible. Gionta scored 30 goals last year IN SPITE of Gomez, and Gomez's 31 assists were basically just a benefit of playing next to a player who can do all the work himself.

He's a member of this team and I guess that's something we have to accept, but 38 points is completely unacceptable. Maybe it's not his fault that he signed a ridiculous contract, but it definitely is his fault for not even coming close to earning half of it. We don't have to settle for Scott Gomez. It's clear that he's mailing it in at this point. I've had enough of him, if players don't produce, they get punished. We accept it with Gomez because his contract apparently means we can't do anything about it, and it isn't fair. New York did something about it, with both him and now Drury as well. Philly did something about the big contracts they gave to Richards and Carter (different players, different reasons, but long bloated contracts had something to do with it as well). I don't understand why we simply accept the fact that Gomez is terrible.