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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
Change: +26GP - (4G) - +6A - +2PTS – (-6)
Last Year: D
2010-11 Grade: D
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.