Fixing the Leaky Roof

Last season, as the Montreal Canadiens were adding up the injuries and spending valuable current and future assets, general manager Pierre Gauthier advised he had been saving for an offensive weapon but had to spend the cap room on repairing a leaky roof. 

This off-season so far, he has been reinforcing that roof, while saving for a possible bargain from one of those over the cap teams that need to shed some salary.

Gone from last season's 12 defenseman suited up for the Habs are Wisniewski, Sopel, Picard, and Hamrlik.

The returning ones are Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges who were both injured for most of the year with blown knees. After major constructive surgery on both players, the Habs are looking for big comeback years from both.  

P.K. Subban is coming off of a strong season and is looking to continue his very promising career. The more he was asked to do, the better he became. However, there are some aspects to his game that require work, the main one being discipline. The Habs can ill afford to have him in the penalty box as often this year as last. 

Hal Gill was signed to a one-year extension to the delight of many fans (myself included). He has proven to be a great mentor and is a force to be reckoned with. He is a large, speed-challenged defender who keeps his game simple and plays within his capabilities.

Last season was an excellent starting point for Yannick Weber, a smallish defenseman with a wicked and accurate shot. I am hoping the powers that be feel he should be on the defense and not the fourth line. In my opinion, he has improved his game over the past few years an the defensive side. He should start the year with the big club in Montreal.

There were some surprising signings this summer, including Alexei Yemelin coming over from Europe and signing with the Habs. If he can live up to his reputation as an edgey and physical player, he will be a great addition. He also has to adapt to playing on a smaller ice surface; hopefully there will not be too much of a learning curve. What he will also have to improve upon will be staying out of the penalty box.

The one defenseman I am most concerned about on the Habs is none other than the aging veteran Jaroslav Spacek. Last season he looked lost, but he also managed to lead the team in plus/minus with a +9 in 59 games. The writing may be on the wall for Mr. Spacek. Perhaps, with better managed ice time and some urgency in his final year on contract, he will overcome last year's struggles and shine for the Habs this season.

Unlike last season, this year there is depth in Hamilton on the defensive side of the puck. Gauthier signed several experienced defensemen who can now be called up when those inevitable injuries occur, all while leaving himself enough cap room to add to the roster as necessary. It certainly should be an interesting season in Habsland indeed.


George Prax's picture

Good article. I can't really disagree with any of this lol. The only "weak link" is obviously Spacek, who I presume will see the inside of the press box more often than he ever has before. I'm okay with him for one more year, and for once, I'm actually okay with this team's defensive depth. The key to this season is not wasting assets on rentals, and the key in turn (no pun intended) to that is in Markov and Gorges staying healthy and of course Yemelin panning out. With Yemelin, Weber, and Subban, I'm liking the vibe of the team's age balance.

Welcome to TCL Laura! Smile

habbykins's picture

Thank you George - was a little nervous but not too bad for a mid-summer effort. LOL And yes health is always an issue.

George Prax's picture

No reason for you to be nervous. You're among friends here Smile

Matt Bernot's picture

and Leafs fans

habbykins's picture

That is okay Matt - my son is one

Tyg's picture

I'm just glad that we're not going to have to resort to trading off 2nd rounders every time there's an injury next season. At least I hope not. There's some insurance on defense finally, but do we have enough offensive insurance as well? And as much as I would love to see Spacek parked in the press box scarfing down the hot dogs in favor of the kiddies hitting the ice, we all know Jacques loves his vets so I remain skeptical. Glad to see you on TCL Laura. Congrats and I look forward to reading your stuff.

habbykins's picture

Thanks Roz - appreciate your comments as always Wink

George Prax's picture

I'm actually surprised Gauthier hasn't signed another veteran forward for the bottom six. But there's still a lot of time left and some names out there. But I won't spoil my next blog Wink

Marco Perruzza's picture

I really liked your article it was very well written. I disagree with your optimism though regarding the Canadiens backend. I'm not a fan of the island that is Hal Gill, especially at the ripe age of 36. If healthy Markov is fantastic, but can he be relied upon? Is an already slow Gorges able to recover from such a significant knee injury? I think Subban is a great player, but is it too much pressure for a 22 year old pro heading into the dreaded sophmore season? I think the Habs made a big mistake letting Wisniewski go, and, whether people like it or not, Hamrlik played 22:17 a night and hasn't been replaced.

Can't wait for the season to start! Love discussing things with Habs fans.

habbykins's picture

Thanks for the comments Marco-they are really appreciated.

I agree that there are a lot of IFS on the Habs blueline to be sure. I mostly like the fact that they are going to be younger and more mobile - I would have liked to keep Hamrlik to be sure . Without him the habs would not have been a playoff team in the last two seasons. The new defensemen should not breakdown by the end of the season if used properly this season.

I am optimistic about the defense for this season. It should be an interesting one.

George Prax's picture

What more does Gill need to prove to show that he's an adequate NHL defenseman? I know the Leafs had a bad experience with him, but ever since he's left Toronto he's won a cup with Pittsburgh and gone to the Eastern finals with the Habs as a key member of both teams. He was just as good last year and a great mentor for the Habs' young defensemen -- and with another (Yemelin) on the way this year and possibly a couple of others, that role will continue.

Your concerns about Markov and Gorges are legitimate, but both are great defensemen when healthy (and in Gorges' case, even when not healthy seeing as he played on that busted leg his entire career). Harmlik has his ups and downs but he's a capable defenseman too. Subban isn't a typical sophomore. He had more than enough pressure last year, and you can't forget that he played 20 playoff games the year before. He'll be fine and chalking it up to the typical sophomore slump isn't fair. Nor is it fair to put it all on Wisniewski's departure. I would have preferred to keep him too but not for that money and not for what could be the next Sheldon Souray.

Plus the wildcard in all of this, Yemelin..

I'll be the first to tell you that Habs fans have a lot of things NOT to be optimistic about, but they're fine on defense. Their track record defensively over the last couple of years is more than enough proof of that.