*** Premiere *** : Habs Panel and LIVE BLOG
Welcome ... to the first ever Habs Panel!
As announced last week, we're embarking on a brand new adventure in Canadiens blogging and we want to get you involved in the action.
This week we discuss what needs to be done about Jaroslav Spacek, how to solve the issue of the top 2 lines, and ponder who we think should be called up from Hamilton; as well as who that person should replace.
So without further ado ... The questions, and our answers!
Is there space for Jaroslav Spacek? What do you do with him, knowing that his salary can't come off the books and you're stuck with it until the end of next season?
The struggles of the Canadiens' aging Czech defenseman (well, one of them) have been well-documented this season, even turning into retirement and injury rumors. Spacek has been a valued member of several NHL blue lines, including the Habs last season. Our panel discusses the potential future of Spacek with the team.
George Prax of TheCheckingLine.com responds:
It's convenient that we do this a day after Spacek has his best game in terms of offense (THANKS SPACHO), but I don't think one game should change anyone's opinion much. Spacek is brilliant one shift, and completely shuts down the next shift and makes you want to kill yourself. Add to that his increasing age and his less than favorable salary situation, and I think that you have no choice but to run out this season with him around and buy him out the next. It's a $1.3 million cap hit for each of the next two seasons, but with plenty of defensive talent in Hamilton, it would still cost you less - both on the ice and in terms of dollars - than keeping him in the line-up. He's not going to produce huge numbers this year, and he's likely not going to have his buddy Hamrlik around either. Give the spot to a Maxwell or a Carle.
Iain Carnegie of Bleed Bleu, Blanc, Rouge responds:
Clearly, Spacek is not playing at the same level as he was this time last year (or any time last year for that matter), but he also has not been the worst defensive player on the ice when you look purely at the numbers. He has played in every one of the games this year, and has amalgamated 2 assists, and has a +2 rating. But I have to look beyond the stats, and look at his overall play. He continues to be inconsistent. He continues to play undisciplined. He continues to cough up the puck. Add into the mix that he appears much slower compared to last year (and at many times looks lost or out of place), and you have a daily recipe for disaster. Sadly, Coach Martin, who’s spoken to Jaro about his inconsistency, continues to play him night after night.
There is no doubt that he’s eating up all kinds of cap space, but at this point in time, there is no option to alleviate that from the equation. But that doesn’t mean that he needs to be playing every night. Sit him in the Press Box and allow Picard to take over his role. I would even consider shipping him off to Hamilton, but I don’t realistically see that happening. Besides, I don’t know that he has the skill set to assist in developing all the young raw defensive talent that we have in the Bulldogs organization. So … No! There is no space for Spacek … at least not on the ice.
Rosalyn Roy of Tyger By The Tail responds:
I'd probably restrict Spacek's TOI to around 15 or 16 minutes per game. Like you said, his salary is on the books for through until the end of next season. He can offer a veteran presence on the blueline and if his time is kept to reasonable levels it should minimize any damage he does. It seems when Jacques tries to play him around the 20 minute mark that he runs out of gas and gets caught flat-footed. Ideally I'd love to trade him but unless Gauthier finds a GM who has hit new levels of desperation, it's just not going to happen.
Scott Schmidt of Shmitzy Says responds:
Of course there’s space for the Space Cadet. I call his space the press box. He can call it whatever he wants. As far as this season is concerned, who gives a rat’s ass how much money he makes? They are within the salary cap, he’s already here and the club has six perfectly capable defencemen that could play before the deep-voiced creep from the Czech Republic. It’s a no-brainer to play Alexandre Picard ahead of him and I’d even elect an opportunity to Ryan O’Byrne ahead of him at this point, though the Irishman’s supporters ought to cease their delusional claims that Martin wrecked him, as O’B was suckin’ it up before our little pear-shaped bench boss arrived last year. All that being said, Spacek is another example of a player nowhere near as bad as the conglomerate of over-reactive fans makes them out to be. He has no doubt played himself off the roster for right now, but has a pretty decent NHL career and resume to suggest another chance should someone else play themselves into the proverbial doghouse. Get this part clear right now. Not even Mike Milbury would trade for Spacek right now so expect an awfully corrosive reaction to any person wanting to discuss this avenue with any length. He’s so untradeable, it’s a wonder Eklund hasn’t rumoured him to half the league yet. But I digress. Spacho is a Hab, at least for now, so get what you can out of him.
Why is the second line struggling so much, after a fair amount of success last season? At this point, what do you do in order to ice two lines that can actually score?
Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez have had their troubles as well early in the season, and lately it seems to have infested the Plekanec line as well, as the Canadiens top six forwards have not been able to contribute for the Canadiens. What will it take to get them going?
George Prax: Why are they struggling? As far as I can tell, it seems as if they're trying to do too much. Gomez is trying to be the poster boy for the J-Mart system and it's taking away from what he can do in the offensive zone. Gionta, for whatever reason, is trying to be way too cute with the puck. His strength isn't in dangling and perfect plays, it's in front of the net and off the rush on straight shots (like last night), and he has to do more of that instead of pretty plays with weak shots. How to fix them? Take away Gomez's ice time by making him the third line center for a few games, send him a message. As for Gionta, well, I'm fine with him alongside Plekanec and Cammalleri if it means that he'll stop trying to be like Alex Kovalev and just plant his butt right in front of the net and bury rebounds.
Iain Carnegie: It became apparent at practice the other day that even Jacques Martin is getting anxious about the performance of the top two lines. With the exception of Plekanec and Kostitisyn, there have been very few points consistently put on the board. The majority of the aggravation has been coming from the Gomez / Gionta line. Everyone and his brother has been assigned to that line as a winger, in order to “find the right chemistry”, and all have failed. That’s predominantly because Lars Eller hasn’t been given a shot in that spot. In my opinion, Eller has belonged on that line since day one. I know that he’s a natural center, but let’s face facts; he has great hands, good speed, and size. The chemistry between Gomez and Gionta has been missing, and I think that’s because there has been no one to open up lanes, and create a distraction for Gionta to sit at the side of the net, where he loves to strike from. Eller cycles the puck well in the corners, and has the ability – like Gomez – to hold the offensive zone. But he would create opportunities down low as his size forces defensive players to show him some respect.
Rosalyn Roy: I think right now Gomez and Gionta are getting too fancy and trying for the perfect shot all the time. I think Gomez is predictable in that he'll always look for Gionta first, even if it would make more sense to shoot the puck or look for the 2nd winger, and it's pretty easy for opposing defenders as a result. I think they both need to stop trying for the fancy plays and just fire at the net to break the deadlock. The revolving line of wingers isn't helping either, and I do like that Kostitsyn brings a big, dangerous presence to that line. I'm content to give it a few more games and see if Andrei can't help them out of their mental blocks. If it doesn't change soon, though, I'd probably split the Gomez/Gionta pairing for a few shifts and see if that can't get the message across.
Scott Schmidt: Ok, now I’m really going to look like a Martin advocate, but that bugger stole my answer to the second part of this question with his lineup changes. Putting in Andrei Kostitsyn, a big-arse body who can dangle, hit and score is precisely what a speed combo like G & G needs, and giving Eller a shot with Cammalleri and Plekanec – even though Plek’s flu messed it all up – was what I’d like to call, ‘about GD time.’ If Travis Moen and Tom Pyatt are worthy of multiple-game opportunities in the top-six then the glazed Danish should get a turn. And considering the newly dubbed PhD line of Darche, Halpern and Pouliot is apparently going to carry the team from now on, it turns out Marin has jack squat to lose with a little Eller experiment. As for why the two aforementioned G’s can’t seem to score, pick a cliché. They’re trying too hard, they’re trying to do too much, they’re gripping their sticks too tight, they’re being too fancy, it’s all in their heads, and so on and so on. The team has no choice but to wait them out, as one is the captain and the other the highest paid player. Take some solace in the fact the club is compiling much-needed points while $12.5M in salary plays like Betty White. Someone get them an effin’ Snickers bar.
Call up one player right now from Hamilton. Who does he replace, and where does he fit into the line-up and why?
With the Bulldogs leading their division in the AHL and plenty of players performing well down in Hamilton, there are plenty of potential candidates for a call up, and plenty of under-performing players that could be heading the other direction. Who would you pick?
George Prax: I would like my choice to be Yannick Weber, who is RED HOT on the Bulldogs blueline this year. But with too many defensemen on the roster as it is, it kind of has to be a forward. With WAY too many good choices, as the team is performing very well and many are contributing, you kinda have to go with the one player that everyone had in their line-up in pre-season: Ryan White. He'll provide exactly what the Habs need, a big body and energy. And hey! It's another player that Martin can put on the first line ahead of Lars Eller! As for who would go down... wink wink, nudge nudge. Yes, everyone wants to keep him here since he's supposed to equal Jaroslav Halak, somehow, but if he's not getting a fair chance, well, then let him get a fair chance in Hamilton and prove the coach wrong! Desharnais is doing it, Pacioretty is doing it, give them Eller and they will outright explode. No one will care if Ryan White doesn't get minutes and doesn't go to the top line, he'll make the most of whatever ice time he gets. And Lars Eller isn't. His spot on the team right now is just a huge vicious circle created by the coaching staff, a giant void, a black hole, if you will, so fill it up with someone who actually might make a difference.
Iain Carnegie: Initially, I was considering Yannick Weber (10 Games 6 Goals 4 Assists -1), but realistically, Picard is already sitting with the team, and as I mentioned earlier, should be the one utilized in Spacek’s place. Plus, Weber is having an exceptional season in Hamilton. He would be better suited there, and may end up being considered as solid trade material in the future.After the press conference that Max Pacioretty had earlier in the week, it’s also clear that he doesn’t really want the call up, and is happier playing on a consistent basis with the Bulldogs.So, with much consideration I’ve decided on Ryan White.
White showed in training camp and pre-season that he’s not only hungry, but ready to play at the NHL level. But not as a top 6 forward … not yet. He’s quick and gritty. He’s a grinder, and that’s what you need on your bottom two lines. With more exposure to play in the big league, I think it will develop White at a speed he’s capable of handling.That being said, time to say goodbye to Tom Pyatt for now. In 10 games he’s produced nothing on the 4th line. With zero points and a -2 rating, it’s time to push Lapierre back into his position at center, and have another spirited player, who can also be a playmaker, on the line with him.
Rosalyn Roy: I'd bring up Ryan White and sit Tom Pyatt or Dustin Boyd, both of whom have failed to impress me so far this season. White has speed, size, skill and at least can offer some grit and protection with his willingness to drop the gloves, something the Habs are sorely lacking. I can see the need for another top line winger, but after Pacioretty's foot-in-mouth moment a few days ago with The Gazette, I just don't see a call-up for him right now. I'm unconvinced he's ready and mature enough mentally after that nonsense, and frankly I'd prefer to have Eller in the top 6 anyway.
Scott Schmidt: I wouldn’t call anyone up right now if we must get right down to it. Assuming I’m in the position for a moment, I have chosen this group for the start of the season and I’ve done so with reason. And so, when I’m 8-4-1 and leading my division, do I send down someone after only 13 games I was positive would play well, in lieu of a player toting zero guarantee upon arrival? Or do I send down someone I was weary about, like a Darche, when they are clearly major reasons for our early success? My obvious answers to those questions lead me to choose no one. But if I have to, there are only three avenues I would explore right now. No. 1, Tom Pyatt, whose speed and effort I love, has to be my first odd man out if a gun is pressed against my temple. Secondly I choose Dustin Boyd, though I think he’s the exact same poison (to steal a line from @nasty45) as most of the players I would call up to fill a bottom-seven spot. The last, and most controversial I’m sure, is young Lars Eller. BUT, this move only happens after a significant trial run on a stable top-six line. As for who I’d call up? If Eller goes down, it’s a guarantee I replace him with the red-hot David Desharnais. If either of the other two are my choice, then I bring up Ryan White, whose firecracker potentially has the biggest bang, which would be great alongside Lapierre and Moen. PS and for the record — in the wake of comments made by Max Pacioretty this week, the 21-year-old dummy has a LONG tenure in southern Ontario ahead of him where he can learn the concept of how radio is broadcast to the public.
So there you have it folks. Week 1 of the Habs Panel is in the books, and we'd love to get your opinion on our thoughts. Please be sure to leave your comments. And to top things off, please join us this coming Tuesday for the LIVE BLOG session of the Habs Panel, so we can hear from you live. I'll be posting details on the event tomorrow.
Thanks for joining us, and we look forward to your input!