Inventory Check: Centres of Attention

In this feature, we’ll examine Montreal’s strengths and weaknesses as a roster going forward.  In one sense, this can be viewed as what exactly former General Manager Bob Gainey left behind for his successor, Pierre Gauthier.  In a more immediate sense, it examines what Gauthier might do at the NHL trading deadline.  Our first look is at the organization’s depth at the centre position.

Aside from the never-ending goaltending controversy, there hasn’t been a position of more contention in recent years amongst Montreal Canadiens fans and management than down the middle.  Bob Gainey’s most lasting legacy to the team was his inability to land the big, star #1 centreman (i.e. Vincent Lecavalier), and in the end settling on Scott Gomez as Saku Koivu’s successor.  Winning without a top centre isn’t impossible, but it isn’t all that common.  That’s why Tomas Plekanec’s season has both surprised Habs fans and been the subject of much debate:  is Plekanec a legitimate top line centre, or is he just having one of those "contract seasons?"

 

 

Centre

Cap Hit

FA

R/L

GP

G

A

P

PIM

P/-

TOI/G

SPCT

FOPCT

ESP

PPP

CORSI

QCOMP

Tomas Plekanec

$2,750,000

2010

L

63

17

43

60

36

4

20:15

10.1%

47.6%

36

24

-0.2

0.095

Scott Gomez

$7,357,000

2014

L

59

10

32

42

48

-5

19:45

7.6%

50.9%

29

13

10.1

0.071

Dominic Moore

$1,100,000

2010

L

50

9

9

18

37

-7

15:00

10.7%

55.8%

15

2

2.9

0.003

Glen Metropolit

$1,000,000

2010

R

57

13

11

24

24

-1

14:18

12.9%

50.3%

13

11

1.3

-0.059

Maxim Lapierre

$687,500

2010

R

63

5

6

11

54

-13

12:29

6.4%

47.9%

11

0

-12.5

-0.063

Tom Pyatt

$850,000

2010

L

22

1

1

2

6

-10

11:39

3.3%

45.2%

2

0

-10.0

-0.028

Ben Maxwell

$850,000

2011

L

8

0

0

0

4

-1

9:33

0.0%

50.0%

0

0

-29.4

0.046

David Desharnais

$512,500

2010

L

6

0

1

1

0

-1

8:26

0.0%

57.1%

0

1

-10.9

-0.088

 

Tomas Plekanec is producing at the best clip of his career, but it’s not a severe aberration for him.  The assists totals are higher than anticipated, but without constantly deferring to Alex Kovalev (his linemate for the better part of the previous three seasons), he’s taken more initiative in creating plays.  He’s emerging as the team’s top passer and has also been a huge part of the team’s PK success.  He also plays the toughest minutes of all the Habs’ centres, yet still leads the team in even strength production (as well as on the power play).  Projecting him to be "Mr. Everything" for years to come is definitely hard to believe, but he has shown multiple dimensions to his game that can prove valuable going forward.  With Gauthier’s stated desire to retain him, coupled with his strong performance at the Olympics, it’s doubtful the 2009-10 Canadiens will move him on Mar. 3.  Whether he and the Habs can agree on a contract extension is another story.

Gomez_medium

Scott Gomez’s contract is definitely hard to accept, but he has done reasonably well in his first year as a Hab.  His Corsi numbers are amongst the best on the team, though he also takes more offensive zone faceoffs than anyone else on the team, which skews the results.  While the salary doesn’t justify the results, he is a decent #2, and hardly the source of Montreal’s mediocre record.  Pierre Gauthier’s first move was to add a 3rd line centre who could take some of the defensive responsibilities off of Plekanec, and targeted the relatively cap friendly Dominic Moore as a result.  He’s now the team’s top faceoff man, and has been a solid contributor defensively this year.  Glen Metropolit provides a RH option for Jacques Martin, and the team has tapped into a surprising source of power play acumen with the journeyman.  Nevertheless, at 36 years old, don’t expect Metropolit to be re-signed.  As for Moore, he’s a rental who has some potential to be re-signed. 

75061_feature_medium

Maxim Lapierre photo via cdn.bleacherreport.com

Part of the reason for the Moore acquisition was the poor play of Maxim Lapierre this year.  In every aspect of the game he has struggled and his minutes have been cut severely as a result.  As the only centre on the NHL roster over 6’1", he still holds some value and he will remain a cap friendly asset despite his RFA status.  For the rest of the year, he will likely skate as a 4th line winger.  None of the team’s callups have impressed to the point where they have earned a spot on the team, but Tom Pyatt has shown some versatility and may fair better as a winger.  Ben Maxwell played out of position on left wing during his callup, so it is tough to judge his performance as a result.  David Desharnais showed impressive skills, but his lack of size may get him moved to the wing if he is to crack the NHL roster next fall. 

AHL Stats

Cap Hit

FA

R/L

GP

G

A

P

PIM

P/-

ESG

PPG

David Desharnais

$512,500

2010

L

39

19

32

51

24

11

10

8

Tom Pyatt

$850,000

2010

L

38

11

21

32

5

15

9

2

Ben Maxwell

$850,000

2011

L

50

12

25

37

18

7

8

4

Ryan Russell

$503,333

2010

L

56

11

13

24

4

11

9

1

Mikael Johansson

$875,000

2010

L

20

3

3

6

2

0

2

1

Olivier Fortier

$875,000

2012

 

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the AHL, all three of Desharnais, Pyatt and Maxwell have been impressive.  Maxwell overcame a slow start and has shown great chemistry with winger Brock Trotter, but it’s hard to see the Habs leaving a roster spot open for Maxwell next season.  Deharnais is now one of the AHL’s top point producers, and Pyatt has shown enough offensive pop to help him in his future as a potential third line forward in the NHL.  Ryan Russell has yet to see NHL action, but has had two solid campaigns in Hamilton in a checking role.  Mikael Johansson has returned to Sweden, and Olivier Fortier has yet to play this year due to injury. 0maxwell2_medium

Ben Maxwell photo via habsinsideout.com

The one glaring conclusion when looking at the team’s centre depth is something that has been pointed out ad nauseum by media and fans league wide:  this team has no size to speak of.  Kyle Chipchura was dealt due to ineffectiveness, and Maxim Lapierre has struggled after having a strong 2008-09 season.  Ben Maxwell is the "big centre" in Hamilton at all of 6’1", 195 lbs.  Outside of Hamilton, Swedish centre Andreas Engqvist is the only centre of impressive size, a lanky 6’4", 199 lbs.  He will join the Canadiens’ pro ranks next season. 

What Montreal’s centre corps does boast is speed and versatility.  Plekanec and Gomez aren’t world-beaters, but they are legitimate top 6 forwards who are solid defensively and use their teammates well.  Dominic Moore gives the team a forechecking option they didn’t have previously, and perhaps even the beleaguered Max Lapierre will thrive as a forechecking winger, without the responsibilities of staying high in the offensive zone.  If that doesn't sound like a Stanley Cup contending combination, you're probably on to something.  In the end, the question is whether Pierre Gauthier can create a contending team with a Plekanec-Gomez tandem down the middle, or do major moves have to be made to make it work?  

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