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Last year David Desharnais established himself as an offensive dynamo alongside Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole, but is he a one season wonder?
Because I was traveling to New York City for a weekend away, I never got a chance to weigh in on David Desharnais' new contract, so I'll be mixing that in here for a bit of a longer review. We'll cover that after we go over Davey's first half of the season.
Desharnais is a limited player. He works hard and as many people like to say, he's constantly proving nay sayers wrong, but he's not a versatile, two-way player like Tomas Plekanec. It is because of this that he's given the role that he is, that of an exploitation, all-offense center.
Due to depth throughout the lineup, Michel Therrien has been able to keep Desharnais even more sheltered than he was last season, but the results aren't nearly as impressive. Even though Erik Cole has been traded, Desharnais is still playing with the two best possession driving wingers that the Canadiens have, but he's producing nearly 6 fewer scoring chances at even strength per 60 minutes of ice time than he was last year. Pacioretty has experienced a similar drop, but he's reduced his scoring chances against by a much more significant margin that Desharnais, so the effect is lessened.
As you can see from his rolling averages, Therrien has recently felt the need to shelter Desharnais more in order to make him effective:
I'm hesitant to put too much weight on Desharnais' stellar possession numbers though, as without Pacioretty on his line, he drops to just barely above water with a 50.3% Corsi. This effect is quite obvious when looking at his quality of teammates, which is tops on the team.
To exacerbate some of the struggles Desharnais has had, he's been slightly less lucky than last year, although his on-ice shooting percentage is still higher than average. Where it's really been felt though, is his on-ice save percentage, which is a team low by a wide margin.
One area of significant encouragement for Desharnais though, is that his shot rate at even strength has shot up by 156% from last season. His personal shooting luck has gone up along with it, as he has 8 goals this year on just 41 shots.
But production is the name of the game for an exploitation player, and it just hasn't been there. Or at least not to the extent that you want. In an exploitation role, your production per minute should be in the top 3 on your team, and Desharnais is 5th. To make matters worse, he's been eclipsed by Lars Eller, who's playing a tough minutes role.
Last season the powerplay was Desharnais' bread and butter, so you'd have to hope that he's making up for his lull in even strength play there, but it's not working for him there either. The only areas where Desharnais has ranked higher than 6th are raw scoring chances, and time on ice. In raw scoring chances, Desharnais is 4th, but adjusted for ice time, he's been the worst powerplay forward on the team. Including defensemen, only Francis Bouillon has been on the ice for fewer scoring chances per 60 minutes.
EOTP predicted that Desharnais was in for a comparatively disappointing year, but personally I thought he would just stop rolling with the percentages, not that his play would significantly falter.
All this said, let's talk about the contract. Marc Bergevin and David Desharnais' agent agreed to terms on a 4 year deal paying out $3.5M per season. After reading this this article, you probably think I hate this deal, but with a few days to mull it over, I'm actually in favour of it.
It's very easy to say as an armchair GM "I wouldn't have given the 4th year", but contracts are not given, they're negotiated. This deal says a couple of different things to me:
- Bergevin wants to keep breaking in Alex Galchenyuk slowly, without having to move him to center before he feels that the kid is ready for it. This is similar to how Boston has handled Tyler Seguin, who happens to be one of the best players in the game right now.
- Bergevin does not value Desharnais in the same way RDS does. He recognizes that Desharnais is not a #1 center, and he isn't getting #1 center money. What he is getting is the kind of money you pay for a supporting role top 6 forward, and I don't think it's unfair to say that Desharnais is that.
- Desharnais isn't getting Plekanec money, he's getting Rene Bourque money. He's getting Andrei Kostitsyn money. I think we can all live with that, and even at his current diminished performance, that contract is tradeable.