Now we will look at six players that have been in trouble, or are in doubt for the 2013-14 season. These are not the six worst players on the team, although some would argue this list would cross over with that.
No. 26 – Josh Gorges
The old saying of ‘you can never have too much character on a team’ has a lot of admirers, but sometimes people forget (or want to forget) that even the most loveable character players can have a bad season, as Josh Gorges certainly did. Character can not override a shortfall of talent or ensure a player never performs poorly.
You would have to go back several years in Gorges career with Montreal to find a comparable year where he struggled as much. He had notable trouble this past season with man-to-man coverage or keeping to his correct defensive positioning throughout the season. While other players can compensate for these faults, Gorges lacks the physical presence or offensive game of others, leaving him not much to fall back on. His status as a leader of the team can not be accurately measured of course and he is considered a strong candidate as the next captain of the team, but with such status does come responsibilities. Members of the leadership core need to be playing to their best on the ice to lead by example, Gorges failed on that mark this past year.
This is not to say Gorges can not regain his form of course. His 2011-12 season was a career year and he will be 29 years old when the 2013-14 season starts. A permanent fall after a career effort at this stage in his NHL career is very unlikely. It is also worth noting defencemen typically peak in later years than forwards so there should not be concerns he is heading well past his prime while he has five years remaining on his contract at 3.9M per season. Gorges has many more good years than bad in Montreal so a better campaign from him in 2013-14 should be expected.
Gorges is likely not going anywhere in the near future given his position with the team’s leadership group and Marc Bergevin’s focus on having a team founded on character. No one is immovable, but it is unreasonable to discard a player based on one ill half-season. He is also more likely to be better next season.
No. 31 – Carey Price
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I do not enjoy being one of Price’s critics, as I feel he has been unfairly burdened by expectations to lift a mostly middling Montreal Canadiens team since he arrived in Montreal.
However, there are some issues with Price this year. While it is now revealed he was feeling some injury trouble towards the end of the season before his MCL sprain, there were problems before then. As has been noted by Chris Boyle, Price made changes to his goaltending technique this season that did not benefit him or the team. This is not the first time Price changed his style, as under Montreal’s previous goaltending coach Roland Melanson, he regressed to overplaying the butterfly style, often citing critiques of going down too early to stop a shot. While that earlier period can be chalked up to a young goalie following the instruction of his goalie coach, his latest adjustments can spark concerns.
Of Price’s six NHL seasons, his three best save percentages came in 2010-11 (.923), 2007-2008 (.920) and 2011-12 (.916) when he was playing what you could call his traditional style and generally unencumbered by injury, Price also has 60.6% of his career wins in these seasons. When adjusting his style or having an injury problem, his save percentage has tumbled to .912 (2008-09) and twice at .905 (2009-10, 2013). While Price will likely revisit his old technique in off-season training, I am concerned he may lack the conviction to keep to his regular style of goaltending. It is what has delivered him his best results in the past and if he does not identify that changing his style doesn’t benefit him he may continue experiments that do not help him, or the Canadiens.
We should also keep in mind his save percentage decline this past season is not all on him. With the Canadiens remarkably putrid penalty kill clocking it at a 79.8% efficiency this season, Price’s save percentage on the penalty kill was a rather alarming .804, a .39 decrease from his previous career low in the 2008-2009 season when he clocked it at .843. Until either defensive coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault decides to change the system or is ordered to do so by Michel Therrien, Price’s save percentage will likely continue to suffer. The penalty kill can not be hung on Price this season despite his issues, this was a failure by the coaching staff and his overall save percentage did suffer for it.
Carey Price is the highest-paid member of the Canadiens, and he will have to perform to his contract if he and the team aspire to win the Stanley Cup. He is very capable of doing so, but he will have to prove this past season was an aberration as he enters his prime.
No. 32 – Travis Moen
I have taken criticism in the past for my less than enthusiastic support for the "intangibles" and "character" of depth and replacement-level skaters, but unfortunately for everyone, Travis Moen kind of proved my point this year.
While Moen was once again a valuable member of the Montreal penalty killing unit, he contributed little else. He was on pace for 11 points over an 82-game season, his worst production pace since signing with the Canadiens in 2009. He played with a soft to middling physical presence this past season which did not benefit the team much nor did he display much skill with the puck to negate the less physical nature of his season. To help the Canadiens outside of the penalty kill, Moen needs to display much better drive and willingness to engage physically to help in forechecking and retrieving the puck at even strength.
While in the past Moen was been considered a top character player for the team, his performance this season calls into question how committed he is to playing the style the team needs from him at even strength. Not to say that he can not be better, but he will have to prove it or he will leave the team with a minor headache considering the three years left on his contract at 1.85 million per year.
No. 51 – David Desharnais
I have a suspicion if David Desharnais's name was Dmitri Davydov, he might be the most reviled player in Montreal. Or if he was a player selected with a 1st-round draft pick and did not have an issue reaching for the top shelf at grocery stores. Everyone loves an underdog, to the point of ignoring their flaws it seems. With 7 goals, 8 assists in his first 22 games but 4 goals but 2 goals, 10 assists in his final 26 games, many questions were raised about his commitment level following his extension on March 15th.
While gifted with good offensive skill, Desharnais comes up lacking in a few areas. The typical rule is that for any small forward, they need excellent speed and agility to compensate, unfortunately he clocks in with average skating ability. Without size to compensate, his zone entries tend to be highly predictable affairs, if he is not entering unchallenged, he will quickly cough up the puck. His size also tends to work against him in generally protecting the puck as it does not take much physical pressure from any player to force him off of it, especially considering he lacks the skating ability to break free from such encounters. Desharnais’s offensive talents did not lend much to the power play either this season, marking 7 power play points despite averaging close to 3 minutes per game on the unit this season. If he is to be considered a player whose defensive liabilities are to be accepted because of his offensive prowess, he should be a better power play skater.
While a standing critique has been that Desharnais ties up Pacioretty it is important to note context. Players do not dictate their line assignments this falls on the head of Michel Therrien for not challenging Desharnais when he began slumping this season and breaking up a line that was not working. Desharnais’s production has been notably soft since he signed his extension and while that is on him, Therrien’s habit this season to indulge Desharnais despite mistakes and non-production that saw other players benched has not been to his benefit. A player must have some sense of consequences for poor play and until he directly faces them, it is possible Desharnais will continue to stagnate.
I have spoken in the past about switching Desharnais to the wing position, relieving him of the burden of being the lead puck carrier on his line and having to absorb the most defensive responsibility of the trio. Watching his issues with defensive coverage and puck protection even with starting over 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone, I think it is an option that needs exploring if the Canadiens are committing to keeping him for the length of his extension.
No. 55 – Francis Bouillon
I never quite understood the signing of Francis Bouillon in the summer and neither his play nor his usage this season has made much sense. His extension mid-season was positively mystifying to anyone with a critical eye.
Bouillon has often struggled this season when facing any tough competition. He struggles with man-to-man coverage and passing in his own zone are not exactly news to anyone who remembers his previous term with the Canadiens. While you can credit Bouillon of not being afraid to be physical, he is perhaps 5’8" and he does not exactly present much of a physical threat against larger forwards in board battles. His offensive skills are also lacking, leaving the Canadiens with a defencemen who is not a remarkable physical threat, good in overall defensive coverage or offering an offensive upside.
While you can not fault Bouillon for being used on the power play, you have to wonder what Michel Therrien was thinking, placing him on a unit that he managed to spend 74 minutes, 23 seconds on over the course of the season but not even register a single point. Also much like David Desharnais, he is not exactly the most gifted skater, granted at 37 years old one can not exactly expect lighting on ice. That fault however extends back to the organization, as Bergevin should have known the limitations of bringing in an average-skating 5’8" defencemen who lacks offensive talent.
No. 79 – Andrei Markov
It is an unfortunate reality when someone who was once the team’s best skater is now much less than what he was. Andrei Markov has suffered two ACL tears in his right knee and the injuries appear to have permanently weakened the knee, which has led to a few problems.
Andrei Markov is no longer effective against tough competition at even strength play, he is often beaten with speed and it became more apparent as the season went on. While his play was leveled out first by Alexei Emelin and very late in the year P.K. Subban, it is obvious he will need a steady partner to balance him out for the final year of his deal. It also raises questions about whether he will be brought back into the fold as his contract expires, even if he were willing to take a significant reduction from his previous deal.
What was out of Markov’s control this season was his usage by Michel Therrien and by extension, team defensive coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault. Markov was never a strong penalty killer and his placement on the unit this season was a bit strange considering his struggles at even strength, let alone when the team was down a man. His ice time also left one a bit perplexed, as he ended up leading the team in average ice time over the season at 24:07 per game. For a 34-year old defencemen coming off two ACL surgeries on his right knee, it is a bit surprising he was often so close to PK Subban in ice time. This is not his fault, but one has to wonder how useful he will be over an 82-game season in 2013-14 if he continues to average 24+ minutes a game. It is time for Markov to step back from being a Top-2 defencemen to a more manageable 20 minutes per game for the benefit of his endurance and the team.
This is not to say Markov can not be of good use to the Canadiens. He finished 5th in the NHL in power play points this past season as he and Subban arguably created the most effective pairing of point men in the NHL. His outlet pass is still among the best you will see in the league as well and his offensive instincts have not dulled. With lesser responsibilities, he can still be one of Montreal’s better players but his age and injuries demand that he step back from what he used to be for the Canadiens.
Photography supplied by Getty Images and USA Today.