FanPost

Fanpost Friday: Upgrading the centre position this off-season

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This summer we'll be featuring an article written by a member of the community in a weekly series called Fanpost Friday. If you're interesting in contributing, you can find the link to write a fanpost on the front page of Eyes on the Prize, where you can also see what other members have posted.

Views and opinions expressed in this and other community articles do not necessarily reflect those of EOTP or its staff members.

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April 22nd. A date that was hugely important to me. It was the day I wrote my last exam for my first year of university. I was supposed to go to sleep happy, excited about what is now behind me. One thing I didn't count on? That being the date of the last game for the Montreal Canadiens in the 2016-17 season

Like many others on this site, I am a life-long Montreal fan. For a little background on me, I was born in 1997: the same year as Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. That also means I have never seen the team I devote so much attention to raise the Stanley Cup.

For me, I've experienced very few highs. The highlights of my watching memory are triumphs over the Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, and Washington Capitals in early rounds. While I certainly enjoyed watching these, I, like every other Canadiens fan, want something better.

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I've seen this team make the Conference Finals twice in my lifetime. I understand it is difficult making it to the Stanley Cup, but for once I just want to see a Carey Price-led team compete for Lord Stanley's trophy. So that begs the question: how can this happen in the shortest length possible?

While I have seen many people asking for a rebuild, and proposing crazy trades already, I don't think that is necessary. The Canadiens have some great pieces that could go on a deep playoff run. Carey Price is still one of, if not the best goaltenders in the league, as well as having a premier elite defenceman in P.K. Subban Shea Weber.

Joking aside, and opinions on "the trade" aside, moving forward, Weber is a member of the Canadiens, and Subban is a Nashville Predator. That is reality, and if the Canadiens want to win the Cup, Weber is a part of the plan. So let's try and figure out how to build a Cup winner shall we?

Sorting out the current personnel

The best place to start would be with a solid summer. I won't get too into the draft as I don't know too much about prospects outside of my hometown of Owen Sound (go Attack!), nor do I think predicting a breakthrough rookie season from an 18-year-old to be realistic. If someone grabs attention either the 2017-18 or 2018-19 season that is drafted in June, that should be a bonus, but not something to be relied on.

The first thing is to look at toward the expansion draft, and deal with the expiring contracts. The names I'll be focusing on are Andrei Markov, Alexander Radulov, Alex Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu, Nikita Nesterov, Dwight King, Brian Flynn, Steve Ott, and Andreas Martinsen.

In regards to Markov and Radulov it's really quite simple: re-sign them. I can't see the Markov negotiations being troublesome, and I definitely see him back for the 2017-18 season. Radulov might be more difficult, but the Canadiens should do everything in their power to retain him. He was the biggest positive in an up-and-down season in my estimation, with all due respect to Paul Byron. For the sake of this article, I'll go under the assumption that Radulov is re-signed.

Steve Ott is someone I also see being back as Julien seemed to really appreciate and use him down the stretch. While he isn't my favourite player, he is a fine fourth-line centre. I could also see one of King and Martinsen being brought back. I was a huge fan of the King trade when it happened, and now I am praying he tests free agency. Just based off the philosophy of this team though, I see one of them being back. I would not be jumping for joy if Martinsen is back, but I could live with it.

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Nesterov and Flynn are two players who could be released without losing sleep. I was actually a fan of Flynn for some stretches, and I think he offers more than King or Martinsen. I often thought he, along with Mitchell, were a good duo on the fourth line. That said, I just don't see the need for either Flynn or Nesterov. The only scenario in which I see Nesterov returning is if Beaulieu and Brandon Davidson are on the move.

That leaves Beaulieu and Galchenyuk. Beaulieu has long been one of my favourite players in the organization, however he has failed to live up to lofty expectations, and has instead settled into a solid fourth/fifth defenceman. This isn't even an insult to Beaulieu, I just don't think he will ever be what Jeff Petry is now:, a reliable number-three defenceman. I don't know the advanced stats on Beaulieu, but to me he is a really good second-pairing option, or a tremendous third-pairing guy. The problem is, I don't think that will be with the Canadiens. I predict either he gets scooped up by the Vegas Golden Knights or traded prior to the expansion draft. Either way, I don't see him being back.

Galchenyuk may be one of the most interesting storylines to follow this summer. He had such a strange year to say the least that included being the number-one centre, the fourth-line left wing, sustaining a knee injury, and being the top overtime scorer for the Habs.

That said, I can't stress this enough... DO NOT TRADE ALEX GALCHENYUK. Suggestions of this are ridiculous to me. Did he produce down the stretch as much as us fans wished? Probably not. But look at who he was playing with and you have your answer as to why. I'm not saying Galchenyuk is on the same level as Tyler Seguin, but I don't want the same thing to happen to Galchenyuk. February 12th, 1994. That is the day Alex was born. Far too early to give up on his talent. The return on a Galchenyuk trade will never equal the potential of #27.

As far as the expansion draft, I have no idea who Montreal might lose. Any of Beaulieu, Davidson, Alexei Emelin, Charles Hudon, or Jacob de la Rose could be a Golden Knight next year. Personally I would protect Weber, Jordie Benn, Max Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Byron, Phillip Danault, Andrew Shaw, and Hudon, along with the automatic protections for Carey Price and Petry. That would leave Beaulieu, Davidson, Emelin, de la Rose, and Plekanec all exposed.

The projected roster for 2017-18

With all that said, I will assume that Beaulieu is gone by the start of next year whether it be by the draft or a trade. This would be the roster as it stands:

Forwards

Pacioretty-Danault-Radulov
Lekhonen-Galchenyuk-Gallagher
Byron-Plekanec-Shaw
Mitchell-Ott-McCarron

Other options:

Martinsen
Hudon

Defence

Markov-Weber
Emelin-Petry
Benn-Davidson

Other options:

Mikhail Sergachev
Noah Juulsen

Goalies

Price
Al Montoya

While there are a lot of things I like about this roster, there are obvious holes. Danault is a terrific player, and a very useful NHLer, however a top-line center he is not. Tomas Plekanec, as much as he has been an amazing career Canadien, he does not have the same scoring touch he once had. This causes a problem when another center in the top nine is Danault. As was seen in the Rangers series, when the top wingers aren't scoring, there is not much help down the middle.

Lekhonen, Gallagher, Galchenyuk, Radulov, and Pacioretty are the only real scorers in this forward group. Say what you will about Pacioretty not scoring in the Rangers series, I will still defend him any day, and he still has one of the best contracts in the league. Byron, as good as he was this year, I think is good for 15 goals each season, but we can't expect 20 goals every year. While I don't think it was a fluke year, I also wouldn't be shocked to see those goal totals slip a little. Shaw is a very good third-liner and brings a different dimension to this team without being a liability. He is a perfect depth player and brings grit without being one-dimensional.

Upgrading the centre position

Solving the centre issue is far from easy. Trading for Matt Duchene is the popular scream, but I think that wouldn't solve anything really. The package going back would deplete the lineup from being a contender right away anyway, which would be the reason for making the trade in the first place.

More realistically, names I keep coming back to are Ryan Strome and Sam Reinhart, especially the latter. Admittedly, neither of these is likely to happen, however I am more hopeful for a trade of this calibre than trading for a Duchene. Both Strome and Reinhart would not be easy to acquire, but the question marks in Buffalo, as well as with Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly not going anywhere, it makes me question the availability of Reinhart. Strome could very well be moved this summer, as the New York Islanders seem excited with Josh Ho-Sang and Mathew Barzal, while Strome and Michael Dal Colle slide down the organizational depth chart. Strome may in fact be easier to acquire, as he is likely less attractive a target, however this could also mean the Islanders are not in a position to sell low.

All that said, if you were to start a package with Beaulieu included before the expansion draft, Beaulieu plus Danault and potentially an early-round pick for Reinhart, I am tempted to say I would do it. Other packages might include Hudon and/or Juulsen.

Yes, it would be a steep price, but this would bring in a scoring touch to the middle of the ice. While I would hate trading Danault, Plekanec isn't really in demand by other teams. There is no guarantee this would even be enough from the perspective of Buffalo or New York, just a guess. This could create a top nine of:

Pacioretty-Galchenyuk-Radulov
Lehkonen-Strome/Reinhart-Gallagher
Byron-Plekanec-Shaw

This would help in the scoring department as I think Strome or Reinhart could add more than Danault on their own. While I understand Danault actually outscored Strome this past year, I think that was more a nod to his linemates. That is to say, Danault can play with top players, but he just facilitates them instead of driving the play.

I would be more inclined to want Reinhart as I feel he has way more upside, but the price would be high. While, yes, it is very similar to the lineup that just got bounced in six games, Lehkonen can be expected to take a jump forward, and Galchenyuk and Gallagher are due for improved seasons. Adding a talent like Reinhart would really benefit the offensive dynamic of this team. Though highly unlikely it happens, it was the best option I could find without sacrificing Galchenyuk. Hudon could be a player who could really add scoring touch to this team, and could slide into Plekanec's spot quite nicely.

Defensive alignment

As far as defence, I don't see major changes coming as the top four should all be back (Weber, Markov, Benn, Petry). Emelin is often scrutinized, however I think he is capable of being a solid four-to-six defenceman if that is the role given to him. I could see the team adding a depth defenceman in free agency as well, citing his veteran leadership and solid character as main reasons for the signing. Sergachev could still be a year or two away from being a full-time NHLer, however in saying that, I wouldn't be surprised if he made the team next year.

In goal, Price is on the last year of his contract, but you can just slide a blank cheque to his agent and leave the room. Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven look to be solid young goaltenders, and Zachary Fucale is becoming a (Brampton) Beast. Not much else to mention in regards to the goaltenders. This team's success begins and ends with 31.

I wish I could sit here and say there is a magic solution to every problem this team has, but I can't. Realistically, I don't see major changes like we saw last year. As long as Radulov and Galchenyuk are wearing bleu. blanc. et rouge next year, this off-season will avoid crazy drama.

Any trades suggesting parting with Galchenyuk, Pacioretty, or Weber are ridiculous to me. My hopes for this off-season will be to add a dynamic centre that can play in the top six and score 20 goals consistently. Galchenyuk can play first-line centre in this league, and to give up on him would be a mistake in my estimation. I don't know what this off-season holds, but I am hoping it doesn't have forgettable trades.

Do I want Duchene? Yes. Do I think he is worth what they are asking? No. When looking at this lineup, I can't see a team winning the Stanley Cup next year, which is upsetting. The unfortunate truth is the only way this team becomes a realistic title contender is through time. This team is in a weird stage where they won't be bad for the next few years, but they are not good enough to compete just yet either. If I had to describe the Canadiens in one word: decent. The truth is decent doesn't add banners to the rafters.

Fanpost content is created by members of the community. Views and opinions presented do not necessarily reflect those of Eyes on the Prize's authors, editors, or managers.