We all know what happened last summer.
The Montreal Canadiens pulled off their most polarizing trade in about 20 years with the P.K. Subban-Shea Weber exchange. While the acquisition shipped out a fan favourite and Norris Trophy-winner, the Canadiens acquired a bruising (both with his physical play and dangerous slapshot) player with strong leadership qualities.
Weber is the type of guy that players like Andrew Shaw do not like to play against. Ironically, Shaw, whom the Canadiens also acquire around the same time, is a pesky, annoying, son of a gun himself.
The Habs were also linked with another tough player, Milan Lucic, during free agency last year. It didn't happen.
Lucic, Weber, and Shaw each share the common bond of being rough, sandpaper guys with a fair amount of skill, and you'd much rather have them on your side than face them on the ice.
That summer, the Canadiens' moves had me wondering about their master plan.
Over a year later, the Canadiens are continuing to push that belief. It goes way beyond the fact that the 2011 Boston Bruins’ head coach, Claude Julien, is now the man behind the Canadiens’ bench.
Compare and contrast
TSN 690's Mitch Gallo suggested there were similarities between the build of the 2010-11 Bruins and the 2017-18 Canadiens during last Wednesday's "Melnick In The Afternoon" show (skip to 8:43). He later elaborated on those thoughts on Twitter, where conversations always go well and absolutely no one is trying to be contentious.
What you don't think the Habs have anyone? lol. Pacioretty better than Horton, Gallagher-Marchand, Drouin-Seguin, Lucic-Shaw etc etc— Mitch Gallo (@MitchyGallo) September 13, 2017
Gallo made some valid comparisons in that thread. You already get the idea with Andrew Shaw and Milan Lucic; two guys who are extremely annoying to play against.
Jonathan Drouin is the 2011 Bruins' Tyler Seguin, in that he's a young player with sky-high potential. Both players were also top-three picks in their respective draft classes. They can (allegedly) play centre and wing. It remains to be seen whether Drouin can truly be the Habs’ number-one centre going forward, but he's up for the challenge.
Brendan Gallagher is, and has been, the team's closest comparable to Brad Marchand. The latter is superior, because he's the league's premier combination of agitator and offensive contributor. It just so happens that Gallagher can do the same, even if he isn't counted on in a primary role like Marchand, and his goal-scoring pace has decreased over the last two seasons.
Carey Price is Tim Thomas. Yes, I know, it's kind of weird, and I'll probably never make this comparison between the two ever again. They couldn't be any different in terms of goaltending style, but Thomas was a Vezina Trophy-winner in 2011. He earned it with a line of 35 wins, a goals-against average of 2.00, and a save percentage of .938.
Price has a steady grasp on the honour of "best goaltender on planet Earth" thanks to his National Hockey League and international accolades. He is better than Thomas, but the point is that both teams have goaltenders at the top of their games.
I might have been a little harsh with their assessment in my first post, but the Canadiens don't have a ton of speed or flash on defence. But neither did the 2011 Bruins. ‘Cute’ wasn't what the Bruins were aiming for.
The comparisons in the makeup of these teams are there, except for the obvious: Boston's centre depth was way better than the Habs currently boast. The Canadiens are looking at Drouin and Phillip Danault as their top two centres., and Tomas Plekanec as their third. The dominant one-two punch of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci drove the Bruins in 2010-11, and remains intact today. There's still time, and resources, available for the Canadiens to improve that depth if they choose.
It's all in the numbers
So is it wrong for the Canadiens to be looking at the blueprint from a team that last saw success six summers ago? Statistically, maybe not.
Julien is characterized as a defensive-minded coach. For six straight seasons under his watch — between 2008-09 to 2013-14 — the Bruins finished no lower than fifth in goals allowed. In 2010-11, they allowed 2.30 goals per game, which was second-best in the league. The club hasn't been able to duplicate that form over the last few years, but Julien is now coaching a new team that preaches, ad nauseam, the worth of being defensively responsible.
Last season, in a year where Julien was coach for just 23 games, the Canadiens allowed 2.41 goals a game, fourth-best in the NHL. As good defensively (statistically speaking) as the Habs were last year, there's still work to be done if they want to match the Bruins’ championship season.
If the Canadiens want their metamorphosis into the Bruins to be complete, however, they'll need to improve their scoring rate. The Habs averaged 2.72 goals per game last season; 15th-best in the league. The Bruins were a top-five scoring team in their Stanley Cup-winning season, and had four players who scored 20 or more goals that year. Montreal had just two in 2016-17.
Max Pacioretty has already embraced the idea of taking more chances offensively. The addition of Drouin should help as well. The Habs still could use some help down the middle, and a top puck-mover may still be a priority, but perhaps the Canadiens just value being tight defensively like their bitter rivals of the past for now. The statistics, the build, and, yes, the coaching, support this theory.