The Montreal Canadiens’ seemingly eternal pursuit of a number-one centre also exposes the fact that the team has lacked genuine playmakers for some time now. While the team has enjoyed a surplus of defensive-oriented centres, they’ve largely relied on wingers-turned-centres to provide offence. However, fitting wingers, with their shoot-first mentality, into the middle has left the Canadiens’ offence somewhat bereft of imagination and creativity.
To illustrate this point, of the forwards who donned the CH last season, only four individuals were at or above league average in terms of primary assists per 60 minutes of five-on-five ice time: Phillip Danault, Charles Hudon, Byron Froese, and the recently departed Alex Galchenyuk. Of these, only two — Danault and Hudon — met the criteria for both primary and secondary assists.
The addition of Max Domi (96th percentile primary assists/60, 49th percentile secondary assists/60) to replace Galchenyuk helps alleviate this particular issue, but more is required to bolster an offence which was more reliant on rush plays last season, with clear weaknesses in terms of setting up one-timers, dangerous passing plays, probing multi-pass plays, and low-to-high plays.
David Perron represents another possible solution to this problem. The Sherbrooke native experienced a resurgent season with the Vegas Golden Knights — his fifth team in four years — after being exposed by the St. Louis Blues in the expansion draft. Usually good for 15-20 goals and an equal number of assists, Perron saw his assists tally rise, to 50 (34 primary), resulting in a near point-per-game season of 66 points in 70 games.
The concern with such an outlier season (and a question that will be asked of more than one Golden Knight this off-season) is whether that year was a fluke.
For Perron, the underlying data would indicate otherwise. He has always been an exceptional playmaker, excelling at setting up one-timers (1TSA60, 1T60), putting pucks into and through the danger zones from down low (DZSA60, iDZ60), integrating himself into a play’s build-up sequence (BuildUp60), and just in general, making passes which lead to shot attempts and scoring chances (ixA60, SA60).
In these aspects, his Vegas numbers are higher than his four-year average metrics, but certainly not by any amount that would classify Perron’s season as luck-driven.
So, what happened then?
One major difference between Perron’s 28-assist 2016-17 season with the Blues and his 50-assist 2017-18 season with the Golden Knights is that St. Louis deployed Perron as a defensive specialist (44% OZS) while Vegas gave him more offensive-zone starts (54% OZS). Another is that instead of Paul Stastny (18 goals) and Alex Steen (16 goals), Perron enjoyed the company of Erik Haula (29) and James Neal (25) instead.
The synergy between Perron, Haula, and Neal carried over onto the power play. In fact, much of Perron’s extra production came as a result of special-teams production. No wonder, given that, in contrast to Haula and Neal, his primary man-advantage partners in St. Louis were Robby Fabbri and Patrik Berglund.
This does not diminish Perron’s abilities. The world’s best playmakers still needs someone to put the puck in the net, after all. Indeed, Perron’s passing could liven up a Canadiens power play scheme which had generally fixated, almost predictably, on Shea Weber in recent years.
Perron took full advantage of a perfect storm situation in Vegas, one that will not necessarily be available to him in Montreal. His innate abilities will still make him a very useful player, but Marc Bergevin would likely need to provide him with the equivalent of Haula and Neal for Perron to hit near-PPG production for the second consecutive year.
An inability to reach the heights of 2017-18 for Perron won’t necessarily be reflective of the player’s value, but may cause public perception to sour. He will likely be paid according to his career season, and therefore would be expected to replicate it. Matt Cane’s salary projections indicate that Perron could be in line for a four-year, $6.5 to 7.0 million contract. It’s something that would immediately place a massive lightning rod for attention, especially in the Montreal market, on the winger’s back.
Ultimately, Perron is a highly useful player who may be simply too rich for the Canadiens. A contract in the $4 to 5 million range would help alleviate the pressure and expectations on Perron while saving cap space for the team, but given that this is the UFA’s best, and perhaps only, shot to truly cash in, a discount is probably too much to ask for or expect.
Player cards courtesy of HockeyViz. Passing data and team playing style data courtesy of Ryan Stimson, Corey Sznadjer, et al. Primary/secondary assist data courtesy of the SKATR Comparison Tool. Other data courtesy of Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick.