While the Montreal Canadiens are an unimaginable 22-7-5 ahead of the April 3 trade deadline, there are nonetheless several needs that should be addressed by General Manager Marc Bergevin.
Of course, there are certain things Montreal will be forced to live and die by, goalie Carey Price’s Jekyll and Hyde act being one of them. However some things can actually be improved upon. As proof, Bergevin has already acquired Michael Ryder to replace the listless Erik Cole and Jeff Halpern to help with faceoffs.
However by so doing, he has somewhat exacerbated a separate, arguably more-pressing weakness—Montreal’s lack of size and physicality.
Halpern (6’0”, 190 lbs) will never be thought of as a physical forward, and Ryder is just about average when it comes to size as well (6'0", 198 lbs).
Ryder’s 14 points in 14 games have been undeniably impressive when one considers his last season with the Habs (31 points in 70 games), and his 43 points in 70 playoff games aren’t bad, relatively speaking.
However, there’s just no telling how he’ll perform in the playoffs on this specific team, on which he’s—somewhat incredibly—one of the guys with the most weight to throw around. His game relies on his ability to find open spaces on the ice and then get his shot off, not make space for his linemates to get open.
When the playoffs start and the style of play gets more physical, it is easy to imagine Ryder’s production dropping (as that of most players’ do during the postseason), especially seeing as Brian Gionta is about the most physical forward on that second line (Tomas Plekanec), which may share the same initials as the Anaheim Ducks’ infamous Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry one, but gives up 15 inches and 61 pounds total in the process.
If you look at the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings’ roster right now, you’ll find a single forward under six feet: Mike Richards, who is 5’11”. Montreal, without the 6’4” Mike Blunden, in contrast, averages 5’11” up front.
This is not a new phenomenon. Dating back to the first Stanley Cup after the last lockout, the 18 Carolina Hurricanes who played 20 or more games during their 2005-06 playoff run averaged just under 6’1”. Montreal as a team currently average just below 6’0”. In a game that is literally of inches here, that adds up to a lot.
Whereas Montreal has Max Pacioretty (6’2”, 219 lbs) playing with David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, the Habs really need a similar physical, power-forwardesque player perhaps to replace Gionta, who has been the most inconsistent in terms of scoring on that second line.
That’s where a guy like Ryane Clowe (6’2”, 225 lbs), Chris Stewart (6’2”, 232 lbs) or Jaromir Jagr (6’3”, 240 lbs) would come in handy and, in the case of the latter two, even give Montreal No. 1 and No. 2 lines in name only.
While Montreal has been able to successfully get past that lack of size so far and are ranked fifth in the league in terms of goals scored, one glaring weakness that has revealed itself in Montreal’s game up to this point has been the penalty kill, which only recently improved to over 80 percent.
That’s kind of like managing to get your head above water when still being tugged at by a giant squid. The fact that it was below 80 percent for the longest time points to bigger problems.
Looking at the top penalty-killing units in the league, the Ottawa Senators have Marc Methot (6’3”, 231 lbs) among others. The San Jose Sharks have Brent Burns (6’5”, 225 lbs). The Boston Bruins have Zdeno Chara (6'9", 277 lbs). Who does Montreal have? Josh Gorges at 6’1”, 203 pounds.
That isn’t to say Gorges is a bad penalty killer, because he’s one of the most willing in the entire league to drop in front of a slap shot from the point. But when the Tampa Bay Lightning has a better penalty kill than you, you better figure out why. And one can rest assured it isn’t because of goaltending.
In fact, looking at Tampa’s golf-ready roster, they have no less than six defensemen 6’3” or taller. Montreal? None. Of those six blueliners, four are over 220 pounds. Again, Montreal has no one, on defense or even at forward, above 219.
Maybe Montreal should look into acquiring a Keith Aulie (6’6”, 228 lbs), or even one Radko Gudas (6’0”, 204 lbs), who may be smaller but would definitely make life hell on opposing forwards due to his sheer physicality (and on Pierre Houde from RDS due to his name).
Admittedly, Tampa may not be all that into the prospect of giving up either one of those two young, physical, stay-at-home defensemen, but there’s always the Phoenix Coyotes, who are always up for a good cash dump and might be interested in talking trade as far as Rostislav Klesla (6’3”, 223 lbs) is concerned.
Ryan O’Byrne (6’5”, 234 lbs) may even be available as well from the Colorado Avalanche. He will be an unrestricted free agent and, as a bonus, should deflect attention off Carey Price whenever he lets in a softie.
The fact remains that the Habs can stand to get a little more physical and bigger across their entire lineup, if for nothing else, an intimidation factor.
Up until this point, the Habs haven’t generally gotten a lot of respect from broadcasters and opponents alike, who continue to see Montreal as an aberration, their winning ways as a passing trend that won’t last. Admittedly, however, the Habs have undeniably benefitted from being underestimated by opponents heading into games, having scored first a league-leading 24 times this season.
You can bet the bank that no one will be foolish enough to underestimate them come the playoffs. But respect is different than fear, and the Habs’ uniforms coincidentally sharing a color palette with a Smurfs movie poster certainly won’t be scaring anyone in just a few months.