Just like with the NHL trade deadline, many hockey fans make sure to have July 1 circled on their calendar each year. Networks like TSN, Sportsnet and RDS hold TV marathons, with their panel of insiders keeping a constant eye on their smart phones. Everyone’s Twitter timeline is flying at a pace which makes it hard to keep up with. As some fans describe it, the opening of the NHL free agency market is like Christmas to most hardcore hockey fans.
PENTICTON, BC. — There is no denying that Habs’ fans are a passionate bunch and that generally speaking, they do know their hockey. However, reading Twitter and following the reactions to the moves made by Habs’ General Manager Marc Bergevin on July 1 was a very painful experience at times. From questioning the players signed to judging the length or amounts being given to some of the players, armchair GMs seem to think they know what the market is, what it dictates and what is being discussed behind closed doors. But rather than focussing on the fans and their reactions, I propose taking a different angle, keep an open mind and look at what the July 1 signatures really mean for the Canadiens in terms of debt and the on-ice effects they will have on the team.
You may recall that back in December 2011, we touched a delicate topic when I suggested that the Habs needed more offense from Tomas Plekanec. I strongly encourage you to revisit this article, seven months later, and look at the comparatives brought forth way back then, as that article will go a long way in understanding the concept and will be the supporting blocks for what we’re about to discuss here.
Many fans have been wanting more toughness in the line-up, more grit and character and it felt refreshing listening to Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien address those topics when both men were hired. It looks like they are putting their money where their mouth is! On July 1, the Canadiens became a lot tougher to play against. By re-signing Ryan White and Travis Moen, and then adding Colby Armstrong, Francis Bouillon and Brendan Prust, they have allowed the rest of the team to grow a couple of inches. Further, by signing those players, the Habs are an improved offensive team! “Are you nuts,” I can hear some of you say? Hear me out, and then you can decide for yourself.
Thanks to a surge at the end of the season, the Canadiens finished the 2011-2012 season with 212 goals scored, good for 19th in the National Hockey League. Granted that this number would have likely been better had it not been for an anemic powerplay, the injuries to key offensive players, the smothering system instituted by Jacques Martin and by trading away the team’s best natural goals’ scorer in Mike Cammalleri for a disinterested Rene Bourque. However, there is a lot more to it, at least in my opinion.
I was listening to the live stream on RDS on July 1 as I was curious to hear what former head coach Guy Carbonneau would have to say about the new direction taken by the Canadiens. As we recall, Carbonneau was quoted as saying that instead of having tough players, the Habs should focus on making the other teams pay by scoring on the powerplay. In a bit surprising change of heart, not only was Carbo happy with all three signings, but he brought up the very topic from my article of last December.
You see, Moen, White, Armstrong and Prust not only bring some much needed toughness to a Habs’ line-up, but they are all excellent penalty killers! “Yeah, but how do they improve the offense,” will you ask? Simply by taking defensive minutes from the team’s top offensive players! Have a look at the comparison with Henrik Sedin and Pavel Datsyuk in the above mentioned article of December 11th and do the correlation with Tomas Plekanec, with Brian Gionta.
The bottom line is that by having Plekanec and Gionta on the bench during a penalty kill not only allows them to have something left in the tank for a long 82 games season, but it gives them more quality offensive ice time against weaker opposition. This quality ice time will allow them to focus more on offense and hopefully, save them from injuries while in a defensive role.
What Marc Bergevin did on July 1 is quite remarkable. Yes, he helped his skilled players by insuring that someone will have their backs when other teams take liberties against them. Yes, he did add some much needed depth to the organization, even with the addition of Cedrick Desjardins in goal. Last but not least, he has improved the Habs’ offense by giving coach Therrien the tools to make the Habs a more effective offensive team. As Carbonneau correctly pointed out, it’s hard to rest guys like Plekanec and Gionta when they are also your best penalty killers and you have no one else who can do the job!
Having said all of that, Rome wasn’t built in a day folks. Let’s hope that Andrei Markov returns to the line-up and contributes the way he is capable of. Let’s hope that the injury bug doesn’t hit the team has hard as it did last year, including the case of Captain Gionta who had scored more goals than anyone in the two seasons prior to last. And let’s hope that coach Therrien makes better use of his assets and allows the team, with a proper system, to generate more offense.
But something tells me that Bergevin isn’t done, as July 1 is the first stepping stone in bringing this franchise back to the glory days, where it should be.