Welcome back to another off-season edition of the Montreal Canadiens Mailbag!
This week we discuss the most underrated players in team history, where Alex Newhook will play, the goalie situation, the various prospects in the organization, why I’m still not over a few decisions made by Michel Therrien almost 20 years ago, and much more.
Let’s dive right into it.
Who is the most underrated player in Habs history and why is it Brian Savage?
— Adam Kovac (@AdamJKovac) August 17, 2023
Some nicknames make no sense. Especially in hockey, where players simpler add ‘er’ to someone’s family name and call it a day.
But Brian Savage being called “Mr. October” was just about as accurate as it gets when it comes to hockey monikers.
A few years ago I did the math, and he did, in fact, produce much more at the start of the season. I’m not sure he qualifies as underrated, but to his credit, Savage did hit the 20-goal mark on four different occasions.
As for players that were legitimately underrated, there are a few that come to mind.
The first is Andrei Markov.
Now, you may think to yourself that Markov was recognized as a very good player, and thus should not be included in the discussion. But when we look at Markov’s body of work with the Montreal Canadiens, it becomes clear that he was more than just a good player.
Markov finished his career with the Canadiens by trailing only Larry Robinson in all-time points by a defencemen
In addition, among defencemen, he finished third in goals, second in assists, second in powerplay goals, second in game-winning goals, first in powerplay assists, second in game-winning assists, first in overtime assists, first in powerplay assists, second in shorthanded points, and second in game-winning points.
Simply put, if Robinson did not exist, Gary Dornhoefer would have had a lot more fun playing hockey, but more importantly, Markov would be leading the vast majority of the statistical categories when it comes to all-time performances by Canadiens defencemen.
A few years ago people started putting together lists to determine the best players in franchise history, and for the most part, Markov was not included in the defensive top-six. It’s a ridiculous perception for a player that was dominant during an era when the team was far from competitive. It’s not his fault that he wasn’t lucky enough to play with a dynasty team.
Oh, and then there’s the matter of him improving every single defensive partner he was given, as well as earning them rich contracts with other teams.
I’m looking at you, Mike Komisarek, Sheldon Souray, and Mark Streit.
It’s also worth noting that he played his entire career with the franchise, a rare feat in the modern NHL.
Markov should be considered one of the best defencemen in franchise history, full stop.
If I had to pick a forward, I’d probably go with Michael Ryder.
Sure, he looked like he was somehow constantly falling down whenever he skated, but he reached 30+ goals in three different seasons during his career, and in my opinion, was robbed of a Calder Trophy in 2003-04.
Ryder was drafted 216th overall at a time when there were only 27 teams in the league, meaning he was drafted in the eighth round, a round that no longer exists in the NHL Entry Draft.
I know that he eventually won a Stanley Cup with the hated Boston Bruins, but let’s just say I was smiling when I got to see him lift Lord Stanley’s Grail.
I’d also argue that Tomas Plekanec was criminally underrated, especially in the years in which he was putting up 20+ goals and was also responsible for the team’s toughest defensive assignments, which was most of his seasons with the Habs.
Steve Shutt should probably be mentioned as well. It’s a little silly that the Habs haven’t retired his number yet, seeing as he still holds the record for the most goals scored in a season (60).
And finally, I have to send some love Christobal Huet’s way. He took over from a Vezina winner (Jose Theodore) and did it with aplomb. Other than Ken Dryden (0.922), Huet owns the best career save percentage in Canadiens history (0.920).
That’s rather impressive for a goalie hailing from a country that isn’t particularly known for producing NHL players.
Odds that if Primeau is the odd one out after training camp he gets picked up on waivers if Hughes can’t move him in some kind of deal.
— Terry (@tfish65) August 17, 2023
I don’t want to be mean, but I can’t see any scenario in which an NHL team will want to grab Cayden Primeau on waivers, especially to start the year.
Let’s just say that he’s yet to find his rhythm in the AHL, which is enough to scare most teams when it comes to his NHL potential.
Every team has a Primeau or two in their organization, and most of them are a little younger than the Canadiens’ goalie, who turned 24 last week.
I would like to see him get a legitimate chance in the NHL, one that doesn’t come with a decimated roster on a bottom-feeder team, but he’s yet to get that opportunity.
I could be and often am wrong, but for now, I believe the concern regarding a waiver claim in Primeau’s case is much ado about nothing.
I assume Lindsay lost the draw?
— Philly Phibbs (@GPhi11y) August 17, 2023
Lindsay lost the draw, but that’s not the worst part of this whole story.
It’s the 2002 playoffs.
The Canadiens had just finished upsetting the first-place Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. They faced the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round, winning two of the first three games.
They were up 3-0 in Game Four, in what looked like another easy win to secure a death grip on the series.
Enter Michel Terrien and referee Kerry Fraser.
The Habs lacked discipline, taking a series of penalties that sent Therrien off the deep end. Shortly after Stephane Quintal took a cross-checking penalty, Therrien lost it.
It’s worth noting he had lost his cool in the previous series, but this particular tantrum was at a whole new level. Therrien had been warned to take it down a notch by the officials, but it wasn’t enough to calm him down.
He started bellowing on the bench, unleashing an expletive-laced tirade toward Fraser, who responded to Therrien’s angry arm waving by giving the team a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Canadiens were then forced to play a full two minutes with a two-man disadvantage.
It was enough to breathe life into the Hurricanes’ chances, as they quickly scored to bring the score to 3-1.
Bates Battaglia scored midway through the third period to cut the Canadiens’ lead to just one goal.
With less than a minute to play in the game, the Hurricanes were pressing hard and forced a faceoff in the Canadiens’ defensive zone.
Now, it’s key to remember that Yanic Perreault was far and away the best player in the NHL when it came to faceoffs, which is why everyone expected him to take the crucial faceoff.
He was the Michael Jordan of faceoffs. It was Perreault’s time to shine.
Easy call, right?
Therrien thought better, sending Joe Juneau, a left winger, to the faceoff dot, all but confirming that he too would have picked Sam Bowie before Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft.
I like Juneau. He was a friend of the family, and you won’t find many better people in hockey circles than him.
But he was not a faceoff specialist, by any means.
He lost the faceoff, leading to Erik Cole’s fourth goal of the playoffs, and, of course, the game-tying goal with just 41 seconds left.
And then it got worse.
After a series of icings in overtime, the Canadiens once again found themselves with a very important defensive faceoff. Remember, back then you could change your players after an icing.
This time around, Therrien was sure to use Perreault, right?
He literally just made a mistake that cost his team an opportunity to have a 3-1 series lead.
Everyone expected No.94 to jump onto the ice.
Everyone was wrong.
Winger Bill Lindsay was called upon to take the draw, which he quickly lost to Niclas Wallin, who scored the game-winning goal.
The Hurricanes would go on to trounce the Habs in the final two games, winning the series 4-2.
It was a comedy of errors by a coach that was clearly on tilt.
For the record, Perreault had won well over 60 percent of his faceoffs that year, as he had done in almost every season since making the NHL. Lindsay and Juneau, on the other hand, had a 42 percent and 48 percent faceoff efficiency, respectively.
It was the hockey equivalent of using a 1993 Pontiac Sunfire in a street race while keeping a brand-new Ferrari Testarossa in the garage.
One day I’ll get over it, just like I’ll eventually get over Mario Tremblay’s ridiculous actions that led to the Patrick Roy trade.
But today is not that day.
I enjoy reading these mailbag questions..merci, Marc. Any Monahan-type deals/players similar to what transpired in 2022 that Hughes might be looking at? in his presser, KH also mentioned there might be a couple of things cooking (?) Finally, why DO cows face north while eating?
— C. de Saint-Rome (@cdesaintrome) August 17, 2023
First off, I appreciate that Mr. de Saint-Rome is referencing another random Tweet I made a few weeks ago. I mentioned that cows only face north when eating. It’s true of a few ungulates, apparently, including deer.
I was at the farm recently and I confirmed, they only face north (or south) when eating.
The same phenomenon occurs when they rest.
Scientists think it may have something to do with the earth’s magnetic field, but personally, I think they just want to ensure they get as much sunlight as feasible, seeing as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. That way their side catches as many rays as possible.
It’s absolutely unscientific, but until I’m proven wrong I will pretend it’s a fact and tell as many people as possible.
As for the options when it comes to the Canadiens’ salary cap situation, as Hughes alluded to, the team is willing to put Carey Price on the LTIR if an opportunity arises, as was the case with Sean Monahan, but he would prefer to avoid dipping into the LTIR relief funds during the summer because it negates much of the financial maneuverability throughout the season.
That leads me to believe he’s going to be very selective when it comes to adding an expiring contract to the mix.
I can’t say I have identified exactly which teams will need salary cap relief, but a cursory look at the upcoming free agents doesn’t reveal any obvious targets. I’ll take a closer look as the season approaches to try to get a better idea of suitable targets, but for now, I must admit that I’m not sure who they’d want to bring into the fold.
Hughes did indeed mention he had a few things in the works that he could not openly discuss, but I don’t think he means major moves. Rather, he’ll send a few players that do not require waivers to the AHL to start the year.
Ideally, he would trade a player like Christian Dvorak or Joel Armia, but seeing as the team only has one retention spot available, that won’t be an easy task.
Of the entire stable of young D prospects – and I mean all of them (those with the Habs, minors, juniors, NCAA, Europe) – which of them, if any, are likely to be perennial NHL all-stars?
— Matt Crawford (@MattCrawford) August 17, 2023
Lane Hutson is the only Canadiens prospect that I would describe as having ‘elite potential’. Which means he’s the default answer to this question.
However, we must remember that Hutson isn’t guaranteed to become a permanent NHL player. There are healthy odds he’ll make it, mind you, and you’d be silly to bet against it, but he’ll have to improve certain aspects of his game to guarantee an NHL career. If he does, All-Star nominations are bound to occur.
As for the rest, I strongly believe David Reinbacher will enjoy a long NHL career, though I’m still not sure he has top-pairing potential.
Players like Adam Engstrom and Logan Mailloux will also have a chance to earn a long-term job in the NHL, but again, it’s far from a guarantee.
When it comes to players that are currently in the NHL, I think you have to look to Kaiden Guhle.
MUST READ: Defenceman Kaiden Guhle Poised To Flourish
He has all the tools necessary to become an All-Star, but he needs to be used properly to reach the next level. That means a less intense quality of opposition and a much better defensive partner.
Where can I find a replica Michel Therrien Dijon mustard suit? I'm looking to impress the ladies with a new and improved wardrobe. pic.twitter.com/dOqThrgfCx
— Andy (@Andy_Gags) August 17, 2023
At the very least, now we know where Dwight Schrute got his inspiration for his clothing choices.
It’s not quite yellow or Dijon.
More of a spicy brown.
Are the Habs obsessed with the Right shot defensemen position? They have tunnel vision imo.
— Pierre Proulx (@lvaqmdbm) August 17, 2023
It’s funny that Pierre mentions the RHD issue because I’ve noticed it as well, but things are going relatively well in the rebuild so I hadn’t pointed it out.
It’s not a problem, yet.
I believe the ‘obsession’ started when they acquired Justin Barron and hasn’t lost any steam since then.
Clearly, Kent Hughes has identified it as a position of weakness in the organization, and he’s trying to ensure the team will have plenty of options on the right side once they’re ready to compete.
He mentioned Barron’s right-handedness at length following the trade.
And he’s mentioned the importance of having right-handed defencemen several times since.
It’s a smart strategy and one that I applaud, but much like you, I get the sense that they’re pushing the envelope a little when it comes to the value they put on right-handed blueliners.
From the outside, it seems like they’re almost putting as much value on the fact that some defencemen can play on the right as they are when it comes to their overall potential.
Now that he’s acquired a few right-handed defencemen, hopefully, Hughes will put less of an onus on defensive positioning going forward.
Will Stuble eventually be a Hab D?
— Eric mac rae (@macraeer1) August 17, 2023
I genuinely hope he proves me wrong, but at this exact moment, I don’t feel like he projects to the NHL level.
However, I am mostly basing this on his play in the NCAA, and as we all know, the AHL and NHL are different animals.
I will re-evaluate throughout the year, especially if he manages to translate his offensive prowess to the professional level, which is my greatest concern at this point.
I’m also worried about his ice time in Laval, but again, we’ll have to re-evaluate once we have more information at our disposal. After all, he’s only 21 years old, and now that he’ll have a group of professional coaches helping him, not to mention the Canadiens’ development team, there are decent odds that he will be able to unlock some of his untapped potential.
It wouldn’t be the first time I get a prospect projection wrong. Far from it.
Where do u think Newhook’s gonna play in the lineup for opening night?
— Charles Tropper (@Tropper6Charles) August 17, 2023
I don’t think Newhook will be used as a centre, and that’s perfectly fine.
By using him on the wing, he’ll be burdened with fewer defensive responsibilities, and it should allow him to use his fantastic speed to his advantage.
He’d look good on the second line, alongside Kirby Dach. Though, to be fair, everyone looks good beside Dach. As for the other winger, Josh Anderson may be a good fit, but I also wouldn’t mind splitting up Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, which would spread the talent around the lineup a little more, and lead to a second line of Newhook, Dach, and Caufield.
I know Caufield is a left winger, but he has no issues playing on the right.
Odds Emil start the season in Montreal?
— Boutchy.. (@Boutchy5) August 17, 2023
I’d suggest the odds of Emil Heineman cracking the Canadiens lineup at camp are very low.
But in that same vein, I would also like to remind everyone that I predicted Heineman would have a slow start with the Laval Rocket last year, and, well, I was somewhat wrong.
In my opinion, he’s one of the first players in line for a promotion if injuries occur, due to his fantastic offensive prowess. Unfortunately, his defensive play leaves something to be desired, and that may hinder his eventual ascension to the NHL.
More music questions! The LASSO music festival is happening this weekend in Montreal, so in honour of that, what would your music festival be called and who would be the lineup/headliners?
— Melissa Leigh (she/they) (@MochiMayhem89) August 17, 2023
I’ve realized now that heading to an open field to be crammed into a hot, sweaty crowd to listen to music is no longer my cup of tea.
I used to spend my summers heading to concerts and having a great time, but nowadays I just can’t handle the crowds or the prices.
I remember not too long ago getting a ticket to a Foo Fighters concert for about $25. Nowadays, it’s closer to $150, and that’s in a general admission area, meaning you don’t get a seat.
If you want very good seats you better have healthy organs and a good black-market organ dealer.
On that note, my ideal festival would be called “I’m too old to stand in massive crowds and just want to watch my favourite artists without knowing exactly what type of cologne the guy in front of me is wearing too much of–fest”
It’s not very catchy, I know.
But I think it would appeal to my demographic.
As for the artists, well, I’m an ‘old’.
That means I stopped listening to music created after 2000, because, again, I’m an ‘old’.
A throwback to the 90s would be great because we were blessed with a lot of great music at the time. I would have to rely on bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Thrusth Hermit, Sloan, Jean Leloup, Foo Fighters, Blink 182, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, and perhaps even Weezer.
But if I’m being perfectly honest, I would probably just book Anne Murray and Mavis Staples, and not sell any tickets, ensuring that I get a private show from one of Canada’s greatest singers as well as one of the most beautiful voices in music history.