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Canadiens State Of the Rebuild – Current NHL Talent – Forwards

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Montreal Canadiens Suzuki Caufield

Now that the Montreal Canadiens have completed their second complete rebuild season, it’s time to take a closer look at where the organization stands in terms of its long-term plans.

This series will evaluate several categories, including current NHL talent, prospect value, draft capital, trades, coaching, contracts, and management.

Today we will examine the state of the NHL forwards.

State Of The Montreal Canadiens Rebuild Series – Published

 

A Good Start

Even though general manager Kent Hughes has only had two complete seasons to work on the roster, it must be said the Montreal Canadiens started their rebuild in earnest when they traded Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames.

This means we’re more than 26 months removed from the management change, with the Habs about to enter their third NHL Entry Draft with said group.

Ipso facto, we’re at the point where we can start judging the results.

It may seem like we’re being harsh when it comes to the time frame, but that’s the thing with rebuilds. The grace period goes by very quickly, though we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Habs fans have been quite patient throughout the Hughes rebuild, as the front office has established a fairly clear roadmap to success.

The first task for any new management group is to rid the team of the awful contracts left in place by the departing management group.  Within that time frame, Hughes has also had to form some semblance of an offensive core, despite the lack of enticing options up front.

The forward trio composed of Juraj Slafkovsky, Nick Suzuki, and Cole Caufield has certainly done a good job overcoming many of the offensive deficiencies displayed by the Canadiens for the last decade (or four).

For the first time in a very long time, the Habs can legitimately suggest they have a top-line in place.

Now, we must be careful, as the trio finished the season just a hair above 50 percent in expected goals (xGF%). This means there’s still work to be done when it comes to their ability to be a dominant presence every night. They’re also on the wrong side of 50 percent when it comes to shot share (CF%), though they’re hovering at roughly 49.3 percent.

But we also have to consider that the Montreal Canadiens were one of the worst teams in the league season when it comes to expected goals and shot share. They only managed to control 46.4 percent of the expected goals last season, as well as 45.6 percent of the shot share.

If we remove the top line from the equation the numbers plummet considerably.

The Canadiens’ expected goal share drops to 45 percent, whereas their shot share drops to 44.3 percent. Another way of putting it would be that the Canadiens would have rivalled the lowly Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks without the influence of their first line.

The earlier stated numbers were from Natural Stat Trick, a fantastic resource of hockey information. Another good website is MoneyPuck, as it automatically displays some of the top lines in the NHL.

As you see in the chart below, MoneyPuck has the top line at 51.9 percent xGF%, which is even better than the numbers we saw from our previous source.

MoneyPuck also suggests the Slafkovsky, Suzuki, and Caufield combination produced the third most expected goals all season. Those are raw numbers, but they still give us a good idea of their overall impact. You’ll note their expected goals against are a little higher than other top lines, which points to the need to improve the overall defensive situation on the team, as well as the defensive awareness on the top line.

Montreal Canadiens lines xgf

 

Much of the progress was due to Suzuki’s emergence as a top-line centre.

With all due respect to Caufield and Slafkovsky, it was Suzuki who drove the play on that line by providing them with ample time and space to build up speed in the neutral zone, not to mention an endless stream of controlled entries generated by the captain.

Once Slafkovsky and Caufield improve their play a little, there are healthy odds Suzuki will blow his career-high production this season, 33 goals and 44 assists in 82 games, out of the water.

The encouraging news is that both wingers are yet to enter their prime statistical seasons.

Beyond The Top Line

As we all know, one top functional line is not enough to compete for a Stanley Cup.

The historical numbers suggest you need roughly five stars to even qualify for the playoffs. The Canadiens currently have two star players: Suzuki and Caufield. Matheson also enjoyed a ‘star season’, whereas Slafkovsky is on the verge of qualifying.

Of course, Montreal Canadiens fans will be quick to point to Kirby Dach’s injury as a reason why the team struggled this season, as well as suggesting he has the potential to become a star player.

And they’d be right.

But we also have to keep in mind Dach’s injury history is a significant red flag as to his long-term value. It’s one of the reasons Hughes managed to acquire him for relatively cheap.

The injury this season was random, however, we simply can’t deny that Dach has had a very hard time staying healthy during his first five seasons in the NHL.

Of the 410 games in which he could have participated, he played just 212 due to his numerous injuries. That means he missed over 48 percent of scheduled games.

During his time with the Canadiens, things have only gotten worse.

Of the 164 games available to him, Dach played just 60.  In otherwords, he missed well over 63 percent of the games since joining the Habs.

His potential impact on the lineup is so significant that it’s worth seeing if he can remain healthy, but we have to remember much of the team’s long-term aspirations count upon having a solid top six, and those hopes will only be fulfilled if Dach can avoid another season-ending injury.

If that’s the case, players like Joshua Roy and Alex Newhook can complement a player like Dach, who has shown he has the ability to drive the offence while maintaining elite defensive numbers, a rarity in the Canadiens lineup.

Roy had some of the best underlying numbers on the entire team during his short audition in the NHL, whereas Newhook rebounded nicely from a foot injury, a reassuring situation for a player who depends on his blazing speed to generate scoring chances.

Finding Value

The rest of the forward lineup is, to put it mildly, a complete mess.

However, there was one interesting phenomenon in the bottom six.

With the exception of the top trio, only two lines that played together for more than 100 minutes this season managed to control more than 50 percent of the expected goals.

Both those lines featured Brendan Gallagher, who enjoyed quite a resurgence in underlying numbers. His production went down, that’s par for the course when you consider his time on ice was reduced, but his impact on the lineup was undeniable.

And we’re not talking about players who were dominant prior to Gallagher’s arrival on the line.

MUST READ: Veteran Brendan Gallagher’s Value To The Montreal Canadiens

The Josh Anderson, Jake Evans, and Gallagher combination managed to finish the season with a 52.6 xGF%. They only had a 48 percent shot share, but it’s still rather impressive that Gallagher dragged two players to respectability, players who usually rank among the worst on the team in both metrics.

Evans controlled under 40 percent of the shots this season, whereas Anderson’s xGF% was a little over 42 percent. And those numbers include the time they spent controlling the play alongside Gallagher.

Of the remaining players in the lineup, you could suggest Joel Armia also enjoyed a Gallagher-like resurgence, both in his goal production and his underlying numbers. He doesn’t figure to be a part of the team’s long-term rebuild plans, but his improved play could lead to heightened value on the NHL’s trade market. The same can be said about Christian Dvorak, at least to a certain extent. His play down the stretch was fairly encouraging, albeit not enough to suggest he’s going to yield any type of important return in a trade.

Unfortunately, Rafael Harvey-Pinard saw a significant regression in both his underlying numbers and his production. The same can be said for Jesse Ylonen, who was clearly not an ideal fit on the fourth line.

Brass Tacks

We saw the first step towards respectability from an offensive standpoint, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

If the top line can’t re-ignite their chemistry, the entire situation would collapse, as much of the enthusiasm regarding the rest of the lineup is based on hope.

Montreal Canadiens State Of The Rebuild Grade – NHL Forwards

The good news is that many of the players in question are either just entering their prime, or are about to do so.

But the fact of the matter remains the forward setup leaves a lot to be desired, especially since their counterparts on the blue line score more goals than most other defensive groups.

The 3/10 score may seem harsh, but I’d rather suggest it’s realistic.

There’s hope things can change, and that change may come soon, but for now, offence remains the biggest sticking point in the rebuild.

Grade: 3/10

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Tyrone

3/10. Ouch. I look at it more like we have 6/12 forwards moving forward that we want as a part of our long term (Suzuki, Caufield, Slafkovsky, Dach, Newhook & Roy). That’s 50% of the way there, or 5/10.

Tyrone

Absolutely. I guess I’m looking more at the potential, while you are assessing the “right now”.

Dana

I like that evaluation better. But what if you assigned values based on the position in the lineup, then it would be better than 5/10 as top line is better than fourth line so why make them equal here? I’d say 6.5/10 as we have 6 high talent young guys that could contribute for a decade plus. Not many nhl rosters have that…but great point Marc about being a realist about Dach as he really needs a full season of health to help reverse the “damaged goods” label.

Regarding the top line, I wonder what the metrics would be when broken down by quarter or halves. Slavkovsky struggled first 25 games, Cole was playing with the surgically repaired shoulder so my expectation would be that the lines expected share of goals, possession numbers, Corsi and Fenwick woukd all trend up as the season progressed.

Finally, the rebuild timeline is compacted and accelerated compared to all other rebuilding clubs. Look at Ottawa buffalo Detroit Sharks Ducks Blue jackets Blackhawks and Coyotes and Flyers. We have no reason to complain but every reason to celebrate the metamorphosis from basement dweller to one of the leagues most promising young teams( I know we were 5 th worst but the future looks bright).

Rick A Robinson

They are 2 forwards away from a playoff

Dana

Would Dach and Roy count? I think if they are healthy , it provides an another dynamic we haven’t had in a while, a legitimate (ish) second line Beck as a potential bonus third forward? Plus if Hughes can pull off a deal…And if Hutson makes the team…and the crease is far more settled than last year. I think all of those, plus the group benefit of the past year or two where the young guys are ready to fulfill their promise(in varying degrees) will land us on the threshold of the playoffs next year. Which side of the threshold, not sure- but we are close to the playoffs

Greg

Lot of ifs there. Not that I disagree, just a lot has to go right is all. I think that was the writer’s main point. Yeah, we were 3/10 this year, but that will be better next year…IF…

Greg

Corsi….expected goals…garbage. Why are you writers STILL using stupid stat names like Corsi? Fenwick? Expected goals? Really, expected goals, lol. Nobody likes the term Corsi. It’s stupid, it means nothing. I find it amusing that one of the more useless stats in +/- has become “Corsi.” Sorry, that’s 5 on 5 plus minus. 5 on 5 goal differential, that makes sense. You can explain that to a child, and that child will get it. Explain Fenwick, please. Corsi-Fenwick. Meaningless garbage.

This is why we don’t name stats after the person who coined them.

One of the reasons +/- is so useless is it never accounts for the situation. A guy gets unlucky and jumps on 10 times right as a goal is scored, now he’s-10. Tells you nothing.
Expected goals is a newer trend, but equally useless. I “expect” it’s only useful during contract negotiations–‘yeah, I know my client had 13 goals last year but his expected goal % was best on the team.’ If I want to know which team is driving play and who is driving it, I’ll watch the games. As with most other things in a team game, actual results trump theoretical results every time.
High danger scoring chances, I’m shocked they’re not called Mr Beans, it’s at least as relevant as Corsi or Fenwick.

Pierre B.

The 3/10 rebuild grade for current forwards is harsh. In my opinion, the rebuild grade should only reflect one’s confidence about having the right players for the most important positions (their current results shouldn’t matter if one is confident in the projection).
I’d argue that:

  1. Suzuki has proven that he can be the C1 without a doubt (confidence 99%, because he’s only 24 and he has been consistent in his improvement over 5 seasons)
  2. Caufield has proven that he can be the LW1/RW1 with high confidence (90%, only 23, 3+ seasons showing progression)
  3. Slafkovsky has shown that he could be the RW1/LW1 with moderate confidence (65%, only 20, 2 seasons showing rapid progression); he is at least a RW2/LW2 with high confidence at this point
  4. Dach has shown that he can be either the RW1 or the C2 with moderately high confidence (75%, only 23, but not enough games played to evaluate consistency)
  5. Newhook has shown that he can be either LW2/C2 with moderate confidence (60%, only 23, but not enough games played); C3 is a reasonable fall-back position (80%)
  6. Roy has shown the potential to be RW2/LW2 (confidence 35%, only 20, just a few sample games, but he has shown rapid progression ever since he was drafted); RW3/LW3 would be a reasonable fall-back postion (50%)
  7. The relative weighting for the different positions should be as follows:
  8. Line 1 – LW, C, RW: 3, 4, 3
  9. Line 2 – LW, C, RW: 2, 3, 2
  10. Line 3 – LW, C, RW: 1, 2, 1
  11. Calculations based on previous hypotheses yield the following overall probability for each position:
  12. Line 1 – LW, C, RW: 97%, 99%, 97%
  13. Line 2 – LW, C, RW: 50%, 90%, 50%
  14. Line 3 – LW, C, RW:
  15. My resulting rebuild grade is 7/10

Sure, the players’ results (offensively and defensively) need to improve year after year for them to keep their respective assigned roster position, but given their age and current trajectory, I consider that this should be expected. This is the key difference between my grade and the author’s. Adding two young forwards with top-6 potential (even with moderate confidence) would boost this grade significantly.

Greg

Very realistic grade. After the Suzuki line, most nights nothing going. I read rave reviews about Evans’ play, but what I saw was a guy who was overwhelmed by having to play 2nd or 3rd line center, and his 6 goals bear that out. I’m not sure who ruined more offensive chances, Evans or Anderson, but it was almost fitting they played together so much. I’m unsure why Anderson was so terrible, hopefully he gets it together, but playing with Evans won’t help him score more, that’s a guarantee.
I’d like to see Evans and Dvorak both gone this summer. We have other options for 4th line center, like giving Gignac the well deserved chance Hughes robbed him of by taking his old, washed up client in Colin White off waivers from Peguins. His statline: 0 pts in 28 gp. Washed up, I can’t say, but he looked miserable on the bench, and his play was even more miserable. Gignac was busting his butt but still playing good hockey. White either mailed it in, had nothing left to give, or a combo of both.
If he is a Hab next year, I will be completely disgusted, because that would mean Hughes actually extended the pylon. The only good part of his Habs tenure will be it’s end.
As for the 3rd line center slot, Newhook was good there, let him keep it. We may not be as adept at faceoffs with Evans and Dvorak gone, but neither contributed much offence, and I like Suzuki-Dach-Newhook-Gignac/Beck/anyone but White better down the middle by far.