If I were GM of the Montreal Canadiens, I would make some bold moves. My philosophy would be based on what I watch nightly in a changing NHL. The game is all about speed now. The engine of that speed is not only mobile defencemen who pass the puck up quickly but also those defencemen must be able to join the rush to provide offence.
Those defencemen are the engine that makes the forwards run. As an example, Paul Byron is able to use his speed well this year but imagine how well he uses his speed if the defence could stretch out the opposition with quicker transition. So here’s what I do to take what the Habs have now and turn this around.
As anyone knows one of my favourite sayings is win the middle; win the game. The Habs haven’t been winning the middle for over 20 years now since Vincent Damphousse and Pierre Turgeon left. Unless they move the nets to the corner, you’re not winning with your best players as wingers. Check history to see champions led by centers like Crosby/Malkin Sakic/Forsberg Bergeron/Krejci Staal/Brind’Amour Lecavalier/Richards. In the last two decades, the champion has never been weak at center.
So this is my number one job, and I am going to be realistic here, I can’t just be pie in the sky and say here comes John Tavares. It’s not likely to happen even if I spend all I have. My trade piece to finally get better down the middle is Max Pacioretty. I don’t want Max on this team anymore. Not because I don’t like him but because I have to stop being a team whose best players are wingers. If I lose Max then I move Drouin to the wing. I have the same strength at wing with him as when I had Pacioretty there. Now I get this talented skilled player Drouin someone to play with.
My number one option is the first pick overall Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He’s a complete 200 foot player with excellent offensive numbers this year. Pacioretty whose best days I fear are behind him would love to have the numbers of RNH this season. I can’t as GM pay Pacioretty for the diminished returns of seven years in front of him just because I loved the years behind him. I make this deal one for one and take the angry heat of my fan base initially until they watch my team with a better centerman. Down the line, my number two center is Ryan Poehling. My number three is Phillip Danault.
If I can’t swing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, I like the potential of first rounder Robert Thomas. The Blues need top six scoring as they make a run for the first cup in their 51 year history. The Blues need Max. He could put them over the top this year.
Now I need to change the make up of my defence. I have one stud. He’s old school but he’s the best old school in the game with the best slap shot in the game. However, he’s the only defender of that kind I want. That’s right. I want my fast team to have defenders joining the rush. Watch Vegas and how they’re doing what they’re doing. That defence joins the rush all night every night. I don’t just want my defence pushing the puck up quickly. I want their entire bodies to push the puck up quickly right to the opposing goal.
This is going to sound a little revolutionary but the next phase in the NHL change is coming. It was only five years ago that the make-up of a team had fighters and defensive forwards. Now everyone must be talented. The next step in this evolution is every player must be able to “do it all” to some degree. The defenders must be able to help the attack. The attackers must be able to help the defence. If you can’t skate, you can’t play. If you’re a defender who can’t attack a little, you can’t play. If you’re an attacker who can’t defend a little, you can’t play.
Therefore, I have to take a real harsh cleansing bath of this defence I have constructed. I don’t want most of these players I have contracted. I need to lose Karl Alzner and I will give up a fourth rounder to do it. I didn’t say I will get a fourth rounder. I said I will also give you a fourth rounder. Just take him and that contract. He is not my vision.
I also have no use for Jordie Benn in my future. Benn used to be able to hold up a player with clutching or stick work but now they just fly right by him when he has to pivot and skate in the new NHL.
My defence is Weber, Mete, Petry, Juulsen, Schlemko, the first round pick I get which I hope will be Dahlin, Boqvist, Hughes, Dobson. Two years from now I have a beauty in Josh Brook coming, my second rounder of last year.
Up front, I get Nikita Scherbak up here to get acclimated. I let Jacob De La Rose play big minutes right now in Montreal in preparation for him to replace Plekanec.
In net, I have Carey Price and I pray he can stay healthy. I dangle Lindgren every day of the week trying to see what I can get for him. I don’t need him as a back-up. He’s too good. I need him to get me more talent because I am hovering around 25th in the league in goals for and goals against.
Oh, I also fire all of my assistant coaches except Waite. It’s not acceptable that I am bottom third in both power play and penalty kill. On the power play, I have a sniper in Galchenyuk. I have a wheel man in Drouin who quarterbacked the best power play in the league last year in Tampa. I have the best shot from the point in the league in Weber. How can I possibly be so bad with the extra man? These guys aren’t getting it done. That’s long enough time for them to show me how bad they are. Let’s see someone else try their hand now.
I don’t think all of these moves are particularly difficult or unrealistic.
This is my vision. It might seem as if I am in an ivory tower making it and if so my apologies. I sure don’t want to act like it isn’t hard. It is very hard, but this is what I would try to do.