Size On The Wings

When baking a standard cake, one needs several ingredients in order to be successful: sugar, eggs, flour, milk, butter and baking powder are at the base. You need sugar for the taste. Butter and eggs mixed with flour will make a paste, while the milk will dilute the mix. And without the baking powder, the cake would be flat and dense. Once you have all ingredients, then you can add cocoa, or carrots, or coconut. This is what will determine the type of cake. But without the base ingredients, all of them, your cake simply won’t be good. If you don’t have baking powder, doubling up on the sugar won’t work. But no worries, this is not a baking article…

That said, much like cake, a hockey team needs a good mix of types of players. If speed is sugar, eggs are goals scorers, butter is the defense, milk is goaltending and flour is the coaching staff. Last but not least, the baking powder is size, grit, toughness. Only teams who can find the right balance will reach the Stanley Cup. Some will have more of one and less of the other, but all ingredients will be present.

And as it stands right now, the Montreal Canadiens have plenty of sugar. In fact, they are one of the sweetest teams out there. The are lacking a bit on eggs and their butter was a bit too hard, and their best quality is flower. While they do have some baking powder, it’s not blended well enough throughout the cake. Most of their toughness is on the backend and they need to spread some up front. But that’s hard to do when you don’t have enough for a good recipe. It’s time for Marc Bergevin to go to the grocery store and get some baking powder for his cake.

Need for big wingers

I think that we can all agree that for Bergevin, the center position, which had been the team’s achilles for years, is now secured. On the wings though, there is plenty of speed but little size. In a long, gruelling playoffs, the wear and tear on those smaller players happens too quickly. Big bodies will be able to take more ‘abuse’ over time and won’t wear out as rapidly. Further, they will also cause more damage on the adversary when playing a physical brand of hockey, which is always the case during playoffs.

We recently explored some of the Canadiens’ options with their cap space, so let’s now look at some examples of the types of wingers they need. You will notice that most of them are bottom-six players. I’m old school that way. There’s no sense in having some quick but less talented forwards on your fourth line.

Keep your head up!

My personal favourite fourth line is in Long Island. Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck have been, in my humble opinion, the NHL’s most efficient fourth line for the past several years. The Canadiens miss Andrew Shaw. They miss a fourth line, or players up and down the lineup, who will generate energy, crash and bang, force opponents to keep their head up and get rid of the puck sooner than they want to.

The Canadiens already have Jake Evans to centre such a line, a player much more physical than people think, than what we’ve seen so far. So let’s now look at some wingers, most of which are able to move up and down the lineup if or when needed.

Garnett HathawayWAS286'3"2106697167916.9410:47$1.5M (2022-23) UFA
Ryan HartmanMIN256'0"1896991120693.1212:15$1.9M (2020-21) RFA
Kyle CliffordTOR296'2"2116171017688.7111:41$1.6M (2019-20) UFA
Austin WatsonNAS286'4"2045368146512.7611:37$1.5M (2022-23) UFA
Miles WoodNJD246'2"19568111223576.8013:14$2.75M (2021-22) RFA
Jordan GreenwayMIN236'6"2256782028546.0014:10$921K (2019-20) RFA
Sammy BlaisSTL246'2"2054067132018.4812:35$1.5M (2021-22) RFA
Christian FisherARI236'2"214566391613.6111:01$822K (2019-20) RFA
Lawson CrouseARI236'4"220661510253313.4513:35$1.53M (2021-22) RFA
Sam BennettCAL246'1"195528412369.3112:31$2.55M (2020-21) RFA

Some of these players are not on the trade block but we can all agree that none of these guys are untouchable and everyone has a price. It’s worth overpaying a little bit in order to get what you need, as it is a good way to accelerate getting all of the ingredients your team needs. As for the timing, it’s better to do it before guys like Carey Price and Shea Weber stop being as efficient.

Change of philosophy

In order to accomplish that, the Habs might just have to do a coaching change. You see, Claude Julien seems to like his Cousins and Weal to the point of playing them even on the PP. He didn’t like playing local rugged guy Nicolas Deslauriers when he was in Montreal. The team needs an adjustment of philosophy and it starts behind the bench.

The Habs’ defense is quite physical

So enough already with fourth composed with don’t bring much to the game, and let’s get players who will generate energy instead. Get guys who, when the team is flat, can hit everything that moves and change the momentum with strong forecheck. Make opponents pay while they’re on the ice. They said during the COVID Cup that the Habs’ defense wasn’t fun to play against with Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot, all physical defensemen. Let’s do the same with some forwards too.

With all of the skills starting to come to Montreal from the 2017 Draft to more recent ones, we see much of the same. There is plenty of sugar coming but where’s the baking powder? If the Canadiens are to have any success, they need to surround their quality young talent with some sandpaper as anyone who has played competitive hockey will be able to acknowledge that size by your side makes you feel bigger too. Ask Brad Marchand. Go Habs Go!

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