Ah the good ol’ days. Remember when the Montreal Canadiens had a desperate need of centres? Remember after they traded for Jonathan Drouin, they tried to make of him a centre for one full season, because they were so desperate? The centre position has been a position of trouble in Montreal for many years, even before the Bergevin era. Tomas Plekanec had one 70-points season in his career and prior to him, Saku Koivu might be the last borderline #1 centre of the team. Doug Gilmour was at the end of his career. The Canadiens have not had a top-end centre since the days of Vincent Damphousse, whose last season in Montreal was in… 1998-99!
But the time of struggles at the centre position seems far behind the Habs now. GM Marc Bergevin, through trades, the Draft and experiment, now appears to have too many centres. What? Well, he traded for Phillip Danault from Chicago, then pried prospect Nick Suzuki out of Las Vegas. He and his amateur scouting staff drafted Ryan Poehling in the first round of 2017, then made Jesperi Kotkaniemi the third overall pick in 2018. This last pick startled some of the team’s fan base by doing so. He then traded for Max Domi, tried him at centre and the former Arizona Coyotes responded with a 72-points season!
Here’s a look at what the top-7 centres look like on the Canadiens’ depth chart:
- Nick Suzuki
- Jesperi Kotkaniemi
- Max Domi
- Phillip Danault
- Jake Evans
- Ryan Poehling
- Lukas Vejdemo / Joël Teasdale
I placed Teasdale there as without his injury, he would have likely been ahead of Vejdemo. We’ll see if or how he is when he comes back. And there are a few more quality prospects in the Canadiens’ system too…
NHL Teams in need?
Everyone and anyone has explored teams in cap trouble who might unload wingers in order to satisfy the Canadiens’ needs. I can’t blame them, I’ve done the same. So let’s take a different approach. I went over every NHL team and I attempted to judge which ones, in my opinion, could use an upgrade at the centre position. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the prospects on the Habs so expecting me to know about those of other teams would be a huge mistake. I’m simply going with last season’s roster so bear with me if I miss some promising young men.
1- The Minnesota Wild recently traded their best centre, Eric Staal, to the Buffalo Sabres and got 29 year-old left winger Marcus Johansson in return. Wild’s GM Bill Guerin is on record to say that neither Mikko Koivu nor centre project Alex Galchenyuk will be offered contracts with the team. The team’s best centre is now Luke Kunin, who managed… 31 points last season. Guerin seems to be in worse shape than Marc Bergevin was a little while ago.
2- In New Jersey, the Devils can count on Nico Hischier and we know that Jack Hugues should, one day, occupy a major role. In the meantime though, their second centre is Pavel Zacha, who managed only 32 points last season. Blake Coleman (32 points) was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning and he’s playing in the COVID Cup finals.
3- In Chicago, the Blackhawks can still count on Jonathan Toews to carry the load on the top line. This past season, he managed 60 points in 70 games. But at 32, how long will he be able to keep that pace? Dylan Strome is currently the Hawks’ second line centre but injuries have been plaguing him, as he only played 58 games in each of the last two seasons. He saw a substantial drop in production this year, going from a career high 51 points down to 38.
COULD USE IMPROVEMENT
4- The Anaheim Ducks can count on Adam Henrique to put up between 40 to 50 points. At 35, team captain Ryan Getzlaf‘s game isn’t trending the right way. He has been dropping the last two seasons and injuries are starting to take its toll on the big centerman. There’s a huge drop in production after them, as Sam Steel‘s 22 points are nothing to write a book about.
5- Robby Fabbri was obtained via trade by the Detroit Red Wings from the St. Louis Blues and he is showing some promise at centre, with 31 points in 52 games. Dylan Larkin is the team’s top centre by default, he who managed 53 points in 71 games for the lowly Wings.
6- The Ottawa Senators have tons of young players and they hold two of the first 5 picks (3rd and 5th). They have been unloading veterans though and the team announced that Craig Anderson wouldn’t be back. Veteran forward Bobby Ryan was placed on waivers for the purpose of a buyout. Ryan won the Masterton Trophy, the NHL’s award for perseverance, on Sept. 7 after publicly sharing his battle with alcohol issues. Their top scorer was centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau who was traded to the Islanders. Next on the list is Chris Tierney who only managed 37 points in 71 games. Colin White‘s 23 points now place him second amongst centres on the team from last year.
7- The Winnipeg Jets form a good team. But their depth is almost solely on the wing. The defense is suspicious at best but at centre, it’s very thin once passed Mark Scheifele. They truly missed Bryan Little who missed all but seven games last year. Rumours are circulating that the Jets are shopping Patrik Laine so expect either a centre or a top-pairing defenseman to be the return.
The Canadiens announced that they have extended Jeff Petry‘s commitment to the team by another four years. The new deal is worth $25 million, or a cap hit of $6.25 million for the Habs. Considering that he was making $5.5 million, that’s only a raise of $750,000 over his current contract, to which there is still one year remaining. That’s good news as we studied the impact of trades and trade rumours on players back around trade deadline. Petry is one of the leaders of the team and he’s a close friend to Shea Weber and Carey Price.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun had mentioned, back in February at trade deadline, that the Canadiens wanted to keep their defenseman and Petry wanted to stay as well. LeBrun then added back then that he wouldn’t be surprised if both reached a deal on an extension in the off-season. Well played once again, sir. And the other good news? Boyd Petry will keep on entertaining us, Habs’ fans! Go Habs Go!