Despite all the injuries, the Montreal Canadiens are off to a good start. Their young players are progressing well and goaltender Carey Price looks to be back on track. But there are some things holding the Habs back and many of them start with coach Michel Therrien’s decisions behind the bench.
David Desharnais doesn’t deserve the amount of ice time he is receiving. Desharnais has 1 point in 14 games, unacceptable for someone who was just given a 4 year deal with a $3.5 per year cap hit. He is small, below average defensively and seems to be able only to play with big players who can create space for him. Desharnais’s best season came in 2011-2012 with a career high 60 points flanked by two big power forwards in Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole. Since the trade of Cole, Desharnais’s play has dropped off dramatically but it didn’t stop GM Marc Bergevin from giving him that lucrative four year extension. It’s not fault Therrien’s fault that Desharnais has that contract, but for a guy who has fewer points (at this moment in time) than Francis Bouillon and Travis Moen, something has to be done to get Desharnais back on track. I think a seat in the press box for him is the best thing as he is not contributing to the best of his abilities.
The second thing I want to see is Alex Galchenyuk moved to centre. Habs management has said repeatedly that they see Galchenyuk as the future franchise centre. But why is he still playing on the wing? Galchenyuk is the most gifted forward Montreal has and they are wasting his talents with him playing the wing. People can look at his 10 points in 14 games and say he is doing just fine but I think he can be better. His defensive game is advanced for a teenager and I can’t say enough about his offensive talents. He is a smart with incredible playmaking ability and a wicked wrist shot and playing at the centre ice position will unleash Galchenyuk’s creativity. Will there be hiccups? Of course. His faceoffs need to be improved and his defensive game can be better. But I think the longer he plays on the wing, his immense potential as a franchise centre is stunted. There is no reason to wait for Galchenyuk to get more experienced in the NHL. He is a talented, hard working kid with the brains to succeed in the NHL. His talent is second to none and the idea of Desharnais getting valuable centre ice minutes over Galchenyuk seems wrong. Therrien, it’s time to put the team’s most talented player at centre. He is the present and future of this hockey club and you need him to become that franchise centre the team has been missing for decades.
The last coaching issue I have that also doubles as the biggest one and a league wide one, is the treatment of PK Subban. The way Therrien treats Subban sometimes is downright shoddy. Subban still plays less minutes than Andrei Markov, and while Markov is still valuable, his age and multiple knee surgeries have taken their toll. The penalty kill was 2nd in 2011-12 but has not been the same since. The biggest difference? No Subban. Therrien has refused to give Subban extended minutes on the PK and it is hurting this hockey team. I hate the still perceived notion that Subban is this offensively gifted but defensively inept player. Subban is a perfectly capable defender but it’s no secret his elite offensive skill is his bread and butter. Subban is the reigning Norris Trophy winner and the fact is Therrien refuses to give Subban any sort of praise. Is it a tactic to bring out more in Subban? Or is it that he just has a problem with the guy? It’s a tough question to answer.
But it’s not just Therrien that seems to underrate Subban. There have even been whispers that Subban is not a lock for the Canadian Olympic Team. The idea of the reigning Norris Trophy winner not being a lock for the Olympic team because of lame excuses like too many right handed defencemen or they need a balance in styles, it honestly makes me question the decision making of Hockey Canada. Subban is one of the most talented defenders in the NHL and the idea of him being left off the team in favour of a lesser defenceman, makes me sick. People say his style is too risky, but it didn’t stop Subban from earning two gold medals at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2008 and 2009. But can’t people say the same thing about a guy like Kris Letang (another candidate for the Olympic team), a fellow offensively gifted defenceman with a substantial amount of risk to his game as well? PK Subban is one of the most unique defencemen in the league because no one plays like him. He puts up more than his fair share of points like any offensive defenceman but his defensive game is better than most think. He also possesses a bruising physical game as well, just ask Brad Marchand or Chris Neil what it’s like to receive a hip check from Subban at the right side of the defensive blue line.
It would be a shame to see Subban left off the Olympic team, but I think it’s more important that the Montreal Canadiens show Subban the respect he deserves. It’s no secret that Subban loves the team, the city and the fans but does his less than stellar treatment from the organization enough to make him want to leave? His contract is up this summer and as a restricted free agent, he doesn’t have the rights to just walk away but I can envision these negotiations getting messy. Subban has a Norris Trophy but what if he just happens to bring home another one or maybe Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup? There are so many scenarios that could dictate how much money Subban gets. Goalie Carey Price is the highest paid player on the team with a $6.5 million cap hit and I feel Subban could fetch more. I won’t be surprised of the Habs decide to low ball Subban but that would be a mistake. He has done what the organization has asked of him since signing that two year bridge and it’s time for the team to step and hold up their end of the bargain.