THE CANADIENS DEFENSE – A MAJOR OVERHAUL

Sep 4th, 2017 | By | Category: Canadiens, Latest News

The Canadiens defense at last season’s opener in Buffalo included Shea Weber, Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry, Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and junior-aged rookie Mikhail Sergachev.  When the Canadiens open this season October 6th, only Weber and Petry will remain. Pateryn departed during the season. Markov, Emelin, Beaulieu and Sergachev left for various reasons in June and July.

It begs the question – why the radical rebuild?   Last year’s core group allowed 145 even-strength goals per game. Only Washington allowed fewer (130).  The performance of the defense off-set the Canadiens anemic thirteenth-ranked offense and allowed the team to finish 5th overall in even-strength goal differential..  Despite that, for reasons not exactly clear to me on a few levels, it’s obvious that Marc Bergevin felt a need to retool his blueline..

And he went out of his way to do it,, starting with the hard line he took on the Andrei Markov free agent negotiation and the way he manipulated the Canadiens exposure on the Las Vegas expansion draft.

WHITHER MARKOV??

 It’s hard to imagine that Bergevin was eager to let Andrei Markov go. He’ll turn 39 in December, he’s not the skater he once was, but he came off a fairly effective season. Bergevin made it clear at the outset that his return would be on the Canadiens terms, which meant a one year contract and likely with a reduction from the 5.75 millions he made in his previous contract. Bergevin patiently waited a month for Markov to make a decision and then signed 39 year old Mark Streit. Streit’s power play points last season mirrored Markov’s but at no time in his career was he the five-on-five player that Markov was.

EMELIN & BEAULIEU

Bergevin knew he was going to lose a defenseman to Las Vegas in the expansion draft.  The Canadiens had pretty-much given up on the erratic Nathan Beaulieu but knew that he was going to be Las Vegas’ first choice if available.Next on their  list was Alexei Emelin and the Canadiens had seen enough last season to think that the team would be better off getting rid of his 4.1 million dollar contract.  In a move that Machiavelli (or Sam Pollock) would have been proud, Bergevin sent Beaulieu to Buffalo for a third round draft pick, leaving Emelin and his contract for Vegas.  A week later Bergevin used the available Emelin money to sign free agent Karl Alzner.

27-Karl Alzner

ALZNER

Alzner will instantly fit into a top four role. Two years ago he finished 3rd in the league in blocked shots with 207. Last season he blocked 162, registered 105 hits and, as part of the best defense in the league, he was a creditable plus-23. He’s not going to pile up points.  He comes to Montreal with a 540 game regular season iron-man streak dating back to the opening game of the 2010-2011 season. He’s only the third defenseman since 1944 to log over 500 consecutive games.  Alzner’s best days in Washington were in a shutdown defensive role when paired with big John Carlson.  If that’s the chemistry that works for him, we might expect to see a lot of training camp ice time with Shea Weber.  

DEPTH MOVES

Along with Streit, the Canadiens acquired David Schlemko from Las Vegas for a 5th round draft choice. It may be a stretch to consider him in a top-four role although he’s filled it in an emergency.  There’s also Joe Morrow, a former Pittsburgh first round draft pick who struggled for four years with Boston before they finally gave up on him and let go to free agency. They join Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson both of whom arrived at last season’s trade deadline.  But none of them is in position to fill the void left by Markov.

Jakub Jerabek

THE DARK HORSE

The is only one player under Canadiens contract with the potential to replace Markov and he curently resides on the Laval Rocket roster.   Jakub Jerabek is a 26 year old rookie who’s career experience on North American ice is limited to twelve games at the world junior championship in 2010 and 2011.  The Canadiens outbid a raft of NHL teams to sign him after he was named to the KHL’s first All-Star team in May and took his free agency.  On the big ice he has shown all the tools to be an impact offensive style defenseman. With  KHL-Vityaz last season he had 34 points in 59 games.  The question to be answered in training camp and the early stages of the season will be whether he can adjust to the quickness and physical nature of NHL-style hockey. If he quickly adapts he could be the missing link. Otherwise Bergevin might have to for help outside of the Canadiuens organization. 

ON THE FARM

Among past Canadiens draft picks, the closest to earning an NHL berth is Brett Lernout.

Canadiens 2013 first round draft pick Noah Juulsen will start his professional career this season in Laval.   Among veteran Laval-AHLer’s are Zach Redmond, Tom Parisi and Matt Taormini.  At best their value will supply veteran depth in emergency injury situations.

THE PRE-TRAINING CAMP DEPTH CHART

Left Defense   –   Right Defense

Karl Alzner       Shea Weber

David Schlemko       Jeff Petry

Brandon Davidson   Jordie Benn

Joe Morrow         Mark Streit

(*) Laval Rocket Roster

Jakub Jerabek * Brett Lernout*

Matt Taormina* Zach Redmond*

Tom Parise* Noah Juulsen*

SUMMING IT UP

Over the last few months the Canadiens defense has become younger while, with the exception of Markov, maintaining the level that made them the league’s second best defense last season.  Replacing Markov will be one of the on-going training camp issues.  

We should mention right here;  no matter how the blueline shakes down, the Canadiens best defensive weapon is Carey Price.  

One Comment to “THE CANADIENS DEFENSE – A MAJOR OVERHAUL”

  1. bay bye says:

    Azner is not a top 2 dman and has the worse contact of current players on the Habs, he was over termed and overpaid. Jerabek is the unknown as there is no way of telling how a KHL player will do in an NHL system and rink, if he does not make the main club he will be going back to the KHL..our defense got older,slower and we lose the experience,offense and leadership on Markov.We badly need PMD but Bergevin ran them all out of town. he invested in dman that play in the style of player he was himself and he was no HOFer. we will play dump the puck chase the puck…remember although we have a lot of shot blockers these also can be deflected into the net and with players going up and down they will now screen Price and if he can’t see it he can’t stop it

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