Ok so I’m not going to waste time with a big introduction here, as this ‘challenge’ has attracted a fair amount of interest and we all have a lot of reading to do.
I asked the blogging world of the Montreal Canadiéns to all write a piece on the exact same topic, post them as well as submit them to me, and I would put them up on this site for quick access. Of course, I urge all who participated to link either my post with the links or the individual blogs by themselves to their own sites, because the entire idea here is to hear each other’s opinions and have a chance to discuss them.
The topic: Name YOUR starting 12 Habs forwards for game one on Oct. 7 in Toronto. Include two players wearing suits and anyone considered a ‘bubble’ player who you choose to send to Hamilton or elsewhere. Include line combinations and an explanation for why your choices were your choices.
So without further small talk, here is what Shmitzy Says the Habs would look like opening night if my opinion actually mattered one iota:
First off a Tweet to me yesterday stuck in my head when making this decision, which was, “Look at how many players have had great camps and wound up doing nothing.” That is so true, I thought. So what I have decided to do for opening night is not make any real decisions at all.
Line 1 — Andrei Kostitsyn, Thomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri
Line 2 — Benoit Pouliot, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta
Line 3 — Tom Pyatt, Lars Eller, Maxime Lapierre
Line 4 — Travis Moen, Dustin Boyd, Ryan White
Press Box — Jeff Halpern, Max Pacioretty
To Hamilton — Ben Maxwell
To Waivers — Mathieu Darche
OK so there it is, and now since I can feel the disagreement in your voices all the way over here, I offer my explanation.
My decision involving the first two lines wasn’t so much who played together as it was which of them would get top billing. I went with the Plekanec line for a couple of reasons.
The first being, no matter who led the team in goals last season and who gets paid the highest salary on the team, Cammalleri is my best sniper and Plekanec is my best all-around forward. The second is that Kostitsyn played himself out of my doghouse in the preseason, while my question mark on line 2 didn’t come close.
Which brings me to the second line. Clearly everyone who writes for this ‘challenge’ is going to pair Gomez and Gionta together but who they put on left wing will most definitely cause some debate. Benoit Pouliot most certainly did NOT earn a spot on the second line with his play in preseason, however – right or wrong – he didn’t get a raise in the offseason just so we could cut him loose based on exhibition play.
Besides, if I start cutting players who were ‘penciled in’ to certain positions during the summer, some fans might begin nagging me to exercise that power in goal…
Anyway, Pouliot gets a handful of games – five-10 depending on our record – to get his game going. If my mini experiment doesn’t work, he goes to waivers then. But at this point I still maintain the former fourth-overall pick has the skill set. He just needs the mindset.
My third line was also a no-brainer for me. Since I already decided to continue Pouliot’s evaluation into some games of meaning, I had to find a spot for my new budding star, Lars Eller. I believe Eller is going to be great and will in all likelihood be in the top-six by game 11 due to the Pouliot Plan, but until that happens he gets to play with a couple of sparkplugs, staying somewhat out of the limelight. The biggest NHL hurdle rookies tend to struggle with is the speed of the game. Playing with Pyatt and Lapierre would be like trying to run beside two fighter jets; I think he’d acclimatize fairly quickly.
As for my fourth line and press box dwellers, much like the case with Pouliot, training camp isn’t over for most of these guys. In an 82-game season, I am going to need more than 12 forwards anyway and so on one hand, I’d like to look at as many as I can for as long as I can. On the other hand, like the aforementioned quote from Twitter, a good camp does not a superstar make, so I want to see more of what guys like Ryan White and Max Pacioretty can do against top talent – when it counts – before I commit to them.
I platoon my bottom six for a good 10 games and take a real good look at all of them. So guys in the press box today — like Halpern and Pacioretty — are going to play in the next game, while two others sit, and so on. And I do it knowing the argument about how not playing every game makes it hard to be good consistently and blah, blah, blah… We’re talking about 10 games, not half a season. They’ll be fine.
If the young guys don’t pan out, they go back to the minors to develop and I get some role-playing veterans to sit in the press box. For any older player who doesn’t earn his spot on the ice, it’s either the press box or the waiver wire for them.
As for my cuts, Maxwell was the odd man out in my opinion because he plays centre and as shocked as I am to say it about the Habs, the boys are all set at centre for a while. I’m not giving up on him yet though – unless he asks for a trade – because I want the depth in my back pocket in case something happens to one of the roster players.
Darche hits waivers but I want to quickly say how great he played last year and how hard he worked. And I know I’m likely going to need a veteran to sit in the press box without complaint – which he’d no doubt do – but I have absolutely no place to put him for at least a month and it’s just not fair to him to drag him along and ignore him.
So there you have it. Like I said, I decided to take the decision part out of it and keep my options open. This way, if my lineup doesn’t work, I can make all the same decisions then that I could be making now. No real harm, no real foul.
But if it works, I have a very deep roster, with a ton of youth. And if guys like Jeff Halpern – who I’m not at all saying isn’t good – end up feeling left out, then I’m simply alienating a guy who has no chance of playing here next year anyway.
I think I’ll be able to pick up the pieces and move on. 😉
Thanks for reading, I’m looking forward to reading what you all chose as well!