In the coming months, the Montreal Canadiens will look to improve their team in order to make up for a very bad 2015-16 season. Moves will be made, and players will be shifted around. One player who many Habs fans would like to see moved is David Desharnais.
Over the years, Desharnais has earned head coach Michel Therrien’s favour. A few weeks ago, the forward suffered a broken foot which has since held him out of the lineup. In his absence, younger players have had opportunities to step into more prominent roles in the team lineup. Speculation has begun swirling that the Habs may potentially look to buy out the forward this summer. A large chunk of the Canadiens’ fanbase believe that their team would be better off without the Quebecois forward. Just how many fans? Well, I wanted to find out.
Help me with some research: Are the #Habs better without David Desharnais?
— Greg Katz (@gregkatz19) March 15, 2016
As is shown above, 80% of the voters in my poll believed that the Habs would be better off without Desharnais. This article will discuss whether their wishes are what is best for the Habs.
Who Steps In?
When Desharnais is in the lineup, coach Therrien often trusts him to play top-six minutes. More often than not, he gets power-play time as well. This limits the ice-time that younger players get, as Desharnais often eats up key minutes. According to Hockey Reference, Desharnais averages over 16 minutes of ice-time per game. 16 minutes may not seem like a lot, except when there are players who have proven to be more productive that are getting less ice-time than the forward. The most obvious example that has many Habs’ fans calling for the coach’s head, is the usage of talented forward, Alex Galchenyuk.
The former third-overall draft-pick has benefited the most of anyone from Desharnais being out of the lineup. When the Quebecois forward isn’t playing, Galchenyuk gets to play at his natural centre position, and he sees his ice-time and power-play usage increase. If both forwards were to have played all 82 games this season, Desharnais’ scoring pace would have seen him score approximately 37 points, while Galchenyuk’s expected point total would be about 55 points. Evidently, Galchenyuk is more offensively productive than Desharnais, so he could (and should) be one of the players to step in if Desharnais was to leave the Canadiens. Though many think it’s safe to say that Galchenyuk has proven that he can be a top-flight scorer, with Therrien nothing is certain.
Galchenyuk hasn’t been the only player to benefit from Desharnais’ absence. The Habs have allowed other players like Michael McCarron step in and help pick up the slack for the fallen forward. McCarron is still developing his game, and while he could probably use a few more months of training in the AHL, he’s gaining valuable NHL experience. The 6’6″ centre has been given an opportunity on the Habs’ power-play, after having great success in similar circumstances in the AHL.
Though Desharnais has a few suitable replacements in a top-six offensive role on the Canadiens, he can still be a semi-valuable bottom-six threat. As was discussed in a previous article, the forward can definitely help a team as a third line centre. That said, the Canadiens don’t seem to have the room for yet another bottom-six player. The fact is, Desharnais doesn’t fit the Canadiens’ offensive needs, and he isn’t the most economical option as a bottom-six player.
The Business Aspect of David Desharnais:
Desharnais isn’t the best option for the Habs financially. The centre carries an average cap-hit of $3.5 million through 2016-17. Paying a third line centre $3.5 million per season seems a little high, especially since the Habs have less expensive options available. The alternative options for the struggling team would further their current youth movement.
If the team is looking to replace Desharnais with a less expensive player who could likely score a similar number of points, they could look to St. John’s IceCaps forward, Charles Hudon. Hudon and Desharnais are similar in stature, but Hudon would still be under his entry-level deal that pays him just over $600,000 per season. The team has a few other players still on entry-level contracts that could slot into the third line position (not necessarily at centre) — like the aforementioned McCarron, the newly acquired Phillip Danault, Daniel Carr or even Jacob De La Rose. The crowded bottom-six could allow the team to shed some salary before the next season, though G.M. Bergevin will have to get creative.
Well, if it isn’t already clear, the Montreal Canadiens would likely be better off without David Desharnais. Sure, it seems harsh, but the team has other needs that could be addressed with Desharnais’ salary, and they have suitable, more inexpensive replacements for the forward. Hockey is a business, and though coach Therrien may be sad to see one of his favourite players go, it’s the best option for the team. Speculation continues to swirl about a potential buy-out this summer, though Desharnais still has some value. Yes, he gets paid a lot for what he does, but maybe G.M. Bergevin could pull off a move if a percentage of his salary is retained. Unfortunately for the Canadiens and their fans, getting rid of Desharnais won’t solve all of their problems. A move of this sort would free up a roster spot for a younger, more inexpensive player, though the team will still need to look for some offensive support this offseason.
I’m a Montreal Canadiens columnist and lifelong Habs fan. Follow me on Twitter (@gregkatz19) for all kinds of hockey talk, and to be up to date on my newest articles. I previously wrote for Too Many Men on the Site, a part of Fansided NHL.