Every team’s fan base has that one player who is considered the scapegoat. When the team is losing, that player will get the brunt of the blame for whatever reason. In Montreal, the spotlight is white hot and any player can be blamed at any given time. Coach Michel Therrien takes a lot of heat for his coaching decisions but when the fan base is looking for a whipping boy among the players, they usually look towards David Desharnais.
Other players on the Habs roster besides Desharnais get their fair share of hate. Alexei Emelin’s poor play this year has left fans frustrated. Dale Weise’s prolonged stint on the top line has garnered him criticism despite it being a coach’s decision, not Weise’s. But Desharnais has taken a lot from the Montreal fan base both good and bad over the years and some of the hate is downright mystifying.
If we’re going to look at points, Desharnais’s totals are decent. He has 32 points in 53 games and that includes stints on three different lines. When looking at players with very similar point totals to Desharnais, his comparables include Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kyle Turris, Thomas Vanek, Eric Staal and Justin Faulk. You can argue that points aren’t everything and that Desharnais plays on a much better team than the others, but the fact he is keeping pace with some of the better players in the league is promising.
Of course, Desharnais isn’t going to escape without criticism. Every player has their shortfalls and Desharnais isn’t immune. While his small stature (5′ 7″ and 176 LBS according to NHL.com) hasn’t prevented him from playing, battling in the corners against bigger and stronger players has been an issue. His reluctance to shoot the puck and forcing passes that kill plays can be be frustrating to watch at times.
Much has been made about Desharnais’s role on the Habs. He has been the team’s “number one” centre the past few years much to the chagrin of many. Desharnais isn’t a number one centre especially in comparison to some of the other top centres in the league but I blame his deployment on coaching. Therrien has consistently thrown out Desharnais at even strength and has given him generous power play minutes despite his struggles. It doesn’t help when other players are playing well and deserve a chance to have a bigger role and don’t get it. Desharnais is better off as a second line center or as a winger. The criticism reached a peak when Desharnais struggled mightily last year and Montreal’s mayor Denis Coderre infamously tweeted:
Allo? Un billet simple pour Hamilton pour David Desharnais svp…. #HabsDC
— DenisCoderre (@DenisCoderre) November 11, 2013
Translation: Hello, a one-way ticket to Hamilton for David Desharnais please…
Desharnais’s chemistry and friendship with Max Pacioretty has been the focal point for many, as it draws comparison to the Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel tandem in Toronto. The popular opinion is that Desharnais and Bozak are the top centres by default on their respective teams and they rely on their wingers for success. In comparing the two of them, Bozak struggles mightily when separated from Kessel and while Desharnais isn’t as good away from Pacioretty, his play doesn’t crater and he has proven he can contribute when playing with others.
The fans who are desperate to see Alex Galchenyuk at centre are usually quick to blame Desharnais for stunting his development. Therrien has developed Galchenyuk slowly but it’s hard to deny he is getting better as a player and blaming Desharnais for supposedly taking Galchenyuk’s “rightful” place on the top line is wasting time. Desharnais does bring good things to table such as playmaking, creativity and a good work ethic and he is a big part of Montreal’s offence.
Despite his flaws, Desharnais is a very solid NHL player. He went from an undrafted free agent pick up to an NHLer, not an easy feat by any means. Finding players who can score is a challenge and Desharnais clearly has the skills to do so. His mental strength is underrated as he beat the odds as a small player despite the criticism and continues to face the pressure of being a francophone on the Habs in a role most consider him to be unfit for. If people hate how Desharnais is used, question the coaching staff or management as to why that is. Desharnais may not be a superstar or the team’s best player but he doesn’t deserve all the hate that comes his way.