The Montreal Canadiens shouldn’t give up just because defenseman Shea Weber has been shut down. It’s a matter of playing the (really) long game instead.
In fact, sending Weber home to get him to reassess a nagging foot injury he had been battling through is just Step No. 1. If the Habs really want to rebound as soon as next season, assuming 2017-18 is a lost cause, here are a few other moves management and the coaching staff should consider as sellers in principle:
5) Promote Jeff Petry
Jeff Petry is already the team’s de facto No. 1 defenseman for all intents and purposes. So, this move takes the lowest spot on our ranking as the strategy is already in full swing.
Truth be told, it’s not like the Canadiens have much of an option either way. In terms of defensive depth on the right side, it’s essentially him and then goalie Carey Price’s blocker. If you were looking for additional proof the Habs’ defense is in shambles, their 7-5 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night is all you need.
Petry had a goal and an assist in that game. In the eight games Weber has missed so far this season, he’s totaled two goals and four assists. So, it’s not like Petry is incapable of stepping up. It’s just a question of whether everyone else behind him on the depth chart is as well.
4) More Time for Victor Mete
That goes for defenseman Victor Mete too. Loaned to Team Canada for the World Juniors, Mete is poised to play a starring role against some top competition, but in his age group as a 19-year-old. The same has to be true once he returns or there just won’t be much of a point keeping him up in the NHL at all.
He played through training camp and the early going of the season as Weber’s defensive partner, often getting over 20 minutes in ice time per game. That number has dwindled significantly. Starting in November, he started to play around 10 minutes per game, sometimes dropping below that mark to as low as 6:02 on November 27. There’s no point holding him back any longer.
Sure, he may only have four assists on the season, but if he’s good enough to stay, he should be good enough to play. Mistakes will undeniably be made, but plenty have already been made by people far higher up in the organization.
At this point, the team has to commit to his development as a Montreal Canadien and hopefully take a different approach than the carrot or the stick like they’ve done with Alex Galchenyuk. He may be a lost cause in their eyes, but at least they can learn from their mistakes.
3) Demote Max Pacioretty
It’s funny, but Galchenyuk’s season isn’t as much of a disaster as it’s been made out to be in the media. It hasn’t been great, but he’s just a few points off the team lead. He’s actually one closer than supposed-top-center Jonathan Drouin, whose development down the middle probably hasn’t gone the way general manager Marc Bergevin had hoped.
Galchenyuk has spent considerable time in the dog house on the fourth line this season. While it’s inconceivable Drouin will suffer the same humiliation due to the investment Bergevin made acquiring him, the team’s current circumstances (five points out of a playoff spot on Wednesday) present head coach Claude Julien with a rare opportunity: to send a lasting message that poor play will not be tolerated.
That means captain Max Pacioretty, who has been tasked with leading by example, should be made an example of. Similar to Galchenyuk, Pacioretty’s not having a horrible season by league standards, but he is by his own with eight goals so far and none this month. He may be doing a lot of the right things, as was the case against the Canucks, but it’s not enough.
It’s easy to defend Pacioretty, but it would be easier if the same rules applied to him and throughout the line-up. Drouin may not be fair game, but Pacioretty taking it on the chin for a few games should be. Julien may even temporarily get a fourth line that’s significantly more dangerous. You can practically see him salivate as we speak.
2) Rest Price
It’s no secret Price is having a bad season. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of numbers needs only a brief look at his stats to see he’s letting in a lot of goals. Still, resting him shouldn’t be seen as punishment, but rather an effort on the part of the Habs to protect their long-term investment.
Long gone should be the days when the Habs play him on back-to-back nights, as they did against the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings a few weeks ago—just a few games removed from a return from injury no less. You’d never guess the team had just signed him to an eight-year extension worth $84 million… only that management was desperate for two wins.
Price is that much more susceptible to injury now without the team’s best defenseman and resident crease-clearing machine is out of the line-up for G-d knows how long. So, why not bring Charlie Lindgren up from the American Hockey League?
Based on the $10.5 million cap hit Price’s new deal will command, the Canadiens will need to get used to alternative goaltending options on the cheap anyway. And, based on Lindgren’s performance earlier this season, the worst that can really happen is they showcase him as a decent trade chip… and of course win a few more games than they should. The horror.
1) Trade Tomas Plekanec
It’s probably the least controversial decision around, to trade a pending unrestricted free agent. The only downside in this case is it would be the longest-serving Hab on the team currently in Tomas Plekanec.
There was a time not that long ago when it seemed like the Habs still needed Plekanec. However, they’re no longer Stanley Cup contenders and on the verge of dropping out of the playoff race altogether.
Plekanec is also the biggest fish in a small pond and should fetch a half-decent draft pick at the very least. Ales Hemsky and Antti Niemi aren’t getting you much of anything, while Bergevin will probably throw everything but the kitchen sink at local-boy Nicolas Deslauriers to get him to stay, hoping something will stick.
It makes sense to get as much as they can for Plekanec, which probably means waiting until the trade deadline for the purposes of triggering a bidding war. As long as the Canadiens get something of value, it will be for the best. Because the last time the Habs parted ways with a longtime Canadien, it didn’t turn out so well. They didn’t get anything except embarrassment and it’s probably the biggest reason the season has turned out as it has, actually.
With the season hanging by a thread, it’s all about learning lessons. That’s unfortunately the best Habs fans can ask for at this stage… the Habs learning from past mistakes. There have been a lot of them recently, but, thankfully, sitting Weber isn’t one of them.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.