The bottom six forward corps for the Montreal Canadiens is crowded to say the least. The Habs recently re-signed Paul Byron to a three-year $3.5 million dollar deal, joining a plethora of third and fourth line players in Montreal who have term on their contracts. Having good role players is important for any team to have as they take pressure off the top lines especially if they can produce. However, as valuable as these kinds of players are, Montreal has too many of them.
Why so many depth players?
The NHL is a numbers game and next year’s roster for Montreal has an overwhelming number of bottom six forwards. It doesn’t make sense to keep all of them especially as younger prospects start to push their way onto the roster. Part of the issue is head coach Michel Therrien loves his role players and will not hesitate to play Brian Flynn over someone like Lucas Lessio or even Sven Andrighetto at times.
If #Habs line-up decisions are even remotely merit-based, Lucas Lessio should have earned himself a longer look after tonight.
— Dan Kramer (@DanKramerHabs) February 18, 2016
Torrey Mitchell, Jacob de la Rose, Flynn and Byron are all signed for next year while Andrighetto, Lessio, Devante Smith-Pelly and Daniel Carr are restricted free agents this year. Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann are UFAs. Even Lars Eller plays mostly third line. Smith-Pelly has done nothing to warrant a regular spot in the lineup most nights and someone like Lessio could easily fill that role. Flynn is another who is expendable while Mitchell’s play has fallen off after a good start. Byron has shown the most as he is an excellent penalty killer and can plug in higher in the lineup on a short term basis and not look out of place.
Time for the youth
Andrighetto and Carr have both played well at the NHL level and since they are coming off their entry level deals, they would have to be put on waivers to go to the AHL but some other team would surely claim them. There is no reason they should be in the AHL next year. They have proven enough to get a legitimate opportunity to be regulars in the lineup.
Someone like de la Rose is a conundrum. De la Rose hasn’t shown much offense but he arguably looks more comfortable in the NHL than the AHL. This time around, he is playing centre where he has looked better than on the wing. Does his presence make Lars Eller expendable? Or does Eller playing well in the absence of David Desharnais shove Desharnais aside? This doesn’t even include the argument to put Alex Galchenyuk back at centre.
Ray Ferraro, on @TSN690, on Galchenyuk: "I can't think of one single reason to leave him on the wing"
— Will (@HeyMyNameIsWill) February 25, 2016
Shift the focus
Therrien is not one to label his lines but only a handful of Habs forwards would qualify as top six on other teams and they are Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Long term, plugging in depth players in bigger roles than they should be in isn’t the solution. Depth players are great especially in the playoffs when the top guys are being shut down but they aren’t the main reason why championships are won.
The Montreal Canadiens need to re-evaluate the roster because having all of those depth forwards just doesn’t make sense. Montreal has several youngsters with higher ceilings on cheap deals that could fill those roles instead. Montreal’s biggest focus needs to be on developing or acquiring at least two more legitimate top six forwards at either centre or wing. There are some prospects who could fill those roles in the near future but the Habs can’t waste anymore time. Depth players are nice but top six producers are even nicer.
Featured image provided by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers