The Thin Blue Line: Canadiens D, 2013

by Jacob Saltiel
kaberlesmap

Kaberle’s Map to His Position

Last year, the Montreal Canadiens rotated 10 different defencemen into the lineup to cover up for injuries to key players and inconsistency on the part of the replacements.

Subban and Gorges missed 1 game combined, and the irritatingly bad Kaberle played 72 games for the Canadiens, or 72 more than he should have played in the NHL last season. Emelin played 67 games as an old rookie, and Weber played 60, though he only averaged about 15 minutes a game. A combination of Gill, Campoli, Diaz, St-Denis, and Markov filled in the remaining minutes.

Although they were generally a small group of defenceman, some of whom were inexperienced (Diaz, Weber, Emelin, and St-Denis), the Canadiens still gave up the 5th fewest goals in the conference, giving up only 226 goals on the season. 226 goals allowed was better than several teams that made the playoffs, including the Panthers, Capitals, Flyers, and Senators. The Penguins allowed only 5 fewer goals than the Canadiens all year. Yes, those Penguins.

Unless Bergevin makes a big trade for, say, James Neal (unlikely- and that’s an understatement), or Galchenyuk makes the team and his fibreoptically quick and and accurate wristshot translates to the bigs immediately, it doesn’t appear as if the Canadiens are about to score many more goals. So, they’ll need to maintain that stingy defence if they want to move up the standings this year.

Looking ahead to this year, the Canadiens defence could improve, with the addition by subtraction of Campoli,who had 32 turnovers in 43 games, or a similar amount as guys who played at least 30 more games like Corvo, White, and Boychuk. The return to health of Markov (as long as it lasts), and the depth addition of Bouillon should also help.

The Top-4

If Subban can sign a contract and cut down on his turnovers and penalty minutes (discussed here), and one of Diaz, Weber, or Emelin can improve enough to play top-4 minutes competently, the defence could score a decent amount between Markov and Subban. Gorges and Emelin, meanwhile, can provide harass opposing forwards up and down the ice by either standing in their skates, like Gorges does, or knocking them clean out of their Bauers, like Emelin is apt to attempt.

The Rest

The bottom-2 defence spots could rotate between Weber and Diaz, who are roughly similar in that they are small defencemen with untapped offensive potential, and Bouillon and Kaberle.

Though I slagged Kaberle above, it’s more to do with his contract and 5-on-5 play than his contribution to the powerplay. He still scored a little more than 0.5pts a game after arriving on the Habs last year. Of course, there are other players on the team that can provide similar or improved production, and Kaberle’s total inability or avolition concerning hitting, blocking shots, and battling opposing forwards detracts from his offensive capability. If Kaberle has any value whatsoever, it’ll be in stepping up to the powerplay if and when the rare, Ming dynasty ceramics in Markov’s knees shatter unexpectedly.

Bouillon should mostly be used as a 6th or 7th defenceman and to play on the penalty kill, relieving Subban, Gorges, and Markov from minutes on that front.

Farming

Tinordi is gigantically large, can crush, and probably won’t be ready to contribute for another year. He’ll be exciting to watch if gets called up to fill in for a game or two, but it’s still only his first year as a professional and it might be early to expect a next-generation Hal Gill type of contribution from him.

Beaulieu is also a first-year professional, and while he might also be a top-4 contributor one day, it’s unlikely that he plays in the big CH unless it’s as an injury call-up.

On Paper, the Canadiens may have a top-4 that dominates possession and can provide service to the forwards, with a weak 5-through-7 spots that might struggle to step up in case of injuries. They may also get pushed around by teams with large forwards.

If everyone stays healthy and Subban signs a contract that he won’t pout over, this may not be a dominant defence in the East, but at least it will be balanced, reliable, and definitely won’t keep the team from making the playoffs. Of course, if you see Kaberle on the ice for more than 15 minutes a night, you know something indescribably hideous has happened to one or another of the Habs’ cornerstone defenders.

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