Left wing is the Canadiens basket case – the hockey club’s black hole. With the exception of Max Pacioretty, the cupboard is bare and it will take every trick in the new general manager’s book to even start to fill three gaping holes.
On opening night in Toronto last October the Canadiens seemed to be set. They had Pacioretty, Michael Cammalleri, Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche at left wing. When the season finished it was Pacioretty, Blake Geoffrion plus Rene Bourque and Aaron Palushaj playing out of position.
Moen and Darche, both of whom missed the final two months of the season with concussions will be unrestricted free agents July first. Blake Geoffrion still needs time in the minors. The other five listed left wings can only be described as organizational ‘projects’. The Canadiens face, not only filling three very large holes, but building organizational depth at the position to take care of inevitable injury problems. Outside of Geoffrion there is nobody on the Hamilton Bulldogs roster anywhere close to being NHL-ready.
After Pacioretty, here is the depth chart. Advance warning. It’s not pretty.
Travis Moen – Unrestricted free agent. Somebody is going to give Travis Moen something around two million dollars to play for them next season (he earned 1.5 million last season). The question facing the new general manager will be, considering the lack of ready talent available,whether to try to keep him. I can’t find anyone who’s ever questioned Moen’s competitiveness and loyalty to his teammates. Fourth line player with value on a third line under certain circumstances. Concussion finished his season.
Mathieu Darche – 6’1″ 215lbs. Like Moen, a terrific teammate. Lack of speed has been overcome by a tremendous work ethic. Willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Very strong on the puck. Never a defensive liability. Montreal-born and wants to remain with the Canadiens. 36 years old. Will command something less than a million per season (700 thousand last season). Also used on right wing. Like Moen, a fourth line player. Missed the season’s last 21 games with dizziness/concussion. If the team needs to make a choice between Darche and Moen, Darche will get the nod.
Blake Geoffrion – A work very much in progress. We could wish his skating was better than it is. Does bring some things to the ice including a solid work ethic and a willingness to get involved. Good forechecker. Fairly accurate passer. Will go to the net but we haven’t seen any offense at the NHL level, perhaps due to his lack of speed. He’ll probably start the season with the Canadiens by default.
For the moment, that’s it. The rest of the left wing depth chart is filled with potential and non prospects.
Michael Bournival– 2nd round draft pick with Colorado. Acquired in return for Ryan O’Byrne. 6’0” 190 lbs. The best left wing prospect. Signed to three year entry level Canadiens contract in December (effective next season). Final year of junior with Shawinigan 30 goals -26 assists = 56 points in 41 games. Also a centre at Shawinigan.
Dany Masse – 5’10” 190lbs. Canadiens free agent signing 2009. – No signs of a breakthrough. 58 games 9 goals 10 assists last season. Grinder.
Andrew Conboy –6’4” 200lbs. Played only ten games (1 goal – 0 assists) and then suffered season ending knee injury. After three pro seasons, no tangible sign of progress. Very tough.
Alain Berger – 6’4” 210lbs. Swiss born. Signed as a free agent out of Oshawa following a breakthrough 29 goal final junior season. Had a terrible time in his rookie AHL season. One goal in 47 Hamilton games does not bode well, but he was a late comer in junior so patience might be in order. Not a great skater.
Phillipe Lefebvre 5’11” 185lbs. 69GP 5 goals 6 assists Undrafted – Canadiens free agent signing 2009. Two-way left winger without offensive component.
Hunter Bishop – undrafted free agent signing. Missed entire season after training camp shoulder surgery. Started his pro career in Wheeling two years ago before promotion to Hamilton. At best a depth NHL forward.
Robert Slaney – part of the Hal Gill/Blake Geoffrion deal. Spent part of season in East Coast Hockey League. There may be some talent but it hasn’t surfaced yet. . In 30 games with Hamilton – 3 goals 2 assists. Main claim to fame, named Quebec and Canadian junior hockey Scholastic Player of the Year in 2008.
Olivier Archambault – 5’11” 185lbs. Fourth round pick 2011. 45GP with Drummondville – 17 goals 22 assists. Very quick. Good hands. At least two years away.
Left wingers unsigned but on the negotiation list –
John Westin – 6’0” 190 lbs. Drafted in 2010 207th overall. Bounced back and forth between MODO junior hockey and their Swedish Elitserien team this year. Had a decent year in U-20 junior hockey – 7 goals 6 assists in 13 games. In Swedish Elitserien 1 goal 1 assist. Under contract to MODO for one more season. May be worth waiting for.
Dustin Walsh – Completed three years at Dartmouth College – 6’3” 190 lbs. seventh round pick 2009. played only eight games with Dartmouth 3 goals 7 assists –
Patrick Johnson – U. of Wisconsin. 5”9” 150lbs. 7th round 2008.
Steven Quailer Northeastern 6’3” 185lbs.
There aren’t many prominent left wings on this year’s free agent list. Zack Parise is the prize catch if the Devils don’t lock him up before July first. There’s the trade market. At the end of the process the Canadiens may be forced to negotiate new contracts for both Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche.