Habs Eyes On The Prize has become a monster. Coverage there has increased in every area and if you sleep through an afternoon, you're bound to miss a couple of articles about their pride and joy. Managing Editor Andrew Berkshire has 20 writers (literally a team) at his disposal and they cover every angle imaginable.
We sat down with Berkshire to find out what he's done to/with Lars Eller, talk about Daniel Briere and defensive depth.
Copper & Blue: What have you done with the real Lars Eller and who is this replacement in disguise?
Andrew Berkshire: Lars Eller is becoming the player we all hoped he would when he was acquired from the Blues. The tantalizing skill was there, the possession numbers were there, but the offense seemed to lack behind. Part of that was a series of poor linemates over two years, featuring the likes of Michael Blunden, Mathieu Darche, Travis Moen, and a rookie Louis Leblanc. He had brief moments of brilliance when given Andrei Kostitsyn to work with, but that never really stuck either.
Last year he began to see a sports psychologist in the summer, and added significant muscle to his frame during the long offseason. After getting Alex Galchenyuk on his line last year, he never really looked back. The two clicked instantly, and Eller became the veteran guy who was defensively responsible. The growth in his game has been astounding, and he's an excellent two-way player to boot. Getting Brendan Gallagher on his other wing was just icing on the cake. That line is incredibly fast, hard nosed, and oozing with talent.
C&B: Marc Bergevin pulled the Oilers' classic "bidding against ourselves" gambit while negotiating for Daniel Briere. Why? Weren't there about 23! better ways to spend that money?
AB: There were a lot of better bets out there than Danny Briere. Whether they were interested in Montreal? Well I'm sure if they were offered Briere money they would be. I don't get the signing in the least, especially since Briere had essentially zero bargaining power, got more money than he's worth, and got a no trade clause on top of it. It really looks like Bergevin got suckered there while desperately searching for a Quebecois scorer after missing out on Vincent Lecavalier.
C&B: How will Briere fit on this team? He seems out of place, to say the least.
AB: Where he fits is tough to answer because I don't see how he's a fit. He has to be used on an exploitation line, which means he has to play with David Desharnais, who also has to have those minutes to be effective. But in those two players you have two guys without great impacts on possession, and a hell of a load for Max Pacioretty to carry. Can Pacioretty carry them both at evens? Probably, but it's a waste of his talents. I get the reasoning behind a balanced three lines, but it would have been a lot easier to balance if they'd have signed say... Damien Brunner. That way you can shift Rene Bourque down with Brunner and Desharnais for an exploitation line, and give Pacioretty the toughs with Plekanec.
In the end with Briere, there's no real explanation for it aside from the language he speaks and where he was born. But when you're a Habs fan, you wear the handcuffs.
C&B: Assuming Andrei Markov goes down at some point, are Raphael Diaz, Francis Bouillon and Jarred Tinordi good enough to keep the Canadiens in the race in the Eastern Conference?
AB: Let's not assume that because it's scary. If Andrei Markov were to go down before Alexei Emelin returns, or if Emelin is no longer the same player after his knee injury, I would be extremely worried about this defense. I'm already not too happy with it with Markov in because I don't trust Raphael Diaz as a top-four guy. Jarred Tinordi emerging and looking like he did in the preseason would assuage most of those fears, but he's looked like he's not there yet so far.
There are wildcards that could make impacts in such a situation, the big one being Nathan Beaulieu. Beaulieu is crazy talented, but his off-ice issues have kind of tainted his reputation. He's also not the greatest player on the defensive side of the puck, but his skillset is so high that he's often able to get himself out of trouble on talent alone.
Even if the Habs lost Markov, there's enough depth that they would still be a playoff team. They aren't getting much respect after bowing out in five to the Senators last season, but what many don't realize is how PDO related that loss was.
C&B: Admit it, you've secretly traded Lars Eller for Claude Giroux in some "Faceoff" move.
AB: I'll never tell.
C&B: Damn it.