Defending The Defence

Are the Canadiens fairly set on defence?

Seems like it. Sort of.

The boys on the blueline – Andrei Markov, Hal Gill, Josh Gorges, PK Subban, Roman Hamrlik, Ryan O’Byrne, and Jaroslav Spacek, are a fine group indeed, as long as everyone remains healthy for most of the season.

We assume that Markov and Subban will provide the offensive thrust, and we expect Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, and Josh Gorges to do their jobs in workmanlike fashion.

But we might want to ponder, when we’re sitting in our easy chairs smoking pipes and waiting for the dog to bring the paper, if Roman Hamrlik may have lost yet another step after slowing down considerably last year. How many times will the veteran, who plays with smarts, not speed, get burned by some speedy forward who smells the net not far away?

But we know of course that Jacques Martin will use him properly.

Ryan O’Byrne has yet to become the player he hasn’t become yet. This is not a puckhandler, not a rusher, doesn’t seem to be overly anxious to crush bones into powder, and is an ordinary skater. But he’s still quite young (26), has great size, (6’5, 234lbs) and although it’s been three years with 125 games under his belt, we still wait patiently. Maybe impatiently. We see a bright upside, but it doesn’t want to break out, like a chick stuck in an partial egg.

We could look at Stanley Cup champs from the past few years to see what their defence was made up of, and Montreal stacks up, but only if Subban has a Calder Cup kind of year and Markov is a Norris Trophy candidate.

Chicago, in winning the Cup last year, had two great D’s in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, along with Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Cam Barker.

Pittsburgh, winning two years ago, enjoyed Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, and our own Hal Gill.

In 2007-08, Detroit had Niklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, and Brett Lebda.

And in 2006-2007, Anaheim defencemen included Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Francois Beauchemin, and Sean O’Donnell.

All four teams, all Cup winners, had defencemen who were offensive threats – Keith and Seabrook, Gonchar, Lidstrom, Rafalski, and Niedermayer, followed by a cast who did jobs that put lovely smiles on their coaches’ faces.

Montreal, possibly, has the same sort of army. Markov and Subban provide the punch in enemy territory along with Spacek. And Gill, Gorges, Hamrlik and O’Byrne play a tough, no-nonsense game, although as mentioned, O’Byrne could step it up a little. Maybe fight more. Put the big hurt on. Make the enemy say ouch.

On paper the blueliners look fine enough. But it’s injuries that put players on the sidelines for months on end that spell disaster. It’s also taking into consideration that PK Subban will be a regular and blossom into a star as well.

It seems the defence is in good shape. Just don’t put Hamrlik out against too many speedsters, and maybe show Ryan O’Byrne old clips of Larry Robinson taking care of business.

18 thoughts on “Defending The Defence”

  1. Dennis, I think we are going to be fine. And once Markov comes back we are going to be really, really fine. And if we don’t have tons of injuries like we did last year, we should be good to finish much higher in the standings. I say that because the lineup is way better and those injuries last year cost us at least a dozen points. Of course, the key will be how Price does in nets. But I just have a good feeling about this year.
    Stay tuned…

  2. Dennis, maybe O’Byrne would actually blossom into a decent defensemen if JM wouldn’t toss his ass into the doghouse every time he made a mistake. OB can be nasty when he wants to be. I loved him slamming Nik Backstrom into the boards during the playoffs. Yet he got benched for most of the playoffs, especially versus Philly. How’s that supposed to help his confidence? One of the few things he does well is hit – but when it’s needed against a big rough and tumble team – he rides the pine. I blame JM a lot for not encouraging this kid properly.

    Subban will no doubt be an asset, but frankly I’m worried – based on commentary on twitter and other sites – that people have already pegged him as another Markov. He’s a rookie and will make mistakes. He did during the playoffs too, and it got overlooked a lot because the team was doing well. I fear the expectations will be too high for this kid. He’ll be a great asset and in a year or two I expect he’ll be near-Markov capabilities, but I do hope people keep in mind that he is still green for the most part and cut him some slack accordingly.

    As for Hamrlik, I’m reminded of Kamal Panesar’s comment about trading Roman for a dog and then shooting the dog. I would NEVER shoot a dog.

  3. The CH will be a better team when Subban is on the ice just as they are when Markov is on it….. our forwards better be ready because the quality outlet passes they depend on to jump start most of their attacks will now come at a more steady rate now that Subban’ s minutes will be added on top of Markov’ s own.

    Our scoring prowess when playing 5-on-5 has been non-existent since the lockout and I believe that this additional puck skills from our back-end is exactly what was needed in order to improve the overall scoring of our team and to move forward.

    Denis’s visit in the rescent past showned the importance of having great puck skill players on your team’s D squad and as Martin said about it ” now that all the teams are playing good defensive hockey, scoring without it is getting more and more difficult “.

    Looking at it this way this D squad will be our very best we’ve had since the lockout.

  4. DK,this is a little off topic but I think CC hails from Hamilton also. We kicked another Toronto sport teams butt “OSKI WEWE OSKI WAWA TIGERS EAT EM RAW!!!!
    Cheers from the East!!!!

  5. @Danno yep was just coming here to post that also. I guess maybe we shouldn’t get too attached to O’Byrne? His name is coming up on twitter for possible offload since we’ve currently got an abundance of defensemen and the Habs are waaaaaaaayyyy too tight against the cap all of a sudden. Tottally O/T but thanks for your help re: my blog today. :)

    I know nothing about this Halpern kid other than he’s good at the faceoff and apparently Jewish. Off to research stats – not my fave thing to do.

  6. I know, I know CC Pig Skin Pete gave me a slap upside the head for forgetting “THE HOLY MACKINAW TIGERS EAT EM RAW!” You must be from the Hammer to get it. It’s a far better cheer than that Mind numbing Argoooo’s cheer! But what else can you expect from those cretins from TO! I think there ship just sank!!
    Cheers Mike

  7. P. Boulerice, thanks for that. You’re right, having the defence move the puck up quickly will help our small skilled guys, and Subban’s style will dictate a lot of that. But as Tyg mentionjed, he’s still going to make his mistakes and have to be a little patient with him, I suppose. But he’ll change the look of this team with style.

  8. Great points, Tyg. Great comments. But Hamrlik adds some smarts back there. He’s just going to get burned often, I fear.

  9. Mike, Christopher does come from Hamilton, and lived in Pickering. But what about “Go Stamps Go?”

  10. Thanks MW, the Ticats made my day yesterday and you made my day today. That is the best cheer in the world. Priceless when accompanied with Argos being chewed up and spat out.

  11. Back to the original topic, I agree that Hamrlik is slowing down as he gets older but I think overall he’s getting a bum rap for a few memorably bad plays. While Markov was injured he was the go to guy. He had the most time on ice last year. He had significant time on the power play and short handed. He was matched against the opposing top lines. As long as Markov and the rest stay healthy I believe Hamrlik will be fine as the #2D.

    For me the big question about the defence is what will it be like next year. Spacek and Subban are signed, and Gorges isn’t going anywhere. Will Markov recover from injuries and will he re-sign or try UFA? Will Hamrlik take a big pay cut and will he be able to manage his energy? Will Gill continue to shut down opposition with the mobility of a pylon? Will O’Byrne ever live up to his potential? Will Weber or Carle ever make it to the NHL?

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