Monday, September 29, 2008

A tough guy to impress

I wonder if the prospects who dressed Sunday for the Canadiens 3-2 shootout win over the Florida Panthers knew they had virtually no chance of affecting their immediate future with the organization.

Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau said as much following the game when asked if there was any chance that one of the kids could have changed his mind regarding the cuts that will be made Monday morning.

“It may be unfair, but I don’t think they changed my mind, I was kind of set on what I wanted to do before training camp,” Carbonneau said. “But it definitely gives me hope for the future.”

That future does indeed look quite bright with players like Yannick Weber in the pipeline. The Swiss defenceman with the right-handed shot is practically tailor-made for the spot opposite Andrei Markov on the Habs power play.

Weber looked to make an argument for his continued stay in Montreal on Sunday with yet another power play goal, this time off a sweet feed from Tomas Plekanec that sent him in alone on Tomas Vokoun for a nice top shelf wrister.

But it’s tough to keep Weber in Montreal because in five-on-five situations, he’s still too much of a liability. Carbonneau could use Weber much like he did his countryman Mark Streit last year, but that wouldn’t be doing Weber or the organization any favours.

Weber’s future in Montreal is on the blue line, and that’s where he should be playing full-time so he can learn the nuances of playing in his own end. Playing him at forward would not only be a disservice to him, but also to the team because the fourth line is going to be Carbonneau’s shutdown line this season, and will therefore be counted on to play some important minutes. Also, there are too many capable players already fighting for those three spots on that line.

There will be 30 players still in Habs camp as of Monday afternoon, and a little simple math could help in fashioning a guess as to who they may be.

Let's say the Habs keep three goalies, there's the seven returning defencemen and the 14 returning forwards fighting to play in the top-12. Throw Kyle Chipchura in there because he should at least survive Monday's cuts, even if he's likely on his way back to Hamilton eventually. That makes 25 players who should be safe on Monday.

So who are the other five?

One who is likely to still be around would have to be Max Pacioretty, if for no other reason that he wasn't in the lineup Sunday and you would think Carbonneau would at least give him a chance to win some points in the last game before the big cuts. When the head coach says you're ready to play in the NHL at 19, you generally aren't among the first ones to leave camp.

As for the other four, you're guess is probably as good as mine. If forced to fashion one, these would be my four: Ben Maxwell, Gregory Stewart, Matt D'Agostini and - here's the wildcard - David Desharnais. Carbonneau sent Desharnais out as the first shooter Sunday night, which is something he often does to reward players who he feels have had a good night. I feel the 5-foot-6 centre has had a great camp and really opened some eyes, which may or may not be rewarded Monday.

If Desharnais doesn't stick, it could very well be Weber that hangs around past the first round of cuts, or even Alex Henry after his two-fight performance Friday night. Brisebois is still injured, so Carbonneau would likely need an extra defenceman around for the final three exhibition games.

Of course, the argument is essentially moot because the five guys who survive Monday will likely be sent down later on in the week. The question is which two skaters among the 25 players mentioned earlier will survive to the start of the season?

I've already mentioned how Chipchura will really need to have a spectacular week to survive, but I think the final cut will likely have to be Mathieu Dandenault.

Dandenault would have to clear waivers to go to Hamilton, which shouldn't be a problem, but he could always get claimed by another team for half price on re-call waivers and I'm not sure the Canadiens want to be on the hook for half his salary and cap space while he plays elsewhere. So sending him down to Hamilton may mean keeping him there for the season, which would provide some cap relief but would deprive Carbonneau of a versatile player who can fill in at forward or defence.

If Dandenault isn't eventually cut, who will be? Steve Begin? Tom Kostopoulos? I doubt it. If Bob Gainey can't find someone willing to trade for Dandenault, the waiver route may be the only way to go.

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