The Grades Are in for the Defence
With today's announcement that the NHL has extended the self quarantine period to April 15th, chances are that the season 2019-2020 is over so it's time to look back and hand out some grades. It's been over 2 weeks since the league pulled the plug and it feels like forever doesn't it? I sat down to write this and I'll admit I struggled to identify who were the Habs' 6 regular d-men this season. Turns out there wasn't really a stable 6 man unit when you think about it. Weber, Chiarot, Petry, Mete and Kulak all played over 50 games but the 6th place on the defence corps was occupied at times by Cale Fleury (41 games), Christian Folin (16 games), Mike Reilly (14 games), Marco Scandella (20 games), Xavier Ouellet (12 games) and yes, even good old Karl Alzner (4 games).
Shea Weber - B-
The captain started the year very well indeed, he was on par for a career year early on in fact but as is often the case since he came over from Nashville, the injury ninja stroke him down and his point production suffered.When the league called time on the season, Weber was pointless in his last 6 games. It can't be easy being the captain of one of the sports biggest franchise and seeing it record two 8 games losing streak in the same season. Weber is a competitor, a winner, there's no doubt that the state of this team is starting to get to him as his time is slowly but surely running out. He'll turn 35 this summer and it's hard to imagine that the Habs can be relevant again before he calls it a career right now.
Jeff Petry - B
With 40 points on the season, Petry was just 6 points short of his career mark and was the best scorer on the blue line, 4 points ahead of Weber. In all likelihood, he would have exceeded his career high. Once against this season, he was a workhorse for Claude Julien and was called upon more often than not. Petry isn't perfect however, he has a knack for suffering some strange brain cramps which result in him making some unexplainable turnover at times, but on this defensive unit, he was still the best we had. Under contract for one more season, it will be interesting to see if he's still around at the end of the season next year of if Bergevin will move him for picks at the deadline...pretty much a repeat of this season then eh?
Ben Chiarot - B
If Nick Suzuki was the surprise up front, Chiarot was, for most people, the surprise on the back end. His tenure with the Habs didn't start all that well but when Victor Mete got hurt (the first time) he was asked to step up and play alongside Shea Weber on the first pairing. Now, on a normal team, there is no way Chiarot is playing on the 1st pairing but on a far from deep blue line on the left side, turns out he had to do it. He finished the year with 21 points, a +5 rating and an average TOI of 23:08 while his career average is 17:27, talk about an increase in responsibility. Unsurprisingly, this was the best season of his career and along with Weber and Petry, he was part of the new (very diluted) big three on Montreal's blue line.
Brett Kulak - C-
He has done honest work but that's about it. He managed 7 points in 56 games and finished with a -1 rating. The thing is though, he's inconsistent, he can be very solid one game and then play like he shouldn't be there the next which probably explain why his time on ice is all over the place. Without being mean, what we'll all remember Kulak for the most this season was the fact that he gave his number 17 to Kovalchuk when he came to town and got a Rolex out of it. Chances are, he'd much rather be remembered for his play on the ice...
Victor Mete - C-
The speedy undersized d-man is a bit of an enigma for me. He was thrown in the deep end right away in Montreal because the time had no legitimate 1st pairing partner for Weber and that cannot be easy for a young blue liner... That being said though, it's now 3 years in an he has failed to make his mark on the organization. With the expansion draft looming, I can't help but wonder if Mete just might be the one who is sacrificed. This season, he got 11 points in 51 games with a +5 rating, just two points short of his career best of 13. Unfortunately for him, he struggled with injuries and had trouble hitting his stride when he came back to the line-up only to be injured again... It definitely wasn't an easy year for him but hey, at least he did manage to score 4 times this season.
Cale Fleury - C+
Just as young as Mete (21 years old) but with less experience in the NHL, the rookie will have managed to stick around in Montreal for quite a while before being sent down to Laval. He played his last game of the season in mid January and was a casualty of the 2 8 games losing streak to be honest. That being said, it probably wasn't the best for his development to be playing on such a weak defensive unit and going down to Laval wasn't a bad thing. I did like what I saw from him this season and I'm hoping he's there to stay and that he'll eventually be able to handle top 4 duties in the NHL.
As for the other defensemen, they weren't around long enough to earn a grade really but one thing is clear, if Bergevin wants to compete next year he will need to improve his back end because as things stand, this team doesn't have much of a chance. When he traded Marco Scandella, he did say to the press that he tried to sign him to an extension but Scandella didn't want to talk extension until the off season. Clearly he intends to test the waters in free agency and chances are if the Habs want him, they'll have to overpay him. Can Romanov's arrival be the solution? Probably not, the Russian youngster is not ready to carry this team on him back yet and those expecting him to have a huge impact right away will more than likely be disappointed. He needs to be given time to learn to play on this side of the pond and that doesn't happen in a split second.
What did you think of the defensive unit this season? Who should stay and who should go? Let's talk about it since we've all got plenty of time to do so now...