Welcome to the first edition of the #AskEE Mailbag.
Our objective was to get to as many questions as possible and cover off as much ground as we could. But given the volume of questions that came in, it was impossible to get to the all of them.
If your question went unanswered, know that we still appreciate your participation. And fire up another one for the next edition of this feature, which we hope to make more regular moving forward.
Let’s dive in…
#AskEE what do you think will be the biggest move the Habs make at the draft and in the off season?
— Chase (@ChaseClarkson9) February 26, 2020
No point starting with an easy one.
What makes this hardest to answer is not yet knowing where the Canadiens are going to draft, which essentially disqualifies me from suggesting the biggest thing they’ll do is move up to address a pressing need. And not to cop out here, finding out where they are slated to draft is the first domino.
But let’s just assume they draft ninth overall, which lines up with where they currently are in the standings, that would mean it’s a stretch to think they get a player who can help them as soon as next season.
The biggest move the Canadiens can make is to acquire a player through a trade that addresses one of their most immediate needs—adding another power forward or a top-four defenceman.
Would they trade futures to do it? Would Max Domi be the piece they decide to move to do it? Tomas Tatar?
Glad I don’t have to make the decision, because it’s a difficult one.
This is going to be a pivotal summer for the youth movement, because nothing is more crucial than some of the players that have given the Canadiens a consensus top-five prospect pool taking big steps towards becoming impactful NHL players.
But if there’s one thing to get excited about, it’s what this group of players can bring to the table in short order. Nick Suzuki’s already here, and it appears he’s learning everything he needs to in order to have himself a productive summer.
Even if this was a challenging—and disappointing—season for Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling, the experience they’re currently gaining is critical for their development.
Don’t just take my word for it. Here are Karl Alzner’s observations on what both players have gotten out of their time in Laval so far:
“It’s huge,” said Alzner regarding Kotkaniemi. “I think that’s a good investment to put him down there and play. As much as he doesn’t want to hear it or be there, most guys know what it’s like, but what (coach) Joel (Bouchard) can teach an offensive player—especially a young player—is going to be invaluable. I’ve already seen it. I’ve seen the payback after just a few games and I’ve already seen it. The things that he’s doing now, fundamentally, it’s going to be night and day.”
And here’s Alzner on Poehling:
“I love Poehls. Start of the year was a bit tough for him after he ended last year, but I’ve never seen him come in grumpy one time. Never seen him have a bad day. Since he’s come back down from Montreal, he’s been a changed player. That’s what you need sometimes. You need to feel it, you need to experience it, and he’s going to be great. He’s a good enough player to be here, but getting some seasoning is good for him, too.”
You can apply the same logic to Cale Fleury, who got a healthy dose of NHL life this year and is now honing his craft in the AHL.
I have everything short of a 100 per-cent guarantee that Alex Romanov will be on the Canadiens’ blue line next season, but is 99 per cent good enough for you?
Members of the management team have told me they expect he’ll be in Montreal, and his representatives have told me they expect he’ll be in Montreal.
I haven’t been told that the Canadiens will sign Cole Caufield once his season is done in Wisconsin, but I’d lean towards that happening versus it not happening.
Caufield has done exactly what’s expected of him—scoring 19 goals and 34 points in 32 games so far—and it was expected that if he did that, he’d be turning pro by season’s end.
All that said, it doesn’t guarantee Caufield will be in the NHL next season, which brings me to your next question about what’s best for him. I do believe it’s best for Caufield to turn pro and gain experience playing a pro schedule and against pro players.
Let’s answer the second one first: Primeau’s ceiling/potential is as a high-end NHL starter.
And I believe he’ll get there, but pinning that down to a specific time is difficult to do. It’ll be a process, by which he’ll likely play one more season in the AHL, come up as a 1B for the Canadiens a year later and then fight his way into becoming a 1A after that.
No, there’s no trade the Canadiens can make that would have a lottery team give up on drafting a potential generational player in Alexis Lafreniere.
And it’s probably time people stop suggesting packaging all 14 picks the Canadiens have in the draft to do it. No team has ever done this, and no team would ever give up a first-overall pick this good for this.
I can’t choose, because there’s so many good ones.
I will say, former Canadien Sergio Momesso’s family restaurant, Momesso’s, is epic, and there’s a relatively new Vietnamese sandwich shop named Sandwicherie Sue that’s absolutely outstanding.
But let me tell you about the two best sandwiches I’ve ever had.
The first was at Rick Bayless’s XOCO in Chicago. It’s a Mexican-spiced pulled pork sandwich that they throw into a wood-burning oven and then serve standing up in a spicy tomato broth.
And then there’s this chicken cutlet pesto sandwich from Faiccos in New York City. It is INSANE.
As much as I’d like to give you a name, Lori, I don’t believe Bergevin is ever going down this road again.
And I don’t think we’ll ever see a GM make an offer at the highest threshold and be willing to give up four first-round picks on top of overpaying the player they’re chasing.
But even if I did entertain this scenario, I don’t see a single 2020 RFA worth pursuing this avenue with.
That was the venerable Pat Hickey, of the Montreal Gazette, who also just happens to be the most fun Canadiens beat reporter to hang with.
No one has stories like Pat, who has lived and experienced things most of us can only dream of.
But I love hanging with all the people on the beat. Good crew. Hard-working, talented crew. And we all have a great time together.
You have to carve out your angles all on your own.
But as much as we all strive to tell a unique story or offer an exclusive point of view, sometimes the main story is too important to look away from and sometimes we’re going to think alike about it.
Naturally, we all discuss things. Covering the Canadiens and the NHL is what we do for a living, so we’re always going to be talking about it.
But it’s critical to think things through on your own and keep some of it to yourself.
We’re going to Arthurs for breakfast.
Then I’m taking them to Park for a healthy, delicious and reasonably-priced sushi lunch.
And then, because all they normally eat is chicken, pasta and steak, I’m taking them to Beatrice, where we can get the best of those things and sit on the indoor/outdoor patio in the heart of downtown Montreal.
I’d go back and watch Bobby Orr play.
Imagine being of that era and having never seen a player do the things he was doing? That would be spectacular.
Ask enough questions—and I ask a lot of them—and you’re going to offend someone. It’s inevitable.
Lucky for me, I’ve got a knack for conflict resolution. I’ve never really had a player freeze me out because I’ll always follow up with the player to make sure we’re okay.
Also, it’s part of my job to criticize, and the players understand this. I always tell players that if they think I’ve said or written something they don’t feel is fair, to tell me about it, and that I can take criticism too.
As for press conferences, I wish (some) fans understood that our jobs are to ask questions that are going to generate answers and that we’re not there to attack the people we’re interviewing.
Doing that would be entirely counterproductive.
And to the people who think we “don’t ask hard questions,” I’d love to know what press conferences they’re actually watching. Go back and watch Marc Bergevin’s 39-minute press conference that followed Monday’s trade deadline and try to argue he faced easy questions. Better yet, if you bump into him, ask him how easy the questions were to answer.