Hefter: Line combinations to chew on
With the arrival of free agent Erik Cole on the scene, the great first-line experiment with the Habs is over.
That's the experiment that resulted in players like Travis Moen and Benoit Pouliot (remember him?) seeing first-line duty because injuries and a general lack of front-line forward talent on this team.
In Cole, the Canadiens have obtained a forward with size, speed and the ability to put 30 pucks in the net on a good day. Granted, Cole's better days are probably behind him. Four years at $18 million dollars for a player like Cole at this stage of his career doesn't exactly qualify as a bargain in today's free-agent market: but what does? Certainly not the $9.5 million it took to get Tim Connolly and that battered body of his to put his signature to a two-year contract with the Leafs.
In Cole, the Canadiens also have a bona-fide top-six forward who I will pencil in to play beside Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri (pending any further player movement between now and the start of the season.)
I would also like to continue the experiment which saw Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty play some very effective hockey as a line, upon Pacioretty's arrival from the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Those of you holding your breath waiting for GM Pierre Gauthier to trade Gomez, you can exhale now. It's not going to happen. We're stuck with Gomez for better or for worse. Unfortunately, it's been the latter, as opposed to the former, when you look at the body of work that Gomez has put together during his time with the Canadiens.
Third line? Well, here's where it gets interesting. I'm beginning to think that Andrei Kostitsyn is not a top-six forward. He's done very little to prove that he has the capability of being a top-six forward. I thought he put together some of his most effective minutes last season (and there were precious few of them) as a third-line player. So let's put him on the third line, along with David Desharnais and Lars Eller. Eller is a question mark to start the season as a result of off-season shoulder surgery, but, for the sake of this exercise, let's fast-track his recovery, shall we?
Which brings us to the fourth line. Through the process of elimination, we're forced to lump Mathieu Darche in with Ryan White and Travis Moen. Darche deserves every minute of ice time he gets and has been very handy on the power play. But, at the end of the day, he's a fourth-line player with first-line heart. White provided some much-needed sandpaper when called up from the 'Dogs last season and isn't afraid to drop the gloves. He's not a fighter, but the kid's got grit in his game. Moen? A huge disappointment in my books. Yes, I know he's an effective contributor on the penalty kill. But that's not enough. His game isn't nearly as mean and nasty as it needs to be.
Don't like Moen on the fourth line? Don't like Kostitsyn on the third line? Fine. Have your say. It's your turn to stand behind the bench and bark out the line combinations.