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Cullen: Most value for Habs comes from young stars

Scott Cullen
9/20/2011 11:23:45 AM
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Having made the playoffs for four years running, the Montreal Canadiens might be considered a source of fantasy value, but there may be more value in the collective than in individual performances.

The prime option among Habs is goaltender Carey Price, a 24-year-old who had a breakout season in 2020-2011, playing 72 games, winning 38 and doing so with career-best goals against average (2.35) and save percentage (.923). Locked in to a starting position, seemingly ascending in his career and possibly playing behind a more stable defence than last year, Price could rank among the top handful at the position.

Similarly young blueliner P.K. Subban has elite value, not just because he scored 14 goals as a rookie, but because his combination of production and penalty minutes is rare -- the Penguins' Kris Letang was the only other defenceman to have 35 points and 100 penalty minutes last season.

One reason that Subban was thrust into a prominent role on the Montreal defence was Andrei Markov's inability to stay healthy. Markov is a smooth and gifted player, but has played a total of 52 games over the last two seasons, putting him in the high-risk category for this season, particularly with news that he's still dealing with some fluid buildup in his knee.

One of the Habs' triggermen, Mike Cammalleri has scored at least 25 goals in four seasons, but has run into his own injury problems, missing at least 15 games in three of the last four seasons. Cammalleri's two 80-point seasons hang out there, teasing fantasy owners as those are the only two years in which he's tallied more than 55 points.

Monteral's number one centre, Tomas Plekanec, might be capable of a 70-point season, after all he's done it once before, but that would seem to be the top-end projection for a 28-year-old that has scored at least 20 goals in five straight seasons. With improved wing talent, Plekanec could be in for one of his better seasons.

Before he was called up to the Canadiens last season, Max Pacioretty made waves for making an entirely fair statement about wanting to keep developing in the AHL so that he would be a top-six forward in the NHL rather than a depth forward. Turns out, Pacioretty was ready to produce when he got the call and he impressed with 14 goals in 37 games. Pacioretty also has good size and plays an aggressive game (39 PIM), so he could have significant value this year, provided he is healthy after a widely-documented run-in with Boston's Zdeno Chara and a Bell Centre stanchion that ended his 2010-2011 season early.

Brian Gionta's 29 goals last season marked the second-highest total of his career and there is definitely an appeal to a winger that can put the puck in the net like that, but gionta's put up back-to-back 46-point seasons which, when combined with his low penalty minute totals, tends to limit his overall value.

Part of the reason for optimism among Canadiens forwards is the addition of veteran Erik Cole, a big and fast winger who has topped 50 points in four of the last five seasons. Cole seems to be just what the Habs need, but caution should be exercised when one considers that he flopped the last time he left Carolina (27 points in 63 games with Edmonton in 2008-2009).

Even if he wasn't the highest-paid player on the team, centre Scott Gomez would have been considered a massive disappointment in 2010-2011, scoring a career-low seven goals and 38 points and registering a career-worst minus-15 rating. Since Gomez is still a Hab, he's going to have an opportunity to redeem himself and if he returns to 55-plus points -- a level that he'd hit for seven years in a row prior to last season -- then he won't be such a target for critics.

While Andrei Kostitsyn has scored at least 20 goals in three of the last four seasons, he's facing the prospect of falling out of the Canadiens' top six forwards this season and that would certainly cut into his opportunities to put up points.

Diminutive pivot David Desharnais also bears watching. He had 22 points in 43 games as a rookie, but that was in 12:52 per game. If Gomez falters again, Desharnais might be positioned to benefit.

There's certainly enough talent on hand for the Canadiens to do some damage offensively, particularly if everyone stays healthy, but that hasn't been the standard for many of these players, so there will likely be some good and some bad when it comes to production of those deemed to be the Canadiens' top performers.

Depth Chart - Montreal Canadiens

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.

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