Jeff Halpern: Why the Montreal Canadiens Need Him Back at Center

For the past month, Jeff Halpern has been playing wing on a line with Thomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri. After Andrei Kostitsyn and Lars Eller failed to produce next to the team’s best center and most talented sniper, Jacques Martin came to the conclusion that a defensive center would be the player most capable of igniting the team’s first line.

Not surprisingly, he was wrong.

Over his past 12 games, Halpern has three points. To make matters worse, his line mates aren’t producing much either. Over those same 12 games, Cammalleri has only two goals, while Plekanec  hasn’t been anything close to the player we saw earlier in the year.

Not only has Martin’s decision hampered the offensive capability of the team’s top line, but it has also hurt the Habs in the defensive aspects of the game.

While playing center for the better part of the first half, Halpern went 57% in the faceoff dot, which ranks him 8th in the league. He has a positive giveaway/takeaway ratio and was able to chip in offensively from time to time. Perhaps most importantly however, was the rest he gave Thomas Plekanec.

With Halpern playing center, Plekanec was able to take time off playing against the other team’s best players. He was allowed to assume a more offensive role as much of the team’s defensive responsibilities fell to Halpern. Now that they’re playing on the same line, Plekanec once again has to assume the bulk of the team’s defensive duties.

As mentioned earlier, Plekanec’s offensive effectiveness has diminished since being paired with Halpern. Some will argue that Lars Eller’s increased offensive output since being moved to center compensates for that loss.

Eller has scored three points in his last 12 games.

By moving Halpern back to center, the Habs gain a dynamo in the faceoff circle, a line capable of defending top opposing forwards, and a better Thomas Plekanec.

Not only would moving Halpern back to center make sense in the short term, but it’s also something that’s necessary come playoff time.

Let’s not forget how important a defensive center is come playoff time. Just try and think of any Stanley Cup winning team in recent memory that didn’t have a designated shutdown center. The Hawks had Bolland, the Pens had Staal, the Wings had Draper…I could go on for while.

Also, who honestly believes that Eller is going to get any significant ice-time later this spring? In a charged playoff environment, where young players are prone to mistakes, how long before Martin has Eller playing left bench rather than center?

Rather than force the team to play with only three lines, moving Halpern to center gives the team some much needed stability. It would also allow Andrei Kostitsyn, arguably the team’s best forward over the past month, to rejoin the line mates he was most successful with in the past.

Unfortunately, I’ve got a funny feeling that even if Halpern is moved back to where he’s most needed, it’ll be Travis Moen taking his place.

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