Monday, June 30, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Steve Begin

The numbers

44 GP: 3 G, 5 A, 8 Pts, 48 PIM, E, 67 Shots

Career best year – 2005-06
76 GP: 11 G, 12 A, 23 Pts, 113 PIM, +9, 134 Shots

2007-08 playoffs
12 GP: 0 G, 3 A, 3 Pts, 8 PIM, +1, 21 Shots

Career best playoffs
This season

Plays of the game: 0

Game pucks: 1

Domes: 7

3 Star selections: 1 Second, 2 Third

The story

Where he started the season
One thing we knew for sure was that Steve would make the team and would have a guaranteed 3rd or 4th line spot. One thing we didn't know was whether he would be the Steve of year ago (10 points/often injured) or the Steve of 2 years ago that posted career highs in almost every stat category. He could play centre if we needed, but with the addidtions of Smolinski, Grabovski and Chipchura it was obvious that he would be back playing the wing. The goal for him was to put up a positive +/- and to provide some tertiary scoring - stuff that he had done so well for us just 2 short seasons ago.

The season
He definitely didn't turn too many heads early on in the season, but he was doing his job. The Habs were winning and we were successfully shutting down the opposition's top lines better than they were shutting down ours, so I must give Steve and his linemates credit there. Throughout the season there was the rare flash of the old Steve - the Steve that hit anything that moved, that took quality shots, that fought and that basically brought us our energy. As the season wore on, however, the new Steve was more visible than the old - the Steve that fades into games and that you forget about. He had his 'Tucker' or 'Avery' moments this season, but I wouldn't characterize him by those. Even players like Kovalev and Koivu can show that flare from time to time. What we needed from Steve was a constant effort, we needed a pest to get in the other team's face each and every night. Instead we got what looked like a player who is losing his feel for his old game.

Highlights: That kind of season for Begin, so full of highlights they had to show the same goals from different angles to make up the time

Begin by the numbers:

Lions' links on Begin:
New Concept for Montreal Media: Rolling Squad

Grade: C
Steve missed 38 games this year, mostly due to injury. So, he only featured in 54% of our games, which to me is not enough. In fact in four seasons with the Habs he has missed 104 games (albeit some were benchings) which works out to about 1/3 of the teams total games. Pests have to be there each and every night, they have to get in Crosby's face one night and Heatley's the next. They can't be there half the time, especially if they aren't really much of a pest when they are there. His play in the playoffs (especially the first 3 games against Boston) was improved, but it wasn't unique. I feel players like Stewart, Lapierre or even Kostopoulos could bring more to Steve's role. It seemed more than anything that Steve was just along for the ride this year. In a year where so many individuals stepped up to make us the team that we were Steve simply showed up to work on most nights, collected his paycheck and went home.

Where we'd have him next season
Steve, at 30, is in no ways an old man just yet, so there is hope that he can return to form, but after two sub-par seasons I am actually beginning to question just what is par for Steve. The fans fell in love with him in the 2004 playoffs against Boston, a series in which he was quite simply dominant. Since then, however, he has not really done too much. The hits are less frequent, the goal-well has seemingly dried up and the energy that I thought he was to bring is less and less evident with each passing season. He will be back next year, the last year of his contract, but I would suggest to him that if he wants to last the full season in Montreal he'd better start making an impact from day one. There are players in our orginization that are ready to take his spot, so this will surely be his last chance. I'd welcome back the energy-ridden Steve with open arms in October, but if we just get more and more invisible appearances following lengthy stints on the injured list then I'm affraid we'll have to say good-bye.

Absolutes In The New NHL

A couple of days ago, I was told (via a Gazette article) that I could stop thinking about Vincent Lecavalier ever coming to Montreal.

Today, I am being told (via a Gazette article) that we should forget about courting Brian Rolston for a contract.

What will they tell me next?

It seems to me that the hockey media (including the Gazette) are having a harder time than some understanding the changes that have happened in the NHL over the past few seasons. They can't seem to wrap their minds around some of the salary cap issues some of the time.

Take Lecavalier:
Now I am not saying that it would improve our chances of ever seeing Lecalaier in Bleu, Blanc, Rouge were he to sign a 9-year deal with the Lightning, but let's be honest, don't we all know by now that a no-trade clause doesn't mean you can't be traded. A no-trade (or recently no-movement, for some reason) clause simply means that a player will be asked to approve a trade or his eventual destination, instead of having it thwarted upon him and his family.

There are precedents now from around the league where players will gladly waive their no-trade clause to move when the circumstances suit them.

It would certainly put the onus on Montreal to talk to Lecavalier and offer him something ahead of offering his GM something in return, but this is not an impossibility. Merely a little bit more work.

In the case of Rolston and other players whose rights are traded for a few hours before free agency, I feel it is almost an insult to our intelligence to suggest that the deal is done. It is almost certainly an insult to Rolston's intelligence. After all, why would he accept a deal just because his (former) GM might get a draft pick if he does.

As this business of trading for a potential draft choice becomes more commonplace, we will see more and more deals never come to fruition. Look no further than Sundin for proof of that.

So too the unsigned UFAs. Just because Ryder hasn't received an offer yet, does not mean he will be gone necessarily. Last season, Souray was not tendered an offer until after Gainey tried for Rafalski. A few days later, he could have (had he chosen to) been back in Montreal. I can see this happening with Ryder if both he and the Canadiens are jilted in the open market.

So you see, things are not as absolute as they seem in the NHL. Since we had a saying already – "If Gretzky could be traded..." – I thought we all knew this. Hardly anything about free agency is predictable, except that a few players will be grossly overpaid at the end of it (hopefully by Philly and Toronto). It is with this in mind that I would offer a short synopsis of my thoughts on tomorrow's free agency.

What (I think) the Canadiens need

Personally, I'm not restricting myself to a center here. Nor will I restrict myself by a player's stature (physical or reputation).

In my eyes, all this team needs is one more forward – one who prefers shooting to passing. Koivu is a passer, Plekanec is a passer, The Kostitsyns seem to prefer passing, strangely Kovalev does a lot of time, too. Higgins and Latendresse prefer to shoot, but it'd be nice if the preference to shoot came with a bit of whereabouts as well – someone who can shoot on target, or heaven forbid at a certain part of the net.

I think we were beaten by Philly in this area more than any other. Carter for all his unearned millions sure can pick a corner and Umberger did as well. Their shots were answered by chest-high specials from Latendresse, Begin and co. and unfinished 3-move passing plays from the passing boys.

Paradoxically, if we were another set of fans, I think we would look at Michael Ryder and call for (Gainey) to sign him. Ryder equivalents on other teams are few and far between, but realistic and fairly affordable shooters could include Selanne, Satan and Rolston. Hossa and Sundin being other obvious, yet less affordable choices. The wildcard entry in this list could be the Finn Niklas Hagman who ripped 27 goals while posting a Rick Nashesque 14 assists. He could be Koivu's long-lost outlet...

What (I think) the Canadiens don't need?

The Habs could very well improve this offseason by simply subtracting a few pieces of dead (or even broken) wood.

Lightening the roster of Brisebois would at once mean more playing time for developing (and frankly superior) defencemen and rid Carbonneau of the option to do something really stupid in the playoffs after a lot of regular season success. It would also make the burden of carrying Dandenault that much lighter.

Similarly, dispensing with Smolinski, who provided a nice veteran to look at on the roster sheet, but very rarely did so on the icesheet. Chipchura or Lapierre would benefit from that omission.

Finally, the main thing the Habs don't need in my opinion is a big multi-year contract just for the sake of it. I can't imagine malone for 7 years, for example. I hope we're not left to rue this July for Brunette 4 years, Vrbata 5 years or any of those guys I mentioned (for that matter) for more than couple to start with.

While the trend at the moment may seem to be long-term contracts. Lessons from the Canadiens own salary cap era show how prudent one- and two-year deals may create more work, but don't necessarily mean less success. Ryder detractors will be well aware of this valuable tidbit.

Who for a bargain?

Another well learned lesson is that a bargain in free agency goes a long way to improving the team and assets. Finding the biggest bargain of this year's crop is difficult.

Among the UFAs, I look down the top of the list and see a lot of overpriced older stars and overachieving contract year guys (e.g., Vrbata). Of the forwards, I don't see any phenomenal steals, but feel that Hagman would likely be had for a bargain and that Satan whose been a consistent shooter for a decade would accept less to reestablish hiimself for a year. Demitra could be looking for less nowadays, but I'd shy from another link in the never-ending passing play.

On defence, I see Redden. Potentially, Wade Redden is the absolute bargain of this unappealing crop. Sure, he had a bad second half, but who didn't in Ottawa? On the other hand, he is one year removed from being a Stanley Cup finalist. His stock has plummeted like nearby Nortel's did in Ottawa this past little while and could be a very nice piece of a 4-man all-star unit in front of Price. Get 4 D-men of that calibre and no one will be wondering about Sundin or Rolston anymore...

What will I be saying in a week?

I have no idea. Really none. If it's "Sundin could fit well in between Latendresse and Sergei...", then I'll be happy enough. Equally, if it's "Koivu finally gets a replacement for Mark Recchi..", I wouldn't complain.

My nerves are not concerned with what positive moves we might try and fail at, it's about which moves we might live to regret if Gainey gets swept along and signs someone who doesn't fir the plans.

Fingers are crossed here. Bob be sensible.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Ryan O'Byrne

The numbers

33 GP: 1 G, 6 A, 7 Pts, 45 PIM, +7, 10 Shots

Career best year
Rookie (same as above)

2007-08 playoffs
4 GP: 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 0 PIM, -2, 3 Shots
Career best playoffs
Rookie (same as above)

Plays of the game: 0

Game pucks: 0

Domes: 5

3 Star selections: 0

The story

Where he started the season
A very impressive playoff run with Hamilton in 2007 gave this forgotten prospect a legitimate chance at making the squad in October. The team, however, already had 8 NHL defencemen and it seemed like his chance (like that of Ron Hainsey) would not be in Montreal. He started the season in Hamilton likely waiting for an injury in Montreal to happen. What we thought might happen, did happen:
"Because defensemen get injured, he will get himself high enough in the line to see some games. From his Calder Cup play, he has the quality to stick if he gets in the door."

The season
When it became obvious to fans and the coaches alike that neither Dandenault nor Brisebois could play NHL level defence (obvious to me since 1992), a call went to the farm for their best. Ryan was called up in early December and made an immediate impact in his first game notching 2 assists. An injury and a nighclub debacle in late 2007 seemed like it could signal the end of his stay in MTL, but the team stood by him and it seemed like they made the right choice. After his first game brilliance, he only managed 5 points over his next 36 games, but it became very obvious that he was not here for his scoring.

Highlights: O'Byrne hits, passes and scores. The highlights from him this season for me don't make a good real: not making rookie mistakes.

O'Byrne by the numbers:

Lions' links on O'Byrne:
Canadiens rookie camp
Canadiens Changes: Part 1 of 2
O'Byrne Trying to Make Decisions Easy

Grade: B-
It is not only nice to see a rookie defenceman do well with the Habs, it is just nice to see a rookie defenceman get a chance with the Habs. Ryan got more comfortable as the season went on giving Habs fans high hopes for years to come. At 6'6" we may just have a Chara in our midst which would be great news as our team really does need high-quality defence. The thing that impressed me more than the hits, the fights or the reach was his dedication to smart, defensive play. In his 33 games, he only had a negative rating in 6 of them and 5 of those came in his first 10 career games.

Where we'd have him next season
Hopefully the Habs will get rid of the Breezer and Dandenault, thus making more room for Ryan. He showed this year that he can play at the NHL level and now all he needs is experience. I don't see him being much more that a 6th or 7th D-man next year, but I still think he has his place on our team. What he needs now is to see consistent playing time and his confidence will surely grow.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Mikhail Grabovski

The numbers

24 GP: 3 G, 6 A, 9 Pts, 8 PIM, -4, 23 Shots

Career best year - 2007-08
24 GP: 3 G, 6 A, 9 Pts, 8 PIM, -4, 23 Shots

Plays of the game: 3

Game pucks: 1

Domes: 4

3 Star selections: 0

The story

Where he started the season
Making the big club in October still seemed like it was going to be out of reach for Grabo, but an impressive preseason left our management with no other choice than to put him on our opening day roster. The problem had always been where would we fit in another small centre? Believe it or not, however, it wasn't Plekanec who was centering Kovalev and Kostitsyn in October, it was Mikhail. He was given an enormous chance as he had just bumped Tomas to #3 centre (something Carbo has been trying to do for years). Unlike other players who have to play their way off the team before Gainey will ever move them, Grabovski had to perform to remain with the team or it would be back to Hamilton for the Belarussian.

The season
He didn't really blow anyone out of the water early in the season and he was soon moved to the third line and was making more frequent press-box appearances as the season went on. His play in his first 12 games was at times spectacular, but he was failing to put up the numbers we would expect from a top-6 forward. In those 12 games he was -5 and scored just 1 goal to go along with 1 assist. It was off to Hamilton for the 23 (almost 24) year old and he maybe had just hit a wall in his NHL dream. To make matters worse for poor Mik he got himself injured almost immediately upon his return to Hamilton.

Something happened, though, once he was healthy, something that Bob couldn't ignore - he started lighting up the AHL. During the months of January and February Grabo was Hamilton's best player by far and probably even the best in the league. His exceptional play earned him a late February call-up and that is when we saw a different player. In his last 12 games of the season he was +1 and scored 2 goals and added 5 assists - he was a changed player. His play was exciting, it was dynamic and he definitely played a role in our bid to win the conference as we were 8-3-1 in those last 12 games he played for us. Sadly Carbo decided to go with 'experience' and age in the playoffs rather than speed and skill (the 2 areas in which we clearly held an advantage over Philly and Boston) so Mik didn't see any playoff action. When we couldn't find the back of the net to get to the third round there were quite a few people wondering why we left out such a dangerous offensive weapon.

Grabovski by the numbers: N/A (why we're not sure...)

Lions' links on Grabovski:
From Belarus With Love
We used to be Lions in Winter
2006 to 2008: Strides Ahead

Grade: C
Grabovski didn't have the type of season that the Kostitsyn's had, but it wasn't a failure either. He showed a lot of determination after his mid-season demotion to go to Hamilton and put up the numbers that he did. To me that shows a winning attitude, it shows a certain mentality that can't be taught and to me he epitomizes the type of player we want on this team. He didn't give up, he fought and he won. It did, however, become more and more obvious that there isn't too much room for him on our team. He will never be a checking line forward and as long as he plays centre he will have to be one of our top 3. He proved by the end of the year that he can fill the role as 3rd line centre, but it seems like the team has different ideas for that spot as they looked to players like Smolinski, Lapierre and Begin to play that spot in the playoffs.

Where we'd have him next season
There has been much speculation that we would lose Grabovski to the Russian league this summer and the more I think of it, the more it makes sense. I would hate to lose a player of his calibre, but with the recent addition of Tanguay and the team still looking for another top-6 forward I find it hard to believe that this player would earn a spot. At 24 years old I am pretty sure the team will let him walk as he is slowly distancing himself from the title of prospect. It would be a shame to lose Grabo as I believe you can never have enough offensive potential, but if you look at the numbers it is clear that only 2 of him and the Kostitsyns will make the team and after the season and playoffs that those two had I would say it is a stretch. Mikhail is a restricted free agent so don't be surprised at all if by July 1st he does not have a contract. Like Perezhogin before him he will be able to go to Russia and make way better money and play way more hockey.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Jaroslav Halak

The numbers

6 GP: 2 W, 1 L, 1 OTL, 2.11 GAA, .934 Save%, 1 SO

Career best year – 2006-07
16 GP: 10 W, 6 L, 0 OTL, 2.89 GAA, .906 Save%, 2 SO

2007-08 playoffs
2 GP: 0 W, 1 L, 2.34 GAA, .889 Save%, 0 SO

Career best playoffs
Rookie (same as above)

Plays of the game: 1

Game pucks: 2

Domes: 17

3 Star selections: 2 First

The story

Where he started the season
He didn't even stand a chance of making the team this year off the bat as management wanted Price in, no matter what. Gainey had made up his mind in 2005 that Price was our goalie of the future – and that meant he would be in the NHL in 2007. With a proven #1 (and All-Star) in Huet already there too, Halak's case was hopeless. What Price had done the year before with Team Canada and Hamilton was very impressive, but Halak had been equally as impressive in the AHL and the NHL as he put up very good numbers. Halak took his demotion like a man (eventually) and continued to put up stellar numbers on the farm. He knew very well that Huet was likely a one year obstacle and it would soon enough be Jaro vs. Carey for the Habs long-term #1 apot.

The season
Halak finally got his chance to play in Montreal in January when the weight of a city proved to be too much for young Price to handle. He had a brief call-up in December that lasted 20 minutes while Huet was hurt, but now this was for real, they were choosing him instead of Price. Well, they in fact chose neither as Huet played almost all the games while Price was down. Halak again only saw one period of action, this time in relief for Huet. Little did Jaro know, but his call-up wasn't a reward for his great play, it was a chance for Price to get some confidence back and soon enough Carey was back up and Halak was back to tending the Bulldogs' cage. After Huet was traded for nothing Halak finally got the permanent call-up he had earned at least a year earlier. This time he would see some action, 4 full games to be precise. He did well in his 4 games as he only let in 9 goals and recorded a shutout. It was obvious, however, that the team wanted Price (despite Halak's superior numbers) as their #1 and come playoff time Caery was the one who would lead the way. Again the pressure got to Carey in the playoffs and again Halak was given his shot, this time, however, Jaro wasn't able to deliver a win in Philly so it was decided we would let the good Habs ship sink with Carey at the helm.

Highlights: Halak doing what he does for a minute. Less time than other highlight reels, but this song (while I'm certain it might find popularity in Eastern Europe) couldn't end soon enough for me.

Halak by the numbers:

Lions' links on Halak:
Halak of respect?
Does three goalies constitute depth?
Halak shoulld start; Lemieux should sit
Locke and Halak given their chance
What's right for Price?
Disappointing News for Halak
Well Done Jaroslav

Grade: B-
I can't think of much more that Halak could have done in the regular season. He did what he was told and never complained. Back and forth to Hamilton he went as the team tried desperately to sort Price out. Halak proved in his starts towards the end of the year that he can be a #1 and that maybe, just maybe, he should be given consideration as the Habs #1. His play in the playoffs (1 1/3 games worth) wasn't too awe inspiring, but with the team unable to capitalize in front of him it surely wasn't entirely his fault. If anything, this season showed me that we have a mature, able, NHL calibre goalie in our midst and we should be very careful not to let him go. If Price turns out to be Jim Carey or Cam Ward then we will all be a lot happier knowing that we have Halak on board to steer the ship right again.

Where we'd have him next season
The one area that Gainey does not have to evaluate this summer is goaltending. Halak is set to become a restricted free-agent, so there is some concern there, but in theory we should have no hesitation in signing him. It is hard to tell what the goalie situation will be like in Montreal come next Spring, but I am pretty confident that one of either Price or Halak (hopefully both) will rise up and give us a legitimate keeper that we won't have to worry about. All Halak has to do now is continue to do what he has always done. He has to work hard, keep a good attitude and continue to perform on the ice. If he does all that he will be a #1 (or #1b) goalie in this league and hoepfully it will be with a big CH on his chest.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Kyle Chipchura

The numbers

36 GP: 4 G, 7 A, 11 Pts, 10 PIM, -1, 36 Shots

Career best year
Rookie (same as above)

Plays of the game: 1

Game pucks: 0

Domes: 3

3 Star selections: 0

The story

Where he started the season
Chipchura was another major piece to the Bulldogs' championship puzzle last year and because of that hopes were high. He was also Carey Price's Team Canada teammate at Christmas time and led our country to gold as captain of that great team. The word was that he was mature beyond his age and had the hockey smarts associated with such players as Gainey, Carbonneau or Jarvis - a real can't miss. All of this hype and some sound play in the pre-season earned him a roster spot and it was on the 4th line that he would start his NHL career. We had him as the best shot to jump the ranks – even ahead of Price – in August.

The season
In his first 16 NHL games, he looked right at home. The Habs were getting results and Kyle was an active contributer. His numbers in those 16 games were quite decent as he was +6 and had 2 goals and 3 assists, he was even holding his own in the face-off circle. As the rest of the league started to get back into mid-season form, however, Kyle started to fade. He was being deployed as a checking centre, but would often fail in his quest to shut down opposing stars. His last 20 games of the season saw him go -7 with only 6 more points. A decision to send Kyle to the farm was made just after New Year's and was one that would stick for the rest of the season.

Chipchura by the numbers: N/A

Lions' links on Chipchura:
Canadiens rookie camp
Chipchura and the Invisible Ceiling
Locke and Halak given their chance

Grade: C
I wouldn't say that Kyle's season was a failure. It definitely didn't end the way anyone would have wanted it to, but at least he played half an NHL season and saw what it was like. People often forget (after watching him speak) that he was only 21 at the time of his demotion and that he has a long career ahead of him. He showed to us all that he has great defensive potential and an offensive upside which may one day give us 20 goals and 25 assists. It takes a lot longer to learn defence in the NHL than it does offence so I think what happened to Kyle this year was completely normal and in all honesty he did a very good job.

Where we'd have him next season
Chips will be back and will certainly still be in Gainey's long term plans. Here is a player who can play the type of game that we have asked both Bonk and Smolinski to play over the past 3 seasons. He is the type of player that you think could lead a team and that could win a Selke or two - no wonder our braintrust loves his potential. The experience he got this year will help make the transition to the NHL much easier next year and I fully expect him to stick around for more than half of the year. His spot won't just be handed to him in the Fall as we really do have depth at forward, so being a top 13 guy will be tough, but I think Kyle has the drive and attitude to secure one of those spots and run with it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Mathieu Dandenault

The numbers

61 GP: 9 G, 5 A, 14 Pts, 34 PIM, -11, 69 Shots

Career best year – 2000-01 – Red Wings
73 GP: 10 G, 15 A, 25 Pts, 38 PIM, +11, 95 Shots

Playoffs 2007-08
9 GP: 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 2 PIM, -3, 13 Shots

Career best playoffs – 2001-02 – Red Wings
23 GP: 1 G, 2 A, 3 Pts, 8 PIM, +7, 11 Shots

Plays of the game: 2

Game pucks: 0

Domes: 4

3 Star selections: 1 Second star, 2 Third star

The story

Where he started the season
Making the team was going to be a challenge for Mat this year as the Habs were really deep on the blue line. Add Brisebois and fellow NHL defensive-blunder journeyman Jamie Rivers to the fold, and space was running out. A decision was obviously made by the team early on that Dandy would return to his roots as a winger, which would give the 2-time Stanley Cup champ an actual shot of making the team. His speed (which we are told he has) would add some energy to our 3rd or 4th lines and his experience would be invaluable (right?).

The season
True to the plan, Mat played on the wing this year for all but half a game, in which we suffered two injuries on the blue-line. The problem with Dandenault for us was that it was always quite obvious that he was a defenceman playing forward, with few flashes of true offensive instinct.

The Dandenault experiment wasn't the same as if we put Markov or Streit up front, this was plain bad. We took a mediocre defenceman and tried to make a scorer out of him. His numbers would show you that he isn't really the threat we had hoped he would be. 9 goals isn't horrific, but what is with -11? Aren't you a defenceman?

This approach, which lasted all season, was quite backwards considering we are supposed to be a team deep with offensive potential. Can you believe now, for example, that Dandenault was chosen to play the wing ahead of Sergei, Locke, D'Agostini, Stewart, Lapierre and others. To his credit, whenever he was benched he always responded with a strong performance upon re-insertion into the line-up. However, after this happened 3 or 4 times it became frustrating that he would only produce ion return games and didn't offer anything in any of the intervening contests. We should ask: why was he only motivated by being benched, why didn't the potential to be benched ever get him going? All in all, to us he represented a wasted spot on a team that should be looking to the future more than anything else.

Highlights: As you can see, Dandenault had his moments, but Rocky? Any association between this Hab and Philly in my mind is not set to inspirational music.

Dandenault by the numbers:

Lions' links on Dandenault:

The trouble with 8

Habs fine. And Dandy?

Grade: C-
Dandenault may not have offered much as a forward, but at least he accepted his role. In general, he played with a consistent level of effort, which was always enhanced after a trip to the press-box. The plan was to have an extra D-man in the line-up in case we needed one, but after going the whole year without ever really moving him back I would say that that plan was a waste of time. You dress 6 defenceman in case someone gets hurt because you only NEED 2 and can easily go with 4. Dressing 7, sometimes 8 was too cautious an approach for Carbo, and, hopefully, he will learn from his 96-game experiment that you gain absolutely nothing from it. Yes, Mat has Stanley Cup and President's Trophy experience, but I felt that this did not help us in the least and just proved how overrated experience can be, especially when it is your lesser players who are the ones who have it.

Where we'd have him next season
Unfortunately for the Habs (and Mat), Dandenault is still signed for another year. I don't see how he will be able to steal a spot on our team this year, especially after we determined how ineffective he is as a forward. He doesn't make too too much money and I think it would be in the Habs best interest to either trade him, send him down, waive him or even buy him out if needed. Personally, the time where players like Dandenault steal spots from great prospects just because they are under contract has come and gone for me. To me, it is worth the cost of both Dandenault's and a prospect's salary to have that prospect play. We have given Dandenault a 3-year shot and, while he helped us through a tough time, it is obvious now that the team has outgrown him and what he can offer us is no longer at our level. It is time for the Habs to say thank you very much for everything Mat and walk away from Dandenault the player.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Patrice Brisebois

The one you've all been waiting for...

The numbers

43 GP: 3 G, 8 A, 11 Pts, 26 PIM, -2, 42 Shots

Career best year – 2005-06 – Avalanche
80 GP: 10 G, 28 A, 38 Pts, 55 PIM, +1, 107 Shots

2007-08 playoffs
10 GP: 1 G, 5 A, 6 Pts, 6 PIM, -3, 10 Shots

Career best playoffs – 1991-92
11 GP: 2 G, 4 A, 6 Pts, 6 PIM, +3, 25 Shots

Plays of the game: 1

Game pucks: 0

Domes: 0

3 Star selections: 0

The story

Where he started the season
No one quite understood why Gainey went out and got the Breezer after 3 years away. His first time around with the Habs was disastrous to say the least and I think the whole city sighed a big sigh of relief when we let him walk in 2004. For some reason, however, the fans had forgotten how much they despised Brisebois and his arrogant, pretentious attitude when they seemingly welcomed him back with open arms. It was clear at the beginning of the season that the 5th or 6th defenceman's spot was open to him if he could hack it and despite a very poor preseason that is where he would start in October.

The season
Within a month, the Habs could no longer cover up his enormous blunders and were forced to play him less and less. This allowed the emergence of both Gorges and O'Byrne, who proved that playing defence wasn't simply a way to let your goalie get a lot of shots. Breezer's play on the PP was turning out to be quite lacklustre and with Streit, Markov and Hammer all excelling at that spot there was simply no need for him. Never once during the season did he play well enough for recognition in the dome, which in 43 games is quite worrying. His 'experience' (experience of being turned inside out time and time again) proved to be less valuable than Gainey had hoped and it was in the press-box that he ended the season. In the playoffs, Carbo looked to his old friend (and completely disregarded reason or stats) and re-inserted Brisebois into the line-up. There was the odd flash of offence, but they paled in comparison to his defensive weaknesses. He played the whole playoffs and was, in my opinion, one of the big reasons we didn't go very far. Detroit proved that championships take defence - Brisebois proved that he (again) can't play defence.

If we were trying to sum up his season in one line, we couldn't do better than Brisebois' own early season quote:
"Sometimes when your partner on defense is not ready, he can make you look like a fool..."

Highlights: Brisbois' best 6 minutes set to a fittingly terrible soundtrack

Brisebois by the numbers:

Lions' links on Brisebois:
Brisebois offer a mistake
Habs fans have it all wrong on Brisebois
Open letter to "Concerned Fan" on Brisebois
Now that Brisebois is injured...
The trouble with 8
Remember when you used to like reading Jack Todd?
On Brisebois
Experiment 71: When will the Canadiens admit this is going nowhere?
Brisebois: Conclusion and Fallacy

Grade: F
Brisebois is a player who is living off the fact that he was on a Stanley Cup winning team 15 years ago. It proves that no matter how bad you were (or are) you will always be given a chance thanks to a ring. He offered absolutely nothing to the Habs this season and was actually the biggest reason that we didn't win the conference by more. No other single player made as many mistakes over the course of the season - a distinction he has owned for at least 15 years. I considered that Gainey brought him in more for his leadership than his hockey ability, but then I started laughing. This is a player who is French, has played for the Habs for 15 years and is our last active cup winner and never once was he even considered as an Assistant Captain – in 15 years! It was a mistake to bring him back as all it accomplished was to put doubt in my mind about just how good of a GM Gainey really is.

Where we'd have him next season
Surely anyone who has eyes will realize that Patrice has played his last NHL game. At 37 he is not the type of veteran you want to build your defensive corps around. He will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and I would be surprised if a team takes a chance on him. If the Habs really believe in the future and in youth then they must walk away from this one. Bob, the Habs have made this mistake twice, for heaven's sake don't make it a third time.

Their Own Lafleur: Harsh Words From Leafs Alumnus

Was reading about Mats Sundin and came across this by Howard Berger.

Check out this quote from Jim Pappin – he who led the Maple Leafs in scoring with seven goals and 15 points in the 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs (before colour TV and all that):
"I think Mats can obviously see that Toronto is re-building and probably will not have a very good team for the next three or four years. If none of the guys like Bryan McCabe or Darcy Tucker come back, the Leafs are going to be pretty bad. I've watched the Marlies and the farm system, and I don't see anybody there that can make them better. A player or two might make the team, but won't improve the situation. I think Sundin can see that. In fact, everybody can. The Leafs are trying to become a more competitive club by getting younger. As far as loyalty, I remember when Dave Keon was used up, the Leafs let him go, and he's probably the greatest centre to ever play for the team. But, Sundin is in a different situation. Montreal is a contender, and the Canadiens picked up Alex Tanguay, another top player, at the draft. They have as good a chance as anybody to win the Stanley Cup next season. If I was Sundin, I think that's where I would want to go. And, to be honest, I don't really think the Leafs want him that badly anymore. They might offer him a lot of money, but he can get the same amount, or more, and play on a better team."

Don't hold anything back, Jim.

My favourite part is: "I've watched the Marlies and the farm system, and I don't see anybody there that can make them better."

Even Guy sometimes minces his words sometimes.

One thing's for certain. Lose Sundin and they'll have very large skates to replace. They'll never go quietly through free agency though, right?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Gregory Stewart

The numbers


1 GP: 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 0 PIM, +0, 2 Shots

Career best year
Rookie (same as above)

Plays of the game: 0

Game pucks: 0

Domes: 1

3 Star selections: 0

The story

Where he started the season
To understand how far Stewart has come, it is necessary to understand what hope we (and I think for other pundits too) and everyone else held for him ever playing in the NHL. This is what we had to say about him after he survived the first cut:
"Up front, they simply need the numbers to make a rotational squad for games and scrimmages, so fair enough. otherwise, I don't think Greg Stewart and Cory Urquhart need to endure another camp."
After all, someone who hadn't seen him in junior or the ECHL could be forgiven for assuming he was drafted for size and size alone. He was taken in the 8th round, 264th overall in the 2004 entry draft. His numbers that season were pretty weak, and didn't improve by leaps and bounds in two further seasons. His ECHL numbers did not look like those of a player would be in the NHL anytime soon.

The season
A season of 1 game with the Canadiens was for Gregory Stewart, what could only be termed a rousing success. In a game where the Habs would clinch first overall, Stewart was among the best on the ice, taking shots and taking it to our closest rivals (the Leafs). His surprise emergence earned him a dome selection and a raving review from Tobalev:
"Stewart became the 30th player to play for us this year - the current 26 along with Murray, Huet, Chipchura and Locke. He did an outstanding job offensively, which is surprising as he is meant to be a fighter. He did have a late fight with the highly un-classy (typical Leaf) McCabe. Stewart brought a whole new level of energy to the 4th line, it was great to see"
His play in Hamilton, where he spent most of the season, probably gives a better idea of what Greg Stewart might provide the Habs in the future. 10 goals, 17 points in 69 games to go with 137 penalty minutes – it appears Greg Stewart gives us a Steve Begin in the making. only his bigger stature might actually deter people from running our players.

Stewart by the numbers: N/A

Lions' links on Stewart:
Cuts? Let's Just Invite Everyone

Grade: B
One game, one dome. Pretty good stuff from young Stewart. Play like that over a few more games would get him an A or higher. As it stands, we're impressed but not blown away yet.

Where we'd have him next season
Personally, I'd have Stewart in the team set up. 10 goals in Hamilton prove he is no passenger and one game in Montreal showed me he is hyped to play in the bigs. As poor Steve Begin falls apart bit by bit due to his rugged approach, it will be nice to have Stewart there to step in and offer a spark plug of comparable energy.

Sundin: A Move Too Far?

Lots and lots of hype around Mats Sundin at the moment. But, as time goes by, I find more and more reasons to hope Sundin will not end up with the Canadiens.

Let's be clear from the get go, Mats Sundin is a great player. He would still be a great player on the Canadiens. My qualms are not with Sundin, but how he would affect the Canadiens.


To start with, the Canadiens, for the first time in many years, seemed to come together as a team in the way they won games and the way they cored goals when they needed too – at least during the regular season. I believe that this was due to a critical mix of leadership from players who want to lead (Kovalev and Koivu) and youth who began to thrive with new responsibilities.

Adding Sundin would add two things: a) a first-line player and b) a very strong voice in the dressing room (I am assuming of course that Sundin isn't coming here to be a shrinking violet on the third line like Radek Bonk).

This will have direct repercussions. We can all count and know that there are only 6 available places on the top two lines, so the addition of Sundin after that of Tanguay, would mean that only 4 of the top 6 forwards from the number one offence from last season. As he will be deployed as a centre, Plekanec, or in all likelihood Koivu, will have to be demoted to the "third" line. In itself, this would not be so bad, as Koivu would likely keep his wingers from part of last year on the first line, but his ice time would have to suffer.

Then there is the issue of leadership. Was it only me, or did anyone else notice that Alex Kovalev really came into his own as a player once he started leading. He probably had the best year of his career in terms of his out and out value to his team. Stripping some of his voice (it will be a slow and insidious process, as Sundin wrestles his share loss by loss), would be a detriment to the team in my eyes. Koivu (everyone seems to forget he proved himself as a number one centre yet again in April) could be in the same boat. In any case, you can't add a 37-year-old superstar with a large personality without shifting the dynamic a bit. Too many cooks and all that...


Anyone who has been taking a practical look at the Canadiens situation has noted that adding Sundin will take money and cap space. In fact, many have questioned how it would be plausible at all. After all, Sundin will not be moving to his sworn enemy of 13 years for a discount, will he? Again, we have a situation where Sundin is added and the ground must be shifted. Someone will have to be moved. I suspect it will have to be someone with a decent salary: $4 million+.


The last season, we as fans were sold the promise that our youngsters were playing because they would gain hugely from the experience. They were deployed on the top lines, they were given responsibility, they grew. Add Tanguay and possibly Sundin – and what gives? Steps back is what. Take Latendresse. He won't see any first line time anymore, that is unless Sundin were to exhaust his choice of wingers as he often did in Toronto. Where does Sergei Kostitsyn then fit? Chris Higgins? These are players that will be around long after Sundin is gone. Aren't they important enough to nurture anymore? I believe that lots of the progress that has been made over the year could be set back so we can give the aged Swede the ice time he will demand.

Add it all up, and adding Sundin will take away ice time and leadership from a top player from the roster, and will probably necessitate salary shedding and indeed cost us a roster player. I don't think losing Grabovski, as some have speculated, would be sufficient. No, I think someone more significant will have to be marginalised and even jettisoned for us to make room for his time on the puck, his big personality and his sure to be massive salary.

The writing looks like it's on the wall. Add Sundin, and my bet is that Koivu's bid to become the longest serving captain in team history will be ended. How could it not? Would we lose Plekanec? A player with intelligence, skill and speed reminiscent of the younger Koivu (his salary wouldn't be enough anyway). I for one would hate to lose Saku Koivu to gain Mats Sundin, no matter the height difference.

Koivu is ours. He is our leader. He loves Montreal. He loves the Canadiens. Sundin may get there, but you can't gain 15 years worth of passion in a single season. Never mind that he would have to learn to stop hating the Canadiens first.

So, I'm going to be happy with our other addition: Tanguay. We find him the right fit at centre and a shooting RW and we'll be off. He may not be the top top superstar we had dreams of, but he is a very high quality addition and the team is already better off as a result. Sundin, in my mind, remains a move too far.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Corey Locke

The numbers

1 GP: 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 0 PIM, -1, 0 Shots

Career best year
Rookie (same as above)

Plays of the game: 0

Game pucks: 0

Domes: 0

3 Star selections: 0

The story

Where he started the season
Depending on where you set the starting point for the season, Corey Locke either started in the best or the worst of positions. If you set it some time before training camp, he was riding high and coming off a spectacular Calder Cup playoffs and final, in which he led all scorers. If you position the start at the conventional start date (home opener), Corey was back on the farm, buried beneath other prospects career paths.

I had hopes for Corey at the beginning of the season, but realistically felt that the Habs would not be comfortable with 4 small centres:

One big, obvious problem for Corey is that he will never be a third or fourth liner, so unless he can get onto one of the first two lines, he's stuck. Doesn't look good with Koivu and Plekanec already there, and the management likely in the search for someone bigger, not smaller, to fill in if anything.

His one chance would be if he played on the wing. Oh wait, he can. That's where he had all that success, riding shotgun on the Lapierre line. The guy can score and could be an asset. I've heard he needs an attitude shift, but maybe he's old enough now to give it one last good go at making it. I give him a decent chance at pulling it off and showing the folks at that he's no slouch.

The season
The season for Corey, as an NHLer, consisted of 9 shifts and just under 6 minutes. Though he will be grateful that he did get that one game, the prevailing feeling must be one of disappointment at still being in the AHL.

Locke by the numbers: N/A

Lions' links on Locke:
Habs Cut Possible NHLers
Locke and Halak Given Their Chance

Grade: D
Corey has no one but himself to hold accountable for not getting to the NHL – as the possible third tiny centre for an NHL club, you'd better be putting up better numbers than 55 points in Hamilton.

Where we'd have him next season
If he returns, I would expect next September to be his last with the Habs. As I mentioned earlier, he might take his last chance as a winger if allowed to do so. realistically, I see Corey being moved for his own career development and a low pick at most.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Enter Wing Left: Alex Tanguay

Gainey turned Huet into a player after all (essentially).

The Habs package their own second round pick from 2009 (keeping Washington's). We did also cough up the first rounder this year.

But Alex Tanguay!

I'll surely write more after my weekend holiday. But suffice it to say at this point that one LIW blogger is very excited.

We have a Cup winning, young, 20-goal scoring, LW star from the province of Quebec.

He's paid a bit much, but it's only a year on his current deal. He plays well for contracts too (see 2006), so even if we only get a year out of Alex, it should be good. Although, if he plays well, there'll be no trading our new French Canadian poster boy.

Downsides? Not shipping Brisebois in the deal somehow... Not many for now. I think he fits.

Underestimated And Underappreciated

Poor Mark Streit.

He plays in Switzerland – not good enough for the NHL.

He plays on the fourth line – not good enough for the NHL.

He scores 62 points – not good enough to keep around the Habs.

But then the punch in the teeth: he helps the Habs to the best PP and the highest goals scored totals in the league – he's compared to One-dimension Souray (by Mike Boone):
"If Canadiens adjusted to the loss of Sheldon Souray, they'll figure out how to get by without Mark Streit."

In my opinion, Boone's assertion is very naive. Souray's skill was shooting. Streit's is receiving a pass and distributing it. When you consider that PP success is dictated by time in the opposition's zone, not the number of individual PPs, you can see how shooting with a 10-15% chance of scoring, is a less valuable skill on the PP than control.

I suppose we'll have to lose Streit for some people to finally understand just what he was worth.

Habs Review 2007-08:

Matt D'Agostini

The numbers

1 GP: 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 2 PIM, E, 0 Shots

Career best year
Rookie (same as above)

Plays of the game: 0

Game pucks: 0

Domes: 0

3 Star selections: 0

The story

Where he started the season
After putting up decent numbers in Hamilton in 2006-07 (49 Pts/63 Games) one would have to think that the Habs would give this kid a look this past season. Another positive for him was that his play in Hamilton's Calder Cup run was very good as he posted 13 playoff points. He was given every chance to make the team in October, but was simply not good enough to crack the squad. Back in September, we summed it up quite well, surprisingly, when we said this:
Those with a realistic chance (in my opinion) of a game or two this year, and full NHL seasons on their horizons include:

5) Matt D'Agostini – could break through, but probably needs another season to impress.
He isn't a small guy, but at 6'0" he isn't huge either. He is definitely a top-2 line player and with the talent we have there it was always going to be a long shot. The message was clear, however: play well in Hamilton and you will earn your chance with the Habs.

The season
Hamilton wasn't able to repeat its team success of last year, but some players, like D'Agostini, had good individual campains. He posted 53 points and when it was quite obvious that the 'Dogs would miss the playoffs he was Montreal bound for his shot. He featured in just one game with the big club and I wouldn't really say that he seized his chance. Unlike other Hamiton call-ups, Matt was a non-factor in his game and even took a silly tripping penalty on one of his first shifts. He did, however, stick around with the team throughout the playoffs, but never suited up again.

D'Agostini by the numbers: N/A

Lions' links on
Canadiens rookie camp

Grade: D

This grade is for his play with the Habs, not with Hamilton. He has actually shown fairly good progress on the farm and I think is still very much in the Habs' plans. It is normal to not make an impact in your first game in the NHL, but it was a shame for Matt that so many other Habs prospects did make such big impacts all season long.

Where we'd have him next season
He is still young and is still learning. He was quite popular with Habs fans this year during the preseason and during his call-up which of course can never hurt. I am positive that the average Habs fan assumes that the Ontario native is French - ah, memories of Rivet. It will be a battle for him to become an NHL regular, but if he wins the battle I am sure he will fit in well with this young group of Habs.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

2008 Canadiens Entry Draft Preview

The draft is about to start, there's a new scoring phenom coming out of the CHL, the next pick isn't shabby with a big and able defenceman from Ontario likely to be picked next. The draft is deep and the Russian star of the day might not get a look in the top 5. Meanwhile the Habs are mired down in the 20s for their pick. No luck, right?

That was 1993. Daigle was the can't miss at the time. Chris Pronger was that able defenceman. All the talk of Viktor Kozlov only got him selected 6th. The Canadiens, fresh off a Stanley Cup snagged the third best player in the first round with the 21st pick. Not only that, Saku Koivu has gone on to become a Canadiens icon and the second-longest serving captain in team history.

Here and now, it's the Stamkos draft. Steve is the talk of the place, but is he a sure thing? If anyone is thinking of giving the unequivocal yes, then maybe they should think again. First overall means nothing about your future career. Scouting of Stamkos provides reports that certainly project the likelihood of him being a star int he league higher than any of his peers, but the reports did the same for Daigle. Ottawa, in hindsight might have preferred Pronger, Kariya or Koivu.

What we need
There is no doubt about what the Canadiens need. For me it is a winger who can score (big or small). If he's big and can score, all the better, but scoring is what matters. The problem is the Canadiens need that player now. The player they select on the weekend may not be ready for another 4-5 seasons. The Habs have to address the need for that winger by other means than hoping an 18-year old will be our saviour next season.

As such, the Canadiens needs get rejigged. assuming the Habs do address the need there with a relatively young first-line scorer, then that will no longer be a need. So what will?

The answer is simple, and has been the Canadiens draft strategy for a while. The Canadiens need good players, the best prospects. When Trevor Timmins gives his post-draft interview and explains that they took the best player available in their estimation, they will have done their jobs. If they draft with positional or biometric shackles like some teams do, then they will be imitating the wrong teams (i.e., not the Red Wings).

The first round

I won't pretend that I know everything about the players in all the lists and profiles I've been reading. But sometimes a player just gives me a feeling. It's a product of the name, the size, the stats (in the context of where he plays, of course). Once in a while I am right about this too. As Tobalev will attest, in my card collecting days I went around and bought every Saku Koivu UpperDeck Finland rookie card from the WJHC before the Canadiens drafted him in 1993. I only had to look at his stats in a typically (back then) low-scoring Finnish league and read about his temperament to know I wanted the Habs to have him. I hoped and hoped for Saku that year, and in the end we picked my man.

When I look down the list this year, I am largely unimpressed with the list. There seem to be a lot of Chris Phillips' and few truly exciting prospects. I would be hugely disappointed if the Canadiens went weak and drafted someone like Tyler Cuma, who TSN says:
"is a strong two-way defenceman with leadership ability and a willingness to compete hard at both ends of the ice."
You can sign any number of players like that in an offseason. You shouldn't be drafting anyone whose best-case secnario is the next Steve Staios in the first round.

If we're looking for a steal

As a general rule, when looking for a steal, I look for a couple of things. First, I look at size. Big players are generally overrated by scouts and small players are underrated. The other thing is mention of skating. if they can't skate by now, it's too late guys. So, when I see a small player who can skate in the top tier of the draft, I am curious. It was the case with Saku Koivu, and it is the case with my new poster boy this year: Mattias Tedenby.

TSN ranked him 26th, but unlike the reviews for the defensive defencemen ahead of him, his review glowed:
"The diminutive Swedish winger is amongst the most competitive and skilled players available in this draft, but his lack of size is likely going to discount him in this draft. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with confidence, on and off the ice. He has an extra gear, which is essential for small guys looking to succeed in the NHL, and doesn't take a backward step in the mold of a Mats Naslund or Marty St. Louis. Could fall to the second round because of size issues, but if a team really likes him and is willing to look past the height, he could go much higher than ranked. "
The Central Scouting Bureau, who ranked him much higher than TSN (3 from Europe), have even better things to say:
"Mattias is excellent on every shift. He has outstanding speed, stick work and work ethic. He is small but fearless - he takes hits and always comes back. He creates scoring chances with his outstanding skating and is very difficult to stop when he is at full speed. He has excellent balance and quick, smooth hands, but needs to improve on his defensive awareness."
This is 2008's Saku Koivu! We'll lament him for being too small, but once he makes the team – icon... (I'm just off to buy the rookie cards now).

My next 4

Assuming as I am that the Canadiens will not be trading up in this draft, I am listing these 4 players based on the likelihood that they could be available at 25th overall:

2) Chet Pickard, G – Tri-City Americans
I have already put the goalie option forward elsewhere, to which I usually get mocking or disbelief as a response:
"Topham - why would we take a goalie in the first round?"
Just substitute the name Timmins for Topham and think back 3 years, and maybe you'll see where I'm coming from. Chet Pickard, from all reports, is a bit like our man Carey. Their stats from draft years are remarkably similar. Funnily though, the Americans actually did better with Pickard after losing Price. So the temptation to dismiss him, should probably be, well, dismissed. If he's available, I might have trouble buying the "best player" line if Timmins were to select someone else (other than Tedenby, of course).

3) Erik Karlsson, D – Frolunda, SEL
Offensive defencemen are great assets. Possibly the greatest around after goaltenders. but unlike goalies, teams can carry more than one offensive D, and as such they are very tradeable. Why draft for trading you ask? Because then you can get hold of that power forward with NHL experience you always want...

4) Kirill Petrov, LW – AK Bars Kazan
Here he is, the power forward we want. Apparently, the knock is that he doesn't want out of Russia. Well, if the Canadiens let this Russian issue stand in the way, then I can tell you someone else won't. That team, whoever they are, will pluck gems from the draft and we'll be looking back in 15 years after their 4th Cup in 10 years and asking how they did it. It'll take bravery, but what's the point in going to the draft if you're not willing to be brave?

5) Jordan Eberle, C – Regina Pats
Described as refreshingly offensive-minded, intelligent and goalscorer, he would be a good pick-up too. Not as big as some rival choices, but you can't teach the scoring knack to anyone.

If we have to go big
If it's gotta be a big guy, then I'd prefer Joe Colborne, but could stomach Greg Nemisz. Again, if they were passed off as the best player available, I won't be buying it.

If we're looking for someone from the backyard
Some of the Montreal media, including Mike Boone have had an eye on Danick Paquette from the QMJHL. Personally, I would steer clear of anyone who can still honestly list Todd Bertuzzi as their idol(!!!) no matter how many Xmas parties they throw. That and the fact that although he is sold as a big power forward, he's only 6' tall – he sounds like Latendresse without discipline or size.

More like it from the QMJHL, at least, are Nicolas Deschamps and Jacob Lagace from the Sagueneens (Carbo's toy). From this article, they both sound like their stars are on the rise. If I had the say, I'd skip Deschamps if he's projected as a first rounder and pick up Lagace with a later pick. Obviously, neither has shown outstanding offensive talent just yet, and it would be an admission of defeat to pick a third line talent in the first round, no matter which province they hail from.

I, for one am a big believer in restocking the ranks from Quebec. If I were in charge, I'd be picking from Quebec in the late rounds. For one thing, we have more intimate knowledge of the local talent, and can also make the transition easier for the players who will struggle to learn new hockey skills at the same time as a new language and possibly culture. I'd like to think that some of the local boys would work that much harder for their beloved CH too.

Beyond round 1

You think about Joe Thornton, Ilya Kovalchuk, Rick Nash and company and ask what happened to those teams. Then you look at NJ and Detroit and marvel at their low first-rounders or lack thereof.

Tickets may be sold with first rounders, but dynasties are made in the later rounds. I have spoken about the desire for the Canadiens to jump all over the reluctance of other teams to draft Russians. And I mentioned their advantage in Quebec. I think the Canadiens have to leverage these two things in the later rounds to start bringing in consistent hauls of NHL quality players.

That said, I would hope that the Habs come up with some of the decent players from the Q this year. Specifically, I covet Yann Sauve or Maxime Sauve, one of Lagace or Deschamps (from above) and possibly Patrice Cormier if he's available 4th round or later.

As for Russians, it will depend on whether Petrov is the man early or not. There's taking advantage and then there's the foolishness of putting all the eggs in one basket – even Detroit wasn't taking all Swedish boys. If f we're safer than Petrov in round 1, then Evgeny Grachev in the second might make sense.

Viktor Tikhonov would also be a late intriguing pick, given the legacy of his grandfather. In fact, it might be just the sort of strategic pick (to sweeten the Habs chances in Russia overall) that could make sense.

Other names that jumped out included Jared Staal, who you know will never be small and David Carle, skating at Sidney's old school and playing like his brother Matt (San Jose's not ours).

That's about all I can muster having very little personal exposure to any of these guys. Happy Draft Day. See you in 5 years to see what the aftermath of all this was (and reaping the gains on all my Tedenby rookie cards)...

Habs Review 2007-08:

Garth Murray

(From least to most valuable 2007-08 Hab, to start: Garth Murray)

The numbers

1 GP: 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 0 PIM, E, 0 Shots

Career best year - 2005-06

36 GP: 5 G, 1 A, 6 Pts, 44 PIM, -2, 25 Shots

Plays of the game: 0

Game pucks: 0

Domes: 0

3 Star selections: 0

The story

Where he started the season
Surprisingly to me Garth made the team out of training camp beating out the likes of Lapierre, Sergei Kostitsyn and Locke. His role was obvious - he was to be our 13th forward and would be our muscle if we actually needed any. He had served the Habs well over the previous 2 seasons so I saw this more as a debt of gratitude to Garth rather than him forcing his way onto the team.

The season
He suited up for one game (possibly to be put on display?) against Florida, the team he would join just a few short days later via waivers. It was obvious to all those watching that night (and apparently to management too) that Murray had no place on our team and that he was a player that did not in any way represent the direction the franchise was taking. His departure led to Lapierre's recall, and I think that from then on we were a better team.

Murray by the numbers:

Lions' links on Murray:

Habs Cut Possible NHLers
New Concept for Montreal Media: Rolling Squad

Grade: F
All I can say is that the Habs must be improving. In the two previous seasons, Garth had been a regular and, in my opinion, played way too much. This season, by no fault of his own, he was simply not good enough. The team is getting better, which means there will be less and less space for AHL journeymen like Murray.

Where we'd have him next season
Garth is no longer with the Canadiens organization having been claimed by the Panthers off waivers in the fall. It is likely that his NHL adventure is over as he has very little to offer at this level. Garth's style of play is quickly becoming a thing of the past as top teams have no problem suiting up 12 forwards that can score.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Review And Preview: A Look At Current And Potential Future Habs

With the season long gone, and the next season way way off, we're in limbo here as hockey bloggers.

Tobalev and I, however, wanted to do a proper and comprehensive wrap-up of the season and a short primer to the upcoming NHL entry draft.

Season review
Tobalev and I have been putting together an individual review for each and every player who stepped on the ice for the Canadiens over 2007-08. More than just stats, we'll try to look at where the player started the season, how it went (from our point of view) and where we think that player should end up in the Canadiens scheme.

In addition, we'll try to provide lots of interesting links from over the season and from other websites and blogs to provide (hopefully) the most comprehensive look at each player you can find. Even if we don't quite match the hyperbole that's been written on Carey Price or Alex Kovalev across the web, I promise we'll be the spot to read up on Corey Locke, Jaroslav Halak and other important Habs.

I'll try to post at least one review a day from now until we run out of players – with the only thing standing in the way nice weather and beer. We hope you enjoy them.

Draft preview
Over the past few days, I ahve been trying to get a better grasp on the guys we could see suiting up for the Canadiens on that stage in Ottawa this weekend.

I will steer well clear of revisiting every draft from the past 15 years, as the Gazette seem to have made that their niche for the past 14 years. Instead, I hope to call aattention to some players I like from the lists based on stats and reports (and a whole lot of intuition).

If you're still reading this blog in June, let me tell you my friend, you are a crazed Canadiens junkie. I know what it's like (hey, I'm still writing aren't I), so I'll try to fulfill the need for Habs coverage and talk where I can. if you want to feed in too, with suggestions for pieces or just comments to get a discussion going, then don't be afraid. After all, everyone here now is as hooked on this team as we are.

Cheers. Go Romania.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Arbitration Farce: When's Kostitsyn's Extension Going To Be Announcued?

The Penguins have filed for salary arbitration with Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins have no intention of going to salary arbitration with Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Penguins exploit a loophole and prevent Kevin Lowe or a desperate GM from targeting Fleury on July 1st:

Arbitration hearings are set by the National Hockey League and take place from July 20 to August 4. Both sides can continue to negotiate a contract until that time.

"By filing for salary arbitration it gives us extra time to continue to negotiate a contract with Marc-Andre," Pens general manager Ray Shero said. "As a result of the filing, Penguins' fans are assured that Marc-Andre will be under contract to our club for next season. Marc-Andre has done a tremendous job for us. We remain committed to negotiating a contract with him in the near future."

This strategy is not stupid. It is quite shrewd actually.

I will be more upset than ever now if the Canadiens manage to dangle Andrei Kostitsyn for even a split second for all those jumped up GMs on July 1st. Much better to keep him in house for when all their lazy asses are on holiday come August having already blown the load on the Ryan Malones of the league.

Bob. Another chance to show us you are not just one of the pack. Let's see it...

Friday, June 13, 2008

NHL Awards: Habs Shutout

As nominations were being prepared, Habs fans were thinking that the Canadiens could realistically take a shot at 3 of the trophies – the Calder, the Jack Adams and the Hart. The optimists were hoping for nominees in even more categories with Markov a borderline Norris candidate based on his regular season play.

Nominations for the trophies (or published top threes in voting), left us with one man standing: Guy Carbonneau for the Jack Adams trophy.

Last night was the final cull for the Habs, as Carbonneau lost out to Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals.

The voters got it wrong with this verdict.

Boudreau's accomplishments pale in comparison to Carbonneau and Babcock (the other nominee) and even to a few others who were not nominated in the end.

While Boudreau's supporters vaunt his impressive 37-17-7 record in the last 61 games of the season, they just as eagerly ignore that Carbonneau's Canadiens went 35-19-7 over the same span. Babcock's Wings did better at 39-16-6.

Boudreau turned a team around. Carbonneau and Babcock kept their teams consistent enough to win.

Boudreau took a non-playoff team to the last available place. Carbonneau took a non-playoff team to first. Babcock managed to get the perennial leaders interested in another runaway regular season win.

So why was Boudreau chosen?

The answer eludes me.

Lots of teams improve from one season to the next – going from non-playoff team to qualifier. If that was the criteria for coach of the year, surely John Stevens would outclass Boudreau. Carbonneau's Canadiens went from 11th to first, comfortably cruising into post-season play with time to spare. He must trump Boudreau here too!

Perhaps the answer was Boudreau's ability to turn a flailing Capitals franchise around. If so, he won a Jack Adams trophy on the back of poor work from both Glen Hanlon who should and could have done better preparation with the Capitals and from Peter Laviolette who coached his talented team out of the playoffs again.

I have Carbonneau as the coach of the year, regardless of what the mopes on the voting panel say. Carbonneau not only turned his team around, won the East and somehow managed to get Kovalev into the mood to be a serious mentor, but he also did it in a seriously difficult division, with no help over the season from his GM.

It shouldn't be forgotten that Carbonneau and his team also revamped the number one which had lost its main weapon of the previous campaign – actually improving it. Over the season they also turned the Canadiens young crew into extremely effective penalty-killers and defenders and even the number one offensive team in the league.

After putting all this down on paper, it's pretty clear Carbo deserved more than the invitation to dress up and do his best good loser impression for the cameras.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Draw: Effort vs. Return

Following Detroit's impressive Stanley Cup victory, much was written about how and why they were able to pull off the trick. Among Habs fans, the talk turned in some corners to how the Canadiens could emulate their Original Six cousins.

On of my more tireless and eloquent peers put together a nice piece on the matter. As I sometimes do, I disagreed with some of his analysis – namely the importance of faceoffs. See JT's conclusion:

Whatever happens in the next few weeks, I think one thing you can safely count on is the Habs improving in the faceoff department. Bob Gainey thinks it's one of the most important factors on a winning hockey team. After watching the Stanley Cup champ Red Wings own the puck from the faceoff and for most of the game, I have to say I agree.

Naturally, I couldn't let this slide and responded with comment of my own to his post, keying in part on the fact that the other Stanley Cup finalist were league worst at faceoffs and still managed to win a lot. I thought our conversation was interesting enough to give a heads up here at LIW. To paraphrase what I said: the result of faceoffs is hugely overrated in this league. I think the fact that it is a recordable stat gives it more air time than say, positioning, because it can be quickly called upon in pre-game, intermissions, those pointless by the numbers screens, etc.

I also suggested that the aftermath of the faceoff may be even more important than the 50:50 drop itself. I truly believe that it is how the players react to the result of a faceoff that is all important.

In my opinion, based on what I hear about NHL practices (which are already too rare for my liking anyway), there is too much emphasis on trying to be slightly better than your opponent at the crap shoot of the faceoff. I would much prefer the coaches be instructing the defencemen to react and adapt quickly to faceoff results (whatever they are), and so the wingers.

In fact, I am not being facetious at all when I say that losing faceoffs is a viable strategy. I think a team could very well lose every faceoff if you have a plan about pressuring the puck man instantly. It would be very much like an American football play from the playbook, where movement following the loss would be choreographed and rehearsed with precision. The fact that most teams still opt for the dump and chase method of crossing the blueline make this strategy even more attractive, as defencemen could get a real head start on puck retrieval 100%. I want to hear about coaches preaching this.

Actually, I think Detroit is all about puck possession and patience (personified by Lidstrom). And, sure it begins with a faceoff, but their 53% faceoff rating doesn't go far enough to explain their dominance. As I mentioned, I hope the Canadiens coaches don't turn too much attention to faceoffs over the summer, but nonetheless study Detroit's strengths (and, hey, why not Pittsburgh's too!). If the coaches here could start getting our defence to show the patience of Detroit's, we'd be on our way – have you ever seen so much backwards passing on a sheet of ice?

As for interesting new tactics, I think losing faceoffs has legs.

Though they lost to Detroit, league faceoff weaklings Pittsburgh had already laid waste to the number two faceoff team, as well as the seventh, only weeks before (NYR and Ottawa). Interestingly, Pittsburgh were not the only team to upset the faceoff pushers' applecart – 7/15 playoff series were taken by the team who lost more faceoffs. If we allow ourselves to make the assumption that Detroit are something special (far beyond faceoff masters) and take them out of the equation, there are 7/11 series.

Add those slight blips from exactly 50:50 proportions to this old tale, and Chipchura's the go-to guy come October:

There's a old story about Mario Lemieux and taking draws. An ex-teammate once said Mario would intentionally concede neutral zone draws throughout a game to soften his opponent up. Thinking Mario was an easy draw, they would let their guard down or go into the face-off expecting the same old weak-wristed tactic he'd been using all game. But when it counted - like an offensive zone draw on a late powerplay - he would stiffen and switch up his strike at the puck taking his opponent by surprise. Not great for the stat sheet, but good for the two points.

I know some of you disagree, so convince me that 4 faceoffs in 60 over a game are the key to getting back to Sherbrooke St. parades.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lapierre Signing Very Positive

Reports have it that Bob Gainey has resigned Maxim Lapierre for another two years.

It's not the great news that a Kostitsyn signing would be, but it is nonetheless, a very good step for the Canadiens.

Lapierre, though not an offensive juggernaut waiting to explode, is many things to the Habs:

1) He is a big centre

Not so big, but he is 6'2" and 200+ pounds. As he matures into a player we will use more, his size will come in handy against teams that think we can be pushed around.

2) He is a committed student of the game

Like nearly every player drafted from the QMJHL, Maxim scored in junior. Not prolifically enough to be called a scorer, but he scored. Since forcing his way into the Canadiens plans, he has accepted many roles and shown he can thrive in each. A year after featuring on the top line for the Calder Cup-winning Bulldogs, he was a top performer for certain periods of the Canadiens playoff run – this time as a fourth-liner. Clearly he works hard, as his demotion, promotion and then sticking with the club attests to. I also think he listens to what Carbonneau and the staff are saying, which should help him to improve even more.

3) He can be a valuable agitator

Though he seems less able to get under the league's skin than originally thought, his ability to irritate Sidney Crosby alone is reason to keep him. If the Habs want to win Cups over the next 10-15 years, you can be sure Pittsburgh will have something to say.

4) He is a French Canadian to build around

Maxim Lapierre is a breath of fresh air. He is a French Canadian player drafted and developed by the Canadiens. Finding players like Max from Quebec would help to restore some of the French flavour of the team without having to resort to signing old washed up defencemen. Along with Guillaume Latendresse, if he breaks through his lethargy, he will be a good face for the franchise and a quality voice in the dressing for RDS to seek out.

So, all in all, good progress from Bob. Now let's get Andrei signed.