Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The View From the Back Seat

Ever since Boston knocked the Habs off in 4 straight I have kept a pretty low profile. Some would argue this is because of a new job, a move and various travels, but deep down I know it is because there is still the sting of April in my heart. A lot has happened to our Habs over these past 4 months and I can't exactly say that I am thrilled about all of it. As a re-introduction to the blog for me, and as an introduction to the readers who don't know me, I will some up my thoughts of the past 4 months.

The way it ended

The season ended on such a negative note that I hope we haven't forgotten where we were as a team just a few short months ago. An inability to communicate, to score or to defend made us the laughing-stock of the league. Our January-April stretch was filled with such turmoil and heartbreak that it seemed like making the playoffs was only prolonging the bleeding. Things had to change and I think Pierre Boivin and Gainey knew this and, therefore, no one sat around. There were injuries and poor relationships to blame, but at the end of the day something needed to be done. How much or how little needed to be done was the question on every one's mind in May; we all know now it was way more than pretty much anyone had anticipated.

The coaching staff

I am very pleased with the direction we have taken in this department. It is unfortunate that we need a French coach (I would take a French-speaking coach, if and only if, he was the best candidate; to me, the ability to do interviews has no bearing on the success of a team that will sell out anyway), but I am happy to say that for the first time since Demers we got one with some experience. It took us 15 years to find an available French coach who has won - see why it is a very stupid policy? The other moves made can't hurt. Getting rid of Melanson and Lever were positive moves and we know their replacements were the right choices. Getting rid of Jarvis and keeping Muller may or may not work out, only time will tell. I am happy that we got a new strength/conditioning coach as it is about time we put 20 conditioned, top-level, athletes on the ice every night; endurance should never be a concern when you are asking professionals to exert themselves for 15-20 minutes 3 times a week.

The forwards

This is where we have made the most changes and is an area that will be of vital importance this year as we strive to be a better offensive team. I am happy that we at least replaced proven NHL talent with other proven NHL talent and that we didn't simply bank on guys like Lapierre, Chipchura and Sergei on carrying this team. I am, however, not sure if we addressed all of our biggest perceived weaknesses as we haven't really increased in size, toughness, leadership or winning experience. The good thing is that I always thought those 'weaknesses' weren't the reason we weren't winning, therefore I am glad we didn't go overboard to try and make Bob MacKenzie and Pierre MacGuire happy. If I had to guess I would say that we will score more goals than last year and be slightly better in our own end (at the forward position). We won't, however, have as much 'big-game' presence as the loss of Kovalev and Koivu may hurt our chances at creating late-game heroic comebacks.

The Defence

Our defence will look vastly different from last year, but once again those new faces won't be coming from Hamilton. Our moves prove how useless it is to draft defencemen (especially in the first round) as what teams really want are players who have got 5-10 experience in them. That is why free-agency (apart from the obvious stand-outs - Markov, Green, Phaneuf etc.) is likely the best way to get a solid defence. This also means that you could actually draft for the only un-teachable commodity, goal-scoring, at a much higher frequency. So, 3 of our 6 starters are all new and all come from the free-agent market and bring experience. I believe that they are better than Brisebois, Boullion and Komisarek as all three of those players had weak seasons. Losing Schneider was too bad, but we all knew it was coming and since he played so little for us it is hard to know how, or if, he'll really be missed. My main concern is that we solved the Brisebois-or-O'Byrne dilema by creating the Gill-or-O'Byrne dilema. Overall I think the core is better, but with Hal Gill as a #6 I wouldn't say that we are complete.

The Goaltending

In May I didn't expect any changes in this department, although I did hope for it. That changed on July 1st when Bob was making offers to anyone and everyone. In a way I think this position needed an upgrade as I don't believe Price nor Halak have proven themselves to be bona-fide starters yet, but on the other hand I was glad to see Bob resist going after such goaltending relics as Roloson, Legace or Fernandez. I think that our goaltending can only improve this year and with a more defensive team in front of them the two netminders may actually look quite good again. To me, this area is the biggest question mark going into the season. We weren't saved last year with heroic goaltending and it would be nice to know that if we had a bad patch this year these guys would be there to bail us out. The fact that both are so young likely means Bob will stick with them which may or may not be a good thing. I can't see us being a good team with bad goaltending (we aren't Detroit), and I can't see us being bad if we get spectacular goaltending (eh Florida?). So here is to average to above-average keeping; that should compliment the rest of our team and system quite nicely.

Lions in Winter

Since I have been 'away' I have seen our readership go up and with that has come more comments and more discussion. I am happy that people are liking the site and that we have had so much to talk about over the summer. I for one, however, am getting tired of speculation, rumours and reports and am getting ready for some much needed hockey.

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