Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Canadiens Rival Report

Relative Gains And Losses After A Season Of Trades

Montreal didn't do much yesterday or the weeks before. But that doesn't mean Pierre Gauthier's team hasn't been shifting up and down in the relative arms race in the Eastern Conference. Trades all around them means that the Canadiens have lost ground and gained ground on several teams.

I look at the moves of rivals here.

First off, I don't consider Philadelphia a rival for now. They are miles clear in the standings are healthy and virtually guaranteed a playoff spot. The fact that they have eliminated the Habs two of the past 3 years in the playoffs and look to be just as daunting all season puts them a cut above in my mind. Someone else please eliminate in Round 1.

The New York Islanders are not and never really were rivals with the Habs. They are rebuilding (have been since the 1980s). Good luck to them.

The rest of the East are rivals, or were rivals at some point this season for the 7 other playoff positions. Between trades, waiver wire pickups and losses and injuries, the position of the Habs relative to each team has been in flux. With the possibility of big moves ended yesterday (not big injuries), the dust settles and we can see where the Habs stand against their rivals:


Tampa Bay Lightning (1-0-1 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Roloson, Brewer
Significant losses: None
Significant injuries: None
Drafting outlook: Unchanged

Tampa spent a bit of their future on the current season. They traded a pretty good prospect to correct their off-season goaltending choices and another to add Eric Brewer. Neither Roloson, nor Brewer seem that brilliant as additions. But the fact that Tampa made slight improvements without sacrificing from the current team means their outlook should be the same if not a bit brighter.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: Gains


Boston Bruins (1-2-1 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Kaberle, Peverley, Valabk, Kelly
Significant losses: Wheeler, Stuart, Sturm
Significant injuries: Savard
Drafting outlook: Lots of high picks sacrificed

On the surface, it looked like Boston made the right moves. They did make a lot of them. But considering Peverley and Kelly don't come close to replacing Savard and Sturm, a lot hangs on Kaberle. I like Kaberle, but his impact remains to be seen. Boston were a better looking team than Montreal this year, primarily because Lucic and Thomas turned a big corner. I think that still stands to be the difference. The mortgage of the future for these players brought on illustrates exactly what I didn't want Gauthier to do. If Boston don't make a great run this year, they will have sacrificed a potential powerhouse in 5 years for nothing.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: Slight gains


Pittsburgh Penguins (1-1-1 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Neal, Niskanen, Kovalev
Significant losses: Goligoski
Significant injuries: Malkin, Crosby, Orpik
Drafting outlook: Unchanged

Ray Shero restrained himself from making a big mess. I think he, like the rest of us, realises that whether Crosby is to come back has more impact on his team than 50 trades. Kovalev for nothing was clever with Malkin's cap space offering flex. The Neal trade brings a future piece, which was also smart. The outlook for this season hinges on injuries. But the outlook for the franchise will be bright if rehab comes through.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: Losses


Washington Capitals (1-0-1 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Arnott, Wideman, Hannan, Sturm
Significant losses: Steckl, Fleischmann
Significant injuries: Green
Drafting outlook: A few picks sacrificed

Washington must recognise a Malkin and Crosby injury scenario offers an open door. With healthy stars for now (perhaps not so for Green), Washington paid to take a run. It's an overall improvement at a relatively low cost. Will it be enough? I think Ovechkin needs a turnaround to prove that it will be.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: Gains


New York Rangers (0-3-0 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Wolski, McCabe
Significant losses: Roszival
Significant injuries: Frolov, Drury, Gaborik, Biron
Drafting outlook: Slight drop

New York is an important rival of the Habs, so the fact they didn't land the player that they wanted to pay with futures for was good for the Canadiens of this season. Injuries are the critical issue in New York, though, and some key scoring forwards out means D and Lundqvist have a lot to do. The McCabe trade is a stretch (better than Redden?) and the Wolski trade looked good on paper, but less so on the ice.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: Losses


Carolina Hurricanes (0-3-0 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Stillman, Allen
Significant losses: Samsonov
Significant injuries: None
Drafting outlook: Gained a pick

Rutherford danced around a bit and ended up with a seller's draft pick as well as Cory Stillman. Stillman over Samsonov is a big improvement and should improve the Canes. I don't think Allen is as good as the talking heads pump him up to be, but he probably can't be worse than Ian White.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: Slight gains


Buffalo Sabres (2-3-0 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Boyes
Significant losses: Rivet
Significant injuries: Roy
Drafting outlook: One pick out

Derek Roy has been a big loss to swallow, but the addition of Boyes should really help with that. Buffalo made few moves relative to their rivals in Toronto, but did more to actually progress.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: Slight gains


Toronto Maple Leafs (3-2-0 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Lupul
Significant losses: Kaberle, Versteeg, Beauchemin
Significant injuries: None
Drafting outlook: Greatly improved

Toronto's recent winning streak, on the back of a Kessel scoring blip (trust me, I have him in my pool) is the mirage that obscures the fact Burke sold up for picks. Toronto can go for the playoffs all they want, because their pick is in Boston, and Boston's is in Toronto, but even if they make it, it would be hard to say they were a better team than they were before the trades. The real bad news for Montreal in this case was that Burke didn't decide to turn in those picks for a run. But hey, it's probably better to have high picks with a team that can't draft than with one that can.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: Lost ground


Atlanta Thrashers (2-0-0 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Wheeler, Stuart, Dvorak, Schremp
Significant losses: Peverley, Valabik, Sopel, Modin, Bergfors, Rissmiller
Significant injuries: Burmistrov
Drafting outlook: Unchanged

Atlanta are a desperate team. Given their fall from what was an inflated position, they should have sold up. It was a half-hearted sale that means their future will likely put them behind the teams that committed to the future now. It's more of the same from the Thrashers as they fight for fans with the dream of 4 playoff losses.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: Lost ground


Florida Panthers (1-1-1 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Samsonov, Sulzer, Skille
Significant losses: Allen, Wideman, McCabe, Higgins, Stillman, Frolik
Significant injuries: None
Drafting outlook: Greatly improved

8 points out of the playoffs. Who knows how many years without. It took guts (or insanity) to blow this apart. Tallon did that. The result is a shell of an NHL team, but a lot more draft picks. The puzzle in all this is trading Frolik and Salak who could be parts of a bright future. The Canadiens couldn't have asked for draft picks to land in less capable hands.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: No longer a rival


New Jersey devils (2-1-0 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Steckl
Significant losses: Arnott, Langenbrunner
Significant injuries: Parise
Drafting outlook: Slight improvement

New Jersey hasn't given up. And why should they? Their core is built to compete now and if they can make the playoffs from that far back, you'd have to count them as a serious contender. New Jersey has never required high draft picks to build before, so it seems they don't care about those now, instead relying on their above average scouting. Arnott and Langenbrunner out reflect the bad season they were both having. NJ taking a player means they won't lose much ground.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: Slight losses


Ottawa Senators (1-4-0 vs. Habs)Significant additions: Anderson
Significant losses: Elliott, Kovalev, Ruutu, Kelly, Campoli, Fisher
Significant injuries: Alfredsson, Gonchar
Drafting outlook: Improved

Considering the fanbases total acceptance of trades, Murray made little of this. Essentially nothing for Kovalev and Ruutu is not good trading. What's more, the valuable trade chips were held, and for what? Chris Phillips could have fetched something. Spezza even more. Sentimentality in Ottawa has botched a rebuild opportunity. The scouts that found them Hossa, Alfredsson, Havlat and co. aren't there anymore, so this should be interesting.

Relative movement vs. Montreal Canadiens: No longer a rival


Montreal's relative shift

From what I see, the Habs have lost some ground to 5 teams in all and gained some ground on 7 teams.

The good news for Habs fans is that many of the teams behind the Canadiens in the standings look to have packed it in a bit for this season. Toronto is pushing in games, but that belies their loss of quality. The only playoff outsiders that seem to be making a decent stand are the Buffalo Sabes, who I now think might make the post-season.

The bad news is that the teams ahead of them have made more serious pushes than the Canadiens to make serious runs in the playoffs. Philadelphia was already the class, and still are. Boston, Washington and Tampa Bay's GMs were more serious than Gauthier about this year vs. future years. Pittsburgh made interesting moves, but just aren't the team the standings say they are without Malkin and Crosby. They seem to realise that and didn't go wild.

The Habs currently stand 6th and look pretty good to finish about there. With a bit of luck, they'll compete well in the playoffs.
I will note that the Washington capitals must be watched from here. Last season they cruised to the playoffs, and the same team hasn't exactly struggled to remain in the top 5 this season. Arnott and Sturm are good late additions for them. Strangely losing Green for Wideman may also help.

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