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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Montreal Canadiens: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Halifax Edition

by Tyg

Being a local, I was excited to score tickets to the Habs - Bruins preseason game at the Halifax Metro Center. Sure, it's preseason and it's not like I expected much in regards to the players I would see, or the final score, but it's hockey and it's the Habs and I knew what I was getting when I bought the tickets.

For the most part I was interested in seeing three players in particular: Erik Cole, Alexei Yemelin and Peter Budaj. Naturally, I also wanted a good look at the kids, most of whom have failed to impress me in the preseason play I've watched thus far.

The Good

If Scott Gomez keeps this up, he's in for a good year. The goal was nice, but what I saw was a determination, focus and effort level that he seemed to have misplaced for most of last season. He worked hard, played smart, and had some nice chemistry with Erik Cole.

Erik Cole is a nice addition to the roster. He's big, not afraid to get his nose dirty and is faster than he looks on television. He got a bit lazy once the wheels came off and resorted to cherry picking from the blueline, but with a full NHL squad around him he's going to create time and space and he's also going to find the back of the net.

The Habs fans contingent in Halifax, Nova Scotia is much larger than I thought. If we didn't outnumber the Boston fans in that little arena (capacity just over 10,000) then we at least met them halfway. Also the count of Go Habs Go chants from fans in the street was 10-2 over people who told us they sucked. Gotta like it!

The Bad

After watching them play a full 60 minutes, I have to maintain my previous opinion that the Habs rookie prospects are completely underwhelming. There's a bit of talent amongst them, but I don't believe most will ever make the NHL, at least not with this team.

They are so busy showing off that there is little teamwork, cohesion or vision on the ice. Most of the time they are unaware of where their linemates are, and they are all far too easily knocked off the puck. I don't recall them delivering a check until well into the third period.

At one point one of the kids was literally standing against the boards watching his linemates skate by, and he was totally surprised to when his centerman passed him the puck, which he immediately turned over. There was little evidence of "hockey smarts", with perhaps Aaron Palushaj being the exception.

Frankly, none of the kids are good enough to showboat at this point, and it is in direct conflict with the teamwork philosophy that the Canadiens have worked hard to develop as a team identity in the past couple of years.

I was also disappointed in Alexei Yemelin who failed to clear the blue paint, didn't seem particularly involved in the game, and like the rest of the team, didn't bother to deliver any checks until too late in the game. Only Alex Henry got frustrated and angry, for which he took a stupid penalty.

When it comes to the vets on the squad, Hal Gill's 10 foot reach is not always going to compensate for his lack of speed and that is brutally painful to watch without PK Subban to cover for it. Mathieu Darche and Andrei Kostitsyn were completely invisible for the entire night.

The Ugly

I know the defense around Peter Budaj was brutal and didn't help, but there were also goals he absolutely should have had. From where I sat center ice I could always feel him sweat and shake whenever the Bruins got a clear shot at him. He lacks confidence and rebound control, and does not track the puck well at all. Pierre Groulx has his work cut out with him here.

There is no excuse for giving up two short-handed goals like that. The power play showed little cohesion, passing too much and shooting too little. The penalty kill was a mishmash of panic and scramble.

So there you have it. If I were Jacques Martin and had to pick a 13th forward today to make the squad, I'd probably pick Palushaj, just because I think he will do the least damage and may even grow from the experience.

I do think that despite all the depth signings of defenseman by Pierre Gauthier over the summer, if the Habs sustain even half the injuries they did last season, we will be spending to the cap again. I have little faith in the defenders that are currently available for call-up.

---
Tyg used to frequent the Old Forum during her early childhood when he father held corporate season tickets, and she fell in love with Larry Robinson. So her lifelong obsession with the Habs is entirely his fault.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Montreal Canadiens: Let's Get This Party Started!

by Willey

The 2011-2012 NHL season for the Montreal Canadiens kicks off tonight at the Bell Center, with the welcome of the visiting Dallas Stars.

I, for one, am usually a pessimistic individual when it comes to this team. I have been critical of our defense core, have despised the lack of grit and tenacity with our forward group, and have been extremely judgmental with the action—or lack thereof—of management.

Every September I sit here, or on other nameless hockey forums around the web and criticize what was done wrong, what we must do to improve and where I ultimately see this team fishing.

Now like anyone reading this, I absolutely live and breathe hockey. Before the birth of my children I would be inclined to watch 7-10 games a week, play 2-3 nights in various leagues and then of course fill my days conversing in all things hockey. Perhaps it was the birth of my daughter that changed things for me, perhaps it is just a means of maturing with age but this year is different. This year I feel, well, at ease.

Sure I still like to speak my mind when it comes to the NHL or to my beloved Habs, and I continue to play at least 2 nights a week but when it comes to the product that Pierre Gauthier has put forward, I am inclined to finally say “I believe”.

It's an easy thing to say when you are a fan of the team, but usually I am on the other side of the fence boasting about the struggles that Les Glorieux are going to feel. But this year I believe. I believe in our forward group, I believe in our defense our goaltending and our management.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but I really like Pierre Gauthier. Not in that, “Hey Pierre, whatcha doing tonight” type of way but more along the lines that I have complete confidence in his vision.

I just hope that this confidence can translate into success on the ice.

A Lack of Toughness No More

Up Front

I think it is safe to say that for many years there has been an apparent lack of physicality with this team. Sure we have had some success against our rivals in Boston and Toronto but for the most part when the physical play picks up; our team seems to show difficulty.

So what exactly was done?

Up front Gauthier allowed Jeff Halpern, Tom Pyatt and the much maligned Benoit Pouliot to all seek employment elsewhere. In their place he has secured a roster spot for Ryan White, and acquired two big players in the 6’2 power forward Erik Cole—who was 10th in the NHL in hits among forwards last season—and the 6’4 fourth line right winger Michael Blunden.

Granted it is still unknown whether Blunden will be able to secure a roster spot with the big club, but his NHL experience combined with his two-way contract now gives coach Jacques Martin options. When you add a player like the 6’2 Max Pacioretty to the mix—he missed a large portion of the season last year—it is extremely clear that we have become a lot bigger and perhaps better than any roster we have iced in the past half-decade or so.

On the Back End

The Departure of Alex Picard, James Wisniewski, Roman Hamrlik, Brent Sopel and Paul Mara means the loss of five big D-men who, apart from Wisniewski, are all 6’2 or taller.

So at first glance it appears as though we did in fact get smaller.

Yes we lost 6'4 Mara and Picard and the toughness of Wisniewski but we have replaced these elements with a group of five that are younger, quicker and ultimately better.

The team set to welcome the return of Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, combined with the acquisition of the 6’3 Jeff Woywitka and the arrival of the Russian enigma, 6’3 Alexei Emelin. As such, our D-core is set.

Forget about the rumours mongers suggesting pretty much every name under the sun. We have already replaced every name that was lost and have vastly improved in a position which was already considered our strong suit.

Do I have my my homer glasses on? Am I completely overrating these guys? Well do me a favor and compare them. Look at the five additions and the five subtractions and ask yourself, who would you rather have?

Markov or Wisniewski?
Gorges or Hamrlik?
Mara or Emelin?
Sopel or Weber?
Picard or Woywitka?

They are cheaper, younger, hungrier, quicker, and better, that's what I see.

A Lack of Depth No More

Do you remember when it seemed like our team was saving up for that ultimate vacation, but then had an issue with a leaky roof? Our GM had to spend all his money to fix that leaky roof simply to assure we made the playoffs.

Do you remember a time when the moment a forward was injured and we were obliged to try Jeff Halpern as our first line right winger? Or Travis Moen as a mainstay on the second line left wing?

Up Front

With the arrival of Cole and Pacioretty we are now faced with a scenario where our top two lines have a combination of size, skill, veterans and rookies. We also have a complimentary third line that will feature a consistent 20-goal scorer and a player who was the leading point getter in the AHL just a season ago.

We have a line-up that will allow players like Moen, White, Mathieu Darche, Blunden and Andreas Engqvist to fill a role with which they are comfortable: as fourth liners.

My line-up would look like this:

Cammalleri-Plekanec-Cole
Pacioretty-Gomez-Gionta
Desharnais-Eller-Kostitsyn
Moen-White-Darche/Blunden

Is this the best and perhaps deepest line-up we have seen perhaps since the late 90’s?

On Defense

Just a season ago we were faced with having to rush players like Brandon Nash to the NHL or having to trade away prospects, players and picks just to be able to ice a competitive line-up. Less than a year later we have a roster that has nine or 10 players who can easily be considered NHLers.

A roster which includes Markov, Emelin, Gorges, Gill, Subban, Spacek, Weber, Woywitka, Raphael Diaz and possibly even Mark Mitera or Alex Henry.

It is a group which consists of veterans and rookies, offensive players and defensive players, puck moves, shot blockers, heavy hitters, players with heavy shots, power play quarterbacks and penalty kill catalysts.

Essentially it is a group which has it all and, personally, I would ice a roster which looked something like this:

Markov-Emelin
Gorges-Subban
Gill-Weber

Spacek/Woywitka

Is this not a line-up to be optimistic with?

Final thoughts

It has been a while since I sat down to write a blog.

It was originally my intention to carry on with at least some sort of presence on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, while Kamal tended to the arrival of his beautiful baby boy. But my intentions and priorities were altered over the course of the summer with what seemed like perpetual anguish.

Although my summer was terrific as it allowed me to spend ample time with my wife and children, it was also darkened with the passing of too many members of the hockey family. Words cannot express the set of emotions which filled my body when the news of the plane crash that took the lives of so many from the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

As a father of two beautiful children, I could not begin to fathom the complexity of emotions that the friends and families must be feeling. A parent should never have to bury their child no matter what the age. In times like this it puts life in perspective.

Simply put there is more to life.

Although it may not be the most masculine thing to admit, I went home that day and sat on the couch with my three-year-old daughter, Marley, on one knee and my 10-month-old son, Quinten, on the other. Even though this is a common occurrence for me, this time was different. I sat there hugging these two pieces of joy, said nothing but cried.

Yes the NHL has become a business and everything is determined by the dollars and cents that a franchise can make. We sit here on a daily basis criticizing this player or that without a care in the world as to what happens to these guys off the ice.

We see players as commodities to be traded or sold yet at no time do we consider the sacrifices that are made on their personal life.

We see a player who misread the play and was drawn offside instead of the husband who has not seen his wife in weeks. We see a player who has missed an open net instead of the father who missed the first words or steps of their child. We see the player who refuses to fight instead of the grandfather who now suffers from Alzheimer’s.

I live by the motto that Hockey is Life. It’s a motto which defines what I am and what I love. I just know that there is more to life than just hockey. Learn from what we went through this offseason, grow from it, and let’s all become better people.

---
Willey was the shinning light among the wicked growing up as the lone Habs fan in Toronto. Pray to Holy Ghosts of the old forum and all shall be answered I was told, and just like that my family was transferred back to Montreal and away from the damned. Olé Olé Olé.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

Friday, September 16, 2011

Montreal Canadiens: The Rise and Fall of Andrei Markov

By Rene Roy

With the NHL season fast approaching, I have found myself desperate for news from the Montreal Canadiens about the coming campaign.

Well yesterday we got some, but unfortunately, its bad.

When asked about the readiness of star defenseman Andrei Markov, GM Pierre Gauthier had this to say:

"If the season started tomorrow, he would not be available to us. We hope he'll be ready for opening night against the Leafs, but no guarantees. I have guarded optimism for the team's chances this season."

Latest word is Markov has water on the knee.

Wow.

Like so many other Habs fans, I have been holding onto hope for quite some time that Markov would be back. And he certainly might be. But there are so many questions surrounding him that one can't help but wonder what he will be like when he does.

Let me share with you a little story.

My sister is a huge Markov fan. When he returned last year, for those all-too-brief seven games, she was ecstatic.

Then he went into the boards and that was that. Again.

Immediately, my mouth took over, and I blurted out something to the effect that he needs to be dumped - i.e. traded.

Well flash forward to this summer, and the Habs sign him to a three year deal. Now, I did not like this deal when it happened, simply due to the fact that Markov has not played for us for the better part of two whole seasons. After all, could we not have invested the money elsewhere instead of using it during the regular season to rent players?

Wisniewski anyone? Anyone?

I have only recently begun to immerse myself back in the world of hockey, having fallen away from it for many years. And since I did, all I have been hearing from Habs fans worldwide, is how good Markov is.

But here's the thing...He's not.

How can you call a player good when he doesn't play? That's when you call a player an ex-player.

I know, I know, its not his fault, but really, - and lets be honest here - so what? Hockey is a big business, and if you cant play, then why stay?

There are so many other young players out there, that I feel it was totally unjustified of the Habs to offer a contract of three years out, when they weren't even sure he was healthy.

By the way, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Josh Gorges have a very similar surgery around the same time as Markov? It might have only been his first compared to Markov's second, but yeah, he's ready to go.

There is no denying that Andrei Markov used to be a top shelf D-man in the NHL. There is no denying he has had a bad couple of injuries. There is also no denying that he has been nothing but a paperweight to the Montreal Canadiens for more than two years.

I could be proven wrong with this.Who knows? He might be topnotch ready for the beginning of the season. But at this point, regardless of whether he is or not, I think he has to go.

There are many quality defensemen around the league who are healthier, younger and/or better than the current Markov. Christian Erhoff would have been interesting in a Habs uniform for sure. Maybe we can get someone who can actually hit the ice and earn that 17 million dollars instead.

What do you think? Am I crazy for wanting a star level D-man who can play? Or will he be back JUST to prove me wrong?

---
HfxHabby grew up just outside of Montreal and learned early on to love the Habs. His earliest hockey memory is seeing Steve Penney play in nets.Hfxhabby is currently training his young son to be a Habs fan, to his wife's dismay. He can still name every player on the '93 Cup-winning Canadiens.

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images North America)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Free Agent Frenzy; What Will We Do?

by Willey

Wow; what an exciting time of year!

I have just spent a day bombarded with texts, emails, tweets, forum posts with a little twist of dirty diapers; welcome to the world of Free Agent Fatherhood Frenzy.

That’s right Kamal; congratulations on the birth of your baby boy. Although I am eternally hurt from your refusal to name him Willey, a wound that runs deep but is beginning to heal, welcome to the club man.

You are officially introduced to the world of juggling work, the game of hockey, your online community and of course fatherhood. It is a journey, it is troubling and difficult but there is no greater gift in life. Enjoy every minute of it my friend.

----

Here I am sitting in front of my computer with just 36 hours away from arguably the most exciting part of any NHL fans season.

Come on guys; I’m not talking about Canada Day, and no I’m not talking about the premier of Transformers 3; Dark Side of Moon - or whatever the heck it’s called. I’m talking about Free Agent Frenzy.

That time of year where we all find ourselves glued to our computers and phones hoping to get the latest scoop as our beloved teams adds those missing building blocks to what surely promises to be a Stanley Cup winning season.

OMG why did I just mention the Stanley Cup? I just felt an overwhelming nauseating feeling as the image of Zdeno Chara and the Boston Bruins hoisting the Stanley Cup just swept through my mind.

Come on Willey, think happy thoughts; think 24 Cups, think Jean Beliveau and Chris Nilan, think PK Subban and Jarred Tinordi. OK I’m better now, where was I?

Oh yes; Free Agent Frenzy. You know that can only mean one thing; Willey’s Wish List, a look at the forwards, Defense and goaltending.

Goaltending

Realistically what is there to say? The doubts that many of us had going into last season have been answered and it is obvious more than ever that Carey Price is the man.

So if we know that he is going to “Carey” the majority of the work load then the only possible question that remains is who will be his back-up?

Um….how about anyone? Mathieu Garon, Jose Theodore, Martin Biron, Marty Turco, Johan Hedberg; I mean really, take your pick?

Ok, Ok stop harassing me. If you want a name that badly then I will give you one, I say bring back Auld. I mean for a million dollars or less we have a guy who was above .500 with a more than respectable GAA and save percentage so what's wrong with that?

Besides, I need another year of: “he’s big he’s bald, he’s Alex Auld” to digest.

Defense

Today we received confirmation that Roman Hamrlik would not be returning, that James Wisniewski was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a seventh round pick and that Yannick Weber has been signed for two additional years; translation; our defense is pretty much set.

Je suis Andrei Markov, je suis Alexei Emelin, je suis PK Subban, je suis Hal Gill, je suis Josh Gorges, je suis Jaroslav Spacek and je suis Yannick Weber; ladies and gentleman your 2011-12 Montreal Canadiens defense core!

Whoa, whoa, whoa lady, pump the breaks! Do you really think I would just sit by and accept this as status quo? Do you really think my years of bitching and moaning about the lack of toughness would simply be tossed to the sideline just because we have seven guys already on the roster?

I’m sorry but four Europeans? Only three players taller than 6’0? This is just not going to happen.

So let the bitching begin.

First things first, is grandpa Spacek really still on this team? He was old when we signed him, so I figured he’d be collecting his pension by now, not anchoring our third D pairing. I mean seriously why not just bring back Butch Bouchard or something.

I have no problem with Markov, Emelin, Subban, Gill and Gorges; in fact I think these five men form what may in fact be one of the best units in the Eastern Conference. Add in a guy like Yannick Weber who is still young and improving and truth be told I like this team. But I’m sorry but where is the depth my friends?


One little injury and we are once again having to part ways with picks and prospects to wait for it, fix our leaking roof. Come on guys, enough with the patching let’s just start replacing the bloody thing.


So who exactly is on my radar? Apparently he is on the radar of the Chicago Blackhawks as well because his negotiating rights were traded last night; Steve Montador.


Montador is not overly big at just 6’1 and 215lbs but he is a right handed shot, is tough as nails and can play any situation be it five on five, on the PK or on the PP.

Take a quick look at his career and you’ll also notice that his stats are truly not far behind that of James Wisniewski, with the exception of one thing; his cost.

So what am I willing to offer Mr. Montador. Hmmm let’s see, how about a two-year contract at $2.25 million per season.


What Next

Believe it or not I am happy going with 8 Defensemen on this team. One little tweak of adding a right handed depth defenseman and am ready to go.

Sure I would still like to see the salary of Spacek find its way to a team like Florida or Phoenix but as we discovered last season injuries can occur at any moment. And as my philosophy dictates, a team is only as good as the depth in the organization.

Andrei Markov-Alexei Emelin
Hal Gill-PK Subban
Josh Gorges-Steve Montador

Spacek/Weber

The Forwards

Here is the biggie and despite the chastising I am sure to get from my fellow Habs fans, Scott Gomez is part of my roster for the upcoming season. I agree with you that he is not worth what he is paid. I know that he did not perform and in many ways hurt us out there, I get that but let’s look at this in a different way.

Gomez cannot possibly have a worse season meaning we can pretty much assure we are going to get better numbers from him. Secondly I am a firm believer that the most important element of a team is the character and locker room. From what I understand Gomez is the glue that holds a lot of the pieces together. I do not want to mess with that chemistry. So with that said I see only minor changes needed.

Sure we can offer huge money to Raffi Torres or Jamie Langenbrunner or heck even Brad Richards, but it is not the root I want to travel. I do not see the need to go out and offer huge money to a player when I think we have the necessary players already in the organization.

In order to take a step forward we simply need to address one missing component, toughness.

New Additions

Anthony Stewart; Stewart is a 6’2 inch, 220 lbs power forward from Lasalle, Qc. He was a highly touted prospect who excelled for Canada at the WJC but who has not quite lived up to expectations at the NHL level.

What he provides however is a smooth skating, big bodied winger who plays a North-south game; finishes his checks, will drop the gloves if the situation presents itself and can play any of the three forward positions.

What I like best is the fact that Stewart has the body to play on a fourth line, has the defensive awareness to play on the third line and the skill set to substitute on the second line as a short term solution. Stewart signed on a 3 year $6 million contract

Mike Rupp. Rupp is a 6’5 , 230lbs beast. He will never be anything more than a fourth line player with the odd shift on the third line however Rupp is the type of guy the fans and coaches love.

He is a great skater, and by all accounts tremendous in the locker room. Rupp always finishes his checks, sticks up for teammates whenever called upon, plays with his heart on his sleeve and can be used regularly five on five or on the PK.

Rupp signed on a 2 year $2.5 million contract

Next on my list is; well actually nobody. Perhaps I am of the minority but I do not see the need to go out and sign a big ticket item for the same of signing a big ticket item.

If a name like Jaromir Jagr or Jason Arnott joins the team to complete that top line duo of Cammalleri and Plekanec then I will surely welcome them with open arms as it it make our club that much better, but I firmly believe that we have a good team that can do some serious damage in this league.


--------

So that's it folks. One move on defense and two simple depth moves with the forwards. Moves that can assure us that players like Travis Moen and Mathieu Darche never has to see first or second line ice duty.


Simply put, moves that allow Gauthier to start renovating other parts of the house instead of investing more time and energy in that damn leaking roof.

Who installed that roof anyway?

----

Willey was the shinning light among the wicked growing up as the lone Habs fan in Toronto. Pray to Holy Ghosts of the old forum and all shall be answered I was told, and just like that my family was transferred back to Montreal and away from the damned. Olé Olé Olé.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images North America)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Montreal Canadiens: The Season That Almost Was...

by HfxHabby


I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Kamal for giving me a shot at being a big-time writer on HabsAddict.com. I look forward to the many comments and insults which are sure to follow me on here!

Now that the formalities are out of the way, lets get down to business.

With Round One of the draft in the books writing about it seems like a logical choice for my first post. However, since it's pretty well covered on the Interweb, I thought I would pick a different topic.

So instead I give you "The Season That Almost Was".

As the entire hockey world knows, the 2010-2011 Habs made an early exit from the playoffs this year, losing in a heart-wrenching series against their long-standing nemesis, the Boston Bruins. While some say that they were outplayed, I have a few problems with that, given how good the Canadiens were this year.

Don't forget that the Montreal Canadiens won their season series against the Bruins this year, four games to two. Forget the so called Beatdown in Boston. The Habs only lost that game by two goals, remember?

They also won their games against Vancouver, two games to none. Oh and they also won their season series versus San Jose and Tampa Bay. The Canadiens really only had problems with the powerhouses in the West, and that's sort of forgivable since they hardly get to play them anymore.

I also think they would have had a fantastic shot against Philadelphia, what with the Flyers' goaltending woes and the probable return of Max Pacioretty.

When you compare the team's numbers to the Vancouver Canucks, Montreal actually looks very good.

Montreal was in a tight divisional race all season, with three teams in the Northeast making it into the post season. Vancouver, on the other hand, walked away with their division, setting the bar so high—no other team in the Northwest made the playoffs.

Montreal won 14 of their divisional games and Vancouver won 18. Not too bad considering Montreal was in a much more skilled division.

In inter-conference play, Montreal won eight games and Vancouver won 11. Again, very comparable numbers.

However, in their own respective conference Montreal not only looks good with 35 wins versus 45 for Vancouver, but if you factor in the goals-for and goals-against Montreal—had they scored maybe 20 more goals in the regular season—would have been a top shelf team.

After all, the Habs had one player over 50 points in the regular season and only three over 40.

Vancouver had five players at 50 points or more, three of them were over 70 and they even had a 104-point season from a Daniel Sedin.

A few more goals goes a long way. So does an offensive coaching style and if not offensive, then at least a little more balanced.

If Montreal had a healthier blueline—a la Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov—and a slightly bigger set of forwards—a la Pacioretty—then there is no doubt in my mind they would have gone to the big show.

But, unfortunately, the title of this piece is not "The Season that is."

So that's the way I see it but what do you think? Did Montreal have nearly all the pieces in place to drink from the Cup?

---
HfxHabby grew up just outside of Montreal and learned early on to love the Habs. His earliest hockey memory is seeing Steve Penney play in nets. Hfxhabby is currently training his young son to be a Habs fan, to his wife's dismay, and he can still name every player on the '93 Cup winning Canadiens.

(Photo by None/Getty Images North America)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

2011 NHL Draft: Why the Montreal Canadiens Need to Trade Down

by Willey

Guess who’s back? Back again. Willey’s back. Tell your friends. Guess who’s back, guess who’s back, guess who’s back, guess who’s back?

Sorry, got carried away there.

I know, I know, it has truly been a while and I apologize but life has thrown me a few curve balls of late. It’s tough to sit down and contemplate the hockey season when your 8-month-old son faces health problems which give you a scare. But fortunately we appear to finally have things under control.

So with that enormous weight lifted off my shoulders I sit back, put my feet up and get back to one of those true passions in my life; Le Bleu Blanc Rouge.

I realize that the timing of this is horrific. A passion restored despite the Habs being eliminated at the hands of our arch rival Boston Bruins—who eventually went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.

Yes the pain is there, and yes there is a lot of bitterness and anger towards some of the players on this roster. But despite the hostility, my thoughts are focused on a simple question; what next?


The Draft

"Le Club de Hockey Canadiens est fier de selectionner..."

With the elimination of the Habs in the first round of the playoffs Montreal will sit in the 17th spot come this week's draft.

The 17th spot is never a bad position to be in. Although right in the middle of the pack, there have been some true impact players chosen in later spots from guys like Ryan Getzlaf to Claude Giroux. The key is to do your due diligence and determine what player will ultimately fit the best.

Like any fan I'd love to see GM Pierre Gauthier pull a rabbit out of his hat by trading up to secure a top-10 pick, drafting a potential franchise player. But the Habs are simply not in a position to move up.

With the loss of Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges in the 2010-11 season, Gauthier was obliged to part ways with a second round pick for James Wizniewski, a third round pick for Brent Sopel and a fifth round pick for Paul Mara. With a team already thin in organizational depth there is a major need to hang onto every pick that we have.

So what will Gauthier do? Oh the questions I have!

Will the team ultimately decide to stay put and take the best player on the board with the 17th choice? Will Gauthier part ways with one or more players currently on the roster to secure some of these lost picks? Is this the year we finally watch our scouting staff acquire that perpetually elusive big center?

So many questions and so many possibilities, it makes for great television and much debate until a name is ultimately called at the drafting podium.

So I ask you a simple question: are you more interested in what happens at the draft table on June 24th or are you nervous with anticipation wondering what I would do?

I think I know the answer.


GM for a day

Forget about the draft and forget about the pending RFA and UFA players, this is my world people. I am fed up of watching every single team in the NHL draft big bodied players while we sit back and take what we perpetually hear as “the best player on the board”.

I mean really? Does this organization really think we are just cattle who take all the BS that is thrown our way when year after year the best player on the board isn’t even tall enough to sit on the big rides at LaRonde?

Why is it that every single hockey player characterized as somewhere between legal dwarf and just vertically challenged finds his way to the Bleu Blanc Rouge?

Come on already, let’s start getting bigger. Forget the “best player on the board”, let’s get the biggest, the meanest, the dirtiest; you know the type of guy we have all wanted since Chris Nilan hung up his skates so many moons ago?

So this is my world now people and in my world I am the one running the show. And in my world I am sliding down in the draft to select……Ok wait sorry, let me back this up a little bit because I am getting ahead of myself.

If Jamie Oleksiak or Tyler Biggs are available at 17 then you can absolutely forget what I am about to say. I am taking either one of these guys in a heartbeat but let’s be honest here for a second, I know that you know, that I know that you know, that Jamie Oleksiak and Tyler Biggs are not going to be available at 17 so why am I even wasting your time with this?

So where was I?

Oh yes, as I was saying, in the 2011 NHL entry draft I am sliding down to somewhere in the 22-30 range. Heck I might even consider sliding to the 2nd round if it means securing the guy I want.

Am I nuts? I think we all know that I am but remember this is my world and in my world I run the show. Quite frankly, there are some great players available later in the draft who can all help this club going forward.

By trading away our first round pick Gauthier, errr or should I say Willey, would be able to acquire as high as an additional second round choice (which we currently do not have) or something like a third and fifth round selection. In other words, continue to get the guy you want but equally secure some additional picks.

So who is that man that would facilitate a slide?

Put it this way, “With our first pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft Le Club de Hockey Canadiens est fier de selectionner Boone Jenner of the Oshawa Generals”.

TSN has Jenner ranked 26th, ISS has him ranked 38th and the Hockey News 40th. Regardless of his ranking he is exactly the type of player that fits the Gauthier and Jacques martin mold.

Jenner is a 6’1 and 195lbs center from the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. He has great vision, a keen hockey sense and has some fantastic offensive abilities. He also scored at a point-per-game pace in both the regular season and playoffs.

But what sets him apart is his work ethic, leadership qualities and ability to play a gritty two-way game.

Jenner may not be the offensive savior of this club going forward and he is not the next Milan Lucic, but he can easily become a fan favorite. In my opinion, with time he would form a fantastic one-two punch as a line mate of the much anticipated Louis Leblanc.

And there it is. Boone Jenner is a member of the Montreal Canadiens and I can go to sleep knowing that in my world, we got “the best player on the board”.

At least in my mind we did. But what do you think?

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Willey was the shining light among the wicked growing up as the lone Habs fan in Toronto. Pray to Holy Ghosts of the old forum and all shall be answered I was told, and just like that my family was transferred back to Montreal and away from the damned. Olé, Olé, Olé!

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Montreal Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier; between a rock and a hard place

by Willey

Without a doubt the NHL trade deadline is the most exciting part of an NHL season with the possible exception of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It is the time of year where we all play arm-chair GM, while dreaming of the possible acquisitions of players who have long been rumoured to be destined for the Bleu Blanc Rouge.

This year in particular, with the almost constant dissatisfaction with Scott Gomez and Andrei Kostitsyn and with more than $4 million in cap space available, the stars seemed aligned for Pierre Gauthier to not only make his mark as GM but ultimately transform the Habs from a pretender to a contender.

Unfortunately, the consistent aspirations of adding that elusive power-forward did not come to pass. When all was said and done the Montreal Canadiens decided to do little more than to boost the depth at the goaltender position with the acquisition of Drew McIntyre; now destined for the Hamilton Bulldogs.

From a fans perspective, this lack of movement from Pierre Gauthier is quite disheartening. With more than $4 million in cap space—potentially more available with the LTIR to Jaroslav Spacek—and with glaring holes on offense, we were expecting much but received little.

When you hear of players like James Neal or Chris Stewart being dealt just prior to the trade deadline, you have no choice but to cringe and ask why these sorts of deals are not made by Montreal.

Take a quick glance at Twitter or any hockey discussion forum, and you will see the passionate pleas of fan base crying for the immediate resignation of Gauthier and Jacques Martin.

Is this discontent just? Did Gauthier miss out on an opportunity or did the market just not transform, as was predicted from within the organization?

Seriously folks, sit back, put your feet up, take a deep breath and just relax for a minute.


Asking Price was Simply Too High

Take a quick glance at any one of my other blogs and you’ll notice a consistent message: The Montreal Canadiens need to get bigger and they need to get tougher. It is a philosophy which is likely shared by the majority of the Habs fan base around the world.

Gauthier could have very easily acquired Zenon Konopka or Chris Neil or Dustin Penner if he so chose to, but the market at this year’s deadline was a seller’s market.

Out of 30 NHL teams only about six of them are truly out of playoff contention. That translates into 24 teams trying to feed off the jettisoned players from Florida, Edmonton, Atlanta, St. Louis, Colorado and Ottawa.

The market for players was, in my opinion, dictated two weeks ago when Tomas Kaberle—who is a good puck moving defenseman but far from being considered an elite player—was traded for a top prospect, a first round pick and a second round pick.

At yesterday's trade deadline this kind of mind-bogglingly high price continued to be demanded.

The asking price for a fourth line center with less than a handful of points, in Konopka, was a second round draft pick. Better yet, a 6’4 forward who will net you only around 25 goals a year, in Dustin Penner, was dealt for a top rated prospect, a first round pick and a conditional third round pick.

Are you serious? Talk about overpaying for what's out there!

Let’s be honest here ladies and gentleman, it was a classic case where supply was much lower than the demand which ultimately allowed the seller's to dictate their own terms.


Too Many Injuries

When Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and now Jaro Spacek all go down with injuries, it takes assets to maintain a competitive line-up. I hate to paraphrase but Gauthier said it best; “You save and save for a great vacation but then ultimately dip heavily into those savings to fix a leaky roof”.

Our second round draft pick was sent packing in order to secure James Wizniewski. Our fourth round pick and Ben Maxwell was used to secure a Brent Sopel and finally our fifth round selection was used to secure the depth of Paul Mara.

Had injuries not been a factor in the current season, Gauthier could have easily parted ways with these assets to secure a player like a Brad Boyes or possibly a Jason Arnott for instance, but circumstances required him to act early to allow the team to maintain its course to the playoffs.


Where do we go from here?

I have previously stated that when Gauthier was originally named GM of this team, my rage was expressed throughout every possible hockey forum I knew about.

My feelings however have done a complete 180 and I now stand by Gauthier because I like what he has done.

It started with the 2010 Entry Draft.

Some GM’s take the best player available when their turn comes around, but Gauthier targeted a player he wanted and moved up in the draft to secure that pick for Jarred Tinordi.

Now he refuses to make a trade and give up more assets then this team can afford.

Gauthier determined a price for the guys he sought out to target but when the asking price surpassed his evaluations, he stood pat. This is a sign of a man in control of his emotions and who acts based on reason and not emotion.

Furthermore, it is time to finally see what we have in the AHL.

Why try to secure Jim Vandermeer when you have a guy like Alex Henry more than capable? Why acquire the rights to a declining J.P. Dumont when Aaron Palushaj appears to be knocking on the door? Why beef up down the middle with a Paul Gaustad, when the development of Andrew Conboy as a dependable fourth line center is on the horizon?

In other words, why look at what your neighbour is selling before you take a look at your own back yard.

With that I say good-day fellow Habbers, just have a little faith my friends.

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Willey was the shinning light among the wicked growing up as the lone Habs fan in Toronto. Pray to Holy Ghosts of the old forum and all shall be answered I was told, and just like that my family was transferred back to Montreal and away from the damned. Olé Olé Olé.