Friday, October 30, 2009

Show Kostitsyn Patience!

Seems like everyone is ready to give up on not just Sergei Kostitsyn these days, but his slow-starting brother Andrei as well. He's become the new whipping boy for the team in the press, as well as among a large section of the fans. Despite not apologizing for the false report of criminal activity last year, the Francophone portion of the media haven't cut him any slack either. To be fair, Andrei really isn't doing himself any favours with 1 goal and 3 assists over 12 games, but to run a 24 year old top 10 draft pick out of town in his 3rd full NHL season is just not smart.

Kostitsyn has the unfortunate tag of being a top pick in the highly coveted 2003 NHL Entry Draft, and even worse, the guy picked right after him is Jeff Carter, who scored 46 goals last season. This leaves a sour taste in the mouths of Habs fans over what could have been. Many are bitter that despite producing many solid NHL players for the last 9 or so drafts, we have yet to bring in and keep a super star. It's for this very reason however, that I think it's very unwise to get too down on our Belorussian who's on the big club.

It's easy for everyone to see that Andrei Kostitsyn is very talented, he's a great skater, he's physical, and he has one of the best wrist shots I've seen in the NHL. When watching Kostitsyn it's easy to see a game-breaker in the future, but many don't believe he'll ever hit his potential. I'd like to illustrate a parallel here that might change some minds.

I think it's fairly accepted that while AHL experience is good, NHL experience is much more valuable, especially to European born players. Because Jeff Carter was picked right after Kostitsyn, he's often the most lamented miss by Gainey since he came aboard. Well Carter came into the NHL earlier than Kostitsyn, so I think it's necessary that we look at the first few years in the NHL for both of them and see if there's a massive difference in production.

Jeff Carter

1st season [05-06] GP - 81, G - 23, A - 19, P - 42, +10, Shots - 189, Sh% - 12.17

A very solid rookie year, breaking the 20 goal barrier at a young age and showing promise defensively as a +10 on a pretty good team. Played against secondary defenders as the Gagne - Forsberg - Knuble line drew the other team's top defense pairings most nights.

2nd season [06-07] GP - 62, G - 14, A - 23, P - 37, -17, Shots - 215, Sh% - 6.51

A slight regression offensively on a team that took a nosedive. Lingering ankle injury surely hampered performance. Took a lot more shots with more responsibility, but shooting % took a massive nosedive. Defensive play likely looks worse than it is as Philadelphia is the worst team in the league.

3rd season [07-08] GP - 82, G - 29, A - 24, P - 53, +6, Shots - 260, Sh% - 11.15

Big jump in goals as injury woes are put behind, but a fairly large regression in assists. The regression and injury problems of Carter and Richards made overzealous new GM Holmgren sign Daniel Briere to a massive contract to shore up the center position after Forsberg was traded. Defensive play looks a lot better as the team improves by leaps and bounds. Took slightly less shots per game, but to greater effectiveness. Learning to pick his spots.

4th season [08-09] GP - 82, G - 46, A - 38, P - 84, +23, Shots - 342, Sh% - 13.45

With Briere injured Carter takes the opportunity to break out offensively. A massive improvement in every category, firing more shots to even greater efficiency. Steps into elite status in the NHL. Makes a lot of Montreal fans very angry.

Andrei Kostitsyn

1st season [07-08] GP - 78, G - 26, A - 27, P - 53, +15, Shots - 156, Sh% - 16.67

A very solid rookie season. Matches Carter's 3rd year in points in his first year, while playing better at even strength and shooting less. Played on one of the best lines in the NHL in the last half of the season with Kovalev in Plekanec. Most reviews of Kostitsyn are entirely positive, with the one suggestion that he shoot much more to take advantage of his powerful wrister. 3 more goals, 8 more assists, than Carter's respective rookie season while playing against top defenders.

2nd season [08-09] GP - 74, G - 23, A - 18, P - 41, -7, Shots - 169, Sh% - 13.61

A noticeable regression in all categories except shots. A head injury to start the year slows him down for quite awhile. After going on an offensive tear in mid-season a "scandal" breaks in the news involving him and his little brother, and his play drops off big time. Numbers also suffer as the entire team struggles offensively as compared to the season before, and chemistry doesn't seem to exist.

Preaching Patience

Everyone is all over Kostitsyn right now as he's struggling to produce, and many find him to be lazy or invisible on the ice. Not that it's a great comparison, but Brett Hull was also seen this way. Hull was often completely invisible during games until he scored, then scored a couple more times. Kostitsyn isn't the same kind of player Tomas Plekanec is, he likes to sneak in behind the play and do something dynamic. He may never muck it up in the corners the way some want him too, even though he has the physical ability to do it. In the 2007 offseason Paul Holmgren was so unsatisfied with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter's progression that he went out and overpaid Daniel Briere, a move that is now really hurting the Flyers long term. In Montreal would we have been any different with Carter than how we treat Kostitsyn? Had we drafted Jeff Carter with the 10th overall pick in 2003, and he took the same path of progression that he has taken, would we have been patient with him as a young prospect, or thrown him to the wolves? It's impossible to say, but we need to make sure that hindsight isn't 20/20 on Kostitsyn in just a few short years, we need to have some foresight and recognize that players take different amounts of time to get to their prime. It's possible, even likely that by the end of this year Kostitsyn will break the 30 goal barrier for the first time, and next year we have no clue what the limit could be. With the parallels to Carter's NHL progression, we may be sitting (and shitting) on the next superstar for the Montreal Canadiens. Patience please...

All images courtesy of Gazette

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Up and Down Season Is To Be Expected

No matter how many times we're told this team is a "science experiment", as Pierre McGuire in his infinite lack of tact puts it, it's hard to just sit down and accept that this team still isn't going to play it's best hockey night in and night out. We had a really nice streak going in 3 games against sub-par teams, and one game against a good team in the Rangers. Not to say that the team didn't deserve all four wins, or didn't play great, but we were the beneficiaries of some less than stellar competition. That said tonight's ugly affair shouldn't be seen as the story of the season either.

It is tough to judge just how good (or bad) these Canadiens are so early, but I think we need to look closely at both the positives and the negatives to understand that this is still a process taking place over 82 games, in a season that was supposed to be a write-off after Markov went down in Game 1. Of course there's more negatives in the rear view mirror tonight than there was two days ago, or even this morning, but a 6-6-0 record after 12 games without our number one defenseman with a team just getting to know each other is nothing to scoff at. That said, let's take care of the negatives first so we can end on a positive note.


Our defense is still a work in progress. It seems like Marc-Andre Bergeron alternates a good defensive night and a bad one, and that's something that needs to improve for him. Against the Islanders he was very quick and separated players from pucks very well, tonight he was shaky and unsure of himself, which can't happen against Malkin and Crosby. Gill also had a bad night, although not nearly as bad as some would have you believe. His second penalty was a bad call, but I thought it was a penalty as well before there was a replay so you can't blame the refs there. Spacek is still not playing hockey the way he can, and that's frustrating a lot of fans. He finally got his first goal, but he needs to be more of a leader defensively, and compliment Hamrlik's good play thus far. Hamrlik has been beaten one-on-one a few times of late, but let's be honest, he isn't a #1 defenseman and although he's stepped it up admirably, he should probably be seeing secondary scorers instead of first lines all the time at his age. But until Markov comes back, Hamrlik and Spacek will be forced to keep playing against the best competition the other side can muster. Speaking of Markov, he's still going to be injured a long time, and that still sucks.

The flu is likely going to make a run through this team in the coming week, as Gomez and Metropolit have already come down with it. For the first time this season the top line actually looked pretty bad. Gionta couldn't handle the puck tonight to save his life, Cammalleri was mostly invisible, and Gomez was the best of the three while suffering from the flu. Andrei Kostitsyn and Latendresse continue to compete for top 6 forward spots, but instead of trying to outplay each other, they're seeing who can play themselves OUT of a spot first. There were a couple games where AK46 has looked like he was going to take off, unfortunately I can't say the same thing about Latendresse. Gui needs to take a personal day to stay on the practice ice and practice getting shots on the net. Then he needs to practice hitting pucks quickly that are bouncing or in awkward places in traffic in front of the net. He says he wants to be the next Tomas Holmstrom, but I don't see the quick hands or hand-eye coordination necessary in Latendresse to be that guy. Pacioretty should probably be playing in the AHL. He's still too impatient with the puck and makes the wrong play in the offensive zone most of the time. Some confidence for him would be good.

Neither Halak or Price have been world beaters so far this year, aside from Price's first two spectacular games of course. Rumours abounded about Price being traded after Halak's little winning streak, but there are some bad trends that Halak's ardent fans fail to see. Like Price, Halak is a young goaltender who is not ready to be a 60 start per year guy. His numbers looked really good the last while after facing 2 terrible teams in 3 games. Halak also plays much better at home than on the road, by a very wide margin. There seems to be a rule among Habs fans (the guys at Lions in Winter for one) that great goalies find ways to keep the goal totals of the other team to 3 or less on most nights, and according to this rule Halak worries me a bit. He has played good for the most part, but he's let in 4 goals in every game he's played against last year's playoff teams. He can't be blamed for tonight's loss in it's entirety, but the first two goals were not good, and if he stops them this is a completely different game. I like Halak's potential just like I like Price's potential, but until Halak can play as good against the good teams, and win away from the Bell Centre, I don't think he's starting goalie material. Price was also not great on either goal tonight, but he has the built in excuse of coming in cold against the Cup champions. I don't think that excuses it, he needs to be better, especially on that Kunitz breakaway. He made the first move, which is a rookie mistake.


Now for the better part, starting with the defense. Paul Mara has been quietly putting together a solid year, if unspectacular. Mara hits, makes plays and protects his teammates. And aside from that I met him last week and he's a nice guy with an epic beard. Josh Gorges continues his progression from last year and has been the most consistent defenseman on the club. Josh hasn't had an off game this year, and its great to see him turn into a leader on this team. Bergeron seems to need some time every game on the powerplay, but once he gets his stride he can be lethal with the man advantage. He's no Markov, but when Markov comes back, I think Bergeron's effectiveness goes up 100%. Hal Gill, despite constant heckling, has been effective on the PK and even 5-on-5 in limited doses. I've watched Gill closely this season to see if he was as bad as people want to believe, but to be honest he's been very good defensively for the most part. The Czech pairing of Hamrlik and Spacek has been good and will continue to improve. It's been noticed by many that Spacek plays worse during the last 10 minutes of the third, which to me says his conditioning wasn't great in the offseason, so we're only going to see better from him going forward.

Cammalleri has the skill and determination combo that no forward has had for the Montreal Canadiens since Saku Koivu before his first major injury. By the end of this season Montreal fans will forget about Alex Kovalev, who deserves to be forgotten anyway. Gionta and Gomez have both been better than their numbers indicate in this young season, and the speed and tenacity of the top line is going to be consistently lethal all year long. Tomas Plekanec might be the second best forward on this team, behind Cammalleri. In fact in some ways Plekanec may be better. I was worried Plekanec would be the same as we saw last year, but it seems like Kovalev really dragged him down in 08/09. Plekanec is still flirting with a point per game 12 games into the season, and when he gets consistent linemates he'll be even better. With 18 hits in 12 games Andrei Kostitsyn, although not producing offensively, is not playing a soft game. This is a good sign to me as last year when he was playing poorly he was not laying out hits. This year he seems less afraid to get mixed up in the rough stuff, perhaps inspired by the play of the little guys and Plekanec. Lapierre has started to get his speed and edge back in the last couple games, after starting slow out of the gate. I'm guessing his offseason surgery had something to do with his slow start as Lapierre usually doesn't take shifts off. Metropolit has been excellent, much better than I possibly imagined. I don't think think he'll keep his current pace, but a career high of 35-40 points is in the realm of possibility. Moen has also been an offensive surprise, and the will to drive to the net is something the Canadiens have been lacking for a long time. I was one person of a few who defended Chipchura in his first few games, missing training camp with an injury it was clear he would take some time to adjust to the NHL game. Well he's adjusted, and he's been pretty damn good the last few games. He looks like he belongs as a shutdown center/faceoff specialist. D'agostini has improved defensively in pretty much every game, and if he can get his scoring going on a semi-regular basis we're in for a treat.

Both goaltenders have had good and bad games, and both will need to be better if this team is going to make the playoffs. That said I don't feel uncomfortable with either goalie in net, as each will give us a chance to win on most nights. As the players become more accustomed to Martin's system, and O'Byrne is due to come back from injury soon, our defense gets better and better, which leads to better goaltending. I don't have anything remarkably negative or positive to say about our young goaltending tandem, but hopefully by the 20 game mark both of them can give me something to write about in the positive section

Take on the season thus far

If you would have told me on September 30th that we would lose Markov in the first game of the season, O'Byrne in the second, but still manage to be 6-6-0 after 12 games, I would have told you I thought you were lying. 4-8-0 maybe, 3-9-0 more likely. The five straight losses were annoying, but they were to be expected with a team struggling to come together on the fly. What's important in this season is that we maintain a .500 record until Markov comes back, and use that as a springboard going into the postseason. I don't care if we make it in 1st in the East or 8th, once we get in I just want to see good hockey from a team that trusts each other and plays for each other. This means that even maintaining our current pace is above what was predicted for this team, and in all honesty satisfactory considering the circumstances. The best part of this situation is that we can see improvements in the way the team is playing every game, and we might end up far ahead of schedule in wins by the time Markov returns. How nice does Spacek and Hamrlik sound for the SECOND wave of the PP?

Sidenote: I told you all about Cammalleri. Right after I write a blog he scores 5 in 4 games!

All images courtesy of Gazette

Friday, October 16, 2009

Should We Be Worried?

It's six games in now, and Mike Cammalleri has yet to light the lamp. It's got a lot of people very worried, and in the post game interview tonight he stated that if he could have converted on a couple of his chances this season we might be 4-2 instead of 2-4. While this is true we can't expect a 30-40 goal scorer to score every game. Players not named Alexander Ovechkin do go through extended scoring slumps. Luckily for us we can look at Cammalleri's recent career history, and find out that he experienced some slumps last year in the west as well. Mike didn't score in 6 straight games from November 1st to 9th, another 6 straight from March 6th to 18th, and and in 8 straight games from March 25th to April 7th. When you look at that it doesn't look very good for Mike, but he still scored 39 goals, which means he scores in bunches. Upon further inspection, he scored his 39 goals in 29 games. If Cammalleri doesn't score for another six games, I'll be the first to be annoyed, but let's cut him a little bit of slack for the time being, as it's not for lack of effort. Unlike our last expected offensive leader (Alex Kovalev) Cammalleri doesn't float around the ice and play well for 2 minutes of ice time every 20. He works hard everywhere he goes and creates chances for his linemates. It's because of this that I don't feel that stressed out that he hasn't lit the lamp.

Another reason to not be that worried is the re-emergence of some secondary scoring. We haven't exactly taken over a game yet, but we have got a second line pair that seems to be getting better every game in Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. It took a few games for Tomas' solid play to rub off on Andrei, but tonight it finally seemed to click, and we're in for an improvement there. So far the lines haven't managed to click on the same night, but that will come with time. Other positives to come out of this game include Pacioretty looking a bit better, as well as getting his first point of the season, and Shawn Belle looking very much like he belongs in the NHL. He made a couple mistakes during the game, but that's to be expected in his first game up. He plays a safe, simple game and he has great speed which he showed a couple times when Colorado forwards got behind him, and he promptly caught them. Kyle Chipchura is also looking better every game, and I can't wait until Metropolit is back so Chips can shift to the wing and bump out Laraque. One thing that worries me so far this season is the play of D'agostini, who won't remain with the organization much longer if he can't find a way to contribute. He's been looking lost in every game he's played but the first against Toronto, and Jacques doesn't seem to have much faith in him. Hopefully my seething optimism isn't too annoying.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Road Trip in Bullet Points

  • As I said before the season even started, Max Pacioretty is not ready to play big minutes in the NHL, and is definitely not a dependable top six scorer.
  • Georges Laraque looks like a much better player this season.
  • Off the ice Georges Laraque is still every bit as pretentious and annoying as last season.
  • Hal Gill is getting an unfair shake by the fans, he's slow, but look at Robert Lefebvre's breakdown of the Canadien's on the ice during the penalty kill.
  • The penalty kill is atrocious, but getting better.
  • Brian Gionta is better than Alex Kovalev.
  • Carey Price is going to have a bounce back year, although the next week will likely be touch and go after the team abandoned him in his home coming.
  • Aside from Vancouver, Montreal has been in every game, and we probably should be 4-1 right now instead of 2-3, eventually we're going to get the bounces and calls to go our way if the effort is maintained.
  • When Mike Cammalleri finally does light the lamp, it will be followed by an explosion of offense. He's just too good to struggle much longer.
  • Scott Gomez isn't going to be a point per game player, but he's good enough defensively to make up for it, and sometimes he creates plays and doesn't end up with credit on the scoreboard. Is he worth his salary? No, but I'm satisfied with his current play.
  • Jacques Martin doesn't like young players very much. You can tell by many of his questionable coaching decisions in Edmonton that he would rather have a veteran like Laraque on the ice than someone who can score but is more of a risk in D'agostini.
  • Paul Mara is surprisingly solid, and could be one of the steals of the summer.
  • Fans need to remember that Spacek was expected to work the powerplay with Markov, not by himself, so expecting a 50-60 point season out of him is ridiculous.
  • This team has more character throughout than last year's team.
  • A 2-3-0 record with the Habs being in it 4/5 games on a five game road trip with an entirely new team, coaching staff and system, with Markov gone, is 100 times better than anyone expected this team to do.
  • The two people who left in the off season that both fans and the media complained most about Gainey letting go, Kovalev and Komisarek, are having terrible starts with their new teams. Kovalev is disinterested and floating with untalented linemates, and Komisarek is a focal point in everything that's wrong with the 0-5-1 Leafs
  • Bob Gainey is a better General Manager than Brian Burke, and he was completely right when he said that the Leafs were building a team that wasn't in line with the way the NHL is evolving, and it makes me grin an annoyingly arrogant grin.
  • Andrei Kostitsyn is improving as the season gets older, and he'll still have a breakout year.
  • Tomas Plekanec will be largely responsible for Andrei's breakout. His hard work all over the ice and renewed offensive confidence are excellent to see. The backhander in the dying seconds of the middle period against Calgary is something we never saw from Plekanec last year, he was trying too hard instead of following his instincts, which are that of an excellent player.
  • We've currently alienated the top 6 forward missing from our lineup, and he's lingering in Hamilton awaiting a trade that likely won't happen. On the bright side, Washington had to SUE Alexander Semin to get him to play there, and look how that turned out.
  • This may be a bit harsh, but Gregory Stewart is not an NHL player, and he never will be.
  • Kyle Chipchura isn't as bad as his stats make him look, and his skating is better than most fans believe.
  • Travis Moen is a third or fourth line player at best, and Martin needs to remember that and stop looking like Carbo. Moen played his best two games of the season on the fourth line, he's not suited to a scoring line.
  • Scott Gomez thus far sucks at faceoffs, but he's averaged over 52% since the lockout, so this has to be an aberration, or he gets better as the season goes on.
  • Paul Mara's beard is a better defenseman than Mike Komisarek
  • Matt D'agostini is a scorer, not a grinder, he needs to be on a scoring line in order to be effective. Eight minutes a game with Kyle Chipchura doesn't help him look good.
  • Latendresse should probably get a look on one of the top two lines, he's been good on the powerplay thus far and his puck control along the boards is improved.
  • Latendresse needs to stop that stupid wraparound move he does every time he goes behind the net. Every goalie expects a wraparound. You've only scored on it once Gui, and that was against Kari Ramo, not exactly an elite goalie.
  • As much as I get frustrated when the Canadiens lose a winnable game, I find it humourous that the same people who are lauding Gainey as a genius after two overtime wins call him an utter failure after one bad game in Vancouver.
  • As of right now, the Montreal Canadiens are playing better than the Boston Bruins, despite a tougher schedule and more obstacles to overcome. Suck it Boston.
  • Mike Cammalleri has had seasons of 53, 54, 54, and 60% in the faceoff dot, and is at 61.5% this year so far. Why isn't he taking more faceoffs?
  • Speaking of faceoffs, as much as fans and those in the media such as Mike Boone of the Montreal Gazette and (the best site on the internet btw) have been trashing Kyle Chipchura for his defensive play thus far, he's 11 and 5 on the faceoff dot in three games. That's good for 68.8% and best on the Canadiens. It's also a whopping 30% better than Glen Metropolit in that category. With linemates not named Georges Laraque and Greg Stewart, it's very likely that Kyle Chipchura could be a very good 4th line center.
  • The defense are going to take a longer time to adjust to the new system than the forwards, especially with Markov and O'Byrne gone.
  • Tom Pyatt deserves a shot on the 4th line with the big club, and Greg Stewart should be sent down even before Pacioretty. Patches can at least play on the third and fourth line and not be a liability, Stewart.... not so much.
  • Jaroslav Halak is better than he was against Calgary, and deserves another start soon, but not before Price plays a couple more games to get his groove back.
  • Spacek is better defensively than I remember him being when I watching him during Edmonton's playoff run.
  • We're the only team to have beaten a strong looking Buffalo team, that just shellacked the Detroit Red Wings.
  • The NHL's scheduling this year SUCKS. Somedays we have 15 games, and others we have none. How can it be that unbalanced when it's supposed to be compressed? If the NHL complains about the olympic break, then makes scheduling blunders like this, who'd really to blame?
  • Brian Gionta is still going to be the next captain of the Canadiens.
  • The Montreal Canadiens will make the playoffs.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

If All Else Fails Part 2: Free Agents

On to the second and final part of this rundown of what the Canadiens could do to shore up the defense now that Markov and O'Byrne have gone down. There are several free agents out there that are available, and even some that are heavily rumoured to be in contract talks with the Canadiens, or have at least offered their services. Let's take a look at the players available and what they would bring to our team.

Pros: I lived in northern Alberta from 1998-2005, and went back there from May to August from 2005-2007, so I've actually seen Bergeron play a lot when he was with Edmonton, while my experience watching him is a bit old, I've asked around and apparently he hasn't changed much. Bergeron has a wicked shot, an absolute rocket. Possibly better than Yannick Weber's shot as far as power goes. Bergeron is also a very good skater, he brings speed and acceleration above the average on our defensive corps right now. He has a fairly good pass, but not elite, shooting is where he makes his money. He would undoubtedly contribute on the powerplay, that's his bread and butter. Bergeron is also a Quebecer, so it would be very appreciated by the Francophone members of the media to have another player to interview, as well as the Francophone fans watching on RDS to see the opinion of another player.

Cons: And there are some big ones! While his shot is extremely hard, it is also wildly inaccurate. I can't even count how many times I've seen Bergeron tee up for a massive shot, with no bodies in the way, and miss the net by 12 feet only to see the puck bounce off the boards and out of the zone on a powerplay. If Habs fans found Mike Komisarek's constant shooting into a player's shin pads frustrating, wait until you see this shot cause multiple 2-on-1 breaks for the other team on the same powerplay. Bergeron is also a little reckless in his own zone, and because of his small stature and lack of strength, he can rarely cover up his mistakes by muscling players off the puck. His positioning in his own zone is also not the best we could hope for. I don't see this as a necessary move for the Canadiens unless Yannick Weber struggles mightily offensively. With Ryan O'Byrne going down I would much rather see a more defensive minded defender coming in. There's also the issue of salary, I don't think Bergeron is going to take a bargain basement deal to play, even though he may be desperate. He made over 1.5 million last year and had a solid year, so he may still be looking for over 2 million. It easily fits in while Markov is gone, but when he's back I would think Bergeron would be trade bait at best. 2 million in the cap world his harder to move than say, under a million. Also he may kill our goalie in the first game of the Stanley Cup finals, like he did to Roloson. Sometimes being a veteran (the only clear advantage Bergeron has over Weber) doesn't necessarily make you a better option. If anything players have become used to Bergeron's turnovers and he may be more of a risk than he's worth. I think that while Bergeron may be initially cheered for offensive prowess as well as being French Canadian, he may in a few short games become the next Patrice Brisebois, constant source of ridicule. Speaking of the Breezer, apparently he's offered his services, so....

Pros... Cons: I'm sorry Breezer but the time has come and gone for you to make an impact. I appreciate that you absolutely bleed bleu, blanc et rouge, but at 38 you no longer have the speed and endurance to make up for the turnovers. Even though you'd surely be willing to take the NHL's lowest salary to play one more year, it's time to give the youngsters a chance, and there's nothing you bring to the table that I can't see Yannick Weber doing just as well, and getting better as the year drags on, not worse. I think Mike Boone said it best...

Pros: Dandenault is a familiar face to most of the team, the fans and the media. He couldn't crack the San Jose Sharks lineup in training camp which I found fairly astonishing, because I really like Dandenault as a player. He was easily one of our best last season. He possesses blinding speed, and surprisingly (at least to me), excellent offensive capabilities according to some analysis done by Lions in Winter contributer Topham. He's also solid in his own zone, very good positionally and strong enough to handle most forwards. Another French Canadian, it would be useful to have him on the team for that purpose alone, as it's been pointed out several times already this season that 3 French speakers on the team is not enough. Mathieu is also extremely versatile. He played forward for most of his time with the Canadiens, and he excelled last year especially on the fourth line. I think most would agree with me that his constant beating out of icings is very valuable in important games. Dandenault is a good mixture of offense and defense that could undoubtedly help the Canadiens depth on defense right now, as well as contribute on the 4th line when Markov returns from injury. It's also very likely that Dandenault would be willing to settle for a small salary, allowing the Canadiens to save some of the cap space created by Markov's injury for future deals throughout the season.

Cons: It's easy to forget after how good he was last year, but Dandenault was rarely a happy player in Montreal. He complained constantly in his first few seasons about being a healthy scratch when he knew he could contribute. Seeing his play last year it would seem very difficult to argue with him, but his play the two years before as a minus player didn't do him any favours. He also complained a bit when he was forced to play forward, as he would much rather be playing defense, which might be a problem again as it's likely that when O'Byrne returns from injury, Mathieu would be bumped down the depth chart on defense and only draw into games as a forward on the 4th line, if he gets into games at all since it seems like Jacques Martin likes Georges Laraque and Gregory Stewart. There's also Chipchura and D'agostini to think about, both of whom are looking to break out this year. Having a complaining Dandenault in the dressing room, reverting to his form of two years ago would not be good.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

If All Else Fails Part 1: Trades

The Internet is flooded with rumours of what Bob Gainey could do to help out the Canadiens now that Markov is out for 2-4 months, and we've taken another hit (although relatively minor) in O'Byrne going down 4-6 weeks with some ankle and knee problems. I still believe the best way to weather this storm of injuries is within the organization, giving our young players the opportunity to take on more responsibility, but if we're struggling after 10 games and under .500, Gainey may feel he needs to make a move to improve the offensive portion of the defensive corps. Two main trade rumours have been cropping up again and again in the last few days, and I want to explore the pros and cons of both, while adding a third option that I haven't heard anyone else talk about.

Proposed trade: This one varies a bit depending on the source, but the one I've heard most often is Liles coming our way for both Kostitsyn brothers.

Colorado's take: This trade give Colorado a slight amount of cap relief by shipping out Liles' 4.2 million dollar cap hit and only taking on 3.25 from Andrei and Sergei's small (under 0.9 million) contract as well as RFA status. That could be appealing to Colorado as they've acquired Kyle Quincey in the off season to man the powerplay, and Colorado is by all accounts, rebuilding, so a small salary would be helpful now that Sakic is retired and the Pepsi Center is rarely full. Adding the Kostitsyns also would give Colorado two solid wingers to play on the second line with Matt Duchene, both would be huge upgrades on Marek Svatos and Darcy Tucker.

Montreal's take: Coming Montreal's way, Liles would upgrade the speed of our defense for sure, and possibly play well with Spacek on the powerplay, but Liles has always been criticized in Colorado for his defensive play and his lack of a big shot. One of the major reasons for Liles' big goal production early in his career was Rob Blake's big shot on the point drawing the shot blockers to him instead. Liles is an excellent skater, but he is also very small, and for the money he's making I think i'd much rather play Yannick Weber, who has a big shot, and is more solid size wise (199 to 185 lbs respectively). Not to mention Weber is much cheaper, and we don't lose anything to get him. To be honest, I can't see this trade as anything more than a massive fleecing of Montreal which could only take place if we're absolutely desperate for Yannick Weber to get older and lose his bullet shot.

Proposed trade: Brian Campbell and Patrick Sharp to Montreal, Sergei Kostitsyn, Jaroslav Halak, Andrei Kostitsyn and a draft pick (possibly conditional) to Chicago.

Chicago's take: Chicago has been looking for a way to get out of Brian Campbell's contract since pretty much the day they signed it. Massively overhyped by the media in his contract year (a la Bouwmeester), it seems like NHL scouts were too lazy to actually check out what they were signing to a long term deal at big money. It's undeniable that with cap trouble looming in Chicago, Keith, Toews and Kane up for big raises, they want Campbell's contract out of town. In order to facilitate this they MAY be willing to trade Patrick Sharp, who they value heavily for his leadership, clutch goals and grit. Uniting Sergei Kostitsyn with Patrick Kane is an intriguing possibility for Chicago I'm sure, but at this point in his career Patrick Kane is doing just fine without our temper-mental little Belorussian. With Huet a question mark in goal, it's a possibility that Chicago would be looking at Halak as an option, but they seem to have high hopes for Antti Niemi for now. Andrei Kostitsyn could be a capable replacement for Sharp going the other way, but I don't think Chicago is in any way desperate to obtain him.

Montreal's take: I love Patrick Sharp, he's a solid player in every aspect, signed to a very reasonably salary for the next 3 seasons and easily an upgrade on Andrei Kostitsyn at this point for the second line, but I just can't see how Montreal can take on a salary like Campbell's especially after already taking on a similar salary in Scott Gomez. According to, Montreal has about 1.902 million in cap space available. If Markov's salary goes to LTIR that brings us up to 7.652 million in cap space to work with over the next 2-4 months. Sounds like a lot, but after this trade it really isn't. We'd still be taking on more salary than we're giving away after you consider we'd have to recall Curtis Sanford's 0.6 million dollar salary from the minors. We'd be left with about 0.4 million in cap space by my quick calculations, in other words, not enough for a call up in case of injury. The other problem that arrises is what happens when Markov comes back? Campbell isn't some guy who can be bought out with one year left, or traded away to a team who can eat the cap number, he's signed for 7 more seasons at the insane 7.14 million per season mark. Read that again, SEVEN seasons. Trading for Campbell would all but force Montreal to say good bye to Andrei Markov as a Canadien, as there's just no way you can find a sucker to take on Campbell's salary twice. Markov is the only tradable salary aside from Cammalleri that would put us back near the cap for next season. Terrifying thought isn't it? For purely financial reasons this trade just can not happen.

Denis Grebeshkov (my proposal)
Proposed trade: Denis Grebeshkov to Montreal, Sergei Kostitsyn and a 2nd or 3rd round pick to Edmonton.

Edmonton's take: Edmonton has 4 very adept puck moving defensemen. The one they likely would like to move is Lubomir Visnovsky, but his salary in the salary cap era makes it a far more difficult venture and Edmonton would likely have to take a loss with the trade. Grebeshkov is signed to a much more reasonable salary, and is an RFA next season, so he's both the easiest and most likely to be traded. Much has been made of the pairing of Sergei Kostitsyn and Patrick Kane, but many have forgotten that Edmonton's Sam Gagner was also part of that trio, and unlike Kane, has struggled to adapt fully to the NHL game. Sergei and Sam had major chemistry in junior and it's very likely that Edmonton would be interested in reuniting them to establish consistency from both players. If it works Edmonton could go from 2 good scoring lines to 3, which could help them compete right now in the Northwest division, which is weaker than previous years with Colorado rebuilding. The draft pick sweetens the deal for Edmonton as Grebeshkov has established himself thus far as a MUCH better NHL player than Kostitsyn. Along with this, Edmonton gains over 2 million in cap space to be used later, probably at the deadline to help put them into the playoffs.

Montreal's take: Losing Sergei at this point is probably a good thing, and to maximize his loss by bringing in a good defender like Grebeshkov at a time when Markov is down would be one of the better moves a general manager in the NHL makes all year. Grebeshkov has good size at 6'0, 209 lbs, although I've seen him listed as high as 6'2. He has a ton of poise with the puck on the blue line, and filled in great for Visnovsky last year in Edmonton on the first wave of the powerplay. He doesn't have a bullet shot, but he is an excellent skater, has great vision and passing ability, is defensively responsible and not afraid to get physical. I'm not a cap expert, but from what I've seen on other teams, when Markov comes back, only his salary for the remaining games counts against the cap. This means that in all likelihood Grebeshkov's modest 3.15 million dollar cap hit will fit right under the cap all year long. This also gives us options at the trade deadline if Markov is back and lighting it up, as we could acquire a top 6 forward for Grebeshkov for a playoff run, or keep him for depth on defense. Who knows. I see this trade as a win for both teams, and if we're really struggling 10-20 games into the season I would be delighted to see Gainey pull of this deal.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Sky Is Falling!

So it seems as if these are the only types of clothes we're going to see Andrei Markov wearing for the next two to four months. For the second game in a row at the Air Canada Center in Toronto Markov has suffered a devastating injury. Memories of the end of last season are flashing in the minds of all Montreal Canadiens fans, but we have to remember how different this team is. For starters we have more depth on defense this year than last. Remember that last year Mathieu Schneider was also injured against Toronto, and the loss of both our big power play guys was too much to handle for a fragile team. This year we have much more depth on defense, and it's very lucky we do.

Last year the Pittsburgh Penguins were forced to play without both Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar for most of the season, and while I'm not saying the Canadiens will win the cup this year, there are important parallels to draw in this situation. Pittsburgh didn't panic when faced with this adversity, and although Michel Therrien was fired as head coach, the Penguins didn't sell the farm for an offensive defenseman to come in as a temporary replacement. They put their faith in young Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski. The Penguins were a bubble team for the first half of the season, but this expanded responsibility forced Kris Letang especially to become the player he has the potential to be. Goligoski also improved from this experience, and we'll see that more this year as he gets a shot with the big club. The maturation of Letang and Goligoski allowed Ray Shero to trade highly coveted Ryan Whitney to the Ducks for Chris Kunitz and a top prospect in Eric Tangradi. In all likelihood Yannick Weber will be called up from Hamilton in the next few days to occupy the 7th defenseman slot, and he'll draw into the lineup soon enough to play small minutes on the 3rd pairing along with powerplay time alongside Spacek on the first wave.

Unlike last season we have a lot of depth on defense in the organization. We poached a division rival's #1 defenseman in the offseason in Jaroslav Spacek, and at the beginning of the season Roman Hamrlik won't be as tired as he was last year, so we have two good guys for a first pairing. Josh Gorges is used to playing a top 4 role from last season, and Ryan O'Byrne also seems ready to take a bigger role with the club. Hal Gill and Paul Mara need to have their ice time kept lower than it was last night, I think everyone who saw that game can agree to that. Unlike last season we don't have to depend on Patrice Brisebois to play beyond his years, and with all due respect to Bob Gainey, we have a much better coach manning the bench this year, who can insulate the defense by changing the way Montreal plays. We also have a glutton of prospects who can fill in if need be in Weber, Subban, Carle and if desperate and decimated by injury, even Bell and Benoit. Obviously no one in the organization can replace Markov, but this isn't a death sentence as some would have you believe.

This team will be stronger by the end of this season, and going on in the next few seasons because of this injury. Am I'm not happy that Markov got injured, don't get me wrong, I'm devastated. But I refuse to pack up and throw this season down the toilet because of it, we need to see this as an opportunity to improve.