Friday, July 29, 2011

Max Pacioretty Wedding Photos

Last weekend, Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty married girlfriend Russian tennis player Katia Afinogenova, sister of former NHL'er Maxim Afinogenov (who coincidentally also got married this summer).

Thanks to Twitter and great sports gossip site (French), we have some photos from the couple's ceremony to share below. Congrats to Max and his new bride! The only other Habs we know for certain were in attendance are P.K. Subban and Aaron Palushaj.

Where We Stand - Habs Rumour Update

There has been lots of talk of late about what Pierre Gauthier is up to, which players are still available, and what may or may not happen. Is Gauthier "done"? What does it mean to be "done" anyway? Even if Gauthier is happy with his team, he will never stop looking to improve it, so at no point will he just give up and be "done."

Today, we look at some discussion of the past week+ to try to see what really is going on.

1) Trade Rumours with the Washington Capitals

With the Capitals in a precarious salary cap situation, it seems apparent they will have to make some kind of move before the season opens. It may be as simple as Tom Poti ending up on LTIR, but if George McPhee wants some breathing room, he will have to do something more significant. Initial rumours a little over a week ago had the club possibly shopping forward Alexander Semin. This would make some sense, since Semin isn't always in the organization's good books and has only one year remaining on his deal before becoming a UFA. Of course, because the Habs name is a major traffic-generator for "rumour sites," Semin was linked to Montreal in a deal that would include Andrei Kostitsyn (also a UFA next summer). First, from the Caps' perspective, while it would work to save a few bucks, the demand would be for the Canadiens to add in a significant prospect or draft pick. Once you've done that, the deal looks utterly unappealing to the Habs: on a non-physical team, lead the guy who led the club in hits, and acquire a similar, more offensively gifted but perhaps even more enigmatic Russian forward coming off his worst season since 2007-08. Not happening.

So, once it seemed like Habs fans were not buying into this, the sites switched targets: now forward Nicklas Backstrom, under contract until the year 2020, was to be moved, with the Canadiens again offering up Kostitsyn as part of a package. Backstrom may have just completed the worst season of his career, but he is still a star player. But hold on a second. The Caps are far from deep in offensive centers, and Backstrom is part of their young core (hence the lengthy deal). Until the day Scott Gomez is dealt, the Habs are NOT in the market for a long-term top 6 pivot, and that won't be until next off-season at the earliest (and no, Washington wouldn't take Gomez back in the deal, since the whole purpose was to save cap room). So even if Backstrom were inexplicably available, there isn't a fit here, especially given the organization's seeming hatred of over-the-top long contracts like the one he has.

If you want to work out a deal with Washington, look at Jeff Schultz as a more realistic potential acquisition. A tough defensive defenseman who is signed for 3 more seasons at $2.75M a year.

2) The Josh Gorges Situation

Habs fans were split over the signing of Josh Gorges last Friday night. While happy a deal got done pre-arbitration, and accepting of the fair salary, concerned over the 1-year term that means he could be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Does this mean he's not in Pierre Gauthier's plans? I don't think so. He has stated he loves playing in Montreal and wants to win a Stanley Cup here, and if the team will have him back, he'll certainly sign at fair market value. Which, for a player like him, shouldn't be more than $1M or more per season than his present deal (worst case scenario) - hardly the end of the world for the club's cap situation, even with P.K. Subban and Carey Price to sign next off-season. But there a strong UFA classes coming up in the next few years (which we'll look at next week), and Gauthier has left himself added flexibility with a short-term contract. Gorges is a great guy on and off the ice, a heart-and-soul leader type who gives his 110% on a nightly basis, and the kind of player you can win with. But his skill set is limited, and it's not to say he couldn't eventually be upgraded to a more complete player. A one year deal lets the team see how he performs after a 7-years-in-the-making major surgery, as well as to assess the progress of guys like Alexei Yemelin, Yannick Weber, and Rafael Diaz and where they fit in the long-term plans.

3) The New York Islanders (and The Salary Cap Floor)

The salary cap floor was set at $48.3M for this season, and as of today, 4 teams are projected to have payrolls below this number. The Nashville Predators are furthest at $7M away, but they still have Shea Weber to sign, so he will eat most of that difference on a long-term deal, and the club will then add a 7th defenseman to make up the rest. The Colorado Avalanche are a little under $3M to the floor, but if newly signed Gabriel Landeskog makes the team with his $3.575M cap hit, the issue is solved. The Phoenix Coyotes are just about $500K away with a full roster under contract, but Mikkel Boedker and Kyle Turris remain unsigned, so once they take the places of lower salaried forwards, there should be no issues.

That leaves the much-talked about New York Islanders, who stand about $6M from the floor, but still need to add 3 forwards and perhaps a third goaltender if there isn't much confidence in Al Montoya. If we assume Nino Niederreiter will make the team, that cuts the requirements in half, which might be filled on RFAs alone like Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau. But if that's still not enough, the team is apparently in talks with Alexei Yashin about an NHL return, and/or may offer a one year deal to Marty Turco who is still looking for work. So NO, the Islanders do NOT need Scott Gomez or Jaroslav Spacek, so STOP DREAMING that they will take one of these burden salaries of Montreal's hands. All times should be cap compliant by opening night without too much more difficulty at this point.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Player Spotlight: Mike Cammalleri

Think you know everything about the Montreal Canadiens star sniper Mike Cammalleri? Well, maybe you do, but in today's article, we'll try to stump you with some fast facts.

Cammalleri, 29, grew up in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill - a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. While he was raised in a secular home, Cammalleri was in fact born to a Jewish mother (and obviously Italian father) which in the eyes of Judaism make him a Jew. As a Jewish NHL'er, he is in select company, though the Habs have seen several over the past few seasons with Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Schneider making stops in Montreal. Also of note is that his #13 is not considered unlucky in the Jewish faith, as it represents the year of a boy's Bar Mitzvah - his coming of age ceremony.

Like Mike Komisarek, Max Pacioretty, and many other former and future Canadiens, Cammalleri played college hockey for the University of Michigan Wolverines (where Habs prospects Mac Bennett and Greg Pateryn play at present). While there, Cammalleri participated in the Cold War Game, an outdoor classic between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University which, at the time, set the world record for the largest crowd at a hockey game with 74,544 in attendance to watch the 3-3 tie. The record has since been topped twice, but it was still an unforgettable experience for those involved.

Not enough trivia points yet? Flash forward to Cammalleri's first few seasons in the NHL, with the Los Angeles Kings who looked past his diminutive 5'9" height and drafted him in the second round of the 2001 Entry Draft. His statistics with the Kings may be common knowledge, but how about the fact that while living in Los Angeles, he was featured in an episode of MTV's Cribs?! Check it out here:

Still want more? The 2007-08 season marked the first time the NHL played regular season games in Europe, which included a match between the L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks at The O2 in London, England. In a 4-1 L.A. win, the player who went down in history as being the first to score a National Hockey League goal in Europe was, indeed, Mr. Cammalleri.

In Montreal, fans know Cammalleri as a dominant playoff performer. With 13 goals and 19 points in 19 games one year ago, and then 10 points in 7 games this past season, he has established himself as a valuable piece of the puzzle to help the Habs make deep runs in the Spring. But was this the player the Canadiens knew they were getting when they signed him? Not quite. In his time with the Kings, Cammalleri never made the post-season. His first taste of the NHL playoffs was during his one and only season in Calgary, where he managed just 3 points in 6 games. With regular season point totals well below the 82 he scored with the Flames, the "surprisingly" strong playoffs from the player who was just today ranked 9th best LW in the league by Yahoo! Sports help to justify the lengthy and rich contract Bob Gainey awarded him.

Finally, you may be familiar with the famous Cammalleri "Jedi" pre-game ritual from the 2010 playoff run, but did you know that last Fall, it inspired an Easton promo piece starring the forward? See it here:

Want to know even more about Cammy? Follow him on Twitter to get updates right from the horse's mouth! @MCammalleri13

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

6 Opposing Players Habs Fans Should Follow

After we looked at 10 reasons to be excited about the upcoming Canadiens season yesterday, today in our Around the League segment, we look at some players from other teams that Habs fans might want to pay extra attention to this season. These are guys who could have been in the Habs plans had things worked out differently, so fans may want to see what it is that the team passed up on.

6) Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues

Low on the list since with Carey Price, the loss of Halak isn't really felt on the roster, Jaro will look to bounce back after an injury-riddled first season with the Blues. One of the hottest goalies league-wide early on, Halak showed his inexperience as an NHL starter in inconsistent play as the year dragged on. While setting a career high in games played (57) and wins (27), Halak's goals against average and save percentage worsened from where they were in his final season in Montreal, so it will be interesting if he can keep up with Carey Price's performances this season to make at least some Habs fans wonder if the team kept the wrong one of the two. If both have a repeat of last season, those still doubting Pierre Gauthier on that deal will be silenced (except those comparing the return to the ridiculous bounty Washington got for Semyon Varlamov, that is).

5) James Wisniewski, Columbus Blue Jackets

Wisniewski would be higher up the list if it weren't for the fact that his contract means there was no chance of him remaining in Montreal. It will be interesting to see how he performs in Columbus, where a weak defense means he should be logging huge minutes. Will the toughness in his game - not so apparent during his time with the Canadiens - reappear now that he has a long-term deal? Will he shore up the holes in his defensive game as he enters his prime years as a d-man? Or will the contract be as massive of an overpayment as everyone and their mother seems to think it is? Following his progression will show if Gauthier was right to retain Andrei Markov, or if he should have rolled the dice with the older Wisniewski.

4) Roman Hamrlik, Washington Capitals

Gauthier was right to offer a deal to Hamrlik who provided the Canadiens with honest effort and extremely valuable minutes during his time here. I'd agree with the majority, however, that a two-year deal wasn't the best fit for Montreal. But will Hamrlik prove doubters wrong and show he still has enough left in the tank, rather than become a salary cap burden a la Jaroslav Spacek? Certainly Washington is a good fit for a reliable defensive vet like him where he can help cover for offensively gifted blueliners like Mike Green and John Carlson. I would argue that he could have been a valuable partner for young defensemen in Montreal like Yannick Weber and/or Alexei Yemelin, where there is now a hole.

3) Jaromir Jagr, Philadelphia Flyers

In this blog's first article, I put Jaromir Jagr at the top of my summer UFA wants (with Erik Cole at #2, might I add). While many felt the Flyers overpaid by giving him $3.3M, I'd have been in the minority in saying I'd have gone to $3.75M as a 1-year offer from a Habs perspective. I truly feel that, playing with Tomas Plekanec, Jagr, who is in better shape now than when he last played in the NHL, could have had a 70-point season in Montreal and been an additional threat to round out a dangerous forward core. While there are concerns of his off-ice distractions, perhaps if the media focused in on him, we wouldn't get any stories like "Scott Gomez Didn't Celebrate When P.K. Subban Scored!" next year. Was Gauthier right to shun Jagr who made it clear that Montreal was one of his top options? His performance in Philadelphia will be interesting to monitor.

2) Maxim Lapierre, Vancouver Canucks

Lapierre asked for a trade out of Montreal last December when he felt like Jacques Martin wasn't using him enough or correctly. All will acknowledge that the return for Lapierre was negligible, so we won't try to evaluate whether or not it was good deal, but rather we will find out what kind of a player the Habs lost. Will Lapierre build on another strong playoff run to establish himself as a valuable part of the Canucks forward core? Will his ego and off-ice antics be kept in check in Vancouver? At a glance, it looks like Montreal's existing bottom 6 could use another big body like Lapierre's, but after a subpar regular season in 2009-10, it is only by assessing his play next year that we can see how poorly this asset was managed.

1) Guillaume Latendresse, Minnesota Wild

We now know that the player obtained back for Latendresse (Benoit Pouliot) was a bust in Montreal as he was released to sign with the Boston Bruins this summer. But what about the guy once seen as the French power forward saviour for the Canadiens? The player that had the Bell Centre chanting "Guy! Guy! Guy!" for the first time since the days of Lafleur and (to a lesser extent) Carbonneau. The Gauthier hate was silent last season on this front since Latendresse barely played after - as he has been known to do - he showed up out of shape to training camp and then was injured. After coming back for 1 game mid-season, it was determined he wasn't able to battle through the injury and the Wild shut him down for the rest of the year. Still, in the 11 games he did play, he put up 6 points, just below his point-per-game average of the previous season when he had 37 points in 55 games after being traded to the Wild. Will Latendresse be motivated and healthy this year? Could he have brought to Montreal everything the team now hopes Erik Cole will be provide? Or was the trade a bust-for-bust swap? This season will play a big part in deciding the matter.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top 10 Things to Look Forward to this Season

As if you needed reasons to find the beautiful Montreal summer long and to be counting down the days till we drop the puck once again, today we bring you 10 unfolding storylines to excite you for 2010-11 as a Habs fan.

10) The pro debut of Louis Leblanc
Of the 17 players drafted before Louis Leblanc in 2009, only 6 have yet to make their NHL debut. Five players taken after him in the first round have also played NHL games, while Habs fans have waited patiently for the man dubbed the team's next French Canadian star on draft day. This Fall will mark the fourth consecutive season in which Leblanc starts play in a new league (USHL, ECAC (NCAA), QMJHL, and now AHL) and he is further coming off summer shoulder surgery. Hab fans, then, should continue to show patience even if he has a slow start in the American League and shouldn't expect him to see any National League ice until 2012-13. Still, all will be eagerly monitoring his progress with the Hamilton Bulldogs as one of the organization's top hopes up front for the future. Other stories to follow with the 'Dogs will include the progress of Alexander Avtsin, and the first impressions of Rafael Diaz.

9) Peter Budaj's (few) performances as Carey Price's new back-up
Alex Auld performed reasonably well last season in Price's few nights off. Still, he invoked little confidence in his ability to play multiple games in a row, and so the Habs looked to upgrade their insurance policy in Peter Budaj. Accepting that the performance of the team's back-up won't ultimately decide the Canadiens' season, thus mitigating the risk of the signing to an extent, Budaj has a lot of upside as he was once seen as a quality future starter. He never really lived up to the hype in Colorado, but encouraging for Habs should be that his best NHL numbers came during the season where he was a full-time back-up to Craig Anderson, with a .917 save percentage in 15 games in 2009-10. This compares to Auld's numbers of .914 in 16 games last season in Montreal. It will be interesting to see how he does after working with a new goalie coach.

8) Competition between Lars Eller and David Desharnais
At least thus far, the Canadiens haven't moved to bring in a veteran depth centerman, much in contrast to the past few years. That means a large role for both Lars Eller and David Desharnais within the forward group, with fans hoping they don't fall into an NHL sophomore slump. Unless one is moved to the wing, the two will push each other for the third line ice time, and hopefully this competition will keep both on top of their game. Because of the glimpses of skill he shows, many expect a breakout year from 22-year old Eller, but we mustn't forget that Desharnais was also playing perhaps his best hockey at the NHL level during the playoffs, and he will still have just turned only 25 when the season starts. It gives the organization nice depth and reliability to have two young players at center behind two veterans in Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez.

7) A better season from Scott Gomez
Speaking of Gomez... I mean... he couldn't possibly have a WORSE season, right?? Likely to start the year with Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty, the trio should be able to produce consistently, and an improvement from last year will be the team's depth, not forced to bump a plugger like Travis Moen into the top 6 just because of an injury or two. As such, whether it's with Andrei Kostitsyn, Erik Cole, or David Desharnais, he'll have a chance to catch fire with a number of different combinations of linemates. It isn't unthinkable for Scottie to bounce back with 50-60 points, but after last year's debacle, it will take more than just production to appease uneasy fans. The Canadiens need to get 100% effort from Mr. Gomez at both ends of the rink on a nightly basis.

6) What will Pierre Gauthier do with > $5M in cap space?
The past couple of seasons, Montreal's cap situation has been somewhat precarious come trade deadline, making a deal to rent the top available talent somewhat difficult as it would require sending salaries elsewhere. As of now anyway, this season looks to be different with the Canadiens having a full roster under contract and over $5M in cap space. By trade deadline, this room will allow them to trade for any player in the league (that is, any playable available of course). It seems as of now that the biggest hole is on defense (as we covered previously), and there is no short supply of potential rentals out there depending on how their clubs are faring in the standings. So what happens with this cash? Does it go unspent? Is it a patch on the blueline? Or... just maybe... Gauthier finds a way to land a big fish and upgrades one of Montreal's top performers to a bonafide superstar. He has certainly shown he isn't afraid to make a concerted effort to be aggressive/proactive.

5) The progression of Carey Price and P.K. Subban
Funny to think that a year ago, the term "Triple Low-Five" meant nothing to Canadiens fans, and now most can't wait to see the next one. Two of the more promising young players at their positions, both Price and Subban took major strides last season towards reaching their potential. For the Habs to have a good year, they need neither of these players to regress, but rather to continue in their development. The two may have a little extra incentive to perform, as both will be restricted free agents next summer looking for big, long-term contracts. And if Carey Price manages to perform like the top 5 goaltender he can be, and P.K. Subban continues to show he will be a top pairing blueliner for many, many years, the Canadiens will have no problem shelling out the dough to keep both around. The lengthy playoff run they can help bring the city next Spring will hopefully assist in covering the team's future tab.

4) Finally seeing Alexei Yemelin in North America
Year after year, Habs fans were teased by rumours that the promising Yemelin would finally sign a deal and come over to North America for training camp. Well this summer, that fantasy finally came true as Yemelin inked a 1-year contract. Now 25 years old, Yemelin is coming off a breakout season offensively in the KHL, rounding out his game by besting his previous high of 7 points with an amazing 26 in 52 games. Given that he brings toughness and physicality lacking on the Montreal blueline, and that he apparently has a contractual clause allowing him return to Russia rather than report to the Bulldogs, he should be given every opportunity to make an impression with the Canadiens. One thing he must do is control his temper, as he has been known to sometimes take bad penalties, something the Habs already did in abundance last year. He should battle Jaroslav Spacek and Yannick Weber for ice time on D.

3) The return of Andrei Markov
An undoubtedly risky signing, the Canadiens brass basically gave Andrei Markov a mulligan on his injury-filled past few years by extending his contract at the same salary for 3 more seasons. If a little nervous, all Habs fans will be super excited to see Markov The General back patrolling the Montreal blueline this season and so long as he can stay healthy, he could return to being a top 5 or 10 two-way defenseman in the league. Yes, Markov suffered a series of repeated ACL/MCL injuries, but the truth is that for the most part, they were relatively freak situations. Now that he has been fully repaired, they should not be seen as predictors of his future health, so Canadiens fans can only be nervous about his age by contract's end slowing him down. Jacques Martin might choose to start Markov off slowly given how little he has played the last two years, but once he hits his stride, he should be soaking up big minutes to make up for the losses of Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski. And his saucer passes over to P.K. Subban on the top powerplay unit will hopefully be a thing of beauty for all to behold.

2) The debut of Erik Cole
For a player that Habs fan hated to see touch the Bell Centre ice for many years, Erik Cole's perception to Montrealers has done a full 180-degree spin and now his debut as a Canadien is one of the most hotly anticipated stories of the upcoming season. The Canadiens hope his time here will be more fruitful than the last time he left the Carolina Hurricanes (for the Edmonton Oilers) so that the club doesn't regret handing him a rich 4-year deal. Cole brings the club the type of player it has lacked for oh so very long. The type of player that Andrei Kostitsyn can be when he's on his game (with a little more grit and a little less skill). A big body who can throw his weight around, go to the net, and has soft hands to bury the puck. Those who have been with our blog from the beginning know we were advocating for his signing since early June, so adding another 20+ goal scoring Stanley Cup champion to the line-up is something we all should be excited about. Playing the same style of game as Max Pacioretty, and also having recovered from a serious neck/spinal cord injury, he could serve as a great role model for Max, which brings us to...

1) The return of Max Pacioretty
When he is introduced on opening night, Pacioretty will get a long and loud round of applause from the Bell Centre faithful. After an up-and-down start to his pro career, it seemed Max had managed to put everything together last season. After ripping up the AHL with 32 points (including 17 goals) in just 27 games, Max got the call-up and didn't disappoint, registing 14 goals and 24 points in 37 games with the Canadiens. His breakout season was cut short by the infamous check into a stanchion by Zdeno Chara, and his recovery has been a long and difficult one. But before that injury, Pacioretty had been arguably the team's best attacker, looking like an emerging top power forward, and so his return to the line-up this Fall will be greatly anticipated. With Pacioretty and Cole both in the top 6, the concerns over the club's small stature will be diminished. Habs fans need to hope, however, that the hit won't have any adverse effects on Pacioretty's mental game. He is saying all the right things during his recovery (aside, perhaps, from a joking insult to Brad Marchand's nose), but only he can know (and maybe not even he right now) how he'll react when he hops back on the Bell Centre ice. A Pacioretty who is hesistant to go into the corners or to charge the net is far less effective than the one of last season, so hopefully he can put all effects of his serious injury behind him and get back on track.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Memory Monday: Aaron Downey

He may have only played 46 regular season games and 1 playoff contest for the Montreal Canadiens over 2 seasons, and even in those games rarely hit the 10 minute mark, but Aaron Downey was a valuable member of the Habs during his time with the organization.

A traditional tough guy out of the Gino Odjick ilk (that is to say a Canadian pick-up truck-driving farm boy turned professional hockey player), Downey was claimed off waivers by the Canadiens from the St. Louis Blues during the 2005-06 season. He came to Montreal with a reputation as a strong fighter, built in part from perhaps the most famous fight of his career, this one-punch knockout against Jesse Boulerice of the Carolina Hurricanes:

Unfortunately, by the time he joined the Habs at age 31, his best fighting days were behind him. In fact, his most famous scrap as a Canadien was this blooper "bout" against Brad Norton of the Ottawa Senators which became a popular YouTube viral video:

But still, in Montreal, Downey should be remembered for much more than his fights. And no, I'm not referring to the 2 goals and 4 assists he amassed in the blue-blanc-rouge, though in his defense it remains 1 goal more than Georges Laraque's 2-season totals with the CH.

Habs fans should recall the 2005-06 season. The Canadiens boasted a strong back end (Andrei Markov, Sheldon Souray, Mike Komisarek, Craig Rivet, Francis Bouillon, Mark Streit...) in front of an emerging and hot Cristobal Huet in nets. Despite this, the team skidded mid-season, and it appeared that a hot start was now in jeopardy of falling out of a playoff position. How did the Canadiens turn the momentum around? Legend had it that to snap the players out of their funk, Aaron Downey loaded his truck with a bag of potatoes from his family farm for each of his teammates and delivered it to them at practice one morning. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but the timing of this super potato delivery coincided with the start of a hot streak that would eventually allow the club to solidify their playoff standing before eventually bowing out in 6 games to the Carolina Hurricanes during the series of the infamous Justin Williams missed high stick to Saku Koivu's eye.

This gesture earned Downey the amicable nickname of Potatoes from internet Habs faithful, and inspired a series of playoff-support Avatars on popular hockey forum (of which this site is a partner) with Canadiens players on a backdrop of a mountain of potatoes.

During the 06-07 season, it was decided that Downey's services were no longer needed in Montreal, and he was waived down to the American Hockey League before emerging the following season with the Detroit Red Wings. He returned to Detroit in 2008-09, but spent most of the year in the American League, making a brief appearance as a scoring superstar for the Wings by picking up 1 G and 1 A in just 4 games - a clip at which he had never scored at any level of hockey! In this sense, for a class act of a hockey player, we could say that Downey went out at the top of his game.

Where is he now? Following his retirement, he was appropriately appointed Strength & Conditioning Coach of Detroit's AHL afiliate in Grand Rapids. We can only wonder if he now has Griffins players training off-ice using sacks of potatoes as weights.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Comprehensive Look at Habs Figurines / Collectibles

Today we bring you a special feature on Montreal Canadiens figurines, bobbleheads, McFarlanes, and other figures in line with the other Habs site I run, which can be found at:

That site covers my collection / project to seek out, document, and ultimately obtain pieces of any player to ever play a game for the Montreal Canadiens. Clearly such a venture would require significant investment, so I'm in no hurry to track it all down, but it is a fun, gradual mission to find good deals on hard-to-find collectibles from any of a number of sources.

For the Habs collector reading from home, we will go over the evolution of player-specific Canadiens collectibles, documenting some pieces you yourself may want to add to your collection. Let's call this Your Official Guide to Habs Collectibles.

1) Hockey Heroes Stand-Ups

Going wayyy back to 1975-76, we find a series of NHL and NHLPA-licensed Hockey Heroes Stand-Up cardboard statues. Once you punch them out of their yellow frame, they can be inserted into their base and stand as a diecut figure, nice to display. The series featured players from around the league, including 6 Habs: Yvan Cournoyer (pictured left), Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Pete Mahovlich, Doug Riseborough, and Larry Robinson. Today, most pieces in the series (with Bobby Orr a notable exception) can be found in the $10 range.

2) 1989-90 Provigo Series

Provigo grocery stores in the province of Quebec distributed a team set of small Montreal Canadiens figurines for the 1989-90 NHL season. What is particularly remarkable about these figures is that, despite their age, they bare a striking resemblance to the actual player depicted, much better than many more recent attempts by a number of toy production companies. This was also a rare chance to grab a collectible of some of the team's more "depth" players, as there were 13 players in the set in total: Guy Carbonneau, Chris Chelios, Shayne Corson, Russ Courtnall, Bob Gainey (pictured right), Craig Ludwig, Mike McPhee, Mats Naslund, Stephane Richer, Patrick Roy, Brian Skrudland, Bobby Smith, and Petr Svoboda (photos of each included on my Master List).

3) Starting Line-Up Figures

The early collectible that most are likely familiar with, Starting Line-Up figurines were manufactured in various forms by Kenner. Throughout the 1990s, there were many Montreal Canadiens featured in series like the annual standard run, the multiple Timeless Legends series, One-on-One Freeze Frames, multi-player combo packs such as Classic Doubles, 12-inch player dolls, and Pro Action motion figures. A full list of former Habs with figures can be found on my Master List page. The standard run figures are the hockey pieces that most resemble a traditional G.I. Joe-type action figure, and because of their cheap plastic nature, can still be found for just a couple of bucks each. One of the unfortunate parts about these figures was the limited variety of player poses, and with limited facial similarities to the actual player for the most part, figures often looked like simple repaints.

4) Headliners Mini Figures

Rivaling the Starting Line-Up figures in the market was this batch of miniature big-headed plastic men put out by Corinthian. As would later be the case with McFarlane figures, the first series was licensed only by the NHLPA and not the NHL, so players appeared with logo-less jerseys (see the Chris Chelios at left, for example). By the time the second series (which included logos) was released, the Habs were in turnover turmoil mode, and thus no Headliner figure with the CH crest was ever created. Still, as seen on my Master List, a number of former Habs were included, the rarest of which was a Philadelphia Flyers Eric Desjardins released only in the United States through a Burger King promotion. Another line of these products, larger in size, resembling bobbleheads of today (but without bobble action), was released under the name Headliners XL, featuring amongst others this Patrick Roy.

5) NHL ProZone Dolls

In 1997 and 1998, two series of dolls were released featuring some of the game's greats. Only two former Montreal Canadiens, Patrick Roy (pictured at right) and Chris Chelios, were included. Thus, like with the Headliners, no players were featured in Hab jerseys.

6) Bobbleheads

Hard to place chronologically as they've existed in different forms since at least the 1960s, bobbleheads are probably the most popular of the sport figure collectibles. The array of hockey bobbles out there pales in comparison to those of baseball or football, but there is a wide variety of forms, teams, and players that have been released. We start with the simple but pricey generic player vintage bobbleheads of the 1960s like the one pictured at left, but they can take all kinds of forms and sizes. Some examples:
- Traditional pose bobbles like this Yanic Perreault
- Minor and American league bobbles like this Carey Price
- Other pose bobbles like this brand new Brian Gionta
- Miniature bobbles like this Jocelyn Thibault
- Bendable bobbles like this Saku Koivu
- Mascot bobbles like this Youppi!
- Alternate bobbling pieces like this bobble gloves Donald Brashear
- Rare Disney bobbles like this Mickey Mouse
- Coach bobbles like this Scotty Bowman

For a full list of present and former Hab bobbleheads, check our Master List page.
Various companies have produced these pieces over the years, but the two major players have been Forever Collectibles and Bobble Dobbles. As bobbleheads are collected so widely, prices can vary from just $5 or less for a random player to over $200 for an older or limited run rarity. Generally bobbles issued at games, referred to as SGA (Stadium Giveaway), are more popular than those simply sold at retail locations.

7) PrimeTime Heroes of the Ice / Teams of the World

Only two former Canadiens were featured in this National Team based action figure release. Patrick Roy (pictured at right) was included in his Team Canada jersey, while John LeClair was one of the players from the Team USA line.

8) SMITI Mini Figures

While more successful with their rockstar lines, SMITI took a brief foray into the world of hockey with a line that featured mini player figures inside puck-like discs. The only Canadien featured in this not too popular series was Saku Koivu, pictured at left. Though the packaging is well done, the figures themselves bare no resemblance to the actual player.

9) McDonald's

Over the years, the fast food chain has not only released hockey card sets, but also lines of collectible pieces, ranging from miniature sticks like this Cristobal Huet, to goalie masks like this Jocelyn Thibault, and nicest of all, mini masks with player figures like the Carey Price pictured at left.

10) Celebriducks

A small number of hockey players got the rubber ducky treatment, of which there was a single former Canadien (so again no Habs logos). This Jocelyn Thibault is a cute oddball item to add to any NHL collection.

11) NHL Ultimate Collection Mini Figures

These small toys were sold both individually and in a box set all at once. Two Habs were created in the single run, both in Canadiens jerseys - Carey Price, and Saku Koivu, pictured right.

12) Upper Deck All-Star Vinyl Figures

A cross-sports initiative from sports card manufacturer Upper Deck, no Canadiens have yet to receive proper retail treatment in this line. While the pieces are nice, the price tag ($40+ each) has kept them from taking off in a huge way. As such, Upper Deck was forced to cancel a bigger line of hockey figures which included the Carey Price pictured at left (pretty bad-ass looking if I do say so myself!) that was slated for retail sale at the last minute. Because of the timing, a small number of each player in that series was still produced and have made their way on to the secondary market, occasionally popping up at premium prices on eBay.

13) McFarlane Hockey Figures

We conclude our main groupings with the company that has dominated the sport figure industry for the last decade. Standard figures stand 6-inches, and spin-off lines have seen both 3-inch and 12-inch variations. Hockey releases come out about 5 times a year, with both standard lines and special editions, such as National Team figures and Canadian Tire exclusives. A large number of present and former Canadiens have been included in various lines, so check our Master List for full details of more like the Mike Cammalleri at right. This Fall will see rookie figures for Brian Gionta, P.K. Subban, and Jacques Plante. Unfortunately, due to licensing difficulties, vintage lines of retired players have been increasingly rare the past few seasons.

14) Some Other Figures

While this covers a lot of the major lines, there have been other Montreal Canadiens figures released from a variety of sources. Here we look at a few of these:

- Upper Deck Portraits Busts like this Guy Lafleur
- 4" NHL Rockers like this Jose Theodore
- Predators Dinosaurs like this Patrick Roy
- Troll Dolls like this Vincent Damphousse
- Salvino's BAMMERS Beanie Babies like this Patrick Roy

And various others you can see on our Master List page.

So Habs fans, I hope you found this look at Habs figurines and collectibles of interest. If you have or know of anything that I don't have documented on my other site, please get in touch with me!

If you have anything I listed as not already having on the Master List, also get in touch with me! I'm very happy to buy pieces I want that may be sitting around your attic!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Canadiens sign Josh Gorges to 1 Year Deal

The Montreal Canadiens announced this evening the signing of defenseman Josh Gorges to a 1 year, $2.5M deal.

Pierre Gauthier has now completed all internal dossiers for the coming season, and any further moves would be additional outside acquisitions.

Gorges had filed for arbitration with a hearing scheduled for July 28th. One would have to think with comparables like Marc Methot ($3M) and Roman Polak ($2.75M), an arbitrator might have awarded a little more than Gorges settled for, but given his injury last year, the short term gives him a new opportunity to prove his worth. So good deal money-wise, but the term is a little scary because...

In fact, he will have great leverage next summer, as he may opt to become an unrestricted free agent next July 1st. The Canadiens are not likely to let it come to that, as Gorges has been an important part of the back end, but the team is starting to amass significant organizational depth on the back end for the future, so they will be able to reassess their plans in just under one year's time.

Per Renaud Lavoie, Gauthier opted for a short term due to concerns over Gorges' recovery from surgery and wants to ensure he will be healthy this season before making a longer commitment.

The Habs now have 12 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders under NHL contract for 2011-12, with $5,179,490 in cap space remaining. They will need to add at least one more forward, but may decide to leave it opening for a training camp battle between the likes of Andreas Engqvist and Michael Blunden.

Habs Complete Coaching Shuffle

The Montreal Canadiens announced today that both Randy Cunneyworth and Randy Ladouceur, who spent last season behind the bench of the Hamilton Bulldogs, will be promoted to assistant coaches with the Habs, filling the vacancy left by Kirk Muller's departure. Since Jacques Martin and Perry Pearn already have spots at ice-level, one of the two Randys will coach from the press gallery. Both have solid resumes, and Ladouceur will be a valuable member of the staff as a true defense coach, something Habs blueliners have lacked for quite some time (a role that Pearn played with the New York Rangers but has focused less on with the Canadiens).|MTL|home

At the same time, the Habs announced the replacement for the Bulldogs, as Clement Jodoin takes over head coaching duties. Jodoin spent the last 4 years as head coach of the Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL. If the name sounds familiar to you, it's because previously, he was an assistant coach with the Canadiens between the 1997-98 and 2002-03 seasons. Jodoin is older - not the "sexy" up and coming type the Habs have often chosen in the past - but has a reputation as being good with developing younger players, and was twice named Coach of the Year in the Q (1997, and 2007 when he won the honour CHL-wide).

New Interview with Erik Cole

Lindsay Kramer - no known relation to yours truly - published a piece for The Post-Standard about new Habs scorer Erik Cole, which can be found here:

Key Quotes / Highlights:

- "I know a bit of French," Cole said. "I know how to get around. I’m definitely not fluent. Being right there in the environment, it should come back to me quickly."

- In response to the issue of playing in a pressure situation: "I look at it as an opportunity. I’m excited for it. To play in front of that atmosphere every game, that’s impressive," he said of Montreal. "There’s always a buzz in the city when it comes hockey time. It’s not going to be easy the entire time. Being in that setting will just build character."

- "I think I’m coming off a year where I had a lot to prove to myself and other people," he said. "It was a good year for me. It could’ve been better. It’s a good step to continue on a road I was on prior to when I was injured. People start doubting you. You lose credibility. But I feel confident in what I’m capable of."

- "We’re definitely anticipating having more (friends and family) coming to games," he said. "A lot of guys I played college hockey with all live in the eastern Ontario area. I always would give them a tough time, they never came down to Raleigh to see games. I don’t think there will be too many home games where I won’t be hosting a family member."

A Day as Pierre Gauthier: Let the Kids Play

[Cue Fantasy]

"YOU'VE GOT MAIL," rings my computer.

"Oh, look at this, it's from Commissioner Bettman," I, Pierre Gauthier, announce to no one in particular. I open the e-mail and carefully read its contents to be sure I understand everything correctly.

"May the Rich Get Richer - A Battle of Youth" was the title. Bettman's memo had gone out to General Managers league-wide announcing a pre-training camp tournament to be debuted this season. The rules:

- Every NHL team must ice a full roster of players under 25 years old at the tournament's start (September 1, 2011).
- Teams will include 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, 2 goaltenders, and up to 3 reservists.
- Players don't have to be under an NHL contract, but their team must own their NHL rights as of September 1st.
- Teams will compete against one another, beginning with divisional, then conference, then playoff play over a 15 day span.
- In the end, the team that wins the tournament will receive an additional draft pick at the end of the 2012 first round - 31st overall.

Wow! It's not often that you have such a chance to earn an extra asset. Quickly, I must pull up our organizational depth chart and see what we can do....

Plekanec? Darn too old. Kostitsyn? No? Seriously? I know, what about Jaroslav Spacek?! Whaaaat? That guy has been in the league for HOW long?!

How about our two new YOUNG defensemen Alexei Yemelin and Rafael Diaz? You're kidding me... BOTH ineligible?! This might be harder than anticipated.

Well, I guess I can start with some easier includes. The three young pillars of our franchise at the three positions: Carey Price in goal, P.K. Subban on the blueline, and Max Pacioretty up front. And what do you know, having a pair of somewhat superfluous young offensive centers in the organization finally pays off! David Desharnais and Lars Eller can play on the top 2 lines.

After a brief chat with my staff, we settled on a preliminary list looking something like this:


Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Aaron Palushaj
Brock Trotter - Lars Eller - Brendan Gallagher
Ryan White - Michael Bournival - Louis Leblanc
Danny Kristo - Andreas Engqvist - Michael Blunden

Jarred Tinordi - P.K. Subban
Brendon Nash - Yannick Weber
Nathan Beaulieu - Mark Mitera

Carey Price
Peter Delmas

Ok! I like it! A chance to see all of our good young players together and where they're at in their development. We've got some size, some physicality, an alright top 4, and the best young goalie in the game! Let's pick a couple of spares, like Mac Bennett on defense, and Gabriel Dumont and Olivier Fortier up front, and we've got a team! We can't lose. That first round pick is ours.

But... you know... just for fun... let's see how some of our rival clubs might look. Hmmm...


Evgeni Malkin - Sidney Crosby - James Neal
Eric Tangradi - Jordan Staal - Beau Bennett
Ken Agostino - Dustin Jeffrey - Casey Pierro-Zabotel
Paul Thompson - Keven Veilleux - Brian Gibbons

Kris Letang - Matt Niskanen
Simon Despres - Carl Sneep
Brian Strait - Joe Morrow

Patrick Killeen
Mattias Modig

*GULP* That's a heck of a team... Wow. Well, ok, maybe they'll be upset early on and we won't have to face them. At least they've got no goalie. I mean Jacques could use White - Engqvist - Blunden as a shutdown line, but still how are we going to get past that top defense pairing... But anyway, I mean the tournament starts with divisional play, right? So we must be the best in the North-East! Let's just check to be sure...


Brad Marchand - Tyler Seguin - Jordan Caron
Milan Lucic - Zach Hamill - Benoit Pouliot
Craig Cunningham - Maxime Sauve - Jarred Knight
Lane MacDermid - Alexander Khokhlachev - Stefan Chaput

Steven Kampfer - Adam McQuaid
Matt Bartkowski - Doug Hamilton
David Warsofsky - Yuri Alexandrov

Tuukka Rask
Michael Hutchinson

Hmm these guys look pretty good too. And they even have a goalie. Butttt at least the division will be just a battle of two teams. I mean we can take the Bruins... thankfully there's no other quality opposition around, right?


Matt Frattin - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel
Luca Caputi - Joe Colbourne - Jerry D'Amigo
Greg McKegg - Marcel Mueller - Brad Ross
Tyler Biggs - Sondre Olden - Tyler Brenner

Luke Schenn - Keith Aulie
Carl Gunnarsson - Cody Franson
Matt Lashoff - Jake Gardiner

James Reimer
Jussi Rynnas


Tyler Ennis - Luke Adam - Nathan Gerbe
Marcus Foligno - Kevin Sundher - Zack Kassian
Corey Tropp - Steven Shipley - Joel Armia
Philippe Gogulla - Daniel Catenacci - Justin Jokinen

Tyler Myers - Marc-Andre Gragnani
Mike Weber - T.J. Brennan
Drew Schiestel - Mark Prysyk

Jhonas Enroth
Connor Knapp

Myers... Schenn... Gragnani... Aulie... hrmm. Ok, fine, I give in. We've got a tough road ahead of us. But surely this just means the East is far ahead of the West, right? Let's say we make it out of the Conference. What kind of challenge might we have ahead of ourselves?


Magnus Paajarvi - Sam Gagner - Taylor Hall
Linus Omark - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Curtis Hamilton - Gilbert Brule - Ryan O'Marra
Anton Lander - Tyler Pitlick - Teemu Hartikainen

Theo Peckham - Colten Tebuert
Martin Marincin - Oscar Klefbom
Jeff Petry - David Musil

Olivier Roy
Tyler Bunz

Geez. Talk about stacked. No wonder Gary called this the "Rich Get Richer" tournament. How can the Oilers NOT walk away with a free first round pick?!

How? I know how. I guess the whole point of this event will be to show Habs fans the truth they all secretly know. As deep and reasonable of an organization as we have, at the end of the day, this year and for the foreseeable future, our team's success is dependent on one CAREY PRICE, perhaps the best young goaltender in the game. I will do what I can to build around him, but it is only because of him, and with him being on his best game, that we have a chance to win every night in this league. Because everywhere else, someone's got us beat. But I believe in Carey Price.


In all seriousness, wouldn't that be a fun tournament to watch? Come on NHL, get on it!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Player Spotlight: Travis Moen

Today we look at an under-appreciated but extremely valuable member of the Montreal Canadiens, Travis Moen.

Many Habs fans have wanted Moen out of town going all the way back to last off-season. They see his $1.5M in cap space as better spent elsewhere, and/or his 29 year old maxed out body better replaced with some young blood who just MIGHT go on to a better career. But the truth is that Moen brings a lot to the team, and today's spotlight will look at just what he does for the Canadiens.

We'll begin with a fun fact: did you know Travis Moen guest starred on an episode of Corner Gas after winning the Stanley Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks? See the beginning of the below video, or, for our American readers... Corner Gas is a Canadian sitcom that pokes fun at life in a small Canadian city in the prairies. Moen, being from Saskatchewan himself, brought the Cup by the show in his time with it.

Ok, back to our spotlight. Acting may not be one of Travis's talents, but getting under the skin of the opposition is. In fact, last season, Moen finished second to only Andrei Kostitsyn on the Canadiens in hits with 129. While you finish crying and/or laughing at the fact that Kostitsyn was our hit leader (and it gets worse - tied for third with 110 was Benoit Pouliot; or how about that our hit leader didn't even finish in the Top 75 league-wide), we'll move on to other strengths Moen brings.

Like, for instance, how he was third amongst Habs forwards in blocked shots last season after just Jeff Halpern and Tomas Plekanec. And third (behind the same two) in shorthanded time-on-ice per game. Or how he doubled the fightcard of the second scrappiest Hab, with 8 fighting majors over the course of that season (a 3-3-2 record according to

Long before there was James Wisniewski playing with one eye last year, there was Travis Moen, barely missing a beat despite looking like an actual zombie:
No, Moen isn't a sexy skill type player. But he IS the kind of guy that does all the little things right, on a team where his particular skillset is far from abundant. He's not the quickest of foot, and his offense is limited (career highs of 11 goals and 21 points), but he has proven that he is the type of player you can win championships with.

During the 2006-07 season, as a member of the Anaheim Ducks, his line with Samuel Pahlsson and Rob Niedermayer was the top shutdown trio league-wide come playoff time and were perhaps the biggest reason for the Ducks triumph of the Stanley Cup. Moen was even at his best offensively during that post-season, putting up 7 goals and 12 points in 21 games. While not close to equaling that output, Moen also chipped in a couple of big goals during Montreal's 2009-10 run to the Conference Finals, again showing that he can be a big game player.

A lot of the hatred towards Moen in Montreal has been the insistence of coach's to insert him on a scoring line in a top 6 role. But his misuse is not his fault. Hopefully with a deeper Montreal forward group this year, Moen will appreciated for the strong and gritty third/fourth line game he brings the team. While it is unlikely he'll be re-signed after this final season of his contract, everyone should be appreciative that for every game he was in a Habs jersey, he brought his lunch-pale and went to work, giving his 110%.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

An Interview with Alain Berger

Following up on the Player Spotlight we ran about little-known Habs prospect Alain Berger, today we bring you an interview conducted with him this off-season by the Swiss Ice Hockey Association.

Berger, signed to a three-year deal this past April, seems to have a good attitude when it comes to his future professional hockey career. The 20-year states that multiple teams were interested in his services, including the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars, but he felt he had the best chance by choosing the Canadiens.

Though Berger attended the Canadiens development camp in June, he says he hasn't seen much of the city, but does admire the new and state-of-the-art training facilities in Brossard. While Berger was here, head coach Jacques Martin made an impression in holding an individual meeting with the 6'4" Swiss native by having an understanding of his game.

"I'm not putting pressure on myself," Berger told the Swiss Association. "My objective is to make the NHL, but I have to take it one step at a time. Of course I want to make it as soon as possible, but I have to remain patient."

In what will be his third season in North America, Berger knows his first task is to establish himself with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. He knows that to reach the next level, he'll need to have full confidence in his abilities and remain hungry, because, as he says, "if you don't want it and make it, then your neighbour will."

In describing what he brings to the table, Berger says he enjoys being a leader on a team. He sees himself as a powerforward who can play an energy role, but acknowledges the area where he must most improve is his skating. He tried to model his game after that of Peter Forsberg.

As we've mentioned before, in signing Berger, the Habs likely took another stab at acquiring a player of the type they thought Ian Schultz could be. A big body who can play a physical game and go to the net a la Tomas Holmstrom. Schultz struggled in his rookie season in Hamilton due in part to his poor skating ability, so it will be interesting to see how Berger fares in his pro hockey debut.

Around the League: 10 UFA Signings who will Outperform their Contract

The general consensus on July 1 was that with a very average talent pool available, many General Managers went overboard, awarding far too generous contracts to only marginal talent. However, there were some deals handed out that day and beyond that we would categorize as belonging to the bargain bin. Thus, today we'll give our picks for 10 UFA contracts around the league that will show to be bargains over the course of this season. Note that this doesn't mean we feel these are the 10 most impactful/best signings, just that they will bring the most value per dollar earned.

10) Sheldon Souray, D, Dallas Stars
1 year, $1.65M

After being bought out by the Edmonton Oilers, it didn't take Sheldon Souray long to find new employment. Now at age 35, certainly Souray's game isn't what it was in Montreal (and even then it had its deficiencies), but comparing it to contracts given out to other aging defensemen, this deal will pay major dividends to the Stars organization. A poor fit in Edmonton led to his playing all of 2010-11 in the AHL, but Souray can bring a lot to an NHL club with his toughness, leadership, and booming point shot. It will be interesting to see how he is used in Dallas, with Stephane Robidas and Alex Goligoski already manning the blueline on the powerplay. Look for a bounce back year from Sheldon to prove that he isn't washed up and his time in Edmonton was simply a bad situation.

9) Zenon Konopka, C, Ottawa Senators
1 year, $700K

Many wanted Konopka with the Habs, myself included, and at this price, he should be a good deal for the Ottawa Senators. Not hugely impactful considering he'll play roughly 10 minutes a night on a fourth line, but an important player who can hit, fight, take face-offs, and kill penalties if needed. If he has a good year in Ottawa, the Sens should be able to draw quite a bit of interest in his services at the trade deadline given that they project to be a non-playoff team this season, and thus the signing should give them a "free" extra draft pick next summer for just $700K. Good value.

8) Matt Gilroy, D, Tampa Bay Lightning
1 year, $1M

It was just 2 years ago in the summer of 2009 that Gilroy was considered a prize college UFA signing by the New York Rangers. New York bench boss John Tortorella is a polarizing character, and playing in the Rangers system may have just been a poor fit for the 6'1" two-way blueliner. Look for a breakout season under Guy Boucher in Tampa as part of a very underrated defense corps on a talented club.

7) Jason Arnott, C, St. Louis Blues
1 year, $2.8M

Like Souray, Arnott's best days are well behind him, but at 36, he is still a far better player than his 24 points in 62 games with the New Jersey Devils last year indicated. For under $3M, depending on the ice and powerplay time he receives on a Blues club filled with offensive forwards, Arnott should top the 50 point mark, making him a great bargain. In St. Louis, he will provide leadership and experience to a young Blues team, but if the youth should struggle, the club should be able to obtain a reasonable asset from a playoff team wanting a 6'5" center with a Stanley Cup ring.

6) Sami Lepisto, D, Chicago Blackhawks
1 year, $750K

I advocated for Montreal to pick up Lepisto after he became a UFA, but in the end one can't fault him for joining a well-restocked Chicago Blackhawks team that had room to spend following the dumping of Brian Campbell's contract on the Florida Panthers. The Finnish defenseman is entering his prime at 26 years of age and while his offensive game hasn't translate at the NHL level, he can play solid minutes with sound play in his own end. While he will be surrounded with other quality defensemen in Chicago, he may surprise and earn a top 4 spot on the blueline if pressed into service, as he is capable of playing upwards of 20 minutes a night.

5) Nicklas Bergfors, RW, Nashville Predators
1 year, $575K

A classic very low risk, potential high reward signing, Bergfors has bounced around the league over the past 2 seasons, with stops in New Jersey, Atlanta, Florida, and now Nashville. Bergfors has shown he's capable of putting up points at the professional level, and the Predators aren't deep in talented offensive forwards (see: last year's team leading scorer, Sergei Kostitsyn) so he will be given a great opportunity to earn an important spot. Plus, as long as he gets powerplay time, he's sure to rack up quite a few helpers with the "pass it to Shea Weber" plan.

4) Jaromir Jagr, RW, Philadelphia Flyers
1 year, $3.3M

A controversial inclusion on the list, no doubt, as many thought the Flyers overpaid in going up to $3.3M to woo Jagr. I will go on record as being a believer that his doubters will be eating crow later this season and that Jagr will have a successful year of 60 or more points. Philadelphia has a lot to justify in terms of their off-season transactions, so they are sure to give Jagr every chance to succeed in trying to prove they made the right decisions. It may also prove to be a great fit since the Flyers have shown they won't tolerate complaining players and off-ice issues, even waiving forward Nikolai Zherdev towards the end of a 16-goal campaign.

3) Simon Gagne, LW, Los Angeles Kings
2 years, $7M

Yes, he's a bit of a risk due to health concerns, but Gagne is a talented sniper who found his game in the playoffs last year scoring 12 points in 15 contests. Twice a 40-goal scorer in Philadelphia, Gagne will be reunited with former Flyer Mike Richards on a Kings team with what has become a scary-looking top 6 up front (Richards, Gagne, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams). Getting back over the 20 goal mark should be a given, and if he can play a full season (which he hasn't since 2008-09, however), 30 is not out of the question, which would make this an awesome steal for Los Angeles.

2) Steve Sullivan, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins
1 year, $1.5M

The diminutive Sullivan has been proving doubters wrong his entire career and after the injury bug struck him again last season, he decided to end his 6 year stint with the Nashville Predators to sign with the Penguins. The 5'9" winger has had success in every city he's played, and which ever center he lines up with in Pittsburgh (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Jordan Staal), he should produce beyond the .5 PPG clip he had going last year. At just $1.5M for one season, the Penguins might have added a 20+ goal scorer to give them the offensive depth they sorely lacked when Crosby and Malkin went down last year.

1) Tomas Vokoun, G, Washington Capitals
1 year, $1.5M

The obvious choice as everyone's top signing, Vokoun took well below his true market value to sign with the Washington Capitals in hopes of winning a Stanley Cup. At 35 years of age, the former Habs draft pick has proven he's a top netminder in the league posting save percentages of .920 or better anually on poor Florida Panthers teams. Even after trading Semyon Varlamov, the Capitals will have a logjam in nets this year, and the competition with the young Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth will push Vokoun to be at his best to retain starting duties. While they may have to make a move at some point to manage their salary cap situation, Washington has a deep team and has shored up both their blueline and goaltending, making them an early favourite for a deep playoff run.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Injury Update: Eller to be Ready for Season Opener

Per an article out of Denmark last night, Canadiens forward Lars Eller is recovering well from off-season shoulder surgery, training hard in the gym, and expects to be ready for the season opener as he is ahead of his rehabilitation schedule.

Eller, 22, played a third/fourth line role in his rookie season with the Habs, showing glimpses of skill and offensive playmaking abilities, while using his sturdy frame (6'0", and now 202 lbs, having gained 5 pounds of muscle since season's end) to protect the puck and battle in the corners. Many expect a breakout year offensively for him in 2011-12 as he battles David Desharnais for ice-time at the center position (though it is likely one of the two will shift to wing).

In his interview, Eller states that he had problems with his shoulder for a few seasons, and it would have needed surgery sooner or later anyway. This is encouraging news for Montreal fans, as it means the Eller we see this season may be bigger and better than we saw at any point last, and finally erase any doubts about the trading of Jaroslav Halak.

Eller says he knows that his coaches and teammates expect a lot of him, and he is determined to work hard to reach his full potential. He concludes with his impressions about other Danish players around the league, saying he was inspired by Jannik Hansen's performance in the Stanley Cup Finals, and impressed with Frans Nielsen's season with the New York Islanders.

Top 10 Habs Prospects Yet to Play in NHL

[Top 10s Archive]

With the draft well behind us and the summer's development camps complete, it seems like a good time to take inventory of the Habs' prospect system to see what kinds of players are in the pipeline coming up. For many drafted 2-4 years ago, it will be a pivotal season in establishing their potential future ceiling and role.

While it is debatable which players should be considered for this list, we will include only players who haven't played a game in the NHL and are 23 years of age or younger. By this classification, then, all of the following players who otherwise would have cracked the list are excluded: Aaron Palushaj, Andreas Engqvist, Brendon Nash, Rafael Diaz, and Alexei Yemelin.

10) Alain Berger, RW
2011-12: Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL) and/or Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)

We covered the undrafted signee Swiss-born Berger in a Player Spotlight not long ago, so we'll suffice it to say that we look forward to seeing what he can do at the pro level this year. His combination of frame and hands make him an intriguing potential power forward in the future if his offense can translate at a higher level.

9) Greg Pateryn, D
2011-12: University of Michigan (NCAA)

While most of the organization's young blueliners tend to be focused on developing their offensive games, Pateryn is a nice compliment in that he is a defense-first player. Still, the 6'3", 214 lbs American acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Mikhail Grabovsky trade vastly improved his offensive production last season as a 20 year old with a high of 17 points, smashing the prior season's total of 6. He seems committed to another season in Michigan alongside fellow prospect Mac Bennett, but should be signed to join the Bulldogs at year's end.

8) Michael Bournival, C
2011-12: Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

Bournival is a two-way forward who had a strong enough season in the QMJHL that he was the final cut from Team Canada's World Junior Championship roster. The 19 year old acquired from the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O'Byrne should be a shoe-in to make the squad this season, his final before turning pro. It remains to be seen if the Quebec native will be able to produce at a higher level, but even if not, he seems like a safe bet as a future third line contributor who can play a checking role.

7) Brendan Gallagher, RW
2011-12: Vancouver Giants (WHL)

The biggest knock on Gallagher is definitely his size at 5'8" and 170 lbs, but he's doing all he can to follow in the footsteps of the David Desharnais and Brian Giontas of this world. Another player likely to play for Canada at this year's WJC, Gallagher had a great season interrupted with a minor injury, but still managed to return for 4 of his team's playoff games. Many thought his offensive production would go south when linemate Craig Cunningham was traded away from the Giants, but he maintained his pace and finished a full 40 points ahead of his closest teammate with 91 on the season (including 44 goals).

6) Alexander Avtsin, RW
2011-12: Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)
(pictured above)

Many were excited to see Avtsin perform in the American Hockey League last year, but as the league's youngest player, he saw little ice time, often sitting as a healthy scratch. Avtsin remains an interesting young player with slick offensive instincts and a 6'3", 188 lbs frame. It will be a pivotal season for the young Russian as he'll need to establish himself as a top 6 forward with the Bulldogs or will likely return to the KHL at the termination of his contract.

5) Mac Bennett, D
2011-12: University of Michigan (NCAA)

When drafted in 2009, Bennett's game was compared to that of P.K. Subban, and he has drawn rave reviews for his skating and composure at every Habs development camp he has attended since. Though it is unlikely he'll develop the explosiveness of a Subban and he has unfortunately seen his growth stunt at 5'11" since the age of 18, Bennett should be a can't miss NHL blueliner with top 4 potential. He'll likely be best paired with a bigger defensive d-man, like when playing with Pateryn at the college level.

4) Jarred Tinordi, D
2011-12: London Knights (OHL)

Tinordi is a big, tough blueliner, standing a towering 6'7" and 212 lbs. In his rookie season in the OHL last year, he racked up 140 PIM in 63 games, and after a slow start was seen as one of the most improved players on his team. By year's end, he was playing close to 30 minutes on a regular basis for the Knights, and though his offensive game is likely to resemble Hal Gill's more than Zdeno Chara, he does posses a big shot which he may someday grow into as he adapts to his frame. A project player who might need time and/or handholding, Tinordi does have top pairing or at least top 4 potential.

3) Danny Kristo, RW
2011-12: University of North Dakota (NCAA)

Despite a disappointing season offensively (28 points in 34 games, down from 36 in 41), Kristo worked this year to round out his game and as such now seems like a safer prospect with a solid two-way game. He is likely to return to college given that he missed a chunk of games with frostbite last year, but should join the Bulldogs for 2012-13 to continue his development. Average-sized at just under 6'0", Kristo played a full season with Louis Leblanc in Omaha in 2008-09, and the pair should be reunited in Hamilton.

2) Louis Leblanc, C
2011-12: Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL)

Montreal's first round selection in 2009, Leblanc left Harvard after 1 season to join the Junior in the QMJHL. Now 20 years old and with a contract in his back pocket, he is ready to turn pro, and shouldn't have a tough time cracking the Bulldogs given their lack of offensive depth at the center position. Leblanc battled injury throughout the season which hampered his production and required surgery once the Junior were eliminated from the post-season. He still managed to produce at over a point-per-game clip, though his poor numbers in the face-off circle mean he may someday have to convert to the wing. Average-sized at 6'0" and 180 lbs, Leblanc likely projects as a 2nd line center, but his tenacious backchecking abilities mean that he will slot in on a third line in the worst case scenario.

1) Nathan Beaulieu, D
2011-12: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Many knowledgeable hockey "experts" had Beaulieu in the top 10 or at least top 15 of the 2011 NHL draft, so when he fell to #17, the Canadiens couldn't help but snatch him up. Despite his family name, Beaulieu doesn't speak French (though he has been taking lessons over the summer), but Habs fans will be quick to overlook this fact if he continues to develop as he projects. At 6'3", 191 lbs, he will be a big body on the back end who is a firstly a mobile puck-mover. Producing 45 points each of the last 2 seasons on stacked Saint John rosters, Beaulieu should be a candidate to give Montreal a third member of Team Canada over the Christmas holidays. Perhaps the best news is that according to many reports, Beaulieu matured a lot in his game over the course of the season, making better decisions on when and how to jump into the rush, and improving his defensive play.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Budaj goes with # 30

As if to give us things to talk about, the Montreal Canadiens spread out number selection over three different days during the past week.

After Erik Cole took number 72 and David Desharnais switched from 58 to 51, today the club announced that Peter Budaj will wear number 30 this season. Budaj had worn number 31 with the Colorado Avalanche, but that is Carey Price's territory with the Habs. Interestingly, 30 is the same number David Aebischer selected in Montreal after coming over from the Avs.

A question remains, then, as to why Desharnais didn't take number 15, since the article announcing his switch indicated he had in the past chosen 51 only because 15 was already taken. With Jeff Halpern's departure, the Habs have no 15 in the organization.

Memory Monday: Valeri Bure

[Memory Monday Archive]

Many NHL teams regretted passing on a smallish but speedy Russian forward in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. Pavel Bure, selected 113th overall that summer, may have seen his career shortened by chronic injuries, but when he was healthy, he was a dominant force, recording 2 60-goal seasons and others of 58 and 59.

With Pavel having just completed his rookie season in the NHL at nearly a point per game, one would understand, then, why the Canadiens felt it a necessary gamble to take his younger brother, Valeri, in the 2nd round (33rd overall) in 1992, hoping that his similar frame might be capable of similar production.

In hindsight, we all know that Valeri didn't have the skillset of Pavel, but that is not to say he was a slouch, retiring in 2005 after a successful career both on and off the ice.

Bure arrived in North America in his draft year, adapting to the WHL game over the course of the season before exploding for 17 points in 10 playoff games. While the Habs were busy winning a Stanley Cup in the 1992-93 season, fans were also getting excited about the performance of their young Russian prospect, who tripled his production from his first season, going from 49 points in 53 games to 147 points in 66 games, far and away best on his team and good for second in the league.

Valeri's dominance continued to the American Hockey League, where he scored above a point-per-game pace in his rookie pro season, but showed little during a 20 game call-up with the Canadiens. 1995-96 was Bure's true rookie year at the NHL level and he found a home on a trio dubbed "The Smurf Line" alongside fellow short-but-skilled young Europeans Saku Koivu and Oleg Petrov. Chemistry between the three led to an initial 22-goal season for Valeri, but his production tapered off the following 2 years and he was dealt to the Calgary Flames along with a 4th round selection for Jonas Hoglund and Zarley Zalapski.

His best seasons lay ahead, however, as he put up seasons of 26, 35 (combined with Pavel's 58, this set a record for most goals in a season by a brother duo), and 27 goals with the Flames, before eventually joining his brother Pavel with the Florida Panthers.

Valeri's final season (2003-04) saw him register a very respectable 22 goals and 52 points, but he became one of many victims of the NHL lockout. Following back surgery, despite signing a deal with the Los Angeles Kings, he would never play a game for them, and thus opt to end his career on his own terms to focus on other pursuits.

It is perhaps these "other pursuits" that Habs fans will keep most in their minds when thinking back about Valeri. While playing with the Canadiens, Bure married former Full House actress Candace Cameron and they would have three children together. Following his retirement, Bure and Cameron founded a popular winery, called Bure Family Wines, in partnership with friends of the family. Bure also participated in Battle of the Blades - CBC's answer to Dancing With the Stars, a competition pairing former NHL'ers with figure skaters - in 2010, and won the show's second season skating with fellow Russian Ekaterina Gordeeva.

Valeri may never have been Pavel, but he had a productive NHL career, and has succeeded where others have failed in living out a quality family life beyond the sport. For this, the younger Bure brother has earned his spot in the memory banks of Habs fans.