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.

No comments: