Friday, December 2, 2011
Remember, remember the third of December
The question on the minds of Habs fans around the planet for weeks now has been just what/when will be the tipping point for Pierre Gauthier, Geoff Molson, or anyone else in the Habs' brass to signify that changes are needed... and fast.
The start of the season has been a difficult one for your Montreal Canadiens. Sure, injuries have been an issue, but most of the injuries the team has faced have been ones that should have been foreseeable this summer. The young defense put on the ice is improving, but still has major structural issues.
The bigger problem, though, has been the play of some of the forwards the team counts on to lead the way offensively. This starts right at the top with team captain Brian Gionta. The effort seems to be there, as it always has been with Gio. So then what's the problem? Is it an undisclosed injury? Off-ice issues? Just a prolonged slump? It isn't a matter of simply not scoring, but his overall game on the ice is simply not at the level we should expect of the 32-year old. When you're 5'7", unfortunately, no matter how established you are, you don't get the luxury of coasting through patches like this. Gionta has been a non-factor for quite some time, even though he's on pace for a similar point total to last season.
Speaking of producing but not being effective, we can next talk about #1 center Tomas Plekanec. It seem odd for me to lump the team's leading scorer into this "underperforming" category, but at $5M per season, Plekanec is looked at to be an offensive catalyst. He has been his usual positionally-sound self on the penalty kill, and has managed 21 points in 26 games, but he is unable to raise the game of his linemates, and has been far less noticeable than the likes of David Desharnais or Lars Eller lately, who have helped to create sustained pressure in the offensive zone and shift a game's momentum. Perhaps part of the blame could be placed on Jacques Martin for moving Pleks to the point on the powerplay, where he has looked tentative and probe to mistakes despite producing a couple of goals.
The final member of this group is Mike Cammalleri. He had a solid game last night after being shifted to the David Desharnais / Erik Cole line, but he has been very ineffective in most games. An injury may be at play here, but if it isn't, his total unwillingness to engage physically or to make necessary sacrifices to make plays has been unacceptable. In his final season in Calgary, Cammalleri scored 39 goals. His first year with the Habs saw him net 26 in 65 games, then last season 19 in 67 games. Prorating his goal total thus far this year would give him just under 19 in 66 games. Unacceptable for a player being paid $6M per year for his goal scoring talents.
You'll notice I left Scott Gomez off the list. I don't think it would have been right to expect much from him this summer based on last season's performance. It was more a case of hoping to be pleasantly surprised, which, even injuries aside, we haven't been.
If these are some of the problems, then what are the solutions that could come on what just might be D-Day tomorrow should the Habs lose to the Los Angeles Kings. I wrote yesterday about my desire to have Jacques Martin replaced, and quite possibly Pierre Gauthier along with him. Randy Carlyle becomes likely the most interesting name as a potential Martin replacement, with the major problem being his lack of French. I'd be a fan of bringing Carlyle in as head coach with a French associate coach to split duties (kind of like what the Edmonton Oilers did with Pat Quinn and Tom Renney), but not sure how realistic that is in the eyes of management, especially considering they are still paying Guy Carbonneau and would have to pay Martin off to end his deal.
But we don't know for certain how Geoff Molson feels. He may have full confidence in Gauthier's (and yes, even Martin's) ability to run this ship, and thus may give him plenty of rope to try to save the season and effectively his job.
That, then, could mean a trade. For those who don't read Twitter rumours, controversial Twitter figure Incarcerated Bob put out a Tweet last night along the same lines of rumours we've seen brewing for a few weeks. Bob had the Calgary Flames approaching captain Jarome Iginla about waiving his no trade clause on a framework deal that would send him to Montreal. Bob mentioned the names of Max Pacioretty, Yannick Weber, and the Canadiens' first round pick (plus a necessary salary dump) as possible pieces going to Calgary, with Iginla and more coming back in return. He suggested Iginla would likely require a few days to mull the idea over, though he was still dressed for the Flames' game last night. If you don't know iBob, he isn't quite Eklund. He isn't batting 1.000 (had Scott Gomez to the New York Islanders as a pretty sure thing this summer), but he has managed to break a number of stories correctly before any other mainstream media. The timing of the rumour is also interesting. The Anaheim Ducks went public yesterday, stating that with their coaching change, Bobby Ryan was taken off the trade market. It would be logical, then, that the Habs were in on Ryan, and with him no longer available, moved on to their next target. It is also interesting that, at the end of regulation time last night, Iginla had played only 15:42, far less than his second lowest total this season.
But, it's just a flimsy rumour at best right now. And of course, Habs fans would lynch Gauthier if he even considered dealing a young powerforward like Max Pacioretty. Iginla is a great player, and you have to give to get, but the Canadiens don't seem to be just one Iginla away from a Stanley Cup with the way they're playing right now. I would go as far as to say I wouldn't give up Pacioretty straight up for Iginla. The talk could become more interesting if Calgary's first round pick was coming back to Montreal, as that represents a top 5 potential lottery selection that could give the Canadiens the kind of superstar they haven't had since the days of Patrick Roy.
Why is tomorrow likely D-Day for the current team? Well it's hard to make changes in the middle of a road trip, and the Canadiens come back home following their afternoon'er in Los Angeles. That gives plenty of time that very day to announce anything that has already been set into motion, and then two days off to work any changes into the line-up. Plus, few teams not in the playoffs as of December 1st in a given season are able to rally to make it there, even with so many games left to be played. This is the nature of the parity in the league. And that's why we should expect changes. Changes bigger than bringing in Petteri Nokelainen or firing Perry Pearn.
Thus all signs point to December 3rd as a big day for the team and its fans where those in charge of the mess that has been this early season are held accountable for their actions. Remember, remember the third of December, as it may be a day that shapes the club's fate for the foreseeable future.