Monday, December 5, 2011

Your Canadiens for December 5, 2011

Thinking today might be a relatively mundane day in the Habs' realm, I thought I might be able to wait till tomorrow for this update. But there is enough hot button news to put this out this evening.

- Most notably, minutes ago, it was revealed that the National Hockey League has agreed on a realignment of its divisions for the 2012-13 hockey season. Gone is the current divisional structure, replaced with simply 4 larger imbalanced conferences - two of 8 teams, and two of 7. They are composed as follows:

East (7): Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers

East / Atlantic (7): New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils

Central (8): Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Winnipeg Jets, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild

West (8): Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche

For the Canadiens, the new schedule will see them play a home-and-home against all non-conference teams (meaning each team will visit the Bell Centre at least once a year), and then have 6 games against each club in their new conference (3 at home and 3 on the road).

For the playoffs, the first two rounds will be played strictly within conference. The top 4 teams from each conference make the post-season, with the first round being 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3, and then the winners facing off in round 2.

Per commissioner Gary Bettman, no official decision has been taken on the seeding of the final 4 for the semi-finals and finals, but it is likely that the remaining 4 teams will be seeded based on regular season standings, meaning it is possible for two teams from eastern North America or two from western North America to face-off in the Stanley Cup Finals.

This is pretty drastic, and there is certain to be a lot of opinion and discussion to go around over the coming days, weeks, and months. My initial reaction is not to like the imbalance, which essentially provides easier post-season berths to the teams in the 2 Eastern conferences. But I don't necessarily hate it. I'm willing to give it a chance.

- Elsewhere, USA Hockey announced the preliminary roster for their World Junior Championship squad. Amongst the 9 defenseman on the list is the Habs' Jarred Tinordi. He would appear to be a near-lock for the squad at this point as part of a shutdown pair, and his name has been thrown around as a possible team captain, given that he fills that role presently for the London Knights, and previously wore the C for the U.S. Under-18 team.

- Tomas Plekanec missed practice today, but have no fear! It wasn't due to an injury. He and his wife Lucia Vondrackova welcomed a son, Matthias, to the world. Congratulations to the happy parents!

- Filling in temporarily for Plekanec at practice was Andreas Engqvist, rehabbed from his recent injury. Later in the day, the Canadiens officially assigned Engqvist to the Hamilton Bulldogs.

- Also in practice, wearing a normal contact jersey for the first time, was defenseman Chris Campoli. With Andrei Markov out another few weeks, Campoli's near return to the line-up is a welcome piece of news to Habs fans and the Canadiens' powerplay. Jaroslav Spacek also practiced with the team, but in a non-contact jersey, while Ryan White skated on his own and then spoke briefly with reporters in the dressing room. Other than Plekanec, the only Hab not to skate today was Scott Gomez.

- On the Andrei Markov front, he underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on his knee in Florida today. Though Pierre Gauthier initially stated the expected recovery time would be 3 weeks, the team revised this estimation to something more realistic today, offering a prognosis of 4-6 weeks. Did Gauthier float the 3 week number just to minimize criticism when face-to-face with reporters?!

- Lastly, there is a bit of a public dispute going on between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Shanahan. Pacioretty spoke out disagreeing with Shanahan's decision to suspend him for 3 games, claiming that Shanahan had compared his hit to Matt Cooke's on Marc Savard. Shanahan disputed this claim on the Team 990, saying that not only had he not compared it to that hit, but he went out of this way to explain that he wasn't drawing that comparison. This line is a little tough to follow; if he wasn't comparing the hit, why bring it up at all?! By saying that he explicitly stated he wasn't drawing a comparison there, it means he must have at least mentioned it! And Pacioretty agrees, as he repeated today that he feels the comparison was made, and made unfairly. He and his agent preferred to compare the hit to Ryan Malone on Chris Campoli, a dirty hit which went undisciplined by Shanahan.

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