Friday, October 28, 2011

Now We're Cooking: Sweet Wins for Habs, Bulldogs

Where it began,
Was with the firing of Perry,
And now we hope it's growing strong...

Was in the Fall,
The whole team was strugglin'
Who'da believed they'd come on strong?!

Hold up Habs fans, don't go planning any parades just yet (I mean, after all, we're not Leafs fans), but maybe - just maybe - we have something here. That 'something' is a big fat M word called momentum, with a side dish of confidence.

At 3-5-2, they're still in a bit of a hole, but the climb back up the ladder of respectability needs to begin somewhere. And back-to-back wins over the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins is as good a place as any.

Let's step back a moment, however. I posted earlier this week my discontent with the management team of Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin. I'm not a fairweather fan who is suddenly placated just because the club posted consecutive victories. I still feel the pair should be replaced in the near future for the very same reasons. The defense Pierre Gauthier assembled is largely soft, small, and inexperienced. There is a need for a tough, veteran, shutdown guy, and the only player who could eventually fill this role currently on the roster - Alexei Emelin - is being sat by Martin.

On the Emelin issue, after Tweeting my displeasure with his being scratched in favour of Raphael Diaz for a game against the Big Bad Bruins, I will admit that despite an overall shaky game on his part, Diaz made an incredible defensive slide to takeaway a goal after Carey Price was caught out of position with the game tied at 1. It wasn't a play anyone could make, and Martin's choice of Diaz over Emelin may thus have contributed to the team's win.

The downside to this is a legitimate concern that Emelin will never get a chance to develop in Montreal. His contract will allow him to bolt back over to Russia if the Habs try to send him down to Hamilton, but if he's kept in Montreal and sat for most of the season, he's likely headed home at year's end anyway. With a log-jam of players the organization feels to be ahead of him, it will be tough for him to find ice time, and thus Gauthier may be forced to use him as a transaction deal sweetener to at least get something for the asset he finally convinced to cross the ocean. This would be unfortunate as - like I mentioned - Emelin's skillset is not a common one within the organization.

But let's stick with the positives for now. Also deserving of some credit is Randy Ladouceur's management of his defense corps in the 2 games since taking over from Perry Pearn. With the team playing a third game in four nights (and second in 2 cities in 2 nights), Ladouceur and Martin managed to cycle d-men such that only one (Josh Gorges, who had a great night) topped the 20 minute mark. This is a rarity in the NHL, but allowed the team to stay fresh throughout the night which is critical considering the aforementioned personnel concerns on the back end. Diaz, while showing some positives, is clearly not ready for big minutes but has been seen as a "Martin favoured child" by many, joining the ranks of Mathieu Darche and David Desharnais. With Pearn in charge of the D, he played the 4th most minutes amongst Montreal blueliners Monday night. Under Ladouceur, he has gotten the least playing time of the group of 6 in consecutive outings. The team has also gone two games without a Too Many Men on the Ice penalty!

But this isn't just about Pearn, Ladouceur, Martin, and the defense. I talked about Erik Cole's improved play as a reason for hope, and for a third straight game he was amongst the team's top forwards. Cole totaled 2 goals and 1 assist while firing 18 shots on net over the week's 3 games, despite playing an average of only just over 14 minutes a night. Between the offense and some physicality, he is looking more and more like the player the Habs were excited to sign this summer.

Carey Price is playing like Carey Price needs to and can. Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta are showing signs of life. The fourth line, led by strong face-off work on the part of Petteri Nokelainen, behaves like a proper fourth line, able to cycle pucks and throw hits. And though I haven't been the biggest fan of David Desharnais's play, he is getting his touches in and picking up points (now at 6 in 10 games). I mentioned that the forward group should perform far better than they had been, hence not being concerned by early season goal-scoring troubles, and it looks like they may now be starting to click.

This is good news for Habs fans, of course, but it is less good news for Scott Gomez. Once he returns from his injury (and he has resumed skating already), Martin's next big test will be where to slot him into the line-up. Plekanec and Lars Eller are playing far better than he was, and Desharnais has been far more productive. Nokelainen plays the fourth line face-off specialist role well, so it sounds like someone is going to have to move to wing. At this point, Gomez should be the odds-on favourite to be forced to make that transition, and if he does, it may actually work out for the best. It will take some defensive responsibilities off his shoulders, and he does have some experience there, having spent considerable time on left wing during his early days in New Jersey.

So Habs fans, smile and relax a little. Stay on your #FireGauthier and #FireMartin campaigns if you will, and you have my support. But in the meanwhile, the game is being played on the ice, and the strong leadership core at the heart of this team has decided that it's time to step up to the plate and play some sound hockey. No one knows how far they'll be able to take it, but reinforcements are around the corner; "The General" Andrei Markov gets back to Montreal from his rehab stint in Florida today.


If the action in Montreal doesn't satisfy you, then be happy there is more good news on its way from Hamilton. The Canadiens' first round pick in 2009, Louis Leblanc, returned from injury to make his professional hockey debut with the Hamilton Bulldogs last night, and boy was he impressive. Many questioned his offensive upside, seeing him more as a responsible, determined, and energetic two-way third-line type. The 'Dogs eased him in for his debut, allowing him to play that very role by lining up on Andreas Engqvist's wing, opposite Andrew Conboy.

It certainly didn't take long for Leblanc to make an impact, picking up an assist on an Engqvist powerplay goal just 4:18 into the duel with the Rochester Americans. He would add another assist on a second period Conboy goal, before saving his coup de grace for overtime, scoring the game winner to finish his first game with three points and earning first star honours for his efforts. Leblanc also led all of his teammates with 5 shots in the 3-2 win and was a +2.

Let's not begin clamouring for a call-up just yet (keep in mind Engqvist also had 3 points on this night and we know how he has looked in Montreal), but it is a highly encouraging start for a highly anticipated prospect.

Check out highlights from the game here:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Could It Be? Is That Hope I see?

Yes, it was just one win. Yes, the Montreal Canadiens are still only 2-5-2. But for the first time since the Jets' home opener in Winnipeg, there were a few reasons to smile in Montreal last night.

Let's start with an obvious one: Max Pacioretty. There were legitimate fears over how he would play once returning from last season's spinal cord injury. The truth is, Max hasn't been the same player he was prior to that injury; he still hesitates a little about charging into danger areas or going recklessly to the net. But he is maturing into the player he has always had the potential to be, whose mix of size, speed, and skill make him a top notch top 6 guy. And if he ever re-gains that head down, charge the goal, style... (and it isn't unreasonable to think he'll only get more and more comfortable on the ice over time) look out NHL cause we'll have a legitimate star powerforward on our hands. Four goals, five assists through 9 games is a great start for Max, and this while bouncing around on numerous combinations of lines. Plus the game seems like nothing can keep him down, a studly quick healer worthy of the nickname Wolverine.

Next, there's Carey Price. The Habs' star netminder got a couple of demons out of his closet by finally picking up career win #100 and shirking the pink pads he was using since for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Not to suggest it was causing a distraction, but getting past the milestone always helps to have one less thing at the back of your mind, and about those bads... well I'm not saying they were bad luck, or that they were of some inferior quality or comfort or fit... but for whatever reason, Carey wasn't getting it done in them. If the team is going to turn this terrible start around, they need Price at his best, so hopefully he gets to that level quickly.

Third would be Erik Cole. After a tough start to the season that saw Jacques Martin misuse him in every way imaginable other than sticking him on defense, Cole has been amongst the team's top wingers in each of the last two games. The Cole that Habs fans were happy to sign seems to have shown up, and hopefully he stays hot as when on his game, he is exactly the type of player this team needs.

Next let's talk Perry Pearn. No, I'm not going to say that he was the root of all of the team's problems and his firing allowed the team to stomp the Flyers last night. I've never been a big fan of Pearn, as he has a demeanor not all that unlike Jacques Martin's and his work on the powerplay and with the defense has at times been questionable. But the firing of an assistant coach with no external replacement isn't ultimately going to be a difference-maker. So why was Pierre Gauthier's announcement and subsequent press conference an encouraging sign? Maybe it's just the eternal optimist within me grasping at straws, but I was happy to hear the line Gauthier toed with the media. He spoke of a new commitment to "outside the box" thinking. He repeated a few times that the organization had to "change its global outlook." While he did state flat out that Jacques Martin was still his guy (for as much as we can believe it when a GM says this), what this says to me is they want to evolve, modify, or completely scrap the defensive shell system that Martin preaches. This says to me they see the issues at hand and they're ready to step outside of their country club mentality and open themselves up to new tactics. I'm a fan of getting creative and using all the tools at your disposal in sports management, so if Gauthier says they're ready to try new thing, then I take that as a great sign of better days ahead. The first step may have been firing Pearn, but I'm certain other changes - whether we're privy to them or not - area round the corner.

Finally, there's the long lost saviour of the Montreal blueline, Andrei Markov. There is renewed hope on this dossier as well, with members of the media taking advantage of having access to Gauthier to get an update and PG stating that things look good. Markov has responded well to testing in Florida and will get back to Montreal this Friday. There's no explicit timetable for his return to practice or game action, but it sounds like we may finally be getting closer. If the offense has awoken, a healthy Markov is the type of boost that could quickly lift this team out of the depths of the Eastern Conference basement.

So Habs fans, happy days may not be here again just yet, but there is some light at the end of our collective tunnel. And this while Brian Gionta has yet to show up, Hal Gill is still in his usual clumsy early season mode, P.K. Subban is struggling to find his game, and Scott Gomez and Chris Campoli remain on IR. Maybe... just maybe... the Fail for Nail must be put on hiatus.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Canadiens Fire Perry Pearn

Less than 2 hours prior to their game against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Montreal Canadiens announced that assistant coach Perry Pearn had been relieved of his functions.

This opens a spot behind the bench for Randy Ladouceur, who had been "assistant coaching" from the press box. Ladouceur came up to the Habs from the Hamilton Bulldogs along with Randy Cunneyworth this summer, but only one spot on the bench was available at the time (that replacing Kirk Muller).

Pearn has been an assistant coach in the NHL every season going back to 1995-96, when he was behind the bench with the Winnipeg Jets. He joined the Habs prior to the 2009-10 season, coming over from the New York Rangers who were no longer pleased with his services after 4 seasons there, where he was in charge of a sputtering powerplay as well as the defense. Rangers fans seemed please about his departure at the time, painting him as someone who sticks to his guns even when the plan is failing. (for more on that, see here:

He previously worked with Jacques Martin as part of the Ottawa Senators staff, feeding into the notion of a Jacques Martin / Pierre Gauthier "country club" running the team.

Gauthier said Pearn was offerred another position to remain with the organization, but it is still unknown whether or not he'll take it. Over the summer, there were rumours that the Edmonton Oil Kings were interested in hiring Pearn to head coach their Western Hockey League club, so perhaps he will try to go the junior route.

When pressed on a reason for the firing, Gauthier repeated several times a mantra of the team "changing its global outlook" and starting to "think outside the box." While he wouldn't give specific details, he did also add that he was getting frequent phone calls from other general managers proposing trades. It will be interesting to see what the next few days hold, especially given the team has a long break following Saturday's game against the Boston Bruins.

This isn't the huge Gauthier / Martin firing shake-up that many are clamouring for, but it's a start. In Gauthier's press conference, he mentioned that Martin is still his "homme de confiance," or "his guy." It seems like the pair will sink or swim together, though Gauthier also said that Martin tried to convince him not to fire Pearn. One might read into this move that the PG / JM team has some degree of immunity for this season, especially given that Gauthier was able to offer Pearn another position. It will be interesting to see how Geoff Molson will address the situation as President if the team continues to struggle.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Habs Acquire Nokelainen, Stafford from Coyotes

The Montreal Canadiens today announced the acquisition of forward Petteri Nokelainen and defenseman Garrett Stafford from the Phoenix Coyotes in return for Brock Trotter and a 7th round pick.

Nokelainen, 25, is a 6'1", 202 lbs center with 194 games of NHL experience split between the New York Islander, Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks, and Phoenix Coyotes. He is a versatile, speedy two-way player who is adept in the face-off circle - likely the main reason he was targeted by Pierre Gauthier. He brings some physicality, but little in the way of hockey sense, and has a history of knee injuries / surgeries (great! fits right in!). He joins the team on a one year, one-way, $550,000 deal.

Certainly, Nokelainen will be an upgrade on Andreas Engqvist, but this is hardly a move that will turn the team's current funk around.

Stafford, 31, has played only 7 games in the NHL and will report to the Hamilton Bulldogs to add more depth to the blueline there. The 'Dogs are missing Joe Stejskal for about a month, so Stafford can step right into the line-up. He's a solid AHL vet. If the name sounds familiar, when former Canadien Alexander Perezhogin was suspended for a full season of AHL action while playing for Hamilton, it was as the result of him hitting this same Garrett Stafford in the head with his stick. Stafford is one the last season of a two-year, two-way deal, but one that pays him $250,000 in the AHL, making him the highest paid Bulldog. His deal puts the Canadiens at 49 on the 50 contracts-per-team limit.

Anti-climactic, sure, but a small step in the right direction that at least improves a weak fourth line. The trade is best news, perhaps, for Brock Trotter himself as he may finally get a shot at a full-time NHL job. Here in Montreal, it's unclear whether Nokelainen would bring more to the team than Trotter would have, given a shot, but at least he's a little bigger!

Aaron Palushaj was returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs to create roster space for the move. Given that Nokelainen is a center, Andreas Engqvist was also sent down, while Michael Blunden was called up to Montreal to provide additional size and strength to the 4th line. The real question is why it took this move for the brass to realize that Blunden would be a better fit on a small and soft team's fourth line than the offensively oriented Palushaj.

This means the Habs line-up should look something like the following (at least for a few shifts, knowing Jacques Martin):

Mike Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Brian Gionta
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Mathieu Darche - Petteri Nokelainen - Michael Blunden

Your Canadiens: Where Do We Go From Here?

With a dismal 1-4-2 record to start the season, the Montreal Canadiens already find themselves falling way behind their Eastern Conference rivals for playoff positioning. In fact, following Saturday night's loss and a Winnipeg Jets win, they are dead last in the East. No, the Stanley Cup isn't awarded in October, but the fact is there is a great deal of parity amongst teams. Every point along the way is critical, even at this early juncture. Just ask last year's New Jersey Devils who, despite a phenomenal midseason charge, finished 12 whole points out of the 8th playoff spot.

No, it's not time to panic. There are still many games remaining for the team to make the deficit up. But is it time for Pierre Gauthier and/or Geoff Molson to act and shake things up? Sure seems like it. Let's dig a little deeper.

Looking at the team's issues, it's easy to pinpoint the defensive zone play as a big weakness. There are fundamental issues with the club's group of defenders which can be pinned back on Gauthier. One way or another, the GM erred in his personnel decisions this off-season. Gauthier came out and stated that he knew at the time of signing Andrei Markov that he wouldn't be ready to start the season. Let's assume this to be true, and also give him the benefit of the doubt that signing a guy like Chris Campoli was always in the plans even before training camp opened (depending on the play of the rookies).

This means the intended season opening defense was:

Hal Gill - P.K. Subban
Chris Campoli - Josh Gorges
Jaroslav Spacek - Raphael Diaz / Alexei Emelin / Yannick Weber

Even before factoring in other injuries to Chris Campoli and Jaroslav Spacek, on paper, this is easily the worst defense the Canadiens have had in years.

If Gauthier knew Markov would miss time, he did little to ensure his group could carry the load in the interim. The group as a whole is flawed; a lack of size, physicality, passing. Inexperienced, certainly, with two rookies and two second year players in the group of 8. Love Hal Gill for what he brings to the locker room, the penalty kill, and in the playoffs, but at age 36, he shouldn't be penciled on to any team's "top pairing." Asking sophomore P.K. Subban to be a #1 quality player is a lot of pressure to put on the guy with no legitimate back-up plan (fact is, the Canadiens have NO #1 or #2 d-man right now). Josh Gorges is a fine #4-5 guy, but it was rather uncertain how his newly pieced together knees would hold up. Spacek looked poised to become the team's #7 at time's last year, and for the team to improve as a whole, should have continued sliding down the depth chart.

And all of that is before looking at the rookies. That portion of the D was supposed to be the known quantities. Even though they're both 25, Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz have often looked like the rookies they are, balancing out some solid play with lapses and turnovers in their own end. The hope, no doubt, is that they continue their adaptation process over the season and pick up their game by March, but who is there to cover for them in the short-term? Certainly not Yannick Weber.

Gone are safety nets Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski. Gone is the size of Ryan O'Byrne. Given his contract, keeping Wizz was not an option, but dropping Gill for Hammer (yes, even on a 2-year deal) would have taken hard minutes away from green newcomers. (and no, moving Spacek's 35+ contract to keep both was not a possibility) Sure, the defense needed to get younger, but a year where the team has NO legitimate top pairing blueliners is certainly not the time to break in 4 players who each have less than 100 games of NHL experience. Definitely not when you're trying to get your team over the hump to "win now."

Simply put, there are many holes on the back end, and even more question marks. If Markov is healthy and Emelin and Diaz hit their stride, it may look alright come April. The question is how far out of the 8th playoff spot will the Canadiens be by then?

And that is if we assume Gauthier is telling the truth when he says he knew Markov wasn't going to be ready. If he didn't, then that's partly on the entire Habs' brass for not doing sufficient due diligence, and/or pinning too much money, too many years, and too much hope on a complete unknown. In either case, this is certainly enough for his job to be on the line. The plan on defense is, well, defenseless.

But the problem is deeper than this. If fixing the defense would guarantee sending this team on a winning track, we could list out a number of potential candidates and Gauthier could go after whichever seems most attainable. The problem, in fact, is that there is more than just one problem - it's not just the defense that requires attention. So for a trade to be a big part of a solution, it would have to be something significant or radical.

The best partner, then, is a fellow struggling team like perhaps the Columbus Blue Jackets, Winnipeg Jets, or Calgary Flames, but Gauthier (and Bob Gainey before him) has handicapped himself due to poor asset management. Going back a few years (when Gauthier was in charge of pro scouting, which means even if Gainey was GM, any trades for NHL talent were partly his responsibility), we can look at moves like rentals (and UFA signings) that led nowhere, Mike Ribeiro for Janne Niinimaa, Mikhail Grabovski for, essentially Robert Lang and Greg Pateryn (not bad value, but hurting the team now), Matt D'Agostini for Aaron Palushaj, Guillaume Latendresse for Benoit Pouliot, Sergei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre each for basically nothing, letting the entire 2008-09 team that was pretty clearly going nowhere walk out the door with zero compensation, and certainly, the still-hurting-today Scott Gomez trade (the team would look better today with Ryan McDonagh in the line-up than having Gomez). We won't blame draft miscues on the GMs, because this goes back to scouting as well, but the team's record has been well below average in the first round, the best time for picking up impact players.

Gauthier (and Gainey) opted to address areas of concern with patches (no offense intended to Max Pacioretty). Have a need? Sign one guy or trade for a player, and voila. This has short-term benefits at best. How do you address a fundamental need successfully? You re-design your team to be stronger in that area. The team doesn't need one enforcer; they need to increase toughness throughout the line-up! Boston has had no qualms about shuffling d-men on and off the team, or swapping up their top 9 forwards. Philadelphia dug deep to address their goaltending situation. To get over the hump, L.A. gave up a top prospect and was active on the UFA and trade market to stack their top 6 offensively. A team needs to be bold to improve when it has been stalling for some time. And if that requires too many moves, instead of transacting to fill out the bottom part of your roster, you try to bring in higher end players and have your existing guys filter down through the depth chart to areas of need. Don't go out and get a new #6 d-man to plug an injury hole; make a bigger move for a top 4 guy and let the player you've been forcing into top 4 minutes get back to his normal bottom pair role.

Let's look at coaching next. The fan uproar to have Jacques Martin fired continues to get louder and louder with each passing day. And anyone laying some blame on the coach is not wrong. A defensive shell, punish mistakes rather than reward good play, old guard system like Martin runs is not a good fit for this group of smaller, softer, skilled players.

The Habs led the league in Too Many Men on the Ice bench minors last season, and took 2 of them in the loss to the Leafs. This call can be directly link to poor communication between the coaching staff and the players, something for which Martin has long been criticized. The lack of good lines of communication was very noticeable during the loss to the Pittsburgh Penugins on Thursday when, after the Penguins called a timeout on an icing while ahead 3-0 with about 10 minutes to go, Martin and his staff chose not to say a word to their troops.

Still sticking with just the most recent examples, Lars Eller - likely the brightest spot for the team thus far this season with his skill play - was quoted following Saturday's game as saying he wasn't even aware that Toronto had changed goaltenders following the first period. One would think this is something a coaching staff should be responsible for informing thier players of. And then of course there's the baffling personnel decisions. He plays favourites with guys like Mathieu Darche and David Desharnais, and insists on slotting players in places they don't belong (Yannick Weber at forward, Tomas Plekanec on the powerplay point, and Travis Moen on pure scoring lines).

And then there was the public blow-up after the last loss. Many have surmised based on some comments in the press that there are already fractures in the relationship between Martin and Erik Cole. The coach went out of his way to publicly state that Cole "wasn't a saviour," and has refused to give him regular powerplay time. Following the Leafs game, in responding to TSN 990 radio reporter Jess Rusnak's question on using Darche on the PP over Cole, Martin said that it was his prerogative to play his players and that based on their powerplay output last season, she should do her research. Well, Mr. Martin, certainly Cole is more of a 5-on-5 guy than a powerplay specialist, but he still had 3 powerplay goals last year and 43 over his career. With admittedly far far fewer opportunities, Darche's 2 last season gives him a grand total of.... 3... over his 196 NHL games.

No one would blame any general manager league wide for firing their coach based on this pool of evidence. The team has looked unready and unprepared on numerous occasions, the powerplay is a mess, and they seem easily deflated when things start to go wrong. But if Martin and his staff are to be replaced, who is out there to be hired to step in?

The answer is not Patrick Roy. There is a cohesive leadership core in place in Montreal, and Roy is an "all about me" type leader. He is inexperienced and far too emotional for the role.

The answer is also not Kirk Muller. Despite the deserved love he got as an assistant coach, there is a reason he wasn't offered a head coaching job at the NHL level for this season. He just isn't ready. He's a great guy to have to support a head coach in managing the coach:player relationship, but he is too much of a relationship guy and not enough of a direction / authoritative type to take on the role before more seasoning at the AHL level.

The problem then becomes a lack of available candidates at this point. Marc Crawford and Michel Therrien are hardly appealing, and the Canadiens are likely to stick to their "head coach must speak French" rule (the logic being that the coach needs to be able to conduct press conference in both languages, like it or not). Would putting the pair of Randy Ladouceur and Randy Cunneyworth in charge on an interim basis until the summer be better than retaining Martin? At this point, it doesn't seem like it could be much worse.

Beyond the GM, coach, and defense, we could get into the forwards as well, many of whom have been chronically underperforming. But it seems hard to really place much blame there given that, on paper anyway, the group under contract should be good enough to compete with most teams around the league. For whatever reason, the environment, mix/chemistry, and/or style of play is hurting their output. The team goes through periods where it looks like they'll never score another goal and can't get anything going, which is rather inexplicable when you look at the track records and potential of many of the players. Sure, they lack an impact superstar up front, but you could say so do the Boston Bruins, and it didn't stop them from winning a Stanley Cup.

So is that it? Is it time to Fail for Nail (expected first overall 2012 pick, Nail Yakupov)? Not yet, but all signs indicate it is time for action. Geoff Molson must show what kind of an owner and president he is going to be by firmly addressing the issues within his staff. Blame the players all you'd like, but the men in charge must now face the music.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Apologies - Temporary Outage

Unfortunately, like Don Cherry on Saturday night, I also have to apologize this morning. My apology is for something I have yet to do however, that being a lack of new content to be posted between today, October 17th, and next Tuesday, October 25th. Life commitments as both a full-time student and being employed part time in an unrelated field make it a very busy week for me.

The new content will resume next week. If there is any big news that breaks during this time, I will still try to get it to you as soon as possible.

In the meanwhile, if you missed our Summer article series, feel free to have a look back on some of our pieces here:

Memory Mondays

Thanks for your readership, and I do hope you'll return when we do next week!

In the meanwhile, we'll try to stay as active as possible keeping you up to date via Twitter.
Follow this site at: @DailyCanadiens

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Your Canadiens for October 15, 2011

The Canadiens are back at it this evening as they try to erase a poor home opener from their memory banks. Here are some updates to set the stage:

- It seems at last our prayers have been answered. At yesterday's practice, Tomas Plekanec was removed from the point on the top powerplay unit. The failed experiment has finally come to an end, as the two units were:

Max Pacioretty - Tomas Plekanec - David Desharnais
Yannick Weber - P.K. Subban

Erik Cole - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz

Looking better, much better!

- The even strength lines were shaken up a bit as well as another of our hopes came to fruition. Travis Moen was taken off the Plekanec line, making for the following:

Travis Moen - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Lars Eller - Tomas Plekanec - Erik Cole
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Andrei Kostitsyn
Mathieu Darche - Andreas Engqvist - Aaron Palushaj

Hal Gill - P.K. Subban
Josh Gorges - Raphael Diaz
Alexei Emelin - Yannick Weber

I like these units. Even if I'm not a fan of Moen in the top 6, he has played alright with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta in the past, so it's the best of a bad situation while Mike Cammalleri is sidelined. Further, it creates a very interesting third line with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais being reunited. The two formed a dynamic pair with the Hamilton Bulldogs and, with Andrei Kostitsyn on the right, should be able to provide some secondary scoring. Lars Eller is deserving of time on a scoring line after the spunk he showed in his season debut and hopefully he can find some chemistry with his new linemates in the short term.

- Carey Price is the confirmed starter for this evening.

- Colorado Avalanche lines for this evening:

Joakim Lindstrom - Matt Duchene - Milan Hejduk
David Jones - Paul Stastny - Chuck Kobasew
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Daniel Winnik
Cody McLeod - Jay McClement - T.J. Galiardi

Shane O'Brien - Kyle Quincey
Erik Johnson - Jan Hejda
Ryan Wilson - Ryan O'Byrne

Semyon Varlamov
J.S. Giguere

UPDATE: - The Hamilton Bulldogs announced today the signing of defenseman T.J. Fast to a professional tryout agreement. The agreement will allow him to play with the Dogs but does not guarantee him a contract for the duration of the season. P.T.O. agreements have a maximum duration of 25 games but can be terminated at any point. The Bulldogs have 7 healthy d-men on their roster, so this signing provides some additional depth. Youngster Olivier Dame-Malka was a healthy scratch for last night's game, so it's possible they want to give him some playing time down in Wheeling (ECHL) and sit Fast as a spare blueliner instead.

- We've gotten clarification as to what is keeping gritty forward Ryan White out of the line-up (and why he wasn't even on hand for the team's home opener). The fourth liner underwent surgery for a sports hernia and thus will be out long-term. Keep track of all injured players in the Canadiens organization with our tracker on the sidebar of the page.

- Want to meet Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Yvan Cournoyer, Chris Nilan, and a whole host of ex-NHL'ers (for a fee)? Do you collect hockey cards and/or other memorabilia? Head on over to the L'International des Collectionneurs - a biannual weekend-long hockey-best collectibles show that takes place at the Centre Pierre Charbonneau by the Olympic Stadium. Find out more here:

- The Hamilton Bulldogs played their second game of the season last night, a 4-0 win over the St. John's IceCaps, to improve their record to 2-0-0. The Dogs' lines were the following:

Joonas Nattinen - Brock Trotter - Brian Willsie
Andrew Conboy - Philip DeSimone - Alexander Avtsin
Mike Blunden - Gabriel Dumont - Phillippe Lefebvre
Ian Schultz - Dany Masse - Alain Berger

Mark Mitera - Joe Callahan
Frederic St. Denis - Alex Henry
Zack Fitzgerald - Joe Stejskal

Philip DeSimone scored twice - the first two goals of his professional career in just his 2nd game - while Dany Masse and Joonas Nattinen (also with his first pro goal in his first game) rounded out the offense. Brock Trotter continued his strong play with 3 assists, giving him 2 goals and 7 points through 2 games. He certainly looks like he wants a call-up to Montreal soon! But even better may have been the 'Dogs netminder Nathan Lawson stopping all 40 shots for the shutout victory.

Not looking so good in goal for the IceCaps was former Hab David Aebischer. Aebi is making his return to North America after 3 seasons in the Swiss league. He previously played 39 games over parts of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons with the Canadiens after being acquired in a trade for Jose Theodore.

Also on scoresheet for St. John's with a fight in the third period was former Canadiens tough guy Garth Murray. Murray has bounced around the NHL, AHL, and even ECHL since leaving the Habs during the 2007-08 season. He played 80 games over 3 campaigns in Montreal, collecting 7 goals and 2 assists.

- In the NCAA ranks, North Dakota defeated Maine 3-1, with Danny Kristo picking up an assist. Though held pointless, rookie Mark MacMillan saw time on the top line with Kristo. Kristo has now collected 4 assists in 3 games

Playing his first game of the season after serving a short team-imposed suspension, Steve Qualier had 1 assist in a 4-0 Northeastern win.

- Over in the WHL, Brendan Gallagher added a powerplay assist to his strong start to the season despite his team's 3-2 loss. He is now up to 7 goals and 10 points in just 5 games, with at least one point in each match.

- In the Ontario Hockey League, London Knights captain and Hab prospect Jarred Tinordi dropped the gloves against Johnny McGuire and then could not return, seemingly suffering a cut to the head. Tinordi was a +2 in the game's first period prior to leaving. After the game, a member of his coaching staff was quoted as saying he'd be re-evaluated today but that they don't want him changing his style or holding back because he is at his best when he's most physical.

- In the QMJHL, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu added one assist to his stat line in a 9-4 victory. The points had been slowing down recently for Beaulieu, but the defenseman had dropped the gloves in each of the two previous games. The assist now gives Beaulieu 7 points in 9 games.

- Also in the Q, there was a big trade yesterday that may impact Habs prospect Michael Bournival. Bournival, you will recall, was off to a very hot start but has been sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an injury suffered in practice. His club, the Shawinigan Cataractes, traded for talented forward Kirill Kabanov, a prospect of the New York Islanders. Kabanov has been regularly criticized for his poor attitude, but his size and skill are undeniable. He scored 28 points in 37 regular season games for the Lewison MAINEiacs last year before turning it up with 20 more points in 15 playoff contests. His rights for this season belonged to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada but he refused to report to the team after being cut by the New York Islanders and seemed destined to spend the season in Sweden before this last minute trade. He will help to replace Bournival's offense for the Cataractes in the short term, and once Michael is back, he could be a strong potential linemate.

- Lastly, a bad omen for those (LIKE ME) who collect Montreal Canadiens figurines and similar memorabilia. Figure producer McFarlane shutdown their official online fan forum for good yesterday, a sign that times may be tough at the company. A number of cost-cutting measures over the past months and years indicated a decline in profitability, but this is perhaps the move that struck collectors hardest, as the forums were a popular place to trade figures and swap "haul" stories. A replacement unofficial fan forum has been set up here:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Markov Back on Skates Next Week!

UPDATE: - It appears it'll have to be later on next week, as confirmed reports say Markov will stay in Florida till at least Monday when he has another appointment with his doctor.

Just as all signs were pointing to a bleak outlook for Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov, Habs fans got the best news update they could ask for on a Friday afternoon. The team's top rearguard will begin skating with his mates next week, as announced by Tony Marinaro and Renaud Lavoie on Twitter.

Markov spent most of the week meeting with his doctor, Dr. James Andrew, in Florida. This fueled rampant blog and Twitter speculation that perhaps his injury was more long-term than initially thought, or that there may even be a big rift between him and the club. Well Canadiens fans can rest a little easier going into the weekend with the knowledge that the General of the team's blueline may be back in action sooner than they had thought.

While there is still no formal timetable for his return to game action, one would imagine he will need a couple of weeks of skating and practicing. That would push his first game to early November in all likelihood. While this is great news, the next concern will be his performance when he does actually play, as the expectations set by his contract are for him to be the dominant force he was before all these injuries set in.

We were critical of the Markov signing when it became apparent that he wouldn't be ready for training camp and then the start of the season, but if he is back in the coming weeks and seems to be at 100%, we will eat our words. Markov is a player who can take the team's game to a whole other level if he's on. Hal Gill and P.K. Subban have looked far from the top pairing they were asked to be, so if they can slide into a 2nd duo role and have, say, Markov and Josh Gorges eat up significant ice time, the Habs' back end will look far better.

13/10/11: Calgary 4, Montreal 1; defense? we talkin' bout defense?

Ouch. That's about the best word I have to describe the Montreal Canadiens getting burnt by the Calgary Flames in the home opener at the Bell Centre last night. In a game that resembled the inverse of the Winnipeg Jets' home opener last Sunday, the Habs had chances but severely lacked killer instinct when it came to finishing around the net. The bigger problem, however, was the team's play in its own end which ranged from passable to atrocious. They looked to take play in their own end about as seriously as Allen Iverson takes practice.

Start with P.K. Subban, whose -1 rating was actually flattering to the way he played on the night (just because 2 of Calgary's goals came on the powerplay). He was hesitant with the puck, was regularly caught out of position, and couldn't get anything going in the offensive zone. After weak performances in the first two road games, Subban needed to step it up at home, but instead delved deeper into his slump. He may not believe in the sophomore slump, but unless he gets back to the basics of his game, he's going to be hearing that term very frequently. Perhaps he should have been in bed early the night before rather than hitting the Montreal club scene.

Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin looked like the rookies that they are, though Emelin did have a couple of good sequences to go with the bad. Hal Gill looks slow as he usually does at this time of year. The problem is, he's being counted on to play on a top pairing with Subban. Anyone that thinks the Canadiens can be a contending - or even playoff - team with a Gill-Subban top duo is dreaming in technicolour right now. If Andrei Markov is indeed going to be out long-term, the blueline needs help and fast.

As for the forwards, Lars Eller was likely the team's best on this night - sad when you consider it was his first game back from injury. He showed good speed, nice hands, and a willingness to throw some good hits. I'm a big Eller fan, and he looks poised for a good season, but needs to improve his finish around the net. I've said it many times but will reaffirm it now: Eller plays the game like Peter Forsberg. Of course, I'm not saying he'll be anywhere near as good as the amazing talent Forsberg was, but he plays in the same style with many of the same moves. That's a huge compliment to the young Dane.

Tomas Plekanec was ok, except for at the point on the powerplay, where he looks completely out of place. When can this experiment end already? He has NEVER looked good there this year, going back to preseason and through the first 3 games. A Subban - Yannick Weber duo on the first unit clearly makes the most sense, with 2 shooters resembling the game the team played with Subban and James Wisniewski last year. Admittedly, this leaves the second unit thin, but you can focus more on the forwards in that case if the top unit fails to score. Play Diaz with Emelin or Gorges... at least ice one completely good unit instead of two dysfunctional ones. Plus, Plekanec was one of the team's best face-off men in the first 2 games, so I don't understand why you wouldn't have him taking the draw!

Erik Cole has been a huge disappointment in the first 3 games, and while I advocated for him to get more minutes on the top line, he certainly hasn't deserved them. Whereas in preseason he was effective at stealing the puck away from opposing players in their own end, through 3 games he himself has been a turnover machine in the Montreal end. He also seems to be knocked off the puck far too easily in the offensive end. He is at least throwing some hits, but the Canadiens aren't paying him to be a fourth line grinder; he's here to produce offensively, and he looks far from being capable of that at the moment. Hopefully it will just require an adjustment period to Jacques Martin's system and his new teammates.

Brian Gionta has looked off his game through the first three as well. The penalty calls against him last night were quite questionable, so I won't fault him there, but he needs to begin generating some offense. He has had little in the way of quality scoring chances, and when he does get them, he has frequently fanned on his shots or missed the net.

And lastly, the one we all know but are afraid to admit: Max Pacioretty isn't the same player as he was before the Zdeno Chara hit. Now I'm not saying he's playing particularly poorly; I love Max and he has shown his great combination of size, speed, and hands. But the player we saw last year charged the net fearlessly, kind of like Brendan Gallagher did in preseason. He would challenge any defender in his way in trying to go around or right through them. This season's Max - again, still a great skill player - stays to the outside far more frequently, opting to just take his shots from weaker angles rather than head into the danger/traffic zones. If he's going to realize his full potential, he will need to get over this shyness (which may happen in time anyway) and get back to playing like he did when he was perhaps the team's most dangerous forward.

So that's it for now. Carey Price will have to wait at least one more night to earn his 100th career win. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting it's time to panic. We're only 3 games into a very long and tough NHL season. However, with the degree of parity and number of quality clubs in the league's Eastern Conference, all the points lost now could and will come back to haunt Montreal in March and April. It is important for the team to start the year off strong, even if the hope is that they find their game midseason and carry that momentum into the playoffs. Pierre Gauthier has frequently shown he isn't afraid to make a move, so if the team doesn't wake up and play up to their potential in the near future, we should expect some changes to come.

UPDATE: - As an aside, anyone who considers themselves a Montreal Canadiens fan should read this article:

It's an interview in French with Patrice Brisebois. For those that don't speak la langue de Moliere, Brisebois talks about how big of an impact all of the booing and nasty comments had on him. He says he would often cry in his car after games and it made him isolate himself from others. It severely hurt his confidence and depressed him. Come on Habs fans, we're better than that. May no other player have to go through what Breeze did. We need to encourage our players to be at their best, and while the occasional boo from a paying customer is not a problem, the regular harassment of one of our own can do only harm.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Montreal, Get Ready to Rock!

For the first time of the 2011-12 NHL regular season, the Montreal Canadiens will take to the Bell Centre ice this evening as they host the Calgary Flames. The roof is sure to be rocking, though as per the Canadiens' Facebook account yesterday, some tickets still remain for the game! In fact, when I checked last night, there were even some pairs left in the more expensive sections. If you're looking for tickets, try here:

It's the home opener! Anything less than a sellout is unacceptable!

- Habs line-up for tonight:

Max Pacioretty - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Travis Moen - Tomas Plekanec - Erik Cole
Mathieu Darche - David Desharnais - Andrei Kostitsyn
Lars Eller - Andreas Engqvist - Aaron Palushaj

Hal Gill - P.K. Subban
Josh Gorges - Raphael Diaz
Alexei Emelin - Yannick Weber

Carey Price

Let's hope for a strong performance from the injury-depleted boys, because what is certain is that unlike Winnipeg, if Montreal is down 5-1 in the final minute, Habs' fans will definitely not be giving a standing ovation to the team.

Aaron Palushaj and Lars Eller will both make their season debuts tonight, while Yannick Weber will start on defense for the first time after finishing both of the first two games on the blueline.

I've advocated for the moving of Weber to the top powerplay unit alongside P.K. Subban which would give the team 2 point shots like with Subban and James Wisniewski last year, but as per practice, the Tomas Plekanec experiment is not yet over. He'll man the blueline with Subban on the top unit, while Raphael Diaz and Weber play on the 2nd wave.

- Carey Price's next win (hopefully tonight) will be the 100th of his career. He will become only the 13th goaltender in NHL history to reach that mark by age 24.

- Per awesome French site Dans Les Coulisses, P.K. Subban was out at Santos supper club last night, along with Yannick Weber and Chris Campoli. The article questions whether this is appropriate behaviour on the eve of the home opener, though in the players' defense, they've had quite a few days off to rest and thus should be well prepared for tonight regardless of having a few drinks. It is perhaps concerning since Subban is not off to a great start to the season and Weber had just a few days ago all but lost his spot in the line-up, meaning the team needs more from these guys with no distractions, but they are human and should have their privacy respected on occasion so long as it doesn't translate to on-ice mishaps.

- As we had posted to Twitter yesterday, prospect defenseman Darren Dietz's Saskatoon Blades will be hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup. Since Dietz has one more year in juniors before he can be signed to play in the AHL, this should be a great experience for him.

- Expected Calgary Flames line-up:

Alex Tanguay - David Moss - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - Lee Stempniak
Niklas Hagman - Roman Horak - Rene Bourque
Toms Kostopoulos - Matt Stajan - Tim Jackman

Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
Derek Smith - Cory Sarich

Miikka Kiprusoff

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Your Canadiens for October 12, 2011

Finally! We're now only one day away from the return of meaningful hockey to the Bell Centre as the Canadiens prepare for their home opener tomorrow night against the Calgary Flames. As always, we'll have updates from practice as they come in.

UPDATE: - The team's lines are the same as we saw yesterday, meaning:
Max Pacioretty - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Travis Moen - Tomas Plekanec - Erik Cole
Mathieu Darche - David Desharnais - Andrei Kostitsyn
Lars Eller - Andreas Engqvist - Aaron Palushaj

Why Travis Moen on the Tomas Plekanec line instead of any of the offensively inclined bottom 6 wingers? Who knows. Ask Jacques Martin.

- Hal Gill was absent from practice today, though the reason why wasn't immediately clear. The 6'7" locker room leader was later said by the team to have had family commitments that kept him away. Hopefully that's all it was, because the team can ill-afford to lose yet another veteran blueliner.

- Credit to Big T on the Habs for their story yesterday based on a recent photo of Andrei Markov at Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport.
Markov was boarding a plane to Miami, presumably to meet with Dr. James Andrews, the physician who performed his ACL surgeries. Dr. Andrews has offices in Alabama and Florida, either which may have been Markov's final destination. The real question is why he was headed there? Was it to get final medical clearance? Based on his raised right knee in the picture, this is doubtful (though PERHAPS it was just a comfy way to sit... we don't mean to speculate based purely on him elevating his leg). Was it a normal scheduled check-up? Hopefully... But was it to have the knee drained again due to fluid buildup? This would be the worst case scenario and would see Markov out the longest. We don't know, and it is unlikely the Habs will tell us. Their injury updates have consisted simply of "he's on schedule."

- For the Carey Price stalker types, his sister appears to have a Twitter account based on an exchange with P.K. Subban. If you just can't get enough of the Price family, be sure to follow Kayla at @KaylaPrice:!/kaylaprice

- Habs prospect Michael Bournival was injured in practice and early reports indicate he could miss up to one month of action. This is unfortunate as Bournival was off to a torrid start in the QMJHL with 10 goals and 3 assists in just 7 games. If he does miss significant time, it may also hurt his chances of being on Team Canada's World Junior Championships squad, a role he was looking a lock for.

- As an aside, if you've seen the terrific Brad Pitt movie Moneyball (and if you haven't you SHOULD!), one can't help but laugh at the parallels between it and the current Montreal Canadiens situation. Not catching my drift? Stay tuned for our feature article Friday. [/spoiler alert] You have two days to watch the movie in order to appreciate our piece! Get on it! EDIT: This article was cancelled (or at least postponed) for the time being. While we do find it a little funny that it has required injuries and/or roster moves to get Martin to play his younger players or change his lines at times, the Moneyball analogy doesn't go far enough just yet.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Your Canadiens for October 11, 2011

As we anxiously await news on the health of Mike Cammalleri and Jaroslav Spacek which should come at this morning's practice, we can fill you in on some things you may have missed while enjoying your turkey yesterday.

UPDATE: - Jacques Martin briefed the media on the status of his injured players.

Mike Cammalleri is expected to miss 10-14 days of action with a deep cut near his left thigh. There is no muscle or ligament damage, fortunately.

Jaroslav Spacek continues to experience upper body pain following a hit on Sunday. He is expected to miss 2-3 weeks of action.

Lars Eller "hopes" to be ready for Thursday's home opener. As he himself put it, because of Habs' injury woes, "there's no one else left to play!"

UPDATE: - Lines from practice:
Max Pacioretty - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Travis Moen - Tomas Plekanec - Erik Cole
Mathieu Darche - David Desharnais - Andrei Kostitsyn
Lars Eller - Andreas Engqvist - Aaron Palushaj

Hal Gill - P.K. Subban
Josh Gorges - Raphael Diaz
Alexei Emelin - Yannick Weber

At first glance they look passable, but under closer inspection, the team needs help as the roster is riddled with young, unproven players and oddly formed combinations. As was expected, neither Mike Cammalleri nor Jaroslav Spacek were at practice, and we'll get an update on their status when it's done. The Tomas Plekanec line is a mess with a slow-starting Erik Cole and a third/fourth line two-way forward in Travis Moen on his wings (the way the line finished the game on Sunday, which, I'll admit, worked well enough for that afternoon). For those that don't watch him enough, Sunday's breakaway goal was far from the first time that Moen has shown off some flashy hands. In fact, he rather regularly tries skill moves in the offensive zone and is quite effective, but his skating, passing, and shot leave him as more of a defensive player. It shouldn't be a surprise, though, that Jacques Martin has gone back to putting him into the top 6, a favourite move of his when injuries pop up. I'd have rather seen Aaron Palushaj, Mathieu Darche, or Andrei Kostitsyn there easily.

The fourth line has a major identity crisis, though at least it offers good size. If Palushaj plays well, swapping him for Moen in the line-up would make a whole lot of sense in clarifying the roles of each trio.

Lars Eller will return to the line-up but he's being started at wing on the fourth line (for now). Andreas Engqvist is being kept at center as he has done well in the face-off circle thus far.

That defense is awfully young and inexperienced, with Josh Gorges being forced to his off-side to play with Raphael Diaz. NHL rookies Diaz and Alexei Yemelin join sophomores Yannick Weber and P.K. Subban in what must be the defense with the least amount of NHL games played league-wide.

I'm sure Pierre Gauthier is busy working the phones as we speak.

- The Canadiens called forward Aaron Palushaj up from the Hamilton Bulldogs yesterday. Palushaj had a disappointing first half of training camp but turned it up a notch in the last few preseason games, collecting 4 points. He had 2 assists in Hamilton's season opener (their only game thus far).

- Brendan Gallagher exploded offensively on Thanksgiving Monday with 3 goals and 2 assists in a 5-1 Vancouver Giants win. Gallagher now has 7 goals and 2 assists in just 4 games. He and Michael Bournival are definite bright spots in the organization in this young season and both look like near-locks for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.

Monday, October 10, 2011

09/10/11: Montreal 5, Winnipeg 1; stay classy, Jets fans

So it was still far from a perfect game for your Montreal Canadiens, but it certainly was a relief to score some goals and get in the win column before hitting the Bell Centre ice this coming Thursday for the team's home opener. Sorry for spoiling your party, Winnipeg, but a huge round of applause to the fans that packed the noisy stadium for sticking around to the end of this one-sided affair (though just on the scoreboard) and then giving your boys an ovation to welcome them home at game's end.

Despite the score, the Habs owe this one to Carey Price who was simply sensational. With the exception of one banged in rebound, he kept buzzing Jets forwards at bay all night, including a number of ten bell saves.

Unlike the game against the Leafs, however, Price got run support this time. The Canadiens were opportunistic, cashing in on their chances with a number of pretty markers as Tomas Plekanec paced the offense with a goal and 2 helpers. Yannick Weber broke the team's powerplay goose egg on a 4-on-3 advantage and also added an assist, taking on a bigger role after Jaroslav Spacek was forced to leave due to an upper body injury early on in the game.

Mike Cammalleri scored the Canadiens first goal of the 2011-12 campaign early on, making him the answer to the trivia question of who scored the first marker in the first game back in Winnipeg. Habs fans will care more, however, about the fact that he was forced out of the game after having his left leg accidentally cut open by the blade of Weber's skate. The report is a leg laceration will keep him out about 2 weeks.

A lot of Habs had pretty good nights. Yannick Weber looked much better than his training camp self after moving back to the point. Raphael Diaz's maturation continues. Alexei Emelin was rather sound for his NHL debut despite a poor penalty.

Others not so much. Erik Cole looks out of synch right now, something obviously not lost on Jacques Martin seen in his greatly reduced ice time. Brian Gionta fanned on a number of in-close scoring chances. P.K. Subban still looks awkward leading the top powerplay and is often caught out of position defensively.

But it was a win. And it felt good. It will be interesting to see how the Canadiens manage to replace Cammalleri and Spacek in the short term, likely by shifting Weber back to D and calling up Aaron Palushaj, while hoping Lars Eller is ready to face the Calgary Flames on Thursday. But perhaps Pierre Gauthier opts to test the trade market or sign a remaining free agent (Bryan McCabe, Paul Mara, and John Madden are some of the more intriguing - and I use that word loosely - names out there).

One thing I am sincerely hoping for is an end to the Plekanec on the powerplay point experiment. Last season, the PP struggles ended when Montreal put two shooters on the blueline (Subban and James Wisniewski), so it would be natural to try Weber with Subban to again give the team two shot options. Until Andrei Markov can re-join the group, this looks like the best choice for the top unit.

With the Canadiens having the day off for Thanksgiving today, don't expect any real updates on Spacek or Cammalleri until tomorrow's practice. The team says the injuries are minor, and Cammalleri said he's "fine," but then again, so was Blair Betts.

In any case, there remains lots of work to do and possible chances to come in the three days off until the next game. But when Thursday does come, I am excited to join in as we Hab fans raise the Bell Centre roof just as Jets fans got to do last night.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Habs Return Injured Betts to Flyers

The NHL announced this morning that the Montreal Canadiens have returned center Blair Betts to the Philadelphia Flyers as he failed his physical. NHL by-law 11.8 (a) and CBA clause 13.20 (a) allow the league to reverse/cancel a waiver claim if the claimed player is deemed medically unfit to play for his new team. Betts had an undisclosed knee injury which was keeping him out of action.

This is bad news for the Habs who could have really used a player like Betts to center their fourth line. Until/unless another move is made, the job is back to being Andreas Engqvist's, despite his unimpressive play.

As we reported earlier, this story was first broken on Twitter by TSN 990 Radio reporter Amanda Stein, and later confirmed by a number of journalists and sources.

With this plus the news of Chris Campoli expected to miss a number of months of action, it will be interesting to see what Pierre Gauthier's next move might be. There are some UFA fill-ins still available on the market, including Bryan McCabe and Paul Mara on the back end or John Madden as a defensive center, but in all honesty, at least in this fan's view, it is time for Mr. Gauthier to make a bolder move. It seems clear the defense needs some healthy help instead of continuing to play plugs, while the lack of top end talent and grit up front may continue to be a problem throughout the season. It may be early to switch to "panic mode," but with such parity in the East, the Habs can ill afford to fall way behind their competition even in October or November.

Hockey Day in Winnipeg! (Reminder: 5:00 PM EST Start!)

Today marks a historic moment that many old Winnipeg Jets fans have been dreaming about for years. Yes, Winnipeg, NHL hockey returns to your city this afternoon as the Montreal Canadiens visit your Jets for their season and home opener.

To properly set this up, here's a look at the last meaningful NHL game played in the city, some 15 years ago:

Expect a rocking building this evening and a Jets team that will come out all fired up. From a Habs' fan perspective, we can at least hope for a better effort/performance than we saw in the season opener in Toronto.

- Habs' expected lines:

Mike Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Erik Cole
Max Pacioretty - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Mathieu Darche - David Desharnais - Andrei Kostitsyn
Travis Moen - Andreas Engqvist - Yannick Weber

Hal Gill - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Josh Gorges
Jaroslav Spacek - Raphael Diaz

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

- Lines this afternoon for the Winnipeg Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane - Mark Scheifele - Kyle Wellwood
Brett MacLean - Alexander Burmistrov - Nik Antropov
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn

Ron Hainsey - Tobias Enstrom
Dustin Byfuglien - Johnny Oduya
Mark Stuart - Zach Bogosian

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason

- As per Amanda Stein of TSN Radio 990, there is a rumour out there that Blair Betts will officially be returned to the Philadelphia Flyers due to his undisclosed injury at the time he was waived and his failing to pass a physical as a result. A number of sources have since reported the same, so it seems official, but stay tuned for confirmation from the league or either team.

- Jacques Martin has said that the injury to defenseman Chris Campoli may take months to fully heal from a torn hamstring. This is certainly not good news for Montreal's blueline, and it will be interesting if Pierre Gauthier decides to be active now to replace both him and Betts.

- Alexei Emelin will make his NHL regular season debut tonight. It will be interesting to see if he plays as the physical player Habs fans expected or the toned-down version of himself we saw in preseason.

- Some prospect news of last night:

Michael Bournival did not score for once, but still had an assist in Shawinigan's 4-2 victory. He now has 10 goals and 13 points in 6 games.

Nathan Beaulieu had 2 assists in Saint John's 8-2 victory, giving him a goal and 3 assists in 6 games.

In the WHL, defenseman Darren Dietz scored his second of the season in a 5-1 win. He has 6 points in 6 games.

Brendan Gallagher added 2 goals for the Vancouver Giants but was stopped both on a penalty shot and in the shootout in his team's shootout loss. Since being cut from Habs' camp, Gallagher has 4 goals in 3 games played.

The Hamilton Bulldogs opened their regular season last night with a big 5-2 win. Nathan Lawson allowed 2 goals on 32 shots, while Brock Trotter led the way offensively with 2 goals and 2 assists. Frederic St. Denis also had 2 goals, while Ian Schultz had the 5th from the fourth line. Aaron Palushaj, completing the top line with Trotter and Brian Willsie, had 2 assists.

Over in the NCAA, North Dakota lost 6-2, but both Canadiens prospects, Danny Kristo and Mark MacMillan, finished with an assist (and Kristo was even a +1 on the night).

Here's some video from that game thanks to HFBoards prospect expert Whitesnake:
Yesterday, 09:39 PM
The perfect match

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Join Date: Jan 2003
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North Dakota Highlights:

1- Big hit by Kristo at 0:06
2 -Great feed by Kristo shorthanded at 0:32
3- MacMilan wins a faceoff that results in a goal at 1:08

Friday, October 7, 2011

Your Canadiens for October 7, 2011

Minor notes from practice a day after the Canadiens' loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

- Carey Price was not at practice today, while Mike Cammalleri left early, both affected by a flu bug. Fortunately, with no game Saturday night, they'll get an extra day to recuperate before playing in Winnipeg Sunday night.

- Defenseman Joe Callahan, who signed with Montreal earlier today, is currently on waivers and will report to the Hamilton Bulldogs once he clears, per Jacques Martin. He is simply a replacement for Jeff Woywitka.

- Yannick Weber practiced at forward on the fourth line once again, while Alexei Emelin slid into the injured Chris Campoli's spot on the blueline. Martin indicated he expects Emelin to play Sunday.

- Chris Campoli, who had looked pretty good since being signed to fill in on D. will be re-evaluated by doctors today for the hamstring injury he suffered last night. Though he left the building on crutches, it is believed the prognosis might be better than initially feared (which was for a 3+ week absence).

- Lars Eller has received medical clearance and hopes to play his first game next Thursday (home opener vs. Calgary) or Saturday (vs. Colorado).

- Blair Betts was absent from practice for the second consecutive day and there is no timeline for when he might play, but his injury is still said to be minor and unrelated to his history of shoulder problems (which he claims are behind him).

- Erik Cole, who played only 14:38 last night, found himself on the Tomas Plekanec line in practice, where he finished the opening game and where most Habs fans believe he belongs. Full lines today were:

Mike Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Erik Cole
Max Pacioretty - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Mathieu Darche - David Desharnais - Andrei Kostitsyn
Travis Moen - Andreas Engqvist - Yannick Weber
Lars Eller

Hal Gill - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Josh Gorges
Jaroslav Spacek - Raphael Diaz

Canadiens Sign D Joe Callahan to 1-Year, 2-Way Deal

Pierre Gauthier announced today the signing of defenseman Joe Callahan to a one-year, two-way contract.

With Jeff Woywitka being claimed off waivers by the New York Rangers, and a subsequent injury to Chris Campoli, Callahan provides extra depth and toughness to the Habs organization's blueline.

Callahan, 28, was a third round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2002. He is a defensive defenseman who, at 6'3" and 221 lbs, adds size and physicality to Montreal's back end. He has played 46 NHL games all between 2008-09 and last season, split amongst the New York Islanders, San Jose Sharks, and Florida Panthers, while spending most of those seasons in the American Hockey League.

It isn't immediately clear whether Callahan will get a look in Montreal or start out with the Hamilton Bulldogs, but yesterday's Campoli injury may open up a spot for him. A solid depth signing to replace Woywitka in the AHL, but hopefully he isn't another roadblock ahead of Alexei Emelin. As much as the Russian blueliner hasn't been overly impressive, a fringe NHL'er like Callahan shouldn't be getting ice time over developing a high potential prospect.

The Habs now have 49 players under contract for this season with the league maximum being 50 per team. Their hands are thus somewhat tied when it comes to acquisitions, though it isn't necessarily difficult to dump contracts of American League youth.

06/10/11: Toronto 2, Montreal 0; false start for Habs

Rome wasn't built in a day. The Stanley Cup isn't awarded in October. Et cetera, et cetera. Just like "it's only preseason," these excuses do hold some weight, but at some point your Montreal Canadiens are going to have to start performing up to their potential.

If you didn't watch the game, don't be fooled by the boxscore. It may look like a hot James Reimer is the only thing that allowed his team, outshot 32-18, to win on opening night. The Canadiens may have technically had 32 shots on goal, but you'd be hardpressed to find more than a handful of quality scoring chances. Reimer was good, no doubt, but he was by no means forced to be anything more than just good.

The problems with the Canadiens in the opener were predictible. They looked much more like the 2-6-0 preseason team than just the team that kicked Tampa's butt in the final exhibition game. Montreal was "good" in the first period (there's that word again), but sloppy, unable to cash on a couple of in-close opportunities and often making one too many ill-advised pass despite having puck possession for most of the opening frame. But Montreal was only good. In reality, the reason the play was so one-sided is that the Leafs were terrible, causing turnover after giveaway after turnover. When Toronto started to play a little in the second, the tide turned just as quickly.

The defense, my biggest concern coming into the season, was weak. Josh Gorges and Hal Gill are effective shot blockers, but as a group, they lack major leaders and minute-eaters, or true physical/containment types. The team misses Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski right now, no doubt, and will continue to miss them until Andrei Markov is healthy enough to play. P.K. Subban did not have a good night, being one of those at fault on both Maple Leaf goals, and for a second time in his three games with the club, Chris Campoli was unable to finish the night, this time seemingly out for the next couple of weeks. That is the gamble you take in banking on a guy who hasn't had a full training camp. The groin is a major area of concern.

The bottom pairing of Raphael Diaz and Jaroslav Spacek frankly didn't look to be NHL caliber last night. You can blame it on Diaz's nerves, but Spacek is a veteran who was hoping to make amends for a poor year and was coming off a good preseason. He is certainly at high risk of losing his job as players get healthier.

Speaking of veterans coming off good preseasons and hoping to impress, Scott Gomez seemed to revert to the guy he was all of last season. It's only one game, of course, but the effort level and turnovers from Gomez were far from encouraging.

The team's powerplay was atrocious, much like it was throughout preseason, and the experiment of Tomas Plekanec at the point will and should be short-lived. The penalty kill, along with the play of Carey Price (though he didn't have the busiest of evenings) was one of the few bright spots on an anticlimactic evening for Canadiens fans around the globe.

But don't despair. It's only one game. The team wasn't going to go 82-0-0. All they have to do is regroup and walk into a rocking building in Winnipeg to steal the Jets' thunder Sunday night.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Your 2011-12 Montreal Canadiens Roster

For the start of the 2011-12 hockey season, we have created this post to introduce you to this year's edition of the Montreal Canadiens. For the new or casual fan, this is a good way to get to know your team. But even a long-time Habs supporter may learn a thing or two. The players are sorted by position and then by number and this page will be updated all year for any player on the active NHL roster.

(Details will be added in over the course of the week)


Goaltender - Age 29 - Slovakia
6'1", 200 lbs, Catches Left
Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent (2011)
2011-12 Salary Cap Hit: $1,150,000
Signed Through: 2013

Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2000, Budaj spent his junior days in the Ontario Hockey League and then played three full seasons with the AHL's Hershey Bears before making the leap to the NHL. Once seen as a goalie of the future to replace Patrick Roy after David Aebischer failed to do so, Budaj has struggled to establish himself as a starter in the big league. His best season statistically came when he was a #2 to Craig Anderson, so the Habs hope he can erase a poor preseason to be a solid back-up to Carey Price.

Goaltender - Age 24 - Canada
6'3", 219 lbs, Catches Left
Acquired: Drafted, 1st round, 5th overall (2005)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $2,750,000
Signed Through: 2012

When Carey Price was drafted 5th overall following the NHL lockout, many in the media felt the Canadiens had blown their chance to add a real talent at a position where it was needed. After all, the Habs had Jose Theodore who was just two seasons removed from having won the Hart Trophy and both Yann Danis and Jaroslav Halak as young NHL prospects. To many, notably Pierre McGuire, it was a horrible move, and the team was out of their minds not to take Gilbert Brule. Today, Price is the young star netminder of the Montreal Canadiens, while Gilbert is a journeyman who just recently cleared waivers. Price silenced his critics with a very strong season last year but the team will rely heavily upon him to be just as good in 2011-12. He has personal motivation too, given that he'll be a restricted free agent next summer looking to cash in.


Left Defenseman - Age 37 - Czech Republic
6'0", 210 lbs, Shoots Left
Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent (2009)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $3,833,333
Signed Through: 2012

In his prime and a few years beyond, Spacek was a quality powerplay quarterback who played a strong two-way game. The year before Montreal signed him, despite his age, he had just matched his career high of 45 points. Since joining the Habs, however, he has been a major disappointment, not only in terms of production, but due to injuries, soft play, and poor coverage. According to Spacek himself, he was unsatisfied with his play and thus took his training over this past summer very seriously, improving his conditioning through weight loss. He looked quite good in preseason and should hope to carry that level of play into the season, as Alexei Emelin is breathing down his neck for a spot in the top 6.

Left Defenseman - Age 27 - Canada
6'0", 200 lbs, Shoots Left
Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent (2011)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $1,750,000
Signed Through: 2012

Campoli was a late addition to the club, signed during training camp to fill a need on the second powerplay unit and to allow Alexei Emelin more time to adapt to the North American game. A mobile two-way blueliner, Campoli was once seen as an emerging top 4 minute-eater when he broke into the league with the New York Islanders. Both the Ottawa Senators and Chicago Blackhawks were disappointed that, because of a tendency for turnovers, he wasn't that, freeing him up to join a fourth organization this summer. When the Canadiens are healthy, he should be a bottom pairing guy, and in that role, he is more than a capable plug.

Right Defenseman - Age 27 - Canada
6'1", 200 lbs, Shoots Left
Acquired: Trade from San Jose Sharks (2007)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $2,500,000
Signed Through: 2012

A heart-and-soul type player, with the departure of Roman Hamrlik and the aging of Hal Gill, Gorges becomes the team's most important defensive defenseman. An apt shot-blocker, what Gorges lacks in physicality he makes up for in positioning and in a constant willingness to step in to defend a teammate. He is coming off a major ACL injury that ended his 2010-11 campaign before the halfway mark, but missed only 1 game over the two prior seasons combined and appears to be in 100% game shape.

Right Defenseman - Age 25 - Switzerland
5'11", 194 lbs, Shoots Right
Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent (2011)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $900,000
Signed Through: 2012

The past few season, the Canadiens have rolled the dice almost every summer by signing an undrafted free agent out of summer. In response to these moves, Habs fans have tended to overhype the player, immediately penciling him into an opening night line-up. But where Janne Lahti and Mikael Johansson failed to ever reach the NHL, Diaz is poised to make an impact immediately. He isn't the biggest or strongest, and will struggle defensively against larger forwards, but he has a good breakout pass and is confident with the puck at the point in the offensive zone. His play will be monitored closely, and it's possible he is eventually sent down to Hamilton, but the top 6 job is his to lose for now.

Right Defenseman / Right Wing - Age 23 - Switzerland
5'11", 193 lbs, Shoots Right
Acquired: Drafted, 3rd round, 73rd overall (2007)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $850,000
Signed Through: 2013

If Diaz impressed in camp, Weber was much the opposite. Entering camp looking to lock down a spot amongst the top 6 blueliners, Weber showed little improvement in strength and ability to handle larger forwards. His weak defensive play had the organization switch him to the wing, where he looked pretty good during last year's first round playoff matchup against the Boston Bruins, but his predictability from the point had him even taken off the powerplay. It looks, at this point, as though his days in Montreal might be numbered, and since he would have to be waived to head down to Hamilton, a trade is likely in the near future.

Left Defenseman - Age 25 - Russia
6'2", 223 lbs, Shoots Left
Acquired: Drafted, 3rd round, 84th overall (2004)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $984,200
Signed Through: 2012

Emelin (previously Yemelin, but he has now officially dropped the Y from the English spelling of his name) was long considered one of the best defensemen in the world outside of the NHL. After many years of trying to convince him to cross the ocean, the Canadiens were finally successful in getting him to sign a 1-year contract this summer. Known for his on-or-over the line physicality, Emelin has developed into a solid two-way d-man by improving his shot and thus contributing offensively. He had a bit of a shaky camp, showing that his positioning will need a bit of work, but this is normal for a European defenseman making his North American debut. With time, he could become an important member of Montreal's back end, bringing the hard hitting presence the team has lacked since Mike Komisarek's young days. Yemelin was our first Player Spotlight subject back in June:

#75 - HAL GILL
Left Defenseman - Age 36 - United States
6'7", 241 lbs, Shoots Left
Assistant Captain
Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent (2009)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $2,250,000
Signed Through: 2012

Gill brings far more to the Canadiens than his on-ice presence, being one of the major vocal leaders in the dressing room. He has done wonders in mentoring P.K. Subban and is endearing and funny in every "Get to Know Your Canadiens" video played during home games. Not the quickest of skaters and not physical despite his 6'7" frame, Gill makes best use of his body on the penalty kill in blocking the passing lanes and getting in the way of dangerous shots. Gill's age is becoming a factor, and it will likely be his last year with the team, but don't despair if he struggles during the regular season; he has a tendency of saving his high gear for playoff time.

#76 - P.K. SUBBAN
Right Defenseman - Age 22 - Canada
6'0", 206 lbs, Shoots Right
Acquired: Drafted, 2nd round, 43rd overall (2007)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $875,000
Signed Through: 2012

The young star of the Canadiens' d-corps, Subban electrifies fans like no other player on the team. For all he lacks occasionally in defensive coverage, he makes up for in electrifying puck handling, skating, and shooting ability, along with the occasional thunderous hit (for every 6 that miss their mark) and general swagger. The aura of P.K. Subban is much bigger than the player himself and includes his honest, hard-working, but sometimes cocky/annoying off-ice persona. The expectation is for this to be a big year with Subban emerging as a legitimate #1 or #2 defenseman, but fans have to worry slightly about a potential sophomore slump. He'll start the year with his familiar partner of last season, Hal Gill, and being the go-to guy on the top powerplay.

Left Defenseman - Age 32 - Russia
6'0", 207 lbs, Shoots Left
Assistant Captain
Drafted, 6th round, 162nd overall (1998)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $5,750,000
Signed Through: 2014

For many seasons, Markov was far and away Montreal's best non-goalie player. The team's record without him in the line-up over those years was atrocious. With his injuries the past few seasons, the team has had to adapt and diversify, but a healthy Markov returning to the line-up at some point this Fall will be a huge boost. A powerplay whiz thanks to his precision passing skills and accurate shot, Markov is also responsible in his own end, making him a complete package. Questions linger about his knee and if he can still be as effective as he once was even if he does manage to stay healthy, but only time will tell. Regardless of that, he has come along way off the ice from the shy young Russian to being a vocal leader on the team.


Center - Age 31 - United States
5'11", 198 lbs, Shoots Left
Trade from New York Rangers (2009)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $7,357,143
Signed Through: 2014

Gomez has taken a lot of heat in Montreal due primarily to the hugely inflated salary Glenn Sather gave him in New York. Taking on that contract was certainly not Bob Gainey's best move, but last season, Gomez was simply bad at any salary. The center recognized this and appears determined to prove his detractors wrong, putting together a strong preseason and continuing to show nice chemistry with linemates Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty. A quality playmaker, Gomez excels most at carrying the puck through the neutral zone from his own end into the attacking zone, something at which he may be one of the best in the league. But his true best skill comes off the ice, as we featured in a Player Spotlight over the summer: the interview. See some of his best at the link below:

Center - Age 31 - Finland
6'1", 202 lbs, Shoots Right
Trade from Phoenix Coyotes (2011)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $550,000
Signed Through: 2012

After a failed attempt at picking up Blair Betts to center the team's fourth line, and subpar play from Andreas Engqvist, the Canadiens finally addressed a need through the acquisition of Nokelainen. A valuable right-handed face-off man, Nokelainen is a quick, two-way player, who brings some physicality to the table but little in the way of offense or hockey sense. He will be a valuable role player for the team, acquired at a low cost (Brock Trotter and a 7th round pick).

Left Wing - Age 29 - Canada
5'9", 182 lbs, Shoots Left
Signed as an unrestricted free agent (2009)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $6,000,000
Signed Through: 2014

A natural but streaky sniper, Cammalleri has admitted that his production in Montreal hasn't been where he'd like it to be, well below the 39 goals and 82 points he scored in Calgary in 2008-09. Still in his prime, there is no reason to believe the sharpshooter can't get back up there flanking Tomas Plekanec on one of Montreal's top 2 lines. Based on preseason, he looks to be a little quicker this year, likely thanks to a strict off-season training regimen he swears by (and often Tweets about). Cammalleri forms part of the core leader group on the team along with the likes of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and P.K. Subban. He is a big part of Montreal's powerplay where he has the time and space to execute his favourite play of a full-body-powered one-timer from one knee. Cammalleri was also the subject of a Player Spotlight this summer:

Center - Age 28 - Czech Republic
5'11", 198 lbs, Shoots Left
Drafted, 3rd round, 71st overall (2001)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $5,000,000
Signed Through: 2016

Pleks might be Montreal's most important forward, serving as the team's equivalent to Ryan Kesler in Vancouver. Not only is a favourite to lead the club in points, but he is also the top defensive/shutdown center who is a star on the penalty kill. Rewarded for his play with a fat, long-term contract, Plekanec will have to continue to produce offensively to earn his pay and especially step up his game in the post-season where it has historically tapered off. He has centered Andrei Kostitsyn for many years and the two have nice chemistry despite Kostitsyn's inconsistent play.

Right Wing - Age 32 - United States
5'7", 173 lbs, Shoots Right
Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $5,000,000
Signed Through: 2014

The captain served as one of the trailblazers for diminutive forwards in today's NHL. Gionta may only be 5'7", but he plays like a much bigger man, never shying away from mucking it up in the corners or charging straight to the net. While he'll never repeat his 48-goal season of 2005-06, through 2 years in Montreal, he has managed his 2nd and 3rd career bests in that category and with an improved Scott Gomez could top the 30 mark this season. A leader on and off the ice, Gionta has filled the shoes left by captain Saku Koivu in leading by example more than anything and giving his 110% on a nightly basis.

Left Wing - Age 29 - Canada
6'2", 215 lbs, Shoots Left
Signed as an unrestricted free agent
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $1,500,000
Signed Through: 2012

A misunderstood sound defensive forward, Moen gets slack because observers try to see him as things he is not. He is a solid third or fourth line winger who is responsible in his own end and can help to shutdown opposing players, while occasionally throwing hits or dropping the gloves. He's not a prototypical tough/energy guy, so fans shouldn't be frustrated if he isn't always overly physical, nor is he skilled enough to play with purely offensive forwards, even though he is often inserted on to such lines due to injuries or slumps. He's an honest lunch pail type player who fits in well with veterans in the dressing room and is a leader to younger players with his work ethic. We featured Moen in a Player Spotlight over the summer:

Right Wing - Age 24 - Canada
6'4", 218 lbs, Shoots Right
Acquired: Trade from Columbus Blue Jackets
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $615,000
Signed Through: 2012

A former second round pick and representative of Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, Blunden's awkward skating has kept him out of a full-time NHL job. Instead, his career has been defined by making good use of his size through physical play, earning him 51 appearances with the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets. He was acquired by the Habs for career AHL'er Ryan Russell over the summer and earned a call-up to add some toughness to the team's fourth line.

Right Wing / Left Wing - Age 26 - Belarus
6'0", 214 lbs, Shoots Left
1st round, 10th overall (2003)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $1,500,000
Signed Through: 2012

A streaky winger with good size and slick moves, Kostitsyn frustrates fans because of the wasted potential they see there. He is capable of throwing out big hits and using his body effectively, but is also capable of coasting and being unnoticeable on the ice. Similarly, he can be a virtual YouTube highlight reel offensively thanks to quick stickhandling and a heavy shot, but can also be soft on the puck and turn it over. He showed potential of nice chemistry with Lars Eller during the later stages of last season, so that duo is likely to be tested out again, freeing Tomas Plekanec to play with Erik Cole in the top 6, and potentially giving Kostitsyn easier opposing defender matchups. He should be motivated to have a big year given that he has the potential to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career next summer.

Center - Age 25 - Canada
5'7", 177 lbs, Shoots Left
Signed as an unrestricted free agent
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $850,000
Signed Through: 2013

Despite being the same size as Brian Gionta, Desharnais's game is actually quite different from the Captain's. Rather than playing like a big man, Desharnais relies on keen offensive awareness and skilled puck handling ability to create plays in the offensive zone while being agile and shifty enough to avoid larger defenders. As such, he is best when playing with bigger wingers who can create room for him, and players who can finish plays as he is primarily a set-up man. Desharnais is likely in competition for ice time with Lars Eller centering a third line, with one of the two possibly shifting to the wing. DD's edge is his face-off ability, which also has him in the middle of the team's top powerplay unit to start the season.

Left Wing - Age 34 - Canada
6'1", 215 lbs, Shoots Left
Signed as an unrestricted free agent
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $700,000
Signed Through: 2012

A McGill University graduate, Darche's path to the NHL was long and unconventional. Bouncing back and forth between the NHL and AHL for many years, he has really only established himself as a full time big league'er since halfway through his first season with the Canadiens in 2009-10. For what he lacks in skill, Darche compensates with effort and hockey sense, typically finding himself in the right places on the ice at the right times. He uses his body to provide a netfront presence or battle along the boards and he can chip in some secondary offense from a third or fourth line. A player like him has to live from year-to-year not knowing what the future holds, but while in Montreal, he will force young players and veterans alike to be on their game or his consistent work will earn him their ice time.

Center / Right Wing - Age 23 - Canada
6'0", 193 lbs, Shoots Right
Drafted, 3rd
round, 66th overall
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $625,000
Signed Through: 2012

White brings a much-needed physical element to Montreal's forward group, but is out for an indefinite amount of time with a lower body injury to start the season. His play earned him his first one-way contract this past summer. A feisty forechecker who is a willing combatant, White's offensive upside is limited, but he'll be a welcome fourth liner for matchups against the Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Lears, and Boston Bruins.

Right Wing - Age 22 - United States
5'11", 187 lbs, Shoots Right
Trade from St. Louis Blues (2010)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $883,333
Signed Through: 2012

Acquired from the Blues for winger Matt D'Agostini, Palushaj has been an inconsistent but at times dominant scorer in the American Hockey League. His inconsistency showed during training camp this Fall as he started off very slowly but began producing points as the preseason games wore on, making him the team's first call-up on wing. Palushaj will have to prove himself this season, as not only will he be an RFA next summer, but he'll also be waiver eligible for the 2012-13 season, meaning he'll make the Canadiens or find a new organization.

Center - Age 23 - Sweden
6'4", 199 lbs, Shoots Right
Signed as an unrestricted free agent
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $900,000
Signed Through: 2012

Engqvist was nearly handed the fourth line center job entering training camp, but he's done his best to throw it away, leading to the acquisition of Blair Betts. He has shown little skill offensively and doesn't make optimal use of his 6'4" frame, rarely getting involved physically. His big edge is that he's the lone right-handed centerman, but still he was far too weak on the puck to lock down a starting role. The organization isn't asking for him to become a hitting machine, but he needs to at least be stronger on his feet to win one-on-one puck battles to become a permanent fixture in the line-up.

Left Wing - Age 22 - United States
6'2", 196 lbs, Shoots Left
Drafted, 1st
round, 22nd overall
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $1,625,000
Signed Through: 2013

No one needs to be reminded of the horrific injury that cut Pacioretty's 2010-11 season short just as he was emerging as an offensive force. Many questioned his NHL offensive upside prior to last year, but he has made the needed changes to play a speed and power game, blazing past defenders to charge straight on goal. Good size, a hard shot, and top-notch acceleration are the skills that should lead to a true breakout season for MaxPac, who beefs up an undersized Montreal top 6 up front. Boston and Montreal fans all have the first Bruins-Canadiens encounter of the season circled on their calendars and though it will very likely be anticlimactic, the first Zdeno Chara - Pacioretty interactions since "the hit" should be interesting to observe.

Right Wing - Age 32 - United States
6'2", 205 lbs, Shoots Left
Acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $4,500,000
Signed Through: 2015

Montreal's prized offseason signing, Cole, like Max Pacioretty, is extra important in Montreal because of his size. He appears to come as advertised, leading the team in preseason scoring while willingly throwing hits and creating turnovers by ripping pucks off opposing players with ease. It will be interesting to see where he ultimately fits in the line-up as undoubtedly Jacques Martin will test his chemistry with a number of permutations. Cole's game is defined by above-average speed, good net-front presence, and strong shooting, assets that should see him come close to last year's output with the Carolina Hurricanes - a welcome additional 25-goal scorer up front for the Canadiens.

Center - Age 22 - Denmark
6'2", 198 lbs, Shoots Left
Trade from St. Louis Blues (2010)
2011-12 Salary
Cap Hit
: $1,270,833
Signed Through: 2012

There was a lot of pressure on Eller last season as the player acquired for playoff hero Jaroslav Halak, and some were underwhelmed that he didn't instantly tear up the scoresheet. He did show a lot of promise, however, protecting the puck well along the boards with his size, and displaying some nice creativity with the puck. Many expect a big boost in production as Eller will provide secondary scoring from a third trio.