Monday, April 30, 2012

Memory Monday: Cristobal Huet

[Memory Monday Archives]

At the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the Los Angeles Kings wanted to strike a deal for a young and promising goaltender.  Fortunately, the Canadiens had such a player available in 26-year old Mathieu Garon.  Garon had just played a career-high 19 games for the Habs, finishing with a sparkling .921 save percentage and a 2.27 GAA, but the starting job in Montreal remained Jose Theodore's.  The Canadiens needed to get bigger at center, and so in order to strike a deal, the Kings sent a draft pick to the Ottawa Senators for Radek Bonk, then sent Bonk and back-up goaltender Cristobal Huet - seen almost as a necessary throw-in - to the Habs for Garon and a pick.  Of the three players in the deal, we now know that the one who few paid attention to the day it was completed was the one to go on to enjoy the greatest success.

Huet was 28 when acquired by the Canadiens and had just completed his first real season as a full-time NHL'er, appearing in 42 games with the Kings.  He spent the locked out season with the Mannheim Eagles in Germany's DEL before finally becoming a Hab in 2005-06.  His role with the club grew as the season went on, as he posted 7 shutouts in just 36 games, putting up a 2.20 GAA and .929 save percentage.  It seemed Theodore's Hart Trophy season was long behind him but the Habs had lucked into his successor.  Huet would play for the Canadiens for two more seasons, and despite being among the league's best when he was "on," he remained inconsistent and was never truly a clear-cut #1.  Prior to the 2008 trade deadline, when it seemed Carey Price was nearly ready to take over as Montreal's starter, the Canadiens dealt Huet to the Washington Capitals for a 2nd round pick.  Many viewed the move as highly risky, with few confident in the team rolling with two young goalies in Price and Jaroslav Halak.  But Huet was an unrestricted free agent to be, so the team extracted maximal value for him while they still could.

Huet would post incredible numbers with the Caps in 13 games (a .936 save percentage and 1.63 GAA).  But the third seed Capitals were upset by the sixth seed Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, and Washington opted to seek other solutions in goal that summer.  Huet signed a four year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks - 4 years at just over $5.6M per season - which would prove to be the final contract of his NHL career.

The native of St. Martin-d'Heres / Grenoble, France never lived up to his rich contract.  Though his first season in Chicago wasn't horrendous - a .909 save percentage and a 2.53 GAA - it was hardly what the team expected from a top dollar netminder.  After splitting duties with Nikolai Khabibulin that year, he again failed to claim the starting position, losing out to Antti Niemi in 2010 when the Hawks went on a run to snap their league-longest Stanley Cup drought (with that title now falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs).  Faced with a large burden on their salary cap for two more years of a back-up goalkeeper, the Hawks convinced Huet to leave North America and join HC Fribourg-Gotteron SA of the Swiss National League A.

After a solid 2.86 GAA and .919 save percentage in his first year with Gotteron, he led the club to a third place finish with a 2.12 GAA and .920% this season.

With his season in the books, Huet's next challenge will be the World Championship.  He will play for Team France as one of only two with NHL experience (the other being Ottawa's Stephane Da Costa).  France has no legitimate shot at a run for the title, and Huet knows this, stating in a recent interview that a main goal is to avoid relegation.  France will play in Group A beginning Friday, meaning matchups against Canada, the United States, Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia, Belarus, and Kazhakstan in the preliminary round.  Certainly the games against the last two are most critical, with the first five representing significant challenges and Belarus missing its starpower in the Kostitsyn brothers.

Relegation isn't the only thing on the team's mind, however.  The IIHF WHC represents the last tournament that determines rankings for the Olympics in 2014.  France currently sits 14th in the world rankings, with only the top 9 seated nations earning automatic berths.  With 260 points separating them from 9th place Norway (and Slovakia, Belarus, Denmark, and Latvia to pass in between), it is near impossible for them to completely close the gap in this one tournament, but they will get to participate in a final qualification tournament for one of the last three Olympic spots next February.  If Huet can help the team gain enough points to finish in the 10-12 spots per IIHF (still a huge challenge), then the country will serve as host of one of the final qualification events, giving them a slight edge.

Huet's contract is up at the end of this season, and he was asked not long ago if he would be considering retirement.  While he acknowledges he's entering the twilight of his career, he has indicated that he hopes to continue playing, whether it be in Switzerland or elsewhere, and will begin considering offers following the Worlds.  Certainly it would be a dream for him to conclude his career with the 2014 Olympics, but whether his country gets there or not, he can look back proudly on a highly unorthodox but nonetheless remarkable career.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Funny Friday: A Plug for Down Goes Brown

As a Habs fan, it is ingrained in my DNA to hate all things Toronto Maple Leafs.  But today I will introduce you to a Leaf fan who actually isn't so bad.  In fact, he's quite amusing.  I would go as far to say that his site is the funniest hockey blog on the internet.  This man goes by the name of Down Goes Brown, and you can read his posts here:  and/or follow him on Twitter here:!/DownGoesBrown

I'll warn you that his humour definitely makes fun of teams and players, so if you can't take comical jabs at our beloved Montreal Canadiens, then you should probably stop reading here.  But if you're the type who can laugh at yourself, then enjoy a few DGB highlights.

2009 Playoffs Habs Eulogy

Following the Canadiens run to the Conference Finals and subsequent elimination, DGB got together with blogger Bloge Salming to put this beauty together.

NHL on NBC Canadian Team Preview

Another video in conjunction with Bloge Salming, this one introducing Canadian teams to American TV viewers (note it was made before the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg).

NHL Coach Problems

A great post from about a month ago:
Includes this gem excerpt:

Randy Cunneyworth, Montreal – Hasn’t had time to make much progress on learning French lately, which is too bad because it would have really come in handy next year when he’s coaching in Belgium.

NHL Western Conference Playoff Preview

Another hit from just before the first round:
Perhaps the best is St. Louis - San Jose:

#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks

The matchup: This matchup will feature a battle between arguably the two best goaltenders in the entire league, right up until the Blues practice ends and the Sharks come out on the ice.
The view from St. Louis: Coach Ken Hitchcock's system is often incorrectly described as "defense-first", since that implies that something other than defence might be second or third.
The view from San Jose: Hey, plucky underdogs upset heavily favored top seeds in the first few rounds all the time, mumble Sharks fans bitterly.
Player to watch: David Backes will be tasked with shutting down Joe Thornton, which he plans to do by following him around while occasionally pointing at a calendar that reads "April".
Prediction: After they wrap up the series and advance to the second round, you grudgingly admit that maybe it's time to learn the names of a few of the St. Louis Blues' non-goalies.

Montreal Canadiens GM Application Form

Want to be Habs' GM?  Make sure you go through this form first:
One highlight:

A successful GM can impart a sense of optimism to fans. Please highlight something positive about the current roster.
( ) The team is practically unbeatable when Andrei Markov is healthy, so that's like having a four point head start every year.
( ) Carey Price has firmly established himself as one of the NHL's elite goalies, so we should be able to trade him for some spare parts any time now.
( ) Most of the roster is young and in good health, so it's possible that a few of them will still be playing when Josh Gorges' contract finally expires.
( ) Montreal has the only fans in the league that don't have to wake up each morning and immediately think "Man, I really hope my team doesn't go out and acquire Tomas Kaberle today".

Hopefully you're already following DGB, but if not, there is no better time to start than right now!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Player Spotlight: Carey Price, the Cowboy

[Player Spotlight Archives]

What can we tell the diehard Montreal Canadiens fan about Carey Price that he or she doesn't already know?  Probably not too much, though there was some good news just yesterday that Price has fully recovered from his concussion and thus may now travel home to British Columbia.  It is based on this news that today we take a step back from Carey Price the goaltender and look at Carey Price the cowboy, providing some insights on the roots of the stone-cold Habs keeper.

To begin, here is a clip done by TSN on Price's favourite off-ice pass-time:

And more Carey on horseback:

Price's cowboy origins come from his growing up in Anahim Lake, British Columbia, a village which, when combined with surrounding areas, has a population of just 1,500 (just 360 of which are in the community of Anahim Lake itself).  Nearly half of that number is made up of Ulkatcho First Nations living on nearby reserves.  The local Stampede is the highlight of the region's social calendar, and thus the foundation of Price's love for the rodeo.

Anahim Lake, a small area hours north of Whistler (or a 10-12 hour drive from Vancouver), is primarily a community based on forestry, though cattle farming, sport fishing, and mushroom picking are also important economic activities.  Outdoor adventure opportunities bring some tourism to the area, with the village being surrounded by the snow-capped Coastal Mountain Range.  It is no wonder, then, that Price has such a calm and peaceful demeanour from growing up in these parts.

If you ever wanted to make a pilgrimage out there in Carey's honour, there is actually a small airport serving the region with direct service from Vancouver on Pacific Coastal Airlines.  You can spend a weekend or more camping and enjoying nature's beauty at "resorts" like this one:

So how did a country boy from such a tiny community rise to NHL superstardom?  Anahim Lake has no real arena, with just an outdoor rink to serve as entertainment and recreation (photo credit for left).  In fact, the village also has no educational institutions that go beyond the 9th grade level.  Thus, for Carey to become the man he is today took serious dedication on the part of his family, with his father shuttling a young Price to and from the nearest rink - that in Williams Lake - three times a week to play minor hockey.  Many parents make big sacrifices to cater to their childrens' professional sport aspirations, but consider that the drive from Anahim Lake to Williams Lake is about five hours each way.  The solution to this?  Fortunately, Jerry, Carey's father and a former goaltender taken in the 8th round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1978 in his own right, was a licensed pilot and was thus able to make the commute in shorter time spans when weather conditions permitted.

Carey has come an awfully long way to be where he's at today, and I couldn't be happier to hear that he's received a clean bill of health to start his off-season relaxing and training regimen.  For the Canadiens to bounce back at all next year, they will need him at the top of his game, so here's to a great and productive summer for a remarkable young man.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Your Canadiens for April 25, 2012

Getting caught up on a few bits and pieces as the NHL's first round of playoff action nears its conclusion.


Habs prospect Danny Kristo announced officially yesterday that he would return to the University of North Dakota for his senior year.  There could be many reasons for his doing so; a desire to win a National Championship, the want to finish his degree, or perhaps uncertainty over where the GM-less and coach-less Canadiens currently stand.

From a development standpoint, the move seems counterproductive for Kristo.  He has nothing left to prove at the NCAA level, having just set career highs in games played, goals, assists, and points, averaging more than a point per game.  But there is a big jump between college hockey and the NHL, and it would have been nice to see Kristo cutting his teeth at the American Hockey League level starting in the Fall to begin making his adjustment.  As it stands, assuming he signs once next season is over, he'll only begin his first pro season at the age of 23.  Of course, him signing at all remains a question; he could have dropped out of school to become a UFA this summer, but can still opt for unrestricted free agency if he doesn't sign with Montreal at next season's conclusion.  Thus, this isn't good news, but it's too early to say the sky is falling as well.


After previously being named the Canadiens nominee for the award, forward Max Pacioretty was named one of three finalists for the award, technically given to the player best exemplifying the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey, but almost always awarded to the year's best comeback story.  The other finalists are Toronto's Joffrey Lupul and Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson.  I don't get to vote, of course, but my money would be on Max taking this one.


Patrick Holland and the Tri-City Americans find themselves in a 2 game hole after losing the first two outings by identical 5-4 overtime results.  Holland has certainly done his part, however, with 2 goals an an assist in the series opener (named second star), and a goal and a helper in game 2 (named third star).  Holland now has 6 goals and 17 points in 12 games as Tri-City looks to get back in the series tonight.

Jarred Tinordi's London Knights are up 3 games to none in their second round matchup following a 5-2 win last night.  Tinordi entered the series with a surprising 5 points in 10 games, a revelation compared to his limited regular season offense.  He has kept it going with 2 assists through the first three games this round (including one last night) as the Knights look like they will coast through to the OHL finals.

Nathan Beaulieu's dominant Saint John Sea Dogs suffered their first post-season loss last night, 5-4 in overtime, but still lead their series 2-1.  Beaulieu had a powerplay goal in the game but finished a -1.  The offensive blueliner has remained at the point-per-game pace with 3 points in three games this round, now giving him 11 in 11 post-season contests.


Detroit Red Wings' Assistant General Manager Jim Nill spoke yesterday about his talks with Geoff Molson about taking over as Montreal Canadiens GM.  Nill expressed that he had interest in the job, and based on two interviews, saw that the Habs were interested in him, but he decided that it simply wasn't the right time to make such a move.  This talk confirms not only that Detroit had in fact granted Nill permission to talk with Montreal, but both that the GM job in this city remains appealing and that the Canadiens are looking beyond the language factor to find the best man for the job.  What is the actual reason for Nill wanting to end the process?  We'll never know for sure.  He has in the past turned down opportunities for family reasons to remain in Detroit so it may just be that.  Or perhaps he doesn't feel ready to step into such a strong spotlight as that in Montreal.  Or maybe, just maybe, he isn't so keen on the idea of having to take French lessons on the side.  Who knows.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

10 Habs Players Who May Not Be Back Next Year

This off-season could mean big changes for your Montreal Canadiens.  As the month of April nears its end, the team still finds itself without a General Manager or Head Coach.  The club has a third overall selection at this year's entry draft which will significantly alter the prospect pool, even if the likelihood that whoever the team takes at that spot won't make the team straight out of training camp is high.  Whoever does take over in a Management role is most certain to want to put their own stamp on the team, meaning as of right now, no one is necessarily "untouchable."  Thus the team that ended the year in disappointing fashion may be drastically different than the one that opens training camp in the Fall, even if a shallow UFA pool would under normal circumstances leave few acquisition options for the team.

But before we start looking at who the Habs might bring in, today we look at who might be jettisoned elsewhere.  Since we went over next year's Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday, today we'll include only players who played at least one game for Montreal during the 2011-12 regular season.

10) Petteri Nokelainen

When it became clear that Andreas Engqvist wasn't ready for full-time NHL duty, the Canadiens scrambled to find a new fourth line center.  After a waiver claim gone bad in Blair Betts, the team dealt for Nokelainen, who was serviceable in the role, but far from spectacular.  He has decent size (6'1", 202 lbs), can play on the penalty kill, and is a right-handed shot, but didn't show much of the toughness the team also needs out of a player in that role, and has little in the way of hockey skills.  He'll be a restricted free agent this summer and is only 26, so he could be retained, but the team may very well opt to seek an upgrade on the UFA market since once identified as a need, that type of player isn't hard to acquire in July.

9) Rene Bourque

Bourque was one asset acquired in the Mike Cammalleri trade (I would argue the 2nd round pick was the primary asset) to help balance out the salaries.  Yes, Bourque did have consecutive 27-goal seasons prior to this past year's 18, but I would say he is more suited to be a third line player on a top team due to his inconsistencies, rather than a frustrating second liner.  He could replace - to an extent - an Andrei Kostitsyn in the line-up; he can't fill the void left by an on-his-game Cammalleri.  The problem is that Bourque was borderline terrible after being acquired, with the toughness and physicality in his game evaporating and showing weak hands around the goal.  Thus, a GM coming in and wanting to do a clean-up may try to ship Bourque out, but the 4 years remaining on his deal at $3.33M per season may throw a wrench in the plans.  I'm ok with giving Bourque another chance on Lars Eller's wing, and his cap hit isn't particularly prohibitive to finding a better winger for Tomas Plekanec, but it also wouldn't surprise me if Montreal tries to deal him elsewhere.

8) Tomas Kaberle

Speaking of players not pulling their weight, Tomas Kaberle has 2 years left on his deal at $4.25M per season.  Jaroslav Spacek's expiring $3.8M had already been earmarked for raises to the likes of Carey Price and/or P.K. Subban, so by taking on a contract with remaining term in its place, the Habs will have to make cuts elsewhere.  The problem isn't Kaberle's production - his 22 points in 43 games after joining the Canadiens would mean a 40-point season averaged out, which isn't terrible for the salary he's making.  The problem is more the fit.  The Canadiens have enough puck-moving offensive blueliners with Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber, and Raphael Diaz, and given this, spending $4.25M on a soft, one-dimensional scoring d-man doesn't seem like a good deal.  Even if, say, Weber isn't back next year (see lower down the list), the need for Kaberle isn't there on this team, and if he is on the club to safeguard against a Markov injury, the team has a much bigger need for a more two-way guy like a younger Roman Hamrlik instead.  Like with Bourque, finding a taker may be an issue, but he could be a good fit on a team with bigger defensive d-men to compensate for his weak play in his own zone.

7) Mathieu Darche

Darche has been a good story in Montreal as a local boy who took a long route to end up living his childhood dreams.  He has given the Habs all they could have hoped for on bargain basement contracts, and at 6'1", 210 lbs his size his welcome as a 12th or 13th forward.  However, his production and consistency took a step back this season, and he is far from irreplaceable.  There are only so many roster spots to go around, and at age 35, Darche's useful days are nearing their end.  The spot might be better going to a true enforcer, or a younger player trying to establish himself as a roster regular.  Darche will be a UFA this summer and there is likely to be work for him somewhere in the league if he's willing to leave the city, but his three year run with the Canadiens could very well be coming to a close.

6) Brad Staubitz

Staubitz seemed like a random waiver acquisition on trade deadline day, a move many thought would simply fill a hole following numerous other trades.  Those deals didn't materialize, so many assumed Staubitz had just been a security policy and wouldn't see much action.  But he did; playing 19 games and becoming the team's go-to enforcer.  He seemed to be a good teammate, with his fellow Canadiens noticeably excited when he scored the club's final goal of the year into an empty net.  Staubitz, 27, is a big and tough customer at 6'1", 210 lbs, but he is short on hockey skills outside of dropping the gloves.  The Habs haven't carried a true enforcer in quite some time, though many have proclaimed a need for such a player.  Staubitz could do the job, though if he is back, I'd rather see him scratched more frequently than he was down the stretch and only used in games where there was felt to be a need for his toughness.  More ideally he would be let go (he's a UFA this summer) and replaced with an enforcer more capable of taking a regular shift (such as fellow UFAs Brandon Prust, Jordin Tootoo, Tom Kostopoulos, or even George Parros).  The current Canadiens staff seem quite enamoured with Mike Blunden, so it is possible it comes down to keeping only one of the two (along with pending UFA Travis Moen), and I would rather see Blunden back over Staubitz, but we don't know what direction the new staff will take.

5) Aaron Palushaj

Palushaj, 22, was acquired from the St. Louis Blues for Matt D'Agostini a little over two years back.  He is a proven AHL superstar scorer, notching 35 points in 35 games for the Bulldogs this season.  But the NHL points weren't coming until quite late on this season, with him finally scoring his first goal and adding 4 assists on a total of 38 games.  Palushaj has very average size at 5'11", 187 lbs, and has little physicality or intensity to his game, while also not being any kind of defensive specialist, meaning he will contribute in an offensive role or simply not make the cut.  He hasn't shown any reason to be given a shot in the top 6, and already has his hands full battling Louis Leblanc for a third line job.  Add to this the imminent arrival of Brendan Gallagher, Michael Bournival, and likely Danny Kristo at the pro ranks, and Palushaj will be quickly dropping down the depth charts.  He is waiver eligible in the Fall, so while there is no real reason not to at least qualify him and bring him to training camp, if he doesn't make the starting roster in the Fall, another organization may very well take a chance on him as a still-developing player.

4) Andreas Engqvist

Engqvist, 24, falls under a similar category as Palushaj being an AHL star that struggles to produce at the NHL level.  Like Palushaj, he is an RFA this summer meaning the Canadiens need to make a call on him.  But then there are notable differences as well.  First, Engqvist brings size (a skinny 6'4" frame, even if he doesn't use it particularly effectively) and a right-handed shot to the equation, things the Habs are short on at the center position.  Engqvist also excels (at least at the AHL level thus far) in a defensive, shutdown, and penalty-killing role, making him a more versatile player well suited to a third or fourth line job.  But he hasn't shown that he deserves even that kind of ice time in the NHL level as of yet, and wasn't even amongst the late-season call-ups following the trade of Andrei Kostitsyn and numerous injuries at the forward position.  Was he left in Hamilton just to help the Bulldogs (he was named team co-MVP this year)?  Or was it a sign that he is out of the plans for the future?  The fact that he himself may choose to return to Europe this summer regardless of the Canadiens' intentions may indicate the second is more likely, though he is another guy who there seems little reason not to qualify and retain rights to... just in case.

3) Yannick Weber

Weber, 23, a third round pick of the Canadiens in 2007, was a star for the OHL's Kitchener Rangers and seen as an up-and-coming offensive blueliner.  The Swiss native showed all of that potential in the American League as a top player for the Bulldogs, but he has struggled to prove himself in the NHL, largely due to his small stature (5'11", 193 lbs) leaving him manhandled in his own end.  He has at times looked effective on the powerplay with decent passing and a big shot, but he is also prone to giveaways and mental lapses, meaning frustrating inconsistency.  Last summer, the Habs snagged a very similar player in Raphael Diaz, 26, as a European UFA, and he and Weber put up almost identical numbers this season.  It is likely the team should choose between one of the two in their top 6 for the coming year, and if this past season's usage provides any clues, then Diaz seems the favoured son.  However, it is far from a certainty as the team's new management group may have a different evaluation of the players.

2) Scott Gomez

If the jury is still out on whether or not a lot of the above players can help the Canadiens moving forward, this one should be clear.  Gomez was given a chance to make amends for a poor 2010-11 campaign this season, and did little to impress.  He said all the right things off the ice a year ago, and he can't be entirely blamed for a season that was in large part derailed by multiple injuries, but a 32-year old 5'11" center who was on pace for 24 points over an 82-game campaign has no spot on this team.  He is not a fourth liner, isn't big or tough, is far from a defensive specialist, and the team is better off with David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, and Lars Eller down the middle.  And notice all of these arguments against him before we even get to the big one: his $7.357M annual burden on the club's salary cap.  The cap hit makes him entirely untradeable, so there are only a couple of options if he is to be gotten rid of prior to the final two seasons on his deal.  The optimist Habs fans hope for a one-time amnesty buyout permitted by the new CBA, where he could be bought out with no cap hit, as a traditional buyout handicaps the club moving forward.  The alternative is to put him on waivers and send him to Hamilton, where Geoff Molson would still be on the hook for his full salary, but the Canadiens could spend that money on other players for their NHL roster as well if ownership was willing to stretch the budget.

1) Chris Campoli

Of the 10, Campoli seems the most certain to be gone in the coming months.  He will be an unrestricted free agent again this summer and is somewhat of a 'tweener on the blueline.  Not an offensive guy, not a defensive guy, and not a particularly dependable player, but a reasonable depth defenseman who picked up his game over the final weeks of this season after an injury-filled and rough start.  Despite joining his fourth team, Campoli is still only 27 and will find a contract somewhere on a team wanting an extra body on D, but depth is not what the team will lack at that position.  They need to use this spot for an upgrade on the back end with a guy who can step up and reliably play top 4 minutes in case of an injury.  A guy who is bigger than the average-sized Campoli and can throw a hit without ending up out of position.

Wildcard: Brian Gionta or Tomas Plekanec

If the new GM really wants to make an impression and change the core of this club, it is likely one of Brian Gionta or Tomas Plekanec who gets shopped (well before a guy like P.K. Subban).  Gionta, 33, may be the team's captain, but there is far from a leadership void with the likes of Erik Cole and Josh Gorges on the club, and at 5'7", 175 lbs, doesn't fit the team's need to get bigger.  Even discounting the injuries that made him miss 51 games, he had a very difficult season scoring just 8 goals and 15 points in 31 contests.  He has provided goal-scoring in his tenure with the Canadiens (his seasons of 29 and 28 were the second and third highest of his career), but his overall productivity has declined from his New Jersey days, and perhaps a bigger problem is that he doesn't seem to fit on a line with either David Desharnais (lack of size) or Tomas Plekanec (lack of chemistry).  Gionta is owed $5M for two more seasons, so the Habs may see if they can shake things up and try out a different player in that spot.

Plekanec, 29, is a different case, remaining a very valuable two-way member of the club even if his 17 goals and 52 points were south of what most had hoped for him this year.  Those numbers are more impressive when you consider he had weak and ever-changing linemates for much of the season.  The troubling number was his -15, something very uncharacteristic of a generally highly dependable defensive center.  In part it reflected the poor season of the team as a whole, but Plekanec's own intensity and tenacity were noticeably missing at times.  The reason to move Plekanec would be to add a bigger top 6 center, and the only way he could be moved is in a package for such a replacement player, but it wouldn't surprise me if that is the kind of bold deal the new GM tries to strike.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Memory Monday: Doug Gilmour

[Memory Monday Archives]

Want to piss of a Leafs fan who is making fun of you because the Canadiens finished lower than Toronto in the standings this season?  Instead of going back to the old "1967" routine, here's a new suggestion for you: say, "I love when Doug Gilmour played for the Habs." (Canucks fans may try the same with Mats Sundin)

Killer, as he was known, may now be most famous for his stint in Toronto, but he also played for the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, and 131 regular season plus 12 playoff games for our Montreal Canadiens.  He captained three different teams (Calgary, Toronto, and Chicago) and as Hab fans will painfully remember - won a Stanley Cup on Montreal Forum ice as a member of the Flames in 1989.  With 1,414 points in 1,474 career games, he was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.

In the summer of 2001, Gilmour had just completed the least productive season of his career, scoring only 38 points in 71 games for the Sabres.  That off-season, he was unrestricted free agent, and remained unsigned, contemplating retirement, well into training camp.  It was at that same time that fans of the Montreal Canadiens were hit with the horrible news of captain Saku Koivu's diagnosis with non-hodgkin's lymphoma, meaning he'd need to undergo chemotherapy treatments and would be out long-term.  Koivu, a 5'10", 183 lbs, feisty, natural-born leader, would need to be replaced if the Habs were to have any shot at salvaging the season, but fortunately for the club, the 5'11" Gilmour was still available and fit the bill.  He was signed to a one-year deal in early October.

Gilmour's regular season production in Montreal of 41 points in 70 games was only moderately better than the year before, but he brought a lot to the team off the ice, helping them through a tough year and allowing them to squeak into the post-season.  And after all, it is hard to put up points when you spend the year centering Richard Zednik and Oleg Petrov, as Gilmour did for the most part.  In fact, making the playoffs wasn't far off from miraculous if you look at the roster during this season mid-dark years, led by center Yanic Perreault's 27 goals and 56 points.  The biggest star that year was goaltender Jose Theodore, whose 2.11 GAA and .931 save percentage would ultimately win him the Hart Trophy.

But Gilmour was also important to the team for his demeanour and intensity on the ice, on the bench, and everywhere else, all of which earned him an "A" on his jersey, effectively acting as a captain in Koivu's absence.  Koivu would return to the team with 3 games remaining in the regular season and be a productive player in the playoffs.  The team's strong leadership core allowed them to upset the Boston Bruins in the first round.  Gilmour's career seemed to go through a revival, as he was tied for the club's scoring lead with the inspiring Koivu and Donald Audette (after first round star Richard Zednik was lost following a dirty elbow from Boston's Kyle McLaren).  Many Canadiens fans will painfully remember the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes, where the Habs led 2-1 in the series and 3-0 after two periods in game 4, only to lose that one in overtime and never look the same again, but it was still an amazing against-all-odds run while it lasted.  Besides, the tough Gilmour gave us this clip below in that second round which will live on forever as Habs legend:

Now that's a warrior.  After scoring 10 points in 12 playoff games, Gilmour again considered retirement, stating that the Habs were in good hands with Koivu's return and that he wanted to concentrate on his family, but in the end Montreal management convinced him to sign for one last season.  Despite a career year of 71 points in 82 games for captain Koivu, the Canadiens had less success the following season and Gilmour himself fell below the .5 points-per-game level, so Montreal gave him a chance by sending him to a team still battling for a playoff position - those same Leafs he once captained - to let him finish his career close to home.  The return at the deadline was just a 6th round pick, but Gilmour would only get to play in one game with Toronto as he was injured in his first game back, ending his season.

Again the summer brought thoughts of retirement to Gilmour's mind, and this time they would win out.  The Hamilton Bulldogs, already then farm team of the Montreal Canadiens, offered Gilmour an AHL deal to keep playing, but he declined, instead taking a few years off before settling on a role of Player Development Advisor for the Leafs.

Since that time, Gilmour has moved into coaching; first as an Assistant Coach for the Toronto Marlies, and now most recently as the head coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Kingston Frontenacs (since 2008).  Gilmour took his team to the post-season in his first full year as coach, earning him a 5-year contract extension with Kingston following the 2009-10 season.  The next season, unfortunately, Kingston slipped in the standings, missing the playoffs, and having Gilmour re-think where he stood.  That summer, he opted to move upstairs and take over as the team's General Manager, hiring former teammate Todd Gill to move in behind the bench.

And that is where the fiery-eyed intense competitor remains today.  Kingston missed the playoffs again this season, finishing last in the OHL's Eastern Conference, but there is little doubt that with time and more experience, the 48-year old Gilmour will be in a position to move up the ranks and someday make his way back to the NHL.  Despite the extensive list of candidates the Canadiens have spoken to already to fill the void in the General Manager position, Gilmour's name has not yet come up (at least publicly), but it isn't unthinkable that he could join a team's management trust as an Assistant GM or in a similar capacity if he decided he was ready to leave Ontario again.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Day as Habs GM: Rebuilding the Bulldogs

While it was a disappointing season for the Montreal Canadiens and their fans, it was equally hard for the faithful of the Hamilton Bulldogs.  The 'Dogs finished with a 34-35-7 record, leaving them 14th in the AHL's Western Conference.  The reasons for their failures are many; injuries to players both in Montreal and in Hamilton, additional call-ups following trades, and - perhaps most importantly - a lack of skilled depth caused by the Canadiens trading their second round picks (and even once first round pick) away the past few seasons, with few AHL vets signed to fill the void.  The latter reason hurts/thins out a team's prospect pool over time, and Montreal will need to draft carefully to refill the ranks with their 5 second rounder over this summer's draft and the next.

So are the 'Dogs stuck with being a mediocre team until some of those future picks mature?  Not necessarily.  In fact, 2012-13 should be quite an exciting season for those that follow this team that has become accustomed to strong finished as a feeder club to the Habs.  With the obvious exception of those about to be drafted with the Canadiens' top picks this June, nearly all of the organization's top prospects will make their pro debuts with the Bulldogs next season.

Let's start by seeing what it might look like.  I'm going to take a conservative assumption that most of the guys who finished the year in Montreal will either start next season there, or otherwise have left the organization.  For this exercise, then, I'll exclude Aaron Palushaj, Louis Leblanc, Blake Geoffrion, and Frederic St. Denis.  That would leave the Bulldogs with the following:

___ - Phil DeSimone - Danny Kristo
Ian Schultz - Michael Bournival - Brendan Gallagher
Olivier Fortier - Gabriel Dumont - Patrick Holland
Joonas Nattinen - ___ - Andrew Conboy
Philippe Lefebvre, Alain Berger

Jarred Tinordi - Morgan Ellis
Nathan Beaulieu - ___
Brendon Nash - Greg Pateryn
Joe Stejskal

Robert Mayer
Peter Delmas

The words young and inexperienced are some of the first that come to mind when looking at this team, but there is no denying the huge amounts of talent and potential here as well.  The lack of experience is a reason I left blanks ( ___ ) in some spots rather than filling them with players I have as reservists, as to put together a competitive team, some quality vets should be added.

At forward, Brian Willsie, a 34-year old with 381 NHL games under his belt, had a decent season in Hamilton, but will be a UFA this summer, so his return is uncertain.  Then 6 forwards will be restricted free agents this summer, meaning the Habs will need to make decisions as to whether or not they have futures in the organization.  The first is Andreas Engqvist, the two-way forward who shared co-team MVP honours with Willsie this season.  Montreal has nothing to lose re-signing Engqvist and placing him on waivers if (when?) he doesn't make the NHL club out of training camp; if he gets claimed, no real loss there.  The question will be whether Engqvist wants to stick around in North America, or if he'd rather head back over to Europe as a free agent given his inability to stick in the NHL thus far.

Next is Olivier Fortier, another two-way guy who has impressed in spurts, being used on top trios and even on the powerplay at times despite his less than impressive career offensive outputs.  Staying healthy has been a challenge for the versatile forward who can play both center and wing, limiting him to just 37 games this past season.  There were times where he might have been near the top of the call-up list, but was unfortunately unavailable.  For his usefulness, I expect the team to come to terms with him.

Third is Andrew Conboy, a player many were high on some three years ago when he made his pro debut.  He was seen as a reckless, wild and crazy goon, with good size and perhaps enough hockey sense to play a regular shift.  Conboy had  a decent season in 2010-11, scoring 13 goals and 23 points to go with his 116 PIMs in 64 games, but this past season injuries meant he could only play 10 games, in which he did little to get noticed.  As a result, this could be the end for him in the organization, as his role has been usurped by Ian Schultz, but it is possible he is retained for his 6'4" 200 lbs frame on the 'Dogs fourth line.

The last three, Dany Masse, Robert Slaney, and Hunter Bishop, are all reasonably likely to be let go to create some room under the 50-contracts-per-team NHL limit.  Masse is just 5'10" and scored 19 points in 58 games this year, while Slaney - acquired from the Nashville Predators for added AHL depth in the Hal Gill trade - has generally struggled to establish himself as more than an ECHL'er.  Bishop showed a glimpse of perhaps a little promise a year ago, but missed this past entire season with injury, derailing his development.

Danny Kristo, who I included in the line-up at the top, has not yet been signed, and has options to either return to college for a final season or to hold out and become an unrestricted free agent.  However, it would seem to be in the best interest of both himself (for development purposes) and the Canadiens (since he has nothing left to prove in college) to get him under contract and have him go pro.  He turns 22 this summer, so is more physically mature than some of the other youngsters and should be able to step right into an important role.  Along with Kristo, the trio of CHL'ers in Brendan Gallagher, Michael Bournival, and Patrick Holland have some exciting upside and will have a very interested audience in Canadiens' fans.  All have some questions around them, however.  Is two-way, goal-scoring center Bournival's current post-season slump a fluke (or injury-provoked)?  Will the diminutive yet fierce sniper Gallagher's size hold him back at the pro level (and might playing with a big body like Ian Schultz, coming off a good season with 23 points and 104 PIMs in 60 games, help)?  Can the playmaker Holland produce without the two star linemates he's had all year?  Time will tell, but there is no real need to rush any of the three at this point.

One last interesting case is Alexander Avtsin, who is still under contract for next season, but who I've left off the roster for now.  Certainly he could take up one of those fourth line slots to start the season, but the 21-year old skilled Russian's compete level and play without the puck saw his production decline from his rookie season, going from 20 points in 58 games to 14 in 63.  There's lots of potential under his 6'3", 188 lbs frame, but based on this regression, it wouldn't surprise me if the Canadiens end the experiment and assign him to Europe.  If he is happy to stay, however, it may have been the case of a pro sophomore slump and learning experience for Avtsin, and I'd be happy to keep him around and see what happens.  He's already signed, so there is nothing to lose.

Aside from that, the team will be buoyed by returnees.  The center depth lacks a little (which may encourage the signing of a UFA), banking on Phil DeSimone building on a 14-goal, 33-point rookie campaign.  Gabriel Dumont (pictured at top) finished the year in Montreal and will have a shot at sticking with the Canadiens, but as he's undersized, I expect him to remain in an injury call-up role.  Joonas Nattinen had an up-and-down first season in North America, so he'll need to work on his consistency to keep ice time with the newcomers.

On defense, a trio of CHL'ers are also ready to make their debuts.  The towering and punishing Jarred Tinordi is used to playing big minutes, since he regularly plays close to 30 minutes a night for London.  He had a great World Junior this year, and is presently having a very strong playoffs.  Offensive d-man Nathan Beaulieu isn't yet signed, but spending another season in juniors would make no sense at all for him with how dominant he has been, so it should be a matter of time, despite the fact that he's still only 19.  Morgan Ellis impressed many this year for more than just some flashy offensive numbers, but for using his solid 6'2" frame to play a good defensive game and get physical when called upon.

Greg Pateryn has completed his college career, and the 6'3", 214 lbs blueliner is well-suite to a shutdown role.  One of the bigger knocks against him is his skating, so the team will have to see if that holds him back at the next level.

The Canadiens have 3 pending UFA's on Hamilton's blueline in captain Alex Henry, and veterans Garrett Stafford and Joe Callahan.  Henry is a quality tough, shutdown guy, who at 32 has played 177 NHL games (including 2 with the Habs in 2008-09).  If he is happy to stay, then he certainly could be retained, but if he wants another shot at the NHL, he has to realize that he's about to be passed in the depth chart by a strong incoming class this Fall in this organization.  Stafford is probably the most attractive to keep, more of a two-way player who is a perennial AHL star.  The fact that he's a right-handed shot would give the 'Dogs a perfect balance of three and three based on the above depth chart which doesn't hurt either.  Callahan was signed after Jeff Woywitka was lost on waivers to provide added depth, and there isn't real reason to expect him back.

Two RFAs will also require decisions in Brendan Nash and Mark Mitera.  Nash, like Hunter Bishop, missed this entire season with injury after showing promise last year.  But whereas Bishop showed some potential as a long-term forward project, Nash seemed reasonably close to NHL-ready on the blueline, and as such remains a legitimate prospect and should be retained.  Mitera was acquired last summer in return for Mathieu Carle, but the former first round selection had a rather rough season in Hamilton and could be left unqualified and replaced.

Lastly, in goal, the pipeline remains quite empty.  Neither Robert Mayer nor Peter Delmas appear to have NHL potential, nor are either amongst the AHL's top netminders.  As such, it is likely the team again hits the UFA market in search for a veteran AHL starter.  Nathan Lawson - when healthy - wasn't bad this year, but there are many free agent options including Drew MacIntyre, Jason Bacashihua, Cedrick Desjardins, Yann Danis, and Dany Sabourin.  It shouldn't be hard to fill this spot, and the team should look to a guy who would be ready to play limited NHL minutes in case (knock on wood) of an injury.

How ever the Habs new management team decides to fill out the roster, it looks far better than what the 'Dogs played with this season, and while it isn't inconceivable that the youngsters struggle to adapt off the hop, there is enough talent there that Hamilton supporters can hope for a playoff berth a year from now.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Player Spotlight: Josiah Didier

Out of the 2011 NHL draft, the only seemingly surefire future Habs is first round selection Nathan Beaulieu.  But during this year, you've undoubtedly heard about the hot start (and less about the subsequent cooling off) of Magnus Nygren, about the impressive play of Darren Dietz, about the disappointment of Olivier Archambault, and the World Junior appearance by Daniel Pribyl.  But the Canadiens selected another player in the draft, even before all of the above names aside from Beaulieu.

That player, who most have forgotten, is Josiah Didier, a defenseman who made his debut for the University of Denver as an 18-year old this season.  The 6'2", 200 lbs blueliner's stats far from jump off the page, scoring just 3 assists in 41 college games, but how was his overall game?  Today we look at a collection of reviews on the play of yet another prospect in Montreal's overflowing defensive pipeline.

To begin, let's learn a little about who Didier, taken in the fourth round, 97th overall, is:

If you would like to ask him how he thinks he's like Niklas Hjalmarsson, or why he would rather have super strength than the ability to fly, you can follow this possible future Hab on Twitter here:!/JDidier4

Didier is considered a physical yet mobile defensive blueliner, completing his sophomore season with a +6 rating.  He led the club with 68 blocked shots, and recorded 115 hits - a strong total in the generally less physical NCAA.  Denver decided that, despite his young age, he was ready to make the jump this season, and assigned him a fifth year student/teammate, John Ryder (undrafted, frequently Didier's partner on a bottom pairing), as a mentor.  Ryder was immediately impressed with Didier, citing him as a quick learner who will stand up for a teammate and never back down from anybody, sentiments echoes by the team's head coach George Gwozdecky.

Didier showed some of his trademark toughness as, despite suffering a relatively serious injury late in the season, he was back in the lineup a week later, playing through the pain.  Based on all of these traits, it may sound to you like the Habs found another Josh Gorges to add to the system, and while the comparison speaks to Didier's ceiling, let's not get carried away.  Didier is still a long-term project at best and far from a sure-thing to make the NHL some day.  Most see his maximum potential as a defensive third pairing guy.  But toughness and a right-handed shot will be welcome in the Montreal system, and as such his college career over the next few years should be interesting to follow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Habs Prospect Playoff Update

As mentioned when we unveiled the summer schedule, it will occasionally be interrupted to bring you Habs news, so - while waiting for the World Championships to kick off - today we look at the few members of the organization still playing for their respective clubs.


Nathan Beaulieu (pictured left) and the Saint John Sea Dogs have been on a long break after sweeping Baie-Comeau, which brought their record this post-season to 8-0.  What makes it such a lengthy wait is that all three other remaining match-up have gone to 7 games!  Beaulieu has scored 2 goals and 8 points to go with a +15 rating on the dominant Sea Dogs.  How good has his team been?  He ranks only 10th on the club in scoring at the point-per-game mark (second amongst d-men), and fourth in +/-.  Saint John will face Chicoutimi in round 3 because...

If the Sea Dogs have been coasting, Michael Bournival and Morgan Ellis's Shawinigan Cataractes had their hands full with Chicoutimi in round 2.  The Cats held a 3-2 series lead, but fell by a 2-0 score in game 6, and were bested 3-2 in the decider.  Bournival has had a pretty miserable playoff, scoring just 1 goal and 7 points in 11 games, leading many to believe he is playing injured.  His ice time didn't seem to be dipping, however, based on his face-off stats, and in an interview he said he was disappointed with his own lack of production.  Ellis on the other hand has been a force for his club, recording 11 points in the 11 games.  With the loss, Shawinigan is out of the QMJHL playoffs, but they are the host of this year's Memorial Cup, so they get to play in that tournament anyway.  As they were eliminated in the second round, they will now be off for 31 days while the other CHL teams try to fight their way in.  If Bournival is hurt, this will give him time to rest and heal up.


Captain Jarred Tinordi and his London Knights survived a bit of a second round scare, eliminating the Saginaw Spirit four games to two.  Tinordi - a notoriously tough customer in his own end - has been a huge surprise offensively in the post-season, with 2 goals and 5 points in 10 games, to go with a +6 rating.  His 2 goals match his regular season total, scored in 48 games this season.  The Knights will play Kitchener in the third round starting Thursday.


Patrick Holland and the WHL's top-ranked Tri-City Americans were unable to close out their series in game 6, despite a Gordie Howe Hat Trick from Holland himself (a goal, an assist, and a fight), losing 4-3 in overtime to the Spokane Chiefs.  Holland has 3 goals and 12 points in 9 playoff games.  The Americans host game 7 this evening.


There will be no playoffs for the Hamilton Bulldogs this season, though the situation might have been very different if there were fewer injuries throughout both the Canadiens' and Bulldogs' rosters this season.  The 'Dogs, reinforced by a number of players once the Habs' season was over, won their final game by a 3-2 score.  Robert Mayer made 29 saves and was named second star behind Andreas Engqvist who had 2 assists.  Blake Geoffrion and Aaron Palushaj each had a goal and a helper.  Here's a glance at the team's final scoring leaders this year from The AHL's website:

The 'Dogs also handed out a number of awards at year's end, with Andreas Engqvist and Brian Willsie being named team co-MVPs (as voted by their teammates).  Aaron Palushaj won the 'Dogs' Molson Cup for being named a top star most frequently, Frederic St. Denis was named top defenseman by the media, and despite spending much of the season in Montreal, Louis Leblanc was recognized as the club's top rookie.

The battle for top rookie will be an intense one next season, and we'll look at what Hamilton's vastly improved roster might look like next year in a piece this Friday.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Top 10 Players to Consider at 3rd Overall

If you're like me, then you like to do your own research about a player, combined with takes from a variety of sources, rather than just reading something and making a snap judgment.  It is in this light that today's article will not go in depth about who the Canadiens should take at third overall and why that player is better than all the rest.  Instead, it will give an overview of 10 guys, in a very rough order, about whom you should do some learning over the next 2 months in preparation for the NHL Entry Draft.  In early June, in the weeks leading up to the draft, once I've completed a more thorough analysis of some of these guys, I'll go over my take on who the team should pick and the players' respective strengths and weaknesses.

Without further ado, 10 "prizes" that might await the Habs for their season of hardship.

10. Olli Maatta, D, London Knights (OHL)

When preparing my final top 10 for the Habs' pick prior to last year's draft, I slanted it heavily towards forwards, indicating that was the direction I hoped the team would go.  We now know that the team went with a slider in defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, a pick which may work out well, but which also further accentuates the need to draft a forward this year.  Thus, though there are a number of high potential d-men available, only a few are listed here, with many like Morgan Rielly, Jacon Trouba, Griffin Reinhart, and Matthew Dumba being just as good - if not better - prospects than some of the players listed here, but not filling as much of a need in the organization's depth chart.

If the team does take a d-man though, it is likely that they are most familiar with Maatta, who plays for Jarred Tinordi's London Knights.  The Finnish-born two-way blueliner isn't quite as big as the towering Tinordi, but can handle his own at 6'2", 198 lbs.  On the stacked Knights roster, he finished an impressive +25 as a rookie, and has taken his game up another notch in the playoffs with 12 points in 10 games thus far.

9. Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa 67s (OHL)

Another defenseman who might get consideration is Ceci, who posted a major jump in the NHL Central Scouting Rankings, going from 16th amongst North American skaters at the midterm to 6th.  Ceci, like Beaulieu last year, is a late birthday, meaning he has already completed three full seasons in the Ontario League and will be eligible to jump to the AHL after just one more season of junior hockey.  His numbers this season were head-turning, with 60 points in 64 games ranking behind only Dougie Hamilton offensively. At 6'2", 203 lbs, he already possesses a very solid frame as well.

8. Zemgus Girgensons, C, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)

Scouts have a very tough time comparing USHL players with CHL prospects and European youngsters as play in every league varies significantly.  As such, Girgensons is a bit of a wildcard in the first round, especially as some teams may be hesitant to draft a player of Latvian origin so early (see: the Anze Kopitar effect).  But Girgensons should go early, leading his club with 55 points in 49 games this season, and scoring 2 goals in 6 World Junior games on a weak Latvian squad.  A year earlier, he helped Latvia return to the U20 top division by scoring 4 goals and 7 points in 5 D1 games before his 17th birthday.  At 6'1", 182 lbs, Girgensons shows potential to fill out and become an imposing force down the middle.

7. Teuvo Teravainen, RW, Jokerit Helsinki (Finland)

At 5'10" and 185 lbs, Teravainen doesn't have the size the Canadiens are looking for, but there is little doubt in his skill.  At 17, after scoring 12 goals and 20 points in 11 Finish junior league games, he was called up to the men's league and produced 18 points in 40 games.  He picked it up further scoring 6 points in 9 SM-Liiga playoff games this year.

6. Brendan Gaunce, C, Belleville Bulls (OHL)

Gaunce is a big center like Hab fans have been clamouring for, with a strong 6'2", 205 lbs frame.  Not only did he increase his production from 36 points in 65 games a year ago to 68 in 68 this season (leading his team by 17 points), but he also went from a -31 to a +4.  Gaunce has shown some of what Brian Burke would call truculence, willing to drop the gloves when the need is there.  Anyone on this list here and lower would be a stretch at #3, and would likely mean the Canadiens traded down from where they stood.

5. Ryan Murray, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)

Murray is seemingly the consensus top defenseman in the draft, so he may be the only blueliner that Hab fans would be able to digest the team taking.  He's not as big as the d-men lower on this list at 6'0", 185 lbs, but he is solid defensively and able to contribute up front with 31 points in 46 games this year (and 3 goals and 5 points in just 4 playoff games).  The word is that Kevin Lowe has approached Murray about playing for Team Canada at this year's World Championships, which will give all scouts a look at how he fares against older and bigger competition.

4. Radek Faksa, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

A native of Opava, Czech Republic, Faksa is another big center at 6'3", 202 lbs.  He crossed over to North America for this season and scored 29 goals and 67 points in 62 games as an OHL rookie.  On the downside, he did miss a bit of time with a concussion, and his scoring clip dipped in the playoffs with 5 points in 8 games.  Still, he plays a strong two-way game, so he may be the kind of complete player the Canadiens like.

3.  Filip Forsberg, LW, Leksand (Sweden)

A popular pick amongst Hab fans for the Canadiens selection, the young 6'1", 176 lbs Forsberg can play any forward position, though he spent most of this year on the wing.  Forsberg made his men's league debut a year ago at the age of just 16, and played 43 games for Leksand (which played in the second tier league since they had been demoted) this season, scoring 17 points against much older competition.  Forsberg won't turn 18 until August and possesses a high level of skill along with a coveted right-handed shot, but he failed to improve his ranking with just 1 assist in 6 games at this year's World Junior Championships.  Lots of potential as a future NHL two-way first liner, but his offensive upside remains a bit of a question mark since he has not dominated offensively on any major stage.  He needs to fill out, but the fact that he has competed against men has some believing he is reasonably close to NHL-ready.

1/2.  Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL) and Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Come June, I will make a pick between Galchenyuk and Grigorenko as to who I think would be the better choice for the Canadiens, but I'm not ready to make a call just yet.  Both are skilled centers, with Galcheyuk standing 6'1", 185 lbs, and Grigorenko 6'2", 191 lbs, but Galchenyuk is seen as the more complete two-way player of the two.  Grigorenko has the slightly flashier offensive numbers, scoring 85 points in 59 games this season on his way to being named QMJHL rookie of the year, but has also been criticized of disappearing at times, or being lazy.  Galchenyuk missed the vast majority of this season following knee surgery, but a year ago had 83 points in 68 games has an OHL rookie centering consensus number 1 pick Nail Yakupov (left off this list because he will be unavailable to Montreal unless the team trades up to first).  Some say he might have even been in the conversation for first overall had he played this season, while others wonder if his numbers were inflated from playing with Yakupov.  His work ethic and American development roots have many thinking he may be a Trevor Timmins type of guy.  With either of these young men, the Habs will be adding a potential superstar, though it should also be mentioned that there is no guarantee either is ready for a starring role this very Fall.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Memory Monday: Juha Lind

Today I will introduce and role out this off-season's content schedule, similar to the one I launched the blog with last off-season.  I will continue to provide new content every weekday, but given that there aren't constantly new events to cover, pieces will be on the following:

MONDAYS - Memory Monday, a piece looking back at a former Hab.

TUESDAYS - Top 10 Tuesday, a top 10 list in some way related to the Canadiens.

WENDESDAYS - Around the League, a feature on something hockey-related but not involving the Habs, generally with some Canadiens tie-ins.

THURSDAYS - Player Spotlight, a profile / close-up of a current member of the Canadiens family.

FRIDAYS - Funny Friday / A Day as Habs GM, two options of columns for Fridays, either being something funny related to the Canadiens, or putting myself in the shoes of the Habs GM and looking forward.

As last summer, this is a loose schedule, and it will be interrupted on days where there may be something more pertinent to discuss, but just because it's off-season, doesn't mean this site is shuttin' 'er down!


So we begin today by looking back at a player who spent two of Montreal's "dark years" in the organization, Finnish winger Juha Lind.  Lind hails from Helsinki and was an 8th round pick of the Minnesota North Stars back in 1992.

Lind was seen as a utility two-way guy, but put up strong offensive numbers in Finland's SM-Liiga.  After remaining in Europe for a few seasons (and his club, Jokerit Helsinki, won two European championships in that time), including being named the SM-Liiga's Rookie of the Year in 1993-94, he made the jump straight to the NHL in the 1997-98 season scoring 5 points in 39 games as a rookie.  By this point, however, he was already a household hockey name in his native country.  He had scored 7 points in 7 World Junior Championships games back in 1993-94, and even joined the Men's team for the World Championship in 1996-97, and the Olympic Team in Nagano in 1998, indicating that expectations were high.  He also made his acting debut (and only credit to date), following in the footsteps of his newscaster father by appearing as himself in an episode of Finnish television show Team Ahma which aired in '98.

He returned to Europe for the 1998-99 season, reaching the 20-goal mark for the first and only time in his career, but came back to Dallas the following season.  That year, he would miss games with back problems early on, and these would resurface on occasion throughout his career, perhaps being a partial cause for him never reaching what some thought he could be.  Despite the health issues, in January of that year, the Canadiens sent big and robust forward Scott Thornton to the Stars in return for the 5'11", 183 lbs winger.  The late 90s and early 2000s were a period of high player turnover for Montreal, and this move was perhaps typical of the problems that would plague the team for years to come; a loss of size and toughness for smaller riskier types.  Thornton would go on to have the better career, playing a role not unlike Travis Moen in the present day, even notching a 20-goal and 40-point season once.

The Habs were optimistic at the time, with coach Alain Vigneault and scouts Mario Tremblay and Pierre Mondou all giving positive accounts of having seen his potential in Dallas.  Then captain Saku Koivu, who played with him on some of the Finnish squads, also liked what he saw in him, explaining that it was hard for him to breakout at the NHL level when only playing five minutes a night for the Stars.

Lind finished that season with the Canadiens, scoring 3 points in 13 games and again getting a call from the Finnish National Team for the World Championships, where he produced an impressive 3 goals and 7 points in 9 games.  But he couldn't build on that the following year, with just 7 points in 47 games for Montreal in what would be his final season in North America.

In the years that followed, he bounced around European leagues in Sweden, Austria, and Finland, skating for Jokerit Helsinki on three more occasions in 2004-05 (playing with, amongst others, Glen Metropolit, Brian Campbell, Tim Thomas, and Valterri Filppula during the NHL lockout), 2008-09, and 2009-10 - his final season as a professional player.

When people think back about the "worst players to ever have played for the Canadiens," many refer to players during these dark years, and because he only spent 60 games in the blue, blanc, et rouge, Lind's name often comes up in conversation.  But a look at his hockey career as a whole reveals a resume that no one should scoff at.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Your Canadiens for April 13, 2012

A few quick hits to send you off to the weekend.


If you haven't heard, the NHL and EA Sports are running on a contest right now that lets people vote for who will be on the cover of the NHL 13 video game.  In the first round, fans had to vote between two players on each team, and P.K. Subban defeated Tomas Plekanec for the Canadiens.  Now in the second round, you can vote for between 1 and 16 of the remaining 32 candidates.  For maximal efficiency, I'd recommend voting for just Subban so that you don't help his competitors!  Vote here:


If that got you in a voting mood, though it's a little less exciting since there is no possible reward, the Habs are currently hosting a vote for numerous team awards.  Check out the categories and pick your favourites on the team's official website here:|MTL|home


The Fondation Kovalev announced its annual charity golf tournament for this year, set to take place on June 18th at the St-Raphael Golf Club in Ile Bizard.  Last year's even included appearances by both Alex Kovalev himself and Tomas Plekanec amongst others.  See their website for last year's info here: or you can e-mail to inquire about participating this year.


Dave Stubbs announced today that fans are invited to come meet him and former Canadiens superstar Elmer Lach on Monday for the kick off of the Pointe Claire Oldtimers Charity Hockey Tournament.  The event begins Monday at 3 PM at the Bob Birnie Arena.  Details here:


Hockey Canada announced that former Montreal Assistant Coach Kirk Muller and former Hamilton Bulldogs Head Coach Guy Boucher will serve as Assistant Coaches to Brent Sutter for the upcoming World Championships.  P.K. Subban was previously announced as one of the team's initial 17 members, and I'm certain he'll be happy to see a pair of familiar faces behind the bench.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

GM Search Updates

**UPDATE: Following response to this post, I've added a GM Candidate Tracker to the sidebar of this site which will be kept up to date as things progress.**

Seeing bits and pieces of General Manager news all over the place and having trouble keeping tabs on all of it?  Then you've come to the right place!  Today we consolidate all the news as to where the Canadiens are at in their search for a new head honcho.

First, know that the team is in absolutely no rush to conclude the GM-hunt and name a new manager.  The next real "deadline" is the NHL's Entry Draft on June 22nd, and the Habs' scouting staff is already hard at work preparing for it.  If the Canadiens end up hiring someone serving in another role for another club, then there is little doubt that person is also preparing for the draft as well.  Thus, the new GM likely doesn't need more than 3-4 weeks with Montreal's staff to be prepared, meaning the search could go on for another month or so.  It is also possible that within that timeframe, some other GMs are fired, increasing the candidate pool beyond what it is today.

Next, know that the earlier rumour of Serge Savard being named a permanent Senior Vice President to whom the new General Manager would have to report has not been confirmed, even being denied by Savard himself. This doesn't mean it won't eventually happen, or that Savard won't remain a permanent part of the staff in some capacity, but officially his role remains a temporary advisory one for now.

As for the candidates themselves, here are the names we have confirmed and their statuses.


Marc Bergevin: Bergevin is the Assistant General Manager in Chicago and a guy who has been a part of the club in various capacities through their full revival as a top NHL franchise.  It is confirmed that the Habs asked the Blackhawks for permission to speak with him, though it is likely that even if he is the team's guy, any announcement would come at the end of the Hawks' playoff run, or if it is a deep one, at least during a small break between rounds.

Julien Brisebois: Brisebois is the former Canadiens Capologist and current Assistant GM to Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay.  He's another guy that the Habs have been confirmed as wanting to approach, though one highly unconfirmed source stated that Brisebois would have passed up the opportunity.  Many consider Brisebois one of the top candidates at this point, though personally I think his work with the Lightning has been quite overrated.

Claude Loiselle: Claude Loiselle is an Assistant / Capologist within the brain trust of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  He's another guy that Darren Dreger has confirmed the Canadiens have asked for permission to speak with, and given he works in Toronto, a playoff run is no barrier in his case (heh).  Toronto's salaries haven't been the best the past few seasons, so Loiselle's work far from speaks for itself, but he is considered an up-and-comer and should be part of the process.

Luc Robitaille: Yesterday, it was revealed that the Canadiens had asked for permission to speak with the Kings' Director of Business Operations, Lucky Luc Robitaille.  Certainly Robitaille has a great hockey pedigree as a player, but his current job is on the business side, not hockey operations, which makes him a strange fit as a GM.  They may be interested in him as part of a team, however.

Ron Hextall: In addition to Robitaille, it was also said the Habs asked for permission for multiple members of the Kings' staff, and Hextall's name was later added to the "confirmed" list.  Hextall is the Assistant GM in L.A. and fans should not base opinions of his work on his unorthodox career as a goaltender.  He was a pro scout and then Director of Professional Player Personnel in Philadelphia, before becoming Assistant GM in Los Angeles in 2006.  He has the experience to make a move to another level.  But does he speak French?  I have doubts.

Francois Giguere: Another name on the confirmed candidate list is former Colorado Avalanche GM Giguere.  Giguere won two Stanley Cups in Colorado (while Assistant GM and Vice President of Hockey Operations), but has been out of a job since 2009.

Pierre McGuire: There is no confirmation that media star and former NHL executive McGuire is receiving consideration for the job, but his name has been popping up more and more frequently the past few days.  A reporter asked him about the situation, and he was said to have smiled, paused, and eventually responded that he "couldn't comment on the situation."

Paul Fenton: Fenton's name is far from confirmed as being in the mix, but the Nashville Predators' Assistant GM has been included in a number of speculative "contacted" lists.  Like the other playoff-bound candidates, any serious talks may be delayed by the Preds' run.  Not a French-speaker.

Patrick Roy: There is no real confirmation that the Habs have approached Roy about the job, but the media loves to throw his name in there in any capacity they can.  He is thought of more as a possible future coach, speculation added to by a Tweet from top prospect Mikhail Grigorenko who plays for him with the Quebec Remparts ("Cant wait to be drafted and maybe play for Roy again").  But some also say he wouldn't take any job in Montreal unless he had "full control," which might indicate the GM job is the one he aspires to (he fills both roles of GM and Head Coach in Quebec).

Guy Carbonneau: I think including him as a GM candidate is a little far fetched, but in the name of exhaustiveness, Carbonneau has said that he wants to be part of a solution in Montreal in any capacity. He hopes to be a candidate to return as head coach, but would consider any role.

Jack Ferreira: Here's a name that has NOT popped up in rumours, but Ferreira is another member of the L.A. Kings staff meaning the Habs may or may not have inquired about him.  He currently serves as Special Assistant to the General Manager, but has filled many roles over his career, including that of GM in Anaheim, San Jose, and Minnesota.  Most notably, however, he worked with Serge Savard as Montreal's Director of Pro Scouting back in 1993, so the two are familiar with one another and he has experience in this market (though I don't know anything about his mastery of la langue Moliere).  He seems like a logical candidate, with the main downside being his age.  He turns 68 in June, and if the Habs want stability longer-term, they may seek more of an up-and-comer.  A possible solution is to bring him in along with a younger, less experienced guy to learn under him and eventually take over.


Vincent Damphouse: Damphousse was quite unqualified for the position with very limited experience, but announced he was pulling his name out of the race anyway for personal family reasons.

Pat Brisson: Player agent Brisson was considered a top candidate, but withdrew from the process to focus on his agency, one of the biggest in the game with clients like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, the Sedin brothers, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane.

Jim Nill: Pierre LeBrun today confirmed that the Canadiens have contacted Detroit about speaking to the unilingual Nill, considered very capable of taking over a team after serving many functions including Assistant GM with the Red Wings over many years.  LeBrun adds, however, that Detroit has traditionally not permitted teams to speak with Nill, and/or Nill has declined for personal reasons, so he remains an unlikely candidate.  UPDATE: Renaud Lavoie confirms that Nill is not interested in the position.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Around the League: Playoff Time

With the excitement of the NHL Draft Lottery behind us (and if you missed it, Edmonton won the lottery, meaning the Canadiens retain their third overall selection), and having survived the below scandalous Tweet from prospect Mikhail Grigorenko last night (which may or may no be an indication of anything at all, but regardless, had Tweeters from Montreal abuzz),

we can now turn our attention to the sadly Habs-less post-season.  Here, then, are my 2012 NHL Playoffs Predictions & Previews for the first round.


(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings

The matchups in the West are quite something this year, as all 8 post-season teams have a strong enough roster to win a best-of-seven against their opposition.  The Canucks came into the season as a Stanley Cup favourite, and haven't disappointed - Yet.  The Kings came into the year with high expectations based on an exciting off-season, but their play underwhelmed for much of the year.  They squeaked into the playoffs based on a late surge despite having scored just 194 goals - second least in the entire league.  The Canucks are on a mission to win at all costs, while the Kings will benefit from the added playoff experience of bringing in Jeff Carter (who, if/once healthy, will help the team offensively, though Vancouver is dealing with their own offensive health concern in Daniel Sedin) and Mike Richards, while being backed by a likely Vezina candidate in Jonathan Quick.

Canadiens implications: Acquired at last season's trade deadline, Vancouver was able to retain former Canadiens Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre, so that may be a reason to get behind them.  The Kings feature no former Habs, but their roster does include Justin Williams, an enemy of Habs fans for his unpenalized high stick to Saku Koivu's eye during the 2006 playoffs.

Prediction: Vancouver in 6.

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks

The Blues and Sharks were both considered playoff contenders at the start of the year, with San Jose a perennial contender having made some significant changes, and St. Louis a younger team on the rise.  The Blues goaltending tandem has been remarkable this year, combining for 15 shutouts (Brian Elliott with 9 and Jaroslav Halak with 6), while netminding may be a weak spot for the Sharks, with Antti Niemi's numbers a little worse than last season (though he has proven he can take a team to a Stanley Cup).  The Blues may be inexperienced, but this is off-set by San Jose's reputation as a playoff choker, so it should make for an interesting matchup.

Canadiens implications: With Brian Elliott's health a question mark, former Canadiens playoff hero Jaroslav Halak should start the series for St. Louis, a team also featuring Matt D'Agostini as a depth forward.  The Sharks acquired the stud rental Montreal picked up the year of Halak's playoff performance in Dominic Moore as one of a couple of moves aimed to increase the depth on their bottom lines.  I imagine most Hab fans will be behind the Blues in this one.

Prediction: St. Louis in 6.

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks

The Coyotes defied odds once again to win their division for the first time in club history despite the overwhelming future uncertainty always hanging over the team.  Phoenix has questions between the pipes, but have assembled a rather deep roster at forward and defense, led by the likes of Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, and Ray Whitney.  The Hawks are a far cry from the Stanley Cup team of 2010, but still feature star power at forward (Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp), and some top defenders (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook).  If the Coyotes have questions in net, the Hawks aren't much better off, with neither of Corey Crawford or Ray Emery instilling tremendous confidence.

Canadiens implications: Former Montreal first round selection Kyle Chipchura played 53 games for the Coyotes this year, scoring a career best 16 points in a checking role.  Chicago has no player with direct ties to the Habs, unless you count the Marian Hossa gloves incident of a few seasons back.  But we'll let Hab fans side with the Hawks since P.K. Subban picked them as a team to watch in the West.

Prediction: Chicago in 5.

(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings

The Predators find a way to qualify for the post-season with a roster of underdogs virtually every year, but for once, they've actually assembled a contender-worthy squad this time around.  Nashville is never an easy out, and has had numerous epic battles with far favourited Detroit squads in the past, so this should be a series to watch.  We can easily hand the goaltending battle to Nashville as anyone would take Pekka Rinne over Jimmy Howard, while we can give an edge to Detroit's forward group with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg compared to the Preds' lack of stars.  This may be a series, then, which comes down to defense, with Detroit's old guard of Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart, and Niklas Kronwall matching up against the younger Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.  The Preds were very active in filling out their roster at the deadline, while the Wings mostly stood pat, so we'll see what effect that might have come playoff time.

Canadiens implications: Nashville is the team perhaps most supported by Canadiens fans, since they added to a roster that already included Sergei Kostitsyn and Francis Bouillon by bringing in Andrei Kostitsyn and Hal Gill prior to the deadline.  Interestingly, however, the pick Montreal acquired for Gill is for this year's draft, meaning it will be slightly higher if the Preds get bounced in the opening round.  The Wings' core hasn't changed in many seasons, and has no direct ties to former Habs.

Prediction: Detroit in 7.


(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators

Some are predicting an upset in this series based on the Sens having won the season series 3 games to 1, but the playoffs are a beat of a different kind.  Ottawa was a big surprise this season as many saw their rebuilding team still a few seasons away from the playoffs, but a remarkable year for Erik Karlsson helped to speed up the curve.  Similarly, it was in part defensemen who helped New York win the conference, with the emergence of Dan Girardi even earning him Norris talk in some circles.  The series doesn't lack for stars at forward either, with Jason Spezza proving his career wasn't washed up thank to an 84-point season in Ottawa, while Marian Gaborik stayed healthy to play all 82 games for the first in his career for the Rangers.  The difference is likely to be goaltending, with Henrik Lundqvist being among the game's best.

Canadiens implications: The Rangers D boasts a talented young player whose name alone pains Canadiens fans, even though he never played a game in Montreal.  Former Hab first round pick Ryan McDonagh was sent to New York in the devastating Scott Gomez trade.  Ottawa also has a player drafted by Montreal but who never played for the team in tough guy defenseman Matt Carkner, while also featuring backup goaltender Alex Auld who battled for the #2 spot with the younger Ben Bishop this season.

Prediction: New York in 4.

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals

The defending Stanley Cup champions had a strange season of cold streaks and incredibly hot runs.  Their roster hasn't changed terribly much since last year's playoffs, though they will miss the injured Nathan Horton who helped the Bruins through 3 and a half rounds a year ago.  Replacing him will be a much bigger contribution from sophomore Tyler Seguin who was a reservist for much of the run last season.  Washington made some depth moves this summer that sought to address the club's weaknesses for a run at the Cup, but the team disappointed.  We can begin with Alexander Ovechkin who finished below the point-per-game mark for the first time in his career, though 38 goals and 65 points are nothing to scoff at for most players.  The decline of Alexander Semin also continued, with the forward matching last season's points but in more games, and scoring just 21 goals - the least since his rookie season in 2003-04.  Still, many of the Caps additions (Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Vokoun...) focused on guys they believed could help in the post-speason specifically, so we will have to wait and see if they pay off.

Canadiens implications: As mentioned, the Caps signed both former Habs Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Halpern last summer, while goaltender Tomas Vokoun started his career (albeit briefly) in the Canadiens organization many years back.  Boston lost Michael Ryder who was important in the playoffs last year, but filled their ex-Canadiens quota by signing Benoit Pouliot instead.  Unfortunately for Boston, Pouliot was always entirely invisible in the playoffs in Montreal, even when he had a good regular season.

Prediction: Boston in 6.

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils

Like Ottawa, Florida surprised in a big way this season, but doing so more through strategic free agent and trade acquisitions than the emergence of younger players.  Though they won their division, the Panthers will be in tough in round 1 against a deeper and more experienced Devils group, which is led by their top trio of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and re-emergent 35-year old Patrik Elias.  New Jersey has also gotten important contributions from rookie Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson, providing balance to the roster that no longer depends solely on Martin Brodeur to steal games.

Canadiens implications: Goaltender Jose Theodore continues to revive his career, bettering his last season's numbers in Minnesota this year in Florida.  Montreal captain Brian Gionta's younger brother Stephen is on the Devils' roster, called up for one game this season in which he scored his first NHL goal.  6'5" New Jersey forward Dainius Zubrus was also once a Hab for parts of three seasons earlier in his career, before being a part of the trade that brought Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis to the Canadiens from Washington.

Prediction: New Jersey in 5.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers

The Penguins may be the fourth seed, but they earned that while dealing with a plethora of key injuries all season.  If there's a team that has no sympathy for that, it's Philadelphia, who had to get by without top players for much of the year as well.  The difference is that the Pens are now basically at full strength, while the Flyers are still getting by without defensemen Chris Pronger and Andrej Meszaros.  And in a matchup as tightly-contested as the battle of Pennsylvania - sure to be one of the most physical and entertaining of the opening round - that could be enough to make the difference.  The Penguins know what it takes to win and have arguably the top two players in the league with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while Philadelphia will attempt to counter with their own wave of young talent that includes Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Matt Read, supported by proven playoff performers Daniel Briere and 40-year old long-time former Penguin Jaromir Jagr.

Canadiens implications: Flyer Blair Betts was Hab property for a few days this season, but the injury that saw Montreal return him to Philadelphia following their waiver claim kept him out the remainder of the year.  Big Penguins forward Arron Asham was a third round pick by the Canadiens in 1996 and played 121 games for Montreal over 4 seasons.  Both clubs have contingents of French Canadian players, but both are also recent Montreal playoff rivals, so fans can go either way.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in 7.