Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What do the Montreal Canadiens Need to do to Become Contenders?

Another season has come and gone for the Montreal Canadiens, one that saw them do well in the standings but that has left many fans feeling that the organization still needs to make some changes to take their team to the next level.

With that in mind, I humbly offer the Habs a few suggestions for the coming months.

1- At last years trade deadline, I felt the Habs would do well to move Andrei Markov, David Desharnais and maybe even Tomas Plekanec if the offer was a real solid one. The reasoning behind that was:

a)  The team had some important pieces missing if they were to become a top-end team in the NHL , (A Top line Centre, a scoring-winger and a bonafide top two defenseman), pieces that could best be acquired by trading proven assets for youngsters who had not yet had the opportunity. Getting a older veteran was not my preferred solution.

b)  That their current youngsters (Galchenyuk, Beaulieu, Tinordi, Bournival) needed to get a good deal of ice-time in the roles they are meant to play going forward.

Habs didn’t do that last year so I feel they will have to do this now. If they can move the same assets mentioned earlier, I think they will be better off going forwards. Getting a real top line center, top six winger and top 3 defensemen can’t be done during one off-season.

Bergevin should give the youngsters he has now some real playing time while at the same time accumulating a few more assets and improve the quality of the team’s depth. Once this is done, the next step has to happen:

2- Bergevin and Therrien have to learn to place more trust in their youngsters.

I understand the importance of veterans on a team but there is something to be said about giving them too much respect.

Facts are that some did not produce enough during the season and a few were a non-factor during the playoffs while some youngsters had too little rope. The Tampa Bay line of Kucherov-Johnson and Palat were great for the Lightning during the playoffs and featured a 2nd round pick, a 7th round pick and an undrafted player.

Maybe Montreal has that kind of talent but management will never know if youngsters are not given real opportunities without the fear that one mistake will mean a trip to the press box or a demotion to the AHL.

3 - Beware of July 1st

Habs may be close to being a top team but they shouldn’t jump on the Free Agency market to fill their needs. Many times, the players available are aging players whose best years are behind them, and on top of that, you have to overpay to get them. Players are an asset but so is available cap space.

Bergevin should tread very carefully. Don’t go for the best available solution, chose the right solution.

4 -  Habs need to be patient.

Usually, it’s preferable to get players during the off-season so they can ease into a new team/city but cost may be lesser once the season begins. Team with high-expectations flounder and get desperate for help, some teams decide a rebuild is in order and start giving up assets or some teams need cap relief.

This may be a good opportunity for Bergevin and the pro scouting staff to make something happen. Rangers have mortgaged their future for a big playoff run. Maybe a Brassard or Stepan becomes available?

The Blues feel they should contend but had a difficult post-season, can they get desperate if things don’t go well next season? They have a lot of depth in their organisation.  Maybe a talented francophone player like Xavier Ouellet could be an helpful piece to the puzzle. Oh, and did Jimmy Develanno not say just a few weeks ago that he expected a lot more from Anthony Mantha?

Not saying any of these are possible but a creative, bold General-Manager can make things happen.

Habs have some good pieces but Bergevin needs to do a few things differently if they are to move forward. He needs to re-evaluate the coach, the players, the whole hockey staff ...and even the GM.

So what do YOU think the Canadiens need to do in order to get better?

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Rick has been a scout, and has been covering and writing about hockey for over a decade.  Follow him on Twitter at Rick1042

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Montreal Canadiens Get Angry and Get the Win Against the Tampa Bay Lightning

Fuck you.

That’s what the Montreal Canadiens said to the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight.

Fuck you for being up 3-0 in this 2nd round playoff series despite having been largely outplayed.

Fuck you to all the goal posts they hit.

Fuck you to last second goals and soul crushing defeats. And fuck you to being down 3-0.

From the drop of the puck tonight, the Habs looked determined, ready, and, quite frankly, pissed off.

Max Pacioretty scored in his typical style.

Andrei Markov and PK Subban were as ferocious as an egg-fart vapor-trail.

Brendan Gallagher continued to show he’s a playoff gamer, and Carey Price, for once, got some goal support.



Also, Montreal finally showed that Tampa goalie, Ben Bishop, is actually mortal.

Wait, what?

Of course he is!

One just has to reference the Lightning's first round series against the Red Wings, to see Detroit getting Bishop off his focus.

Bishop is a great goaltender.  But unlikely Price, he can be rattled. And the Habs did so tonight, getting to him early and often.

As a result, we saw Bishop flopping around on the ice, losing his stick, diving to try and get calls, and overall looking like a goaltender who is inferior to Price...

...which he is.

But most importantly for Montreal, their leaders lead.

From PK Subban, to Markov, to Pacioretty and more, the Canadiens, to a man, were determined not to be swept.

So golf clap for winning a game where the opposition was lacksidasical and comfortable with their three-game lead.

But now what?

Well, Montreal is still down 3-1 in the series, but they have reasons to be optimistic.

Game 2 aside, they’ve largely outplayed Tampa in this series. But more importantly, they’ve got momentum going back home to the Bell Centre.

For my money, there is no way the Habs lose Game 5 in Montreal.  No way.  Not with the pride and leadership in this group.

Equally, I don’t see any way the Habs lose a potential Game 7 in Montreal, if that game happens.

Not to jump ahead too much, but for me, it all comes down to a Game 6 in Tampa.  If the Habs can win Game 5—and I don’t see how they lose that game—they will be playing their most important and, difficult, game of the year Game 6 in Tampa.

But this is all conjecture...

The reality right now, is that the Habs are down three games to one, with history dictating that there’s no way they can come back to win.

As we saw with the Canadiens’ first round matchup against the Ottawa Senators, winning one or two games may put the fear of God into the opposition, but it doesn’t win the series.

I know it’s a cliché, but the Habs really have to take it one shift and one game at a time.  What do they need to do to win the next game?  That’s precisely what's got to be the focus...nothing more.

It’s like that age old adage...how do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

What's your take on the series?  Do that Habs have a chance?  What do they need to do to win?

SIDENOTE: Yes, I realize it's been the better part of two years since I've written anything, anywhere, about hockey.  I have to thank the great writers who have kept the ball rolling in my absence. I'm not sure how often I'll start blogging again. It won't be the 100s of posts I was doing per year in the past, and it might be in a slightly different voice, but I'll definitely be contributing my thoughts on the Habs again...in some capacity!

(photo by Canadian Press)

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Kamal is a smart ass who thinks he knows a lot about hockey.  He's been on-air, started businesses, and has embraced social media, all with a focus on hockey.  He recently flew to Spain.  Have you been to Spain?

Follow him on twitter @KamalPanesar...or don't.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Tyger By The Tail: Habs' Observations After 2 Games

There were an awful lot of early exits projected for the Montreal Canadiens by both fans and panelists alike once the Ottawa Senators drew in as their first post-season opponent. Even though we are only two games into the 2015 NHL Playoffs, it’s worth taking a look at what this series has revealed so far.

I’ll admit to having had my pre-conceptions rearranged now that the Habs are holding a 2-0 series lead and the Sens are facing an uphill battle, needing to win the next 4 out of 5. Here are some reasons why, as well as some random food for thought.

Not A One Man Show

The Habs are a formidable team even without Max Pacioretty, PK Subban and a Not-In-God-Mode-Yet Carey Price. With Pacioretty out the first game, Subban ejected for slashing Mark Stone, and Price looking merely solid instead of invincible, the fourth line somehow managed to morph into a top line, much to my chagrin. Torrey Mitchell AND Brian Flynn both scored goals, with Flynn eventually being made first star. Team chemistry, that special brotherhood that makes players fight constantly to step up for each other, is consistently underrated as a playoff advantage and this team has it. Also the Habs have had a lot of post-season experience the past few years and that shows too. Right now they are looking like the better team, outright dominating for long stretches. Following the Game 2 overtime victory Price stated that he didn’t think anyone in the room had panicked and I believe it.

Hamburglar On The Menu

Andrew Hammond is a very good goaltender and there are times he outright stonewalls the Canadiens' forwards, but he is still wet behind the ears and has long stretches where he looks shaky and not at all confident. This is his first post-season show and that is a lot of weight for him to carry after hauling his team almost single-handedly into the playoffs. Had the Stone / Subban drama not overshadowed everything else perhaps more would admit that up until quite recently he has been little more than a mediocre AHL goalie, a fact quite evident throughout Game 1. Meanwhile there’s little doubt that beyond elevating Price to a new level, Stephane Waite has also been watching endless tape looking for holes for the Habs skaters to exploit, which they have. There’s a reason the Chicago Blackhawks' fans griped when Marc Bergevin took Waite away from Corey Crawford and this is why. A good goaltending coach is necessary, but a great one is a linchpin.

Leave The Drama On Broadway

Prior to Game 2 there was an awful lot of Days of our Lives Soap Opera Drama going on between the two teams, their respective fan bases, and most especially the media. A slash is a slash and deserves a penalty, and I get the rule infraction that necessitated the ejection, but if people are going to suggest that a player get supplemental discipline for an injury then maybe there should be an actual injury. Once warmups ended, Mark Stone didn’t just look fine, he played fine, good enough to lead all forwards in ice time through the first period. He finished the night with two assists and logged 18:40 in ice time. Yes, the Senators tried to get PK Subban suspended. It’s a solid strategy and you can’t blame them for trying. What you CAN blame them for is continuing to milk it right up until puck drop. At least show some dignity when your master plan fails. I have no doubt it hurts. I just have no ability whatsoever to sympathize with bullshit. Just play hockey.

Objectivity Means Nothing Anymore

Speaking of just playing hockey, the Ottawa Sun, Chris Neil, the Hockey Night in Canada panelists, the Senators own coach and GM, and absolutely everyone who had access to a microphone seemed to want the Sens to goon it up in Game 2 to retaliate against PK for the non-broken wrist. Off ice if it gets into Montreal’s head then it’s good strategy and excellent for ratings and website hits. On ice it’s suicide and will buy the Senators an early exit. The Habs don’t play that game anymore. They just don’t. On the occasions during the regular season when Montreal has gotten away from their own strategy and lost, they corrected it quite quickly. This is not the easily rattled team that Ottawa bounced after the injury to Lars Eller two years ago. And props to the Senators who realized that it just wasn’t going to work this time and didn’t become so consumed by thoughts of retaliation that they forgot about just playing hard and trying to win.

Blown WAY Out Of Proportion

While I am touching on the media, I really want to know what the hell HNIC thought it was doing during gameplay last night. I tried to watch an NHL playoff game but it kept getting interrupted by Breaking News in the form of medical updates on Mark Stone’s wrist. At one point Stone was just fixing his glove - HIS GLOVE - and this necessitated a two minute exchange (there had already been at least a half dozen prior to that) about the condition of his wrist and how Paul Romanuk and Jason York had suffered similar injuries in the past and how much it hurt and shouldn’t be overlooked as affecting his play and helping to decide this series and so on ad nauseum. By that point Stone had already earned one of his assists and no one was buying it anymore, not even some of the Senators own fans.

When Don Cherry is the voice of reason — he didn’t think Subban should have been suspended — you know that the show has gone off the rails. Unless Romanuk and York have stock in some sort of miracle micro-fracture treatment maybe they could just go ahead and defer to Dr. Recchi on this one, and thankfully he has not yet felt it necessary to weigh in. This is a national broadcaster — THE national broadcaster — for the Stanley Cup playoffs in a country that eats, breathes, sleeps and obsesses about this sport. In the playoffs you guys need to up your game too, not reduce yourselves to TMZ On Ice during gameplay.

Habs Need To Find The Jugular

While the Habs did go 1 for 6 on the power play, the fact is had they lost in overtime there would be a lot more focus on missed opportunities. During Montreal’s first two power plays in the third period there was a glaring lack of urgency and hunger, especially when contrasted with the second period power play which saw Pacioretty tie the game. Yes they were up a goal, but this is not the regular season and they can’t take their foot off the gas and just assume Price will bail them out. The Canadiens have lacked a killer instinct for far too long. If they keep passing on these golden chances and let up it’s going to cost them dearly in the post-season. After watching them go through this all season, why haven’t they learned this vital lesson yet? Instead the power play became a momentum killer, and this is playing with some serious fire during the playoffs.

History Will Always Matter

Outside of Montreal it is hard to explain how incredibly the team’s history still impacts its present and future. After PK Subban got bounced from Game 1, it was Élise Béliveau who calmed the Habs’ best blueliner. The recent, heartfelt losses of Jean Béliveau and Elmer Lach are also fresh and carry weight with not just the fans, but the players themselves. Teams without that sort of history can and do win the Cup all the time but once again, these are the little things that can and do factor into a post-season performance without ever appearing on any scorecard.


So what do you think of the series so far? Is it what about you expected?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It's Playoff Time...Time To Take A Look Back

This is it. Eighty-two games are in the books. Now, it's a two month sprint to 16 wins. Just to make the playoffs this year was a monumental task, whether you played in the Eastern Conference or the Western Conference. The eighth seeded team in the West, the Winnipeg Jets, needed 99 points to make the playoffs. Things weren't any easier in the East, as Pittsburgh needed 98 points to make the playoffs. That is ridiculous. Every year since the '04-'05 lockout the minimum standard to even make the playoffs has been escalating exponentially. The sad thing, in 2 weeks, 8 of the 16 teams who busted their butts to get to 100 points will be eliminated from the playoffs.

As we get ready to plop down on our sofas to watch some playoff hockey, I would like to take a moment to share some thoughts with you on the 2014-15 season that just wrapped up.

Tanking for Connor McDavid





















On the flip side, while the majority of the league excelled this season, a handful of teams, not so subtly, tanked. Edmonton, Toronto, Arizona, Colorado and Buffalo all lost a bunch of games in the hopes of being dead last in the league to better their chance of drafting 1st overall. This year's draft is projected to include at least two potential superstars in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. The draft lottery determines who will be pick first and the odds of selecting number one overall are greatest if you finish last in the NHL. Quite frankly, I think it's shameful to reward ineptitude. I think that every team should have a chance at the first overall pick, even the Stanley Cup winner. I don't think the odds should be equal either. Back in 2005, the NHL gave everyone the chance to select Sidney Crosby at number one. That year, every team started with three balls in the lottery barrel. A team lost a ball for every playoff appearance in the past 3 seasons or the number one overall pick the previous four years. Buffalo, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers and Columbus had three balls. Anaheim, Atlanta (now Winnipeg), Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, LA, Minnesota, Nashville and Phoenix (now Arizona) each had two balls. And the remaining 16 teams each had one ball in play. I believe a similar draft lottery should be in play every season. Any team that makes the playoffs should get one ball and teams that don't make the playoffs should get an extra ball.

One should be cautious about trying to lose anyway. Edmonton provides a sobering example. The Oilers had 3 1st overall picks in a row from 2010-2012, drafting Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov respectively. Again this season, the Oilers have a solid chance of landing the 1st overall pick. The junior hockey league is significantly easier than the NHL. Numerous players have played well at the junior level only to falter in the NHL. Pat Falloon is perhaps the most notable example. His best year was his rookie year, when he notched 59 points, which is solid. If you want to be successful in the NHL you can't just draft the best players year after year. nor, can you buy a championship team with a salary cap in place. Instead, success arises from a combination of solid drafting, good development and recruiting good free agents. Plus, you need a coach/system that gels with the team you have.

Shootouts

Shootouts have been in place to settle tie games that go beyond five minutes of overtime since 2005. You either love shootouts or you hate them. Skilled teams love them. Teams that miss the playoffs by one or two points hate them. The NHL General Managers discussed the issue during their meetings in March. It was forwarded to the competition committee to play 3-on-3 hockey in OT as a way to reduce the number of games decided in the shootout.

In an attempt to reduce the number of shootouts, teams switched ends and there was a dry scrape of the ice, by the Zamboni for the first month and then the ice crew only for the rest of the season. The effort appeared to have little effect. This season, 291 games went beyond regulation time and of those, 173 or 59.4% went to a shootout.

Admittedly, the shootout is not an ideal way to end games but I would take it over a tie game. It would be nice to see more games end before the shootout so I am in favor of some 3 on 3 hockey. There are two proposed formats in play. In one format, teams would start OT 4 on 4 and move to 3 on 3 at the 1st whistle after the 3rd minute. In the second format, OT would be only 3 on 3. I suspect the former will be more likely to be implemented

Goalie Interference

A third hot button issue that came up this season is goalie interference. This has always been a grey area, as often times goalies will flop at any contact to sell a call. My view is the goalie's space is the blue paint and the goalie must have that space. However, I do not think we should go back to 1999 where the Stanley cup was decided on a Brett Hull goal when he had a toe in the blue paint but was not touching the goalie.

At the same time, goalies are not built to take a body check so they must be treated more delicately. In terms of questionable goals, the call should be allowed to be overturned on the basis of interference vs. no interference. I like the idea proposed during the GM meetings where a coach can challenge a call like interference provided the team has a time out.

Five Canadian teams in the Playoffs

Canadian teams overall had great success with five of the seven teams making the playoffs. Toronto and Edmonton were the only teams to miss the playoffs and boy, did they ever. Edmonton's collapse was less surprising given their recent history. Toronto was actually in a playoff position heading into the new year,  then they fired coach Randy Carlyle and the team just gave up. The Leafs won just 5 times after the new year.

Ottawa and Winnipeg snuck in as wildcard seeds and both have potential to do some damage in the playoffs. Their goalies Andrei Pavelec and Andrew Hammond are both on ridiculous hot streaks.

Vancouver is having a bounce back year after missing the playoffs last season. Clearly John Torterella was a bad hire that tried to implement/force upon the Canucks a system that wasn't ideal for their players. They had many injuries last season and their stars, Sedins, Edler and Burrows especially had career low stats and looked awful.

Calgary is a team that is up and coming. They were not expected to make the playoffs and that alone means they should not be taken lightly. Every time the Canucks and Flames have met in round one, the winner has gone on to the cup final.

Will the trend continue? Will we see a Habs-Canucks or Habs-Flames final. Personally, I would love to see the former  match-up as the Canucks and Habs are the two teams I follow most. It's very possible it could happen as the league is wide open this year and every team has weaknesses.


The Habs Season That Was

Montreal had a strong season this year. As mentioned, the bar to even secure a playoff berth was exceptionally high, so it was a massive accomplishment to secure home ice advantage. Do the Habs have concerns heading into the playoffs? Absolutely, but so does virtually every team this year.

Look at Ottawa. Sure, they are riding a hot goalie but Hammond is bound to cool off sometime and the Senators are inexperienced in the playoffs and bound to make mistakes. I thought GM Marc Bergevin made some solid trades this season, getting depth on defense in  Sergei Gonchar and getting rid of bad contracts like Rene Bourque.

Dustin Tokarski held his own as a backup. Carey Price was Carey Price and carried the team on his shoulders numerous times. The Habs must give him more goal support in the post-season or it could be an early exit. I think Montreal will prevail in the opening round but it won't be easy

Buckle up Habs fans. Get your beer and popcorn ready and #GoHabsGo

A Habs fan blogging from BC

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ottawa Was To Be Avoided By The Canadiens In The First Round

Andrew HammondFor the last few weeks of the hockey season, I was worried about who the Canadiens were going to play against in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. As I watched the Eastern Conference wild card position take shape, it was assumed that Montreal was going to finish in the top two spots. Ottawa was playing great hockey, and their goalie, Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond, was providing some outstanding goaltending. The Senators continued to win night after night, and went from being an after-thought in late January to a serious playoff contender.

Fast forward to Saturday, when the Senators faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the early afternoon, while the Canadiens were to play Toronto later that night. After Ottawa beat the Flyers in the afternoon, a win for the Habs meant facing the Senators.

I don't know about you, but I would much rather have the Habs play Detroit than Ottawa. Montreal has handled the Red Wings this relative easethsi season, while Ottawa has had Montreal's number. Ultimately, the Habs won 4-3 in a shoot out, and now have to face  the Senators in the first round, starting Wednesday, April 16th.

In their brief playoff history, Ottawa has owned the Canadiens. The painful memory of the 2013 playoff match up has many Habs' fans concerned. Personally, I DID NOT want Montreal to face the Senators in the first round. 

What do I think will happen? Well lets examine the results so far:

- Ottawa finished the season on a 22-4-4 run, one of the best in the league. Their goalie, Hammond posted a sparkling .941 save percentage and we thought Price's average was good. What is even more alarming is that Price seemed to be less focused in the last four or five games he played. And his average showed it; he had a poor .895 save percentage in his last half dozen games. Not the way you want to go into the playoffs.

- The Canadiens' leading goal scorer and point leader, Max Pacioretty, may be unavailable to start the series against Ottawa, while the Senators' rookies lit it up and carried the Sens into playoff positioning.  Mark Stone has led the Senators with 26 goals ( +/- 21) and played some outstanding hockey. Mike Hoffman, another great find for Ottawa, has chipped in with 21 goals and a +/- of 16. The Canadiens' rely heavily on goaltender Carey Price to win close games. Ottawa, on the other hand, has scored 238 goals to our 221. Despite a recent scoring spurt by the Habs to end the season, how long can that last without Pacioretty's contributions?

 - Finally, there is the question of team toughness. Every time the Senators play the Canadiens, they seem to get the best of them physically. The Habs lack the nastiness that Ottawa comes to the rink with every game. If Ottawa starts the series and establishes their physical domination early, then some players may be intimidated, as has been the case in the past with forwards David Desharmais and Tomas Plekanec.

For the Canadiens to win the series, they need:

  • Carey Price can bring his A+ game
  • Offensive contributions from the third and fourth lines.
  • The power-play must continue to be 20+% efficient, as they have of late.
  • To show some backbone, and not fear the Senators' physicality.
If not, the Habs may find themselves on the golf course after the 5th game. 

What do you think the Habs will do? Do they have it in them to continue past first round? 

 


Monday, April 6, 2015

Former Habs Defender Dollard St-Laurent Passes Away at 85



The Montreal Canadiens family has received another loss in just a matter of days.

This morning, the organization announced the passing of defenceman Dollard St. Laurent at the age of 85.

St. Laurent was known for his crushing hip checks and made life very difficult for opposing forwards who entered the Canadiens end of the ice.
He feared no opponent, once attempting to lay out a crushing check on Gordie Howe in a playoff game, only to wind up with a lacerated eyeball that took him out of the series.  His enthusiasm for the game made him a fan favourite,

He played eight seasons with the Canadiens, winning four Stanley Cups (1953 and 1956 through 1958). He was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer of 1958, for cash and future considerations, and would win another Cup with Chicago in 1961.

After four seasons in Chicago, St. Laurent joined the Quebec Aces. A broken leg would end his hockey career.

A native of Verdun, QC, he scored 29 goals and 133 assists in 652 NHL games. He had 24 points in 92 playoff games.




Saying Farewell to Elmer Lach


In a cloudy hockey rink, one can see two teams battling back and forth for the puck. One is clad in white with red and blue trim and the other in red accented in white and blue. The passing is tape-to-tape perfection as the players glide without missing a step, back and forth along the ice.

A player in red, wearing number nine, charges down the right wing, eyes fixed on the unmasked goaltender for the opposing team. Before he makes his final move to the goal, the opposing center swoops from behind, frees the puck and dashes the opposite way. He flies down the ice, eludes the defensemen and fires the puck past the reach of the red squad's goaltender.

As the two teams reach center ice for the next face-off, the goal scorer chirps his check. "I thought you were The Rocket?," he says jokingly. The opposing winger gives a stare, then with a grin responds,"Well if I am going to be outdone, I'd rather it be by The Stratford Streak."

"Hold up boys!," bellows a voice from the white team's bench. "It looks like we have a new player. We may have to change things up here."

The door to the rink opens, and a grinning  5'10 center, sporting red uniform with a number 16 on it makes his way to the gathering of players at center ice. "I know that nose anywhere," beams The Rocket." I even broke it once. I thought he'd never get here."

"Hello boys, it's nice to see you again, and to meet some of you for the first time," says the newcomer, as he shakes hands with the players at center ice. "Mr. Morenz, I used to read about you in the newspapers. Mr. Lalonde, my dad took me to see you play in Saskatoon once! And Jean, I know you just got here, but the folks down there gave you a great send off. They'll never forget you."

He then looks at the red team's bench, "Hey 'coach,' do you want to join us on the ice?" The man behind the red bench removes his head and nods. "Pat, Claude...will one of you two lads take over for me, while I get dressed? Mr. Irvin, will you give us a few minutes?" The voice from the white team's bench responds, "Of course! I put you three together in the first place!"

After a brief pause, the action resumes with red team lining up 6-16-9, for the first time in ages. The puck drops and the reds take charge, winning the draw and working it back to their defenceman. They begin their offensive charge as Big Butch moves it on the latest arrival, who heads down the ice. He presses the white clad defence before dishing a perfect pass off to his left wing. His teammate fires, but the white team's goaltender makes the save. The rebound winds up on the stick of The Rocket, who knocks it into the net.

"Just like old days, right guys?," says  the newcomer, as the trio skates to the red bench. "So who wants to tell Plante that one of his records is about to be broken?"

We only hope that is how it is playing out right now for Canadiens legend and Hockey Hall of Fame member Elmer Lach, who passed away on April 4th at age 97. Lach had suffered a stroke the week prior.

Lach leaves a legacy as a gritty forward, compared to the likes of Ted Lindsay, and matched up with the best centres in the game during his career, due to his exceptional face-off skills. A more recent comparable might be another Hall of Fame player, Doug Gilmour.

A star in the Saskatchewan Senior leagues, Lach was eyed by many NHL scouts. It appeared he was about to join the Toronto Maple Leafs, having agreed to play for the Leafs sponsored St. Michael's College. Feeling homesick, he returned to Saskatchewan before ever playing a game for St. Mike's. Leafs owner Conn Smythe labeled Lach a deserter. Lach would pass on joining the New York Rangers, after someone on the team told him they were too cheap.

In October of 1940 he packed an overnight bag and hopped on a train (along with future Hab Ken Reardon) to Montreal for a tryout at their training camp. He was offered a contract of $4000, but again opted to return home, only to have his manager in Moose Jaw tell him that he wouldn't make that kind of money in the west. Lach and his girlfriend packed his clothes and shipped off to Montreal. His manager in Saskatchewan offered to take him back, if he decided to change his mind. That offer never needed to be accepted.

In a career that was seen centering Maurice Richard and Toe Blake (The Punch Line)  throughout most of his career, Lach held the league scoring title twice and won the Hart Trophy in the 1944-45 season. He has his name engraved on The Stanley Cup three times, scoring the overtime winner in 1953 (his last Cup).

In his final NHL season (1953-54), Lach groomed his successor at centre, Jean Beliveau. His 623 points was then an NHL career record at the time of his retirement.

One has to wonder how many points Lach could have scored, if not for injuries. He missed 130 NHL games due to seven broken noses, broken jaws (he even came up with a prototype jaw guard for the NHL, but it was turned down.), you name it. For many it would be too much, but not for Lach. "He was virtually impervious to pain," said former Montreal Canadiens teammate Dickie Moore in an interview with CBC.

Elmer Lach was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966 and entered the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame the following year. His number 16 was retired by the Canadiens on December 4, 2009, during the team's Centennial celebration. Many felt that his sweater retirement was long overdue.

Worth the Read: In the last decade, Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette has built a strong relationship with the Canadiens legend. Here he shares his farewell and last days with "Elegant Elmer" .