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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Is there something rotten in the state of Habland?

Sorry about that weak Shakespeare referrence, but it was my attempt at cleverness. Guess it didn't work out too well, eh? Much like Kyle Chipchura's career with Montreal didn't work out too well.

Nice segue! Heh. But I digress...

Kyle Chipchura - selected 18th overall in the 1st round of the 2004 NHL draft - was picked by Montreal as much for his tangible as his intangible skills. While there is no question that Kyle was never supposed to be a 30 goal scorer, his leadership skills were seemingly his biggest asset. This guy had been a captain at almost every level he had played, most recently at the helm of the Prince Albert Raiders. When the 2006 World Junior Championships came around - those are the ones where Carey Price made a name for himself and won tournament MVP - Chipchura was again named captain of the team, further illustrating why the Habs chose him. The kid had leader and future captain written all over him.

The problem started for Chipchura when in 2005 his achilles tendon was cut, in practice, by an errant skate blade. This sent his season, and by extension his career, into disarray. Skating was never Kyle's strongest skill and while he would make a full recovery from the sliced tendon injury, it would take a notch off of his already weak stride. This, I believe, was ultimatley his undoing - at least in a Habs uniform.

Since joining the Canadiens AHL affiliate - the Hamilton Bulldogs - in 2005, Chipchura has failed to solidify a spot on the big club. Having taken part in three Habs training camps and not being able to hold down a spot each time, you had the sense that this year would be his last kick at the can. This year, due to his tenure and contract, Montreal no longer had the option of sending Chipchura back to the minors without him having to clear waivers. A situation which would surely have seen him claimed by another team. As such, when he was hurt during training camp, he stayed with the team and started the year in Montreal.

Well, needless to say, his time in Montreal this season was horrible. So far, this year, Chips has played in 19 games and has 0 goals and 0 assists and is a -10. As you can see, these are horrible numbers. This culminated in last nights 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, where Chips had less than two minutes of ice time and ended the night a -2. Brutal.

Now, Chipchura is gone and the sad part of it is that this is yet another 1st round draft pick that Montreal has seemingly squandered. From Chris Higgins, to Mike Komisarek and Kyle Chipchura, Montreal is either picking the wrong player or letting the good ones get away once they have them. This is not the way to build a contender. Chipchura's downfall was ultimately his ankle injury which left him permanently affected. Recently, on the Team 990, hockey analyst Pierre McGuire explained how Chips could have been a very useful Brian Skrudland-type player if it hadn't been for the injury. Unfortunate, but seemingly true.

Looking at this trade at face value, Montreal traded a non-achieving 1st round pick for a 4th rounder. That is just brutal. However, there could be more to this than meets the eye. This trade relieves the Habs of 500K of cap space. That, by itself, is not that great but if Gainey is preparing to make soem kind of major move, then cap space is a necessary commodity. Again, this is no guarantee that a trade is immenent, however given Montreal's lack of scoring ability, I wouldn't be surprised if Gainey was looking to make a change. Only time will tell.

The final piece of this Chipchura story has to do with the dismantling of the team that Gainey undertook, starting at the draft this past summer. He evaluated the team that HE had put together and thought that it was filled with bad apples. This is evidenced by the departure Kovalev, Koivu, Higgins, Komisarek, Tanguay, etc. Now, starting this year, I believe that there were a few players who were on the bubble, namely Latendresse and Chipchura, both of whom are no longer with the team. So are there any other bubble boys on the team now?

I think so...

If there is one thing we have seen with Martin it is that he wants people to work hard and play smart. The other thing we have seen is that when you do not play as Martin wants you to play, your ice time quickly gets reduced and you end up on the 4th line. The next step after that is being shown the door. This was the fate the befell Latendresse and now Chipchura. The only other player on the team that is going through a similar fate is Lapierre, and he might be the next bubble boy.

Now that his wingman - Latendresse - is gone, Lapierre has been removed from his comfort zone. He showed last year that he can be an excellent 3rd line center, but this year he is lacking the jam. If he can't get his game back in order he might be the next one out the door. With Gainey at the helm of this organization, you never know what to expect. So I say that you should just expect the unexpected. That is the only safe bet here!

K.

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