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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Captain Cammalleri?

Hey all, I know I said my next blog was going to be about Sergei Kostitsyn, but I saw a video yesterday that bumped Sergei down a rung. Sorry Sergei, looks like you'll have to wait one more week!

Ok, so down to business...well, believe it or not, training camp is now less than two months away and it is looking, and sounding more and more like the Montreal Canadiens will skate with three assistant captains this year rather than naming a captain outright. Personally, I think that this is a great idea. The Montreal Canadiens are a prestigious organization and as such, being the captain of this organization is not something to be taken lightly. By that I mean that I, as a fan, would rather see them wait to see who emerges as a leader, rather than having a captain just for the sake of having a captain. The 2010 Habs are a drastically made-over team who's on-ice identity remains to be seen, and who have a clear leadership void. That being said, I believe that there are some great players on this team that are ready to step into that void.

Until recently, I thought that Markov was the frontrunner to become the team captain. But the more I think about it, the more I think he might not be the best choice. The problem with Markov is that he is not very comfortable in front of the cameras and media hordes. There is no question that Markov let's his playing do his talking, but being the captain of the Habs means that there are a lot of off-ice responsibilities too. With Markov's tendancy to shy away from attention, and his tenuous grasp on the English language (not to mention his non-existant grip on French), he seems like he might be better suited to the assistant captain position instead.

One name that I never thought of for the captaincy position, but who I now believe has a great chance of becoming that team leader, is Mike Cammalleri. My opinion on Mike developed the other day, when I saw an interview with him that is posted on the Hockey News web site. Here, take a look for yourself:

http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/27309-VIDEO-Oneonone-with-Habs-sniper-Mike-Cammalleri.html

After watching this interview and listening to Mike speak, I realized that he is first of all a smart, well-spoken individual, but more importantly he doesn't give the same, tired responses that most hockey players do. He actually has something to say. Instead of the standard "...I'm going to give it my 110%..." cliches that we are so used to hearing, Mike actually talks about what he feels, how he sees thing, who he'd like to play with, without over promising and without overextending himself. I find him to be a breathe of fresh air.

The second thing that I think Cammalleri has going for him, is that he spent the last season playing with Jarome Iginla, captain of the Calgary flames. You'll notice, in his interview, that Cammalleri mentions that he learned a lot from playing with Iginla. I think that in addition to learning a lot about the hockey side of things, from Iginla, that Cammalleri perhaps learned what it takes to be a true leader - which Iginla definitely is.

I could be wrong, but I get a sense, from his interview, that Cammalleri knows there is an opportunity for him to become a leader, and maybe even captain, on this team. Watching the interview, you hear him sounding like a leader, sounding like a guy would could become the voice of a dressing room. That plus his 5 year deal, make me think that this is a man who is committed to making things happen in Montreal, and maybe also committed to making a push to fill those big shoes that Saku left behind.

Thoughts?

K.

Sanford to Montreal...a depth move or something more?

On the surface, the Habs picking up Curtis Sanford, on a two-way contract, appears to be a solid depth move. Sanford has shown that he can be a capable back-up goaltender in the NHL while also being at a level where he is comfortable going up and down between the NHL and AHL. While I'm sure playing in Hamilton is not his first choice, right now that looks like the place that he is destined to play in 2009-2010. Marc Denis is likely gone by way of free agency, Price is the starter in Montreal and Halak is the backup. Right? That seems to be that case. Or is it?

Montreal's current goaltending depth charts look something like this:
1 - Price
2 - Halak
3 - Sanford
4 - Cederick Desjardins
5 - Jason Missiaen
6 - Robert Mayer

The thing to keep in mind, however, is that BOTH Price and Halak are up for new deals at the end of this season. From what I can tell, there is NO WAY that Halak will hang around in Price's shadow for anything longer than this year. Yes, they are only RFA's next year, so Montreal still holds their rights, however I believe that under the right circumstances, Halak can be a good #1 goalie somewhere in the league. More importantly, I think that HE believes that too. Gainey, while not necessarily doing what the fans always want, is still a very smart man. I think that he too knows that Halak's day in Montreal are numbered, but also that he has solid value on the trade market.

If I were Gainey, I would be trying to move Halak AND Plekanec right now, in order to get a big centerman. But maybe that's just me. However, if we look at the rumblings around the league, theres seems to be a lot of talk of Montreal potentially making a trade with either Chicago or San Jose. Chicago because they are up aginst the cap and won't be able to keep all of thier great, young players, going forward beyond this season, and San Jose because it looks like Wilson wants to blow that thing up, or at least a significant part of it, in order to stop the trend of being a perennial Stanley Cup failure.

So back to Sanford. IF Montreal were to make a deal with, say, San Jose, for Marleu, I believe that Halak would be part of that deal. Why? Well, it looks like three players in particular, take most of the brunt of San Jose's playoff failures, and that is Joe thornton, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabakov. There is no question that Nabakov was just not up to snuff, in these past playoffs. To San Jose's credit, however, they drew probably the WORST first round match up aginst the rolling Ducks team. But I digress. Perhaps Gainey's move, in bringing in Sanford, was to act as a backup to Price, in the eventuallity that Halak is traded. Who knows. Personally, I would like to see Olaf Kolzig backup up Price. He knows Price and has mentored him in goaltending schools in the past, and he would be a great 'older brother' figure to help get Price's head on straight, but that is another story.

All of this is, of course, pure speculation based on info I see and read online and hear on the radio, so don't go placing your bets on it! All I know, is that there are a few players on the team that seem like they are moveable pieces. Halak is one of them, so is Plekanec, in my opinion, Hamrlik would be a great contract to move, although that is unlikely, and then there is the Kostitsyn brothers. How will they react, this year? Will they progress or regress, again? wil they have matured through all of the strife of last season or will they continue to be bad eggs? Only time will tell. The last note I want to leave you all with is regarding Sergei Kostitsyn and it is two-fold. First, with all the new players and new potential line combinations, where does Sergei fit, on this team? Second question is, can you trade Sergei and keep Andrei or are they a packaged deal?

My next blog will be all about Sergei....

Stay tuned....

K.

Habs 2009-2010 NHL Schedule: Lots of storylines....

So the 2009-2010 NHL schedule has been released and all the happenings in Montreal, over the last 12 months, mean that there are a ton of games to look forward to and a ton of story lines to follow. All of the games, listed below, are ones where the storyline exists due to the presence of one player. Here is my take on a few games that stand out:

Thurs, Oct. 1, 2009 - Montreal at Toronto - Komisarek.In the opening game of the season for both teams, Mike Komisarek and the Leafs receive the Habs, in Toronto. Not only do we get our first regular season look at the Habs, but we also get our first sickening look at Komisarek, in a Leafs' uniform.

Sat, Oct. 17, 2009 - Montreal vs. Ottawa - Kovalev - the prodigal son returns.In their first matchup of the season, the Ottawa Senators, with their spiffy new right-winger, Kovalev, come to town. Kovalev is sure to get some kind of appreciation from his adoring Montreal fans. Here's hoping he doesn't totally bury us each time we face Ottawa this year!

Sat, Oct. 24, 2009 - Montreal vs. NY Rangers - Higgins.Montreal fans get their first look at Higgins in a NYR uniform. Something tells me that Chris will be motivated to show us that we made a mistake trading him.

Sat, Oct. 31, 2009 - Montreal Vs. Toronto - Komisarek returns.Habs fans get their first chance to see Komisarek, in Montreal, wearing a Leafs jersey. I wonder who gets the bigger boo's out of him and Grabovski. Something tells me that the hate directed at Komi will be fierce!

Thurs, Nov 5, 2009 - Montreal at Boston - Begin - the rivalry continues.The ever present, ever growing hatred between Boston and Montreal might take an early season step back just by virtue of all the new players in Montreal. That being said, I am certain it will only take a period or two for the new players to become acquainted with the rivalry. Not to mention that Paul Mara AND Hal Gill both used to play for Boston, so there will be no love loss there. Also, keep in mind that Steve Begin signed with Boston during the off season, meaning he will get his first shot at his old team. Something tells me that he will be VERY motivated.

I am eager to see how the new-look, bigger, stronger, bulkier Habs fair against the Big Bad Bruins. Something tells me that George Laraque and Shawn Thornton won't be the only ones scrapping. I get the feeling that Travis Moen will quickly become public enemy #1 against Boston!

Sat, Nov. 7, 2009 - Montreal Vs. Tampa Bay - Lecavalier et al.After all the trade speculation swirling around Vinny, over the last 6 months or so, he makes his 2009 Montreal debut, STILL wearing a Tampa jersey. I wonder if he'll gets cheers or boo's. I know that if Brian Lawton was on the ice, he would get boo'd!

Fri, Dec 4, 2009 - Montreal Vs. Boston - Begin returns - the centennial celebration.This day in history marks the offical 100th birthday day of the Montreal Canadiens organization. This game is sure to be kicked off with celebrations and fanfare that the Habs have become well known for. On top of that, Montreal fans will be treated to a classic Montreal/Boston match up. Any bad blood that was accumulated during the first game in Boston will surely continue to boil in Montreal. Begin makes his debut in Montreal, wearing a Boston jersey.

Sun, Mar. 7, 2009 - Montreal at Anaheim - Koivu - oh Captain, my Captain...Montreal play the Ducks and gets their first look at Koivu in an Anaheim uniform. I feel sick just thinking about it. I am sure there will be some real emotion for Koivu on that night. Just wait till the Ducks play IN Montreal (maybe next season, if Koivu is still there)....that will be one hell of a reception.

Sat, Mar. 13, 2009 - Montreal Vs. Boston - Last call...The final game of the season, versus Boston, in Montreal. This should be a heated game as the NHL is in the home strecth and every point in the standings counts that much more. Where will these two teams be, relative to each other, in the standings? Only time will tell...

Sat, Apr. 10, 2009 - Montreal Vs. Toronto - Stick a fork in me, I'm done...As poetically as it all started, with Montreal in Toronto, the season will end with Toronto as the visiting sqaud, in Montreal. The Komisarek storyline, will now be 5 games deep, and this will be a great way to cap off the season. How much will those final two points mean to each team? Where will each be in the standings? What will the future hold? With either the playoffs or the golf course loomin, the whole season ends on this night....let's hope it was a good one!

What about you, what games are you looking forward to?

K.

A Farewell to Kings - Goodbye Koivu and thank you....

The Saku Koivu era, in Montreal, is officially over. Sadly, he went out with a whimper and not a roar. Left unsigned and not tendered an offer by the only organization that he had ever played for, Koivu had no choice but to ride off into the sunset. Not by his choosing, of course, as Saku would still be a part of the Montreal Canadiens organization if it was up to him.

The decision for Koivu to leave the Canadiens started with Bob Gainey and the rest of the Habs braintrust. I just cannot help thinking that the way his era has come to an end is somehow wrong. That there should be at least one more chapter to the Saku Koivu story, in Montreal. It just doesn't feel right. It leaves me, and many other Montrealers with an empty feeling of sadness. Sadness at the loss of a great player. Sadness at the loss of a great captain and leader. Sadness at the loss of a great Montrealer. And above all, sadness at the loss of a great human being.

Classy is the best way to describe Saku Koivu. I know everyone keeps saying it, but it is true that Koivu was a class act, through and through. He is likely one of the classiest people to ever don the fabled Montreal Canadiens sweater, and he wore it with pride and dignity as an example for all that follow.

Through good times and bad times, triumph and adversity, Koivu remained a beacon of light in an era of relative darkness, for the Habs. While Saku was blessed with leadership skills, hockey ability and a dogged determination, he was unfortunatley never really given the team that could win it all. During his time with the Canadiens, Saku's team was largely filled with second rate players, thrust into top tier roles. In addition, the management, coaching and to a certain degree ownership, all played their role in the lack of success for this team.

As a result of the team's ineptitude, Koivu, as captain, often bore the brunt of the blame. Koivu would be criticized. Some would say that he wasn't a good leader. Some that he should lose the captaincy because he did not speak French. None of this stopped him, though. Saku was always the hardest working player on the ice, game in and game out. He always inpired everyone around him to be better, to try harder....whether on the ice or in life.

Speaking as someone who was born and raised in Montreal, I can truly say that throughout my 35 years of life in this city, there has never been another member of the Montreal community who I have seen generally held in such high regard. I am not talking about in the hockey sense, either. Sure, there have been other players, more talented players, players who won championship in Montreal, but none have touched the city and the community as profoundly as Saku did. From his fight with cancer, to his hours of charity and volunteer work. From him raising money to buy a local Montreal hospital a PET scan machine, to his yearly visits to the Montreal Children's Hospital, Saku was as influential a member of the Montreal community as any other and he will be missed.

Saku is, and always will be, an example of what it means to be a good person. Saku examplifies determination and perseverance, and shows that it is ALWAYS possible to overcome adversity. I hope that Saku will serve as an example to people, because if more of us could be more like him, our world might be a better place.

I am happy for Saku and glad that he no longer has to deal with the ridiculous criticism that he faced in Montreal. I am also happy that he will be playing with his good friend Teemu, as those two have always had great chemisty together (my money says that, barring injury, Koivu will have a career year playing next to Selanne). I hope he goes out and wins the Stanley cup this year, because of all the players in the league, I can't think of any that are more deserving.

Good luck, Saku. We miss you already...

K.

Et tu, Komisarek?

Is that a knife in my back, or are you just happy to leave me? And by me, I mean us...and by us I mean Habs fans.

As much as the loss of Komisarek from the Canadiens lineup is hard to swallow, the way in which it was done makes it all the more painful. Now that the details are coming out, it is looking like Komisarek went to Toronto for a measley 2.5 million more than the Habs were offering. Komisarek got a 5 year 22.5 million dollar deal from Toronto and it looks like Montreal was offering a 5 year 20 million dollar deal. 2.5 million dollars apart? Really? Is that all you left over?

From what Gainey said in his press conference, last night, it seems that he made an offer to Komisarek and never received a counter off. I imagine that Komisarek wanted to see what else was out there and what other offers he would get, but for a guy who seemingly 'loved' Montreal - the team, fans and organization in general - he sure made for the exit over a pretty small amount of money.

Komisarek is the guy that was being groomed to become the future captain of the Canadiens. By all accounts, he was universally liked by all of his teammates, management and ownership. They (Guy Carbonneau) even had him standing behind the bench, when he was injured, looking like an assistant coach. By everything that Komisarek was saying - all of it looking like lips service now - he loved this city and team and wanted to stay. But just like Sheldon Souray before him - he also said that he wanted to stay before bolting to Edmonton - Komisarek headed for the exit the first chance he had.

Now, I never expected that he would re-sign with the Habs. I always thought that he would head for one of the New York based teams. But to learn that he signed with our arch-rival Leafs for a negligibly small dollar difference, is very painful for me and most of the legions of Habs fans.

Komisarek's decision is a slap in the face. A knife in the back. A good friend kissing you on one cheek and slapping you on the other. Now, to add insult to injury, we are going to have to match up against Komi 6 times a year. 6 times per year, we are going to have to watch him bashing around our newly acquired, highly skilled, diminutive, forwards.

Its just gross. It makes me feel sick. Again, this is nothing against Toronto, it is more about the principle. However, if you want to talk about flawed principles, then I suppose we have to go back to Gainey's flawed (in my opinion) principle of not negotiating with free agents during the season. I get Gainey's logic. He wants his players to play hungry. The problem is that I think there were too many free agents, and Bob knew all along that he wanted Komisarek to remain a Hab. He should have, again in my opinion, been working to sign Komisarek in January. Komisarek should never have been able to go to market.

But alas...

It seems the the Habs, up and down, are now an example of gambles that Gainey has and is taking. It seems like a bit of a 'hail mary'. If this thing goes off the rails, if there is no chemistry between Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri, this Hal Gill proves to be as slow a skater as we all think, then the next season could get ugly REAL fast.

Somehow, I imagine that the Habs won't be terrible next year, but rather middle to bottom of the pack, kind of the way they were this year. But who knows. This is a Forrest Gump team......you never know what you're gonna get!

There is some good that come from Komisarek's choice, and that is that it will add that much more to the already furious rivalry between Montreal and Toronto. Imagine the cough, cough, warm welcome that Komisarek will get the first time he steps foot onto the Bell Center ice, weaing the enemy's jersey! The shock waves will echo all the way back to his new home in Toronto.

At the end of the day Komisarek was a free agent and had earned the right to go to any team he wanted to...and he did. I just can't get over the fact that going to Toronto for 2.5 million extra means that he never had any intention of signing with Montreal. All the platitudes he spewed about loving the city and fans, and wanting to be here were seemingly false. It feels like Komi betrayed the Habs faithful. It feels like we were lied to. It feels like our GM let us down. The whole thing just leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.

Good luck Komi. I hope you enjoy missing the playoffs for a few years.