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Monday, August 31, 2009

Habs' loss is Lightning's gain

So, after a summer of waiting on the sidelines, Alex Tanguay has finally signed, with the Tampa Bay Lightning and I think that is a GREAT move for them.

When Gary Bettman said, at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, that he had a trade to announce and that it was Tanguay to Montreal for a 1st and 2nd round pick, I was ecstatic! Tanguay has always been a solid contributor to whatever team he has played on, he is a defensively responsible, perennial plus (as in plus/minus) player, and he cut his teeth playing with world class champions such as Forsberg and Sakic and Roy. To me, this was a guy that could only help push Montreal over the top of the championship hump.

Well, 10 or so months later, and a disastrous season for the Habs behind us, we know that things didn't turn out the way I thought. That being said, I think that Tanguay was actually one of the few bright spots on the 2008-2009 Habs team. Not only was he on pace to be a top point producer, but he was responsible in all three zones and was a consistent performer...something that could NOT be said for pretty much anyone else on the team...except for maybe Josh Gorges.

I remember watching him game in and game out and noticing what an excellent player he was and what phenomenal on-ice vision he had. I was happy that he was with our team. When he went down with a serious injury after being destroyed by the then Lightning's Evgeni Arthuykin (ironic that he will now play with the Lightning, no??), the Habs suffered a loss from which they were never able to recover. That, and the injury to Lang were, in my opinion, the two biggest losses, by the Habs, last year.

Leading into the free agent season, in my mind, Tanguay was #1 on my arm-chair GM's list of players to keep in town. Needless to say, that when I saw Gainey walk away from Tanguay, without even making him an offer, I was befuddled and disappointed. I could not - and still cannot - understand how you can send a 1st AND 2nd round pick to Calgary for a proven top-six forward, and then just let him walk away for nothing. That, to me, is a huge loss and a huge misstep, by Gainey.

Gainey has made some good moves during his tenure in Montreal, but he has also made some bad ones....some REALLY bad ones. Having 10 unrestricted free agents all season last season, trading for Tanguay and then letting him go for nothing, losing Komisarek for nothing, losing Souray for nothing, losing Streit for nothing, trading McDonough, etc. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that Gainey has had no shortage of missteps. But that is not the point here. The point is that a 1st AND 2nd round pick, is a hefty price to pay but one that I believe Tanugay was worth. All he did, all season long, was prove that Gainey was justified in making that trade too.

But alas, Tanguay will be skating alongside Lecavalier and/or St. Louis and/or Stamkos this year, and will be a point per game guy, if not more, in my opinion. For a team that was in such turmoil last season, I have to say that I think the Lightning might end up being one of the most improved teams in the Eastern conference. Lighting fans, get ready for some action because Tanguay will quickly become a favorite player of yours.

Don't believe me? Take a look at this goal from last year:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClPBif7svDA&feature=related

Sick.

Congrats, Lightning fans, Tanguay is going to be a pleasure for you all to watch.

K.

The Hockey News predicts Montreal to finish 8th...safe bet?

So The Hockey News website is doing a ranking of where they think all 30 teams will finish this season, from last to first, and in the 8th spot overall – in the East – they have chosen the Montreal Canadiens.
http://www.thehockeynews....son-predictions-No-8.html

Looking at this prediction, I’d have to say that it is tough to argue with and that is largely because I have NO IDEA how this team will fare this year. It seems to reason that the Habs are a playoff caliber team, but who really knows?

With all the changes that have gone on this season, it is almost impossible to say for sure. This could be a team that tears up the standings or falls flat on its face. It really could go either way. However, just looking at the individual players, on paper, and not taking into account chemistry, for a moment, this looks like it should be a playoff bound team. Why? Well, they are bigger and have more offence on the back end, and while smaller on the first line, the rest of the forward squad is actually quite a bit larger. With grinding, fighting players like Moen and fast skilled players like Cammalleri and Gionta, this team should be better than last year. But there is that word again…’should’.

The reality is that hockey, like any team spot, has a ton to do with team chemistry and we only have to look at last year’s Habs team to see a prime example of that. The Habs, last year, had chemistry in spurts but could not maintain cohesion and this, along with injuries and off-ice distractions, ultimately lead to their downfall. Last summer, Montreal looked like a contender, on paper, heading into training camp, but it just didn’t pan out because the team never truly gelled.

As for this year’s team, only time will tell what we have on our hands, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them stumble out of the gates, while they find their footing, and start to come on stronger as the season goes on. That being said, the new additions to our roster are all seasoned veterans that know what it takes to win in this league. Also, a lot of them know each other already, so maybe they will be able to come together quickly. I think the true test of this team will be, as it has been for the last 5 years or so, is what their second line will do. It seems like every year, the Habs have one extremely capable line and one line that goes hot and cold, for most of the season. A few years ago, Higgins, Koivu and Ryder were lighting it up while Kovalev and Plekanec were weighing the team down. The following year, they could barely get a shot on net, resulting in Ryder being let go at the end of the season, while Kovalev was putting up the second best career points total, and Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn were putting up career numbers. This is not a winning formula.

For a team to be a true contender, in this league, they need 1st and 2nd line scoring, on a consistent basis. They also need a solid top-4 D and great goaltending. Without all of those ingredients, chances are that your team just won’t make it very far in the post-season. Looking at Montreal’s current line-up, I don’t think they have what it takes to be a championship team, because there are too many question marks. If the lineup remains unchanged before the start of the season, will the Plekanec line be able to provide consistent secondary scoring? Is Markov, Spacek, Hamrlik and Mara a good enough top four? Will Carey Price redeem himself from a disastrous sophomore season? Who will be the leader on this team? Will Jacques Martin be able to properly cultivate the talented young players on the team?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but suffice it to say that regardless of the answers, I believe Montreal should be good enough to at least crack the playoff lineup. How high they finish in the standings remains completely in their hands.

K.

Return of the Price....Ataboy, Carey!

I just read an article, on tsn.ca, about Carey Price and I have to say that it put a smile on my face. There is nothing that makes me happier than to see/hear a professional athlete take his lumps like a man, and by reading this article, that is exactly what Carey did! Here take a look for yourselves:

http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=286872

Without getting into all of the details, the article talks about how Price had a meteoric rise to stardom with a great World Junior Championship and an even better AHL Championship. He followed both those performances up with a great rookie campaign, helping the Habs to 1st overall in the East. Since then, however, Price’s star has fallen a bit.

I have to admit, that after seeing him do a Patrick Roy-esque salute to the booing Montreal fans, I thought that maybe he wasn’t cracked up for the Montreal pressure cooker. Then, a day or so after the Habs were swept by the Bruins, seeing Price at the press conference with his hat so low on his brow that you could barely see his eyes, you could see what seemed to be an exasperated young boy who seemed frustrated and fed-up. I remember thinking that while I felt very bad for him, that if he couldn’t handle this kind of pressure then he would never workout in Montreal. I also remember thinking that this coming year (2009-2010 season) would be a defining one for Carey.

Why?

I’ll tell you why. Carey walked away from the spotlight, at the end of last season, as a beaten, exhausted and fed-up person who was supposed to be the jewel of the Montreal Canadiens prospects. I knew that if he was not able to adjust his attitude and/or recover mentally from the beating he took – and he did take a beating from the fans – then he would likely just not work out, long term, in Montreal. From me, that was a VERY sad thought because no matter how well Price did or didn’t play last year, he still remains a thoroughbred. This is a kid who has all the talent to become a star in this league. The only thing he needed, in my opinion, was to stabilize his mood/attitude. By that I mean the he needs to get back to the guy who never gets too high and never gets too low. He needs to find that guy that everyone called the ice man, cool as a cucumber and if he can then he has a shot at becoming a special player in this league.

The problem was that I was not sure if he would be able to do that, or not, and I feared that the fans and media in Montreal might just have broken the poor kid.

Before I go on, let me just say for the record that despite how poorly Price played for long stretches of last season, and he DID play very poorly at times, he was NOT the reason for us having such a disappointing season and playoffs. Our team just didn’t have it. Our D was weak. Our goal scoring was inconsistent. The injuries ravaged us. All of this meant too many turnovers, too many wholes, too much weak defensive zone coverage and not enough goals-for, all of which meant that our team was just not good enough. Price, being in the spotlight as the supposed savior of our team, took the brunt of the blame. The problem is that he just did not have an effective defensive staff in front of him – let’s hope that this year’s D plus Jacques Martin’s defense first style better insulate Carey – and he ended up with egg on his face.

Ok, ok, back to the story…

So ALL of this to say that the reason I wrote this entry is because in the article (link above) Carey sounds like a man transformed! Being interviewed at the Calgary Pro Goaltending Camp, Price sounds like he has grown from all of the tumult of last season. Saying that he has never been put in a situation that he can’t handle, and that he never backs down from a challenge and that he has learned more in the first two years than most do in the first 6.

Price sounds like he has learned from last year. He sounds like his old, confident, self. He sounds determined to show people what he can do. If there is one thing we should know about Price, by now, it is that he has the ability to get things done when he puts his mind to it. Remember that he was cut from the first World Junior Championship camp that he attended. At the time, the talk was about how he didn’t work hard enough and didn’t have the right attitude. Well, he came back the following year, adjustments made, and stole the show.

Only time will tell if Price is truly up for the challenge, but I have to say that my spidey-sense is tingling. Having lived the greatest season followed by the worst season, I think Price is ready to step up and become a force in the NHL for years to come.

For all of our sakes, let’s hope that I’m right!

K.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sergei Kostitsyn: Superstar or Superbrat?

Well, we are truly into the dog days of summer, from a hockey persepctive. Apart from the continual cumour mongering there really isn't a lot to talk about in the hockey world. That being said, I think that the new-look Habs have a bunch of interesting storlines that will playout this season, most of which will begin at training camp. Notwithstanding any changes that Gainey makes between now and the beginning of the season, the big question mark in my mind is where does Sergei Kostitsyn fit on this team? The third line? The fourth line? The minors? Traded to another team?

Let's take a look...

Looking at the Habs roster as it currently stands, the forward lines look a little something like this:

Cammalleri - Gomez - Gionta
Andrei Kostitsyn - Plekanec - Latendresse/D'Agostini
Moen - Lapierre - Max Pacorietty (wow, this would be an amazingly tough line!)
Stewart/Sergei Kostitsyn - Metropolit/Chipchura/Ben Maxwell - Laraque

Again, there are no guarantees of the line combinations, but these are what I think could be reasonable approximations of what this team will look like. My problem with this setup is that Sergei Kostitsyn doesn't seem to fit anywhere except for the fourth line, and even that is a bit of a stretch given that he is not a fourth line player. In all honesty, Sergei is more of a top 6 at best and top 9 at worst, player. Anything less than that is a bit of a waste of the player's talents/potential.

So where does he fit in this line-up or does he fit at all? I think a lot of that depends on Sergei himself, and the attitude he brings to training camp.

When Sergei broke out in Montreal, in the 2007/2008 season, he was somewhat of a god-sent. Not only did his presence stir his older brother - Andrei has 45 points in 57 games after Sergei joined the team - but he also brought spunk, grit, incredible on-ice vision and an outstanding ability to agitate the opposition. That was, I believe, a natural extension of his on-ice personality and the effects of playing under the tutelage of Dale Hunter, in junior. Sergei was a very skilled pest. An agitator who, despite his 5-11 185lbs stature, would fight anyone, anytime...and he did!

I remember watching Sergei, during his first season, and thinking that he played a lot like Koivu, but with even more jam. I thought he was going to be a great addition to the team by adding a lot of energy and vigor and, at first, he was. In his first playoffs, Sergei was one of the best and most productive players on the team, finishing near the top of the Habs leader board in the company of Kovalev and Koivu.

His star was rising.

Coming out of the gates in training camp and the beginning of the 2008/2009 season, Sergei looked like he was picking up where he left off from the previous year, with 5 points in his first 7 games. He looked like he was in cruise control and maybe going to become a difference maker on this team. Everything seemed on track until his brother got concussed by a Kurt Sauer (Phoenix Coyotes) hit early in the season. I feel that that hit was the catalyst in derailing Sergei's season - and Andrei's too for that matter. Andrei was never the same, for the rest of the season, playing cautionsly and mostly avoiding the corners and high traffic areas, while Sergei seemed to fall into a funk that lasted the rest of the season.

Sergei seemed distracted and, at times, uninterested, like he had something better to do. There started to be murmurs from Carbonneau that Sergei was walking around with a sense of entitlement, acting like he was a 10 year veteran in the league. Even in his play, I started to feel that he had attitude and thought an awful lot of himself. It was almost like his off-ice life/persona was bigger and more important to him than anything he did on the ice.

I think that most people know - and for those of you who do not, I will tell you - that hockey players in Montreal are treated like gods! I have been out in town on many a night and seen the likes of Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek, Janne Niinnimaa (remember him??), Michael Ryder and yes, the Kostitsyn brothers, partying it up and surrounded by girls. Keep him mind that these are all young guys playing hockey for a living, making millions of dollars at a REALLY young age, AND being idolized by everyone in the city. I think that it takes a strong person to keep that all from going to your head. Hey, I remember being a 20 year old party-animal, myself, and I was just a regular guy. I can only imagine the trouble I would have gotten into if I had millions of dollars too! But I digress...

All this to say that while I understand how the Kostitsyn brothers could have fallen in with a 'bad crowd', they still have to accept responsibilty for their actions, and they still have to respect the crest. When I read, on rds.ca (http://www.rds.ca/canadien/chroniques/279012.html - French only...sorry), that Sergei Kostitsyn said, in a Belarussion newspaper, that he feels the only reason he was sent down to Hamilton, last year, was because of the mobster scandal, it makes me think that perhaps he has not yet learned his lesson. That maybe he doesn't realize that it was widely accepted that he had become a floater who had a serious attitude problem. If he doesn't see that, then I believe that he might be in for a rude awakening at training camp this year!

Last year was a step backwards in Sergei's development, but to be fair, it was a major step back for most of the young players on the team. To a man, Komisarek, Higgins, Plekanec, Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn, as well as, Ryan O'Byrne, all regressed last year. The only young players who made any progress were Pacioretty and D'Agostini. The bottom line is that Sergei was not alone, but his seeming lack of work ethic and bad attitude seemed to have caused problems in the dressing room too.

Drafted in the 7th round, 200th overall in 2005, Sergei has already provided much more than his draft positioning would indicate should be expected. That being said, he did have 131 points (40 - 91) and was +38 in 59 games during his last year in junior. Yes, he was playing with Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane, but with 91 assists Sergei was the undeniable playmaker on that line. It is generally accepted that he has an exceptional on-ice vision and is great at getting the puck to the scoring areas. All that he is lacking, in my opinion, is a better attitude and to get back to his hard working, energetic, grinding style of play.

If Sergei can pull a 180 with his attitude, I believe that he can become an integral part of this team for years to come. If not, I think the likes of Max Pacorietty and Matt D'Agostini, among others, might push Sergei down the depth chart and possibly force Gainey to trade him. Which brings up a whole other question of whether you can trade one Kostitsyn and keep the other, or if they have to go as a packaged deal. But that's another story.

Come on Sergei!!! Bring it!!!

K.