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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Roz's Rant: Montreal Canadiens' Glass is Half Full

Lars Eller Jaroslav Halak #41 of the St. Louis Blues stops the puck in front of Lars Eller #81 of the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on January 10, 2012 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
It seems a lot of my friends both online and off are finding it hard to notice much good in this season's edition of the Montreal Canadiens.

Being a glass half empty kind of gal myself I'm not usually a cheerleader type either.

Even two years ago some of my fellow bloggers - most of whom write for this site - and I all pointed out that the team was going to struggle in the future and pay for the Habs Cinderella run dearly, though we hoped to be wrong.

Sometimes it's not always hindsight that's 20/20, and not all Habs fans and bloggers are clueless zealots despite the stereotypes that get bandied about.

But now that the Canadiens have in fact imploded as predicted and are all but guaranteed to miss this year's playoffs, there are still reasons I enjoy watching them and reasons to look forward to the future of this club instead of merely bracing for impact.

The Lars Eller Story

When Jaroslav Halak got traded I was miserable but not because I preferred him to Carey Price. I wanted to keep them both, and in all honesty I'd never even heard of Lars Eller.

By the end of Eller's first year on the team I was in favour of the trade and now it's clear he's going to form part of the Canadiens spine in the rebuilding process.

His talent, size and speed and the hard work and development of his confidence and skills have been a pleasure to watch.

Pierre Gauthier made a good deal here, and while I was negative at first I'm enjoying eating the humble pie he served up with this trade.

The Josh Gorges Signing

Also in this vein, I'll cop to getting ticked about only a one year deal for Josh Gorges last summer. He has long been a rudder on the blueline for the Habs and, while I wasn't sold on the Andrei Markov deal, I thought Gorges had at least earned a similar vote of confidence from the management.

The fact that this club finally broke with recent tradition and locked up a key player during the season, was a bit of an admission that they had done a disservice to Gorges and were keen to correct that oversight.

The Youth Core

The Habs have some nice talent to help build upon moving forward in the aforementioned two plus PK Subban, Carey Price and Alexei Emelin. I also like David Desharnais and Louis Leblanc and am pleased by reports of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu's progress.

True, there may be no legitimate superstars amongst the group but they are young, hard working, skilled players with more upside than down. It's crucial that the Canadiens have a solid pipeline moving forward.

Once the team is officially out of the running I'm hoping to see more of the youngsters get their chance to pick up some valuable ice time and experience.

Death of the Jacques Martin System

I've never been one for trap hockey. A good defense is always important, but not to the point where it smothers creativity and offense.

To me, watching a team try not to get scored upon is like trying to keep your tongue out of the sore hole in your gum where your tooth used to be. It's terribly painful to endure.

Under Randy Cunneyworth, this team now employs a two man forecheck and, though they struggle to score, they at least mount a consistent offense to go with the defense instead of sitting on their heels waiting for the opponent to make a critical mistake.

I am no longer immensely surprised when I see three Habs forwards down low fighting hard in front of the net, and a few weeks ago witnessing something like that would have made me pause to check my alcohol levels.

The Randy Cunneyworth Accountability System

Under Martin, veterans on the team enjoyed close to 20 minutes a night of ice time regardless of actual performance. They also enjoyed time on the power play or penalty kill regardless of actual skill set, something that routinely set my teeth on edge.

Under Cunneyworth, ice time is earned regardless of status on the squad, something Mike Cammalleri learned the hard way and Lars Eller has taken advantage of.

There are still lapses as to usage of players on special teams, but since the entire roster seems to be struggling I'm not going to rag on Cunneyworth for grasping at straws.

The Redirect

Whether it's a retooling of the team or a full on rebuild remains to be seen, but the fact is this organization is finally left with no choice but to stop clinging to the past and separate the wheat from the chaff. Frankly it's overdue.

For expensive underperformers this will likely mean a new team or retirement. For the youth core it will mean an opportunity to shine.

Bob Gainey's vision of a small speedy team helmed by a coach who would be better served with big bodied stalwarts is now officially dead and gone. Gauthier has even admitted something that Habs fans have stated for awhile now - this team needs more size.

It also needs more consistency in scoring and better unity and cohesion both on the ice and in the locker room. I don't think Larry Carriere was put in position for his overlooked coaching savvy, but so he could finally view, first hand, what needed to be done and help the brass get it done.

It's a small thing, but putting Carriere behind the bench was perhaps one of the first clear indicators that the Habs were serious about moving in a new direction. They now want to better contend in today's NHL and forget the fairytale of two seasons past.

There are problems that will remain in the near future, but steps are finally being taken to address the ones that this club has routinely ignored for far too long.

There can be no progress without change, just stagnation. It's a harsh lesson to learn for the team and for its long-suffering fans.

Now that the Montreal Canadiens are embracing change I find myself growing quietly optimistic about where this team is finally headed.

---
Rosalyn used to frequent the old Forum during her early childhood when her father was a corporate season ticket holder, where she fell in love with Larry Robinson, so her lifelong obsession with the Habs is entirely his fault.

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

14 comments:

Roz

I am in agreement with your feelings of optimism however there is one thing that is beyond troubling to me. For 2 years we have heard Gainey and Gauthier cite on numerous occasions that being bigger is not an issue because teams will have t conform to our style of play.

As such we drafted guys like Kristo, Gallagher, Leblanc who are likely considered our best offensive prospects.

Now all of a sudden there is going to be a 180 in thinking and realization that small and speedy is not better.

Well I am sorry but if this was any other forum then the person in charge of your organization would be fired for misallocation of funds and resources.

We have wasted 7 years of this so called plan when the entire hockey community saw a need for change in a particular direction. This s outright unacceptable and Molson absolutely must fire Gauthier right now.

Bryan I'm no fan of Gauthier but what we think Molson must do and what Molson will actually do are two different things entirely. And it's not like we're paying those guys 7 million a year for 10 years with a NTC or something. ;) It can still be fixed.

Good stuff Roz!

I'm on the same page with you too. I think there have been some drastic departures from "the old way" of doing things.

I think it is sad that it took the management team this long to figure it out. This when the rest of the league seems to have known for a long time.

I'm loving the accountability system Cunneyworth has in place versus the veterans trump all approach JM took. And, I guess it's to be expected that some veterans, who were coddled and protected under the JM system, and now unhappy with the way things are.

I still can't believe that, in 2012, some people still believe that you have to bury young players over vets, regardless of on ice performance.

If that was the case back in the day, Guy Carbonneau would never have made the in 82-83, when he beat out a veteran at camp to make the team.

Ice time has to be earned, and unless you coach that way you are doing your team a HUGE disservice. And that is what JM did since coaching in Montreal.

He's a guy who will never get an NHL job again.

Kamal I've long held the same issues with JM as well you know. There's some real change going on instead of just lip service to it and I find that very encouraging. Thanks!

@Kamal

"Guy Carbonneau would never have made the in 82-83"

Hate to say it, but you are dating yourself a bit there :P

Rosalyn I agree with you about the changes that needed to be made, I guess I look at the Habs as a glass half full type rather than half empty. I was shocked when Gauthier made the trade of Cammelleri and picked up Bourque someone actually over 6' tall and over 200lbs wow unbelievable. Also I have had a ball watching the development of Eller, Subban, and Price these kids along with Emmeline, Desharnais, and Leblanc was and is fun too watch even with the odd mistake. Deaharnais has turned into a wonderful play maker along with Cole and Patches has become a wonderful line and dependable to boot. I never enjoyed Martins trap system I suppose it worked for a time but only a short time, I really like what Cunneyworth is trying to do with the team and wish they the Habs would wake up and realize what good man they now have behind the bench. I could say more about that but in this case the minority will rule and that is not right, last I looked the Government and the individuals do not own this team they just dictate what should be done and Molson and Gauthier buckle under!!!

Roz,

First time reader, so I am playing with kid gloves on this one. I agree about the fun atmosphere there can be with a team who is in the neither-lands. The core of youth is going to be fun to watch, and I can't wait for it. However, this continual push for 'bigger is better' isn't right. I know having a small line-up hinders a bunch of things for people, and that's ok. The speed and skill aspects of PG/BG's vision hold true, no matter what figurehead is leading the team. I loved Eller's progress to date, and the development of Pachioretti, the siging of Cole (who has totally turned it on lately). With those 3, Bourque and the ever present, not always visible, physical play of Kostitsyn, the smaller guys like Plek, Gionta, Desharnais are able to get them the puck. I will never believe the hype of a Penner being the be all that ends all debate over bigger and smaller players. I really think minor retooling would be the most beneficial for this team, who, despite all the injuries and uncertainty this year, they still have the ability to be one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NHL.

@Jay: You are bang on, my friend!

I don't think you can say bigger is better, as a catch all. The thing about the recent acquisitions of size is that Cole, for example, can skate like the wind.

Bourque too is known to have good foot speed. And that really is the "new" NHL...size WITH speed.

That's actually why I'm not a huge fan of Penner's. Beside the fact that he, like Kostitsyn and apparently Bourque, is maddening inconsistent, but he's also not the fastest guy on the ice.

He's not necessarily slow, but he doesn't skate like Cole, for example.

At the end of the day, I'm hoping this change in philosophy for the Habs will send them in the right direction. How about a nice mix of big and small, speed and grit.

Is that really so much to ask for?

Great article.I have been a fan of the Canadiens for qauite a while and as well a fan of Eller. I think he is fitting in nicely with the teams structure and direction. My only problem/question that hopefully someone can answer is, why Martin and now Cunneyworth not giving Eller any PP time. I like Plekanec but obviously he is not getting it done on the PP. I think now would be a great chance for Eller to learn and have his chance. He really can't make it any worse can he. Also, why not try Gorges on the PP, he has played there before to start the season and when there were injuries. He has a good low accurate shot that seems to find its way through traffic, unlike Subban who usually gets blocked or shoots wide.

Geoff

@Geoff: Welcome!

On the Eller front, I have to admit that I don't get it either. I don't think that they should necessarily take Plek out, since his down-low work is excellent on the PP...but they should definitely give Eller a shot.

I'd rather see Eller out there than Desharnais on the PP. I know Desharnais is an excellent passer, but he doesn't have much of a shot to speak of. Eller has both plus he brings size and can crash the net.

Your Gorges suggestion is an interesting one too...especially considering how bad their PP is. They have to try something and, as you mentioned, at least Gorges hits the net with his shot.

To be honest, I think the blueline is going to look drastically different next season. With news coming out today that Subban is being shopped, who knows if he'll even be with the team past the deadline.

All this to say that I don't see Eller going anywhere and I think, at some point, he'll get his chance.

I think bigger is a loose term hockey people use to describe a player that is over 6' and 200lbs. I don't think there is a easy formula of building a sucessful hockey team based on that reasoning. I think the team that have the right balance of big and smaller players is the way to go. I remember when the Habs used to draft bigger players like Carson, Richer, Momesso, McPhee, Scrudland, Stevenson. All these big players except for Richer were complimentary players. So in summary, there need to be a mix of bigger, more physical players with smaller more skilled players. But one important factor that cannot be over looked. No matter what the size of player, the player has to play with heart and desire. That is the key.

Thank you so much Charles!

Hi Jay and welcome. Allow me to clarify: I never said that the Habs needed only big bodies to play, but the fact is they have had more than their fair share of small, speedy forwards and it's just not working. Someone has to create time and space for them to work.

A clear example of this is the struggles of the Plekanec line when he had to pivot Cammalleri and Gionta. None of them ever got near the net, and if they magically did then they couldn't stay there long.

Desharnais is an exception and is no doubt helped by his two, big net crashing, speedy and talented wingers. I still think him AND Cammalleri AND Plekanec AND Gionta along with the smaller D men like Weber and Diaz are too many small bodies throughtout the lineup to be effective.

And size in itself will not fix everything. As Kamal has pointed out, there has to be some speed and skill to compliment the big net crashing bodies as well.

I remember when Cole was with the Hurricanes and more often than not he'd simply rush past our smaller backchecking forwards and shambled D, and it's nice to see him doing it for us now instead of against us.

FWIW I'm not a Penner fan either. Thanks for stopping by!

Geoff honestly I'd love to see Eller and Gorges take a turn on the PP. Surely they couldn't make it any worse? I really don't know why Cunneyworth won't try it. Kaberle was not the magical fix after all, was he?

Anonymous well said. You can have all the size, speed and talent in the world but without consistent focus, effort and hard work (cough cough Pouliot) it's completely wasted. That's another reason I'm not really upset about Cammalleri's abrupt exit. I didn't believe he wanted to be here anymore, and to me that's pretty much an unforgivable sin.

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