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Monday, March 5, 2012

The Silver Lining to the Montreal Canadiens Disastrous Season

As of this morning, the Canadiens have found themselves in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, 66 games into the season with a dreadful 25-31-10 record.

In a city that holds high expectations for their hockey team, it's normal that during such an awful campaign, the negatives—and there are many—are sticking out like Brad Marchand's nose.

Andrei Markov—the team's top defenseman and power play quarterback—has yet to step on the ice. Jaroslav Spacek was sent to Carolina for Tomas Kaberle and his $4.25 million contract for the next two seasons. Scott Gomez is still making boat loads of money and has just 10 points (2G, 8A) to show for it, and so on and so forth.

There are however, a number of positives that have come out of what has otherwise been a disastrous season.

Better Late Than Never

After years of filling their roster with players comparable to Snow White's companions, Canadiens management has finally seemed to realize that size matters in today's NHL.

It may have taken season after season of being pushed around, but at some point this season, Habs management decided it was time to get tougher.

Mike Cammalleri was swapped for a much bigger Rene Bourque, Alexei Emelin has seen his role grow as he delivers big hits game after game, and 6'2" 215lb tough guy Brad Staubitz was claimed off of waivers to keep the opposition in check.

With Emelin patrolling the back end—and 6'6" 212lb Jarred Tinordi working his way up—the Habs zone will become increasingly tougher to play in.

Bourque joins Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty up front as wingers who can crash the net, and Staubitz—along with Ryan White—will provide the smaller forwards with the protection and confidence needed for them to play their game.

Tough Price to Pay

You can't help but feel bad for Carey Price.

Night in and night out he shows up and gives his team a chance to win. Unfortunately, the team in front of him very rarely takes advantage of the opportunities he provides.

Price has a .915 save percentage and 2.43 GAA.

Those stats are quite respectable when you consider his record of 23-25-9. The fact that Price is between the pipes, is the main reason the Habs are still ahead of the Oilers and Blue Jackets in the overall NHL standings.

In Price's 25 losses, the Canadiens have managed to score more than one goal only eight times. That's 17 games where the offense couldn't provide him with more than one goal to work with.

It's refreshing to see how a goalie who was pinned as immature not so long ago, has displayed a professional manner throughout what has been the team's roughest year in his tenure.

If Price could put up respectable numbers during a season where his team is in turmoil, just imagine what he'll do for them when they get back on their feet.

What Do You Have On Draft?

The obvious positive for any team this low in the standings, is their draft position. The Canadiens currently sit in 28th spot and there is still plenty of time for the 29th place Edmonton Oilers to leap frog them.

The Canadiens have a talented group of core players in Price, Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Josh Gorges, P.K. Subban, and Tomas Plekanec. With this group of players to work with, the Canadiens don't need a full rebuild that would require another season, maybe even two, of failure.

Instead the Habs have a chance to take advantage of their high draft position to nail down a top prospect, pun fully intended.

If the Canadiens can land a young talent who is NHL ready or even just a year away, then this season is no longer a wash. When you add the draft picks acquired from Nashville in the Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn trades—both second rounders, 2012-13—the Canadiens suddenly find themselves with solid draft positioning.

Montreal can use their abundance of well positioned picks for a quick retool, relying on the team's scouts to add some new, young talent. Another option is to trade away some of those picks, maybe in a package with a roster player, to acquire a much needed established centerman with size.

Either way, whether it be a quick retool through drafting, or trading for missing pieces, the Canadiens have found themselves with options.

At the end of the day, do you think the positives mentioned above were worth the heartache suffered by Habs fans throughout the year? Will the added toughness help the Canadiens win more games? If Price re-signs, can his team rally behind the talent he displayed this year and provide him offensive support? Can the Canadiens find success through the picks they've accumulated?

How do you feel?

---
Sean is a freelance writer currently contributing to HabsAddict.com. He is also a regular blogger and frequent panelist on the Habs post game show at MontrealHockeyTalk.com

You can follow Sean on Twitter

13 comments:

Good stuff, Sean!

Out of all of the things you mentioned, none, imo, are a bigger silver lining than the acquired picks. If nothing else, the Habs are picking four times in the top 60 of the 2013 draft (which is supposed to be a deep draft), and look poised to get a top-3 pick (min) in this year's draft.

For a team that, as you correctly pointed out, needs to retool and not rebuild, this is great news. If the Habs grab a player like, say, Grigorenko, they'll be acquiring a big, elite level, scoring center...a piece they have needed for close to two decades!

As long as they don't screw up the draft this year and next—and with Timmins' record I doubt they will—the Habs should be on the road to recovery in no time...

Habs need a complete philosophical makeover. We have drafted very well in the past but Management lacks the patience to nurture young talent to maturity. ie: Grabovski, Sergei K, Ribiero etc etc. Gotta let the young guys develop even if it doesn't look good for the first few years. I'm old enough to remember that it took Guy Lafleur a few years to become Guy Lafleur. :)

I agree with both of you. Kamal, I also believe that Timmins has what it takes to get this team back on track but unfortunately Gmjrb is right about the Habs weak development. Too many players are rushed, and then shipped off when they don't succeed right away.

I would love to see the Habs find success and so I'm willing to wait another year or two. The good news is the Habs have a talented core to work around and if the right man is brought in to take control it could potentially happen sooner.

As I said to gmjrb on FB, I find that the org has too many remnants of past eras with the team and that can create a culture of stagnation.

Having said that, Timmins is clearly one of the bright spots and the Habs, in spite of some noticeable first round flops - cough, David Fischer, cough - have been one of the better teams at the draft over the past decade or so.

"If Price resigns" This is the focus of the whole article.GET THIS DONE.

@anon
I dont even want to think about where the Habs would be over the next few seasons without Price.

@gmjrb: Excellent about the Habs NOT showing patience with young players. Drafting is one thing, but player development is another.

This, again, is why I think a clean sweep is needed at the management level. No vestiges. No Jacques Martin scouting. No Bob Gainey as special advisor. Time to clean that house out and get a NEW philosophy at the top.

Pro scouting and player development have been weak with this org for years.

On the amateur level, Timmins has a solid record beyond the first round. Not until recently, has he been snagging some good first rounders. I think that is the knock against him too...that (Price aside) he has never hit a homerun in the first round while passing on others who became home runs.

We'll see what the future brings!

@Kamal: I was preparing a comment along the same lines as what you are saying and hit a key and lost it all.

Timmins has a solid record of drafting for the bottom 3 lines, however until recently has not really shown he can pick true top line players. With Price, McDonagh and Max Pac being the exceptions. Even with McDonagh and Pac it will take another year or two to determine if they are truely top line guys. Hopefully this is beginning to change with the likes of Leblanc and Tinordi.

Louis would Fischer be a flop if it wasn't for his severe injury that set his developement back? This year in WCHL he is one of the best defencemen. Maybe he not that much of a flop.

@Layvack

Fischer is a flop, no matter how you slice it. He may be doing well with the Everblades of the ECHL (41 pts in 52 games), but he has yet to get a sniff at the AHL level this year.

He may yet morph into a serviceable NHLer (see former Hab draft pick Mark Flood, who took a rather circuitous route to the NHL as well), but as a first rounder, he qualifies as a miss.

As for his injury, that certainly may have played a part, but I can't really speak to that.

Clean house and go with the draft picks.The Oilers are a young team but their young guys are exciting to watch. they will have a good team maybe starting next year if they can find a top d-man and a goalie.

Zak

Kamal,

I am with you, clean slate at the top. We need a new GM that is in tune with today's NHL. I hate to say it but I think the Leafs have a good plan in surrounding their GM with high end advisers. They can help with scouting both pro and minor and they are good sounding boards for an open minded GM.

Been a lot of focus on the Habs need for a big center but what is clear from last night's game is how little protection Price is getting, how susceptible the D is to a hard forecheck and the lack of D-zone responsibility by a lot of forwards.

There is no anchor on this D corps, no actual #1 D-man like Shea Weber, Chara, Lidstrom, even Phaneuf for that matter. We have decent prospects, some but no defensive leader other than Gorges, who is a warrior but his seen a decline in play over the last few games. (hurt?)

Iggy's two goals were on power moves that were essentially uncontested. Two others, the result of our D being unable to contain Calgary forwards. Giardano's goal, a breakdown in coverage. It seems like there is a lot of disarray in the D zone and that would be reduced with a true anchor.

A retool is necessary but it's more than a piece here or there. Start at the top, work down.

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