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Friday, August 29, 2014

My Habs Summer: Carey Price

Written by new writer Tina Poole

The last time we saw Carey Price he was getting run over by New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider during game 1 of the EC Finals. He would suffer a knee injury on the play that prematurely ended his season. Thankfully, it was determined that the injury did not require surgery, which, depending on damage found, could have potentially delayed the start of the 2014-15 season for Price. At the time, Price was in the midst of a stellar year, having led Team Canada to Gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He was also a key reason why Montreal was still alive in the playoffs.

After all that hockey, Price definitely earned some good old R & R. He stayed in Montreal to rehab the knee injury until mid-June. Then, he went home to Kelowna where he spent time with family and friends. Carey Price was born in Anahim Lake, a ten-hour drive northwest of Kelowna. Price has been back and skating since mid-August. Time will tell whether there are any lasting effects from the injured knee. Until Price faces some shots in a game or practice, it won’t be certain whether the knee injury has fully healed.

In between all the rehab sessions and recovering from a long season, Carey Price found time to give back to his home town of Anahim Lake. Price established two new breakfast clubs to ensure that local grade school and high school children won’t go to school hungry. Anahim Lake is a community of First Nations people, and traditionally those families tend to struggle financially to make ends meet.

Looking ahead to training camp, Price faces some stiff competition for playing time. When he was injured, 24-year-old rookie Dustin Tokarski saw his first NHL action and did not look out of place. Also in the mix is veteran Peter Budaj, who has a track record of being a reliable backup. Barring a setback with Price’s knee, the starting job should be his with Tokarski and Budaj battling for the right to back up Price. After the phenomenal season last year, Price will be challenged to repeat the solid numbers he put up. He will also be a key player in the success of the upcoming NHL season. Price will be relied on heavily to keep the Canadiens in games this season, as the team lost several key players via free agency and trade in the offseason. No doubt, Price will be happy to see all-star defenseman P.K. Subban, who recently signed an 8-year deal to keep him in Montreal through the 2021-22 season, dealing with pesky forwards in front of him.

Let’s hope for a well-rested and healthy Price! Keep calm and Carey on.

Bring on the 2014-15 NHL season!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Exclusive Interview With Habs Prospect Nikita Scherbak

Habsaddicts.com reached out Nikita Scherbak after one of his summer workouts. “I’m now practicing in Calgary”, Scherbak told in Russian after the session. “I’m training with the Crash Conditioning program with their coaches. It’s the first time I’m working with them and all has been great thus far”. The 2014 Habs’ first round pick is definitely not sparing himself: “I’m working on everything. And I’m having sessions both on and off the ice,” he said.

The Moscow, Russia native had quite a busy off-season as he decided to get on shape as much as possible in sight of the next season. “This summer I didn’t have true vacations. I practiced the whole time. I simply spent a couple of weeks at home in Russia after the season, that’s all.”

Moving from Russia to Canada and getting drafted by the Habs, of course, has been quite a feature for the then-19-years-old forward. “It is a new step and a new challenge not only for me, but for my parents too.” Also in the past, Scherbak has been very vocal in how his father was important to him. And he confirmed it once again: “Of course my father is the most important trainer for me. It has always been and it will always be. I got to my successes thanks to the hours of practice I had with him.”

Just as one can imagine, Scherbak is very excited to be part of the Habs organization. Also, he is glad to have been picked up by a team with rich traditions in Russian players as the Canadiens are. “It’s much better when you have the chance to play with such great players, even more so if they are Russians. And what’s even better is that probably in Canada I’ll have more trust from the coaches.” Scherbak also added that he did not talk with Andrei Markov or Alexei Emelin yet.

The young man arrived in Canada pretty much without any English knowledge, but now is well adapted to living abroad. “I’m happy about everything here in Canada. Moscow is where I was born and it will always be my favorite city, but I love it in Canada and I’m very satisfied,” Scherbak added. “At the start it has been very hard. The very start. I didn’t know the language and all. Now I understand much more and I can also speak much better.” And he also wholeheartedly agreed to consider hockey as an universal language.

Even with all his potential, though, it’s not a given fact that Nikita will start the season with the Habs. “Let’s see what happens. I’ll work very hard because I really want and hope to start the season in Montreal, but we’ll see,” he said.

Crossing the ocean, Scherbak also had to do with the more physicality on ice that European players eventually encounter once they move. “I think that anyway fights are a part of the game. Hockey is a men’s game.” Scherbak said that he had fights before moving to North America, and also that he had one last year. “But I did not win. I fought against an enforcer,” he said.

Back home in Russia, many were surprised to see a player who scored only 14 points the year before explode with a 78-point regular season the next season. But Scherbak has no doubts regarding leagues’ classification: “I really think that the CHL is the best junior league in the world.”

Just as most players, Scherbak has a good time remembering his first goal for his new team, particularly so if the new team was some 4,700 miles away from home. “I was skating on the corner, then I gave the puck to my team mate on the face-off dot. He gave it back to me and I was all alone in front of the crease. I shot the puck and it went in on the far post side. Of course, after the game I collected the puck and brought it home.”


Scherbak has been picked up pretty high with the 26th overall pick, but probably many teams decided not to draft him due to the infamous Russian Factor, who has become much more prominent since the creation of the KHL in 2008. But Scherbak wanted to make clear that he does not intend to move back home any time soon: “The KHL is a good league, but I kind of have enough of Russia for now.” That is, Habs fans can be sure that Nikita will not bolt back to the Mother Land, and he is very determined to make the team as soon as possible. He also said to appreciate a lot his nickname in Saskatoon, Scherbinator. “I love it,” he said with a big smile. So maybe Habs’ fans found a way to call him properly.

Follow Nikita Scherbak on Twitter @nikscherbak.

Special thanks to Alessandro Seren Rosso for doing this interview on behalf of HabsAddict.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Montreal Canadiens Player Profile: Manny Malhotra

On July 1st, 2014, the Montreal Canadiens signed left-handed pivot, Manny Malhotra to a one-year deal worth $850,000. The 34-year-old Malhotra was brought in to center the Habs' fourth line and replace journeyman Ryan White after the latter was a healthy scratch for the entire playoffs. White went on to sign a two-way deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Last season, after getting a training camp invite, Malhotra stuck with the Carolina Hurricanes the entire season, recording 7 goals and 6 assists for 13 points in 69 games. The 6'2″, 220-lb veteran is expected to play a veteran important defensive role on the team's checking line this season, allowing two-way centerman Tomas Plekanec to have increased offensive role.

The native of Mississauga, Ontario, played his junior hockey with the Guelph Storm from 1996 to 1998, year he was drafted 7th overall by the New York Rangers. Malhotra played two years in Guelph, notching 32 goals and 63 assists for 95 points and 55 penalty minutes in 118 games. Then, Malhotra graduated straight to the NHL in 1998-99 playing 73 games during his rookie season. The Canadiens will be Handy Manny's seventh NHL team.

The defensive forward's best offensive season was in 2008-09 when he recorded 11 goals and 24 assists for 35 points in 77 contests with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As you can see, Malhotra is not recognized for his offensive skills, but rather for his excellent defensive play. Malhotra, who suffered a near career ending eye injury while a member of the Vancouver Canucks in 2013, was a nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy for his persevance and dedication to the game.

In 2013-14, the defensive specialist played a little more than 11 minutes per game on average with the Hurricanes, getting a defensive zone start 59.3% of the time. Malhotra's strength, however, is
his face-offs efficiency which stood at 59.5%, good for first place in the #NHL among qualified players, a tad better than Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron.



Strangely, Malhotra was never destined to become a hockey player since both of his parents are accomplished chemists. His father, Shadi Malhotra, was born in India before moving to Quebec City, Canada, to study at Laval University where he met Lise Carrier, who was from Levis (on the south shore of Quebec City where I live) in the early 70s. The couple moved to Mississauga in 1979 after spending a few years in the capital. Emmanuel (Manny), who was born in 1980 in Ontario, had to learn French as the family was very strict on that matter at home.

A veteran of 933 games in the NHL, Malhotra, who has notched 291 points during his underrated career, will mostly help the Canadiens with his size down the middle and his defensive abilities on the penalty kill.

Did you know that Malhotra is married to Joann Nash, the sister of NBA all-star Steve Nash?

Dan Rice's Questions and Answers with Manny Malhotra

Finally, do you like Manny Malhotra's signing or would you rather have kept Ryan White around to play on the team's fourth line?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Montreal Canadiens Player Profile: Tom Gilbert

On July 1st, 2014, the Montreal Canadiens and their general manager, Marc Bergevin, signed right-handed defenseman, Tom Gilbert to a two-year pact worth $5.6 million, or $2.8 million annually. The 31-year-old Gilbert was brought in to replace fan favourite and veteran rearguard Josh Gorges after the latter was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2nd round draft pick. Gilbert scored 3 goals and added 25 assists for 28 points in 73 games with the Florida Panthers before a sports hernia ended his season prematurely. The 6'3″, 205-lb blue liner will slide nicely alongside his new defensive partner Alexei Emelin, who will finally be able to play on his natural side.

The native of Bloomington, Minnesota, played his college hockey at the University of Wisconsin from 2002 to 2006 after the Colorado Avalanche drafted him 129th overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. But he never played for the Avs as In March of 2004, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Then, after a single season in the AHL with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Gilbert graduated to the NHL with the Oilers, playing 12 games in 2006-07, notching 1 goal and 5 assists for 6 points. Did you know that Gilbert was a forward in high school before he made the switch to defense?

The lanky defenseman then spent the next five seasons with the Oilers, averaging 80 games with 7 goals and 26 assists for 33 points. Gilbert had his best season in 2008-09 when he recorded 5 goals and 40 helpers for 45 points in 82 games to go along with a +6 +/- rating. Gilbert was then traded to the Minnesota Wild where he played for 1 1/2 season before signing with the Panthers prior to last season.

In 2013-14, Gilbert played on average 21:20 per game, good for third among Panthers players, trailing only Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov. Not a power play specialist by any means, Gilbert can still man the point on the second unit, which he will definitely asked to do, probably along with Nathan Beaulieu when PK Subban and Andrei Markov decide to come off the ice, as the righty got on average 2:13 of PP time each game with Florida.

On the defensive side of the puck, Gilbert is not as quite effective as he was scarcely used on the penalty killing, logging a mere 0:52 of ice time per game with a man down. With the departure of Francis Bouillon, Douglas Murray and Josh Gorges, the Habs expect Mike Weaver and PK Subban to pick up the slack on the PK along with Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov.

Despite his imposing frame, Gilbert is not a very physical defenseman as shown by his 59 hits in 73 contests last season. His 95 blocked shots ranked him second among Panthers players last season, but that number would have ranked him seventh among Canadiens players last year. The Canadiens seem to emphasize much more on shot blocking that the Panthers, which explains the big gap between the two teams in that category.

The puck-moving Gilbert will help with the Habs' transition game on the second pairing and allow Andrei Markov to move up alongside PK Subban on the team's first pairing, which should log around 25 minutes of ice time per game all season long (barring any serious injury). The arrival of Gilbert, combined with the revelation that was Mike Weaver (also a former Panther), allowed Marc Bergevin to trade Josh Gorges and his bloated salary ($3.9M/year). The move will also allow the organization to groom youngsters Jarred
Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu on the team's third pairing alongside the defensively-reliable Weaver.

Moreover, last season, the Campbell/Gilbert pairing has been one of the NHL’s very best, with the Panthers posting a Corsi% north of 55% when the two of them were on the ice, which is considered elite by advanced stats expert Tyler Dellow. Despite this excellent statistic during his whole career even with the Oilers, when Gilbert became a free agent after being bought out by the Wild, he boasted a pretty lengthy track record of outperforming his team’s Corsi% while playing top four (and most of the time top two) minutes for his team.

Last year was a rebound season for Gilbert after he struggled mightily with the Wild in 2012-13 because of a pneumonia he suffered before the season that hampered his play all season, leading him to be frequently scratched by Minnesota and appearing in only 43 games.Still, there is every indication that Gilbert will prove to be a valuable player for the Habs as he is a right-handed shot on a team without much right-handed defensive depth. Did you know that Gilbert was 42nd in the NHL in points at the time of his season-ending injury? Subban finished 5th with 53 points while Markov finished 17th with 43 points.

Ranked 45th in the NHL among rearguards with a CF% of 51.7 (Corsi For% = Corsi For / (Corsi For + Corsi Against)), Gilbert would have been the best possession defenseman in Montreal, PK Subban posting a CF% of 49.9 last year.

Finally, do you like Tom Gilbert's signing or would you rather have kept Josh Gorges around until the end of his long contract? 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Now That The Contract Is Signed, What's Next For P.K.?

Greetings Habs Addicts!

Well the ink has dried on the enormous 8-year/$72-million dollar contract signed by P.K. Subban this past week. With an average annual value (AAV) of $9-million dollars, P.K officially has the highest cap-hit for a defenseman in the entire league. While he does have a Norris Trophy and Olympic gold medal under his belt, he does lack the Stanley Cups that past Norris Trophy winners Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara can boast about. And the Stanley Cups that fellow Gold medallist Drew Doughty can boast about.

Is Subban worth $9-million per season? Has he done enough to deserve it? These are some of the questions being tossed around the league right now.

Subban's $9-million cap hit is the highest in terms of average, but this season alone there are several defensemen who are actually making the same if not more money than P.K on the basis of them signing front-loaded contracts prior to the new CBA being signed. They are:
Photo Credit: Sportsnet.ca

  1. Shea Weber, Nsh - ($14,000,000)
  2. Ryan Suter, Min - ($11,000,000)
  3. Dion Phaneuf, Tor - ($8,000,000)
  4. Duncan Keith, Chi -($7,600,000)
  5. Kris Letang, Pit - ($7,250,000)
  6. Brian Campbell, Fla - ($7,142,875)
  7. Zdeno Chara, Bos - ($7,000,000)
  8. Drew Doughty ($7,000,000)
  9. P.K. Subban ($7,000,000)
  10. Brooks Orpik ($6,500,000)
In terms of actual dollars being paid this upcoming NHL season, Subban ranks ninth.

Subban is coming off of a season where he put up 10 goals and 53 points, won an Olympic Gold medal and paced the Canadiens with 14 points in 17 playoff games, including an upset of the Boston Bruins and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Yes, he was mostly a spectator at the Olympics, but the way he carried himself showed tremendous growth and maturity as well as an ability to stay humble and put the team's best interests first. When you look at some of the names on this list there is no reason to believe that Subban does not belong with the likes of Brian Campbell, Kris Letang or Dion Phaneuf. Subban is not in the same defensive class as Weber, Suter, Keith or Doughty, but at 25-years old, he has plenty of time to develop that part of his game.

With the NHL having agreed to a massive $5.2 billion dollar cable deal with Rogers Communications, the league is going to be raising the salary cap each year for the foreseeable future. This massive infusion of income has put every team in good position to spend and when players such as Keith, Doughty, Brent Seabrook and Erik Karlsson have their contracts expire, expect them to sign for as much if not more than Subban did. It is hard to compare contracts on a year to year basis. Arguably, if Carey Price was a free-agent this summer, he would be making far more than the $6.5 million average he agreed to a couple of years ago. Each summer is a different market with a different salary cap. This happened to be the year that Subban became a free agent. It is what it is.

Obviously the Habs expect Subban will continue to improve in all aspects of his game. He has a tremendous work ethic which will not change. It's ingrained in his blood. It is part of who he is. Subban handled the Olympic situation and his lack of playing time with tremendous grace and professionalism. If he was upset about it, it did not show. If it was a blow to his ego, he played it off well. Anyone who saw his medal-winning video saw an energetic player who was enjoying the experience in whatever capacity. It was a maturity level that he finished the year with and brought into the playoffs. He stepped up big in the playoffs again, pacing the club and playing big minutes. While he still does not kill penalties, that should change next season as more responsibility is added to his plate. 

There is a leadership void in the locker room, either real or perceived. Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges are both playing for the Buffalo Sabres now. That means there is a vacant captain and assistant captain role that needs to be filled. Andrei Markov is the other assistant and the Russian warrior has turned down the C in the past. Subban is now the team's highest paid player; its star. Carey Price is the other but Roberto Luongo has shown that a goalie cannot be a captain in this modern NHL era. Subban is confident, skilled and vocal. He will address the media and he will step up and lead. Gone is the cocky, arrogant and undisciplined player he was when he broke into the league. If he is not named the captain this year, he will be sporting an A on his chest this season. He's earned it and he deserves it. Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos and Gabriel Landeskog have earned letters at a young age. It's time for P.K. Subban to get his. 

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Nick Malofy is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.