Here we go again.
Every year at Canadiens training camp, there is a cause célèbre that the media embraces as a guy who could, or should make the main club in October.
In 2005 and 2006, it was Guillaume Latendresse, last year it was Sergei Kostitsyn, and this year it already appears evident that it's going to be Max Pacioretty.
The poor kid was besieged by reporters at the opening of the Habs rookie camp Sunday, getting asked from every direction how he's handling the pressure of expectations being placed on him by the organization. Power to him for not biting, because there couldn't be any less pressure coming from the Canadiens brass for him to make the jump straight to the NHL out of college.
Thankfully for the Habs, they have the option of sending Pacioretty to the AHL, which was an avenue that wasn't available to Latendresse in both '05 and '06 because he would have had to be sent down to junior (yet another advantage of choosing the college route). Two years ago, sending Latendresse to junior appeared to be a waste of time because he needed to learn how difficult it is to play against men when you can't just bully your way to success. That's exactly what Pacioretty can and will learn in Hamilton.
There are very few cases where a 19-year-old player arrives at his first pro camp and beats out an established player for a job, especially on a team with so few holes like the Canadiens.
Pacioretty might very well have an excellent training camp and force the Canadiens management into making a tough decision, but the best one they could make in his case would be for him to at least start the season in Hamilton and get his feet wet.
Does anyone else remember how Latendresse began his pro career in 2005? After a prolonged media campaign throughout training camp to get him on the team, Latendresse went pointless through his first 13 games, and with every passing goose egg the questions became louder on whether the Canadiens made a mistake keeping him in Montreal, even though he was seeing very limited ice time. On top of that, he finished the season with no points in his last eight games, showing just how demanding an NHL season can be on a teenager.
If Montreal had been able to send Latendresse to Hamilton two years ago, they would have in a heartbeat, and that's exactly what I feel will happen to Pacioretty. The Canadiens management signed Pacioretty to a pro deal right away so that he could perhaps be ready to fill a top-six role next year, when there will be far fewer forwards in the lineup because at least two - if not more - of Montreal's six UFA forwards won't be back.
It's interesting that Latendresse and Pacioretty are being compared here, because in my eyes if there's anyone who's at risk of losing his job to the big rookie, it would be #84, and it appears he knows it. It's a good sign that Latendresse has been working hard with a power skating coach and also to shed a few pounds in the offseason, because this could very well be a make or break year for him. It's a ridiculous thing to say about a 21-year-old player, but it's true nonetheless.
On another topic altogether, is anyone else intrigued by the fact the Anaheim Ducks put Mathieu Schneider on waivers almost immediately after the Habs acquired Robert Lang? Is it possible that Schneider was Bob Gainey's Plan C in this whole Mats Sundin affair, and that he was the only one in the entire league interested in trading for Schneider's services? I would have to believe that was the case, because the timing of it all is just too perfect for it not to be.
I wonder if Gainey is having any second thoughts on signing Patrice Brisebois now? If Schneider ever makes it to re-entry waivers, any team in the league could have him for half price, or $2.8125 million for the season. Currently, with Brisebois' cap hit at $1.5 million ($750,000 in base salary and another $750,000 in potential bonuses), the Habs have a shade over $1 million in cap space going into the season.
Had Gainey not signed Brisebois, he could have put in a claim for Schneider on re-entry waivers and not had too much cap housecleaning to do. Now, if Gainey were to make a claim on Schneider, he would essentially have to put Mathieu Dandenault on waivers (which he may do anyway) and send him to Hamilton for the season, where he would make a cool $1.725 million.
Just imagine a top-four defence of Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek, then Roman Hamrlik and Mathieu Schneider. It would be the envy of the conference, at the very least.