Friday, October 3, 2008

Carbo signs on the dotted line

The team's great extinguisher of fires, GM Bob Gainey, effectively snuffed out all the Max Pacioretty hype this morning by telling the media up in St-Jovite that the 19-year-old will start his pro career in Hamilton, according to Habs Inside/Out.

Either he was trying to spare the kid from further scrutiny, or trying to reassure the veterans who may have been feeling some undue pressure because of Pacioretty's continued presence at Habs camp. But if this decision has already been made, why exactly is Pacioretty here? Why wasn't he sent to the Hamilton Bulldogs camp Wednesday night with the two guys who will likely be his linemates this season, Ben Maxwell and Matt D'Agostini?

It's a curious move, to say the least, because it's not as if the Habs really need this distraction, and they're not short on bodies either.

Another announcement made by Gainey this morning was that Guy Carbonneau has signed a new contract, though the length of the deal was not revealed, just like when Carbonneau signed his first contract two and a half years ago.

It's a coincidence this announcement was made today because I was thinking this morning about just how different Carbonneau's job is now compared to last year at the same time. Does everyone remember Habs camp last year? The questions were plentiful, but there were very few answers.

Will Alex Kovalev bounce back from a dreadful season? Should he even still be on the team? Will Carey Price be able to make the jump to the NHL only a year removed from junior hockey? Can Cristobal Huet hold the fort until Price is ready to take over? Will the Habs keep Sergei Kostitsyn or send him to the minors? How will this team produce goals, especially without Sheldon Souray on the power play? But the ultimate question was how on earth the Habs would be able to make the playoffs, or even how it would avoid finishing last in the conference?

A year later, the questions are far fewer and of a far different nature. The main debate at camp this year - now that Pacioretty's immediate future has been settled - surrounds the fourth line, with Maxim Lapierre and Kyle Chipchura seemingly fighting for a spot for a second year in a row. If the fourth line was all Carbonneau had to worry about last fall, he would have slept a whole lot better than he did (even though he mentioned at least 80 times last year just how well he slept at night). As Luc GĂ©linas of RDS said at a Carbonneau news conference last year, when most of the debate surrounds the makeup of the fourth line, it means things are going pretty well.

Otherwise, the Habs are learning how to manage expectations, something this group of players has never had to deal with, especially not in a market like this. Kovalev has played on a couple of teams that had huge expectations, but they were in New York and Pittsburgh, not Montreal. Saku Koivu has never really dealt with this in his whole career, and definitely not since he was named captain. Guys like Price, Andrei Markov, Mike Komisarek, Christopher Higgins, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn - the young core of the team - will be experiencing an entire season of Habs Hysteria for the first time.

So the question I have is how these guys will respond to it, and what will Carbonneau do to manage it? Last year he made a plea to the media to leave his players alone when it came to revealing injuries. Will he do the same this year in terms of asking players about the Stanley Cup? I doubt it. So Carbonneau will have to communicate with his players, especially the younger ones, on a regular basis. As everyone knows, this has never been Carbonneau's strong suit as a coach.

I'm hoping that Carbonneau's new contract includes a big raise, because if things do go south at any point in the season, he'll be pulling double duty as a hockey coach and sports psychologist.

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