Friday, July 17, 2009

So it starts...

As a member of the working NHL media, I know all too well how the pile on mentality can work.

Television people, by the very nature of their work, have to make snap reactions and analyses, yet once those opinions are put out there, it's pretty hard to take them back. Newspaper people often have a tendency to be influenced by these opinions, especially on trade deadline day and the opening of free agency because most of those writers are watching the news unfold on TV, just like all the fans.

So here we are in mid-July, and there is already an NHL prognosticator predicting the demise of your Montreal Canadiens.

Terry Frei, a respected reporter for the Denver Post who also writes for, recently published his Eastern Conference predictions for next season. A warning before you decide to click on that link: What you see may disturb you.

Frei predicts the Canadiens will not only finish out of the playoffs in ninth place, but he also thinks the Toronto Maple Leafs will slide into the final playoff spot, which essentially discredits everything he wrote.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, and I would have no problem accepting Frei's that the Habs will miss the playoffs because that remains a very real possibility. But behind the Leafs? Really? Has he seen their depth chart?

I will be the first to say that what Brian Burke accomplished this summer was very impressive, simply because he has a vision for his team and he went out and executed his plan. Or at least a part of it. Burke has mentioned he likes to have six skill guys and six bangers among his 12 forwards. Unless I'm missing something, I fail to see where his six skill guys are.

Jason Blake has some skill, as does (like it or not) Mikhail Grabovski, but those aren't exactly guys you want to build around. Then there's Nik Hagman, who's a nice player but hardly a legitimate top-line forward. Is Matt Stajan going to light the world on fire? Or Jiri Tlusty? Or Alexei Ponikarovsky? Or Lee Stempniak?

The defence looks very much improved and there's some intriguing young players coming in, but otherwise, I don't see the playoffs in the Leafs future.

I do, however, feel the Habs will make the playoffs with Carey Price and an improved defence as the driving force behind it. Yes, it is possible to have an improved defence when you've lost Mike Komisarek to free agency and I'm making an educated leap of faith on Price, but I think a playoff spot is definitely within this team's grasp and I don't think they'll squeak in either.

And from the looks of it, they will likely have to do it without Vincent Lecavalier as Tampa co-owner Len Barrie looks to have met his cash call from Gary Bettman. That doesn't necessarily mean Lecavalier still won't be traded this summer, but I would think it's going to take a lot more assets for Barrie to sign off on a deal than it would if it were only Oren Koules making the final call.

There is a possibility that Bob Gainey could make a pitch for Patrick Marleau, seeing as San Jose has yet to make any changes to a group that has clearly shown it needs a shot in the arm, but I have trouble envisioning a package that could be offered to get Marleau that wouldn't severely cripple the team. This would not be auction in an effort to save money, it would be a hockey trade and the Habs don't have the necessary depth of talent to pull it off. Tomas Plekanec and prospects simply won't cut it because Doug Wilson is no fool.

As much as Gainey may want to ship Plekanec out of town, and I believe he does just to avoid having to give a guy he made a healthy scratch in the playoffs a hefty raise, I'm not sure how much value he has. He had one magical season, but otherwise he's always been a pretty mid-range talent, but one that could potentially thrive with Andrei Kostitsyn and whoever finds himself on right wing.

No, if I were Gainey I would sit on what he's already done and let the predictions of impending doom start rolling in.

We've already seen the motivational power of dire pre-season predictions.


rei said...

The Leafs may well be the most improved team in the east - they aren't as good as the habs, but Toronto and Montreal will be fighting for second and third in the division (I think Boston has it in the bag again this year). They really only need one or two scorers to be a playoff contender, and stranger things have happened than a team like that sliding into the playoffs. That said, if they do it won't likely be at Montreal's expense - look at a team like NYR to fall out of contention.

Yves said...

I think the Leafs are improved on D.. but as you point out, I'm not sure where the offense to put them in the top 8 will come from.

When I look at the Habs on paper. I think they should be fine on offense. Maybe not the top scoring team, but they don't have to be.

I agree that they have an improved defense. I would say that Martin will have them play much more responsibly on defense too.... so I think Carey Price will be facing a few less shots per game.

I'm gonna put them at 5th in the east. Although I'm quite tempted to say 6th.

Not sure what they'll do with Plekanec. I'd like to see a bigger center come in.... but the likelyhood of another big move is pretty much nil.

Anonymous said...

any news on Lang? Let's pick him up for a million and roll the dice?

Arpon Basu said...

Not a bad idea on Lang, assuming he'll take that little money. Apparently his deal with the KHL fell through and he seemed to enjoy the city. The team could use a right-handed shot down the middle, because right now it's only Metropolit

YourHabs said...

I nearly did crap my pants when I saw that and completely feel the same way as you do.

The Leafs will make a good push but you can't tell me that the Canadiens got worse, because they didn't. If anything I expect to see an increase in Goals For this season.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Gainey remade this team around Carey Price. I think he came to the conclusion in view of last year that Carey thrives behind solid, responsible defence. The Habs defence corps is better now, even if they're a shade older, and despite losing Komisarek. It seemed to me that last year our offence and star goalie fell apart because the defence was falling apart. Martin's system and Gainey's new team will give far better support to Price, who I believe will have a great year. And it will give confidence to the rest of the team to rise above. I put them in 6th place...

B B said...

Frei's pick has me buffaloed. 6 of our former UFA's remain out there, three weeks into free agency. The team has picked speed, scoring ability, toughness, and a much tighter defence. The powerplay looks have a leader. If Price isn't facing 27-32 shots per game, I have no reason to believe he will respond accordingly.

I am not sold on Tim Thomas as a year-in, year-out top goalie. Boston has cap issues without having Kessel under contract. They were relatively healthy last season, something that seldom occurs in consecutive seasons.

Burke has his toughness, but being shorthanded on a regular basis only spells trouble because
Toronto can not score. Simple as that.

Buffalo's core is good and I think the world of Miller, but they just do not have any support beyond their top 7. Ottawa should have "No Smoking" signs everywhere (which would kill Kovy) because that disaster is just one wandering girlfriend from an all-out internal war.

With the compressed Olympic schedule, depth will be a test for everyone and I think Montreal has this part of the game over everyone in the division. A strong third place and who knows come April.

pierre said...

Our team's identity in the post lock-out era has been based thus far around the speed and the scoring depth of our roster with our best season of the lot being the one were our transition game and our PP efficiency were both working at their operating best.

I am confident that the pieces Gainey brought on the first day of free agency will work extremelly well as a PP unit and should re-establish our efficiency among the top 5 in the league.

Our new D corp will improved our transitional game from what we had last season and our forwards will gain in scoring opportunities as a result of it.

I believe in our new coaching staffs and about their ability to use the right system and strategies with the specifics of the roster in mind.... in the end I beleive that the shots on goal differencial of our team will be better next season compared with any of our previous season since the lock-out.

Were I wright on those accounts our team would be fighting for 5th in the East.

PS: Lapièrre is a right-handed center.

Anonymous said...

Im going to tell you right now why the habs make the playoffs no problem. Who truly got better in the east? Florida, and Buffalo, who were both chasing to make the playoffs this past season, not only didn't get better, they got worse. Did tampa improve enough to go from the cellar to the show? Maybe, but their improvement would only mean something with regards to the habs if the habs either did not improve or got worse (and vs. last year i think the habs improved dramatically). Ottawa I feel can make a push into the playoffs, and maybe tampa squeaks in, but I dont think it will be at the expense of the habs. Mike Brophy has us missing the playoffs, and he's the guy who said we wouldn't make it two years ago (when we won the east), and that we would be in the cup final last year (when we squeaked in and got bounced by boston in 4 straight in the first round). THese early predictions mean absolutely nothing!

Arpon Basu said...

That's right, Pierre, Lapierre is right-handed. My bad.