Saturday, September 12, 2009

Filling the void

The loss of captain Saku Koivu and practically the entire leadership core of the Habs has been the subject of endless discussion this summer. An argument with some merit has been that with so many new faces showing up at camp, bringing Koivu or Alex Kovalev back would not have allowed the newcomers to comfortably assert their own leadership on the team.

Of course, those arguments are purely hypothetical until you actually get a chance to talk to the players themselves, which is exactly what I had a chance to do today in Brossard. And Josh Gorges, for one, agrees with the general principle.

"With those guys leaving, especially with Saku gone, he was here for so long and the leadership he brought to this team, there’s a little bit of a hole," Gorges said. "But that’s the great thing about hockey, guys come, they go. But when guys leave, it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and fill that void. We’ve lost some big guys, no question, but with the guys we added this offseason we took a step forward. And change is good, I think."

Change is good.

On one hand, what else could Gorges say, now that those changes have actually happened? But on the other hand, I got the distinct impression while Gorges was talking that not only is change good, it may very well have been necessary. He never came out and said it. It was just a feeling I got.

Considering how poorly last season ended, I don't think Gorges would be blamed for thinking just that, though I can't guarantee that's actually the case.

Earlier this summer, Tom Kostopoulos was interviewed on the Team 990, and when asked who would make a good captain among the returning players, he barely hesitated before mentioning Gorges. In essence, Gorges is already a de-facto captain because of the way he handles media responsibilities. Win or lose, Gorges is almost always there afterwards to take the heat. It may sound like a small thing, but to his teammates who don't necessarily enjoy being grilled by the press after a tough loss, it is definitely appreciated.

Gorges had heard of Kostopoulos' comments, and he seemed pretty embarrassed by them.

"There's a lot of guys capable of wearing the 'C' here," he said. "I don't know if I would put myself in that group."

But he also doesn't know who should finally emerge in that role.

"It's not easy being captain here, there's a lot on your plate," he said. "I think that might scare a few guys away. It's not the easiest job in the world to be captain of the Montreal Canadiens."

Whoever is ultimately named captain of the team, there's no doubt that the departure of certain players will allow a guy like Gorges to take up more room in the dressing room.

The same might be true of Guillaume Latendresse, who despite being only 22 years old is one of the longest-tenured players on the club with three seasons wearing the CH.

"I'm still young, but the experience of playing in Montreal is not something you can pick up just anywhere," he said. "It's my fourth year here and there are certain things I can tell the new guys."

Latendresse is pretty excited by his new teammates, and he also suggested that maybe the wholesale changes of this past summer had become a necessity.

"We had some older veterans with some old mentalities, a little bit," he said. "I think the new guys we brought in are more about the new NHL and the new style of hockey."

A comment like that is one big can of worms, open to all sorts of interpretation. The way I read that is with the departure of some veteran guys, players like himself, Maxim Lapierre, Gorges, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn can perhaps take more of an important role on the club, both on and off the ice.

In the same way that your older brother will always look at you as a kid, perhaps he was suggesting that the veterans always looked at that group as rookies, even though they were becoming young veterans in their own right.

7 comments:

pfhabs said...

Arpon:

-seems to me that the notion of the room had to be cleared to allow other or better or newer 'leaders' to emerge is a concept that has been bandied about all summer but one that defies logic and does not hold up under scrutiny.

1) the so called off-ice enfants terrible (K bros & Price) are still there. Higgin's role in all this is still only conjecture

2. the biggest on ice non-performers are still there; Hamrlik, Laraque, Plekanecs, K bros & Price

-so I ask what was cleaned up in that "room" ?

3. the old leaders, presumably Koivu, Kovalev, Kostopulous & Komisarek had to be "removed" to allow new leadership to emerge.

-if you accept that premise then explain to me please

a) why Gainey tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to sign Kovalev & Komisarek if they woefully lacked the necessary kind of leadership to take this club further ?

-the Koivu dismissal is a mystery as his leadership qualities have been lauded in public by the likes of Savage, Souray, Rivest, Recchi, Lapierre, Kostopulous, Damphousse, Gorges and many others

b) what kind of leader needs others to be silenced in order to display his outstanding leadership qualities ?

-please apply that question to your workplace, home or team sports in general. as they say in the south of the Excited States 'that dog won't hunt' !

4. as for "We had some older veterans with some old mentalities, a little bit," he said. "I think the new guys we brought in are more about the new NHL and the new style of hockey."

Latendresse is an idiot;

-Komisarek was younger than all the new guys coming in...he is also the CH's NHLPA rep. if his thinking was outdated Gui has a real problem with his teammates who voted Komisarek to that position

-most, if not all of the new guys, are of the same vintage as the old guys leaving

-his new captain will more than likely be someone closer to Koivu's age than to Gui's age

-his new head coach is very old school in terms of strategy & tactics

-Gui should remember that the only reason he made the show at his age was his size which he barely uses to constant effect and certain media pressure as confirmed by the one and only outspoken Patrick Roy

-a more moronic statement he could not have made

V said...

We should have a better sense for things about 30 games into the season.

By that time, everything that has happended over the past 2 months - including comments from the golf tournament - will prove to be worth worrying about or water long gone under some bridge.

This should be great fun.

pfhabs said...

V:

-you are correct. it will be interesting one way or another by Christmas

-remember though if things are going south the media frenzy will take about 15 games or less

-as for Gui hopefully he proves Timmins right in terms of jumping up to draft him in 2nd round 4 summers ago

Paul said...

I don't think the "old leadership" was rotten, nor do I think Gainey believed it was (or else why try to sign Komisarek and Kovalev?). I have thought since late June, and Gainey explicitly said so at the golf tournament, that getting younger and healthier up front was a major goal. Cammalleri, Gomez and Gionta vs. Koivu, Kovalev and Tanguay fit the criteria. On defence, once Komisarek was gone, replacement by committee was the order of the day. Mara and Gill give you some size and defensive responsibility plus a bit of extra puck mobility from Mara (the selection of which had to have been influenced from Pearn's recommendation after coaching him in NYC). Spacek is a younger version of Schneider, so that's a wash. Gorges is ready for some more responsibility. The overall experience level and skill set of the defence this year will be better suited to Martin's style.

I've not polished the lawn chairs for the parade or anything, but I do think the Habs have the potential to do reasonably well (5-8 in conference is not out of reach and I think, barring major injuries, the playoffs are not something to worry about in terms of getting in to them).

I do think it will take 25-30 games for the team to gel, so finishing higher than 5th in conference is unrealistic. However it goes, it should not be a boring season.

pmk said...

hello... arpon? you stil there?

Anonymous said...

Arpun, your recent absence from this blog has left me standing over the abyss- can you please fill the void.

Jean-Raymond L said...

Should we make this a Weekly hab-it?