Kukla's Korner Hockey
by The Upper Canadien on 11/15/10 at 10:54 AM ET
The Montreal Canadiens find themselves atop the Northeast division after a week that included three tough matches against Vancouver, Boston and Carolina. Carey Price was phenomenal in all three games, and the Brian Gionta-Scott Gomez line, much maligned this season, seems to finally be coming to life. Impressively, the Canadiens earned six points, all regulation wins.
However, as everyone now knows, the news for Montreal was not all good. All-star Andrei Markov fell awkwardly in a collision with Eric Staal late in Saturday’s game against Carolina, and the Habs now find themselves facing the prospect of extended time without their best defenceman.
This would be Markov’s fourth, yes fourth serious injury over the past two and a half years. A knee injury against Toronto (courtesy of a Mikhail Grabovski hit); a sliced tendon courtesy of Carey Price’s skate; a torn knee ligament thanks to Matt Cooke, and now this. Apparently the Habs and Markov’s agent were close on a long-term deal as recently as two weeks ago. I would suspect Markov’s future as a Hab is now definitely in flux.
Should the Canadiens sign Markov to an extension, despite his apparently precarious health? It would be tough. At 33, Markov isn’t a spring chicken anymore, and many defenceman have been done in by knee problems far earlier than 33. Should one of his ligaments yet again be torn, I have to believe management in Montreal and Markov’s representatives are going to have a very hard time agreeing on the terms of a contract.
What a heartbreaker for Montreal. The powerplay was finally clicking. Three goals on Saturday night. Goals against Boston. The puck was moving. The offence had energy. Will the momentum continue? There are signs that suggest it will. Montreal scored two power play goals after Markov was injured on Saturday. Plus, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, key cogs in the Montreal offensive wheel, finally seem to be up to speed. That said, the Habs most immediate need goes from power forward to puck-moving defenceman.
Ironically, the Habs dealt away depth defenceman Ryan O’Byrne for a prospect on Thursday afternoon. They will now have to rely on seventh man Alex Picard, or young AHL blueliner Yanick Weber, unless they make a trade for help on the back end.
Are there a plethora of puck-movers available? Ask San Jose, who have apparently been after such a player since training camp. Tomas Kaberle is readily available – but Brian Burke wants the farm for him, and then some. One of the few middle-of-the-road offensive defencemen bandied about in rumours, and connected to the Habs in the past, is Kevin Bieksa. However, Vancouver isn’t going to trade him for free – and if Markov could be back in two or three months (as reports Sunday evening suggested), do the Habs really want to shell out valuable assets in a trade?
I said last week that I felt a Marc-Andre Bergeron signing seemed likely to fix the power play. I now think it’s even more likely, for different but similar reasons. Bergeron would have given the Habs another weapon with the man advantage. Now, he’d give them a weapon, period. PK Subban can shoot, but he’s primarily a set-up man. Bergeron can be the trigger, a role Markov has filled successfully in the past, and a job Bergeron held down with flying colours last season in Montreal.
Now, is Bergeron healthy? He had knee surgery this off-season. Recent reports suggested he’d be ready four to six weeks into the season. Well, that’s about now. If I’m running the show, rather than dealing for help, I’m reaching for the phone and signing MAB to another one-year deal. Dress him as a seventh defenceman and use him solely on the power play. This would drastically improve the Habs power play threat, and limit the damage done by Markov’s extended absence.
As for help up front, I suspect that will go to the backburner for now. However, various press articles last week suggested the Canadiens had little to no interest in Bill Guerin or Miroslav Satan, another free agent who it was suggested the Canadiens were interested in. Were a call up in order, I have to believe either David Desharnais or Max Pacioretty, at this point, would get the nod.
Sixteen games into the season, the Canadiens have yet to surrender more than three goals in a regulation game. The only time they gave up four? Against Tampa Bay, in an overtime loss back in early October.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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