Kukla's Korner Hockey
by The Upper Canadien on 01/05/11 at 09:17 PM ET
I’m back from a wonderful vacation to Atlantic Canada, and the Habs are back from their worst road trip in a couple of years. While I wasn’t able to see all the games (hiking Newfoundland took priority - my Lord is it beautiful! Anyone living out there is very, very lucky), I saw enough to know the Canadiens are in trouble. That’s obvious to anyone, as they’ve fallen from the top of the Eastern Conference to eighth, and four points away from losing their playoff spot.
So what’s a General Manager to do?
Well, if you’re Pierre Gauthier, a couple of things.
Firstly, you deal a 2nd and a conditional 5th for James Wisniewski, formerly of the New York Islanders. A good deal? I’d like to think so. Yes, the Habs deal a second round draft pick, but they get Wisniewski for forty games. Quite often, players of his calibre go for a 2nd at the deadline. What does Wisniewski bring to the table? A solid first past, a great shot, and a physical aspect long missing from the Habs back end. He’s a poor man’s Sheldon Souray (and yes, that means he sometimes makes terrible defensive mistakes, apparent in his -18 rating as an Islander). However, despite the odd defensive miscue I’ve been impressed with Wisniewski thus far, as he’s posted five points over his first three games as a Hab. His nine shots have been a welcome addition, as the Canadiens can use as much offensive punch from the defence as possible, especially on the power play. A solid point shot has been missing since the injury to Andrei Markov. I’d like to think they’ve found a decent replacement.
Next, and perhaps more surprisingly, you ship veteran and fan favourite Max Lapierre to Anaheim for a 5th and defensive prospect Brett Festerling. Why? Well, rumours had swirled, as they had in the past, of Lapierre’s inability to get along with some teammates. Add to that Lapierre’s apparent complaints to management over playing time, and the writing was on the wall. However, while Lapierre had a disappointing eight points this year, I question the decision to suddenly ship him out. Here is a player Montreal drafted in the second round and spent years developing. He is only one year removed from a 15 goal season. However, his numbers and play had clearly taken a steep dive under Jacques Martin, who did not view him as being as useful as former coach Guy Carbonneau did.
Will the Canadiens miss Lapierre in the long term? Probably not. And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Mike Ribeiro for a washed up contract-heavy Finnish defenceman we shall not name. But anytime an organization spends years developing an asset, and then essentially lets that asset go for nothing, it had to be seen as a disappointment.
What comes next?
The Habs still have a few holes. Primarily, they lack a top six winger. They have from game one. They have presumably determined it is not Benoit Pouliot, as he hasn’t been given a shot there since the start of the year. So who is it? It doesn’t look like it’s Pacioretty, although he has opened up space for Scott Gomez. A player such as Jamie Benn would be the perfect fit, but the chances of him being available are, well, they don’t exist. As such, if I am in Pierre Gauthier’s shoes, I’m shopping for a proven, reliable top six winger, preferably someone with a bit of heft and physicality to his game. And if he’s not available, I’d be phoning up Bryan Murray to see if I can dump a contract like Jaroslav Spacek’s for Alex Kovalev. At this point, the Habs have about $3 million to work with. The room is there if they want to make a move.
Otherwise, the big hole in Montreal’s game is still the defence. Perhaps Wisniewski will change my mind after another five or ten games, but the defence is too slow and it doesn’t have a transition game. Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek are way, way past their prime. If there is any way Gauthier can dump Spacek’s contract, he has to do it.
Focusing further on defence, let’s get some consistency going with the approach to playing PK Subban. This guy shouldn’t in one night and out the next. He should be playing 20 minutes a game, consistently, night after night. It’s the only way he’s going to learn and get better. And guess what? People seem to have forgotten, but he’s actually a hell of a hockey player. His offensive talents might just help the Canadiens beef up their offensive game. But the guy has to play. And he’s got to play a lot.
In goal, yes Carey Price has struggled of late. Yes, he didn’t get voted onto the all star team. And despite the complaints of Montreal fans, that’s a good thing. Let’s hope Price doesn’t make the team, so that he can rest up and get ready for the playoff push. Price is talented, and he’ll get his game back. He just needs to play through it.
As for what’s on tap over the next few days, Montreal faces Pittsburgh tomorrow, the halfway mark of their season, before Saturday’s nationally televised tilt with Boston. Two great games, and I am excited for both. Don’t fret Habs fans, this is just a slump. The team will play it’s way out of it.
In the meantime, enjoy the second half of the season. And let’s see what the general manager has up his sleeves. Something tells me he’s not done tinkering yet.
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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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