Kukla's Korner Hockey
by The Upper Canadien on 08/16/10 at 10:36 AM ET
What’s this, another blogger added to KK? Yes, please help me welcome The Upper Canadien to Kukla’s Korner. He will have his own blog come sometime in September, until then, his posts will appear in the KK Hockey section.
To find out more about The Upper Canadien, click his name in the byline. -Paul
Hi everybody, I’m excited and humbled to be writing here for Kukla’s Korner starting this fall. A longtime hockey fan who has always dabbled in writing, I look forward to providing my thoughts and opinions on the goings-on in today’s NHL. While I plan on contributing a couple of pieces a week, I endeavour to provide up to date commentary when stories are breaking, both league wide and specific to the Montreal Canadiens. While my columns will often focus on the Habs, I will also be providing pieces on the NHL and adding a “News & Notes” section to most of my articles. Without further ado…
With training camp a month off, I felt it would be a good time to discuss the potential of the 2010-2011 Montreal Canadiens. While a trade or signing could still happen, the uninterrupted silence of the past month and a half suggests otherwise (unless you include the deafening roar, I mean slight ripple, generated by the signing of defenceman Alexandre Picard).
Last year, the Canadiens finished eighth and then shocked the hockey world by beating Washington and Pittsburgh to reach the Eastern Conference Final. But this year’s Habs are a tad different. Gone is post-season hero Jaroslav Halak. Gone is the very durable, very robust Dominic Moore. Gone is the underrated, under-appreciated Glen Metropolit, who unbeknownst to most, led the Canadiens in power play goals last season. Gone is the man who showed up too little, Sergei Kostitsyn.
In come Lars “The Danish Peter Forsberg” Eller, hard-nosed winger Dustin Boyd, the yet-to-impress Ben Maxwell, the infectious P.K. Subban, well traveled backup Alex Auld, and the aforementioned Alex Picard. How does this year’s team differ from the collection of veterans who were a playoff revelation of 2010?
For starters, there is a different starter. While he’s still unsigned, one presumes he will be under contract in early September when training camp begins. Carey Price has yet to demonstrate the playoff mastery of Halak, but he’s also highly touted and arguably a better natural athlete. If he can perfect the mental side of his game, and I believe he will, he will once again become the goaltending luminary everyone drooled over only three years ago.
On defence, questions surround Andrei Markov. He’s aging, in a contract year, and appears to be getting brittler by the day. A knee injury will likely hold him out at the beginning of the season. However, P.K. Subban promises to replace most of the offence that may be lacking with Markov out. Josh Gorges proved to be a force in the playoffs, and veterans such as Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, and Roman Hamrlik will continue to show up every night and work as hard as they can. Ryan O’Byrne continues to be an enormous, yet very strong, enigma, and the signing of Alex Picard provides speed and some creativity if the depth is needed. The Canadiens defence, with a matured Gorges and Subban, may well prove to be better and more mobile this season than last.
Up front, the top two lines promise to be status quo, though with Jacques Martin, not much is ever status quo. A full season of Benoit Pouliot playing with Gomez and Gionta should uncover whether he is a stud or a dud, while Andrei Kostitsyn attempts to improve on seasons past without the weight of caring for his brother on his shoulders. With Sergei gone, I fully expect Andrei to be a different, and much better, player. Mike Cammalleri looks to build on a great playoff run, and Tomas Plekanec will work hard to live up to the expectations that come with a $5 million a year contract.
The third line, likely centred by Eller, should have more creativity than last year’s, and provide more of an offensive threat. Tom Pyatt and Max Lapierre are hard workers who will benefit from playing with a pivot like Eller. The fourth line, anchored by Stanley Cup winner Travis Moen, will continue to provide a solid checking presence. And who knows? Perhaps a player like Maxwell will emerge to be this year’s Tom Pyatt, a reliable and extremely talented checking forward.
Oh captain, my captain
Still unresolved is the Canadiens captaincy. Coach Jacques Martin is on the record as saying the team will have a captain. The favourites are Brian Gionta or Andrei Markov, but if I’m Martin, I strongly consider Gorges. He’s a proven defensive defenceman who sacrifices himself game after game and commands the respect of his teammates. Furthermore, giving it to a role player like Gorges takes the attention off of the more talented players.
Dark horse candidate? Hal Gill. Leafs and Pens fans may scoff, but after his Skillsie performance in the playoffs, you know it’s been discussed.
One thing we do know? Barring a stunning trade, the Canadiens next captain will not be Francophone. And I ask: does that really matter?
But what does it all mean, Basil?
This team is pretty familiar to last year’s. That’s a good thing. They have a lot of heart, determination, and grit. Sure, they are lacking in size, but new faces Boyd and Eller will help, and the defence is not lacking in the physical department. I would still be looking to toughen up a bit (Owen Nolan or Fernando Pisani would look awfully good beside Eller), but if this is the team, it’s ready to roll.
The biggest change is obviously in net. But I am going to go out on a limb and say Price is up to the challenge - contract permitting. In terms of a finish? The Northeast is not the strong division it was three or four years ago, and though Boston, Ottawa and Buffalo are loaded with talent, all three have holes. Inconsistency could be a problem, but I think the Canadiens could challenge for the division title this year.
However, reason suggests they are likely to finish somewhere in the neighbourhood of sixth, as the divisional title is not a sure thing and the drop off from the top of the Northeast down the standings will be steep. Jacques Martin’s teams are always solid defensively, but they can also score, as the Senators demonstrated during his many years at the helm. Many people are going to question the Montreal Canadiens this season, and suggest their playoff performance was a fluke. Bottom line: with Carey Price in net, I think this team has the potential to impress a lot of fans and pundits alike.
News & Notes:
- A few articles have suggested Peter Forsberg may/may not return to the NHL this season. Others suggest he may be retiring. Know this: Forsberg is the NHL’s Pedro Martinez. If he wants to play, he will as long as he’s healthy. But he’ll do it on his schedule, and no one else’s. Don’t expect anything concrete on the Forsberg front until 2011.
- Sheldon Souray: it sounded as if he and the Oilers were ready to part ways at the end of last season, with verbal shots going back and forth. Yet he remains in Edmonton, with little to no interest from other teams if news sources are to be trusted. What will become of Mr. Souray? Will he be welcomed back into the fold, or jettisoned away with draft picks? I could see the Islanders being a fit, but if Souray does indeed want to stay on the West Coast as has been rumoured, I just don’t see a match.
- Bill Guerin was, in recent years, the league’s Gary Roberts: a scrappy veteran capable of chipping in top line minutes, providing leadership and contributing to a playoff run. It’s August 16th and Mr. Guerin is out of a job. I could see him landing again in Pittsburgh, or Boston, but I am very surprised Guerin still hasn’t found a spot.
- I mentioned Owen Nolan above, another veteran who can still score. He’d look great on the Canadiens, but I doubt he lands there. I’ve heard nothing on Mr. Nolan of late, other than he still wants to play. Vancouver could do worse than adding his veteran scoring presence to their third line.
- Toronto fans should be upset with their GM this morning. Why? He very publicly attempted to trade Tomas Kaberle, a loyal employee for over a decade who clearly did not want to leave. At midnight, Kaberle’s no trade clause kicked back in - no deal. In not trading him, he’s isolated Kaberle and potentially depreciated his best trade asset: now the entire league knows Burke couldn’t get what he wanted in a deal. Kaberle may not be Nik Lidstrom but he is a very, very good hockey player. With a defence that already includes Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, Toronto doesn’t have a need for Kaberle. What it does need is draft picks and prospects, because whether you liked the trade or not Burke sacrificed a lot to get Phil Kessel. Toronto has some decent talent to build upon, but what it doesn’t have is a short time horizon, and in upsetting a 32 year old Kaberle and failing to capitalize on the Leafs’ greatest trade asset, Burke played chicken with the league’s other GM’s and lost. The good news? We likely get six more months of Tomas Kaberle trade rumours.
- Lastly, is anyone else excited to watch Blake Geoffrion? He’s the fourth generation hockey player who was drafted by the Nashville Predators, and he is a contender to make this year’s team. If you’re not familiar with his pedigree, his father Danny played for the Canadiens and Jets, his grandfather Boom-Boom was a Canadiens star and is credited with creating the slap shot (hence his nickname, Boom-Boom!) and his great-grandfather, Canadiens legend Howie Morenz, was one of hockey’s first superstars (aka The Stratford Streak). No question he has the natural talent. I hope Geoffrion has a long and fruitful career in the NHL, but I have to be honest: I also really wish he was a Montreal Canadien.
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