Kukla's Korner

The Upper Canadien

No captain, my captain

As you have no doubt already heard, the Montreal Canadiens will have no captain for the 2014-15 season. Shades of fives years ago, and not an experiment I entirely agree with. Surely, if Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty and PK Subban are good enough to wear the altenrate 'A,' then one of them is a strong enough leader to wear the 'C,' no? Please don't tell me the true captain is Carey Price. Many teams have great goalies. They don't pass on naming captains because of it. 

No, I was hoping the players would vote on it, as I still think that is the best way of selecting a captain. Call me old-fashioned, but I'd prefer a #5 defenceman who has the support of his teammates over the superstar being named captain by his coach any day of the week. My vote likely would have gone to Plekanec, a good soldier, all-around solid player, and a vocal presence on the ice. He would have been a solid choice, and I doubt many in the media or fanbase would have complained. 

Perhaps the issue is simply that the Habs dealt Josh Gorges - everyone's assumed next captain - and didn't feel comfortable with the replacement options. Or, perhaps, this is Michel Therrien's way of trying to build consensus in the dressing room. I don't know.

What I do know is I don't like it. Give me a 'C' over four 'A's' any day of the week. It may not work in school, but I sure as heck think it works better on the ice. 

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Brodeur courting Habs…Habs after Brodeur?

Alright, it's cooling down outside, so it's only fitting that we address the first Habs rumour of the season. Lots of scuttle the past week over Martin Brodeur saying he'd be open to playing for Montreal. Tonight we hear from Vinny Damhpousse, now of RDS, that the Canadiens are indeed looking to deal Peter Budaj to make room for Brodeur. Furthermore, Damphousse says the Habs have reached out and had a conversation or more with Brodeur's agent. 

So, is brodeur a better fit in Montreal? For me, it comes down to two things: 1) who can win more of the 20 or so games he plays, and 2) who is a better mentor for Price? Question 1 may be a toss-up, but 2 is definitely Brodeur. Not to mention that Brodeur is much more intimidating for an opponent should Price get hurt in the playoffs...a third year in a row.

This also begs the question: what of Dustin Tokarski? Buckle up Habs fans. Hockey's just around the corner. 

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Thoughts and prayers for Jean Beliveau

Rumours over the past week have had Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau suffering from poor health. Sadly, this news was confirmed in a tweet from the Montreal Gazette's Dave Stubbs, who conveys my view on the subject perfectly. Beliveau, who turned 83 this past week, is one of Montreal's all-time greats, and perhaps the classiest player ever to play the game of hockey.

Dave StubbsVerified account
‏@Dave_Stubbs
#Habs Jean Béliveau, in frail health, has lived his generous life w/ dignity, class & grace. He & his family deserve privacy. Respect that.

Be well, M. Beliveau. 

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50 days and counting…

A quick note as summer wanes and the leaves begin, ever so slowly, to turn: 50 days. 50 days from tonight, Montreal faces off with Toronto to start their 2014-15 season. After signing his new contract, PK Subban will be cemented on the blue line. New Hab PA Parenteau will make his debut up front, looking to build on the success he's had over the past few years in New York and Colorado. Manny Malholtra will bring poise and defensive prowess on the third line. Will the Habs name a captain in the next 7 weeks? Will they sign another forward, or make a trade, to fill the one remaining, glaring hole up front on the wing? Which young guns will step up at training camp and earn a spot on the roster? 

Will Carey Price be healthy? 

Lots of quesitons, and very few answers at this point. We will start to get them soon enough. Until then, keep enjoying your summer and getting ready for what promises to be another exciting season for le tricolore. 

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Calm before the storm in Habsland

It's been a quiet few weeks for Habs fans, but that is about to end, with the arbitration sessions for Lars Eller and PK Subban fast approaching.

Rumours today had the Habs offering Eller $1.65 million per year, and Eller's camp countering around the $3.5 million mark. Logic would dictate that they will settle around $2.5 million before the hearing, and that seems reasonable given Eller's last season and comparables across the NHL. I'd be a happy fan with Eller on a deal in that neighbourhood.

Now, Mr. Subban, however, could be a different story. Where will he end up on the salary chart? Sure, the Habs may go into arbitration at $6 or $7 million, but would Subban's camp really be out of line asking for $8.5 or $9 million? I would hope that both sides sit down in advance and hammer out a long term extension. Despite that, I'm nervous. I can't imagine Montreal without PK. This is Bergevin's biggest test thus far: can he get it done?

Otherwise, not much going on in Montreal, unless you count nice weather and great festivals (which you should - a great city to be in come summer!). The Habs signed their first round pick in Nikita Scherbak, and some believe he may make the team out of training camp. Would he fill the final top-six forward spot that seems up for grabs? Other prospects have been suggested as possible candidates, but some media believe that Bergevin may be quietly evaluating trade options. Will anyone else move prior to training camp?

Let's see what the arbitrator comes up with. Until then, back to the patio and my lemonade.

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Quick thoughts on the Habs on UFA eve

Writing from the side of a lake, a few quick thoughts on the Canadiens heading into free agency:

  • Josh Gorges will not be a Hab come October. That much if for sure. Where is he going? If not Toronto, my money is on Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver. He would sure fit in Edmonton if they are interested.
  • The Parenteau trade is a steal. Well done, M. Bergevin, well done.
  • Montreal will be after a defenceman on July 1st. Dan Boyle or Michael Del Zotto would look good on the blue line. If Bergevin strikes out, could Edler from Vancouver be a fit?
  • Jarome Iginla would look darn good on the second line. Dominic Moore would provide great depth as a third/fourth line swing man.
  • Brian Gionta is as good as gone. Who is your next captain? Saku Koivu is a free agent. Could a homecoming to cap his career be in the cards?
  • Keep your eye on Lecavalier. If the Habs genuinely wanted him last year at $4 million, and Philly will eat some salary/cap hit, he could be Montreal bound. Remember, this is a business, and he would sell sweaters.

Alright. That's all for now. Typing this much on an iPhone ain't easy. Enjoy UFA day, and Happy Canada Day!

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Habs begin offseason tweaks

It started with Andrei Markov's new contract on Monday, and it continues tomorrow night in Philadlphia, as the Habs get set to pick 26th overall at the NHL draft. Trevor Timmins has shown a penchant for drafting unexpected players, so there is no way of knowing who the Canadiens may be targeting, but I wouldn't mind seeing Brendan Lemieux, Ryan MacInnis, Ivan Barbashev or Josh Ho-Sang in le tricolore once the evening is over. Some pundits have the Canadiens looking to trade up, so perhaps the stakes will change, but as of now, they are at the behest of 25 other clubs as they wait to see who is still available. MacInnis and Lemieux would give them some size up front, not to mention some decent NHL bloodlines, Barbashev some prime skill and speed, while Ho-Sang would offer talent that many say is among the highest in the draft. 

Otherwise, look for the Canadiens to try and beef up their forward core with a top six winger on July 1, be it Tomas Vanek redux, a Jarome Iginla short term deal, or through a trade. The Habs are also keen to add a top four defenceman, and some whispers have them talking to the Panthers in that regard, who have a glut of large defencemen. It seems reasonable to suggest new Panthers coach Gerrard Gallant may have asked his GM to nab a couple of Habs he is fin of. That said, every draft week every year is the same song and dance: lots of smoke, not much fire. Perhaps this will be the year that bucks the trend?

As for me, I like the idea that the Habs might try and add some size and grit at the 26th pick, but if Ho-Sang is there I hope they grab him. Raw talent of his regard is rare, and something the Canadiens would be blessed to work with. I also wouldn't shy away from Vanek, despite his playoff results. The Canadiens simply need a top six forward. Is there anyone better out there? As a fallback, I would look West and see if Mike Cammalleri might be willing to come back. But his addition would require more size elsewhere, and the surefire departure of a Brian Gionta, which may not be a bad move anyhow. Gionta has lost a step, and now would be a good time to pass the captaincy on to a younger leader.

On the back end, another player I might target is Alex Edler. Vancouver is rebuilding, and he seemed to be out of favour late last year. Could he perhaps be available? The re-signing of Mike Weaver would also be a good depth move, but as of now he appears likely to be heading elsewhere.

The Canadiens are also on the lookout for a new assistant coach to replace Gerrard Gallant, something else to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. Would Guy Carbonneau be interested in joining Michel Therrien's staff, and would Therrien be interested in his services? Carbonneau could offer help with the Canadiens sputtering special teams, given his past success in that area. 

Draft Friday, free agency Tuesday. An exciting week to be a hockey fan. What does it hold for the Habs? We'll know soon enough.

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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

It's a line from Henry V, but it is fitting for so many reasons for the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs defeated the Rangers 7-4 Tuesday in what was one of the most wild, momentum shifting playoff games I have ever seen. Can anyone else recall a playoff game that went 4-1, 4-4, 7-4? I certainly cant. The Habs stormed out, got the lead, gave it all back, and then stormed out again. I don't know what Michel Therrien said to his team before the third period, but whatever it was, he should repeat it on Thursday, because it certainly had the intended effect. 

Rene Bourque was a beast, scoring three goals, hitting a post, and just missing an empty net late. Lars Eller was a physical presense, hitting all over the ice and netting two assists. PK Subban got the powerplay clicking again, and began to deliver more punishing hits on the Rangers forwards. Dustin Tokarski, oh Dustin Tokarski, made some phenomenal saves, including one with the shaft of his stick, point blank, to keep the game close in the first. At least two of the goals on him were deflections of his own team. Tokarski has certainly proven himself capable this series, and last night battled through to win a game that was a free-for-all. That takes focus and mental strength. Tokarski is building confidence, and his teammates are getting more confidence in him game by game as well.

Other important notes: Max Pacioretty scored yet again in an elimination game - does this guy like pressure or what? - and Henri Lundqvist was pulled after four goals. Do not get cocky Habs fans - Lundqvist generally responds with fervour the game after being pulled, and will likely be top of his game on Thursday. 

This game had some dirtier plays as well. John Moore devestated Dale Weise with a clear head shot late in the third. He should certainly be suspended, perhaps 3-5 games, as he undoubtedley targeted the head. Derek Dorsett headbutted Mike Weaver at the end of the game, and also tried to fight Rene Bourque, this after snowing the small boy holding a Canadiens flag at the beginning of the game. On the Canadiens side, Tomas Plekanec was called in the second for embellishment, for snapping his head back when a stick came close to making contact with his face. Many are calling out Plekanec for this play, but I have a bit of a different take - get someone to come at you full steam with a stick towards your face - do you move your head back quickly? Just as you often duck going under a low bridge while you drive to work, instinct is to move your head back when someone comes at you with a stick. I thought it was a gusty call by the referee, but perhaps a bit much in a playoff game. That said, I'm sure Plekanec will be working to keep his head in place next time, and perhaps the Canadiens will get a high sticking call out of it in game 6.

So the series shifts to New York, with the Canadiens led by a heathy scratch earlier in the season, and a supposed third-string goaltender. Thursday at 8.

Once more unto the breach dear friends, with King Henry on the other side of the rink, once more. 

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Habs trust in Dustin

Well, I'm back from a short holiday, and how the times are a changin'. The Canadiens head into Madison Square Garden tonight down 2-0, trying to desperately eek out a win and avoid going down 3-0. Michel Therrien has announced the Habs will again go with Dustin Tokarski in the pipes, their minute third goaltender with a winning pedigree, while he had Tomas Vanek shuttled down to the fourth and fifth line in practice yesterday. Will Therrien actually scratch the Canadiens big trade deadline acquisition? I doubt it - I suspect he is simply trying to motivate him - but if Vanek does not play, I bleieve that lends credene to the idea that he is playing hurt. If he's healthy, he has about 8 million reasons to play well, and thus I would expect a big game from the free agent to be.

As for the series thus far, a goalie named Henrik has stolen the show, while Chris Kreider's accidentally-on-purpose running of Carey Price really changed the face of this matchup. With regards to Kreider, let's face it, he clearly intended to hit Price as hard as he could. Perhaps he didn't meant to tear his knee, or take his head off, but he did want to send a message. The idea it was a complete accident is absurd - especially since the same player has done this three times in a year. This is the playoffs, and you take advantage of every angle you can. The Canadiens know this, but the best revenge is winning, and I suspect Michel Therrien has driven this home as the Habs look to play for their starting goaltender.

Monday saw the Habs dominate much of the game. They hit the Rangers' goaltender with shots on 41 occasions. If they do that again, they'll find themselves in the win column.

Habs-Rangers. 8 pm puck drop. Let's see if we have a series.

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What a game, what a series

Carey Price was magnificent. Dale Weise was a force. Daniel Briere was Mr. Clutch. The Habs pull it out, and are heading to the conference finals. 

Red. White. Blue!

The series begins - wait for it - in Montreal on Saturday (when was the last time the Habs had home ice in round three?) as the Rangers visit the Bell Centre. Meanwhile, Milan Lucic continues to stew, after threatening to get Canadiens during the handshake line, and being confronted on television about it. 

Moving past Lucic, however, and the childish Brad Marchand, the Bruins are a great team, with amazing talent, and the Habs should be proud they took them down. Getting four wins against Boston was no easy task, but hard work, determination, and a commitment to the system did it. Lucic and a few others aside, Boston is a classy organization, and going forward, they'll move past the accusations and referee conspiracy theories to get back to the team they once were (for a good take on this, listen to Chris Nilan's interview at tsn690 from Tuesday). 

Habs. Rangers. Saturday. Potentially Alex Galchenyuk. Carey Price. PK Subban. Original 6. 1 pm. Other than the 1 pm, not a bad deal, eh? 

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About The Upper Canadien

The Upper Canadien is your one stop shop for all things Montreal Canadiens. Since the summer of 2010, I've been providing Habs related news, notes, and most importantly, opinions. As a blogger, I don't believe it's my job to report the news, it's my privilege to comment on it. You may disagree with what I suggest. In fact, you most likely will. But that's the great part about blogging: it spurs opinion, comment and engages all involved. I've really enjoyed all the debate and commentary from readers thus far and I encourage everyone to respond with ideas on lineups, trades, logos, sweaters, mascots, whatever. The Upper Canadien is a conversation for all hockey fanatics.

I've come to Kukla's Korner with four years of campus radio and three years of sportswriting from my time at Mount Allison University on Canada's East coast. Not only do I not have any professional journalistic training, after five years in the corporate world, I've spent much of the past two years completing an MBA. Business by day, hockey by night, I'm a Canadiens fan through and through. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do writing.

Questions or comments? theuppercanadien@kuklaskorner.com

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