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Random Thoughts on Post-Lockout Habs

Nothing like a bit of suspense to keep a jaded fan base on the edge of their seat, right? Now that the lockout is all but over, we can now turn our attention to the stuff that really matters and that we all can understand – the action on the ice!

As details on the newly-agreed upon CBA continue to emerge, how they impact the Habs will be discussed, but to start, here are some scattered thoughts on the 2012-13 Habs, and the end of the lockout:

Two compliance buyouts means that Alaskan Albatross Scott Gomez is gone, and likely one of Tomas Kaberle or Rene Bourque. The downside is that compliance buyouts cannot be used until June 2013, so the Habs are stuck with these anchors for at least one more season. I don’t know how the new Coach and GM tandem view any of these players, but to bump a budding youngster like Lars Eller so that Gomez can have a role would be ridiculous. It’s also hard to imagine Kaberle occupying a top-4 spot on the blue line with Markov, Subban (he will sign), Gorges, Diaz and Emelin around…and it’s also hard to imagine a hard-nosed coach like Therrien using a cream puff like Kaberle on the 3rd pairing. Oh how the trio of Gauthier/Gainey/Martin bungled this team!

Every season brings renewed hope for success, but let’s not forget that the Canadiens finished dead last in the Eastern Conference last season. They’ve added a few faces, but for the most part, the only area to expect an improvement in is the “not getting pushed around” category. As far as scoring goals goes, there’s nothing new of note. Sure, some added toughness may create some extra space for the skilled players, but it’s clear that the Habs first priority was to toughen up. It’s unclear how many wins that on its own will lead to, but it can’t hurt.

Last year we saw the Habs get off to a dismal start which eventually led to a disastrous season on so many levels. In a condensed 48 or 50 game schedule, another slow start will almost certainly mean another season that ends once the regular season comes to its conclusion.

The playoff cutoff line will probably be somewhere between 54-58 points depending on whether they play 48 or 50 games. The Canadiens will have to earn wins in regulation time if they want to be one of the top 8 Eastern Conference teams, and be in the mix right away. Any prolonged losing streak, especially to start the year will be akin to the kiss of death.

Last summer’s first round pick, Alex Galchenyuk will likely get a 9-game audition in Montreal (or however many games rookies will be allowed to play before burning a contract year). Personally I think he should be allowed to stay in Sarnia and continue to play a dominant role there. He now has a World Junior gold medal under his belt; this season is a wonderful opportunity for him to recoup lost time due to his knee injury and learn to play 20 minutes per night in a leading role. Drafted as a the answer to the franchise’s woes at the center ice position, Galchenyuk has been playing wing this season, which ought to be a concern. While his numbers are certainly impressive, players don’t simply shift from wing in the juniors to center in the NHL, especially when they have no faceoff experience. To have him in Montreal, on a team that likely isn’t going anywhere is not the way to develop a top prospect, in my opinion. If the Canadiens need an 18 year old to ride in on a white horse in order to make the playoffs, they’re already toast.

We have yet to see this new regime in real in-season action, so we have no idea how they’ll react to success and failure. I’m anxious to see where Bergevin’s priorities lie. Is he the type to pull the trigger on a desperation, season-saving trade? Or is he of the mind that it’s best to hang on to young assets and draft picks and build the team up the old-fashioned way? His masters probably haven’t changed their minds, and their need for profits trumps everything so I wouldn’t be shocked to see more of the same old, same old in an attempt to squeeze in to 8th place and reap some easy playoff revenue.

While we all got on with our lives without hockey, it is now clear that NHLPA Director Donald Fehr knew exactly what he was doing the entire time. The players were always going to give back in this negotiation. The question was going to be “how much will they give back?” Fehr knew that the only way to keep as much as possible on the table for his constituency was to keep them united, and to make this process so ugly that the NHL will be loathe to ever do it again. He succeeded in both matters and from the looks of it, the players aren’t going to be too badly off. People who wanted his head all along were off base. His job is to protect the players, not to protect the league’s interests. If the players were wanting to get on the ice, they could have tossed him to the curb and taken whatever deal the NHL had in mind. The fact is they needed him and appreciate the job he did.

As the 2012-13 season finally gets on track, fans are expecting a hand out from the league as a mea culpa for the pain, suffering and anguish caused by the lockout. Don’t hold your breath on that one. They won’t lower ticket prices and they aren’t going to give you anything of real value. They have a serious revenue targets to hit and they didn’t balloon their income to 3.3 billion dollars last season by giving stuff away.

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