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Thanks 2013-14 Habs

What a strange, amazing year 2013-14 was.

What started with so much promise quickly became a six-month long head-scratching festival, with the occasional dash of awesome. There were many Habs fans that didn’t understand why the Canadiens abandoned what made them so good in the lockout-shortened 2013 season in favour of a style of play that seemed to hold the team back. In the end, it all led to the what may be the ugliest 100-pt season in team history. But 100 points is 100 points. It’s not easy to reach that peak, and Michel Therrien did what he had to do to push the team there. Nitpickers, naysayers and haters would say that with different tactics, strategies, and personnel, 100 points could have easily been 110 points. Some people are very hard to please, apparently.

What followed the 82-game regular season was the most incredible, frustrating, and exhilarating playoff run the team has been on since their last cup win, 21 years ago. From sweeping the Lightning to vanquishing the evil Bruins in seven nail-biting games, to a hard-fought loss to the surprisingly amazing Rangers, Habs fans have a lot to cheer for and be proud about. Despite bowing out of the playoffs, it’s hard not to imagine that the best from this group is yet to come. Conjecture and opinions on how the team can get there is a topic for another day, but today is all about looking back on the season and appreciating what the team accomplished.

In Montreal, we like to say that it’s “Cup or nothing”. That’s bold, and it keeps the bar up where we all want it to be, but it’s also a point of view that ignores every incremental step on the way to victory. The Canadiens took some steps this year. I won’t pretend to know all of the steps required in order to be a Cup winner, but we saw this team battle adversity many times and come out on the other end with their identity, fighting spirit and most importantly, point totals intact. We saw elite players like Pacioretty, Subban and Price push their games to all-world levels. In the case of Subban and Price, we can’t ever quantify how a gold medal helps the quest for a Stanley Cup, but we can be sure that exposure to the game’s best and winning it all in the process is something that will certainly help. We saw guys like David Desharnais and Lars Eller raise their compete level to places we didn’t think they could, or would go. We saw late-season pick ups like Weise and Weaver make strong cases to stay with the team. We saw Rene Bourque make up for a season of futility (and making himself tradeable in the process?). We saw Alex Galchenyuk emerge as a difference maker.

We saw Dustin Tokarski.

We don’t have access to Bergevin’s road map, so we can’t know what he’s planning. He has a lot of personnel issues to resolve, the biggest of which is in signing PK Subban to a new contract. There will be plenty of time to talk about the free agent market (which is pathetic this year, best to avoid it if looking for big fish), and trades in order to improve the team, but for the first time in a long time, we can see the form of a contender taking shape. The core is young and talented. The farm is restocking with quality prospects that will be ready soon (or, immediately in the case of guys like Beaulieu, Tinordi, and Pateryn).

It’s safe to say that coming within 6 wins of the Stanley Cup pours cold water on those who were ready to run Therrien out of town. Those people were fully expecting a series loss to Tampa (oops). What they got instead was a giant helping of crow.

While we rolled out of bed this morning with the realization that the Habs won’t play another meaningful game until October, it’s nice to know that the plan that has been put in place is working and we should all be excited to see what’s around the corner.

Happy Landings, Bruins!

Don’t poke the bear? Why the hell not?

The Emperor is no more! Sauron has been defeated! Drago has been knocked out! Biff Tannen is wearing a truckload of manure!

For what feels like forever, the Bruins have been bullying and beating down the Habs with not just their size, but with goonery and cheap shots. Despite a bunch of regular season success against Boston, the 2009 sweep and 2011 seven-game heartbreak series still feels fresh. For a lot of guys, the physical beatings might feel fresher still. A little pay back was needed, not only for those playoff losses, but also for this type of dirty crap that has come to personify the Bruins more than the quality of their on-ice play:

On top of the joy of advancing to the conference finals, we got to do it at the expense of Boston. Their poor-sport fans, mopey, excuse-making media and sore loser skaters deserve to feel this loss, hard. It’s so sweet to know that the Bruins are being eaten up inside that they lost to the team that they’ve relentlessly tried to paint as weak, cowardly and dirty.

Eat it, Bruins. Eat it, and like it.

Lucic’s post-game petulance…fantastic. Iginla’s depression…love it. Marchand’s lack of words…fitting for a guy with a lack of goals.

As for our boys, it has been amazing to watch this team consistently up their game. THIS is what a championship team looks like. This is what a winner plays like. This is the what the best are willing and able to do to.

Michel Therrien has done a wonderful job in preparing his team for these playoffs. More than that, though, we’re seeing guys like Carey Price and P.K. Subban elevate to superstars right before our very eyes. We knew they had it in them, and many among us probably considered them as superstars. But now they’re doing it on National stage. The rest of the hockey world is taking note of these guys and they’re envious. On top of those two pillars, Pacioretty, Desharnais and Vanek woke up in the knick of time. Emelin has found his hard-hitting game. Beaulieu has plugged a major leak. Gallagher, Gorges, Weaver, Weise and Prust are providing the blood and guts. Brière is doing what he always does in the playoffs, same goes for Plekanec. Bourque is reborn. Eller has been a revelation. Anyone who thought the Habs were robbed in the Halak trade can crawl back under their rock.

There are no passengers. They’re all in.

Who knows what else this team has left to give. You’d think that given the recent history between the Rangers and Habs, that a trip to the Cup Finals is a lock. But these are the playoffs, and the Rangers are looking good. Better than good. But for today, we get to revel in a great victory against a hated rival that is going to have a long off-season of regret.

Bizarro Habs

Going in to last night’s game in Washington, the first of a back-to-back set, it’s safe to say that nobody was sure what to expect. Memories of the stunning playoff upset from 2010 is probably still the first thing that comes to mind when we think of the Capitals. But that was what feels like a lifetime ago, and in the fast-paced NHL, it is a lifetime ago. Roster, coaching, and management turnover has rendered those halcyon days (hey, that’s all Habs fans have to hang their hats on for the last 20 years) buried in the past. The reality is that the Canadiens have struggled mightily against the Caps recently, going 1-5-1 since the start of the 2011-12 season. In those seven games, the Habs had been outscored 22-10, including being shutout twice. Four of their 10 goals came in their lone win, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Habs have been curb-stomped by the Caps lately.

The Canadiens are best described as an up-and-down team this season, and with backup Peter Budaj starting last night’s tilt against a Caps team featuring a renewed Alex Ovechkin, the initial knee-jerk reaction may have been to write off the game entirely and look forward to a traditional Saturday night game. Even the most off-beat uk betting sites couldn’t have predicted how last night’s game would have unfolded.

The Habs got even-strength goals from noted non-sniper Travis Moen, as well as goals from the stone-cold duo of David Desharnais and Daniel Briere, the latter’s coming on the powerplay. Taking in to account the entire roster, guessing that Josh Gorges would be the guy to pick up two assists to lead the team would have been somewhere between a longshot and a miracle. Wait, there’s more weirdness on this Freaky Friday. Despite having Ryan White and Brandon Prust in the lineup, it was PK Subban who dropped his mitts and sat for five minutes.

If you’ve watched any sport for long enough, you probably think you’ve seen it all, but as is clear from last night’s game, there’s always room for more odd-ball occurrences. What the hockey gods have planned for tonight’s game vs the Penguins is anybody’s guess, but it’s safe to say that expecting ham-fisted checking wingers and 4th line grinders to bail out the Habs against Crosby and his traveling death squad is a fool’s bet.

Then again, we do remember those 2010 playoffs, right?

A New Tradition

Regular season game #34

The only real question to be asked after the Habs once again blanked the New York Rangers at the Bell Center is whether or not Coach Torts was sufficiently entertained this time. Following a similar 3-0 loss back on February 23, the friendly Rangers coach bemoaned the lack of excitement to the game. He was particularly frustrated with the lack of intensity displayed by his own players, and one can assume that his pre game message was to not let the Canadiens get out to a quick start.

Oops.

Just 47 seconds in to the game, Michael Ryder beat Rangers backup Mathieu Biron for what would count as the game winning goal. Coach Torts probably took no comfort in his team’s substantially better effort this time around, as they out shot, out hit, and one could perhaps say outplayed the Canadiens for most of the game. The result was the same; another loss in what looks like a lost season for the Rangers, and perhaps the last for Coach Torts behind the Rangers bench.

The game story for the Habs was one that fans of the bleu-blanc-rouge hope to see replayed for years to come: brilliance from Carey Price, a three point night for P.K. Subban, and a nail-in-the-coffin goal from potential Calder trophy candidate Brendan Gallagher.

As hard as the Rangers pushed to get the game back on even terms, Carey Price’s precise movements and poised control left anyone who watched with the impression that any kind of comeback was not in the cards for the visiting team.

The game was also a career first for Habs 2011 first round pick Nathan Beaulieu, who did not look out of place in his 17-plus minutes of ice time. He showed flashes of the slick offensive defenseman that he was touted as when the Habs selected him 17th overall. Although the Hamilton Bulldogs are having a miserable season, Habs fans have to be encouraged by the three auditions of Greg Pateryn, Jarred Tinordi and now Beaulieu. It’s doubtful that either of the three youngsters will fill the void that GM Marc Bergevin would like to fill before the April 3rd deadline, but there’s little doubt that all three are legitimate NHL defensemen in waiting, perhaps as soon as next season for at least one of the three prospects.

While the game vs the Rangers was Carey Price’s 18th career shutout, it was another exercise in predictability, as the Rangers are 0-9-1 in Montreal in their last 10 visits, and have been shut out four times during that span. The two points put the Canadiens three points clear of the slumping Boston Bruins, who hold one game in hand in the chase for the North East division title.

With the Hurricanes in town on Monday, the Habs have another good chance to pad their stats even further. It’s also Bergevin’s last chance to gauge what he believes his team may or may not need before the trade window closes.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

Habs and the trade deadline: The Bergevin dilemma

The following is Cowhide & Rubber contributor J.F., otherwise known as Gimchihabster on twitter’s take on the options the Habs have open to them leading up to the trade deadline. Should you have any comments, feel free to leave a comment below, or to contact J.F. directly via twitter. Like all of us, he has a passion for Habs talk.

by @Gimchihabster

With the April 3rd trade deadline fast approaching, Marc Bergevin has some decisions to make. His club sits first in its division and second in the Eastern Conference. This has to be well ahead of what management expected going into the season. Fans and media wonder what the new GM will do and he (Bergevin) is faced with a few options, I will discuss three of them here and then provide my own prognostic as to what Bergevin will do.

A brief situation report
Before delving into the scenarios, let us look at what Bergevin has done since the season started:

Trades:

  • ·Acquired Michael Ryder and a 3rd round pick in 2013 for Erik Cole.
  • Picked up Jeff Halpern off waivers.
  • Traded goaltender Cedrick Desjardins for goaltender Dustin Tokarski.

The Ryder trade was a cap savvy move that also meant to add scoring punch from a right handed winger. The Halpern and Tokarski moves are depth moves meant to shore up Montreal and Hamilton.

Habs needs:

  • Grit and size up front
  • Size and toughness on the defensive core

The grit & size issue up front may have just become more critical with the relapse suffered by Rene Bourque. No one wants to hear it but perhaps LTIR is in the cards for Bourque and even d-man Raphael Diaz. These would be serious blows for the Habs. The return of a healthy Brandon Prust will ease the grit issue somewhat but Bourque leaves a big hole.
On the back end, the play of Jarred Tinordi and his 6’6’’ 200 pound frame may plug a need but we are talking about a 21 year old d-man.

So what are the assets in Bergevin’s poker hand?

  1. A plethora of draft picks: 1 first rounder, 3 second rounders and 1 third rounder.
  2. Extra defensemen in Weber (if healthy), Kaberle (questionable value due to cap hit) with the big club and at the AHL level.

Let us now look at 3 trade deadline scenarios; all of these depend on how Bergevin and Therrien see this Habs team…

Scenario 1: go for broke or just win baby
This would be the ‘win now’ option and would include going for a big splash on the trade market. Bergevin has the picks and cap space to make moves. It would mean he and his management team feel the current roster has the makings of a deep playoff run.
In such a scenario, the GM would not hesitate to make an Iginla-like trade or to adopt the Nashville approach from last year when they acquired Gill, Kostityn and Gaustad for a playoff run. We all know how that turned out however.

Scenario 2: the fixer upper
This would be the plugging holes option but without mortgaging the future of the club. In this case Bergevin would look for depth acquisitions and would avoid rentals unless he could be fairly certain of re-signing them. That could mean a gritty third liner or a depth defenseman with size. The status of Rene Bourque comes into play here. Bergevin could also be looking for a Brandon Prust in bigger format. Once again he has the assets to make such moves.

Scenario 3: stand pat
This would mean Bergevin decides his club is decent as it is and that just making the playoffs after finishing fifteenth last season is more than reasonable outcome. This would also indicate that Bergevin has a mid-to-long term plan and he feels now is not the time to make big moves but rather that the summer with the draft and Free Agent season will be a richer environment for trades and key acquisitions.

My prediction: Bergevin will make small moves
When I listen to Bergevin and look at his body of work thus far I see a GM that is gradually locking up his core, not mortgaging the future and that knows the value of cap space at the right time (summer and draft). I also hear a guy who does not want rentals at this point. One could argue that Ryder is a rental but that trade also came with cap relief this year and unloaded two years of contract in the process.

The joker in this poker game has to injuries to Bourque and Diaz. These could potentially alter Bergevin’s mindset, especially if the club keeps winning. I expect smaller trades that will bring in depth for the third and fourth line. I do not see Bergevin chasing a guy like Iginla due to the astronomical cost. Then again, if Boston gets Jarome, the arms race may be on! It is clear now that Morrow and Murray with the Pens is first blood in the eastern conference waters.

My targets would be a gritty winger that can drop em but also play quality hockey. A guy like Ryan Clowe would be the prototypical target but the fact he is a UFA come seasons end seems to rule him out. You therefore have to look at clubs that are out of the running or nearly so. These are few at this point. I also think Bergevin could surprise us as he did with the Cole for Ryder trade. Teams like the Panthers would be logical targets but Bergevin has to find players he sees as a fit for his team. I am not sure what Bergevin will do with the defensive core. Tinordi may be the solution and perhaps giving the kid valuable playoff experience is something the organisation sees as a good thing at this point.

All this being said, the next week will be a wild one full of crazy trade stories and well know how maniacal Habs fans are, some with a clear case of chronic tradeholicism! The silly season begin…oh and let’s not forget the Habs have to play the Penguins, Bruins and Rangers this week too.

Shouldering the Load

Regular season game #25

Paging the ambiguously invisible duo of Travis Moen and Colby Armstrong!

If ever there was a time for the two grinders to make an impact following the loss of a teammate, it’s now. With Brandon Prust’s shoulder losing the fight against the glass in Tampa, the Habs mid-season MVP (according to many) will almost surely spend some time on the injured list. Given the high-energy, often-pugilistic nature of his game, a healthy shoulder is paramount to his effectiveness. With Moen, Armstrong, White and a recalled Gabriel Dumont in the lineup, the Habs should have the depth to cover his loss for at least a brief period. Should, and will, however, are two very different things, and Brandon Prust has proven to be more than just a force on the ice, as his character has quickly endeared him to his teammates and to every Habs fan not wearing a pocket protector.

As you may have deduced, the story of the Habs 4-3 come-from-behind win in Tampa Bay is as much about Prust’s loss as it is about the their third period come back. With the Habs falling behind 3-1 in the second period – the time at which the Habs take their collective 20-minute in-game nap – many fans were ready to pack it in. After all, the previous regime’s teams were utterly incapable of overcoming a deficit of any kind, be it at home or on the road. Not so anymore. The demons left from the previous regime are being totally exorcised. There has been more than one occasion already this year where they had to rally to win a game; what was unthinkable just one year ago because of stubborn, incompetent coaching has been successfully turned in to “it’s not over till it’s over”.

The game saw a pair of Hamilton Bulldogs inserted in to the lineup, and though neither had much impact on the game, what their presence did do is potentially keep two other healthy bodies a bit fresher for tonight’s final road trip finale against the Panthers. Other keys to the Habs victory include Brendan Gallagher’s continued tenacity and willingness to take a beating in the heavy traffic areas. He has been continuously rewarded for his efforts, as his goal last night was his third game winner of the season. PK Subban set another highwater mark for time on ice last night with 27:42 solid minutes. If there was any lingering doubt, it should be fully purged now: he is the team’s best defenseman. Finally, after being benched for being useless against Carolina, newly acquired Michael Ryder notched two assists and now has six assists in six games since the Erik Cole trade. As has been mentioned before, Coach Michel Therrien continues to push all of the right buttons and has been as crucial to his team’s success as any one of his players. The Guy Boucher watch is on, but Habs fans are happy with the current incarnation of Michel Therrien.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

Just Like They Drew it Up

Regular season game #24

Believe it or not, but the season is officially halfway over. Believe it or not, the Habs are first in the Eastern Conference. They could have fell from that perch tonight with the Bruins beating the Maple Leafs, but for at least one more night, the Canadiens are tops in the East by virtue of points (Boston still has the highest win percentage).

15-5-4 at the halfway mark.

8-3-2 at home.

7-2-2 away from home.

Let that sink in for a moment. At every crossroad, we found a reason to deny the Habs “for real status”. Whether injuries, slumps, or a soft, home-heavy schedule to start, the Habs passed each test with flying colors. The last test, so we said, was a five-game road trip that will at worst finish at 2-3, and could be as good as 4-1.  They may not be cup contenders yet, but the Habs are for real. They could have folded after the second period tonight, but didn’t. On Sunday night, they rebounded against their most hated rival in their barn 24 hours after a topsy-turvy affair at home versus the Penguins. This team has resiliency and a steely resolve, and there’s no longer any doubt about that. The Habs, barring injuries to key players, are not going away.

Follwing Tuesday night’s messy affair on Long Island, the Habs looked to have found the regroup switch tonight by storming out to a 2-0 lead on goals by offensive dynamos Brandon Prust and Josh Gorges. What followed in the second period was flat out ugly as the Hurricanes spent virtually all 20 minutes in the Habs zone, firing 21 shots at Carey Price and tying the game in the process. No harpoons for Price tonight, for without him the Canes would have locked up the game after 40 minutes. It was almost as if the Habs were letting him get back in to a groove by letting him see more rubber than a metropolitain highway at rush hour. Nobody had their hopes up for the third, but lo and behold the Habs netted two goals in less than two minutes early in the third and coasted to a win without incident.

That was the plan all along, right?

Aside from Carey Price’s heroics, the Habs saw best-of-season performances from Brandon Prust (1 goal, 2 assists, +3, 3 hits, 1 takeaway), Josh Gorges (1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots) and PK Subban (1 goal, 1assist, 26:27 minutes played), who is clearly the team’s best defenseman. Coach Therrien has finally realized the benefits of playing him more. Another gold star for the Coach, who continues to make all the right moves.

Let us pause for a moment to mourn Yannick Weber’s first game in ages. He came in cold and the result was not pretty. To add insult to injury, he left with an injury. That may be all she wrote for him.

The Habs now head to Florida for the weekend to face the Lightning and Panthers before heading home to face the fading Senators on Wednesday.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

Solid Gold

Regular season game #16

Hollywood has become notorious for taking safe, bankable scripts and turning them in to quarter million dollar tent pole movies that give birth to at least two sequels. Most movies following this formula are forgettable, but once in a while, a script comes along that turns things on its ear and makes us notice. Enter tonight’s game.

After a first period that saw most of the arena lulled to sleep, including the game participants, the Habs fell behind 1-0 thanks to some lazy work from Erik Cole. Nobody except for Carey Price had a better seat in the house as Stralman slid his own rebound past the prone netminder.  But in a strange twist of fate that has its roots in a 100-foot knuckleball that occured 24 hours earlier in Montreal, Habs sniper Max Pacioretty finally had one of his shots find the back of the net in the final moments of the second period. That was quickly followed up with a Galchenyuk goal to start the third period, and the rest was history.

We keep telling ourselves that the Habs have not really been tested yet; that they  only deserve partial credit due to a soft schedule and that teams have failed to show up to play. But at some point, especially after a night like tonight where the Habs played their second game in two nights (and third in four nights), we have no choice but to tip our caps. The Canadiens, for the third consecutive game won the faceoff battle, were disciplined and were rock solid in the third period, just a couple of weeks after being as sturdy as Bambi on ice in blowing games to the Senators, Bruins and Sabres.

What’s particularly fascinating to see is that the team is getting meaningful contributions from everyone in the lineup; Prust’s big assist, Diaz’ empty netter, Gorges looking like Markov on Pacioretty’s goal…the list goes on and on. We’ve also got to give coach Therrien lots of credit. Every decision he had made has turned to gold so far; from benching Eller (who has been terrific ever since), to going with Diaz in the final minute over a horse like Subban, it’s all coming up roses. This bodes very well for team chemistry and cementing a team identity. Not bad for a season that is only one-third complete!

Before we get too excited, it is still certainly possible for the entire house of cards to come falling down. The Habs are one Markov, Price or Plekanec injury away from potential ruin, and Therrien’s decisions could start to come up as snake eyes instead of panning out.

With the Islanders up next, it would not be unreasonable to think of this team as a 12 game winner well before they hit the 20 game mark. Nobody in their wildest dreams had that in mind as the lockout ended. Let’s enjoy the ride while it lasts, for however long it lasts.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

 

The Antidote

Regular season game #15

In season’s past, nothing cured what ailed a travelling hockey team quite like a visit to the Bell Center. Opposing teams no doubt enjoyed the best of what Montreal’s restaurants and nightlife had to offer upon each and every visit. So soft were the Canadiens at home that there are enough quotes from opposing players saying how fun it was to play in Montreal that you could fill a crater in Chelyabinsk. So you’ll have to forgive Habs fans for feeling like a scoreless tie with 20 minutes to go would inevitably finish in disappointment…after all, with 20 minutes to play, would you want Cam Ward or Peter Budaj? My how things change!

The 10-4-1 record is no doubt beyond anyone’s expectations; it would be easy, and perhaps even a little bit fair at this point to let us think that this team may be for real. Alas, there is still too much hockey to be played, and not enough proof that this team can hack it on the road against tougher opposition, despite their 3-1-1 road record. That said, you’d have to have a pretty cold outlook on life to nitpick tonight’s game. A shutout for Budaj, Eller’s continued strong play, including a dominant night on faceoffs, Galchenyuk making a difference, Plekanec being the team’s best forward, Pacioretty tearing the monkey off his back, Therrien using a time out for what they’re supposed to be used for…it all came up roses tonight against a opponent that was as hot as the Canadiens are. In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that the Canadiens ran the Canes out of the building, as they did to the Flyers on Saturday, even if the goals and shot totals don’t necessarily reflect that. The Canadiens were first to the puck for the vast majority of the night, they showed more poise and more urgency from start to finish and deserved the two points.

Well on their way to reclaiming the Bell Center as their turf, the Habs are slowly shedding the label of the swell guys who would lend the enemy their rink to use as their playground. That in itself is a big step forward and everyone involved with the team deserves to share in the early success. That the Canadiens pushed the pace in the third period while still deadlocked in a scoreless draw is a welcome departure from the previous regime’s style of play that would have had the Habs playing the trap while they were behind 2-0. That they held on to the lead is a vast turnaround not only from last season, but from just a few weeks ago.

It won’t take long for word to spread across the league that the Canadiens are a much improved team – if that is in fact true. It’s been hard to assess the quality of the Habs to this point, but as opposition catches wind, they’ll push back. Here’s hoping the Habs are ready.

Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel

Control Yourself

It’s been days since the beginning of free agency, and yet there’s been no shortage of analysis and second-guessing that is now a summertime tradition. When Marc Bergevin took over from Pierre Gauthier, most Habs fans expected big things. Happy things. Splashy things. He’s the white knight that will not only change the way the Habs operated, he would also just as quickly change the face of the team on the ice. In the brief time since he was hired (known as the honeymoon period) he has already managed to show that his operation will vastly improve internal and external communications. That’s fine for now, but nobody will care about either of those things if the team continues to be a doormat if and when the season starts.

For Canadiens fans, the highlights of this past season were (in no particular order):

  • Jacques Martin being fired
  • Pierre Gauthier being fired
  • Looking forward to the draft
  • Looking forward to July 1st
(Bergevin’s hiring, other hirings, the draft and free agency were all after the season ended, so they don’t count.)

Considering sports are all about what happens on the field of play, these off-ice moves, dates and events strongly indicate the type of season the 2011-12 campaign was for the Habs.

Bergevin’s puzzle is coming together. Yes, there are still holes to be plugged and these holes won’t be easy to fill. That said, Habs fans ought to be cut a certain amount of slack for hoping that Bergevin was going wave his wand and fix everything overnight. From pining for Jagr, to crying about Parenteau, Parise and Semin, fans wanted Bergevin to make a statement. They wanted him to snag brand name players that are easily pictured potting 30 goals. The sad reality is that the previous regime wilfully put the Canadiens in to a very large and muddy ditch with reckless, desperate acquisitions dating back to the 2009 retooling, right through until the Bourque acquisition. The Canadiens restoration project is going to take longer than what one weak free agent class can fix; the fruits from what was reportedly a solid 2012 draft for the Habs are years away from drawing cheers at the Bell Center, but Bergevin has been busy laying the groundwork for the type of identity and character he’d like his team to embody. Travis Moen is back. Added to the fold are Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon. It doesn’t take a genius to see the common traits. Clearly the Canadiens are going to be a tougher, peskier team to play against, and that in itself should bring a sigh of relief and smile to the faces of Habs fans. How this “truculence”, as Brian Burke would say translates to wins is anyone’s guess as truculence by itself doesn’t score goals. But if it sends the opponents home with some loosened teeth and battered bodies, then the Canadiens are a step ahead of where they were. The Bell Center needs to become more inhospitable, and the on-ice product can use a good dose of asshole. Save the ‘classiness’ for pre-game presentations and the handshake line. It’s time for the Habs to give back what other teams have fed them, and it’s time to bring some smashmouth on the road as well.

Bergevin may be more or less finished shopping in the clammy UFA market, but he still needs to find a top-six winger and top-four defenseman, which will now likely come via trade. Does he have the depth and assets to make such big moves? With a glut of second-round picks in 2013, and a number of prospects ready to turn pro, he has enough to address at least one of those glaring holes. Will he move those assets, or should he move those assets will be questions that we kick around as the off-season drags on. There’s also the non-trivial matter of what should be done with the sad-sack contracts of Gomez, Bourque and Kaberle? Bergevin would have to wave a telephone pole-sized wand to make those 3 disappear, and again, thank the previous regime for saddling the Habs with at least 2 horrid contracts.

As an era with a new look is massing its forces, and drawing up plans, it will be important to remain patient all over again. Building a team that is a perennial contender is not done on July 1st. Everyone wants their team to spend big when the free agency season opens, but from what we’ve seen not just in Montreal, but all over the league is that shopping for big names on July 1st often leaves you in cap hell at some point. Proper building is done through the draft. It’s done through shrewd cap management, clever, timely trades and proper asset management. Bergevin has to find a way to navigate the bad contracts that he inherited, while at the same time getting the team back in to the playoffs immediately, and simultaneously building for the future. That’s a triple-whammy mandate that would challenge any General Manager. Right now, we’re asking Marc Bergevin to win the race aboard the league’s oldest, creakiest vessel with no rudder and tons of dead weight in the cargo hold. All the hot air blown throughout Habs land won’t push his ship over the finish line any faster, so let’s just give him the benefit of the doubt and the time needed to make this team his own.


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