At precisely the mid-way point of the 2008-2009 NHL season, it’s time to announce the first-half winners of the first-annual “Hefties’, the awards that go to the Montreal Canadiens’ Most Valuable Player, and the teams’ Unsung Hero.
Those w0rthy of consideration for the team’s MVP award include goalie Carey Price, who, despite the occasional soft goal and suspect glove hand, has provedto be worthy of his number 1 status with this club. Yes, the Canadiens have managed to win without him, as Price continues to nurse a lower-body injury. But I’m hear to tell you that this is not so much as a result of any spectacular play by backup Jaroslav Halak, but rather the sudden explosion of offence on the part of his team mates, as whitnessed by the 23 goals the Canadiens have scored during their current four-game winning streak.
There was much gnashing of teeth on the part of many Canadiens fans when the Habs traded Christobal Huet last season; leaving the team’s goaltending in the promising but unproven hands of Price and Halak, with veteran Marc Denis trying to resurrect his career down on the farm in Hamilton. As much as Huet was admired and respected by his team mates and hockey fans in this season, GM Bob Gainey was right when he sent Huet packing, effectively anointing Price as the team’s starting goaltender at the same time.
Price has not disappointed.
Andrei Markov would have to be considered worthy of MVP status, as well, through the first 41 games of the season. Not only he been a pillar of strength along the blue line, but his offensive contributions can not be overlooked, with six goals and 25 assists for 31 points: just one back of co-leaders Alex Kovalev and Robert Lang.
Lang? Another worthy candidate. He’s been a model of offensive consistancy this season on a team that, up until recently, has been victimized by a number of extended scoring slumps.
Worthy candidates all. But my choice as MVP through the first half of the season has to be defenceman Josh Gorges. The team’s outstanding player? Maybe not, overall, at least. But the team’s most VALUABLE player? Absolutely. This young man has skyrocketed up the depth chart as a result of his ongoing consistant play along the blueline. He has shown a maturity beyond his years that has made the deal that brought Gorges and a draft pick (hello Max Pachioretty) to Montreal for defenceman Craig Rivet an absolute steal for Gainey and the Habs.
The fact that Gorges spent much of the first half of last season on the bench as a victim of the numbers game (hello Patrice Brisbois) was criminal. However, he has taken the bull by the horns this season and is developing into a first-class stay-at-home defenceman with a budding offensive touch. One goals and seven assists, combined with a team-leading plus-16, along with his aformentioned tributes, make Gorges my pick as Canadiens’ MVP through the first half of the season.
Unsung hero? Hands down, without a doubt, Tom Kostopoulos. He was arguabley the teams’ best performer in the playoffs last season. And this season, T.K. has done it all for the Canadiens, including score the occasional big goal (he has three on the season.) While heavyweight Georges Laraque cools his jets on the sidelines with a nagging groin injury, it has been left to the likes of Kostopoulos to drop his gloves and stand up for his team mates.
T.K. has taken on opposing players of all shapes and sizes, mostly large and extra large, and has taken his share of lumps. But he never, ever, backs down from a fight. It wasn’t Georges Laraque handed out the punishment when Kurt Sauer of the Phoenix Coyotes levelled Andrei Kostitsyn into the boards early in the season.
It was Tom Kostopoulos.
And although T.K. didn’t hand out much punishment that night against the Coyotes, he made a statement that continues to ring true, some 35 games later.
Other worthy unsung-hero candidates so far? Max Lapierre, Francis Bouillon, and (yes, damn it, I’m going to admit it) Patrice Brisebois. There, I’ve said it. He’s still way too soft of a hockey player, but Brisbois has seen more good nights that most. And, on a team that is still missing a true power play quarterback on the blueline, he at least give the team a respectable shot that from the point.
And so, the Canadiens ride a 9-1-1 stretch into the second half of the season, beginning with Tuesday night’s game against the Bruins in Boston. Imagine. Guy Carbonneau and Claude Julien, who don’t have a lot of love between them, will actually be on the same side of bench in the Jan. 25 all-star game in Montreal; Julien the head coach for the East, with Carbonneau his assistant.
Stranger things have happened. But I can’t think of any off the top of my head.