UFA’S WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE


Much has been made of the performance of Montreal’s 1st line during this recent stretch by the Habs, which has seen them take nine of a possible 10 points.  And for good reason.  The threesome of Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay has exploded on the scoresheet since being put together; with the three doing more of the same in their 5-1 win over the Islanders in New York last night.

Koivu contributing with his 16th goal of the season, Tanguay notching his 17th, and Kovalev chipping in with three assists.

It just so happens that these three veterans are among the 10 on the Canadiens’ roster who stand to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.

Coincidence?

I think not.

I want to take you back to perhaps THE low point of the season for this Canadiens’ team,  Mar. 21st, when the Canadiens inexplicably came up flat against the Toronto Maple Leafs, en-route to another humiliating loss to one of the bottom feeders in the East.  When this one was over, the Habs’ players decided to hold an impromptu team meeting. 

Believe me, they weren’t talking about the weather.

One of the things they talked about was the fact that if any of the 10 potential UFA’s on this club end up testing the free agent waters, they’re not going to get many bites, not with the way they’ve been playing this season.  None of the other general managers out there are going to remember the goals and assists (or lack of same.)  They’re going to remember this as a group of underachievers who fell flat on their faces in a season filled with glorious expectations.

How much is THAT worth on the open market?

Fast forward to today, as the Canadiens look ahead to the Leafs in Toronto tomorrow night;  Montreal currently sitting in 7th place in the East, one point up on the Rangers, and a more comfortable three points up on the Florida Panthers.

And look who is leading the way:  potential unrestricted free agents Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay.

True, Bob Gainey has put all his scoring eggs in one basket with the move to put those three together.  But it’s hard to argue with the results.  Imagine what this team would look like if the second line, centred by Tomas Plekanec, finally came to play. Last night, Plekanec centred Chris Higgins and Andrei Kostitsyn.  Sergei and Matt D’Agostini have been in that mix, as well.  And once again, the results were negligible.  Personally, I think Higgins is better suited to the shutdown line, which last night featured Glen Metropolit flanked by the usual designated sitters Georges Laraque and Gregory Stewart.

Last night’s lineup also featured Patrice Brisebois in the press box, and Mathieu Dandenault on the blueline.  You know what?  Sometimes the best deals you make, are the ones you DON’T make.  Heading up to the trade deadline, Dandenault was frustrated with his lack of playing time and, like Steve Begin, asked Bob Gainey to offer him up to another team.  Begin ended up in Dallas. Dandenault ended up staying right where he is, because their were no takers for his services.

And wouldn’t you know it,  Dandenault has been splendid on the shutdown line when he’s played with Higgins and Metropolit.  And last night, Dandenault was splendid when finally given a chance to return to his natural position along the blueline.

It’s about time.

Whether or not Dandenault patrols the blueline in Toronto tomorrow night remains to be seen.   The more pressing decision that Bob Gainey has to make is:  does he put Carey Price back in goal against the Leafs?  Or does Gainey go back with Jaroslav Halak, who was very good, again, against the Islanders on a night when Price was out with the flu.

Stay tuned.

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About ahefter

I have covered hockey extensively during my 30-year sports broadcasting career. From the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid to the Edmonton Oiler dynasty years, I've shared my views on hockey with listeners in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. You can "catch me in action" on Youtube at the following URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1n5BdB9ngYw My radio stops include TSN 690 Montreal, CJAD Montreal, CKNW Vancouver, and CKEY Toronto. I also ran the Canadian Press sports desk (radio). My travels as a network reporter have taken me to four Olympics, most recently Vancouver 2010. I'm currently an Applied Assistant Professor within the School of Communication at the University of Hartford.
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