Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last two-and-one-half months, you’ve heard about the sweeping roster changes made by Habs’ General Manager Bob Gainey during the off-season.
You heard about Gainey’s deal that brought Scott Gomez to the Canadiens in a trade with the New York Rangers. You also heard how, on the following day, July 1, Gainey went out and locked up Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta as free-agent acquisitions.
You also heard about the departure of players like Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay, in an unprecedented purging of this team’s roster.
Much has been made about how the Canadiens’ hopes this season will hinge on how well the newcomers on this team perform. Well, let me tell you, right here, and right now, that Montreal’s fortunes will ultimately rest with the players who wore the “bleu, blanc, rouge” last season; particularly the players up front.
I’m talking about Tomas Plekanec. Andrei Kostitsyn. Sergei Kostitsyn. Guillaume Latendresse. Max Lapierre. Along with relative newcomers Max Pacioretty and Matt D’agostini.
Me? I’m not worried about how the likes of Gomez, Cammalleri and Gionta will adjust to life as members of the Canadiens. I’m convinced they will deliver the goods. I’m not convinced, however, that the returning Habs listed above will do the same.
Plekanec had one decent scoring run late in the season that enabled him to finish with 20 goals and a paltry 19 assists last year. After performing so splendidly on a line with Kovalev and A.Kostitsyn two years ago, this three-some had nothing going as a unit last season. If all the Canadiens get out of Plenakec is 39 points THIS season, well, that just ain’t gonna cut it.
As for Andrei Kostitsyn, he managed to produce 23 goals in what was a wildly inconsistent season for him. Like Plekanec, Andrei was terrific the year before, when he really looked as though he was coming into his own. Particularly after the Canadiens and called up brother Sergei from the Hamilton Bulldogs in the second half of the campaign, when Sergie seemed to light a fire under big brother’s butt.
Ah yes. Sergie Kostitsyn. There was no fire from Sergei last season. Only lacklustre, half-hearted play, which earned the younger Kostitsyn a trip back down to Hamilton late in the season. Head coach Jacques Martin will no doubt have Sergei on a short leash this season.
I didn’t have any problem with the overall effort put forward by Latendresse last season, but he lacked consistency in that department. I do have a problem with the results: 14 goals and 12 assists in 56 games; although Latendresse did battle the injury bug in 2008-2009. I just want to see more from him, overall.
Here’s what I want from Guillaume Latendresse: at least 25 goals, and the kind of punishing, physical effort that he’s capable of bringing to the rink, in that big 6-2, 230-pound frame of his.
Max Lapierre stepped up last season and proved himself worthy of his status as a National Hockey Leaguer. He was still too yappy for my liking last season, particularly during the playoffs, but the kid played some inspirational hockey at a time when very few of his teammates could say the same. The Habs need more of that from Mad Max.
They also need recent Hamilton call-ups Pacioretty and D’agostini to step in and prove that they’re ready for prime time. Pacioretty has the potential to be a power forward. D’agostini has the potential to be the kind of player that Chris Higgins wanted to be, but wasn’t.
However, both also have the potential to spend this season with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League.
So, here’s a suggestion. While you’re busy watching the likes of Gomez, Cammalleri, and Gionta when they take to the ice tomorrow for the first full day of training camp at the team’s training facility at Brossard, you might want to keep an eye on the all the under achievers who failed to deliver for this team last season.