I may be in the minority here, but I like what general manager Pierre Gauthier has done to this Canadiens’ team. I would have liked it more, had he addressed the club’s need for “team toughness”, as former coach Guy Carbonneau used to put it. Someone like a Chris Neil, or a (wait for it) Sean Avery. However, Gauthier’s big move during the off-season was the signing of free-agent forward Erik Cole who seems to have found a home on the 3rd line (?) if the opening game against the Leafs is any indication.
Cole didn’t come cheap. But free agents never do, especially when they come to Montreal.
Gauthier has made some nice acquisitions in his time as GM; Dominic Moore, Jeff Halpern and James Wisniewski to name just a few. You could make an argument for trying to make an attempt to keep all three of them in town, but all three left almost as quickly as they arrived. I would put Chris Campoli in that category as well, as a solid find; a poor-man’s Wisniewski, if you will. Then there’s Rafael Diaz, who could end up finding a permanent home along the blueline this season, and for good reason. The odd man out could be Alexei Emelin, who doesn’t appear to be ready for prime time, despite all the hype, and all the playing time, in Russia.
I do, however, have an issue with the way the Canadiens have handled Andrei Markov’s off-season. It seems pretty clear to me that Markov suffered what can only be described as a setback in his rehab following knee surgery. The Canadiens should have been on Markov like a hawk in the months following his surgery, and, for the life of me, I can not understand how the Habs let their $17.25 million dollar investment get into this predicament. The season has started, and Markov isn’t even skating with the team yet.
Did I mention that Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill aren’t getting any younger? Actually, I’m fine with the decision to keep Gill around. I wasn’t fine with much of what I saw out of Spacek last season.
PK Subban is a superstar in the making, and will only get better, if he can manage to control his need to do it all on the ice, which has cost him on more than one occasion. Oh yes. Jacques Martin’s decision to bench Subban near the start of last season made him a better player, even though you (yes, YOU!) didn’t think so at the time.
Up front, Blair Betts is the new fourth-line flavour of the week. Works for me. The Canadiens aren’t going to win or lose too many hockey games by virtue of the performance of their fourth line. We all know who has to carry the mail up front. Repeat after me: Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Tomas Plekanec and Erik Cole. A top-six showing from Andrei Kostitsyn would definitely help. Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller could be ready for a break-out seasons. And the always-appreciated Mathieu Darche will make it his business to put that big body of his in front of the opposing goaltender.
However, for the Montreal Canadiens it starts and ends with goalie Carey Price. This is a conversation we had this time last year, and we continue to have it. However, as we saw last season, an all-star like performance by Price alone isn’t going to lead this team to the promised land. As we saw far too often last season, and again against the Leafs on opening night, you’re not going to win too many games if you can’t put the puck in the net. And I’m not convinced that the Canadiens have the horses necessary to become a top-four team in the East. Which means they will once again be left to battle it out for a playoff spot over the final weeks of the regular season.
The 2011-12 edition of the Canadiens will finish in 7th place in what will once again be a very tight Eastern conference race this season.