On a wind-swept day in the Laurentian mountains, Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey held court just outside the St. Jovite arena while, inside, the Habs were putting the finishing touches on two days’ worth of scrimmages. It was then that the Canadiens’ GM casually disclosed that the team had agreed to a contract extension with head coach Guy Carbonneau.
No news conference. No formal announcement. Which suited the coach just fine.
“I don’t believe having a press conference to announce that the coach has signed a contract,” said Carbonneau after practice. “I’m just happy when Bob approached me this summer that he wanted to get something done before the start of the season.”
Although neither Gainey nor Carbonneau would announce the terms of the deal, the phrase “three-year extension” crept into Carbo’s conversation, if somewhat cryptically, when he talked of what the new deal meant to him.
“The extension isn’t going to change my style…feel maybe a little bit more comfortable, maybe. But I’ve seen about eight coaches last year get fired with contracts in their hands, so, I’m going to keep on working.”
Carbonneau has been working at it behind the bench since May 5, 2006, when he took over as head coach of this club after initially joining the team in January of that year as an associate coach. In two full seasons running the show, Carbonneau’s Canadiens are 89-59-16. This season, after acquiring the likes to Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang and Georges Laraque, the Canadiens are serious Cup contenders. However, Gainey is hesitant to go down that road in his assessment of this team.
“We all want to win the Stanley Cup,” said Gainey. “But it’s like asking me how I’ll feel at the 26th mile of a marathon. You’ve got to get there. You can’t sprain an ankle. You can’t get dehydrated. You have to get there.”
Before the Canadiens can “get there,” there must first take to the ice for tomorrow night’s final pre-season game at the Bell Centre against the Minnesota Wild. Then, the final cuts must come as the team gets to the 23-man roster limit. With youngsters Max Pachioretty and Yannik Weber still in camp, there is much speculation that one, if not both, might still be with the team by the end of the weekend. Although injuries could come into play, especially with Francis Bouillon expected to miss the first week of regular-season action and Georges Laraque nursing a sore groin that has kept him out of the entire pre-season slate, it would appear that Gainey has made up his mind about the two aforementioned young men.
“Whether it’s Pachioretty or Weber, with those very young players it’s what’s best for their growth, what’s going to make them get to the NHL quickly, but prepared and ready,” explained Gainey. “And it isn’t just getting here quickly that’s the answer.”
Gainey went on to use the example of Sergei Kostitsyn of one year ago.
“When he got here (from Hamilton), he was a producer. He added to our team.”
The GM says there is a lot to learn in the minors. “It’s a learning experience that not everybody needs, but I don’t really see how it can be negative for anybody.”
If you read between the lines, as of this moment, Pachioretty and Weber are ticketed to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.
And speaking of lines, there they were at the St. Jovite arena for today’s session:
Laraque? There will be a spot for him when the puck drops on the regular season. Pachioretty and Weber? They were on the ice today, but, barring injuries, don’t look for them to be on the ice when the Canadiens do it for real Friday night in Buffalo, against the Sabres.
Defenceman Yannick Weber and forwards Max Pacioretty and Ben Maxwell were among the players to survive the first-round of cuts as the Montreal Canadiens sent a total of 18 players packing this morning.
PK Subban and Olivier Fortier were sent to their respective junior teams, while the following players have been ticketed to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League:
Goalies Cedrick Desjardins and Loic Lacasse, defencemen Paval Valentenko, Shawn Belle, and Chad Anderson, as well as forwards Brock Trotter, Ryan White, James Wyman, Mike Glumac, Olivier Latendresse, Yanick Lehoux, Ryan Flinn, Mathieu Aubin, Ryan Russell, David Desharnais and Thomas Beauregard.
The chances of Weber, Pacioretty or Maxwell sticking the big team once the Canadiens close out pre-season play Saturday when the Minnesota Wild come to town are slim. The chances that perhaps all three might be invited to join the Big Club for the two-day bonding session at Mont Tremblant this Thursday and Friday are somewhat better. Management could make the decision to reward the three for their solid play (so far) by extending an invitation.
It would be well deserved.
Although Pacioretty looked tired in Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Ottawa (he didn’t play in last night’s 3-2 shootout win over the Panthers at the Bell Centre), the young man has had himself a very solid training camp and pre-season. Although only 19, that 6-2, 200-pound frame of his fills out his jersey number 67 nicely. He has a very solid presence on the ice, and is clearly beginning to live up to his billing as a power forward.
The slick Maxwell has battled injury problems in recent seasons, but the 2006 draft pick, who was impressive at training camp last year, has been even more impressive this time around.
But it’s young Yannick Weber who is really giving Canadiens‘ management something to chew on, with three pre-season games remaining. Weber, a gifted offensive defenceman who lit it up with Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League last season (20 goals, 35 assists in 57 games), notched his second goal of the pre-season last night: a terrific shot from the faceoff circle to beat Tomas Vokoun on the power play. A stocky 5-10, 194 pounds, nobody is going to confuse Weber with, say, Mike Komisarek. But the native of Switzerland is a smooth skater, crisp passer, and the owner of a deadly shot from the point: like fellow Swiss star Mark Streit, who left the Canadiens at the end of last season for the greener pastures of unrestricted free agency.
Yannick Weber is an upgrade over Mark Streit, certainly in terms of defensive talent. However, whether or not he’s enough of an upgrade to steal a spot along the Canadiens blueline, is doubtful. One thing that Streit had going for him in Montreal was his versatility which saw head coach Guy Carbonneau use him up front, more often than not.
We’ve seen what Weber is capable of along the blueline. Apparently he has some pretty good moves in the kitchen, as well. Claims he’s a pretty good cook. And he’s certainly added something to the Canadiens‘ training-camp menu.
Alex Kovalev is ready to make his pre-season debut for the Canadiens. But it won’t be on a line with Robert Lang.
Kovalev was on the ice at practice this morning as the Habs prepare to open the home portion of their pre-season schedule tomorrow night when the Ottawa Senators come to town. Although oficially listed as a groin injury, Kovalev says it’s more of a tightness in the general area that kept him back at home as “Team B” travelled to Detroit for last night’s contest, which the Canadiens won 3-2 in a shootout.
Head coach Guy Carbonneau will blend his lineup for tomorrow night against the Senators, and that will include Kovalev on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn, who teamed up to form the club’s most effective forward unit last season. Which means Carbonneau has tempered his initial enthusiam to see Kovalev and Lang play together — the two were linemates in Pittsburgh as members of the Penguins. Lang will be among the healthy scratches tomorrow night.
For the opening three pre-season games, the coach has gone with a “Team A” and “Team B” concept. It’s Carbonneau’s plan trim down to his season-opening roster in time for the final handful of pre-season games, which means it’s just a matter of time before The Coach starts making some significant cuts to the 52-man training-camp contingent.
Kovalev was among a number of Canadiens on hand for yesterday’s announcement regarding the activities the club has planned leading up to the team’s Centennial Celebration, which will be held Dec. 4, 2009. Kovalev was modelling one of the six vintage jerseys the Canadiens will roll out for an assortment of games over the next 15 months.
Yesterday, the Habs unveiled a dazzling array of initiatives that have been planned to honor the team’s 100 years of hockey, including an initiative by the Royal Canadian Mint to strike a “Habs Loonie.” Canada Post will be issuing a Canadiens stamp, while the Upper Deck trading card company will release a set of 200 trading cards honoring the legends who have worn the CH over the last 100 years.
The possibilty of holding a game at the Olympic Stadium next season is still just that: a possibility. The team is currently in conversation with the NHL and Big O officials to hold a game at the Olympic stadium in the week leading up to the Dec. 4 celebrations.
Alex Kovalev and Robert Lang, linemates in Pittsburgh, will have to wait another day before they can skate together in a game as members of the Montreal Canadiens.
Kovalev did not take part in a morning skate at Verdun prior to the team’s departure to Detroit and tonight’s preseason game against the Red Wings, because of a groin injury. The two have been skating on a line with Guillaume Latendresse during training camp, but with the injury to Kovalev, youngster Thomas Beauregard will move into number 27′s spot.
“Another groin,” said a frustrated head coach Guy Carbonneau following the morning skate. “It’s kind of frustrating for a coach because we had a plan for preseason games and now with all those injuries we’ll have to change up a little bit.”
Kovalev is one of a number of Habs going through “groin pains.” Newcomer Georges Laraque is another. He was hurt during the opening weekend of training camp. Veteran defenceman Roman Hamrlik went down with a groin injury in the team’s opening-game 8-3 loss to Boston Monday night. Then there’s Team Captain Saku Koivu, who is still nursing a sore foot after suffering an injury while training in Finland about three weeks ago. Koivu is on skates, but has yet to see game action.
As frustrating as the injury situation is for Carbonneau as he looks to formulate his roster during the preseason, the important date that he has circled on his calendar is October 10th, when the Habs open the regular season in Buffalo against the Sabres.
“That’s what I’m gearing for. Injuries disrupt your plan that you had for training camp, but I know there is a lot of time left, including three games next week. It’s during the last two preseason games that I would like to have a full lineup that will start the season.”
After their 8-3 opening-game loss to Boston, the Canadiens beat the Sabres 3-2 last night in Roberval, a performance that pleased The Coach.
“I think the first game we were off a little bit. Yesterday was a lot better.”
The Canadiens will return home following tonight’s game in Detroit and prepare for their pre-season opener at the Bell Centre Friday, when the Ottawa Senators are in town.
Forget the final score.