Three years into their run as team mates on the Montreal Canadiens, it’s time for the three players who helped redefine this team in the summer of 2009, to pay some serious dividends as a group.
I’m referring to Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Michael Cammalleri. While at the team’s annual golf tournament today, two of them, in fact, Gomez and Cammalleri, made reference to this being year three; year three of Bob Gainey’s five-year plan. You remember Bob Gainey, don’t you? The then-general manager who literally changed the face of this hockey club in the span of 48 hours by first trading for Gomez, and then signing the likes of Cammalleri and Gionta via the free-agent route.
I will long remember that day: July 1st, 2009. While Gainey worked the phones in his office, reporters were parked in the media room at the team’s practice facility at Brossard waiting for news. And the news came with dizzying speed as we were greeted with press release after press release on a day that was highlighted by the acquisition of Cammalleri and Gionta. Those moves, coupled with the decision by Gainey to set people like Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay adrift, led to what was nothing short of a remarkable off-season transformation.
You literally couldn’t tell the players without a program.
But that was then. This is now. And we know the players, all right.
We know Brian Gionta as the captain of this hockey club; a gritty, determined and productive member of this team who had “Captain” written all over him in his first days at training camp.
We know Michael Cammalleri as an offensively gifted player who looked to be on pace for a 40-goal season in his first year in Montreal, before the injury bug took a bite out of his season; and the following season. We also know him as a player who seemed to “give up” on the play far too often last season, particularly when asked to play on the defensive side of the puck.
And we know Scott Gomez as — well — Scott Gomez and his $7 million yearly contract. We know him as a notoriously slow starter who proved to be one the Habs’ most productive players in the second half of the season, two years ago. Last season his notoriously slow start covered 82 games. For the record, at today’s golf tournament, Gomez said he had turned the corner on his disappointing 2010-11 season, and had worked hard to prepare himself for this season.
Obviously, they’re not alone. We’ll also see if newcomer Erik Cole can live up to his off-season billing as a big body who can put up some numbers. We’ll also see if Tomas Plekanec can shake off a so-so second half season and perform like the player who lit it up in the first half of the campaign. We’ll also see Lars Eller is ready for prime time; if Andrei Kostitsyn can finally deliver a first-line performance on a consistent basis, or if he’s destined to be a third-liner (or worse.)
And on it goes as we assess this team’s chances for the upcoming season. We haven’t even touched the team’s defence or goaltending (a conversation for another day.)
Me? I’m waiting to see what Messrs Gionta, Cammalleri and Gomez, three veteran talents, bring to the rink, game in, and game out. I’m waiting to see if they can finally come together as team mates and take this club by the scruff of its neck, and lead it to the promised (playoff) land.
Three years? It’s time.
One of the hardest-working guys in (NHL) showbiz has been rewarded for his efforts. The Canadiens have signed Mathieu Darche to a new one-year contract that will pay him a reported $700,000. The deal follows a 2010-2011 season which saw the 34-year-old Montreal native score a personal-high 12 goals last season.
Now, 12 goals isn’t necessarily something to write home about. But, in my books, Darche’s 12 goals carry more weight than the 20 that Andrei Kostitsyn, who re-signed yesterday, scored last season. Each and every one of the 26 points that Darche produced last season, in 59 games, came with a ton of effort. Darche was rewarded for his hard work with time on the power play and he produced two goals while playing with the man advantage. He is one of the few players on this Habs’ team who knows where the opposing net is, and is willing to pay the price by parking that big body of his, in front of it.
“We are very pleased to have reached an agreement with Mathieu Darche,” said GM Pierre Gauthier. “Mathieu is a classy veteran player who displays great leadership and determination, and we strongly believe he can help us achieve our goals in the upcoming season.”
Some Habs fans wondered out loud why the Canadiens bothered to offer Darche a contract last season, and further wondered how this career American Hockey League player could help this team. Well, I think it’s pretty clear why the Canadiens bothered to offer Darche a contract last season, and how he can help this team. And it’s good to see that he’ll get a chance to help this team, again, next season.
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.
All right. It’s time to take a deep breath.
Can we all agree that the goal that Ryan O’Byrne scored on his own net last night in the game against the New York Islanders is not the number one concern on this Montreal Canadiens’ team?
Now let’s move on, and take a look at the 2008-2009 edition of a Canadiens’ team that is at the quarter-mark of the season. Twenty games in, there are a large number of Habs who have failed to live up to the offensive exepectations set by this team last season. And when you project current point totals, the news is grim indeed.
Take Alex Kovalev (please.) 35 goals and 49 assists for 84 points last season. If we project his current totals for the rest of the year, Kovalev will finish with 20 goals and 40 assists for 60 points.
Give or take a point.
Tomas Plekanec. Last season, 29 goals and 40 assists for 69 points. Based on his performance so far this season, Plekanec would finish the year with 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points.
How about Andrei Kostitsyn, the third member of that line that is looking to get into gear? Last season: 26 goals, 27 assists for 53 points. Granted, Andrei had his bell rung earlier in the season which slowed him down, but project his current numbers, and you have a 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points. Now, you KNOW Andrei is good for a whole lot more than that, but it’s certainly food for thought.
Saku Koivu, on the other hand, looks to be on pace for another 60-point-or-so season. Sixteen goals, 40 assists for 56 points last season. His numbers project to 28 goals and 40 assists for 68 points, but Koivu has had a tendency in recent years to slow down in the second half of the season.
Alex Tanguay is producing at a better clip than he did last season, when he scored 18 goals and added 40 assists for 58 points with the Calgary Flames. If Tanguay continues on his current pace, he’ll finish with 32 goals and 36 assists for 68 points. Give or take.
Robert Lang is giving the Canadiens exactly what they bargained for when they signed him to a free-agent deal. Lang picked up 21 goals and 33 assists for 54 points last season with Chicago. This season he’s on pace to produce 24 goals and 32 assists for 56 points.
If you think some of those statistics are scary, remember that the 2007-2008 edition of the Montreal Canadiens lived and died by the power play. This season, the Habs are ranked 23rd overall when playing with the man advantage; 28th overall when playing with the man advantage, at home.
Still, there is light at the end of the tunnel for this Canadiens’ team that has managed to forge a record of 11-5-4, despite a mediocre month of November.
It can only get better for this club, right?