PK Subban was wearing his heart on his sleeve today when he addressed the slow pace of contract negotiations between his agent, Don Meeham, and the Montreal Canadiens.
“I don’t think it’s a secret to anybody that I love this city,” said Subban prior to teeing off at the Max Pacioretty Foundation golf tournament at Le Versant in Terrebonne. ”One hundred percent I want to be here. I have no reason to want to go anywhere else, and I don’t.”
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Subban was one of a number of Habs who joined Pacioretty for today’s fundraiser. They included David Desharnais, Lars Eller, Francis Bouillon, head coach Michel Therrien, and owner Geoff Molson.
Canadiens’ fans are showing clear signs of frustration over the team’s inability to sign Subban to a new deal sooner rather than later, but the Habs’ blueliner doesn’t appear concerned about the timeframe associated with getting a deal done.
“For some guys it’s shorter, for some guys it might take a little more time. It’s a process and I”m starting to understand that.”
Subban’s message to Habs’ fans?
“I want to play in Montreal and I want to be here for a long time.”
It was a star-studded affair as hockey fans in this town had a chance to mingle with the likes Max Pacioretty, Alexander Ovechkin and Vladislav Tretiak.
The three came together as part of the 2nd Annual All-Star Charity Event, that took place at the Windsor Hotel. For Pacioretty, it’s part of his effort to help raise funds for the purchase of a $3.5 million MRI machine for the Montreal General Hospital.
Tretiak has devoted his time and efforts to raising funds for medical equipment and supplies for hospitals in Russia.
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Now that the giddiness of the all-star break is behind us, it’s time for the Montreal Canadiens to get back down to business.
It starts with a 2 p.m. skate at Brossard on Monday, followed by the arrival of the Buffalo Sabres for a game at the Bell Centre Tuesday night.
The Canadiens go into the post all-star break in 11th place, eight points out of a playoff spot. If that isn’t scary enough, the Habs are only two points removed from the Eastern Conference cellar.
Now what? Will Carey Price, the all-star, play like an all-star down the stretch and drag this team, kicking and screaming into the playoffs?
Will Erik Cole, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty continue to lead this team, up front, as they have for most of the season? More importantly, will the Canadiens get some consistant production from the likes of Andrei Kostitsyn, Lars Eller and Tomas Plekanec?
Will Scott Gomez play the way he did down the stretch during his first season as a Hab? Or does the Scott Gomez saga start and end with his salary?
Will PK Subban settle down and play the kind of hockey he played the second half of last season, when he stepped in and stepped up at a time when he was needed the most?
Will we see Andrei Markov in a Candiens’ uniform at all this season?
Will Canadiens’ management continue to apologize for their decision to hire Randy Cunneyworth as their “interim” head coach? Or will Cunneyworth shove the “interim” tag down their throats by proving that he has the goods to be a “full-time” head coach in the National Hockey League.
For the Montreal Canadiens, so many questions, so little time. Thirty-three games, in fact, until the final horn goes on the 2011-12 NHL regular season.
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.
Let me take you back to the off-season, at a time when it became clear that Mats Sundin didn’t want to have anything to do with the Montreal Canadiens, and before GM Bob Gainey went out acquired Plan B, in Robert Lang.
Once it became pretty clear that Sundin had very little interest in Montreal’s overtures, Gainey was asked who he felt could step in and help fill the void at centre.
His answer: Kyle Chipchura.
However, that was until Gainey went out and signed Lang as a free agent, effectively squeezing Chipchura out of the Plan B picture. Unfortunately for Lang, his season came to an end at 8:33 of the third period in the game against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 1st, after the 38-year old suffered an Achilles tendon injury. At the time, Lang was leading the team with 18 goals and had distinguished himself rather nicely as a big, productive, if somewhat slow-flooted, force at front.
That was until 8:33 of the third period against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 1.
Exit Robert Lang. Re-enter Kyle Chipchura, the original Plan B, called up today from the Hamilton Bulldogs, and expected to join the team in Denver in time for tonight’s game against the Avalanche.
Chipchura, a 1st-round 2004 draft pick, has had a number of cups of coffee with the Canadiens this season, most recently as a call-up in December when veterans like Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins were dropping like flies. He spent eight games with the big team before being sent back down to Hamilton; eclipsed on the prospects depth-chart by the likes of fellow-Bulldogs Max Pacioretty and Matt D’Agostini, who are still with the big team.
Chipchura returns to the Habs after scoring 13 goals and adding 13 assists in 33 games with the Bulldogs this season, good for a plus-18 rating. Obviously this time, he’s hoping to stick. His best opportunity to make a full-time impression came last season, when he spent most of the first half of the campaign with the Canadiens, before being sent back down to the American Hockey League: the clock ticking on his long-term prospects as a bona-fide big-league talent, within this organization.
Now he’s back.
Chipchura will never be confused with Robert Lang. He’ll never be nearly the offensive talent that Lang has been throughout his career. But Chipchura has the potential to be a solid, two-way contributor at the N.H.L. level. Although it’s unfortunate that this latest opportunity comes at the expense of Robert Lang’s season-ending injury, it’s an opportunity, nonetheless.
One door closes, another one opens.
Personally, I’m rooting for the personable young man from Westlock, Alberta, who would love nothing more than to celebrate his 23rd birthday, just six days from now, on Feb. 19, as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way for Jaroslav Halak.
After taking the team through a very respectable 6-2 run while Carey Price was out nursing an ankle injury, Halak made his 9th consecutive start last night in Atlanta against the Thrashers.
By the time the game was 30:58 seconds old, Halak was on his way to the showers after surrendering three goals in a 4-2 loss to the lowly Thrashers.
Clearly Halak didn’t bring his “A” game to the Phillips Arena. But then again, neither did his team mates; certainly not through the opening period of play. It was perhaps Montreal’s most listless, uninspired period of hockey all season: a period which saw the Thrashers go ahead 2-0 on goals by Erik Christensen at 5:02 and Chris Thorburn less than two minutes later. Halak did not look like a Vezina-Trophy winner on the first goal; a harmless-looking shot that eluded the Habs’ netminder. He couldn’t really be faulted for the Thorburn goal, as his defencemen on the play, Roman Hamrlik and Josh Gorges deserted him.
This was a long night for Gorges, who finished the game at minus three, and who has struggled of late. Hamrlik had his problems last night as well, and blew a tire on the play that led to the goal by Rich Peverley that made it 3-0 just 3:48 into the second period.
Exit Jaroslav Halak: enter Carey Price, earlier than expected. Price, out since the end of December, had been pencilled in by Coach Guy Carbonneau to return to action tonight in New Jersey against the Devils. But Carbo had clearly seen enough of Halak, prompting an early return to action by Price.
The Canadiens responded with goals by Max Pacioretty at 4:54 of the second, and Steve Begin some 90 seconds later, to pull the Habs to within one, at 3-2.
But the Thrashers, led by goaltender Kari Lehtonen, weathered a third-period storm and put it out of reach at 8:55 of the final period: a goal by Zach Bogosian that came on the very first shot on Price over the final 20 minutes of play.
It’s was pretty evident that the Canadiens were looking ahead, perhaps to the Devils, perhaps to the All-Star break, at a time when they should have been taking the Thrashers a heck of a lot more seriously. But then again, the Habs, on too many occasions, have played down to the level of their competition on nights like this.
The result: two points, out the window.
The verdict on Halak and his play as the team’s number one goalie during Price’s stay in sick bay?
First off, give credit to The Coach for getting the most out of Halak at a time when the Canadiens could have been in serious trouble during this injury-riddled stretch. In fact, give The Coach credit for getting the most out of ALL his players, (many of them fresh out of Hamilton) with the team forced to deal with this rash of injuries.
As for Halak, well, you can’t argue with his 6-2 record. But he gave up a lot of goals during that stretch. Fortunately for number 41, his team mates, on most nights, scored more than he surrendered: hence his impressive winning percentage during his stint. Which is more than you can say about Halak when, through the opening weeks of the season, he was a .500 goalie who LOOKED like a .500 goalie.
However, any way you slice it, he’s no number one goaltender.
With no less than 17 forwards on the ice at practice today (18, if you count Mathieu Dandenault), it’s clear that decision-making time is looming for both head coach Guy Carbonneau and General Manager Bob Gainey, on a number of levels.
The numbers swelled today at the team’s facility in Brossard as a result of the return of Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins to full practice mode. Koivu, who is coming off an ankle injury, had been practicing with the team for some time. However, he was off skates recently after suffering a setback. Today The Captain was back in fine form and could be less than 24 hours away from a return to action.
Unlikely, but still, a possibility.
It’s a similar story for Higgins, who has missed six weeks with a shoulder injury. But, unlike Koivu, Higgins had been limited to a few turns on the ice on his own, for the last week or so. Today was his first full workout with his team mates since going down with his injury Dec. 9 vs. Calgary. (Koivu was hurt just two days later against Tampa.)
Higgins says, any time you practice with your team mates, you feel like you’re ready to play. But the reality is, he’s far from being a sure bet to return to action either tomorrow in Atlanta or Wed. in New Jersey. A more likely scenario would see Higgins, and perhaps Koivu, returning to the lineup, post all-star break.
Crunch time for Guy Carbonneau. And Bob Gainey.
Although Georges Laraque skated on his own today, and Dandenault took to the ice very briefly with his team mates before calling it a day, it’s Koivu and Higgins that Carbonneau will have to make room for, in the short term. And that means players who have helped contribute to this incredible injury-riddled run of 11-2-1 over the last month will soon be making their way back to the AHL, and the Hamilton Bulldogs.
As much as Habs’ fans have become smitten with the exploits of Matt D’Agostini, Max Pacioretty, and, to a lesser extent, Kyle Chipchura and Gregory Stewart, when Koivu, Higgins and, down the road, Alex Tanguay are ready to return to action, they will indeed return to action.
Then, once players like Laraque and Dandenault are healthy enough to play, Carbonneau will again feel the pinch as he tries to squeeze 14 players into 12 starting forward positions, although you’d have to think Dandenault will again return to the blue line, when his time comes.
Unless, say, Bob Gainey makes a trade or two in the coming weeks, leading up to the Mar. 4 trade deadline.
Like I said, crunch time.
If nothing else, the injuries to a growing number of the team’s veterans, have given both Carbonneau and Gainey an opportunity to see what some of the organization’s most promising prospects can do at the NHL level. Clearly they must be pleased with what they see. Perhaps to the point that the coach and GM feel that one or more of these youngsters might be ready to step into a full-time role with the big team. Which could make one or more veterans available as trade bait should, let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, a Vincent Lecavalier, or a Jay Bouwmeester, becomes available.
Hypothecially speaking, of course.
This situation is also playing into Gainey’s longer-term plans as the GM looks to decide which of his 11 potential unrestricted free agents he’s going to make pitches to, and which of his 11 potential UFA’s he’s going to say “goodbye” to.
Are any of the above-mentioned prospects ready to step in and fill the void that would be created with the departure of any number of the team’s potential UFA’s? Gainey and Carbonneau are certainly closer to knowing the answer to that question now, than they were a few short weeks ago.
Lots to to chew on, with the NHL trading deadline just 44 days away.
It’s not every day that your number one line is sitting in the press box.
But that could indeed be the case when the Canadiens return to action Friday in New Jersey after closing out the 2008 calendar year with three victories in four nights; win number three coming last night in Tampa thanks to a 2-1 shootout decision over the Bolts.
The fact that the Lightning have jerseys with the gawd-awful nickname BOLTS plastered on the front is a conversation for another day.
By the time this one was over, Alex Tanguay had shaved, showered and was making his way to the team bus with his left arm in a sling. Three shifts into his game, Tanguay was taken into the boards, hard, by Evgeny Artyukhin and gingerly made his way to the locker room, never to be seen again. His night over, after just 1:43 of ice time. The injury forced Guy Carbonneau to shorten his bench on a night when the Canadiens were clearly somewhat wobbly-legged as a result of three games in four nights.
However, both goaltender Carey Price and forward Guillaume Latendresse gave the Canadiens a chance to come away with at least one point against the BOLTS. Price slammed the door after surrendering a first-period goal to Vinnie Prospal. After the two teams skated through a scoreless second period, the recently rejuvenated Latendresse notched his fifth of the season when he poked a backhander past Mike Smith through a pile of bodies, just :46 into period number three.
Truth be told, the Canadiens were the better team over the final 25 minutes of this hockey game. Robert Lang had a chance to win it in regulation on a breakaway at the 14-minute mark of the third, but failed to convert. And with five seconds showing on the clock, Andrei Kostitsyn rattled one off the post. Then, in O.T., Maxim Lapierre was robbed by Smith, with the BOLTS’ goaltender down and out in his crease: nothing but air for Lapierre to shoot at.
However, Lapierre didn’t miss in the shootout. After Alex Kovalev opened the round of shots with a goal, Lapierre beat Smith to give Montreal a 2-1 advantage, setting the stage for Lecavalier vs. Price. And Price won that battle, giving the Canadiens another two points and a 2-1 victory.
While Price celebrated in the crease with a pose that looked like a cross between an archer and Hulk Hogan, Alex Tanguay didn’t look like a man who was going to do much celebrating as he made his way to the team bus, grim faced, sporting that sling on his left arm. Tanguay has struggled of late after opening the season in explosive fashion playing on a line with Latendresse, and then Chris Higgins, along with Saku Koivu. The goals were coming in bunches for the former Calgary Flame. Not any more. Just exactly how long Tanguay is lost to this club remains to be seen. But, for now, at least, he joins his former linemates Koivu (lower body) and Higgins (upper body) in sick bay. And perhaps in the press box for Friday’s game in New Jersey, pending the results of an MRI.
In the meantime, the question is: who will the Canadiens call up from Hamilton if Tanguay remains out of action? The two obvious candidates would be Kyle Chipchura and Max Pacioretty. Interesting to see that both of those two young men are playing their best hockey of the season down on the farm, as whitnessed by their performance in last night’s 4-0 win over the Toronto Marlies at Copps Colliseum in Hamilton. Chipchura notched his 10th of the season while Pacioretty, who is finally beginning to feel comfortable with his move from the university ranks to the American Hockey League, scored his fifth in his best performance of the season.
My suggestion? If the Canadiens need to make a personel move as a result of the injury to Tanguay, they should call up both Chipchura and Pacioretty, and send Ben Maxwell back down to Hamilton. Maxwell is clearly not ready for prime time. Chipchura would replace Maxwell at centre, and Pacioretty would replace Tanguay at wing. IF Tanguay needs to be replaced at wing.
We’ll know more after Tanguay’s New Years’ date with an MRI machine.
That is the only way to put last night’s 6-3 setback by the Canadiens at the hands of Mikhail Grabovski and the Toronto Maple Leafs. When this one was over, Habs‘ head coach Guy Carbonneau called it the most embarrassing game he’s ever been associated with.
And for good reason.
The Canadiens walked into the Air Canada Centre after having used smoke and mirrors to forge a record of 8-1-2 through the first 11 games of this season. And they proceeded to fall flat on their faces against a Leafs’ team that won all the battles. Every single one of them. They outplayed, outworked, outhustled, out “everythinged” the Canadiens, all night long. In the end, the 6-3 final score actually flattered the Habs, who were outshot 41-20 (12-3 in the first period, alone) on the way to losing 61 percent of the faceoffs.
Can you spell U-G-L-Y?
This is a clearly Canadiens team that has spent too much time admiring itself in the mirror; too much time believing in their pre-season press clippings after being called the “team to beat” in the East. This is a Canadiens team that might have more talent than the 2007-2008 edition of the club, on paper, at least. But the last time I checked, this game is played on the ice. And last night, the Canadiens left their game, in the locker room.
It would be easy to point a finger at someone like Patrice Brisebois, who was playing patty-cake with his man along the boards, on the play that led to the goal by Grabovski, his 7th of the season, to put Toronto ahead 2-0 early in the second period. But with Brisebois, while the talent might not be there, at least the effort is, on most nights.
How about all-star defenceman Andrei Markov, who did a terrific imitation of a pile-on as Nick Hagman blew by the Canadiens‘ D-man and proceeded to blow the puck past a beleaguered Carey Price to open the scoring eight minutes in.
While we’re at it, does Mike Komisarek look like a guy who is trying to play his way into a big, fat contract?
And where are the forwards when it comes to being responsible on the ice, when you DON’T have the puck???
Unfortunately, ten fingers aren’t enough when it comes to singling out the culprits on this Canadiens‘ team. For all the talent this club possesses, none of it will mean a lick, if it’s not accompanied by good, old-fashioned hard work. And on this four-game road trip, despite capturing five of a possible eight points, there wasn’t nearly enough of it.
So, now what?
Now what, indeed.
Well, how about we start by taking a look at the score sheet from last night’s game, down on the farm in Hamilton, where the Bulldogs beat the Toronto Marlies 5-2.
Let’s see now….Kyle Chipchura, the “C” on his sweater, having been named Captain of the Bulldogs 48 hours earlier…with a pair of goals; Max Pacioretty, who dazzled at training camp and has picked up the pace of late as a Bulldog…two assists; and Matt D’agostini, another solid performer in the pre-season and a proven point-getter at the AHL level…with his 7th goal of the season.
Why don’t we ask any or all three of these players if they’d like an opportunity to show the Canadiens’ brass that they have the work ethic necessary to make it at the NHL level? How about we give the likes of Guillaume Latendresse, Sergei Kostitsyn and Ryan O’Byrne the opportunity to get a different perspective on this game of hockey?
Now what, indeed.
Am I the only one who thinks it might be time to give Mathieu Dandenault another crack at playing the blueline? Ryan O’Byrne is proving that he’s not quite ready for prime time. And if the Canadiens are not willing to give him the ice time he will eventually need to develop into an effective NHL defenceman (Mike Komisarek didn’t get there overnight), perhaps it’s time to take Dandenault off the fourth line and put him back on defence.
It would be nice to see Dandenault display the form he exhibited when the Canadiens’ first acquired him from the Detroit Red Wings going into the 2005-2006 season. He was absolutely terrific in the playoffs that year.
P.S. Patrice Brisebois isn’t the answer.
The agent for Habs‘ prospect Pavel Valentenko says family finances and personal issues forced his client’s hand. Rollie Hedges told me yesterday from his Ottawa offices that Valentenko‘s father negotiated the lucrative three-year contract that the young defenceman signed as a result of his need to provide for his family in Russia.
“He came over here as a 19-year old, he wanted to make the Montreal Canadiens’ roster,” said Hedges. “However he wasn’t able to support his family as he did before he left. There is a human side to every story. His family depended on him, even before he came to Canada.”
There is no guarantee that Valentenko will be able to play in Russia. If he is able to play, he will play in Moscow, according to Hedges, who is hoping the Canadiens won’t completely close the door on Valentenko‘s NHL career.
The Habs, who retain his NHL rights, have suspended Valentenko, without pay.
Is Alex Tanguay fitting in nicely as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, or what? After stealing the headlines at this summer’s NHL entry draft by securing (at the time) exclusive negotiating rights for Toronto’s Mats Sundin, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey went out and stole the show right there on the floor of Scotibank Place, when he instantly improved his hockey club by obtaining Tanguay from the Calgary Flames for a draft pick.
Tanguay and Saku Koivu have found instant chemistry playing on a line with Guillaume Latendresse, with Tanguay scoring six goals and adding five assists in nine games. Tanguay never came to Montreal to become “the next Guy Lafleur,” as he puts it. But as it turns out, he’s been putting up Guy Lafleur-type numbers in the early going this season.
Down on the farm, Max Pacioretty‘s name is showing up on the scoresheet a little more often these days. Pacioretty, who wowed them at Canadiens‘ training camp before being sent down to Hamilton to start the season, assisted on Ben Maxwell’s fifth goal of the season as the Bulldogs beat the Lake Erie Monsters 3-2 last night in Hamilton.
Other ‘dogs active on the scoresheet last night included defenceman Mathieu Carle, who picked up two assists, defenceman Yannick Weber, who helped set up a goal by Mike Glumac, and Matt D’agostini, who assisted on a goal by Ryan White. Marc Denis kicked out 29 shots for the victory.