On more than one occasion during yesterday’s news conference at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard — whether while it was addressing questions about the coaching situation or Scott Gomez’ contract — Marc Bergevin tried to buy a little time by making note of the fact that this was his first day on the job as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.
Well, Marc. Welcome to day two.
Yesterday’s news conference, which was held to introduce Bergevin as the 17th GM in Canadiens’ history, was the feel-good hit of the (off) season. Team owner Geoff Molson said all the right things when he announced that the hiring of Bergevin represents the first step in re-establsing a culture of winning in Montreal. It’s a theme that the eloquent Molson established the day he announced the firing of Pierre Gauthier as GM.
As for Bergevin, well, it wasn’t too long into yesterday’s 50-minute news conference that the Point St. Charles native had the media chuckling at his self-effacing humour. He poked fun at his well-travelled NHL career (“it was hard because my suitcases were often one city behind me”) and reporters. When one scribe made reference to the fact that Bergevin hadn’t responded to an email, the new Canadiens GM remarked that it must have ended up in his spam.
I’m here all week. Try the veal.
Truth be told, Marc Bergevin was an absolute breath of fresh air yesterday. He’s engaging, personable, passionate, and wears his heart on his sleeve. “I don’t know everything. But I know what I don’t know,” he told me after the formal portion of the news conference broke up.
“I’m going to put people who are going to help me, and I’m going to help them,” he added.
Former goalie and current NHL television analyst Darren Pang, who played with Bergevin for a couple of seasons in Chicago in the mid-80s, told me Marc Bergevin is the kind of guy you want to rush up to, just to shake his hand.
Former NHLer, and current Minnesota Wild broadcaster, Wes Walz tweeted: “Marc Bergevin new Habs GM, one of the top funny people I’ve been around. His sense of humor will help in the meat grinder of being GM in MTL”
Fine. But what kind of job with Marc Bergevin do in his first stab at being a National Hockey League general manager?
We don’t know yet. It’s as simple as that. We just don’t know.
Marc Bergevin hasn’t drafted a single player as GM of the Montreal Canadiens, although he said that he will have Trevor Timmins by his side June 22nd in Pittsburgh. Marc Bergevin hasn’t made a single trade as GM of the Montreal Canadiens. He hasn’t signed a single player to a contract (Hello Carey Price) and he hasn’t bought out a single players’ contract (Goodbye Scott Gomez).
The first move Marc Bergevin made was to call Randy Cunneyworth to let him know that he is no longer head coach of this team. It’s a move that, on paper, puts Cunneyworth back in his role as an assistant coach. But you and I know that the next call Cunneyworth receives will be from the next head coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
And the news won’t be good.
And who will be the next head coach of the Montreal Canadiens?
Over to you, Marc.
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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.
With the arrival of free agent Erik Cole on the scene, the great first-line experiment with the Habs is over.
That’s the experiment that resulted in players like Travis Moen and Benoit Pouliot (remember him?) seeing first-line duty because injuries and a general lack of front-line forward talent on this team.
In Cole, the Canadiens have obtained a forward with size, speed and the ability to put 30 pucks in the net on a good day. Granted, Cole’s better days are probably behind him. Four years at $18 million dollars for a player like Cole at this stage of his career doesn’t exactly qualify as a bargain in today’s free-agent market: but what does? Certainly not the $9.5 million it took to get Tim Connolly and that battered body of his to put his signature to a two-year contract with the Leafs.
In Cole, the Canadiens also have a bona-fide top-six forward who I will pencil in to play beside Tomas Plekanec and Michael Cammalleri (pending any further player movement between now and the start of the season.)
I would also like to continue the experiment which saw Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty play some very effective hockey as a line, upon Pacioretty’s arrival from the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Those of you holding your breath waiting for GM Pierre Gauthier to trade Gomez, you can exhale now. It’s not going to happen. We’re stuck with Gomez for better or for worse. Unfortunately, it’s been the latter, as opposed to the former, when you look at the body of work that Gomez has put together during his time with the Canadiens.
Third line? Well, here’s where it gets interesting. I’m beginning to think that Andrei Kostitsyn is not a top-six forward. He’s done very little to prove that he has the capability of being a top-six forward. I thought he put together some of his most effective minutes last season (and there were precious few of them) as a third-line player. So let’s put him on the third line, along with David Desharnais and Lars Eller. Eller is a question mark to start the season as a result of off-season shoulder surgery, but, for the sake of this exercise, let’s fast-track his recovery, shall we?
Which brings us to the fourth line. Through the process of elimination, we’re forced to lump Mathieu Darche in with Ryan White and Travis Moen. Darche deserves every minute of ice time he gets and has been very handy on the power play. But, at the end of the day, he’s a fourth-line player with first-line heart. White provided some much-needed sandpaper when called up from the ‘Dogs last season and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. He’s not a fighter, but the kid’s got grit in his game. Moen? A huge disappointment in my books. Yes, I know he’s an effective contributor on the penalty kill. But that’s not enough. His game isn’t nearly as mean and nasty as it needs to be.
Don’t like Moen on the fourth line? Don’t like Kostitsyn on the third line? Fine. Have your say. It’s your turn to stand behind the bench and bark out the line combinations.
Jeff Halpern on a line with Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec? Sure, why not.
Scott Gomez re-united with Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty? Go right ahead.
Those are some of the moves in the works as Canadiens’ head coach Jacques Martin prepares his troops for tonight’s game in Vancouver against the Canucks. With the Habs in a tailspin which has seen them drop six of their last seven games, you can’t blame Martin (I don’t blame Martin) for shaking things up in an effort to come out of this three-game Western road trip with a point or two.
Before you hang the coach out to dry as a result of the team’s current tailspin, here are the cold, hard facts: Jacques Martin is working with the deck that he has been dealt. There are very few aces in this 23-man deck.
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After a stretch of five games in five nights, the Montreal Canadiens will go into game six of their seven-game pre-season slate Thursday night at the Bell Centre against the Boston Bruins, with a much slimmer roster.
That’s because, prior to the 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday night, the Canadiens announced that 17 players had been sent to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, including prize prospect PK Subban, who played a grand total of one shift in his first and only game of the pre-season, against the Florida Panthers, when he suffered a sprained right ankle. Although Subban finished the game, he realized, in hindsight, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. As a result, Subban never really had much of an opportunity to impress the Habs’ brass, and will begin his professional career as a member of the Bulldogs.
Subban will be back. This season, is my prediction.
In the meantime, head coach Jacques Martin is left with 31 players in camp, with two more cuts coming following the game against the Penguins in the form of defenceman Shawn Belle and tough-guy forward Eric Neilson. That would suggest the Martin still has some significant chopping to do before he gets down to his 23-man roster. However, the growing list of players currently in sick bay could change all that.
The latest to go down was Max Pacioretty, who lined up with Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta (Montreal’s best forward through five pre-season games) for two periods. Pacioretty was unable to answer the bell for the third period as a result of an upper-body injury, which is thought to be minor in nature. As a result, Martin moved Mike Cammalleri in to play with Gionta and Gomez. And the move paid instant dividends.
Habs’ fans lusting to see a line of Gionta-Gomez-Cammalleri are likely to be disappointed, however, when the puck drops on the regular season October 1st in Toronto. Coach Martin’s philosophy when it comes to putting together his line combinations is this: go with two guys who have the right chemistry and rotate the third player on that line. Which would suggest to me, based on the history that these two guys had together in New Jersey, that we’ll see Gionta and Gomez on a line with a rotating winger.
That winger could be Pacioretty, as was the case for the first two periods Monday against the Penguins. However, quite frankly, I haven’t been terribly impressed with the play of Pacioretty so far. He raised a ton of eyebrows at training camp last season, fresh off his college days at the University of Michigan. One year later, he just doesn’t seem to be that power forward in the making that the Canadiens hope they have on their hands.
But it’s early yet.
It may also be too early to get down on Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec, but, for the record, I’m down on both players. They look lost out there. And that’s a bad thing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Gionta, Gomez and Cammalleri will be just fine as members of the Montreal Canadiens, regardless of who they line up with. I am much more concerned with the likes of Kostitsyn and Plekanec. Both players have had their heads in the clouds for much of this pre-season. And if the Canadiens’ are going to have any kind of second line, those two have to get it in gear.
Some other players who have caught my eye, for better or for worse, through five pre-season games: Guillaume Latendresse, Maxime Lapierre and Mat D’agostini, for their good work together when given the chance to play as a three-some.
Travis Moen? Not too impressed with what I’ve seen of him, so far.
Jaroslav Spacek? Just what the doctor ordered for this Canadiens’ team that has been dieing for a power play quarterback along the blueline. Then again, Yannick Weber could also fill that bill. Weber has looked very comfortable out there and seems to have upped his defensive game.
Carey Price? He didn’t look like much of an all-star on the three goals he gave up in the 4-3 win over Pittsburgh. But, like I said, it’s early yet. Which is exactly what Scott Gomez was busy telling anyone who would listen after the line of Gomez-Gionta-Cammalleri combined for five points against the Penguins, including two goals by Gionta and a single by Gomez.
It’s early yet.