A Habs Off-Season Filled with Questions

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By Joce, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

After every season, management sits together to debrief what when right and what went wrong with the team they govern and make decisions, sometimes tough ones, based on those evaluations. Last summer, Geoff Molson cleaned house and hired Marc Bergevin as General Manager to right the ship. One would be hard-pressed to claim that it was a bad move as the team went from 28th overall to second in the Eastern Conference, winning the division ahead of the Bruins at the same time. However, regular season’s success doesn’t mean playoffs guarantees as we all witnessed this spring.

Questions

PENTICTON, BC. — Heading into the final week before the NHL Draft, Marc Bergevin and his team are faced with some decisions. First, the amnesty buyout will be in effect a few days after the final game of the Stanley Cup finals. The Canadiens have already announced the buyout of Scott Gomez and although Bergevin stated in a recent press conference that he hadn’t made a final decision regarding Tomas Kaberle, TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted Sunday night that the Canadiens defenseman has already received the expected news.  It’s a pretty safe bet that the Habs’ GM is taking steps to fix his predecessor’s mistakes which means, in this case, he will buyout Kaberle’s contract.

While some compliance buyouts are obvious, many others are not and we risk seeing some surprises and the current list of unrestricted free agents will look quite different when free agency opens on July fifth. The Philadelphia Flyers have already announced that they will buy out the contract of winger Daniel Brière and he should be drawing some interest across the league and the Dallas Stars might be right in the thick of those discussions after hiring Brière’s former coach in Buffalo, Lindy Ruff.

In a normal summer, NHL general managers head into the draft with a rough idea of who will be available as free agents and they can draft and/or trade accordingly. This summer however, they are in a particular situation as they have no way of knowing who they will be after on the free agents’ market and they won’t know until the buyouts’ deadline is past, a few days prior to July fifth. Marc Bergevin is in the same boat heading to this year’s draft, and he has a pocket-full of picks in the first three rounds heading to June 30th. What will he do with them?

Question marks

Marc Bergevin has tried to make his team tougher during the season, attempting to claim Tom Sestito off waivers and trying to acquire, amongst others, Ryane Clowe at the deadline. One would think that he will pursue in the same line heading to the draft and on the free agents’ market, especially after seeing his team being man-handled by the Senators in the first round of the playoffs. After all, fans are now forced to admit that the signing of rugged winger Brandon Prust this past summer was a huge plus for the team. Adding size will be a bit of a challenge though when you count Brendan Gallagher, David Desharnais and team captain Brian Gionta on your top nine.

While everyone is saying the right thing in front of cameras, Carey Price’s performances this past season are quite alarming and that, in spite of the fans voting him as the Molson Cup winner once again. The team has granted him a long term, very lucrative contract and he responded with a very average season (to his standards) and went through a Marc-André Fleury type of slump at the end of the season. While Price has shown flashes of brilliance during his young career, he has yet to get to the next level and that, by his own admission. He is getting paid like an elite goalie and the team must hope that he starts performing as such on a consistent basis. Which Carey Price will we see next season? This will go a long way in determining how quickly this team will improve, how far it could go.

Michel Therrien has done a good job at getting players buying into his team concept and they have responded with better offensive numbers, a better contribution from the defensemen on offense while, for the most part, still playing tough defensively. However, the last quarter of the season as well as the series against the Senators has revealed some definite weaknesses at the backend. True that rugged defenseman Alexei Emelin was missing due to a knee injury but it can’t explain the poor defensive coverage and some brain cramps that we’ve witnessed from some players. Andrei Markov, while great on the power play, has lost a step (or two) with his speed and defensive coverage. Josh Gorges wasn’t his usual self although he was steadier when teamed up with P.K. Subban, with whom he was paired with most of the past couple of seasons. Raphaël Diaz was also missing but is he the solution, especially when the play gets more physical? Here’s hoping that Jarred Tinordi makes that team and plays well as it could go a long way.

Will Galchenyuk and Gallagher be able to step up? Photo: Paul Chiasson - CP
Will Galchenyuk and Gallagher be able to step up?
Photo: Paul Chiasson – CP

With both players receiving votes for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year, youngsters Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher have given the team more scoring depth this past season. Michel Therrien was smart in slowly bringing Galchenyuk by limiting his role and progressively increasing his ice time throughout the season and fans were able to see flashes of what this guy will do in the future. Gallagher was a surprise for everyone and drew admiration for his desire to win, his compete level and his willingness to get his nose dirty in order to make things happen. How will an 82 games schedule affect his game, his health? Will Galchenuyk be ready to up his production already?

Lars Eller, after spending some time watching from the pressbox, did what Therrien wanted from him by showing more determination and more grit, which allowed him to have his most successful season so far in his young career. His true character and the real test will be next season however, after falling victim of a vicious hit early in the series against the Senators, suffering a concussion, facial fractures and knocking a few teeth out. Some players come back with a vengeance while others get tentative after such injuries. Which one will it be for Eller?

When signing Travis Moen to a four year deal, the Canadiens were thinking that they would have a great one-two punch with him and Prust in the physical department. Unfortunately, Moen had his worst season since joining the Habs, both offensively and on the physical aspect. Not only wasn’t he fighting, but the hits weren’t there and many fans were outraged when, after a game where Prust was targeted by the Bruins all game, Moen finished the night with no hits, against their division arch-rivals. Was he hurt? Is he clashing with coach Therrien? Is he sitting on his shiny new contact? If Moen finds his game like he did back when he was in Anaheim, it would go a long way to helping his team provide the physicality needed to get through their season, making room for the team’s most talented players.

While it promises to be a fun and exciting few weeks, I much rather be from the outside looking in than being Marc Bergevin trying to decide and predict what will or could happen. As a rookie GM, he sure has a lot of curve balls being thrown at him but as I’ve stated numerous times before, this management team inspire confidence and that, for the first time since the firing of Serge Savard. Sit back Habs’ fans and enjoy the ride! Go Habs Go!

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J.D. Lagrange
J.D. is a Senior writer for All Habs as well as Associate-Editor for the French version Le Magazine All Habs, while one of three Administrators of the fan forum Les Fantômes du Forum. He has created the handle Habsterix as a fictional character for the sole purpose of the internet. It is based on the cartoon Asterix of Gaule and his magic potion is his passion for the Montreal Canadiens. How old is he? His close friends will tell you that he’s so old, his back goes out more than he does! He was born when Béliveau lifted the Cup and remembers the days when seeing the Habs winning was not a wish, it was an expectation. For him, writing is a hobby, not a profession. Having moved to beautiful British Columbia in 1992 from his home town of Sherbrooke, Quebec, he started writing mostly in French to keep up his grammar, until non-bilingual BC friends pushed him into starting his own English Blog. His wife will say that he can be stubborn, but she will be the first to recognise that he has great sense of humour. He is always happy to share with you readers his point of views on different topics, and while it is expected that people won’t always agree, respect of opinions and of others is his mission statement. || J.D. est Rédacteur-Adjoint sur Le Magazine All Habs et il est un Rédacteur Principal sur le site anglophone All Habs, tout en étant un des trois Administrateurs du forum de discussion Les Fantômes du Forum. Il a créé le pseudonyme Habstérix comme caractère fictif pour l’internet. Celui-ci est basé sur Astérix de Gaule et sa potion magique est sa passion pour les Canadiens de Montréal. Lorsqu’il est né, Jean Béliveau soulevait la Coupe Stanley et il se rappelle des jours où gagner n’était pas un espoir, mais une attente. Pour lui, écrire est un passe-temps, pas une profession. Ayant déménagé dans la superbe Colombie-Britannique en 1992 en provenance de sa ville natale de Sherbrooke, Québec, il a commencé à écrire en français pour garder sa grammaire, jusqu’à ce que ses amis anglophones ne réussissent à le convaincre d’avoir son blog en anglais. Son épouse vous dira qu’il est têtu, mais elle sera la première à reconnaître son grand sens de l’humour. Il est toujours fier de partager avec vous, lecteurs et lectrices, ses points de vue sur différents sujets, et quoi que les gens ne s’entendent pas toujours sur ceux-ci, le respect des opinions et des autres est son énoncé de mission.