Hab-Nots No Longer

In the late 1990’s the Montreal Canadiens were being decimated and through some terrible trades became a team bereft of any talent on the parent team and in the system. Once a proud franchise with a rich tradition of winning, the Habs became one of the league’s worst teams with bad coaching and a terrible GM in Rejean Houle.

But the last few years under the guidance of Andre Savard and Bob Gainey, the Canadiens have been able to turn themselves around and could now be considered one of the deepest teams in terms of young talent.

Built around a franchise goalie, the Habs have put together plenty of skill on both defence and forward and are looking to reap the rewards of being patient and building from within. Though the last couple of years the parent team has been a bit thin, over the next few years the influx of young prospects that are or soon to be ready and should make the Habs into one of the better young teams in the league.

The cornerstone of the franchise is Jose Theodore. As he goes, so go the Habs. He is a bit of a throwback in that he is a small goalie who relies on reflexes, quickness and agility which he is among the best in. Unlike many goalies now who are 6’3 and wear big pads and do nothing but eat space, Theodore does not have the body mass to cover alot of ground and relies on his athleticism. Facing daily about 40 shots a game he is one of the few goalies who can carry a team on his own. At 28 he has many good years ahead.

Like always, the Habs have a young French Canadian prospect in goal. Yann Danis has shown signs he will be the next top goalie to come out of Montreal following the likes of Thibault, Theodore and Garon. Danis went the unconventional route of US College when most of the top French goalies go through the Q. But like others, he plays the usual butterfly style to almost perfection taking away the bottom half of the net. He fared very well in his first season in the AHL with 28 wins, and a .924 SP to go with his 2.34 GAA. With Theo around he wont get much playing time in Montreal but he should put up a good battle with Cristobal Huet for backup duty.

For years Habs fans were spoiled with bluelines that consisted of top players such as Savard, Lapointe, Robinson, Chelios, Desjardins and Schneider. Now, the same cannot be said as the Habs defence is one of the weakest. And defence that relies heavily on the likes of Patrice Brisebois, Craig Rivet or Francis Bouillion would be considered weak.

But there is hope. Mike Komisarek is the future of the Habs blueline. Though not an offensive stud that is typical of top Habs blueliners, he offers size a mean streak and bring strong skating to the back end. His play is similar to that of Adam Foote. He should be a mainstay for years. Joining him may be one of the other Habs top picks in Ron Hainsey. He is a different player than Komisarek. He is more of an offensive minded defenseman with good mobility, passing skills and offensive smarts. The problem has been his play in his own zone. for a player his size he is quite soft. In each year on the farm his play has regressed causing some concern with the Habs brass. the hope is he will be a late bloomer who can still be a decent offensive contributor. The hope is for these two to contribute sooner rather than later otherwise the Habs will need to look elsewhere to address their blueline needs.

The Habs still have Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov who are still in the prime of their careers. Souray is their toughest and strongest defensive blueliner who contributes on the PP with his booming shot. Markov is a solid puck moving defenceman who is skilled and fast enough to join the rush and contribute on offence. So their are some solid pieces in place for Montreal.

Where the Canadiens brass is most excited about is the forwards. They already have a top centre in Saku Koivu who is their leader and heart of the team. They also have tons of speed in Richard Zednik who can break a game open with one rush. And they have started to strengthen their third and 4th lines with players such as Radek Bonk, Niklas Sundstrom, Jan Bulis, Steve Begin filling in checking roles among other things and adding good depth to the team. In all likelihood, the Habs will add a free agent or two to strengthen an already decent group of forwards.

But the habs know the future is even better. They have already had some of their home grown prospects make the big club and have plenty more on the way. Mike Ribiero and Michael Ryder have formed an solid 2nd line duo to follow Koivu and Zednik. Ribiero is a terrific playmaker and stickhandler who can score some real highlight reel goals. However being small and soft has cause him difficulty in handling the daily NHL grind. Ryder however has good combination of size and skill. willing and able to battle in the corners and in front, yet can play a finesse game as well. He had a terrific rookie campaign and the Habs hope that is a sign of things to come.

In a short while the Habs hope Alex Perezhogin, Andrei Kostsitsyn, Chris Higgins, Kyle Chipchura, Tomas Plekanec, Marcel Hossa and Corey Locke will join Ribiero and Ryder in Montreal.

Perezhogin has all the tools to be a top line player. Great speed, decent size, high skill level, terrific playmaking abilities and good hockey sense. The Habs hope that the one year lost due to suspension does not hurt his development in the North American game.

The same can be said about Kostsitsyn. He too is a highly skilled winger with top line potential. He has the size you like on the wings making him able to handle the NHL grind, yet he also possesses speed and good hands. If his illness troubles are over with, he should make the grade in short time. Plekanec is a solid two way player who has been very productive in the AHL but his lack of size and pure goal scoring ability have held him back from reaching the NHL.

Hossa too has produced at all levels except the NHL. he has all the tools with size, speed and skill but lacks desire. though at times he shows flashes of skill like his brother Marian, he seems to not want to do it every night.

And with Corey Locke, the Habs have the 2003 CHL player of the year and a player who has played under the tutulage of the great Brian Kilrea. The Habs may have the next Alyn MacCauley on their hands.

These offensive gems are balanced out with a couple of solid prospect who play more of a two way game. Chris Higgins, though small could be a slower version of Kris Draper as someone who can check well but has some offensive potential. Kyle Chipchura on the other hand has good size but may lack pure offensive ability. but he will be effective in the corners, around the net and in terms of forechecking. He is certainly a Bob Gainey type of player.

With so many young forward prospects on the horizon, the future is looking really bright for the Canadiens. If the Habs upgrade their blueline to help out in front of Theodore, Montreal could be a team to reckon with no only in the future but now. And perhaps we may see the winning tradition return to this once proud franchise.

23 Responses to Hab-Nots No Longer

  1. therapist says:

    Montreal is one of the fastest teams that have gone from bad to good.

    I hear Ron Hainsey may not be the real deal after all, like Alexandre Daigle, except he is a defenseman, lazy as hell. That’s why I heard, from a lot of people, including Habs fans. I still think he will prove them wrong.

    Steve Begin is a really underrated player. He played in 52 games last season and scored 10 goals playing on the 3rd line, if not the last. He was drafted in the 2nd round for a reason and I disagree with anyone who thinks that was a wasted pick. He is one of the best agitators out there.

  2. habsoverserver says:

    Theodore may have won a couple trophies but look at his record relative to backu-up Mathieu Garon:

    Theo 33-28-5 .919 save 2.27 gag

    Garon 8-6-2- .921 save 2.27 gag

    So Theo is about as good as a goalie the Habs gave away. He stole one first round playoff series three years ago and now he is living off reputation. He’s an adequate goalie in the top third of the league. Losing Garon was a step backwards.

    The Habs defense is OK. There is no one on the team that the coach trusts to be on the ice in critical situations who has the strength to clear the net. This was obivous in the playoffs when the Habs allowed game tying goals in the dying seconds on two occasions.

    Souray had one great season and is injury prone. Rivet and Brisebois are in decline. Markov took a step back last season in productivity when his goals scored declined from 13 to 6 and his plus minus reversed from +13 to -2 despite the Habs winning more games. Something was wrong with him. Komisarek couldn’t outplay 5′ 6″ Francis Bouillon – who in five NHL seasons has never even been protected in the waiver draft – for the sixth spot. When a first round draft choice loses his roster spot to a guy claimed off the waiver draft you know that management is not impressed with him.

    As far as the forwards. They only have four forwards right now for the top two lines. They spent three million on a third line center whose production is in decline and who refuses to use the body. Zednik had two streaks of 13 games without scoring a goal and in the stretch drive to the playoffs manged one goal in the last nine games. He didn’t break any games open, he barely showed up. He is probably the worst top winger of any team in the NHL. Koivu has tons of heart and guts and is a great performer in the playoffs. He’s managed 70 points only once in his eight full seasons. It’s tough to say he is a top center.

    Ribiero and Ryder are a great combo who still need a third player. They overachieved last season. Without them, the Habs would have been in the cellar.

    The Habs will not take a step forward this season without acquiring two top wingers and a top four defenseman.

    They have some great prospects but it remains to be seen if any of them can compete in the NHL.

  3. nordiques100 says:

    yeah i hate players like hainsey who are talented beyond belief yet lazy as hell and really acts like he doesnt really want it. people like you and me would love to have such a good shot at the NHL and i doubt we would waste our talents.

    Begin really hit his stride after winning the calder cup championship in the AHL. he was one of the best players on the team and it really boosted his nhl chances. playing near home in quebec has been the big bonus.

  4. habswinthecup-again says:

    Backup goalies always play against the worst team.

  5. therapist says:

    And Garon wouldn’t have had similar stats if he would of played the same number of games as Theo.

  6. nordiques100 says:

    if garon was so great then how come he has yet to become a starter? if he was better than theodore then how come he never beat him out of the job? I can never understand the mindset of a habs fan as they simply ask way too much of their star players. theodore won the hart, the vezina, carried his team to two first round upsets (you forgot pretty quickly that he did fare well against the Bs in 2004), pretty much willed his team to the playoffs by winning despite 40 plus shots a game and he still is not as good as his backup goalie.

    trading a backup goalie for a decent centre who can check, score, has good size and skill is a pretty good deal to me. you know that theo is going to give your team great goaltending so why not use your backup as an asset to strengthen another area. that is what the habs did and it was a very solid move. it certainly was not a step back.

    did you want montreal to trade theodore instead? since garon is the better goalie in your mind, that means that the habs would get something even less than radek bonk for him.

  7. ranger_fan says:

    No matter who is on the Habs, they almost always will beat the Bruins. It must be nice having automatics like that. I know when the Rangers where in the playoffs, LONG TIME AGO, the Devils just could never beat them, not one series in the 90s. Same might be true for the Islanders, I’m too lazy to look that up.

  8. hockeyhead says:

    shut it.

  9. habsoverserver says:

    I said he stole a series three years ago. Against the B’s in the most recent playoffs everyone agrees he was outplayed by a rookie. When he went up against a stud goalie from Tampa he could not steal a game for Montreal. He also had an impressive game seven collapse against Carolina.

    Read what Gainey himself said when he traded Garon “if not for him (Garon) we would not have made the playoffs.”

    trading a back-up goalie – who is as good as your starter – is an incredibly stupid thing when you are trading for a player who was not going to be resigned by his team because management thought he sucked.

  10. habsoverserver says:

    10 of his 16 starts were against playoff teams. Since only 50% of the league makes the playoffs, he played against a tougher mix of teams than Theodore.

  11. habsoverserver says:

    What is there that is even less than Radek Bonk?

    At his current salary the Habs would not get much for Theodore.

  12. habsoverserver says:

    It’s not really an automatic. I mean, sometimes it’s an easy four game sweep and sometimes it’s a seven game battle. Sometimes it’s a delay of game penalty sometimes it’s Joe Thornton not scoring in the series, sometimes it’s Dryden, sometimes it’s Roy sometimes it’s Theodore. Sometimes it’s Beliveau sometimes it’s Lafleur, sometimes it’s Kovalev.

  13. SabresAreCool says:

    While Begin was thought of as just a role player…..the role he plays is much larger than expected. i really like the style of play he brings….He was acquired by the Sabres in the Chris Drury trade and then he wasn’t protected in the waiver draft a few months later….sabres fans were miffed because we were all told what a fan favorite he would be, bringing a brad may like presence back to buffalo….montreal is lucky to have gotten him, and for nothing too

  14. ranger_fan says:

    If I were to bet, I would not hesitate on the Habs. Hockeyhead, I actually root for the B’s, but you can not disagree with that statement. Perhaps if they could have resigned some players.

  15. hockeyhead says:

    it was one of those mono tone, under the breathe shut it’s.

    i think in the last 15-17 years the bruins have done well vs. the habs.

    neely owned roy (which helped beat the curse). i am very excited to see what new rules they put in. the game will showcase talents.

    some of the ideas are: smaller g. equip, no icing if it is a pass attempt, no red line, no line change if you ice it…..all kinds of ideas i have not heard…..check out nhl.com.

  16. nordiques100 says:

    thought Theo was pretty good in the final 3 games against boston stopping 97 of 100 shots. while raycroft let in 12 goals on 79 shots. your meaning of outplayed is pretty out there. i cant see EVERYONE agreeing that theo was outplayed by a rookie based on these stats.

    If Garon was so good then why in the 8 years they were part of the Habs organization at the same time did he never beat Theodore out of the job?

    He was the backup for a reason. because he wasnt better than theodore.

    and Bonk is a pretty good player. 60 points, size, skill, i wouldnt mind getting that for a backup goalie.

  17. nordiques100 says:

    andy dackell and joe juneau LOL

  18. ranger_fan says:

    smaller goalie equiptment will only work if the companies make stronger and more durable, instead of bulky. Many don’t know this, but a trapper is the same thing as a baseball glove. You need to catch in the webbing, or you will have a hand like the goalie in the Mighty Ducks 2 who gloved Fulton Reeds slapshot.

  19. simplyhabby says:

    One player you missed out on was Jason Ward. How can you knock a guy who’s fave player is Wendel Clark. He is no where near Clark in style nor impact but he is developing into an excellent 2 way player. A 3rd line with Ward, Bonk and Begin would beone of the best in the league regarding PK and checking roles.

    Cory Locke is was to underated because of his size. I have seen this kid play in Hamilton and like St. Louis, he uses his size to his advantage. he goes into those dirty corners and sneaks out with the puck.

    I think everyone can agree that if the habs can get 2 strong defenseman (Everyone wants one) they have the tools to win the cup. The problem is that you need all of your players to have banner years and your defence contains the wide open style that we will see when hockey returns. Only one team does that every year from regualr season to playoffs! That wide open style should benefit the speedy habs.

  20. habsoverserver says:

    that’s fair.

    i admit i was tough on theo. i did say he was a top 10 goalie in the league though. the problem with losing garon is that the difference between making the playoffs and 9th place is a good back-up goalie. upgrading from hackett to garon was huge last year.

    i still think that komo getting outplayed for a roster spot by bouillon indicates that the habs are very dissatisfied with him. hainsey has also been slow to develop. markov’s stats were way down last year. they lost quintal and both briser and rivet are a year older. souray is a stud but injury prone.

    on offense, you can’t escape the fact that the habs don’t have enough forwards to make two top lines. koivu, zednik, ribiero and ryder can’t do it on their own. it’s no reason to panic. there is going to be a lot of movement this summer if (or when) a deal gets signed next week. if we move to a shootout format, the habs are going to badly need a couple of snipers. however, with what they have today, the Habs are a big question mark.

    i think bonk will end the year with less than 15 goals and a negative +/-.

  21. habsoverserver says:

    Who will be the six forwards on the top two lines that will be better or faster than St. Louis, Prospal, Richards, Lecav, Modin and Fedotenko?

    The Habs scored the least goals of any team making the playoffs from their conference.

  22. simplyhabby says:

    Excellent point. I always feared Tampa because they are truly the habs 5x better. A strong skating team that relies on sound goaltending but Tampa has a lot of fire power were Montreal was forced to a defensive system because of the lack of size in front (ironic)

    Remember though , even though your point was very true about the Habs and their scoring, the number one line of the habs in the playoffs were by far the top producers in the playoffs until they got knocked out so that potential is there to score a lot of goals of the youth second line can step it up in the playoffs.

    Montreal is a work in progress and providing the forwards go well forward in their development, scoring will not be an issue. Rememeber the 8 20 goal scorers on the 93 cup team? Love that balance!

  23. habsoverserver says:

    I agree on the 93 Habs. That’s what makes Tampa great – two lines of 20 goal scorers + Andreychuck.

    No complaints on Koivu and Kovalev in the playoffs. They played great.

    Like you said, the Habs could not move Tampa off the net. They need another physical defenseman in whom Julien can have confidence. He had no one to put on the ice with one minute left protecting a lead. Tough to find that kind of player and Hainsey and Komo do not seem to be developing into NHL players yet.

    I would like to see Montreal sign one talented winger like Kovalev and develop slowly one more winger from the farm system.

    I would really like to get good enough to make Zednik expendable. I know Gainey was willing to move him last year. He is way too streaky a scorer to play on the first line.

Leave a Reply