Habs: Best Team in Northeast

There has been lots of talk about Ottawa being so strong, Boston being better than last year, and Toronto (at least their die hard / unrealistic fans) making a legitamate shot despite the loss of depth and veteran leadership. The truth is that many sports writters and hockey fans are writting off Montreal or not taking them seriously.

The Montreal Canadiens will win the Northeast division this year. This is not just a Montreal fan dreaming, but rather a very realistic situation.

1) – Goaltending: Montreal is solid in nets. It doesn’t matter wether or not you think Theodore is a top 5 NHL goalie, or if he’s better than Luongo etc, etc. Fact is he is a Vezina winner and an NHL MVP. He played last year (unlike Hasek & Belfour) and he had a strong season. Now he’s coming to camp after signing a nice long-term deal and he has something to prove. This guy is as competative as an goalie in the NHL and with a more solid Defense in front of him, he should face less shots and have a very strong campaign. Montreal doesn’t need him to be an MVP, they just need solid & steady play from him which they should be able to get.

2) – Defense – Montreal by no means has the best D in the league, what they have is a SOLID group which includes a little mix of offense, speed, hitting, leadership, and heart. These guys have slowly been gelling together over the past few years and should do a great job. They’ve lost the uncertaity of Brisebois, Dykhuis & traverse (just to name a few lame-o’s who’ve suited up over the past few years). These top 6 can play. Rivet & Souray can play lots of minutes. They are hard hitting defensmen who forwards have to be aware of before standing in front of the net. Dandenault (although not fenominal) will be MUCH better and more solid than Patrice Brisebois. Markov could be a great sleeper pick for your pool. This young talent has tons of upside potential here, and could make some noise on the PP. Komisarek is one to watch. This young guy can trow his weight around (remember the hit on Thornton in the opening round?). He plays a very steady game and already looks like a veteran back there. Hainsey will need to prove that he belongs in the big leagues and Bouiliion is as tough as they come…all heart and ready to play whatever role the coach needs.

3) – Offense – The top line of Koivu, Kovalev & Zednik will be a force to watch out for. They were one of the most dominant lines of the last playoffs and all 3 can have break out years in 05-06. The second line is just as good with ribeiro (who will have 80 pts +). He has as much skill as almost any player in the leagu, and now that he’s broken through the ice & earned a spot, watch him explode. Ryder & Dagenais add toughness & natural scoring to his wings which make them a very dangerous #2 line. Then you have radek Bonk as your 3rd center. He’s no superstar, but he’ll be counted on as a 3rd liner NOT a 1rst liner. expectations are low, and he’ll still be able to overachieve. Bulis (who’s still very young) is having an impressive camp and will play well on a 3rd line. Montreal’s 3rd line will be able to shut down the opposition, as well as contribute on the scoresheet night in and night out. The fourth line will be centered by Begin (this guy is awesome and comes to play hard). Higgins will also make a 4th line. These 2 should be solid together.

Now if all that depth isn’t enough, Montreal has one of the finest artilaries of young talent just waiting to get a chance on the NHL roster. Latendresse already looks like he could play on a 2nd line. Plakenac who led Hamilton in scoring may earn a spot. Yan Danis & CArey Price could both back up Theo. Perezhoan & Costitsyn have the natural talent to fill in on one of the top 2 lines. Then there is Hossa, who’s haveing a strong camp and could play on a 3rd line with Bonk & Bulis. Once he realizes how good he really is, he’ll make the jump to the NHL permanantly 9like Ribeiro did).

4) – Coaching & management – What more can I say about Gainey. He is smart & patient. He likes the talent he has, he didn’t want to upset chemistry and he got everyone signed with cap-room to spare. If a couple of injuries arise or if he needs to fine tune the team, he’ll be in a position to do so. He may still make a move or 2 (there is rumours of Sundstrom being shopped – I didn’t mention him above, but on a 4th line gives extra depth). Julien will excel as head coach. The team has a large portion of youngsters who he’s coached in the minors. The veterans seem to like & respect him, and I think they truely want to play for this guy.

These are my opinions, I’d love to hear yours. The truth is that you can’t argue with fact.

With the exception of Boston, most teams can’t brag about their talent & depth & defense & scoring potential & leadership & youngsters & coaching 7 management & goaltending the way the Montreal can. I expect them to “surprisingly” win their division & make some serious noise in the post-season.

Thanks for reading