Habs to make changes, who will make the cut?

Well even with the uncertainty regarding whether or not there will be hockey next season, there is still the “long off-season” tendencies which plague most hockey fanatics. Some smell the inside of their hockey bags, some people play numerous seasons of the NHL video game, some take part in hockey sims while others roam aimlessly through the hockey hall of fame just to get that hockey “feeling” that bites us when the puck drops for good in the first few days of October.

Well for my part, I enjoy analyzing my home team and play GM to see what changes I would make. Who I would keep in my lineup, who I would trade for (realistically) and who I would plain cut.

Here’s my own player by player evaluation of this team that swiftly undertook a transformation since Gainey took office.

Goaltenders:

Jose Theodore: When he’s on his game, he’s a league top-5 starter. He can play very well under pressure unless there is any off ice distractions. We all know the stories concerning his family being involved in a loan shark ring and the alleged death threats which where aimed at him through the organization. If there were to be no hockey next year, it would be ideal for Jose’s focus level which understandably fluctuates in the event of an outside distraction.

Mathieu Garon: Has increasingly matured over the years and he is ready to be a starter. We’ll have to wait and see how the Habs management deals with Theodore in order to see where he’ll get his true shot.

Up and comers: Yann Danis, top blue chip prospect goalie in the organization. Olivier Michaud is a longshot. Eric Fichaud, J-F Damphousee and Europeans Jaroslav Halak, Joni Puurula as well as Christopher Heino-Lindberg complete the Habs insurance in front of the net.

Defensemen:

Mike Komisarek: With the recent release of veteran Stephane Quintal, Komisarek’s roster spot is pretty much guaranteed. Unless a stellar showing of another rookie at camp, Komisarek will compete in his first full pro year. It will undoubtly have a positive effect on his development.

Patrice Brisebois: Although many argue that he is not worth anywhere near 4 million$ a year, consistency is his main asset. A quick look at his recent numbers will show you a guarantee of 70 games and 33+ points per year from this veteran blueliner who also played a very great defensive game last year. Would be hard to trade due to his contract though.

Craig Rivet: He also is very consistent even though he has struggled through the first half of the season. Could prove to be good trade bait. With some decent UFA defensemen out there, he could be expendable for financial reasons.

Andrei Markov: Couldn’t quite focus on bringing his “A” game every night due to personnal issues, notably the death of his father which in my opinion, excuses his so-so play by his standards. Should be able to bounce back into top pair d-man shape.

Sheldon Souray: Was heading straight for a Norris before getting injured. The fact that he is always prone to injury make him more of a liability. If Gainey could get something good, I say trade him.

Francis Bouillon: Arguably the best 3rd pair d-man in the league. Not the most talented but very seldomly out-worked, he brings his 100% night in and night out. His short stature is deceptive as he does weigh in close to 200 pounds. At 5’8, that makes him something similar to a wrecking ball on skates. His low center of gravity combined with his aggressiveness and intensity make him an above average hitter. A definite keeper.

Up and comers: Ron Hainsey, his lack of maturity is ruining his chances at becoming a pro. Has all the tools to make it, but his attitude is awful at best. Konstantin Korneev, an average sized defenseman whose playing time was so low that it might be impossible for him to adjust to a North-American style of hockey. Francois Beauchemin & Andrew Archer, these 2 have distinct qualities which could give them an outside chance for a roster spot. Unless Gainey signs a UFA defenseman, one of these two (or both) might get the call in case of an injury.

Forwards:

Saku Koivu: Team captain. Proved his leadership in the playoffs. Outplaying the bigger Joe Thornton with the same injury without whining (or having others do the whining) about it. If healthy, he could be projected as a point per game player.

Alexei Kovalev: I know he isin’t signed yet but wherever this guy goes, he will make an impact. He is an older version of Ilya Kovalchuk, playing that explosive, Russian style of hockey. If Gainey manages to sign him, he would complement Saku quite well and who knows, maybe a 3 digit point production for the both of them could be realistic.

Richard Zednik: A prototypical “streaky” player. could go half a season with 3 goals and the other half with 28. Regardless, his work ethic is decent and his strength in corners make him a valued asset.

Mike Ribeiro: Doesn’t have the greatest size or quickness but he does make up for it in overall skill and hockey sense. Should be able to reach the top 15 players in points.

Michael Ryder: His determination made him go from a forgotten ECHL-er to a regular 2nd line right winger. Highly susceptible to the famed “sophmore jinx” yet I could be wrong, like many were in the past. Has a good eye for the net and an accurate shot. His age and maturity played a factor in his head-turning rookie campaign. Should be able to regurlarly hit the 30 goal mark at some point in his career.

Pierre Dagenais: So frustrating to watch because his lack of intensity and passion make this potential 35+ goal power forward a 6’5, 10 goal sissy. If he doesn’t get going, I say don’t waste any time and give his spot to Kastsystin or Perezhogin.

Steve Begin: A fan favorite. Nowadays, players who play their heart and soul every game are harder to come by. His style of play make him prone to injuries. Probably has a bit more skill than most people think. 15-20 goal scorer IF he stays healthy. Another keeper.

Jan Bulis: Misses WAY to many chances to become a 2nd liner. However, after spending 2-3 season alongside defensive specialists like Juneau and Dackell combined with his good speed make him an above average 3rd liner. Could put up 40+ points a year no matter where he plays and of course if he stays healthy.

Niklas Sundstrom: Is underated and posseses a good deal of skill he is just not showing. After being a Shark for a number of years, he is now a definite 3rd line player. Replaceable via trade.

Jason Ward: Plays a simple yet effective game on both sides of the rink. Very prone to injuries. Highly expendable.

Now that leaves 2 (possibly 3 without Kovalev)spots at forward if we count out Perreault (free agency), Juneau (retirement), Dackell (going to play in Europe), Dowd (no contract offered to him) and Langdon (no contract offered to him).

This leaves the team with some interesting options. Either fill them with some of the highly praised talented youth in their farm system or sign some decent free agents, or both.

Here are some of the up and comers that could vie for a spot:

Andrei Kastsystin, a probable first round steal, could have gone before Zherdev if it wasn’t for his health problems which are now apparently gone. Fast, explosive and talented make him a goal per game player in the Russian leagues.

Alexander Perezhogin, I don’t want to go back on the whole ugly incident he had in the AHL playoffs but if he can play in the NHL next year, why not? He could earn a try as soon as next season.

Tomas Plekanec, this small but hard working 2 way forward plays a North-American friendly brand of hockey which gives him a good shot at a roster spot.

Chris Higgins, The Habs’ Zach Parise. Although he is obviously less skilled talent-wise, he is just as well rounded in both ends of the ice as Parise is. Still quite young though so another stint with the Bulldogs is more than realistic.

Here are some of the UFA’s the Habs could (or should) be eyeing:

Matthew Barnaby: Can certainly add a lot of character to a team.

Mark Recchi: Could be a good possibility if Kovalev doesn’t sign or if the club ditches Dagenais.

Ian Laperriere, Kris Draper, Craig Conroy and Mike Ricci are good possibilities for a 3rd line center.

Bryan Marchment or Sean Hill could bring a lot of stability to the Habs’ defence.

As far as signings go, Gainey could really pull something off and anyone who knows their hockey are aware of it.

Trade-wise I would make a push for Denis Gauthier. I heard somewhere that Sutter likes Sundstrom’s play having coached him in SJ. Gauthier would fit right in Montreal and his open ice hits would make him appreciated by our noisy crowd.

There you have it. I’m waiting for your criticism. Go easy though. As we pray and hope a hockey season is waiting for us come October, we must stick together as hockey fans and continue to satisfy our hunger for the sport well all cherish.

rds.ca, nhl.com and hockeysfuture.com provided me with some info for this article