Montreal Canadiens 2005-2006

By Marco Normandin

PAYROLL: 25,5M$ (09/02)

GM: Bob Gainey, 2nd Season with the team.

COACH: Claude Julien, 3rd Season with the team.

MOVES:

(LOST)

– Mathieu Garon (L.A. Kings)

– Joe Juneau (Retired)

– Stephane Quintal (Retired)

– Jason Ward (N.Y. Rangers)

– Darren Langdon (N.J. Devils)

– Andreas Dackell

– Karl Dykhuis

– Jim Dowd (Chicago BlackHawks)

– Patrice Brisebois (Colorado Avalanche)

– Yanic Perreault (Nashville Predators)

– Gavin Morgan

(ADDED)

– Radek Bonk (Ottawa Senators)

– Christobal Huet (L.A. Kings)

– Mathieu Dandenault (Detroit Red Wings)

– Alex Kovalev (UFA / Resigned)

– Mark Streit (Swiss League)

– Peter Vandermeer (Detroit Red Wings)

– Jonathan Aitken (Vancouver Canucks)

TEAM MODE: The Habs are entering their 4th year (out of 5) of their rebuilding phase. They aren’t going to compete for the cup just yet, but they proved last season that they are to be taken seriously. The longer off-season gave the Habs’ young group of prospects (ranked top-5 in the league by most experts) extra time to develop, which might help them cause even more surprises this year. The new rules should be favourable to the young and speedy Habs, let’s hope for them the officiating stays constant all year long, or else their small size up front will be exposed just like every year before.

TO TAKE CHARGE!: Even though Saku Koivu is the captain and leads by example, one player will be the main factor this year and it is goaltender Jose Theodore. Forget about the new rules taking away liberty of the goalies, he is still the main actor for this team that doesn’t have a good enough defense yet, to contend with the forces of the league. He proved once and he’ll need to prove it again, that he can steal games and series by himself if the Habs want to make it into the playoffs and even past the first round.

ON THE RUSH: The re-signing of Alex Kovalev will take a lot of pressure of off a guy like Richard Zednik or even sophomore Michael Ryder. Given that the new rules are respected and called all year long, he should retrieve his chemistry of the past along with Koivu & Zednik and have a great offensive year. He is the flashy superstar that the fans wanted for so long in Montreal. Mike Ribeiro should continue to get better and look forward for him to have a career season, playing for his next contract after signing a one-year deal this summer. He’ll probably get some ice-time along with Kovalev from time to time and even though both didn’t have much time to adapt to each other last year, they could make some highlight-reel plays this season. Saku Koivu should have the same kind of season he usually have, given that he does not go down again due to injuries. Playing a full year with Kovalev & Zednik could even give him a career year in terms of points. Also, one forgotten player that will help Claude Julien try some things offensively is ex-Senator Radek Bonk. He is more than likely to center the 3rd line, but could be switched around to kickstart some players in a slump for example, he has enough offensive talent to be considered as a valid option. He should get some PP time as well. It should also be noted that the Habs will have one of the most efficient third line in the league with three great two-way players in Nicklas Sundstrom, Radek Bonk and Jan Bulis.

COVERING THE D-ZONE: Now moving on to the weakest link of this team, the defense. Even though thay have some very talented defensemen in Sheldon Souray, Andrei Markov, Craig Rivet and Mathieu Dandenault, the problem is: None of them is a #1 defensemen. Rounding up the defense squad are Francis Bouillon, prospects Mike Komisarek & Ron Hainsey. Newly acquired Jonathan Aitken and Mark Streit could also have an outside shot at earning a regular spot. The first thing that you see when you analyse Montreal’s defense is the size of their d-men. Luckily for them, Komisarek should earn a regular spot this year and Aitken might also be helpful on a spare time basis. Realistically, this is still not enough, though. Given the size of their forwards, the Habs just can’t have a small defensive squad and that is why they’ll have to acquire a big strong top-3 defensemen before the end of the season. Even though not many expect Sheldon Souray to repeat his last season’s performances, he has a lot of pressure carrying this defense squad on his back. Markov and Rivet should help him out, but he’ll be expected to be the team quarterback this year with the departure of Patrice Brisebois.

GUARDING THE NET: Not much to debate here, it is all about Theo. However, with an injury this offseason, Christobal Huet might have lost his chance to play in Habtown this year as Yann Danis seems to be ready to make the jump in the NHL. Jaroslav Halak or Olivier Michaud might both have an outside chance of making the cut, but if you’d have to bet I’d suggest you to take Danis as this year’s helper for Theodore. Talking about Theodore, he shouldn’t have much difficulties adapting to his new equipment / new rules because of the facts that a) he wasn’t much of a puck mover around his net to begin with and b) he was already playing with ”small’’ (in the old NHL) pads. The little parts removed from his pads will give him extra speed if anything so I wouldn’t worry one bit about that.

PROSPECTS: This year should be exciting for Habs fans in terms of prospects. We all know that the Montreal organization has always been slow moving prospects up to the big team and when there, giving them quality ice time along with players from the first or second line. But this year might be different as a lot of the team’s best prospects have matured quite a bit in this lengthy lockout and are now ready to make the cut, which might force the hand of Claude Julien and Bob Gainey. Some of the organization’s best most exciting prospects includes:

Christopher Higgins – This 22 year-old gritty, although rather small, forward is not afraid to take a hit and playing a hard-nosed style. Can play just about anywhere from second to fourth line and have a decent offensive upside.

Andrei Kostsitsyn – This 20 year-old right winger selected tenth overall by the Habs was right away tagged as ”the steal of that year’s draft”. However, along with this tag came in small letter the following warning: ”*If he isn’t affected too much by his sickness and his back stays healthy”. This Belarussian has amazing puck-handling skills along with a great shot and above-average speed. Could be a great asset for the Habs and become a fan-favorite… If he manages to stay healthy.

Alex Perezhogin – When not busy slashing other players in the face, this 22 year-old right winger can play great hockey. Considered a natural scorer by some, he is also considered a solid playmaker by others. Perezhogin is another fast and spectacular player that should be loved by the Montreal fans and he might have great odds at earning a spot with the Habs as soon as this season.

PROJECTED LINES:

1. Zednik – Koivu – Kovalev

2. Perezhogin/Dagenais – Ribeiro – Ryder

3. Sundstrom – Bonk – Bulis

4. Dagenais/Perezhogin – Begin – Higgins

Regular Defensemen

Souray

Markov

Rivet

Dandenault

Bouillon

Komisarek

Goaltenders

1. Theodore

2. Danis

***EDIT***

This article was written 3 weeks ago so that explains why there’s nothing on Guillaume Latendresse or Marcel Hossa.

However if I had to decide this year’s line combos I’d go with those:

1. Zednik – Koivu – Ryder

2. Plekanec/Dagenais – Ribeiro – Kovalev

3. Hossa – Bonk – Bulis

4. Sundstrom – Begin – Higgins

Explanations:

Kovalev & Zednik can’t seem to pass the puck to each other and I don’t see this line staying together all year long. Ribeiro being the best playmaker of the team and Kovalev being the best sniper, it’d make a great combo.

Also, after being Marian Hossa’s linemate in Ottawa, Radek Bonk found instant chemistry with his Hossa’s young brother Marcel.

Latendresse won’t make the cut and that will be the smartest move for the Habs as there are plenty of good prospects ready to make the big jump. Hossa & Plekanec have to be waived to be sent to the minors so don’t expect the Habs to give ‘em for free to another team.

***EDIT***

EXPECTATIONS: The Habs are expected by most to finish between 7th and 9th in the Eastern Conference, however most agrees on the fact that they have a solid enough team to make the playoffs and not worry about missing the big dance. This will mostly depends on the performances of Jose Theodore, though.

PROJECTED: I, for myself, project them to finish between 6th and 8th in the Eastern Conference this season. I have almost no worries about them missing the playoffs as I am quite confident that Theodore should have a very good season and that the new rules will help their speedy forwards take advantage of the big defensemen of their rival teams. I do not see them past the 6th position this season, but I’d say if they are managed wisely, they are 2 to 3 years away from being cup contenders.

I am looking forward to see the NEW NHL, and I hope you enjoyed reading this preview of the Montreal Canadiens. I wish you all a great season!

Thank you for reading.

Marco Normandin

HTR Vice-Admin