Projections for the Habs in 2006-07
Ladies and Gents, the dust has settled for the Habs this off-season. With the exception of Ryder who will be signed within the next 2 weeks, one way or another, the roster is set. Assuming that Gainey does not pull off a trade involving Abby anytime soon, which could involve multiple players, these are the Montreal Canadiens we will see opening night.
The lineup (23-man roster):
Higgins – Koivu – Ryder
Samsanov – Ribeiro – Kovalev
Perezhogin – Plekanec – Johnson
Murray – Bonk – Begin
Markov – Komisarek
Souray – Rivet
Dandenaut – Bouillon
Things to take into consideration:
First off, the health of Saku Koivu and whether he is able to make a return to hockey. By all reports, the surgery went well but the eye isn’t healing as well as the doctors had hoped. People are still optimistic that he will make a succesfull return, and I really hope so cause his lost is irreplaceable. He has been the Habs leader, heart, and soul for a long time and will be needed if the Habs hope to be at all succesfull.
That aside, Ribeiro is the next question mark. Carbo said that he sees Ribeiro playing alongside Samsanov and Kovalev, which has a lot of offensive potential. Ribeiro comes into this season with a lot to prove: he was suppose to take advantage of the new rules, but instead was shown to be lacking the speed and desire. If he has a strong rebound, then we have no worries. If not, then Johnson may be his replacement. Johnson has experience as center, as well as speed and offensive instinct. While Gainey described him a strong third-liner, he played on the top 2 lines in Pheonix. His size is also great for the center position, although he doesn’t play with a physical edge.
The 3rd and 4th lines have a good deal of potential, with prospets able to play in case of injuries.
The defence and goaltending are pretty set, and if/until Abby gets traded, it will be a Huet – Abby goaltending tandem. Gainey said that if he signed Bouillon, he was not planning on making any additions to the blue-line, so don’t expect any new gritty d-men coming our way. Komisarek should continue to improve, who brings a big physical presence. If Souray learns from his few highlight reel mistakes, he should be again a great top 4 d-man. Rivet is always steady, as is Boullion. Dandenaut is the weakest of the 6 regular d-men, but showed strong improvement late in the season. I expect to see similar play all next season, which leaves Streit as a much improved 7th defenceman, compared to last season.
Huet needs to demonstrate that he can preform as he did in 30-odd games for 50-60 games. I think he can, but Montreal would be well advised to have a strong backup, as it seems in the new NHL backup goaltenders are playing an important role.
With this lineup in place, Montreal should make the playoffs. However, the Habs will once again be in one of the hardest divisions of the league. The Leafs are much improved, and a healthy d-corp plus new goaltending will help. Ottawa is still dangerous, as is Buffalo. Boston is stronger, as Chara and Savard bring much needed skill to the Bruins.
I project the Habs to land 4-6 in the conference. The rookies have all improved, so look for them to increase their production. This, of course, all hinges on Koivu making a healthy return.