The Montreal Canadiens: Where are they sitting?

It’s been a bit of a jagged start to the year for Les Habitants. Getting two wins in a row certainly helps them in the standings and may keep the Francophone Faithfuls at sub-riot state, for the time being. What’s the reason for the panic among fans and media figures? Many will point to the less-than-inspired play of the young Carrey Price and even extend it to the ever-chirping P.K. Subban. The coaching staff has already lost one long term member (a shocking move considering the long term relationship between Pearn and Martin), and remain closely watched. The core of the offense has been characteristically unproductive and the team seems to lack cohesion. Let’s examine the state of affairs in Montreal.

Price will always be mired in the shadows of some of the greatest goaltenders of all time, starring down at him from the rafters. His play last season was enough to solidify his semi-elite status. Many have commented that Price’s play last year hid how bad the team actually was. If he can settle down in net and bring some stability to this team he will be key for them going forward, particularly if they have any post-season ambitions beyond golf and tanning. Price needs to get his numbers up and could use a little healthy competition from Mr. Budaj, who is slated to back-up the remainder of the season.

The defense has been flooded with injuries. Markov, Campoli, Spacek, all lost time with the team due to injury. Subban’s struggles to start the season have ac*****ulated to palatable frustration. He is being relied upon too heavily, and is not regularly playing with Gill, his partner from last season. Defensively, the Habs have been poor and need to improve. The defense, other than injuries and some concerns with age, however, is not is the worst shape. Once some of the injured parties return things should settle down. The media and fans need to ease up on Subban. Fact is, he’s a second year defender with much to learn. Perhaps he simply needs to adjust his style of play: Gill babysitting the blue line made it much easier for P.K. to join the rush and play a bit recklessly.

Forward Core
This is the biggest problem for the Montreal Canadiens organization. The next three years will see more than 83.5 million go to the following: Cammalleri, Plekanec, Gionta, and Cole. These forwards have all been accused underperforming. This statement may be partially accurate; however the real problems originate from the term and amount. Take Cole, for example. His 4.5 cap hit, which runs through the 2014-2015 season, handcuff management for two reasons: the term and cap hit make his a highly unattractive asset for trade, and the tied up money may hinder the acquisition of new talent and the raises that young players will expect. It’s not all bad, though. Plekanec has shown some consistency and has racked up 7 pts in 10 GP. With only a few notable forward prospects in the system, Montreal has few options.

In the highly saturated media world we live in, it can be difficult to analyze the atmosphere in the locker room. Player frustration and seemingly little work ethic points towards some problems behind the bench, but much of that could simply be the side effects of their tumultuous start. The separation of Pearn and Martin (a relationship that goes back to their days together in Ottawa) was perhaps unexpected. This decision clearly originated form above Martin’s head; it seems highly unlikely that he would dump such a close friend and peer. The firing also tells us who is in control of the team – and it sure isn’t Jacques. The head coach will remain on thin ice as the season progresses.

The current and former management group have been long criticized in Montreal. Bringing on Gomez and his ridiculous contract, hiring Martin as the head coach, letting Halak go (not necessarily a bad move, but it left quite a few mouths tasting bitter), Plekanec and Cammalleri’s long term deals, and the Cole signing: all moves that haven’t exactly helped the team. Furthermore, there are rumours of internal strife as the new president is seemingly putting his fingerprints on this team and organization.

Bright spots: As mentioned above, out of all the long term deal handed out to the forward corps, Pleks seems like cream. A strong two-way forward with size and some work ethic. Drawing a bit more on the last campaign rather than the current affair, but the play (and potential) of P.K. Subban. This kid has something special, and an attitude that forces and hockey fan to either hate or love him. If he finds a partner to settle him down a bit and regain some of his stride from last year, he should be on pace for a good year offensively. Price is the biggest bright spot on the team. Not that he’s been particularly good (evidenced by his stats: 2.66 .897), but displayed a lot of resiliency last year, and I still regarded as an elite NHL goalie by most.

This all translates into a particular situation in Montreal. A relatively weak forward corps that is highly over paid and over termed, questions regarding defense (particularly health and age), a coaching staff with a highly uncertain future, and cupboards that desperately need restocking: this all equates to what may be a bubble team fighting for an 8th place spot without much sign of hope or change in the future. It’s one thing to sport a playoff team, it’s a completely different thing to sport a team that has wining ambitions and cup potential – a mentality that Montreal, at this point, doesn’t seem to have.