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Friday, January 11, 2013


HOW the HABS will SHAPE UP in 2013

I'd like to see an NHL where the Oilers and Habs are the top teams once again.

Good times.

Well according to some, half of that equation might come to see the light this year. Some are actually picking the Oilers to breakthrough in this lockout-shortened 2013 season. With three first round picks overall in a row, joined by Mr. Clutch Jordan Eberle and a host of other, young and promising talent, you never know.

And the Habs!? You just never know too...

This is going to be a bizaare, crapshoot of a season. So who's the say the Habs won't put it together right out of the gate? Quite a few players have a lot to prove.

Let's start with Captain Brian Gionta. He had a terrible season last year, riddled by injuries and so-so play. But he's a heart and soul guy, and I have no doubt his strong work ethic will be a shining example for the rest of the team. I'm not worried about him and expect good things from the guy.

Now let's go the other way. Scott Gomez. He's going to play in Hamilton, he's going to get bought out, he's going to get traded... anything but playing with the big club. But let me tell you something...

Randy Cunneyworth couldn't get through to Rene Bourque. Will it be any different with Michel Therrien?

The Habs are starting afresh and that gives Gomez the opportunity to reload, replenish, rebound, re-everything!! He'll be on the squad because the guy still is a good passer and maybe the lockout was a good thing for the guy, get away from it all and regroup. I'd like to see a more serious attitude from him instead of his loosey-goosey style of the past few years, but in the end he has to be himself. He's a good passer and could still be effective on the powerplay -- which couldn't get much worse than last year. 

But I can't see Scotty G. playing any higher than the third line. And with the new CBA, he can't get bought out until next year so... does he have it in him to have a bounce back year from his bounce back year!?

There's no doubt, the Canadiens will be a tougher, grittier team this year under the guidance of Coach Therrien. If the team buys into his system, the addition of Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong should give them some much needed toughness they've lacked for quite some time. Armstrong is another who has a lot to prove. He was on my list of players who was perenially hurt (like Rick-ety DiPietro) and is another of Brian Burke's mistakes as GM in Toronto (more on this below). But he had his best year with Therrien when they were both in Pittsburgh, and the guy grew up a Habs fan. So put up or shut up. I didn't like the signing at first, but given he's not taking up too much cap space, we have a lot to gain and little to lose.

Add a healthy Ryan White to the mix and we now have more than a few players who will drop the gloves and stand up for their teammates.

The team at least has a genuine first line. Max Pacioretty had the break out season we all knew he could have -- made that much more spectacular after the neck injury he suffered the year before. And he's only going to get better. 

Erik Cole was everything we could've asked for and ultimately will go down as Pierre Gauthier's best signing. He's big, powerful, a terrific skater and teammate and a leader on and off the ice. And David Desharnais? He's the straw that stirs the drink and he's also only going to get better.

Third overall pick Alex Galchenyuk will be the elite scorer for years to come. But probably not this year. I'd be surprised if they keep him with the big squad. But I'd like to be wrong. He had a good World Juniors tournament, but didn't put up points against the tough teams. And the Canadiens are chronic in taking their time with talent. But the new management might have other ideas. 

Maybe Lars Eller will continue to grow and take his game to the next level. He had a respectable year given everything that went on, put up some good numbers during the lockout playing in Finland and he's pretty solid defensively.

Travis Moen has a new contract and he's a great character guy who can chip in with some key goals.

Tomas Plekanec had a tough year too but he had to deal with the head case that was Michael Cammalleri in 2012. He's still our best two-way player and he also should be ready to go after playing in Europe during the lockout. 

Speaking of whiner boy Cammalleri, he took a puck off his face the other day and lost his front teeth. Karma baby! And the guy we got in that trade, Rene Bourque, just didn't look comfortable last year. To me, I think he was shell shocked by the trade and came in to an already tough situation. So now that he's had the time to digest it all, the guy could be a big surprise. He's huge and if he uses his size to his advantage and goes to the dirty areas -- with consistency -- he might be a welcome addition to the squad.

So as a team, we're a lot bigger up front. And that's a good thing. But what about the defense?

The Canadiens have a lot riding on young Alex Galchenyuk and hope he can be the big-time scorer the team hasn't had for years.

Well P.K. Subban is our most dynamic d-man and you know he'll be signed. Gorges is our most reliable. And Andrei Markov is as healthy as he's ever going to be. Now's the time for him to take back his elite status that he lost to injury the past three seasons. He's still got a lot left in the tank. The team is much, much better when he's in command of his game. He should have built up his confidence playing in the KHL so he should be ready to go.

We kind of have a bit of a glut on the backend and that's good. With Emelin set to build upon his strong second half of last year, Francis "the bull" Bouillon ready to make his triumphant return in Montreal, we also have Raffy Diaz, Yannick Weber and Kaberle in the mix. Jared Tinordi is playing well in the AHL and will eventually be a beast on the Molson Centre blue line, Frederick St. Denis proved last year he belongs in the NHL, and veteran blueliner Mike Commodore was invited to camp as well. So it's going to be a fight to the death to get that sixth d-spot. Personally, I like Diaz. He's a strong skater and seems a bit more at ease in tough situations than Weber. And Kaberle's effort just isn't consistent enough but he could help the powerplay.

A lot of "coulds" eh? Yep, a lot is up in the air.

One thing I do know for sure: CAREY PRICE IS THE MAN! He''s newly signed and locked in, newly married so his mind shouldn't roam dreaming of the finest Montreal has to offer and he's a year older and wiser. With him between the pipes, we always have a chance. I wouldn't be surprised if he plays 40-45 games this year. Sorry Budaj.

But how does it all stack up? If the Canadiens get off to a strong start, they could gain a lot of confidence as a unit, and surprise a lot of folks. They certainly weren't as bad as where they placed last year. But they're not quite ready to compete for the big prize. Too many "ifs" and "coulds". But you never know... the Kings proved that last year. It definitely hurts the team that there won't be any preseason games to test things out and allow some gelling to happen and for Therrien to implement his system. So the Habs squad of 2013 truly is a crapshoot. Put the puck in the net and get the most of their potential and they could go places. Stumble out of the gate and fall behind early and the golf season might start early.

But I'm going to take the optimistic route and predict that the Habs 2013 will make the playoffs and finish seventh in the conference. There's no way they're going to be any worse than last year and especially at home, where they were LAST in the league at home with 16 wins. That's not going to happen again.


I like Brian Burke. He's a no-nonsense guy who speaks his mind and rolls to the beat of his own drum. And that's probably what got him the ax yesterday. We can only imagine how he rubbed the Leafs' new ownership consortium the wrong way. And he made a lot of bonehead moves. But what I didn't hear in the hockey media was that maybe ownership wanted to send a message to the team!? Maybe they want the players to think that nobody is safe and it's time to put up or shut up. And that's why he became the obvious choice to be the sacrificial lamb.

Burke is a quality hockey man and great for the community. And he had a tough go of it, losing his kid in a car accident and dealing with all the hoopla here in LeafLand. But some of his moves were questionable if not despicable in my view. Signing Ron Wilson to an extension, mid-season, when his teams never made the playoffs!? That was unacceptable. The team tanked after that. The Mike Komisarek contract? Ecch. Signing James Reimer after a good half of a season and anointing him as the starting goaltender? Big mistake. And the one he gets broiled on by everyone, the Phil Kessel trade. Kessel has performed and performed well. But he's an out of shape doughy little man coasting on his god-given talent and he ain't no leader. Burke gave up too much for him and worse, gave the bounty to the Bruins. For that, he probably deserved getting fired the way he did. 

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