Montreal Canadiens: 5 Ways the Habs Make the Playoffs in 2013
If hockey were a card game, the deck would be very much stacked against the Habs heading into the 2012-2013 season:
1. They have a rookie general manager, who at this stage of the game may or may not know what he’s doing.
2. They have a new head coach who failed in Montreal once before.
3. The only thing of which their highest-paid player has proven himself capable in the recent past is serving as cannon fodder for fans’ frustrations.
4. The team’s best defenseman remains in limbo, while the one who has traditionally been its anchor probably couldn’t so much as dance upright around a pole, let alone under one by bending his knees.
5. The face of the franchise wears a mask.
Of course that last bit may have all to do with the position Carey Price plays and not necessarily his unwillingness to be seen as a member of the team, however justified wearing a mask in public would be.
There is still hope, though. Sure, Montreal probably won’t make the playoffs this coming season, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Here are the top five ways the Habs do just that in 2013.
Price Pulls a Jose Theodore
For the record, I’m not suggesting Price suddenly dons braces (which are slightly odd to see on hockey players that normally lose their teeth instead of straightening them), channels garbage incarnate and suddenly becomes more likely to catch something from Paris Hilton than a puck (via TMZ.com).
Maybe that’s unfair to Ms. Hilton, but certainly not to Jose Theodore, who was and still is spoken for and somehow thought partying with the hotel-chain heiress at the MuchMusic Video Awards once upon a time was a good idea. The word “video” is in the damn name, dude. C’mon, now, you’re smarter than that. Well, better than that...maybe?
In any case, I’m referring to the Jose Theodore of the 2001-2002 season, before he went off the rails and started hitching more train rides out of towns than a hobo. That is, of course, when the streaky netminder won the Vezina and Hart Memorial trophies as the league’s best goalie and its most valuable player.
If Price is able to replicate that success and steal game after game playing behind a team without a legitimate superstar, Montreal could very well make the playoffs. A hot goalie is a solve-all solution in this day and age, even for a team with about 99 problems, give or take.
Markov Embodies the Bionic Man He Has Become
The Six Million Dollar Man jokes are too easy when it comes to Andrei Markov. His overinflated salary ($5.75 million) is just right and his two surgically repaired knees make him an easy and presumably slow target.
Here’s hoping, however, he regains the game that made him a legitimate contender for the James Norris Memorial Trophy and becomes the second consecutive Canadien to win the Bill Masterton.
A healthy Markov is a game-changer. He would at the flip of a hat become the team’s best player, lend credibility to a by and large second-rate defense, and exponentially improve the team’s power play and offense as a whole. A bionic Markov, though? Just imagine the possibilities.
It would be like when Sheldon Souray had wrist surgery and suddenly developed a cannon for a shot. From 2000 to 2003 Souray appeared in 105 games for the Habs (yes, that would be over the course of four seasons and an omen of things to come) and tallied a mere nine goals and 22 points.
After taking a season off, once 2003-2004 hit, Souray turned that omen on its head and into a deal with the devil. He notched 15 goals and 35 points in only 63 games. Meaning two things:
1. He was a player reborn, and, yet,
2. He was still about as injury prone as a crash-test dummy.
In 2006-2007, he scored 26 goals and 64 points, not only eventually getting his name on a fat new contract with the Edmonton Oilers but spoken in the same sentence as the Norris Trophy—and not ironically!
Markov, conversely, actually knows how to play defense. And he’s already got the offense part down pat. With a pair of robotically enhanced knees, the sky truly is the limit.
Gomez and Gionta Regain the Chemistry from Their Glory Days
Along with Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta formed the EGG line while with the New Jersey Devils…EGG of course in reference to the three initials of their last names and, contrary to popular belief, not what the latter two have laid in the years since signing elsewhere.
Many might believe that Elias made that line, but truth be told, Gionta led the Devils in scoring in 2005-2006 with 89 points while Elias was limited to just 38 games. Needless to say, the little giant’s production has gone down in subsequent years to the point that he only scored 15 in 31 games last season.
While everyone in theory likes rooting for a Rudy, something gets lost in translation when the underdog in question is being paid $5 million a season, for the sake of this argument plays the hockey equivalent of one down and then gets carried off the ice…with an injury.
As for Gomez, little can be said for him that hasn’t been said already. He’s been a disappointment and the fact that defenseman Ryan McDonagh, for whom he was traded by the New York Rangers, is doing so well certainly isn’t helping matters.
If only someone could go back in time and warn Bob Gainey about the horrible mistake he was about to make. And, if somehow, some way, that someone without deviating too much from the time-travel mission at hand found themselves in the neighborhood, a well-placed punch square in Gomez’s gut certainly couldn’t hurt (anybody but him).
Granted, the chances of Gomez and Gionta getting back whatever they lost all those years ago are slim to none. If they could though, a PGG line (Plekanec) would most definitely give Montreal two lines with which to be reckoned. And, if not, the parental guidance jokes in regard to the affront Gomez has become to hockey practically write themselves.
Northeast Division Becomes the Northwest
Of course, this would be in reference to the Northwest Division of years past, before the Minnesota Wild monopolized free agency, the Edmonton Oilers did the same to the draft, and the Vancouver Canucks were the only real challenge to play against of the five teams that used to look more like a deranged take on the Usual Suspects than legitimate National Hockey League competition. Last one to say, “Not it,” gets to be Stephen Baldwin.
Think about it:
1. Vancouver is Gabriel Byrne, the jail-hardened veteran with whom no one wants to mess…who doesn’t quite make it to the end of the movie.
2. Edmonton is Kevin Spacey, the cripple who ends up being the real threat (spoiler alert, sorry).
3. Colorado is Benicio Del Toro, whom, try as you might, you can’t really make sense of.
4. Calgary is Kevin Pollock, a comedian completely miscast in the role of a tough guy featuring nothing but stupid lines.
5. That leaves Baldwin as Minnesota (my apologies), a team, despite its best efforts, no one could ever take seriously and has only enjoyed slightly more success than its brother franchise, the Columbus Blue Jackets (Daniel Baldwin).
As it stands now, Montreal finds itself in the Northeast where each of the four other teams has a better shot at making the playoffs. And, needless to say, no one of the current six NHL divisions has ever seen all of its five teams make the postseason.
Boston? You can hand the Bruins their ticket in right now.
Buffalo? The Sabres have a much better team than the first half of their season last year would indicate.
Toronto? Before the team’s free fall during the second half of last season, the Maple Leafs were right there and perhaps deserved a better fate.
Ottawa? The Senators may not be as good as last year’s post-season berth may suggest, but they did make it and that’s more than can be said for the Habs.
So, one way Montreal gets in is through the bending of the space-time continuum and the Habs find themselves in the Northwest Division of last year in the place of its easternmost-team, the Wild.
After all, just like Baldwin, Montreal has undeniably delivered “B” season after “B” season ever since its last championship in the mid-'90s.
A Lockout Results in Half the Season Being Lost
It’s nothing anybody wants, but a lockout is perhaps the most realistic way Montreal makes the playoffs this coming season. A shortened season means a shorter schedule, less chance of Montreal’s players wearing down and a greater chance that the Habs are able stick to their game plan game-in, game-out, catch fire and sneak in.
During the last lockout, the season was only cancelled that February. If the NHL and the players’ union had been able to come to an agreement immediately prior to the deadline that had been set, there would have been a season of just under 30 games.
Just look at what the Minnesota Wild was able to accomplish out of the starting gates last season before missing the playoffs altogether. Through 30 games last year, the Wild owned the best record in the NHL at 20-7-3.
Coincidentally, it was game 31 that everything started to go wrong and Minnesota lost eight consecutive games and 15 of their next 18. Worse yet, Minnesota ended up with a losing record of 35-36-11.
No, Minnesota did not have a good team last year. Even had captain Mikko Koivu not missed 27 games, there’s a case to be made they still wouldn’t have made the post-season. Hell, there’s a case that they weren’t a good team even to start the year and their record was just an aberration.
Honestly, though, the truth is the Wild did clearly play well to start the year, just all out over their heads. It was only logical that it would eventually all came crashing down.
With a lockout, though, Montreal wouldn’t necessarily need to worry about game 31. They would just need to get through the first 30 (or however many games long the season ends up being).
Even if Montreal follows in Minny’s footsteps and gets swept out of the playoffs in games 31-34, no one is expecting them to win it all. Making the playoffs would be their and their fans’ Stanley Cup.
To continue with the card game analogy, a lockout would allow the Habs the opportunity to go all in with house money and actually win. A long, drawn-out game would conversely only benefit the league’s powerhouses. The only real way the Habs make it in such an instance is if it turns into strip poker, in which case Montreal would have home-ice advantage.