Montreal Canadiens: Approaching the Trade Deadline...and Beyond.
Posted by Rocket
It's been a crazy week or two in the world of the Montreal Canadiens. A roller-coaster of emotions complete with drama, intrigue, disappointment, and jubilation. Let's take time to look back, and then ahead to the final six weeks of the season.
First, there was an article in La Presse and their much-ado-about-nothing allegations. It was accompanied by the sky-is-falling ninnies on L'Antichambre. It seems that it was nothing more than some bad associations, along with a pathetic attempt to discredit three players who "compete" for ice-time against the media's "chosen few" on the team.
Last week, La Presse promised that a boat load of additional allegations would be released involving more Canadiens' players. As the week went on, the spin changed to say that the story was being reviewed by their legal counsel. It says something about the validity of the story when a team of lawyers is required to vet the information.
Then we watched the public spat between my-door-is-always-open coach Guy Carbonneau and I-fight-by-appointment-only Georges Laraque. The two had a meeting where Georges said that he wanted to play more (and would gladly look after Carbo's media interviews).
The coach responded by telling Laraque that he never liked enforcers, the meeting was over, and that he should close the door on his way out.
Having been rebuffed, Laraque decided to take his case to the media. He is not quite a master of spin yet but tried his hand anyway. "It's the most frustrated I've been in my career," said Laraque. "I play hard and I give everything I have when I play," Laraque said. "I fight for my teammates and everything I do for respect."
Laraque's comments were laughable (from a safe distance). He has not played hard this season. Laraque came to training camp out of shape and has contributed very little to the Canadiens. He has not brought a physical game nor provided a deterrent to the opposition.
As Georges has been reluctant to fight anyone outside of his weight class, opponents continue to take liberties with the Canadiens' star players. Saying that he fights for his teammates is pure fiction. Each of Laraque's fights this year has been pre-arranged.
Tom Kostopoulos and Francis Bouillon have been the ones spontaneously stepping in to defend teammates.
Laraque's public comments drew the ire of a very hypocritical coach Carbonneau. “I don’t like it, definitely. It’s not good for the team. It’s not good for his teammates. I don’t want anyone to be happy when he’s not playing, but that should stay internally.”
Apparently, Carbonneau hasn't heard of the phrase "what's good for the goose is good for the gander." (Georges, if you are reading, I'm not calling you a goose or a gander.)
You see, it is Carbonneau who is rather fond of bypassing the usual coach-player communication channels and going right to the media, when he wants to toss a player under the bus.
Carbonneau has publicly criticized, humiliated, zapped the confidence, and painted a bulls-eye on the back of players like Carey Price, Alex Kovalev, Sergei Kostitsyn, Ryan O'Byrne, etc.
That list also includes Laraque.
Carbonneau publicly questioned Laraque's injury status a few months ago. "They were wondering whether I was faking," said Laraque. Georges was so incensed that he forced the Canadiens to specifically identify his back injury.
Laraque is very good at self-promotion and seems to already have one foot in his next career. As Kelly Hrudey from Hockey Night in Canada says "Laraque is not committed to hockey right now." Georges seems more interested in his own celebrity.
It's interesting that Carbonneau and Laraque share many similar characteristics. They both focus more on their media image rather than the job that they were hired to do.
They both have an inflated opinion of their contribution to the team. Guy and Georges both seem to be trying to ride on their reputation of past performance.
Next on the agenda was the trade of Steve Begin to the Dallas Stars for minor league defenseman Doug Janik.
Begin had been a healthy scratch in the previous five games. He had met with the General Manager, and as Bob Gainey described "in a very mature way asked if I could find a place where he could have a better possibility of playing regularly."
In a classy move, Gainey obliged sending him to the Stars.
It was a move that also helped the Canadiens by creating cap space. It allowed Montreal to pick up Glen Metropolit, a much more useful utility player on waivers from Philadelphia the following day.
Begin was a player with lots of heart. He was a fan and media favorite. Begin's contribution to the Canadiens has been recognized and is appreciated.
On a personal note, I wish him well in Dallas. But the media reaction to his trade has been ridiculous and worse. Begin is a fourth-line player no more, no less.
He is also a high reward, high risk player. He was known for solid, punishing checks. But Begin was also known for taking bad penalties. Sometimes, Steve was overzealous in looking for a big hit which made him a defensive liability.
Begin was also reluctant to drop the gloves. Begin had lost his role to players who did it better, such as Kostopoulos and Stewart.
The comments on French radio and TV about Gainey after the trade of Begin were unbelievable. They were discriminatory and bigoted. The commentators were a disgrace to all Quebeckers and they should have been asked to resign.
Begin had spoken about the lack of communication by the head coach. He also had heated discussions at practise with the coaching staff.
Laraque would like a trade. Mathieu Dandenault isn't happy with his role. Alex Kovalev situation is well documented. The General Manager was forced to put out Carbonneau's fires.
The interesting part of the Kovalev story is that Gainey communicated Alex's grievances to the coach. Since Kovalev returned to the line-up, he is getting more ice-time, playing with his preferred line-mates, and benefiting from a resurgent power-play.
Perhaps, another intervention will be required to remind Carbonneau that it is his responsibility to get his No. 1 goaltender ready for the playoffs.
Just as the Canadiens would not win with Max Lapierre getting first line center ice-time, neither will it go far in the playoffs with Jaroslav Halak.
Halak is playing with much more confidence and has made improvements to his game, from earlier in the season. His positioning relative to the net is much better, and he no longer plays as deep in the crease. But Halak still has trouble controlling rebounds, which has inflated the shots against recently.
Jaro also has trouble holding onto shots into his glove hand, and he is very weak handling the puck.
In the words of Gainey, Carey Price "was our best player for the first 35 games." Gainey added "He was also one of the best goalies in the league." Bob understands that they will need Price for the playoffs.
With less than a quarter of the season left, Carbonneau will have to completely reverse the practice of undermining the confidence of his franchise player.
With less than 20 games left in the season, it's time to start preparing for the playoffs. The formula that has provided four Canadiens' wins will not hold up. The good news is that power-play is back on track.
Now, it's time to use the Canadiens' speed and skill to play a puck pursuit game. Hanging back and trying to defend leads is risky, very taxing on the players, and doesn't match the skill set of the roster.
It is unclear what Gainey will do at the trade deadline. On Saturday, Bob said "this is pretty close to the team that we will enter the playoff race with." Gainey included Ryan O'Byrne and Sergei Kostitsyn in that group.
Bob did say that "our phone lines will be open" regarding any potential trades but that hardly sounds like a general manager who will be actively pursuing a big deal.
Expect Mathieu Dandenault to be moved, if there are any takers. It could be that other often-mentioned names like Laraque and Halak will only be moved in the offseason.
With the return of Alex Tanguay to the line-up, the Canadiens could, as Gainey described, be close to "running on all cylinders at the same time." Gainey's vision of the playoff version of the Canadiens is "a team who is tough to play against."
Let's hope that Bob is right.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)
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