From Canadians to Canadiens: A Look Ahead to Sochi and the End of the Season

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From Canadians to Canadiens: A Look Ahead to Sochi and the End of the Season
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

A few random thoughts are rattling around my head this Monday morning, as I bask in the everlasting glow of the 2010 Olympics and await tonight's Habs tilt versus the Bruins.

For me, the 2010 Olympic ice hockey tournament was some of the best hockey I have seen in my life.

Exciting, fast-paced competition with shots, hits, incredible passes, highlight reel goals, and even better saves. It was simply the way the game is meant to be played, but I guess that's what happens when you get the best players in the world playing in one tournament.

If the spectacle was so good then why would the NHL choose not to take part in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi?

The ratings alone and exposure that the game got should make it a no-brainer for the NHL to commit.

No?

Looking around, it seems like people believe that the NHL owes it to fans to be in Sochi and to reach an agreement with the KHL. While Gary Bettman is trying to make it clear that Sochi is far from a foregone conclusion, I for one am not buying it.

I do not believe for a minute that the NHL actually intends on withholding their participation from Sochi.

Why?

Because this is Gary Bettman's M.O. and I believe that he is using Sochi as a bargaining chip.

Bettman, in my opinion, intends to hold the 2014 Olympic over the heads of the Russian-based KHL in order to gain leverage during negotiations. Without it, he won't be negotiating from a position of strength.

Russia and the KHL want the 2014 Olympic tournament in Sochi to be even better than the one we just saw in Vancouver. The only way for that to happen is if the NHL players are allowed to attend and Sochi organizers know it.

By threatening not to attend, Bettman is creating a leverage point against the KHL president, Medvedev.

While the relations have been strained between the KHL and the NHL in recent years—they do not currently have a clearly defined player transfer agreement—both sides know that they have to work out a deal sooner or later.

Given that the Russians want/need NHL players to attend the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Bettman's posturing will give him the long end of the stick during negotiations. We'll see how well he uses it but I think that the closer we get to Sochi the higher the likelihood that they come to an agreement.

That, in my opinion, is something you can bank on.

Will the Habs Make the Playoffs?

The Montreal Canadiens take to the ice tonight against the Boston Bruins, in Boston, with less than 48 hours till the NHL trade deadline. With trade rumors swirling and both team clinging tenuously to playoff spots—the Bruins with 65 points in seventh place and the Habs with 64 points in eight place—tonight's four-point game becomes a must win for both teams.

The Habs had a number of players take part in the Olympics and I can't help but think that their experience will only serve to give them a boost for the stretch run.

With 19 games remaining in their season and the teams in front and behind them holding games in hand, the Habs have little to no margin for error. As such, I think that their fate as a potential playoff team lies squarely in the hands of their goaltenders.

Halak, arguably one of the MVPs of the Olympic tournament, looks pumped, confident, and ready to carry the team on his back. His Olympic performance served to show that he has truly arrived as a legitimate No. 1 goaltender in the league.

But what about Carey Price? Where does he fit into this picture?

My feeling is that the Olympic break will have done Price, and a lot of Habs, a ton of good. Seeing him interviewed on RDS yesterday, he looked calm and relaxed. No longer seeming like the man-boy who was being crushed by the pressure of playing in Montreal, Price looked happy and at ease with himself.

A few days off will do that for anyone!

Heck, most of us know from our day-to-day lives that getting away from things and gaining a little perspective often helps to get your head screwed on straight.

So, back to Price: My prediction is that starting tonight, he will turn in some of the best performances of his still young career. While he should still be looked at more in a backup role, I believe that we will see a much more confident Price over the next 19 games than we did over the first 63.

Price's hopefully improved play, combined with the players returning from injury and continued stellar work by Halak, should be enough to get the Habs into the playoffs.

Keep in mind that there is always the X factor of potential trades that Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier might make between now and Wednesday.

Whatever ends up happening, this is going to be a great race to the finish line. Let's just hope the Habs are still standing once the dust settles.

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