I cannot hide it, but my first article on Bleacher Report is stimulated by the summer discussions regarding Bob Gainey's plans, general manager of the Montreal Canadiens. It makes me smile when I read these discussions, as they all seem to be trying to find major flaws in Bob Gainey's management decisions.
Are there any? Why would there be any? What happened so far this summer, in preparation of the 2008-2009 season that could lead us to think that something is wrong with the Canadiens? Is it possible that since there is not much to talk about, that many people are trying to dig, to make something up that could create a discussion, a doubt, a scare?
I surely think so.
I, personally, am completely ecstatic about the upcoming season. And when I read other forums and other discussions looking at us, the Montreal Canadiens, the major consensus is that Bob Gainey improved the team.
A team that did NOT have a fluke season, unlike what I've recently read from some unsuspicious anti-Habs writer. ;-)
A team that beat 14 other eastern conference teams during the regular season.
A team that lead the entire NHL in offense and power play efficiency.
A team that did not have a top 10 NHL forward.
A team with great team spirit, with great chemistry, that was destined, by many, to miss the playoffs. Not by me, as I predicted that they would finish 5th in their conference. I was off by a few positions.
And Bob Gainey improved that team by fixing almost every major hole that was identified by many so-to-speak experts.
1- Lack of an experienced goalie to help Carey Price
Many thought that having a pair of youngsters in front of the net could be a wild card. A wild card that Gainey took last season and we ended up in the top shelf of our division, conference. But with the team's lack of toughness and the referees that swallowed their whistle, Carey could not handle the playoffs by himself.
But for the upcoming season, many thought that it could be risky to go again with two youngsters, just in case Carey is not ready to handle 50-60 games. Gainey could not have done a better hiring in Marc Denis. First, he added a French Canadian to our team. Let's face it, American players are better appreciated in American teams and it goes the same with any local players playing close to home.
Playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Marc Denis will have a lot of motivations to come back to the level of playing he used to have, to be a good NHL goalie. He's young, 31; he has time to come back. If Huet can achieve NHL standards at 27-28, if Théodore can come back to a very good level of goaltending, Marc Denis, with the help of the Canadiens goaltending coaching staff, has a chance to stir something up in the roster; if he can.
And if he does, it will give Gainey more cards to play and more options to improve the team even more.
2- Lack of toughness
This problem was discussed all season. The coach and GM tried to belittle this problem. But in the last playoffs, against the Flyers it came back to bite them in the.. you know what. I don't think Gainey could have done a better job at hiring one of, if not, the best fighter in the league in George Laraque.
And he added tough supporting actors in Ryan Flynn and Shawn Bell. What more can we ask for? Problem solved.
3- Lack of a good left wing
In general, Montreal is lacking another potent, constant, stable offensive line. Koivu and Higgins have a hard time to keep up and remain constant. Sometimes they have a good stretch, a good season even, but sometimes they hit major slumps.
On the left wing, we have good 50-55 pointers in Christopher Higgins and Andrei Kostitsyn, but we don't have a winger to the level of Alex Kovalev, a player that can rack 70-80 points per season. Alex Tanguay did achieve this kind of seasons in his career and many times! In 8 seasons, he had one with 81 points, 3 with close to 80 points and one close to 70 points. We can expect him to have between 70-80 points with the Montreal offense.
4- Lack of good right wing
Sure, we have Alex Kovalev, but after that? Sergei Kostitsyn? Tom Kostopoulos? George Laraque? It's clearly a problem. Sergei could, maybe, reach his brother's level, but that's a long stretch. He will not reach 70-80 points next season.
I guess that's where Gainey has a major problem, because there are not many on the markets, not many as good as Teamu Selanne. But Gainey will not be able to sign two good players like Selanne or Sundin. So, it's a tough choice.
5- Lack of a good center
Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec are good, not great, but good, but most importantly, they are very small. As I wrote earlier, Saku Koivu can be good; can produce 70-75 points if he has good wingers. He did have a good right wing at one point in Ryder, but last year it showed that Koivu cannot produce if he has nobody to put it in the net.
Another center will solve this problem and for sure Mats Sundin would allow Coach Carbonneau to make 3 great offensive trios. But it's not the end of the world.
I think by fixing the lack of toughness, adding a great left wing and adding an experienced goalie to give the youngsters a ride for their money have seriously improved the team already. There are no doubts that Montreal will be fighting for a top position in the conference, once again.
And it will not be a fluke.
Can we compete against the overloaded Detroit Red Wings? Maybe, if their goalie cannot keep up. But the same can be said about Montreal. So far, as I wrote, I'm very ecstatic about the upcoming season.
That explains why I don't understand why so many people are trying to dig impossible bad news about the Habs. I think the only bad news Montreal could have is from other teams trading/signing. So far, I give an A+ to Bob Gainey's decisions.
As I told my girlfriend a few weeks ago:
'Next season will be expensive in game tickets!'
Thanks for reading.