Montreal Canadiens Offseason Preview, Part II: Defense
As free agency season is still open, and it's time to look towards another exciting season, let's take another look at the starting lineups for the 2008-09 version of Les Canadiens de Montreal.
As they always say, defense wins championships.
But does it?
Take a look around the NHL, and you'll see many teams stacked up on the blue line. The New York Rangers weren't too shy about spending the big bucks on the back end, acquiring Wade Redden and Dmitri Kalinin to an already strong defense—including Michael Roszival, Paul Mara, and Marc Staal among others.
The Chicago Blackhawks gained Brian Campbell to go along with Cam Barker, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith. The defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings re-upped Brad Stuart to an already lethal blue line, including Nick Lidstrom, Nik Kronwall, and Brian Rafalski.
So how's it going in La Belle Province?
Let's just say we're down a D-man.
One of the most lethal defensemen on the blue line during the power play, Mark Streit walked away from the team that brought him into the NHL after a stellar season in which he notched 62 points—the most by any Swiss player. Off to Long Island, Streit has found a new home to play only defense.
After finding Streit to fit into the hole left by the departure of Sheldon Souray last offseason, the Canadiens now have to turn to other defensemen to fill the hole that Streit has left.
Possible candidates could include workhorse Josh Gorges, big-man Ryan O'Byrne, or even the newly acquired Shawn Belle.
Whomever it is, the hope is that the Canadiens' league-leading power play does not struggle through the season after dominating with the extra man in 2007-08. Perhaps the departure of a powerhouse defenseman to quarterback to the power play will help the Canadiens to be more concerned about scoring five-on-five—an area in which they seemed to improve this last season.
Gorges was solid down the stretch, after having some ups and downs in the first half of the season. And he always seemed to make it onto the after-game interviews, quickly becoming a favorite of the reporters.
O'Byrne started his rookie season down in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs, but with injuries to Bouillon and others down the stretch, he got his first taste of the NHL in late December. He didn't fail to impress, notching his first NHL point in his first NHL game in the sunny state of Florida.
O'Byrne's 6'5" frame gives the Canadiens a much needed height presence on the blue line. He also likes to throw around his 234 pounds on the back end too.
Shawn Belle has seen limited NHL action—only nine games with the Minnesota Wild in 2006-07, notching one assist. Belle's 6'1", 235-lb. frame is another welcome addition, considering the fact the Canadiens dealt 5'9", 168-lb. Corey Locke for the big defenseman.
With Gorges, O'Byrne, and Belle all vying for the lower spots on the defensive roster, the Canadiens have always been supported by the main top-four defenseman Andrei Markov, Mike Komisarek, Roman Hamrlik, and Francis Bouillon.
After taking part in his first career NHL All-Star Game, Andrei Markov seemed to disappear in the playoffs. Shying away from the physical play, Markov appeared to be playing injured throughout the final games of the Boston series and throughout the Flyers series.
Markov's reduction in critical play showed, as the Canadiens' defense suffered without its leading goal-scoring defenseman.
Markov has three years left on his contract that pays him $5.75 million for the next three years, and is hoping to have an impact on the blue line.
Talk about making an impact on the blue line—then you'd be talking about 6'4, 237 lbs Mike Komisarek, also known by some in the Montreal media as Komisarus Rex. After a few years of steady play, Komisarek's finally hitting his stride as a complete defender.
His 266 hits were only second to LA Kings' forward Dustin Brown's 311. Add in that he missed almost a quarter of the season, and you can see the impact that Komisarek's physical play had on the Canadiens success. Look for Komisarek to be more of a force in his upcoming contract season.
What Roman Hamrlik brings is consistency. Brought in to seemingly replace the former No. 44, Hamrlik's steady play earned him regular ice time and a general liking amongst Montreal Canadiens fans.
The former first-overall pick also contributed offensively with, five goals and 26 points, a far cry from his 38 last season in Calgary. Yet Hamrlik is more defensively sound than was Sheldon Souray—anyone remember Jason Spezza drop Souray's jock and then make Jose Theodore lose some more hair?
Francis Bouillon continues to play as the most underrated defenseman in the NHL. The feisty 5'8", 201-lb. defenseman doesn't quit, and never backs down. Despite low offensive numbers (two goals, six assists in 74 games), his determination and high energy make him a perfect fit in the fourth spot on the Canadiens blue line. Bouillon's hard hits and rub-outs make him a favorite amongst Habs fans.
Sometimes you can see Mathieu Dandenault—and sometimes you can't. After two seasons of playing both forward and defense, Dandenault seemed to be getting impatient with the Canadiens coaching staff about not getting enough playing time.
Yet Dandenault is entering his final season of his three-year contract and may be heading out of Montreal sooner than that. The Sherbrooke, Quebec native is one of a few Canadiens with a Stanley Cup ring—two, with the Detroit Red Wings.
Rounding out the defense is old-time player Patrice Brisebois. Brought back on a one-year contract, Brisebois got a rousing ovation from the Bell Centre faithful opening night. And this time around, Brisebois was not the No. 1 defenseman, taking all the pressure off and allowing him to play his game.
And he played a lot better than when he used to be booed off the ice by the Habs faithful. Despite only playing 43 games this season, Brisebois collected three goals and 11 points. He also climbed the Canadiens' all-time games played list, tying Jean-Guy Talbot for sixth on the list for defensemen with 791 games. Brisebois also sits sixth in points by a defensemen with 342. But will Brisebois be back?
Looking at the upcoming 2008-09 Montreal Canadiens blue line hopefully brings hope and excitement to Habs fans. A blend of offensive talent and hard-hitting checkers will make for a good game every game. And with up-and-coming defensemen such as David Fischer, PK Subban, and Ryan McDonagh, the Canadiens blue line will be stacked with good players for years to come.
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