Sergei Samsonov is having an awful season and everyone knows it, even Samsonov himself. The question remains whether or not Samsonov will still be a member of the Montreal Canadiens come 3:01p.m. on February 27th. There is a good chance that Bob Gainey and company are not ready to give up on the diminutive Russian.
Patience was shown with Radek Bonk who had a sub-par season with the Habs last season, but has moved on to have a successful campaign this year as one of the team’s key players. If this same patience is shown with Samsonov, we may get to see the best of him next season.
When he signed a 2-year, $7.05 million deal in the off season, many fans expected a fantastic season for the winger who was destined to play along side Alex Kovalev. That fantastic season never materialized. Instead, Samsonov has only 7 goals and 13 assists in 48 games. Most would have expected at least 35-45 points from the winger by this point in the season.
Rumors are flying left and right concerning a potential move by the Habs that would include Samsonov. However, one has to wonder what kind of return Montreal could receive for a player who has so greatly under-performed. Considering the Canadiens are likely to make the playoffs this season, they would want to keep around some veterans for a run, especially someone like Samsonov who went to the final game of the Stanley Cup Finals with Edmonton last season.
There are a few positives to moving Samsonov. It would clear up cap room, which could be used to bring in a veteran second line center for the playoffs. Also, Samsonov and his contract could be moved in favor of a center. Another positive to moving him would be to give a younger player a spot on the roster. Some players who could benefit from a spot are Andrei Kostitsyn, Mikhail Grabovsky, or even Alexander Perezhogin who could use more ice time which would provide Maxim Lapierre with a permanent place on the forth line.
When Carbonneau expressed that he was going to place Samsonov on the forth line in attempt to balance the lines earlier in the season, the winger wasn’t happy about it to say the least. Samsonov went on record to say that he didn’t sign with the team to play on the forth line, and that he isn’t getting paid over 3 million dollars to receive little ice time. Samsonov’s comments forced Carbonneau to submit to the demands and they also helped jump-start rumors that GM Bob Gainey was seeking a new team for him. Those rumors have and will continue to intensify as the deadline approaches.
Meanwhile, what kind or how damaging a riff the situation may have caused, and what the feelings in the dressing room are after these events occurred is unknown. The fact that Samsonov has yet to play alongside Saku Koivu this season may raise a few questions. It could be argued that pairing the two small forwards together would be a bad idea or that Guillaume Latendresse’s improving play warranted a promotion more than Samsonov’s lack-luster play. However, Koivu helped Latendresse gain confidence and prove that he could provide offense at the NHL level. If the move worked for Latendresse, why wouldn’t it for Samsonov?
Adjusting to a team that has grown together as the Montreal Canadiens have over the past few years is a hard process to accomplish. Bonk went through it last season, and Samsonov is facing that very problem right now. It still seems as though we have the Montreal Canadiens as a team on one side and Sergei Samsonov on the other. Carbonneau has tried almost everything to connect the two with little luck. Finally, the coach resorted to scratching Samsonov along with Craig Rivet during the team’s slump a week ago. The benching seemed to work because Samsonov returned the next game to score a goal playing on the third line with Mike Johnson and Bonk.
To prove that players can rebound from a bad season, even in Montreal, we can take a closer look at Bonk who arrived in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings prior to the lockout. A trade that also saw All-Star goaltender Cristobal Huet come to the Canadiens and a 2004 3rd Round pick move to LA.
A show of hands from those who expected Bonk’s name to be mentioned as a Selke candidate this season after his below-average play last season. Now, I don’t know that Bonk will actually be nominated for the award because he hasn’t amassed the common point totals (40+) that past Selke winners have collected in the seasons they won the award. Also, his +4 isn’t anything to brag about with many forwards possessing a better plus/minus. However, Bonk and line-mate Mike Johnson have done an excellent job this season shutting down opponents’ top players, and they are a large reason why Montreal had the third best penalty-kill percentage going into the All-Star break.
Yet, at the end of the 2006-2007 season, it was hard to find any fan who was impressed with Bonk. The 31-year-old missed 21 games due to injury last season, most of which was due to a bad groin. The big center picked up 21 points in the 61 games he played, including only 6 goals, a total he has already matched in 44 games this season. Bonk’s -3 rating was the first time since the 1999-2000 season, where he had a -2, that the Czech had a negative plus/minus.
Bonk is on pace for a 25 point season, which would be only slightly better than his output last season in fewer games. Though, the difference this season has been his dominance against some of the league’s best players. Coach Carbonneau has surely helped Bonk along in becoming the successful shut-down center his is.
The question remains whether there is anyone out there who can help Samsonov become the offensive force he was when he played in Boston alongside Joe Thornton. If there is anyone on Habs’ current roster that could bring out the best in Samsonov, it would be Koivu, but only time will tell whether or not he’ll ever get a chance. Still, don’t bet on Samsonov being moved at the deadline for a bag of pucks. Gainey will likely choose remain patient that, like Bonk, Samsonov will find his game in Montreal.