Going into the off-season, with the upcoming
entry draft, and free agent period, it is extremely important that the Canadiens
front office relives and remembers the 06/07 season. It wasn’t pretty at times,
but there is no other way to learn and correct what is wrong with the team on
and off the ice.
This past season was full of ups and downs, unfortunately, almost a perfect
50/50 split of each. The Canadiens started the season as strong as anyone (not
named the Sabres) with a top three PP percentage and the number one PK unit; and
in one instance only 5 points behind the league leading team from Buffalo. The
Canadiens were labeled as overachievers either fairly or unfairly depending on
your view, by most hockey experts and media alike. The general consensus was
that the Canadiens would come crashing back to earth and drop in the standings
because they were just not as good as their current standing.
As we all now know it turned out to be true, but not for the reasons that were
so readily supplied. There were some injuries at critical points, like Chris
Higgins going down early while leading the team in scoring and leading the
league in shorthanded goals; to Cristobal Huet and his hamstring injury in the
stretch drive of the season. The main cause of the Canadiens collapse can be
roughly attributed to the worst team in the NHL this past season; the
The Flyers had a horrible season to be sure, but they also had a rather nasty
flu bug go through the team in late November that stayed and decimated their
lineup for a full five weeks. As luck and scheduling would have it they also
lost to the Canadiens 4-2 at the Bell Centre on December 21st in a lackluster
performance from the Flyers while starting to get healthy again. At this point
in the 06/07 campaign in Montreal the Canadiens boasted their fifth win in a row
while collecting points in eight straight games, as well as scoring a league
leading 10th shorthanded goal on the number one penalty killing unit and scoring
twice on the top ranked power play. Nice run, but the Flyers not only left the
two points in Montreal, they left the flu bug that ravaged them for weeks.
This is the turning point in the season for the Canadiens, just a little bug.
This particular flu caused a number of issues for the team. At the apex of the
illness the Canadiens had as many as nine players being fed liquids
intravenously between periods so they could ice a full team. After fighting
though this debilitating wave and healthy players were beginning to return to
the lineup, it started a second wave of attacks and went through the entire
lineup again forcing the Canadiens to cancel practices and shut down the
dressing rooms, trainers facilities, showers, weight rooms and every area that
players had access to so they could decontaminate and kill the flu bug once and
for all. Too late, the damage was done over the next two months it took to rid
the team of the virus, and the Habs skated to a 21-26-1 record from December
21st to the final game on April 7th skewing their excellent first half record of
21-8-5. The record over the final two months caused by the flu and injuries not
only irked fans, it caused a rift in the dressing room at times as players were
frustrated and irritable from losing ground in the standings and not being able to play like it would do to all of us.
The key to all of the issues the team faced this season is managements need to get involved. While the Habs suffered from illness, management should have called up reinforcements from Hamilton to take the place of players that shouldn’t have been playing (IV’s between periods is extreme). If that wasn’t possible there are always other options via trade, waivers etc. This speaks to depth issues, or a coaching staff’s lack of confidence in the players available.
The second issue that needs to be addressed, and perhaps more importantly, is the rift in the dressing room. It started while the team battled the flu, but it continued throughout the rest of the season. This shows a lack of leadership, chemistry and managements presence/ involvement in the dressing room.
Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Samsonov, to name the most obvious, did nothing this season to help the team either on the ice, and seemed to do what they could to disrupt the team off the ice.
The Canadiens brass has to make a move here with both parties; not just for the sake of the on ice performance of the team, but also for the dressing room and chemistry. Making up excuses or ailments (eg. Vertigo) to keep high profile players out of the lineup is not an option. Vertigo was probably the last possible reason they could supply where media couldn’t look back at the footage to see when an “injury” happened. Now that the excuse bin is empty (alphabetically anyway) Bob Gainey and company need to sit Kovalev and Samsonov down and get a guarantee from each player that both of the games ( the media outbursts and their horrible play during games) they both are guilty of, are officially over. If not, move them both out, no matter the costs involved.
This painful flashback is necessary for the teams’ immediate and long term
future. Starting with the final buzzer of the last game of the season, Canadiens
management had decisions to make concerning the current restricted free agents,
unrestricted free agents, and prospects that could be eligible to re-enter the
NHL draft. Now entering the month of June in a few short days, the toughest part
should be over with and a game plan or blueprint should be as set as possible
for the upcoming season.
Just don’t expect much with all that can go against you at this time of year.
At this point, the team knows the weaknesses of the previous team and will look
to address those areas as best as they can from within the system, the NHL entry
draft, and the UFA period beginning July 1st. all areas of management have jobs
to do in the off-season and they all should be well under way.
Trevor Timmins and the scouting staff have supplied a list of eligible players
for the June 22nd draft that they feel will help the team in the future.
Bob Gainey and the ownership group have defined enough of the payroll for the
07/08 season to know how much money and cap space should be available if there
are RFA’s/UFA’s the team would like to add. There has also been a period where
Gainey and company have talked to agents of their own RFA’s/UFA’s to get an idea
of what salaries the players are looking for without officially opening
All of this is common for any NHL club right now, but the Canadiens with their
history and tradition have every move put under a microscope by media and fans
in hope to get back to the glory days. What does all the planning, scouting,
free agent tire kicking, and trade possibilities mean….absolutely nothing.
The two most important parts of this off-season, Draft day and the un-restricted
free agent period, are also the most risky, with at least three critical
roadblocks to overcome in each situation that cannot be controlled by
#1) Even though the scouting department have supplied their picks for all the
rounds, there is no guarantee that any player will be there when your turn comes
up unless you have the first overall pick; and the Canadiens hold the 12th and
#2) All of this goes out the window if Bob Gainey is able to make a trade
involving the two first round picks to either move up in draft position or to
get a player that can help the club now (e.g. a number one centre or
#3) After the first two have been passed; the player you select might not ever
reach their potential, the NHL, or could suffer from a career ending injury.
July 1st UFA begins
#1) The first hurdle is the salary cap. 90% of the teams will have some room by
this day adding to the competition for free agents.
#2) A team could have $20M for free agent spending but it doesn’t matter unless
the player wants to go there. Montreal fans witnessed this last season with
Shanahan. Montreal is not an easy place to play and some players don’t want the
#3) Assuming that both of the other issues have been resolved, there is no
guarantee that any player signed will play the way they can or should. Again,
Canadiens management and fans have been stung by this last year by the enigma
Sergei Samsonov and two years ago through a draft day trade with Radek Bonk.
The importance of both events are critical to any teams success as evident by
the Anaheim Ducks who started making moves last season at this time acquiring
Chris Pronger among others, and now will play the second game of the 06/07
Stanley cup finals tonight versus Ottawa; who also have made great strides in
both the draft and UFA periods to get where they are. Both teams are deserving
of a Stanley Cup final berth, but it didn’t come overnight and without growing
pains; something Canadiens fans and media unrealistically expect every year.