Written by Omar Hussein
Every experiment is broken up into several steps called the scientific method. In the summer of 2006, the Montreal Canadiens were confident that they had found the final pieces to their puzzle. However, a little less than half way through the season, “Les Habitants” were puzzled by the behavior of their biggest off-season acquisition, Sergei Samsonov.
Declared unhappy one month into the season by his agent, the former Calder Trophy winner was reported to be frustrated with the treatment he was receiving by the Habs brass and especially head Coach and former Captain Guy Carbonneau.
As sports scientists, let us first observe the situation that was taking place. Early in the season, Samsonov, who, according to many Montreal Canadiens fans, has been able to amass 418 points in 596 games by simply floating and being the worst player in the league, was placed on a line with Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec. Having started the season ice cold, all three players were already looking for answers to questions on whether they would start producing sooner or later.
This is when things started to turn sour for Samsonov and the entire Canadiens organization. Carbonneau threatened to scratch the two time 29 goal scorer against his former team, the Boston Bruins. Adding insult to injury, he then promoted rookie Guillaume Latendresse, who went nine games without a single point and a plus/minus of -6. Many have pointed to that precise moment in time as the first crucial mistake made by Carbonneau. Although this decision must have certainly delighted the French media, it seems to have done the complete opposite in the dressing room as we could already sense hostility on the part of some veterans.
What baffles many fans the most is the fact that Carbonneau did not even think of putting together a line consisting of Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Samsonov and instead, rewarding one of the leagues worst plus/minus player, Michael Ryder by keeping him on the first line.
It seems as if this storyline is all too familiar to Montreal Canadiens fans. Donald Audette, Mariusz Czerkawski, Martin Rucinsky and Dainius Zubrus were all once tabbed as talented and capable scoring wingers and yet, never panned out in “La Belle Province”. As a slap in the face, the season after Czerkawski left Montreal; he scored 25 goals with the New York Islanders.
Is it just a case of choosing the wrong players? Possibly. Can it be the defensive shell that has been implemented in the Habs system for the past 10 years? No question about it. Players like Sergei Samsonov, who has scored over 20 goals five times in his career, do not lose their talent overnight, especially at 28 years of age. Jaromir Jagr, although not the best spokesperson for consistent grittiness and playing as a team player, even said that Samsonov still has game left in him.
Samsonov – a player Canadiens fans always dreamt that Oleg Petrov could mimic – was a Habs’ killer in the past. Now, it seems as if the Canadiens have killed his career.
As every good experience ends with a conclusion, this is mine. Be careful what you wish for Montreal Canadiens fans; although Sergei Samsonov was extremely disappointing last season and at times a distraction, he can very easily become next years Teemu Selanne, Bill Guerin or, to the dismay of Habland, Mike Ribeiro.
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