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As we approach June, we find ourselves in day two-hundred and who cares of the NHL lockout, but that’s not the topic of this article.  Today, we take a look at what will need to be done in Habs Land when they finally get back to playing hockey.  Bob Gainey and Co. will have plenty to deal with between now and September, which we all hope will be the start of training camp, and not the 1-year mark of the lockout.  Let’s start with some potential future Habs:

June 1st – Prospect Signing Deadline:

Later this week, the standard NHL deadline for signing either junior aged prospects and NCAA players who have finished their careers will pass with nary a signing.  (Overseas prospects are not subject to this deadline.)  Normally, these players would either be eligible to re-enter the draft, or become unrestricted free agents.  Unfortunately, because of the lockout, NHL teams cannot sign these players, so the question becomes, what will come of this?  The real answer is that right now, nobody knows.  The NHLPA will push for the players to become free agents, while the NHL, of course, will seek to create a special deadline, which would allow teams to have a chance to sign them.  Several Habs fall into this category of uncertainty.  They are: W/C Danny Stewart (Rimouski-QMJHL), C Maxim Lapierre (PEI-QMJHL), W Jimmy Bonneau (PEI-QMJHL), G Jaroslav Halak (Lewiston-QMJHL), and D Mark Flood (Peterborough-OHL).  If there is no NHL season come September, these players could sign with an AHL (or ECHL) team of their choice, or in the case of 4 of the skaters (all except Flood), return back to the ‘Q’.

Speaking of overseas prospects…:

Although there is no deadline to sign players overseas, it doesn’t mean that the Habs aren’t looking to bring a few players over.  W Mikhail Grabovsky had his breakout party this year, winding up in the top-25 in RSL scoring, and having a 4-goal game for Belarus in the recently held World Championships.  D Mark Streit also played well in the Worlds, and could be brought over in a #7 NHL d-man role, while fellow defenders Tomas Linhart, Konstantin Korneev and Oskari Korpikari could be signed to play in Hamilton come 2005-06.

Draft Preparations:

Even though the ‘event’ part of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft has been cancelled, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be a draft.  In fact, should the lockout end in the coming weeks, don’t be surprised to see it held via conference call on the day it was originally scheduled for (June 25th).  With virtually all  junior leagues throughout North America and Europe now complete, Montreal’s scouting staff will begin to assemble their draft list.  Where they’ll pick is yet to be determined, however, the format of the draft lottery appears to be determined.  Although no official word has yet been given, it appears that the standings between 2000-01 and 2003-04 will be used, as teams who’ve missed the playoffs in those seasons will have the most “ping-pong balls” when they hold the draw.  For those who are wondering, the Habs missed the playoffs twice in that span, and Columbus and the Rangers would have the best chance of landing the top pick in that scenario.

Coaching Staff:

Earlier this past offseason, assistant coach Guy Charron left Montreal to sign on as the lead assistant to Florida coach Jacques Martin.  To this day, his replacement has not yet been named.  The general consensus around the organization is that Doug Jarvis will join the Canadiens and that current Hamilton assistant Ron Wilson would take over as head coach of the Bulldogs.  However, nothing has been carved in stone yet and there are plenty of others out there looking for an assistant’s role.

Bulldogs need many new bodies:

Let me clarify this first, this is not based on their result this past season, but the reality that roughly half the team will not be back next season.  The 5 Dallas prospects will be playing for the Iowa Stars next year, while NHL’ers in Steve Begin, Ron Hainsey, and Jason Ward have seen their AHL contracts expire.  Tomas Plekanec has indicated that he isn’t all that interested in returning next season, as he reportedly either wants to play in the NHL, or back home in the Czech league.  Up-and-coming prospects in Mike Komisarek and Chris Higgins will likely start in Montreal if there’s a season, as may Raitis Ivanans if there is no other tough guy on the Habs.  Add to that AHL free agents in James Sanford, Benjamin Carpentier, and Phillipe Plante, and there isn’t a whole lot left.  Some of the aforementioned prospects will take up some spots, but even after that, several players will have to be signed to fill up the squad.

2004 Free Agency:

When September 15th hit, there were still some free agents remaining in the Canadiens organization.  Almost all significant restricted free agents were re-signed, with the exception of W Michael Ryder.  The 2 parties were fairly far apart on dollar figures at last report.  Then, there are the unrestricted ones, where there are some notable names.  Trade deadline pickups in Alexei Kovalev and Jim Dowd remain unsigned, and both have indicated that they are at least somewhat interested in returning to the team.  Faceoff specialist Yanic Perreault also doesn’t have a home, but his days in Montreal appear to be numbered.

2005 Free Agency:

Although it has not yet been confirmed, it appears that contracts will not roll over despite the lockout, giving us some different names to talk about for free agency.  D Karl Dykhuis’ deal will expire come July, while the Canadiens have an option on AHL C Gavin Morgan.  Montreal also has a $1M buyout clause on Patrice Brisebois’ deal, which likely will be exercised, making him a UFA.  Then comes the real uncertainty.  It is a virtual guarantee that the age for UFA’s will be lowered in the next CBA, which will make Saku Koivu unrestricted as well.  Notable upcoming RFA’s are: D Andrei Markov, Francis Bouillon, and Mike Komisarek, F Jan Bulis, Pierre Dagenais, Mike Ribeiro, and Jason Ward, plus goalies Jose Theodore, Yann Danis, and Olivier Michaud. 

Establishment of Rookie Camp and entry into prospect tourney:

Right now, this would be the least of the franchise’s concerns, but it is something on their to-do list.  Upon completion of the draft, prospects generally head to Montreal in July for a week-long training camp, and then participate in a 4 or 5 team tournament in August.  As of yet, neither has been scheduled.  If nothing has been resolved by then, the Hamilton Bulldogs could hold an “independent camp” when AHL camps roll around, inviting prospects via Amateur Tryout Contracts (ATO’s) to participate in the main camp.

Renewal of Sponsorship agreements and season ticket holders:

The direct contrast of above, this will be the top priority of the team when the NHL comes back.  Season ticket renewals in Montreal since the lockout began are the lowest percentage amongst the 6 Canadian teams (-5%), and that number will likely drop more.  Expect to see new innovative marketing campaigns to attempt to rekindle interest in the franchise.  As for sponsors, many in the past weeks have indicated that they are currently exploring other avenues to place their money in, which would lead to less money in owner George Gillett’s pocket, which, in turn, would result in a lower payroll for the team.  Creative gimmicks to lure sponsors back as well will be in the works.

So, although one would think very little is going on with the Habs right now, there is plenty to be done.  Hopefully for Habs and NHL fans alike, the doing will be done sooner rather than later, and there will be no more talk about the lockout, which for the record, stands at 257 days and counting as of the publication date of this article.