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This past week was one of contrast, the Habs continued to struggle aside from a surprising 4-1 victory over Ottawa.  The other 2 games were high-scoring losses, where goaltending cost the team 4 points.  Meanwhile, an appearance from Bob Gainey seemed to spark the Hamilton Bulldogs, as they went a very impressive 3-0 this week, allowing just 4 goals in the process.  This week, we recap the struggles of the Habs over the past 6 weeks, and look at some of the positives surrounding the organization, as well as assess the tradability of Mike Ribeiro.

Frequenting many-a-message-board, the general consensus is practically to blow the whole team up and start from scratch.  Fortunately, that’s much easier said than done, especially under the new salary structure.  Today, we note of several positives that should ease some minds.  We start with the brains of the operation.

The positives:

Positive #1 – Bob Gainey:

Rest assured that Bob is searching for ways to improve this team, but given the cap structure and parity in the league, it’s much harder to do than before.  What’s important to remember (and feel good about here) is that Gainey has built a winner before in Dallas (albeit under different circumstances), and is known to many as one of, if not the best GM currently in the NHL.  This track record only means that Gainey does his homework, and obviously wins more deals than he loses.  This is encouraging as we head forward towards the trade deadline, which is now just 2 months away.  Also ask yourselves this as well, is there another GM out there that you would want running this team at the moment?

Positive #2 – Win and they’re in:

Despite the struggles of the last while, the Habs still control their own destiny.  At the time of publication, they sit 9th in the conference, 1 point behind Tampa for 8th, and just 2 back of Atlanta for 7th.  What’s important though is that the Habs have 3 games in hand on the Lightning, and 4 on the Thrashers.  If all 3 teams were to play .500 hockey in the 2nd half, the Habs would wind up ahead of both teams.  This is certainly a reasonable goal to strive for.

Positive #3- World Junior Successes:

Although the Habs didn’t have a lot of prospects in the tournament, the ones that were there were for the most part noticeable.  Russian d-man Alexei Emelin led all defencemen in scoring at the tourney, and earned his 2nd straight silver medal.  Juraj Mikus didn’t do much offensively, but was an important factor in the relegation round in helping Slovakia stay in the upper tier.  Siarhei Kostitsyn was the MVP of the Division 2 tournament, and helped earn a promotion to the ‘A’ bracket for 2007.  And then there was Team Canada, featuring captain Kyle Chipchura and Guillaume Latendresse.  Chipchura played a key role throughout the tournament and scored the final goal as well.  Latendresse saw limited action, but practicing in that structure for 2 solid weeks can only improve a player, and it will also show him what it will take to make the team again next season, a lesson that should not be taken lightly.

Positive #4 – Contributions from the young’uns:

The offence for the most part has struggled so far this season, but it hasn’t been because of the rookies. Of the first-year players on the team (excluding Garth Murray who played double-digit games with NYR the last season), they have all combined for 18 goals and 27 assists so far.  Even more impressive is that they seem to be doing it with minimal ice time, as Claude Julien goes with a short bench.  Simple logic states that these players should only get better as they play more, which bodes well not only for the 2nd half of this season, but also in years to come.

Positive #5 – Sellouts galore:

No one can suggest that the fans in Montreal have stopped caring about the NHL.  The Bell Centre in Montreal holds 21,273 people at capacity.  The overall attendance through 20 games so far?  425,460 have walked through the turnstiles, which makes for an average of: 21,273.  Yes, every game has been a sellout so far, putting the Habs on pace to set an all-time record (team and NHL) for total attendance in a season.  All the revenues may also persuade owner George Gillett to keep putting good money into the team’s payroll.  Keep up the good work.

Positive #6 – Minimal whining during the losing streak:

With struggles all around, and players being benched left, right, and centre, it has been very nice to see that there has been minimal conflict and complaints from the players (the fans haven’t been so patient though).  It is very important to avoid making the situation worse, and thus far, aside from a little skirmish in practice between Chris Higgins and Mike Komisarek, the players have been successful there.  Special credit to Mike Ribeiro, who took his benching and moved on, hopefully the message got across.  Speaking of Ribeiro…

Final Thought:

Over the past few weeks, days even, almost every Hab has been bandied about in trade rumours.  One of the most mentioned has indeed been Mike Ribeiro.  It seems as if almost everyone thinks he’s about to be headed out of town.  Quite frankly, I simply cannot see him being dealt.  One must keep in mind Ribeiro’s antics when he allegedly suffered a stinger in the playoffs versus Boston.  That left a sour touch throughout the league, one that will be difficult to erase, and thus far, his play has done little to erase it.  This makes it difficult to find an objective GM who’ll look past his “acting” and move something of market value for him.  Meanwhile in Montreal, Ribeiro continues to be one of the more popular players, and has a feel for the way some of the wingers play.  Also going for him is that the team does not not appear to have another player ready to fill that role.  Tomas Plekanec may be the closest, and he’s out another few weeks.  My point here?  As much as he has struggled this year, and given his reputation throughout the league, Mike Ribeiro may actually be worth more to Montreal than any return for him in a possible trade.  And if that’s the case, it’s best we keep him, at least for the time being.