HabsWorld.net -- 

With the strong start to the 2007-08 campaign,
there are no shortage of items to discuss when it comes to the Montreal
Canadiens.  From who’s playing well to trade rumours to goalie
controversies, there’s always something to talk about.  Over the last few
weeks, we’ve invited our readers to submit questions to our writers about
everything Habs-related.  You’ve asked, and we’ve responded, with the first
edition of the 07-08 HabsWorld mailbag.

The writers:

T.C. Denault ([email protected])
Brian La Rose ([email protected])
Matthew Macaskill ([email protected])
Norman Szcyrek ([email protected])

1)  Do you think the fact that Ryder only got a one year deal
gave his confidence a big blow that maybe management doesn’t believe in him have
anything to do with his slow start?

T.C. Denault:
Personally, I think Ryder’s slow start has to do with him overthinking and
trying to do too much. It seems to me that earlier in the year he wanted to make
a pass, set up the play as opposed to doing what he does best, which is shoot
the puck. Ryder is one of these players who can’t think on the ice, to be
successful he must follow his instincts, and his main instinct is to shoot the

Also with this being his contract year, maybe he’s trying to expand his game and
thus, his value on the open market this summer.

Brian La Rose:
I’d have to say no here.  Ryder is a perpetual slow starter; his
numbers last season are very similar to this year’s.  Also, it’s not like
this is the first time he’s ever received a one-year deal from management, he’s
certainly used to that by now.  There’s a huge difference from being a
restricted free agent and unrestricted, one that I think most fans overlook –
instead of proving yourself to one team, you’re shopping yourself for 29 others
as well, and that’s certainly intimidating.

Matthew Macaskill:
Had Ryder received a multi-year contract during the past offseason, I do
believe there would have been less pressure on the winger to perform, resulting
in a better start. I’m not so sure that the fact that he has a one-year deal is
solely responsible for the slump he’s currently facing, rather the pressure of
feeling obliged to perform in order to warrant a rich deal at the end of the
season is likely weighing on Ryder’s shoulders. That, and he’s simply gripping
the stick a little too hard.

2)  Do you see
Chipchura becoming our 3rd center when Smolinski will most likely leave Montreal
next year?

T.C. Denault:
I see Chipchura maybe becoming
our third centre quicker than that, because of his play, and also because of
Smolinski’s versatility. One cannot help but be impressed by Chipchura and he
already has become an integral part of the team with the coaches willing to use
him in important moments so far. Besides his defensive skills I also think that
there is a little more offensive upside to Chipchura, which I think we’ll start
to see as the season continues.

Brian La Rose:
Right now, he’s certainly the obvious choice, even if the club opts to bring
Smolinski back.  As T.C. alluded to, Smolinski is quite versatile, and can
fit in on the wing, possibly with Chipchura, a combination that I wouldn’t be
surprised to see in the coming weeks.  Although, if Montreal goes after a
centre in the offseason to play on a scoring line, that will bump Plekanec back
down to the 3rd, so it’s certainly far from a given.

Matthew Macaskill:
I wouldn’t be surprised if Chipchura took over the third line centre role
before the conclusion of this season. Smolinski has shown that he can play
either wing as well as down the middle, so should Chipchura progress more
quickly than originally expected, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s rewarded. One
knock on the 21-year-old’s game heading into the season was that he was too slow
on the ice. While he’s by no means the fastest guy out there, people may be
mistaking his tendencies to play defensively and not skate himself out of
position as a lack of foot speed. When he’s on the ice and the opposition is
moving deep into the Montreal zone, number 28 is consistently the first guy back
to fight for the puck behind his own net – acting as a third defenseman. There’s
no where to go but up for this kid.

3)  Will having a lack
of an enforcer hurt, or help the Habs?

T.C. Denault:
I feel that the whole talk of an
enforcer is outdated. There are many other teams that don’t employ them, and as
for those who do … does having Wade Belak sit in the press box and waste a
roster spot help the Leafs? The simple fact remains that there aren’t many
"enforcers" left that are capable of playing a regular shift with an NHL team.
Personally, I think the Canadiens should add a Chris Nilan type player, but I
don’t see many Chris Nilan’s out there. And furthermore with today’s new
anti-fighting rules, can an enforcer really be as effective as Nilan was back in
the day?

Brian La Rose:
I think I sense the "Bring back Aaron Downey" bandwagon beginning to circle. 
To say that not having a tough guy will help would be somewhat erroneous, as it
always helps to have some muscle, but at the same time, what did Downey, a known
enforcer, really do for Montreal?  I’d much rather see a player like Tom
Kostopoulos who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves but can also play a regular
shift.  As long as coach Carbonneau wants to roll 4 consistent lines, we
won’t be seeing an enforcer in a Montreal uniform.

Matthew Macaskill:
There’s really little to benefit from having a three to four minute player
sitting on the bench or in the press box for the majority of the season. There
are a few players on the Canadiens roster who can step up when needed: Michael
Komisarek, Roman Hamrlik, and Tom Kostopoulos. While no one wants, nor likes to
see their best players getting hurt in a fight, just the fact that the guys I
mentioned play game in and game out is enough to keep most opponents at bay.
Take the game versus Philadelphia for example. When the Habs started to run the
scoreboard, the Flyers began to take their shots, resulting in two fighting
majors – one for Komisarek and the other for Kostopoulos. So to officially
answer this question, I believe it benefits the Habs NOT to have an enforcer
because it allows coach Guy Carbonneau to ice four solid lines throughout the
game keeping each of his players fresh for their next shift opposed to wearing
out his players throughout the season with a three line system.

4)  Do you
think Carey Price can become the Habs number one goalie this season?

T.C. Denault:
At the start of the season, I
would have said no, but now I’m not too sure. If Huet continues to play at this
level, I think that the two goalies will split the play 50-50, and maybe 60-40
for Huet. In the playoffs, I think we might see Price only if Huet falters. Now
if the Canadiens are intending to sign Huet beyond this year, then he plays in
the playoffs.

Brian La Rose:
He’s played a grand total of 4 NHL games, it’s way too early to even have
this discussion.  Price is showing that he’s going to be a very good goalie
down the road, but this is not the time.  I’ve been on record saying he
should be back in Hamilton right now playing every night, not based on his play,
but what I think is best for his development.  I wouldn’t be surprised to
see something along the lines of a 60-40 split as the year progresses, but
barring something completely unforseen or a significant slump, Cristobal Huet
likely will remain the top gun between the pipes.

Norman Szcyrek:
While all Habs fans would like to say yes at this moment, I don’t believe it
will happen. He has played well at times, and has shown spurts of good play, but
has also shown some weaknesses (eg. five hole). Barring a serious injury to
Cristobal Huet, Price will stay as the #2 for the 2007-08 season.

5)  If Price becomes the number one goalie for the Habs this
season, what trade scenarios involving Huet are possible and who do you think
the Habs can acquire if they trade Huet in a package deal?

T.C. Denault:
If Huet continues to play at this level I think he will garner a lot of
interest at the trade deadline. With that being said if Huet continues to play
well, and the team does good then a trade becomes unlikely. But to answer the
question, I see no reason why Huet can’t get as much for the Habs as Rivet did
in a deal and probably more, at least a first round pick and a starting forward
and/or defenceman. With that being said if you pick the right desperate team
(for example, Atlanta last year) you can get a good package of picks and

Brian La Rose:
As I said in the last question, I doubt Price becomes numero uno this year,
and even then, I don’t see much of a market for goalies, now, or at the
deadline.  You can make the quality vs quantity debate when it comes to
available goalies, but the fact is, there are other goalies similar to Huet that
are readily available now.  Come deadline time, I can’t see any
playoff-bound team looking at a guy like Huet as a #1 replacement (unless he has
a remarkable season), and if that’s the case, the other guys available will
lower the market value to the point where a potential return may be limited to a
draft pick/lower tier skater.

Norman Szcyrek:
I do not believe the Habs will trade
Huet unless they are far, far behind for the last playoff spot at the trade
deadline. Given that the deadline will be in mid-February, it’s unlikely that
Bob Gainey will pull the trigger on such a move. The expectation is that the
Habs will be in the race for a playoff spot, and they are more likely to get
there with Huet then without him. That was evident last season, when Sheldon
Souray was not dealt before the trade deadline, despite the indications he would
not resign with the Habs.

Questions, comments about our responses?  Feel free to e-mail our writers
(their addresses are shown above), or if you have any questions you’d like to
see covered in the next mailbag, use the comment field below or include them
with your thoughts to the writers.