Saturday, March 26, 2011

I got a feeling...

Ooooooh oooooooh, that tonight we actually score a goal!  I know, I got big dreams.  But seriously, tonight's gonna be a good night... Okay I'll stop. So everyone's going berserk over the line changes tonight; why would you split them up, why would you put him with him, bla bla bla...  Listen, when a team plays their butts off, wins the majority of puck battles in all zones, and does all the little things right--it practically doesn't matter what the lines are.  Martin knows that Eller and AK work well together; but he also knows that 2 guys who can only score goals against the other team's worst players, aren't going to win you the cup. So here's another shot for AK to play in the top 6 and prove that he can score against the big boys.  In order to win more than a couple of games in the playoffs, the guys who get paid the big bucks have to be our best players--there's no way around it.  When Pittsburgh won the cup 2 years ago, Max Talbot played great, but Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Gonchar and Staal were still the team's best players.  So for those of you who think that the answer to our problems is playing Eller and Desharnais 20 minutes a game, White 18, and Gomez 12, well you're just flat wrong.  And please don't put Subban in the same category as the guys i just mentioned, because we all know that maybe he's the best skater we've drafted since maybe LeClair and Desjardins in '87. He can play 25 minutes a game in the playoffs as a rookie because he's just that good. Eller, Desharnais and White are just not there yet, and it seems like only me, Martin and the coaching staff are aware of that.  So be it.

Mark my words: if we're celebrating a first round victory approximately a month from now, it will be because we got serious production from our top line guys, and not because a bunch of rookies put the team on their backs.  I know it's every Gomez hater's wet dream to see him ride the pine while Desharnais scores points in bunches during the playoffs, but it's just not happening.  Reality bites I know; but at least you don't wake up from a great dream and start crying because you realize in a flash that it's not real.  So you can drink from my bittersweet Gomez oasis or stay in your dreamy, Eller mirage. It's up to you.  Just don't expect me to let you on the Gomez/Gionta/Cammy bandwagon when we leave town for round 2.  This bus is full; no room for haters.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Habs go Wild in Minnesota

Um, didn’t see that one coming.  Honestly, I’m always surprised when the Habs score more than 3 goals, let alone 8, and that with a full line-up. Scoring 8 goals without 8 regulars is kind of well, absurd, but I’m not complaining.  It was clearly a game where one team, the Wild, pretty much gave up playing after the first minute of play.  Minnesota is currently in that in-between zone, too good to be considered spoilers, and not good enough to be considered playoff contenders.   It’s really the last place you want to be in, emotionally speaking.  Around a week ago they were fighting for a playoff spot, and right in the thick of it.  But after their recent streak of losses, it’s pretty much clear that it’s not going to happen for them, and last night’s game was a collective swan song.  You can never say that a team has completely given up on the season, but the Wild are as close as you can get to that.  The Canadiens took full advantage of the situation, as they should have, and got the much needed two points.  The Habs are still on the outside looking in for the coveted 4-5 spot in the conference, a position that would greatly enhance their chances of passing on to the second round.  As it stands, fate seems to have the Habs barreling head long into a match-up with the Bruins, either with home-ice advantage or not.  Hard to know if that would be good or bad news, but I bet if you ask Montreal players their opinion on the subject, they’d probably say they relish the chance at beating Boston.  Personally I’d rather avoid them, but I know that’s a just due to the worry of getting another one of our players severely concussed.  Because besides that, Montreal has for the most part handled the Bruins quite well this season.  The team that looks the most dangerous at the moment seems to be the Capitals, who have to learnt how to win the close games by playing actual defense.

Personally, I’m at the point where I’ve decided that any kind of winning in the playoffs, be it a couple of games let alone rounds, is pure gravy for this season.  With all the injuries, horrible misfortunes, and under-performances by key players, this team has incredibly overachieved this year.  It’s almost a carbon copy of my Louisville Cardinals, and when they lost in their first round game, I was sad but not altogether surprised.  Overacheiving takes a lot out of you, and sometimes you simply have nothing left in the tank by season’s end.  So here’s hoping the Habs do well in the playoffs, but I think we should all tip our hat to the coaching staff and the GM, for just making the playoffs in the first place—a remarkable accomplishment in itself due to the calamity which was and is the Canadiens 2010-2011 season.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Canadian Jinx

So it's official: I royally jinxed the teams with Canadian players.  Texas, Syracuse and Gonzaga all lost this weekend, Texas and Syracuse losing in close games, both coming down to the final seconds.  The good news is that besides Richmond winning, I failed to notice that there is also a Canadian on Marquette (who beat Syracause), named Junior Cadougan.  Of course now that I've mentioned him, I guess I've basically given his team a death sentence!

P.S. Virginia Commonwealth is this year's cinderella. They just destroyed #4 seed Purdue, and will go on to face fellow underdog #10 Florida State in the Sweet 16. Richmond will take on #1 Kansas, while Marquette gets #2 seed North Carolina.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cards lose; who to root for now?

Well with my team out, I guess you could say that "March Madness" has morphed into "March Sadness." Louisville failed my no.1 key to winning, with both Siva and Knowles getting into foul trouble, and worse, Knowles having to leave the game with 8 minutes left due to injury.

So what now? Hard to watch any sport without anyone to root for, even something as exciting as the NCAA tournament.  My solution is pretty simple: Go Canada!  I'm not the most patriotic person when it comes to politics, but when it comes to sports I become fanatical.  Fortunately here, there's actually some really good Canadian talent in the tournament, talent that has already helped 4 teams advance on to the round of 32.  Texas, Syracuse, Gonzaga and Richmond all have key Canadian members, some of which have NBA aspirations as well.  Here's a quick peak at them:

1. Texas's duo of 2010 McDonald's All-Americans Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph.  

Texas is my dark horse team to win it all, and a big reason is because of these two freshmen Toronto natives. Thompson is a power forward that does everything on the floor, defensively and offensively.  In the first game against Oakland, he scored 17, brought down 10 boards and blocked an eye-opening 7 shots.  Joseph might not be as impressive as his teammate, but he's certainly been as effective, averaging just 1.5 turnovers a game manning the point. A big guard, Joseph is relied on a lot (32.3 minutes per game) despite his freshman status, and is a very good 3-point shooter, averaging 41%.  This duo, along with sophomore star Jordan Hamilton are all 3 potential lottery picks as early as next year, with Thompson projecting to be a top 5 pick if he forgoes his final 3 years.  Definitely an exciting team to watch!

Edit: Thompson said today that he’ll be back for another year at least, making Texas almost a lock for a top 5 preseason pick next year.  Another All-American Torontonian, guard Myck Kabongo, joins the mix next year, which might force them to change their name from Texas to the Toronto Longhorns!

2. Kris Joseph, Syracuse Orangeman

Kris Joseph is small forward that can do it all, and is extremely difficult to guard because of his dribbling and post-up abilities. What makes matters worse for defenders is the fact he can also effectively stroke the 3, averaging 37% for the season. Joseph led the Orange with a 14.4 clip, and was second in rebounding, averaging 5 a game.  Joseph is from my hometown of Montreal, and will probably be the first Montrealer to be drafted in the 1st round, ever.  Definitely hard to not root for this guy!

3. Robert Sacre, Kelly Olynyk, Mangisto Arop, Gonzaga Bulldogs

Senior Robert Sacre is the heart and soul of the Bulldogs up front, averaging 12.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game.  Youngsters Olynyk and Arop come in off the bench and play far less, but are quite impactful when they get their opportunities.  Gonzaga were among the most impressive teams in their easy first round victory over favorite St. John’s, and though not favored to beat BYU in the next round, are picked by many experts to win the tilt.

4.  Francis Cedric Martel, Richmond Spiders

Though not nearly as highly touted as the other Canucks mentioned above, Montreal-born Martel, a junior forward who comes in off the bench, is intriguing player to watch this tournament.  In his first game against favored Vanderbilt, Martel knocked down 4 3-pointers, grabbed 5 boards and blocked 2 shots, giving him possibly his best career performance.  The Spiders are being talked about as a potential Cinderella team, and they have a good chance of continuing on to the Sweet 16 with a match-up against Morehead State tonight. 

You can catch the Richmond/Morehead State and Gonzaga/BYU games tonight, starting at 5:15 and 7:45 respectively.   In Sunday's games, Texas plays Arizona at 6:10, while Syracuse takes on Marquette at 7:45.

Monday, March 14, 2011

How Louisville can win it all

To be honest, they probably won't win.  Even as a diehard fan, I can't sit here and say with a straight face that I actually think they'll win. There are far too many things working against them, or have been working against them all year long.   Right off the top, Louisville is missing 4 potentially key pieces, players that could have made a huge difference this year.  Two big guards, Memphis 6'5 transfer Robert Sallie (who averaged 10.5pts last season) and top 50 recruit Justin Coleman (also 6'5) failed to join the club due to academic restraints.  Top returning rebounder Jared Swopshire had a sports hernia injury in the summer that he was supposed to recover from in December.  He never came back, and is out for the year.  Next in line to fill in for Swopshire was last year's top recruit Rakeem Buckles, and he did an admirable job, unitl he too got injured.  Buckles has been injured most of the year, and will also not be participating in the tournament.  So there you have it:  two top rebounders and two potentially influential big guards that basically never played for the team this year.  Instead, its been a bunch of guys that no one really expected to play much this year that have picked up the slack.  Guys like Gorgui Dieng, Chris Smith, and Stephen Van Treese have all gotten the job done off the bench, and all the guards have stepped up their defense game to help out on the boards.  It's required an effort level that most players on other teams would not have been willing to give, but that's what makes this Louisville squad special.  Despite their obvious lack of talent and size, they've overcome the odds all year long.  So can they keep it going?  Well let's just say a whole lot has to go right.  Here's how I think it's possible:

1.) Peyton Siva and Preston Knowles must stay out of foul trouble 

Everything on offense flows from these two players.  The Cards are a team that live and die by the three, and not many teams have players who can dribble, drive and kick as well as these two guys can.  If both Knowles and Siva can avoid fouls early, they will be in good shape against anyone, even Kansas.  The problem that they face is that most of their fouls occur while implementing Pitino's frenetic defense.  Pitino tries to get opposing offenses to speed up their dribble which causes turnovers, but on the negative side it results in a lot of blocking, and other ticky-tack fouls.  It will be up to Siva and Knowles to put the pressure on all game, without taking needless fouls.  Against the best guards in the country, this will require defensive gems from both of them, and I think they're capable of doing it, especially Knowles who's in his last year.

2.) Terrence Jennings must play defense and rebound

Simply put, Jennings needs to be a monster in the paint area.  Nobody else has the talent or size inside to make a difference on the boards, with the exception of  Dieng's blocking prowess.  Jennings has been improving all year long so i think he's up for the challenge, but there will be little room for error against the Kansas's and Ohio State's of the world.

3.) The three-point shooters must continue to be good

I wouldn't even be talking about the Cards right now if it wasn't for their prowess behind the arc this year.  What makes the Cards so dangerous is that they have so many guys who can shoot the 3 well.  Smith, Kuric, Knowles and Marra have all been lights out at different times during the year.

4.) Controlling the pace

Louisville is a team that has made a name for itself all year long by putting up points in spurts, and the only way to do that is to turn the game into a track meet.  The vast majority of the games they lost this year were played at a snail pace.  Upping the tempo will have to be their goal in every game, no matter who they play.

If all four of these criteria are met, Louisville will either win or barely lose against anyone in the country. You have my word on it.  The amount of effort it requires, physically and psychologically, is enormous, but if there was a team to do it, it would be this Pitino-coached team.  He's said himself that he's never had a team play as a whole as much as this squad, and for a guy who has 5 final fours and a national championship under his belt, that's saying a lot.  We'll find out soon enough if all that hard work will amount to anything.  Either way, they've already accomplished much more than anyone, including themselves could have ever imagined.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Looking for respite?

If you're like one of my friends who has basically had it with the NHL and is looking for another sport to watch, I have two words for you: March Madness.  To me, this annual American college basketball tournament, involving now 68 teams, is unrivaled in terms of excitement and drama.  For those of you who fell in love with this past Olympics, this is probably as close as it gets.  Of the over a 1,000 athletes that take part in this tournament (and the weeks that lead up to it), only a small percentage ever become NBA players.  For most of the kids taking part, this is their one big chance to do something great on a big stage, their one opportunity to shine.  Kids are not playing for money, they're not playing for a contract; it's all about the team and winning for your fans; the essential nature of what sports is supposed to be about.

For those not acquainted to the game of college basketball, well try to learn the rules--it's worth it.  Go to this link: for a quick briefing on the ins-and-outs of the game.

The tournament begins next Thursday, March 17th, with conference tournaments currently underway across the nation.

NHL 100% to blame for latest calamity

Over the past couple of days i have spent countless hours listening to talk radio, watching hockey analysts, and talking to friends about what unfolded at the Bell Centre Tuesday night.  I'm exhausted.  My opinion is this: Zdeno Chara should have been suspended for his illegal hit on Max Pacioretty, regardless of his intent.  To say that what he did was a split-second, in the heat of the play type act does not get him off the hook.  You could say that every hit from behind that has resulted in a suspension was also non-premeditated, and also simply in the heat of the moment.  They all still got suspended.  The problem here is that like Richards' hit on Booth and Cooke's hit on Savard last year, they didn't have a rule in place to correctly penalize the offender.  They changed the rule after the Cooke hit to make any hit to the head illegal and liable for suspension.  But it was too late, the damage had already been done; Savard is currently at home suffering headaches every day, his life in shambles.  And now this, a "hockey play" that has resulted in Max Pacioretty being millimeters away from paralysis.  Well maybe after enough outcry they may change the rules once again, but again, it will be too late.  The league has proven time and again that they're not forward thinking, that they simply react and repair.  When someone eventually gets killed on the ice what will they do then?  How do you repair a situation like that?  I wouldn't mind hearing Gary Bettman's answer to that question.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Barcelona tops 10-men Arsenal

Well, all i can say is this: Most teams can barely contain Barcelona with eleven men. With ten, it's basically football suicide. That said, Arsenal strategy out of the gate was a little odd. You'd think that their goal would have been to get a quick away goal THEN sit back and play defense for the rest of the game, but this was definitely not the case.  For almost the entire first half, Barcelona seemed to be in complete control, with Arsenal rarely connecting on a pass on the rare occasion they had the ball.  Still, Arsenal's defense had been doing a remarkably good job of limiting any real scoring chances by the Camp Nou side.  It was an eventual brain cramp by Fabregas at the tail end of the first half that put Barca ahead, with Messi finishing beautifully.
The second half could not have started any better for Arsenal.  On basically their first scoring chance of the entire game, Busquets headed into his own net on a corner, and suddenly Arsenal was back into the lead on aggregate.  But then the unthinkable: Robin Van Persie is caught offside on a through-ball and kicks the ball wide.  Van Persie, who had already received a yellow in the first half, is sanctioned again for kicking the ball after the whistle, and subsequently booted from the game.  Considering that there was 98,000 fans screaming all at once, you could understand Van Persie frustration, that there was a good chance he couldn't hear the whistle.  A pretty harsh decision by the ref, considering the importance of the game.  Yes, the referee was simply following the rulebook to a tee, but you'd think there would be a certain amount leniency in such a situation. But there was none, and the game took an understandably sharp turn in Barcelona's favor. Within 10 minutes Barcelona had already scored twice, and the game was quickly out of Arsenal's reach.  You could say that Barcelona looked like they were going to win anyway, but the fact of the matter is that Arsenal had a huge advantage with the own goal by Busquets, and the game changed completely with a very questionable decision by the referee.  For sports fans, its always a disappointment for a game to be decided by the officials, as was the case here.  As for me, obvious disappointment as my favorite player and team are now out of the competition...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday Morning Thoughts

On the Habs/Bruins game tomorrow:

Calling up tough guys for a single game is ridiculous.  Last time i checked, all the tough guys on the Bruins are also pretty good at something else: playing hockey.  You'll just be hurting your team if you bring up inferior players to counter them.  Look, the Bruins are good, they can play any style, they can play the speed game as well.  The only thing the Habs can do is play their game and not lose focus like they did last time around.  Losing focus and actually believing that they were inferior to Boston is why they lost, not because they actually were.  If anything else, bringing up players would just confirm the fact to the Bruins that the Habs are scared of them.  What a weak statement to make going into a game...
I'm a big believer that hockey, and sports in general, comes down to the psychological battle more than anything else.  If you look back to the much-talked about bloodbath against the Bruins, you'll remember that the Bruins dominated us physically, but you may forget that the Habs were never really out of the game until half way through the 3rd period.  But that was only on the scoreboard; you could tell that the Habs players were clearly thinking more about IF and WHEN the next fight might happen, and not actually focusing on playing THEIR game.  The point is this: Montreal lost the game because they lost the psychological game, pure and simple.  If they had kept their heads, forgotten about the fights, and focused on taking care of business 5 on 5, the game probably would have gone a whole lot differently.  Hopefully this time around, if a fight happens, the Habs will let it slide off their back--if they don't, it'll look a lot like last time...

On Trevor Gillies:

Have to say Don Cherry was bang on Saturday night when he said that the Gillies hit on Clutterbuck wasn't that bad, that it was actually a hit to the shoulder not the head.  For the first time, maybe ever, a player's INTENT and not the CONSEQUENCE is what got a player suspended for multiple games.  Gillies is out 10 games, and Clutterbuck barely missed a shift.  Maybe Colin Campbell is finally getting the message.  Maybe we'll start seeing more serious suspensions for hits that aren't hockey plays.  Honestly though, I think this was a situation where Campbell suspended Gillies because he had to, and not really because he wanted to.  This was more an aberration than anything else, in my opinion.  Also, this wasn't even the kind of hit that people are sick and tired of seeing.  We've yet to see Campbell harshly penalize players for hits on players when they're in a vulnerable position.  Clutterbuck was not hit in the numbers; he wasn't vulnerable.  This suspension wasn't about anything else other then the NHL coming down hard on one player because he's a nuisance to the league, a irritating fly that Campbell felt had to be swatted away.  He was an easy player to make an example of.  Until Campbell comes down hard on the Matt Cooke's of the world, I will not feel that there is any kind of culture change in regards to dangerous hits to the head.

Friday, March 4, 2011

College Hoops: Louiville Keeps Winning

Why is a Montrealer writing about a college basketball team as random as the Louisville Cardinals?  Good question. Let's just put it this way: I've always been a big fan of the undersized underdog.  The Buffalo Bills started growing on me because of the exploits of diminutive QB Doug Flutie.  With the Phoenix Suns it's the same idea, Steve Nash is the ultimate example of a little guy taking on the world.  The Habs have a host of a small players.  Louisville?  Well they've always been a small-ball, guard driven team, that uses the 3-ball as there most prized possession. They have 6'2 Chris Smith who sometimes plays power forward. 'Nuff said.

Anyways, lets talk Cards. How can you not love this team? Rick Pitino must be some kind of genius because he's managed to take a team that a) was supposed to finish 8th in the conference b) lost only returning starter Jared Swopshire for the season, before the season even begun c) endured countless injuries to practically every important player on the team--and turned them into a team first, defense first, no-star powerhouse.  They currently sit alone in 3rd in the Big East, with a record of 12-5.  Rick Pitino said earlier this year that 10 victories would be a great accomplishment in this conference.  12, maybe 13 wins would therefore be some sort of miracle.

After finding out that they lost small forward Rakeem Buckles for the remainder of the year, Louisville came out at the KFC Yum! center last night and showed the rest of the NCAA how much that loss will mean.  Very little.  The Cards trounced the Providence Friars 87-60, a team that beat them earlier in the year, and who also have wins over Alabama and Villanova.  Going into the tournament, I predict that the Cards will continue to surprise, simply because nobody really respects them as a true tourney favorite, despite the fact that all they keep doing is beat top ranked opponents.  Maybe the Cards prefer being the underdog, though I'd be a bit miffed if I were Pitino and saw where Joe Lunardi had them in his recent much lauded "bracketology". Hey Joe, wake up! How do you have the Tar Heels, who have ZERO victories against top 25 competition, ahead of the Cards, who have 6?  No respect, I say. But then again, being a fan of the perennial underdog, I guess that's just the way i like it...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Core Needs

Pierre Maguire always talks about having the 7 star player core, which I think is the following but i could be wrong:

1 Top goalie
2 top D
2 top center
1 great power forward
1 great utility player

We currently have, imo, these players that can fit that bill now, or in the near future:

Top goalie: Carey Price
Top D: PK Subban
Great power forward: Max Pacioretty
top 2nd line center: Tomas Plekanec

That means we're missing a 1st line center, another top D, and a great utility player. 
I have a good feeling that Leblanc or Bournival will be that great utility player. Tinordi i have a so-so feeling that he'll fit the other top D. The worst feeling i have is, surprise, surprise, our top center. No offence to Lars Eller, but it's a long shot for him to be our 1st line center one day, ahead of Plekanec. We'll have to try to find that player via the draft still, because i still don't see him in our organization currently.

There are other interesting possibilities for the utility position (David Desharnais), power forward (Alex Avtsin, Dustin Walsh, Steve Quailer), or even Brendan Gallagher to play the role of a Daniel Briere type, a quick and feisty player who has a nose for the net.

State of the Habs

Article written February 24th:

If you typed in the title “enigmatic NHL hockey team”, you’re first google hit would probably come up as The Montreal Canadiens.  Well probably not but you get where I’m going with this.  Game in, game out, you just don’t know what you’re going to get.  Last night they beat the best team in the league, the Vancouver Canucks, and they did it by playing a playoff brand of hockey: clogging the shooting lanes and blocking shots on D, and crashing the net on offence.  It looked a lot like a Habs/Capitals tilt from last year’s playoffs, and we all know how that turned out.  Question is, if they know the recipe for success, why don’t we see this kind of hockey more often?  Hard to know, but then I guess that’s what you’d expect from the enigma which is the Montreal Canadiens.

As far as potential trades are concerned, it must be an increasingly difficult nut to crack for Pierre Gauthier and Co.  From my standpoint, I flip flop from desperately needing a top 6 forward, to wanting a minute-eating D-man, from one game to the next.  Last week I would have told you that a top 6 forward was obviously what the team needed.  They can’t score goals; clearly you need someone in your top 6 who has more talent than Travis Moen.  Yet after last night’s game, I suddenly feel that another defensman who can play big minutes is the logical ingredient we need to add.  With the amount of injuries the Habs have incurred on D, the older, currently healthy defensman like Hamrlik and Gill, are going to be more prone to injury simply due to overuse.  Gill played over 26 minutes last game; that’s okay for one game, but over a stretch of ten games he’d be just asking for an injury.  Same goes for Hamrlik, who has been overextending himself all season long.  Spacek is a clear example of a guy who got injured due to logging more minutes than he could handle.  Obviously, the Habs would benefit by bringing in a top 6 forward as well, but if you had to choose, a defensman makes more sense.  Despite our scoring difficulties, it’s clear that if the effort is put in, like we saw in last night’s performance, we have the elements to put the puck in the net.  We also saw that in order to win games we need herculean performances from our youngest D (Subban) and one of our slowest and oldest D’s (Gill).  No team can rely this heavily on players like these, and expect to win on a regular basis; it’s just not possible.  In a perfect world, Gill should be playing no more than 18 minutes a game, Hamrlik 20, and Subban 22-23.  A stabilizing force like Chris Phillips would probably go a long way to help straightening out this situation, while at the same time keeping the D fresher for the playoffs.

What I Expect Gauthier Will Do:

If Gauthier continues his recent trend of replacing injured defensmen via trade, he’ll probably acquire another one.  When Markov and Gorges got injured, he traded for Wisniewski.  When Gill then Spacek went down, he acquired Paul Mara.  He clearly can’t just hope that no one will get injured again this season on D, and should therefore pick up another defensman as an insurance policy.  What I can’t predict is whether or not Gauthier will go the cheap root and pick up another depth guy like Mara, or go the more expensive route and get a Wisniewski.  It may come down to how serious Spacek’s injury is.  One also has to wonder who is even available after all the deals that have gone down lately.  Eric Brewer seemed like a good fit, but of course he now suits up for the Lightning.  With the latest reports indicating that Chris Phillips wants to remain a Senator, there may be few viable options left for Gauthier.  In the end, I expect that Gauthier will dredge the barrel and find a d-man that can play 18-20 minutes a game without being a liability.  Who that player will be remains to be seen.  Besides Phillips, Czech Radek Martinek comes to mind along with Jan Hejda of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  If I was Pierre Gauthier’s shoes, I would be looking in this direction.

Why Blockbusters Happen

Many hockey pundits, ranging from the average fan to TV and radio personalities, have wondered aloud why the Montreal Canadiens could not, or have not, been able to pull off a deal for a power forward, like the ones orchestrated last week.  After the rumors started spreading that both James Neal and Chris Stewart could have been had by the Habs, many have been screaming for Pierre Gauthier’s head, that he’s sleeping on the job while others around him make deal after deal.  Quite simply, the Montreal Canadiens never could have been involved in either of those deals for one important reason: lack of organizational depth in top 4 defensmen and big top 6 forwards.  In the last couple of years, the Habs have had depth in two categories: goalies and smallish speedy wingers.  To Gauthier’s credit, he addressed that goalie strength and traded Jaroslav Halak for a young up-and-coming center with a lot of upside.  It remains to be seen whether or not Lars Eller will ever pan out, but at least we didn’t lose Halak for nothing.  Once they made that trade, the Canadiens exhausted their position of strength, because let’s face it, few teams are actively pursuing small talented forwards.  Clear across the league, all teams are looking for the same thing: top 4 defensmen and big top 6 forwards.  The Penguins were able to trade away Goligoski because they already had a glut of good D to begin with.  Dallas could afford trading Neal because they have the likes of Adam Burish, Jamie Benn and Steve Ott under contract, all big boys who can put the puck in the net.  Both teams traded from a position of strength, meaning they had little to lose and a lot to gain.  Same goes for the St. Louis/Colorado deal.  Eric Johnson is never moved if an up-an-coming star like Alex Pietrangelo is not in the mix.  It’s why you can’t trade PK Subban for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk: who else in the organization can replace what Subban brings now and in the future?  In Colorado it’s similar. Chris Stewart is already a young star in the league, but they have a couple of young budding stars in David Jones and Brandon Yip that have the potential to fill that void.  The bottom line is that you have to have a plan in place, a contingency if you will, for making deals this size.  Huge pieces were dealt in these deals, but no team should suffer in the short or long term, because of the fact they traded from a position of strength.   This is why if the Canadiens do make a move, it will be something small, because they simply do not have an abundance of any kind of player other teams would be interested in.