Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mid-Season Habs Report:  Injuries and bad luck mask the truth

As I write this report, just minutes before what would usually be a much-anticipated battle with the Canadiens’ archrival the Bruins, I find myself queerly detached from tonight’s tilt.  In truth, the most interesting Montreal news of the day had to do with another sport entirely, soccer, where the Montreal Impact made their first ever draft selection, Andrew Wenger (1st pick overall). 
To be honest, the best thing about the usually Habs-crazed months of March and April will be the Impact this year.  Will they be any good? Odds are not in their favor.  But at least there will be an abundance of hope and buzz, words that can’t be associated with Nos Glorieux at the moment.

If this sounds like I’m giving up on the team this year, it’s probably because I am.  It hasn’t been a good year, and my crystal ball predicts it won’t get much better.  For the first time in a few years the team hasn’t overachieved, hasn’t pulled wins out of their butt, hasn’t held the fort against other, equally average teams.  It’s been a year of realization for the team (or so we hope): they’re not nearly as good as they thought they were.

On the flip side, it’s been a great year for almost all our prospects.  Greg Pateryn (2008 2nd) and Mac Bennett (2009 3rd) are the top D pairing for the always dominant, Michigan Wolverines.  Morgan Ellis (2010 4th) is one of the best two–way d-men in the Q, and after a trade to the Shawinigan Cataractes, will get his shot to show his class on the national stage at the Memorial Cup.  As will teammate Michael Bournival (2010 3rd), who is fresh off his solid performance at the WJC.  Speaking of the WJC, Nathan Beaulieu (2011 1st) and Brendan Gallagher (2010 5th) also made the team, with the latter notably having a monster game in the semifinal tilt against the Russians.  Other notables having solid seasons are Danny Kristo (2008 2nd), Steve Qualier (2008 3rd), and Darren Dietz (2011 5th).

If it sounds like my gushing over prospects is a way of deflecting from the actual misery of the big club, it’s probably because I am.   Can you blame me?  I mean, who wants to talk about a team that relies on Travis Moen to score goals?  Who’s best overall d-man is Josh Gorges?  Who’s best forward is Erik Cole?  In what world does that sound like a recipe for success?

The truth is, we are in the midst of one of our worst seasons in years.  And I’m not just talking about the team on the ice: I’m talking about the organization as a whole.  It all began with the ill-advised re-signing of Andrei Markov who has yet to play a game this season.  To make matters worse, The Canadiens went ahead and traded for another bad contract, Tomas Kaberle, a so-so d-man that they are now stuck with for 2 ½ years. We re-signed Josh Gorges, which is good. However, the contracts signed to Kaberle, Markov and eventually Price and Subban, will probably mean the departures of two our better players this year, Andrei Kostitsyn and Travis Moen. 

Michael Cammalleri is having a horrible season.  He somehow has nine goals; I have no idea how he scored them because he seems so disinterested in playing hockey this year, he must have scored them through osmosis.  Brian Gionta, who now looks to be lost for the year, is having a similarly disappointing year, production wise.  The effort is there, but nothing else it seems.  The same can be said for Tomas Plekanec.  Lots of effort, little results.  And that’s just the thing with this team: there’s just only so much you can do when you’re short on talent.  From the looks of it, our two most talented forwards (Eller and Kostitsyn) play together on the 3rd line.  With Markov out, we probably have the league least talented D corps in the league.  P.K. Subban?  He’s pretty good but would probably be the 4th best D on almost any other team.  Here, he’s treated and utilized like our no.1.

Getting the picture? We simply don’t have that good a team.  Certain players are underachieving  (Cammalleri, Gionta, Plekanec), but then again, there are those who are overachieving as well (Desharnais, Cole, Eller).  What it all amounts to is a team that is still miles away from contending for a cup. 

But it’s not necessarily as simple a problem as we need more talent to succeed.  If that were the case, we could probably be a contender as early as next year.  Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.   There’s the small issue of our untradeable players.  Let me introduce you to the following players signed for the next 2 ½ years: Michael Cammalleri (6M a year), Scott Gomez (7.3M a year), Tomas Kaberle (4.25M a year) Andrei Markov (5.75M a year) and Brian Gionta (5M a year). That’s 28.3M$.  That’s a lot of dough being tied up into players that are pretty useless at the moment. 

No other team in the league is suffering from such a problem at the moment.  Even Anaheim, who are having a rough season, are getting way more bang for their buck from their stars then we are.  What it all means is two things:  Not only are we handcuffed financially from improving our club, but we’re also stuck having to play these players for the foreseeable future.  Want to see Brendan Gallagher play right wing next year? I know I do.  But where?  Unless Gionta and Cammalieri get injured or sent to the minors, there’s simply no room for Gallagher on the team.   The same goes for almost any other burgeoning prospect in our system.  They’re all stuck waiting in queue behind a bunch of overpaid, underachieving players that are currently immovable objects.

Sadly, I have more bad news.  Unless the organization pulls a rabbit out of the hat and magically makes a couple of these horrid contracts disappear, I’ll probably be writing an identical mid-season report next year…

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