Friday, November 20, 2009

D'oh Habs D'oh!

So, I waited for the first quarter of the season before I got to talking about the Canadiens, to give them a chance to gel, to give the new coach a chance to get his system in, for a leader to emerge, for the goalies to take their rightful place.

The sum of this team's parts should be a playoff-contending team: a possible 40-goal scorer with tremendous speed who never backs down (Michael Cammalleri); the most consistent player of the past 3 seasons who happens to be perfect defensively and always be near the team's scoring lead (Tomas Plekanec); a 5th-overall pick in nets who is deemed by most to be a franchise player (Carey Price); a goalie who has always brought the team back into contention when no one else could (Jaroslav Halak); a Stanley Cup winner who played in the last 2 Finals (Hal Gill); a perennial All Star and one of the 5 most complete defensemen in the game (Andrei Markov); another Cup winner who was at one point seen as the best two-way player in the game and whom the Rangers deemed worthy of $7.33M per year (Scott Gomez); yet another Cup winner and former 48-goal scorer when paired with Gomez (Brian Gionta); a player who should now be hitting the 30-goal mark every season (Andrei Kostitsyn); a gifted playmaker with tons of grit (Sergei Kostitsyn); two potential 20-to-30 goal scoring powerforwards (Guillaume Latendresse and Max Pacioretty); last year's most improved player, quick as lightning and very good defensive forward, the team's best faceofff man (Maxim Lapierre); hard-nosed, hard-working veterans (Glen Metropolit and Cup winner Travis Moen); returning steady veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik and his younger yet more reliable partner Josh Gorges, a young and potentially bruising defenser and great team player (Ryan O'Byrne); the best - and smartest heavyweight fighter in the game (Georges Laraque); a good offensive happy-go-lucky journeyman defenseman (Paul Mara); a couple of last-chance draft picks from years past (Matt D'Agostini, Ben Maxwell and Kyle Chipchura) and a host of talented up-and-coming prospects (P.K. Subban, Mathieu Carle, Yannick Weber, David Desharnais, Cedric Desjardins)...

Gone are the oft-injured heroes of the past decade (Saku Koivu, Chris Higgins, Mathieu Dandenault, Francis Bouillon, Alex Tanguay, Steve Bégin, Cristobal Huet, Mike Komisarek) and those whose heart and guts were sometimes doubtful (Alex Kovalev, Michael Ryder), all replaced with smaller yet youngerand healthier models of themselves.

With a new coach that's viewed as an experienced, winning (though never in the playoffs) teacher with a boring, defensive style - 3 things we needed, 2 things we could have lived without.

But that's probably precisely where General Manager Bob Gainey's overhaul went wrong, to wit:

- If you keep the players and change the coach (with a real coach, not a GM-stepping-in-as-coach), generally, the dynamics change and the shock treatment is enough to get things going again.
- If you change most of the players, especially the ones who were carrying the bulk of the offense, half the team in this case, that's 8-to-11 new players, who have to get accustomed to playing in a new building, in front of new fans, living in a new city and new media environment, learning a new system.

What you don't need is 11 players learning how to live in a new city (the one who is most passionate about the sport you're playing, at that) and a coach who is dealing with the same issues - and have 23 players needing to learn a new system that may not suit them in the end because it wasn't instilled with the players in place in mind.

And the coach arrived here telling the media and the players that his team looked out of shape, and he got them to work harder than they were used to. Immediate results were seen: injuries to Markov, O'Byrne, Gill, Gionta, Laraque and D'Agostini were quick to materialize, putting more pressure on the goalies and on the kids who may not have been ready to graduate from the farm team.

So we have a team that's among the bottom-feeders, skating like chickens with their heads cut off, defensemen unable to make any passes, forwards who can't score (more shooters than passers in the line-up anyway, so it isn't balanced enough), goalies who are left out to dry and can't afford even the slightest mistake, no captain (my guess is they were going to name Markov but he got injured before they could do so) - and no redemption in sight.

Journalists are calling for Gainey's head, the crowds are booing the home team, and the only asset worth anything in a trade is the only guy everyone wants to keep here (I'll provide my thoughts on that in a post soon enough).

At least it can't get any worse, right?

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