I've been on the record as being opposed to the re-signing of Patrice Brisebois by the Canadiens since the rumour first surfaced last summer. I thought it was a lousy choice by Gainey because I believed Breezer was too soft when he last played in Montreal, and age and injury would have been unlikely to improve the situation. Turns out I was right. He hasn't been outright terrible in every game he's played, but he's good for at least one mistake per night...often of the wretched giveaway variety. He continues to be soft on the boards and when he's not already injured, he tends to not risk potential injury by hitting people.
Smolinski's another Hab who looks like a mistake signing. Not because Smoke is an all-around bad player, but because he doesn't play the role for which he was signed very well. There's no way a guy who's as slow and soft as Smolinski...and as mediocre on faceoffs...should be a playoff team's shut-down centre. When he's placed in that role, he not only fails to contain his man a lot of the time, but he's also not in a position to perform the secondary-scoring role he's played for most of his career. As a result, Smolinski appears fairly useless as a Canadien.
Then, we have Tom Kostopoulos. He tries like hell, but he never won a fight in his life and he's prone to egregious giveaways when he's under pressure in his own zone. He has very little in the way of natural offensive ability.
These guys take a lot of abuse for what they don't do for the Habs. So, I think it's time to take a step back and look at what they do do. They're the Canadiens' scrubs. Every team needs scrubs to help it get through the season. Right now, the Habs have a young, fast, offensively-minded team. But back in October, with a gaping hole in the top-six D and the empty places left by Radek Bonk and Mike Johnson, no one, including Gainey, knew how quickly the team's youth would rise to play roles of importance. So, Brisebois was old and injury-prone, and not too reliable in his own end, but he was cheap and willing and experienced. Smolinski and Kostopoulos weren't ideal third-line shutdown replacements for Bonk and Johnson, but they were team players with experience and a little bit of skill.
We're very lucky that the young players like Sergei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre and Ryan O'Byrne have outstripped the scrubs already. Now we're looking at a better team on a regular night, and the scrubs, for the most part, aren't complaining about sitting out. That's important for team morale. And when we look at nights like the last couple, with Begin hurt and O'Byrne sick, Smolinski and Brisebois and Kostopoulos have been able to step in and fill holes. They're not the best choices to play when everyone's healthy, but they're invaluable when the team needs a replacement with experience and enough ability to avoid hurting the team's chances to win. Most teams can't play twenty kids every night and still be successful. And, as we saw with Grabovski last week, when kids don't get to play, they act like...well...kids. It's important to have veteran scrubs who understand and accept their roles as necessary parts of a team.
I don't want to see Brisebois or Smolinski back next year. Or Mathieu Dandenault either, for that matter. But for now, when a scrub is needed to fill in for a regular player, they can do the job for a night or two. They're the patches on the ship, the fingers in the dyke. They're depth, and no team wins much without that. As long as they're used sparingly and out of necessity, they're important. If they're overused, it's not their fault, but that of the coach who puts them in the lineup while better players sit.
So next time Breezer makes a bonehead giveaway or Smolinski stands by and watches Ovechkin blow by him with an overtime winner, when you're done cursing, remember they do have a role to play. Every team needs scrubs.