We Habs fans spend a lot of time regretting things. If only they'd taken Parise, Richards, Getzlaf or Carter instead of Andrei Kostitsyn in the 2003 draft. If only they'd traded Souray and Streit at the deadline for some picks or prospects. If only they'd gotten something decent for Ribeiro. You get the picture. Sometimes, and this is a novel idea for a lot of us, we'd be well-served to flip the lucky coin and look at the other side of it. Some of the most important players on the Habs roster are there because of pure chance.
As I watched the big win yesterday over the Pens, I thought about how lucky the Canadiens are to have found Jaro Halak kicking around in the ninth round of his draft. Then I remembered a story I heard about how *really* lucky they were that he was still around in the ninth round at all. The Habs took notice of Halak at the 2003 world under-18 championships, where he stoned Russia's Ovechkin and Malkin to lead his Slovak team to a shocking silver medal. The Canadiens weren't the only team that debated spending a draft pick on the kid, however. The Minnesota Wild's European scout saw that tournament too, as well as some of Halak's work in league play, and was pushing for his team to pick the goalie in the sixth round. Another official in the organization, however, was pushing for a big Czech goalie who'd also looked impressive in his junior league. The two argued back and forth as the clock ticked down, and finally, GM Doug Risebrough put an end to it by deciding, "We'll take the big one." Whew. By pure luck Halak got passed over by the only other team that was seriously interested in drafting him, just because he's small.
Halak and the Habs had a more well-documented close call earlier this year. Flyers goalie Ray Emery got hurt just as Philly was trying to establish a firm hold on a playoff spot. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren put feelers out around the league to see if he could pick up a promising goalie for cheap to backfill for Emery. He got a bite from Habs' GM, Bob Gainey. There are lots of stories out there about what Gainey asked for in return for Halak, ranging from Jeff Carter to a second-round draft pick. Whatever it really was, Holmgren decided the cost wasn't worth it for the Flyers and Halak remained a Hab. Whew, again.
Tomas Plekanec is another guy who's still a Canadien because of a quirky twist of fate, and a little bit of luck. Back in 2004, when Bob Gainey needed some scoring punch and the Rangers' Glen Sather needed to get rid of enigmatic Alex Kovalev, the two GMs agreed on a trade. Kovalev would go to Montreal for a top Canadiens prospect and a second-round pick. Gainey and Sather couldn't agree on the prospect though, so Gainey gave Sather a list of three guys from which to pick. They were Alexander Perezhogin, Jozef Balej...and Tomas Plekanec. Fortunately for the Habs, Balej was the Bulldogs' leading scorer at the time and Sather decided to take the guy with the better offensive potential. Of course, in hindsight, we can be grateful for that choice. Balej put up five points for the Rangers before getting traded to Vancouver and then moving on to play in Europe, and Perezhogin has played in Russia for the last three years. Plekanec has become a top-line centre with a couple of seventy-point seasons to his credit.
We fans ducked another bullet in regard to Plekanec when the reported deal of him and a few other Habs assets to Tampa Bay for Vincent Lecavalier last year fell through. Lecavalier also had seventy points this year, but his horrible contract and the addition of the other assets the Canadiens would have given up to get him would have made him less valuable to the team long-term than Plekanec has turned out to be. Whew!
There was a similar choice of assets in the Josh Gorges trade, except this time, it was Gainey's turn to pick. He and Sharks GM Doug Wilson agreed on a first-round pick and a young defenceman in return for Craig Rivet. Wilson offered Gainey a choice of Gorges, Brad Staubitz or Rob Davison. The story goes that although Staubitz and Davison were much bigger defencemen than Gorges, and Davison had more NHL experinece, Gainey picked Gorges because of his character. Gorges had captained the Kelowna Rockets to the Memorial Cup, but wasn't drafted to the NHL. He nevertheless worked his way into a contract with the Sharks, and that's what Gainey liked about him. Lucky thing for Habs fans that Gainey's a pretty good judge of character.
The Habs are lucky in Andrei Markov too. A sixth-round draft pick in 1998, Markov was a centre when he was chosen by the Canadiens. He wasn't getting a whole lot of ice time as a centreman, though, so his coaches talked to him about switching to defence to help fill a need on his team and give him more minutes. Markov didn't really want to make the change, according to some stories, but the coaches encouraged him to try it. By 2000, he was recognized as one of the best young defencemen in Russia and the rest is now a very happy bit of Habs history. It's scary to imagine what might have happened if Markov had decided to stick with the centre position and never tried defence. Whew!
I don't know about you, but sometimes it's good to reflect on some of the lucky breaks the Habs have had over the years. Every once in a while, the little decisions work out to have some pretty big benefits. It's good to remember that when we're tempted to bemoan the 2003 draft or the trades that were or weren't made to our satisfaction. Sometimes, chance actually works out in our favour.