Sunday, June 29, 2008

Plan B

Still no word from the big bald Swede. I have to think that the longer it takes, the less chance we'll see him in the CH. So, inevitably, we have to think about Plan B. Unless Bob Gainey has some indication that Sundin will sign with him, I'm pretty sure that's what he's thinking about today too.

Assuming Andrei Kostitsyn, Ryan O'Byrne and Jaroslav Halak are re-signed before someone steals them away with an RFA offer sheet on Tuesday, the team needs to replace Mark Streit, Michael Ryder, Bryan Smolinski and Patrice Brisebois. Gainey's already made a good start by trading for Alex Tanguay to replace Ryder. Streit may yet be back in his utility role if Sundin isn't signed, so there's no rush to replace him on the PP just yet. Anyway, Tanguay may be able to take on some of that role. There are also Sergei Kostitsyn and Josh Gorges who can man the point if needed. So there's still a need for a third-line centre and a seventh D. Depending on what happens in camp, those spots could possibly be filled by existing assets in Kyle Chipchura and a young defenceman like Pavel Valentenko, if they're ready. If not, Plan B must include a cheap, veteran defenceman who can step in on the blueline when needed and not complain when he's not. Habs fans will hate this, but it may mean Breezer's back for another year. The plan would also have to include a reliable, shut-down centre who's great on the draw. I nominate Sergei Fedorov. His negotiations in Washington apparently aren't going that well, and he's great on faceoffs. He's classy, has great experience and can still motor. He and Breezer also wouldn't cost that much, which would allow Gainey to re-sign Streit and also keep some money available for the trade deadline if he needs it.

What we and Gainey need to beware of, though, is throwing money at a name just because it's there. Or buying recklessly because it's the centennial year and there's a need to make a splash. The Habs shouldn't be shopping for big-name defencemen because the current top six is reasonably reliable and the organization is flush with developing players at that position who'll need to be moving up in the next couple of seasons. A long-term, expensive D would block some of that development. They also shouldn't be shopping for wingers. There are six strong wingers on the team right now, all needing a good offensive centre to round out the lines. Koivu and Plekanec are the only players who fit that bill right now, so it's a centre or nothing as far as the forward lines are concerned, I believe.

So, that's my Plan B. If Sundin's not coming, I want Gainey to sign a cheap, reliable third-line centre and a cheap, veteran seventh D. Then I want him to keep the rest of his money. Better to have it in the bank unused until the deadline rather than spend it on a player who just doesn't fit with our current team. The team is already better on the wings with Tanguay. If it can improve at centre as well, it will have the potential to be deadly, Sundin or not.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My little plea

Oh great hockey gods, and immortal spirits of the Rocket, Howie and Boom Boom, hear my plea! Please, in all your wisdom, ensure the eyes of your servant Bob remain open and fixed on the goal. Let them not be clouded by the fleeting glories of the Hossa.

For the great Slovak's power is immense, but costly. His goals are wonderful to behold, but his very presence will strip the assets from your roster. The years he will require of you will drain the youth from your squad as quickly as they mature. We have learned in this era of the Holy Cap that the superstar stands alone with the salary he commands, and the length of his contract will tie your hands. It is far, far better that you shall build a team with the very good, but not the great. For those that hold the sacred Cup are those who earn it together.

A year of Mats is desirable. Eight years of Hossa is an anchor. So please, ghosts of you who were great, intervene if you must. We trust Bob to be smart and not mire the team he's built in a sea of mediocrity because he can't afford a supporting cast. But if he should be dazzled by his cap space and the slick highlight reel of Hossa, distract him until Sather buys yet another UFA for his collection.

This is my prayer and my plea.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Is today the day?

Ever since Friday, I've been wondering, is this the day Sundin signs with Montreal? What a coup that would be! Up until now, it's kind of been a pipe know, idle speculation about who'd be the ideal player to beef up the roster, and how sweet it would be to obtain him. So, when I heard at the draft that Gainey had exclusive rights to negotiate with the big, bald Swede, I almost couldn't believe it. How often have we hoped and wished for a real impact addition, only to be denied time after time? But this time, it looked like Gainey has put some serious aggression into his pursuit of the guy he wants. The possibility of signing Sundin overshadowed the excellent trade of the twenty-fifth pick for Alex Tanguay. And the drafting of Danny Kristo, a six-foot-eight goalie (!) and a sleeper Russian hotshot. Once the word came that Bob had the okay to court big Mats, all else ceased to matter.

Only now, it's starting to look like maybe we got a little bit too excited a little too soon. Between rumours that the Habs have offered Sundin a two-year deal for a little more than fourteen million bucks, come reports that the Rangers actually had negotiating rights with Sundin before the Habs did. And Bob McKenzie, who's usually right, says Sundin thinks things are moving too quickly and has declined to meet Gainey in person, preferring negotiations to happen by phone. McKenzie also says he'd be surprised to see Sundin in Montreal, and not all that surprised to see him back in Toronto for another ride through the Futility Funhouse.

We all know Sundin is famously indecisive. It takes him months to make decisions. But the problem is, once the market opens on July 1, if Sundin hasn't signed with the Habs, Gainey is going to spend the money elsewhere. He's not going to leave six or seven million dollars on the table when there's a Centennial year Cup to be won. Or, at least, a very strong Centennial year playoff run to make. My fear is that Sundin is actually seriously considering the Habs, but won't decide in time. It would be a shame for him to make up his mind to accept Gainey's offer an hour after Bob's signed Campbell or someone else. On the other hand, if Sundin has absolutely no intention of signing with his favourite childhood team, then Gainey will know that before the market opens, so he can move on to plan B without delay. He won't get caught waiting for Sundin, for nothing.

I still think Sundin's the best option for the Habs. He offers everything the team needs: strength, leadership, skill, size and clutch performance. But you know what's funny? When I try to picture him in a Habs' sweater, I can't do it. I close my eyes and I see Kovalev carrying the puck up the right side. He enters the zone, and makes a nice, cross-ice pass to Tanguay (whom I have absolutely no problem imagining in the bleu-blanc-rouge), who beats his check with a nice move and makes a great pass into the slot to Sundin. Only, Sundin is wearing a blue and white leaf on his chest. So, I try again. I imagine Sundin making a great shot in OT, and throwing his arms up to celebrate, big grin on his face, and hugging Higgins and Kostitsyn...but it doesn't work. He morphs into a leaf before the Habs guys get to him. I'm sure it's just because Sundin's been a leaf for so long, most of us don't even remember him in a Nords' uniform. I'm sure if he were actually a Hab, we'd get used to it as soon as he scored his first Canadiens' goal.

Or, maybe it's a sign. I'd love Mats Sundin to be a Hab. It would instantly make the team formidable. But, the practical side of me is hoping Plan B is a good one.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I wonder how a GM knows when it's time to switch out of "building" mode and move into "winning" mode? Is it organic, like the changing of the seasons; a slow, steady improvement that comes to a peak at an inevitable point? Or is it like a lightning the form of catapulting from out of the playoffs to conference champs in one season?

However the realization arrives, I imagine there must be an element of fear involved after it's been reached. Building a team properly, in the way Bob Gainey has done it, takes years of hoarding draft picks and drafting well. Then there are years of carefully nurturing the players you've picked and developing them into contributors to your team's success. Shifting out of that ultra-conservative mode, by default, means using some of those carefully-husbanded assets as currency. When you've spent so much time with them, it's tough...and not a little part with them for players you don't know. But the shift is a necessary one, if only because it's nearly impossible to draft all the elements you need to become a winning team. You need veterans to mix in with your kids, and when you're drafting mid-to-late in the order all the time, it's tough to pick the truly elite talent you need to put you over the top.

Bob Gainey has decided the Habs are ready to go for it. He's talking about making sure the team has six or seven million dollars available for free agent acquisitions, and about dealing for or signing a star centre. For the first time in years, the player he might win in a trade involving his first-round pick is more important than the pick itself. Somewhere between last year's draft and this year's, there's been a major shift in the Habs' landscape. While it's still important to bring in good players through the draft, they're no longer, in themselves, the team's only future. Gainey's in a position to use them to buy what the Canadiens need to win now. It's exciting, but it's also nervewracking.

A prospect is all about potential. As long as he's developing, he's got the chance to be a valuable part of the team. It's only after he's spent three or four years in the pro ranks that he changes from being full of promise to being a career third-liner or sixth defenceman. It's like having a kid. You imagine him being a brain surgeon until he's nineteen and it becomes obvious he's going to be a garbageman. That's why it's so tough to move out of the development phase of a team's lifecycle. When you're trading potential for actual ability, the criticism and second-guessing multiplies. There are also the added risks of a player who succeeded elsewhere not performing for your team, or the chemistry with his new teammates not being there. And the money for established is greater...and the risk bigger...than the money for potential.

I think it's the dawn of a new mindset for Habs' fans. It's been a lot of fun watching the drafts and the prospects claimed from them develop into real players. We've learned to be patient with team management and look to the future. Now that the future seems to be here at last, we might have to draw on that patience again. There are going to be disappointments, and there are going to be mistakes because shuffling a deck full of known entities is tougher than building for the future. But, hopefully, there will be triumphs too. This might be the year a name like Sundin signs with the Habs. Or the year that Gainey uses the potential of a first-round pick to acquire a missing piece. Whatever happens, we can be sure of one thing, and that's that the years of waiting are done. Things are going to start happening more quickly and the moves will be bigger ones. Gainey is going to start really getting aggressive.

Maybe that'll start tonight.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Countdown to D-Day

Here we are, only a few days before Bob Gainey and Trevor Timmins stand at the podium in Ottawa to add (at least) five new Habs to the fold. I love draft day. I love the promise and excitement, the anticipation and the satisfaction in seeing the prospect pool strengthened. It's great to have Timmins in charge, as his draft record has been very good for the Canadiens.

So, in all my excitement about Friday, I thought it was time to write a draft preview. Then, I realized if I did, I'd be talking out of my ass. Because I can predict what needs the team hopes to fill, and I can look at players in tournament games and read scouting reports. I can even figure by draft position and skillset who might be the players most likely to be chosen by the Habs. But no one, not even Trevor Timmins (who's got a better frame of reference than just about anyone), can predict which of these 17 and 18-year-old boys will become an NHL player and who'll be a disappointment.

I came to this conclusion after reading The Hockey News draft preview. The profiles of this year's prospects were interesting, but the one thing that really caught my attention was a review of the 1998 draft and how well that turned out. That year, Rico Fata was chosen sixth overall by Calgary, Michael Rupp ninth by the Islanders, Jeff Heerema by the 'Canes at eleventh and Eric Chouinard at sixteenth by the Habs. Meanwhile, among the thirty best actual players to come out of that draft, Pavel Datsyuk, is second behind Lecavalier, and he was chosen with the 171st pick. Brad Richards is third, and was chosen 64th. Andrei Markov, the 162nd pick, has had the seventh-best career. Shawn Horcoff was picked 99th, Brian Gionta 82nd and Erik Cole 71st. Which all goes to prove not only is drafting an inexact science, but can often be so far off the mark that the players chosen as top prospects can have vanished from hockey altogether ten years later, and players taken with throwaway late-round picks develop into superstars. Even the hotshots aren't sure bets. For every Vincent Lecavalier and Sidney Crosby...sure-thing first picks...there's an Alexandre Daigle. You just can't tell what an eighteen-year-old will do when faced with pressure, money and tougher competition.

In light of that, and with the understanding that whomever the Habs pick will be a project we may or may not see develop into an NHLer, I think we can expect Timmins to go with a strong centreman with his number 25 pick. There are a few available, and with Ben Maxwell currently the only prospect in the pool who fills that role, it's a need that should be addressed this year. Among the possibilites who might be available when the Habs pick is Nicolas Deschamps, a six-foot centre from Quebec who's a slick skater and generally considered to be a good two-way player with nice hands, but who's been called inconsistent and a late bloomer. There's Joe Colborne, a huge centre who played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League last year and showed nice skill, but a reluctance to go into the corners or to the crease much. And there's Zac Dalpe, who's known to be a good, fast skater who can put the puck in the net and has great energy and dedication. Those are just a few of the possibilities, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Timmins choose one of them if Gainey doesn't trade up for a better pick.

Of course, that said, if it's a strong defenceman who might be Timmins' best player available at the 25th pick, he could be chosen as well. Timmins has shown no hesitation to decide a pick by his personal rankings rather than organizational need. After all, he picked Price at number five overall when Jose Theodore was still playing well. It wouldn't exactly surprise me to see him pick a D in the first round, but I'm hoping the best player available is a talented centreman.

I think we will see Timmins call a goalie's name on Saturday in the later rounds. With the departure of Yann Danis via free agency, the number three goalie in the organization right now is ECHL star Cedrick Desjardins. The goalie cupboard is looking pretty bare, so I'd expect the Habs to try and pick up a decent prospect to fill that need. I would expect high-ranking goalies like Carey Price's former Tri-Cities backup Chet Pickard to be gone when the Habs are ready to pick a goaltender. In the Memorial Cup, I liked ninth-ranked North American goalie, Dustin Tokarski, who played really well under pressure for Spokane and has a reputation for cranking up his game when it counts. That's what you want in a pro, so I wouldn't mind seeing him become a Hab this weekend.

Others I wouldn't mind seeing in Habs colours include Justin Jokinen, a gritty and talented Minnesota high-school left-wing who's got size and a good attitude. He's another great skater with skill, and has been compared to a young Jamie Langenbrunner. I like Jonathan Toews' little brother David too. He's got some offensive ability and notable speed.

I think now that Gainey has identified the style of team he wants the Habs to be, with speed and offence, as well as defensive responsibility as priorities, we'll see Timmins prioritize those things in his picks as well. I would expect all the players he chooses to be good on their skates, to have strong character with leadership abilities and to be smart in both ends of the rink. I'll leave it to him to identify who those players might be, because even though I know the ones I like, I admit I know little compared to the scouts who've watched hundreds of games at every level last year.

Draft day is fun as well because we might get to see some trades happening. I think if Gainey moves a roster player, it'll be Mathieu Dandenault, for a fifth or sixth round pick to replace the ones the team lost in previous trades. Dandenault wasn't happy with his role last year, and I don't see it improving for him in Montreal. If Gainey can drop his 1.7 million salary for a draft pick, it might be the best thing all around. Other than that, we might see the movement of some long-term prospects who seem to be stuck in Hamilton, like Corey Locke, for low-round picks. Either way, I'm kind of expecting Gainey to add to the five choices he's got.

On Friday, whatever happens, I'm going to kick back and enjoy the show and see who Trevor Claus brings into our team. I just have to trust that the guy who knows more than us manages to land a few good ones in the crapshoot that is the NHL entry draft.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Beach books...the hockey version

Okay, if you've read all there is to read about the Habs and you're still interested in some hockey-related lit, here are ten of my favourites:

10. Home Game: Hockey and Life in Canada, by Ken Dryden and Roy MacGregor. I read this years ago, and I admit the chapter that attracted me the most was the one in which Dryden goes behind the scenes on gameday between the Habs and Oilers. But the whole book is a great look at hockey at every level and a microcosmic synopsis of why the game means so much to us.

9. Thunder and Lightning: A No BS Hockey Memoir, by Phil Esposito. This is a hugely entertaining autobiography, which claims to tell it like it was. It includes some great behind-the-scenes stuff from the 1972 Summit Series, and while I suspect at least some of what Espo writes is, in fact,'s well worth the read.

8. Open Net, by George Plimpton. This one's hilarious. Plimpton went to the Bruins' camp in the seventies and writes about everything he sees, hears, smells and feels as he learns to play goal. His experiment culminates with him stepping between the pipes for five minutes during an exhibition game against the Flyers. Entertaining and enlightening.

7. Tropic of Hockey, by Dave Bidini. I loved this. Bidini travels the world looking for hockey, and boy, does he find it. Fascinating read.

6. Future Greats and Heartbreaks, by Gare Joyce. Another great behind-the-scenes read. In this one, Joyce convinces the Columbus Blue Jackets to allow him to tag along during the 2006 draft, including the combine leading up to it, and continue on through the 2007 season. It's a great look at what really happens in the world of scouting and what a team puts into selecting a kid.

5. Net Worth, by David Cruise and Allison Griffiths. This is a sobering and enlightening read about how players were the owners' pawns for so long, and how money has shaped the game into the form we see today.

4. After the Applause, by Gordie and Colleen Howe. How do players, even superstars and legends adapt to a world without hockey? The Howes give us an inside look into how it was for them, including a discussion of some of the bitterness they feel about the pension issue.

3. In the Crease: Goaltenders Look at Life in the NHL, by Dick Irvin. Goalies have always been my favourites, so I thoroughly enjoyed this chronicle of goaltenders and their craft, told by one of the game's great observers. Irvin covers a lot of ground here, from the earliest days of the game to Roy and Brodeur. He interviews many of the great goalies and discusses how the art of playing goal has evolved over the years. I read this one quickly.

2. Searching For Bobby Orr, by Steven Brunt. Orr wouldn't talk to Brunt for this bio, so the author went out and interviewed everyone who ever had anything to do with Bobby in his life, from his childhood friends and teachers to his roommates in his early years in Boston. He creates an intriguing picture of Orr as a reclusive, often kind man with a blistering temper. It fascinated me that Orr wouldn't let his own kids ever play the game that made him an icon. Great book.

1. Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems, by Randall Maggs. If you don't read poetry, don't worry about it. These are narrative poems that tell the story of a very troubled man and a brilliant goaltender who died too young. You don't feel like you're struggling to get through it at's really absorbing and entertaining. My favourite poem was one which tells the story of a Hockey Night In Canada interview between Jacques Plante, who was working on the show as an analyst, and Sawchuk, fresh off the ice. The interplay between them is poignant and memorable. This is worth reading, even if you haven't read a poem since high school.

Honourable mention go to "Glenn Hall" by Tom Adrahtas, which is a great bio of one of the game's iconic goalies, and "The Red Machine" by Lawrence Martin, about the rise of Soviet hockey. Of course, there are lots more, but if you're looking for some interesting hockey reading, those are a great start.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Beach books...the Habs version

Since we can't watch hockey right now (unless you're one of those REALLY obsessed people who keep Habs' games on video to review through the summer...and no, I'm not one, unless you count the Rangers' comeback game, but that's for posterity, not for obsessing purposes) we might as well read about it. There are tons of great hockey books out there, and it seems as though the Habs are one of the most popular subjects among them. So, if you're looking for some good Habs-lit, here are a few of my favourites that might tide you over until September.

10. Strength Down Centre: The Jean Beliveau Story, by Hugh Hood. This is a great bio of Beliveau written in 1971, just as Le Gros Bill was wrapping up his stellar career. It's a fascinating look at the great man before he became the revered, grandfatherly figure we know today. In this book, he's still a superstar in his own mind and that of the author. There's one particularly memorable chapter in which Hood goes on the ice one-on-one with Beliveau, and asks him to explain the thinking and mechanics behind his instincts. He asks Big Jean to explain how he skates, and what he's thinking about on a breakaway. This alone is worth finding this book.

9. My Life in Hockey, by Jean Beliveau. Still with Beliveau, this one is written decades after he retired, and is more reflective and analytical than the Hood book. It's also Beliveau's opportunity to pay tribute to the greats with whom he played and who were his opponents during his twenty years in the NHL. I found there was a lot of detail about the hockey games he played and not so much about the man himself. But it's a gentlemanly read and worth a look.

8. Firewagon Hockey: The Story of the Montreal Canadiens, by Andy O'Brien. This is an oldie (written in 1967) but a goodie. It's a look at the history of the team through the eyes of a veteran sports editor of the era. O'Brien had the advantage of having access to great players and the observers of earlier years who'd passed away before later chroniclers could speak with them. His account of the Habs' history is less tinged with the scent of mystery and legend than others. It's more matter-of-fact, but no less dramatic for all that. What's neat about reading it is knowing what came after, and the glories O'Brien had yet to experience.

7. Robinson For the Defence, by Larry Robinson. This is one of my favourite Habs' bios because Robinson wasn't just an all-time great, but he was one of the holdovers from the seventies dynasty years who linked my of the ' the team's great history. I saw Robinson play, so his book has special meaning for me. It's also a great read about the behind-the-scenes part of the dynasty years, and has a particularly poignant view of the '86 Cup win from one of the de facto leaders of that team. As an aside, there's also a neat book involving Robinson that was published in 1980 called "Robinson On Defence," which is a study of the right way to play defence according to Robinson. I think every Habs' defenceman should have to read it.

6. Hockey, Heroes and Me, by Red Fisher. I loved this one. Fisher started covering the Habs on the night of the Richard Riot in 1955, and he's still at it. He's seen a lot, and some of his best stories are recorded here. His "initiation" as part of the team is hilarious and his complicated relationship with Toe Blake is both funny and extremely touching. Fisher is a crotchety but engaging writer, and he knows the Habs better than anyone else.

5. The Hockey Sweater, by Roch Carrier. This needs little explanation, I'm sure. The National Film Board depiction of the story was probably part of your childhood. (It's on Youtube, by the way.) But, if by some chance you missed it, it's the story of a young Quebec boy who worshipped Maurice Richard and whose mother accidentally ordered a Leafs sweater for him after he'd outgrown his Habs one. It's a short story, but a great one, and it's actually included in a nice collection by Carrier called "The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories." Whether it's a walk down memory lane, or a first-time read, it's a great addition to the Habs' fan's library.

4. The Habs, by Dick Irvin. The veteran Habs' broadcaster had the unique view of having followed the team as a small boy when his father coached in Montreal. He not only knows the stories, he knows the people behind them. That gives him a great insight into what really happened in some of the team's more famous events. This is a particularly worthwhile read because Irvin interviewed dozens of players, coaches, managers and opponents of the team and allows them to tell the history, from about 1940 until 1980, in their own words. There are valuable bits of history in this book that you won't find elsewhere.

3. Lions in Winter, by Chris Goyens and Allan Turowetz. Another Habs' history, but this one was written shortly after the 1986 Cup win, and is particularly upbeat about the team's chances of returning to power after the drought of the early '80s. The authors' style is conversational and involving, and their research well done. This is one of the first Habs' histories I ever read, and it's definitely a good one.

2. Our Life With the Rocket: The Maurice Richard Story, by Roch Carrier. This is a beautiful book, which interweaves the story of Richard with that of Quebec youth of his era. It's told in a mix of present tense and first-person points of view, which is captivating in its immediacy, and is tinged with the author's own deep feelings about Richard, both as a person and as a symbol. This one is a magical read.

1. The Game, by Ken Dryden. This has been called the best hockey book ever written. It's been called one of the top sports books written about any sport. It's been called dry and difficult to read. What I found in it was the personal chronicle of a team better than any before or since, and of a time rife with political strife and a shifting society in which the Canadiens were one of the few constants. I found Steve Shutt and Doug Risebrough and Scotty Bowman and Bob Gainey, and I felt like I knew them when I finished. Dryden not only tells his own story here, he tells the story of his team in a way no one else either could or would. The service he does himself in recording his memories is a small fraction of the service he does us...the hockey fans who lived outside their world, or who came along years after. He lets us know them. And he shows us how there are universal truths in hockey and in sport generally. This book is funny, poignant, dramatic, instructive, personal, wistful and insightful. I've read it many times and it will always be one of my favourites, ever written, on any topic.

So, if you're looking for a good read for the summer, any of those are great choices. If you've already read them all, as some of you probably have, I'll continue the list tomorrow, with some of the best non-Habs hockey reads I've encountered. Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Carbo's night?

It's time for the NHL to hand out its annual awards and for the first time in a few years (yeah, we remember you, Jose) the Habs have a candidate for a major one. The last time a Habs' coach won the Jack Adams award as coach of the year was almost twenty years ago, when Pat Burns took it home in 1988-89. I think this year, Guy Carbonneau should bring the Jack back to Montreal.

Sure, Mike Babcock won the Stanley Cup. And Bruce Boudreau dragged his team from the cellar to the division title and a playoff berth in half a season. But, when you look at it objectively, Babcock was coaching a stacked, mature team in the Wings. And Boudreau had Ovechkin and the advantage of playing 32 games against the weakest division in hockey. Carbonneau had a team that wasn't supposed to make the playoffs, yet somehow managed to win the eastern conference and maintain an even keel all season.

Some of the credit has to go to Alex Kovalev, who, if the Hart were decided in its purest sense...for the player most valuable to his team...should have been a candidate. Kovalev rebounded from one of his worst seasons ever to lead the team offensively and in hard work. But, considering the fallout between Kovalev and the coach last year, with the bad Russian press and Kovy's demotion to the fourth line, it's kind of amazing the two managed to work things out this year. That's where Carbonneau comes in. Kovalev surely made the difference in his own game himself, but Carbonneau had the grace to be able to rise above their issues and give Kovalev another chance. A lot of coaches would have felt the need to impose their will on the reluctant star, but Carbo let it go and started over.

Credit for the team's success has to go too to the young players who found their game in the NHL and learned how to make a difference. They did the work, but Carbonneau gave them the ice-time and the chance to prove themselves. Ryan O'Byrne, Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn and Josh Gorges all learned that if they perform, the coach will give them a chance. That's the kind of coach a young player respects and works for.

But if we're doling out credit, then the lion's share of kudos for the Habs' season has to go to Carbonneau. He learned, and he wasn't too proud to admit he learned, from his mistakes in his first year behind the bench. He's a very, very smart man who knows the game on an intimate level. I'm fairly sure he spent some time last summer analyzing what went wrong in the previous season. He must have realized he panicked when the team lost two or three games in a row. And that he spoke out of turn to the media about his players sometimes. And he mishandled the veterans on occasion. And was slow to make in-game adjustments when the other team had the advantage.

He obviously thought about those things last summer and he came to the team in his second season with an idea about how to fix his problems. He was noticably less mercurial with the refs. He didn't panic when the team lost a couple and start mouthing off to the media. He still flipped lines and goalies a little too quickly, but not with the same tinge of overreaction that he had in his first year behind the bench. And when he changed the lines, they invariably worked. He managed to convince his troops to buy into his system...he actually HAD a system...and he handled his veterans with honesty and realism, which they mostly accepted, even when they didn't like it. I thought his in-game adjustments were much more astute and effective this season as well.

Of course, this isn't to say Carbonneau was perfect last year. He made mistakes, like falling back into a defensive shell too often with a one-goal lead, putting questionable players on the ice in tight situations, and overplaying Brisebois...when benching them might have helped more. How often did we shout at the TV "WHY is Smolinski out there on a 5-on3?" But the good decisions were more frequent than the mistakes.

And, isn't that the best you can ask of a coach? I think it is. If a coach makes more good decisions than bad ones, his team is going to win. And winning is the mark of a good coach. Carbonneau's team won a lot this year, and I think he deserves a nice shiny trophy to underline that fact. Now, if he can only figure out when to take a timeout...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Maybe it's just me, but I never know when it's time to stop saying "next season" and switch to "this season" when we're talking about the hockey season that begins in the coming October. For me, the current season ends with the elimination of the Habs because I immediately start thinking ahead to the draft and UFA season, and puck drop in October becomes "this season." It's my way of coping with no more Habs for months on end. So, while I'm thinking "this season," everyone else seems to think the last season still goes on as long as the playoffs continue, so it's "next season" for them. Confusing, when you're trying to write about it.

Now though, I've noticed on some Habs' discussion sites that since Bob Gainey signed Maxim Lapierre to a new two-year deal this week, I'm starting to see more talk of "this season" in regards to 2008-09. I guess Lapierre's signing was the first shot across the bow of the Centennial season. I like this deal. He'll be making a slightly increased $575-thousand this year and $800-thousand the following season. That's a responsible and realistic price to pay for a still-developing fourth-liner with speed and a very strong PK ability. If Gainey can sign the other pieces he needs to slide into place in the next couple of weeks at such responsible rates, the team will be looking good financially for the coming season, and the even more important one, capwise, to follow. The trick for Gainey is to protect his assets from poachers, while keeping them happy with their rates of pay, and still save enough money to make a big, albeit short-term splash for the team's hundredth birthday.

Within two or three weeks, we should actually have a good idea of how that Centennial roster will look. The fifteen-day buyout window will open on Sunday. That'll give us a clue about whether a player like Dandenault can be moved or must be bought out. Then the draft next weekend is expected to be a busy one for trades. With only five Habs' picks on the docket right now, I'd expect Gainey to make even a couple of minor moves to add to that number. In the meantime, we can expect to hear about the signings of further restricted free agents and possibly an UFA like Streit as well. All that housekeeping will clear the decks for the big day, July 1. That day and the three or four that follow will answer the most compelling question we're asking: Will the Habs land the missing piece to become a serious Stanley Cup contender for their hundredth birthday?

Only three weeks to go before we know the truth behind all the speculation! It feels like "this season" already.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Changing times

With the draft less than two weeks away, the other day I started thinking about the Habs' record at the draft table. It's no secret that they've been doing very well since the arrival of Trevor Timmins in 2002. The seven first-rounders for which he's been responsible are a who's who of the Habs' shining future. Christopher Higgins, Andrei Kostitsyn, Kyle Chipchura, Carey Price, David Fischer, Ryan McDonagh and Max Pacioretty all have important roles on the big team already, or are slated to have them in the coming seasons. It seems as though the days of the first-round bust are over for Montreal. And it's not just the first rounders that are impressing. Picks like Maxim Lapierre, Ryan O'Byrne, Mikhail Grabovsky, Guillaume Latendresse and late-round steals Sergei Kostitsyn and Jaroslav Halak are also contributing in the NHL, and are all to Timmins' credit.

Even before Timmins' arrival though, Andre Savard was already beginning to make important draft choices for the team. He was responsible for the selections of Mike Komisarek, Tomas Plekanec, Alexander Perezhogin and solid NHLers, though no longer Habs, Ron Hainsey and Marcel Hossa.

That's the bright side of the Canadiens recent draft story. The darkness preceeding it is not only painful to contemplate, but somewhat baffling as well. It was likely no coincidence that the 1999 draft, the last one before Savard's hiring as GM in 2000, was a giant bust for the of many in the recent past. What's amazing about that time period...between the Canadiens' great 1984 draft, in which Serge Savard landed Svoboda, Corson, Richer and Roy with consecutive picks, and the 2000 arrival of Andre that in those sixteen years, the Habs had one bona fide star emerge from their first-round selections: Saku Koivu in 1993. The names that fill the roster of first rounders alongside his are the mediocre, the laughable and the forgettable. Lindsay Vallis. Brent Bilodeau. Terry Ryan. Eric Chouinard. The list goes on.

Considering the epic scale of the Habs' draft futility over the years, I had to ask myself why it happened. How could a professional organization with the skilled people it employed to hunt up talent fail to even fluke into a decent pick once in a while? How could almost every single first rounder be such a dud?

Recently I had a chance to speak with the 1994 addition to the list of Canadiens' non-stellar draft selections, defenceman Brad Brown. Brown is still playing. He finished this season with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL, and hopes to find work with some team in September. From the distance of years, Brown was able to cast an interesting light on why the Habs' picks failed so badly to make an impact in the NHL.

After his draft fourteen years ago, Brown ended up spending two seasons in Fredericton, where the Habs' AHL affiliate was based at the time. He played thirteen games for Montreal, then was traded to Chicago. He says that was pretty typical of the way things happened in Montreal at the time. There was still a feeling amongst the team management, when the club was still within recent memory of winning Cups, that the Canadiens only needed a tweak here or there each year to get back on top. So, there wasn't a whole lot of priority placed on the draft. The team was more interested in trading or signing free agents to fill its needs. It wasn't investing precious resources into building from the ground up, and the scouting system left something to be desired.

Then, once a player was chosen, he fell into a system of benign neglect when it came to his development. Brown said he and his friend Terry Ryan, who became the Habs' number one pick in 1995, compared notes after Ryan's draft. They were both thrilled and proud to be first-rounders. But they were both a little worried and chagrined that they'd been chosen by Montreal, which had a reputation of letting its draftees rot in the minors without ever getting a real shot in the big league. Young players would wait years sometimes for a few games' trial, and if they screwed up, they were gone. Back to the minors or off to another team in a trade, just like that. It created an environment of panic among the team's prospects.

Times and attitudes were different then too, says Brown. He says today's young players see hockey as a job, more than as a game, and they train year-round with nutritionists, physical therapists and coaches who keep them in the best shape possible. Fourteen years ago, diets and training regimes were hit-or-miss, to put it kindly. The team itself treated prospects differently too. Now, scouting staff interviews players extensively before calling their names at the podium. The players are tested physically and mentally, and once selected, given access to every kind of training advantage the team can offer. In short, the team knows, as well as possible, what it's getting. A young player is considered an investment, whereas a decade ago, he was selected, handed a basic training outline and told "see you at camp" while the team hoped for the best.

And, Brown says, the Canadiens were one of the worst of the lot in a generally less prospect-focussed era when it came to their laxity in player development. His post-Habs' career seems to bear that out, since after his trade to Chicago, he managed to play parts of seven seasons in the NHL. He thinks if the Habs had taken an active role in developing its draft picks, he and some of the others who've found their way into the annals of ignominy in Montreal might have had better outcomes. To quote him, Rejean Houle was "a nice man, but not much of a planner." It turns out the Canadiens didn't just draft a bunch of talent-challenged players, but they failed to make the most out of the talent those players did possess.

I found Brad Brown's take on the Habs' draft history enlightening, because he's not bitter. He's happy just to be involved in hockey and spends little time thinking of "what ifs." His attitude might be a lesson to those of us who cheer for the Canadiens, who still find ourselves dwelling on the "might have beens" of the draft's Dark Years in Montreal.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Nothing to do with the Habs

I don't often feel the need to express an opinion here that doesn't relate to the Habs or really, even hockey as it pertains to the game on the ice. But lately something's been bothering me, and it gets worse every time I see it.

It's Alexander Ovechkin's teeth. Or, more specifically, his lack of teeth. I don't know exactly when Ovechkin lost his left front tooth, but it's been long enough that he could have had a replacement made by now. The gaping hole in his mouth makes him look like a hillbilly, and he wasn't exactly GQ material before. It started to irritate me when he began to appear in interviews in a suit and no tooth. It reached a head this week, when he received the Art Ross trophy as the league's leading scorer and posed with the beautiful trophy in an expensive suit and missing tooth.

Come on, Alex. You have just signed the most expensive contract in NHL history. You can afford a tooth! Jeez.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Off the draw

Watching the Detroit Red Wings dominate the Stanley Cup finals has taught me several things about what the Habs need to do if they're to fulfill Bob Gainey's publicly-expressed desire to emulate the champs' style. They need to develop better puck movement out of their own end for one thing. They need to close the gap between forwards and defence and have everyone moving ahead with speed and precision passing for another. They also need to get better on the boards, coming out with the puck more often than not. But the main thing I concluded after watching Detroit for the last two months is the Habs need to improve on the faceoff. A lot.

Everyone raves about Detroit's puck-possession game. It's true...they do have the puck for well over half the game. They take it off the draw, and their skilled passers and deft stickhandlers are able to hold it seemingly indefinitely. A quick look at the stats seems to bear out the correlation between faceoff win percentage and success in puck possession. Detroit led the league with a team-wide 53.27% during the regular season, compared to Montreal's 48.99%. Interestingly, Pittsburgh was a league-worst 46.11% in the circle. In the playoffs, Detroit once again dominated, with a 54.57% win rate. Half the teams in the post-season were less than fifty percent on faceoffs. Four of them played Detroit, including league-worst Dallas at 46.51%. Montreal improved marginally on its regular season stat, with a 50.48% rate of success. Of course, stats don't tell the whole story, and can be manipulated to show what you want them to show. But, there's no denying that Detroit wins a LOT of faceoffs, and they are able to keep the puck once they win it. It seems logical, doesn't it? Win the puck off the draw, gain control, pass it to attacking teammates, and the other team's going to have a heck of a time scoring on you. Conversely, lose the draw and you're constantly chasing the opponent to get it back. You're wasting more energy skating on defence, you're in more battles on the boards and you spend more time in your own end, giving up potentially dangerous chances on your goalie. There's little coincidence that Detroit was one of only two teams to allow fewer than 2000 shots against over 82 games this year. San Jose was the other, and they were eighth in the league in faceoff wins.

Further evidence to this effect is Bob Gainey's pre-trade deadline review of the team. The one concrete concern he expressed was that the team needs to improve on faceoffs. He issued his centres a challenge to fight for the puck more, and said he would consider a trade to bring in a strong faceoff man if that didn't happen. He even sent Kyle Chipchura, who seemed to be learning on the job pretty well in most areas, back to Hamilton after citing his need to work on the draw as a reason for the decision.

I think the team is making a move to address that deficiency already. The Habs' lone Quebec-born draftee last year, among all the defence with which Trevor Timmins stocked the system, was centre Olivier Fortier. He won the Guy Carbonneau Award as the best defensive forward in the Q this year. His faceoff percentage was a strong 52.5% over the season. I'm expecting Timmins to choose another centre with his first pick this year, and you can bet one of the qualities the team will be looking for is his ability on the draw.

Likewise with the free agent race in a few weeks. If Gainey moves to bring in a "name," I'd expect him to be someone like Sundin, who boasts a very impressive 55.16% faceoff success rate, along with all his other obvious good qualities. With the better-than-average chance that Sundin might choose elsewhere, then Gainey may take his now-traditional "Plan B" route and sign a third-line centre to replace Brian Smolinski. Josef Vasicek, Chris Gratton and Chris Kelly are all well over fifty-percent on the draw, and solid defensive players to boot. Bobby Holik and Eric Christensen in Atlanta are both an awesome 58% on faceoffs.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks, I think one thing you can safely count on is the Habs improving in the faceoff department. Bob Gainey thinks it's one of the most important factors on a winning hockey team. After watching the Stanley Cup champ Red Wings own the puck from the faceoff and for most of the game, I have to say I agree.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Milling the rumours

So, Bob has spoken. Admittedly, he hasn't really said anything concrete, so it's up to us to take what he says and glean from it any gems of hidden wisdom the bare words may be hiding.

At the GM meetings in Detroit yesterday, a couple of French reporters asked Gainey for an update on what's happening behind the scenes as draft day and July 1 approach. He specified Andrei Kostitsyn as his number one priority, which is not surprising considering Kevin Lowe's precedent on poaching restricted free agents. Kostitsyn scored 27 goals in his first full NHL season, which is not too shabby. He'd be prime bait for an offer sheet, so Gainey really needs to lock him up for several years. I'd originally thought the Habs would offer Kostitsyn a similar deal to the ones Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek and Tomas Plekanec signed last year...around two million a year for two years. Now, considering the possible encroachment of the Russian league and the possibility that Kostitsyn will score thirty or more in the coming years, I think long-term might be better. Five years for three to three and a half million a year would give the Habs a chance to score a bargain if Kostitsyn manages to pot thirty or more in the next few seasons. It would also end his deal while his brother is still RFA. If Sergei re-signs, the chances of keeping Andrei for a second long-term deal after this one improve.

Gainey also specified he's talking to Mark Streit in the next couple of weeks, although he hasn't opened discussions yet. In his comments to the media, he hedged a little bit on his desire to re-sign Streit, qualifying it with a comment about it depending on Streit's salary fitting into the cap. This is where speculation gets fun. The Habs currently have a very healthy cap situation. They could easily afford to re-sign Streit for the 2-3 million his production deserves for the next three years. Unless there's a serious plan afoot to sign a big-name free agent for seven or eight million dollars a year. A big, bald centre who currently resides somewhere in the vicinity of the CN Tower would be just perfect.

Of course, Gainey's hedging on Streit could be for a simpler and less dramatic reason than that. He mentioned in yesterday's interview the decisions he's making in these next few weeks will be part of a long-term financial plan for the team. His noncommittal response on the Streit front could merely mean he's going to lock up Higgins, Komisarek and Plekanec on long-term extensions after he signs Kostitsyn, and paying more than two million or well as offering multi-years...for a guy who's not part of that long-term vision doesn't work for him. If he's looking at which players will be fitting long term and which won't, of course he's also trying to figure out whether he needs to extend Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev in the next year, and for how much and how long. I think considering those concerns, offering Streit more than a couple of million for a couple of years starts to look a bit unpalatable. And considering that...I think Streit will leave the Habs this summer.

I say this under the assumption that Streit, like most of us, wants to set himself up for life. He's thirty-one years old and will likely play another five or six years before he sees a marked decrease in his skill level. This contract will be the one that makes his sacrifice of the earnings he could have been bringing home in Switzerland these last three years worth it. With that in mind, unless he decides playing in Montreal is more important than more money, Gainey will make him a respectable offer that won't compete with the big money he'll draw from other GMs. I would expect that some team will offer Streit four million a year for four years, and that Gainey won't match that. The body language is different too, between the way Gainey talked about retaining Andrei Markov last year and how he's talking about Streit. Last year, all he said was that Markov was an important player and how re-signing him was the team's top priority. At the same time, he was talking about how Sheldon Souray did good things for the team and how Gainey would be glad to see Souray back, if it fit into the cap. The way he's talking about Streit now sounds more like the way he talked about Souray last year. And we know how that ended up.

Another difference between this year and last year is the way Gainey's talking about the other free agents. He says he's going to be talking with Brian Smolinski, Patrice Brisebois and Michael Ryder. Last year he summarily announced he would not be offering contracts to Mike Johnson, Radek Bonk or David Aebischer. So by that I suppose we can assume there's a possibility one or more of those three may get offers from the Habs.

Anyway, I guess the only two pieces of information we can take to the bank at this point are that the Habs will make Andrei Kostitsyn a very competitive offer and likely retain his services, and Gainey has identified players who have proven themselves enough to be paid as corner stones of the franchise. We can also assume he's going to try and lock up these assets while saving enough to bring home a big fish from the free agent pool.

The fun part of this time of year is that there's always grist for the rumour mill. And the millstone never stops turning.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Doing lines

I've been a hockey fan for a long time now, and I don't remember ever seeing the obsession with line combinations and the hierarchy of lines as there is right now. Even the terminology has changed. In the past, when looking at a player's talent analysis or projected position on a team, we'd see terms like "checker" or "goal scorer" or "playmaker." Now it's all "third-line winger," "energy line player" or "first-line centre." Go to any fan site on the internet, and...especially when things are'll find armchair coaches by the dozen, projecting line combinations. "What if Mats Sundin signed with the Habs? Well, my line combos would be..." "Chris Higgins a first liner? No, a third-liner..." It baffles me because not only do fans have absolutely no say about what lines the coach chooses, but the coach, especially in Guy Carbonneau's case, often switches up the lines in mid-game anyway.

The funny thing is the obsession with lines has permeated the media's and players' mentalities as well. When Tomas Plekanec, Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn began to outperform Saku Koivu, Michael Ryder and Chris Higgins, Koivu found himself answering the same question repeatedly: "Are you unhappy about being demoted to the second line?" The question was valid only because of the pretige factor associated with line labels. On most teams, "first-line" players are the three best offensive players on the team, who get the most ice-time and are used in the most advantageous goal-scoring situations. "Second-line" players are responsible for pitching in a few goals here and there and get fewer minutes on the power play. So, when reporters asked about Koivu's "demotion," they were really asking him if he felt slighted because the coach, by using Plekanec's line in certain situations, had decided Koivu's most productive days were behind him. The "lines" are shorthand for where a player fits in and what he brings to the team...and the players know it.

I think the traditional line system has its roots in the earliest days of the pro game, when lines were set in stone to the point where they were given legendary names. The Production Line in Detroit, the Kraut Line in Boston and the most productive of them all, the Canadiens' great Punch Line of Richard, Blake and Lach. Those were the high-flyers...the ones whose role was to put the puck in the net and win games for their teams. In an era when teams played nine forwards and four defencemen in a game, the three best guys were seldom sent out with any but their usual partners. Teams had a scoring line, a secondary scoring line and a checking line. But when the game got faster and shifts got shorter, somewhere around the mid-to-late seventies, the need for a fourth line became apparent. Unfortunately, with the draft and the general dilution of talent in the face of expansion, NHL teams found themselves facing a sparsity of highly-skilled players to fill four lines. So inevitably, less-skilled players started to get NHL jobs, just to fill rosters and get enough ice time to give the stars a breather. The fourth line became a repository of goons, one-dimensional pluggers and young players who hadn't proved enough to get more than a few minutes of ice a game. With the addition of the "energy" line, the current hierarchy of first-line scorers, second-line backup scorers, third-line checkers and fourth-line chaff was born. That's the way it is still on most teams, and the minutes are granted the various lines accordingly. First-liners get twenty-plus minutes a game. Second and third lines get fifteen or sixteen each and the pluggers get whatever's left over.

The thing is, though, in Montreal the Habs don't really have a traditional line system at all. The players are grouped according to who plays best together, even if it means a guy like Latendresse goes from the fourth line to the first from one game to the next. If Plekanec, Kostitsyn and Kovalev are performing well together, they stay together. If not, Kovalev is just as likely to find himself playing with Lapierre and Higgins. Carbonneau uses his top nine offensive players so evenly, it's hard to assign traditional labels to a particular trio. Even the players who'd normally be classified as the "fourth" line and relegated to five or six minutes a game on other teams get double-digit minutes from Carbonneau. And he mixes the combinations so often, sometimes it's hard to say what three players even make a line at all. It's almost a revolutionary way of using the players.

Part of the reason for this may be the fact that there are certain roles that just weren't filled on the Canadiens this year. The traditional third line is a checking line that goes out against the NHL's best players. This season, the Habs had Bryan Smolinski centering that line. Now, Smolinski's best years were spent as a secondary scorer, contributing fifteen to twenty goals a season. He's never been the type of player who can grind the other team's best scorers into the ice. The Habs also didn't have a superstar...the type of player who scores so often and so dependably that he needs to be on the ice for more than twenty minutes a game. As a result, the chores...both scoring and checking...were more evenly spread out among all the players. Kovalev killed penalties. Smolinski got PP time.

I think the distribution of ice time so evenly among all twelve forwards was a big reason why the team avoided injury so well this year. No one was exhausted and making the mistakes that get tired players hurt. And I think players were less run-down than they get when they're tired and dehydrated playing big minutes every night, and got sick less because of it. Rolling four lines also helped the team keep its speed constant throughout whole games while other teams' top guys flagged at the ends of periods. There are definitely arguments to be made in favour of playing lines evenly, if a team has the people to do that without experiencing a huge drop-off in talent between one line and the next.

On the flip side, there are negatives inherent in line labelling. If Chris Higgins is expected to be a "first-line" LW, he's expected to be a different player than if he's called a "third-line" LW. He's still the same player, with the same amount of ice time; a streaky scorer who pots 27 goals while killing penalties and playing a strong two-way game. But if he's a first liner, people are disappointed in him this year. If he's a third liner, they're thrilled. Another risk of labelling is in player expectations. A "first-line" centre like Scott Gomez or Daniel Briere will get 8 million dollars next year, after seasons of 70 and 72 points respectively. On the other hand, "second-line" centre Mike Richards has signed a multi-year extension that pays him 5.4 million next season, after potting 75 points ths year. Amittedly, that's not exactly peanuts and Richards was negotiating from an RFA standpoint rather than as an UFA as the other two were...but there's definitely a pay difference in accordance with perceived status.

I'm not sure the Canadiens will move back to a system of traditional line combinations even if they get that checking centre and a big scoring star and are able to do it. And I think it's a good thing if they don't. Fans talk about Sundin signing with the Habs and the unavoidable question, "Where would he play?" comes up. The consensus among many is that he would obviously centre the first line, but that Koivu should play on his wing because the captain would be angered about being demoted to the third line behind Sundin and Plekanec. I think in Carbo's system, Koivu, Plekanec and Sundin would all get similar icetime. There's no shortage of strong wingers on the Habs, so no centre would be playing with inferior linemates. And players like Sundin and Koivu could very well benefit by playing fewer minutes and saving their aging bodies for the playoffs. The concept of three scoring lines and a checking line is one that could even be an attractive draw for an older player who doesn't want the pressure and expectations of being the first-line superstar, expected to play twenty-five minutes a game, anymore.

I think that's the way Bob Gainey is going. He's said he wants a fast, opportunistic team. He's not interested in one-dimensional players and he's not interested in goons. He wants players who bring more to the table and are able to contribute for ten or fifteen minutes a game. I hope this summer to see him add the pieces the team needs to roll those three scoring lines this year. With the likely departure of Michael Ryder, the team's top forwards are Plekanec, Koivu, the two Kostitsyns, Higgins, Kovalev and Latendresse. Gainey needs to add a centre and a winger to complete the set, whether through promotion from within or from the free agent market. I think Gainey knows today's NHL is making the traditional fourth line obsolete. High speed and the conservation of energy in rolling lines evenly seems the logical way to go. Hopefully, if it happens that way, the presitige and stigma of line labelling will start to disappear.

Unfortunately, it may take longer for fans to stop obsessively forming their own fantasy lines. Who knows? Maybe someday Carbo will be wondering where to play Latendresse and some fan's imaginary lineup will inspire him. I guess if it makes people happy to think that might happen, then good for them. In the meantime, the only important opinions are Carbonneau's and Gainey's. And I like what they're doing so far. Everyone else can get in line.