Friday, July 18, 2008

The Forgotten Man

It's a little bit ironic and a lot interesting that Alex Tanguay has been a member of the Canadiens for a grand total of almost one month, but most fans haven't really noticed. At least, I figure they haven't because of all the bellyaching about Gainey not making any big moves this off season, or drafting a home-grown player. The fact that he traded the 25th pick for an established local star seems to be overlooked by many of the complainers. I think it's almost shocking to see the lack of excitement about the acquisition of a young, French Canadian player with tons of skill on the ice.

Now, I'm sure a lot of the aforementioned bellyaching is because of the torturous "will he or won't he" Sundin vigil. In the oasis-like mirage of the big, bald Swede centering the Habs' first line in their Centennial season, the actual lone palm tree in the desert that is Alex Tanguay looks scrawny and insignificant in comparison. But, the thing is, Tanguay is real. And his acquisition is a real boon to the Habs' lineup, at least on paper.

No one can predict what Tanguay will do when he's faced with the pressure of playing in his native land. Or how he'll blend with a lineup that's pretty tight since last year. But all signs point to him doing well. He's never had a reputation for being a head case in the room. He's fast, and he can handle the puck, which fits beautifully with the Canadiens' style. When you consider Micheal Ryder's abyssmal performance offensively last season, you have to think Tanguay can't fail to be an upgrade on the right wing. His presence will improve on the best offence, and number one power play in the league. Defensively, he's no slouch either. As much as critics get on his case for being soft, you don't end up with a career plus-144 by being easy to play against. The man can make a nifty pass, and he can put the puck in the net himself. When you consider the linemates he'll have to work with and the powerplay time he's likely to get, it's not far-fetched to think he'll improve on last season's disappointing 18 goals and 58 points. Add his not-too-horrible cap hit of just over five million for one year only, and the fact that he waived his no-trade clause in Calgary because he chose to play in Montreal, and things are looking good. Not to mention he's only 28 and is eminently re-signable if he should prove to be a huge hit in Montreal.

While I find it funny he's been largely an afterthought since his acquisition, the Sundin saga may actually be a blessing in disguise for Tanguay. While everyone is salivating over the potential of the big bald one gracing Montreal with his presence and breathlessly composing their imaginary super lineups featuring Sundin on the first trio, Tanguay is quietly getting ready for the coming season. No one's following him around asking for interviews or autographs as he trains. No one's jumping out of bushes to take his picture. He's adapting to the idea of what it means to play in Montreal without the pressure of a million people watching him do it. If Sundin signs, Tanguay will thrive in the shade. If not, he'll have to learn to deal with more attention than he's getting now, but he'll have these precious few months of Sundin spec to prepare himself for that. And by then I hope he so loves the idea of being a Hab that he'll put up with the crap that goes along with being one of the team's stars.

In any case, I'm still hoping Tanguay continues to be an understudy among new acquisitions in Montreal when Big Mats makes up his mind. I'm sure Alex does too.

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