Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hello, drawing board!

As Habs fans everywhere descend into the abyss of panic, it makes one wonder what Silent Bob is doing these days. Is he on his holidays? Is he taking art classes or music lessons? Perhaps building a cabin in the Laurentians? I like to think he's looking at his team and figuring out how to fix the obvious problems it's having. Or at least looking at his roster and deciding who's wheat and who's chaff in the great winnowing a GM must do each season.

I was trying to put myself in Bob's shiny wingtips and imagining who the big guy thinks is performing and earning George Gillett's shekles and who's not. Obviously worth every penny, of course, are Carey Price and Josh Gorges. The Habs' BFFs are still on very economical deals for what they offer, have improved their play since last year and are providing extremely steady coverage of the back end in pretty much every outing. So, if I'm Bob, those guys are making me smile slightly. Teeth are almost showing.

Andre Markov is pretty reliable on D, and it's not really his fault that he's not producing on the right point of the PP. That was never his spot and he's not good there. That he's still there is evidence of both the lack of a trustworthy alternative and Carbonneau's stubbornness. Overall though, Markov continues to provide his big, mostly mistake-free minutes. So does Roman Hamrlik, who's noticably worse when paired with Patrice Brisebois...mainly because he covers for a lot of Breezer's mistakes. But, paired with Gorges or Komisarek, I could see Hamrlik earning every cent of his money. Saku Koivu too. He's shown up in every game and is still the team's heart. He stays next year, if there's any justice. Maxim Lapierre has responded to benching by playing the best hockey of his career. He's been strong, aggressive and effective on the fourth line. If he only had better hands, there'd be other guys worried about their jobs today. Robert Lang is doing exactly what everyone expected him to do when he was signed. These five guys register a quirking of the lips and a glint in Gainey's eye.

Tomas Plekanec has been working like a dog in every game, but without results on the scoresheet. Jaro Halak has played very decently in goal, but with very little support. Alex Tanguay worked well with skilled, fast Koivu...not so well with less-skilled, slow Lang. Brisebois has filled in admirably on D in the absence of Komisarek, but still makes the occasional scary mistake. Mathieu Dandenault, Steve Begin and Francis Bouillon have been trying hard and fulfilling their roles to the best of their limited abilities. Those guys are getting a Gainey nod of acknowledgement.

On the other hand, we have the Kostitsyn brothers, who've had about six memorable moments between them all season. Unfortunately, those moments are flanked by long stretches of invisibility, punctuated by bursts of bad penalties. Chris Higgins has been as effective as a mesh condom (to borrow a phrase) when he's not injured. And Mike Komisarek was as afraid of the puck as everyone thinks he is of Milan Lucic when he wasn't injured. Alex Kovalev is trying hard, but he's become the King of Sucky Penalties and Giveaways...which, when you think about it, is a pretty long name for a kingdom, but you get the picture. Guillaume Latendresse is rapidly running out of supporters who defend him for his age and lack of first-line linemates as he continues to not become the power forward those supporters hoped he would. These guys are getting a lips-pressed-tight, stoney-eyed stare from their boss.

All of this means Gainey's choices for whom to keep and whom to release at the ends of their contracts are much murkier than they should be. At the beginning of the year, the informed observer would have said Lang, Dandenault, Brisebois, Bouillon and Begin were certainly not going to be re-signed. The biggest dilemma Gainey was supposed to be facing was how to fit the big new contracts Komisarek, Plekanec, Higgins, Koivu, Kovalev and Tanguay would be needing under the cap.

At this point, the throw-away scrubs are earning their money while, so far, five of six of the certain keepers are not...with the lone exception of Koivu. So I think Gainey's busy trying to figure out what the hell to do with these players in the big picture. The small picture is going to have to take care of itself for the time being, as Gainey watches and waits for evidence to help him in those big-picture decisions.

Meanwhile, with the holiday roster freeze on tomorrow, we can be sure it'll be at least January before we see any changes in the Habs' lineup. With three games in four nights before Christmas and the annual suckfest that is the Florida holiday road trip yet to come with the current cast, some of the evidence Gainey needs could be pretty...well...evident by then.

1 comment:

Larry said...

We had our yearly poker party last night. Lots of the guys whom I work with in the summer I had not seen in several months. All big Habs fans so we spent a lot of time talking about the present ills. I remembered that a year ago at the same event the Habs were in the midst of a horrible funk. It looked like they would not win another game all year. On the night in question they lost in a shootout to Tampa, the only win of the season for Marc Denis.
But not too long afterwards they turned things around and went on to win the East. So I am hoping, we were all hoping, that we will see a repeat this year. They are in fact two points better at this point than they were last season. And two years running they have played their best hockey in the second half, particularly after the All Star game. I sincerely hope they make Gainey earn his pay, and have to make some extremely hard decisions, wanting on merit to keep everyone.