Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Suck It, Sergei

Two days ago, Kurtis Coombs became the new mayor of Paradise, Newfoundland. The town is young, vibrant and growing rapidly. In fact, it's the fastest-growing community in the country, thanks to the oil-rich economy on the Avalon Penninsula. The new mayor is young, vibrant and probably still growing too, as he's only 19 years old. A kid who's a second-year poli-sci student in university, who's still living at home with his parents, has taken on the leadership of a rapidly sprawling town with many complex issues that need a mayor's attention.

Yesterday, Sergei Kostitsyn became the latest Habs' draftee to run away from his responsibilities to the team that drafted him and look for an easier way to translate hockey to money. At twenty-two, Kostitsyn has decided that, despite having proven very little at the NHL level, he's entitled to a full-time job with the Canadiens. Bob Gainey, believing otherwise, sent him to Hamilton. At which point, Sergei, the Entitled One, has decided to look for an NHL team whose GM thinks he's ready for big money in North America NOW.

What a contrast, don't you think? On one hand, we have a 19-year-old who's trying to balance school and life while taking on the leadership of an entire community because he believes he can make a difference in people's lives. On the other hand, we've got a 22-year-old who thinks he deserves a lot of money and prestige because he can successfully chase a small piece of vulcanized rubber around an enclosed ice surface. The comparison kind of puts things into perspective for me.

I think Sergei Kostitsyn has a lot of growing up to do. And the first step in the process is removing his head from his own back passage. There are kids in the world who are raising money for cancer research, or achieving college scholarships, or winning Olympic medals or running municipal governments. Then there are guys like Sergei who think the world owes them something because they're pretty good at hockey. The comparison removes any concessions to youth that might otherwise have fallen in Sergei's favour. There are no excuses for being a me-first personality, including youth or inexperience.

The question now is how Bob Gainey can salvage this situation. I think he'll let Sergei stew, partially to teach the head-case a lesson, and partially because the kid's trade value is nil right now. Maybe, by some miracle of maturity, Sergei will come back and apologize and work hard to prove his worth. I'm not expecting that. I think, in the end, there'll be a standoff resulting in a grudging appearance in Hamilton by Kostitsyn, followed by a quiet trade to some rotten team like Phoenix, for a third-rounder.

It's too bad. Kostitsyn has potential. But we know, after last season, how a player's lack of interest in joining the rest of the team in a common pursuit can hurt. And, if the kid's not with us, he's against us.

I just wish I could introduce Kostitsyn to Kurtis Coombs. Maybe he'd learn a lesson or two about what it means to think outside one's self.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ode to Pierre McGuire

So, there you sit with shaven head.
The lights bounce off your dome.
You can't speak well of those in red.
You cut down poor Guillaume.

You laud the leafs grit ratio
while screaming love of blue,
and giving Burke fellatio
in praise of his "tough" crew.

You kiss the arse of Lucy's bitch
until your lips are sore.
I guess leaf love can make you rich,
you shrieking, taunting boor.

Some say you really know the game
and you're worth a listen,
But still you grant unearned acclaim,
with your head a-glisten.

Now your hubris grows still greater:
You dissed The General.
Said he'll fail without the traitor,
his star ephemeral.

But we know why you're such a knob
and why you treat us rough.
It's 'cause you don't have Gainey's job.
You weren't good enough.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Max Pac, First Liner

So, it seems Jacques the Knife is going with a first line of Scott Gomez! Brian Gionta! and...Max Pacioretty? Hmmm. Reminds me of the old Sesame Street ditty: "One of these things is not like the others, One of these things just doesn't belong, Can you tell which thing is not like the others, By the time I finish my song?"

I like Max Pacioretty. He seems like a smart, hardworking kid. But he's twenty years old and has proven a grand total of diddly with a side of squat at the NHL level. Hell, he's proven about as much at the AHL level. Yet, here he is, on the first line of the re-tooled Habs. This worries me because I'm not sure the kid is physically or mentally ready for that kind of important role.

Physically, we've seen him have some issues with stamina. He played just one season...37 games...of college hockey before turning pro and playing another 37 for the Bulldogs in Hamilton and 34 for the Habs. When you add it up, there's not a whole lot of hockey between high school and the Habs' first line for Pacioretty. It showed last January, when the kid burst out with five points in his first nine games after getting called up, but ended up scoring only three goals in his 34-game NHL stint. And, he's sustained groin and shoulder injuries, as well as a major abdominal tear that required sports hernia surgery in the summer. Staying healthy will be a big challenge for him this year. He's got NHL size, but he doesn't yet have the NHL savvy that will keep him out of harm's way most of the time. And the style he'll be asked to play requires a pretty rugged frame.

Mentally, his NHL experience so far has been tainted by the team-wide malaise that infected last year's Centennial squad. He admits last season he suffered from a lack of confidence after his production went south along with the rest of the team's. He says he's been reading books about confidence and speaking with a sports psychologist to help him deal with his issues. But, he's twenty. He's a kid. And his line is going to be expected to put up a large share of the team's total goals this season. If he makes mistakes, as kids will, or he finds he's just not up to the task of keeping up with Gomez and Gionta, you have to worry that all his book reading and shrink visits will be out the window when reality hits. There'll be a ton of pressure on him to produce, not only from himself, but from his linemates who need him to play at their level so they can produce and justify their contracts.

I understand why The Knife wants to gamble on him, though. He's shown some tantalizing skating and passing skills. He's got a nice shot, a grounded character and, perhaps most importantly, he's got the size the two little'uns on his line lack. His job will be to get the puck off the boards for Gomez and Gionta, and to be aggressive on the forecheck. I think he'll be able to do that, IF he can stay physically and mentally healthy. The temptation to hand him an important role must be strong, especially considering the alternatives available.

I'd like to see him pull it off. Right now, he's among the best options available for adding size to the top line. But I don't want to see him there if it means he'll get set back in his development because he's been given too much NHL responsibility too soon. I'd rather see him in Hamilton, or given a third-line role for a few months.

It's nice when prospects are ready early. It's been a long time since the Habs have had a guy really deserve to be in the NHL just a couple of years after his draft, and then thrive at the top level once he makes it. But Guillaume Latendresse, Sergei Kostitsyn and Carey Price are there to bear witness to the way a young player can struggle when he's not ready and he gets promoted anyway. I'd rather not see Pacioretty's name on that list. I just have to trust Martin will do what's best for the kid and not wait around too long to make a change if Pacioretty needs one. After all, there's no point in drafting potential if you stunt its development.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Buh Bye Kid

Sergei, Sergei, Sergei. What are we gonna do with you, boy? There you are, faster than that Mercedes you picked up as soon as you cashed your first NHL cheque. You've got better creative vision than da Vinci and softer hands than the Queen. So, why do you tick off your coaches and require periodic exile to Hamilton to remind you to be grateful for the privileged life you've been granted?

I mean, you were drafted 200th overall. Two-hundredth. You have no business being an NHL player, really. How many guys drafted in the first round never make it? About twenty percent of them, if you want to know. And the numbers don't improve as you go down the list of draftees. By the time you get to the seventh round, 200th overall, your chances of making the big time (if your name's not Zetterberg) should be about the same as skydiving with a busted 'chute and landing safely on your feet. Or finding a magic lamp with a genie inside. Or the leafs winning a Cup this year. You get what I'm saying?

But you made it. You got an incredible chance to play a game for big money, in the best hockey city in the world, with your brother on the same team. At first you cared, too. You had that excited puppy enthusiasm and you played with speed and grit. You looked like a guy who'd been coached hard by Dale Hunter. So, what happened? Is it the nice upper-middle class life you had in Belarus? Did you not have to learn the value of hard work or determination as a kid? Because if you learned it, you haven't been showing it in Montreal.

You got away with it with Carbo. He liked you, and he gave you every chance to succeed. You only had to go to Steeltown last year after you embarrassed the team with your and your brother's shady associate. So I guess it must have been a bit of a shock when Jacques the Knife rolled into town. He called you out because he didn't like your lazy play and your disinclination to follow the game plan he wants. Maybe you thought your talent would let you slide through as it always has. It's not fun to be wrong, is it? Now the coach has you sucking diesel in Hamilton instead of playing bonding games at Teen Ranch, and I don't blame him. You don't have to be right on the ice all the time, but you do have to try hard and pretend you care. You do have to be on the bus on time and listen when the coach tells you about his new system.

Listen up, though, Sergei. Jacques means business. He won't have you on the team if you don't smarten up, and the team needs your skills when you're playing like you can. There's a spot for you on the second line if you're working hard. But the Knife won't ruin the chemistry of his squad by adding a guy with attitude, no matter how good he can be. So, go to Hamilton. Suck it up and work your nuts off. Get mad and tear up the AHL. Miss the speed and skill of the NHL and get desperate to get back there and stick around. If you do, you'll be back in the big league before a dozen games are up.

If you don't, you'll be packing up your gear and your attitude and become some other team's enigma. The Habs have had enough of those in the last few years to last them another century.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jacques the Knife

"You can act like a man! [slap] What's the matter with you?"

- Don Corleone to Johnny Fontane

Okay, maybe he's not quite Don Corleone, but now that the Habs are pared down to the guys who'll likely play in the NHL this year, Jacques the Knife is flexing his muscle and telling last season's party club last call has arrived. I like it. A lot. Martin has looked like the proverbial cat, post-canary lunch, ever since he arrived in Montreal. I wonder how much his attitude has to do with the fact that he watched some of the talented young players on the team stagnate last year and he's anticipating how much more he can get out of them.

I loved Guy Carbonneau as a player. I supported him as a coach through his first rough season when the team imploded after Christmas and missed the playoffs. He's just learning, I thought. It seemed he'd learned well in his second season, when his team won the conference and he was up for coach of the year. But this past season, the glorious Centennial, it became painfully obvious that Carbo hadn't learned. He just benefitted from an extraordinary streak of good fortune in 2007-08 when he didn't have to figure out how to deal with adversity. Then adversity hit last year, and the team went down like the Lusitania. Carbo stood helplessly by until he became yet another Centennial casualty, falling on his old friend and mentor's sword.

The thing with Carbo is he never got over being a player in his own mind. He made decisions based on what he liked and didn't like when he played. He never found bag-skates after embarrassing losses motivational for him as a player, so he never forced his team to endure them. He liked days off from practice to recharge the mental batteries, so he gave them to his players, even when they used them as an excuse to cut loose instead. Carbo always treated his players the way he wanted to be treated, which is great for observance of the Golden Rule, but not so much when managing a team of various personalities, not all of whom were like his own.

The quality a good coach needs, as much as an ability to institute a system or conduct a chalk talk, is empathy. He has to be able to put himself into players' skates and into their heads to figure out why they do the things they do, and, conversely, how to convince them NOT to do some of those things. Carbonneau didn't have that ability. He could never understand why a player couldn't have a good night out on the town, and still show up and give his heart and soul on the ice every night. He only knew his own approach to the game and didn't get the players who weren't like him. He found out the hard way that it's one thing to rally a team with emotion when you're a captain, and quite a different thing to motivate them as a coach.

Jacques Martin does understand personalities. He sees the potential in Sergei Kostitsyn and he calls him out for not using his talent to best advantage, even in practice. Sure, it's embarrassing, but Martin understands sometimes you have to get on a player like that for his own good. Scotty Bowman did it too, with a little bit of success. Ken Dryden writes about how players who were used to Bowman's iron fist were discontented and worried about the way lax discipline on the coach's part led to more losses, after Bowman began to mentally detach from the Canadiens in the 1978-79 season.

Martin doesn't care if the players like or dislike tough practices. He knows tough practices are what will make the team better and anyone who doesn't buy in won't fit on his squad. He knows short, precise passing and tight D is what needs to happen to make the team harder to play against. It's not as exciting as the dramatic stretch passing we saw last year, but it will reduce shots against and improve the goalie's lot in life. Martin will make the players execute his style, like it or not. The difference between him and Carbo reminds me of the difference between the behaviour of the kids when they have a sitter and when mom and dad are home.

Well, Habs, daddy's home and you'd better be on your best behaviour. I use the analogy of the kids because I think kids and hockey players have a lot in common. From their earliest days, players are taught the coach is almost godlike in his omnipotence at the rink. He's the one who controls icetime and linemates and all the things that make the game more or less fun to play. As players get older, they do things they might not ordinarily do, like fight a tougher opponent or hit another team's star, because the coach tells them to do it. So, when a coach decides (as Carbo did) to treat the players like adults, the truth is a lot of them aren't used to it and a some will take advantage. NHL teams have curfews for a reason. And that's because men, who buy houses and cars and have families in the real world, are conditioned to obey the coach when they're at the rink. If the coach doesn't put limits on the team, the players will set their own. Which, as we saw last year, is not a good thing.

I don't think Jacques the Knife will last a terribly long time in Montreal. Maybe three or four years. His kind of coaching eventually inspires rebellion and that will cost him in the end. But for now he'll crack down on a team left too long to discipline itself, which is exactly what the talent in Montreal needs. The saddest part about all of this is I think Martin might have salvaged last season with his approach, and I hate to see potential wasted. With any luck, we'll finally see a Habs team fulfill the best of its potential. If they crash and burn again this year, I want to have no "what ifs." I want to be able to say, "yes, they did the best they could, and this is what we got."

I think it's not too much to ask for a team that does its best, and I think Martin will insist on it. Otherwise, they'll be sleeping with the fishes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The First Cut Is the Deepest

Well, that was fun. After no hockey at all for months and months, we got deluged with five games in five nights. While the games themselves were a bit of a mish-mash of styles and abilities, there were definitely highlights. For me, one of the best parts of camp, pre-cuts, is the chance to catch a glimpse of the team's future in all its awkward, promising glory.

Among the prospects and bubble guys I liked:

David Desharnais. He's a little sparkplug, strong for his size and as determined a player as you'll find anywhere. Just imagining his net radar and feistiness in Andrei Kostitsyn is enough to make you weep. I used to wish he was bigger, but I'm starting to think he has a chance to play in the NHL just as he is. The only thing is, I don't see where he'll fit in with the Habs. Gomez is signed for five years, Plekanec is a better player and should be re-signed next year if Gainey can afford him, Lapierre is a good third-liner with the size the forwards lack generally, and the fourth line spot is more of a limited-minute, grinder role on Martin's teams. Of course, injuries happen and players who look to be locks right now can underperform, making way for others. If Desharnais can build on his strong rookie season in Hamilton, maybe he'll force his way in someday.

Ryan O'Byrne. He's finally starting to put it all together, and I couldn't be happier to see it. He's been hitting everyone in sight, he's been playing simple, effective D in his own zone and he's taking his time with his breakout passes a little more than he used to. One unfortunate problem about developing through the Habs system is that everyone expects you to be an NHL-calibre player the minute you're called up. Not everyone develops that quickly, and sometimes we give up on prospects too soon. I'm glad the team didn't quit on O'Byrne before he started to blossom. As they say, you can't teach big. And big guys who can skate aren't the most plentiful commodities around.

Ryan White. I really liked the get-up-and-go of White this time around. He played some responsible D in his own end, and he was aggressive and quick in the offensive zone as well. I think after another season in Hamilton, he'll have a chance to pass Kyle Chipchura on the Habs' depth chart. I don't know if he'd be ready for the fourth-line centre position next year when Metropolit likely moves on, but if he keeps improving, he'll have a shot.

Tom Pyatt. He looked energetic and involved in the play against the Penguins. Maybe he'll be no more than an AHLer or maybe he'll make it to the big league. But he looked to me more like a guy with a chance to make it some day than not. Which is surprising to me because I've only seen him as a throw-in on the Gomez deal until now. The fact that he's turning out to actually be an interesting prospect is a bonus.

Guys I didn't like that much:

Mathieu Carle. I guess it's a good thing that Carle didn't get terribly injured in his first pre-season game like he did the last two seasons. But he still looks like he's lost in his own end and he's not terribly strong on the boards or in front of the net. He was a non-factor in the games he played and at this point, that has to mean he's not long for the Habs' organization. At least not if he doesn't make a notable improvement in his ability to play smart defence at NHL speed soon. He's already been surpassed on the depth chart by Yannick Weber and soon will be by PK Subban.

Andrew Conboy. He's just not ready for NHL competition, which isn't really surprising considering his half-year of college and subsequent couple of months in the AHL are all that separate him from high school. But he didn't do anything to really make an impression.

Greg Stewart. I liked him when he was trying to scratch out a place in the lineup last year. Now he looks like he thinks he has a spot and he isn't doing much to make himself stand out. He's not fighting, he's not driving to the net and wreaking havoc like he did in his early call-ups. He's just not really doing much of anything I can see.

Lots of other guys made a brief impression one way or the other, but those are the ones who stand out after the first five games of the pre-season. Now the cuts are made and we get down to business. It was fun to see these guys while it lasted though. Have fun in Bonnie Scotland, guys. If it's not Scottish, it's crap! (Or it's still on the NHL roster, which is pretty good too.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Whatsa Matter You? (Hey!)

I don't usually expound on events outside the immediate purview of the Habs themselves, but this whole Phil Kessel thing has me thinking. It's not every day a major pain-in-the-ass Habs killer shifts from one hated rival to another, so it's been on my mind. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder what's wrong with Phil Kessel?

Kessel was drafted fifth overall in 2006. Fifth. Top-five picks don't fall into a team's lap every day unless they suck out loud for years (hey, Pens, how's it going?) or they're lucky enough to win a post-lockout draft lottery. So, when a team gets a top-five pick, it's usually hoping it lands a player who will become a big part of its future. When that player pans out almost right away, scoring 36 goals at only 21 years of age, a team should be dancing in the streets and moving heaven and earth to make that player happy.

So what went wrong between Kessel and the Bruins? The stories we've been hearing indicate Kessel wanted more money than Chiarelli was willing to pay. I thought that was odd. Usually, if a team is lucky enough to land a guy with that kind of skill, money is the least of its worries. If the cap's an issue, most teams would move an older player to make room for the young phenom it's drafted and developed in its own system. That the Bruins didn't do that for Kessel was a strange thing indeed. That they're paying older guys like Michael Ryder to score fewer goals while letting their home-drafted budding star walk tells me not all is right with young Mr.Kessel. And, on Kessel's side, he's a young player just starting to make a name for himself and fortunate enough to be part of a stacked team with a real chance to make a splash in the playoffs. Most players want to go to a team like that, not walk away from it.

Think about it: This is the equivalent of the Habs moving Carey Price for draft picks now, when he's got his whole career ahead of him. Hard to imagine, right?

When I started thinking about this, I remembered reading about Kessel in the run-up to his 2006 draft in Gare Joyce's book, "Future Greats and Heartbreaks." The talk amongst scouts at that point was that Kessel was a really talented kid with a piss-poor attitude. Joyce sat in on Kessel's interview session with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and wrote this about what happened there:

Kessel is barely in his seat before he's pressed, before he is sweated.
"Teammates," Boyd prompts.
"Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"No," Kessel says.
How couldn't he? Everyone in the room knows what Boyd is talking about. Kessel has a reputation for being disliked by his teammates wherever he has played.
And, clearly, Kessel does know what Boyd is talking about. At the end of a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, a few seconds while the clock was ticking, more loudly for Kessel than the team, he starts talking.
"I don't have a problem with my teammates."
Another uncomfortable silence.
"I don't have a problem with Jack Johnson."
Another uncomfortable silence.
"I had lunch with him practically every day."
Kessel is cracking. Now it's not answers. It's explanations. And rationalizations. And excuses. Hard to imagine it going worse.

So, here we are nearly four years after that draft, and a season since Kessel's breakout year in the NHL. He seemed to have put all the doubts around him as an 18-year-old behind him as he proved he can play...and play well...with the best. But has he really progressed beyond that early attitude? A team doesn't re-up a 22-goal scorer like David Krejci and let its 36-goal man walk for a couple of draft picks unless that guy is a problem within the team.

It smells to me like maybe Kessel hasn't changed much from the kid who got drafted on talent, despite the fact that teams knew his reputation as a team player was seriously lacking. I think Chiarelli grabbed what he could in exchange for a guy who might have proven to be a big, talented headache in the Bruins' room.

Now, there's Brian Burke, in charge of the "rebuilding" leafs, giving up two first-rounders and a second for Kessel. On the surface, it's not a totally bad gamble. You can't predict whether a first-rounder will ever pan out, and Kessel's already proving he can put up good NHL numbers as a 21-year-old. Burke rightly points out that he's had some success in attracting undrafted free agents, which means he's adding roster players without wasting picks or prospects on acquiring them. So, even though he's rebuilding, he's arguing that giving up those picks for a guy like Kessel's not a bad thing. The factor he's removing from the equation though, is the real reason why the Bruins got rid of a guy with Kessel's talent in the first place.

The leafs got themselves a good goal scorer with speed in Kessel. But it sounds like they've also inherited a guy whose teammates don't like him and who managed to buy himself a one-way ticket out of the town that drafted him after only two NHL seasons. Maybe he'll be different in Toronto. Maybe he'll score forty or fifty goals and be the centre of leaf fan adoration, while not alienating yet another room full of teammates. We'll see.

We can only hope he continues to do whatever put him on the express train out of Boston, and turns the leaf dressing room into a pit of infighting and controversy. That way, Phil Kessel will bugger up the leafs by his presence and the Bruins (who'll miss those 36 goals) by his absence. As a Habs fan, this trade could be the best of all worlds. So, keep it up, Phil. Whatever it is you do to turn friends into enemies, keep it up.

Asked and Answered

Thanks for the feedback on the period summaries, everyone. I've got enough interest to keep them going this season. So, what I'll do is post notes and observations shortly after the period ends, for your intermission reading. Unless the game is out west, in which case sleep prevails!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Query

Hello all you lovely readers. I'm thinking of doing period summaries on the blog again this year for each game (except the Western swing because they start about four hours before I have to be at work in the morning). I'd just like to gauge interest in those before I commit to posting them again. They'd be similar to those I've been posting for the last couple of seasons. So, who's up for some recapping?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Can I Have An Amen?

We stand here together today, my brethren in Habs, on the brink of possibility. The new season stretches before us like a freshly-cleaned sheet of ice, unblemished by blades. I ask you, my brothers and sisters, do you stand here with hope in your heart? Or has doubt crept into you like Mikhail Grabovski sneaking behind a ref for protection? This is the time, my friends, to put your doubts aside. You have been baptized by the fire of St.Patrick. You have walked with us through the desert and thirsted for a Cup. It's time now to stand up and say "I believe!" Get thee behind me, Pierre McGuire!

Yea, brothers and sisters, we hear the evil voices. How can it be otherwise? We are haunted through our waking hours by their mockery. TSN tells us the Habs will finish eighteenth in the league, and the Hockey News predicts eleventh in the east, behind the team whose name we are loath to speak. We must pay them no heed and look within our team for truth.

The truth will set us free, my friends. But as an infamous judge once said, "What is truth?"

The truth is our team will not be as bad as it was last year. The truth is the new first line is built to best use each player's strengths. Gomez will get his 50+ assists off 50+ goals by Cammalleri and Kostitsyn because their skills complement each other. Gomez sets up plays. Cammalleri finishes them. Andrei Kostitsyn is more impressive from the right side, and Jacques Martin knows that.

The truth is many games are won and points gained on special teams. The Canadiens managed 93 points last year with no powerplay for two-thirds of the season. This year they start with Markov quarterbacking from the left point, Spacek providing the firepower on the right that the team lacked for most of last year, and opportunistic forwards like Cammalleri and Gionta waiting to cash in around the net. If you consider the number of times the Habs went 0-for-the game on the PP and ended up losing by a close score last year, it's easy to think a few extra goals with the extra man might have translated to a few more points in the standings. Similarly, a team wins more games when it can stop the other team's powerplay. Hal Gill might not be the best skater in the world, but he's a very fine penalty killer. So is Josh Gorges. Glen Metropolit, Maxim Lapierre, Tomas Plekanec and Travis Moen know what they're doing on the PK as well. The Habs' special teams, my friends, will help them win more games this season. Blessed are the penalty killers. They shall inherit the Unsung Hero award.

The truth is the team is faster this year than it was last season, and Jacques Martin is smart enough to use that to his advantage. He'll be running high-speed practices and making quick playmaking decisions and passing on the fly automatic among his players.

The truth is Carey Price has a new focus and a better mindset, and they say goaltending is 90 percent mental. And this year, if there's a problem with Price, there's a coach who won't let the team founder along with him when Jaroslav Halak is able to help. Blessed are the goalies. Theirs is the kingdom of Stanley.

The truth is the defence is more versatile than it was last year. Last season only Andrei Markov could be relied upon to make a consistent breakout pass. Hamrlik and Gorges were okay, but the rest of them couldn't clear the puck effectively if the salvation of their immortal souls depended on it. This season, Markov will be joined by Mara and Spacek who can also start the rush pretty well. Mara can also hit, as can Gill and Hamrlik when required. The defence as a whole can play a better puck possession and transition game than last year's squad, and should be better at clearing the crease as well.

The truth is we, my brothers and sisters, have reason to feel hope. We have a team that others may question because they refuse to look for the truth. They see the changes and they let doubt assail them. But I tell you, do not doubt! Open your hearts and minds to possibility! If we have faith, if we believe, we shall be rewarded in the post-season. Believe, my friends! Put aside the evil voices and believe! Can I have an amen?*

*The Church of Latter Day Habitants reserves the right to rescind this sermon if everything goes to crap by Christmas. We are not responsible for any money lost in unwise hockey pool choices or Proline wagers inspired by this sermon. We are not liable for broken hearts or television screens smashed when Don Cherry is speaking about the team. This sermon is notwithstanding loss of hope when the Habs are down by an embarrassing score to the leafs or Bruins. We reserve the right to bash inflated contracts, underperforming players and unfortunate coaching decisions as required.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What You Talkin' 'Bout, Jacques?

Okay, colour me shocked. Jacques Martin says he and Bob Gainey will name a Habs captain before the end of camp. I can think of so many things wrong with this scenario it's not funny, but here are the top ten:

10. The ghosts. Okay, this is facetious in a way, but when you're dealing with a team with the Canadiens' history, there are some pretty impressive names on the captain's roll. The longest-serving is still sitting directly behind the bench and the retired numbers of half a dozen others are hanging over the ice surface, including that of the boss. That has to be a little bit intimidating for most players.

9. The language issue. This has been beaten to death, resurrected and beaten to death again so many times it doesn't really need explanation. But unless Gainey and Martin appoint one of Lapierre, Latendresse or Laraque as captain, the new guy (Scott Gomez and his French lessons notwithstanding) is going to get as much flack as Saku Koivu ever did. And Koivu gave everything he had to the team and the city, a role it would take any current player years to duplicate.

8. The "look." When I think "captain," I think "Messier." Or "Richard." Or "Yzerman." The guy wearing the "C" has to be able to call out his teammates when warranted, even if it's just by giving them the kind of lazer stare that tells them they're not doing enough and they need to pick it up NOW. It's great to have a guy who leads on the ice, but a captain has to have that extra level of intensity and a degree of respect that commands people to follow him. I don't know any returning Hab who has both the ability to do that and the experience he needs to pull it off. And the new guys are still too new to have the respect they need to manage it.

7. History. The Canadiens have traditionally had the players vote for their captain. Most of the time, that's how it's been. In one notable example, Bob Gainey was appointed by coach Bob Berry instead of being elected by the team. It took a long time for his teammates to overcome the resentment they felt at having the decision taken out of their hands, and it made Gainey's ascension to the captaincy much rougher than it needed to be. It surprises me that Gainey doesn't remember the difficulty his own appointment caused for him when he talks about doing the same to a current player.

6. The room. It's a fragile cameraderie these guys are dealing with right now. Imposing a captain on it before the players have found their own places in the room can kill it before it ever takes root. There's no sense in appointing a captain if it turns out the room decides to follow someone else, and resentment will follow.

5. The timing. Gainey and Martin might think they've seen enough at camp to justify the selection of a captain. But players show their true mettle when facing adversity. There's no adversity in camp, so it would be better to wait until the team has been battle-tested before choosing someone for leadership. After all, what's the rush?

4. The impression. Management's picking a captain implies the captain is management's man. That's enough to make his teammates be wary about trusting him completely.

3. The blame factor. Appointing a captain now means someone in the room must be the guy who stands up and takes public responsibility for the team's play. On a team that's still largely an unknown quantity, it focuses attention on one or lose. Unfortunately, if the team ends up needing some extra time to come together and starts off the season on a losing streak, it's much too easy for the other players to duck responsibility and look to the captain to solve their problems and answer the tough questions. Not that I necessarily think this group would duck responsibility, but the temptation is there.

2. The pressure. This is a team on the rebound. Just about every player has something to prove: Latendresse that he can be a real power forward, Lapierre that he can maintain the intensity he showed in the second half last year, Gomez that he can put up more than 16 goals a year, Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn that they can come back from sub-par seasons, Gionta and Cammalleri that they can justify fat, long-term contracts, and the list goes on. Adding the burden of the captaincy in Montreal, with its responsibility and scrutiny, to the pressure a player already feels to prove himself on the ice is asking an awful lot.

And the number one reason why it's not a good all...for Gainey and Martin to pick a captain at the end of training camp is:

1. The wrong guy. If Gainey and Martin appoint Andrei Markov, for example, and Markov's play falls off because he's uncomfortable with the attention, the cost on the ice is too great to justify the decision. If they pick Scott Gomez or Mike Cammalleri and they fail to produce offensively, it will bring ridicule and scorn down on them. They'll be embarrassed and unhappy. Likewise, if management picks a guy like Lapierre, there has to be some concern that he'll fall back into the inconsistency that had him in the minors two years ago and the pressbox last season. Then what? The worst thing that could happen is to pick a player who's already got questions to answer, and have all his attention and concern poured into answering questions about why he's the captain when he's struggling so badly. The player looks bad because he's not just a struggling player, but a struggling captain and management looks bad for picking the wrong man for the job.

There's nothing wrong with waiting before choosing a captain. In fact, I can't think of any reason why Gainey and Martin would want to rush this decision. There are just too many pitfalls and very few rewards. I question this move, and in a season we're already entering with so many questions, I think there doesn't need to be any more.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Help's On the Way

Among hockey cliches that are cliches because they're true are a few gems like "defence wins championships" and "you build a team from the net out." Add some like "good defence leads to good offence" and you start to understand the importance of the six guys who spend most of their time in their own end.

We all believed at the beginning of last season that the team Bob Gainey had put together might have won it all, if it only had another solid player in its top-four defence. Markov and the traitor were the first pair, hands down. Then there was Roman Hamrlik in the number-three slot. But none of Dandenault, Breezer, Gorges, O'Byrne or Bouillion really fit the role of an established top-four man. Gorges perhaps came closest, but we sometimes forget he's still young and learning. And he's not exactly the biggest man out there. As the team fell apart defensively in the latter part of the season, the lack of that solid D-man became more glaring.

Andrei Markov, once again, was the best player on the team and its only legitimate all-star. He was solid in his own zone, creative and dangerous on offence and played big minutes in every situation. His efforts won games and rarely lost them. He stood up well with other partners when the leaf-loving traitor was hurt. The team never won a game without him. But he was in trouble.

Until this summer, the Canadiens were on the path to turning Markov into another Saku Koivu. For nearly his entire career in Montreal, Koivu not only carried his line but also carried the team as one of the best (if not the best) players on the ice. The years of frustration and injury wore him down and prevented him from performing the way he might have with a better team and stronger linemates. The same thing was happening to Markov. He's been carrying the traitor for the last several seasons, limiting his own potential as a dynamic, creative offensive presence on defence. And considering the points he's managed to accumulate, that's saying something. We can only imagine what Markov might have done if he hadn't had to constantly drop back and start the rush himself because his partner was incapable of making an effective breakout pass. Not only that, but his calm competence meant he was consistently on the ice for the most minutes among Canadiens, while facing the toughest opponents.

But defence is a tough job, mentally and physically, and Markov needs help to avoid burnout. Early analysis says Bob Gainey has come to the rescue. The renovation on D will have a lot of positive effects that have already been anticipated by the Habs' faithful, including reducing the shots against, clearing the front of the net and improving the transition game. But perhaps one of the greatest benefits it will have will be in giving Markov a break.

If Markov's got a strong partner like Paul Mara, who's able to use his body well while also handling the puck respectably, he's not going to be restricted as much in what he can do offensively. It will enable him to break the puck out of the zone more efficiently if the opposition doesn't know the right-side D will always pass to Markov, focussing the attention of their checkers on him. Perhaps even more important though, is a benefit Jacques Martin pointed out yesterday. Adding a guy like Spacek, who's a very good defenceman in his own right, finally balances out the top four. It gives the coach options when facing a team like Pittsburgh or Philly, which can play two really strong lines. Now he doesn't have to double-shift Markov to try and shut those guys down. With two strong defence pairs, Markov will get more rest and not be solely responsible for facing the top players in the league on every shift.

I can see this kind of support helping Markov better maintain his energy level, which will hopefully help keep him fresher all season and perhaps avoid injury. And if he's not under constant pressure to defend against the best opposition players, he might be mentally fresher as well.

The improvement of the Canadiens defence was a long time coming for Habs fans, but perhaps has come just in the nick of time for Markov. I think a strong supporting cast will show us what the most-talented Canadien can really do. I can't wait to see it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Truth Emerges

I smelled hockey this morning. It was an overcast, late-summer day with no sign yet of the leaves turning or the spiders dying. But I looked out my kitchen window and saw my health-fanatic neighbour returning from a run, dressed in his cool-weather getup. I cracked the window and smelled it. No doubt about it: hockey's finally in the air. It's in the hint of frost, the coolness, the sense of crisp renewal after the sultry blanket of summer. It's there too in the visible joy of the kids across the street who've broken out the hockey net and relegated the basketball hoop and soccer ball to the backyard shed. Their shouts and the clatter and scrape of sticks on asphalt proclaim "hockey's back!" I cranked the window wide and let hockey in.

And it seems I'm not the only one. I was reading the early accounts of the Habs' official return to the rink, and I'm encouraged. The players seem happy to be back and anxious to get started. I remember last season, the all-absorbing turmoil of the Sundin Saga and Bob Gainey's subsequent acquisitions of Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang. I remember the signing of Laraque and how excited a large part of Habsdom was to believe "our guys won't get pushed around now." But last year, most of the excitement was coming from the fans. The players themselves seemed much more circumspect, with the weight of a hundred years of expectation on their shoulders. They were the guests of honour at a Centennial party they never really asked to attend. And being the superstitious bunch hockey players are, they seemed reluctant to buy into any of the hype around early-season predictions of their superiority, based on the conference title of the year before. Their comments were weighted with caution and reluctance, as though they were just waiting for something to go wrong in the face of all the hype.

In the end, everything that could have gone wrong did and the unhappiness of the players became palpable. The result on the ice was the complete absence of fun. The team on paper was better, but last year's team would never have pulled off the unifying 5-0 comeback it did against the Rangers two seasons ago. They looked miserable and the on-ice product reflected that.

You know what's funny? I was at the Habs/Phoenix game last year in which Kurt Sauer nailed Andrei Kostitsyn and concussed him. Sergei Kostitsyn attempted to go after Sauer, but nobody else on the team, save Laraque who was sent out afterwards by Carbonneau on a mission of revenge, took umbrage at such treatment of a teammate. I didn't think much of that at the time. After all, it was Laraque's job to stick up for his teammate and he did attempt to do so. But then, later in the year, Josh Gorges got slammed in the head by Denis Gauthier and nobody went to his aid. He staggered to his feet while play carried on around him and Gauthier skated to the penalty box unimpeded by anyone in a red sweater. There was a lot of talk at the time about how that incident underlined deep fractures in the cameraderie of last year's team. I didn't buy it then, but now I think those who made that argument last year were right.

Now some hints of the feeling in the room last year are starting to leak out. Josh Gorges said it yesterday, when he faced the media following medicals and physical testing:

``The excitement is there, guys sitting before practice, chatting and laughing. It's like these guys have been here two or three years already. There's a buzz in the dressing room I didn't feel so much last year. You can just sense it in the room.''

Guillaume Latendresse gave a hint of what he felt last year:

"We had some older veterans with old mentality a little bit and I think the new guys will bring in more of the NHL and they're more the new style of hockey. It's going to be good for the young players to play with the kind of guys who are good and good as a team too."

Saku Koivu said it too, from his first day of training camp in Anaheim:

"It is different, there's no doubt," he said, smiling. "Like today here it felt good. You can just be among your teammates and have fun and practice hard but it's more of a tighter feeling than it was in Montreal."

So it seems the players are admitting last year's team wasn't all that close. Maybe it was the crushing weight of the Centennial. Maybe it was something else running deeply under the team's surface. Whatever it was, the universal sentiment appears to be that it's a good thing Gainey purged the dressing room and everyone gets a new start; from the remaining players and those who are starting over elsewhere. I think it may take a little while for the positive feeling in the room now to manifest itself on the ice. But I think it can't hurt to have a bunch of players who are as yet unjaded by the expectation and cynicism in Montreal.

They have a chance to become a team without a history of disappointment around it. If they can enjoy each other's company off the ice and appreciate each other's skills on it, they'll have fun. And that, in the careful words of the players themselves, was the X-factor missing from last year's Habs. It showed in their faces and their body language. It showed in the results on the ice and the trouble off it. And it showed in the Purge Gainey executed this summer.

When I watch hockey, I want to see a team having fun. I want to see speed, excitement and teamwork. I want to see players smiling on the bench and working hard toward a common goal. I didn't see a whole lot of that last year, but as I open the window and let hockey back in for another season, I have hope maybe the fun will come back to the Canadiens. And if players are having fun, they're winning, and that means the fans are having fun too. That's all we really want.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Teen Ranch

A few weeks ago, I was imagining what the traditional end-of-camp getaway to Tremblant must be like, and how a team can get built there. Unfortunately for that little scenario, coach Jacques the Knife has decided the cushy life isn't for him or his troops. It seems there's a new order in Habsdom and it's going to start with hard work and a focus more on hockey than swanky golf courses. I imagine it might be something of a surprise to players who've lived the last three years under the "player's coach" style of Guy Carbonneau. Something like going from the Ritz to the YMCA hostel. Something like this:

The Scene: A charter greyhound bus, somewhere between Montreal and Toronto.

Andrei Kostitsyn: Vat ees dis deesel stink? I feel seeck. It is like Hemilton again. I steel have bad dreems from dat pleyce.
Roman Hamrlik: Yeah, why are we taking the bus anyway? It's not like last year.
Jacques Martin: (smiling thinly) I know. You'll find a lot of things won't be like last year. We're going to be hockey players. Not poker stars. Not VIPs. Not dancing queens. Hockey players.
Scott Gomez: (aside to Brian Gionta) Dancing queens? What the hell went on here last year, anyway?
Gionta: I know...I mean, you hear things, but...
Sergei Kostitsyn: (glancing around shiftily) I know nothing. Lots of drinking, dencing only sometimes. Menly dencing. Heh heh.
Martin: Well, drinking and dancing were last year. Ah...we're here. Okay guys! Let's go!

Bus shudders to a halt in a cloud of diesel fumes. Players and coaches, coughing a little, stagger stiff-legged off the coach.

Kirk Muller: (surveying extremely rustic log cabins) Um, Jacques, where are we, exactly? It's kind of...basic.
Martin: (rubbing hands briskly together) Yes, indeed. It's a chance for us all to get back to our roots; remember why we're all here. Ah...smell that brisk fall air.
Andrei Markov: (under his breath) I smell outhouse.
Martin: Yes, Andrei, this place comes with all the comforts of home.
Markov: Very much similar to Communist Russia, yes.
Mike Cammalleri: Hey, Marky, this place must remind you of home.
Markov: Cammo, I thought you were supposed to be funny. I just did that joke.
Cammalleri: Sorry, Marky. I didn't hear you over all these birds and crickets.
Carey Price: (jumping down from bus) Hey guys! This is just like home! Sergei, I've got an extra pair of cowboy boots if you need to change those loafers.
S.Kostitsyn: Thanks, Pricey. But I like the loafers. They are very light on my feet. I am light in my loafers.
Martin: Okay guys, here are your room assignments. You're six to a cabin, outhouses out the back and the mess is just down that path. (calls out names of groups)

Players break off in small groups and head out to their cabins. Fifteen minutes later:

Hal Gill: Holy crap, you guys. These beds are way too tiny!
Gionta: What are you talking about, Gilly? I've got tons of leg room here.
Ryan O'Byrne: (sings) La la, la la la la, la la la la la...
Gomez: Bite me, Burner. I've heard enough of the friggin' Smurf theme already. That guy from RDS hums it every time he comes into the room.
Tomas Plekanec: So, what's the point of this camping trip anyway? I miss my Seinfeld DVDs. Anybody have some chocolate? I'm starting to get a bit panicky.
Josh Gorges: What? Is the little girl scared of the woods?
Plekanec: I wouldn't talk, if I were you Gorgie. Everybody knows you can't sleep without Pricey in the room.
Gorges: Just keeping an eye on my goalie, that's all.
Plekanec: Hope it's just an eye.

A wrestling match and attempted smothering by pillow later...

Plekanec: Okay guys, what are we seriously doing here? I mean, we're pro hockey players, not boy scouts. What's Martin trying to prove?
Gionta: Lemaire used to do this kind of thing in Jersey, and you know what? We won the Cup.
Plekanec: What's that like?
Gomez: I can't tell you. It'd be like trying to explain what an orgasm is like to someone who's never had one before.
Plekanec: I didn't know what an orgasm was like before I had one, but I knew I wanted one.
Gionta: Well, I can tell you, you want a Cup too. Right, Gilly?
Gill: It's the greatest thing I've ever experienced.
O'Byrne: Ha ha! Gilly likes hockey better than sex.
(A group of cold eyes fix on O'Byrne)
Gomez: And your point is?
O'Byrne: Right. Okay, then. So I guess this trip means party time is over in Montreal?
Plekanec: Really? You think, Burner?
O'Byrne: (glancing around the cabin at his teammates' determined faces) I think this could be a good year.

The men in the group squint at each other in a Clint Eastwood-type way and solemnly nod. Yes. It WOULD be a good year. A crash of thunder suddenly breaks the quiet of the evening. Immediately, water begins to drip on Hal Gill's head.

Gill: Well, we'd at least better have a chance at the bloody Cup. This sucks.
Plekanec: But, in a good way, right?
Gionta: Shut up, Pleky, or I'll take you down, and you don't really want a guy who's 5'6" taking you down do you? Your rep is already weak.
Gomez: Let's hit the sheets guys. It's going to be a long season, and we need to be ready. If this is what it takes, I'm willing to put up with it.
Gill: Stop angling for the "C", Gomer. Nobody's buying it.
Gomez: Alright. Let's just shut up and get some sleep then. The more we sleep, the faster we're out of here.
O'Byrne: I feel funny.
Gill: That's just the absence of partying on a Saturday night, Burner. Go to sleep. You'll be okay tomorrow.
Plekanec: Hey guys, if we can survive this, we can survive anything.
Gionta: Let's hope you're still saying that in June.
Plekanec: There's hockey in June? Ha...just kidding. Okay guys. Have a good sleep. I think we're going to be okay.

Light flicks out on the first night at Teen Ranch. Light of hope flicks on in Habs fans everywhere.

Monday, September 7, 2009


I've been a hockey fan long enough to know what I like. I like my forwards fast and tricky, my defence mobile, yet bruising, and my pre-season interviews boring. I read yet another interview with Mike Cammalleri today, and while I'm glad he's happy to be in Montreal and he seems to be a positive guy, I cringe when he talks about returning the Habs to the top.

I want to believe him. I'm quietly hoping everything he's saying is true and we'll all be smiling in the spring. But I'm very nervous about players who say too much too early. Remember Chris Higgins two years ago? He was fresh off a summer of intense training and really believed he could score forty goals and forty assists. That belief in himself was great for him, but his mistake was in telling the media. After he said it people held him to it, and when he couldn't back it up he got a bad case of self-doubt. I don't know if the expectations he built up around himself and the subsequent disappointment he and his fans felt led directly to his departure from Montreal, but I'm sure all that pressure didn't help.

In Montreal, a player's ability to succeed is all about how well he handles pressure. Andrei Markov thrives because he chooses to keep himself out of the spotlight. He's a league all-star, but you'd never know it by the number of newspaper stories written about him. Maybe he could be accused of hiding behind the language barrier even though he speaks pretty good English these days, but it's allowing him some privacy in a city that needs to know what its hockey heroes are doing at all times. If Markov thinks the Habs could contend this year, or if he expects to put up seventy points himself, he's not going to run out and tell the public. He knows it's tough enough to satisfy the screaming throngs in his adopted city without adding extra expectations. Guillaume Latendresse knows it too. If he thinks this is his breakout year, and he believes he can put up 25 goals, we're not going to hear about it until he's at goal 24 with ten games to go.

Tomas Plekanec learned the hard way that he should keep his interviews as neutral as possible. He's never going to be allowed to forget his infamous "little girl" comment, or the ones he made last season about playing so badly he didn't know why his national team would want him for the world championships. If he'd said, when questioned about the state of his play two years ago, that he felt he needed to drive the net a bit more or win more of his battles in the corners, nobody would remember it. Unfortunately, he made the colourful "little girl" remark and now he's got a reputation for being a soft, tentative player, which he never had before that comment.

Words create expectations and perceptions. A bad reputation can be built or a good one destroyed by some ill-considered comment to the wrong person, and with so much riding on this new group of players finding their feet in Montreal quickly, they can't afford to say the wrong thing before they even get started. The problem is, sometimes even the right thing can be the wrong thing. When a guy like Cammalleri says he thinks the team is going to be good and there's no reason why the forwards can't find linemates that work for them, it sounds great. But if the team comes out of the gate and is not good, or if Cammalleri doesn't have chemistry with his centre and he struggles, his words will be thrown back at him with questions attached. I think there's quite enough pressure on Cammalleri and his new teammates already, without adding the possibility of eating their words before Christmas.

When the team takes to the ice next month I want to see forwards who are fast and feisty, the D responsible and tough and the interviews as bland and unremarkable as possible. Shhhhh, Mike! If you don't put it out there now, it can't bite you later.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hold Your Horses, Pardner

So, the great white hope for the Habs this season is that Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez will recover the chemistry they had in the first post-lockout season, 2005-06, in New Jersey.

Sure, the Canadiens need a resurgent season from Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec on the second line. They need Carey Price to bounce back, and the newly re-tooled D to step up and play a tight system. They need the coaches to get the team under control and institute said system. But all of those are question marks. The Gionta/Gomez chemistry is almost taken as a given among the Habs faithful.

The thing is, it's far from a given. Those guys played together in Jersey for parts of five seasons. During that time, Gionta generally put up an average of 22 goals a year. Gomez put up about fifty assists per season. Both of them come up around sixty to sixty-five points a year on average. They had one fabulous year, in 2005-06, when Gomez went 33-51-84 and Gionta 48-41-89. That's one fabulous year out of five seasons together. And it came in the first post-lockout year, when the refs were particularly zealous about enforcing the "new NHL" rules and making life better for the smaller player. Things have settled a lot more back toward the bad old days on the reffing front since then.

I'm not saying either of them is a bad player...far from it. But they've built their reputations and their contracts on that one great season. Basically, Gionta's good for 20+ goals, and Gomez for 50 assists. They may or may not improve on that, but there's no guarantee that they'll do it together. I hope they do, but history does not prove those two are meant to be linemates.

In fact, I'd think the more natural partnership would be between Gomez, who's pretty much sure to put up his 50 assists, and Camalleri, who's pretty much sure to pop 30 goals. Gionta's settling point seems to me to be more that of a solid second-liner who can contribute his 20-25 goals in a secondary-scoring role.

Now, of course, I think the Gomez/Gionta thing is worth trying. Because you never know. Maybe it will be magical and they'll be happy and healthy and score like they're meant to be together. But I'm not really expecting it. History shows they had one great year outside their normal pattern of production, and I'm thinking they'll probably continue on that pattern.

So, if you're counting on magic from that partnership, I think you'd be better off hoping for a different rabbit coming out of Jacques Martin's hat.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

You Know You're A Habs Fan When...Part Two

Last year I counted down the top ten ways you know you're a Habs fan. Since we're just a week away from rookie camp, in honour of surviving another summer without the Canadiens, here are the NEXT ten reasons why you know you're a Habs fan:

10. You automatically type "Canadien" instead of "Canadian" and have to constantly backspace to change the "e" to "a."

9. You make online trade proposals involving Tomas Plekanec bringing you Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in a trade, but at the same time you think he's not good enough to be the Habs' second-line centre.

8. You complain about a three-dollar overcharge on your cable bill, but $200 seats in the blues..for a Coyotes game...seem do-able.

7. Your bathroom reading material consists of The Hockey News' 2009-10 Yearbook, which falls open on the Habs page, the scouting reports on the top twenty prospects and Jean Beliveau's autobiography.

6. Your weekly lottery numbers are 33, 23, 19, 18, 10 and 4, because "they're winners."

5. You can't decide if catching your girlfriend in your buddy's bed or Mike Komisarek bolting to the leafs is the worse betrayal.

4. You drink only Molson's products since the family bought the team.

3. In your worst nightmare, the playoff format has changed and the leafs beat the Habs in game 7 of the Cup finals, in OT. Grabovski scores the winner, assisted by the traitor. In the nightmare's other variation, the leafs become the Bs and Begin scores the goal, on a feed from Lucic.

2. You sign emails with "GHG" and the people you're writing to know what that means.

And, topping the list, you know you're a Habs fan when:

1. The password on your bank account is "Price31" because "he's money."