Thursday, April 28, 2011

Aftermath: Over

The Habs are dead. Long live the Habs.

Our team went down swinging last night, and even though it hurts, the players who matter for the Canadiens' future gave everything they had to change the outcome. There's so much to regret: WHY couldn't they hold a 3-1 lead in Game Four? WHY couldn't they score even once in three overtimes? WHY did Gomez have to suck so badly? Still, though, there's so much more about which to be proud.

P.K.Subban has probably saved Trevor Timmins. Despite all the lousy first-round picks to which Timmins has committed, he managed to find a legitimate NHL number-one D in the mid-second round. Not just any number-one D, either. Subban has the offensive ability to break open a game (or score a vital tying goal with less than two minutes to go in a Game Seven), but at 21 years of age, he's also developing on defense by leaps and bounds. He was the most-played and arguably the most effective defenseman in the series against Boston, including Norris-nominee Zdeno Chara. On top of his skills, the mental strength this kid possesses is extremely impressive. After all the criticism he's received from two-bit cheap opponents, so-called media experts and fans, one might excuse a kid his age for fighting back. One could even understand if he decided to take an on-ice jab at someone who's been particularly in his face. He didn't, though. Subban played a very disciplined, controlled series worthy of a player much older. He's a gem.

Carey Price faced more pressure than any other player in the NHL this year. He took over the Habs net in the wake of the Jaro Halak trade, after having a lousy season both mentally and in results last year. It didn't look good for him when he heard boos in the very first pre-season game at the Bell Centre. Somehow, Price took that negativity and erased it with confident, steady play all year long. He gave his team every chance to win in the regular season and continued that into the playoffs. If anyone tries to blame the series loss on him, they're blind.

Tomas Plekanec said last summer he found it disappointing that fans didn't understand the role he played in last year's playoffs. Jacques Martin asked him to put aside his focus on offence and concentrate on shutting down the other team's best scorers instead. In two rounds, Plekanec helped corral Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby and kept them from making a huge difference in those series. Similarly, this year, he contained the Bs'number-one centre in David Krejci. Plekanec tallied five points in seven games, while Krejci logged just one goal. Pleks also played a big part in the Canadiens perfect PK during the series, including notching a gorgeous shorthanded goal. He played a large portion of the season with absent or underachieving linemates, and still maintained his solid two-way game. He's a keeper.

Lars Eller showed flashes of better-than-decent play during the regular season, but in the playoffs he became a different guy. He was fast, aggressive and a giant pain in the Bruins' collective butt. Given linemates with any kind of offensive ability at all, Eller will be a really good centreman in the NHL. Perhaps the most promising thing about his playoffs, though, is the fact that he suffered a significant shoulder injury in Game Six, but played through it with the stoicism of a person who gets it. He knows what you have to do to win in the playoffs and he's prepared to do it.

Michael Cammalleri has proven himself, again, to be a playoff beast. Emerging from a less-than-impressive season, Cammalleri hit the post-season with everything he had. He'll get criticism for not being great defensively, but that's not his job. He's competent defensively most of the time, but he's excellent when it comes to producing vital points. Having lead the league in playoff goals last year, he's bowing out this season with ten points in seven games, tops in playoff scoring. Cammalleri isn't the kind of player who can do it all at both ends of the ice, but when it comes to compete level and the ability to bear down and produce under pressure, he's your man.

These were the players who made a difference in these playoffs, and the good news is they're all young and able to return in the fall to form a pretty decent core of talent.

Lots of the guys whose futures are less certain deserve some respect this year as well. The Old Guards, Gill, Spacek, Hamrlik, Mara and Sopel all tried their damnedest. They were thrust into positions of responsibility for which they weren't suited, but they performed as well as they could despite fatigue and injury. That's something of which to be proud in our team.

The heart displayed by guys like Tom Pyatt, Ryan White (in his limited minutes) and David Desharnais (before blowing out his knee) was also a source of pride.

I'm proud of the way the team battled through the adversity of losing players important both on the ice and in the room, and I'm proud of the way the coaching staff and team veterans held the steady course all year. Most of all, I'm proud of the dignity with which the team carried itself.

I had an email from a reader last night, expressing his discouragement with the way the NHL has become a cheap-shot league. I explained to him I stick with the Habs because they've held themselves above all that. They don't give the other team's fans the finger, then lie about it. They don't make disparaging comments about their opponents. They don't take cheap shots on the ice. The Habs are better and classier than the NHL norm, and that's something about which to be proud.

One has to believe that the odds will balance out and the Canadiens may actually be able to keep the heart of their team in the lineup next year. If they do, they'll be back in the playoffs with all the determination and heart they showed the last two seasons. With a little luck and a little health, we may see better results.

The Habs are dead. Long live the Habs.


Anvilcloud said...

At least partly due to injuries, they just didn't have the horses -- or they had farm horses instead of thoroughbreds. But they had guts and determination ... and class as you said so well. They both win and lose with class. And that's classy. :)

DanielleJam said...

I love our Habs. And am in total agreement when you call them a class act.

I will miss them dearly but look forward to their return.

Thank you, J.T. For your blog. We needed you for the highs and lies to describe what we couldn't.

Go Habs Go.

Sapolin said...

Hello, J.T.

Through the course of the current hockey season, a friend of mine referred your blog to me via Facebook. I became a faithful reader of your blog. I want to thank you for your nice work and your insights about Les Canadiens.

Yup, very sad they lost. But they lost fighting fiercely for every inch of ice, and never gave up. There was not much gas left in the tank...

Think about the lineups for next year, when every remaining player will be healthy. There is a lot to hope about...

I hope to read your blog for a long time, and may become a regular poster...

Have a good summer !


Pete said...

It's been an exciting and emotional year for the Habs and their fans. I wanted to take a moment to thank you J.T for adding to the excitement by being such an eloquent, entertaining and enlightening Habs aficionado.

Look forward to your off-season musings. Next year will be here before we know it.

Long Live J.T. - Long Live the Habs!

JF said...

Wonderful piece, J.T. You say what so many of us feel and say it better than most of us could.

Yes, the Habs lost, but they lost fighting every inch of the way, and they lost with class and dignity. When the pain eases a little, they can feel pride in their season and in themselves. They gave it everything they had. We also can be proud; and, with the giant strides our young players made this year, we can have a lot of hope for the future.

Overtime in the playoffs is cruel. Everything is still possible one second; the next, the game and the series are over. Unfortunately for us, it's tough to win in overtime when you have trouble scoring even-strength goals. Lack of offensive depth is the team's biggest problem, and I hope the organization addresses it in the off-season.

I look forward to reading the occasional piece from you during the summer on the draft, free agency, and what moves the Habs should make.

Tara said...

I was wallowing a little this "morning after" the intense heart attack-inducing Subban bullet. (I saw the fear in Thomas' eyes as he watched it sail by...)

I've said often that this isn't our boys' season, as they need to regroup, recoup and relax. Look out next year; after a few good trades they'll be back up top.

As always, your blog makes me proud to be a fan and I'm thrilled that we have next season to pounce on.

Thanks for the great insight and excellent writing this season, JT. See you in October.

punkster said...

Wonderful piece J.T. and I might add that while we had heavy rain here at dawn I have it on good authority the sun did, indeed, rise again in Montreal this morning. We have a good team that will be improved over the summer and fall. I look forward to your views as these changes take place.

Anonymous said...

Who here is tired of being a first round playoff team, if that?

We need to become a faster, tougher transition type team. Gomez is an albatross who is truly worthless. He is beyond soft and is a huge liability defensively. Kositsyn just might be the laziest and dumbest hockey player I have seen in a long while. How many blind back passes did he many plays on the wall did he lose causing odd man rushes...same for gomez...

Our D while stretched thin, did as well as could be expected. Having said that, we really need to jettison spacek, gill, sopel and picard. Hamrlik should be welcomed back but at a greatly reduced salary only. The time is NOW to make this transition. Save some cap space, sign a few FA's who are more mobile and younger and promote from within. Carle, Nash, klubertanz and hopefully emelin should be given the chance. I also dont think resigning markov is a smart move at this point in his career given all of the serious injuries he's suffered recently.

Lastly, I think we need a new coach. Martin seems like a nice guy, but honestly, his "SYSTEM" does not suit this team's or our future prospects natural abilities, not to mention that his lack of fire and ability to call out certain guys on the mat when needed really hurt us. Gomez ought to have been benched as should have kositsyn. I would MUCH rather have have seen dawes and palushaj inserted to give us legs, speed, toughness and energy. I think martin has to shoulder some of the blame for playing gomez and kos shift after shift. Scotty bowman would have nailed these 2 guys butts to the bench.

All in all, this team MAY have a nice future IF we make the right moves this summer. We have a lot of talent on the cusp over the next 2-3 yrs who will need to be coached properly, and as we all know, JM is not the best friend of the youngsters.

recent call ups and up and comers to keep an eye on over the next few yrs? desharnais(a gem), eller(gem), palusaj(good potential), leblanc(potential gem), kristo(potential gem), avtsin(potential gem), bournival(great potential and work ethic),conboy(big and crazy with some talent), tinordi(huge with a good 1st yr with london), bennett(very good 1st yr with michigan), dumont(coming along and a pest like a marchand perhaps), fortier(coming along), emelin, stejkal(big and tough stay at home guy), wyman(size and speed), schultz(size and character).

Geoff Molson has to prove himself now. Its his he manages all this over the next yr or 2 will decide if we move up or down.

dusty said...

Thanks JT for a wonderful year. Your blog is head and shoulders above the rest. I wish you and yours a fantastic summer. Look forward to doing this all over again beginning in a few months.

About the series and especially game 7. I am truly amazed that the Bruins made a slew of trade deadline deals to make a serious run while the Habs were plugging holes due to injuries and the series came down to a lost faceoff with Halpern being waved (don't understand what's going on there) and a deflected shot off a nice pass from a player who should have been suspended and thus not even in the game in the first place. I'm sure Campbell will get a contract in Boston until his father loses his job. What a great signing by Chiarelli.

The Habs are indeed a class act. After listening to Price's post game comments, my admiration for him went up another couple of notches. Hopefully PG or whoever will supply some help so that he and Subban can get a serious shot at the Cup soon.

The Habs lost but I feel a strange sense of relief. Watching them get manhandled by the Caps and looking at Bruce "F-bomb" Boudreau smiling and being touted as the best coach in the league by an assortment of assholes on TV is more than I could stand. Selfish I know but there it is.

Mike Safoniuk said...

As always (I really have never seen a bad post by you) a great read! Now comes an interesting off-season for the Habs:

- Do they bury Gomez in Hamilton (I think not but it would be nice to see him sent to the 3rd line and have to work his way back upwards)

- How much do they pay Gorges (no question in my mind that he has to be signed as a RFA)

- Do they sign Kostitsyn (a RFA) or trade him (I think given the lack of size they try to sign him but at what price ... 3.5 million)

- Markov apparently loves Montreal but at what price (I like Markov but unless he is willing to take a significant home-town discount, given his injury record lately, I might be inclined to see if they can make a significant run at Wiz and maybe someone like Brewer)

- Does Gill come back (he is well liked, partners well with Subban and is a great PKer so I hope he is back)

- What do they do with Pouliot (a healthy scratch in games that count is not a good sign ...I imagine his rights will be traded)

- Who of the UFA forwards would be practical for the Habs ... and if the only way to afford that talent is to bury the contract known as Gomez is that really something a UFA sees as anything but a negative (Zherdev!, Laich, or maybe even a Dupuis or a Kopecky)

- Do they need some ruffage after-all and if so who (some UFA like Eager, Rupp or Konopka) .. that did not work out so well with Laraque so I would skip that

- Is Auld (UFA) signed or do they look elsewhere (Auld was, by all accounts, a solid team player but I think Price may have started too many games and I would like to see a back-up in whom we a bit more confidence .. but who is available that would not expect themseles to be a starter)

Exciting times ahead. It is amazing to me how the salary cap seems to be leading to large turn-over of players every few years. We all remember two years ago with the Habs but they may have a VERY different d-corps come August 2011 compared to a year ago.

dusty said...

One last thought. Watching Moore score and set up winning goals for the Bolts I'm as confused now as before the season began as to why PG didn't sign him.

jew4jah said...

thank you.
thank you for sharing your ever-clever thoughts & insights. thank you for always being original in your writing and consistently finding a deeper analysis than most of other "professional" media. you are a gem in the muck.
i'm moving out of the country at the end of the summer (leaving babylon for zion, literally) and due to time-zone differences, i will likely miss watching most games. glad/hope you'll be there to keep me connected.
have a great summer

Anonymous said...

frankly speaking, I dont think the spirit of cook knows what he's talking about.

resign kos? stupid move. He may have size, but he has no heart, no brains and no drive.

gomez as a third liner? useless. he is lazy, soft and waaaay overpaid. Not at all worth it, even as a 3rd liner.

we need to lose gill. YES he was useful, but we need to move forward, not stay afloat...

konopka types would help A LOT.

BTW, if other UFA's dont like us burying gomez in hamilton, too bad. I for one dont think it would prevent others from signing here. Gomez' case is really quite unique and i think anyone would understand it if we had to jettison him to hamilton. This is a BUSINESS...NOT a charity.