Sunday, March 01, 2009

SPORTS: Habs Back on Track

Honestly, the Montreal Canadiens gave me a scare with their precipitous drop in the standings in the aftermath of the Carey Price injury. Price came back too soon and didn't give the club the goaltending it needed. Now that Guy Carbonneau figured out Jaroslav Halak was pretty good too, and that Price needed time to heal completely, Montreal is back to its winning ways.

And GM Bob Gainey finally solved the itch that has plagued this year's edition since the very start of the season. He added a cannon for the powerplay and suddenly, everything's all right. Mathieu Schneider, the once and current Hab powerplay quarterback, wasn't my first choice. I wanted Gainey to get in on the Jay Bouwmeester sweepstakes. I suggested Chris Higgins, Ryan O'Byrne and draft picks might get the hulking Florida defenceman back to Canada, where he belongs. (It would also end the Higgins experiment and start the Max Pacioritty era, which will be glorious for Les Glorieux) I felt Pavel Kubina would be a good fall-back position. Never thought of Schneider.

Turns out Gainey paid less for the walk-year 40-year old than it would have cost for the other two. And Schneider has done just about exactly what the other two would have done offensively. Sure, Bouwmeester would have been a stronger defensive edition, at a much higher cost, but not paying the full monty means Gainey has reserves to spend on a forward upgrade.

He's already upgraded the forward unit twice in the last fortnight. He's got a newly revived Alex Kovalev for instance. The frequently effort-missing would-be star of the team was sat down for two crucial losses on the road a couple of weeks back. Stories of him heading out of town flourished. I fantasized about sending him to Phoenix for Olli Jokinen, getting rid of him and his influence on his young Soviet-state teammates and getting a big hulking centre all at the same time. But Gainey knew better and seems to have somehow saved Kovalev as a Hab. Gainey then made it two really good moves in as many weeks by sending away Steve Begin for depth defenceman Doug Janik and replacing him with Glen Metropolit off waivers from Philly. I am a HUGE fan of Metropolit, the fourth-line defensive plugger who wins face-offs. I know a lot of Hab fans who REALLY don't know hockey (probably live in Toronto), couldn't see the immense benefits of this swap, but I do. And so should you.

Montreal needs one more piece to be back in the Stanley Cup race. They will have the advantage of being the underdog, what with the outstanding seasons by Boston, Washington and New Jersey to gather most of the prognosticators' votes. But give the Habs Jokinen for draft picks (throw in Higgins and maybe Guillaume Latendresse to appease the Coyotes) and I'd like the chances of les Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.

Other guys I think might make a fit for Montreal include Ottawa's Chris Neil to give them another hockey-playing alternative to using George Laraque. I think Doug Weight from the fire-selling Islanders might have one more playoff go-around left in him. Would I send my first-rounder to Toronto for Nik Antropov? Yeah, I think I would. But I'd like to change it to Latendresse and a second-rounder instead.

And you never know, maybe Robert Lang is back and healthy for the playoffs. Forget Price's temporary descent into ordinariness. The REAL Hab swoon started with Lang's injury to his achilles heel. Such injuries are not easily recovered from. But Lang might be the exception. In such a case, Jokinen and Weight aren't needed.

Ahhhh, it's good to be 100 and thinking of championships!!!

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