The theme of the Habs 2012-13 off-season, so far, has been change. For good reason, the Habs were abysmal last season. They finished dead last in the East. An unacceptable result for the NHL’s most storied franchise. Something had to give. Heads needed to roll.
Pierre Gauthier was fired as General Manager on March 29th (you could hear the Habs fans collective sighs of relief from space). Much of the blame for the lacklustre, albeit chaotic 2011-12 was placed firmly on the GM.
Whether it be the firing of the unpopular, but proven Jacques Martin.
The hiring of the unproven, and Anglo (gasp!) Randy Cunneyworth. Or even the way he handled the Michael Cammalleri trade. Cammalleri, you might remember, uttered these remarks: “I can’t accept the we will display a losing attitude as we’re this year. We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it’s no wonder we lose.” and was promptly traded, two days later, back to the Calgary fans.
A rash move by the GM, made to look even rasher when news broke that Cammalleri was traded midway through a game. It appeared that Gauthier was losing the plot and the Canadiens play on the ice suffered greatly amongst all the off-ice instability. It was hard to be a Habs fan in 2011-12.
Marc Bergevin was hired as Gauthier’s replacement on May 2, 2012. After about of month of speculation, he hired Michel Therrien as the new head coach, replacing the much maligned (and probably relieved) Randy Cunneyworth. Bergevin initially asked Cunneyworth to remain on the coaching staff in an assistant coach capacity, but was eventually let go, along with with Randy Ladouceur, as coach Therrien filled their positions, and the rest of the coaching staff, with his own guys. Therrien choose to hire Patrice Brisebois, Clement Jodoin, Gerard Gallant and J.J. Daigneault. No language issues in those hires (a whole lot of mediocre former NHL defencemen though. Oh and yes dear folks from PEI, I know Gerry Gallant was a left winger).
Bergevin began making one ice changes at the 2012 NHL Draft. As a result of their awful 2011-12 season the Habs had the 3rd overall pick. Bergevin and his staff used that pick to draft American/Russian (Alex’s story is a blog post for another day, maybe) center Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk, is both a talented and big (6’1”, 200 pounds) center, something the Habs have been looking for, well, since the dawn of time. Most pundits and fans were happy with the pick. It was pretty much a no-brainer. As to whether Galchenyuk plays for the big club next season, it is too early to tell. Much will depend on his performance at the Habs development camp, how he performs in the preseason, and any other changes Bergevin might make throughout the summer. He will probably be returned to the Sarnia Sting for one more year of Junior. He might then play for Hamilton after the OHL season ends.
Bergevin further put his stamp on the club through free agency, by acquiring wingers Colby Armstrong, and Brandon Prust, as well as goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, and defenceman (and former Hab) Francis Bouillon. The critics were once again impressed. While he had not yet addressed the need for a 2nd line winger to play with Thomas Plekanec, he did add some much needed grit and sandpaper to a line up that has been considered a push over for years.
Is Bergevin done? No one knows. Some, myself included, hope that he adds another piece or two. Tomas Plekanec could really use a winger to compliment he and captain Brian Gionta. I wouldn’t mind the addition of a solid, veteran, stay-at-home defenceman (why’d Gauthier trade Hal Gill again?). He may, despite what the so-called Internet insiders are typing (you know, that the Habs are in on Nash, Doan, Semin, Morrow, and the ghost of Rocket Richard. A little hint about NHL insiders; if they aren’t employed by TSN, the Hockey News, or the mainstream media, they are full of crap. Be leery of those that hide their identity. Anonymous means fake.), sit on his hands and addresses the 2nd line and defence internally. He might hope that someone like Louis LeBlanc, or even Brandon Gallagher are ready to make the jump to the 2nd line. He might even use Gomez on the 2nd line, but I think that Gomez is done in Montreal. As for the defence, the Habs have a plethora of young talent in their system. Beaulieu, Tinordi or Ellis, are all solid prospects and any one of them might get a chance to become a regular member of the defence corps.
Bergevin must also address what to do with high priced, and failing veterans, Scott Gomez and Tomas Kaberle. It is unlikely that he’d be able to trade either guy because of their ridiculous salaries. The buy out option is there, but I doubt the Habs ownership is willing to go down this route. Does he dump them in the AHL? That might be the only logical option. It’s that, or hope that one, or both of them have bounce-back seasons and re-earn roster positions. With the ongoing renegotiation of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, who knows what sort of tool Bergevin might have in his tool box to deal with troublesome contracts. It looks like the NHL wants to crack down on long term/inflated contracts. Maybe Bergevin will be able to simply waive Gomez and Kaberle through some sort of NBA-style amnesty clause.
There is work to be done. The Habs line up is tougher, but still not one the that can be considered worthy of the contender tag. There will be further changes between now and when (IF, the season starts on time. The NHL looks to be playing hardball with the NHLPA) the puck drops on October 11th. I strongly doubt that the Habs make any significant changes. They have already locked up their franchise goalie and added some sandpaper to a line up that was in drastic need of some grit. Bergevin’s biggest job now is to lock up their franchise (yes, I think he is going to be that good!) defenceman PK Subban and let the chips fall where they may.
In closing, Go Habs Go!