Another year has come to an end for the Montreal Canadiens, and dissapointingly the team was unable to make a second straight playoff appearance. Prior to Christmas, the Habs were on fire and had a shot at catching the dominant Buffalo Sabres atop the Northeast Division standings. But, with the team being hammered by the flu bug in late December, followed by a monstrous two month long slump, the team plummeted down the standings and seemed destined to miss the playoffs due to their poor performance. This first Blue, Blanc et Rouge blog will review the year for the Habs with a player-by-player recap and an introduction to....The List!
With that being said, I will begin my recap with the goaltenders. Montreal is fairly healthy in net, as Huet played quite well and Jaroslav Halak was a pleasant surprise in helping Montreal climb back into playoff contention, only to miss out by a single point.
Cristobal Huet - 42GP, 19W, 16L, 3T, 2.81GAA, .916Sv%, 2SO
Huet played well when he did play, but the hamstring injury that knocked him out for most of the end of the season kept him out of the lineup and the Habs from playoff contention. His goals against average, while not spectacular, was certainly respectable. He followed his performance from the previous season by posting another solid save percentage, although his shutout total did fall. Overall, Huet needs to keep his focus and not let his late season injury or the team's fall from grace rattle him next season. He is a good goaltender and with some solid defense in front of him blocking the many shots that he faced, he certainly has the ability to put up better numbers next year.
David Aebischer - 32GP, 13W, 12L, 3T, 3.17GAA, .900Sv%, 0SO
Aebischer started off the season challenging Huet for the starter job, but quickly fell off to have a dissapointing season. He was unable to step up and deliver strong plays and victories for the Habs during their major slump. Aebischer has not yet shown that he can be the go to, #1 guy in the NHL and I do not believe that Montreal will make any efforts to re-sign him in the offseason. A team looking for depth in goaltending will probably take a chance on him, but I do not expect him to be signed as a starter for any team. Certainly a solid backup, though.
Jaroslav Halak - 16GP, 10W, 6L, 0T, 2.89GAA, .906Sv%, 2SO
A very nice surprise for Montreal fans. The team was floundering when he got the call up from Hamilton, where he was arguably the best goalie in the entire AHL this past season. He brought his talent up with him to Montreal and put up some impressive numbers in his 16 games played. Montreal will have to decide whether he needs more seasoning and playing time in the AHL, or if he has what it takes to back up Huet next season. I personally would give him another year in the AHL to give him more playing time and experience, but with Aebischer likely gone, the Habs will either have to sign someone else or bring him up. Bob Gainey has stated that he wants to give the young guys their chance, so I expect him to be backing up Huet when the 07/08 season begins next October.
Michael Leighton - 5GP, 2W, 2L, 0T, 3.92GAA, .875Sv%, 0SO
Picked up at the trade deadline in a trade that baffled many Montreal fans, it is evident that he only came over to fill in the gap that opened up in Hamilton's net with Halak being called up to the parent club. He did not play any games for Montreal this season, and I don't expect him ever to. Minor league filler is the only reason he is on this team, and as a restricted free agent I expect Montreal to keep him as insurance in the minors.
Montreal's defense was not the greatest this past year. For all the talk surrounding Sheldon Souray, his defensive numbers were not impressive. The Habs still gave up way too many shots and if they plan to be a contending team, they absolutely must get their defense to play better in their own end.
Francis Bouillon - 62GP, 3G, 11A, 14Pts, 52PIM, -10
Bouillon will never be a big time point producing defenseman, but with the new NHL's focus on speed over size, this diminutive player is given his opportunity to shine. While he was a -10, I would say that he was one of Montreal's better defenseman. He is gritty and full of energy and should be a mainstay on Montreal's defense for several years.
Mathieu Dandenault - 68GP, 2G, 6A, 8Pts, 40PIM, -8
Dandenault did not have a great season this year in Montreal. He put up the lowest point total of his career and did not appear to be strong in his own end on many nights. I expect Dandenault to turn things around, though, and as a 3 time Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings, he knows what it takes to win games. I believe that his leadership and experience is more of an asset than his on-ice play has been, but look to Dandenault to improve his play next season. When he signed with Montreal a few years ago, he looked like an excited young child at the press conference, thrilled with the opportunity to play for his boyhood hockey club. Now it is time for him to step up and be a leader on the ice as well as off.
Josh Gorges - 54GP, 1G, 3A, 4Pts, 26PIM, -4
Acquired near the deadline in the Craig Rivet trade, Gorges played well in his own end. He is not an offensive defensemen, but with Montreal's struggles in their own end, they are in need of a solid defensemen who can keep the opposition from getting shots on goal. I believe that Gorges will be a strong player for Montreal. He was only -1 in a Habs uniform, which is much better than most of the rest of his teammates were this season.
Mike Komisarek - 82GP, 4G, 15A, 19Pts, 96PIM, +7
What a season by Komisarek! I noticed early on into the season that he seemed to have turned things up a level from the previous year, and boy did he ever! Montreal has finally got the solid defenseman that they expected when they drafted him 7th overall in 2001. He is a restricted free agent, but you can be sure that Gainey will have him inked to a multi-year contract. Komi has certainly earned it.
Andrei Markov - 77GP, 6G, 43A, 49Pts, 56PIM, +2
One of the Habs biggest current question marks is whether Markov will be back on the team next season. He had stellar offensive numbers and had a positive plus-minus. He has stated that he would like to remain in Montreal, and I believe that it is absolutely necessary that he is re-signed. He is one of the league's most underrated defensemen but will draw a lot of attention on the free agent market if he is not re-signed in time.
Janne Niinima - 41GP, 0G, 3A, 36PIM, -13
He spent most of the year in Guy Carbonneau's doghouse, and deservedly so. With a -13 in only 41 games, he certainly did not contribute anything positive to the team with his on-ice performance. He is an unrestricted free agent and his current contract is for about $2.5 million. I do not expect Bob Gainey to re-sign him and it is almost assured that he will have a lower contract in another city. Mike Ribeiro would have been better for the Habs than Niinima turned out to be. Certainly, a lost trade for Montreal and a win for the Dallas Stars.
Sheldon Souray - 81GP, 26G, 38A, 64Pts, 135PIM, -28
What can be said about this guy that hasn't been said already? He put his name in the record books and helped the Habs to the best powerplay in the NHL with his strong offensive play. However, he struggled with even strength play. A -28 plus-minus is not acceptable, especially coming from the team's number one defenseman. Still, the energy that he gives the team on the powerplay and his skill is certainly worth keeping. Like Markov, he has stated that he would like to stay in Montreal. I would like to see Gainey sign him, but he must improve his play in his own end. I would like to see Souray work on his defensive game in the offseason. Opponents will certainly be watching him closer on the powerplay next year, and his offensive numbers will probably drop, so he must improve his defensive play to earn the big contract that he will certainly be obtaining, hopefully from the Habs, in the upcoming year.
Mark Streit - 76GP, 10G, 26A 36Pts, 14PIM, -5
I could have placed Streit under the forwards section as Carbonneau played him on the wing many times this years. Streit was a nice surprise for fans of the Montreal Canadiens. At only $600 thousand dollars per year, he is certainly a bargain for what he brings the team. Whether it is playing alongside Koivu, or sticking to defense, Streit has proven to be a strong, versatile player capable of playing regular minutes in the NHL. He will never be a top guy, either defense or forward, but he is certainly one of the best role players on the team.
Montreal's forwards were an intriguing story this season. Carbonneau constantly shuffled his lines to try out different matchups. I believe that this may have been one of the flaws in his system, as players could not develop strong chemistry with their linemates. Some players, such as Samsonov and Kovalev, were disappointments, while rookie Guillaume Latendresse was very solid in his first year of professional hockey.
Steve Bégin - 52GP, 5G, 5A, 10Pts, 46PIM, -6
Unfortunately, Bégin's season will be remembered for the awful penalty that he took after the second period ended in the final game against the Leafs. It appears that as a result of the penalty, Bégin has found his way onto the dreaded List, which is introduced below. Overall, Bégin is a very solid energy player. If he can get over the bad penalty, and the fans can find a way to forgive him, he should be a mainstay on Montreal's checking line. Unfortunately hit by several injuries this year, Bégin could not get himself going at a regular pace. He just needs to look towards next season as an opportunity for a fresh start and put this unfortunate season behind him. Montreal fans will also have to learn to forgive and forget, as one mistake does not ruin the energy and great checking that he brings to the team.
Radek Bonk - 74GP, 13G, 10A, 23Pts, 54PIM, +/-0
Bonk came into this season in the fan's doghouse after a dissapointing 05/06 season. He turned things around in a new role this year, playing alongside Mike Johnson on Montreal's premier checking line. As a checker and penalty killer, he helped the Habs be one of the best penalty killing teams in the league. He is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and it appears that Gainey may not re-sign him. While he is not the point producer that he was prior to joining the Canadiens, his new role as checking forward is certainly valuable. Personally, I would like to see him back in a Habs uniform.
Aaron Downey - 21GP, 1G, 0A, 1Pt, 48PIM, -6
Strictly an enforcer. Word has it that he is great in the dressing room, but I do not believe that he should be re-signed. Some teams are fighting teams, some are not. The Montreal Canadiens are not and they should follow the route of last year Carolina Hurricanes and the Detroit Red Wings of this year and stray away from fighting. Now, mind you, I am ALL FOR fighting in the NHL. I don't think that should change. I just think that some teams can succeed without it, while others, such as the Anaheim Ducks (they will always be mighty to me), have successfully implemented it into their system. Sorry Downey, but I think your days in a Habs uniform have come to an end.
Mikhail Grabosvky - 3GP, 0G, 0A, 0Pts, 0PIM, -2
Grabovsky looked decent in his brief call up from Hamilton. He did not get any points, but came close to scoring and even had one called back that really could have gone either way. He has a very impressive set of skills and just needs to work on his defensive play. I predict that he will be on Montreal's roster next season. If not at the start of the year, he will work his way onto the team at some point during the 07/08 season.
Christopher Higgins - 61GP, 22G, 16A, 38Pts, 26PIM, -11
Higgins had another solid year for the Habs. He equalled his point output from the previous season, but did so in 19 less games. If not for injurier, he could have approached a 30 goal season. He is definitely one of the best players on Montreal's roster and will likely be a future captain of this team. He is a restricted free agent, but there is no doubt in my mind that Gainey will have him signed to a new contract. He should command anywhere from $1.5-2.0 million per year for two years. Higgins is the type of player that the Habs need to build their team around.
Mike Johnson - 80GP, 11G, 20A, 31Pts, 40PIM, +6
Mike Johnson was consistently one of the Habs best players this season. He played great in his checking line role, and I am begging Bob Gainey to ante up and keep him in a Habs jersey next season. Along with Radek Bonk, he led the team's impressive penalty killing unit and was one of the few plus's in the team's plus-minus category. Gainey may want to make room for younger players, but I don't think that I should be at the expense of a player as good as Mike Johnson.
Saku Koivu - 81GP, 22G, 53A, 75Pts, 74PIM, -21
Koivu had a good season for the Habs, but not a perfect season by any means. He had a career year in terms of goals and assists, but his plus-minus was horrid. He also finished the season slumping, which is something that he will have to correct going into next year. Koivu is the Canadiens leader and got the team off to a great start with some great play of his own. When he slumped, so did the Habs. He needs to maintain good play throughout the year and keep the team motivated. He has stated that he wants to be a contending team. He is where the Habs possibility of contending begins and ends, so if he can be as good as he was to start this season, his teammates will surely follow suit.
Andrei Kostitsyn - 22GP, 1G, 10A, 11Pts, 6PIM, +3
Kostitsyn looked good in a Montreal uniform. He was considered a steal when the Habs drafted him 10th overall in 2003, and is coming along nicely. He should be a regular next season with Gainey wanting to focus on a lineup filled with youth. He has every opportunity to make it in Montreal, and if he keeps up his solid play he will surely be a good player for years to come.
Alexei Kovalev - 73GP, 18G, 29A, 47Pts, 78PIM, -19
Kovalev had a very dissapointing season. He was brought in with the expectation to be the Habs best player, but was outscored by rookies in his subpar year. Kovalev seems to still have all of the talent that he once had, but only shows up to actually use it once in a blue moon. Kovalev put on some of the best single player performances this season with his dazzling array of moves. But it was so rare that he would play as good as he can that he spent most of the year in coach Carbonneau's doghouse. The Habs must find a way to motivate Kovalev and get him to play at a high level, but, if the playoffs on the line against the Leafs doesn't motivate him, I really don't know what will.
Maxim Lapierre - 46GP, 6G, 6A, 12Pts, 24PIM, -7
Perhaps the next great super-pest in the NHL, Lapierre earned his roster spot with the Habs with some impressive play in the 06/07 season. He will never be known as a bonafide goal scorer, but he can aggravate his opponents with the best of them and certainly knows how to get under a goalies skin in front of the net, as highlighted by a Ray Emery slash to the face. Lapierre should be a regular in the Habs lineupt next year and continue to draw the ire of his opponents throughout the league.
Guillaume Latendresse - 80GP, 16G, 13A, 29Pts, 47PIM, -20
The NHL's first #84 came into the league with some controversy, as Patrick Roy stated that the only reason that he was in the league was because he was French Canadian. Roy quickly withdrew his remarks and Latendresse went on to have an impressive rookie campaign. Nobody expected huge stats from the young kid in his first year, but he delivered a better season than many expected. Along with a decent number of points, he used his size to throw many bone-crunching body checks. He will only get bigger and better as he develops. He certainly has the potential to be one of the best power forwards in the NHL some day, but he must develop his defensive game and improve his plus-minus.
Garth Murray - 43GP, 2G, 1A, 3Pts, 32PIM, -10
Murray was something of a non-entity this season. He will struggle to be a regular in the NHL, although he could be a solid 4th line checker. He needs to make an impact soon or else he will be finding himself toiling away in the minors or on bottom-feeding teams.
Alexander Perezhogin - 61GP, 6G, 9A, 15Pts, 48PIM, +11
I was a little disappointed in Perezhogin's play this season. He did not put up good stats offensively, although his plus-minus was quite good. He needs to find a way to produce points more effectively before Montreal's younger players come in and take his spot and he finds himself traded away. As a restricted free agent, I expect him to be re-signed, but he should not get much of a pay raise as he simply needs to perform better on a nightly basis.
Tomas Plekanec - 81GP, 20G, 27A, 47Pts, 36PIM, +10
Plekanec put forward a teriffic season for the Habs and played the type of way that Alexander Perezhogin should strive to play. He was not expected to put up big offensive numbers, so that was a bonus, but he was expected to play solid defensive hockey. He was very good in his own end and is turning into one of the better two way forwards in the NHL. Expect him to get a pay raise this offseason and be an important part of moulding the Canadiens future.
Michael Ryder - 82GP, 30G, 28A, 58Pts, 60PIM, -25
Ryder is somewhat of an enigma. He has a great shot as his 30 goal season indicates, but he is a horiffic stickhandler and terrible defensively. Montreal needs to use him on a line with good passers, and get him to work on his defensive game. Ryder was the goat for Montreal fans many times this season, but I believe that he is a good player and should be retained by the Habs. He needs to improve his plus-minus, though, as -25 is simply unacceptable from a first line forward.
Sergei Samsonov - 63GP, 9G, 17A, 26Pts, 10PIM, -4
A waste of $3.5 million. Plain and simple. Samsonov got off to a bad start in Montreal and let his attitude reflect his play - poor, poor, poor. Instead of accepting that he got off to a bad start and trying to improve his game, he stated that he felt it was a mistake that he signed with Montreal, and later would ask to be traded. As a testament to his awful performance, every single NHL team passed on being able to acquire him at no cost beyond his salary when he was placed on waivers near the trade deadline. Samsonov needs to be bought out or permanently placed in the minors, because his time in Montreal is done. He does not have the heart to perform for this team and is too inconsistent to be worthy of the pay that he "earns". Good riddance Sergei, you won't be missed.
So, that wraps up the recap of the Habs roster. Look for improvements next year, as Gainey has stated that he is planning to dip into the free agent market this summer. Will Gainey go after Shanahan again? Imagine for a second if Shanny signed with the Habs. They would not have signed Samsonov and would have had some great output from Shanny. Also, would Brendan Shanahan have allowed this team to go on the horrendous slide they went on starting in late December? His leadership and voice in the locker room would have been fantastic, and he has shown that he can back it up with his play on the ice. I would love to see him in the bleu, blanc et rouge. Gainey also needs to focus on his defense and try to sign a good defensive defensemen. Even if he re-signs Souray and Markov, the Habs need someone who can keep the puck away from their net which their defense simply did not do this past season.
Now, it is finally time for...The List! The List is a group of Montreal Canadiens players who have dug themselves into the doghouse of Habs fans. Now, Habs fans are a fickle bunch and expect only the best from their players. When they players falter, the fans will let them know. Past members of The List have been José Théodore, Patrice Brisebois, Craig Rivet, Radek Bonk (For his performance in 05/06, has since worked his way off The List), Vladimir Malakhov (Ski trip anyone) and Mario Tremblay (The Patrick Roy incident is still blamed on him by Habs fans, and basically has put him on The List permanently), to name a few. I will keep updates on The List, along with the reasons why players are there. Here is the current version of...The List!
At the head of The List, Samsonov will remain there until he is no longer a member of the Montreal Canadiens. He played so poorly and made so much money that Habs fans simply cannot forgive his atrocious performance.
His reason for being on the list can be summed up with one word: Laziness. He only performs when he wants to and puts his fantastic skillset to waste with his lazy play. He can work himself off of the list, but it will take a lot more effort than what he showed this past season.
He is on the list only because of the penalty he took after the 2nd period against the Leafs, which many argue is the reason the Habs blew their 5-3 lead. I believe that he can work himself off the list with a good start to next season, but the fans have a whole summer to curse his name.
He had a poor year and Habs fan will be happy to see him go this offseason. He simply did not have what it takes to play in a Habs uniform.
The players on The List either need to shape up or be shipped out. As a Bégin fan, I believe that he will be off The List. Samsonov and Niinima will likely leave the team before leaving The List, and Kovalev must put up higher effort to work his way off.
So, this brings an end to the debut of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge blog. I hope that you enjoyed it!