Say what you will about fans of the Montreal Canadiens. Sometimes they're overly optimistic. Sometimes they're irrationally pessimistic. But they're always passionate. News of the acquisition of Thomas Vanek sent Habs fans across the country into parade planning mode, and while the Cup may still be a pipedream for this club, Vanek gives this fanbase, which hasn't had all that much to cheer about (by Montreal standards) since 1993, a legitimate reason for optimism.
The mantra across the league today has been "once you're in the playoffs, anything can happen." Last season, the Toronto Maple Leafs took the eventual Eastern Conference Champions to the brink of elimination, entering the third period of game 7 with a lead not even the most pessimistic Leafs fan could have predicted they would blow. But the Bruins stormed back to tie the game and then win in overtime, extending Toronto's hockey misery another year. Yet, the Leafs were that close. And had they held on and eliminated Boston, it isn't inconceivable that they could have made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
It's true -- once you're in the playoffs, ANYTHING can happen. It wasn't long ago that the Habs entered the post-season almost assured of being trounced out in round one, but they defied the odds to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in 7 games, earning the Cinderella label that year.
The point is, Thomas Vanek increases the odds of "anything" happening for the Montreal Canadiens. Vanek is an elite offensive force who will no doubt have an immediate impact on the team. Regardless of who he plays with, he makes everyone around him look better. Five on five scoring has been an issue for this team all season, and Vanek helps there immeasurably. Fans and media have been so fixated on that aspect of his game that little has been mentioned of the impact he will have on the Habs already solid powerplay. Suddenly teams have more than PK Subban to cover.
While we all fantasize about line combinations, let's remember that chances are, Vanek will be tried out on several lines to test the chemistry.
Perhaps the biggest impact Vanek will have though, is on Daniel Briere. Briere and Vanek were a formidable line in Buffalo, and if they can rekindle that chemistry, the Habs may have the added benefit of reigniting a mostly dormant Briere just in time for the stretch run.
And once they're in the playoffs...well, anything can happen.