With training camp only a few days away and the Habs rookie camp already underway, there is no doubt that hockey is in the air....and I'm lovin' it! Given that the 2010 season is almost upon us, it got me thinking about the new-look Habs and what their chances of success are, this season. While I'm not brave enough to make a prediction, I think that I can say that I am cautiously optimistic. I mean, even the biggest Habs hater should be able to see that Montreal's D got better and bigger than last year, and their forwards went sideways in the improvement category, at worst. Plus, the additions of Moen and Mara mean that Montreal will be a tougher team. I think people are focusing too much on the smaller 1st line - which is absolutely small, no question there. But looking past that line, this team is actually bigger and tougher than last year.
Being bigger and tougher does not guarantee success by any stretch of the imagination, but I think there are a few keys to Montreal having a successful season, this year namely: Gomez, Plekanec, Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn and Carey Price. While you could certainly include Gionta, Spacek, Mara, Lapierre, Latendresse and others, in this list, I think that for the purposes of my analysis, I will focus on those five guys. Hey if you think I missed anyone, let me know and maybe I'll post any analysis of them too. Enjoy!
There are few players in the league who have as much to prove, this season, as Scott Gomez and this is largely because of the discrepancy between the size of his contract and his seeming talent level. While no one will dispute that Scott Gomez is a talented player, it also seems to be quite clear that he is not a $7 Mil+ player. Looking at NHL salaries (http://www.nhlnumbers.com/sort.php
) there are only 17 players in the entire league who make seven million dollars per season, or more. The list of those players reads as follows:
Ovechkin, Crosby, Stall E., Richards, Lecavalier, Heatley, Chara, Gaborik, Lidstrom, Gomez
, Thornton, Vanek, Campbell B., Drury, Spezza and Iginla.
Well, apart from Gomez and Drury - both of whom were given their ridiculous contracts by Glen Sather - those are some of, if not the
best, players in the league. And to me, Gomez's name just stands out, in that list, as being totally misplaced. That being said, it is not Gomez's fault that he is overpaid. Hey, if my boss decided to pay me 25 - 40% more than I should be earning, who am I to turn him down? No? So who can blame him? No one, that's who. However, that does not take away from the huge expectations that are placed on his shoulders, and no one is more aware of this fact than Gomez himself.
Scott knows that he had two sub-par seasons, playing in New York, and that moving to Montreal is only going to ratchet up expectations. Especially when Bob Gainey had the Habs faithful thinking that we would be getting a 'big, scoring center" and possibly even Vincent Lecavalier. When Gainey traded for Gomez - who is talented but will never be mistaken for a "big" center - Habs fans felt burnt. Not only is Gomez on the smallish side, but he is also no Vinny Lecavalier.
All of this means that Gomez comes to town, looking for a fresh starting and to rekindle some old magic with Gionta, with the weight of Habs fans' expectations on his shoulders. Expectations that he put up big numbers, based on his $7 Mil+ salary. Expectations that he carry this team, as Lecavalier would have. He is being thrust into the #1 center position, which has been problematic for the last 10 years.
This is not a slight against, Koivu, by the way, as he was a great player. But, being realistic, he always should have been a #2 center. You can win with Koivu in the #2 hole, but not in the #1 hole. Which is why I think Anaheim will be a contender this year. Getzlaf and Koivu? Wow! But I digress...
Ok, back to business. In order for Montreal to have a successful season - and I define success as finishing anywhere from 4th to 8th overall in the East - Gomez will have to shine this year. Gomez will have to be a leader on and off the ice and he will have to put points up on the board, on a regular basis. In my estimation, he will have to return to the 70+ point level and be a solid plus player, for Montreal to go anywhere. He is already saying all the right things and showing the right attitude - learning French! - now all he has to do is put it all together on the ice. If he doesn't, this year could end up being more painful that last year!
Why he should succeed
Gomez thrived playing in New Jersey's defense-first system. He won a Stanley Cup and had a career year playing alongside Brian Gionta - who he gets to play with again this year. Playing under Jacques Martin - a proven defense-first coach - should allow Gomez to get back to his winning ways. Plus, being reunited with Gionta should help both of their careers get back on track. I see Gomez hitting the 70 point mark this season with Gionta checking in for 25+ goals this year.
Here's hoping I end up being right!