(Robert L Note: The pictures shown along with this post are in tribute to what FHF does on a regular basis. I do not mean to try to top them or even ape them. They were sitting in a file document waiting for usefullness. With some imagination, they tag along nicely to points made in the article below about excitement, the sad violins of critics, and er, eating words. Not sure what our Oriental lady above is about to swallow, but I know what it looks like to me!)
Two articles I've read of late have me red assed ticked and agitated worse than a flee bitten hound.
Both had to do with the Canadiens being predicted to finish outside the playoffs and portrayed grim scenario's based primarily on what the Habs have lost instead of focusing on the present and future.
I laugh at so called experts who "predict" based on the past. Most of these forecasters it seems, can't see beyond their own schnozes when it comes to what's about to play itself out in Montreal this season.
Well I'm about to reassure you, good people, and I'm not going out on a limb one step when I say that the Canadiens will challenge for top stop in the Northeast division.
( Think I'm cracked? Meet me at the bottom of this page!)
Why I have so much faith in them has to do with three basic intangibles that neither prognosticators have had the wherewithal to touch upon.
These intangibles are inner team competition, mounting experience, and growing self confidence - in that order.
You could also toss being slighted and revenge into the mix.
While GM Bob Gainey may not have landed the big fish everyone felt the team needed during this summer's free agent bonanza, he has smartly shored up needs in places that will help solidify the team.
I beg to differ with the big fish theory - signing Roman Hamrlik was a coup. Smolinski a solid down the middle, two - way addition.
Anyone paying close attention to the Canadiens are starting to see what past drafts and Gainey's recent moves have accomplished. Has anyone noticed that there is a battle for position at all points in the Canadiens lineup? In goal, on defense, and on the third and fourth lines, no one can sit still enough to become comfortable or complacent.
I like that alot!
On this edition of the Canadiens, only 3 defenseman and six forwards are guaranteed their standing - at least for now.
The inner competition Gainey and staff have created will go along way towards bringing the best out in each and every player. The sight of Alex Kovalev playing moody slacker will not be tolerated as it was last season. With 8 NHL ready defenseman at their disposal, the Habs could have a different set of rearguards each night. Coach Carbonneau can now afford to be impatient if performances aren't up to snuff.
What will occor then, is that underperformers will quickly be sitting 100 feet from the ice rather than at rinkside, and those waiting for opportunities will grasp them when the chance finally arrives.
Expect the Canadiens to carry two spare D-men all season long, plus a couple of additional forwards to round out the numbers of bodies on board at 23 or 24 - considering Mark Streit is still a swingman at both ends.
Players showing excellence and consistency in Hamilton will also be given a chance.
With more than 4 lines of capable players including as many as 7 or 8 quality talents competing for the bottom 6 positions each night, the Canadiens should get top effort out of every combattant. These battles will not end in training camp - they will be year long.
The Canadiens youth core made up of forwards such as Higgins, Ryder, Plekanec, Latendresse, Kostitsyn, and Lapierre will gain from experiences of recent seasons. All these players are good and getting better, and I expect at least two of them are primed for breakout seasons.
These players are constantly getting better and so will the team as a whole.
When most people think of what experience means, they envision players the likes of Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, and Chris Chelios. No fault in that. But what some may miss is that one does not have to be old (used loosely) to be experienced.
Experience has much more to do with what one takes from lessons learned than the number of Stanley Cups the names are engraved upon. It's about the road travelled as much as it is about the journey's end.
That is why the Canadiens are so keen on character when drafting. What makes up the man is what makes up the winner. Carey Price and Kyle Chipchura are two great examples of the Habs scouting between the ears. I suspect this analogy will apply to both Ryan McDonagh and Matt D' Agnostini sooner than we think as well.
Going over the six young forwards mentioned above, you can measure their character in their achievements, despite their youthful appearance. All are young, with gainful character experiences, just as Brodeur, Niedermayer, and Chelios had in their beginnings.
Add in this bristling youth movement to a second core of veterans just entering, or already into their prime years, and you have a roster that is solid and on the up and up.
Names such as Markov, Komisarek, Hamrlik, Koivu are all into their best seasons. Hardly no one is over the hill and spent, other than perhaps Brisebois and Dandeneault.
A thriving Habs lineup should also rejuvenate a talent like Kovalev, and that brings me to the next point of Habs resurgence - confidence.
Last season, in the second week of December, a gelled and rolling Canadiens unit were one of the leagues surprises. What occured after that point takes nothing away from what was built in order to get there. The participants of that rise, who are still mostly intact, have not forgotten about what it took in getting there.
Judging by the way many players are speaking, not too many of the Habs seem down on themselves from missing the playoffs last season. Rather than amends to make, they have something to prove to themselves first and foremost, to fans and the rest of the league in order.
They understand that much of what derailed the team last season were made up of one time circumstances and pure bad fortune. They know they are better than their finish - which was strong but came up short in the end.
I would even go so far as to suggest that the Canadiens players might even be overconfident considering they have so much to build on.
My thinking is that it is only the off season loss of Sheldon Souray that will bring about questions concerning the strength of the team. Inside the dressing room, players admit the loss of such a commanding power play specialist hurts. Thinking ahead though, they know they have the neccessary ingridients to compensate the loss via retuned tactics.
In all the assessments of the Canadiens in 2007-08, the Souray loss is brought up by critics who fail to check themselves for hindsight. They can't argue it both ways.
The players brutal plus minus was once a detriment, while his shot was an asset. Overall, it seemed Souray was termed inconsequencial to Habs success either way. Now that he has departed, with both facets of his game gone, his loss is what will sink the Habs. That assessment is too laughable to even ponder beyond noting it.
It the end, it is Souray's leadership void that will hardest to fill.
One paper recently ran some questions of concern for this edition of the Canadiens. It was all do with sizing them up and seeing where this team stands at present.
My questions, presented here, are quite rhetorical in regards to why I see Montreal near the top of the Northeast.
Who has better goaltending depth?
What other teams boast 8 NHL experienced defenseman on their roster?
How many teams are as stockpiled with potential rookies ready to fill holes who have Calder Cup championship experience?
Which team to you see as being this hungry, having as much to prove, and needing to be pardoned for even more?
What team can match the Habs number of young committed leaders?
Is there a team with a lineup as overflowing with ready players, more poised to pull off a big trade to a player that can put them over the top?
This could be the season where Bob Gainey finally parts with some youth talent and pulls the trigger on a major deal that brings in a top line forward capable of transforming the team into a greater entity.
It is the Canadiens next step in building a winner, and the Habs have too many alluring assets for trading partners to ignore. Should a player somewhere become disgruntled and demand a change of scenery, the Canadiens become a chief destination due to their abundance of depth.
I just cannot buy into the assessment of the Habs as a 13th place team. On the whole, this team has too much potential not to succeed.
With intangibles such as competitiveness, experience and confidence sprouting no holes, the Canadiens are on their way to the top - one win at a time.