Rejoice fans of Les Habitants - the time has finally arrived!
The time where we can finally ditch the rear view mirror of 2006-07 and start looking forward to the next Stanley Cup pursuit.
It all begins tonight!
It's been a long and eventful off - season, yet hardly as eventful as some had hoped.
Nonetheless, in many fans eyes, the Canadiens on paper are a slightly improved team. Certain past contributors are missing, replaced by free agent signings and rookies.
As I write this, Montreal is a .500% team, tied for first place - with every hope permitted.
There is an aquaintance of mine who makes an annual visit to Las Vegas every Labour day weekend. His name is Claude Bissonette, and he fancies himself a high roller, by our small town standards. Before he hits his favorite Vegas night spots, he's off to his favorite sports bookie - a tradition he has undertaken since 1983. Depending on how much cash he's brought on the trip, he visits this bookie and slaps down between $100.00 and $500.00 on the Habs Stanley Cup chances - usually at long shot odds. He says that he has won enough off the last two Cups, to keep him going for another six years of betting.
"Why do you keep betting on the Habs?", he was asked.
"In any year, they are the best long shot in sports", he confidently says.
"How do you figure that, given recent years?
"Every once in awhile Montreal surprises. Do you have any idea how much cash has been gambled on a favorite like the Red Wings and lost the last few years?'', he contends.
"A bunch, I'd guess."
"You'd be right! For longshot odds, there's never a better bet than the Habs", he summised.
Our conversation deepened into forecasters suggesting the Habs were a 13th place team, and my friend offered than even the Vegas bookies don't have them that far down.
"You can wager on them simply making the playoffs, but it's not worth the odds this year", he said.
So, the question on many fans lips is, "Where do we stand?''
Are we desperate also rans? A middle of the pack team? Playoff bound? A Cup longshot?
All of the above?
Truly, anything can happen, and if enough good things can happen to our Habs, combined with the right bad breaks to others, who really knows how a season will evolve?
What if I were to suggest that the Habs will be pummelled with injuries early, only to rise on the play of a group of rookies, to be later joined by healed veterans who would go on to comprise a solid and diverse group that will confound all opponants with their versatility to play just about any style before they are figured out?
You want me to pass you so some of what I'm smoking?
Sorry, but that was 1986.
What if I suggested that the Habs would claw into into playoffs as underdogs, with only days remaining on the schedule, then ride a hot goaltender and upset stymied favorites until they emerge the winner. Along the way they will nail ten straight overtime wins, bolstered by a hard to solve goalie.
Get him a straightjacket, he's off his rocker!
Hey, things happen good and bad to some teams, like those editions of the Habs or those of the 1971 Bruins or the 1986 Oilers in mid dynasty.
They can happen again.
Claude Bissonette slapped the whole $500.00 down three weeks ago. Let's just say he has a little more faith than I.
Put me down that the Habs are in the playoffs for $20.00, after that, well we'll just see what happens!
Starting with better goaltending, last season everything after Huet was a giant question mark for the Canadiens. Today, Huet remains, backed by the most promising goalie prospect the NHL has seen in quite a long while in Carey Price. Should either falter some, we have the proven Jaroslav Halak waiting, with a whole lot to prove.
The Habs also have great depth on defense with 8 players having over 100 games of NHL experience. Hamrlik over Souray ought to make play less sparkling but defensively more efficient. That will help forwards play a less panicked two way game.
Up front it looks like the Canadiens will try going with three offensive lines. On any given night, the habs will either have Kovalev or Plekanec out against other teams 3rd trio's - I like that matchup if they play both ends well.
Kovalev's play is one of the larger questions facing the team. If he brings it compassionately and is a constant on ice threat, he helps two other lines by freeing up their coverage.
If the questions get answered in short order, Montreal will quickly resemble that team that surprised out of the gate last October, spending three months in fourth place in the conference.
And who knows, Claude Bissonette might not be far off from cashing in again!