Don't Pitch A Tent Over Habs Camp Surprises

Now that the Canadiens rookie camp is winding to it's end, the focus will now be shifted to the 52 players at the main camp - more than double the roster than will begin the Habs 100th season in October.

Training camps are all about battles for survival in making the team, and the surprises and unexpected twists in the perceived plans of the team.

Unfortunately, this season, for those expecting suspense and intrigue this fall, the pickings will be slim.

There may be but one surprise this camp. More on that in a bit.

Last season, fans and management alike were aware of the potential for as many as five rookies making the team, and eventually each of those expected scenarios played out.

Carey Price not only made the club, but over time he wrestled the starters job away from Cristobal Huet.

Centers Kyle Chipchura and Mikhail Grabovski beat out Maxim Lapierre in the battle for the club's fourth and fifth pivot spots.

Ryan O'Byrne fell just short of making the team, but would eventually end the season in Montreal.

Sergie Kostitsyn, perhaps the best Habs rookie in pre-season, was offered an AHL trial run before becoming a Habs mainstay come December.

It seems almost ancient history now that great ink was spilled over the rise of Price and the fall of Lapierre.

This season promises a whole lot less drama.

You can safely bet your grandmother's false teeth that when camp breaks this time around there won't be a rookie in sight. You could even throw in Grandpa's Depends!

That's not to say that there aren't worthy candidates on the watch - there are plenty! It is just that this season's Canadiens are a whole different animal.

They've gone from a yappy Jack Terrier to a rabid pit bull in one season - a first place finish will accomplish as much. Whatever holes were apparent on the team when the playoffs ended last spring have been remedied by the free agent signing of Georges Laraque and the acquisitions of Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang.

In three fell swoops, went the hopes of Gregory Stewart, Matt D' Agnostini, and Kyle Chipchura, never mind every other rookie clammoring for a spot behind them.

With the Canadiens packed and primed for a solid run at the Stanley Cup, the hopes and dreams for prospects such as those named above and the likes of Pavel Valentenko, Max Pacioretty, and Mathieu Carle will be put on hold.

And it is only logical, no matter how well they fare come the end of camp.

Expect Pacioretty to stick around right until the final cuts, as the Habs brass will want a good look at everything he has to offer. He will do well, but he'll get cut, for no reason other than the team he is trying to make is loaded.

You could almost pencil in the Canadiens starting lineup on opening night.

A. Kostitsyn - Plekanec - Kovalev
Tanguay - Koivu - Latendresse
Higgins - Lang - S. Kostitsyn
Laraque - Lapierre - Begin

Markov - Komisarek
Hamrlik - O' Byrne
Gorges - Bouillon

Price

The pressbox paper airplanes, barring injuries, will be piloted by Mathieu Dandeneault, Patrice Brisebois, Tom Kostopoulos, and perhaps Chipchura.

No shockers and no surprises!

I predict good showings for all of Valentenko, Pacioretty and Stewart, but don't get excited over it - their future's will play out 12 months from now.

If you want to look for a surprise camp battle, a scrambling of the cards - look no further than the crease.

Unmentioned, and often relegated beyond memory, was the Canadiens signing of veteran free agent goaltender Marc Denis.

Trust me, a showdown between Denis and Jaroslav Halak will take place in this camp!

Am I off my rocker?

No, sir, I am riding it!

I'll explain why

Among all goalies in the Canadiens organization, no puck stopper is more experienced than Denis. He has played more NHL games than Carey Price, over 300 to be precise. His 112 NHL wins speak of his worth, although he has never stopped a puck in the playoffs.

Denis has similarities with Price - both were first round picks burdened with high expectations.

Each has gone onto the World Junior stage in annual WJC.

While Denis' NHL career has had it's low notes, he may be the Habs best stopper when it comes to relating to Carey Price.

If you think that is merely coincidental, how about that Denis has backed up both Patrick Roy and Jose Theodore in his NHL career.

Still thinking I am off my rocker?

You know, of course, that Bob Gainey works in mysterious ways. The Habs GM is not going to disect his decisions for public scrutiny - right?

As you might well see what I am getting at, I do not want my views taken as a vote of non confidence in regards to Halak - a goalie whom I greatly appeciate.

But quite simply, my view's matter squat. I've no insight into the Canadiens brass' inner workings or thoughts.

I just a see two suitcase loads of experiences that can affect and benefit Price's standing as the Habs number one goalie as this season progresses.

In Halak, a puckstopper of equal age and experience, aspiring to the same position - Habs number one goalie - that may or may pressure Price, depending on his performances.

Or Denis, a young veteran with a history and road travelled similar to Price, with whom he can learn a great deal of harsh reality lessons from.

What will Price learn if Denis is sent to Hamilton?

In a nutshell, there is your training camp battle, intrigue, and surprise - for what it is worth.

Oh, and did I mention that Denis is getting the start against the Buffalo Sabres in the Roberval game on September 23.

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