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What Is The Habs Most Indispensible Element?

In the short run from home to work yesterday, I caught about five minutes of Habs talk radio on CKAC, and the question of the day had to do with what listenders thought what the one untouchable for the Montreal Canadiens.

The one caller whose reaction I caught was busy extolling the virtues of Carey Price as a franchise goalie when I turned my car key to the left and went into work.

Price, as a prospect par excellence, almost makes the question a rhetorical one. Franchise goalies don't come around every year.

Then again, who is to say how a goaltender's career line will play out. Just ask a stunned Critobal Huet these days, or Jose Theodore, who finally seems to be recovering from the shock of no longer being in Montreal, how seemingly easy they were cast off.

Perhaps until a goaltender has reached Roy or Brodeur like importance, it might be premature to be called a team's most untouchable piece.

Admittedly, Price has unlimited potential, and only time will tell whether he is the glue to which the Canadiens will remain bonded.

I wished I could have caught the entirety of the hour's answers, as I pondered the question for a good length inside the walls of work. I felt it would be a good question to put to readers here.

Glancing to the right sidebar at this site, you see a poll question that you could answer if you wish.

Another candidate for a Habs untouchable, for this season at least, would be Alex Kovalev.

Honestly, I've never seen him more dominant, and once this season is over, many will likely call it his best NHL year. Regardless of the numbers he's put up in past seasons with the Rangers or Pittsburgh, Kovalev has never been so front and center in being a team leader as he has this season. He's on pace for close to 90 points, which was absolutely unimaginable a year ago.

Kovalev has emerged as the voice of experience and visdom for all the Habs young Russian and European prospects. He has exemplified a great many traits this season as he rebounded from a hellish year. The effect that his resurgance has had on the team is immeasurable.

There are a few younger guns on the Habs that people are already terming the next team captain, but I think that if Kovalev continues to display the same qualities and prowess he has this season, and if he outlasts Saku Koivu's playing days, the "C" will be handed to him to end his career.

Tomas Plekanec might not seem like the most obvious choice, at first, in a discussion of elements the Habs can do without.

The Czech centerman is actually just starting to become a known quantity among NHL centerman in his third full season in Montreal. Last year, he had a killer second half for the Canadiens, and that, while they were in the midst of a downward spirral. This season, Plekanec has upped the pace to become almost a point per game player. His point total has risen near 20 points per season, and his upside could top out in the 85 to 95 points range.

That might not seem so remarkable in the age of Crosby and Lecavalier, but when you consider how long the Canadiens have longed for this type of production from its number one pivot, you get the sense that players of Plekanec's stripe have been rare in the organization. Add in that he is sound in both ends of the rink and kills penalties and one gets the gist of why a local Montreal media scribe recently termed him a real "keeper".

The importance of Plekanec to the team's big picture is not just evident in his game. While the Habs have drafted with intelligence and smart planning over the last four seasons, they've yet to get their mits on a centerman who has the upside of the Czech native. Consider that we may be, barring a free agent whopper, another five years away from getting a player of his like, and you start to understand why he will cost the Habs a handsome sum by the time the two year deal he is on runs out.

Pairings of compatible top line defenseman are what separates the contenders from the pretenders come playoff time. Every team needs a PP quarterback defenseman, as well as another who can strike fear into freewheeling offensive forces.

The duo of Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek for the Habs fit these needs to perfection. They not only understand their roles within the team, they are vital to the winning team concept. That they understand each other and play together, logging large minutes, means the Canadiens will be solid in this area for years to come.

While no one has ever dared to compare Markov with Nicklas Lidstrom, I'll venture as far as saying there are similarities between the two. Players like Lidstrom come by maybe once a decade, but much of what Markov does resembles the Red Wing defender's game.

As a point man on the PP, Markov is like a general coordinating the attack. His swift breakout passes from the Canadiens zone are key to it's transition game. When defending, Markov is rarely beaten one on one. He reads every aspect of his game with poise and intelligence.

Lidstrom was in his seventh or eigth year when he began to show dominance. His reputation, and Stanley Cups wins, all came after he fullfilled his potential at that point. Markov is now, where Lidstrom was then.

Over the past couple of years, teams that went deep into the playoffs featured a defenseman capable of stricking fear into the eyes of opponants with a rugged and wicked meanstreak. Both the Oilers and Ducks were beneficiaries of Chris Pronger's talent and wrath. Part of the Pronger package is evident in Komisarek, who overall game may resemble Scott Steven's worth more precisely. Both were stay at home types whose play always announced a challenge to those who dare get fancy at the wrong time.

Komisarek is key to the Habs in the same manner as Pronger is now and Stevens was a few seasons back. The fear element can never be underestimated. On the Canadiens team, after Komisarek, who remains to play the role?

Much of the Habs offensive future may lie in the brothers Kostitsyn. Both Andrei Kostitsyn and the younger Sergei are just beginning their NHL lifetimes, and already the pair have dazzled and raised expectations. Can anyone really picture the Habs future without both.

Andrei has given the Kovalev and Plekanec duo a wild card full of speed and deception to play on the wing. Even without the puck, he has become a danger as he understands what is involved in a complete game. If you recall how Sergei Samsonov grinded the duo down last season, you can quickly understand all the Andrei brings.

Oddly, Sergei Kostitsyn, drafted many rounds later and two years after, might turn out to be the more complete player of the two. Jumping almost straight from junior to the Habs lineup, Sergei has displayed a better willingness to get dirty when it's called for. He hits and backchecks with unbridled enthusiam, which is so rare for a 20 year old.

There's just something about him that makes me pay attention every time he hits the ice.
Of all the Canadiens most untouchable pieces, many might suggest that the man who rules over it all, General Manager Bob Gainey, is the one irreplacable part.

Gainey's common sense, patience and vision are what have brought the Canadiens from nowhere to first place in a respectable time frame. His influence on the whole of everything within the organization is beyond esteem. The confidence he projects allows everyone to assume their rightful roles and destinies. Gainey is in control, and after a decade of wondering exactly who was in charge, he has settled and and set the Habs organization back on track.

How indispensible is that?

Beneath Gainey in the Habs scheme of things, is super scout Trevor Timmins. The man with the magic touch has shown that he can find talent in any round from any place. In a very short time, he has helped Gainey put together a team that has his stamp all over it.

In today's NHL, where salary caps dictate that a revolving door of talent is needed to combat the high prices free agency brings, Timmins is indispensible as an evaluator of talent. It's downright scary to imagine where the Canadiens would be without the players he has brought in.

The Montreal Canadiens are in first place in the Eastern Conference as this is being written. The seven elements mentioned above have had an impact on putting them there sooner than most believed it was possible.

What lies ahead in the team's future are filled with delicious dreams of better days pointing to Cups and parades.

What do you see as the Canadiens most indispensible element geared towards keeping them there?

Note to readers of the site: Many of the great pics seen her on Eyes On The Prize are often culled from the photo's section of Habs Inside Out. It is far and away the greatest database for recent shots of game action on the team. I know no better place to relive the sights of Montreal Canadiens' wins. Do yourself a favor and a treat and check out the season long archive.