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Habs Report Cards Are In

I promised myself that I wouldn't go ahead with grading the Habs players and management so soon, in the light of this elimination wound still being fresh. At first I did not wish for playoff disappointment to blur what has ben an excellent and surprising season for the team and the individuals who comprise it.

I decided to go ahead with this in spite of that because this is time where the evaluation and perspective are the most important. How these players performed in the past few weeks speaks greatly for where they are as individuals. The Canadiens are after all, building to win a Cup and not simply be a strong regular season club. In fairness, my assessments will take in both seasons, and the overall mark will reflect what the player brought over the course of 94 games.

So here goes, starting from the net out:

Carey Price:

Price proved to be mortal, fallable and not quite a saviour yet. He was asked to carry the heaviest of burdens and in retrospect, it was perhaps a little much to ask of a 20 year old. Despite his playoff ups and downs, he had a stellar rookie season and his playoff showing does not tarnish the outlook on what should be a very promising career. While there surely will be a tendency to be extremely harsh on Price due to Bob Gainey's decision to trade Huet, it isn't quite the goalie's cross to bear for now. Price had great runs, especially down the stretch, but his slips may be due to the fact that he was in the end overworked (since the whole of 2006-07) and possibly overwhelmed. The experience he has gained in one NHL season is invaluable, and should serve him well as soon as next season. The Canadiens, management and players included, might be guilty of having been caught up in all the hype as well, as they likely relied on him to ridiculous extremes. B+

Jaroslav Halak:

Truthfully, we learned more about Halak's worth in 2006-07 than this season. He is a solid goaltender who will need to play more games before a truer evaluation can be made. I can see him making 35 starts next season and faring extremely well. It would serve the Canadiens interests to use both young goalies smartly next season. A better distrubution of unpicked games for Halak will allow for the goalies to thrive a be fresh and tuned for the playoffs. Halak gets no grade due to having seen too little action in Montreal.

On defense:

Andrei Markov:

Got the big bucks and earned every penny. Played a key role in Montreal's top ranking PP and appeared in his first all star game. Teamed with Mike Komisarek on the Habs top defense duo, the pair shutdown top opponent lines all season and helped the Canadiens to a stronger defensive game. In the playoffs, injuries that went unpronounced kept his effectiveness to a minimum. Komisarek was banged up as well. Markov's health was the main reason the Habs PP went south as his natural tendencies took a hit. His being limited in ability meant the Habs were playing on a crutch. A

Mike Komisarek:

The big bruiser became a top line blueliner this season as a leader in hits and blocked shots. 29 other teams would love to have Komisarek to put on the ice. Overexhuberance might be his only drawback, and he need to learn better when to reel it in and let it loose. His breakaway goal against the Leafs is still on my personal top 10 faves of the year. A

Roman Hamrlik:

Gainey's biggest off season signing helped steady a defensive corps that had a reputation of running wild when pressured. His physical game was a surprising and welcome addition as well. Hamrlik sometimes plays on cruise control and takes a pedal off before games are decided. Overall though, he was a rock for the Habs this season. His play could always be counted upon when the Habs needed to insert a less reliable defenseman into the lineup. Partners of Hamrlik's this season includedBrisebois, O' Byrne, Gorges, and Streit - all handed to Hammer when they needed some calming down. B+

Francis Bouillon:

Perhaps his best season in a Montreal jersey. Made for a solid, if unspectacular, pairing with Gorges. The physical element of his game never dipped and his transition game improved over the past few seasons. Bouillon may still not be in the team's longer termed plans, but he's he welcomed back next season. B

Josh Gorges:

Perhaps a pleasant surprise, Gorges became a dependable third line d-man when teamed with Bouillon and played on his proper side. Adept at taking a hit to make the right play, Gorges consistently delivered the goods without ever sacrificing physical play. All that good being said, Gorges and his partner offer no fear factor's in their smart game and present an area when the Canadiens must gain in size. B

Ryan O' Byrne:

Had his NHL baptism this season and passed the test. His size and strength are NHL calibre though his reads and speed are where he needs improvement most. In time he ought to stake out a reputation and a working space for himself much like Komisarek. Got a good lesson in off ice conduct in mid season. B-

Patrice Brisebois:

A more likeable version of himself returned to Montreal amidst much fear this season, and Brisebois fared beyond expectations for the most part. He found trouble and some old bad aptitudes when played too often for too long, but in the end the Canadiens got what they bargained. Few experienced depth defenseman come this experienced and this cheap. He eould warrant a return of the Habs didn't have bigger things planned for a multitude of prospects in the organization. B-

Mark Streit (D):

I'm taking creative licence here with Mark Streit, and rating him at two positions for fairness. Over the course of two seasons, it appears as though Streit has carved himself out a niche on the team, and it isn't at this position full time. Streit is an ace on the PP point, but his defensive work inside the Habs blueline this season exposed some inadequacies. While his unpressured transition passes are slick, when in traffic he becomes a whole other hand grenade. The demands of a different type of physical game around his end seemed a little too high a reach for Streit this year. Balancing his PP excellence, is the notion there is no longer a need for him on the backline. C+


Alex Kovalev:

Was TSN's "Comeback Player Of The Year" and a more than worthy recipient. Everything that Kovalev wasn't one season ago, he was in 2007-08. Might just be the most exciting player in Montreal since Guy Lafleur and surely one of the more talented to play in the city. That being said, Kovalev still has his flaws and occasional bad games where he forgets that not everyone playing alongside him has his skill level. His saucer pass feeds, for one example, are more expected by the opposition at this point than by linemates. Those are but a small complaint in what was a big, big season for Kovalev. His passionate play was the engine behind a memorable Habs season. Docked a + for a string of ordinary at best playoff games. A

Saku Koivu:

The captain lost his number one center status on the team this season but none of his fire and grit. The veteran remains the most playoff atuned forward on the Habs, as was seen in his 9 game playoff of 2008. Statistics have always led to an unfair evaluation of Koivu's worth to the team, which involves work in the four corners of both ends of the rink, often against the opponents top scorers. Linemates were shuffled like a deck of cards this season, but Koivu still remained close to his point averages. Still has lots of good years left in him. B+

Tomas Plekanec:

With continued growth this season, Plekanec reached top line center status in his third full season at the position as he nudged both the 30 goal and 70 point plateau. Confidence might be his biggest barrier at times, as he has tendency to slump and shy away from the things that work well for him. There is a growing perception that the Czech is fearful of traffic, yet he plays his best games in the thick of things. Underappreciated is Plekanec's two way, which goes a great length to covering for Kovalev's adventures and Andrei Kostitsyn's inexperience. Plekanec will hit the 30 goal mark as he grows more self assured and his line continues to gel. B+

Andrei Kostitsyn:

The elder of the Kostitsyn brothers had a great full first NHL campaign in what was essentially a rookie season. Having played in 22 contests one year ago and 11 in the season prior, this was Andrei's first turn as a regular and he responded with 26 goals, which would have placed him at the top of the rookie list had he been eligible. While his transition into a pro has taken some time, Kostitsyn learned a great deal in 2007-08. He offered a sound defensive game most nights and was capable of physical play when fighting for the puck. There is much work to be done in regards to his puck posssession skill and his turnovers and it should all round out with experience. A solid season for a first year player on the top line. B+

Mark Streit (F):

Helped fill part of the void left by Sheldon Souray with crisp passes and shifty moves on the powerplay. Plays a more creative role on wing than he is able to on defence, but will not warrant icetime on the top two line. The Canadiens third leading scorer stands out most for his versatility. B

Chris Higgins:

Despite setting career highs in all stat categories, and leading the team in shots on goal with 241, Higgins was somewhat a disappointment this season. His play at times often leads to great expectations before streakiness and slumps even out such assessments. Sometimes displaying the potential of a 40 goal scorer, Higgins is often a victim of trying to do too much rather than play within his means. His enthusiam, seen in this light, becomes both his blessing and his curse as he tries to everything and be all, all at once. It is in his traits as a leader to want to assume so much responsability, but as Guy Carbonneau noted on a pair of occasions, Higgins has to learn his game and play within his talents to be successful. B

Steve Begin:

Begin is a needed component on any team. This season, he brought his usual set of intangibles that include gritty play, throwing checks and blocking shots. He is a perfect example of a player who knows his role and understands how to maximize his assets. His rambunctious style usually means playing through injuries, and as a motivational sparkplug on the Habs, no one does it better. Lack of offense in his case will never be a detriment as long as his play serves to shift the game's flow in his team's favor as it always has. B

Sergei Kostitsyn:

No one saw the younger brother on the scene so soon, but his callup seemed to throw wind behind the Canadiens sails once he joined the team. With superb vision, sleek passing skills, and guts that defy his size, Kostitsyn's season of adapting to the NHL gave many a glimpse into an interesting and productive future. He will, of course, learn in time to reel in his zest and adventurous side. Sergei made many mistakes, but also showed a committment to correcting them while playing a mature two way game for his age. Was a surprsing + 5 for the Habs in the playoffs. B

Maxim Lapierre:

Continued to progress towards being a solid defensive NHL center. When Lapierre is on his game, forechecking, hitting with authority, and creating scoring chances, he can be a gamebreaker. Consistency remains Lapierre's biggest issue still and he has a tendency to coast and disappear on occasion. His upside will never take him beyond 3rd line status, but he could turn out to a dependable pivot with close to a 20 goal in him when he matures. Does his best to give an honest effort every game. B

Tom Kostopoulos:

Brings a game similar to Begin's, but is more of a pest than a pounder. Used his speed well to cause turnovers while annoying anyone in his path. Doesn't have the greatest game in game out endurance, although he rarely lacks for effort. Was a star in the Boston series and had shifts worthy of a Conn Smythe winner at times, before sizzling out quickly and heading for a void. B

Guillaume Latendresse:

Did not benefit from as much powerplay time as the previous season while matching his rookie year goal totals. Latendresse's defensive game gained a great deal in awareness and positioning which helped make him less of a liability in his own end. His mobility often comes into question in the offensive zone due to his slowness to read developing plays. His instinct isn't yet geared towards crashing the crease like that of a goal scorer though his game shows signs of that aspect coming around slowly. Much more will be expected of him in his third NHL season. C +

Mikhail Grabovski:

A cautious assessment only 24 games into a career warns that Grabovski only has game when owning the puck. Without the puck, he is often not a factor. Displays great speed and offensive instinct, but is not yet able to sacrifice himself in order to make a play. There is much potential in the player combined with a sense that his shortcomings will prevent their use until harder lessons are learned. Two or three dazzling plays per game in his case do not equal a 60 minute committment. C+

Michael Ryder:

A big disappointment this season, Ryder offered little new to his play other than a keener eye for his own zone. Opposition defenses seemed to have Ryder figured out as the space he always found to unleash a wicked wrister was no longer unoccupied. Ryder's playmaking abilities with the puck are barely NHL calibre, and that was part of what lent to a stiffling of his game. The effort and understanding required to combat this never surfaced. C

Mathieu Dandeneault:

A likeable, team oriented player, Dandeneault suffered through a season of reaquainting himself with the forward position to mixed results. His experience reading breaking plays served him well in certain capacities, but there is little physicality in his game to broaden his contribution. C


Bob Gainey:

There isn't much front line work for a GM to do in today's NHL other than the free agency period and the trade deadline. Gainey compensated for striking out signing a big catch in July by adding Hamrlik, Smolinski, Kostopoulos, and Brisebois. There were no home runs hit, but the 4 additions were solid and helped the Canadiens in different ways at different times. At the deadline, Huet was let go to create room and bring on the Carey Price era. Results were immediate, but later tempered. Having Huet around in the end might not have hurt when Price tired, but that is the nature of taking a calculated risk. Gainey resisted selling the farm for Marian Hossa when the stakes reached an insane cost, a wise move that fit in with his poised nature. What Gainey has been busy building is still being built, and the promise looks tantalizingly good. B+

Guy Carbonneau:

Constantly learning on the job, Carbonneau's faults will always gain more print that his merits. It was evident by season's end that he didn't take notice of his goalie's workload or the effect it was having on his play. He might need to work on managing his personel on the fly. He stuck with lineups when his team won ugly and failed to tinker with it when it lost competitively. All that being said, he did many things well, including letting youngsters play and develop and earning better respect and responce from the veterans he counted on. B