2009 Montreal Canadiens Fantasy Preview
Who was that man wearing the receding Bob Gainey wig?
What happened to patient team building? Build the core from within? Remain cap flexible?
In a little over 24 hours, Gainey remade the face of a franchise and changed the perception of himself. Although Gainey failed to land Vincent Lecavalier, he upgraded the Canadiens talent level significantly and with that, their 2009 fantasy impact.
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Will the Canadiens score? Yes. Do not confuse Jacques Martin for Jacques Lemaire. Over his 12 year career Martin's teams have averaged a 12th place finish in defensive AND offensive efficiency. When provided with offensive talent like Doug Gilmour, Alexei Yashin, Daniel Alfredsson and Marian Hossa, his teams have been more productive offensively, than defensively (see chart between 2000 - 2004). Martin has produced ten 80+ point players in his 14 years while defensively, outside of Ron Tugnutt in 1999 and Patrick Lalime in 2003, Martin has not been able to insulate his goaltenders from their weaknesses as only three of his goaltenders have cracked the top 10 in goaltending efficiency. Even when he had an elite goaltender in Roberto Luongo he barely cracked the top 15 defensively.
The perception exists that Price will benefit and Cammalleri will suffer. His coaching history suggests otherwise. Price remains a Vezina waiting to happen. With the talent level on the Canadiens and his continued maturity, his numbers will improve. Don't sleep on the offensive talent in Montreal, Martin's philosophy is not set in stone and he will adapt to the teams offensive strengths.
It is no coincidence that Andrei Markov's ascension has coincided with a potent powerplay in Montreal. His point total has increased for five straight seasons (2005-06 he had a higher PPG average than 2007) and he is among the best fantasy options on defense. Markov's production increased each quarter from a low of .70 PPG in the first quarter to a high of .89 PPG during the playoff drive. Entering his prime, Markov's status as the number one defenseman and place on the number one powerplay unit are unchallenged. This underrated superstar posseses an elite offensive skill set and barring injury should equal or better his 2009 campaign.
The perception exists that Mike Cammalleri's 43 goals were built on the back of Jarome Iginla. Was his 80 pt campaign built on the back of Alexander Frolov? Who was propping him up at Michigan and Manchester? Geoff Koch? Tom Kostopolous? His intelligence and anticipation combined with his excellent finishing skills lead me to believe he is not in for a career regression at the age of 27. He may take some time to adjust to his new surroundings as he did in Calgary (.80 PPG in the first quarter, followed by 1.0+ PPG for the final three quarters), but he is among the fantasy elite left wingers.
Is there a player in the NHL with more pressure on their shoulders entering 2010 than Carey Price? The bus tire marks on his back are still fresh, so it is easy for those with fantasy tunnel vision to forget 75% of his season. Outside of his horrific February, Price registered a SV% of .916 or better in the remaining three quarters. At 22 his anticipation, puck tracking, gap closure and confidence are all works in progress. He is still relying on his natural ability and will grow into a franchise goalie as he matures. I anticipate more growing pains in 2010, but one need look no further than the statistical struggles of Cam Ward before he put it all together last season to understand that 2009 was part of the growth process.
Did the 7 Million dollar man collapse under the scrutiny of his bloated contract? Was it Tom Renney's restrictive system and lack of elite goal scoring talent around him? Or was he moping over the shutdown of Scores in Manhatten? Gainey has gambled that reuniting Scott Gomez with Brian Gionta and aligning him with a complimentary scorer like Mike Cammalleri will reignite the offensive upside in his game. If that doesn't work, there is always Chez Paree. The Canadiens have speed to kill and adding Gomez's vision and passing skills to that of Markov and Spacek could lead to a dominant powerplay. A healthy campaign should see him return to the 70 point range.
With the acquisition of Brian Gionta the Canadiens opened themselves up to the criticism of being to small. If size was the biggest determining factor for NHL success, this profile would be highlighting Pierre Dagenais, and not the 5'7" Gionta. With Gionta's dogged determination and energy, he will become a fan favourite. The perception is that he is inconsistent, but the outlier in his career is the 89 point season. At 30 years old the smart bet is a return to the 50-60 point range that he has settled into over the last 4 seasons.
Through 55 games, Andrei Kostitsyn had 38 points and was on pace for 56 points (a 3 point improvement on his breakout campaign, even though "L'artiste" and the "little girl" had booked 2009 off). From February 13-19th he posted 7 points in 4 games (4G, 3A). On February 20th La Presse ran an article implicating him in illegal activities. From Feb 21-Apr 22 Kostitsyn produced 4 points in 21 games. Let me see Puck Prospectus use that as a comparable in predicting future outcomes. Off ice distractions likely affected his production over the last 20 games. Because of this he is outside of the fantasy tunnel vision and a prime candidate for a breakthrough season and a potential sleeper.
Why didn't Gainey just hand Jaroslav Spacek sweater number 32? The Canadiens underestimated the importance of Mark Streit's departure and brought in the veteran Czech to help reignite the Canadiens league leading PP which dropped to 13th. Spacek has terrific passing skills and over his last 2 seasons has produced a 45 pt pace. With first unit powerplay minutes the only thing that may hamper his production is his propensity to get injured. Spacek has only managed to play 80+ games 3 times during his 10 NHL seasons and is 35 years old, so buyer beware. Unless you see him sharing "vitamins" with Chris Chelios, his production is not likely to increase.
There are two ways to look at Tomas Plekanec's progression charts. 1. From 2006-2008 he consistently improved, culminating in his 69 pt breakout season. Last season was a blip in his progression and he will return to his 2008 form. 2. 2008 was his anomaly, and his production is more in line with his other three seasons. Plekanec has excellent speed and his instincts and intelligence help in his playmaking ability. His lack of physical strength and him labeling himself a "little girl" have not helped the league wide perception that he is soft. Plekanec will not be provided the same powerplay minutes and first line ice time he received during his breakout campaign, but the Habs offensive weakness down the middle will provide him with the opportunity to bounce back from a dismal 2009. Sit and wait out his first 10-15 games and if he gets hot early, pounce on the waiver wire.
The apprenticeship of Guillaume Latendresse continues. There is no doubt he has the hands, sense and size to be an offensive force in the NHL, but is his skating an issue? After watching Dave Andreychuk ankle burn his way to 600+ goals, my guess is no. The real question is if Montreal will have the patience to see the ascension through? At 22, Latendresse has struggled with consistency. When he figures out how to utilize his offensive tools as well as his physical ones, he will fulfill his power forward potential. He is unlikely to make a fantasy impact from the 3rd line, but keep an eye on his linemates. If he finds himself with Gomez, Plekanec or Cammalleri? He could surprise. Most likely a patient keeper league stash for 2010.
Sergei Kostitsyn was a huge dissappointment in 2009. After a surprisingly productive rookie year as a 20 year old, Sergei suffered through a horrible sophomore campaign. His indifferent attitude and sense of entitlement all came to a head when he was implicated in criminal activity in La Presse. The Canadiens sent Kostitsyn down to Hamilton for disciplinary reasons and after pouting for 4 games, he rebounded with 13 points in his last 12 and a return to Montreal. Kostitsyn has great offensive potential and has scored at every level including 131 points in his final season in London and 35 points in 38 games in the AHL. If Kostitsyn can focus on the ice instead of the vodka he has long term keeper potential.
The Montreal Canadiens have one of the best minor league systems in the NHL. They have consistently landed in the top 5 rankings over the last 5 seasons and continue to produce NHL players every season. Trevor Timmins has done a strong job of stockpiling talent for the farm and continues to produce NHL talent with mid level draft choices. Although the Canadiens have plenty of prospects, outside of Carey Price, they have failed to produce any potential fantasy superstars. The Fantasy Gangster has stockpiled their top 5 fantasy prospects entering 2010.
The Canadiens continual quest to land a power forward looks to be over. Max Pacioretty like all power forwards is a work in progress and once he figures out how to use his frame effectively on the NHL level he has the potential to be an All-Star. Unlike Latendresse, Pacioretty is a strong skater with quick feet who is capable of scoring goals off the rush as well as dominate in the scoring areas. After a strong rookie campaign for the Michigan Wolverines in which he posted 39 points in 37 games Pacioretty decided to turn pro. An impressive camp almost landed him in Montreal, but his waiver eligibility resulted in him being shipped to Hamilton. He is ready for the NHL right now, but like Latendresse will not reach his fantasy potential until he finds himself on the top 2 lines. He is a definite keeper league stash and could top 80 pts and 100 PIMs in the future.
Marc Streit part deux? Yanic Weber entered the fantasy radar after his second season with the Kitchener Rangers when he posted 55 points in 59 games (17 in 17 playoff games). Weber quarterbacked the OHL champion Rangers PP and earned an OHL second team All-Star. Weber also stepped in to the Bulldogs lineup as an 19 year old and established himself as their top defenseman earning himself a spot on the AHL All Rookie team, an AHL All-Star appearance and winning the Hardest shot competition with a blast of 99.2 MPH. He has a cannonading shot from the point and the elite offensive tools to get top PP minutes in the NHL. With the Canadiens off season signings of Paul Mara, Jaroslav Spacek and Hal Gill he will likely begin the season in Hamilton. But if he continues to progress at his current rate, the Habs may attempt to deal Roman Hamrlik opening up some valuable cap space to resign Carey Price. If Spacek goes down early, Weber could make an impact in 2010.
PJ Subban is a dynamic offensive talent with a huge personality and because of an outstanding two weeks last December is now overrated. He is not overrated in the terms in which he is not an elite prospect, but the expectation level that he created on a national stage is likely unmatchable. Pat Quinn did a fantastic job of placing the energetic Subban in a position for success by playing him as a forward. Over a short tournament Subban's exuberance, speed, dedication and willingness to get his nose dirty produced a TSN star. Subban still possesses a steep learning curve to become a complete NHL level defender and with Gainey's latest shopping spree and an NHL ready prospect in Yanic Weber, Subban is likely to remain in Hamilton this season. Subban is a raw stallion oozing potential that when fully trained, has the skillset to be an offensive fantasy star.
Ben Maxwell earns this spot on his position alone. Although he does have a strong offensive toolset, Maxwell's biggest opportunity lies in the lack of offensive depth in the Canadiens system. His peers Maxim Lapierre and Kyle Chipchura project out as 3rd and 4th liners and with Tomas Plekanec becoming a UFA after the 2010 season, Maxwell could find himself in a scoring role as soon as next season. Maxwell has suffered through injury problems, possibly costing him a 2007 WHL scoring title as well as limiting him to 31 games in his final CHL campaign, but Maxwell acquitted himself well in his rookie campaign in Hamilton with 58 points in 73 games. That output earned him a 7 game stint in Montreal and a 3rd place finish among AHL rookies. If Plekanec falters Maxwell could get an NHL run much earlier than expected.
With the fifth prospect I am swinging for the fences. Names like Matt D'Agostini, Kyle Chipchura, Maxim Trunev, Steve Quailer and Danny Kristo do not produce any fantasy excitement for me. For me it is your definitive late round long shot, I could settle for the 60 pt offensive top side or I can roll the dice on a Trevor Timmins project pick that left him gushing like Cytherea after the draft. An explosive skater with creativity and elite puck skills, his potential piqued my interest. After producing 110 pts for Moscow Dynamo's second team and optimistic comparisons to Alexander Ovechkin I will be following the KHL closely this season to track Avtsin's progress.