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Enduring the 2008-09 Habs: Part III — Worthless Blaming, Who's Accountable?

Higs_bgl

As he is the man in chargeI, it is tempting to pile all blame for the for the Canadiens disastrous season directly on Bob Gainey's head. But I have to ask, how can he be at fault and responsible for the suckerpunches fate delivered along the way.

Back about 86 hockey games ago, bringing in Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang and Georges Laraque to prop up the team's needs looked like a job well done by GM Gainey.

I still agree with those moves being the right ones at the time, and so would many readers, if they stopped to check their rear view mirrors. Those moves still looked darned good at the All Star break.

I'd say that it is fair that Gainey could still better explain his going behind the bench at a risky point in the season, but with the events that occured afterwards, I cannot say that Guy Carbonneau would have fared better.

Gainey will be barked at for being inactive at the trade deadline once more, when he in fact made two good moves in adding Schneider to fix the PP, and bringing in a fourth line vet the quality of Glen Metropolis. Simply put, there were no homeruns a la Marian Hossa to be hit this March.

If there is any organizational blame to be placed, the firing of Carbonneau still reeks of a panic move. We'll never know what would have unfolded has he been retained, but it's unlikely much would have changed.

Many of the players will be outright castigated by the media, starting with captain Koivu and Alex Kovalev, and it won't all be fair either. Koivu, although it is often brought up that he is aging, has kept up his usual points per game ratio for another season. Perception is often the problem with Koivu, as he has never been ably surrounded. This would have been the season where Koivu should have played with a top quality winger in Tanguay and been spared a heavier workload to to better center depth with Lang's addition. Circumstance prevented such, but here was Koivu in this playoff, three assist in four games, and throwing more hits on Zdeno Chara than Georges Laraque. Koivu does burn out late in games where he's overtaxed, but gives it everything he has up until then.

Koivu was the top pointing center on the club, but some wish he'd go away. I wish they would.

Koivu

Kovalev this season has been average, absent and awesome - all in that order. The Canadiens have no other gamebreaker quite like him. He needs to be resigned and also supported by talent of equal quality. Of course, he has the frustratingly maddening habit of needing Gainey's psychoanalysis every so often, but as long as it works and he can continue to produce, he's a keeper.

Kovalev, the team's leading goal scorer and point getter, could have been better this season and playoffs. So could the circumstances.

Kovalev and Koivu are but two of a large group of impending free agents that many point to as having been a deterrent to the team. So many players without a contract can be a distraction, but it can also be motivational for the individuals involved. There's also a competitive element within the team ranks that can go from it being a uniting source to a detrimental one. Players without deals can also play in fear and selflessness.

The large number of UFA's likely became a distraction after other problems arose. Fingers will be pointed at Gainey for this, as it is he who put the club in that particular predicament. On the other side, he can't very well pick and chose or play favorites with players for fear of alienating others. Today, no one can say that it was a risk that paid off.

One player who received a significant raise last season did no better, and proved in a sense that having a deal in pocket doesn't neccessarily guarantee peace of mind and solid play. Andrei Kostitsyn, a player with 40 goal potential, was a major disappointment after tearing in up in training camp. On many nights, the big Belarusian looked blatantly noncommittal.

For Mike Komisarek, the club's youngest unrestricted free agent, the season was an unqualified mess. His worth to the team will be the wildestly debated, as his value is clearly attached to blueline general Andrei Markov. Komisarek at times, has been viewed as future captain material, but his weaknesses received great exposure this season. The connundrum in assessing both Komisarek's worth or his blame in the grander scheme is a tough call, because he often makes his most flagrant mistakes by trying to do too much and be too many things at once. One thing is certain, no one an ever accuse him of not having his team at heart.

Can the Canadiens now stand back and let another team assess his value. As it looks now, I'm dreadfully afraid that he is worth more to another team.

It is hard not to like all of Alex Tanguay's skill. With just one season under his belt in Montreal, Tanguay was both greatly appreciated and dearly missed at crucial points. Although he finished with a team high plus 13, it hasn't taken long for general assessments to agree that he can be a soft player at times, but he can also be the grease that allows certain offensive wheels to turn. Koivu and Kovalev, for name's sake, are better players with him. Affording all three is the sticking point.

Tanguay absense for over thirty games likely cost the Canadiens a higher position in the standings.

Robert Lang was a delight to get to know for 50 games. He turns 39 fifteen days after the Canadiens 100th birthday. His injury, coming after those to Koivu, Komisarek and Tanguay, became the turning point that directed the team towards the ditch on February 1.

The question begs - is Lang an affordable option for his age after an achilles tendon injury, one of the hardest to recover from in all of pro sports? Sadly, he is unlikely to return, given the risks involved.

Tomas Plekanec and Chris Higgins both graduated to the Canadiens at about the same time, and as young veterans on the club, were expected to shore up the workload of older vets with much more authority. As restricted free agents come July, both were great disappoinments after seasons in which they were solid contributors to the team cause.

It is quite fair to suggest that the pair have been overevaluated and have plateaued. Higgins is at best a 20 goal scorer headed for third line duty. His 25 game absence began more felt as his replacement, Matt D' Agostini tailed off after initial being on fire. Higgins is quite like compatriot Komisarek, in that he often tries to do too much with the team at heart. While he seems injury prone, he is still a keeper if employed properly and given reasonable expectations and goals.

Plekanec would have played in all 82 Canadiens games had a suspension for a slewfoot not put him out for two. Health all season long, it could be said that Plekanec was so, for lack of a physical presense in games. No player regressed more this past season than he. In fairness, his line mates of a season prior - Kovalev and Kostitsyn - were of little help, as they also hit the skids in tune with their centerman. Plekanec was the Habs most mysterious disappearing act on the year, but he did enjoy a hellish pace for a two week stretch in mid March, but his play in the final weeks looks to have made him an expendable option.

His play, combined with Higgins lacklustre showings in mid season, Kostitsyn's ozone disappearance, and Komisarek's ups and downs, left a huge gap between the veterans consistency and the rookie and sophomore contributions that oftentimes swayed from fair to worse.

The four named individuals let the team down as far as expectations went.

Beyond the important UFA's and RFA's, the most crucial player in the Canadiens fate was goaltender Carey Price.

To consider Price's season fairly, one must first acknowledge that the city of Montreal has been blessed beyond belief with goalie greatness and achievement. The thread of Vezina, Hainsworth, Durnan, Plante, Worsley, Dryden and Roy is unparalleled in any hockey city. It is into these skate boots, that a young Price stepped into, expectations multiplied to unlikelyhood.

Fair assessments will suggest Prive was rushed. Better memories will proclaim that his performances at timely stages in fact pushed his progression ahead of the normal learning curve. Common sense dictates that he is still a great prospect that the Canadiens must be cautious with.

There is no individual statistic that shows a team failings more than the goals against average stat. There is no stat unlike shots on goal that can absolve a goaltender. As the last line of defense, the goalie always bares the brunt of criticism most. It is probably the unfairest notion in hockey.

Rushing to judge Price in these terms, has little rationale. In many ways, the Canadiens in the future, must do a better job of managing his talent, or they will be seeing alot of Jablonski, Tugnutt, Fiset and Fichaud types passing through Montreal in coming years.

The most important and precious piece of the entire puzzle remains Andrei Markov. One question - why wait two years to extend his contract a season or two or three?

Players and contributors not mentioned thus far, have not made or broken the Canadiens season.

Maxim Lapierre became a better player when needed.

Guillaume Latendresse has also grown as an NHL'er.

Josh Gorges gives everything he's got and more, in the face of fierce adversaries, and willingly absorbes the beating, all smiles.

Jaroslav Halak has an upside that may never be discoverd until he leaves Montreal.

Roman Hamrlik is still tough most nights, but has begun to show the inconsistancy, consistant with that of an aging veteran with lots of miles.

Sergei Kostitsyn and Ryan O'Byrne regressed, as do many sophomores. The jury is still out.

Mathieu Schneider, as pleasant a late season acquisition as he was, still mans a powerplay with some command, but is too slow to be a top four rearguard in the league.

Tom Kostopoulos and Glen Metropolit are salt of the earth guys that make for great veteran depth.

Mathieu Dandeneault, as a veteran accepting his role, is a valuable and precious commodity. As an unhappy camper, he deserves a place to play where he is appreciated.

Georges Laraque - the Canadiens must have signed his imposter.

Francis Bouillon I've loved in a Canadiens jersey for a decade. he is perseverance exemplified. That said, if he is still a Montreal Canadien next season, I doubt they are a better team. That's not a knock on a player who always gives his best.

Matt D'Agostini has the shot, but needs to round out in almost every other area. He's a better player on a lesser club, I'm afraid.

Patrice Brisebois has been equal to himself - courageous beyond his own intelligence and capability.

Yannick Weber needs only to ditch the football jersey number to look like a regular. Welcome to the NHL kid.

Max Pacioretty, a great prospect, needs another season of getting used to longer seasons.

Kyle Chipchura, slowed from injuries passed, is likely not to be heard from again. Likeable, he just cannot bring enough to arouse an argument in his case.

Gregory Stewart - the more I see of him the less I know.

Ben Maxwell is blessed with good talent and a bunch of smarts. His task is learning the centerman position at the NHL level for a small guy. My bet is that he makes it somewhere, if not in the CH.

Alex Henry and Doug Janik weren't around long enough to put sugars in their cups of coffee.

Long ago, I took a girl to an overnight date in Montreal, and she had her period. So did Marc Denis.

Seven or ten of these players will undoubtedly not be back.