Its the same every year. Its what happens when the slate is wiped clean. A new year brings forth the debate over which team will end up where, who will emerge as a star, and who will struggle. The pundits all proclaim the standings before a game is played, largely based on the previous year’s standings, and the off-season moves. Stock is given to those who haven’t earned a thing, while some players are written off before their time.
Its futile really. Our own team is evidence enough of that in the past few seasons. No one expected them to win the conference in 07-08 after missing out on the playoffs the season before. The next year was supposed to be Montreal’s coming out party. It was a dud with an inglorious first round exit. Not a person around saw what came last season before it did. On CBC’s playoff preview show PJ Stock predicted the Habs “will be eliminated in 3” by the Capitals. The point? Pundits are BS.
This is the time of year when the pundits try to reason why teams like the Leafs who are “stacked on defense” will raise higher than the Canadiens. Just don’t mention the fact that between the D-Corps, the Leafs’ “stacked” D finished with a plus/minus of -46 last season. They’ll speak about the glorious rise of the Oilers, or how the Canucks are once again “LOCKS” for their first cup. Its hilarious really. In the end the law of averages kicks in. Teams that are deep and stay relatively healthy will do well. Teams that aren’t deep and can’t keep healthy will struggle. Its that simple.
I’m not writing this to dump on the Leafs or to complain that the Canadiens have been once again slighted by the media after showing what a healthy squad is capable of. There are many intangibles that could make this a great or terrible year. The space between the two on most teams is not that large. The best part of the pre-season is in fact, that everyone has a chance. Rookies dream about being one of the few that get asked to stick with the club. Veterans who struggled promise to be better. I’ve said it before but its all talk. You can make all the noise in training camp that you want, but in the end – the roster is largely set and what we have, we go to war with.
That said – I do like our team this season. We have a solid mix of youth and experience on the lineup. While Lars Eller is quietly becoming the anointed favorite son of the media and fans, I think that the real difference will still come from Plex, Gionta, Gomez and Cammy. Pouliot and AK46 will be on trial. If Eller or someone from the group of bottom 6 forwards can emerge – great. Markov will get healthy and will continue to be the best defenseman NOT named Lidstrom since the lockout. Look up the numbers – they don’t lie. Hamrlik and Spacek will both provide solid veteran leadership, and if Martin can give them a day off here and there while limiting them to under 20 mins a game – Montreal will be in great shape. Gorges and Gill have hit their stride. I’ll take them as my shut down pairing any day of the week. If O’B can keep things simple I still believe he has the size and make-up to be a solid NHLer. Subban has already shown he’s got the tools, but I’m excited to see what an extra year of conditioning and maturing will do for his game.
In the end the lineup is good. While the rest of the world debates whether or not we’re a playoff team – I won’t. We are – as long as a lot of things go our way – just like every other club in the conference.
Our largest question mark is clearly whether or not Carey Price is the answer in net. The fact is, there are a lot of teams that have question marks in net. It is the perennial question for every club in the league – Can we get good goaltending? From that perspective aren’t MOST of the teams in our conference asking themselves that same question? How is the goaltending situation in Washington? How about Philly? Ottawa? Tampa Bay? I could go on. Price, and the rest of Montreal just need to remember that Carey doesn’t need to be Roy in ’93. Price needs to give his team the same type of numbers that he’s put up his whole career, and let them worry about the rest. The reality is that it will be up to the Habs offense to score more than 2 goals a game. If they can’t do that – then it doesn’t matter if its Price, Halak or Ken Dryden in net.
Tonight the pre-season gets underway and within a few days the hockey world will have at least a few measuring sticks with which to gauge the up-coming season. Still.. Games that matter will not begin until October. Until then, we’ll have to endure more of the prognostication and propaganda about which team is destined to raise the cup, and which will not. Its at this time of the year when I am reminded of one of my father’s favorite sayings: “There is a reason they play the games.”