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What’s going on with the Montreal Canadiens?

  1. #1 PACTUM SERVA says:
    August 9, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Good read: A lot of questions headed into unrestricted free agency centered on who would replace Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay, and Alex Kovalev had the Habs passed on them, or had they decided to move on from Montreal. We didn’t have to wait until July 1st to get our answers, as Scott Gomez was added to the fold, and shortly after Mike Cammalleri, and Brian Gionta signed long-term deals with the Canadiens. But one player left the lineup well before the offseason began, and oddly no one put much thought into who could adequately replace him.

    I’m talking about Steve Begin. For the first time in 5 years, there will be no discussion when training camp rolls around about whether, or not Steve Begin is assured a spot on the team. But that discussion, held annually, has great relevance in explaining what was so special about Begin’s time with the Canadiens.

    If there is a player in the league whose work ethic could never be called into question, it’s Begin. In his time in Montreal, Begin consistently had to earn the respect of the fans with his aggressive style, his leadership, and his humility through long stretches of sitting out games despite long losing streaks.

    Long stints on the sidelines due to injury, illness, and a lack of conviction on Guy Carbonneau’s behalf helped feed the opinion that Begin was incapable of being a regular on a team that lacked serious character on any given night, over the last couple of seasons. Yet, loyal Begin fans knew what he could consistently provide, and the others followed suit in chanting his name with each return to the Bell Centre ice; each opportunity to prove his coach, and others, wrong. How often does a fourth-liner skate his shifts to echoes of his name throughout the building?

    Begin’s grit is worn on his face. Our memories will log his concentrated grin, his ferocity in killing off the 2-man advantage, and his competitiveness in battles where the odds were stacked against him. While Montrealers quickly forget the value he brought to the Canadiens, Peter Chiarelli, and the Boston Bruins knew exactly what they were bargaining for when they signed him in early July. Currently, Alex Tanguay, Mathieu Dandenault, Francis Bouillon, Mathieu Schneider, and Patrice Brisebois are still seeking valid offers for their services. How many other fourth-line players were signed in the first days of July? How many others sit in similar situations to the 5-ex Canadiens above?

    In the meantime, those Montrealers who forgot Begin, and are happy to move on from his services, will be reminded on 6 different occasions this season of why they chanted his name on so many nights (particularly against the team he now has a spot on).

    All love for Begin aside, Canadiens fans can thank Bob Gainey for obtaining an upgrade on him in Travis Moen. In all categories, Moen fills what would be a massive hole if the Canadiens didn’t replace the heart and effort that Steve Begin brought on a nightly basis. And those characteristics that Moen has ingrained in his play will see him take Begin’s adulation from the fans as well. But, in an era of hockey where loyalty to the crest on the front of a jersey is as hard to find as a healthy choice at your local McDonald’s, no one in Montreal should forget about Steve Begin, nor should anyone abstain from paying him the respect he deserves when he plays his first game back at the Bell Centre as a part of the Canadiens’ greatest rival.

  2. #2 Avatar37 says:
    August 9, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Pactum – Hello, nice to see another poster on here. I really enjoyed your post on Begin, in my case, however, it’s preaching to the choir. I’ve always been a big fan of Begin, for all the reasons you listed. He was the spark plug, the one player that gave 100% every shift, every game, no matter if he was sick, no matte the score, no matter who it was against.

    He was never going to be a 30 goal scorer but that wasn’t his role on the team. I was personally saddened when he was traded, as one of my favourite players on the team. If only *everyone* on the team had that kind of heart, drive, and desire to do anything to win! Can you imagine if Kovalev had had Begin’s heart and desire?

    You cannot win games without heart and we gave up alot of heart, it would have been interesting to have seen him on a line with Moen and Metropolit. I did not know he signed with the Bruins, it is of no surprise to me that Claude Julien wanted him on his team again. I wish Begin all the best luck in the world (except against my team!), and I know I won’t like seeing him in black and gold when he should be wearing bleu blanc et rouge.

  3. #3 Avatar37 says:
    August 10, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    From TSN:

    “The Montreal Canadiens have signed restricted free agent Gregory Stewart to a one-year contract.”

    While I am glad that Stewart is back, what is with the 1 year contracts? The rumour that I heard is that he signed for $500,000 , which is great, but personally, I would have liked to have seen a 4-5 year contract. Now, we have to negotiate all over again next year with him to stay, and risk losing him, for what? I know he’s not a superstar, but he definitely can fight and is tough, and seems to be a good component to this club. So, why just 1 year?

  4. #4 PACTUM SERVA says:
    August 10, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I dont think Gainey wants to take on anymore long contracts with the big ones he already has. Who knows what the cap will do next year. I think it is just Gainey playing it safe. With Price’s contract comming up Gainey might need to keep some money aside…….that is if the “Price” is right. Sorry i just had to say it lol.

  5. #5 Mats Naslund says:
    August 11, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    The Stewart signing is great for habs fans who will now watch Moen and Stewart be effective at what Kostopoulos and Begin attempted to do in their time here. That is no slight to those two, as there isn’t a person who watches the team that doesn’t see the energy and commitment that B and K brought to the Canadiens in the last few seasons – however Stewart and Moen will provide the protection that our team will need against teams like Toronto and Boston this year. Last year no one feared us (especially when Laraque was down). This year teams won’t have that option.

    As for the term of the contract, I think it was a fantastic idea to sign Stewie short term. The contract is for the league min of $500,000. No player will sign for that little $$$ for any more than one season. If Gainey had tried to sign him for 3 or 4 years it would have cost him significantly more for this season. As it stands, we got an effective 4th line player for cheap. If he plays well this year, there will be no hesitation on Gainey’s part to sign him for more money for a few years. It allows Gainey flexibility next season when Metropolit’s contract expires.

  6. #6 Mats Naslund says:
    August 12, 2009 at 11:50 am

    I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you guys are all as sick of August as I am. Don’t get me wrong, I love not shoveling my driveway as much as the next guy. But as far as hockey is concerned (and that is my MAIN concern), August is the most brutal month of them all. There is only so many times a day you can refresh in order to find out nothing new about the NHL.

    In that spirit I want to lead the conversation away from Heatley or Zerdhev and towards something I find really interesting about running a hockey team. At the draft this past July The Montreal Canadiens made an enormous deal to acquire the last pick of the draft from the Penguins (sending a 6th round pick next year) in order to select a goalie by the name of Petteri Simila. Ok the move itself wasn’t enormous but Simila does stand 6’6″, so that is close enough for me. What is interesting about the selection is what goes into the decision process when you make a VERY late round selection such as this one.

    Simila was the backup goalie for the Finnish Junior squad Oulun Karpat last season. He had 17 appearances and a 3.61 GAA. The move left many people scratching their heads. Why would Gainey use a draft pick to make such a late selection? One reason is that by selecting him in the draft, the Canadiens can own his rights without having to use one of their allowed 50 contracts in the franchise. The real answer however, is in the Islanders 2nd round selection (31 overall) this year – Mikko Koskinen. The Canadiens passed on selecting him late in last season’s draft (because of the perceived depth at goalie in the organization), only to watch him become a bonafide prospect this year. The picture becomes much clearer when you consider that Jaroslav Halak was a 9th round pick (when the draft went that high) in 2003. Consider also the fact that Sergei Kostitsyn was a 7th round pick in 2005, and you find that Trevor Timmins is SERIOUS when it comes to finding talent before anyone else does. All of these players, if given the chance to develop for one more season would have been higher round picks in the next season’s draft. While not all late round selections pan out, no one could argue that the tactic hasn’t been successful for Gainey et al thus far.

    So why Simila? Other than his obvious physical potential, Timmins also considered the fact that Simila comes from the same Finnish team that produced Niklas Backstrom, and the same goalie coach that produced Pekka Rinne. Clearly, Simila has a lot of work to do before he calls Montreal home, but it is interesting to see the kind of calculated risks that the management make when choosing late round players. Simila has been drafted by the Niagara Ice Dogs, and could potentially play in the OHL next season. I for one would love the opportunity to be able to watch his development from up close, although another year in Finland couldn’t hurt – especially since he will be considered for the U-20 team this season. This single transaction is an example of the planning and preparation that goes into making the kind of low risk – high reward scenarios that can make an organization successful in the long run.

    Side note: Simila joins Jason Missiaen (6’8″), in a growing (sorry for the pun) Canadiens goalie depth chart.

  7. #7 Avatar37 says:
    August 12, 2009 at 8:49 pm


    I thought I was the only one doing that with … I’m sure you’ve seen my comments there too, not that I comment in every article, but I do post occasionally. Mind you, as amusing as that is, it is impossible to get into any sort of real discussion on that site, which is why I find it so pleasant here, to be able to talk about Habs stuff with fellow fans.

    Having learned to play hockey in Finland as a young Canadian, I am glad to see more Finns being drafted. Out of all the European countries, the Finns play the closest style of hockey to Canadians. While Finland doesn’t produce the number of skilled players that, say, Russia does (with the odd exception like Selanne), Finnish players certainly play with alot more heart and determination, and play a game that I prefer to watch.

    I’d say the Canadiens have *had* to become good at finding late round talent (although, perhaps, not as good as the Wings, but is anyone?) because we typically don’t draft better than what, 15th? (This year 18, then going backwards by year, 28th (traded to Calgary), 12th (McDonaugh who got traded), 16th (swapped with SJ), 5th (Carey Price via lockout lottery), 18th (Chipchura), 10th (A Kostitsyn), 14th (Higgins), 7th (Komisarek, right behind Mikko Koivu), 13th (Hainsey lost via waivers), 10th (traded to Islanders) (interestingly, that made our 2nd round pick our first selection [Alexander Burtulin at 39th] when we could have had Auld (40) Mike Commodore (42) Leopold (44) Mike Comrie (91) or Ryan Malone (115)…

    Sometimes it’s interesting to look at past drafts but I digress. The whole point of that was to say, our average draft position over the past decade has been 15.1, and if you take out the draft lottery year, it falls to 16.2 There aren’t too many superstars being drafted that far down in the draft (Havlat being an exception, drafted in the 26th spot by the Senators in 99). I still maintain that the only way to draft a genuine star and have him under contract with enough money to build a team around him (ie: Crosby and the Penguins) is to draft one, and that will only happen if you finish last/2nd last in the league, ergo we could use a good 4 or 5 years of rebuilding and having good picks. I have enough patience to wait for a winning product, but unfortunately, I don’t think the fan base does.

    We have goalies in the organization that are 6’6″, and 6’8″? That almost borders the ridiculous. It’s hard to imagine someone with that size having the flexibility and mobility required to be an NHL goaltender, although perhaps if you’re that big, you can just take up so much of the net as to not require much movement … I thought Price was big at 6’3″.

    I do think picking up Sanford heralds a trade involving Halak. It will be a shame to lose him, however, he deserves a chance to become a starting NHL goalie and that won’t happen behind Price. I also think Halak has been very patient about waiting for his chance, too, instead of complaining publicly, he hasn’t said a word and has performed well when called upon. Sanford will supply the veteran backup role who can help mentor Price without expecting to be the starting goaltender. It reminds me of the Theodore/Hackett situation, with Hackett being traded so that Theo could “know” he was the #1 and not play with as much pressure on him (we all know how well *that* turned out, and I still think we got ripped off in the trade, only getting Sundstrom and a 3rd round pick for Hackett). Hackett/Huet/Halak… All good goaltenders.

    Ok, I’m about ready for snow and hockey, bring on the start of the season!

  8. #8 habknot says:
    August 14, 2009 at 12:34 am

    Avatar, I think Sanford is Hamilton bound, barring a fantastic fall. He is injury insurance. I agree about draft picks. I guess what we want is immediate success with these veterans, and a slow decline while their contracts wind down, then a horrible year as our young guys all play and form a nucleus for a star to lead us home ( with Price, Kots, Lats, Stew, Subban etc.. all wiley veterans by then.

    Nice analysis (as usual) Mats. There is a model for excellence without high draft picks out there. Is Dan Cleary the highest draft pick playing in Det right now? That’s another key to development, don’t lose sight of potential, and look at the uses for the current skillset (note to all you Lats and Kots detractors).

    Anyway, we should start wild rumours just to gear up for the season!
    Happy Heat Wave!

  9. #9 Mats Naslund says:
    August 26, 2009 at 11:40 am

    What a crazy development in the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy fiasco yesterday. For those who may not have heard, Jerry Riensdorf has dropped out of the bid citing difficulties with an “unmotivated seller”. I guess thats what a seller feels like when a ‘motivated buyer’ tries to low-ball bid and make arangements with Glendale to accept none of the risks that the NHL had forced on Moyes.

    The realy interesting news came later in the day when the NHL announced that it would enter the bidding process itself. Am I the only one with loud-ass, glaring warning bells going off in my head? Throughout this whole process the NHL has talked about its process for ownership, and how Balsillie has been deemed an unsatisfactory owner because of his efforts to circumvent NHL rules. This new development raises a host of questions that the NHL will have to answer starting with:

    1. How does the NHL Board of Governors vote to deny Balsillies application hold any merit if the NHL is itself bidding on the process? That vote has got to be null and void by now. At best it is a conflict of interest, and at worst illegal. The NHL has repeatedly attempted to assert that its rules should be respected by the courts. The only problem is that the NHL has only followed its own rules as it has been convenient. Should Balsillie lose in the auction process he is going to have one heck of an anti-trust case against the NHL.

    2. Where does the money for the Coyotes bid come from? Will the owners wan to pony up $250 million+ (the bid + player salaries + operating costs) to support a franchise with a terrible lease deal and no prospects of profit? Its easy to forget but the NHL is funded by the owners AND the players. Has the NHLPA been consulted as to whether they want to be involved with purchase of the Pheonix franchise?

    3.How will the NHL decide how much to spend on the Coyotes cap? If you’re the Thrashers or Panthers or Kings are you going to be happy if the NHL decides to spend to the cap? How does the NHL justify only spending to the cap floor if their ultimate goal is to make hockey relevant in Phoenix? The NHL is funded by the owners AND players. If you were an NHL player whose contract was up next season, would you want cash strapped owners all fighting to spend to the cap floor in order to sustain a team in Phoenix – or would you want a team in a successfull market generating all kinds of revenue thereby boosting league revenue during a recession which has seen players give back huge portions of salary in escrow payments? Would th NHLPA have a case against the NHL if it is willfully in breach of the CBA by intentionally keeping revenues low by continuing to pour real money into a terrible situation in Phoenix?

    4. Many are speculating that the NHL will simply sell to Reinsdorf once they are clear of the Bankruptcy court’s jurisdiction. With all of the talk recently focused on the ethicality of Jim Balsillie and his “side-door” tactics – wouldn’t this be the ultimate side-door tactic?

    I could ask these questions all day. Here’s hoping that whether Hamilton gets a team or not, the NHL has to answer for the way they have handled this entire situation. As a fan of a team who bails franchises like Phoenix out every year, I’m hoping for a healthy league regardless of where the franchises are located.

  10. #10 PACTUM SERVA says:
    August 26, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Wow, very very interesting points MN.

  11. #11 Avatar37 says:
    August 26, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    I agree, some very interesting points, and ones I hope get asked in the media. I agree that there is clearly a conflict of interest, I’d like to know how the NHL can justify JB being approved to buy a team then suddenly pulling that approval with the excuse that he is of dubious moral character, or whatever bs excuse they gave. I’d certainly like them to be held accountable for their clear double standards.

  12. #12 Mats Naslund says:
    August 27, 2009 at 11:19 am

    It keeps getting better! The NHL bid for the Coyotes is for $140 milion and would accept the arena lease deal with Gendale for a period of one year in order to find a buyer who would meet the criteria of the league. If at the end of that period no buyer is found the NHL would begin “an organized process to relocate the franchise in another territory.” …. What? I thought this was about keeping the team in Glendale? All reaction to Balsilie’s bid from the NHL has been that Balsillie’s bid is unacceptable because he wants to move the team. Now the NHL itself has decided that relocation within 1 year’s time is possible? What about making a cmmitment to maing hockey in Glendale work?

    This whole process has turned into a joke. I’m not a lawyer,so I can’t say what the strength of Balsillie’s anti-trust case will be, but from an untrained perspective it looks awfully obvious what has happene over the past few days. The NHL has realised that Balillie’s bid isn’t as crazy as they have tried to make it sound and that the only way to win this process is to circumvent it in order to hand pick their new owner.

  13. #13 Senet1 says:
    August 28, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Bettman did not fight this hard to keep franchises in Quebec and Winnipeg, nor did he care if Edmonton went south. I think he is actually looking at Mexico as the next great place to put a hockey team?

  14. #14 habknot says:
    August 28, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Balsillie is not blameless here. From the start he has tried to bull his way to a franchise when finesse may have reaped more rewards. Wether he or Bettman is to blame, i can’t tell; but it is obviously personal now. I think many ‘governors’ (owners) are grateful for the cap and don’t want to rock Bettman’s boat. Personally, I’d like to see a Cliff Fletcher / Serge Savard / Ken Dryden / a Patrick or some other ‘hockey’ person as commissioner. Bettman is slimy, and that tends to alienate hockey fans (see Stanley Cup presentation) north and south of the border.

  15. #15 habknot says:
    August 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Kovalev wants to finish his career here? He signed the wrong sheet of paper! It does seem he got bad advice from his agent, and thought Gainey would change offers. He could have signed with us (we would have had to withdraw the offer from Gionta). I like our team now, would have liked that better. Still think Gainey did what he had to do (and I’m sure he told the agents exactly what he was doing, it was up to them to believe him).

  16. #16 Mats Naslund says:
    August 31, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Balsillie is no angel. He’s made a couple mistakes that have hurt his chances, but if memory serves correct it was the NHL who introduced an 11th hour clause on his purchase of the Penguins which soured the deal. Up until that moment he was using the ‘front door’ as the NHL would call it. Now they allege that his ‘side door’ tactics are what made him an unsuitable owner. What other option is there? ‘Climbing through the garage window’ tactics? People seem to forget that fact when they talk about the situaion these days. I agree with you though Habknot that this has become a pissing match.

    Whatever happens, the NHL’s secretive regime is going to have to answer a lot of quesions surouding the way it conducts business.

  17. #17 Senet1 says:
    August 31, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    I know that Balsille has made a few mistakes, I have never liked Bettman since he first came into the league. I has made it quite clear he does not want any Canadian franchises as long as there is an US market that has not been tapped. Somewhere down the line the NHL is going to have to bite the bullet, because there are quite a few Balsille’s out there and we could be looking at another WHA before too long with two divisions one affiliated with the KHL, which will cause the NHL all kinds of problems for five or six years just like the WHA did. The League has to smarten up and at least take a good look at Hamilton for a team.

  18. #18 habknot says:
    September 1, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    You are right, Senet, Hamilton is too good a market to ignore. It might hurt the Buffalo gate, tough, and I’d hate to see that. Columbus, Carolina, Nashville, Atlanta would look better in Halifax, Quebec, Winnipeg, but who knows, maybe Bettman’s master plan of turning southern americans into puck fans will work (is that a pig I see behind those clouds?).
    I had forgotten about the Pittsburg debacle, MatsN, now they have 10 competitive years in front of them so I guess Balsillie will have to wait for another decade.
    Seriously, if the NHL game wasn’t so beautiful, I’d just go watch PeeWee at the local arena.

  19. #19 Mats Naslund says:
    September 5, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Not alot going on for the Habs right now as we’re excruciatingly close to the start of the rookie camps. The only things to talk about re:NHL are annoying and rediculous stories of the Coyotes and the NHLPA who can’t seem to get along no metter what the circumstance.

    About those two: the NHLPA endorsed Balsillie’s bid to purchase the Coyotes. Interestng predicament considering the NHL would use NHLPA funds to purchase the Coyotes to keep the team away from RIMJim. Secondly, it has been only quietly reported since the hearing last wednesday, but Balsillie did offer to keep the Coyotes in Pheonix for the remainder of the year if the NHL is willing to split the losses. The NHL of course dismissed this notion outright, but when you hink about it, wasn’t the NHL going to absorb all of the losses anyway? At some point does common sense not have to kick in with the owners – either you: split the losses you were going to eat fully for the Coyotes this season (potentially $40-60 Million) and next year another booming franchise to pay into revenue sharing OR you spend $140 million to earn the right to add $40-60 million in debt for the right to sell a franchise for which it has already been proven there can be NO profitable sale?

    Is there any doubt the real reason for the NHL’s perspective is ANYTHING but MLSE?

  20. Well now that there are only two bidders NHL and Balsillie and he has increased his bid by another 30 Million, it would seem to be a no brainer, however, stranger things have happened and maybe there is under the table money that no one knows about happening. Anyway, I hope that Balsillie wins the day. I agree with Matts there has to come a time when the NHL owners say to themselves, how much is too much to keep Balsillie out of their group. There character argument keeps getting shot down by previous owners who still keep popping up with fraud charges against them. WOW! How can they possibly justify anything that they are saying about Balsillie when they have these other owners screwing up.

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