OK! It’s been awhile. Again…so let’s get too it.
The season came to its inevitable and much-to-soon conclusion on April 7th. Since then, what have we learned? Well, we know the Habs will have a shot at a top 5 talent in the upcoming draft. We know that it will be a new general manager making the pick, most likely flanked by a new coach for the draft stage picture with said prospect, after being advised by new a new scouting team (but hopefully still led by Trevor Timmins, who’s been a stud throughout the mess of the past decade).
That pick most definetly needs to be a forward. If Matt Dumba is on the board, it could be tempting, but the Habs’ defensive prospects cupboard is pretty well-stocked at the moment; P.K Subban is still young, as is Alexei Emelin. Josh Gorges is locked up for the next 6 years, and guys like Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi will be on the big club within two years. That leaves room for 7th defenseman and perhaps another young guy who might surprise, such as Morgan Ellis or Greg Pateryn. There’s also the possibility of signing a mid-range free-agent or acquiring someone in a trade down the road.
The Habs’ true need lies up front; outside of the Desharnais line, this season’s only other decent producer was Tomas Plekanec, and he was playing with less-than-stellar linemates for the majority of the season. His poor plus/minus was troubling to some, but considering the overall poor defensive play of the team as a whole, that doesn’t worry me all that much. Plekanec is the team’s best defensive forward, and will bounce back with new vigor next season.
There is an interesting parallel that can be made between Plekanec and former (sob) Habs captain Saku Koivu. Koivu spent the majority of his 14-years in Montreal playing with so-so linemates; granted, Marc Recchi, Richard Zednik, and Alex Kovalev weren’t THAT bad, but there wasn’t anything special about them either (Kovalev had his massive season with Plekanec, so that doesn’t apply). A long-standing argument was that Koivu never really played with anyone who could propel his play; it was always the other way around. His highest point-total was 75, playing alongside guys like Chris Higgins, Guillaume Latendress, Kovalev, and Andrei Kostitsyn. So its safe to say Saku never really played with top-notch talent, something that has haunted Habs fans who always wondered what could have been with Saku having a bonafide scorer on his wing.
With that being said, let’s hope that the Habs don’t make the same mistake with Tomas Plekanec. I don’t think the Habs should move him; for now anyways. You can argue that it’s time to move him while his value is still high, and replace him with a big center like Mikhail Grigorenko, but in a sense that would be taking a step backwards; sure, you’re injecting some young talent, but Grigorenko will never get close to Plekanec’s level as a two-way forward. I’ll take Plekanec for 60+ points and a top penalty-killer over a guy with a ton of potential but a reputation for having a poor defensive game and a knack for pulling a Kovalev; show up for one game, take three off.
With that being said, I think I would prefer a guy like Alex Galchenyuk or Filip Forsberg. Galchenyuk is a center, but has (and can) play wing. At 6’2, 205 pds., he’s no slouch, and the guy can flat out play. He’s lived in the shadow of Nail Yakupov during his time in Sarnia, but a popular thought around hockey circles is that if Galchenyuk had been able to play a full season this year, he would currently be pushing Yakupov for the 1st overall pick in the Draft. Unfortunately, Galchenyuk spent the year rehabbing an ACL injury that has scouts worried. On a more promising note, he did come back from it in time for the OHL playoffs, showing his commitment and dedication to get back to the ice as fast as possible.
The other intriguing name is Filip Forsberg, who is currently playing in Sweden and draws comparisons to last year’s second overall pick, Gabriel Landeskog. Both are Swedes, but more importantly both would come into the NHL “as men”, in a sense. When Landeskog was playing for the Kitchener Rangers last year, the consensus was that Landeskog looked and played like an NHL-ready hockey player, despite his young age. He is a physical specimen, and it showed in his seamless transition to the the pros. The same could be said about Forsberg, and while he didn’t put up the same kind of numbers as Landeskog, he’s playing in the Swedish Elite League at the same age, a much stiffer competition than what Landeskog faced in the OHL.
Of course, all of this could change in a second. We can’t rule out the fact that a trade might be in the offing if the new GM (we’ll get to that in a second) decides he’d prefer to boost the lineup now as opposed to adding another building block for the future. In my opinion, this would be a horrible idea, for several reasons. For starters, Habs fans just spent the year watching a horrific team finish dead last in the Eastern Conference. The one consolation prize that came from it all was the opportunity to pick in the Top 5 of this year’s draft. That pick is supposed to usher in a new era, a symbol of hope and what is supposed to be future, consistent success. By trading the pick, a la Brian Burke, you will probably be looking to bring in a Band-Aid solution to sell tickets (not that we have a problem with that here) and cause some exciting around the city. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say no to a Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, or Eric Staal. But these guys are all making huge money for the next couple of years. Do we truly believe this team is one piece away from contending for a Cup? I’m not so sure about that. That’s why, in my opinion, you draft the future face of your franchise, you buy out or bury Scott Gomez and Tomas Kaberle in the minors, and add several significant pieces to your team, improving it as a whole, as opposed to loading up on one guy who you’re picking up from another organization.
About that new GM…Geoff Molson and Serge Savard have really cast a wide net in their search. Just a few names that have been mentioned: Julien Brisebois, Marc Bergevin, Claude Loiselle, Pat Brisson, Pierre McGuire, Blair Mackasey, Francois Giguere, Vincent Damphousse, Ron Hextall, and Luc Robitaille just to name a few. Brisson and Damphousse have already took their names off the list, leaving the rest fully in contention for the job. Personally, I’m hoping for a younger, new-wave type of GM; even if it’s a guy going into his first job, these men know what they’re doing. They’ve spent years as scouts, player personnel directors, or assistant GM’s, so for the most part the main difference for them would be having control over final decisions, as opposed to simply chimming in and being the “right-hand man”. Guys like Brisebois, Bergevin, and Mackasey intrigue me the most. I don’t want to sound biased here, and no respect to Claude Loiselle, but I want no part of anyone coming from the current Toronto Maple Leafs front office, a management team that needs a clean-up in its own right. It will be interesting to see if the Habs pounce on Bergevin as soon as Chigago gets eliminated (Hawks are down 3-1 to Phoenix as of today), but one thing we know for a fact is that Geoff Molson is going to do his homework on this one, and take as much time as he needs.
Last but not least…I’ll save this one for now, but if Vancouver gets eliminated soon, it will definetly come up: if Alain Vigneault is fired, would we like to see him back behind the Habs bench for a second time? This time with a lot more experience? It definetly depends on the GM that comes in, but I wouldn’t mind it one bit.