Hab Nots? The Free Fall of the Montreal Canadiens

(Image from Getty Images – Marianne Helm)

Rise Together. S’Elever Ensemble. That was the 2011-2012 slogan for the Montreal Canadiens, as chosen by Geoff Molson and company. Thirty nine games into the season, a more accurate slogan would have been something along the lines of Implode Together. Thirty nine games, where the Habs have collectively scored only 99 goals (only beating the Islanders in the East with a paltry 84 goals scored) while allowing 110, leaving them at 13th in the East. Optimists would point to the fact that in spite of their mediocre play, they are only 8 points out of the 8th slot currently occupied by Ottawa, but realistically, 5 teams (Ottawa, Washington, Toronto, Buffalo and Tampa Bay) are currently ahead of them with games in hand.

Obviously, after a Game 7 OT loss to the eventual Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins, Canadiens fans and pundits alike expected much more than this. They projected, and rightfully so, that forward Michael Cammalleri would have more than 8 goals at this juncture of the season (2 of which came in the last three games). Scott Gomez, though admittedly everyone’s favorite scapegoat, has earned the reputation of contributing more to the team while on the IR than on the ice. Captain Brian Gionta, who has become increasingly injury prone, has failed to live up to both his contract as well as his reputation as a leader and offensive producer. Finally, the greatest disappointment of this calendar year is undoubtedly Andrei Markov, who despite signing a lucrative and long-term offseason deal, has not yet laced up his skates to play in 2011, and will not for the foreseeable future. 

There are other disappointments in the locker room to be sure, but the lack of production from these four individuals is staggering. Why? According to Capgeek, these four players alone add up to 24,107,143$ which is approximately 38% of the cap. Now let that sink in for a moment. 38% of the available cap space for this season has gone to four players who have either not been healthy enough to play or contribute, or have had altogether disastrous seasons. 38% of the cap for a grand total of 40 points (Cammalleri with 21, Gionta with 15, Gomez with 4 and Markov with 0), with only two of those players playing more than 20 games this season.

In addition, we’ve seen the sophomore blues of P.K Subban, who has been forced into shouldering most of the defensive burden at the expense of his development. We’ve watched as GM Pierre Gauthier fumbled for a Markov-lite when he traded an expiring contract in Jaroslav Spacek for an anchor (both financially and production-wise) in Tomas Kaberle. We’ve watched the organization make a series of bizarre and seemingly panicked moves, from firing respected assistant coach Perry Pearn to the replacement of an inept Jacques Martin with an unexperienced unilingual anglophone coach who has admittedly not brought about the results imagined by management when they axed Martin. Under Cunneyworth, the Habs are 1-6, with the only win coming at the expense of an atrocious goaltending display courtesy of Ottawa’s Craig Anderson.

Despite the circus of these past 39 games, where the Canadiens are a mediocre 14-18-7, some positives have emerged nonetheless. For starters,  Erik Cole, to date at least, looks like the power forward the Canadiens have always lacked. Even more impressive is that the collective development of the youth core of this team. Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller, Carey Price and Andrei Kostitsyn (as well as Subban, despite his recent struggles) have emerged as key to the future of the Habs. Josh Gorges, an increasingly important cog in the defence, has been resigned for 6 years to start off the New Year.

As the curtain falls on 2011, the remaining 43 games of the season will become critical. Here, the Habs will either continue to flounder and finish in the cellar of the East, or they will rise to meet the challenge and slip into 8th. One can pray that the return of Markov, Gionta and Gomez will somehow elevate the team to the level that they were expected to perform at, while others will view this season as a write-off where Pierre Gauthier the new GM of the Canadiens will be announcing the selection of their highest draft pick since Carey Price was chosen at 5th overall in 2005. For better or for worse, the remaining 43 games will show what the Montreal Canadiens are really made of.

Will they rise together? Or flounder together?


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