Tuesday October 2 10:22 PM (Bucky "Effin" Dent Day-no longer nearly as painful)
Listening to "Magic" by Springsteen while wondering what Habs marketing genius Ray Lalonde has planned after placing billboards all over town of Maxim Lapierre, the 22 year old checking centerman who has a total of 47 games of NHL experience. Oops, now playing at an arena in Hamilton. What's next-television commercials featuring the key to the Habs blueline-Jean-Phillipe Cote?
Ok, here we go...drumroll please....how the NHL's Eastern Conference will wind up:
1. Ottawa: Spezza, Alfredsson & Heatley...who can possibly defeat me? (How about that 8th place team)
2. Pittsburgh: Crosby wins everything, including the Cup, then asks for trade to Montreal
3. Carolina: Back to top of Southeast but an early spring exit
4. NY Rangers: Sean Avery hosts season finale of SNL
5. Philadelphia: Paul Holmgren, Executive of the Year (By 2009 he'll look like an idiot)
6. Buffalo: Still stacked with talent; Tim Connelly is comeback player of the year
7. New Jersey: Brent Sutter takes them to the top...once they're in Newark
8. Montreal: Stop laughing; Carey Price makes the difference; all bets are off it's Huet
9. Florida: Olli Jokinen still looking for a playoff game
10.Washington: Olie Kolzig runs out of gas
11.Atlanta: Kovalchuk demands a trade by Christmas
12.NY Islanders: Di Pietro wins a Cup in 8th year of his contract
13.Tampa Bay: Tortorella finally fired; Feaster too
14. Boston:Next team for Claude Julien, the Leafs...
15. Toronto: Dysfunctional goofs would rather have John Ferguson Jr. than Scotty Bowman
Now that you've composed yourself...Price is that good. If given the opportunity he'll steal the starting job from Huet. Suddenly 4-3 losses and 3-2 losses in overtime turn to victories. Remember this is a team that finished just six points behind the Rangers last season.
Where does the offense come from? Both Ryder and Higgins can score 30. Kovalev is the key. He must be given every opportunity to do what he does best-create offense-which means more power play time than anybody on the team. It's difficult to believe that a content Kovalev won't be able to jump back to where he was two seasons ago, averaging nearly a point per game. If Kovalev moves as I think he does than so do his linemates. I love what Bob Gainey said when asked if Grabovski (for now) can elevate Kovalev's game. "Maybe it's up to Kovalev to get Grabovski moving" said the Habs GM. Bingo. And Kovalev will do the same for Kostitsyn.
The best young forward on the team might actually be Thomas Plekanic. I think he might end up back between Kovalev and Kostitsyn but ends up scoring at least 25 no matter where he plays.
Koivu, Ryder, Higgins, Kovalev, Plekanic, Smolinski, Latendresse, Kostitsyn, Grabovski, Begin, Kostopolous, Chipchura...I like this group. Maybe one serious body short but they should be fun to watch.
The blueline will miss Craig Rivet. Like countless other non-flashy anglos through the years (Doug Jarvis, Jimmy Roberts, Brian Skrudland, Mike McPhee, Mike Keane, Turner Stevenson, Lyle Odelein among others) Rivet was under appreciated here. He struggled through the first part of last season but he's a proud guy and might have let his contract status get the better of him. He sure looked like the old, solid Rivet once he made it to San Jose. Anybody who'd rather have Mathieu Dandenault or Francis Boullion ought to have their hockey heads examined.
Andrei Markov served notice last spring at the World Hockey Championships that he was ready to elevate his play. His decsion to re-sign here also seems to have loosened him up. By far the Habs best player during training camp Markov is now ready to join a select group of NHL defensemen. Not quite Lidstrom or Pronger territory but just a rung lower.
Mike Komisarek is a star-in-the-making. Roman Hamrlik is a dependable, strong, minutes-eating, experienced two way vet the Canadiens sure could have used the last few seasons.
Dandenault and Boullion appear to be on their way out. Mark Streit has zoomed past both of them and will be asked to fill a huge void on the power play. Josh Gorges? I still don't know what he looks like. And Patrice Brisebois. Oy.
A year ago at this time Bob Gainey swung a deal that appeared to make sense. Mike Ribeiro for Janne Niinimaa. The trade looked good. For about three weeks. 12 months later Gainey again needs to make a move. The current hole on defense will not be filled by Ryan O'Byrne or anybody else in Hamilton. Which is why goaltending will be even more important than it usually is. Which is why I like a multiple award winning 20 year old over a 32 year old knee flopper.
Can Cristobal Huet take the Habs into the post-season? He's done it once. To do it again he'd have to perform some magic...
Magic **** 1/2 Springsteen at his rocking, rollicking, message-from-the-heartland best. I can already see the concert highlight that Montrealers evidently won't get to experience. Bruce and the E Street Band get you out of your seat feelin' oh so James Brown good before they deliver a kick to the gut and the mind with "Last To Die", invoking the John Kerry line about Iraq.
Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who'll be the last to die, for a mistake
Bic lighter anyone?