Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pool Outlook for Montreal

The Montreal Canadiens were a very curious team, to say the least, through the 2010 regular season, but became heroes once again with a playoff run that no one could have actually believed would happen at the start of the playoffs in April.  Through the year, they were a team full of skilled players with a whole lot of injury issues, but they managed to sneak into the playoff picture in the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.  With that bottom seed, they were able to knock off both the number one seed, Washington Capitals, and the number four seed, Pittsburgh Penguins, with their speed, tremendous goaltending and very well organized coaching, but unfortunately their run ended against a bigger, stronger and in some cases, just as fast, team in the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Canadiens were led by somewhat of a surprise player in 2010, as Tomas Plekanec took top spot in pool points for the season after a year with 25 goals and 45 assists in 82 games.  The real key stat in that line is the 82 games, as he was the only forward on the team to play in every game for Montreal in 2010, which was enough to lift him up to the top of the heap.  As I had mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Canadiens were hit hard with injuries for the bulk of the year, with their forwards being no exception.  This really does work in Plekanec's favour, as he goes into this Summer as a potential unrestricted free agent and that may earn him a pretty nice paycheque at the end of the day.

With their rash of injuries, the Canadiens only had one other forward in the top 100 in pool scoring and that was the biggest cap hit on the team, Scott Gomez.   Gomez only missed four games during the year, but the inconsistent line-up was not working to his advantage and so his scoring production ended up being down, finishing with 12 goals and 59 points in 78 games.  Mike Cammalleri was next in line, both in cap hit (after Gomez) and production, as he finished with 26 goals and 50 points in 65 games.  Brian Gionta, the next of what was supposed to be the top trio in Montreal, finished with 28 goals and 46 points in 61 games, so you can really see a pattern going on with these top players.  When they were all in the line-up together, they were very effective, but there wasn't a large number of games when they played as a unit, so they suffered as a whole.  After Gionta, it really dips down, as Andrei Kostitsyn only had 33 points in 59 games, Glen Metropolit had 29 points in 69 games and Benoit Pouliot had 28 points in 53 games between Minnesota and Montreal.  It was really no wonder the Canadiens fought for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

If you thought that the Habs' forward situation was bad, the defense was actually worse.  Marc-Andre Bergeron led the Canadiens for the bulk of the season after the injury to Andrei Markov early on, but they actually finished in a tie for points with 34, but Bergeron finished with more games played, which earned him the more valuable defender title and his picture in the blog post.  Markov suffered a severe tendon injury early on in the year, which kept him to only 45 games in the season, while Bergeron only played in 60 games, mostly because of starting too late into the season.  Also suffering from down seasons were both Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek, neither missing too many games, but they didn't have a lot of offense to pick up points from or didn't create much offense themselves.  Hamrlik finished with only 26 points in 75 games, while Spacek only had 21 points in 74 games.   I'm sure the Canadiens (and poolies) were expecting more out of both players.

I guess we can't really go a year anymore without talking about how the goaltending in Montreal was a controversy for the better part of the season, but at least someone really stood out this year and really took control.  Jaroslav Halak was dubbed the number one goalie in Montreal well before teh playoffs and his play really spoke for himself, especially when he bounced back well from losses.   In the regular season, Halak appeared in 45 games, putting up a record of 26-13-5 with 5 shutouts for 62 points in the pool, ranking him 18th among all goalies.  On the flipside of the crease, Carey Price appeared in 41 games for the Habs and his record was only 13-20-5, with no shutouts and 1 assist for 27 points and ranking 40th among goalies.  It was really no wonder that Halak took the job into the playoffs with those sort of numbers in the regular season.

2011 Season Outlook
After seeing what the Canadiens could do with a smallish team, you would assume that there would be some sort of renewed confidence flowing through them going into the 2011 season.  Well, I won't be quite as quick to jump on that bandwagon, especially when I go looking for players for my hockey pool team in September, but probably with some clever valuation, there could be a Hab or two on my team, but I don't think I would go out of my way to get a guy like Cammalleri or Markov.  They should be in the playoff conversation in 2011, but I think we saw enough from an injury-plagued team to be weary of picking them too early.

Scott GomezAndrei Markov
Mike CammalleriRoman Hamrlik
Brian GiontaJaroslav Spacek
Andrei KostitsynHal Gill
Travis MoenJosh Gorges
Ryan O'Byrne
P.K. Subban

The Canadiens have a glutton of defensemen already signed on, which does seem to be an emerging trend across the league, and that's pretty good news going forward, since they are very prized possessions.  Unfortunately, the Canadiens do have a lot of cap space tied up in the 12 players they have signed above, $43.4 million to be a little more precise (in an approximate sort of fashion).  In theory, this leaves about $13 million for 11 players and in those 11 players, they have both goalie positions to take care of.

Yes, free agent goalies... again bring up the goalies as the centre of the Summer discussion for the Canadiens.  Both Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price are up for new deals out of their entry-level deals and now management has a decision or two to make with these restricted free agents.  Also on the RFA list for July includes Benoit Pouliot, Sergei Kostitsyn, Max Lapierre and Tom Pyatt, all of which either figured into their regular season or playoffs.  I don't suspect a lot of cap space will be taken up by these players, likely none by Kostitsyn, as he'll likely be traded away this Summer, due to distaste with the coaching staff.

Obviously, the goaltending will likely be the number one priority for the Canadiens this Summer, but we also have to visit the unrestricted free agent list, which includes their top scorer, Tomas Plekanec, their best fill-in defenseman, Marc-Andre Bergeron and a few veterans that were helpful in their season, Glen Metropolit, Dominic Moore and Paul Mara.  The only real priority for a return would be Plekanec, but at what cost?  There is a good chance Plekanec could price himself right out of the budget, which would make him a tasty free agent come July 1st.   Metropolit and Moore may get offers, but there is no real assumption there at all.  I don't imagine Bergeron will get an offer, since Subban looks ready to go and the defense will likely start healthy.

It will definitely be an interesting Summer in Montreal.

Well, we all got a good look at PK Subban in these 2010 playoffs and there is little to no reason as to why he won't make the club out of training camp, if not become one of the top four defensemen on the team sooner rather than later.   Other than Subban, the list of players to watch does drop off somewhat, although if Danny Kristo, who is currently playing NCAA hockey decides to turn pro, he might get himself a bit of a look, but he also qualifies as one of those small scoring forwards that the Canadiens are known for.

With the team's finish in the Conference Finals, the Canadiens will be picking 27th in the Entry Draft with their 1st round pick.  Size is not an issue with the Canadiens and with only a minor change in management, I would imagine that the philsophy hasn't really changed much either.  I won't be expecting the Canadiens to move a player up because he is bigger, I would imagine that they would stick to the average-to-smallish skilled players, unless there is an outstanding player with size available.

What I said at this time last year: "I don't think there were many people who didn't think that the Canadiens would be better than they were this past year, much like the Ottawa Senators. In Montreal, they have a good opportunity to put a new team together, likely incorporate some of the more familiar faces, but try again from the backend out. We may also be able to sum up Carey Price's problems to the sophomore jinx, so I might be a little less hesitant to pick him due to his numbers than others might be. Watch the forwards carefully and if the lines pan out to be something interesting, I would jump on that bandwagon for points pretty quickly."

In theory, the Canadiens were not terribly better in 2010 than they were in 2009, finishing 8th in the Eastern Conference in back-to-back years, but this time doing it with somewhat of a rebuilt squad.  Carey Price deserved hesitation at the Draft in hindsight, because his jinx carried through to the 2010 season and eventually lost his job.  I was on the bandwagon, personally for some points in Montreal, taking Scott Gomez, but I later regretted that with such a sub-par season.  All in all, I paid for my mistakes of prognostication in last year's bit, but I do intend on making up for that this year.

For 2011, I will be preaching hesitation with the Canadiens.  I am a fan of Mike Cammalleri's, but the Habs will have to make him a happy camper with some healthy help, because I get the feeling that they will remain as injury-plagued players, with no enforcers to help police their line-up from goons in the Eastern Conference.  They will likely assume some wins in straight up skill match-ups, since Cammalleri, Gionta and Gomez will still be about, not to mention skill from the blueline, but unless they pick up some more grit (besides some of the pests on the team), they will be run over quite frequently.  Look for the Canadiens to be bargains more than cornerstones of your fantasy team, but telling Habs fans that is a tall order.

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