Thursday, July 16, 2009

Montreal Canadiens undergo an extreme makeover

With all the talk locally about how Brian Burke has been rebuilding the Maple Leaf lineup, what has only received passing notice has been the makeover in Montreal. The Canadiens had about 15 unrestricted free agents and didn’t sign a single one including some top six forwards and top four defensemen. It appears that anyone Bob Gainey was able to get rid of, he did.

But did the Canadiens need to be overhauled? The changes reflect the problems in the Canadiens dressing room that were spilling over onto the ice. Twelve months ago the Canadiens were the Eastern Conference regular season champions with one of the scariest offenses in the league. But that all unravelled this past season. The team was described as playing with indifference, lack of work ethic, and sense of entitlement – sounds a lot like the old Maple Leafs. Now I expected Montreal to slide back in the standings after making big gains in 2007-08. But was last season just a bump in road to being a Cup contender or a flame out like the Ottawa Senators? Gainey’s actions clearly indicate he was betting on the latter.

Certainly much of the leadership of this team is gone with the captain and alternates moving on to other teams. But my sense is the problems weren’t necessarily coming from the veterans but the younger players. There have been numerous rumours about the off-ice antics of Carey Price and the Kostitsyn brothers, yet they are still with the team. Team culture will definitely change but is this team better? There has been a recent history of players leaving for free agency and flourishing elsewhere (Mark Streit, Mark Ryder). Will history repeat itself? Do the assets coming in equal those going out the door? And how long will it take for all these new players to gel into a cohesive unit? ESPN is already picking Montreal to finish out of the playoff but then 12 months ago they predicted Barry Melrose would be coach of the year and he only lasted 16 games.

Certainly Montreal will be a team that everyone will be watching.