I keep waiting to hear that newly acquired Montreal Canadiens forwards Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, reunited to try and find the spark that made them a lethal combo with New Jersey in 2005-06, are going to attack by sitting on one another’s shoulders during play. Or maybe with former Calgary winger Mike Cammalleri also joining the Habs, Montreal wants to forge a player-development deal with the Lollipop Guild.
Short jokes aside — and the signing of free agent defenseman Hal Gill at least skewed the average height of the Habs’ July 1 additions a little toward NHL-caliber size — it’s hard to fathom the Canadiens being a major source of fear or intimidation for the Boston Bruins or any other Eastern Conference foe as currently constituted.
So you take the 5-foot-11 Gomez, who has scored just 45 goals in three seasons since his 33-goal ’06 campaign and put him back together with the 5-7 (generously listed) Gionta, who has averaged 23 scores since netting 45 in that same post-lockout season. You add to the mix a 5-9 Cammalleri and a lumbering third-pair (second pair with the right partner) blueliner in Gill and a turnover-prone 35-year-old backliner in Jaroslav Spacek, and you have to wonder if Montreal general manager Bob Gainey was given some sort of “Brewster’s Millions” mandate by the Habs’ new owners. Just about $24 million of cap space will be tied up in the above-mentioned players, who will now form the core of the Habs as we spill over into a new decade.
Just based on how long it’s going to take a team with so many new faces to find the right chemistry, you have to figure the Habs will be a pushover for at least the first couple months of 2009-10. But with so much cap room to work with, Montreal didn’t add Henrik and Daniel Sedin, didn’t grab Marian Hossa and couldn’t retain Mike Komisarek. And this is how they replace Komisarek’s rugged all-around player on the back end and former captain Saku Koivu’s determination and leadership up front?
Speed is great, don’t get me wrong. But all the heart in the world isn’t going to help the diminutive Habs when they’re in knock-down, drag-out battles in the trenches with the Bruins, Toronto and New Jersey. The Habs now lack balance, as their skill players are all small and their big players are all pluggers. It won’t take much for the better coaches in the league to draw up a game plan to stop a club made up that way.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that all these speedsters with offensive potential will be playing under defensive-minded head coach Jacques Martin, whose lifelong goal is to supplant Jacques Lemaire as the most evil mastermind determined to ruin the strides the NHL has taken since the lockout with its offensive-friendly alterations. If the Habs were a reality show, they’d be cancelled. There are just too many implausible plot lines here.
Ever since he took over the Bruins as GM, Peter Chiarelli has tried to make his club bigger, stronger and tougher to play against. He has succeeded on many level in pursuit of that goal. Luckily for him, one of his club’s fiercest rivals has opted to go the other way with its building process, and that should make the road to the division title as easy for the Bruins as a stroll down a yellow, brick road.