All Star Break!

•January 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment


Its party time in Montreal this weekend. The NHL has all kinds of events taking place, and will be showcasing some of the best players in the NHL in the Skills Competition on Saturday, followed by the big game on Sunday. Losers of their last two, the Canadiens will have an opportunity to clear their minds and reset for the second half of the season. While many fans have been pleasantly surprised by the play of Robert Lang and Andrei Markov, most are hoping for better things from stars such as Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn. The break will be important in order to rest some of the bumps and bruises that have accumulated through the first 46 games of the season. Hopefully the game is entertaining and we’re hoping for a good showing from the Canadiens players involved.


Getting Rediculous

•January 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Ok, so this isn’t a picture of tonight’s game between the Canadiens and Atlanta Thrashers. But I can attest that there were all kinds of empty seats for the game tonight and that if the NHL ever wants to get serious about being a respected league among the other North American major leagues, its going to have to decide whether or not having fans attend the games is important.

Why build 18,000 seats if you're only going to use 13,000?

Why build 18,000 seats if you're only going to use 13,000?

As a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, a team that can generally count on many thousands of fans showing up for ROAD games, it is hard to understand why the NHL tries so hard to force the sun-belt cities to love hockey. It makes no sense. Nothing against Atlanta at all. There are ravenous and dedicated fans who live there – they apparently do not watch hockey though. I can tell you right now that if they started holding Cricket matches in the Bell Centre, you might find a similar scene. The current economic crisis only serves to highlight just how bad things have gotten for some NHL clubs. Of the 30 teams in the NHL (through 23 home games), Atlanta ranks 29th in the league for average attendance. They average 2/3 the crowds that Montreal sees every single night of the season and the economic costs of this inequity are mounting. As one can easily imagine, none of Canada’s 6 teams operate at anything less than 100% capacity. There is a tradition of hockey, and a hunger for the game here that simply does not, and never will exist in a place like Atlanta. Now, after a second attempt in a city that lost its original franchise in 1980 to Calgary, when will the NHL repeat the wisdom of one of its most successful relocations? Its time for the NHL to get serious and move these franchises to locations in which they can actually be successful. Carolina won a Stanley Cup in 2006/2007 and still struggles to generate interest. What more can be done? Unfortunately, for the Atlantas, the Pheonixs, the Nashvilles , the Carolinas of the NHL, the proof is in the pudding, or more accurately – in the empty seats night after night.

EDIT: TSN has revealed that the Nashville Predators are going to buy their OWN tickets in order to ensure that they receive their share of the NHLs shared revenue dollars.

Austerity Measures?

•January 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Free Agents could be in for harder negotiations if the NHL's Salary Cap is lowered.

Free Agents could be in for harder negotiations if the NHL's Salary Cap is lowered.

This season the NHL Salary Cap sits at $56.7 million. Most teams (including the Canadiens) find themselves nestled very close to that number as we head towards the All Star break. The team has just over $1 million in cap space, although as rumors continue to circulate regarding trades in Montreal, one wonders what the contract situation will look like at the end of the season. And while deadline trading for players happens every season, General Managers are going to have to be very careful as to how they plan for next season as most indications are that the NHL’s Salary Cap could be going down next year as an effect of the global economic crisis. In past seasons trading for a star player like Vincent Lecavalier would be a “no-brainer”, however there will be teams at the beginning of the 2009/10 season who are stuck with contracts that they can no longer afford.

For teams with cap space, the issue of a lowered Salary Cap might not be a big deal. The LA Kings, for example, are well below the NHL Salary Cap with a total team salary of $43.5 million for the 08/09 season. Regardless of where the Cap goes next season they will have whatever financial room they desire to sign contracts. But the LA Kings of the NHL are a minority. The majority of the NHL’s franchises are within $3 million of the $56.7 Cap. If the NHL decides next season that the financial crisis has badly hurt league wide revenue, most of the NHL’s clubs will be scrambling to shed dollars in order to fit under the new limit. Will this effect the potential deadline deals this season?

In 2009/10 Vincent Lecavalier will cost $7.727 million in Salary Cap space for whichever team he plays for. Using 2008/09 Cap numbers his salary totals 14% of a team’s Cap space. If the Cap is set to go down next year, his team will have even less room with which to pay the rest of his teammates. Because of this development, potential buyers at the trade deadline will need to seriously consider how obtaining a player like Lecavalier will effect their off season moves. In Montreal, one wonders how a guy Like Mike Komisarek, who makes $1.7 million, and is in line for a monster pay raise will fare if so much of a team’s available space is tied into one player? While Lecavalier’s contract would be difficult to manage, there are others who put their teams in more precarious positions.

Alex Ovechkin’s Cap hit of $9.5 million dollars is made easier by the fact that he is arguably the best player in the game, but the decision by Dallas Stars management to sign Sean Avery to a $3.875 million contract through the 2011/12 season becomes even more of a gaff if the Cap takes a large hit next season. It will mean the difference of being able to resign Jere Lehtinen next season, or possibly making a move for a free agent like Jay Bouwmeester. Speaking of Bouwmeester, how many teams will be willing to trade for him knowing the mammoth raise he is set to receive at the end of this season? Simply put, the formula for determining the cost of splashy moves at this years deadline will be : player x’s 2009/10 contract + total Cap space contraction for next season = cost to next year’s team. If the Salary Cap goes down by even $3 million next season, teams will need to find $10 million + in cap space in order to bring star players to their squad. While everyone in Montreal seems hell bent on trading a current surplus of solid roster players for a superstar, Bob Gainey must consider whether having seven players on the roster who make $1 million per season is better than having one who makes $7 million.

How Much is Too Much?

•January 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Gainey and Carbo will have to asses whether or not a trade is needed.

Gainey and Carbo will have to asses whether or not a trade is needed.

According to the Tampa Bay Lightning are holding fast to having Andrei Markov as a part of any deal for Vincent Lecavalier. Whether this is a deal breaker or whether Bob Gainey is seriously considering moving his top defenseman – there is no way to tell. Gainey holds his cards close to his chest, so only time will tell. In the meantime however, as we get closer to the playoffs there will be teams who fall out of contention and will be looking to possibly make a deal to strengthen their squad for next year. For me, Markov is non-tradable. You don’t build a championship team by letting your best defenseman go, unless you replace him in the deal (which I have heard nothing about). If Montreal can’t come to an agreement with Tampa Bay, I’m interested in hearing who else might be available as we get closer to the post season? Gainey is certainly looking at more options than just Lecavalier.

4 players of note who I would be interested in seeing in Montreal:

Rick Nash – Columbus Blue Jackets : I’m not saying he’s available, but he interests me in that like Lecavalier he is a bonafide superstar quality scorer who plays for a team that has had all kinds of problems turning the corner.  They’ve never made the playoffs, and if they start to sink in the Western Conference standings will GM Scott Howson try to deal his star left winger before he loses him to free agency at the end of next season? No he’s not a centre, but he’s a big body, and a guy who can seriously put the puck in the net. Currently his statline reads: 17 goals, 22 assists for 39 points in 40 games. Columbus is currently only a point out of 8th place in the west and is probably straddling the line between buyer and seller, but if their play takes a turn for the worse as we get closer to the deadline, could Nash be available? Nash’s contract at 7 million per season is comparable to Lecavalier, however, he is also only 24 years old. If Montreal is willing to part with major assets to acquire a 28 year old Vincent Lecavalier with a decade long contract, what about a player like Nash who is playing for a team that desperately needs NHL quality roster players?

Tomas Kaberle – Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs are rebuilding. They have committed to turning the franchise around and in order to do that, they need draft picks and prospects. Kaberle has drawn attention because he doesn’t really fit into the Maple Leafs’ plans moving forward. While he is not as glamorous an acquisition as Lecavalier, his addition to Montreal’s blueline would add undeniable depth to a squad who is already 6th best in the league in terms of goals against. While Kaberle is a Minus – 10, for the Leafs, much of that is due to Toronto’s team defence which has been terrible at best this season.  It would cost Montreal little in the short term to land Kaberle, and his contract of 4.25 million through the 10/11 season is a good deal. He would be an asset to the powerplay, and would free up Andrei Markov to effectively play his hybrid defense/forward role.

Brad Boyes – St Louis Blues : The Blues are terrible, but they aren’t in Islanders territory.. yet. The organization needs NHL quality players and prospects. Montreal has those. Boyes wouldn’t be as big of a pickup as Lecavalier for Gainey, but the potential for disaster that could accompany the Lecavalier trade also isn’t there. At 4 million per year through the 2011/2012 season Boyes could be a great pickup, and while his 36 points in 44 games aren’t Gretzky type numbers, his accomplishments must be wieghed with the fact that he plays for a terrible team in a very good conference.  More importantly he is a right handed shot and would help either our first or second powerplay unit.

Jason Spezza – Ottawa Senators : Ottawa isn’t out of the hunt yet for a playoff spot and there has been a slight upturn in Ottawa’s play in the past few games.  If the season doesn’t take a turn for the better, one has to wonder how long the “big 3” will remain intact. Clearly Ottawa isn’t the team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals a few seasons ago. Spezza makes 8 million per season for the next 4 years, 5 the year after that, and 4 the year after that. Given that he is 25 years old, he would fetch the most in return for the Senators as they try to rebuild. Its hard to tell what it would cost to land the right-handed Spezza. I would be speculating, but I have to believe that it would be somewhere near or above the 2 roster players, prospect, and first round draft pick that Pittsburg sent to Atlanta for Marian Hossa last season. Given that Spezza is signed long term, he would likely cost more in prospects. Given Ottawa’s need for a goaltender, defensive prospects and secondary scoring, there are a host of scenarios in which Montreal and Ottawa could come to a mutually benficial deal.  While Spezza has become something of a whipping-boy in the Ottawa media, we saw up close on Saturday night just how valuable an offensive weapon he can be.

In the end, only Gainey will know who is really available for Montreal as we move towards the final stretch of the season. For me, I would rather go into the playoffs with a stable defense and rely on our offensive depth for our attack. We’re seeing Kovalev, Lang, and Andrei Kostitsyn alot more often on the scoring sheet these days.  We may still need a big gun or another defenseman if we’re seriously going to contend for the Stanley Cup. It will be interesting to see how the trade talks play out after the all-star break.

Half Way Home.

•January 12, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I just want to have a quick powwow with Canadiens fans since we’re halfway through the regular season. We’re officially half done the season at the 41 game mark and I think its as good a time as any to reflect on whether this season has been good/bad/ugly. The scoring slumps of star players have been well documented. The troubles of some young players like O’Byrne, Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn have been well represented in the media. And since November, the once quiet, and easily defeate-able Bruins have absolutely torn up the league leaving us 10 points behind with a game in hand. But amid all of the turmoil and languish over the shoddy all star selection process, and the speculation that George Gillette was doomed to file for bankruptcy with the collapse of the global economy, the Montreal Canadiens are quietly having an amazing year.

The year is most impressive when seen through the pessimism regarding our offense, and the high expectations from last year’s successes. Truth be told through 41 games, this year’s version of le bleu, blanc, et rouge is a full 8 points ahead of last season’s pace. Not only that but the sagging offense which has been so thoroughly documented this season has begun to produce in the way that we envisioned heading into the season. In their last 4 games the Canadiens have scored 23 goals, including 6 power play goals in their last 3. Things are looking very promising as Montreal opens the second half of the regular season against their biggest rival, and toughest match-up: the Boston Bruins. A win in Boston on Tuesday would signal that the race is on in the second half of the season, a loss would sink the Habs (regardless of their solid play) to a full 12 points behind the B’s for the conference lead.

Finally, while it will have no impact on the game Tuesday, today their is increasing speculation that the Montreal Canadiens are actively pursuing a trade with the Tampa Bay lightning for Vincent Lecavalier. ( while this remains rhetoric for the time being, it does signal that the Canadiens are SERIOUS about trying to bring home their 25th Stanley Cup in a century. It should be fun to watch the rest of the way.