Habs Fever: Two peas in a pod
By Brian Wilde, ctvmontreal.ca
Published Thursday, April 7, 2011 11:09PM EDT
The Montreal Canadiens have some very important pieces in place to have a bright future. In fact, an argument could be made that the future looks better than the present for this team. Let's start with two building blocks that can and should be around for a very long time to come in Carey Price and PK Subban.
They are good friends. They are hanging out together off the ice and have developed a vibe for each other that goes well beyond a hockey relationship, and the organization should take advantage of it.
The other day I asked PK Subban if he was going to vote as part of a series of questions I did in the Habs room for Debra Arbec, who is covering the election beat for CTV Montreal. Subban responded that it was a pretty important thing to do and he would see if he and Carey would head down to a voting booth.
Now that is two peas in a hockey pod.
Lock them up long-term
If I am Pierre Gauthier, I want to seize on that friendship and pull an idea out of a hat that could have the Habs with two strong players in place for many years. They are both going to be restricted free agents soon, but the time is now to stop messing around and get these two kids signed for a long time to come.
Is there a single Habs fan who wants to lose these two kids when they earn their freedom status? The last time Montreal hockey fans got this excited about a defenceman in the line up had to be in the 1970s or 1980s. PK Subban puts fans in the seats and he takes them right back out of them when he starts playing. I don't think Price has played a game this season when they were not chanting his name at some point.
Gauthier should offer seven years minimum to both of these kids and announce the signings at the same time. Imagine the huge splash if next September, just as training camp is about to start, both these kids with their smiling faces are inked until they are more than 30 years old. What excitement that would be for the organization and the fans. I believe both of these kids could handle it, too, and would continue to give their best effort even with that long term security.
Price can handle it, because if this young man was going to have any breakdown, it would have happened already. Price has faced all of the adversity possible at a young age and handled it all. We know that because he is still standing and getting stronger every year and in Montreal the microscope was very powerful.
He could have cracked, but he didn't and as a result, he is a mental giant now from all of the lessons learned. He is the best young goalie in the game, if not the best goalie, and it is time to make sure that he doesn't escape anywhere else.
Dangle the Subban friendship carrot in front of Price. Dangle the long-term idea with Subban too and let them get excited about it together. Subban can handle a long-term deal just as Price could. Why? Because he simply is an outstanding kid who has great parents who taught him the lessons of life that included honesty and a work ethic to improve and to take criticism well and grow in every sense. The kid is a man and he can handle the security.
The nucleus moving forward is good
The Habs having a lot of good things in place starts with those two. Add to that, the Habs have some solid pieces locked up for the next three seasons. Mike Cammalleri is not having his best season as that shoulder injury set him back much longer than just the games he missed. The captain Brian Gionta is locked up for three more seasons and his game is not deteriorating one bit. Lars Eller is going to get better and better as the years pass even though his first season here has had its ups and downs. Benoit Pouliot has struggled in the back half of this season, but Pouliot remains a major talent who is still trying to find his way to live up to the 4th pick overall status. Thomas Plekanec is still inked for years to come. Andrei Kostitsyn is restricted and useful and the club should make him happy with a commitment.
There is a lot to build on here in the organization.
As you project the team forward through the years and imagine if the Habs will ever contend seriously for a Stanley Cup, the base for greatness is in place with buddies PK and Price and solid winners like Gionta, Cammalleri, Plekanec, and potentials like Eller and Pouliot.
Defence and centre positions need to be addressed
However, there are holes that need to be filled. The team in the future will have to meet a big need on defence. Look at the defensive corps: Markov, Gill and Hamrlik are unrestricted free agents. Spacek has a year left, but his career is winding down. Weber has proven little long term. Mara is a stop gap. Wisniewski is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Same freedom to test the market for Sopel. That leaves Gorges, who will surely be signed as a restricted free agent even though he is coming off major knee surgery.
So while Gauthier is picking up on my idea to ink Subban and Price for about seven years, he also has to get serious about building that defensive corps again. He needs a big horse back there, a guy who clears some bodies and plays with some anger and lays out a frightening hit or two.
There is still, though, one more piece of the puzzle to fill if this team is going to approach greatness: it has been about two decades now since the team addressed its need for a big centreman.
Teams who win cups have dominating centres. They are usually giants who absorb big minutes, but they can be just flat out talented like Jonathan Toews. Usually it is a big man, but if the player is dominating like Toews that is fine too. Either way, you have to have a dominating presence down the middle. Nine times out of ten when they hoist the cup in June, the team that is doing it has a big body up the middle that cannot be stopped. That means the salary of Scott Gomez has to be eaten. He has three more years on that behemoth of a contract and the skill simply is not there as it used to be.
I know how far the team got last year with Gomez as a major component, and you may find this unfair, but I do not believe that this can be repeated if he is the cornerstone guy contract wise and up the middle. Team greatness just is not happening in this scenario. Gomez must be bought out. After you have freed up the money, you get a big centre and finally stop all of the games that the club has been bullied, and all of the games that the other team's top center dominated the big shifts late when it was all on the line.
Even though so many good building blocks are in place, including the best young goalie and the best young defenceman and a lot of strong forwards who know how to win, no lifting of the cup is possible without a strong rebuild of the defense, and the acquisition of a true big number one man up the middle.
I like what I see, but I could like it more.