Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hope springs eternal once again in Montreal

Tomorrow marks the proverbial beginning of the 2011-2012 Montreal Canadiens season, as the majority of the organization will be present at Club Laval sur le Lac for the team's annual golf tournament. The event marks the first time the entire team will be available to the media since the sombre days following the Habs elimination at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Boston Bruins. Members of the media and fans alike will finally get some of the answers they've been waiting for all summer; how are Andrei Markov's and Josh Gorges' reconstructed knees? Is Max Pacioretty ready to confront perhaps the greatest mental block an athlete can ever be confronted with-that is, returning from a devastating, potentially career-ending injury? Is Carey Price ready to carry the load between the pipes for a second consecutive season? Will P.K Subban be able to fly around the dreaded sophomore slump the same way he flies around flat-footed defenders?

In reality, however, none of these answers will be fully answered by the time the team heads home tomorrow night to begin preparing for physicals and medicals on Friday. Tomorrow simply symbolizes the beginning of what Habs' fans are praying will be the year, the true Drive for 25. The foundation of hope is laid, and sparks of excitement will begin to fly around the city as the Montreal faithful gear up for another eight-month long campaign, full of ups and downs, highs and lows, with the hope that it is to be followed by a lengthy playoff run. Only in Montreal are the fans as emotionally involved in the game as their heroes on the ice. Each year brings a new sense of cautious optimism as armchair general managers around the city analyze and critique each move Pierre Gauthier has made over the past four months; is Nathan Beaulieu the real deal? Is Erik Cole the missing ingredient to round out the top-six forwards group? Is Peter Budaj an upgrade over Alex Auld? Will Gauthier regret hanging onto Scott Gomez following his disappointing year, or will he come out looking like a genius as a resurgent Gomez returns with a vengeance?

All intriguing thoughts, all to be cleared up in the very near future.

With the memory of Nathan Horton's Game 7 overtime winner no doubt still lingering, the Habs come into this season with something to prove. They must show that pushing the champs to Game 7 was not simply a fluke, but a genuine case of two elite teams duking it out to the final buzzer, with one team getting the knockout blow just before the bell. With an elite goaltender on the cusp of greatness, the makings of a top-tier defense and the addition of another bonafide top-line forward should only raise the expectation level for this edition of the Montreal Canadiens. It is time for this team to take the next step and ascend into the conversation of the elite, contending teams. Barring injury and other misfortunes, they have the capability to surprise a lot of people.

 It is time for this franchise to carry the city on its back, and not the other way around. The support and love for this team, these players, this logo, is at an all-time high. It is now time to pay it forward; this city has been aching for glory for the past two decades, the streets of downtown impatiently waiting to be paraded and celebrated upon once more.

Another year, another season, another chapter in history. Once again, hope springs eternal in Montreal.

“To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high.”

The torch has been flickering for eighteen long years. It is time for these Habs to re-ignite it and once again hold it high.

So, I ask you, fellow partisans-is this the year?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

And we're back! A quick look back on the Habs offseason

Yup...it's been awhile, to say the least-and as much as I'd love to delve into the many reasons why Magg's Habs Musings has been sitting on the backburner for the past 8 months, there is no time. There is no time because my back hurts and this chair is uncomfortable. There is no time because I am tired and might pack it in early tonight-but, most importantly, there is no time because training camp is right around the corner, and it is now time to look ahead to the beginning of the long, nerve-wracking, anxiety filled hockey season that comes with being a fan of the Montreal Canadiens.

It is time to break out the jerseys, the hats, the tuques and scarves. It is time to sit with fellow fanatics and debate, discuss, argue, and agree to disagree on various issues that would leave many wondering "Why do they even waste their time talking about this stuff?" But alas, only a true fan of the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge can truly appreciate a full-fledged conversation over whether or not Jeff Woywitka was the right defenseman to sign in the role of a depth defenseman.

If I wanted to waste your time, I would figuratively wind back the clock to Draft Day and analyze everything that has happened since then, in an attempt to formulate my opinions on the matter and with hope to persuade you into believing that I am credible, knowledgable person on the topic of hockey (which I plan on achieving, by the way). But its already August and anything I say will simply be repetition at this point, so unfortunately,  in keeping with the theme of this blog post-time, and the lack thereof-I will keep it short and sweet:

- I was rooting for Tyler Biggs, not Nathan Beaulieu. But Beaulieu has made me a believer (I watched the tape) and Biggs ended up with the Leafs...go figure.

- I was pleasantly surprised by the acquisition of Erik Cole. I'm hoping his history of success in Montreal as an opponent will translate to even better prodcution as a member of the home team (and on the road too of course).

- I was puzzled by the addition of Peter Budaj over Alex Auld, but you won't get any complaints from me. Besides, Price is going to play 82 games this year, isn't he?

- I am ever so thankful that Andrei Markov has re-signed, and for three years. And I can't wait for him to shove it in all his critics faces.

- I am quite skeptical about the Josh Gorges situation. I was among the many hoping Pierre Gauthier would lock him up long-term to a cap-friendly salary, but apparently the Canadiens believed taking the wait-and-see approach with the Habs Ironman. Gorges is a fighter, an unselfish, fiery competitor who has brought it every single night he ever wore a Canadiens uniform. He worked his up from pressbox afterthought to one of the leaders and potential future captain of this team. Now that future seems in doubt, because if Gorges has a good season, he may price himself out of the Habs' range-especially with Price and Subban in line for major raises next summer.

- It only took 7 years to get Alexei Yemelin to Montreal, but he has finally arrived-and we finally know how to actually spell his last name. There is indeed a "Y" in there...

- Watch out for Raphael Diaz-he has the potential to be the second coming of Mark Streit. Streit was a complete unknown when he broke in with the Habs, and with little to no expectations for him people wrote him off quickly. Diaz comes to Montreal in a similar situation, and judging by the rave reviews about his play in Switzerland, don't be shocked if Diaz finds a home in Montreal in the near future.

- Andrei Kostitsyn's comments to the Belarussian media were not surprising-not in the sense that we expect this kind of behavior from the elder Kostitsyn, but because it wasn't hard to figure out that he wasn't happy bouncing around from line to line all season long. His play was extremely streaky and the effort that he brought to the table came in bursts and spurts. His long-standing reputation as an inconsistent talent will probably result in this being his last season as a Canadien, barring not only a huge statistical season, but a major mental breakthrough.

If I missed anything, its because it isn't worth talking about. Or I'm too tired to remember. Or I'm rusty and need to get back to posting regularly before the thoughts flow properly again. All in all, my main offseason thoughts are highlighted. Next time, we'll focus more on the beginning of training camp and the always intriguing storylines that come with it.