Happy birthday, Habs. How did that feel?
Finding the right word to describe the Montreal Canadiens’ centennial season would put the vocabulary of even the most pessimistic person to the test. Let’s just call it an unmitigated disaster and leave it there.
The question now is, where do the Habs go from here? To answer that, first we must establish where here is. From where I’m standing, the Canadiens are only slightly further along than teams in complete rebuilding mode. Obviously the off-season will be marked by the fact Montreal has so many restricted and unrestricted free agents. The entire top line of Saku Koivu, Alex Tanguay and Alex Kovalev, plus shutdown defender Mike Komisarek, can walk as UFAs.
I say, at least in the case of the three forwards, replace their skates with walking shoes and shove them out the door. At this point, what’s the long-term motivation for Montreal to retain any of Koivu, Tanguay and Kovalev? Koivu has had a courageous run as Habs captain, but he also epitomizes the team’s shortcomings over the past decade-plus; he’s skilled but small, good but not great. I’ve seen leopards with more malleable spots than Kovalev’s mercurial characteristics and Tanguay, though hurt much of the year, clearly isn’t the front-line forward Montreal so desperately needs.
Bringing one or two of those guys back might help the Canadiens push for a playoff spot next year, but it does nothing to advance the franchise toward what should be its ultimate goal of winning a championship.
Quite simply, the Canadiens will never win the Stanley Cup with the core of skill players they have now, so why not go about initiating real change? Let Koivu, Kovalev and Tanguay go, create a whack of cap space and start anew.
The good news for the Habs is they are still one of the best clubs in the league when it comes to drafting and developing talent. Montreal should lean on its organizational depth, all the while keeping an eye out for that player who can be the defining figure this franchise has lacked for so long.
Maybe the Habs take a step back next year in favor of two forward in the future. That’s a much better scenario than the completely average status quo.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.