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Canadiens Watch: Formula for a Cup contender

The Montreal Canadiens would love to beat their opponents Tuesday night, but moving forward, they’d probably be better off merging with them.

The Calgary Flames will land in Montreal inhibited by the exact opposite problem that plagues the Canadiens. The Flames’ issue is they’re too top heavy and count on superstar Jarome Iginla to provide too much of the offence. Meanwhile, the Canadiens constructed a team that depends on scoring from a few lines, but lacks that one, franchise-defining star who can carry an entire squad on his shoulders.

It’s not that the Habs don’t have some high-end forwards, though. Saku Koivu is a courageous captain and Alex Kovalev has tons of skill, as does Alex Tanguay, but are any of those guys the type of player you build a franchise around? Do any of them emit the same just-let-me-at-them vibe Iginla does?

Absolutely not.

The truth is, players with Iginla’s blend of skill - such as toughness and leadership - are extremely rare, but that doesn’t make it any less essential to have them around. Glancing back at recent Cup winners, it’s clear the Henrik Zetterbergs, Ryan Getzlafs and Vincent Lecavaliers of the world have to be part of your team if you’re going to reach the top of the mountain.

But just because the Flames have a unique talent in Iginla, it doesn’t mean life is a bunch of roses for them. While Calgary has picked up its game as of late, the team lacks the depth necessary to topple the league’s big boys. In addition to Iginla, the Flames boast terrific defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr, and a goaltender who won the 2006 Vezina Trophy, Miikka Kiprusoff. After that, the bottom falls out pretty fast. Center Mike Cammalleri, acquired in a draft-day trade with the Los Angeles Kings last June, has scored more points recently, but has not consistently produced since coming to Calgary. Todd Bertuzzi had a hot start, but is in the midst of a 15-game goalless drought. Add to that the fact No. 1 center Daymond Langkow is on pace for just 57 points and it is easy to see why the Flames will be in tough when they face the Western Conference’s heavy hitters.

True Cup contenders combine Calgary’s star power with Montreal’s balance and always beat teams that have just one of those elements.

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 His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.

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