Pierre Gauthier’s press conference this week highlighted “team stability” and the “core strengths” of the Montreal Canadiens. Gauthier is telling the media that the current roster, which looks a lot like last year’s roster, will be the same roster for the foreseeable future. YetÂ there a number of players who, if they don’t play to expectations, will likely not return. It’s a long enough list that the entire organization may undergo a large overhaul in the summer of 2011. Perhaps not as big as the one the Canadiens underwent in 2009, but an overhaul nonetheless.
For instance, take Andrei Kostitsyn,Â Benoit Pouiliot,Â Ryan O’Byrne,Â Maxim Lapierre andÂ Mathieu Darche:Â It is IMPOSSIBLE to see how any of these players come back next year if they do not produce this year.
Gauthier will not have the stomach to re-sign Kostitsyn if he pulls his incomprehensible sleep walking act yet again. Better to let him go to the KHL.Â No one will pick at the discards of Benoit Pouliot’s “high draft pick pedigree” if he can’t put the puck in the net with consistency after failing in Minnesota and Montreal. Ditto Max Lapierre, who has been groomed through the Juniors and Hamilton and has been given chance after chance to produce.O’Byrne may not even finish the season with the Habs.Â Darche, at his advanced age, with Jeff Halpen in the lineup and a number of hungry kids in Hamilton, may not be coming back no matter what he does. But if he is able to make a real contribution, maybe he sticks around somehow?
In essence, this season represents their best, last chance to prove they can be stars, or at least valuable contributors, to the Montreal Canadiens for another few years.Â If they wish to remain in the colors of Lafleur, it is a make-or-break season and they know it.
And there are plenty of other players for whom there is an enormous amount at stake.
Dustin Boyd Â and Tom Pyatt are both RFA’s and largely unknown quantities within the organization. And neither will get a free pass if they don’t produce this season. They are easy to replace and easy to trade.
Then there are players who are not easily replaceable, but it’s no guarantee that they will return to the Habs next year. First on that list is Andrei Markov. He is a UFA and he needs to prove he has overcome his injuries and can be the Top-50 player he was two years ago. I think he will, and I think Gauthier will sign him. But it is also possible that Gauthier will deem him expendable and expensive, depending on how well PK Subban performs.But Markov needs to show, once again, that the Habs can’t afford not to sign him.
Josh Gorges is arguably the Habs’ second-best defenceman. But he too, has an expiring contract and he will want to confirm that he is deserving of a BIG raise.
Hal Gill and Roman Hamrlik are UFA’s.Â They will likely not return to the Habs after this season. But I don’t think they’re ready for retirement, either. If they still want to play in this league at a salary anywhere near what they currently earn, they will have to prove they can be warriors, yet again. They are under pressure to perform.
And the player under the most pressure to perform is Carey Price. True, Price is signed to two years so he will be back. But if Price does not perform, there are others within team management who may not be: Obviously,Â Gauthier will be under the gun to prove that he made the right call in trading away Jaroslav Halak and installing Carey Price as the top netminder – to say nothing of the decisions to bring in Lars Eller and backup Alex Aauld. Bottom line:Â If Price fails, so does Gauthier.
As if that wasn’t enough, new owner Geoff Molson is in line to replace Pierre Boivin as President of the Montreal Canadiens. He will spend the year “shadowing” Boivin and will “officially” take over on July 1, 2011. Which means the owner of the Montreal Canadiens will literally be looking over Gauthier’s shoulders all season long. Will he like what he sees?
If Gauthier is feeling any heat, so is coach Jacques Martin. Because if he has any chance of winning, Martin will have to find a way to motivate and teach his young players, chief among them, Subban and Eller. To ensure Gauthier’s legacy and the success of the team, Martin needs these players to perform at the top of their expectations. It’s a huge and delicate job when youÂ consider that last year, almost ALL of the young Habs forwards had career-worst seasons under him (see Pacioretty, D’Agostini, Latendresse, the Kostitsyns, Lapierre, etc etc). Martin will also have to take on O’Byrne and possibly Yannick Weber, too. If he fails to redeem the diamond prospects of the organization this year, he will not be trusted with future prospects like Louis Leblanc, Alex Avtsin and Jarred Tinordi.
In fact, after Molson, new captain Brian Gionta,Â Michael Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Tomas Plekanec, Price, Subban and probably Gorges and Markov, is there anyone else in this entire organization who is “safe” for next year?
Plus the percolating dynamics inside the NHL: the CBA expires in 2012, the NHLPA will harden with Donald Fehr at the helm, the salary cap is fluctuating, more teams are moving to younger and cheaper players….
Add it all up and what do you get?
Almost EVERYONE is under enormous pressure to prove that they belong.
And because there are so many players who know this is their last chance, along with the uncertainty surrounding the RFAs and UFAs, well…if enough people in the organization don’t perform this year, the Montreal Canadiens could again undergo a massive restructuring. From top to bottom.
You can officially call 2010-2011 the Make or Break season.