What is wrong with the Habs?

It’s funny how a few games can make fans forget everything.

Jamie's Hockey Blog photo, via Wikimedia Commons

No-trade clauses are just part of the problem with this team.

This time last week, the NHL world was atwitter with people asking what was wrong with the Montreal Canadiens.

Now, on a three-game winning streak, people are thinking all is right with the team.

But it’s not. The streak is hiding what this team really is: a bunch of underachievers who have overachieved the past few seasons.

Look, it’s great to have some victories, but really, who did we beat. A Flyers team missing their best player, and with a goalie who has no confidence (and a goals against average of 3.16 and a save percentage of .880). And a Bruins team, coming off a Stanley Cup hangover, who is last in the East and is in bottom five in the league for goals-for-per-game.

The team has some major issues, and it’s not going to be easy to fix.

Below are just some examples of what is wrong the Habs.

No-trade contracts. This is the killer on the team. Just say if the Habs decide they need to blow up the team and start over. Well, who do they trade? Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, Erik Cole, Jaroslav Spacek and Andrei Markov make up most of their top players. Except for Spacek, all of them are signed for big-money contracts, long-term and have no trade clauses. How can you rebuild a team like that? That’s $37.5 million tied up and stuck in Montreal. Or if you prefer, 58% of their cap.

Who’s going to take Plekanec for $5 million a year? And if you do find a taker, then you need to make sure Pleks will waive his no-trade clause. There’s no way you’re going to get a fair trade that way. Look at Dany Heatley a couple of years back. When he wanted out of Ottawa, the Sens got screwed because there weren’t enough interest from other teams. And when there was, Heatley vetoed the trade.

That’s why you get trades like this: Petteri Nokelainen and Garrett Stafford from Phoenix for Brock Trotter and a seventh round draft pick.

No trade clauses ruin organizations. And that’s what is happening with the Habs right now.

Too scared to make trades. Part of this is because of the point above, but it always amazes me when other teams make moves that make me think, “You know, if that’s all it cost, the Habs should have gotten him.” David Booth being the best example. He was traded for basically nothing. David Steckl was for a fourth rounder. Why can’t the Habs get these players for those prices? We need faceoff help, Steckl is a beast in the circle. We need more secondary scoring, Booth has three 20-goal seasons. I just don’t get it.

Jacques Martin and the system. My buddy Dave summed it up this way: “Our GM’s have consistently acquired small offensive players and then paired them with defensive minded coaches.” You can see it during the games. There’s no way these guys can get the puck off the stick of bigger players. They simply can’t check them off the puck. Then, as this is also applied to when we’re in the offensive zone, our small forwards can’t get a rebound. It’s frustrating to watch other teams park guys in front of the net, and the Habs not be able to do that. It’s a dull system, but fans put up with it when we’re winning. When we’re losing, it’s even worse.

And I still don’t understand why Jacques Martin continues to use Tomas Plekanec in the shootout. Pleks is 3 for 29 in his career, but Jacques keeps putting him out there as one of the first three shooters. It’s maddening to watch.

I also don’t understand why Martin continues to use Gomez on the second line, despite the fact he can’t score, pass, or defend.

As a side note, check out Cowhide and Rubber’s blog, which lists 32 reasons why Jacques Martin should be fired.

Resolute photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Wouldn't it have been nice to have seen Jarome Iginla in a Habs jersey for the past decade?

Horrible drafting. Unless you’re bad enough for a few years like Washington, Pittsburgh and Chicago were, most first round draft picks take a few years before they can start delivering. That’s why it’s important to draft smart, not necessarily for now, but for five to 10 years down the road. Just look at the Habs draft record since 1995, and players taken a few spots after them (I didn’t include the last few years because it’s too early to know how those picks will turn out):

1995: Took Terry Ryan eighth overall, could have had Jarome Iginla (11th overall)

1996: Took Matt Higgins 18th overall, could have had Daniel Briere (24th)

1997: Took Jason Ward 11th overall, could have had Marian Hossa (12th)

1998: Took Eric Chouinard 16th overall, could have had Robyn Regher (19th)

1999: No first round pick (also known as the worst draft in Habs history)

2000: Took Ron Hainsey 13th overall, and Marcel Hossa 16th. Could have had Brooks Orpik (18th)

2001: Took Mike Komisarek 7th overall. Was the best option.

2002: Took Chris Higgins 14th overall. Was the best option.

2003: Took Andrei Kostitsyn 10th overall. Could have had Jeff Carter (11th). Zach Parise went 17th. Sports Illustrated had the Habs taking Parise in a mock draft.

2004: Took Kyle Chipchura 18th overall. Could have had Travis Zajac (20th).

2005: Took Carey Price #5 overall (best choice available) 

2006: Took David Fischer #20 overall. Could have had Claude Giroux (22nd).

2007: Took Ryan McDonagh #12 overall. Could have had Kevin Shattenkirk (14th).

Now obviously, not every draft pick is going to work out. The only time we got it right was when there were no superstars (Komisarek and Higgins). But just imagine if they got just two of those picks right. Imagine if Iginla and Hossa were playing in a Habs jersey for the past decade. Or if Parise and Giroux were on the team now. I will now give you a moment to go pick up those guys in your Playstation games, and then weep quietly.

Let guys go to free agency for nothing. Like much of this list, this started with Bob Gainey. But look at the guys: Alex Tanguay, Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Michael Ryder, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Mark Streit, Mike Komisarek. That’s some pretty good talent there. Yet they were allowed to walk away with nothing in return. Christian Erhoff was traded twice after the playoffs last year, both times for a fourth round pick, before free agency began. Montreal couldn’t have done something to get something in return for those players?

Injuries. Of course injuries have played a role. When you lose some people with injuries, it’s going to have some effect on the rest of the team. But not having people who can step up in the injured roles says a lot about the depth of this team.

Signing the wrong guys. Look, I understand that not all free agents can work out. There are going to be some busts. But when you’re paying guys $5 million a year to come in and score, it’d be nice if one of them can get reach 70 points, instead of topping out at 50.

No real goal scorers. This goes back to the last point. Instead of signing a Brad Richards, or a Ilya Kovalchuk, Montreal signs Erik Cole and Scott Gomez. Instead of a Marian Gaborik, we get Mike Cammalleri. It’s simple. The core of this team is not good enough. We don’t have a sniper. We don’t have a set-up man. We don’t have a top six power forward. It’s sad.

Solutions? Unfortunately, there is no easy way to fix these problems. To fix the no-trade clauses and their impact on the cap, the Habs need to wait until the contracts expire. You can’t fix bad draft picks, you can only make smart picks for the future. You can’t stop injuries. All you can do is continue to come up with a game plan to try and win with what you’ve got.

And therein lies the problem. The person coming up with the game plan is GM Pierre Gauthier and coach Jacques Martin. Two people who don’t seem to realize that the pieces they have aren’t working, and their little fixes aren’t going to help either.

Despite the three-game winning streak, there are still some major problems with the Canadiens, and they need to be fixed.

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