Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Previously on "The Breakdown" - Habs Season Preview Part.1

The Lockout is over.
The National Hockey league is back.
The Montreal Canadiens are back.
The Breakdown is back.

I would like to apologize to my readers for this extended hiatus, and thank you for returning to the blog. I put a lot of effort into writing these pieces and hope you appreciate them.

In the coming days an exact start date for NHL training camps will be announced. (Expected to be January 11th or 12th) and shortly thereafter the 2013 NHL season will begin. Likely a 50 game season starting on the 19th of this month. While those details still have themselves to work out, we can get back to talking hockey.

Consider this your season preview. We'll be splitting it up into three sections.

Previously - Getting you up to speed on what's happened since last season.

Prospects/Philosophy - Who are the exciting young guns in the Habs system? Will they be at the abbreviated Training camp? Do they have a shot at playing with the team?

Lineup - What will this years edition of the Habs look like?

Due to the length of each section, I will be splitting the piece over the coming days. Today we'll round up a long, busy off-season in Montreal. 


The biggest changes in the off-season started at the top for your Montreal Canadiens. Their hired a new General Manger - Marc Bergevin who not only acquired some players, but also surrounded himself with a team of hockey minds. Many in the local media, myself included, have been impressed with his work thus far.

Bergevin was not my first choice for the GM position, my choice was Pierre McGuire. That's less a knock on Bergevin, and more speaking to the fact that I'm much more aware of Pierre McGuire and what I felt he'd bring to the table. I did, however at the time, explain to people that everything I heard about Marc Bergevin sugested that he too would be a good hire.

Bergevin immediately following his hiring started surrounding himself with great hockey people.Suddenly the Canadiens had personnel in Hockey Operations positions that hadn't existed before. The first big hiring was of Rick Dudley as his Assistant GM. Dudley comes to the Canadiens most recently from Toronto where he served under Brain Burke as Director of Player Personnel - a position to be filled in Montreal by former NHLer Scott Mellanby. 

Prior to his job with the Maple Leafs, Rick Dudley served as the General Manager of the Atlanta Thrashers for two seasons.Jonathan Willis wrote an excellent Blog posting on Dudley and his resume which I urge you to check out. Bergevin and Dudley, of course, are extremely familiar with each other having previously worked together for the Chicago Blackhawks.

On June 3rd, I wrote a posting entitled "Playing with Fire" where I discussed my thoughts on who should be the next head Coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and why. TSN's Bob McKenzie who doesn't usually get these things wrong, tweeted the other day that "Now that Bob Hartley is new head coach in CGY, MTL job is down to Michel Therrien or Marc Crawford."

I am not against Michel Therrien, I think he is a better coach now than when he was last in Montreal, but I think it's time for a different face here. After Martin, Julien, Therrien and Vigneault it's time to bring in an offensive coach, not ask a coach to change his style.

Therrien preaches defense, Crawford preaches offense. Therrien throws players' under the bus, Crawford protects his players. Therrien has been to a Stanley Cup Final, Crawford has won a Stanley Cup. Therrien has coached here before, Crawford is dying to coach here once - evidenced by the fact that he is taking French lessons just to interview for the job.

Since being hired, Michel Therrien has said all the right things. He told TSN 690's Mitch Melnick in a recent interview that he wants his players to "play on their toes," a reference to a more aggressive, offensive system. I hope that to be the case. As Melnick himself suggested, this could be a similar situation to when GM Mike Gillis inherited Alain Vigneault in Vancouver a few years ago. Vigneault and Gillis sat down with the General Manager telling the Coach that he liked him as a hockey guy, liked his personality, but hated his system. The Coach evolved, hopefully Therrien has as well.

Following the hiring of new/old Head Coach Michel Therrien, The Canadiens headed to the NHL draft in Pittsburgh (more on that below) and by all accounts had a fantastic day. Less than one week later, Marc Bergevin had a busy Canada day. 

Proving that his relationship with new Head Coach Michel Therrien is one built on strong communication, Bergevin signed 2 players who have played for Therrien before. Defenseman Francis Boullion returns to Montreal for his 3rd tour of duty with the club - the first of which was spent under Michel Therrien. Colby Armstrong who played for Therrien in Pittsburgh was also brought in. But, the biggest acquisition of the day was Brandon Prust.

Prust, was actually on the list of players that I felt the Canadiens should take a hard look at on the free agent market. As he proved during his time with the New York Rangers, Brandon Prust is a rugged bottom 6 forward. He kills penalties (averaging 1:40 per game on the PK in 2011-2012), He can fight - having been charged with 20 fighting majors last season, but he can also play hockey. Prust averaged over 10 mins a game last season - for a Rangers team that finished 1st in the NHL. He threw 144 hits, took 156 mins in penalties, and scored 2 game winning goals.

Jesse Spector is a US National Hockey writer for the Sporting News, and Brett Cyrgalis is a sports writer at the New York Post covering the Rangers, I asked them for further insight into Prust. 

Spector: "If you're into Intangibles, how about the fact that despite fighting pretty much anyone who asks, Prust hasn't missed a game in the past two seasons?"
Cyrgalis: " Brandon was a real leader throughout his time in New York. His teammates always looked up to him for his tough play, and his sacrificing his body for the betterment of the team.  He never got many of the headlines, but he got the famed Broadway Hat more often that most would expect, showing how much his teammates looked up to him and the way he played."

Spector: "Hockey players are famously tough, but Prust takes it to another level. As injuries besieged the Rangers in 2010-2011, he was asked about some knocks he had taken. His reply? "It's just pain." It became a rallying cry for a team that just squeaked into the playoffs."

Cyrgalis: "He will undoubtedly bring that same intensity to his game in Montreal"

Spector: "He's nails through and through"

After Brandon Dubinsky was traded to Columbus as part of the Rick Nash trade, many in the twitter-verse speculated that the Rangers had lost a lot of heart in the off-season between Dubinsky & Prust. Hockey fans could see alot of that side of Dubinsky in the HBO 24/7 series earlier this year. I asked both Cyrgalis and Spector to fill me in on some things about the character of Brandon Prust that the average fan might not know.
Spector: "Well, he's a big Blue Jays fan/ Aside from that, Prust is someone who is unflinchingly honest and appreciates what it takes to succeed in the NHL because he's had to battle his way through every stage of his career."

Cyrgalis: "What the average fan doesn't know about Brandon is that he's funny.He used to make everyone in the room laugh, and although he was exactly the most articulate speaker with microphones and cameras in his face, he was open and candid when possible."

Spector: "He's got a subtle sense of humour and it's kind of infectious. I don't think that means anything on the ice, but he's a good guy for young players to learn from when it comes to putting in a full effort all the time, regardless of how things are going."

Cyrgalis:  " He also found a way to lighten the mood -- which is very important for a team playing hugely important games down the stretch and in the playoffs"

For more on Brandon Prust, please read "Welcome to Montreal: Brandon Prust"

Bergevin also brought in Colby Armstrong, and brought back Francis Bouillon. There are many commonalities among the three players - the main being that they are hard workers who will bleed for the logo on their jersey. In the case of Bouillon and Armstrong however, they also have familiarity with Head Coach Michel Therrien.

When Michel Therrien took over as Head Coach of the Canadiens (the first time) in November 2000, he was instrumental in getting Bouillon his first taste of NHL action. Bouillon played 74 games that season. 

The last time Bouillon played in Montreal was during the playoffs of the disastrous Centennial Season. Bouillon came back early from injury, didn't look great, and wasn't re-signed in the off-season.
Unless something has changed since he was last in Montreal, I see Bouillon as a capable bottom pairing defenseman. Probably a 6/7 on most teams, who may play more minutes with Montreal (if he's healthy) due to his work ethic and familiarity with the coach.
Admittedly, I have only seen Bouillon play a few games since leaving Montreal in 2009 so I reached out to some people who have seen much of "Le Pettite Geurrier" during his time in Nashville.

Amanda DiPaolo is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Political Science at Middle Tennessee State University - but her true passion lies in Hockey. DiPaolo runs Inside - a Nashville Predators blog, similar to the Breakdown. Inside Smashville is a great resource for reading Amanda's take on all things Predators.
In speaking with Amanda, I discovered that like the coach Amanda has a history with "The Cube" (as he was affectionately known in Nashville). "Since (Bouillon) spent most of his time in Montreal, I doubt there is anything that fans in Montreal don't know... and of course since coming to Nashville already a seasoned veteran, I don't think his style evolved any."

"I used to live in Fredericton, New Brunswick and so I've been familiar with Bouillon from his American Hockey League days!"

DiPaolo also spoke fondly of Bouillon's hard work, team play and leadership. "As fans in Montreal must know, Bouillon is not only an excellent defensive defenseman who is tough on the ice, but he is a real team player off the ice. During Nashville's recent playoff run, defenseman Kevin Klein started a trend in the locker room. He cut his hair into a mohawk. Other players followed suit, including former Habs Hal Gill and Bouillon. But the veteran defenseman who has recently rejoined the Canadiens took it one step further, Bouillon's young boys also started sporting mohawks in support of their dad."

Charlie Saunier hosts the Prednecknation  Radio show on and has been covering the Nashville Predators for various outlets for over a decade. I went a little more in depth with Charlie on Bouillon starting with his health.
"Francis Bouillon recovered nicely from the injury he had when he first joined the Preds & stayed healthy over his tenure in Nashville, except for a concussion that cost him the end of the 2010-2011 season. While out during that stretch, he was missed quite a bit."

I asked Saunier if anything stuck out in particular about Bouillon during his tenure in Music city. "He never took a minute of his ice time for granted. He played so much bigger than his size and was willing to play the "Predator" way as Head Coach Barrt Trotz loves to say. He hit, fought, and chipped in on offense when he could. His defense was solid and made it very easy for his partners to take more offensive risks."

Hard worker. Willing to fight for teammates. Perfect team guy. Sounds like a good fit.
Francis Bouillon typifies a depth defenseman. He'll put his hard hat and working boots on before every shift of every game and dig in for a long night's work. He's the type of gritty player Michel Therrien loves to have, he's the kind of guy teammates love, and he's the kind of guy who will bleed for the  logo in the front, not the name on the back. 

For more on Francis Bouillon, please read "Welcome (back) to Montreal: Francis Bouillon".

Colby Armstrong was bought out late last night by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto will actually be paying Armstrong $1 million to not play for them. While the Canadiens will be matching that figure after signing Armstrong to a 1-year $1 million contract.
Armstrong has run into injury problems the last couple of years. He's missed 75 games due to various broken bones. Armstrong says he's completely healthy now and is looking forward to playing with his childhood favourite team. He told CKAC radio in Montreal that his favourite player growing up was Kirk Muller, and that he had Muller's poster hung in his bedroom "right next to the Britney Spears poster".
Armstrong, like Boullion has also played for Michel Therrien before. "Michel knows how I play and he knows how to get the best of me. I wanted to end up with the Canadiens" Armstrong told RDS. 
When asked by CKAC if he had fielded other offers, Armstrong said that he knew there was interest from some other teams, but jumped at the chance to play for his childhood favourite team. He was after all, a card-carrying member of the Montreal Canadiens fan club. 

"I was disappointed that the Maple Leafs bought out my contract. I think I can still contribute and I hope to rebound this season. I'm glad the Canadiens think the same way as me. I think the transition will be easy after living in the middle of Toronto".

I spoke with CTV Montreal's Brian Wilde and TSN 690's Conor Mckenna about their thoughts on GM Marc Bergevin and his moves thus far. 

McKenna : He’s done a good job. He’s in a tough spot with some of the terrible deals he inherited but I like the job he’s done so far. He’s identified core players and signed them to deals that appear to be fair to both sides. Hard to say how the hire of Michel Therrien will work out, but his track record with younger players is outstanding. The future already looks a lot better with Bergevin at the helm if only because he’s had the sense to surround himself with intelligent hockey people and seems to be willing to listen to them. My expectations for this season are not high. It will  take some time for this team to become a real contender but based on this year’s draft and the strength of next year’s draft class, I think the team will contend in the next three or four years.  

Wilde: Bergevin has done perfectly for me. He seems to get it in every way and my initial impression is he is going to be an all timer at it. Yep I said it. He seems to understand about overvaluing an asset. He passed up on Jagr and Parenteau when it would have been easy to seek more strength short term.
He is going to be a great one. People need to let him plan. That's all.

Geoff Molson came down from the heavens and hired the answer to Hab fans prayers, the house is order, a season of sorts is on the way. 

Let's go to work.

Drop the Puck. 


Back tomorrow with part 2 of our season preview, discussing The Habs prospects and my philosophy on them.

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