Interesting report on the Montreal Canadiens youth movement in the Gazette today: Herb Zurkowsky notes that Bryan Smolinski, Patrice Brisebois, and Tom Kostopoulos have become press-box regulars. All three were free-agent signings last summer, and it's worth wondering at this point what Bob Gainey was thinking when he signed them, given his apparent determination to focus on youth. The Brisebois signing remains the most puzzling, as the Habs have eight other defensemen on the team, but the it's the Smolinski deal that is most regrettable. Nothing against Smolinski: he is a fine veteran capable of filling a certain role very effectively. It's just that there's no place for his role on this team, as he himself says, and the Habs are using two million dollars of precious cap-space to pay him.
There is, in fact, a real log-jam developing. Not only is there no room, at the present time, on the bench for Smolinski, Kostopoulos, Brisebois, or Dandeneault, but the Habs also have some skilled young players who have developed well in Hamilton: Chipchura, Locke, D'Agostini, Valentenko.
Then there are still more blue-chip prospects like Max Pacioretty, Ryan McDonagh, Alexei Emelin, and perhaps David Fischer, whose play has improved significantly in his sophomore year. The Habs, basically, have one of the best pools of young talent to draw from, as most observers agree.
Odds and Ends
Hartley Miller says the reason Bob Gainey traded Cristobal Huet is that he is simply not interested in competing this year, and is willing to sacrifice winning a round or two in favour of jump-starting Carey Price's career as a #1 goalie. Well, that's the only sensible explanation I've heard: it actually never crossed my mind that Bob would deliberately avoid making a run for the Cup. Obviously, such a run had little chance for success, even with Huet, but I figure you always should at least try if the opportunity is there. Roll the dice; why not? I guess Bob isn't a gambling man.
Look out for Steve Bernier when the Canadiens play the Sabres tonight. He made a big splash in his first game with Buffalo, scoring two goals, and you know those French guys always seem to channel Lafleur whenever they play Montreal. Impressively, Darcy Regier managed to get Bernier and a first rounder from San Jose in exchange for Brian Campbell, a UFA rental player. Now, obviously Regier has powerful Jedi mind powers, but still, you have to wonder if Bob Gainey couldn't have persuaded the Sharks to give him Bernier in exchange for Mark Streit, straight up?
The Canadiens can take over first-place tonight if they can beat the suddenly-hot Buffalo Sabres, after Ottawa lost yet another game last night, this time against the struggling Philadelphia Flyers. What the hell has been wrong with that team since December? They can't do anything at all. I hope Montreal can come through tonight: it'll be their third crack at first place, a spot they have failed to own yet, though they did share it for a day or two with the Sens and the Devils.
Canada's most famous Leap Year birthday boy? Montreal Canadiens great Henri "Pocket Rocket" Richard, who has his 18th birthday today. If you see him around Montreal today, you can legally buy him a drink.