Are the Habs going to be a better team when they start the season next October? It certainly looks like it and that’s pretty amazing news for a squad that made it to the Final Four in the recent playoffs.

The Montreal Canadiens signed seasoned centre Manny Malhotra to a dirt-cheap one-year $850,000 deal on Tuesday and I definitely like that one. He’s one of the best face-off men in the game, has grit and brings bags of experience to share with his younger team-mates. He’s, in theory, your fourth-line centreman, and looks just fine there. Good move.

Marc Bergevin also inked Florida defenceman Tom Gilbert to a two-year $2.8-million-per-year deal and this is also a good pick-up. You can look at Gilbert as Josh Gorges’s replacement and you get him for less dough and less years. (The Habs were on the hook for four more years at $3.9 million per annum for Gorges, under that dumb dumb deal signed by Pierre ‘Who Gave Me the Keys To This Place?’ Gauthier.)

Arpon Basu on nhl.com suggests Gilbert will be a natural quarter-back for the Habs’ second power-play unit, maybe playing alongside Nathan Beaulieu on the blueline. (Obviously the first unit with remain backed by P.K. ‘Superstar’ Subban and Andrei ‘I Don’t Want To Be Captain’ Markov.) Everything I’ve heard today is very positive about Gilbert.

The even better news is that the team has also signed Mike ‘Dream’ Weaver to a one-year deal that will give him a raise from $1.1 million to $1.75 million. Money well spent considering how solid Weaver was down the stretch in the regular season and in the playoffs. That means both of Bergevin’s surprisingly strong mid-season pick-ups – Weaver and Dale Weise – are returning to the club.

Also a couple of big departures, two of them to Buffalo. A day after turning down a trade to the Maple Leafs, Gorges was shipped off to the Sabres, in return for a second-round pick in 2016. At first glance, it’s a little odd that Gorges would rather play in Buffalo than Toronto but I liked his reasons, as reported on the Gazette’s Hockey Inside/Out. He told the Gaz hockey site: “Nothing against that organization or that team. But when you build a rivalry it’s hard mentally, emotionally to think, ‘Wow, I’ve grown to hate this team, to play against them, how could I ever really go and put my heart and soul into it?’ And so I just wanted to take some time before I made a decision.”

Pretty cool eh? Still, like I said in my previous post, this is just business. Gorges has too many years left at too high a price. As simple as that. And all of this talk of him being the next captain was just that. Talk. A few of us thought Gorges had kind of being auditioning for the role anyways, which was a little off-putting.

Speaking of captains, the Habs need one. Brian Gionta has also left for Buffalo, signing for three years at $4.25 million per season. Hey I wish our former captain all the best but there’s no way Montreal was going to make that kind of deal for him. He gave a lot to the organization but his best years are well behind him, as was underlined in this year’s playoff run.

So who’s the next captain of Nos Glorieux? Hey that’s a theme for another day’s column. (I can’t really think of an obvious candidate. I love P.K. but his head wouldn’t fit through the dressing-room door if they gave him the C.)

One bittersweet move. Ryan White is no longer with us. They let him go to unrestricted free agency. Hey he is maybe not the most talented guy in the league – or on the team – but I loved his attitude. Oh and Thomas Vanek has snuck off to Minnesota, as expected. The nice thing is the deal is a lot less sweet than everyone expected, just getting $19.5 million over three years. He’d been offered $50 million for seven years with the New York Islanders during the past season, but that was before he proved himself to have absolutely no heart as a playoff performer. I like the notion that my old joke turned out to be true – that he was losing a million bucks a night during the Habs run by sucking so bad.

And Tuesday’s deals come on the heels of the Parenteau-Briere trade (the subject of my previous post), also a positive move for the Good Guys.

All in all, a good week in Habsland.

Marc Bergevin1

Turns out Marc Bergevin is not just the most stylish GM in Gary Bettman’s league. He’s also one serious operator.

After years of mismanagement under the firm of G&G (Gainey & Gauthier) – I liked to call their style “management in a constant state of utter panic” but I digress – Bergevin has proved again this week that he’s not afraid to act forcefully and do the right thing, even it it’s painful.

I was a big critic of his decision last summer to pick up Danny Briere and, like the many critics of that acquisition, I turned out to be right. Sure he did some good things in the Habs’ improbable playoff run but you don’t pay four million bucks for a fellow to play on the fourth line and log less than ten minutes a game. Simple as that. So the fact Bergevin was able to unload that salary is great news.

The even better news is that he landed a younger more productive player in Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau. Parenteau is 31 – four years younger than Briere – and you have to like the idea of nabbing a winger who’s scored 73 goals and notched 205 points over four seasons with the Islanders and then the Avalanche. The mystery here is why Patrick Roy’s Avs want Briere. The diminutive scorer has had some good years but those are long gone. But hey maybe they know something we don’t. Clearly Roy and Parenteau didn’t see eye to eye, which is almost certainly the reason this deal went through.

Jury is in on this one. This benefits the Habs. They get a top-six winger in return for a fourth liner. For the same salary. M. Bergevin, take a bow.

Now on to Josh Gorges. He was – and it now seems pretty well a fact – traded in principle to the Toronto Maple Leafs but he refused to waive his no-trade clause. So he’s still a Hab tonight. But obviously not for long.

Dave Stubbs from the Gazette reports that Gorges has a list of 15 U.S. teams he’s agreed to be traded to and he has since added a couple of Canadian teams to that list. But obviously that not-so-short list doesn’t include Toronto. Ha! What? He doesn’t want to live in the Centre of the Universe?

This one is just business. Did I mention Gauthier was maybe not the Habs’s best-ever GM? Well the Gorges contract is a case in point. G signed him to a six-year nearly-$24-million contract extension in 2012 and it was just a dumb deal. There was no reason to go that long with Gorges and now his successor is paying the price for that silliness.

There is another defenceman named P.K. Subban who needs to be signed and – ideally! – that will cost the team big big bucks for the next seven or eight years. So Gorges simply costs too much over too many years. Has he done good work for the Habs firm? Of course he has. Is his value maybe a little over-inflated by the local hockey media? Of course it is.

As Pierre McGuire correctly underlined today, this move shows that the Habs organization cleary has all kinds of confidence in their next wave of D-men, notably Jarred ‘Big Man’ Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn.

The best thing about all this is flashy Bergevin’s willingness to take strong decisive action that’s not fueled by nerves, fear or loathing. Now if he could only sign Mike ‘Dream’ Weaver, I’d vote for him as GM of the year.

There was something beautiful about watching that Los Angeles Kings Cup win last night. With all the bullshit in pro sports – over-paid egomaniac athletes, stupid greedy owners, knuckle-dragging fans – it was nice to see a pure moment of joyous celebration. A bunched of bearded guys – an amazing amount of them who come from small towns in the middle of nowhere in Canada – getting all emotional after an epic two month battle. That’s why we love hockey. So Canadian.

Here’s the last of Hockey Night in Canada’s brilliant montages. Love this guy’s handiwork.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dygMvt4U3BQ

Come July, when we’re sitting on the porch of the cottage, hoisting a couple of beers and looking out at the lake, we’ll say – ‘Can you believe it? We beat the Bruins!’

But right now, when the Habs had tantalized us by being just two games away from the Stanley Cup finals, I feel totally and utterly bummed out. That said, we all saw it coming. We kept up a brave face but from that first-game blow-out, it was clear that The Walking Dead That Are The Boston Bruins had sucked the life out of these Habs.

Sure give credit to the New York Rangers. They played a near-perfect game tonight. But you do have to wonder how the Habs didn’t play with more desperation. Without Dustin Tokarski’s heroics, this could’ve easily been a 5-0 game. Instead the Blueshirts eked out a 1-0 victory.

The Habs just weren’t the same team in this series. They left it all in Boston. They ran out of gas. In that sense, it’s a lot like 2010 all over again when the Habs pulled out two stunning game-seven victories against Washington and Pittsburgh and then collapsed like a Dollar Store house of cards when faced with a Flyers team back-stopped by a No Name goaltender.

But this is a much better team than the 2010 Habs and once you get over the sadness of defeat, you have to pay tribute to a real character group that – against all expectations – brought this team into the Final Four in the NHL. Who predicted that last fall? And it’s been a great run for the young players who’ve learned so much and will be able to use that experience when they lace up for next year’s playoffs.

Still it’s all a little mysterious. This notion that they run out of gas. That they used it all up against Boston. How does that happen? How does a team look so great in one series and then look like a shadow of themselves a few days later? Or is it a case of Boston being not nearly as good as they should’ve been and the Rangers playing way better than expected?

And how could the Habs come out so flat for this crucial game six? That’s just downright bizarre. Other than Tokarski and Brendan Gallagher – of course! – Les Boys didn’t look like they cared all that much for large stretches of this game. Bizarre.

Well it’s been a great run. The city rallied behind this unlikely success story and, in the end, maybe our Stanley Cup was the satisfaction of making sure that Chara, Lucic and their pals didn’t get to take another shot at winning the Cup. That was pretty cool.

Anyways, did the Habs even want to win this series? To win so you can play either the Los Angeles Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks? That’s some kinda prize!

That’s it. The Habs just weren’t trying! ;)

I’m joking because if I wasn’t joking, I’d be crying.

I mean WTF! What just happened? Montreal finally scores the first goal – thank you young Mr. Galchenyuk – followed by a Rangers marker and then….well basically all hell broke loose.

Well let’s start with the tweet. I’m calling it The Tweet That Changed The Series. (I also have tongue firmly in cheek here.)

So with it all tied up at one, I think back to a conversation before the game with a pal. We were agreeing that the real problem with the Habs right about now was the lack of scoring. The Incredible Vanishing Hockey Player – aka Thomas Vanek – of course. But also Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, René Bourque, Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta. No one is putting the puck in the net.

So I tweet the following desperate thought: ‘Patch, Plek, Gionta, DD, Bourque. These guys have to score.’

One minute later Plek scores, which prompts the following Twitter thought: ‘I just tweeted that Plek had to score. He checked his timeline, took note of the tweet and scored w a wicked wrister.’ 2-1 Habs.

Then Patch scores. It’s 3-1. So, re my prediction, two down, three to go. Then Bourque puts it in the back of the net. My new best friend Maggie McDonnell tweets: ‘You’re the new #Ginette.’ King Henrik is chased from the game. Tokarski has slain the King!

CBC’s Quebec City morning woman Susan Campbell quite rightly notes: ‘OK this is getting scary.’

We’re all having a blast. Fun fun fun….until Josh Gorges kicks one into his own net, something I did NOT predict. Then the Rangers score two quick goals and it’s 4-4. No one is joking about predictions any more. I’m having a psychotic reaction on the couch. I feel like I might be sick.

Then Bourque scores again. It’s 5-4. My daughter comes home from her friend’s house and can’t believe it. When she left to take the bus it was 4-1 Montreal and a 15-minute ride later, it’s 5-4 Montreal.

Bourque does it again. Completes the hat trick. I wonder if he and Ginette necked before the game. This is not handshake magic. There must’ve been some kissing involved.

Did I mention that wee Davey Desharnais then scored? I was so hoping Gionta would sling it into the open net and make it five-for-five for my prediction and though he was on for much of the time the net was empty, he didn’t score. So I have to live with calling four out of five scorers. I still think I get to yell – BINGO!

Anything else? We’ve solved Lundqvist. The Rangers have turned into bigger goons than the Bruins. John Moore hit Dale Weise in the head with a check that will surely lead to a suspension. My new least favourite hockey player Derek Dorsett started the night by snowing the little kid in a Habs jersey and ended the game by head-butting Mike Weaver.

The Rangers are rattled. I’m shattered. We’re going back to Manhattan and if I’m Glen Sather, I’m wondering what the hell happened. I’m not Glen Sather and I am in fact wondering what happened. That was nutty. But the final score was 7-4 and the only score that counts is 3-2 Rangers. The Good Guys live to fight another day in the Big Apple.

I was sitting in the pub Sunday night when it happened. I had a pint of Okanagan ale in front of me, the conversation with a couple of the guys from our beer-league hockey team was as entertaining as usual and the place was whooping it up big time as we watched the Habs fight for their lives.

Then Martin St. Louis scored….and the thud you heard was me falling off the bandwagon. Like everyone I’ve talked to since, I was just floored by the concept that this overwhelmed Habs team had left St. Louis standing all by himself at the side of the net. Don’t they read the sports pages? Don’t they realize that this inspirational player is on a phenomenal roll and that he might not be the person you should be leaving alone in front of your rookie goalie.

So after two-and-a-half series of relentlessly cheering for Les Boys, I for the first time began to think the dreamy spring of 2014 might be over. That perhaps the 21st century Habs simply aren’t good at conference finals anymore. That we might go down 4-1 just like we did in the Halak spring of 2010.

As someone said to me this morning as I biked to the news factory – where is the Habs team that gave a lesson in hockey to those mighty Bruins? The team has looked like a shadow of itself in this Rangers series. For the most part, they simply can’t keep up with the speedy New Yorkers. The scoring has dried up. The D-men have lost their punch. The Incredible Vanishing Hockey Player – the man previously known as Thomas Vanek – has over-stayed his welcome ici. The good news is that he loses a million bucks every extra playoff game he plays, as GMs around the league realize they’d be nuts to give this team-spirit-killing floater a big contract.

In short, if not for the heroics of Dustin Tokarski, this series would already be over. And you know what the worst thing is? These Rangers are oh-so-beatable. The Canadiens that played the Bruins could so beat the Blueshirts. But they’ve had their skills sucked out of them by the walking dead. Or something.

Anyhoo, that was my mind-set last night and for the first part of today. But my online pals have been working on me all day. The ever-optimistic David Winch opined that if Galchenyuk had “missed” that post, we’d be talking about a Habs resurgence. Winch went on to remind us of how dark we all felt after that awful game 5 in the Boston series that put The Good Guys down 3-2.

So by the time I was cycling home, I was actually beginning to believe that maybe just maybe we could keep this magic going a little longer. I mean the Habs just have to win Tuesday night right? One game at a time and all that nonsense? One shift at a time. Get the lucky bounces. Give 110%. Oh you know what I mean.

So yeah why not? Sure let’s say the Habs win game 5. Could happen. Then it’s 3-2 Rangers and we’re right back where we were against the Bruins. But here’s the caveat. None of this is going to happen if the Habs don’t step up their game big-time. They have to play way better, on every front except goaltending.

Could happen. Bench Vanek. Have Ginette high-five every players as they hit the ice. Maybe we’ve got the Rangers just where we want them. Hey the Canadiens have been doing pretty well in elimination games.

So after much deliberation, I’d just like to say – Go Habs Go.

DolanMarkov2

Both photo montages made by Paco Lebel.

Both photo montages made by Paco Lebel.

It was a big night for Quebec – our hottest movie-maker Xavier Dolan garnered raves at the Cannes Film Festival with his new flick Mommy and our hockey team clawed its way back into the Conference Final.

But first things first.

A star is born.

Dustin Tokarski stole this one. Montreal was the slower less dynamic team for large chunks of the night but they still managed to fight their way back into the series thanks to a for-the-ages performance from the rookie goaltender. Alex Galchenyuk scored in overtime, giving the Canadiens a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.

Tokarski stopped 35 of 37 shots and in fact both Rangers goals were flukey and had nothing to do with the Habs goalie. On the Carl Hagelin goal, the Habs netminder was taken out of the action by Josh Gorges who smashed into him and the tying goal in the dying seconds from Chris Kreider bounced in off Alexei Emelin’s skate.

Other than that, Tokarski was perfect – and in fact, he was often just downright stunning. He made two phenomenal saves off Martin St. Louis – one bounced off his glove and the other was a sprawling leg save that will be on every highlight reel for the next 24 hours.

So it’s just another young Montreal goalie who’s come out of nowhere to star in the playoffs. And Therrien is looking like a genius for going with him rather than the more seasoned Peter Budaj. And now maybe, just maybe, Hockey Night in Canada’s P.J. Stock will stop dumping on Therrien for his decision to start Tokarski.

The Habs had a remarkably flat start – they were out-shot 14-4 in the first period – and they seemed to gain confidence as the game went on. It does have you wondering how a desperate team comes out with such a lackluster first period. But they eventually woke up, maybe inspired by Tokarski’s heroics.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t underline the simply horrific play of Thomas Vanek. I had suggested benching him and many said it’s out of the question to not dress one of our best snipers. But he looks completely disinterested. He doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. The good news is that he’s losing millions every extra game he plays as all the GMs around the league see in living colour just how useless this guy is in money games.

But let’s focus on the positive. The Habs are back in this baby and if I’m in the Rangers shoes, I’m feeling a little nervous about Sunday. Like Therrien said, momentum shifts quickly in the playoffs. It just shifted.

- Brendan Kelly