PK1

The P.K. Subban naysayers are remarkably quiet on this beautiful Sunday morning after Our Man took control of that game Saturday night against Patrick Roy’s Colorado Avalanche, once again underlining my oft-mentioned point that No. 76 is quite simply the most exciting player to wear a Habs jersey since a chap named Guy Lafleur all those years ago.

As soon as he signed the most lucrative contract in the history of the Canadiens this summer, there were no shortage of people, including the usual ill-informed Toronto-based media types, ready to say Marc Bergevin and the Habs overpaid for the flashy defenseman. But they’re hiding under their desks at the CBC – or is it Rogers? – Broadcast Centre in the Big Smoke right now.

I mean did you see the P.K. Show Saturday night? Wow. He scored two goals en route to the Canadiens’s dramatic 3-2 victory over the Avs. His first goal was business-as-usual for Pernell Karl, the equivalent of a federal bureaucrat shuffling some papers on his desk on a sleepy Friday afternoon.

He slammed a Howitzer of a slap-shot that rocketed by minor-league Avs netminder Calvin Pickard, who, until then, had looked stunning. Yeah Pickard was looking pretty swell until he got up-close-and-personal with a patented P.K. clacker!

But that was nothing compared to the second Subbanator goal. He jumped out of the penalty box and went flying after the puck with the kind of speed usually reserved for Marvel Comics super-heroes, out-hustling Avs D-man Tyson Barrie, who ended up sliding into the side of the net like a Keystone Cops bad guy. That allowed Subban to circle the back of the net and come back out front, to suddenly find himself alone in front of Pickard, to everyone’s surprise, including Subban’s. Then came THE MOVE.

If you don’t believe me, I submit my evidence your honour in the video below.

Then he’s picked as the first star – and yes P.K. is quite right, it could’ve just as easily been Carey Price, who had his first phenomenal game of the season – and TVA Sports’ Renaud Lavoie does this live interview with him broadcast to the entire Bell Centre and Subban ends it by saying: ‘Merci beaucoup….et bonne nuit’. In one phrase, he spoke more French publicly than Saku did in all those years as captain, but I digress.

The point is the guy’s a phenom on and off the ice, the kind of dream player a team waits decades to get their hands on, which leads to the $72 million question: How is it that the Canadiens came within nanoseconds of potentially effing up the entire P.K. file? How is that Bergevin’s boss had to give him a panicked phone call at the eleventh hour, as the arbitrator was set to make her ruling, to order him to sign P.K.? How did that happen?

Philippe Cantin was on 98.5 this morning and he was saying that Subban is finally able to play with the creative freedom he needs because of the huge contract and Cantin is so right. Michel Therrien would probably love to still be able to bench P.K. on many a night but he can’t sit 72 million bucks on the pine.

Which brings me back to my main mantra – ‘Let P.K. be P.K.!’

Tomas Plekanec.

Tomas Plekanec.

Well, well, well….less than a week into the hockey season and the Canadiens have won three straight, on the road no less. Tomas Plekanec is playing like Sid the Kid with four goals in three games, both Carey Price and Dustin Tokarksi have looked better than solid, and the new wave of Habs look ready to take charge.

So should you be reserving your deck-chair for the late-June parade on Ste. Catherine St. right now? Ummmm maybe not. Look I don’t want to rain on your parade – pun intended – but it is the first week of the season. Normally this is the week for the Leafs to shine – not this year! – and we’ve always laughed at teams who celebrate great victories in October. With reason. October is an important month for baseball wins. In hockey, it means next to nothing.

So get a grip. We’re Montreal Canadiens fans. We understand the game better than fans in any other North American city and we all know that all that counts is what happens come the Real Season. Alors on se calme mes amis.

That said, there’s much reason to be optimistic about this gang. First and most importantly, this is the year that the New Wave has finally come to the fore. There’s no old guys – no Giontas, no Gorges – to distract us. This is the team of Subban, Price, and Patch. They’re the leaders of the youth movement and as Martin McGuire said the other day on Bazzo.tv, if Les Boys finally win that long-awaited 25th Cup, it’ll be with those three crammed into the driver’s seat fighting over who takes the wheel.

Look at Subban. Now he’s got the big contract, he can F up – like he did on that goal in Washington – and the kindly ol’ coach isn’t allowed to ground him anymore (though you just know Therrien would love to). And that’s gonna make him a better player. He is gonna mess up but he’s also gonna to take games – and playoff series (remember that little bout with the Bruins in the spring?) – and grab them by the throat and win them.

Then there’s the matter of Turtleneck Man and his new wing-man Alex Galchenyuk. Plek has four goals already and looks positively energized by the arrival of Chucky by his side. They also looked amazing with P.A. Parenteau on the other wing late in that improbable comeback against the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night, so don’t be surprised if those three stay together.

That inspirational win Saturday was what these new-look Habs are all about. They go into the third down three-zip, having looked downright awful in the first two periods, outshot 27-18. Then they turn it on. Andrei Markov ignited the comeback, the man who is single-handedly going to spark a major revival of the turtleneck potted another one and then Galchenyuk tied it by tipping in a shot from Plekanec.

Then O.T. – Galchenyuk coming so close to solving it on a breakway – and a shoot-out, won by M. Parenteau.

So yeah much to be excited about. But let’s not start sniffing any Cups just yet.

Dustin Tokarksi.

Dustin Tokarksi.

By all accounts, Peter Budaj is genuinely one of the good guys. Everyone loves him, in the room, as they say in the hockey biz, and amongst the media hordes. But running a hockey team isn’t just about rewarding niceness. It’s ultimately about winning and there’s no doubt that the Montreal Canadiens are a better team with Dustin Tokarski as Carey Price’s back-up than with Budaj in that position.

So that’s why Budaj and minor-league forward Patrick Holland are headed to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for forward Eric Tangradi (eds. note: Who dat?).

As soon as Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien made the call in the conference final last spring to go with Tokarski when Price was hurt by that maniac Kreider, Budaj was officially a lame duck. Imagine. You toil all year sitting on the bench watching Price play and then when opportunity knocks, management says – ‘Keep warming the bench cos we’re going with a kid who’s played like two games for us.’ This is not a vote of confidence. And apparently Budaj, normally an easy-going chap, was just livid. And you can understand why.

The other factor is that Tokarski would’ve had to pass waivers to be sent down to the Hamilton Bulldogs and it’s almost certain another team would’ve picked him up. Instead the Habs now have a quality back-up who can keep Pricey on his toes and I think this is a good thing for Carey now. Back in the Halak days, Price didn’t like the competition but he’s come a long way since and I think he’s secure enough now not to worry.

And you have a pretty amazing back-up goalie. If they had anything going on in that Rangers series, it was thanks to Tokarski’s heroics. So all good. (I promise my next post will be much less kind to les Canadiens!)

Oh longtime readers will note that i didn’t make one Halak-Price joke.

P.K. Subban 1

This just in: Minutes after I published this post, the Canadiens announced that they had signed P.K. Subban to an eight-year deal. My power is truly frightening. I must use it wisely.
Here’s my original post:
All week, I have been in a state of panic over this P.K. Subban crisis, posting on all the usual social-media networks to air my fears about what was going on. And people – many of whom I respect (and some of whom I don’t!) – kept telling me to calm down, that everything would be alright.

That the Habs would sign the superstar defenceman by Thursday to a lucrative long-term contract.

Well guess what? I was right – sadly – and you rose-coloured-glasses types were wrong. P.K. is not signed, the player and the Habs went to an ugly arbitration hearing in Toronto Friday and now the arbitrator will decide how much Subban makes this season. Oh and it’ll be a one-year contract, period.

This is nothing short of a total and utter disaster for the Canadiens and, by extension, their fans. Okay, of course you and I don’t know what was said in the negotiations or at the hearing Friday, but all signs point to the notion that Habs GM Marc Bergevin has been once again low-balling Subban and refusing to pay him what he’s worth, which is in the neighbourhood of $8 million per year.

I say ‘again’ because Bergevin and the team have already treated the star player in shoddy fashion in the last negotiations, refusing to give him a long-term deal, which would’ve been great for the team’s stability and would’ve actually saved them money.

But no, he had to be given the famous Habs “bridge” contract – small money over two years – to make him understand that he’s no bigger than any of the other players. Since the arrival of the Bergevin/Michel Therrien tandem, the message to P.K. has been clear.

You’re just another of Les Boys. So keep that ego in check. No player is bigger than the team chez les Habs, the most all-controlling organization this side of the Vatican.

And they’re so wrong. Sure the team comes first but Subban is the most exciting player to put on a Canadiens sweater since Guy Lafleur and he and Carey Price are the guys who’re most likely to bring you a Cup.

As someone told me at the Osheaga bar last night, Subban probably made $10 million for the Habs last season. No Subban, no trip to the conference final. Simple as that. Without his theatrics, his passion, his ‘we’re going to silence the crowd at the Garden’ promise, the Habs do not beat the Bruins. Ain’t happening. He took that series by the throat and ran with it.

Cos he’s that kind of player. Max Pacioretty didn’t do that. Andrei Markov didn’t do that. And I like those guys but Subban is one of those guys who can change a game, a series, a season, and there are only around a dozen or so guys like that in the league.

So Marc, why the hell are you treating him like crap? I just don’t get it. This morning he should be signed to an 8-year $64 million deal. Instead you’re sounding bitter, he’s sounding bitterly disappointed and the future of the Habs is hanging in the balance.

How the eff does that make any kind of sense? When Therrien was busting P.K.’s cojones earlier this season, I wrote that you should step in and tell the coach to grow a brain. But now I’m beginning to realize that you were on the same page as the kindly ol’ coach. You guys have a problem with P.K. and I’m just letting you know right here and now if you have a problem with P.K., then I have a big problem with you.

This is a team that’s thrived on running its superstars out of town – from Lafleur to Chelios to Roy to – and it breaks my goddamn heart to say this – maybe just maybe P.K. Subban.

Do you want that to be your legacy M. Bergevin?

Yeah I’m pissed off.

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