The Canadiens lost 51 of their 82 games. They broke the hearts of many fans, and the season took its toll among coaches and front-office executives.
Perry Pearn, Jacques Martin, Pierre Gauthier and the Teflon Hall of Famer who doesn’t get nearly enough blame for the debacle: Bob Gainey.
The Canadiens have the third best chances of securing the top draft pick when the lottery draw is held Tuesday night. No matter what happens, they won’t pick lower than fourth.
The team will be represented at the lottery by Larry Carrière. A respected hockey man, Carrière began the season as assistant general manager, was shuffled down to the bench as an assistant coach and then moved back upstairs to assume a caretaker role until Geoff Molson and Serge Savard hire a new GM … which I think they’ll do in time for the draft.
Shall we review what went wrong?
• I think the season went sideways before it began.
Shortly after the annual golf tournament, where Gauthier ventured the prediction that Andrei Markov might miss the first few games of the season, the Canadiens embarked on a ridiculous exhibition schedule that included eight games in 12 nights and three sets of back-to-backers.
The rigors of the money-grabbing sked required Martin to keep a battalion of players in camp. The Canadiens had very little time for the likely season starters to get acquainted and learn each other’s dance moves.
So when the puck dropped in Toronto, Erik Cole was playing with David Desharnais and Mathieu Darche on the third line. The second line had Tomas Plekanec centring Andrei Kostitsyn and Mike Cammallery, while the fourt line consisted of Andreas Engqvist, Travis Moen and Yannick Weber.
The Canadiens dropped their opener to the Leafs, stomped the Jets on opening night in Winnipeg and then lost six in a row.
Even a subsequent four-game winning streak failed to calm the vague anxieties of fans who noted Markov was MIA, leaving a defence corps that included two NHL rookies, Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin.
Gomez nightmare slump continued – he would not score until Feb. 9 – and Martin stubbornly denied Cole power-play minutes. Mike Cammalleri, a sniper hopeless playing without the puck in his own zone, chafed under the requirements Martin’s defensive system. Kostitsyn was in a permanent fog; and with the exception of Moen, no one could fight.
So there were issues, right out of the gate.
Then there was home-ice disadvantage.
The Canadiens lost their first five games at the Bell Centre before beating the Flyers 5-1 on Oct 26. It was a sign of things to come; and by season’s end, the Canadiens had lost 26 of their 41 home games.
The Bell Centre had ceased to intimidate visitors. The building’s only effect was an epidemic of dry lips and tight grips among the occupants.
Up on the seventh floor, Gauthier was desperately making moves that might spark the team.
The general manager fired Pearn, the coach’s closest ally, as a shot across Martin’s bow. It didn’t work.
Gauthier fired Martin and entrusted a struggling team to a unilingual anglo with zero experience as an NHL head coach.
With no indication of when Markov might return, Gauthier traded for Tomas Kaberle. This briefly pepped up the power-play – which was a mess, what with the previous coach using Plekanec on the point and Darche up front – but the trade gave the Canadiens another contract to file, right after Gomez’s, as T for toxic.
Rather than wait until deadline to trade the malcontent, mouthy Cammalleri, Gauthier dealt him to Calgary for Rene Bourque. In explaining the move, Gauthier blithely announced a virage in the Canadiens’ philosophy.
Speed and skill – which Gainey naively believed would carry the Canadiens to glory under the NHL’s new rules – were all well and good, Gauthier said, but what a team really needed was grit. Most goals were scored, the GM said, close to the net – dirty areas shunned by Cammalleri but accessible to a forward with size, like Bourque.
Sadly, Bourque – who had two 27-goal seasons in Calgary – couldn’t score from the drty areas, the clean areas or any area covered by ice. Bourque had a 15-game slump and finished the season with five goals in a Canadiens’ uniform to go along with the 13 he had scored in Calgary.
The Canadiens were slow starters and weak finishers in too many games. They blew leads and went 11-10-16 in games decided by one goal. They scored fewer goals than any other Eastern Conference team except Florida.
The Canadiens sucked in shootouts. Their 12 losses were the league low.
The power-play capitalized on 14.3 per cent of its opportunities – third worst in the league.
The penalty-kill was second-best, behind New Jersey, but that may have been from practice: The Canadiens’ 350 minors were exceeded only by Dallas and Philadelphia.
I’ve probably omitted about 15 other fiascos.
It was just one damn thing after another, all season long.
But it’s over.
And there were encouraging signs in the season finale:
• In addition to scoring his team-leading 35th goal, Erik Cole lay full out on the ice to block a shot … in a meaningless game. Give Gauthier his due for the Canadiens’ best UFA signing EVER. Cole never took a shift off, emerged as a leader in the room and scored five more goals than he ever had in his career.
Man, if he were 26 years old … mais bon.
• The fourth line was excellent against the Leafs. Brad Staubitz’s crazy rink-length empty-netter was his first point since the Canadiens claimed him off waivers at the deadline.
Know what? I think Brad Satubitz is going to be on the team next season. He isn’t Chris Neil, but close enough. And Staubitz is not a heavyweight, but he is a willing and skilled fighter. Teams take fewer liberties around Carey Price with Staubitz in the lineup. For me, he’s a keeper.
I like that Gabriel Dumont kid, too. He’s small but nasty and has a non-stop motor. Dumont will never be Brad Marchand, but I’d settle for a Keith Acton.
So here’s your team next season:
• Price and Budaj
• Markov, Subban, Gorges, Emelin, Diaz, St. Denis and a stay-at-home D-man with size. Maybe bring Hal Gill back. Bryan Allen? Bury Kaberle in Hamilton.
• Cole, Pacioretty, Desharnais, Gionta, Plekanec, Eller, Leblanc, White, Staubitz, Dumont, Bourque (unless they can package and move him), maybe Moen, maybe Darche. Plus either a draft choice who’s ready or a stud forward, possibly acquired by swapping the draft choice.
Ryan Getzlaf? Rick Nash?
Gone? Gomez, Weber, Petteri Nokelainen. Mike Blunden, Aaron Palushaj and Blake Geoffrion in Hamilton.
Lots to talk about during the off-season, peeps.
Fearless prediction: Your 2012-’13 Montreal Canadiens will make the playoffs.