The new kids in town are a backup goaltender who will lighten the burden for Carey Price and a power forward who makes the Top Six picture murkier – but probably better.
From where I’m sitting – in a waterfront saloon, next to a lady of a certain age who keeps asking if I know Pat Hickey – the Canadiens are an appreciably better team than they were on June 30.
Peter Budaj’s most recent numbers weren’t great: 15-21, 3.20 GAA, .895 save percentage. But that was on a crap Colorado team, playing behind a defence so bad the Avs gave Jan Hejda a four-year contract today.
And Budaj played 45 games. Two years ago, as a backup appearing in 15 games, his GAA was 2.64, with a save percentage of .917.
Playing for a Jacques Martin team that makes goaltender protection Job 1, Budaj can give the Canadiens enough quality starts to cut Carey Price’s workload down to maybe 65 games … which will help The Franchise toward another superlative season that’ll set Price up for contract negotiations we don’t even want to think about.
Budaj comes to Montreal with the reputation of being a hard-worker who is popular with his teammates: ideal attributes for a backup goalie.
And while the thought of a Carey Price injury sends chills down my sweat-drenched spine on a hot summer night, Budaj is a more credible insurance policy than Big & Bald.
Besides, you have to love a guy who has Ned Flanders from The Simpsons wearing a Slovakian flag on the back of his mask (Budaj’s, not Flanders’).
Props to my great and good friend Arpon Basu for laying out why Erik Cole would be a good signing – and writing it 24 hours before the deal went down.
Yes, Cole is another Canadiens forward on the wrong side of 30. And four years is a good chunk of term for a physical player who’s survived a career-threatening injury.
But Cole is coming off a 26-goal season (he’d have been second to Brian Gionta’s 29 on the Canadiens) in which he played 82 games for the first time in his career.
Cole said all the right things in his TSN interview: the magic of Montreal, the mystique of the Bell Centre, every player’s favourite city, yada-yada. It was interesting, though, that he mentioned a phone conversation with Gionta, during which the Captain presumably began the process of welcoming Cole – a fellow upstate New Yorker – to a tight-knit team.
Cole has size, he can skate, and he scores most of his goals at even-strength. He adds grit and another Stanley Cup ring to the lineup, and Cole creates a bit of a Top Six traffic jam:
Gionta, Michael Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec (unless he’s demanded a trade to Philadelphia so he can play with Jaromir Jagr), Scott “I can’t possibly be any worse, can I?” Gomez, a fully-recovered, inshallah, Max Pacioretty, Cole and Andrei Kostitsyn.
If AK46 is odd man out, maybe he can spend the season leading up to his UFA status on a third line with Lars Eller. There were hints of chemistry between them this season;, but I think Eller, who won’t be back from shoulder surgery (thanks for that, Adam F. McQuade) until November, is evolving into the kind of centre who can play with anyone.
Round out the bottom six with David Desharnais (who has the potential to move up), Ryan White, Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche and someone who wins a job in training camp.
Or maybe Yannick Weber will realize his teenage dream of becoming Mark Streit Lite.
I see Weber in a swing role: a seventh defenceman who can play up front and help on the PP.
My Top 6 D are Andrei Markov (hey, if we have to hold our breath every time he’s hit, does the cumulative hyperventilation create some kind of high?), P.K. Subban (The Co-Franchise, another fun negotiation for Pierre Gauthier next year), Hal Gill, Josh Gorges (should we be getting nervous about how long it’s taking to sign him?) Jaro Spacek (playing sane minutes) and the Dman who’s my summer book favourite to be an eye-opener when the puck drops, Alexei Yemelin.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s your 2011-’12 Montreal Canadiens.
James Wisniewski will be missed if the Markov of old has become an old Markov.
Roman Hamrlik will be missed for quiet leadership and the gazillion minutes he was too old to play but had to because of the Markov injuries.
Jeff Halpern will be missed on faceoffs and the PK.
Benoit Pouliot will be missed for all-too-rare flashes of tantalizing talent and that straight right that decked David Krejci, a very rare winning fight against a Bruin.
And while I firmly abhor violence, consider it the tool of the ignorant and join the good hockey fans of Vancouver in mourning that disgusting post-final spectacle, I am hereby serving notice:
If Benny becomes a star in Boston, I’m gonna break a window.