Another Habs season is over, one that contained a 100th year celebration. What it produced is what can be called a semi-historic playoff run that included eliminating the President’s Trophy winner and the reigning Stanley Cup champions. This was achieved albeit missing arguably the second (after Jaroslav Halak?, a goalie who else?) most important piece of the team in Andrei Markov.
The summer brings another barrage of questions which, despite the run to the conference finals and last summer’s make over by then general manager Bob Gainey, still exist or have arisen since. Starting next season Tomas Plekanec, if he does indeed stay, will eat up more of the salary cap pie and deserves at least some of it. This may highlight the quality, or lack thereof, of the defense corp which even with a present Markov needs improving.
The decision to sign several high profile yet undersized forwards were made last summer and the results have been both positive and negative, perhaps more positive considering the playoff run and the character showed by the said players. The defense was overhauled as well with the likes of Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek, yet questions remain. The defensive zone was conceded very easily to many opposing teams and defensive liabilities like Marc Andre Bergeron, who was originally signed as a stop gap measure, continued to play despite it. Sometimes voices were calling for Bergeron to be replaced by Ryan O’Byrne but that in itself remained hardly a solution. Playing Bergeron as a forward, in the hopes of an added offensive spark, didn’t solve much if any of the defensive (including but not limited to toughness and size) problems.
The team which eventually eliminated the Habs, the Philadelphia Flyers, was allowed to skate and handle the puck far too often and easily take advantage of the territory or zone it gained, but surprisingly not regularly out shoot (another regular feature of Habs teams since…forever) the team. How two more offensively gifted teams in Pittsburgh and Washington were not able to this or did not take advantage of this is a question few might be able to answer. Perhaps the brave Habs ran out of gas by the third round or the flawed system by the sometimes criticized coach just worked in the first two rounds because of the outstanding goalie and the other players.
Looking forward, I believe the major question remains: how to improve or perhaps how to balance the team on the defensive side in these salary cap days when a good amount of the cap room has and will be allocated elsewhere. Time will tell. Go Habs Go.