Canadiens have improved

By Chris Boucher
Every NHL team’s main goal is to improve from season to season. This improvement usually comes through the maturing of young players, off-season trades, and a “fiscally responsible” dip into the free-agent waters. André Savard’s recent moves definitely fall into the above categories. The Canadiens have improved since last year. They have added 48 goals to the roster (Perreault-24, Dackell-13, Juneau-10, Quintal-1), without giving up a single player from last season’s squad.

The Habs have increased their depth; bringing in a trio of forwards who could possibly step in as the team’s number two line. In fact, these players would have been the Canadiens’ number one line for most of last season; given the team’s injury problems.

Yanic Perreault joins the team, and instantly becomes the top goal scorer on the roster (using last season’s numbers). He was the league’s top face-off man, with a winning percentage of 63%. This aspect of his game will immediately improve the Habs’ special teams; a part of the game where puck-control is tantamount to success.

His salary of under $3 Million per season allows Savard to keep the team’s salary structure in order. This is particularly important when it is considered that Saku Koivu and Brian Savage are restricted free-agents. If we accept the fact that Koivu should be the highest paid skater on the team, then signing a free-agent to more than $3 Million would send Koivu’s salary through the roof. Player’s salaries are affected as much by the team’s fiscal structure as they are by the league’s.

Perreault gives the Canadiens the second-line, scoring center they haven’t had on the roster since Vincent Damphousse. Although it could be argued that Damphousse was the number-one center, or that he wasn’t a natural center at all.

Andreas Dackell will bring his 13 goals to the Canadiens next season. However equally important to his production is the fact that he’s a right-handed shot. The Habs desperately need natural right-wingers, as Aaron Asham, and Jason Ward are the only other right-handed wingers on the NHL roster.

With Ottawa last season, Dackell’s averaged 14 minutes of ice-time per game. Keeping in mind the Habs’ lack of depth on the right side, in addition to Dackell’s ability to adjust to almost any style of play, we should see his ice-time jump by upwards of 2 to 3 minutes next season. Theoretically, and barring injuries, this should increase his production by 20 percent. However, numbers often lie.

Joé Juneau brings experience, as well as a great attitude to the team. His presence instantly improves the Habs’ special teams. He, along with Dackell, will create a strong penalty-killing duo. This will allow Therrien to rest the more offensive players on the roster. Juneau remains a strong playmaker who can add to the team’s offence. He should see a lot of ice-time on the second powerplay unit. Like Perreault, his salary also fits into the Habs’ salary structure.

Stephane Quintal adds depth to an already crowded blue-line. This said, the fact that he’s a right-handed shot likely contributed to his repatriation. Physical, right-handed defensemen are difficult to come by. His acquisition now gives the Habs four right-handed, NHL-calibre defenseman (Rivet, Brisebois, Robidas, and Quintal). Possibly setting up some sort of off-season trade. However, depth is a good thing. Particularly on a team with a long history of injury trouble.

André Savard has accomplished in the last month the one thing the Habs’ previous management team was unable to do in three years: He’s improved the team. Whether they have improved to the point of contention is a matter for another article. But, in the meantime we must acknowledge a job well-done. The Canadiens have improved! Hey, is that a white light at the end of this seemingly interminable tunnel?

**Feel free to e-mail me with any questions or comments (In English or French). Just click on my name at the top of this page. I am a former goaltender with writing, scouting, and coaching experience**