We’re less than a week away from the Montreal Canadiens opening their 2011-2012 season in Toronto; they then move onto Winnipeg, with the Jets playing their first official game at home in over 15 years. Many things have changed for Les Habitants this off-season. A few very promising new faces have given the story hungry Montreal media something to feast on after a quiet summer.
Quebec hockey fans have already fully awakened from their offseason hockey slumber, and are ready for some action. Of course, some would argue that Montreal’s fans can never get enough.
Arguably the biggest acquisition of the off-season is 32-year-old former Oiler and Hurricane Erik Cole, who is expected to provide some size in front of the net and some much needed scoring numbers if he can live up to his point totals from five years ago (a respectable 61 points). If Cole is surrounded by the right linemates, he has the potential to match his career highs and possibly even surpass them. As many will recall, he was one-third of the “BBC Line” featuring Bates Battaglia and Rod Brind’Amour during the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2002 Stanley Cup run. Coach Martin has been quoted, during the last week’s scrimmages, as saying that these have been some of the most physically intense games he has seen the Habs play.
The team is also expected to give Alexei Yemelin a shot to make the club as a rookie this year. The 25 year old Russian was drafted by Montreal in 2004 but he has played the last three years as a pro in the KHL. This 6’2, 220 pounder is said to have both offensive skills and a nasty physical edge to his game, providing for a potential big season in his NHL debut.
A few things that have developed over the team scrimmages and preseason have already sparked some rumors in hockey circles, of an early season Montreal trade. First, Andrei Kostitsyn was quoted on a Belarusian website as complaining about coach Jacques Martin and expressing his fear he may not get top-six ice time with the Canadiens this season. Both Coach Martin and Kostitsyn have downplayed the rift since the quote made headlines but it has not been enough to quiet these rumors, especially with his inconsistent play last year and what many have termed “underachievement.” Of course, Kostitsyn being in his last year of his contract could inspire him to perform at a much higher level… if the pressure doesn’t cause severe regression.
The other event that has hockey followers speculating is the recent acquisition of defenseman Chris Campoli from Ottawa to a 1-year contract, who sustained a hard blow to the head by Lightning forward Ryan Malone during Tampa Bay’s flogging of the Habs the other night. Rumors had been that this acquisition – combined with Markov’s extended recovery – may see someone leaving town. Jacques Martin said he expected an update on Campoli’s condition Monday, but there is some encouraging news when Campoli was healthy enough to go with the team flying from Quebec to Toronto Sunday to the Collingwood resort for some final team bonding exercises before the start of the regular season this week.