TORONTO, ON – Since the start of the NHL lockout, the attention of many Habs’ fans has turned to the club’s prospects filling the junior ranks, and more recently the American Hockey League. A common message has been that the lockout has led to players who would be in the NHL if it were up and running being sent down to lower leagues, providing an opportunity for fans to watch them in game action for a fraction of the price.
Certainly, it’s made for some good hockey, filling the void on many a night for those missing following the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. But the fact is, unlike some other clubs (notably Edmonton), there is far from a guarantee that when the big league resumes, any of the Louis Leblancs, Frederic St. Deniss, or Alex Galchenyuks will be a part of the Canadiens’ roster. An argument against them being there is the fact that – once P.K. Subban is inked (and don’t worry, he will be) – the team will have 23 bodies on one-way deals (the league maximum.)
So if the 23 Canadiens aren’t playing in the AHL or CHL, what have our Habs been up to? Today we survey the current roster of locked out players to go over how they’ve been keeping busy during the work stoppage.
Armstrong has seemingly made quick friends with his new teammates despite having yet to suit up for a game with them (and who knows if he ever will should the current lockout wipe out his one-year deal). He spent Thanksgiving at a small party at Carey Price’s residence, and has been touring around Quebec with a group of players as part of La Tournée des Joueurs. Along with Mathieu Darche, he inspired a Montreal sportswriter to put together a charity dinner at Moishe’s scheduled for early November, an evening which many other Habs have recently jumped on to.
It was announced on August 29th that Bourque had undergone surgery to repair a tear in his abdominal wall and would thus miss eight to 12 weeks of action. We’re presently in week nine, and thus his rehab continues, the reason for which we haven’t heard about him taking part in any on-ice action in North America or elsewhere.
Like Bourque, Cole was rehabbing minor injuries this summer, spending much of it in Montreal. It’s amazing to think he managed to play all 82 games last season – and at such a high level – despite clearly being so far from 100 per cent healthy by year’s end. While the Canadiens are well set up for a lockout due to the young age of their future core, who will continue to gain experience in the AHL or junior ranks, one of the biggest losses is a year of the aging Cole still at his best. He was given a clean enough bill of health a couple of weeks ago, which allowed him to be “officially” locked out by the league and team.
Desharnais has also been a part of the group of Canadiens on La Tournée des Joueurs, and thanks to Twitter we know he has been spending some time with his teammates around the city as well. He has been one of the offensive stars of the Montreal-Quebec series, not surprising as an All-Star type of no-defense game suits him well.
Eller had been a member of La Tournée des Joueurs up until yesterday, when he decided to take his talents over to Finland until the lockout is resolved. Eller joins defending champions Jyvaskyla, for whom he will debut on November 16th. The club has been led offensively this season by a pair of former NHL’ers in journeyman Ramzi Abid and ex-Lightning and Thrasher Eric Perrin.
Gionta is another player to have been hanging around Montreal, joining mates from the team he captains on La Tournée des Joueurs. It’s nice to see he has adopted the area as a home, spending his time here rather than returning to the U.S. or joining another club. Having his leadership around could really turn the lockout experience into a positive for the Canadiens once play resumes, with so many of the players bonding together during the time off, whereas many clubs are fully disbursed around the globe.
Gomez was last heard from when he signed a tryout agreement to attend the training camp of the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, the same team he played with during the last NHL lockout. Before the season started, his hometown club announced that he had been cut, but apparently it was always the plan for him to leave the squad at that time and not play in any actual games, a story corroborated by the club’s head coach.
It’s been clear for a few seasons that Moen had fit well with the leadership core in the Montreal dressing room, befriending the veterans and youth alike, and thus it isn’t a surprise that he too has remained in the region as part of La Tournée des Joueurs. While he won’t be practicing his physical game on the tour, we’ve seen he can display soft hands at times in the NHL, and he’s enjoying his time with his ‘mates, notably also in attendance at Price’s Thanksgiving gathering.
Things have been quiet on the Nokelainen front after many were surprised he was retained this off-season. He played for Jokerit as recently as in 2010-11, so many figured he may return there, but along with Bourque and Cole he has spent time in the clinic in Montreal, and this may be preventing him from heading home just yet.
Pacioretty signed to join struggling Swiss squad Ambri-Piotta, but after scoring a goal in his first game in Switzerland, things soured for him quickly. A flu caused him to miss time, and then head coach Kevin Constantine – who has since been fired – opted to hold him out when he could have returned to play other imports instead under a league roster rule. Recently, Pacioretty opted to return to North America, with the stated reason being some minor bumps and bruises he wanted to heal in case an NHL season would get underway soon, but one must wonder if the situation in Ambri-Piotta contributed to his decision. In five games, that one goal was the only point Pacioretty would register.
If Pacioretty’s experience in a European league didn’t prove fruitful, the same can’t be said of Plekanec’s play in the Czech Elite League. Having rejoined his former club in Kladno, Plekanec is tied for the team lead with nine goals and 20 points in 15 games. He is enjoying centering his long-time friend Jaromir Jagr, on a stacked roster that also includes Marek Zidlicky and Jiri Tlusty. See a first-hand report on Plekanec and Jagr from our Czech correspondent here.
Like Armstrong, Prust has taken advantage of the lockout to get acquainted with his new ‘mates, taking part in La Tournée des Joueurs. Given Prust’s multi-year deal, building chemistry – whether on or off the ice – with his future teammates can only be beneficial for the squad, even if his grinding game isn’t necessarily well suited to open, offensive, high tempo hockey. Along with Armstrong, he recently organized an impromptu street hockey game outside the Bell Centre, which allowed the Montreal faithful in the area to get acquainted with the team’s newest acquisitions.
One report originally indicated that White may join the Hamilton Bulldogs, but the signings of Zack Stortini and Darryl Boyce would signal that he won’t. Should the lockout continue past Boyce’s 25 game tryout agreement with the AHL club, perhaps they will consider replacing him with White. After having spent much of the off-season working on his skating and other skills in Brossard, White has mostly disappeared from the public radar.
Bouillon was so excited to make a return to hockey in Montreal that he got a head start by also joining La Tournée des Joueurs. Given that only Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, Josh Gorges, Max Pacioretty, Yannick Weber, and Carey Price remain from Bouillon’s previous final season with the Canadiens, he can also use this time to get to know his new ‘mates.
Given he was only one season into his North American career, it didn’t take Diaz long to fit back in with his long-time Swiss league club in Zug. He has scored three goals and 15 points in just 14 games, improving his point-per-game percentage from his last season in the league when he scored 39 points in 45 matches. Diaz’s squad is led by Damien Brunner and Linus Omark, recently having been bolstered by the addition of Henrik Zetterberg.
Just like Diaz, Emelin also returned to his former European squad, signing with Ak-Bars Kazan of the KHL, where he has a single assist through six games. The Russian squad is led by long-time national team competitors Alexei Morozov and Alexei Tereshenko offensively, and added one-time Hamilton Bulldog Janne Lahti for the current season.
Gorges has been hanging out with good buddies Moen and Price while participating in La Tournée des Joueurs. Another player not typically made for this type of firewagon hockey, fans are undoubtedly enjoying getting to watch so many Habs on ice together to hold them over until the CBA dispute is resolved.
Kaberle signed to play in Kladno of the Czech Elite League with Plekanec and Jagr, but only on a short-term contract. He scored two goals and six points during his 10 game agreement, and then chose to leave the squad to recuperate and train on his own in the hopes that NHL games might be imminent. Prior to playing in Europe, Kaberle had participated in the BioSteel camp tournament in late August, an event that also featured top prospect Alex Galchenyuk and NHL stars including Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin, and Mike Cammalleri.
Rather than return to his former club in Moscow as he did during the 2004-05 lockout, Markov signed to join the KHL’s Vityaz Chekhov, which had many quip to watch this be the one season he stays healthy for. Never fear, Habs fans: he hasn’t stayed healthy. After recording just one assist in nine games, Markov went down with what many initially diagnosed as a minor injury as the result of a “wind’ing” check, but which now seems like it’ll cause a 3+ game absence. There was a brief scandal where Markov may or may not have made Alex Ovechkin-like comments about perhaps not returning to North America following the lockout, but the story was quickly denied by his agent.
I don’t think many have been surprised to see Subban (at least publicly) spending far more time outside of rinks during the lockout than on the ice. He has been training hard in the gym, notably spending time with a group in Florida, but has filled in gaps in his schedule with numerous TV appearances, including on an episode of This Hour has 22 Minutes, the George Stroumboulopoulos show, and as a weather man during news telecasts. With his personality, it’s easy to see where Subban would have been if he weren’t a pro athlete.
You would be quick to assume that Weber, just like Diaz, rejoined his former club in Switzerland. But then you’d be forgetting that Weber actually played his junior hockey with the Kichener Rangers of the OHL. In fact, Weber had never suited up for Geneve-Servette prior to this season, but has scored three goals and eight points through 14 games with the team. The club is led up front by former NHL’er Dan Fritsche, and more recently added locked out forward Logan Couture.
After spending some time with Carey Price and goalie coach Pierre Groulx in B.C. over the summer, Budaj returned to his long-time home in Colorado to work out in hopes of returning to NHL action in the near future. He has admitted that he was a little disappointed over his lack of game action last season, but maintains a positive attitude, noting that all he can do is continue to show his good work ethic. Should the lockout drag on, he may look to join a European squad, though despite being from Slovakia originally, he has played exclusively in North America since his OHL rookie season in 1999.
There was talk of Price returning to B.C. to spend an odd Fall at home with family, but he has stuck around the Montreal area, even participating in a couple of La Tournée des Joueurs stops, where many raved about his performances despite the high scores of the games. The newly engaged Price hosted several teammates for Thanksgiving, as noted, and is one of those to have jumped on the Armstrong/Darche charity dinner. Price has stated he has no real desire to play overseas.