One of the brighter spots in the Habs bright future is their prospects on defence. They've got several promising names on their way up and some good young guys already manning the blue line on the big club.
You can't help but wonder who will end up making the big club and who will spend their years in lesser leagues, especially with the trade deadline less than three weeks away.
Here's a review of what's going down on the blueline and what the Habs are looking at going forward and who fits where.
1. Mike Komisarek - The foundation of this defence for the the foreseeable future. Just turned 26 and has emerged as a bona fide number one with upside. Bob Gainey needs to lock him up long before any kind of restricted free agency comes along, teams would gladly give up their future to add a guy like him.
2. Andrei Markov - The other cornerstone. Signed through 2011 and emerging as a Norris trophy contender. Markov gives his team quality minutes in every situation and plays a solid defensive game. He's very hard to beat and makes one of the first passes in the league. Not going anywhere.
3. Roman Hamrlik - A veteran presence who came pretty much as advertised and exceeded some expectations. Hamrlik plays a solid, mistake-free game and is a smart player. The only knock on him is that his contract is big and lengthy. In the first year of a four year deal that pays him $22 million. That's $5.5 million per season for a guy who will be 36 years old in the final year of the deal. Obviously, the Canadiens organization has a lot of faith that Hamrlik will continue to compete at a high level for years to come.
4. Mark Streit - A 7th round sleeper who does it all. Streit co-quarterbacks (did I just make up a term?) the number one power play unit in the NHL, kills penalties, plays forward when needed and gets a tidy pile of points along the way. Sometimes has trouble in his own zone when things get physical and some might argue is far more effective as a forward in even strength situations. Pending unrestricted free agent who may be looking to cash in. I'd like to see Streit signed to a two-year deal for about $1.75 to $2.25 per season but would be reluctant to pay even that much with the guys coming up in the next few years.
5. Josh Gorges - Starting to look like a solid 5th or 6th defenceman when he gets to play an everyday role on his natural side. Makes a good first pass and has settled into a groove since struggling to find an identity on the team at times since being acquired a year ago. Never going to blow you away but at 23 his upside remains a factor.
6. Francis Bouillon - Good skater who can hit. 32 years old so we've likely seen the best of Bouillon. Prone to the occasional defensive error or breakdown but generally solid. Maybe a tad overpaid at $1.875 million. Probably not a big part of any long term plans.
7. Mathieu Dandenault - Not really a defenceman anymore. Making too much money ($1.75 million) with another year remaining on his deal and a team-worst -10 rating. Someone who may be on the way out if Gainey can find any takers. Chances are he won't. Dandenault works hard and has three more Stanley Cup rings than anyone not named Brisebois on the Habs blueline.
8. Patrice Brisebois - A veteran presence who makes a lot of mistakes. The Canadiens have a dismal record with Brisebois in the lineup and many fans wouldn't be sad to see him gone. He's here for this year only and I'd be shocked to see him play in the postseason.
The unit has stayed remarkably injury-free throughout the year and that's paid huge dividends for the team.
The gist of the rundown is this:
-Hamrlik, Komisarek and Markov are the foundation of a solid future.
-Streit and Gorges are good options, although Streit looks better at forward while manning the point on the power play.
-Dandenault, Brisebois and Bouillon are the guys least likely to be here in the next two or three years and more likely to be dealt in the coming weeks although probably not too attractive to most teams.
On Friday I'll get into the prospects that will be challenging for jobs in the coming years.