The Habs and The Buffalo Theory

Have you ever heard of the Buffalo Theory? It goes like this: “A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And, when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members.”

While Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin has yet to make the anticipated big splash fans were hoping for, he did strengthen the bottom part of his team’s line-up and created a very healthy competition for jobs which should, in turn, make for a better and even more competitive team.

We already know that rugged winger Nicolas Deslauriers won’t be back, and the addition of three ferociously competitive players in Riley Barber, Nick Cousins and Phil Varone will give guys like Matthew Peca, Dale Weise, and even Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal a run for their money. Finnish countrymen Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen should still be safe but they, along with Paul Byron, will have to battle for a spot on a better scoring line. Then on defense, the Habs replaced Jordie Benn with Ben Chiarot, a substantial improvement.

If you then consider the return of Noah Juulsen on defense, a tough competitor, with fact that rookies Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook are turning pro and vowing for a spot on the roster, we are forced to admit that the weakest buffalo are definitely getting much, much stronger than they were, say a couple of years ago!

Bergevin always said wanting to put together a team that’s “hard to play against” night in, night out. A team that never takes a night off. Last season’s team has proven to be just that and on any other given season, their 96 points would have been enough to make the playoffs… or even do some damage had they been able to sneak in. Former NHL GM now turned TV analyst Brian Burke had this to say, late last season:

“I watch Montreal play and I think they could be a very big problem for someone in the playoffs. […] Montreal would make me nervous.”

If you’re old enough to remember the 80’s TV series Cheers, Cliff Clavin, a regular at the bar, pushed the theory even further when talking to his good buddy Norm, by adding:

In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we all know, kills brain cells, but naturally it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine! And that’s why you always feel smarter after a few beers!

Bergevin might not be done but even if the Canadiens don’t do anything else until the start of the season, the Buffalo Theory certainly should apply to them as well. While still lacking top-end talent, they have greatly reinforced the bottom part of the line-up, and they should also see an improvement with their backup goaltending as well. This should, hopefully, result in a playoffs’ appearance comes April. Go Habs Go!

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Three Keepers: One Net

The year: 2005. As a lockout cancelled the games of the 2004–05 NHL season, the draft order was determined by lottery on July 22, 2005. One by one, teams were eliminated and we were down to five teams still in the hunt to get the grand prize: the number one overall pick, franchise player Sidney Crosby. When NHL assistant-commissioner Bill Daly pulled out the next card, the disappointment of Habs’ fans could be felt around the world.

That year, Canadiens’ General Manager Bob Gainey took the hockey world by surprise by picking, at number five overall, goaltender Carey Price. Many were hoping that they would pick Anze Kopitar and others wanted… Gilbert Brule. But why pick a goaltender at number five when you had, in your net, Jose Theodore, only a couple of years removed from a Hart Memorial and Vezina Trophy? The hockey world was baffled. Not so much today with perhaps the exception of Theodore himself, who seems to carry (no pun intended) a grudge against the organization to this day, but that’s a whole different story.

Jump ahead to today and with Price entering the second of an eight-year, $84 million contract, there seems to be a line-up of quality prospect goaltenders within the Canadiens’ organization trying to make a name for themselves in hope to, one day, take over from the winningest goaltender in the history of the NHL’s most successful franchise.

Log jam in Laval

With the Habs signing veteran backup Keith Kinkaid, the oldest prospect of this group, Charlie Lindgren, will have an uphill batter if he wishes to pierce the Canadiens’ opening day roster. While Kinkaid had a lackluster season with the NHL’s 28th overall New Jersey Devils last season with a 3.36 goals against average and a .891 saves percentage, the 30 year-old veteran is only a year removed from a couple of good seasons as a backup. It is highly unlikely to see the Canadiens go with three goaltenders at the NHL level, which means that Lindgren would have to clear waivers in order to report to the Laval Rockets in the AHL.

Charlie Lindgren’s days with the Habs are likely counted.

However, the Rockets already have two young, promising prospects in Michael McNiven and newly signed NCAA star Cayden Primeau. The problem? Players need to play in order to develop, and that applies to goaltenders as well. But there’s only one net on any given night. The AHL season consists of 76 games so sharing the duties with two prospects will result in each one starting about 38 games. Add one more goalie and you’re down to around 25 starts each, which is far from enough for any given prospect goaltender to properly develop.

We’re only in mid-August but the Canadiens’ rookie camp will be starting in a few weeks, followed by the team’s main training camp with the first pre-season game scheduled for September 16th against Kinkaid’s former team, the New Jersey Devils. A lot can happen until then and Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin isn’t afraid to go against tradition in making trades in the Fall, even major ones, as we saw a year ago when Max Pacioretty was sent packing to Vegas. Could Lindgren find a new team by training camp? It’s entirely possible. Would he clear waivers if sent down? At 25 years old and with the statistics that he has had, one would think that he would. But the net in Hamilton must belong to McNiven and Primeau. There’s simply no room for Lindgren who should be the odd-man out. Go Habs Go!