Andrei Markov may have been the star of the show in Montreal’s 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers last night, but if the Canadiens are going to see any kind of sustained success during this lock-out shortened season, it will likely need to come from the efforts of their much younger stars.
Markov’s two-goal performance set the tone for an up-tempo Canadiens squad which appeared to have found its stride after putting forth a rather uninspired effort to open the season versus Toronto on Saturday night… but one look at the Canadiens’ roster reveals that management is hoping it will be the younger legs which carry them into this year’s post-season picture.
Compared to the opening day roster from a season ago, this year’s Canadiens team is younger and less experienced, but is also free of many of the dark shadows which had been cast over the organization for the past several years. Of recent departures Michael Cammalleri, Mathieu Darche, Hal Gill, Scott Gomez, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Jarolsav Spacek, only Kostitsyn is under thirty years of age…and all but Darche and Gill had essentially worn out their welcome in hockey’s most stressful city.
In their place, GM Marc Bergevin has brought in free agents Colby Armstrong, Francis Bouillon, and Brandon Prust. Late-blooming defenceman Rafael Diaz has worked his way up through the system, seeing top power-play minutes skating alongside Markov last night, and rookies Brendon Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have shown impressive jump, albeit with a relatively small body of work from which to judge.
The new recruits average just 26.6 years of age (24.6 if you factor out Bouillon’s 37 years), as compared to the 32.6 average of the players who have departed. In a condensed schedule, common sense says that younger bodies are a smarter bet; the ability to bounce back quickly after playing as many as five games in eight nights will certainly be a determining factor in this season’s playoff picture.
Of course, it could also blow up in their faces just as easily. Younger players tend to lack some of the judgement and ability to temper responses that veterans possess, often leading to penalty and injury trouble, both of which can have magnified effects during a condensed schedule. The ability to think through difficult situations as opposed to power through them could very well give more experienced teams the edge, once the excitement of the first two weeks has worn off and players are staring down the barrel of a three-month marathon just to get through the regular season.
In the short-term, it’s a coin toss. Younger teams who can keep their cool and overcome injury will be at an advantage this year, but so will veteran teams who are capable of pacing themselves and using that ‘Dad strength’ to avoid injury in the first place.
The real difference for Canadiens’ fans this year is that, for the first time in a long while, the window of opportunity is no longer closing, but rather just beginning to open. With names like Pacioretty, Emelin, and Diaz to go along with Gallagher and Galchenyuk, the immediate future looks bright. 2009’s purging of popular mid-to-late career veterans – so that they could be replaced with slightly less popular mid-to-late career veterans – is now a distant memory, and followers of the Montreal Canadiens can rest assured that regardless of how this season plays out, there is a foundation of young talent in place which is just now garnering the experience it will need to shine brightly for years to come.