|Saku Koivu believes this is only the beginning for he and his young teammates.
MONTREAL – There’s always next year. Twenty-nine teams can tell themselves that when their season ends without raising the Stanley Cup this spring, but few NHL teams can say it with as much conviction and hope as the Canadiens.
Fresh off having their playoff run snuffed out by the Flyers, the Habs cleaned out their lockers at the Bell Centre on Monday afternoon. Two days removed from that painful loss, the Canadiens had the volume of their work rather than their final chapter on their minds.
“It’s okay to be disappointed about how our season ended, but we can’t forget how much we improved this year as a team,” said Alex Kovalev, Montreal’s scoring leader in both the regular season and postseason. “Last year we missed the playoffs and this year we finished first. It’s important for all of us to remember the progress we made and build on it for next year.”
The Canadiens’ improbable rags to riches story brought an especially large smile to the face of their longtime captain.
“Many people wondered why I chose to re-sign here two years ago,” recalled Saku Koivu. “I did it hoping to live a season like this one. With all of our young guys having one more year under their belts, things may not get any easier for us, but we will only get better.”
Koivu isn’t the only one enthusiastic about the Habs’ bright future.
“We’ve talked all year long about how our group has such great chemistry and how much we enjoy playing together,” said Steve Begin. “But the reality is that there will be changes since that’s the nature of this business.”
Reborn after pulling his familiar Habs jersey over his head this season, unrestricted free agent-to-be Patrice Brisebois is in no hurry to see his nameplate removed from his dressing room stall.
|Patrice Brisebois hopes his Habs career isn't over just yet. |
“With the kind of playoffs I had, I realized that I can still pull my weight in this league,” said Brisebois, who led all Canadiens blue-liners with six playoff points. “There’s no doubt in my mind that I still want to play next year. My passion for the game still burns inside me.”
Equally convinced of the merits of wearing the CH, fellow impending unrestricted free agent Mark Streit didn’t sound like someone eager to pack his bags.
“Staying in Montreal is my No. 1 priority,” reaffirmed Streit. “I’ve spent three wonderful seasons here. This is where I got my chance to play in the NHL. This is the best place in the world to play hockey and if I can sign a four or five year deal to be here as long as I can, that would be great.”
Having perhaps played his last game with the Canadiens, two-time 30-goal scorer Michael Ryder remains unsure what the future holds for him, after seeing his production drop to 14 goals in 2007-08.
“I’ll evaluate my situation in the next few weeks,” explained Ryder. “I’d like to be back, though. I had three really good years in Montreal, but this season just didn’t go the way I’d hoped.”
Crossing his fingers that his veteran savvy remains on Bob Gainey’s priority list, 36-year-old Bryan Smolinski would love to be back with the Habs next season.
“If the organization feels that I can still play a role on this team, I’m more than ready to listen,” admitted Smolinski. “All I can do now is hope that things will work out. I loved being here with all these young players because they have such an amazing future ahead of them.”Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com