Last night's exhibition game between the Canadiens and Leafs (won by the Canadiens 3-2) made it real. The NHL really is back. There really will be hockey again all this fall winter and spring.
It's a good feeling.
More than that, the Canadiens right now are faced with an interesting puzzle: they've got a lot of young kids coming up, most at forward, and how do you fit them all into the line-up? Just trying to work out a 23-man roster, never mind figuring out your starters, becomes tough when you balance open roster spots versus waiver vulnerability versus who's outplaying who. It's like one of those Chinese finger-traps; a fun game, except sooner or later you've got to get your damn fingers free, and whichever way you pull you can't figure out how to make it work.
For the record, my guess for the moment is that Alex Perezhogin gets sent down to Hamilton, Guillaume Latendresse returns to junior, and in a couple months we see somebody like Pierre Dagenais traded. I also suspect we'll see one or more of the forward prospects (Perezhogin, Tomas Plekanec, Marcel Hossa, and Chris Higgins) dealt for a defenceman around the time of the trading deadline. If Josef Balej and a draft pick got the Habs Kovalev, maybe one of the aforementioned players can get some much-needed help on the blue line.
In the long run, with even more players likely to come up and fight their way onto the roster at forward over the next two to four years, more moves will likely be made. It's shaping up like a Darwinian battle for positions over the next little while, and it's anybody's guess at this point what kind of a beast will result. All the players mentioned in the paragraph above impressed me. All of them look like they can play in the NHL right now. The Canadiens have some interesting decisions to make as a team about how they intend to develop themselves going forward, and what strengths they want to develop.
(And one other thing about the forwards I really want to say: after a fashion, the player who most impressed me was Jonathan Ferland. His play wasn't at the level of the other four, but he didn't look like he was that far away from the NHL. I remember when the kid was drafted, and the quick summary was 'good size, could be a power forward, can't skate, will likely never make it'. But he's developed himself well, constantly moved forward, and it's not impossible now that he could fight his way onto a fourth line spot in a year or two. More power to him.)
Meanwhile, watching the game last night I found it impossible to make up my mind whether I preferred Ron Hainsey or Mark Streit as a 6th or 7th defenceman. So many penalties are being called it's become very clear that the NHL is trying to really change the way the game is played. More specifically, they're trying to change the way defence is played, and not just by defencemen. If this keeps up, every player in the league is going to have to be re-evaluated with respect to their defensive ability. Some players formerly regarded as solid players may not have the careers they used to (people are already looking nervously at Philadelphia's defence corps, especially Derian Hatcher and Chris Therrien). In the meanwhile, I don't really know how you evaluate defence prospects. This will be an interesting battle to watch.
Anyway, we know the Canadiens will be good. Aragorn hath decreed it.