The news on the eve of training camp that captain Saku Koivu has
non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was a knee to the groin for a storied
franchise that has long been groping to find its way again. Koivu
was not only Montreal's best player but also its moral center,
the man who kept a beleaguered team from descending into farce.
For two seasons the Canadiens had struggled just to keep their
bodies together, with a preposterous 1,066 man games lost to
injury. Now cancer had stripped them of their soul.

The ripple effect was most visible in the role inherited by
former Maple Leaf Yanic Perreault, one of general manager Andre
Savard's four key off-season acquisitions. Perreault, who last
year led NHL regulars by winning 62.6% of his face-offs, is a
fine third-line center and only a mild stretch as a No. 2. But
with Koivu out indefinitely, the 5'11", 188-pound Perreault moves
up to the first line with Brian Savage and pint-sized Oleg
Petrov, a trio that, while having career or near-career years
last season, totaled 144 points--only 23 more than Jaromir Jagr
had by himself.

The other newcomers are 13-goal scorer Andreas Dackell; checking
forward Joe Juneau, a disappointment in Phoenix last year; and
former Montreal defenseman Stephane Quintal, who wore out his
welcome in short order in the past two seasons with the Rangers
and the Blackhawks. "We wanted Quintal because he played his best
hockey here," coach Michel Therrien says. Quintal was so eager to
be repatriated that even though Chicago owed him $5.1 million for
the next two seasons, he agreed to take the same money spread out
over three years in Montreal. If none of these additions were
stop-the-presses material, at least all can plug the gap until
the arrival of a couple of promising draft picks (another element
in short supply since Koivu's first-round selection in 1993):
winger Marcel Hossa and defenseman Ron Hainsey. The Canadiens
bought a little time but not a playoff team.

Montreal will survive with the goaltending duo of Jose Theodore
and Jeff Hackett, though it's improbable that Savard will be able
to keep Hackett around all year as a $3.4 million backup. This
team, however, is not your father's bleu, blanc et rouge. For a
franchise with a record 24 Stanley Cups, it's now boo, blanch and
rue.

--M.F.

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Brian Savage, Canadiens

Fast Fact

Last season was the first time the Canadiens finished as many as
12 games under .500 (28-40-8-6) since 1939-40, when they were
10-33-5.

Insider

CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY

FORWARDS 21 Savage will score; Perreault isn't a first-line
center
DEFENSE 19 Brisebois and Rivet are best of a mediocre
bunch
GOALTENDING 23 If Hackett is dealt, can Theodore be a No. 1
goalie?
SPECIAL TEAMS 24 Power play badly needs a quarterback
MANAGEMENT 25 G.M. Savard has a lot of work to do

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)