Saturday, 18 April 2015

Tim Murray kind of wanted Connor McDavid, sort of.

Despite all the brave words and misdirection prior the lottery balls falling, all the references to Jack Eichel being more than a consolation prize, Sabres GM Tim Murray couldn't hold back after the announcement that the Oilers would pick first overall.

He was shattered.  Crestfallen.  And said this:
"This is two years of me coming up here, and uh, it's a two-minute draw I guess, and uh, one team is happy and the rest aren't, so, uh, I don't know what they're going to do with it, the league may think this is the best system, and if it is, I support them, but uh, it almost feels like you're a World Junior player and  getting that call at 6 in the morning from Team Canada saying that you haven't made it again this year.  So, you know what, we'll get over it, we'll get back to work tomorrow and get ready for the draft.

"I feel for the fans, we went through a tough year, ..., they were extremely excited about it, watching him play in Erie, I do feel bad for them, but we have to play the hand we're dealt, and get ready for it."

He only forgot to add "Welcome to the Sabre family Jack!"

Evidently, Jack Eichel is a very bitter dish to be served when you were eyeing that slab of OHL prime beef, dreaming about it, and had scuttled your own ship two seasons in a row to engineer a way to land him.

This is a telling moment, and I'm going to take comfort from it.  I've been afraid that the Sabres were amassing so many picks and prospects that they'd an unstoppable juggernaut for a generation, one which we couldn't match up against with our feeble Arturri Lehkonens and Sven Andrighettos.

But now, I think the Sabres organization isn't being led by a nouveau-Sam Pollock, but rather that the guy is as described, impulsive, tempestuous, and may make some rash decisions more worthy of Mike Milbury.

First, it's worrisome for sane Buffalo fans that he reacted this badly, was so unprepared for this eventuality, when it fact it was the overwhelmingly more likely scenario, that his team would be leapfrogged like this.  For over a year he's known that the last-place finisher had a 20% chance of picking first.  He knew that he had an 80% chance of ending up with Jack Eichel.  It shouldn't have been such a shock.

So Tim Murray isn't no genius, he ain't too acquainted with all that fancy book learnin' and math stuff.  He's no cold, calculating clinician, he's wasted the year dreaming about the unlikely, rather than preparing for the probable.  He leads with his heart, he's emotional.  He can be manipulated, swindled.

Also, he's kind of poisoned the well, sent the very clear message to young Mr. Eichel that he's the second choice, by a wide margin.  In his mind, it's obviously not a Taylor vs. Tyler scenario, or a Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf decision, one where the #1 choice isn't all that clear.  It's more of a Mario Lemieux-Kirk Muller deal, getting the #2 is equivalent to getting coals in your stocking.  "Sorry kid, there's no more blueberry pie.  Have an apple for dessert."

This can be handled, smoothed over, but compare this to the way Peter Chiarelli for example had said all the right things, intoned unfailingly that whichever player he ended up with, his team would be over the moon, they're both fine young men, tremendously talented, etc.

Tim Murray bungled his reaction.  If that's his poker-face, I want to sit across from him next time he's playing cards.  I need a new La-Z-Boy, the one with the massage function and the little fridge.

And I can't finish this meandering train of thought without torpedoing Gary Bettman's brazen lies and manipulations that teams weren't tanking, weren't intentionally stripping their rosters to lose games and increase their odds of getting the #1 pick.

I repost from HockeyInsideOut:
Un Canadien errant        MARCH 4, 2015 AT 5:20 PM

Louis Jean (of TVA) asks Gary Bettman about the NHL’s perception of Buffalo and Arizona divesting themselves of players and racing to the bottom.
“I don’t think they want to finish as low as they can in the standings, what they’re doing is they’re looking at the assets they have, and they’re deciding what they need to go forward, and as you said they’re accumulating lots of draft picks in return for players because they’re rebuilding. And if you have a team that hasn’t been as successful as you want, then you have to make decisions. And if it looks like you’re not going to make the playoffs, and that’s not something new this year it goes on every year, that teams that don’t think they’re going to make the playoffs decide how they’re going to rebuild going into the future, and generally it’s through accumulating young prospects and draft picks, that you can grow.”

And Louis Jean, fresh off the announcement that TVA Sports has been awarded the broadcast rights for the World Cup in French in Canada, replies: “A formula that has worked extremely well for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Chicago Blackhawks, etc.”
Sure Gary.  Look at Tim Murray deflated countenance, his mounting sense of righteous anger that two full seasons of tanking were for naught.

He wasn't looking to accumulate "young prospects and draft picks", he was looking to hook into the biggest prize at the fishing derby in a decade.  He was looking to land Connor McDavid, and no one else.  He intentionally threw this season.

Friday, 17 April 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 1, Game 2: Canadiens 3, Senators 2

Thoughts on the Canadiens 3-2 OT defeat of the Senators in Game 2.

--I'll allow that I feel kind of okay about it, that if Alex Galchenyuk is going to swat his stick on anyone's helmet and take a penalty, that Eric Gryba be the beneficiary of this attention.  But really Alex, pick your spot.  And if you do slug a d-man in the ear-hole, make it count, make it Erik Karlsson.

And Mr. Gryba, next time, bring along some semaphore flags, to signal even more clearly to the officials that you did get dinged.  Glenn Healy wasn't moved to complain that you 'sold it' to the refs.  Next time, give it your full effort.  Don't just go down on one knee, and dramatically clutch at your head seconds late, give it a full markstone.

--Speaking of salesmanship, clear, blatant dive at the 7 minute mark of the first period by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, on a 3-on-2, reacting to a tap from David Desharnais.  I expect that Daddy Campbell will be just as outraged by this one as any by P.K.  Right?

--Some fans have complained that Devante Smith-Pelly's hits were after the puck was gone, relatively ineffective, that they weren't a significant contribution to the success of the team, that he just takes himself out of the play to 'finish his check', which doesn't jibe with our methods.

At the 9 minute mark, he stamped Erik Karlsson into the boards as the Senator unloaded the puck in a hurry.  Let's keep at it, get more of these on the relatively slender defender, and see if he wilts.

--Second period, the ice slowly tilted in the Canadiens' favour.

--After P.K. rocket-laser-beamed that shot millimetres from Andrew Hammond's noggin, I would have kissed him too if I could have.

--Devante Smith-Pelly might work alongside that David Desharnais-Max Pacioretty tandem.  He had a couple of opportunities on the powerplay he didn't finish, but he neatly solves the problem we've bemoaned in the past, which is that the line didn't have net presence, Gally was too small to be effective.  I'm interested to see if these guys can mesh.

And Devo had another crunching hit on Erik Karlsson.  Keep it up.

--In the third period, after Patrick Wiercioch's penalty on Lars Eller, we saw him skating to the box shaking his head, and I'll give him credit and posit that he was partly upset at himself for coughing up the puck to Lars in the first place, and for getting caught for tripping him.  We still got the sense though that there was a strong sense of disbelief, that kind of imputation that's all too common nowadays, that Lars fell too easily, that he kind of sort of doved, slightly.  And it's so ridiculous.

The Ottawa defenceman was two steps behind Lars.  His stick blade was a good two metres away from Lars' stick blade and the puck.  What he could possibly have achieved by placing his stick anywhere near Lars' shin pads?  Except trip, hook, hold, interfere with him?

Or slash him.  That 'non-aggressive light slashing' the rulebook specifically tolerates.  Leaving it up to the referees to evaluate, whether it's light or medium or moderately heavy.

And what if that lightish slash had caught Lars where there wasn't any padding, and now he's rolling on the ice clutching his hand?  Do we go through an emotional implosion, let slip the dogs of war, and launch an armada of a thousand tweets at the league and the Senators and their fans?

This act is tolerated a thousand times a game.  Countless times, players are slashed, held, interfered, crosschecked, headlocked and tackled (Gryba category only).  The NHL congratulates itself on the fact that play is "intense", that the players "fight for every inch".

But really, what's happening is it's suffocating the game.

--An important contribution from Mike Zibanejad to his team is that he allows Mark Borowiecki to not feel all that bad about his physiognomy, all things considered.

--Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk hustled and chopped wood all game long, and it was great to see them be rewarded with the overtime goal.  That team celebration, apparently conducted to the strains of the Kriss Kross' signature hit, was a sight to behold, especially with that kid behind the glass, seeing it all unfold, maybe the highlight of his young life.

If we're to have any success, these two youngsters need to step up and contribute, tangibly, on the scoreboard.  Over the last few seasons, the team has evolved, improved, but has also sloughed off some significant scoring talent, players like Mike Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn, Brian Gionta, Daniel Brière.  We've loaded up on youth, on character, but this season goals were hard to come by.  Aside from Max, there's precious little reliable scoring talent on the Canadiens.  The twins have to be a big part of the answer in these playoffs.

--What made it especially sweet was that slow-footed and slower-witted Eric Gryba wears the goat horns on this night, having given the puck away in his own zone even though he had clear and complete control of it.

The tide has to shift away from the game finding room for practitioners of anti-hockey such as Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki.  It's my hope that with every such giveaway, every loss he's directly responsible for, Mr. Gryba drives another nail in the coffin of the sham of his NHL career.

Prospect goalie Brandon Whitney signs ATO contract with Hamilton Bulldogs

Marc Bergevin has signed prospect LHJMQ goalie Brandon Whitney to an amateur try out contract.

Funny, since I rued that we didn’t have a 7th-rounder in the 2012 draft, that we’d spent our sixth on Erik Nystrom, a self-admitted flyer by Director of Amateur Scouting Trevor Timmins, who tried out with the Bulldogs but ended up not earning a contract.

We could have instead picked up this big kid from the LHJMQ and added to our goaltending depth, I thought. See if he pans out.  Now we get him for free if we want.

I can’t quite remember how it went, but I think Brandon Whitney had a great rookie camp and then training camp with the Blackhawks, the team that had eventually drafted him in the seventh round, and the Hawks had an injured goalie, so there was talk of keeping him up, maybe for the AHL, it’s fuzzy, but anyway ultimately he was sent back to Victo. He then suffered a crazy injury in practice, fractures to his larynx after taking a puck in the throat.

He eventually was not signed by the Hawks. It’s not quite the olden days, where a guy would hurt his knee and stop playing hockey and get a job at CN, but injuries still play a big part, are a big risk for a player, especially one who’s not a high pick.

This season he struggled, had more injuries, pulled a groin, but he’s still got the tools, the size, the potential. It’s worth taking a look.

Of note: From that same draft, the much-regretted (in some histrionic corners) Brady Vail played 6 games for the Toronto Marlies and was shut out, but got 30 points in 65 games for the Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL. I still think the Solar Bears is the coolest team name in hockey.

The P.K. Subban slash, "a failure to communicate", and signal-to-noise.

"What we've got here is failure to communicate"

The quote from the warden in "Cool Hand Luke" applies to the NHL, specifically in terms of a signal-to-noise ratio.  The NHL, its Director of Crooked Operations Colin "Daddy" Campbell, and its cadre of cowed on-ice officials, trapped in a job they can't possibly love anymore, trapped by their salaries and the memory of a game they remember as once being pretty cool, allow so much background chaff, so much low to medium-level nonsense, goonery, routine allowable crosschecking in retaliation for the offence of a player having the temerity to stand somewhere, that incidents like P.K.'s reckless slash on Mark Stone are inevitable.

They're slashing us, so we slash them back with a little extra vim, and they're not going to stand for it, so they put some elbow grease in their subsequent slashes, and you can hear the contact of the slashes on the padding of the recipient.  And then P.K.'s on the ice killing a penalty, and has been trained to expect that in these situations, unless he guillotines an opponent's head clean off, he'll get away with any level of mayhem short of flipping the puck into the stands.  So he takes a good old-fashioned swipe at a player (I think it was player #61) in front of his net, to "let him know he's there" like Nick Kypreos would intone approvingly.

Except it smacks Player #61 right on the wrist, where there's little padding with those newfangled gloves, compared to the gloves I used to wear, and it really smarts.  Player #61 reacts in pain and surprise, and then, to ensure that the refs don't miss that this was a bad one, hams it up like a midfielder with perfectly bouffanted hair.  He's not cheating, exactly, it's a question of shading, of tone.  Of signal to noise.

This slash needs to stand out, it must stand out from the background noise of slashing that's been established.  It doesn't do Player #61 any good to stand upright, wince and shake his hand, or skate to the bench doubled over, all that's going to do is get the talking heads to chuckle and bleat "Hudson's Bay rules", followed by, "the zebras have put the whistles away", a bon mot, and then "they're letting them play."  Everything is happening.

So he falls to the ice, no harm in that, it's not like he's Kramer wearing the pants he wants to return and he's about to fall in mud, and then Player #61 gives it an extra roll or two, might as well merylstreep it at that point, commit to the performance.

We see it all the time.  David Desharnais or Brendan Gallagher are trying to get at the puck, do something with it, play some actual hockey, but the grinders and the checkers, the guys who are in the NHL to prevent hockey from happening, are tugging and holding and hooking them and crosschecking them and punching them behind the head, and it's okay, it's 'defensive hockey'.  So when next they're hacking away at Tomas Plekanec and he's banking into a turn and he's not going to be able to make a play, Tomas kind of allows the force of the hack to trip him, make him fall to the ice.  What's the point of fighting through it?  You don't get any brownie points for it.

The NHL thinks that it cancels out, that at the end of the game both teams will have a few penalties, and will have gotten away with an equivalent number of transgressions.  Except that it doesn't.  The muckers, the anti-hockey players, the Eric Grybas and the Chris Neils, they prosper in that environment.  The Bruins and the truculent Leafs win in that exchange.

And the fans get to sit some more, and wait, until such a time as Alex Galchenyuk can fight through a thicket, a veritable forest of slashes and hooks and manage for a couple of seconds to appear as if he can get in a position where he can make a pass or a play, and then they can feel some anticipatory excitement, before the next salvo of a half-dozen hooks and slashes and the manoeuvre aborts and a Mark Borowiecki can golf the puck off the boards.

That's entertainment.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 1, Game 1: Canadiens 4, Senators 3

What an ugly, dirty, ugly game.  Unlike a few of my compadres who couldn't wait for the playoffs to start, I wasn't that keen, fearing just the type of spectacle that was delivered to us tonight, courtesy of the Ottawa Senators.

Sure, the Canadiens won 4-3 and take an early lead in the series, but I cringed while watching, or my mind wandered.  There was no flow, and certainly no beauty.  Intensity, desperation, there was lots of that, but this was a battle of stickwork, of hacking rather than handling the puck, dumping rather than shooting, mucking and clutching rather than skating.

This is the parity that Gary Bettman wanted, where talent and swiftness are relatively immaterial to the end result.  It's a game for grinders and checkers, a game of lucky bounces and questionable refereeing.  5-3 is a decisive win.  6-2 is a blowout.

The big talking point will be P.K. Subban's slash on Mark Stone, for which P.K. got a game misconduct.  The CBC talking heads thought it could draw supplemental discipline, that it bordered on the egregious, but to my trained but inexpert eye, it seemed relatively routine.  It wasn't a baseball swing à la Bobby Clarke, it was all wrist.  It just got soccerific Mark Stone somewhere he didn't have any padding, and he took that and ran with it a little.  That was emoting on a Nicholas Cage level.

But this is the circular nonsense the NHL bogs itself in, by saying, in its very own rulebook, that slashing is not permitted, but that incidental and non-aggressive slashing isn't slashing.  So the refs have to somehow figure out a malleable, variable limit from game to game and period to period, and they tend to 'let the little stuff go', but to me a lot of it is medium to large stuff, but never mind.  They just stand there and watch, phlegmatically, arms at their side, secure in the knowledge that Don Cherry will give them a thumbs up for 'letting them play'.

Still, P.K. needs to control himself.  He's on a streak of five or six penalties over the last few games where he contorts himself in paroxysms of disbelief and outrage at being called, following which the replay clearly shows that he did indeed trip or hold or clock someone flush on the helmet.  

P.K., keep your cool.  Again I'll point to Chris Chelios as your model, give them hell, give them all you got, but when you get a penalty just skate to the box and let your buddies kill it off.  Don't grandstand, don't show up the refs, and give them another extra additional reason to pick on you or the Canadiens in the future, to just slaver at an opportunity to whistle you for another call for the merest pretense.

The fourth line was lauded by Glenn Healy over the last few days, he kept repeating that the Canadiens "didn't have that last year", which is odd, because I remember Daniel Brière leading a pretty effective if unconventional unit, feeding Dale Weise for some big goals.  But maybe the CBC blowhard knows a little hockey after all, since Torrey Mitchell, Brandon Prust and Brian Flynn scored two goals, and the latter picked up three points.

Another story line was expected to be the battle in net between Andrew Hammond and Carey Price, but that didn't materialize, they weren't a deciding factor one way or the other.  The Hamburglar in particular looked unimpressive, flailing and foundering in his crease, being more lucky than adept in my opinion.  Of course, we used to say the same about Dominik Hasek, and Tim Thomas, but I'm not shaking in my boots, and I don't think the Canadiens are either, they have bigger fish to fry.

Stray observations:

--Eric Gryba tries to scythe off Brendan Gallagher's head with a vicious reverse hook, and complains about the two minute penalty he receives.  Hockey would be better if he was removed from the league.

--Mark Borowiecki's only function on the Senators is to insulate Mika Zibanejad from accusations that he's the ugliest man in show business.

--I assumed that we'd get Jim Hughson to call our series, but I was being an East Coast élitist probably, forgetting about Mr. Hughson's background working Vancouver Canucks games.  Paul Romanuk isn't bad, overall, and Mike Johnson is excellent as the analyst, so I'll live with that team.

--Every whistle, every stoppage in play, a Senator is crosschecking and facewashing a Canadien, and the refs wade in and do their "Break it up.  Break it up." no-harm-done routine.  So tiresome.  Such a change from games against the Lightning and the Red Wings, that flowed back and forth, with none of that nonsense.

--I know the Sens are still PTSD'ing over successive losses against unskilled Leaf teams that would goon them out of the playoffs, their current roster reflects a conscious decision that Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker wouldn't run them through the boards anymore, but it's been a while since then.  They have to realize that they're wearing it now, they're the goons.  

--Jeff Petry and Tom Gilbert, the two righties remaining after P.K. was ejected, played 24 minutes each, and Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov did the heavy lifting on the left with 23 minutes each.  Nathan Beaulieu got 15 minutes of icetime.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Darryl Sutter being locked out of his own team's dressing room isn't that big a deal.

As far as the Kings locking out Darryl Sutter so he couldn’t enter the dressing room, that has to be taken in context, as this report does very well.

We fans tend to think that the coach(es) stalk the dressing room before the game, between periods and after the game, pumping them up Herb Brooks-style, or haranguing them if they’re not performing up to their standards. This is a fallacy perpetuated by the movies, but also by our common experience in minor hockey, where the coaches would be in the room with us, for want of anywhere else to be.

In the NHL, the coaches have their own meeting room, and an office in their home rink where they can take a break, put their heads together and make adjustments based on how the game is going. Coaches also usually recognize that it’s ‘the players’ room’, and some if not most will leave them to sort things out between themselves, beside an occasional or perfunctory pep talk between periods to communicate any changes, goalie changes, etc.

Michel Therrien has been very clear to the media that he tends to leave the players to figure things out, that it’s their room to run. Brian Gionta last year, now the leader quartet are those who give the pep talks and dish out encouragements and corrections between periods, with assists from vets like Manny Malhotra, and big inputs from Carey Price, etc.

Coach Therrien also made it clear that he will almost never enter the dressing room after a game, especially after a loss. He admitted that it’s too easy to let your emotions get the better of you after a tough game, and explained that whatever corrections need to be made, they can be handled more coolly, clinically during the next practice.

I’ve noted that this season’s 24CH episodes reflect that, spotlighting on the player interactions in the dressing room, and seldom showing any coaches in there, short of Dan Lacroix taking the picture of the boxing cape ceremony after wins. The first season, we saw a lot more of the coaches, how they’d wrestle with various issues or discussed adjustments between periods over a slice of pizza, how they’d give a pep talk of a minute or so sometimes between periods. I remember one episode where, during a game where things were going badly, Michel Therrien came in, and instead of lighting into his team, he calmly sat down and asked his team what they thought was going wrong. This year, bupkus.

So maybe the L.A. Kings grew tired of the “series of lectures/tirades” from Darryl Sutter, maybe that coach handles his business differently, and it became a burr under the saddle of the team, but it’s not that flagrant a case of insubordination as some seem to think it is. The Kings players may have tried to enact the practice that is common with other NHL clubs, to hold a ‘Players-only meeting’, and it degenerated somewhat from there.

Is Mike Babcock destined for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Dave Pratt and 'Bro' Jake on TSN 1040 Vancouver are batting around the idea that if Mike Babcock is going to take the Toronto job, it will be as a Head Coach-GM. Now we tend to think this dual-duty generally doesn’t work in the NHL nowadays, since coaches are pre-occupied with the day-to-day, the short-term, and a GM needs to make decisions that take the long-term into account. Also, common wisdom is that the job is too complex for only one man to do both effectively.

I do think this could work for the Leafs though, in this specific eventuality. Mike Babcock is obviously very qualified, experienced, and could have the ability to do both. He’d have the self-confidence and control, and the security not normally afforded to a coach that comes with a mondo contract, that he could sacrifice the short-term occasionally to make these calls, on whether a player can be left in the minors some more, or whether a vet needs to be let go or traded instead of re-signed to a huge deal, for example.

Additionally, the common practice is now to have a team, a brain trust to perform the GM duties, it’s no longer a one-man job, a wizardly Sam Pollock with maybe a draft-guru Ron ‘Prof’ Caron to lean on. We see how Marc Bergevin has a half-dozen guys in his circle who collaborate on these tasks, and the same exists in Vancouver, with Trevor Linden doing a lot of the lifting in terms of media presence and fan relations, and Jim Benning able to focus more on the scouting and guts of the job, with a slew of assistants.

One of the pitfalls of having a GM-Head Coach is that players have to negotiate their contracts with the same guy who doles out icetime.  That's a great potential for ruffled feathers, so it's something that needs to be handled expertly.

Gary Valk told the story of how he once met with former Canucks Head Coach-GM Pat Quinn after the season ended, and tried to get a new deal done with him by discussing what a good year he’d had as an effective and tough 4th-liner. Quinn shot back: “The only reason you were on the fourth line is because we weren’t allowed to have a fifth line.” Gary Valk walked out and decided he’d hire an agent to do his negotiating.

But even when these jobs are clearly separate, there’s even then often a need to tiptoe around. Lots of GM’s want to be the face of the franchise, and be able to attract players, motivate them, they don’t want to be the ‘bad guy’, so they’ll delegate the haggling to a capologist who’ll grind every penny. “Gee, I really want to keep you, but Mr. Smith is in charge of contracts, he handles the numbers, my hands are kind of tied, …”

Certainly it wouldn’t work with every team or every individual, but with a proven, capable Mike Babcock, surrounded with a team of quality hockey men who are committed to supporting him, who don’t have different agendas, and with a talented, credible leader like Brendan Shanahan to insulate him from the MLSE Board soap operas, it could work, I’d bet.

So yeah, Mike Babcock could be the CEO, kind of like a Bill Parcells or a Bill Belichik, who’s the coach, and makes the big decisions, with a lot of assistants in both areas to take care of the details, advise him, support him.

And I’d be happy if this occurred. While it’s amusing to see the Leafs implode year after year, and I never wanted the Tie Domi-Darcy Tucker-Wade Belak group to have success, or Brian Burke’s truculent goon squad, if they had a skilled fast team that was a pleasure to watch, like the Wings and the Lightning, I’d certainly love that. If they beat us at hockey, instead of coltonorring us, I can accept that, respect that. I actually would prefer if the Leafs were a worthy rival, instead of the joke media-whore team they’ve become.

Maple Leafs fire Nonis, Horachek, along with fifteen of their scouts, plus others.

An interesting aspect of the Leaf housecleaning is that they dismissed 15 of their scouts, weeks prior to the draft. Brendan Shanahan was questioned on this during his presser, and explained that the staff they did retain led by Director of Player Personnel Mark Hunter will be able to do the job in June.

In “Future Greats and Heartbreaks”, Gare Joyce describes a similar situation where the Columbus Blue Jackets performed a purge of the Doug MacLean régime near the end of the 2007 season, and the author speaks with the scouts who are now unemployed. This is a strain on them, obviously, but equally disappointing for them is that they miss out on the draft, they don’t get to have their Super Bowl, to play in their big game, after a long year of scouting. We can imagine how frustrating that could be in our own work life, working hard on a project for a long time, but then not being able to do the presentation.

The Blue Jackets went a different direction at the 2012 draft, where they held the draft, and then the next day fired almost their entire scouting staff. A lot of posters on social media thought that was bush league. I guess it’s hard to figure which tack is worse. Certainly, the scouts seem to understand that their ‘free agency’ is immediately following the draft, that’s when guys looking for work and teams needing help match up.

In Vancouver, General Manager Jim Benning has chosen to largely retain his team of scouts rather than ousting them when he took over, despite an abysmal track record by the team at the draft table. Team President Trevor Linden explained that they didn’t think the scouts necessarily did a bad job, but that a different draft philosophy would be held in the future. It was interesting to read that Mike Gillis had some set ideas on how to game the system at the draft, believing in the practice of drafting overagers, players who’d gone through a previous draft year without being selected by anyone. He believed that projecting 18-year-olds is hard enough, you might as well make it easier on yourself and evaluate 19 or 20-year-olds, with prospects who are closer to their full potential as players. He believed in snapping up college free agents for the same reason.

Trevor Linden thought that the same scouts could continue in their roles, but come draft day, the team would be better off picking fruits of the first harvest, the best of the CHL and European leagues, rather than try to look for diamonds in the leavings of previous years. Same staff, different attitude, and hopefully different results for him and his team.

If Connor McDavid can't be a Montréal Canadien, let him be a San Jose Shark.

When it comes to the NHL draft lottery, and which team I'll root for to earn the right to draft Connor McDavid, I'd made up my mind that whichever Canadian team missed the playoffs in the West, be it the Jets or the Flames, I'd want them to get the first overall pick.

Both cities genuinely love their hockey, would cherish and celebrate the young player.  It wouldn't be like when the Impact sign some European former star, or the Grizzlies got to draft Stromile Swift, an oddity that's hyped up by the team, pumped up by the media, to a befuddled, generally uninterested citizenry.  There would be genuine joy at Portage and Main or on the Red Mile if Connor McDavid landed in Western Canada.

Of course, this 'plan' of mine was dashed when both cities, happily, made it into the playoffs.  Five out of seven Canadian cities in it to win it, how about that?  Aside from Ottawa, I'll root for all of them the rest of the way.

Now, I could wish for him to land in the remaining two Canadian cities who are in the lottery, but I can't bring myself to do that, I'm actually actively hoping they don't get the #1 pick.  If we can't stomach the Toronto hype for its sad-sack franchise the way it is now, imagine how bad it would be if they got the phenom?  They've cleaned house of their former management team, so it's not a foregone conclusion, but I still wouldn't put it past them that they'd 'ruin' the kid anyway, that he'd be a treasure lost to hockey, like an Assyrian statue clobbered by a sledgehammer-wielding superstitious barbarian.

As far as the Oilers go, they've had three kicks at the can, they've had enough shots at the first overall pick, never mind that it's never been in a Steven Stamkos year.  Their tank manoeuvres have gone from unseemly to tiresome and icky, to shameless, immoral.  I don't want that team to benefit from their ineptitude.  Plus, it doesn't seem fair that the best player in a decade to come out of junior be marooned, exiled to Edmonton, because he's been 'drafted'.

In a league where there's already a salary cap, plus other limits on player rights and brakes on teams' ability to load up their rosters, the draft is a monopolistic, antiquated, unnecessary practice, as much as we may love the conceit as fans.  And, this is especially so in a world where Darryl Katz can go to Seattle to "explore" his options, or where the Spanos family can move their team to L.A. because San Diego won't chip in enough taxpayer money to build them a new palace, when there's a perfectly good stadium already in place, and when they could just do what we do and friggin' take out a mortgage and finance the new stadium themselves.

If owners can be rapacious mercenaries, and extort money out of their citizenry or pack up and leave town on their own whim, then I can't justify why Connor McDavid should be forced to play in Edmonton for a decade before he can be free to offer his services to the best bidder.  I'll root against that eventuality.

So I'm left with very few desirable locations for him to end up.  As a Habs fan, obviously the Bruins are out.  Further, I'll probably rule out any Eastern teams, and would rather he land in the Western conference, if only so that I can have more opportunities to watch him live, in Vancouver, Seattle, and/or Las Vegas.

So I'll rule out Carolina, that hockey hotbed of round ball.  New Jersey certainly, they can't fill their own rink, and have a history as a stultifying team playing soporific shinny.  Florida, they're already stacked with young prospects, and they're division rivals of the Habs, on top of being in a bizarre locale that can't work.

Buffalo, normally I'd not be averse to that, their fans have suffered long enough, it's a great hockey town, but again, I don't necessarily want that team already chock-full of young prospects and replete with future high draft picks to land that plum also, and turn around and slaughter the Canadiens every time we play them.  They get the Jack Eichel consolation prize.

Philadelphia deserves a special hell all of their own, so I never want to see him in a Flyer jersey.  It was tough enough to see the stupid Nordiques trade Eric Lindros there, where I couldn't appreciate what he did and retain my sanity.  You boys content yourselves with Claude Giroux.  And Vinny.

Columbus is a college football town, the kid would be a bauble the team would use to try to drag people to its games, instead of being the treasure the citizenry has prayed for.

Out West, I wouldn't really want the Kings to land the prize, they've won two Cups lately, and already have the advantage of its location to attract free agents, they don't need the leg up.  The same advantage disqualifies the Ducks, you don't get palm trees and Connor McDavid.

The Avalanche already have Nathan McKinnon and Matt Duchene on the roster, that's enough superstar young talent for any city.

The Coyotes are a moribund franchise, I don't want Gary Bettman to use the kid as a crutch to prop up this shanty any longer than it's already gone on.

Dallas is a football town, they have their Mavs, they wouldn't appreciate the phenom for what he is.  Plus, they robbed us of the Minnesota North Stars, the team with the second or third-best jersey in the league.  You don't Al Davis your team out of town and prosper, even if it's two decades later.

So we're left with the Sharks.  San Jose is a strong hockey town, they've supported their team from the get-go, apparently lots of transplanted Canadians who actually attend games, contrary to Jack Kent Cooke's experience in L.A. in the early seventies.  The kid gets to be in a major American centre and sells the game to the infidels, grows revenue, stabilizes the league.  San Francisco is a short flight from Vancouver and a great place to visit and attend games.  The Sharks play in Vancouver often, so I get more opportunities to see him play.

So San Jose it is.  Come on, lucky ping-pong balls, weave your magic, make that 5% chance pay off.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Game 82: Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 3 (SO)

Thoughts on the Canadiens' 4-3 shootout win against the Leafs tonight.

-- I set my PVR to the game without really thinking about it, and when I fired it up, found out that Bob Cole would be dithering the plays, instead of Jim Hughson.  D'oh!  I would have tried the TVA offering had I had been forewarned.

-- It's an odd feel to the game.  The Leafs are probably just trying to get it over with, and the Canadiens look like they're playing at 95, 96%, but not quite the proverbial 110%.  I get the feeling that they'd also just as soon it be over, but they have something to play for.

-- Can a hockey team coast through a game and still play a 'real' game?  I thought of comparables while watching the first period, and the way the offensive and defensive linemen play in the NFL Pro Bowl came to mind.  They have to be there, they have to play the snaps, but you know they're just trying to get through the game without getting injured or extending themselves too much.

That's not very apt, the intensity, the urgency of this game is much greater than any Pro Bowl, but still.  Maybe things sort themselves out in the second.

-- I thought that maybe Dustin Tokarski might have been the better choice after all, seeing Carey let in two goals, at least one of which he'd want to have back.  And seeing that Toronto rookie kreiderate into him.

I'm not second-guessing the coaches, I understood and agreed with their decision to start Carey, this isn't a game with no stakes attached, there was something to play for.  But now with hindsight, seeing that having Carey in goal didn't inspire the team to stomp on the Leafs, get an early lead and put the game away so they sleepwalk through the rest of the game, maybe having Dustin in there to prevent a potential injury and to make the players a little more 'accountable' might have been the right call, heads-or-tails style.

-- Usually, the Canadiens get jobbed, get cheated by the control room in Toronto, which allows goals against and negates goals for, brazenly.  Tonight, in a refreshing change, they were cheated by the on-ice officials in Toronto.  Nice palate cleanser.

-- A Brendan Gallagher goal that would have given the Canadiens the lead in the third was disallowed by the refs, after a confab where they rigged up a way to rip off the Habs, claiming goalie interference on Jonathan Bernier.

Hilariously, the HNIC analysts agreed with the call, and were stating that Brendan wasn't pushed into the Leaf goaltender/crease while at the same time the replay clearly showed a Leaf defenceman's stick on his back.

-- The refs were probably tipping their hat to Colton Orr in his last game in the NHL, saluting the end of his scourge, by overlooking all manner of slashes, crosschecks, late hits, etc.

-- Dirty punk Nazem Kadri's 'courage' was probably embiggened by the presence of the Marlies enforcer.  He took a vigorous punch at Alexei Emelin, long after play had stopped, to the mute assent of the ersatz referees.  Later, he hit him in the back and projected him into the boards, again with no call, and no pushback from the Canadiens.

The Senators were probably watching this and licking their chops.  Certainly Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki must be, Bryan Murray had to be tossing lots of raw meat and offal in their cages, poking them with sharp sticks, getting them ready for 'playoff hockey'.

-- The abuse directed at Alexei Emelin was in retribution for a hip check against Eric Brewer.  The Leaf veteran objected and, in response, literally grabbed Alexei by the head and threw him down backward.  A scrum ensued.  Somehow, the refs concocted a scenario where the minor penalties cancelled out, Alexei was retroactively penalized for clipping, and the only penalty to the Leafs for starting this whole mess was a minor for roughing.

All is well in Don Cherry's, Mike Milbury's, and Colin "Daddy" Campbell's NHL.  Now 33% scrummier!

-- Michel Therrien tried a couple of times to inject reason in the proceedings, to no avail.  Eventually, the frustration grew so great that first Andrei Markov, and shortly after, during the same break in play, P.A. Parenteau were ejected from the game for unsportsmanlike conduct.   Way to crack down refs!  No tolerance on words, those can injure.

-- I'm liking the livelier, shootier version of Lars Eller.  He's less prone to feats of stickhandling that carry the puck away from the opposition net, although he had a couple of relapses in this game.  We want him using his size and firing pucks at the net, not competing with Alex Galchenyuk for a magic hands award.

-- The blue line may end up being a strength this post-season.  Jeff Petry has really solidified this unit, and I feel as confident in Greg Pateryn as I do with Tom Gilbert in the lineup.  The rookie pairing with Greg and Nathan Beaulieu has me very hopeful for the future.

-- The shootout was so emphatically won by the Canadiens that it was almost anti-climactic.  First, Alex Galchenyuk faked Jonathan Bernier out of his Desmond Tutu fanclub jockeys ("He's always been a great hero of mine, the way his sons worked their way up to the NHL...").  Then, after Tyler Bozak soiled himself at the prospect of facing Carey Price and meekly shot wide, David Desharnais idled in to about 20 feet away from the net, took a P.K.-quality backswing and blasted a slapshot glove corner.  Joffrey Lupul forced Carey to make a pad save, and then the Canadiens goalie picked up the puck for his well-deserved team record-setting 43rd win.

-- Now we get set for our playoff calvary.  What outrages will be committed against our heroes but be chuckled at by the Sportsnet apes?  Why do we put ourselves through this?  We could watch pro wrestling, and it would be less crooked.  At least there'd be a narrative thread, and the stars would be showcased, featured, favoured.

But not in a league where a quality forward like Jamie Benn wins the scoring championship with 80 points or so, over a debilitated Sidney Crosby, playing without Kris Letang who was knocked out for the season, and may even have to retire, due to a Phoenix Coyote "finishing his check".

Nice work Gary!  Don't worry about details like that, focus on selling tickets in Vegas instead.