Monday, 30 May 2016

Alexis Vanier, Alexis Pépin about to re-enter the draft?

Here's a list of drafted players whose ‘rights’ will expire by June 1 if not signed by their clubs.

1) We talked a couple of days ago about Conner Bleackley. Not signed by the Avalanche, Patrick Roy was reportedly seriously disenchanted with this prospect. Traded to the Coyotes in the Michael Bodker deal.

2) Keegan Iverson, a tough heart-and-soul type who coaches love, but whose production and game has regressed apparently. Ten years ago there’s no doubt he would have been signed, “you need these kind of guys, warriors, who battle for their team, …”

3) Alexis Vanier, Alexis Pépin. A couple summers ago, a deluded blogger lost his marbles about the Canadiens passing those guys up, choosing to trade up and draft Brett Lernout instead.

Alexis Vanier has just been wrecked by injuries. Wasn’t available for the Drakkar when they were trying to make a playoff run, was acquired by the Phénix last season. They thought they were loading up for a run this year, but they never got in gear, and he got dumped at the deadline.

I’d still think hard about picking him in the late rounds if he goes back in the draft. Lots of talent, leadership, great size, good production when he’s healthy. I’d still be surprised if the Sharks passed on him.

Alexis Pépin is the classic case of the uber-talented player with everything going for him, except discipline and desire. Even more questions about whether he ‘gets it’. Production underwhelming. Bounced from team to team, finally had a full season on a stacked Foreurs team, didn’t score enough for a drafted 19-year old.

But all that size and talent though…

4) Lukas Sutter, again. We went through that with him last spring, he went back into the draft after the Jets elected not to sign their 2012 2nd-rounder. You have to wonder if he’d have been picked that high if his name was Lukas Smith.

Anyway, he went back into the draft last season and the Islanders took him in the seventh round. It looks like he’s been playing in the ECHL and AHL on AHL-only or pro-tryout contracts.

The Brendan Gallagher-Brad Marchand bromance is bitter to swallow.

The emotional trauma I suffered when Zero Chara, a good man who is active in the community blah blah blah, botched his homicide attempt on Max, when Milan Lucic attempted, repeatedly, to geld Alexei Emelin, when Andrew Ference gave me the finger, it’s all self-inflicted. I think I’m battling with my team, for justice and the Canadien way, against the Axis of Evil, and then find out Brendan Gallagher is training with Milan Lucic and gently teasing him over the summer, post handshake-meltdown. As if nothing happened.

And now Gally is having a grand ole time with Brad Marchand in St-Petersburg, the Venice on the Volga.

I went through much the same with the Chargers, who always played a fan-friendly wide-open style, compared to the thuggish, cheating Raiders. For decades I knew I was right, and justifiably hated those losers in black, and their stupid fans, all so badass because they apishly wear black, black like their souls.

Yet last year Dean Spanos, the unprincipled racketeer whose father frauded and stoled his way to a station in life when he could acquire my team as a plaything for his imbecilic progeny, announced a ‘partnership’ with those same Raiders to build and share a stadium in L.A., complete with an eternal flame for Al Davis, and in so doing dispossess his hometown fans. For no better reason than to earn even higher profits than the already guaranteed hundreds of millions of dollars in profit that every NFL owner is already guaranteed.

Why have I been cheering so hard? Why was I glued to my television? Why did I make trips and buy tickets? Why do I anticipate each new season so intently, why do I agonize over every loss? If it’s all the same to the jerk who owns the team, and willingly tears back the curtain if it means ten more millions to pile on the stack of millions he already has?

There was that promotion last season when Zdeno Chara was in Montréal and Canadiens fans could have a free burger if they hugged the Bruin, something like that, it was a surprise reveal, and I know that if it had been me, I wouldn’t have ‘Aw shucks”ed it. I might have announced to him that I was coming at him, that he needed to defend himself, but I definitely would have attacked him, done my duty, since Gary Bettman and the SPVM didn’t do theirs. I would have loaded up my mighty righty, and as he prepared to fend off my roundhouse, would have kicked-stepped hard on his knee, to hear it crunch-pop, and hobble the loathsome beast, fell it like a Douglas Fir. As a brutish roar erupted from his foul gizzard, I would have zigged, he would have bought it, at which point I would have zagged and imprinted my steel-capped toes on his granitic forehead. Repeatedly and with escalating fury.

That’s the way it goes down when I visualize it, but in real life, he probably would have taken me, most likely. He’s a bit younger, and while we’re about the same weight, his is distributed a little differently, all things considered, that extra lankiness of his is hard to counter, that extra reach. So I might have lost the fight that I started, possibly, but kind of like Happy Gilmore, who loses a fight so bad he lands in the hospital, I could have comforted myself that he may have got in a few lucky shots, and still feel I won the fight.

But I definitely would have goed him. The moment his monstrous snout emerged from hiding, where it belonged. I wouldn’t have had to decide on it, it would have been instinct. While Gally is bromancing the schnoz.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Marc Bergevin and asset management.

I don’t mind when we obtain players like Brian Flynn and Davis Drewiske or Paul Byron, and sign them to easily digestible, disposable contracts, because they’re assets that can be exchanged for draft picks down the road, even if they’re low picks.

What I find though is that Marc Bergevin tends to not realize these assets, to clear the way for his younger players. I understand his philosophy that the young players have to prove they belong, to beat out the vets, and he’ll then make room for them, but it’s a question of degrees, of modulating that concept.

In practice, it leads us to offering a contract to Francis Bouillon, then another year, then another, while Jarred Tinordi plugs away in the AHL. And sure, Jarred wasn’t ready to play in the NHL, but maybe there was a moment when he could have been eased in, and it might have goosed his confidence to play a half-season in Montréal, instead of always being sent back to Hamilton, deemed to need seasoning.  Maybe we never found the gap in traffic to allow him to merge in from the on-ramp.  Maybe we never created that gap.

In practice it leads to our head coach clinging to Tom Gilbert, playing him exclusively over Greg Pateryn and Jarred, until Jarred sours and is traded for pennies on the dollar. Until Greg is nearly lost also. Until Tom gets injured and will now walk away, with no return for the organization.

The devil is in the details. Like Michel Therrien often bemoans, there’s a lack of execution. Organizational depth is fine, but there comes a time when these assets need to be converted into draft picks, you move on from solid replacement-level players, cultivate new prospects, who you then flip for more picks, etc. It's the Wheel of Life.

Is Conner Bleackley headed back into the draft this June?

Conner Bleackley is getting a chance to show his stuff with the Red Deer Rebels at the Memorial Cup, which isn't a bad thing for him.  He has fought through injuries this season, and has yet to sign an Entry Level Contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, who acquired his rights from the Colorado Avalanche in the Michael Boedker trade.

I couldn’t find the article online with a quick Google, but I’d read that the moment Conner Bleackley showed up at the Avalanche training camp, Patrick Roy was seriously disenchanted, and if I remember correctly some scouts were fired over it. He apparently was not his type of player at all, not the player he felt the Avalanche can use in their system.

Which surprised me a little bit, lots of glowing reviews on him before the draft, how he might land in Montréal with our first-round pick, lots of heart and grit and character, blah blah blah. But it didn’t surprise me that the Avs flipped him to the Coyotes in the Michael Boedker trade, considering.

Looking at his stats, his production is headed the wrong way, points total diminishing both years since he was drafted.

We Canadiens fans and draft nerds had our mini-breakdown about Daniel Pribyl signing a contract with Calgary this spring a few years after we let his rights expire, and we had some back and forth over Brady Vail not being offered a contract. These were sixth and fourth-round picks, respectively. And both are still very far from the NHL.

But to completely whiff on a first-round pick like the Avalanche did with Conner Bleackley, a 23rd overall selection, that they weren’t going to even offer him a contract, is staggering.

That there’s that much of a disconnect within the organization that the scouting and hockey ops staff are that far apart that immediately on a player, doesn’t reflect well on that organization, in how Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have set up this team.

Does the blood clot issue actually make Steven Stamkos a more attractive UFA target?

Not to be overly cynical, but the Steven Stamkos blood clot, while at first worrisome, actually now allows me to see giving him a contract as less troubling than before. Whenever we float the idea of signing him, to provide P.K. with a friend, I worry that another massive cap hit of $10M will be too much to bear, too much money will be invested in those two, and Carey Price and Alex Galchenyuk when they come due, we won’t even be able to afford Max when his contract is up, or anyone else really.

And this is before I worry that the Tampa centre isn’t really a centre, that, like Jon Cooper, I see him more as a right wing and a triggerman rather than a playmaker. So are we overpaying for a square peg to bash into our ever unfilled round hole, our 'gros joueur de centre'?

And hasn’t his production fallen off in the last few seasons, post-broken tibia? We think of him as the 60 goal guy, but really he’s been 29, 25, 43 and 36 goal guy. Sure sure, injuries, lockout, blah blah blah, he’s got explanations, but we’re going to give $70M to a guy with explanations?

So in the past few months I’ve been scoffing at the notion that he’ll ever sign here. The fact that Nick Kypreos champions Montréal as his most likely destination confirms the outlandishness of Steven Stamkos in bleu blanc et rouge.

But I’ve also fretted that if it comes true, if we win this lottery, it’ll be more of one of those robocall grand prizes, where you win a trip to Hawaii, but first you have to pay $400 in taxes and fees, and give them your account information and personal info so they can arrange a direct deposit.

So in this light, Steven Stamkos’ blood clot issue, instead of being another red flag, is almost a parachute, an easy way out, à la Mike Richards or Nathan Horton. If after three or four years, his production has fallen off a cliff, we can kovalchuk him, and we’d still have to pay him, but it’d wipe the salary cap slate clean. We could go back to the well for another free agent saviour.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Sam Pollock, Mario Tremblay and the 1974 NHL Draft.

Mario Tremblay on L’Antichambre explained that when he was drafted in 1974, he didn’t even know any teams were interested, he didn’t expect to be drafted. He ended up going 12th overall, between Lee Fogolin and Jack Valiquette, and he only learned this the next day when the Canadiens phoned him to inform him.

The Canadiens had 5 first-round picks that year, and spent a 5th overall pick on Cam Connor, 7th on Doug Risebrough, 10th on Rick Chartraw, and a 15th on Gord McTavish, along with Mario.

In later round, the Canadiens picked Gilles Lupien in the second round, 33rd overall, Marty Howe in the third, Jamie Hislop in the 8th and Dave Lumley in the 12th round.

So Sam Pollock was a genius in that he saw the importance of the the draft far before other GM’s and accumulated a lot of draft picks as he converted all the depth of the Canadiens’ farm teams in the Sixties into future picks. But he only hit on two of those five first-round picks, if we agree that Rick Chartraw was kind of borderline, a useful role player who played right wing and provided size on Doug Jarvis’ line, with Bob Gainey.  Rick could also play defence in a pinch.

But even then, as good a line as the Lambert-Risebrough-Tremblay line was for the Canadiens, if today we spent a 7th overall pick on a scrappy third-line centre or a pugnacious right winger with a bit of a scoring touch, we’d be merciless towards the GM. And if he spent a 3rd on a Cam Connor, we’d garrote him.

Pierre Larouche was sitting there, having scored 94 goals and 247 points for les Éperviers de Sorel, and we passed him over for a useless ‘gros boeuf de l’Ouest’.” (And nobody would cop to having had real concerns for how slender Lucky Pete was as a junior, how ‘soft’ he was.)

“We should have picked Ron Chipperfield, the guy scored 90 for the Brandon Wheat Kings, and now he’s tearing up the WHA!” (We’d gloss over the fact that we’d never heard of the Chipper before he was drafted.)

“We had five shots at the abhorent Bryan Trottier and his cheesy mustache and salad bowl helmet, or at Guy Chouinard, that guy will score 500 and have his number retired by the Atlanta Flames, mark my words…”

But again, Sam Pollock was smart. He saw Mario, with his 49 goals and 100 points final junior season as a great complement to the team he was building, a feisty guy who feared no one and played with passion. And Doug Risebrough had similarly modest stats, 52 points in 46 games which was no great bonanza at that time, the way players were scoring in junior, but he probably saw the heart, the character, the 114 PIM’s as another tool in his kit.

Because he had all these picks to play with, Sam Pollock could take chances, take fliers on certain players, he didn’t need to ‘hit’ on his solo first-round pick, especially since he doesn’t have a second or third-rounder, etc., as often happens nowadays.  With the scatter-gun approach, even if he and le Prof Caron and Claude Ruel missed on Pierre Larouche and Bryan Trottier, they found enough useful players in that draft to build his ’76-’79 dynasty. Mario Tremblay, Doug Risebrough, Rick Chartraw and Gilles Lupien was a great haul.

Pierre-Luc Dubois interviewed à L'Antichambre.

Mario Tremblay tells us that he met Pierre-Luc Dubois for the first time recently at a charity/media event, and that the #1 ranked North American skater by Central Scouting was being tailed by some Vancouver Canucks scouting rep or other.

I really don’t think he’ll slip to #9.

Monsieur Dubois appeared on L’Antichambre.

He says that the draft will take place on his birthday, and being chosen to start his NHL career will be a great birthday present.

Asked if he’s bummed that the Canadiens are only picking 9th, he says for sure he and his family are Canadiens fans, but his dream has been to play in the NHL, he’ll be happy anywhere.

Guy Carbonneau asks what he needs to do to crack a roster next fall, he says he needs to add on some weight, work on his explosiveness, and he’ll need to be consistent, play his best every game.

Vincent Damphousse asks what his best asset is, and what he needs to work on. He says as a big guy, to play his physical style in the NHL, he’ll need to get even bigger and stronger, more explosive, but his biggest asset is his hockey sense. When Mario Tremblay asks how he developed this, Pierre-Luc explains that when his father coached in Baie-Comeau, he’d sit in on the video sessions, and his father would quiz him on certain situations, what to do here, in this example, and he believes this helped him as he grew up. Growing up watching games, alongside LHJMQ players helped. His father would encourage him to be flexible, to adapt and be ready to play any position.

Guy Carbonneau asks what kind of prep he’s doing to get ready for the drafting and interviewing process. Pierre-Luc says that he’s already met with twenty teams, and that he’s a client of Pat Brisson, so they’ve been working with him, flew him out to L.A. along with other draft prospects, and they went through a boot camp to learn how to comport themselves, how to react to different situations. He’s done sessions on Skype to simulate interviews.

He explains that he’s fully bilingual, since his mother is American.

Asked by Vincent if there was a competition with Julien Gauthier about who’d get ranked/picked higher, he says there’s a bit of that, they’ve been friends for a while, both clients of Pat Brisson, so there’s a friendly rivalry, but he says it’s not acrid or overly competitive, says Julien Gauthier is a really good player, a really good person. They do have fun with it though.

When asked how he’d react to landing in Vancouver, a team which may be the Canadian team that struggles the most in the near future, he’s positive, says that such teams will have lots of change, lots of turnovers, and lots of opportunities for a young player to make the roster.

Mario asks him which he’d prefer, to get picked by a team on which he can play right away, or by a strong organization in which he’d go back to junior and eventually the AHL for a few seasons. He says as a young guy who dreams of playing in the NHL, the first option is tempting, but ultimately what he cares about is winning a Stanley Cup, so whichever gives him a best chance at that is fine with him.

Vincent says in his day they’d take a couple months off after their junior season, before they’d get back to training and getting ready for a NHL training camp. With the Scouting Combine coming up, he asks how much of a break he was able to take, and Pierre-Luc says he took ten days off before getting back in the gym.

Asked what his goal is for the Combine, he says he wants to do well in the interviews, but also that he wants to be one of the strongest players there, to show teams that he can play in the NHL next season, he’s physically ready for that.

Stupid Stéphane Langdeau stupidly asks him a stupid question, if the WJC team not winning a medal made him happy a little bit, feeling a little vindicated, and Pierre-Luc neatly avoids the trap he could have fallen prey to, by saying that he’d have liked to be there and help them win, but he always roots for the Canadian team, and he had lots of friends on that team, Julien Gauthier and Anthony Beauvillier and Thomas Chabot, so of course he wanted them to win. Pressed on whether he should have been on the team, he says that when you’re fighting to get on Team Canada, it’s difficult, there are a lot of good players, you can only do your best and see how it goes.

Vincent tells him to capitalize on his strengths, that’s what he got drafted for, so when he goes to camp he should focus on those, and not be intimidated by all the veterans around him. Guy Carbonneau riffs off that, telling how when Mike Keane showed up for his first training camp, no one had ever heard of him, but he showed up with a confidence and intensity and everyone was taken aback, how mature he was, from the first day.

He’s later asked by Stéphane Leroux, who’s at the Memorial Cup, whether it irks him that the player who’s most often floated as a rival to be chosen #4, London Knight Matt Tkachuk, still has the opportunity to play games and impress scouts while he’s at home, his season over, Pierre-Luc says he gave everything he had during his season, everything he had to showcase he did, so he’s happy for Matt. He says he’s friends with him, met him at the Top Prospects game, and that he has friends on all four teams still playing, so he’s still watching those games, wishing he was there a little bit, but still enough of a fan to watch games.

Eugénie Bouchard admits to suffering from an eating disorder.

Something which had been alluded to obliquely for a while now is brought out in the open by Eugénie herself: she's been struggling with an eating disorder.

During the past year or maybe even longer, we scratched our heads as to why 'Genie didn't take that next step forward after a few tourney wins and some Majors success, instead taking a few steps back.  We were puzzled at the escapades, the revolving door with her coaches, and her public giggling flirtation with the biggest jerk on the men's tour.  Her concussion suffered at the U.S. Open still to me doesn't make sense, the circumstances haven't been clarified properly, if only due to the raised eyebrows of insiders when they're discussing this.

So now she comes clean about a big problem that she says affected her performance.  I've wondered about what was 'wrong' with her.  Her game used to be about shotmaking, hitting balls right on the line and keeping her adversaries off-balance.  Did her eye desert her, cause her to make all those unforced errors, whereas before she was on target to an amazing degree?

When she admits that she's struggled with keeping her weight up, that jibes with the barest of whispers on that subject, a mention or two in passing that she had to stop trying to be a model and focus on tennis, on being an athlete.

And when those tasty morsels were tossed out by a frustrated analyst or other, it reminded me of Carling Basset, the '80's Canadian tennis star who faced the same accusations, that she was more interested in being thin and Hollywood-ready and a movie star, that her rich father removed much of the hunger that a world-class athlete needed to have to perform at a championship level.

Anna Kournikova faced the same type of criticism, that she was too slender to compete with the Steffi Grafs and Martina Navratilovas, that all she'd ever be was a glorified swimsuit model, but those who supported her denied that she suffered from a lack of focus.  They pointed to her rigourous physical training régime, her efforts in the gym and off the court to be the fittest athlete on tour, and that it wasn't her fault she wasn't as big and tall as a Steffi Graf or Venus Williams.  Ultimately, she was a scrappy élite tennis player who had a decent career, but was never able to generate the power with her serve and groundstrokes to compete with those athletes at the top of her sport.

So it's interesting to see Eugénie go through the same type of scrutiny, reportedly falling into the trap of the attractive tennis player who gets sucked up by the fame and the sideshow.  Good for her that she's identified it and is attacking it head on.  In conjunction with her recent decision to return to her original coach Nick Saviano, with who she had her initial success, maybe it's an indication that she can return to her previous form and challenge for tournament wins and Major titles again.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Mikhail Sergachev, Jacob Chychrun, and Vladimir Kuznetsov as draft targets for the Canadiens.

Based on the rankings and mock drafts, it appears that two leftie defencemen, Jacob Chychrun and Mikhail Sergachev, will likely be available when the Canadiens' turn to pick comes up in June in Buffalo.

I’m really torn between those two, or all the others who are supposed to be in our range really, I can’t develop an arbitrary uninformed man-crush, I want all these prospects on my team.

Something which I’ve heard a couple of times now in reference to Jake Chychrun is the phrase “undisclosed injuries”, which has me intrigued. The whispers are that he played really well despite having all these injuries that would have sidelined a less worthy, less Don-Cherry-approved player. And I immediately move him back up my board. Sure he had trouble making plays and dishing the puck, but that’s understandable, with a torn shoulder labrum or jiggified metacarpalism.

And then I pause, and remember that that’s what we heard about Mikhail Grigorenko, how after a poor draft season when he fell from a potential first overall ranking to the mid-teens, that he’d suffered from an injury, and then mononucleosis for the latter half of the season.

So maybe that’s ‘Agent Draft-ranking Damage Control 101’, as soon as your player falls in the rankings, you float all these undisclosed injuries. As if all these young men didn’t have various ailments playing 70 games of SmashUp Derby hockey.

Meanwhile, a lot of the modulation pundits are making with Mikhail Sergachev have to do with the fact that, as great as his first year in the OHL was, it was also his very first year in North America.  And I think that’s an under-appreciated hurdle.  Imagine a teenager moving away from home, in a different country, who doesn’t speak the language, adjusts to different food, customs, etc. In spite of this, he’s dominant playing high-level competitive team sports. Amazing.

Paul Maurice was eloquent on this subject, explaining, after coaching one year in the KHL, that he’d never again underestimate the difficulties a Russian player has adapting to life and hockey in North America, after what he went through in Russia, despite having a 24-7 interpreter at his disposal.

So I’ll goose up the kid in my rankings too, also, as well, equally. And he and Jake Chychrun are back where they started.

In the same vein, keep an eye out for Vladimir Kuznetsov, a 6’2″, 215 lbs winger for the Titan in the LHJMQ. First overall pick in the import draft, didn’t quite shoot the lights out with 25 goals, but I was giving him the same ‘first-year Russian’ adjustment factor.

Might be worth a third-round pick if he’s still there, which he might not, given the size and raw talent. An Andrei Kostitsyn-clone, without the steep 10th-overall-pick-in-the-2003-draft price tag.

Vadim Shipachev, a target of the Canadiens' affection.

Martin St. Pierre, the erstwhile Hamilton Bulldog/Canadien, is on L’Antichambre sharing his stories of playing in the KHL. When asked by Vincent Damphousse, who the next likely player is to come over to the NHL, who’s the next Artemi Panarin, he says it’s Vadim Shipachev.
“The centre who played with Panarin and Kovalchuk in St. Petersburg, Vadim Shipachev. He’s on the Russian national hockey team. To me, he’s the hardest to play against. I don’t know him personally, but he’s the best hope for the next player from the KHL to come to the NHL. He’s tall, he’s strong, he has vision, he’s fast, it’s impressive seeing a young player like that.”

Watching a few minutes of the Russia-Czech game, Vadim Shipachev is getting lots of icetime, is very comfortable and skillful with the puck.  He’s the alternate captain for Russia, and seems to trade off with Pavel Datsyuk as centres on the two top lines.

I guess with a good tourney he could boost his asking price, his contract demands. He’s no more ‘in the bag’ for us than Auston Matthews was I guess, to my chagrin.

I’m not sure how much of an improvement he would be over Tomas Plekanec, and this is a factor since I’m not sure we can afford both at the same time. He’s going to command a decent contract, trading away David Desharnais or Lars Eller might not clear enough cap room. Certainly, it would hamper any effort to sign a Kyle Okposo or David Backes.

I don’t know what the market might be. I thought he was a Jiri Sekac-type of signing, a guy who has to sign an Entry-Level Contract, so essentially risk-free, and no subject for a bidding war, but no, at 29 he’s able to negotiate whatever contract he can.

Especially if he has a good tournament, he’ll be able to drive up the bidding, so he should get term and a good amount.

When I thought he was locked into a ELC, it made sense to sign him, but now I’m wondering if it’s worthwhile, if he’s merely a player who’ll be Tomas Plekanec 2.0, in terms of production and cap hit. If so, we might as well stick with Tomas.

But I do want a shakeup…

[EDIT]

See, this is why it’s great to expose your half-baked ideas to all on social media.

I only watched most of the third period, liked what I saw from Mr. Shipachev, but don’t see a great difference in the way he plays compared to Tomas. Maybe he is more skillful, outwardly, now that you bring it up. Supporters will be quick to bring up that Tomas kills penalties.

And I thought they were essentially the same age, but it has been pointed out, 33 and 29 are quite different in terms of where you are in your hockey career.