Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Canadiens shooting percentage is last in the league, and even worse than that.

So I'm taking a relatively Zen approach to this Canadiens' season, having decided early on, before training camp, that this was a fundamentally flawed team, without a #1 centre, a #2 centre, and a first pairing left defenceman.  Those are crucial elements to a team's success, there's no way to patch this need.  It's not like a couple years ago when we were weak on the right wing, and had to shift over a couple of left wingers. 

This led me to believe that the Canadiens won't make the playoffs, and that the best-case scenario is that the Canadiens get decent seasons from their trade pieces and make a few good trades prior to the deadline, to stock up on picks before the draft.  I don't want the Canadiens in a fight for the playoffs, clinging to Tomas Plekanec and Torrey Mitchell, and even worse, maybe trading for another round of Jordie Benns and Dwight Kings and Steve Otts as the deadline nears.

So I'm going to remain phlegmatic as the storm roils and the hounds bay for more blood and the Canadiens sink to the bottom.  I'll keep watching games but won't be expecting wins, I'll be happy with glimmers from Charles Hudon and Jacob de la Rose and Artturi Lehkonen. 

Tonight, watching L'Antichambre, I notice that they put up a graphic showing the Canadiens at the very bottom of the League in shooting percentage, which is sad in and of itself.  What is surprising is that the Canadiens are last by such a wide margin.  The Islanders are 25th at 7.8%, then the Rangers at 7.3%, then the Ducks, Coyotes and Stars clustered around 6.5%, and the Oilers 30th at 5.3%.

The Canadiens are at 3.9%.  One and half percent, roughly, from the second worst team.  It's not statistically insignificant.  It's a healthy margin.

Based on the comments I'd read on social media, Michel Therrien's brand of hockey was boring and defensive, and I disagreed about that specifically, but anyway, the same comments would state that Claude Julien's puck control system would take care of all that.  We'd control the puck instead of dumping the puck in, and by controlling the puck, boy howdy, that's how you score goals.

Maybe the Canadiens are caught out this season, with a team built for Michel Therrien's fast-break style and ill-suited for the Claude Julien system.  Maybe all it will take is a few more games for his system to become second-nature for the boys, and for it to bear fruit.  Maybe next year, when Mike McCarron has moved up, and a couple more moves are made, will the new coach have the team he really wants.

But for now, as an indicator, the shooting percentage, and the gap between us and the rest of the pack is shocking.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Vancouver has buyer's remorse on Olli Juolevi, covets Victor Mete

Interesting discussion on TSN 1040 Vancouver this week on how 2016 draft 5th overall pick Olli Juolevi is going back to Sweden this season, after an uninspiring training camp, and disappointing results and reports from his previous season in London with the Knights. The hosts bat around how their crown jewel didn’t really improve last season, how he was reportedly “bored” with the junior game and had a cocky, arrogant vibe.

Meanwhile, they cast jealous glances at Victor Mete, who they say improved every game he played, every benchmark he had to meet, worked hard at his game, and is now playing NHL games as a lowly 2016 4th-round pick while Mr. Juolevi is nowhere near ready, appearing stagnant.

They took time to rue some other Jim Benning moves, notably his gambling on trades for players who were drafted high but were not faring well in their situations, and rattled off names like Linden Vey and Emerson Etem and others who didn’t pay off, at the cost of a second-round pick each. The Derrick Pouliot trade falls in this sphere, and they hate the fact that again, Jim Benning chipped in a fourth-rounder on top of Andrey Pedan, a disturbing habit on his part. Since you could get a Victor Mete, let’s say, if you had a fourth-rounder to spend.

And as always, they trotted out the fifth-round pick they had to offer to sweeten the Zack Kassian for Brandon Prust trade. Based on the tone of their voice, Brandon Prust has now lost all of the luster he had when he rolled into Montréal with a UFA contract, proclaiming “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

The Canucks got boned two years in a row, dropping down three slots in the draft lottery, especially the Auston Matthews-Patrik Laine season. Especially when you consider that they didn’t outright tank, they were just bad and ravaged by injuries. I daresay Vancouver fans deserved Patrik Laine, he’d have looked great on the Sedins’ wing.

Olli Juolevi was described as a safe pick, with maybe not the high ceiling Mikhail Sergachev had, but more certain to be an NHL regular, having a higher floor. I remember Jim Benning speaking highly of him, how he’d be your do-it-all first pairing defenceman for a long time, how he was making the smart decision all the time, he maybe wouldn’t wow you but he made things look easy.

Now, it seems he has the diva aspect to a high pick after all, he’s not your no-nonsense Nick Lidstrom, as some would float, compared to the temperamental Russian-with-KHL-risk tag some tried to attach to young Mr. Sergachev. Mikhail was seen as more boom-or-bust.

I never had a doubt who I wanted, if we weren’t going Top 3 or getting Pierre-Luc Dubois, I wanted the second coming of Larry Robinson, or at least Roman Hamrlik, the big strong defenceman who can skate, pass, shoot, defend, and seemingly has no warts. I was glad to have Misha at #9, and am sorry we had to let him go.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

My position paper on Victor Mete

I love Victor Mete as a prospect we got high in the fourth round. 

1)  Victor Mete is too small and frail to play in the NHL.  He's a 19 year old who still has a lot of growing and maturing to do, physically.  Saying that he's stocky doesn't address that fact.  Of course he's stocky and strong.  If he wasn't, he wouldn't be a successful OHL player, thriving against bigger peers with an explosive stride and low centre of gravity.

2)  Referring to Jakob Chychrun and Mikhail Sergachev as young defencemen who can play in the NHL is not relevant.  Those two had an NHL player build the year they were drafted.  They were physically mature last season.  Jakob Chychrun was 6'2" and 200 lbs at the Combine, and described as if carved out of rock.  Mikhail Sergachev was 6'2" and 221 lbs.

3)  Referring to Torey Krug or Ryan Ellis or Troy Stecher as undersized but agile puck movers who can thrive in "today's NHL" is not relevant.  Those players were 22 when they made the NHL for good.

4)  Playing Victor Mete in NHL games is risking his health and his player development.  There's a real chance you could stall or derail his development with an unfortunate injury.  His head will be at concussive-elbow-height for most NHL players.  Zac Rinaldo is still in the league.

5)  One of Marc Bergevin's better-known quotes, one of his mantras that are/should be an organizational touchstone is that 'you often regret calling up a player too early, you seldom regret calling up a player too late'.  Having Victor Mete held up as a potential partner for Shea Weber is a direct contravention of that principle.

6)  If Victor Mete was a potential third-pairing option who could be eased into the game alongside a trusty veteran who'd be a perfect complement off and on the ice, if he could be babied on to the powerplay and held off the penalty kill as a #6-7 d-man, if his skillset worked perfectly with the rest of the defensive rotation in a supporting role, maybe it would be a reasonable gamble to hurry along his development curve.  Instead, the reason he's staying with the club is because he's the 'perfect' complement to first-pairing stud Shea Weber.  His skillset and development doesn't match up to the expected role, not by a long shot.

7)  The reason he's being kept with le Grand Club is because we divested ourselves of Andrei Markov, Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin in the off-season, and because we lost Mark Barberio on waivers last winter.  Now, each of these decisions is defensible, there were pros and cons, it's reasonable to argue that with the complications of the 23-player roster and waivers and the expansion draft and arbitration and the salary cap, all these player moves had to happen. 

The contingencies failed, however.  The reason Victor Mete is being given a chance to fail is because none of the backup plans panned out.

8)  Most importantly, we're flailing and going for a Hail Mary when there's no need, and no chance of it succeeding.  The Canadiens, despite all the talk of the 'window' and the 'must-win', are a fundamentally flawed, undermanned unit.  The Canadiens don't have a proper #1 centre, don't have a proper #2 centre, and don't have a proper first pairing left defenceman.  We're not even sure we currently have an appropriate backup goalie.

This roster is not going to win the Stanley Cup.  It won't even go far in the playoffs.  My guess is they'll miss the playoffs. 

With this in mind, you shouldn't throw good money after bad.  You shouldn't risk the development of an organizational asset who'll benefit the team long-term for a short-term high-risk low-reward gamble.  Even if Victor Mete has as decent a season as can be expected from a 19-year-old fourth-round pick, it won't put the Canadiens over the top.  It might mean five or six more points in the regular season, but it's not the Penguins adding Ron Francis to the Lemieux-Jagr forward corps. 

Even lacking Andrei Markov or a decent Michael del Zotto-type substitute, the wise, better move is for Victor to go back to London, dominate the OHL and his peers as a #1 defenceman, be a leader on his team, get on the World Junior squad and see what he can do on a team stacked with talent and high-pressure no-tomorrow games, and get one year older, wiser, and more mature.  That's what will pay off in the long-term, not some half-baked scheme to see if he can do better than Brandon Davidson.

We can't refuse to accept the situation we're in.  Marc Bergevin was left holding the bag when he couldn't come to an agreement with Andrei, and is now sitting on $8.5M of cap space and Karl Alzner as his only credible, tested option on the left side of the blue line.  Éric Desjardins isn't driving down from Laval and walking in the door. 

In that situation, you take your lumps.  You understand that it will be a long, tough season.  You suffer through it, you showcase your trade deadline chips and you plan ahead for the 2018 Draft.  You cross your fingers for a win at the Rasmus Dahlin lottery. 

You don't drag down Victor Mete with you.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Joël Bouchard on Victor Mete

Joël Bouchard of l'Armada in the LHJMQ, and who is involved as a GM of the World Junior Canadian team, shares his thoughts on Victor Mete.

He says he's liked him for a long time, isn't surprised by his early success at Canadiens camp, since his playing style meshes well with the current type of game in vogue in the NHL.  He says he plays a clean game, is a good defence partner, has good feet, good hands and is 'well-positioned'.  He keeps things simple with the puck, doesn't overhandle it, keeps his head up.  Nothing is complicated, unpredictable, or erratic with him, "what you see is what you get".  He had a good summer camp in Plymouth with Team Canada.  He'll potentially be a part of a strong defence squad for Team Canada this year.  He's a good person, not "complicated guy", he's fun.

Asked by Dave Morrissette if he'd be surprised if he stuck with the Canadiens, Mr. Bouchard says that nothing surprises him anymore, surprises always happen, and he brings up Jacob Chychrun and Travis Konecny as examples.  It's not necessarily the most obvious candidates (I think he meant the high draft picks), it depends also on the situation (I think he meant the penurious Phoenix owners were desperate to keep Jacob Chychrun on his Entry Level deal, instead of sending him back down if money wasn't so tight).  He also mentions Samuel Girard's early success in Nashville.  He says Victor Mete is just doing his thing, leaving his calling card, and the Canadiens are in a 'win-now' mode, so it will depend how things go.

Asked how he lasted until the fourth round, Mr. Bouchard immediately brings up his small stature.  Still, he's a gamer who shows up for big games, he shows leadership.  Generally, he says teams tend to overlook "good players", and will draft for "big potential", big players with high upside.  It makes sense, even though it's not necessarily his approach, to draft big players, to take 'homerun swings'.  He brings up Mike McCarron as an example, says the pick made sense, there are no other players drafted right after him who the Canadiens missed out on.  He calls Mike "a nice gamble", you can't find guys like that, they have their place in a draft.  But there's also room for good players, and Victor isn't big, isn't a sexy prospect, but he's a good player.  Those kind of players will tend to slide, every draft he sees a few players at the draft who he's shocked are still available by a certain point.  Sometimes the player who can't skate like the wind or who's not 6'4" will slide.  When the Canadiens drafted Victor Mete, he believes they knew what they were getting, a good player, a good kid, a guy who knows how to win and who won in London, but you weren't getting the 'wow factor'.

He also has high praise for Thomas Chabot, says he had him on Team Canada, but also faced him often in the LHJMQ and especially in the playoffs.  He says it's a little different in that he's got enough seniority that he can go to the AHL, whereas Victor is stuck going back to the OHL if he doesn't make the Canadiens.  The potential of Thomas Chabot is extraordinary on the long term.

I'll again whine that the Canadiens haven't already signed Joël Bouchard to work in the organization.  This summer, Sylvain Lefebvre's contract expired, it would have been a perfect time for Mr. Bouchard to come in and take the next step, coach the Rocket, bring a bit of excitement to the team, and prepare the succession for Claude Julien.  Same as the missed opportunity in 2016 when, after a season when the team demonstrably, shamefully quit on Michel Therrien, Guy Boucher was available to hire, was looking for an NHL coaching job.

I understand Marc Bergevin's desire for stability, for continuity, to stop the revolving door and the media madness in Montréal, but there should also be room in there for the maxim that 'you're always looking to improve the team'.  We'd have a stronger organization now with Guy Boucher and Joël Bouchard working for us.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

2017 Rugby Women's World Cup: Canada 98, Hong Kong 0

Just catching up to the Women's Rugby World Cup on the PVR, and it was a laugher for the Canadian women against the overmatched ladies from Hong-Kong, a 98-0 slaughter.  Women's rugby has a shorter history, and there are great differences in talent and participation levels between countries, as we see in other sports like hockey for example.

Rugby is also a sport that lends itself to huge blowouts.  When you're faced with a team that is bigger/stronger/faster/more talented than you are, and you're getting shelled and run through and run over, it's hard to keep your focus and tackle just as hard as you can and run all out, especially as the second half drags on.  You lose your desire and the other team piles it on and you get sulky and bitter and dejected.  You don't necessarily stop trying, but it's hard to sacrifice yourself in a lost cause.  You start looking at your teammates and wondering if they're working as hard as they should, you think the opposite fullback is being a bit of a glamour boy and deserves to be put back in his place, you question if your own teammate's hamstring pull was all that bad and whether he just pulled himself and left you to deal with the mess, and your own game falls apart.

It's easier to desultorily backcheck in hockey, to coast around once you get up to speed, to just get in position and clog up a lane, but in rugby, once you stop running and once you stop hustling to the breakdowns, there's no way to limit the damage.

Magali Harvey has a great name for rugby, and a great game.  Fast, agile and good with her ball handling, she scored five tries and made us question, again, why she wasn't included on the Olympic squad in Rio.  The coach explained at the time that the best team isn't necessarily built from the best players, that he was looking at the program in a holistic manner, keeping an eye on the future, blah blah blah, but it all sounded like hogwash to me.  With the P.K. Subban situation having just exploded, it was hard to not see parallels, a massively talented player and a coach who couldn't get on the same page.

 Another athlete who caught the eye was Canadian captain Kelly Russell.  The big, strong and fast #8 was all over the field, surehanded with the ball, solid in her tackles, always supporting the ball carriers.  She chipped in three tries herself.

So a good start for the team, but one that shouldn't carry too much weight, Hong Kong being known as one of the 'minnows' at this tournament, just happy to be there.

[Further reading from]

Another crucifixion of Gary Bettman, this one occasioned by the expansion draft.

(June 18, 2017)

One more point about this expansion draft, about Gary Bettman being tone deaf, and not seizing on opportunities to grow the game. I’ve read over the years quite a few apologists claiming that the NHL is a business, and that he’s doing his job since he’s increased NHL revenues. My retort to that is that the reason we love hockey and consume it ravenously isn’t that it’s a business like steel-making or the insurance gambit, but rather that we have grown up with the game and are emotionally attached to our team, to our game’s greatest players. There’s a romance associated with hockey and its history, and an affection for the players we grew up with.

And, while it’s true that NHL revenues are growing, they’re doing so at a slower pace than that of the NFL, NBA, MLB and PGA. Heck, even soccer is growing at a faster rate than than pro hockey. The rising tide of exploding media revenues and ticket prices somehow isn’t raising our leaky boat as well as all the others. If anything, Gary is underperforming compared to his counterparts.

We’ve seen many, many blunders committed by Visionary Gary, one of which may yet be averted, namely his stated refusal to let NHL players compete in next year’s Winter Olympics. Added to his three lockouts of the sport, and it gets difficult to assert that Gary really does like hockey, when he stands in its way so often.

He claimed after his Second Lockout that he wanted to open up the game, to increase offence, but in practice, after an initial blip, he’s allowed GM’s and coaches to strangle the life out of the games, to promote defence over offence. We see this in how the NHL allows slashing and hacking routinely, as evidenced by the recent playoffs, and by Marc Méthot’s exploded finger.

We see it in how the sport is guided by veteran high-profile coaches like Mike Babcock, Ken Hitchcock and Claude Julien, all of who preach ‘responsible’ hockey, ‘playing the right way’, and ‘being on the right side of the puck’.

Meanwhile, Linus Omark is playing in Europe. Yes, that Linus Omark. The one who caused Don Cherry to turn purple with rage. Who wasn’t showing the proper “respect” for the game, according to various NHL players.

And meanwhile, NHL GM’s and pundits contorted themselves to find a way to protect goalless wonders like Jordie Benn and Brendan Gaunce from being claimed, horrors be, by the Las Vegas Gilded Questing Troubadours.

Gary Bettman also has a false sense of what fans want to see, how they want to be entertained, evidenced by his lame awards ceremonies, or his puzzling ‘samurai’ TV ads after his Second Lockout. Of course, these ads were motivated by a desire to focus on the sport in general, instead of spotlighting its stars.

Which is remarkable, given his background in the NBA, and the way that league goes all-in when it comes to marketing its greatest stars. At the time, the NHL had marketable, TV and fan-friendly stars such as Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier, among many others, it could have leaned on to re-launch the league to its fans. Instead, it cooked up a cockamamie campaign centered on a faceless, nameless anonymous warrior-player embodied by an actor. Ludricrous.

And this leads us to the expansion draft, and the release of the protection lists for every team. For months this has been discussion fodder for hockey fans, and this morning is all the rage on social media and hockey blogs. The expansion draft process sells, yet Gary at first didn’t want to release the lists, under the pretense that it might embarrass some players. More likely, the desire was that GM’s not be assailed for their decisions, that they not be held to account a couple years down the road. Or that they not have to have tough conversations with some players and their agents.

Sanity prevailed though. Probably due to the realization that these lists would be leaked anyway, the NHL backtracked upon its initial decision and allowed the lists to be disseminated to the fans. Which is what is right and proper and practical, never mind the ruffled feathers.

But it’s not the first time the League tries to operate in secret, or states its preference in that regard. We all remember Gary’s boneheaded statement that fans don’t want websites like CapGeek, don’t care for that type of information, when his blessed salary cap has actually made that knowledge central to any hockey discussion.

There was also the 2005 Entry Draft. The NHL and Gary came out of his Second Lockout battered and bloodied, exhausted by the more than year-long fight, and only signed the new CBA in July. Feeling rushed for time, and thinking this was the best way to go, Gary decided that the next draft would be decided by a lottery, and it would be held by phone, away from the cameras, because who has time for anything else?

It took the people at TSN to intervene, and make the league realize that, as broadcast partners, they wanted/needed that content, and that hockey fans were actually greatly interested in where Sidney Crosby would end up. Without TSN, the lottery might have been held in relative secret, and we can imagine all the conspiracy theories that would have been fueled by that move. Frozen envelope anyone?

And we often hear that Gary is merely a shifty lawyer who does the owners' bidding, but it’s imprecise to say that he’s a lawyer for the owners. He’s actually the NHL Commissioner, that’s his job, and he probably has a retinue of actual lawyers to do the drudge work.

It’s such a simplistic way to look at it, that he’s merely doing the owners bidding, and therefore is blameless in the various catastrophes that befall the NHL regularly under his dictatorship. I worked for a restaurant manager once who painted on the wall in a backroom, “Did you make a sale today, or did you just take orders?” Do you think that that cantankerous cuss, with the smarm and the eye-rolling just takes orders, or do you think he makes a sale once in a while? Do you think the owners are of a single bloc, or do they maybe differ on certain matters, and that Gary may influence where they decide to go?

Your lawyer can and will often decide what’s best for you, will recommend a course of action, and you’re usually wise to follow it. Sometimes, you’ll put your foot down, and make the decision. “We’re suing”, you’ll tell her. Or, “I don’t have the money to take this to court, let’s settle as best we can.” But usually, your lawyer has a big influence in your decision, in your direction.

Same with your doctor. He’s the expert, the guy you trust to help you decide. If he wants to be all aggressive and operate and go with an array of treatments, who are you to argue? That’s what you pay him for. Sure, sometimes you’ll choose a treatment option, or go get a second opinion, but mainly, you’ll trust your doc to guide your decision-making.

And you can’t convince me that Gary’s divisive, adversarial style and abrasive personality is strictly to align with the owners, that it doesn’t come naturally to him. To believe that Gary isn’t always spoiling for a fight, that he’s a meek and weak underling to Jeremy Jacobs is not tenable.

Gary Bettman may be seen to serve the owners well with his ornery approach to every question/battle. But there is another way. Sure his penny-pinching ways save money for the owners directly, tangibly.

But what if they’d hired an inspiring leader instead, a supportive manager who understood that while you’ll save a couple dozen bucks by sending a busboy home on a not overly busy night, you’re better off in the long run, in the big picture, by keeping him and ensuring he’s motivated and enjoys his job, and by allowing the waitresses and other staff to have comparatively more time to spend with their guests and upsell them and provide them with a better evening and better experience, which will grow revenues in the long run with their return visits. Maybe the couple dozen bucks that drop to the bottom line tonight are fool’s gold, maybe it’s a false economy.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and unsurprisingly, the NHL chooses the wrong way, by choosing the short-term dollar over the longterm health of the game. It chose profit over fan experience again and again, and now wonders why the NBA has zoomed by it in terms of revenue and ratings, even as they cash their one-time expansion cheques from William ‘Shiny Hockey’ Foley.

So one more big spitty raspberry for Gary Bettman and his insensate grasp of what the sport needs and the fans want. With you at the helm Gary, the NBA can sleep soundly and worry-free. And maybe that’s been the plan all along.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Canadiens' enduring #1 Centre search

On the Canadiens' historical failure to obtain #1 or franchise centres, the thought occurred to me, and I wonder what you guys think, but is there a true blue #1 centre that we could have drafted recently, within the Bergevin tenure or shortly before, that we overlooked? Strictly in the first round mind you, I’m not talking about a long shot or anything, but at our draft position, was there a Mark Scheifele or a Ryan Johansen or a Sean Monahan who we could have picked and then plopped onto our roster for a decade as a Top 6 centreman and team leader that we passed over?

We’ve been looking for our ‘gros joueur de centre’ ever since I was a kid, since we traded away Peter Mahovlich, and we had interludes with Bobby Smith and Pierre Turgeon, but the quest continues, and I don’t think recently we’ve had a chance to fill that need neatly and easily and botched it by drafting a tough grinding winger instead.

I’m asking the question before going on to Hockey DB to do my own research, maybe I’m forgetting about an obvious case, but the only example I can think of recently of a big talented centre who was passed over in favour of someone else is Anze Kopitar for Carey Price. And that's not so recent, actually.  I admit I wasn’t paying much attention back then, remember reading that the Canadiens had picked this kid Price from B.C., fifth overall, and my kneejerk reaction was “Not a goalie!…” But I didn’t know what the other options were aside from Gilbert Brulé, and wasn’t the accepted wisdom back then that Anze Kopitar was certainly intriguing, but not necessarily a no-brainer, there were doubts about picking a Slovenian player so high?

Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud, but it’s my sense that we just haven’t been ‘lucky’ at the draft, that we’ve not had the chance to pick high when a franchise centre was up for grabs, that we’d have a chance at.

Even last June, we had the #9 pick, and it’s clear in my mind that Mikhail Sergachev was the best option for us. No shot at Auston Matthews, no shot at Pierre-Luc Dubois, and with reservations about Tyson Jost (size), Logan Brown (skating and skill level, conditioning) and Michael McLeod (maybe not a Top 6 centre), Mikhail Sergachev, the kid with all the tools and no visible flaws was the way to go.

Another thought I get about can’t-miss franchise-centres and how easy/difficult they are to find is when I think back to the 2012 draft. We held the #3 pick, and we all had our hearts set on Alex Galchenyuk, but it wasn’t a sure thing. Nail Yakupov was pretty much guaranteed to be the first overall pick, but the Oilers then as forever needed defence, so it was possible that they might take Ryan Murray instead, or that they’d prefer Alex to Nail, since he was a more valuable centre.

And Columbus at #2 seemed likely to pick Ryan Murray, although they might also go off the board, they might snatch our centre right before our very eyes.

So we had long and far-ranging discussions on social media about what the Canadiens could or should do, if we couldn’t pick Alex at #3, or even as a strategic move, to maximize our assets.

A lot of this talk was on the idea of trading down a few spots to draft Mikhail Grigorenko, who had started the season as the top-ranked CHL prospect for the next draft, but had a difficult season marred by injury and illness (mononucleosis). Or, some discussed trading down further to the middle of the first round and drafting one of Brendan Gaunce or Radek Faksa. The thinking was that they were just as good or almost as the more ballyhooed Galchenyuk and Grigorenko, that you could get your big centre that way and stockpile another asset, maybe a late first or early second round pick.

The Flames’ Jay Feaster, the day of the draft, shocked a few people by choosing centre Mark Jankowski out of Stanstead College (?) 21st overall, and then proclaiming him the best prospect in the draft.

Fast forward a few years, and we have to admit that the scouts had these players properly ranked, with Alex as the best centre prospect, and Grigo a few slots back, then Brendan Gaunce, Radek Faksa and Zemgus Girgensson in their own mid to late-first round tier.

For me, seeing the travails of Brendan Gaunce as a Canuck, seeing his ‘ceiling’ creep lower and lower every season, it puts the difficulty of finding and developing big talented centres in perspective.

In all this, I’m receptive to the argument that five years on, it seems the Canadiens are no further ahead than they were when Marc Bergevin took the reins, in terms of still relying on the same core group, save the P.K.-for-Shea swap. Sure, Gally and Chucky are now mature and in the meat of their careers, they’re no longer raw rookies, but on the flip side, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov are nearing the end of the line. We’re seemingly treading water.

The only way Marc Bergevin’s hot seat cools off is if the young players all take a big step forward, Charles Hudon, Jacob de la Rose, Mike McCarron, Daniel Carr, if they can be a wave of fresh legs and energy, and organically replace the offence and minutes that is lost by the departure of Alex Radulov, Lars Eller, Dale Weise, guys who contributed to the success of the team in the recent past.

But in terms of not getting that #1 centre, I don’t think Marc Bergevin has much to account for. There hasn’t been one available to us since Alex Galchenyuk, and we took him. That’s how you get these guys, you have to draft a Sean Monahan or a Bo Horvat. They’re tough to acquire otherwise, especially if most players list us as a forbidden team on their limited NTCs. If Eric Staal and Joe Thornton and Vincent Lecavalier don’t want to come here, there’s not much Marc Bergevin can do about that at the trade deadline or when July 1 comes around.

I would argue that we haven’t had a Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby available to us certainly, but not even a second-tier franchise centre, if there is such a thing, a Sean Monahan or Mark Scheifle, that we could have claimed for ourselves.

I think this can help us put Marc Bergevin’s “failure to obtain a #1 centre” in context. He didn’t have one to pick up in the draft, but he also didn’t trade a first round pick for a hill of beans and then see that pick become a Jeff Carter.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Donald Fehr, Gary Bettman and NHL revenues

News Item: Donald Fehr speaks at NHLPA golf tournament on apparent union disenchantment, big signing bonuses and much more

Donald Fehr and the players are unhappy with their take, with the size of the pie which is the NHL's hockey-related revenue.  After a period of robust growth, the curve has flattened out, with ticket prices about as high as they can go in their respective markets, and the league locked into its current TV deals.

A lot of the low-hanging fruit have been picked, that’s for sure. Revenues can rise with things like the Canadian dollar, but that’s out of the NHL’s control.

One thing they do have some control over though is the number of eyeballs during telecasts, and the demand for tickets for the show. And Gary Bettman being the Little Dummy Emperor that he is, keeps insisting that the game is fine and has never been better and will yammer your ear off about their own stats and facts that show the game has never been healthier, as Bruce Arthur disputes here.

But my own indices certainly are falling. I often read or cook dinner during games, instead of being inert on the couch, transfixed. I’ll fast-forward when I’m sleepy and just want to see how it ends, stopping for goals and fights. The playoffs are held up to be the pinnacle of competition, but really, it’s a mudwrestle, superficially exciting, but once you’ve seen a couple of minutes, it gets old. It’s not normal that every player sports cuts on his face or bruises or a black eye. It’s not an indicator of a successful league. Once the Canadiens are out, I don’t watch anymore.

Back in the day, after watching the Canadiens rooney the Whalers into submission or lalor the Nordiques along to the golf courses, which was fine and all, I used to stay up late and be amazed at the back and forth action of the Western Conference games, the Oilers vs. the Flames being the best example, but the Kings and the Jets also had exciting teams. I’d watch the games for the pure joy of it, with no real rooting interest.

And that’s the problem with hockey. It’s being run by people who love the minutia of hockey, they’re the pigs in the mire who really appreciate a good and fragrant mire, who’ll grudgingly respect another hog who really gets down and dirty. But the average fan isn’t entertained by that obscure, somewhat repellent spectacle. She’d much rather watch the cute ducks flit around on the pond all graceful and effortless.

Only when the game of hockey is rescued from the NHL, when the NHL-equivalent of the NFL’s introduction of the forward pass or the NBA’s introduction of the shot clock occurs, will the NHL start to get the numbers that reflect how great the game of hockey is, or should be.

Hockey is run by myopic purists, like the old days when football men would rhapsodize about John Hannah and the ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ approach of Woody Hayes. And that’s a bad thing. Purists insist that golf clubs should be retroactively backdesigned so that it’s harder to make par. Tennis purists hate oversize carbon fiber rackets.

Ski purists advocated against sidecut on skis, because racers used flat planks, so everybody should use flat planks. Sidecut would make the sport easier, would make carving turns a breeze, and thus were cheating. They only relented, after decades of an industry-wide self-embargo, led by a small cabal of European reactionaries, when snowboarding started eating their lunch, when beginners would strap on a board and, after a couple of days, would say “This is easy, and way more fun, I’m never skiing again.” Then, and only then, did the ‘shape-ski revolution’ begin.

So yes, all you Gary Bettman apologists, revenues are rising under his watch, but please understand that they’re rising at a slower rate than all other North American major team sports.  As Donald Fehr observes:
"The NHL's revenues have fallen behind all the other sports. Basketball’s have exploded. We used to be 20% behind and now it’s 50% or more behind …"

The NHL wears the dunce cap among the NBA, the NFL and MLB.

Yet it would be so easy to fix. Let the players play, get the cheating and hooking and slashing and mugging and violence and overcoaching out of the game, and watch spectators flock in.

The Canadiens organization goalie situation in 2017-18.

With Carey Price and Al Montoya, the Canadiens are set in goal at the NHL level.  It should also be crowded in the crease in the minors with Zach Fucale, Charlie Lindgren and now Michael McNiven battling for icetime in the AHL, with one seemingly destined for the ECHL.

As fans, we're now driven to pronounce on what will happen this season and beyond.  Here are my wishes in that regard.

1) OHL late-bloomer phenom Michael McNiven gets his first taste of pro and lots of rubber playing with Brampton in the ECHL, which are announced soon to be moved to Brossard.

2) Zachary Fucale and Charlie Lindgren split duties in Laval, where the stands are overflowing, and it’s a clash of titans, both are at the top of the league in goaltending stats.  Trade supplicants beat a path to our door with their piddly offerings of first-round picks and Clayton Kellers and Anthony Manthas.

3) Carey Price is having a no-contest Vézina season, he's so head and shoulders above the competition, while a rash of injuries hits the league’s goaltenders. We begrudgingly trade Al Montoya to the Senators for a second, a third, a fifth and Thomas Chabot. Al promptly dislocates a hip when Fishface Borowiecki falls on top of him trying to knee Auston Matthews in the tympanic membrane. The Senators finish 12th in the conference.  And lose big in the draft lottery.

4) Garth Snow, in a panic to secure his job and sign John Tavares for life, can’t watch idly as his team sinks in the standings and settles at the very bottom. He trades Anthony Beauvillier and a first-round pick to the Canadiens for prospect Hayden Hawkey, since he thinks the kid’s name has a nice ring to it, and is just the kind of trickery he needs to sell seats in Brooklyn.

John Ledecky, picking at the remains of this trade, asks good ol’ Garth “You made sure that draft pick was lottery-protected, uh?”

“Flatternry-prorated?” queries a befuddled Garth Snow.

You arrogant ass,” cries Ledecky, verily observing his investment implode and contemplating a future of baby blue uniforms, being noogied by Bonhomme Carnaval and having to be a good sport about it, and Berlitz French lessons, “you’ve killed us!

5) Carey causes a province-wide meltdown when he jiggifies his transverse groinary process, and needs to take a month “or so” off to rest and rehab. In his stead, Charlie provides a Martin Jones-like performance, solidifying the Jennings for the Canadiens.

6) Hayden Hawkey having chosen to remain in the NCAA rather than jump with both feet into the Chernobyl that is the Islanders, Garth Snow tries to engineer an elaborate multi-team trade whereby he can wheedle his now-traded 1st-round pick and likely the top lottery pick back from the Canadiens, and obtain a goalie in the process, to at least rise in the standings and make the situation somewhat tenable, maybe have his first not be the first overall but have the Canadiens end up with the 10th pick or so.

But when the dust clears, Garth Snow somehow has obtained Mathieu Garon and David Aebischer, and the Canadiens his first-round picks through 2028. A haggard, unsteady Snow, mopped in sweat as he faces the media, borrows a page from the Claude Julien Big Book of Lies and says “I’d need to see a replay to comment. I haven’t see the replay…”

7) Having claimed ‘general lassitude’, John Tavares takes personal leave to play in the Seoul Olympics for Team Canada. There, he’s witnessed wearing a Canadiens ballcap and bro’ing down with Carey Price, who’s been assigned to the Canadian team for ‘conditioning purposes’. The gold medal they earn over a dispirited group of KHL All-Stars and Alex Ovechkin proves Carey is ready to return to NHL action.

8) At the June draft, in the seventh round, the Canadiens pick little-known Salvador Saint-Sauveur from les Saguenéens de Chicoutimi. The gangly kid didn’t have a great season in terms of Wins and GAA, but saw a lot of rubber with a great Sv%, and his coaches rave about his athleticism and competitiveness.

Later that summer, during a celebrity golf tournament, Salvador is partnered with Patrick Roy and two nuns in a foursome. At the thirteenth hole, Saint Patrick lends the kid his new nanotech driver for him to have a swing, and as the handoff occurs, they are struck by lightning. Miraculously, both are unharmed. “It’s a miracle”, Soeur Liette confirms.

Except that Salvador, who used to have brown eyes, now has a steely blue, confident, some might say cocky glare, and Patrick’s baby-blue eyes are now brown.

In a battle of owners, Geoff Molson wins over Jeremy Jacobs in a rout, eleven times out of ten.

Here's a Deadspin article showing another aspect of the degree of douchebaggery of Jeremy Jacobs.  And it makes me think of a discussion on social media shortly after the draft, on the topic of the poor crop of LHJMQ prospects lately, when some HockeyInsideOut members idly wondered whether the Canadiens and Geoff Molson did anything for the grassroots, to promote and develop participation in minor hockey.  Everyone seemed to agree that this was unclear, nobody posted a response, and the matter lay unresolved, at best.  The tone suggested that the Canadiens do very little if anything that we know of.

I was surprised at this, and disappointed, since two clear examples sprang to mind, one being the Canadiens annual construction and inauguration of refrigerated outdoor rinks, and the annual minor hockey coaches clinic.  These events are well publicized, but apparently don't sink in to the HIO consciousness as good deeds by their beloved team.  In fact, when the news release occurs, when the video of the event shows up on Habs TV, many wags will opine that the Canadiens are trying to draw attention away from (...) and the poor forecast of success as the playoffs approach.  "It's media pablum", they'll agree.

Yet these are two endeavours that the Canadiens undertook at their own expense, and not as a contractual obligation, since we know that the team built its own rink at no cost to the taxpayers, and pays a tax bill every year that is higher than all other teams'.  Meanwhile Jeremy Jacobs used public funds to build himself a palace to grandstand in, and welched on the community benefits that he floated as an inducement to get civic authorities to chip in.

The Canadiens have been reacting to climate change and declining enrollment in minor hockey by opening these rinks in various Montréal neighbourhoods and now around the province to stimulate participation, and targeting low-income families with programs and donations of equipment in cooperation with various partners.

The Canadiens also have been hosting a coaching clinic every year at the Nouveau Forum, where minor hockey coaches can rub shoulders with the pros, learn new tricks, develop relationships with others, and be invigorated and rewarded by the experience.  We all know this, we all remember this, from the blowup Michel Therrien had at Rangers' assistant coaches watching his team practice during the playoffs, and then later having he and Alain Vigneault play nice and laugh about it as they host a Q&A in the stands.

There was a discussion today on whether HIO is filled with optimists or rancid with pessimists.  Especially since it's putatively a Canadiens fan site, it's astounding how negative the slant is, it's the default setting actually.  The Canadiens hold two of these community and hockey-development events that I can think of off the top of my head, but HIO concludes that at best it's unknowable whether the Canadiens expend any efforts in these areas.

Ever since he took over from a not-bad George Gillett, who didn't turn out to be the Michael Heisley I feared he would be, Geoff Molson has been everything we should hope for from the owner of our beloved team.  He's been involved, yet hands-off, letting the hockey men handle that side of the business, which we could compare with Charlie 'Silver Spoon' Jacobs, who's in competition with Donald Trump Jr. for guys born on third base who think they hit a triple, declaring that everyone on the Bruins is "on notice" due to unsatisfactory performance.  Or compare to Arthur Blank remarking that his players weren't tough enough and there'd be some changes.

Geoff Molson grew up among the Canadiens, he witnessed the legends first-hand, has personal memories of Jean Béliveau and Guy Lafleur and Bob Gainey.  He plays beer league hockey.  His sons play minor hockey.  He is doing everything he can to restore our team to its past glory, sparing no expense, as is often seen by the one-way AHL-buryable contracts Marc Bergevin dishes out.

So yeah, if there is any doubt, HIO is the Assembly of the Negative Nellies, it's not even close.