Saturday, 24 September 2016

Canadiens 2016 training camp roster preview.

It's great that there's actual hockey to discuss now on social media, with training camp opening.  The Canadiens have 61 players reporting to camp, that's a lot of forwards and defencemen and goalies vying for jobs.  We can talk about that instead of poisoning each other with memes and propaganda.

--I watched the livestream of the scrimmage yesterday, it's great that RDS does that.  Why not, they have staff over there, equipment, the technology is there.  It's one of our few chances to see guys who'll most likely end up in the AHL this season.

--I'm surprised that this article by Stu Cowan of the Gazette again talks about the fact that some players have a one-way contract vs. others who don't, as if that'll be a crucial point in the decision-making.  Again, the one-way contract has nothing to do with whether a player will play for the Canadiens or IceCaps.  At most, it might be a tiebreaker.

The most important consideration will be how a player does at camp, how ready he is to play in the NHL.  Then, whether a player is eligible or immune to waivers when being sent down will be the most important factor.  The management will not want to risk a player they consider an asset on waivers, to lose him to another team for nothing.  That's the aspect we should consider, not whether a player has a one-way deal.

And I think this concern over waivers might be more pronounced this season, after the 'housecleaning' from this summer.  A lot of guys who the Canadiens risked on waivers last fall have now moved on, the Canadiens didn't even attempt to qualify guys like Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, Gabriel Dumont, and Bud Holloway.  Lucas Lessio was another fringe guy who could have been qualified and sent down but we walked away from.

The players they've kept now have a clearer path to the NHL, or at least to significant roles in the AHL, without so many veterans ahead of them on the org chart.  And whereas last season there were a half-dozen players exposed to waivers after camp, none of the guys drafted or signed and then developed in-house, the frontline guys, will be risked on waivers this fall, or very few, in my opinion.

--All summer we've posited our putative rosters, the players we think will start or would like to start the season in Montréal.  I've refrained from that game myself, thinking the decisions are pretty much already made, except for the odd exceptional performance at camp which could win a dark horse a job, like Michaël Bournival in 2013.  The decisions will probably revolve around waiver status, for a prudent GM like Marc Bergevin, along with decisions about development and icetime in a frontline role in St. John's versus hotdog consumery in Montréal.

And I support that strategy.  As a dogmatic inflexible armchair GM who's also a risk-averse scaredy-cat, the last thing I'd want our team to do is to lose assets on waivers.  Our prospect pool is better than during the Pierre Gauthier régime, but it's not that deep that we can squander prospects and farmhands.

Watching the Canucks, they were skillful/got lucky in 2014 when they sneaked Jacob Markstrom through waivers, but got bit last season when they lost Frank Corrado on waivers to the Leafs last year.  He probably won't be a great NHL player, but they definitely could have used him last year when injuries struck.  They could have kept him and sent Ben Hutton down for twenty games to Utica, and kept both players.

Let's not do that.  Let's not waste players on waivers.

--With that in mind, here's my 99%-certain-to-transpire roster:




NOTES: 1) Sven Andrighetto is assured of a roster spot over the likes of Charles Hudon because of his waiver status.  The guess is he’d be snapped up if they tried to send him down. His one-way contract isn’t the deciding factor, but I think it does reflect the reality of his situation, the team gave him a one-way knowing this, like they did with Greg Pateryn last summer.

2) Daniel Carr is the only player on my roster who can be sent down without waivers.  He can be sent to the AHL without a risk of losing him, so that makes him ‘vulnerable’ if Arturri Lehkonen or Charles Hudon have a great camp. He’s the player who’ll need to fight off all comers. His play last season before he got injured, along with the fact that his style of play endears him to Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin, gives him a big head start though.

And here I'll hedge my bets a little, and admit that the fact the Canadiens gave him a one-way contract this summer is a pretty good indication that they see him playing in the bigs.  The Canadiens won't mind, as a 'rich' team, paying him his NHL wage in the AHL if it came to that, the salary cap is what they're concerned about not necessarily dollars and cents, but then again, they don't want to just throw money out the window.

3) Arturri Lehkonen would need to prove that he’ll be ready to contribute for a full season as a Top 9 player at least to remain in Montréal. I think the Canadiens would prefer that he play big minutes in the SHL instead of doing pressbox laps in Montréal, with his contract preventing the option of the AHL this year. He’s a little slender still, they might think another year of development will do him good. Again, the fact that he can go back to Sweden at no risk will play heavily in the balance.

4) With no one in his way in St. John’s, Charles Hudon will at least start the season there, and be counted on as a leader on the ice, with no Bud Holloway or Gabriel Dumont to steal his assignments. Him and Mike McCarron, this will be their team, they’ll be the guys who’ll play big minutes in all situations. No waivers for either means they can marinate for another half a season at least in the AHL.

5) Stefan Matteau would require waivers, so he’ll hang on to a roster spot. I hope that he’ll actually replace one of the wingers on the fourth line, that he wins and keeps one of those jobs, we desperately need his size and toughness in our lineup, more than Brian Flynn’s speed and versatility. I want Stefan on the ice rather than in the pressbox.

6) The lines I offer are a good bet to be the ones who start the season. Andrew Shaw and Alex Radulov might swap sides at least some of the time, but Michel Therrien and Mike Babcock and most NHL coaches prefer players to play on their strong side if possible.

7) Torrey Mitchell and Phillip Danault will trade off the centre position from game to game, and regularly in-game too probably. A rightie and a leftie, they’ll be a great line to have out there to take defensive draws. If Bryan Flynn is on that line, they can be very aggressive on the dot, not be afraid of being thrown out by a grandstanding linesman. If Stefan Matteau plays, they can crash and bang a little more, depending on the opponent.

The fourth line might be able to take some of the defensive and penalty kill duty away from Tomas Plekanec, who could save his energy for offence, feeding his wingers, and the playoffs.

I’m parking Paul Byron on the fourth line for now, but he’s also a coach’s favourite, and he’s likely to move up the lineup depending on injuries and other factors.

8) I’m being optimistic that Nathan Beaulieu starts the season with Shea Weber on the first defence pairing. I’m fearful of the rumblings that Andrei Markov might keep that spot, but understand that Michel Therrien is a conservative coach who loves his responsible veterans. Nate is a smart kid, I hope he gets that, and shows in camp that he will play with consistency and intensity, that he won’t be overwhelmed with the task. As we’ve discussed ad nauseam all summer, Shea would benefit from having a fleet-footed partner. He and Andrei are smart defencemen, but they may not be a great match as a pairing.

9) I do think that Mikhail Sergachev could win a job for a 9-game tryout, or even win a job outright, he’s physically able to play in the NHL, but starting camp injured is one strike against him. And it would help him if there was a fortuitous injury, a pulled hamstring or tender shoulder that would require another defenceman to sit out a couple of weeks at the start of the season. Again, he won’t be shoehorned on the roster if it means exposing another player on waivers.

The fact that Mikhail is a leftie, but one who feels very comfortable on the right side definitely plays in his favour though. If Greg Pateryn or Jeff Petry got banged up early and had to sit out a few games, definitely Mikhail could see NHL regular season action.

10) Mark Barberio is a great asset to have, an NHL vet who can move the puck, had a good season last year, is signed to a cheap contract, he can play either side relatively well, he’s an ideal #7. His local boy status is a great story, it helps him (and Torrey Mitchell also) a smidge, I think.

11) Spare me your Bobby Farnhams and Chris Terrys, they’re AHL fodder. I’m still bitter about Mr. Farnham being on our team, he’s our version of Vincent Dunn, about who I clutched my pearls earlier this week. Guys like that shouldn’t be in the league, they should be reffed out of the sport.

12) Zach Redmond is intriguing, but I think he’s in the same situation as Mark Barberio was last season, the veteran who’s the #8 or #9 d-man in the organization, and will start the season in the AHL, to provide experience down there and be ready.

I’ve hammered the point home about waivers enough that it might seem contradictory to want to risk him, but I don’t think there’s a big chance he’d be lost. He came to us as a UFA, like Mark did last season, and other teams will be battling to protect their own players from waivers too. Zach is an interesting player with a nice skillset, but he’s a fringe NHL’er at this point.

13) Philip Samuelsson is another blueliner who’ll start in the AHL, provide experience and try to work his way up. I assume he’s below Zach Redmond in the depth chart, but he’s got good size, he’s got blood lines, he might get a callup if needed.

14) About the PTO’s, David Broll is the one who caught my eye. Not his eight points in Syracuse last season, but his 6’2″, 235 lbs listed measurables, and his 112 penalty minutes. He’s probably a good foot soldier to have on the IceCaps, to support Connor Crisp and Brett Lernout and Mike McCarron if the going gets rough. I’d think he has a high chance of getting an AHL deal.

15) Yuri Alexandrov is another veteran defenceman who can help out in St. John’s. With Morgan Ellis and Darren Dietz gone, there’s a need for veteranship down there, for the team to compete and the kids to not get flustered and pushed around and blown out. A 28 year old KHL veteran, he can contribute for sure, but I’m not convinced an AHL contract would cut it for him, he might choose to return to the KHL. He might require one of our precious 50 contract slots to get him in the fold. We’re at 47 right now, don’t have much space to spare below the limit.

16) I almost forgot about Jacob de la Rose. Amazing how little buzz he’s getting this season compared to last year. I wasn’t that excited about him last fall as everyone else, but I’m not as down on him as some seem to be this camp. He’s easy to deal with, he doesn’t need waivers so he goes down to the AHL, and again, will benefit from a frontline role. He needs to get lots of ice, get his game in gear.

There’s no need to panic, no decision needs to be made, this isn’t a ‘last chance’ as some try to make it out to be. He’s simply a prospect we control, who’s not a headache or anything, not someone who we need to choose over someone else. He gets to play lots this season and get closer to the show.

17) It seems pretty clear that Al Montoya will be the backup for Carey Price. I don’t think the team will keep three goalies, and frankly, there’s no need to. Mike Condon will probably clear waivers and land in St. John’s, I don’t see another team that needs a goalie so desperately they’d claim him and keep him on their NHL roster all year, unless there’s a few goalie injuries during NHL exhibition season.

Who stays in the AHL and who gets pushed down to the ECHL out of Mike Condon, Zach Fucale and Charlie Lindgren is something we’ll discuss later. I’m keeping my fingers crossed we can trade a goalie for an asset we can better use and retain.

18) It’s unfortunate that Martin Reway is not able to attend camp, he would have had a great opportunity to work his way up from St. John’s, to at least showcase his game. He may not be exactly the prospect we need, but could have been trade bait for one we could use more urgently. In any case, I hope this is only a temporary setback, and he can make a full recovery.

19) And this bring us to Tim Bozon, who was listed on 'Team C' yesterday at camp, along with injured Mikhail Sergachev and the PTO’s. Ouch. Not sure if he was injured too, why he got to sit out the scrimmage, but it’s not a good sign.

He had an up-and-down season last year, in that he got sent down to the ECHL and was a healthy scratch a couple of times. He scored a couple of goals at the end of the season, seemed to be getting in gear, but had another setback this summer when he was left off France’s national squad that played in the Olympic qualifying tournament. Seeing as this isn’t a powerhouse internationally, you’d expect that a drafted NHL prospect would find a spot on that team.

We don’t have a lot of scorers, a lot of snipers in our system, we can only hope that Tim Bozon can overcome his struggles and regain the promise that saw him be a high third-round pick in 2012.

20) And to a lesser degree, the same goes for Dalton Thrower. He was hampered in a way by the glut of right-shot defencemen in the organization, but the departure of Morgan Ellis and Darren Dietz gives him a chance for more minutes. He’s got one more year on his contract, and I get the sense, based on his meager results so far, that he’ll need to take a couple of giant steps forward if he wants to earn another one in the Canadiens organization.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

World Cup? Meh...

I’m slow on the uptake, or, like Magic Johnson said of Vlade Divac, I’m a quick learner, but a quick forgetter too. I wasn’t overly excited about the World Cup, but figured I’d watch at least all the Team Canada games, until the first few minutes of the game against Czech, and relearned that hockey today isn’t hockey in 1987. Back then, you had a sense that Gretzky-Lemieux-Messier going up against the evil Soviets could produce something historic.

Very early on Saturday, I realized/remembered that the hockey would be clinical, the goals would be scored on the margins, in the breakdowns, on the rebounds. There would be no orchestrated circling like the KLM line would do. There would be no flights of the likes of Guy Lafleur or Paul Coffey.

Jack Todd just penned a column entitled Coaches' systems are making hockey boring.

Yet hockey should be better.  Players today are obviously bigger, stronger, better conditioned, more skilled, with better and lighter equipment. The skates are made with kevlar and carbon fibers instead of leather. Their sticks are precisely engineered to give better feel, better shots, than the lumber players used two decades ago.

The time has come at the upper levels to outlaw defensive systems. No more neutral zone traps, no more five players massed at their blue line, let’s institute illegal defences like the NBA has done. Instead, let’s force teams into man-to-man schemes. Let’s prevent teams from collapsing upon their sumo goalies. Let’s make hockey strategies more than ‘getting pucks on net’ and ‘crashing the crease’.

Another strike against this World Cup is that the geopolitical climate has changed, so playing against the Soviets/Russia or Czechoslovakia/Czech doesn’t have the same cachet, has no political overtones.

Also, back in the day, la Série du Siècle, la Coupe du Défi, la Coupe Canada, these were the only game in town, the only way to see Russian players.  Every time we saw the Soviets, we weren't sure it might not be the last time.  Nowadays, we get our fix every four years of ‘best-on-best’ at the Olympics, and the Russian greats like Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin are in our league, we see them in the NHL. Their appearance in this World Cup isn’t a thrill so much as run-of-the-mill.

Maybe in time the World Cup will grown in importance, in our esteem, but right now it seems cobbled together, improvised, at an inopportune time, so early in the season.

So I watched the game on FFWD, and hurried back to the college football. Jack Todd’s point needs to be stressed, that coaches are doing whatever is allowed by the rules and the climate to win games, and right now that’s forcing the game in an unexciting direction.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Rookie Tournament: Young Canadiens 3, Senators 6

Thoughts, notes on the Canadiens' prospects losing 6-3 to the Senators' squad.  The Canadiens sat centre Mike McCarron, who until then had acted as team captain, and were described as lacking jump by the TSN 690 radio hosts who described the game.

--Shots 39-31 for the Young Canadiens.

--The TSN 690 boys mentioned that Nikita Scherbak’s and Arturri Lehkonen’s performance is much more muted today, without Michael McCarron as their centre.

They also suppose that they’re not well served by the back-to-back games in 18 hours, they’re not as peppy as they were last night.

--“Three goaltenders, three very different performances, one was head and shoulders over the others,” says one host, meaning Charlie Lindgren.  The other doesn’t think it was that clear cut.

--Victor Mete and Will Bitten get praise also.

--Lemonade out of lemons, the hosts say Noah Juulsen had a very strong rookie tournament. Good news.

--Michael Pezzetta dropped the gloves with Vincent Dunn, the hosts call it a draw at best. They kind of think it’s a period too late, that Mr. Dunn ran around doing “whatever he wanted” after he hit Mikhail Sergachev.

--Some background on Vincent Dunn, and also here.

--I get that the Sens are still scarred after the NHL allowed them to be belaked and domied out of the playoffs back in the day, but I hate that it’s the Canadiens who now bear the brunt of their arms race.

Guys like Vincent Dunn are an obvious menace. It’s obvious that he’ll injure other players, because that the ‘style’ he’ll have to play to have a job in the NHL. And he’ll get suspended and lose salary, but somehow the Senators themselves will not be punished in any way, not the coach for failing to discipline his player, not the GM for hiring this guy in the first place. The only ones who’ll face any consequences are the players.

And the taxpayers will pay Eugene Melnyk so he can build himself a palace and gouge the fans as a thank you.

It’s the Circle of Life.

--Mr. Dunn has had a very checkered career, I’m familiar with the name from reading game reports or watching LHJMQ games on TVA.

Until teams suffer real consequences for hiring these guys, until they face suspensions and loss of draft picks and loss of cap space for having guys like Raffi Torres and Matt Cooke in their lineup and committing their routine atrocities, it’ll never change, teams will keep drafting and handing contracts to the next generation, to the Vincent Dunns of the world.

But no, let’s blame the NHLPA for Sean Avery.

--I have a gap in my fandom when I didn’t really follow the Canadiens, I didn’t have a TV or cable or anything. I’d read about hockey in the Globe and Mail, catch a game here and there at the pub, but that’s it. So I’ve relied on social media to fill in these years-long gaps.

One fact I’ve picked up is that the Canadiens used to participate in these rookie camps, but stopped after they grew tired of getting gooned by the Leafs and other teams. The refrain goes that the Canadiens would show up with real prospects, with our usual (sigh…) size and skill profile, and get thumped by a Toronto team full of AHL scrubs who were 23 and trying to mug their way onto a roster.

So the Canadiens, it’s been told, stopped the madness, figured there was no point attending these, and concentrated instead on skill development during rookie camp, along with intra-squad scrimmages. It didn’t make sense to get into a asymmetrical war with the Leafs, to let kids right out of junior get injured by cynical pros.

Marc Bergevin went along with this skills-and-scrimmages practice at first, said he didn’t have a preference but would observe what we did when he first came over from the Blackhawks, but when an opening was created in the London tournament last year, he jumped on it. I figured he’s no shrinking violet, he believes the crucible of competition is how you determine who your real prospects are. I guessed he had a gentleman’s agreement with his counterpart GM’s about the types of players who were invited, the type of hockey that would be played, and how the refereeing would go.

I trusted him, I trusted the process, even though I had deep misgivings about having anything to do with the Senators, post-Eric Gryba on Lars Eller. I don’t want anything to do with the Sens, with their Mark Borowiecki (and I’m not even going to double-check if I spelled that right, he doesn’t deserve it) and Matt Kassians. I know they’re geographically nearby, so they’re a convenient opponent, but really, I don’t care, we’re not raiding the ashtray loose change for gas money. If anything, the Senators need us way more than we need them, I say we wall them off, we quarantine them.

So my qualms were kind of proven right, with no-hope prospect Vincent Dunn running Mikhail Sergachev from behind into the boards, long after he was anywhere near the puck. This is precisely what we (I) wanted to avoid, to have our crown jewels smashed by vandals.

If next season we again participate in this tourney, I expect Marc Bergevin to discuss this matter with his fellow GM’s and make sure we’re all on the same page. Also, I expect that if the other teams bring along a Vincent Dunn-type prospect, that we do the same, if having a Mike McCarron and a Brett Lernout on hand isn’t sufficient, as evidently it wasn’t last night. If they all have one of these guys, we bring two. If they bring two, we bring four.

And I’m not saying that having these guys along will ‘prevent’ violence or injuries, that they’ll really act as a deterrent, but more that they’ll keep each other occupied, like having George Parros in our lineup kept Colton Orr busy, he wasn’t running around slavering in the third period, still not having been fed, attempting to de-leg-itate Tomas Plekanec. When Colton Orr squared off with George Parros, we didn’t hear from him the rest of the night, he’d been neutralized. He’d done his duty.

And yeah, all that talk about size not mattering any more in the NHL, how the Penguins blah blah blah, and Victor Mete and Samuel Girard are the new wave of NHL defencemen, tell that to the Senators. If that’s the way they want to play, I literally would pick up my stick and go home, rather than risk an injury to Mikhail Sergachev. Let the Sens collapse in on themselves in their tiny backwater.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Kerby Rychel was obtained for a song by the Leafs.

Here is an article which reminds us that the Leafs obtained Kerby Rychel for nothing, essentially. They got him from Columbus by swapping Scott Harrington, or a conditional 5th-rounder if he doesn’t make the 23-man roster next season, and is claimed by another team on waivers when sent down to the AHL.

Now, I don’t know Kerby Rychel except that he was a sexy name during the 2013 draft, one who we hoped would be in range with our #26 pick, along with Anthony Mantha. I didn’t know Kerby Rychel, hadn’t seen him play, so I wasn’t a cheerleader for picking him, left that to others who’d seen him in the OHL or who liked his profile. I was tempted by the sales pitch though, that of a big bruising forward who can skate and put up points, he seemed to be what the doctor ordered.

During the draft, Marc Bergevin tried to move up a couple of times, once apparently to get a chance at Samuel Morin, and once more to move up in the late teens, possibly to draft Kerby Rychel. He explained later that he couldn’t find a deal that worked for him, anything affordable.

And this was captured on video, as we saw on a Blue Jackets’ behind-the-scenes video, when Jarmo Kekalainen shortly before he’s to be on the clock to make a pick, gives a cursory listen to someone on the phone, but curtly answers “No, we’re making the pick.” And when he’s asked who was calling, says “Berj.”

But Scott Harrington caught my eye in this trade, and earlier when he was a throw-in in the Phil Kessel trade. It made sense to me that he might be acquired by Toronto, since he’d played for Mark Hunter’s London Knights. But he was also someone who was nearly lampooned by a blogger on “That’s Offside”, as everything that’s wrong with Hockey Canada, and things like drafting intangibles.
“One of the things that drives me off-the-wall crazy about Hockey Canada at the junior level is the fetishization of stuff as nebulous as “heart” and “grit” and “toughness.” Consequently, we get guys on our international junior teams who, when they appear to exhibit some of these intangible qualities, are lauded for their on-ice defensive abilities.

Take, for example, Scott Harrington. A Penguins 2nd round pick in 2011, he was named the captain of the OHL champion London Knights this past season (leadership!), was a finalist for OHL defenseman of the year (defense!), and was guaranteed a spot on Canada’s World Junior Championship team’s blueline because he was there before because he blocked shots (heart!). Corey Pronman lists him as one of Pittsburgh’s top-10 prospects, saying that his upside is a 3rd or 4th NHL defenseman due to being a “high-end thinker” with stellar defensive ability.

And yet he’ll more than likely be out of NHL hockey by the time he’s 25, doomed to a career bouncing around the minor leagues and Europe, mostly because he’s not a very good hockey player, relatively speaking.”

The blogger’s main thesis, which I’ve leaned on since then when analyzing drafts, is that point-generation is the most important factor you can look at when drafting CHL defencemen, that they have to have produced 0.6 points per game in their draft year to have a reasonable chance of making the NHL. Anything below that level, you have a vanishingly small probability of making it.

And of course Scott Harrington didn’t come anywhere near that level. And we can argue that neither did Jarred Tinordi, who wasn’t in the CHL in his draft year, but couldn’t manage it in his Draft+1 year, or even his Draft+2 year.

In the death throes of Jarred Tinordi’s Canadien career, a lot of trial balloons were floated on social media whereby we’d swap Jarred for Kerby Rychel, see if either stalled prospect could revive his career in a new locale. That seemed fanciful at the time, but seeing how eventually Kerby Rychel was had for a song, it makes you think this was an eminently reasonable trade proposal, not the lopsided steal in our favour some thought he’d be.

Of course, now that he’s a Leaf, I hope that he never pans out, that he’s as long a shot as Stefan Matteau, or even longer.

World Cup (Exhibition) Game 2: Canada 5, USA 2

1)  I'm not buying the Nick Kypreos-cheerled scrumfest, the 'intensity' of Friday's game, which really means lots of illegal hitting and shoving and slashing and other uncalled penalties.  The hosts and analysts have been trumpeting that the tournament will be played on NHL ice, with NHL rules and NHL refs, with the implication that this is an advantage for Team Canada, certainly, but also for the average fan.

But I'm already sick of the constant pushing and shoving after whistles.  And if I had to compare, the style and pace of play at last spring's World Championships, or the last Olympics in Sochi, produced a much more pleasant viewing experience for telespectators, more free-flowing hockey and less nonsense after whistles.

2)  Alex Pieterangelo was horrible, relatively, during Friday night's game.  He proved the axiom that right-handed defencemen can't play on the left.  Alex Pieterangelo developed his game playing major minutes on the right side and never had to shunt over to the left, and it showed.  Gap control, controlling the puck along the boards but being forced to go with weak backhands, losing the puck, turning it over, getting caught in no-man's-land, he looked awful, in comparison to the defencemen who played for Canada in 2010 and 2014, and who were essentially flawless.

3)  I bet the brass is second-guessing itself a little bit about not taking on Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie of the Flames instead of Jason Bouwmeester,  Jake Muzzin, and trying Alex Pieterangelo on the left.  Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie were the reason the Flames traded away Jay Bouwmeester in the first place, and the numbers prove that the youngsters were ready to take over.

4)  Mark Giordano is a a superior defenceman to Jay Bouwmeester, in my opinion, and according to most objective measures.  If the brass wanted flexibility though, they could have chosen T.J. instead, who's a leftie who normally plays on the right with Mark Giordano.  T.J., able to play both sides, could have given Mike Babcock an easier time building his lineup.

5)  Jake Muzzin I'm not too familiar with, and I understand the idea that he'll form a good pairing with Drew Doughty, since they know each other and play together often, but really, he's like Marc Méthot to Erik Karlsson, a nice partner for a special player in terms of the NHL, but not in a best-on-best setting.  We're losing too much juice with Jake Muzzin that familiarity doesn't begin to make up.

6)  Since we're talking about it, the problem with a defenceman playing on his 'off' side isn't strictly limited to having to play the puck more on his backhand.  It also has to do with knowing your area of the ice, being aware of your gaps, your angles.

Also, some players just pivot better on one side than on the other.  I know as a left-handed defenceman, when skating backwards, I pivoted to my left, towards the boards, a lot easier than to my right, towards the centre.

When I was playing the left side, facing an attacker, if he wanted to try going past me on my right, that's the side I hold my stick, in my right hand, and could cover a lot of area with a sweep and a pokecheck of my stick.  Also, my partner was on my right, and could jump in and help if someone tried to go through the middle.

But if I had to play on the right, it jumbled everything up.  I couldn't make a strong pivot or  a crossover  to my left and then a bodycheck along the boards, the boards were on my right, my pokecheck side.

Alex Pieterangelo is learning this now, playing at a very high level.  He looks lost out there.  All his little tricks, his go-to moves that he polished over the years, they're all off, they're not working for him on the left.

7)  That character singing the national anthems, was that a Pokémon?  I've never seen one before, glad the NHL is trying to engage the youth, and teaching me new things.

8)  If Ryan Kesler merited a five-minute major and expulsion from the game for boarding for his hit on Shea Weber on Friday night, yet John Tavares' hit on Ryan Kesler in the first minute of tonight's game wasn't boarding, then I don't really understand the rule.  I'm not being snarky, but rather being honest.  I don't get it.

9)  Seeing Steven Stamkos trying to dish off to Logan Couture on a 2-on-1, when Corey Schneider was still trying to slide across and wasn't set, is another illustration that players aren't really certain of their roles, in this tourney, and generally when these teams get put together.  If this happened while Mr. Stamkos was playing with the Lightning, he would have pulled the trigger, taken a good shot, rather than try to defer to his All-Star linemate.

Pssst!...  Steve... You're an All-Star too...  Shoot next time.

10)  I'm glad Blake Wheeler found his game only after the Bruins traded him away.

11)  Hey, if Team Canada needed a leftie defenceman, why not Nathan Beaulieu?  He's got loads of mobility and speed, and could have disguised his lack of a slapper by feeding whichever rightie he played with, whether Drew Doughty, Shea Weber or Brent Burns.

12)  The Sharks provide the first goal for Team Canada.  Brent Burns breaks up a US rush by James van Riemsdyk with a poke check, Joe Thornton ends up with the puck in the offensive zone, who feeds Logan Couture in front of the net, who converts on a backhand up high.

13)  Good hit from Joe Thornton on Ryan Kesler.  If you're going to take a penalty, don't make it a cheesy hooking call in the offensive zone
Lars.  Make it count.  Getting a good lick on Ryan Kesler is worth a two-minute penalty.  Especially given the circumstances of the previous night.

14)  The US' first goal is again on a deflection.  Braden Holtby had no chance on it, like Carey had no chance on the first goal last night.

15)  John Carlson scores on a 5-on-3 to make the score closer, 3-2, after Team Canada had jumped to a 3-0 lead.  I think I'm missing the boat on John Carlson, everyone raves about him, and I know nothing about him, never pay attention to him when he plays.

16)  I'm a doubting Thomas on Jay Bouwmeester, obviously, but so far he has a goal, and then makes a gutsy play, diving in front of a Dustin Byfuglien slapshot and getting a big block.  Let's give the guy a chance maybe?  Without admitting to anything personally, having to walk back my hot takes?  Deal.

17)  JVR chewing on his fluorescent green mouthguard during a mild scrum in front of Braden Holtby's net.  Yo, JVR, this would be a good time for you to leave that mouthguard in between your teeth, right now, when someone might jab their glove right in your kisser.  Either get a mouthguard that fits properly, or lose the nervous chew on half of your mouthguard, it's not doing you any good if it's not in between your teeth properly.

18)  During a break in the action, or on the bench, even in the dressing room between periods, Shea Weber should unload the mother of all crosschecks into Brad Marchand's rotten teeth.  Just to get a head start on the regular season, take an early lead.

19)  There's a saying in car racing that there's no substitute for cubic inches.  In hockey, there's no substitute for talent, for snipeyness.  On the Tyler Séguin-assisted Matt Duchene goal, I thought the play, the rush was stillborn, since Tyler Séguin started off a little slowly, had T.J. Oshie all over him.  But he protected the puck with his big body, and dished the puck off with a nifty backhand.  Matt Duchene one-timed it past a defenceless Corey Schneider.

This wasn't a gritty character goal.  This wasn't a goal that Rob Zamuner or Kris Draper was going to score, or set up.

20)  Agree with Dave Randorf and Gary Galley, Duncan Keith is a huge loss for Team Canada, both in the way his pure skill is subtracted from the team, and in causing that domino effect on the left side of the blue line.  Duncan Keith was the most impressive defenceman in 2010 and 2014, with Shea Weber and Drew Doughty right on his tail.

21)  The game in Columbus gave me pause, I was a little worried at the ponderousness of Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton, but I'm reassured now.  If Team Canada plays anywhere near how it should, it should breeze through this tournament, certainly against the US, who don't have the talent to compare.

22)  I'll vote thumbs up on Shea Weber's scrogging of T.J. Oshie as the final horn sounded.  That kid is an aggravation, he deserved a thorough shaking.

Carey Price provides some answers on the P.K. Subban trade, courtesy of Elliotte Friedman

Elliotte Friedman writes an excellent article:  The 23 Minutes That Shook the Hockey World .  He covers that day in June when Steven Stamkos re-signed with Tampa, the Canadiens traded P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber, and the Oilers traded Taylor Hall to the Devils for Adam Larsson.  

There are a lot of insights and aspects explored, including Carey Price's take on the reasons behind the trade.  Here's an excerpt:
The most important opinion is Price’s. As he arrived for World Cup training camp, he said he did not know about the trade beforehand.
“No, I was shocked like everyone else. But I had an idea that it was possible. The way our game is structured and the way P.K. plays…we’re headed in a different direction.”
Can you explain what you mean by that?
“P.K. is an offensive defenceman and a risk-taker. That’s made him successful, that’s the way he plays the game. He doesn’t want to change that and I respect that. I respect the way that he plays the game…his type of enthusiasm and his ability to raise fans out of their seats. That’s a special gift and something that not very many players are able to do. But the way we’re coached on our team, the way our team is structured, that’s not what were looking for. We’re looking for a steady type of defenceman that makes quick plays and is able to move the puck right away. Shea fits that bill perfectly.”

Holy crap Pricey!… Everyone involved on both sides of this issue, from both teams, from league sources who’d agree to be quoted, they all pussyfooted and inched out of line grudgingly, but you just came right out and said it.
“He doesn’t want to change that…”
I was holding out hope, for years, and I bet a lot of Canadiens/P.K. fans were, that he’d come around, that he’d tone down some of his game and settle in, that he’d see the light, that he’d conform, toe the line. That he’d realize that 80 to 90% of the time, the simple low-risk play is the best option. You gamble, you wheel and deal, only once in a while, to keep the opponents honest, when they overplay the simple pass, and leave you lots of room to explore.

You press the issue when you’re a few goals down, or when you’re a goal behind in the third. The rest of the time, you play the percentages, like Michel Therrien says. You create chances, that’s all you can do as a player, like Sidney Crosby says. You don’t dipsy-doodle through the entire team every shift.

Carey says he didn’t want to change. As in, he knew better, he’d been told, and Michel Therrien said in the La Presse interview that there have been myriad conversations in various contexts and settings, but P.K., as bright as he is, was pretty stubborn, intransigent. It wasn’t a question of another season or two for him to get this down, to make it a habit, it was more of a question that he wasn’t accepting the coaching, the team concept.
“But the way we’re coached on our team, the way our team is structured, that’s not what were looking for.”
Again, a telling quote. And I’m parsing words a little bit, but only because so many people have spoken in generalities about this trade, that Carey’s stands out, in how direct it is. Carey doesn’t say “That’s not what Coach Therrien was looking for.” He doesn’t say “there was a clash…” Just outright states that P.K. didn’t fit, wouldn’t fit in, with what ‘we’ are trying to do.

Kudos to Carey Price for speaking candidly, respectfully, evenly about this trade.

And big kudos for Elliott Friedman. He so often gives us the goods, info that nobody had, or presented in quite the way he does. He makes it look easy, and then makes other hockey writers pale by comparison.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

A deeper look at the Canadiens' 'overly' defensive system.

Regarding Michel Therrien's defensive dump and chase style, we had this discussion last summer on HockeyInsideOut, when we did a deep dive on what specifically was so defensive about Michel Therrien's system.  I asked the genuine question about what was different about our style of play compared to other teams.  I don't think I absorbed/retained it all, but some of the points made by krob, Ed, Coach K and others were that:

1)  the puck is moved out of the defensive zone predominantly on the left side (which is predictable, easy to thwart in the age of advance scouting and video coaches),

2)  if there is no breakaway or odd-man rush, the puck is deposited in the back of their zone,

3)  at the start of the season, a two-player forecheck was used but for some reason was ratcheted back to one player in most cases,

4)  when forechecking/without the puck in the opposite or neutral zone, the general idea is to cut off access to the centre of the ice, to 'funnel' them to the boards, and,

5)  defencemen were expected to make a 'good first pass', to move the puck up quick, but if there was no obvious outlet they were to chip it ahead and let our forwards get to it first or harry the opponent who was to retrieve it, and generally this created a lot breakaways by Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, Paul Byron and others.

Now, this emphasis on moving the puck up quickly and pressuring the puck on defence is a) different than the very defensive style of Jacques Martin, which was all about collapsing quickly back to our zone and circling the wagons, as epitomized by Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, and b) not that different than other systems used by other teams, notably Alain Vigneault's Canucks.

I've posted about this before, but the New Pacific Coliseum can be a silent, sedate barn, and when there was a lull in the action, you could often hear Monsieur Vigneault yelling "Speed!  Speed!  Speed!" at his players when they were in possession of the puck and breaking out of their zone.  Chris Higgins, Ryan Kesler, role players like Dale Weise, they'd bust out of there like bats out of hell and wait for a stretch pass.

And there was a dispensation for the Sedins, whose game is more about puck possession and cycling in the offensive zone, like a boxer setting up his opponent with a steady jab, trying to trap him in the corner and waiting for an opening.  The Sedins got lots of minutes, but they tended to start with a faceoff in the offensive zone, which was a good use of their talent, have them already set up there:  Ryan Kesler digs the puck out of the defensive zone, moves it up-ice near their net, where the Sedins can then finish the job.

That got me thinking that that's what the head coach had in mind with David Desharnais, let him start more of his shifts in the offensive zone, which lines up better with his skill set, and let Tomas and Lars take more of the defensive-zone faceoffs, bring the puck up-ice.

And when John Tortorella took over, he didn't believe in this specialization, he believed that everyone should (wait for it...) take a bite of the sandwich, so he had the Sedin brothers take their fair share of defensive zone faceoffs, and kill their share of penalties too, and the Canucks had an abysmal season.

But back to the Canadiens' overly-defensive system, as much of HIO describes it, and Philippe Cantin of La Presse, the dreaded dump-and-chase, the thinking is that this is a simplistic, defeatist style, you have the puck but give up possession, etc.

The thing is, in football, this kind of fast-paced system with long passes and based on speed is actually seen as an offensive system, a no-huddle offence or the old run-and-shoot.  I don't know about basketball much, but a similar system might be what they call a fast-break offence, as opposed to the more plodding Triangle offence of Phil Jackson, or whatever.  It's like the difference between the style of the Expos with Ron LeFlore and Tim Raines, or the St. Louis Cardinals with Willie McGee, versus the Philadelphia Phillies and Mike Schmidt or the Baltimore Orioles and Earl Weaver's strategy of the three-run homer, which sabermetrics later showed was ultimately the right way to go.

So again, I wonder how accurate it is to describe the Canadiens as having a defensive system because they use a dump-in in response to a five-player wall at the offensive zone blue line.  Maybe if we called it a fast-break offence we could view it in a more positive light.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Congratulations to Brazil for winning the gold medal in men's soccer. I guess.

--Soccer is all kinds of crap, a risible Theatre of the Absurd that stretches over an interminable hour and half, plus impenetrable ‘ínjury time’. Except that now the ‘strategy’ is not to play for that 90 minutes, no, now the highest expression of this slow-motion debacle of a sport is to not play and ‘draw’, and to not play for the additional ‘extra time’ also, until the standstill can stand no more and we go to penalties, when I’m told it’s high drama to see which will be the idiot who misses the broad side of a barn with the ball and loses the game for his team with this unconscionable gaffe.

Which really stumps me, because Ma Tante Gertrude could score on a penalty kick, and she’s passed away ten years ago. The net is the size of a shipping container, and you’re like ten feet away. And the goalie isn’t even supposed to move until the shooter touches the ball.

Of course, because this is soccer, the goalies do move before they should, but it’s tolerated, because soccer is an unending charade of cheating and lying and twisting the rules and faking and pretending that we don’t know that everyone is exaggerating and cheating and lying, and if a player isn’t diving and grabassing and hystrionicing he’s not trying to win hard enough. Or rather, not trying to nil-nil to extra time hard enough.

--I’m watching Poland play Germany at handball right now. When two players were involved in a collision, over and above what is allowable in the normal course of play, one of them was given a yellow card and removed from the surface of play for two minutes, like in hockey, and his team had to play one man short.

And because the other player stayed on the court for a few moments, and had to be attended to by the team’s medical staff, he also had to leave the playing surface. The play-by-play man told the home audience that since the player stayed down, and caused a delay in the game’s resumption, he had to sit out three attacks, or three possessions of his team.

Kind of like how Brendan Gallagher explained how, when he was a kid, he might have laid it on a little thick once during a game, when struck by an opponent, to draw a penalty in his team’s favour. He retreated to his bench haltingly, the coaches/trainers jumped out to assist him. Once things were sorted out by the refs, he tried to jump on the ice to take part in the powerplay.

Except his coach grabbed the back of his jersey and held him back, had him sit out three shifts while he ‘recuperated’. Brendan knew of this rule, it was an internal checks-and-balances thing they had, a Don Cherry-certified policy to Brad Marchand-proof a team, ensure it plays the right way, like good Canadian kids.  So he had to sit and stew and wait, and vow he'd never do that again.  And grow up to tell the tale as a never-quit professional hockey player.

So it appears that the biggest difference between soccer and handball isn’t merely the proscription of the use of hands in one sport, it’s the fact that in handball the first thing to occur at the start of a match isn’t for everyone, the players, the refs, the fans, the hangers-on, the press, the broadcasters, to stick their heads up their own and each other’s rectums.

--In handball, when a team’s players pass the ball to each other a few too many times, when they hold the ball too long without truly making an attack, the ref signals a ‘passive play’ infraction.
Passive Play: It is illegal to keep the ball in a team’s possession without making a recognizable attempt to attack and to try to score. In other words, a team cannot stall (free-throw awarded to the other team).
There you go. An easy fix to one of the top twenty-five most egregiously wrong things to do with soccer.

--I learned a lot of what I know of soccer as a kid, watching our new team in the North American Soccer League, le Manic de Montréal.  They were shiny and new and exciting, and like the repulsive little joiner that I was, I adopted the team and watched them on TV and read everything I could about them in La Presse and begged my father to take me to see them play at the Olympic Stadium, who'd noncommittally snort a "We'll see" at me in response.

I remember a few things, Gordon Hill, Thompson Usiyan.  I remember the latter having his mind blown at his first sight of snow, making a snowball with a huge grin on his face, pictured on the front page of La Presse's sports section.

One of the things I absorbed was how teams played different styles, different systems, and how that was reflected most obviously in how they are distributed on the field.  Most teams played a 3-4-3, with three forwards, four midfielders and three defenders.  Some exciting teams out there, and I hoped Le Manic would be one of them, played a 4-3-3.  That's what Les Canadiens would do, isn't it?  Send Richard and Lafleur and Béliveau and Geoffrion out there to swarm the opposition net, and the job of the Robinsons and Lapointes and Savards would be to get the ball upfield quickly and feed them the puck ball?  And sure enough, there were some boring teams out there who played a 3-3-4, and their rosters were probably filled with Mike Houghs and Tiger Williamses.

So armed with this ancient knowledge, and since the feed popped up on my screen without the remote in my hand, thumb ready to hit 'Previous Channel', and because I'm nothing if not open-minded, I started to watch one of the elimination games of the Women's tournament.  It was the kickoff of the 'extra time', the teams were tied.  "Overtime," I thought, "should be exciting."  I'm one of those idiots who hopes for the best.

On my screen, one team, I'm not sure which one, it might have even been the Canadian team in one of their games, was arrayed in a 1-5-4.  With the score tied, in OT of a game that led to a medal game.  The five midfielders were rigidly in line, as if they were impaled on a foosball rod, they shifted as a unit, with the exact distance between each other maintained, the line as straight as if it were maintained by laser guide.  They were of course well well back from the opposite team and the ball, which was being listlessly tapped back and forth, from side to side.  The one forward trotted back and forth, back and forth from side to side, with a metronomic and futile fastidiousness.

I didn't watch more than a minute of this putrid pantomime before I found my remote and some track and field on another channel.

--Having said that, it was great to see Brazil win the gold medal, the outpouring of emotion in the stands after this baffling non-spectacle ended in the favour of the local fans was great to see. That mom kissing her son in a sea of yellow just tugged at the heart strings. If they felt half as good as we did when Sydney scored the golden goal in Vancouver in 2010, it will be an unforgettable memory for all of Brazil, and a win for everyone, not just the moneyed élites.


--Men’s volleyball gold medal game going on right now, between sentimental favourites Brazil and Italy, on TSN 2.

You know, both teams are trying and playing hard, they’re sweating, they’re working with desperation and determination, and their concern isn’t on their coiffures. They’re working as a team, they’re exhorting each other and congratulating themselves, even if they lose a point, instead of bickering and gesticulating at each other and fighting among themselves.

The game is a spectacular display of skill and power, no one is trotting around at half speed.

When the ball goes out of bounds, there’s no kabuki about who’ll take the corner or throw in the ball, and no grade-school pushing and whining about who gets to stand where, with open-palmed overemotional appeals to the ref.

When a close call occurs, one team will appeal the ruling, without surrounding the referee and hyping themselves into a telenovela of demonstration and vendetta. Instead, they resort to a video replay, there’s an objective result in less than a minute, and play resumes.

Each team gets a turn defending, and if they’re successful, they immediately go on the attack and the other team defends furiously, back and forth.

Everyone should give it a watch.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Shea Weber is not a catastrophic return for P.K. Subban

So, as I centimetre away from the ledge, I think I can come around to the fact that Shea Weber is no Andrei Kovalenko-Martin Rucinsky-Jocelyn Thibault package, a combination of odds and ends that makes you go “Who? Really?”

I’ve often lusted after Shea Weber, when I creeped around hockeydb, I’d stalk him at the 2003 draft page, ask myself why oh why did we waste a pick on Corey Urqhart in the second round, when both Patrice Bergeron and Shea Weber were right there, ripe for the taking, it was so obviously clear from my vantage point thousands of kilometres away and five years later. I was so impressed with his game during the 2010 Olympics, and again in 2014.

I still wouldn’t have made this trade, as a greedy fan I’m outraged the thieving Preds didn’t throw in Samuel Girard and a 2017 first-rounder to even begin negotiations, a few more picks and prospects at the ready in their back pocket. The gall of David Poile. It’s a deadly sin I believe.

But Shea Weber as compensation is closer in magnitude to Rick Green and Ryan Walter, not nearly enough for Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin, but still useful players who’ll help us for many seasons.

I’ll miss P.K., wish we’d have found the right buttons to push, but I’ll make do with the new puppy, since my old dog had to go to my distant aunt’s farm in the country to run free and wild.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Team Canada and Noah Juulsen at the Summer Showcase.

Not much to talk about these days, it’s hard to think about any worthwhile subjects to write about, as Brendan Kelly now demonstrates weekly, but the WJC Team Canada showing last week is a sore point we can pick at.

It used to be that our team was the 800 lbs gorilla in this tourney, with the odd fallow year here and there, but that seems to be a thing of the past. The American squad, especially, seemed a step ahead, a notch above. They were bigger, faster, more talented, more cocky, and seemed to mesh better than our hopefuls.

And this was a bit of a surprise. The games against Finland and Sweden Team Canada had a bit of a ‘split squad’ situation going on, but for the last game I felt head coach Dominique Ducharme had sent out the players who by and large will be the team we actually ice this Christmas, barring one or two surprises. So we had our A Team out there against the Americans, and we got schooled.

At one point, the TSN crew of Gord Miller and Craig Button spent five excruciating minutes dissecting the epochal dilemma the Leafs face with Mitch Marner next season. Oh the woe, the gnashing of teeth, since he might be too slight for the NHL they surmised, couldn’t meet the age requirement for the AHL, but was much, much too strong now for the OHL, wasn’t he? The amusing aspect was that, as they reached their conclusions, Mitch Marner was being punked by the Team USA players, getting knocked down and denied access to the puck by the bigger, stronger adversaries. He looked like a boy amongst men, and definitely not ‘too strong for the OHL’ at that point.

In any case, Hockey Canada needs to review its programs and its selection methods. I don’t think Keegan Kolesar, in this day and age, should ever be considered for Team Canada, or any players of his ilk in fact, whether the game is played on North American ice or the larger European surfaces. No matter what amount of heart and soul these players bring, the whole team gets dispirited when it can’t score. Brent Sutter hockey has been proven not to work at the WJC.

Noah Juulsen gets a B+ for his two games played. The first game he played was the OT loss against Finland. As usual he skated agilely all over the ice, made good decisions and seemed to be a good pairing with Thomas Chabot, the only d-man returning from last year’s team. He didn’t pick up any points, but also wasn’t on the ice for any goals against. He controlled play when he was on the ice, preventing crises before they developed. Compared to Jacob Chychrun, who was on the ice for both goals and was at last partially responsible for both, and stumbled and pratfalled his way through the game, Noah was a stud.

Yet a blogger gave the mindless appraisal that Noah “doit en donner plus”, seemingly based only on the fact that he didn’t appear on the scoresheet. Which is hogwash. I know Noah had an uneven season last year, and I know hunting season is open, that it’s fashionable to slam anything and anyone related to the Canadiens these days, but to criticize Noah for his game based on the boxscore is moronic.

Plus, I hate this expression, which has taken hold with many observers. The most prominent practitioner is RDS’ Gaston Therrien, whose analysis often stops there, that this prospect and that prospect and this player and everyone “doit en donner plus”, an uninformative generality that’s more of a copout than anything. It translates as someone ‘must give more’ or ‘must give some more’, and if that doesn’t sound right, like it doesn’t mean much, then I’ve captured the essence of it.

What exactly is it that the subject “doit en donner plus”? Is it more effort, are we saying the player is lazy, slacking off? Are we talking about more grit, more hits? More production, more goals, more points? More Corsi for, more shots? More Corsi against, more fewer shots?

This is such an non-insight, it’s so devoid of meaning, that it drives me up the wall. Fans in the stands have more trenchant observations than pros who crutch themselves up with this claptrap.

Anyway, I was eager to see Noah have another solid outing on Saturday so I could shove it in that guy’s face, but he had a couple of hiccups. He was on the ice for a goal against when he didn’t shine, and he also had a chychrunesque stumble, when while skating backwards defending an odd-man rush he got his feet tangled and crashed to the ice like Bambi. He didn’t have a bad game, necessarily, but in a difficult outing for Team Canada, Noah was not a standout, for any positive reasons at least.

So now Noah needs to have a strong start to his season, and a good showing at the December camp, but I have to believe that unless things go terribly wrong he’s a solid bet to make the Team Canada roster as a 19-year-old who was the last man cut at last year’s selection camp.

Add in Mikhail Sergachev playing for the Russian team, and my fanboy hopes that Will Bitten torches the OHL early and makes the WJC roster as a surprise addition, and we’ll have a reason to watch the tourney this year.