Thursday, 23 October 2014

Slava Voynov's attorney tries to downplay his domestic assault as a cultural misunderstanding.

Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy:
(Not ranked this week: People who believe “innocent until proven guilty” applies to the NHL's supplementary discipline.

The only thing worth saying about Slava Voynov at this point is that the league clearly got it right, and we don't have to wait to get any real details to know that much. The fact that he got suspended before news broke tells you things in this case are pretty bad, as does his organization and coach basically saying, “This had to be done.”

Voynov does not get the benefit of the doubt from the league and his team and his coach because of the climate in sports today. That's a good thing. Bill Daly can say all he wants that the circumstances here are different than they were with Semyon Varlamov last year, and that's true. But it's only because now, if there's even a whiff that a pro athlete might have assaulted a woman, the Ray Rice thing (and more specifically the NFL's handling of it) basically ensures justice will be swift, and err on the side of not rousing public opinion against the league/team involved by standing with the player during his “tough time.”

People need to keep in mind that “innocent until proven guilty” applies only to the law. The NHL is under now obligation to extend such courtesy to paid employees because they are not putting him in jail, nor are they cutting off his paychecks. They're just not allowing him to play hockey. Frankly, that's the least they can do in this day and age.)

Couldn't agree more with Ryan Lambert.  This isn't a big misunderstanding, or a case of mistaken identity.  The poor victim didn't confuse this Slava Voynov with another Slava Voynov she's also dating who also plays for the Kings.

Mr. Voynov hit her hard and/or often enough that she had to go to the Emergency Room, with all the motivation he might have had to avoid all that scene.  The nurses figured out what was going on and called the police.  They arrested him when he couldn't explain the injuries occurring any other manner: a car crash, or a tumble into an in-ground pool they were putting in.

Now Mr. Voynov's lawyer Craig Renetzky is trying to tamp down the flames of controversy, saying there's more to the story, that it's all a case of a clash of cultures, more than a clash of fist and cheekbone.

There's no need for us to withhold judgment on this one, prudently, just in case.  Mr. Renetzky didn't manage to offer any reasonable explanation to exonerate his client.  There is no one-armed man involved.  Mr. Voynov is as guilty as Ray Rice was, back when we 'only' had the first video to base our conclusions on, the one when he's dragging out his unconscious girlfriend out of the elevator with the care he'd take with a sack of potatoes.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Should the Canadiens trade for Nail Yakupov?

I would say there is no better time to trade with Edmonton for Nail Yakupov.  Their hot seats are scorching now, Dallas Eakins, Kevin Lowe, Craig McTavish, the Artist Formerly Known As The Goof Who Ran/Ruined Columbus, they're all flailing now.  Three seasons ago some prognosticators were choosing them as their dark horse to make a run in the West, thinking all that talent had to come together.  If anything, they've regressed since then.  The season, probably even next season looks bleak.

Nail Yakupov still has all the talent that made some compare him to Pavel Bure.  He's still a stocky kid with great gym habits, a very strong lower body and unreal speed.  He's just in a very bad situation, in terms of team morale and chemistry, and in terms of the teammates he has to play with.  If he'd landed in St-Louis or Dallas there wouldn't be any critics saying he's a wasted pick, he'd have veterans to show him how to be an NHL'er, centres to get him the puck, tough players to insulate him from intimidation attempts, and no-nonsense, established coaches to keep him in line if he does have those prima donna tendencies.

Another consideration is that the Oilers are desperate for quality veterans, which they can't attract in free agency, and are almost impossible to get in trade since the Limited No Trade Clauses that are de rigueur for these same veterans almost always rule out Edmonton as a landing spot.  The Oilers are therefore an attractive team to trade with, if you can pull it off, since they're not asking for picks and prospects, but ready-NHL'ers that will enable their young players to thrive.  They would like to not waste the window on RNH, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.

The Oilers would have given a lot for Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges, for example, leaders and veterans who work hard and can take over a room, like Andrew Ference can't.  We used to laugh at outlandish trade scenarios where we'd rid ourselves of Brian's and Josh's unwieldy contracts and get a young star in return, but with the Oilers in the precarious, peculiar situation they're in, that is precisely what could be engineered if we could get vets to waive NTC's.  Except now we don't have these pieces.

We do have two other pieces that I'm sure they'd be interested in:  Travis Moen and Lars Eller.  Travis, Prairie-boy stalwart that he is, a tough muck and grind player who can 'play the right way' and show the kids how to never stop working, would be a godsend to them, they're famished for that kind of player.  Lars, a true centre who is a young veteran now and would fit immediately on their roster as their second-line centre, has the size that make them drool.  He would enable the Oilers to send Leon Draisaitl back to junior, which they can't do right now because they don't have any centres beyond Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Maybe mix in with a pick and/or prospect, but these two players would be the backbone of a trade the Oilers would definitely consider, in light of the fact that their former #1 overall pick is circling the drain, being wasted.  Maybe they need to cash in his value now, before it disappears, even with the awareness that the change of scenery might be all that's needed to unlock all that potential.  But that's the situation they're in, they need to make a deal, to prop up their team before it implodes and maybe damages the franchise.  So deal they must.  Preferably to the Eastern Conference.

One final consideration is that with this little trade scenario we've cooked up, Alex Galchenyuk moves to centre, which we're pretty sure is what we want.  It also provides a tangible goal for Nail Yakupov, a chance to play on the wing with the centre he had a lot of success with in Sarnia.  Motivation and enthusiasm and reuniting with an old friend and teammate can do a lot to jumpstart a career.

And, we have intel on Mr. Yakupov, by asking Alex and Daddy Galchenyuk what the deal is with the Oilers' right winger.  We have instant, deep scouting on him.  Is he a great kid in a bad situation?  How much effort and resources should we expend to acquire him?  If the Galchenyuks are slavering at the thought, we go for it.  If they hesitate and equivocate, if they're not sure themselves, maybe that's a good indication that this player isn't the right fit.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Game 7: Canadiens 2, Red Wings 1 (OT)

My RDS 'Canadiens express'-based express-impressions (thank you Gary Bettman) of the Canadiens 2-1 overtime win against the Red Wings:

- Ca-rey!  Ca-rey!  Ca-rey!

- Alex Galchenyuk continues his hot start to the year with a highlight-reel goal, and more impressively, his maturation process from a promising youngster to a talented, game-breaking forward.  On his goal he showed competitiveness, strength, determination, quickness, agility, and skill with the puck.

- Vincent Damphousse thinks it's fine if Alex plays on the wing for a while longer, while Guy Carbonneau thinks the future is now, and the Canadiens shouldn't put off this decision and just go ahead and install Alex at centre.   Marc Denis today on the pre-game show cast the tie-breaking vote, and gave his opinion that Alex can still develop and learn a lot about competitiveness, about the NHL, and grow more confident playing games on the wing, in a more salient role this season, instead of the limited third-line minutes he got so far.

- David Desharnais' line seemed to buzz around Jimmy Howard's net quite a bit.  They were dangerous during the excerpts of the game I saw, and were rewarded with the overtime goal.

- Of course, scoring OT goals is fine and all, but you wish that David would crash and bang more.  As an astute social media commenter noted this morning, referring to another player : "i agree. I even saw him attempt to throw a hit. That’s more than wee Davey has ever done in the physical department."

- I'm also sick and tired of Carey Price not thumping in the corners more.  And I'm beyond frustrated with Jarred Tinordi's lack of production in the shootout.

- In the condensed game I viewed, there were definite René Bourque sightings.  He crunched Danny DeKeyser while finishing a check, and took a good shot on net that squirted by Jimmy Howard and just trickled past the post.  Which is what we want from René, not necessarily just better numbers, better stats, but that he be more involved, more visible during games, that he be someone opposing teams have a hard time handling.  Like in last year's playoffs, be fast, be hard on the puck, act like you want it, and the stats will follow.

Monday, 20 October 2014

"Chickens" coming home to roost for Milan Lucic.

Milan Lucic is the master of deferring and delegating responsibility.  He's called Alexei Emelin a chicken for applying a textbook hip check, but denied spearing him in the groin, in the face of indisputable video evidence.  Days later, after getting caught again, this time on Danny DeKeyser, he glossed over it, saying he admitted to it, but not dealing with the initial staunch denial.  He then proceeded to spear Alex Emelin again in the playoffs.  As Kurt Vonnegut would comment, so it goes...

This weekend, he gave a faux, half-hearted apology, one we'd characterize as "du bout des lèvres", meaning that it came from the very tip of the lips, rather than deep within, from the heart, for getting caught making an obscene gesture to the fans at the New Forum and getting fined for it.  So not necessarily owning up to it, but admitting he'd been caught, he kind of grudgingly played the game, but didn't necessarily appear to be chastened by it.  He gave us the 'learning lesson' platitude, but really, didn't the hundred or so previous incidents serve as lessons, and fail to correct his behaviour?

David Pratt of TSN 1040 in Vancouver would have none of it on Monday morning, and spent a segment of the "Bro Jake Show" tearing Mr. Lucic’s head off.  He stated that the Bruin forward is always blaming others: the media, the city of Vancouver, Dale Weise, the fans in Montréal.  He opined, without supplying any evidence, that the money and lifestyle aren’t helping Milan, that his life is spinning out of control.  Which has been our analysis here at Relentless Ineptitude.

Here are some quotes from Mr. Pratt, as best they could be transcribed:

“He’s great, a great player, plays the Bruins’ game, had tremendous success as a Vancouver Giant. I want him to succeed.”

“I’m tired of the fans, the Bruins, the NHL, making excuses for him.”

“He embarrassed the Bruins, the NHL, the game with his disgusting move in Montréal.”

This is where the rogue organization that is the Bruins failed him. They’ve encouraged this type of behaviour for years from him and his teammates, or at least tolerated it. Andrew Ference, Zdeno Chara, Mr. Lucic, they’ve all crossed the line and been ‘supported’ by their coach, their GM, and team president Cam Neely.

If the Bruins had snapped to it with Andrew Ference’s glove malfunction, if they’d made him apologize appropriately, genuinely, and maybe sat him out one game, they’d have sent a message to their team that they are expected to play hard, tough, but fair, and with a spirit of sportsmanship and fair-play. Same with Zdeno Chara punching Sidney Crosby in his recently healed broken jaw, and a myriad other instances too long to review.

Last spring, after the handshake line fiasco, Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli awkwardly sat at a table and pretended to tell the assembled media that they hadn’t viewed any video of the incident and were in no position to comment. As if viewing that very video wasn’t the first thing they did. As if they were too busy contacting the beer distributor to cancel deliveries to attend to mundane things like the team and on-ice performance. Like it escaped their attention somehow.

The Bruins could have prevented this latest incident caused by Milan Lucic by very clearly and forcefully making him apologize about his threats during the handshake line and his conduct, and making him understand that such behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated, that he best save that famous competitiveness for when it counted, during a game. Instead, they waffled and let him off the hook and dissembled for him.

Accountability just isn’t the M.O. of the Bruins. Violence, intimidation and lawlessness is. As explained by a Gazette reporter, pre-game videos meant to pump up the fans in attendance at the New Gardens aren’t of goals or great saves, but almost exclusively of fights and concussive hits and instances of thuggery. They have a shill and manipulator in Jack Goebbels Edwards as their play-by-play man to fan the flames of excess.

So Cam Neely and his henchmen have kind of painted themselves into a corner, trading away Tyler Séguin for disciplinary reasons, but allowing Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand and Shawn Thornton and Greg Campbell to fester. And now that there’s a possible movement afoot to change the culture, it may come too late for them. And for Milan Lucic, who is very far down a path that means big trouble for him.

And Milan, giving an easy apology second-hand to a pool reporter in this age of Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and NBC-Comcast doesn’t cut it, it’s as meaningless as Andrew Ference coming clean a year later about his middle finger not being quite so accidental.

Canadiens recall Michaël Bournival from Hamilton as promised, but where does he fit in?

The Canadiens had sent Michaël Bournival down to the farm team prior to the weekend to get him some action, not having had a chance to work him into the lineup so far this season.  At the time they said he'd play two games and be back on Monday, and so it came to pass.

The question now is where and how does he fit in on the team?  Michel Therrien is very complimentary of the young player, that he plays hard, that he's a part of the depth of the team, and the fact that there are no injuries right now makes it harder for everyone to get a chance to play.  So we wonder now who has to sit out for Michaël to get into a game?

I think the players on the Top 6 are immune to pressbox duty right now, so Michaël must be worked into the lineup ‘by committee’, everyone has to take a turn. Travis Moen certainly, but maybe also Brandon Prust needs a therapy day against a less pugnaciously-inclined opponent, Manny takes an occasional night off, Jiri Sekac since he’s a rook, and yes, of course, René Bourque if he doesn’t sharpen up.

During Thursday's game, I noted four separate instances when he did a ‘fly by’ instead of finishing his check against a Bruin. With the proviso that I hate the whole ‘finish your check’ mentality, the latitude that is offered by refs to slow players who are a step or two behind chasing the puck, it still was glaring that René passed up those easy opportunities, almost as if he’d skated by a puck lying in the crease, waiting for a tap in, with the goalie out of position. It was a situation where you expected the forechecker to apply some kind of hit on the Boston defenceman, certainly in that type of game and rivalry, and when it didn’t happen it was surprising, greatly against expectations.

René is a big body, a useful player who can certainly be cost-effective.  I don’t think he voluntarily takes a night off, he just sometimes loses his focus. I posted a couple of years ago that his coaches should hold him to a simple standard: ask that every game, he get two hits on the scoresheet, and two shots on net. That’s it. Don’t worry about goals or assists, those will come and go, but every game, focus on giving the team two shots on goal, and two hits, and things will fall into place. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you’ll get there.

On Thursday, René wasn’t playing with 100% commitment, for whatever reason. You still keep trusting him, keep playing him, keep coaching him. Have Scott Mellanby speak with him some more, apparently during the playoffs they talked and it triggered something (did it ever) in René. I still think you give him some powerplay time, to change things up, make it unpredictable and harder to defend, harness his big shot and big body, maybe give him a spark of motivation.

But also, based on results, and based on the need to play Michaël Bournival, you sit him a game or two here and there, until he makes it impossible to do so based on what he delivers.

Depth up the middle, or, should the Canadiens trade Tomas Plekanec so that Alex Galchenyuk can play centre?

I skimmed more than read the posts this weekend, but one general point that occurred to me, inspired by others' comments, is how we're debating whether to trade away Tomas Plekanec while his value is high, in exchange for a substantial return and assets we can use somewhere else in the lineup, and to precipitate the installation of Alex Galchenyuk as a fulltime centre.

Compare that to the Oilers who dealt away Sam Gagner because... because why again?  I remember the media prognosticators treating this as a fait accompli last spring, that he had to go, and I took it in stride, accepted that bit of logic and figured it must be a cap hit or 'fit' problem.  Except he was their #2 centre, and they didn't really have a #3, and Matt Hendricks used to be a decent #4 but is aging rapidly and is no longer a nice option, more of a patchjob now.

So they pulled the trigger on that trade, received little return, and then didn't find their #2 or #3 centres on the trade or UFA market, and stuck with Matt Hendricks.  And they're terrible, and have no depth.  Their #2 centre Leon Draisaitl really should go back to junior and progress, he's now in a sink-or-swim situation in a toxic atmosphere during a perfect storm, to roil metaphors.  The brittle Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has already missed games with injury after a fight with Dan Hamhuis.  They're naked at centre.

Compare again to the Canucks, who received an ultimatum and had to trade Ryan Kesler, but insisted on getting another NHL centre in return and landed Nick Bonino and other pieces.  They also got Linden Vey in a separate deal, a decent prospect who is thought to have completed his AHL apprenticeship and being ready.  With Brad Richardson as a stopgap, and Henrik Sedin as the #1, they retooled, they're not naked.  Bo Horvat will undoubtedly get sent back to Junior since he's not quite ready yet, and since they have that option with their roster, enough depth at centre to not be desperate.

Back to the Canadiens, there are two schools of thought on L'Antichambre, articulated by Vincent Damphousse and Guy Carbonneau.  Mr. Damphousse two weeks ago reassured everyone that there was no rush to put Alex at centre, that he's still got lots of developing and learning to do on the wing, that he won't waste his time there, he can contribute to a high degree on the wing, and used himself as an example, explaining that he played nine seasons at wing before coach Mario Tremblay made him a centre permanently, and he responded with his best season and over 100 points.

Guy Carbonneau meanwhile shows less patience, and referring to the salary cap and early UFA status for players (in his career you became a UFA at 30 or 31), as well as the slow indoctrination of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, thinks that the time for Alex "to be good at centre is now", stated as a response to the slow and steady faction.  He pointed to Nathan McKinnon and other high draft picks, and said that these kids are counted on by other teams to take a lot of responsibility, so why should we insulate Alex and use a lesser player in his stead?

It's an interesting debate, and I think we'll all feel pretty smart when one of our centres goes down to injury with a groin pull for ten games or so, and we have a great fallback solution.  Last season we might have had Daniel Brière as our plan B, this year we're a good step beyond that.

Game 6: Canadiens 3, Avalanche 2

I was forced to watch tonight's 3-2 defeat of the Avalanche by the Canadiens on Sportsnet's frankensteined Hockey Night in Canada.  There was no way around it, RDS wasn't televising this game, so I had to slum it.  I admit there are some strong elements to the new show, mostly speaking of some of the added on-camera talent.  

Elliotte Friedman as always is excellent, and he's dropped a few pounds and gotten a haircut since last season, when he'd given up and let himself go.  

I've always enjoyed Damien Cox, despite the faint arrogance he emits.  He's strong, knowledgeable, authoritative, and opinionated without any histrionics.  

The new host George Strombolopoulos is a definite plus.  I like all his work, and he'll get the hang of this gig, he's vastly improved already from the first show, in terms of the segues and timing.  

Paul Romanuk who called the game is doing okay, I used to enjoy his game calls, enthusiasm and sense of humour.  Still strange that they fished him out of the U.K. when there is already so much talent in Canada, when Mark Lee was left to wither on the vine, but that's not a knock on Mr. Romanuk.

I'm very happy that Stephen Brunt is being used for long form reports.  He did great work with the back story on the small town in Sweden that the Sedins and Peter Forsberg among others hail from.  Mr. Brunt is not a barker, he has an understated tone, but I'm glad they're injecting his intellect and capacity to reflect to the broadcast.

Jean-Sébastien Giguère was a revelation.  He was smooth, informative, relaxed, shifted from the desk to the ersatz ice surface effortlessly.  The man has a future in broadcasting.  

The negatives are still the same, the cheesy graphics, the assault on the senses that the sets are, all lucite and neon and LED's and incipient seizures.  Imbeciles like P.J. Stock and Nick Kypreos who can barely speak and resist soiling themselves at the same time.  And don't get me started on Bob Cole still haphazardly doing a job many younger broadcasters could do much, much better.

The game was a delight for a fan of the Habs.  There were a couple of shots of a very expressive Patrick Roy after the Alex Galchenyuk and P.K. Subban goals.  I couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking.

"Ta-bar-naque...  Maybe I should 'ave coach 'ere hinstead of the Colorado.  P.K., Galchenyuk, y sont pas mauvais pantoute..."

Max needs to shoot on breakaways instead of trying to deke, leave those for P.K.  

Alex Galchenyuk plays with impressive desire and confidence now.  He's rising to the expectation level we set for him, for a player of his talent and experience.  We talked a lot about the young defencemen benefiting from the departure of Josh Gorges, of the young leaders taking a step forward.  Well maybe Alex is one of those guys who'll benefit most.  There's no Brian Gionta or Daniel Brière for him to look to, for the team to rely on for the clutch goals and leadership.  He seems to have taken a look around and realized he needed to assume the role.  He's flying, swooping around, doing magical things with the puck.  The first couple of seasons, the puck found Alex.  Now, he's hungry for it, and he goes and gets it.  Love it.

Jarred Tinordi is settling into his role, in that we don't notice him much, which is good for him, but would be bad for a Nathan Beaulieu.  Nathan has to thrill us with his offensive acumen, and pile up point.  Jarred has to be quietly dependable.  

He also neutralized Cody McLeod when the Avs' forward thought he should 'jumpstart' or 'energize' his team by initiating a fight.  Early in the tilt, you got the sense that Mr. McLeod was regretting his decision, that he knew he'd bit off more than he could chew.  That's what I want from Jarred in this area, as much as possible.  Don't start stuff, but if a Brian Boyle or a Dave Clarkson is looking for trouble, re-adjust their attitudes.

Brendan Gallagher didn't add to his point total, but he was the Tasmanian Devil again out there, the little buzzsaw that never quits.  It was discouraging for us generally, in terms of the state of the game, when they showed a sequence where he held on to the puck, trying to take it from the corner to the net, protecting it, while a defencemen crosschecked and slashed him ceaselessly, with Mike Johnson happily narrating as if it isn't a problem, and all this happening right under the nose of a referee.  He was right frigging there, in the frigging camera closeup, but didn't deign raise his arm, didn't deem any of the dozens of stick fouls committed by the Avs' defender a penalty.

Rule 59 - Cross-checking
59.1 Cross-checking - The action of using the shaft of the stick between the two hands to forcefully check an opponent.
59.2 Minor Penalty - A minor penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who “cross checks” an opponent.
59.3 Major Penalty - A major penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who “cross checks” an opponent (see 59.5).
59.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by cross-checking.
59.5 Game Misconduct Penalty - When a major penalty is assessed for cross-checking, an automatic game misconduct penalty shall be imposed on the offending player.
59.6 Fines and Suspensions - When a major penalty is imposed under this rule, an automatic fine of one hundred dollars ($100) shall also be imposed.
If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).

So crosschecking isn't a penalty unless the crosscheck is too forceful.  If a crosscheckee gamely resists and perseveres, no harm no foul right?  Crosscheck away, crosschecker.  But if the crosscheckee falls as a result, does he get a diving penalty?  What's the line, a broken rib and punctured lung for the recipient, is that too forceful?

Rule 61 - Slashing
61.1 Slashing - Slashing is the act of a player swinging his stick at an opponent, whether contact is made or not. Non-aggressive stick contact to the pant or front of the shin pads, should not be penalized as slashing. Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the Referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.
61.2 Minor Penalty - A minor penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who slashes an opponent.
61.3 Major Penalty - A major penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who slashes an opponent. When injury occurs, a major penalty must be assessed under this rule (see 61.5).
61.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by slashing.
61.5 Game Misconduct Penalty – Whenever a major penalty is assessed for slashing, a game misconduct penalty must also be imposed.
61.6 Penalty Shot – refer to Rule 57.3 – Tripping.
61.7 Awarded Goal – refer to Rule 57.4 – Tripping.
61.8 Fines and Suspensions - There are no specified fines or suspensions for slashing, however, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule28).
Again, a grey zone the size of Nunavut here.  Slash away pal, as long as Mr. Magoo thinks you're being non-aggressive while swinging your stick.  Don't mind the modulations as we adjust our tolerance level based on whether Daddy Campbell's son is playing, and all his cherubic gangmates.

The kicker was how, probably not more than thirty seconds later, they blew the whistle on P.K. for a holding call.  

To paraphrase D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Bettman just don't understand.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 1: Notes

As a Canadiens fan growing up, I'd devour La Presse's sports section everyday for any scrap of news of my team, for the photographs, the stats pages.  I wanted to see how far ahead of the competition the team was in the race for the championship, or Guy Lafleur was in the scoring race, how close behind were pesky Marcel Dionne and Bryan Trottier.

When I could get my hands on Le Journal de Montréal, 'fruit défendu' at my house, but which was often left lying around greasy spoons or other house we'd visit, I'd dive into that too, so many colour photos.  There were also the call-in shows like "Les Amateurs de Sport" on CKAC, which were huge in those days, before the internet, you'd dial and dial the phone for days and never get through to have a chance to speak your mind.

Add in a five minute sports news blurb on "Le Téléjournal" on Radio-Canada, and that was about it in terms of where you could get your information on your favourite team.  Compared to today, it was a relatively arid landscape.

Which is why 24 CH is such a treat for me.  I'm like the Depression Era children who grew up to hoard food and cling to a steady job like life itself, and their Baby Boomer offspring who grew up in a time of comparative growth and wealth and imbued their own children with the sense that the world was theirs for the taking and there was nothing they couldn't achieve.  I too have been formed by my environment.  I grew up wanting to know everything and more about my Canadiens.

So I watch 24 CH attentively, despite the critics who point to the slick packaging and the editorial control of management.  I understand these considerations, but to me they're not reason to not watch the show, just a brake on any conclusions to be drawn from the viewings.  It's still an additional, fresh glimpse into the inner workings of a team, it provides insight and context when evaluating our team.

This season's episodes are again narrated by Claude Quenneville, a veteran from "La Soirée du Hockey", who handled the between-periods interviews and general hosting duties at first, then the radio play-by-play duties once René Lecavalier retired from TV play-by-play duties, and Richard Garneau moved up a rung in the hierarchy.

Mr. Quenneville was a little younger than his more aristocratic colleagues, but had a killer voice and a wry, understated sense of humour too.  There were reports that he and Guy Lafleur were close friends and would socialize outside of 'work', that they would go to nightclubs together, which gave him fantastic cachet.  When I think of the standard 'Who would you most like to have dinner with' question, if I couldn't go my usual Natalie Portman-Elle Macpherson-Stefi Graf trifecta, Mr. Quenneville would definitely have one of the seats at the table.  Oh, the stories he could probably tell of those Canadiens teams of the 70's and 80's...


00:12  Opening montage of scenes of Montréal with a shot of Le Stade Olympique from a distance, probably from Mont Royal.  Sure, a white elephant of a boondoggle, but what a beautiful structure to look at from afar.  If I'd been mayor of Montréal back in the day, I'd have been panting to give Roger Taillibert whatever he wanted to get the thing built too.  What's a little budget overage between friends?

01:50  Judging strictly by our respective golf swings, I'm a better athlete than Alex Galchenyuk.  Mike Weaver takes a Happy Gilmore-swing for one of his drives.  The guy is jacked, and adds to his reputation as a glue-guy, a good teammate to have around who keeps everyone loose.

02:05  I'm also a better athlete than P.K. Subban.

02:30  Speaking of jacked, here's a shot of Mac Bennett doing dryland training at the practice facility.  His draft year writeups and scouting reports spoke of a skilled player and skater who was undersized and needed to work on his size and strength.  Here's a kid who put his four years at the University of Michigan to good use.  Last season at the prospect development camp, he was thrilled to report at the target weight of 195 lbs set by Player Development Coach Patrice Brisebois.  This year, they have him measured at 198 lbs.

03:00  Same goes for Jérémy Grégoire, he looks very powerful, especially when cut in with shots of a relatively slender Zachary Fucale.

03:15  Long segment focusing on the four Assistant Captains, who say all the right things about the move, their duties and their peers.  Maybe that media training that the players undergo every fall is coming in handy here, no missteps from anyone.

06:00  First glimpse at the renovations under way at the New Forum.  Everything is bigger, with more room, and focused on providing the players with the best facilities possible.

François Gagnon had spoken of these renos on L'Antichambre, and explained how Equipment Manager Pierre Gervais told of how team owner Geoff Molson approached him and asked how the team rink's facilities ranked compared to others in the NHL.  Mr. Gervais answered that at first they were top-notch, but fifteen years on they were maybe in the bottom third of the NHL.  I'm sure this wasn't the only reason, but following this conversation plans were made to tear down and start over at the New Forum, to ensure that it at least matched the excellent practice facilities in Brossard.

07:30  Quick shots of the rookie camp, with brief interviews with Christian Thomas, Jacob de la Rose, Tim Bozon and Jiri Sekac.

09:00  On to the main camp.  Quick shots of the regulars doing dryland training and testing.  One shot of Magnus Nygren with his shirt off and hair coiffed just so will be the reason I dislike him: not because of his comments about and flight from Hamilton last season, but because when you go to the pub with the fellas, if there's a guy like that in your group, you don't stand a chance, you get no attention whatsoever.

Lots of stability and range of motion tests, to detect any imbalances or problems that can lead to injuries.  These are the tests where maybe P.K. and Alex might have a slight edge on me.

09:45  We see Tomas Plekanec undergoing the newfangled power test for bench press, which involves an Olympic bar rigged to an elastic band and pulley, and must have a dynamometre in the system somewhere.  This is a newish test for me, in that I'm more familiar with the NFL 225 test, which has you doing as many reps as possible with a 225 lbs (100 kg) weight.  The NHL scouting combine used a modified version of that test, with a 135 lbs weight, basically one plate instead of two on the bar.

Of course this is more of a strength test, good for predicting one-rep maximums for candidates.  The Canadiens don't tend to scrimp on things, they're rather at the forefront, and I assume their trainers felt that a power measurement was more useful, but it's still an interesting deviation from the industry standard.  I have to believe they think it's a more useful measurement for a player, that power is more what a hockey player should strive for instead of strictly strength.

It's also on trend with the new training methods and crazes, with 'isolation' no longer being the be-all and end-all when it comes to conditioning and gym philosophies, it's all about compound or even total-body movements now and functional strength.  Notably, Crossfit training eschews the classic bench press, preferring to train the chest with movements like pushups, dips and burpies, which involve the whole body and the aerobic and anaerobic systems when done in long enough stretches and with brief rest periods.

What world do we live in when you can no longer ask another person "How much ya bench?"

10:00  Lars 'wins' the sprint test on the treadmill, another test I'm not familiar with.  He does look a little trimmer than last year, when he came in looking like Thor.  Some asked whether he was too bulky and heavy, and whether it affected his skating, quickness and agility.

10:50  Canadiens getting to see the new digs for the first time.  P.K. and Dale Weise are agog, like kids at Christmas.  Manny Malhotra, who's traveled quite a bit in his career and is in a position to compare, raves that they are first class.

Marc Bergevin takes P.K. by the arm and leads him to the players lounge, more colleagues than boss-employee.  Hard to see any residual tension after a tough summer of contract negotiation.

Geoff Molson proudly touring as well.  He greets prospect and Bulldog Greg Pateryn by his first name.  Details.

Maybe not the same conviviality between Head Coach Michel Therrien and Greg.  He's not as easygoing in his demeanor as the team owner and General Manager, as we've seen in the past, more gruff and sometimes awkward.

Gally and Chucky ignore everything and go right for the foosball table.  Those two kids, I tell ya...

Marc Bergevin, fully aware the camera is on him, approaches Francis Bouillon and asks "Do you know what paid for all this?  24 CH."  They have a good laugh, and you have to think this refers to a previous discussion the GM had with Francis or the team in general.

12:15  Geoff Molson at the Canadian Club.  He preaches, over and above financial contributions and investment in worthwhile causes, community involvement.  We see footage from last season's trip by the team to Lac Mégantic, to support the town after the catastrophe that destroyed their central core.

13:00  Segue to footage of the now annual meet and greet by players for fans attending the free Blanc-Rouge scrimmage at the New Forum, while Mr. Molson speaks of the impact the team can have for the fans.

"It's clear that the ultimate goal is to win.  To win, to succeed, it's the details that count.  It's the development of the player, not only on the ice, but also off the ice.  The development of the person, with the media, ..."

14:00  Behind the scenes footage of the new campaign with Jay Baruchel.  Should be good.

15:00  Exhibition games.  A win against the Bruins, then the Avalanche in Québec.  Brandon Prust humble-brags about calling his shot for his game-winning goal, he'd told Jiri Sekac on the bench beforehand that he'd close his eyes and shoot, and that it worked.

17:00  Game against the Capitals, and the big hit by Jarred Tinordi on Nate Schmidt that got him ejected.

17:45  Brandon and P.K. appear on a French-language TV show.  The host appears to know Brandon already, probably from being media personality Mariepier Morin's boyfriend.  P.K. is a ham and a star, shining in the spotlight as usual.  Brandon, P.K. and Mariepier end the show by shooting orange road hockey balls at the host, apparently wearing goalie gear for the first time.

19:20  Nathan Beaulieu admits to a difficult, up and down year the previous season, and vows that things will go different this year.

19:30  Exhibition games against the Senators.  I know Ottawa is a convenient team to play against in the pre-season, at least geographically, but I really like the suggestion from some fans that we avoid them in future, if only to punish/protest their goon tactics.

As is argued, they derive a financial benefit from all the Canadiens fans who buy tickets at their barn to see the Habs play, let's remove that benefit.  Marc Bergevin probably used his connections with Chicago to get us a game against them in the pre-season, let's do more of those, or with more 'neutral' geographic neighbours like the Sabres and Red Wings.

20:45  Closing montage.  The narrator speaks of constancy coexisting with change and upheaval, as we see shots of Greg Pateryn, Christian Thomas and Francis Bouillon, who don't make the cut at the end of camp.  We end with a shot of the team picture, with Dustin Tokarski at the right hand of Carey Price.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Game 5: Canadiens 6, Bruins 4

All it takes to silence the most hardened critics of the Canadiens, its players, its coaches, is a solid win against the ignoble Bruins, and what a relief tonight was, a Listerine barrel of a palate cleanser.  After a deflating 7-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Monday night, which caused Elliotte Friedman to critique the team and its 3-1 record as "fool's gold", tonight's convincing 6-4 win against the smart-money favourite to win the East has righted the ship.

Great game from Alexei Emelin, who went above and beyond what's requested of him, namely that he be the steady-eddie next to P.K.  Rather, Alexei delivered the highlight of the night right at the start of the game, with a solid shoulder check to the ugly mug of Milan Lucic, who stewed for the rest of the game, and went full gorilla-mode at the very end.

It's time for mental health care practitioners in Boston or Vancouver to intervene before Mr. Lucic harms someone or himself.  Not to be politically incorrect, but if I was his girlfriend I'd find somewhere else to stay for a couple of days.  His scowling churlishness, his childishness, his petulance, his tendency to lash out in inappropriate ways at inappropriate times, all point to someone with very poor impulse control and anger management issues.

Despite all his pious vows to the media before the game that he was focused on the upcoming game for the right reasons, that his stats and his team's results were more important than any revenge to be meted out, Milan Lucic behaved exactly as we could predict he would.  He lumbered around ineffectually, took a boarding penalty at the end of the game against Alexei Emelin (pure coincidence we're sure) when he should have been trying to even up the score in a one-goal game, went maximum overdrive apespit gesturing to the New Forum fans while heading for incarceration in the box, then tried to approach the refs to harangue them after being let out of the cage after the Habs' powerplay goal, and got tossed from the game for a misconduct.

Milan Lucic is so far from being a competitor, or tough, that it's laughable when he is described as such.  His whining, self-serving, duplicitous comments to the media about his team not accepting diving from its own players, about being a competitive guy which prevents him from acting like a gentleman in a handshake line, about his flexing and Shawn Thornton's water bottle squirt at P.K. Subban being part of their 'Boston Strong' ethos, about not having speared Alexei Emelin despite clear video evidence for all the world to see, about Alexei being a chicken for delivering a perfectly-timed hip check, all point to someone needing a reality check, an intervention.

The thing is, Mr. Lucic is so far into his own head, is so trapped in his persona of the tough guy who won't lose, that he can't act appropriately when facing defeat.  He needs to put on a show to display to the world that he's not going down quietly.  He has to act like Milan, instead of being himself.  So when he's losing a game, he tries to geld Danny DeKeyser, he utters death threats to Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin, and now tonight he blows a gasket and seals the win for the opposition with a 90 second bezerker tantrum.

Someone who understands right from wrong, understands that actions have consequences, yet cannot stop from acting impulsively like Mr. Lucic is definitely in need of counselling.  And this should probably happen before the next nightclub brawl or domestic violence incident.

And I have to request now that Brendan Gallagher sever any connection with that pathetic maniac.  I don't care about the Vancouver Giant connection, about whether Brendan's dad acts as his personal trainer, it's not acceptable for him to associate with that piece of garbage.  It's beyond awkward now.  If Brendan wants to hang around with other Vancouver NHL'ers like Evander Kane or Ryan Johansen, that's fine, but not with the guy who's threatening and spearing and boarding your teammates and making obscene gestures at your fans.  Enough is enough.

Oh, and how many more times does Zdeno Chara have to butcher a play in his own zone before we stop pretending he's an elite defenceman anymore?  How long do we have to keep up with this charade?  Because he scored a goal while standing in front of the net?  That's why he's an elite defenceman?  Because if so, stand by while I explain that Randall Cunningham is the best quarterback in NFL history because he could also punt very well.

With that off our chest, we feel better and can rattle off the positives.  The first line finally converted its chances when buzzing around in the offensive zone, unlike the last couple of games.  Max took a few shots on net, and was always a threat to break away.  David was his usual indefatigable self, forechecking and pressuring when he didn't have the puck, creating chances when he did.  Brendan potted two goals, finally being rewarded for his ceaseless sacrifice.

Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau scored two goals, his first as a Canadien, and we can see that he has a chance to contribute to a much greater degree than Daniel Brière ever could.  P.A. will be useful as a point producer on any line he'll land on, all he has to do is be defensively responsible on those nights when things don't click for him.

Lars Eller and René Bourque have had a rough start to the season.  Tonight, I counted four fly-bys from René, opportunities when he was forechecking and could have finished a check on a Bruin defender.  Now I hate the very concept of 'finishing your check', but that's the league we're in, and the Bruins will certainly do it to our defencemen, so you think René would use his 215 pounds and return the favour to Boston.  He doesn't have to destroy anyone, board or elbow them, but just bump them after they unload the puck.  Make them aware that you're around, and the next time you're pressuring them they might be a little more skittish.  Some of his missed opportunities were so flagrant that I'm sure the coaches will have some video for him to watch tomorrow morning, and will try to get him onboard with that.

It wasn't all bad for that line, they got Jiri Sekac his first goal in the NHL, and René again had a few opportunities he came close to cashing.  Lars got a goal waved off, but his effort in the opposition slot bodes well.

Carey Price again didn't have a stellar night, but kept it together to a greater degree than, oh, let's say Bruin basket case Tuuka Rask, who messed the bed before leaving in the third period, his tremulous tail between his legs.  Carey stayed in it and managed to keep his team in the game and get the win.  He'll come around, I'm not worried.

A great win, a few things we can fix in practice the next few days, but for now les boys bought themselves a lot of patience from the fans, at least one loss' worth.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Tom Gilbert is everything we expected him to be early this season.

I think we need to take Tom Gilbert's contributions and performance in context.  The former Panther is already drawing some scrutiny for his play, but I think it's much too early in the season to criticize him, and when he is dissected it should be with some perspective.

He is signed to a very reasonable contract for a player of his experience and skillset.  He has two years at $2.8M per on his UFA deal, which is a bargain compared to what the Matt Nyskanens and Brooks Orpiks got this summer.  He's a right-handed veteran defenceman, who come at a premium in the league, with a greater emphasis on having left-right balanced pairings nowadays.

He was brought in to change the makeup of our d-squad, to accentuate the ability to break the puck out of our zone, as opposed to being a stalwart to man the ramparts as Josh Gorges or Hal Gill were.  To fault him for not being tough enough in our zone would be the same as faulting Daniel Brière for not being enough of a thumper on the forecheck, misplaced.  We knew that going in.

His contract not being an anchor makes him more of custodian while the young defencemen in Hamilton are working on their game.  We saw in camp that players like Greg Pateryn, Magnus Nygren and Darren Dietz are all showing promise but not quite ready.  If halfway through the season they are playing at too high a level for them not to earn a callup, we can easily make decisions as far as Mr. Gilbert and Mike Weaver are concerned.

It's interesting that the Oilers have made Jeff Petry, a defenceman who might be a carbon copy of Tom Gilbert, a healthy scratch for the last two games.  The buzz about him being scratched isn't apocalyptic, but rather that the Oilers might be well served to trade him, seeing as teams like the Kings and Red Wings may have already shown interest, being in the market for a right-handed puck mover for their blue line.

If Jeff Petry can be traded after not cracking the Oilers lineup, then certainly Tom Gilbert can be too, especially as injuries mount during the season around the league.  So we can stop worrying about Tom Gilbert, he's delivering what was expected, cost-effective minutes from an easily tradeable asset that we acquired for nothing.  Good deal.