Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Canadiens call up Eric Tangradi, sniffing around David Perron, dangling Tom Gilbert?

The Canadiens, after trading for Eric Tangradi in return for backup goalie Peter Budaj, have now called him up to the Show, after recently sending down Drayson Bowman and Nathan Beaulieu.  Eric Tangradi has the size and the skating ability to contribute something to our lineup, and specifically to our fourth line, maybe more than Mr. Bowman could, and more than Travis Moen was able to with his declining speed.

Especially with the current brain trust, I believe that any trades which happen are rarely accidental or come about suddenly.  Scott Mellanby, Rick Dudley, Larry Carrière, Marc Bergevin, the pro scouts, they're constantly scouting games in the NHL and AHL, and they have their list of targets that they'd like to acquire at the right price.  The amateur scouts probably have some say also, they had their favourites that the team never had a chance to draft, but think there's some potential there, the right character and the right fit in the system.

So the team, Marc Bergevin, when he's on the phone or talking with another GM, he's probably always circling around the same names.  We heard that he's been after Sergei Gonchar since at least last summer, and also heard about P.A. Parenteau at least six months before he was acquired.

So my guess is that Eric Tangradi has been on this target list of 12 or 15 forwards who the brain trust has thought might be undervalued, might bloom in Montréal, in the right system, without any other forwards in the lineup already filling his projected role.  It's noteworthy that his size and mobility isn't really something the Jets were short of, they're already a big team that can skate pretty well, what they're looking for are defencemen, and now scoring.  Eric Tangradi may have been ice to the Inuit in the Jets organization, whereas he ticks off a lot of boxes in our organization, whether it's in Hamilton, or on our bottom six, with few NHL-ready big wingers.

Some trades may be a case of taking a mismatched part by necessity, like maybe Christian Thomas for Danny Kristo.  Sometimes a player is included in a trade just to even out the contracts going in either direction, like Florida taking Philippe Lefebvre in the George Parros trade, or Robert Slaney in the Hal Gill trade.  Sometimes a player already in the organization makes a bad list, like maybe when Sebastian Collberg stalled a bit in his progression, and lost his untouchable status, becoming a trade chip instead.

But the Eric Tangradi trade is exactly the kind of trade we've been pining for, swapping our surplus for stuff we've been short of.  We wanted Raphaël Diaz, Yannick Weber, Tomas Kaberle and/or Frédéric St. Denis to be bartered for big wingers, and that never happened, because they never got to the Marc Streit level in terms of value.  We want to trade some of our current defenceman depth in Hamilton, some of our prospects, for other prospects who play forward, who'll add to the organizations mix, add size and scoring.

We traded one of our backup goalies, a guy we habitually bundled with a second-rounder and Travis Moen for a frontline forward when we dreamed up trade scenarios on social media, for a spare piece of equivalent value in absolute terms, but which might fit our puzzle much better, and might have a greater chance to thrive in our system.  So it's a step forward.

And like I said before, maybe Michel Therrien can have his cup of coffee with Eric Tangradi, and run him through the daleweiseaficator, and turn him into a player who the other team kind of feels silly to have let go. He can be another big forward who can’t crack the fourth line of his team, has already bounced from another team before that, but Michel Therrien and his team of black arts practitioners turn him into the second coming of Willi Plett.

We sometimes seem to think that just because a player is big, he's suited to play in front of the net and cash in rebounds.  Which is odd, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr are big guys too, yet we accept that it's not their job.

Conversely, Brendan doesn't have the size we usually see for a guy who digs in front of the net, but he certainly has the skill set and determination.  And if he doesn't play that way, he can't play in the NHL, he doesn't have any other skills that really stand out beside his tenacity and hockey smarts.

Guy like Lars, Max and Alex are big forwards, but they're more nifty than big tough bruisers.  I like how all three have started playing more physical this season, in terms of going to the net more, instead of skating on the outside and trying to dangle and pass.  Lars especially has improved in this area.  But that's kind of the upper limit for them, they're not going to be Yvon Lambert.  They'd in fact be wasted in that role.

I don't really know anything about Eric Tangradi, but one thing he can do is at least say "I'll do that!  If that's what it takes to be an NHL'er, I'll crash the net and screen the goalie and deflect goals off my jockstrap.  I'll do it!"

Meanwhile, the Oilers are apparently ready to trade David Perron, in trying to radically transform their roster and arrest the freefall they're in.  They might be ripe for the picking.

Some will dispute that if the Oilers are this putrid, you don't want any of their players.  I agree about this in a general way, in theory. We’re batting this concept around with respect to Tom Gilbert and Mike Weaver: how useful is a bit player on a bottom-feeding team? Can a marginal player on a poor team help a playoff team? The Oilers’ role players probably don’t hold a lot of value right now.  Teams will be going after their first-round picks, or Justin Schultz.

There are exceptions to this general rule, of course. Glaring is how the Canucks last season were hard-pressed to put together a third line, let alone a fourth. Yet Dale Weise was often a healthy scratch on that very same team,  And when he got to Montréal, he contributed immediately. So there are players who are miscast on also-rans who’ll benefit from a change of scenery and a role and system more suited to their skillset.

Again though, the big problem any Edmonton GM will have is that any Limited No-Trade Clause contract, one in which a player can specify which teams he can’t be traded to, will list the Oilers as one of those verboten teams. So Craig MacTavish has few options. He needs to bring in a veteran leader who can play centre to steady the ship, plug leaks, but who fits that description out there who’d accept to be dealt to that clown college?

Offhand, I was thinking a Paul Gaustad would fit all these categories, could go in and play the third line for the Oilers and really help out, but sure enough he has a LNTC. Instead, they’ll be reduced to batting around Oli Jokinen when talking trade with the Preds.

Sure, other teams also have as trade-bait young players and prospects who don’t have that protection in their contracts, but these guys are really, really valuable, they cost a lot in trade. And, they’re not really what the Oilers need, they already have enough talented but rudderless young players on their roster, they need the Brian Giontas and Josh Gorges that the Sabres acquired, to shepherd the kids.

I understand that the Oilers’ kids’ value is being frittered away, but there are vultures out there who know that a change of scenery and some coaching will re-animate them. I suspect Gord MacTavish knows this also, but he may be forced to trade from a position of weakness, while their value is depressed.

So as an unrealistic fan, I'd love it if Marc Bergevin could turn some mismatched parts which may not serve us very well any longer, and turned those into a Nail Yakupov lottery ticket.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 5: Notes

This episode deals with the trip out in the Canadian West in October.

01:25 We meet Lee Katchur and his son Brady, who became friends with Tomas Plekanec years ago when Tomas billeted with them in Camrose, Alberta when he played in the Viking Cup as a teenager.  Since then, Tomas has stayed in touch and provides them with tickets to games when he plays in Edmonton.  We can see how much Brady admires his big brother/hero.

A similar story came out during the many eulogies for Pat Quinn after his passing.  Darcy Rota explained that he was an Edmonton Oil King years after Pat played there, but he billeted with the same family, so they had that bond on top of Pat being Darcy's coach with the Canucks.  Years later, when the mother of their billet family passed away, both traveled together to attend her funeral, and Pat spoke at the ceremony.

02:28  Brandon Prust and Dale Weise on the bench communicating with their teammates on the ice, yelling "Time!" to indicate they don't need to rush a play.  We also see Tomas and Max Pacioretty going over their strategy for killing penalties.  It's cool that these two are used as a unit more often now, kind of a lethal shorthanded combo. 

02:50  Michel Therrien talking to Tomas after he return to the bench following a missed opportunity on a shortanded break.  "You're a shooter Pleky.  When you're on your off-wing you gotta shoot it there."  Which is exactly what every viewer has yelled at his TV screen, except not in such polite terms.

03:20  Between periods, Dale Weise takes care of the pep talk, while we see Manny Malhotra one-on-one with Nathan Beaulieu.

05:15  Strength and conditioning coach Pierre Allard walking to the pool to swim laps very, very early in the morning.  He's training for an Ironman, he's been competing for a few years now, that's where he gets his mojo now that he's retired from hockey.  He played pro in Europe for quite a few seasons.  Didn't know that.

He went back to school and was interested in the training side as a player, so he studied kinesiology.  We can see when he leads a workout with the boys that he's cutting edge, all new-school thinking, lots of compound movements and full-body lifts, footwork and ladder drills, with dynamic stretching that incorporates some yoga among other influences.  

When doing pre-game warmups, we see René get a warm bro hug from a Flames staffer, even years removed from having played there.  So again, we know that there were issues with René during his time with the Habs, but we can rule out any problems 'in the room'.  René doesn't seem to have any problems getting along with everyone, or being popular.

10:20  Cool shot of Michel Therrien pointing to P.A. Parenteau on the bench during the shootout, telling him he's next up,  P.A. has a chance to win the game, and he doesn't disappoint.

I kind of lost track of when or how or why the change came that coaches don't have to fill out a lineup card anymore with their first three shooters, like they used to.  I couldn't really see the point of that, what advantage it conferred, how it made games better or fair or whatever.  I like this better, the coach decides as the shootout progresses.

11:00  Brandon passes on the cape to Carey, who kept the game at one goal against to allow the Canadiens to eke out a shootout win.  As the players leave the arena by the service entrance to get on the bus, they are cheered on by a receiving line of Habs fans who've waited to send them off.

11:40  We get to meet P.A. Parenteau's family, as well as friends and former coaches, including Mario Durocher.  His story is similar to David Desharnais', a skilled player who had to play his way up from the minors before getting his chance in the NHL.  P.A. played more than six seasons in the AHL.

16:15  Pre-game before the Canucks tilt.  We meet legions of Habs fans in bleu-blanc-rouge at the New Pacific Coliseum.

18:15  After the Alex Burrows hit on Alexei Emelin that will eventually see the Canucks forward get suspended three games, but which goes unpenalized and results in an odd-man rush and a goal by the Canucks, Michel Therrien asks the referee to come over and have a talk.  The ref ignores him.  We see Manny Malhotra, who doesn't have an 'A' on his jersey, discuss the matter with the official, asking him "When can he talk to you?"  The exchange is calm and polite, and is another indication of the respect Manny has throughout the league.

20:15  We get to spend a few minutes with the Malhotra family on Hallowe'en night, when Manny returns after a long road trip.  He's not done though, he has to take the kids out for another round of trick or treating.

Monday, 24 November 2014

David Desharnais, Lars Eller and the Canadiens' #1 centre.

A common theme in hockey discussions is the eye test vs. analytics. One eye-test that jumped out at me was a 5-on-5 sequence last night during which David Desharnais and I think some mismatched wingers were forechecking and cycling the puck in the Rangers’ zone, for what seemed like a minute, to the point where they used the opportunity to do a flying line change. First the d-men changed, but eventually David swapped with Lars, who touched the puck once, gave it away, and the sequence was over.

I don’t hate Lars, and I can recognize that David has some deficits and gaps in his game, but David can do some things that Lars can’t right now.

I was struck by how on Max’s second goal against the Blues, David made a perfect pass on that play. By this I don’t even mean that it was ‘tape-to-tape’, but how he stood at the blue line in the offensive zone as an option for P.K., with his back to the wall, eyes scanning for Max. When he got the puck, he waited for the right lane to Max to open between backcheckers, and then passed the puck with his whole body, driving with the legs, and pushing the puck with his shoulders. He didn’t just flick it with his wrists.

It was noteworthy to me, how the pass wasn’t just a last-minute “Here, let’s try this” kind of move, but obviously what he saw happening a couple seconds ahead of time at least, and he had time to deliver it. His pass was perfect in the way a golfer will address the ball and take a strong backswing and follow-through compared to a duffer, or guys will flip a football during a Grey Cup or Super Bowl party in a living room, all wrist, compared to an NFL quarterback stepping into a throw.

I’ve made the comparison before of David to a scrappy scrum half, one who doesn’t have a lot of size or speed, but is amazing with ball distribution and thinking the game. He’s not much use tackling when defending the try line, when making a stand, or conversely when trying to punch it over himself, but he’ll be great at managing the game, giving great ball to the right guy at the exact right time.

When I had the ball, I had two settings. One would be to run over the nearest tackler, or bury the ball and try to post it for (hopefully) my support, or get rid of it, as quick as possible, to the nearest guy in the right colour jersey, whoever he was. But quick.

Meanwhile, a good scrum half will know which players to pass to and when. A good scrum half would never pass me the ball unless we were near the try line, and two or three yards were valuable. In the open field, they’d look for better options, or better, already know where these players are in their mind’s eye, they know where to look for them before they look for them.

So yeah, Lars has size and has been scoring the last few games, but in our haste to crown him we shouldn’t downplay David’s considerable gifts and talent.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Game 23: Canadiens 0, Rangers 5

In the quest for brevity, let's put it this way: yikes!...

The Canadiens laid an egg on the second game of a back-to-back on the road, losing 5-0 against the rested Rangers, who benefited from an unscheduled day off on Friday, their game in Buffalo against the Sabres being canceled due to snow.

Humble thoughts, in very digestible point form:

-The Habs went .500 against the Pens, Blues, Bruins and Rangers, which is respectable.  It may have been the reasonable objective for this spell.  Anything better than that would have been nice.

-The Rangers are a fast team, too.  When people say the Canadiens are fast, I kind of nod, but take it for granted, when Max or Tomas go off on breakaways, when Dale Weise or Michaël Bournival are flying all over the ice.  Tonight, I saw that from Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello and Martin St. Louis, and went "Oh, that's what that feels like..."

-Not blaming Dustin Tokarski for the loss, but this is the kind of game where Carey might have made one or two more big saves to keep the boys in it, motivate instead of deflate them until they found their legs and their inspiration, and mounted a comeback.

-Chris Kreider continues to roam the Earth, uncurbed.

-If my team is going to have an enforcer, I want him to play like Brandon Prust does.  He went after the puck hard in the third period, but put on the brakes and held up instead of barreling into Henrik Lundqvist.  When Kevin Klein insisted on finding fault with this and demanded satisfaction, Brandon filled in the mohawked palooka.  Nice job.

-Compare to Milan Lucic's putrid turn when he cynically went after Ryan Miller and the crooks at the NHL let him get away scot free.

-Nos Canadiens are honest and pure of heart.

-Which is more than we can say for Henrik Lundqvist, with that backwards flop like Earl Campbell had just run into him on fourth and 1.  Hey Henrik!  Enough with the wincing...

-Glaring turnover by Alexei Emelin on Martin St. Louis' goal, and obviously he knew it.  He just took his foot off the gas a touch, and 99% of the time he would still have made that play, but he got burned.  We have seven d-men playing now, wonder if he sits next game.

-Because I bet Michaël Bournival will be ready by the time we play again on Friday against the Sabres.  We'll run with twelve forwards then, and only six D.  Realistically though, Alexei has earned himself some latitude, and I would think it's Bryan Allen who sits Friday.

-And Nathan Beaulieu will be sent to Hamilton, where with him and Jarred, there will be even fewer excuses for the Bulldogs.  They have to make the playoffs, comfortably.

-Still waiting for P.K. Subban to wow me, consistently.  At $9M, he can't have off nights.  He will, but it's not permitted.

-It'll be good for the Habs to have all this time off between games, get a lot of practices in, and allow Sergei Gonchar and Bryan Allen to blend in better, integrate into the team.

Nathan Beaulieu's and Jarred Tinordi's growing pains, and Dale Weise's growing confidence.

Éric Desjardins repeated two points he’s made before Saturday night on L’Antichambre. He says it’s obvious that Marc Bergevin has seen enough out of his young defencemen and decided they weren’t quite ready yet. Meantime, he felt that his team was ready to go for it, so he added depth and experience to his team to get it ready for a playoff run. As the panel discussed, building for the future is a good concept in theory, but coaches and players want to win right now, and they’ll all see the addition of Sergei Gonchar and Bryan Allen as positives, guys who can help.

Mr. Desjardins also repeated that Nathan Beaulieu will be miscast as a third-pairing defenceman, that he’s not the right player to put out there against bangers and crashers. Previously, he’d said that he himself as a rookie d-man didn’t feel comfortable on a third pairing, that he felt it was easier on the second pairing, even though his responsibilities were greater, and the opposition tougher, it just suited his skillset better. So for Nathan, he feels that the best thing for him is to play in the AHL as a Top 4 in all situation, and to not hang on to an NHL job just for the sake of it, while changing his approach, changing his game and picking up bad habits.

Denis Gauthier and Pierre Bouchard were also on the panel and all three agreed that Nate wasn’t playing ‘naturally’, taking the puck and skating it up with authority, he was forcing things, overthinking things. Pierre Bouchard felt that fateful pass against the Pens sealed his fate, it showed he’s not comfortable.

Guy Carbonneau was the lone dissenter. The defenceman panelists welcomed the fact that former centre Guy put a large portion of the blame for Nathan’s giveaway on a forward (Dale Weise), with a few chuckles. Generally, Guy Carbonneau would have preferred to have Nathan and Jarred learn the ropes now, in the NHL, even though they’ll make mistakes.

Also, let’s give Michel Therrien some love. And his legion of haters apoplexy.

Here is a rough translation of Dale Weise’s thoughts as told to Chantal Machabée of RDS.

“Thank God for Montreal. I never had a coach who ever trusted me this much.

“I got to Montreal, sat down with Michel Therrien and his coaches, and they told me exactly what they wanted, what they expected from me. I felt my confidence rising instantly.”

Chantal pointed out to him that he had five points in five games, including four goals.

“I’m scoring goals because I’m lucky, I’m getting good bounces. Those things happen sometimes. But the confidence I have right now is because I know what the coach expects from me, and that’s phenomenal for a player.”

Guy Carbonneau chimed in that at the start of the season, Michel Therrien had his puzzle probably set up one way, how he thought it would go, with his lineup composed with the players’ names on magnetic strips on his board.

But things happen, like René Bourque, who had a good playoffs. You’d like to keep him going on his streak, but really it just wasn’t working. Additionally, he was dragging down his two linemates, who themselves weren’t happy.

Same thing on the fourth line, with a Brandon Prust who’d given loyal services to the team and wasn’t happy with his icetime and usage.

Guy continued that now that Travis and René are removed from the roster, Brandon finds himself on the third line with more icetime and more talented players. Same for Dale Weise, who a couple weeks ago wasn’t playing great, but once room was cleared for him and his icetime and responsibility increased, saw his confidence shoot up, as well as his production.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Game 22: Canadiens 2, Bruins 0

Ho hum, these routine defeat of the Bruins are beginning to feel stale.  At least if they pushed back a little, gave us a game, we could get excited about these, but whatever, Carey Price gets another shutout, betters his 'rival' Tuukka Rask, and the good guys leave Boston with a 2-0 win.

Hockey Night in Canada tried its hardest to make me feel sorry for the poor Bruins, missing injured players Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and other assorted rodents, how it just wasn't fair that they had to play so shorthanded, but if this is part of a karmic readjustment, they're not more than a couple of steps into their marathon.  A lot more bad luck has to befall these cheapshot artists, unrepentant liars and cheaters, and muck dwellers before we have rectified this koyaanisqatsi.

The Canadiens took a 2-0 lead into the third period, after a first period powerplay goal by Andrei Markov, and a second period goal scored on a four-on-two break led by Brendan Gallagher and finished by Tomas Plekanec.  Andrei Markov's goal was the 100th of his career, joining the members of the Big Three as the only defencemen to reach that total for the Canadiens.

Once the Canadiens had that lead, the refs set about equalizing the teams' opportunities, put their whistles away, and let the Bruins hack and slash to their black hearts' content.  I thought of writing down every infraction, for posterity, but then elected to get some sleep instead of tackling that herculean task.  The litany of infractions reels the mind.  

David Desharnais in the offensive zone, skittering two steps ahead of Dennis Seidenberg in clear possession of the puck and curling in towards the net is taken down with a flagrant trip, under the indulgent nose of the refs.

A backchecking Milan Lucic takes a wicked slash at an onrushing Max Pacioretty.

Dougie Hamilton takes another two-hander at the back of Brendan Gallagher's leg, in the calf where there's no padding, because he's a big bad Bruin don't you know.  Jim Hughson euphemizes that he "tapped at" him.  He actually hit him so hard that he pushed Brendan's leg forward, and thus spun his entire body around, so that Brendan's stick flailed backward and hit Hamilton's arm.  Jim Hughson was very concerned that poor Dougie seemed hurt on the play.  What a shame if another Bruin was injured and sent to the infirmary he intoned, never mind that he was the author of his own misfortune?  

The worst incident was when the Bruins were being washingtongeneraled in their own zone by the Tomas Plekanec line.  Torey Krug, little old him, served up a buffet of slashes and crosschecks and interference, as well as an outrageous, spectacular trip of Alex Galchenyuk during which he lifted the Hab's skate up to his eye level with his stick.  Not one whistle from the refs, until the players' shoving and crosschecking degenerated into a fight.  At that point, both got offsetting five-minute majors for fighting.  It was theatre of the absurd night in Boston, with Tim Peel as the deaf, dumb and blind monkey officiating.  

The shot totals seem to indicate that the Bruins had the better game, but that's misleading.  Whatever chances they had seemed to get snuffed out by Carey Price.  Meanwhile, the Canadiens were outskating the Bruins all game and pressuring them with their speed.  One notable sequence in the third period saw the Habs bottle up the Bruins in their own zone for more than two minutes, with Patrice Bergeron hampered by having broken his stick and reduced to trying to kick at pucks.  He eventually took a penalty when in desperation he fell on a puck and closed his hand on it, something the refs reluctantly decided they couldn't pretend not to have seen.

Oh hum.  Up next, the Rangers.

24 CH, 2014-15 season, Episode 4: Notes

This episode deals with the games against the Wings and Rangers before the trip out West.  A large chunk of it shows the marketing and community/charity-based efforts of the team.

00:30  Team photographers past and present discuss the techniques and problems they face when taking the team photo.  Sample tactic to get everyone to beam on cue: "I need everyone to smile again.  Including Andrei..."  Tomas, Max and P.K. crack up in the front row.  Andrei condescendscooperates with a faint smirk.

"P.K., if you could just concentrate here..."

00:50  Smack talk between Tomas and Alex Galchenyuk.  Tomas starts off with:

"For your age, you're way too confident."

Later, Alex tells Tomas "You should go work out.  To handle my passes."

It goes on from there.  During practice, they're doing line rushes, and Tomas tells Alex "You see that?  You give me a horrible pass and I still put it in the net."

Being on a team playing hockey for a living must be fun.  I talk like that to a coworker who takes it the wrong way, I get a written warning.

02:30  Brandon Prust giving the refs advice on a missed call from his vantage point on the bench.  We saw him do this also in Episode 2.  You get a sense that Brandon has to modulate that, not yap too much in case he antagonizes the refs.

Later in the room between periods, we see a different dynamic between Tomas and Alex, with the veteran giving direction to his younger linemate, who is attentive and amenable, on how to deal with Pavel Datsyuk.  Again, strictly based on this access, we can see great dynamics in this team, loose and fraternal during practice, but all business during a game, and everyone assuming a proper role.

And we can see how players like Alex and Tomas are coaches delights, 'set 'em and forget 'em' types who almost invariably do the right thing, the little things that matter.  They're the players who, when it's said that you spend 90% of your time with 10% of your players, they're not part of the 10%, but rather the 90% of players who you don't have to micromanage.

Compare if you will to Phil Kessel or Nazem Kadri or Cody Hodgson.

03:15  Second period break, and Manny Malhotra encourages the boys, dealing with specifics about not worrying about the refs, about forcing the play with their defencemen, etc.  Again, a couple of notches above the fan-derided rah-rah stuff that Josh Gorges would use in his patter, in terms of the usefulness of the content.  He speaks well to the group, takes command of the room by standing when speaking, and other players pay attention.  We get a shot of Max focused on what he's saying.

I'm really liking what I'm seeing from Manny in this area, didn't pay attention to it when he was in Vancouver and the media guys said as much about him.  Now I get their love for him.  I can easily see a future in coaching for Manny.

03:45  Neat sequence wrapping a story together.  We're shown Tomas being strong on the puck in the offensive zone, and setting up the neat wraparound goal by Alex after outmuscling Kyle Quincey, and then both celebrating together.

04:30  David Desharnais' OT goal.  Andrei doesn't have to be told to smile as he celebrates with P.K.  Later, Michel Therrien ruins P.K. with an enthusiastic shove on the shoulder when greeting him at the dressing room entrance.

David gets the boxer's robe from prior recipient and equipment manager Pierre Gervais.

09:15  Team gala dinner for major sponsors of the club I guess.  Every table has a Canadien player or alumnus seated with a group from the companies' lucky representatives.  I'm torn between being delighted for the kids who get to have dinner at ice level of the New Forum with their heroes, and being jealous of those rich spoiled brats.  I never got no dinner with no Habs when I was a young punk.

It brings into focus again what the off-ice demands are on Canadiens players, how much that might drag on a more private person like Andrei or Carey Price.  Brandon Prust or P.K., those guys will love the spotlight and the opportunity to bathe in the adoration, but how much of a deterrent will it be for a player like Phil Kessel or Nathan Horton to ever sign a deal in Montréal?  Come to think of it though, maybe it's a useful filter, that these guys who just want to do their thing aren't really the type of player we want anyway.

A very nice lady explains what a privilege it is for her and her daughter to be seated with "Monsieur Price."  Just sayin'...

Shots of Mike Weaver and Brendan Gallagher animatedly chatting with their table seatmates.  An old-timer pats Alex Galchenyuk on the shoulder and gives him props for his goal the previous night.

10:50  The Canadiens pressing their advantage of being the most prestigious hockey franchise in a hockey hotbed.  They hold a clinic for minor hockey coaches, with some demos on the ice with Stéphane Waite among others, then a lecture and Q&A with Michel Therrien and Alain Vigneault, who's in town with the Rangers.

This is exactly what the Canadiens have to do, stock the Québec pond with ever-more great hockey players who will grow up to be Canadiens fans.  Sure, some will turn out like Vincent Lecavalier and Daniel Brière and shun Montréal, but a significant portion will be like Francis Bouillon or Dale Weise or P.K. Subban, in disbelief that they get to play for their favourite team.  This is something that the Coyotes or the Predators will have trouble ever matching, and every advantage counts in a salary cap system.

I'm surprised to discover that even at the Bantam BB level, for example, there are dedicated goalie coaches, which didn't happen in my day.

13:50  Yet more asked of the players as Leucan and the Canadiens host an evening at the New Forum for young patients.  And what a gut punch that is.  So proud of the guys for the way they interact with the kids at the end of the episode.  The players' wives pitch in as well.  And what a great boost it must be for those parents.

15:45  Notorious sequence during the game against the Rangers when P.K. leaves the ice after getting struck in the throat, even though it's an icing situation and he's not supposed to be allowed to change.  Later, he's discussing this with a ref, who's having trouble getting a word in edgewise, and finally says to P.K. "Just listen to me and then say 'Thank you'."  P.K. gets it and pipes down, says thanks, but it's emblematic of some of his character quirks, how desperately sometimes he needs to get his point across, instead of just listening and then saying "Got it."

This bleeds into his game, when during play he looks at the refs and pleads innocence, sometimes before a call is actually made, while play is going on.  P.K. needs to tone that down, but it will be a struggle for him to change that significantly now that he's an adult.  He'll still need to rein it in, be more Brian Gionta than Theo Fleury now that he's acting as an Assistant.

16:50  This summer when getting a tour of the facilities in Brossard from Pierre Gervais, P.A. Parenteau lobbied him to have his seat in the dressing room 'not too far' from David Desharnais, a friend of his.  We see here that he got his wish, he's sitting right next to him.

17:15  After a Brandon Prust vs. Kevin Klein tilt, P.K. and Martin St. Louis are picking up the equipment of their teammate, and P.K. says to Martin to take it easy, that "I'm still giving you free passes."  The Rangers vet lets that go with a smirk.

18:30  Brandon and Max being all Chip and Dale on the bench, making sure there's no ruffled feathers after a play on the ice.

"Sorry, I was just trying to get it to you, just to like..." Brandon tells Max.

"No no, I was just trying to get it too, I wasn't trying to sewer you," Max replies.

Not a bad thing when two players are hungry for the puck, as opposed to the reverse.  Within limits.  Most of the time.

18:45  Brendan Gallagher struggles to get off the ice after a collision/bodycheck/interference by Tanner Glass.  "Who was it?" Tomas asks him.

Max scores on a pass from super-sub linemate Dale Weise while Brendan is walking it off.  That should make ti all better.

19:15  After the win, David passes on the cape to Brandon Prust, although as the narrator says he neither scored or assisted on a goal.

More thoughts on the Maple Leafs fan snub.

I'm seeing various reactions to the Leafs fan-snub incident, with some commenting that it's no big deal, that the salute is no great tradition, and that fans should respect their team and players if they expect the same in return.  I get what they’re saying in the general sense. Specifically, this 'no big deal' approach breaks down for a number of reasons for me though.

1) The non-salute is not really the issue. The Canucks don’t salute after wins, they never took up the practice, and no one here feels slighted. It’s the specific decision by Leaf players to stop the practice, at that particular time, that caught everyone’s attention. It’s like Elaine Benes when she’s outraged that some acquaintance of hers has stopped greeting her with a nod. She barely knows the guy, didn’t really want to talk to him, but now that he ignores her in the halls, after their greetings lost their force and petered out, she notices it.

2) Phil Kessel not speaking to the media is another issue that is being defended. The thing is, all reports explain that Phil Kessel is given a lot of latitude by the Toronto media, they understand who he is, and don’t press the issue. It’s probably the same treatment Andrei Markov gets from the Montréal press corps, they only talk to him when the PR guy says it’s okay, occasionally. What the uproar is about is Mr. Kessel telling the reporter “Get away from me now”, with an aggressive, imperious, disrespectful tone, that crosses the line.

Phil Kessel is paid an obscene amount of money by the fans, and the media he faces only enhances the product he’s selling. They’re the conduit through which the fans can exchange with Phil, and he needs to understand that.

3) To treat all their fans as if they all tossed a jersey on the ice is beyond stupid and reprehensible. It is not justification for their boorish behaviour after the win against Tampa. The players don’t complain when a hat trick is saluted with a hail storm of ball caps. When they play well, they don’t mind the Leafs hats touching the ice. When they stink up the joint, they need to take it in stride that one or two fans throw a jersey on the ice.

Watch the video of the Leafs leaving the rink after the win, and you’ll see three youngsters behind the glass to the right of the players exit from our perspective. It only lasts a couple of seconds, but you can see they’re so excited/deflated at having stood so close to their heroes. They probably banged on the glass and waved, wanting some fleeting contact with their players, and based on their reaction, they’re dumbfounded, crestfallen, it doesn’t seem like they got the thrill of a lifetime their choice tickets promised to be. If I’m Brendan Shanahan, that’s the two seconds of video I’m showing my players.

4) About reporters asking the same dumb questions over and over, there was discussion recently on how that’s the reporters’ job, to ask the players a question point blank so as to get their response on the record.

“Are you playing to get your coach fired?”

“No.”

Now that’s in the public domain, and you can compare that verbal answer to behaviour in the past or future. You’re giving the players a chance to express themselves on a question that the fans are probably asking themselves. It’s the same as asking a politician a ‘yes-no’ question on a subject, it provides them a chance to tell the voters where they stand, even if most times they’ll refuse to be pinned down, or at least leave themselves some wriggle room.

And, there are the 0.0001% of the time when a player will say something noteworthy, like when Joe Thornton interjected in a scrum involving Thomas Hertl, that if he’d scored the same type of goal that he’d be “stroking it”. Sometimes you hit the lottery.

It may all seem like a stilted dance, but it’s part of the process, and NHL’ers get paid very well to take part in it. As Michel Bergeron says, he used to steel himself before difficult press scrums by repeating to himself, much like he would before the dentist: “Ça va prendre dix minutes… Ça va prendre dix minutes…”

5) About jersey tossing, I’ve said this before, and I would be aghast if a fan threw a tricolore jersey on the New Forum ice, but it’s the ultimate, most democratic protest a fan can have. He or she has paid a lot of coin for that jersey, to wear it proudly and associate with the team and its players, and to attend the game. If they are performing in a shameful manner, if it’s embarrassing to wear that jersey, what a way to send a message.

There’s a risk it becomes overused, but I don’t think we’re there yet, not by a long shot. We’ve only seen it at Oilers and Leafs games if I’m not mistaken, and it can be argued that the fans have good reason to react in that manner there. If ever it got to the point that after routine losses fans of teams with average or respectable records were chucking jerseys, then I’d agree that it’s a meaningless, self-aggrandizing gesture by a few clueless fans. In Edmonton, and recently in Toronto, that’s entirely apt, however.

Marc Bergevin turns water into wine, René Bourque into Bryan Allen.

First, Marc Bergevin flipped extra, plodding, square peg veteran forward, who has trouble contributing in the physical arena due to multiple concussions, and who was blocking the way for promising young forwards Jiri Sekac and Michaël Bournival, for Dallas' Sergei Gonchar.  The latter comes with a much bigger cap hit, but his contract runs out this year, whereas we had another year beyond this one on Travis'.

Now, suddenly, without any previous rumblings, he's transmuted René Bourque, who mere days before had passed through waivers with no claimants, into huge, tough, stay-at-home defenceman Bryan Allen.  Which is kind of the role we were hoping Jarred Tinordi would play this season.

So instead of Jarred and Nathan Beaulieu learning the ropes in the NHL and making mistakes, we now have veterans Bryan Allen and Sergei Gonchar, and a team that is obviously going to try to make a run for the playoffs.

Nathan Beaulieu has probably sealed his fate and bought his ticket back to Hamilton with that brain-dead pass across the middle of the defensive zone to Dale Weise, which was intercepted and ended up in his own net.  It was even more troubling when seen from the endzone camera, since it showed that Nate had an alley wide open to Drayson Bowman in the neutral zone if he'd chosen to go off the boards, as he's been taught to do his whole life, along with every other defenceman who ever played.  Instead, he tried to go against the grain, to be creative, he tried the dangerous play, and it bit him, hard.

Some will grumble that Michel Therrien isn't patient enough with youngsters, that he staples them to the bench after a mistake, but there are different degrees of mistakes.  I'm willing to bet that the coaches, Jean-Jacques Daigneault most notably, but also Sylvain Lefebvre and Donald Dufresne in Hamilton, have hammered the point home to him to take what the opposition gives him, to choose the safe play, to move the puck up and good things will happen, not to make risky plays unless he's in a desperate situation, etc.  I bet that Michel Therrien in his pre-game video and meetings emphasized again and again to his team that the Penguins were dangerous, to not try anything fancy, to work as a team and support each other, etc.  And then Nathan went and did the exact opposite.

There are different kinds of mistakes.  Fanning on a shot is one kind of a mistake, an error of execution, like a goalie getting beat by a soft shot through the legs.  You can take those as long as they don't happen too often.

There are mistakes when the player misses an assignment, blows a coverage, messes up a line change.  That's an error of focus, of concentration.  Those are a little more frustrating, but again, they happen.

Nathan's mistake was one of obstinance.  He did what he knew he wasn't supposed to do, because he thought he knew better, that he was better than that, that he thought the safe play was too predictable, so he should surprise the Penguins with a dashing breakout pass up the middle.

So the brain trust decided that they couldn't ride their young ponies this season, they needed some trusty Clydesdales instead, and we have an instant transformation of the back end, with a solid third pairing rough-and-tumble guy in Bryan Allen, and a borderline second-pairing guy in Sergei Gonchar if his minutes are carefully managed.

I’ve sometimes thought that Marc Bergevin did take the job in 2012 thinking that while he had a good core to work with, some good pieces, that he had a rebuild on his hands, although not one reflective of a team that should have been in last place in the conference. I think when play finally resumed, he was pleasantly surprised at the results, two seasons in a row, and decided not to go all Sabres on us, go scorched-earth, and adjusted his plan to win rather than swap assets for futures.

This season also, he may have been, as he stated, ready for a step backward in the standings, but again, solid goaltending and a resilient team that fights for every point may be causing him to rethink that. Surveying the landscape, he may have switched gears again, and decided that with a Carey Price at the height of his powers, there was no better time than the present to go for the Cup.

At no great cost he obtained patch-job defencemen that enhance the roster, sending away pieces that was more superfluous than useful this season. And his organizational plan that Jarred and Nathan would experience their growing pains on the big league roster gave way to one where, in light of the journeymen results of Alexei Emelin and Tom Gilbert among others, he modified to one where the youngsters got more miles in the AHL, since they are waiver-exempt this season anyway.

One thing about watching 24CH, or the press conferences at the trade deadline or the end of the season, is that it shows these gentlemen are all aware of the issues we rail about on HIO, they have a little more info than we do let’s admit, and they make the best decision they can. They’d love it if Jarred and Nathan were the second coming of Rod Langway and Tom Kurvers this early in their pro career, that’d make things easy, but since they’re not quite there, they have to make a decision.

Friday, 21 November 2014

NHL responsible for on-ice violence, not the NHLPA.

I'm coming across on social media the notion that the NHL Players Association is mostly responsible for the endemic violence and use of intimidation as a tactic in pro hockey, that they're the ones standing in the way of progress.

Relying on the NHLPA to agree that its members should bear the brunt of harsher discipline so as to eradicate fighting is unrealistic, and flies in the face of a union’s duty to represent its members. Why would the NHLPA, which has had to retreat significantly in hugely important areas of its CBA the last couple of rounds of negotiation, give a freebie to NHL owners, without getting anything in return?

There was a comic who once observed that the birth control pill was the wrong way to go about contraception, since if you want to keep everyone safe you take the bullets out of the gun, you don’t make everyone wear kevlar vests.

Same with the NHL. If it wants to make the game safer, instead of relying on tough guys to prevent other tough guys from being overly tough on that elastic toughness scale that’s so hard to quantify, why don’t they just remove the tough guys from the environment? And punish the teams that insist on employing such hazardous players? Which it could easily do, with fines and suspensions for coaches or GM’s, loss of draft picks or draft position, or salary-cap penalty.

Thought experiment: Chris Neil dummies rookie forward Filip Forsberg with a flying elbow, and Shea Weber responds as tradition wants and as he’s been encultured to do. He goes up to Chris Neil and tries to avenge his teammate by engaging him in a fight. Now the NHLPA should willingly agree that Shea Weber should bear the brunt of the blame for this situation?

I worked at a company where, despite what we thought were our best efforts, worker injuries occurred too often, and we even had fatalities. What caused even greater attention to safety in our workplace, about which some managers would shrug and sincerely think and say: “What more can we do?”, was the Worker’s Compensation Boards hammering us with punishingly high rates, and threats of doubling or tripling these, and even more draconian measures, if we didn’t shape up.

This caused a crisis at the very highest levels in our company, but suddenly the heat was on, and major changes occurred. Traditional work practices that caused high injury rates but were previously thought to be unavoidable were abandoned. Mandatory, documented ‘tailgate meetings’ at the start of shift to go over safety considerations were introduced, with great scrutiny on foremen and supervisors that these not be slacked on. Rigid adherence to the ‘New and Young Workers’ safety/initiation training, an province-wide initiative by WCB, again with documentation, and General Managers accountable for completion rates to be at 100% and remain there, was another method used. A safety awareness campaign through HR, featuring our own employees was a visible sign that we had to double down on this.

And what do you know, these and many other changes and initiatives had a positive effect, and the injury rate started creeping down. It wouldn’t have happened however without external pressure to do better, and a focus by the Directors to ensure that we did do better.

What we didn’t do, however, was threaten our employees that they’d face penalties if they got injured. But that’s the sole method the NHL relies on. John Moore elbows another player into next week? Three games suspension for you. Chris Kreider barrels into his fourth goalie in less than a year? You’re on a watchlist, buddy boy!

It’s absolutely crazy. If the Rangers were now facing a drop of ten positions in their draft position for the second round, and the next infraction would start messing with their first-rounder, and if Alain Vigneault and Glen Sather were just back from suspension and facing longer ones for the next infraction, there’d be real change in New York. They’d take players aside and coach them on how they want them to play. Players who are borderline maniacs would play less or not at all, and players who can actually play with the puck would find their way into the lineup. Danny Kristo wouldn’t be immediately described as slender or undersized, but rather as a scorer. He’d be playing in the NHL, and Tanner Glass and Ryan Malone wouldn’t.