Sunday, 21 August 2016

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[Addendum]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone should give it a watch.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 8 August 2016

Team Canada and Noah Juulsen at the Summer Showcase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Thoughts (to be charitable) on the 2016 NHL Draft, Day 2.

--No picks in the second round, nothing much happening.  Killing times until the Canadiens pick in the third round.

--Columbus grabs Vitaly Abramov at #65.  Huge skill, but not sure we can take a smallish forward and add him to our pile on the farm.

I wonder if we’ll take Vladimir Kuznetsov? Big strong scoring winger out of the LHJMQ, first pick in the import draft last summer.

--Cliff Pu gone one pick before ours. Wasn’t sure about that guy, his name.

--We get Will Bitten. I’m vaguely familiar with his name, could play wing or centre, some thought he had a chance to sneak in the first round.

Whenever I’d hear him being batted around on TV or radio, I’d get excited, then realize he wasn’t Paul Bittner, the giant forward out of Portland, so I’d stop paying attention.

--Interesting picks:

78 NSH FREDERIC ALLARD D CAN 6′ 0″ 183 QMJHL CHICOUTIMI
79 WPG LUKE GREEN D CAN 6′ 0″ 186 QMJHL SAINT JOHN
80 NJD BRANDON GIGNAC C CAN 5′ 10″ 170 QMJHL SHAWINIGAN
81 NYR SEAN DAY D BEL 6′ 2″ 231 OHL MISSISSAUGA

Frédéric Allard is a guy I thought we’d take in the second round, nice puck-carrier who was one of four or five defencemen drafted by Chicoutimi a couple years ago in a massive rebuild.

Lucas Green was another defenceman I hoped we might pick up in the second round, first overall pick in the LHJMQ draft a couple years ago. More of a do-it-all type.

Brandon Gignac is an overager, a really good skater, buzzing all over the ice. Didn’t put up a tonne of points, some thought he sufered because Anthony Beauvillier got all the PP time and favourable matchups. I don’t know though, if other teams tried to match up the Cataractes’ star, wouldn’t that mean he plays against weaker opposition? I hoped we could scoop him up in the fourth or fifth round.

Sean Day, one of the exceptional types out of the OHL, after John Tavares and Aaron Ekblad et al. Apparently really gifted, huge, but maybe not in the proper sense of huge.

--Vladimir Kuznetsov is still available, about ten picks to go.

C’mon, Kuuuuznetsoooooooov!… Daddy needs hisself another Russian…

--Goddamn it. Victor Mete in the fourth round. 5’9″ defenceman out of the London Knights.

Dale Hunter still quashing my dreams, decades later…

Hmmmffff…

Let me sulk…

--Some talk on the blogosphere about Mikhail Sergachev, whether he's ready for the AHL next season.

Next season is either OHL or NHL for him.  He was drafted out of the OHL, he can't play in the AHL for the next two seasons.

His team will host the Memorial Cup next year, they have Logan Brown and might add Clayton Keller, so to me that’s a great opportunity for development. Guaranteed high-stakes playoff experience.

So next season, keep him in the NHL if he warrants it, for the 9-game tryout, then send him down.

Then, he plays for Russia at the WJC, in Montréal.

Then he plays OHL playoffs.

Then Memorial Cup.

Then he starts for us in 2017, wins the Norris.

--Chicago grabs Nathan Noël, a 5’10” forward out of St-John, was invited to the Canadiens prospect development camp two years ago. He’s an overager, never scored quite as much as some of the hype led me to believe he would, some were advocating for him to get a contract as an undrafted free agent.

--The NHL fines Canucks GM Jim Benning for tampering, relative to the comments he made about P.K. Subban and Steven Stamkos.

Jim Benning did cross the line, in expressing interest in a player under contract with another team. But I think it’s merely a technical, piddling breach, ultimately it doesn’t have much of an effect.

There was no intent, Jim Benning was just being his usual forthright self, answering a direct question from a journo, wasn’t sending a smoke signal or anything. It’s not as if Steven Stamkos is now going to decide to go UFA based on that, based on a GM saying he was interested, whereas before he wouldn’t have, because he didn’t know other GM's might be into him.

Same with P.K. The TSN boys were beating the drums about a trade, about him being on the market. Jim Benning didn’t blow the cover off a covert operation.

We all know that Marc Bergevin hates leaks, when he announces a trade we usually had no idea anything was cooking. So this would rankle, he’s talked in the past about having to talk to a player whose children were being taunted in the schoolyard about their dad being no good, being dumped by the local team.

So yeah, Jim Benning will get fined, but it’s no big deal, it will only mean poorer radio hits for TSN 1040 Vancouver, he’ll be more reluctant to answer questions plainly.

--My word. Casey Staum, at the start of the fifth round, using the pick we got from the Canucks in the Brandon Prust trade.

Casey Staum.  Never heard of him, but at least he’s 5’10, and had four goals last season.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Kuznetsov waits, unclaimed.

My perfunctory research conducted over the last few weeks leads me to conclude that this is a crock.

--BOS JOONA KOPPANEN LW FIN 6′ 4″ 192 FINLAND-JR.

Boston gets one of Craig Button’s two sleepers, he was very bullish on this kid, great skill and size, but played only one game in the senior Finnish league.

--STL CONNER BLEACKLEY C CAN 6′ 0″ 192 WHL RED DEER

The Blues take a chance on Conner Bleackley.

--MTL MICHAEL PEZZETTA C CAN 6′ 1″ 204 OHL SUDBURY

We pick Michael Pezzetta.  Another player I never heard of, with underwhelming production.

Really weird that Vladimir Kuznetsov fell so far down, I was thinking third round for him. 25 G, 33 A, for 58 points in 68 games. His size and style of play made me think he’d be snapped up.

--TBL OLEG SOSUNOV D RUS 6′ 8″ 230 RUSSIA JR. 2 LOKO-YUNIOR YAROSLAV

“We’ll see your 6’8” defenceman, and raise you…

“Never mind. We can’t see your 6’8″ defenceman. We do have a lot of 5’8″ defencemen though…”

--MTL ARVID HENRIKSON D SWE 6′ 3″ 176 SWEDEN-JR. U18 AIK U18

The Canadiens traded with the Jets to get back into this draft.

Ranked #86 by NHL Central Scouting (Euro skaters)

Good point production this season, PPG in the U18 Swedish league.

--NYR TY RONNING RW CAN 5′ 8″ 167 WHL VANCOUVER

Cliff’s kid goes to the Rangers. I’m surprised the Canucks didn’t take a chance in the 7th round.

--Is it weird that beside Mikhail Sergachev, I’m most stoked about our 7th-rounder? A player with some size, and point production? As opposed to most of the other picks?

If we snap up a kid who’s a buzzsaw, a little Energizer bunny who racks up goals, I get it. It makes sense.

But drafting a 5’10” defenceman who scored 3 goals in 12 high-school games just doesn’t raise my pulse.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Thoughts (to be charitable) on the 2016 NHL Draft.

--Marc Bergevin sighting: there was incipient Panic Beard visible last night, but today, we can observe the protocol was interrupted. There is no alert level.  He is clean-shaven.

--A good point brought up by Marc Bergevin is that two years ago, the NHL forecast the salary cap for 2017 to be $78M, but it will in fact be $73M. It kind of puts decisions like the contracts the Blackhawks handed out, like P.K. Subban’s contract, in context. The Canucks’ Mike Gillis kept re-signing his vets, the guys that took him to the Cup final, to new deals, thinking/hoping the cap would keep rising and make them reasonable.

P.K.’s deal isn’t atrocious, it’s market level plus the Montréal surcharge, and is the newest of the top d-men, so it’s on the high side, definitely not a bargain, but we also have to take into account that his contract would have been thought to look better as time went by, like Carey Price’s, for example.

--Boy, TVA Sports is bad. On their scrawl, they are stating Jim Benning is under investigation for tampering, for stating he would contact the Lightning about Steven Stamkos, which is not what he said. It’s like they have a bunch of summer students running their broadcasts, but not the best students, those who spend their days at the pub.

For the record, Jim Benning said that he had contacted the Canadiens about P.K. Subban, and that he would call Steven Stamkos' agent after the draft.

--And they miked up Pierre-Luc Dubois, except they didn’t or can’t turn the mike off, and now everything he's saying as he’s finding his seat with his family, is interrupting the Pat Brisson interview they’re trying to conduct.

Thanks Gary, those guys are amazing partners! I feel very well served by this new TV deal.

--Pascal Laberge is listed as being from Châteauguay, but he has a nice meaty Lac St-Jean accent, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where he grew up.

--Switching over to Sportsnet, it's not a bad panel I have to admit. Mike Johnson, Damien Cox, Sam Consentino, and a requisite Talking Head.

I was afeared it would be Nick Kypreos and Doug McLean, with P.J. Stock off in the wings making booger jokes. So by dint of having low expectations, this is pretty good.

Always liked Damien Cox, from the “TSN The Reporters” days.

Mike Johnson is a good analyst, easy on the ears, liked him before when he was at TSN.

Sam Consentino knows his junior hockey, broadcasts games every week on Sportsnet. He malaprops with the best of them, but he’s not annoying or anything.

Requisite Talking Head is talking without tripping over his microphone, so that’s all we ask of him.

--And the Buffalo fans are doing their job.  Love it. Boo the Leafs, boo Gary Bettman back to the Stone Age, but cheer the kid getting drafted.

Well done, Buffalo.

And when will Gary give it up, or be told to give it up, and the NHL just hire a host, a representative to hand over the Stanley Cup, and to MC the Draft? Because now, it’s just embarrassing, it’s a guy who’s being stubborn, rather than stepping aside and letting things proceed without his presence interfering.

--It's announced we have traded for Andrew Shaw, in return for our #39 and #45 picks.  I think it's a relatively steep cost.

And we get another Blackhawk. Not sure if more smallish grit is what we needed.

We also send Lars Eller to the Capitals for a second-rounder in 2017 and in 2018.

Andrew Shaw will be an asset when the going gets tough, as opposed to Lars, who was amorphous when it started rocking and rolling. I’ll never forget him getting punched behind the net by a Bruin during the Winter Classic, getting dummied by Nazem Kadri.

I like that we picked up two seconds, and not this year, when the draft is thought to not be that deep.  It’s generally recognized that the second round is weak this year, and that the talent level plummets in the third round.

I wish we had used our two seconds to get back in the first round to catch a falling McLeod or Gauthier, but I guess Marc Bergevin found out that wasn’t going to fly today.

If anything, I’m sad for Lars’ wife, she was on 24CH last season, speaking eloquently about how she loved Montréal, how this was now their second home, with Copenhagen.

--Cue the outrage on social media, that Lars is a special player, who can play centre, he can play wing...

Hold on, let me get this straight… Now Lars can play wing? I thought that was only when Michel Therrien was torturing him that he played there?

--Critics are also hating this trade and wondering why it wasn't David Desharnais who was traded.  The simple explanation for me is that there was probably more of a market for Lars, while David is untradable I would think.

If we now accept that Lars will best serve as a third-line shutdown centre, we can see that players like Mike McCarron, Phillip Danault, Jacob de la Rose can all possibly assume this role.  Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn can also pitch in.

--First surprise: the Blue Jackets sidestep consensus #3-ranked prospect Jesse Puljujarvi to nab Pierre-Luc Dubois with their third-overall pick.

Okay, so all the talk about the Blue Jackets not being sold on Jesse Puljujarvi wasn’t all a smokeshow, then.

So we get a tall French-Canadian handsome kid with a trace of a French accent pro athlete in a college town? That boy is going to do some damage, he’ll be worn out for the actual games.

--One wag opines on Twitter, after the Oilers race to the podium to take Jesse Puljujarvi with their #4 pick, that even when they lose the lottery, they win the lottery.

--The Canucks are up.  I’d bet dollars to donuts they take Matt Tkachuk the Finnish d-man.

Funny how in the papers, on TSN 1040 Vancouver, focus has shifted from Pierre-Luc Dubois once the lottery was held, to right after the Memorial Cup, all the talk being about how to ensure to get the London Knight. But the last week or so it switched back to hoping the Oilers wouldn’t scoop out Pierre-Luc Dubois from under them.

In the end, Jim Benning got the defenceman he wanted all along.  Midway through the year, when it was thought the Canucks would draft somewhere in the middle of the first round, the Canucks GM had stated that it was time the Canucks picked up a defenceman to restock their farm system.

--Our turn up soon.  Will Arizona take Alex Nylander? Will Mikhail Sergachev slide past Buffalo? I fear not.

--So,  we get some fellow named Miguel Cigarshave?

Fudge I hate this pick. Dreaded it all day.

I kind of painted myself into a corner here. If they’d picked anybody else, I could have shrugged and said “Not my fault, I wanted so-and-so…”

Because I have absolutely no plausible deniability. I said “Book it” and everything, that’s a binding verbal contract, except written in ink, except in kilojewels on the internet.

So now I have to put up or shut up, here, kind of.

--When Craig Button was analyzing defencemen, he explained that Olli Juolevi was the safest bet, was the most solid in all areas, but that Mikhail Sergachev had the highest ceiling, the highest upside, and was more talented offensively.

I fell in love when reports of his size were being validated, that he was that big and that talented. When was the last time we picked a guy like this? Ryan McDonagh? Gilbert Delorme? Larry Robinson?

That he won the OHL trophy for best defencemen, as a rookie, and while adapting to a new team, country and language, was impressive to me. The way the coach described him, as really sociable, almost irrepressible, despite the broken English, was encouraging, endearing.

Then, he went to the Combine and showed that the size, strength, physicality was legit, and I thought we were losing him. He was too good I thought, the reports that he really charmed and impressed everyone with his stature, his personality and his communication skills, despite the language barrier, they were sinking any chance we get the kid.

So that we got our hands on my man-crush feels really, really good. I didn’t think we had a shot.

To re-cap, he’s a leftie d-man, but prefers playing on the right, so he’ll be flexible when injuries or roster considerations occur. He’s got a great slapshot, and an equally good wrist shot. His coach loves the cannon, but loves even more that he finds a way to get the shot on net. He can quarterback the PP, but also defend in his zone. He can reportedly get out of position to deliver a hit, but I don’t really mind that, don’t mind a mean streak.

So not a grand slam draft night, not over the moon with the trading away of the two second-rounders, but I feel this defencemen fills so many organizational needs that this is a great draft already.

--Let’s hope that Jake Bean doesn’t turn out to be the Erik Karlsson of this draft, and Mikhail Sergachev isn’t, correspondingly, the Colton Teubert.

--Julien Gauthier is a Nordique! The Hurricanes grab him at #21. I pre-emptively hate him already.

As long as he’s not a Bruin, Flyer or Senator, for now I’m okay with it.

Until Peter Karmanos is dragged away in handcuffs, and The Turning…

--Sportsnet showing a screencap of a Bruins-draftee Charlie McAvoy tweet from 2013:

“I hate the bruins so much”

Apparently, he’s from the New York area.

--Eff the Senators. I hope their Logan Brown is this year’s Hugh Jessiman.

--More Lars Eller anguish on social media:
“…people scorned him for not being a very good second-line center.”
Not at all. We scorned those who insisted he would be an offensive wizard and Top 6 centre if only Michel Therrien would just give him more ozone and release the Corset.

--Scouting report on Mikhail Sergachev:
McKeens: “His casualness is tough to take,” said one scout. “Sometimes he looks quite uninterested out there. Down the stretch, including the playoffs, with games on the line he would sometimes be asleep at the switch…leaving players alone in the slot to finish off games without so much as lifting a stick.”
Ouch!

Re-roll!

--Interesting that the Canadiens are widely believed to have missed leadership, to have missed the dressing room contributions of players like Brandon Prust, Manny Malhotra, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Daniel Brière, etc., and now have added a gutsy, fiery, vocal player in Andrew Shaw.

Is this an indication from Marc Bergevin and his brain trust, from Michel Therrien and his coaches, that the Canadiens might have had too many choirboys, maybe too much character of the wrong kind? The milk-and-cookie set that Michel Therrien said not all players tend to be?

Also, and I’m asking the question here, not making a statement, but is it possible that Lars was a less-than-fiery type that the team wanted to remove from the equation? Maybe on a team with Ovie and Tom Wilson and Mike Richards and Bruce Orpiks and Justin Williams and Jay Beagle among others, he’s a better complement?

Here’s a cool Andrew Shaw anecdote:
“(Brian Burke) said they start every year’s scouting meetings discussing mistakes that they have made.
The specific example he cited was Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, who wasn’t drafted until the fifth round of his final draft-eligible season, yet has played an important role for the Blackhawks over the past couple seasons.
Burke said what stood out in their evaluation was that Shaw was too small, with the problem being that, “He doesn’t realize he’s too small.”

--Lots of discussion on Andrew Shaw, and how his contributions are more crucial, more valuable on a team that already has leaders like Jonathan Toews or Duncan Keith who "can actually play".

Our leadership corps is constructed in an unconventional manner. Our veteran leaders all left by various means, leaving our ‘young veterans’ to pick up the slack.

Andrei Markov, the eldest, is also the most economical with speeches and backslaps. He leads by example mostly, grimaces a lot. Was going through off-ice turmoil, with the very public breakup, on social media, with his former girlfriend, and the new relationship with his suddenly pregnant girlfriend.

Tomas Plekanec, the next Assistant in seniority, is also the silent type. Has a wry, cutting sense of humour. When he asked P.K. if he’d made the Canadian Olympic Team for Sochi and P.K. replied in the affirmative, Tomas said “Good. For us.” Meaning Team Czech. So not also the best team cheerleader, and he also underwent turmoil in his private life, being subjected to divorce proceedings, reportedly.

Max Pacioretty came in for his first season as Captain limping from his off-season tibial plateau fracture, which derailed his conditioning program, slowed him down the entire season.

P.K. Subban had a difficult season on the ice, and off as well, with reports of dissension within the team, in the dressing, much of it centred around P.K. and his outsized personality. He may have jumped his traces, maybe wasn’t pulling in the same direction as everyone else.

The most junior Assistant, Brendan Gallagher, had two long-term injuries that stopped him in his tracks, while he seemed as if he could have had a career year. Kind of hard for the junior guy to assert his leadership while idle.

And finally, as we were reminded, Carey Price is an essential part of this leadership corps, even though he doesn’t wear a letter. He also was absent due to injuries, for most of the year.

So it’s not like this was the optimal conditions, in hindsight, to shed guys like Manny Malhotra and Brandon Prust. Youngish vets like Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn have more muted personalities, and are relatively new to the team to boot.

To some degree, the same can be said for Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry, they’re both more laid back. Injuries played a role here too. And Alexei Emelin, if he leads at all, does so on the ice, by example. He seems like a nice enough guy, but the language barrier will always be a hindrance.

So two of the ‘official’ leaders are quiet, saturnine types, three were wracked by injuries, and one had a growing pains-filled season.

Yeah, it would be great if they “could play”, like Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby can, but I’d have settled for merely playing, especially in their first season taking over the reins.

On trading for Nail Yakupov, trading away P.K. Subban

(June 23)

1) If we could get a Nail Yakupov on the cheap, I wouldn’t be against it, but on the other hand we shouldn’t oversell the chemistry angle with Alex Galchenyuk. It’s good that they played together in junior and played well, but we should bear in mind that any two or three good players will do really well in junior, regardless of whether they have an ethereal connection or not.

Remember the immortal Patrick Kane, Dave Gagner and Sergei Kostitsyn line with the London Knights? Should you have moved heaven and earth to re-unite these three in the NHL? Or were two of these guys journeymen NHL’ers?

Pierre Larouche had two linemates on les Éperviers de Sorel who all scored more than 70 goals in a season, but they never played in the NHL. There are many more examples of this, two or three excellent players in junior who won’t all necessarily be All-Stars in the NHL, where maybe one player was carrying the line.

2) P.K. Subban is so much more than just a trade chip to move up in the first round this year. He’s an All-Star who we’re a little sour on right now, because he had an off year, and has a massive contract kicking in soon. If last season he’d single-handedly eliminated the Bruins in the playoffs, he’d be a god right now, instead of a blemish-free god to half the members, and a disposable trade chip to the other half.

We shouldn’t dismiss out of hand the idea of trading him, like I posted before, if the Oilers shock and awe us with a crazy offer we should listen. And I’m not talking Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Oscar Klefbom, those are the kind of pretty good players/spare parts we got rucinskied with for Patrick Roy. I’m talking a few frontline bluechip parts before we even are tempted. P.K. is no mere trade deadline target who brings back a player, a pick and a prospect.

Aside from that, I believe we should stick with P.K., that some of the lessons of the previous seasons should sink in his thick, thick skull. That he realizes, again, for the fourth or fifth time, that getting the puck on the net on the powerplay is more important than making every shot the hardest one he’s ever unleashed. That getting it in the net, however it makes its way in, is more important than blasting it through the net. That his forwards will be more willing to set up a screen if he doesn’t blast it around their ears every time.

That he can’t/shouldn’t do it all himself, that he needs to play like a #1 defenceman on a Stanley Cup contender, that he needs to protect the puck. That he can’t gamble all the time so often, that when the score is tied late in the game, you protect the tie, but when you’re a goal or two down, that’s the time to step on the gas and force the issue.

P.K. also needs to be a good teammate. It’s a question of degrees. He’ll never be Bob Gainey or Max Pacioretty, but he needs to take to heart the fact that he needs to function within the team, not always be the centre of attention at all costs. He needs to show the emotional maturity to take what happened last season as a learning lesson, that all the feedback is not just noise from the haters, but also advice from people who care for him. Maybe you disregard this blogger and that Leaf-loving jerk there, but when Serge Savard and Guy Lafleur and Yvan Cournoyer chime in, maybe you pay attention. He may be able to help the team by easing off by 10% here, by maybe not yelling and carrying on there, etc.

If your friends kind of let you know in a dozen subtle ways that maybe you’re too boisterous and knock over too many wine glass at the dinner parties, that you hog the conversation and interrupt others too much, you need to heed that, and maybe tone down your antics, crank it down from 11 to 8 or 9, out of respect for them, so you keep getting invited, instead of treated as the wet muddy dog in the living room.

P.K.’s a big personality, he’s bold and brash, and that’s a big part of his appeal, but he’s also really smart, really thoughtful. He should be able to take all this in, and adapt, grow his role within the team, in the dressing room and on the ice. He’s wearing an ‘A’, he can’t make goofy decisions with the puck in crucial moments that land him in the lowlight reels. Errors of execution, where you fan on a pass or miss a wide-open net, they’re forgivable. Errors born of obstinacy, where you try that pass through the middle in your own zone when coaches have been hammering it to you and all your teammates all your life that it’s a cardinal sin, but you go ahead and try it anyway and get burned and lose the game, that’s bad form. That’s unforgivable.

There are giveaways, and then there are giveaways. If a quarterback throws a ball that bounces off his receiver’s hands into the safety’s lap, he jogs off the field, dusts himself off, and focuses on the next series. It sucks, but those things happen, they’ll cancel out over the entire season, your team will benefit from a similar stroke of luck at some point. But if the quarterback is holding on to a lead, needs to just protect the ball and drain the clock, but scrambles and throws across his body over the middle for an easy INT, that’s not an accident or bad luck, that’s being brain dead. Every couch jockey knows that was a bad play, a horrible decision. The coach is gobsmacked. “What the hell was he thinking? What am I doing all this coaching stuff for? Why do we even bother?…”

Other situations, like when the game is getting out of hand and the going is getting tough is not the time to get into a meaningless fight with an overmatched adversary, that’s not the time to get yourself tossed out of the game. That’s the time to show fortitude and stick it out to the end, not take the easy way out.

When you get a bad bounce due to a puck hitting ref and it causes a turnover, you gulp down and keep playing hard, instead of having a little temper tantrum at them, while play is going on, which leads to a goal against. You defend, you fight, you lead. And you know the basic rules of the game. And if you don’t know them, you find out, and then take back your misguided post-game recriminations, you apologize.

These are all things that add up, that detractors focus on, especially in the midst of a losing season. But they’re all fixable. They can all be addressed. This isn’t a substance abuse issue like Zack Kassian, something which is very hard to overcome. This isn’t a problem like Jarred Tinordi, who try as hard as he might can’t quite crack the roster right now. P.K. can make changes and make tangible improvements in all these areas.

He’s a big ticket item, earning $9M for the next six years. And with the cap stagnant, with no big TV deals or other new sources of income coming online any time soon, that number isn’t going to look better any time soon. So he’s not allowed to have poor seasons any more. We can’t point to his youth as an excuse any more. P.K. needs to be every bit the on-ice take-charge superstar that Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby are.

I’m confident P.K. will rise to the challenge.

P.K. Subban's noble charitable endeavours should not be downplayed.

(June 23)

I feel the criticism, or at least the attempt to downplay the import of P.K. Subban's charity work, by pointing out that it’s not coming out of his pocket, misses the mark.

First and foremost, the intention is genuine, and ambitious. He could like other players restrict his endeavours to a charity golf tournament and then some appearance work with the team. He goes well beyond that, and is generating excitement for the cause, leaving a lasting legacy in his adoptive hometown.

Also, the idea that it’s not coming out of his pocket is strictly true only in the narrowest sense. It is true that it’s his foundation that will donate the money, and that he’s ‘only’ undertaken to fundraise the amount.

But that’s neither here nor there. If P.K. wasn’t spending his time fundraising for l'Hopital pour Enfants, he could/might whore himself out to the highest bidder, do commercials for XYZ Foods and Napalm Derivatives. He could raise all that money for himself, by doing more appearance and endorsement work that goes to him. So in a way, he’s paying at least that opportunity cost.

Or, he could spend that time at a pool party in Vegas with Jarrett Stoll. He could be out carousing and racing around in his “Roi du Camion” freebie monster truck, with a lift kit so high that you can’t steer around curves or trees too well.

That he brings his magnetism and charisma and fame to bear on this cause, that he spends lots of time and energy on this cause is laudable. This isn’t a time to look for warts.

If people want to knock P.K. for his poor play or lack of consistency last season, for his brain-cramp giveaways, they can go right ahead, we can discuss those. But to try to advance an agenda by minimizing the value of his donation is dishonest, or at least shows a lack of understanding.

Canadiens' non-rivals Maple Leafs have found their way.

(June 22)

I have to admit I’m really impressed by what the Leafs have accomplished.

I thought the Phil Kessel-Dion Phaneuf-Dave Clarkson troika of contracts would be around their necks for years, millstones they couldn’t shake. Instead, in little more than one season, they’ve unloaded all three, with only a million per year retained from Phil’s contract.

They outbid the Sabres and Wings extravagantly for the putative best coach in the business, showing that money is really no object, in this cap-less area anyway.

They were resolute in their tank manoeuvering, didn’t blink, went straight to the bottom, shamelessly. And then they got lucky in the lottery, winning it with their paltry 20% chance.

They are amassing picks and prospects, have a wealth of options at the draft table this season, and have spent some of that capital on a steady goaltender already, acquired relatively cheaply.

The Leafs are not a circus anymore, and even better, they seem to be going away from the Colton Orr-Wade Belak truculence philosophy, Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas picking many smallish but very skilled players in the last draft.

I’ve always said I don’t hate the Leafs, my real rivals are the Nordiques, Bruins and Flyers, in that order, the Leafs are just like any other North Stars or Barons or Golden Seals, an adversary that we play occasionally. I also said that if they got rid of their Darcy Tuckers and Tie Domis I’d even cheer for them to do well in the playoffs, as long as they weren’t playing the Canadiens.

Well, their job is almost done. All that remains is for them to unload mega-douche Nazem Kadri and they’re all set for my affable respect and relative support.

Still another study shows Trevor Timmins is a good at finding talent in the NHL draft.

(June 22)

In recent seasons, I’ve linked to and wrote posts about analyses of the NHL Draft, about which teams are successful, and which are not finding success. We found that time and again, whatever criteria the analyses used, the Canadiens and Trevor Timmins did very well, placing at the top of the league, or the Top 3, etc.

The last couple of seasons the criticism of Trevor Timmins has grown more strident, and I’d try to re-post those articles, to show that while the Canadiens do whiff on a pick once in a while, looking at the big picture, and compared to other teams, we really are doing pretty well. I did allow that the studies were a little stale by now though, and more recent studies might show that the Canadiens have tailed off a little.

Here’s an example of an up-to-date study by Ted Wyman of the National Post, which confirms my suspicion that the more recent drafts haven’t been as successful on average for the Canadiens, and that their standing might have fallen in these rankings.

The Canadiens rank twentieth in terms of their average draft ranking compared to other teams since 2005, the year of the Sidney Crosby draft, yet they rank 15th overall in terms of games played by the players picked with those picks. So we’re doing substantially better than expected.

There’s another gauge of success the study uses, ‘Points by Picks’, which I’m not sure how is measured. For example, how do the Canadiens receive points for Carey Price? What about defencemen? I couldn’t find the methodology, will have to dig deeper, but in this instance also, the Canadiens rank 15th also, despite having the 20th-best picks.

It would also be interesting to try to fold in the cost of picks surrendered through trades, what kind of value you derive from those, are they squandered (Thomas Vanek) or a wise investment (Jeff Petry).

So there’s room for improvement, but compared to teams like the Panthers, who have the 4th-best picks but the 26th-best results, we’re doing really well. And Trevor Timmins needs to be given the benefit of the doubt. He knows what he’s doing.

And he’ll prove that he does, if he drafts Mikhail Sergachev on Friday.

Monday, 30 May 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But all that size and talent though…

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

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