Monday, 9 July 2018

Jack Todd on the Montréal Canadiens' brutal online fans

Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette isn't everyone's cup of tea, and his weekly opinion pieces, often dealing with the Canadiens, regularly generate a wave of online opprobrium.  I don't find I disagree with him that often, or that he's that far out in left field, so I don't really get the opposition to his work. 

His latest column, for example, hits the nail right on the head.  In it, he strongly condemns the backlash aimed at Shea Weber after the announcement of his latest medical setback, which will see him miss games until roughly mid-December.  Mr. Todd rightly describes Shea as a superb defenceman and teammate. 

He then carries on to the more generalized hatred of self-described Habs fans, targeted at every recent coach and GM the team has had:
But from Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin to Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien and then Claude Julien, hating Canadiens management has become an obsession so out-of-control psychiatrists could do a useful study on the deranged fans of Montreal.
My disgust with such fans (and some of the media types who stoke the feeding frenzy out of their own misplaced anger) has never been so complete. The same people who sneer at the Canadiens for their inability to get a meeting with free agent John Tavares feel free to revile a player like Weber, without making the connection. Yes, we have potholes and high taxes and cold weather but this city also has some of the most vicious fans you can find.
Now, I've brought up before the intense, disproportionate media attention our team and players receive, which is great for the bottom line of the team in terms of the free publicity, but which will make more reserved players than P.K. a little skittish.  Add on top of that the amount of online blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook sites, most of it unmoderated and fighting for clicks, and you get a toxic atmosphere surrounding the team. 

Montréal is a great town, but for your average NHLer, so is Tampa or Dallas.  We're not going to win selling UFAs on the charms of the Vieux-Montréal when both the head coach and the GM have their families remain in Boston and Chicago, respectively, when we have black-clad and masked ninja photographers stalking Steven Stamkos around town.  We're not going to win when we harass our best player to the point that his wife has to make a public statement on Instagram that there is no trouble in their marriage.
 And here:
This kind of stuff is why our team will never win.  Sure, taxes, weather, blah blah blah, but this craziness is why free agents will not come here, why current players will add a Montréal surcharge to sign here instead of a Tampa Bay discount to remain.
When a player's wife has to post on Instagram to announce to the feverish masses that they are not experiencing marital trouble, we have a problem.  When Steven Stamkos tweets out a picture of a black-clad and masked ninja photographer following him around town, we have a problem.
When a public establishment pulls a disgusting stunt like this and thinks it will go over well, we have a problem.
When the GM and the head coach's families remain in Chicago and Boston respectively instead of moving to Montréal, we have a problem.  The GM doesn't have a leg to stand on when he tries to sell a 28 year old married guy on pulling up stakes and moving his family to Montréal to play here.
Our fixation on the most microscopic details of our team, while never giving any player or staff or executive an inch of leeway, and taking anything to the negative to the cynical extreme ('foxhole', 'no excuses'), dooms us to being also-rans, with B-grade acquisitions, and with soured players mailing it in to earn a ticket out of town.

So I see that Mr. Todd and I are in lockstep on this subject, if it's not a case of him reading my posts...

I don't know that there's an answer to what is happening right now.  That John Tavares wouldn't even take a meeting with the team, that the prestige, the opportunity to be a god in Québec if he brought home the Stanley Cup, didn't even register with him, that should have been the wakeup call for fans to look in the mirror, to wonder whether they should maybe turn it down a notch.  If it didn't hit home earlier, when Marc Bergevin would flatly state that a lot of players plain don't want to play here.

But no.  I see disgusting memes by shlock twitter accounts with crude photoshops mocking Shea Weber, a proud warrior who should get better treatment from all of us.

Even when the Canadiens were winning, surprising teams that looked better on paper than ours, we hounded Michel Therrien, ridiculed Raphaël Diaz and mocked David Desharnais, whose sin was that he once centred Erik Cole to a career year and Max Pacioretty to his breakout season.  We assured each other that the coach played favourites with David, gave him preferential treatment over Lars Eller. 

When Daniel Brière wrote in his book that Mr. Therrien was actually very harsh in his treatment of Max and David, this was soft-pedaled by the online hackjob artists, since it didn't fit their narrative.

If the pressure and the criticism was that bad when the team was winning, was actually one or two players away from contending (as we assured each other), what's going to happen when the Canadiens struggle next season, and beyond?

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Canadiens trade Tomas Plekanec for Leafs' 2nd-rounder, Rychel

The Canadiens have traded Tomas Plekanec to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a second-round pick in 2018 and prospects Kerby Rychel and Rinat Valiev.

Okay, now we're cooking with gas.  Another second-rounder to add to the pile, trying to undo the damage of assets frittered away.  Hmmmm, fritters...

This is a 'due diligence' trade from the Canadiens, as in, in this situation, a lost season and a 35-year-old UFA-to-be on your hands in a market depleted of centres at the trade deadline, it was a no-brainer.  Any GM who didn't make this trade would have been charged with dereliction of duty, like Jim Benning sitting on Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata two seasons ago.

Glad that the Insiders who kept repeating that Tomas' value was low, that the Canadiens would reap a fourth, maybe a third-round pick for him, were proven incorrect.  In your face, Dreger!

I would have preferred receiving another pick, a third or a fourth next year, something like that, instead of Kerby Rychel and Rinat Valiev as sweeteners, but that's just me, I'd always go for picks.  I'd trade your mothers for picks if I could.  Miserly Lou wasn't going to toss those around like candy, that sour cuss.  So he unloaded a couple of gently-used beaters on us instead.

Rinat Valiev is one of those guys who was hyped as a potential high-second-rounder his year in the draft, but who 'fell' to the third.  Then again, every year there are thirty or fourty of those guys, guys we're told could sneak in the bottom of the first round or top of the second round, according to the wonks, so they can't all be right.  It's just basic math.

By now we've all read the scouting reports, a kid who has tools and some talent and size but hasn't put it all together yet.  His career trajectory is a bit lower than when he was being polished up for the draft, but he and Éric Gélinas give Marc Bergevin two big lefties on the blue line in the AHL who can sub in as a #6 D this season and possibly beyond that.  And it allows Marc Bergevin even more latitude to Sell! Sell! Sell! on Joe Morrow, Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson Jakub Jerabek David Schlemko.  A low-round pick will do for any and all of these stiffs, and if Nos Glorieux get even worse this season by doing these deals, so be it (see: Dählin, Jöñathån).

Kerby Rychel is a little different story.  While he's roughly the same type of prospect as Rinat Valiev at this point, a stalled talent who now must go through waivers to be sent down to the AHL, he comes with a first-round pedigree, name recognition, and a history of being one of those guys that the Canadiens/Marc Bergevin/Trevor Timmins 'liked' his draft year.  The Columbus Blue Jackets drafted him at #19, while the Canadiens cooled their heels at #25, eventually ending up with Mike McCarron.

posted on this at the time, how a video from the Jackets' website followed their draft process, how it showed GM Jarmo Kekalainen answering a phone call minutes before it was their turn, from Marc Bergevin trying to move up in the first round.  Mr. Kekalainen declined, but the scuttlebutt was that the Canadiens were after either Kerby Rychel or Anthony Mantha, depending on whose crystal ball you trust.

In any case, Kerby Rychel is a kind of player who we don't have enough of, a big rough-and-tumble winger who can still pot goals and produce offensively, kind of like a Nicolas Deslauriers with a higher upside?  The Laval Rocket is in dire straits right now, and they'll benefit from his addition to the roster, this season and beyond.  

The Canadiens promised that the Laval Rocket would provide good, exciting hockey for its fans, and that the years of missing the playoffs for the farm team were over, that the kids had to develop in a competitive environment.  Mission objectives were not met this season.  I have to believe that Sylvain Lefebvre's goose is finally well and truly cooked, that results have to mean something by now.  And looking ahead to next season, Mike McCarron and Nikita Scherbak will be with le Grand Club, so Marc Bergevin has to think about getting some talent on the Rocket, getting the fans excited and some wins on the board.  

So generally, the Canadiens organization is short of talent, short of prospects, short of young players who can step in for a few games and contribute.  Both these young players will add organizational strength, and I can see how this trade helps both teams.  We're talent-starved and prospect-deficient to the point of rickets, so these two kids shore up the system.  Meanwhile, the Leafs have had a good look at these two, don't see them being key contributors in the short or medium term, and they know they can't keep them all, what with waivers and the 50-contract limit and the looming expansion draft.  Good trade for both sides.

Farewell Tomas, you were a dedicated soldier who represent us well.  Good luck the rest of the season and beyond.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Jack Black's polka fail.

Watching Jack Black play a new character/alter ego, a polka band leader:

1)  This is the uncomfortable intersection between shtick, performance and satire.

2)  It's not a very good polka song, or even a good song.

3)  John Candy and Eugene Levy as brothers Yosh and Stan Schmenge did a much better job of spoofing/honouring polka.

4)  I have inconsistent feelings and opinions when it comes to artists evolving through musical genres.  When Charlie Watts wants to branch out on his own and explore jazz and graduate from the dirty adolescent phase the Rollings Stones incarnated, as he careened through his fifties and sixties, as contrasted with Mick Jagger still having to prance and preen on stage as a grandfather, I applaud that.  Same with Bob Mould or Paul Westerberg or Paul Weller, starting out as punk/garage band members and angry young men, then mellowing out and turning more introspective and melodic.  Better that than be Iggy Pop, still with his shirt off and playing the cuckoo bird on stage in his fifties.

Some progressions seem more manufactured.  When critically-revile Metal Queen Lee Aaron decides to ditch the shiny bikinis and suggestive swords and becomes a jazz chanteuse, and tells me on MuchMusic with a straight face that this has always been her first love, I feel patronized and used.  You lied to me before or you're lying to me now, but most probably you were lying both times and you're never not lying.  

5)  When Jack Black spoofs/honours 70s classic metal in Tenacious D, I buy in, completely.

But with the polka thing, I couldn't even get through the whole video.  It's like this was his fifth or sixth best or last idea, like Mike Myers' "Love Guru".

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Canadiens trade Al Montoya to Oilers for draft pick.

The Canadiens have traded one of their surplus of goalies, namely Al Montoya, to the Oilers in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick.

For me, this is a huge win.  After years of letting Tom Gilberts and Alex Radulovs walk away on July 1 instead of cashing them in at the previous trade deadline, and a couple of seasons where we, an already talent-poor and prospect-starved team, get picked clean on waivers, surrendering Mike Condon, Mark Barberio and Brandon Davidson for nothing in return, and when we were the suckers surrendering draft picks for the Steve Otts and the Brian Flynns of the world, we're now doing the opposite.  We're trading our no-names on expiring contracts to playoff hopefuls and banking draft picks for Trevor Timmins.

We're headed into the draft with a first, three seconds, a third, and three fifth rounders.  The two extra fifths, courtesy of the Torrey Mitchell and Al Montoya trades, could become fourth-round picks.

We're short our fourth, sixth and seventh this year, and one of the second-rounders, obtained in the Lars Eller trade, was liable to land in Steve Yzerman's pocket at the onset of the season, a result of the Drouin-Sergachev trade.  So, since I've often bemoaned recently that we'd show up for drafts with five picks while the Leafs and Lightning had nine to play with, we're turning this ship around.

There's more assets we can realize before March 1.  Tomas Plekanec, Andrew Shaw, Paul Byron, Daniel Carr, Byron Froese, Jordie Benn, Antti Niemi, they're all burning a hole in my pocket.  Come on down.  No reasonable offer refused.  Everything must go.

Next season, Mike McCarron and Nikita Scherbak aren't waiver-exempt any longer.  They have to be on the team.  We have to make room for them.  Let's clear out some pieces which have some value to other teams, but which to us in the grand scheme of things will make no difference, whether we make or miss the playoffs, whether we win a round or not.  Jordie Benn won't win or lose us a Stanley Cup.  Let's flip him for a pick and move on.

We got Al Montoya as the steady-eddie who'd spell Carey and solidify things in nets, after the Mike Condon rollercoaster put us off our feed in 2016.  He never really did that job, he had some uneven performances, and this season got injured and couldn't do his part.  Now it looks like Carey will be in net even more than usual, as the coaches try to play catchup.  In that environment, we had no use for Al, especially when it seemed that Charlie Lindgren can do just as well as he does, and when Mr. Niemi can lead us to Rasmus Dahlin just fine.

So to take a UFA-signee like Al Montoya, a player we got for free and who underwhelmed, and turn him into a shot at the dart board in June, that's a big plus.  It's a step in the right direction.  In a season when we let Andrei Markov leave, when we traded away Mikhail Sergachev, and when we signed Karl Alzner to that huge contract, I'll take those small steps forward.

EDIT: Evidently, Eric Engels is copying off my homework...

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Game 27: Canadiens 10, Red Wings 1

On the 22nd anniversary of the Patrick Roy meltdown at the Forum against the Wings, the one that precipitated a seething feud between goalie and head coach Mario Tremblay into an outright divorce, the Canadiens shellacked Detroit 10-1, a bit of karma that salved the wound not at all.

(Reading: Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated on the fallout of that December 6 1995 game.)

1)  The boys on Sportsnet kept referring to what a difference a week makes, how everyone was calling for heads to roll at le Nouveau Forum, but four wins had made all that die down.  I want to introduce the Sportsnet talking heads to my confrères at ex-HIO/RATW.

2)  I'm not the only one who keeps it front of mind that the Canadiens have feasted on the Sabres, Senators and Red Wings on this streak, right?

How bad is the new Adams Division?  The Lightning are the best team in hockey, the Leafs are good and on the rise, and then it's a mishmash of mediocrity.

3)  I'm a Posi-Troll, but I do not take heart from this mini resurgence.  If anything, I think this is when we strike, while the iron is hot.  Let's unload Jordie Benn and Andrew Shaw for draft picks while they're playing well and we're dealing from a position of relative strength, rather than one of Houleian crisis.

4)  "Ken, that kid Byron who just lit your boys up last night, I hear you're interested?  You can have him for the Mantha kid, if Blashill doesn't like him.  Throw in Ouellet and his -2 from last night, and you can have Benn or Davidson, either or.  Hell take both, and give me a second-rounder, and we're square."

5)  Since when do the Canadiens' blue helmets come with a black chinstrap instead of white?  I'm always the last to notice these things, I admit.  A couple seasons back, there was a picture of Chris Chelios, just a head shot with him wearing a red helmet, and I was arguing that it was of him with the Wings or Blackhawks, not the Canadiens, since the red tint was wrong.  Someone pointed out patiently that yes, it must not be from his Canadiens days, since our boys don't have red helmets, just white ones and blue ones.  Until that moment, I would have sworn and put my hand in the fire that the Canadiens wore red helmets.  They must, right?

6)  Is Nicolas Deslauriers the player we thought Devante Smith-Pelly/Stefan Matteau would be?  I've been uncharitable towards Mr. Deslauriers, I must admit, when he was a Sabre.

7)  Charles Hudon is going to be a useful forward.  And it's nice that Jacob de la Rose got on the scoreboard finally.  I don't have high expectations, just want him to be what Lars Eller was, a big body third-line centre who can skate all day, chip in 12 goals a season, and back down from Nazem Kadri when the going gets rough.

8)  David Schlemko and Jakub Jerabek are an uptick on Brendan Davidson and Joe Morrow, and relieve the pressure on a fading Victor Mete, but I'd still take Andrei Markov on my team.  Even if he deserted us.  Until Rasmus Dahlin gets here.

9)  An off-night for Max Pacioretty, the only forward to not garner a point for the Canadiens.  Meanwhile, Alex Galchenyuk bags four assists.  François Gagnon on L'Antichambre pointed out how he was quietly effective, didn't try anything overly spectacular, just got the puck to the open man and did his job.

10)  Carey almost got the shutout, stopped 22 of 23 shots.  All these scrimmages against the weak sisters of our division are hopefully doing wonders for his confidence, and rounding him into form, working out the kinks and the ouchies.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Game 24: Canadiens 3, Sabres 0

Okay, so we can't beat the Coyotes, but we have the Sabres' number.

--We won the game, but the Sabres won the Dahlin Derby, or this round of it anyway.

--Alex Galchenyuk can't buy a break.  He committed the mortal sin of scoring a goal when we were leading 1-0.  Thus giving us the worst lead in hockey, the dreaded two-goal lead.

--I barely saw Nathan Beaulieu.  Not that I was searching for him, maybe he had a steady, no-crisis game.  But he's not taken the step we dreaded he might in Buffalo, where he becomes an effective puck-moving Top 4 defenceman.

I'd still take him on our team though, over Jordie Benn, Brandon Davidson, Joe Morrow, or (nearly) 6 Million Dollar Man Karl Alzner.

--Carey is going to (mess with our stuff) if he keeps this up.  He'll get us a dozen or two meaningless points that will only (mess) with our draft ranking.  Blast his cool, smooth, effortless goaltending style.  Not a Charlie Lindgren bobble rebound.  Not one instance when he swam in his crease with his back to the shooter à la Mike Condon.

--It bears repeating that Nicolas Deslauriers made a name for himself in the LHJMQ as a defenceman.  He said last night on l'Antichambre that he was an offensive defenceman who never fought, it just never came up since it wasn't his role.  He figured out that he'd need to fight, more often than he expected, if he was to stick in the NHL.

I first found this out on a Québec blog, from the same guy who follows the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and who had a major man-crush on Sven Andrighetto, well before he was drafted by the Canadiens.  That blogger has described Nicolas Deslauriers as a "dominant" defenceman while he played for the Huskies, which I have to believe is a stretch, a misuse of the word 'dominant', but still.

--Jakub Jerabek has looked decent so far, certainly more noteworthy than Joe Morrow or Brandon Davidson. 

--Anti Niemmi should get a couple more starts, to ease Carey in, and give Al Montoya all the time he needs, and then a month beyond that.  Hopefully Mr. Niemmi can show some good performances, and we can flip him down the road to another team in need of a backup for another conditional fifth or thereabouts. 

--I know low-round picks have a very low chance of amounting to anything, and at the same time, we have unrealistic expectations of what a fifth-rounder can be because of Brendan Gallagher, but the secret in my mind is to have plenty of these picks.  Once you get to that level, you can take a chance on players who you might have had as a Do Not Draft, since you wouldn't take that player with a second-round pick where he was slated to go.  Now in the fifth-round, maybe you overlook those giant warts and take a flier on a player who has some great skill and/or upside, but is slow-footed (Mark Stone) or a coaching headache (Anthony Duclair).

I've been jealous of what Tampa has been able to do with their sackful of draft choices lately, being able to pick up Anthony Cirelli in the third round in 2015, Mathieu Joseph in the fourth round, and Bokondji Imama in the sixth, and Brayden Point in the late third in 2014.

Let's give Trevor Timmins a chance to work his magic, give him and his crew a shot at wowing us again, with a bunch of shots at the dart board where they can explore riskier options.  Let's allow them to, when presented with Lukas Vejdemo or Nicolas Roy, think "Why not both?"

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Torrey Mitchell traded to Kings for conditional fifth-round draft pick.

The Canadiens have traded Torrey Mitchell to the L.A. Kings for a conditional fifth-round pick.  If the Kings make the playoffs, the Canadiens will instead receive the 2018 fourth-round pick they gave up last season in exchange for Dwight King.

This trade makes me disproportionately happy.  For five years now, I've wished that we divest ourselves of non-core players or stalled prospects for low-round draft picks, to go back to the well again and try our luck. 

Torrey Mitchell served us well, was a welcome addition in that he was a true centre who shot right, so he helped us out when our only centres were all lefties (David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Manny Malhotra, Lars Eller, etc.)  He was a local boy who was happy to be in Montréal, a veteran who'd won before, who complemented our arsenal of swift, fleet-footed forecheckers who might not think the game at a high-level offensively, might not score a lot, but did mesh well with the high-tempo puck pursuit and fast-break offence of Michel Therrien. 

Last season, he had a kaboom of a start to the season, when he and Phillip Danault and Paul Byron/Brian Flynn overwhelmed opposition fourth lines with their speed, and he and Phillip would split the faceoff duties, Torrey taking those on the right, Phillip those on the left.  It was a very good fourth line, and should have provided Tomas Plekanec more leash to focus on offence, if he hadn't chosen to hibernate for another winter.

This season though, with Jacob de la Rose and Charles Hudon needing to be rostered or lost on waivers, with Mike McCarron looming as a potential right-shot fourth-line centre, and with his effectiveness waning at least in the points column, Torrey wasn't even a regular, he'd been healthy-scratched a few times.  Either his footspeed is declining, or he's not a fit for Claude Julien's puck support five-man breakouts, but he was a diminishing asset. 

We'd acquired Torrey from the Sabres for a seventh-round pick and Jack Nevins, a middleweight scrappy enforcer in the OHL who we'd taken a flier on as an undrafted UFA, and who looks like he'll be a minor leaguer at best.  We made good use of Torrey's services, and now swap him for a fifth-round pick.  That's a win.  Would that every acquisition work out like that, like Dale Weise, rather than those of Mike Condon or Sven Andrighetto.

I understood Marc Bergevin's reasons for acquiring Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn, they were useful vets who'd bring a right shot to balance out our roster, who could play wing or centre.  But it always stuck in my craw that we didn't instead use Gabriel Dumont in that role, he was an agile rightie who can play centre, and who brings grit and toughness to boot.  Now, I'm not going to argue that Gabriel is just as good as Torrey, he's clearly not.  Torrey has had a long, productive NHL career, while Gabriel is still trying to establish himself, he just got waived by the Lightning and picked up by the Sens. 

But we had Gabriel in our system, we'd already spent a draft pick to acquire him and years developing him in the AHL.  Maybe he's not as good as Torrey Mitchell or Brian Flynn, but the difference is marginal.  He won't be the reason you win or lose games. 

You give Gabriel an opportunity.  You 'live with his mistakes'.  You energize your farmhands ("That could be me next!")  You develop him, groom him, and maybe get to swap him later on for a draft pick if he tops out.  It's the Circle of Life. 

In the short term, maybe you're better off spending draft picks acquiring fringe players, maybe your team is slightly better on the ice, but it's organizationally counterproductive to do so.  That's how you show up at the draft every June without a second-round pick, with only five picks, while Tampa has nine and Toronto has ten.  This is how we lose the race, as we have for decades now.  We constantly bitch about being broke, but go out to a restaurant dinner and blow fourty bucks we could have spent on a bag of rice and veggies and chicken that would have fed us for the week.

So, good trade.  Finally.  Sorry to see a homeboy like Torrey go.  Maybe he can return and work for the organization after his playing career is done.  We need guys like him.  But this trade is a step in the right direction, in a lost season.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 8 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 5 October 2017

My position paper on Victor Mete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don't drag down Victor Mete with you.