Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Canadiens in the Salary-Cap era

On the subject of tanking, let’s take for granted that it is not reasonable for the Canadiens to endure a prolonged streak of being in the cellar. It is not acceptable in this market and with the history of this franchise. The best/worst-case-scenario is the Canadiens hovering in 9th or 10th place at the deadline and suffering a significant injury (read: Price, Carey), when the management team might go scorched earth and fire-sale all the marketable veterans for future assets.

I’ve been thinking along these same lines for a while. In a salary cap league, what areas can the Canadiens outperform the Avalanche or Predators in?  If we can’t use our resources on salaries, and have to let a Sheldon Souray or Mark Streit walk away periodically, where else can we spend that money?

Important pieces are already in place, with facilities (New Forum and practice facility) that the players rave about, and play in our favour when free agents need to make a decision. The fanbase is another asset that mostly plays in our favour again, Daniel Brière excepted.

Other areas I would like the Canadiens to invest in:

1) Analytics: If this isn’t already being done, it should be. Like shown in Moneyball, there are market inefficiencies that should be exploited. Mr. Gauthier admitted at the last Draft that once you get to the third round, you’re picking through players that other teams didn’t want. Let’s figure out which players historically have the highest chance of being an important contributor (US College, Europe, early or late birthdays, freakishly big (Byfuglien) or small (St-Louis), injured during draft year, etc.)

2) Scouting: It boggles my mind that very recently, or maybe even currently, the Canadiens don’t have a dedicated Quebec scout. They should have ten. They should know each prospect, draft eligible or not, underager or overager in the University league, by heart. They should have ten in Europe. Think how cheap a scout is, maybe $200 000 all in with travel expenses, when it can mean the difference in finding a Zetterberg or Datsyuk or Andrei Markov or Dustin Byfuglien. We should outspend all other teams in the league when it comes to scouting. Mr. Molson, I promise we will drink nothing but Molson if you do so.

3) Coaching: The Canadiens should have the best and brightest coaches all the time. That’s what US Colleges do for football, since they can’t (openly) spend on players. Each team (here and Hamilton) should be replete with coaches with specific areas of responsibility (forwards, defence, special teams, video, advance scouting, strength and conditioning, …) so that players have all the support they will ever need, on-ice or in the gym or the video room or to help with their mental preparation.

4) Pro Personnel staff: I was surprised to hear from Ryan McDonough recently when he was asked about the trade to New York that he hadn’t really heard from the Canadiens in a long while, and was about to head to the development camp and was looking forward to it in part so he’d be in contact with his future bosses. I don’t know how NHL organizations work, but in general that is a horrible thing to hear from one of your prospects. We should have people dedicated to staying in touch with our draftees, giving them any kind of support they need. The strength and conditioning coaches should have one or two people assigned to these guys and make regular contact with them, by phone or occasionally, regularly, in person. There are players out there who are ‘can’t miss’ or who have the drive and support with their home team (Brendan Gallagher) that won’t need this, but I believe most kids would benefit from this close attention. Mr. McDonough would have.

5) Wives: If we want our players to be happy in Montreal and to want to remain here, an important part of that equation would be to make sure the player wives are not isolated and homesick and frustrated. Again, I’m not sure how NHL organizations work in this regard, and it is probably the most delicate item on my list, but every effort should be made to welcome and acclimate families when they get here, and lots of support should be provided, whether with language or educational issues or simply opportunities to integrate in the Montreal community.
Roberto Luongo hasn’t had an easy time in Vancouver, and part of it has been his wife being homesick and missing her family in Florida. She spent a season or two back there while Roberto was playing for the Canucks, and that may have affected him and may also have affected management in overspending to ensure he stays despite these issues. If the Luongo family was happier to be in Vancouver, the situation right now might be quite different.

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