Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Who holds Patrick Roy accountable if he coaches the Canadiens?

The question was posed: would Patrick Roy be held accountable by the organization, the media and the fans if he was named coach of the Canadiens?

Organization: I think Patrick would demand and receive a 5 year contract, which would give him a little bit of security and autonomy over and above the financial security he currently enjoys. I think that’s a positive in this case, he’d be taking the job not because he wants a bump in pay, and then coach so as to cling to the salary and position, but rather to win.
Marc Bergevin and his team would probably deal with Patrick as an equal rather than a callow underling. That still implies a level of accountability, and I would argue probably a higher level. I’ve held positions where my direct superior is a buddy and someone I knew socially before they became my boss. They trusted me to deliver and didn’t micromanage me, so I got lots of autonomy, but also felt an inner need to succeed and not let anyone down for personal reasons, over and above any classic employee-boss relationship. I think Patrick would have and need input and a seat at the table, but would also be driven to deliver, and would understand that failure and discord wouldn’t be tolerated.
Geoff Molson has shown to be a patient, thoughtful man. He let the incumbents do their job when he took over instead of autocratically cleaning house as was done in Winnipeg for different reasons. Once he realized that the management team was dysfunctional, he decisively but skillfully went about making changes. He’s no imperious George Steinbrenner-type, but he’s also shown that he’s going to be involved, will care, and won’t suffer incompetence.
Media: I have a jaundiced view of the media to begin with, and the Pierre Gauthier saga just adds to it. Why were we not told that the team hated his guts or feared him? Why were not the Mike Cammalleri jersey story or the Ottawa cookie rationing incidents relayed to the people who consume sports journalism? Why were we not told of the climate of fear in the New Forum? Why was there not a comparative analysis of the way the Canadiens management operated versus a sample of others, such as the Bruins, Wings, Lightning, Coyotes, Leafs and Blue Jackets, for example? I know some will snap that sports journalists need to protect their access to the team by not antagonizing it, but then I have to respond that this access is hollow, useless to the fans. It’s like the supply clerk who won’t give you a box of pens because he’s running out of pens.
My gut is that, with respect to the very low bar set by the media who cover the Canadiens in this instance, the people who championed Patrick Roy would defend his moves and decisions until or unless that became untenable, and at that point the tide would have shifted and he would be on his way out. Conversely, those that had other favourites would give him a very short leash/honeymoon period, and start to stomp him at the first losing streak.
Fans: My guess is that 10% would love the coach unconditionally and would defend him to the end, and past that point. Heck, we have posters who advocate for Randy Cunneyworth right now, so Patrick would have his backers. Another 10% would howl with frustration at the hire and would lick their chops anytime the team didn’t win by a five goal margin. The other 80% would be the sane majority and would support Patrick and give him the benefit of a dozen doubts, win or tie.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Pierre Gauthier's micro-management muzzled Trevor Timmins

Okay, so relatively recently, I stepped forward, in the name of blogger accountability, whereby one’s opinions are attached to oneself and one must defend them or repudiate them when they are demonstrated to be false, and admitted to having offered an opinion on this forum that was not as bang-on as practically everyone of my other posts. It was a trifling matter, not a big deal at all, I’ve held my personal glasnost on this matter, everyone else was allowed to Air their Grievances, we’ve moved on since then, and we’re all better friends for it.
I am now moved to attend to another matter. After last year’s draft, many posters decried Pierre Gauthier’s organizational decision that he would speak to the media about the draft, not Trevor Timmins. These posters stated that this was Mr. Timmins’ one opportunity to shine each year, and he was the most well equipped to speak on the prospects that were chosen by the Canadiens, so that to prevent him from doing so was a disservice to him and the team.
I took the opposite view. I have worked in many organizations where the policy is that only the President or his designates or the person ultimately responsible on scene is allowed to speak to the media. This ensures that the organization can shape its message and that it speaks with a united voice. Right or wrong, this practice is familiar to me, so it didn’t faze me that Mr. Gauthier would decree that the Canadiens would function that way. I argued that his head was on the chopping block if these decisions don’t pan out, so he should be the one to speak for the organization. It made sense to me at the time.
I now officially retract that statement, and concur with the others that Mr. Timmins should be allowed to speak on matters of the draft and the team’s prospects. Marc Bergevin’s way of doing business, of decentralizing decision-making and of allowing subordinates to spread their wings is a much preferable climate than Mr. Gauthier’s now-revealed Reign of Terror.
I still think that both communications strategies have value, but what the posters decried last June, and they were proven right, was that Mr. Gauthier was micro-managing, behaving in an imperious manner, and was clipping the wings of those in what should have been his entourage. In this they were proven right. Since he was let go, we were told the Ottawa cookie story, the fact that his players feared/detested him, the Mike Cammalleri game-worn jersey story, the knee-jerk quality to some of his decisions, instead of a committee approach… I defended his communications strategy as nothing to worry about, as an accepted business practice. The detractors were proven right that this behaviour was symptomatic of something fundamentally wrong with his management style and his persona. I wanted to come forward and admit that.
So I was wrong on that count. That’s two that I’ll admit to. I kind of forget what was the first one, maybe I’ve blocked it out. We do what we can to preserve our self-image.
As far as the love for Mr. Timmins , I agree that he’s shown a good eye for talent, but what has me even more excited is the statement by Mr. Bergevin that he will beef up the scouting team, and Mr. Molson’s assertion that the team will not spare any effort or resources to win. Taken together, this is a very positive development.
We sometimes pine for the days of Sam Pollock, for a wizard who would routinely pull a rabbit out of a hat, and would outfox other organizations. Those days are over, we won’t be able to fool other teams as we have in the past, there is too much available info out there for us to rely on that to succeed. What we can do is build a solid organization, with strong teams in the scouting and player development areas. We can have young lieutenants getting their feet wet and being groomed to take over if the next Guy Boucher or Julien Brisebois is cherry-picked by another organization. With these strong management teams, what we can do is outwork the other teams, and ensure that we get the best prospects possible and then give them all the advantages they need to reach the NHL and contribute to our next great dynasty.

Petr Nedved and the Vancouver Canucks' sad draft day dirge

Holy flashback Batman, a Petr Nedved sighting at the World Championships! I didn’t know he was still playing.
You think Montréal suffers from draft revisionism, from first pick remorse. You should hear them here in Vancouver. Alex Stojanov, Jason Herter, Dan Woodley, they play the same broken record we play. And Dan from Edmonton has the same tale of woe, post 1990.
The 1990 draft, whenever it is brought up, is always referred to as the Great Miss, and the bellyaching commences ipso facto. First, the Canucks drafted ‘hometown hero’ Petr Nedved, since he played in their backyard with the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Canucks have had the same luck drafting Thunderbirds in the first round as the Canadiens have (see, Vallis, Lindsay; Stevenson, Turner; Bilodeau, Brent) it seems. Instead of taking Hall of Fame and Stanley Cup winner Jaromir Jagr, or at least rugged centre Keith Primeau, they chose small, surly diva Petr Nedved, he of the contract holdouts and trade demands, the guy who couldn’t play in traffic they said since it would make him drop his purse.
Then late in the first round, the Canucks chose physical winger Shawn Antoski, a guy who was going to be the second coming of Cam Neely, only bigger and stronger, and a faster skater. Trouble is, he had hands of stone, and chosen immediately after the career plugger who was beset by injuries, were Keith Tkachuk, who would have filled the role of scoring tough forward nicely, and Martin Brodeur, another guy who the Canucks could have used. “Imagine Brodeur instead of Cloutier in nets”, they moan.
So it’s kind of a shock to see a smiling, happy Petr Nedved, a guy who is blamed for some lean years in Vancouver, much as we may look at Scott Gomez in years to come. He’s Andrei Kostitsyn to Vancouver fans, only way way worse, the guy they ended up with instead of the guy they should have got, and the guy who left town with a ‘Goodbye and good riddance’.

There is no other choice for coach of the Canadiens but Patrick Roy

 I was talking with my friend Mitch on Saturday about Alain Vigneault having his contract extended.  Mitch is a knowledgeable hockey fan, a diehard Canuck and a really good Men's League player (as opposed to our lower level Rec League here in Whistler).  Anyway, he kind of shrugged when we were discussing it, and agreed with me that there aren't that many coaching candidates out there that really get your attention.  In that climate, he's okay with the decision, although he feels that a lot of coaches could have done just as well with that stacked team, and that on some occasions last season Mr. Vigneault was clearly outcoached.

I commiserated with him, and explained that the Canucks probably did the right thing, and if they hadn't we would probably have snapped him up.  As it is, I told him there were real slim pickings out there for our coaching position.

Which brings me to state, again, that especially with the dearth of great coaching candidates, either guys with lots of experience and a winning background, or up-and-coming natural choices like Guy Boucher or Kirk Muller, we should not try to bunt our way on with a safe choice like Bob Hartley or Marc Crawford.  We should swing for the fences and hire Patrick Roy, instead of hiring a more middle-of-the-road candidate and then watch Mr. Roy go to another franchise within a couple of years and make us regret it.  It's kind of like when you're at the bar: you don't sell yourself short and just talk to the plain girls, you suss out the best-looking one and then go for broke, despite the hurdles and that little voice in the back of your mind that's telling you you're wasting your time.

Patrick Roy would bring fire and passion behind the bench, something we've been missing for a few seasons now.  He would bring instant credibility, no one would disrespect the Hall of Famer.  Kids would have stars in their eyes.  Much is made of his volatility, but to hear him speak nowadays you get the sense that he's a grown man, in full command of his team.  He's respectful, humble, frank, insightful.

His inexperience is the stumbling block that many point to, but like I said it's bad judgment to let the best candidate walk away on a technicality and regret it later.  He has a lot of coaching experience now, as well as GM experience in Junior, which would help him understand and participate in some of the personnel decisions.  Finally, we could surround him with experienced Assistant Coaches.  There's a whole slew of people who could help him out and ease his transition to the NHL game: Larry Robinson, Doug Jarvis, Guy Carbonneau, Guy Lapointe, Keith Acton, Gerard Gallant, etc...  I'd be very favourable to having former Canadiens who have played with him and would bring a different dynamic to that position, in that they know Patrick as a person and could call a spade a spade with him, and also call bullspit when needed.  Any fears about his temperament can be allayed this way.

So let's not settle for good enough.  Let's hire the guy who has the stuff, the winning fire, the potential to be the next great Canadiens coach, not just the next in a long line of coaches who last two and a half seasons and then get kicked to the curb.

Scott Mellanby named Canadiens' Director of Player Personnel

The Canadiens have announced that they have appointed Scott Mellanby as the Director of Player Personnel.  The director of player personnel is in charge of all the players in the Canadiens’ system except those with the Grand Club, so he will oversee the prospects in Junior, NCAA, Europe, and the AHL players. This is a hockey/human resources position.
I think this is a vital link in player development. Some guys will just naturally end up in the NHL, but some will need to be pointed in the right direction and be offered all kinds of support. I think of two guys who I’ve touched on today, Olivier Archambault and Ian Schultz. These guys need to be coached up and put on programs and have constant encouragement and coaching.
Another guy who I think needs this support is Alex Avtsin, who seems like a kid who came over to North America and put in a pro league too soon. He should probably have spent a year in junior. Anyway, after two disappointing seasons, there needs to be some focus on him and an attempt to harness all that raw talent and get it going in the right direction.
A story that staggered me, having a bit of a HR background, was one told by Ryan McDonagh, who when he was asked if he saw the trade to the Rangers coming, answered that he didn’t expect it at all. In fact, he continued, he was a couple days away from attending the Canadiens’ development camp, and was looking forward to it to find out what the team had in mind for him, since, in his words, “I hadn’t heard anything from them in a long while.” This story boggled my mind, and is why I’ve been very receptive to the idea of a bigger front office with lots of talented staff and defined priorities for each. If we had that kind of front office instead of a very small centralized hierarchy with tight control on all aspects of hockey operations, like Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier ran, the Ryan McDonagh story would never have happened as such. Heck, maybe there would have been a strong voice in place that would have advocated against trading away the kid, would have seen him as much more than just disposable trade bait.
So Scott Mellanby joins the team as Director of Player Personnel, great.
Now, let’s get some former Habs in the front office in junior roles to learn the ropes and prepare a succession plan.

Alex Galchenyuk is a gym rat? Gimme more of those please!

Some fans debate the importance of a particular draft prospect, namely Alex Galchenyuk, being a gym rat.  One fan makes the very good point that anyone drafted in the first round is either one or becomes one very quickly by dint of their chosen profession. Despite this I agree that it is an important distinction, a tag which when affixed properly helps to evaluate players.

A gym rat is someone who you can’t get rid of at the gym, he’s there everyday, sometimes twice a day, and unfailingly is there because he loves the gym. Other players who go because it’s part of their program, or because their coaches tell them to, usually don’t work out with the same dedication and intensity, take days off, etc.
Same goes for a rink rat. Some guys love hockey and everything about it. They’ll be at every practice, won’t ever miss a game, will join a couple of pickup teams or play drop-in when they can, as opposed to the guys who like hockey but take every day off that they’re entitled to, and sometimes miss a game or practice because they ‘need to study’ or ‘couldn’t get a sitter’.
Going back to the gym rat moniker, we can apply it to P.K. Subban and Mike Cammalleri, but not to guys like Ian Schultz and Ryan White and Guillaume Latendresse and Olivier Archambault. The two former players have their quirks and flaws, but have never been accused of not showing up to camp in shape or sucking wind in the third period.
Guillaume Latendresse was heavily scouted and was promised to a bright future, but physical conditioning was always a problem for him. It’s something that can easily be addressed, yet he chose to ignore this until possibly last summer. There’s no telling how much his career has been set back due to poor physical fitness.
Ryan White and Ian Schultz were both guys who had good junior careers, both with the Calgary Hitmen incidentally, but who both carried too much weight and would need to shed that to make an impression in the pro game. Ryan White was described as having a ‘bad body’ but playing well despite it, with good hockey sense. He fell to the third round in the draft, past guys who were ranked lower than him by Central Scouting like Ben Maxwell and Milan Lucic. I still wonder if his unimpressive physique, on full display at the draft Combine, made him fall a round or so. Once he had to make the jump to the AHL he understood what he needed to do and was a pleasant surprise two seasons ago with his energy and reckless style.
Ian Schultz is the guy who was destined to be known as the ‘throw-in’ in the Jaro Halak-Lars Eller trade, a guy who was out of his league in the AHL. Conditioning was the main issue with him, as observers used to note. Last summer however, he showed up to camp in decent shape, having shed a few pounds and being a little bit stronger, and had a good season. He was singled out by Clément Jodoin, the Bulldogs head coach, as being the most improved player along with Joonas Nattinen.
Olivier Archambault is one of those high-risk, high-reward draft picks, although spending a fourth rounder on him was not a steep cost. He has great skill and scoring talent, but worth ethic and fitness are two question marks among many. Apparently he did nothing to address these issues this season and he again underwhelmed. He needs to wake up and pattern his habits after players like David Desharnais and Martin St. Louis, guys who look like middleweight wrestlers.
So when I read that a player like Alex Galchenyuk is a gym rat, that’s a checkmark in the plus column for me. This is not to say that other players who currently don’t spend the same amount of time in the gym will not ever do so, but since past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour, I say Mr. Galchenyuk is a step or two ahead of others in this department. A hockey player who is a gym rat/rink rat is definitely a good thing.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Rogers' livestream of the Memorial Cup is an abysmal failure

 I hope Rogers runs the Leafs with the same attention and duty of care that they showed when they trumpeted that they would provide a livestream of the Memorial Cup earlier this season.  Absolute total bush league.

Need a hockey analyst?  Hire Nick Kypreos, the goon who intentionally took out Grant Fuhr in the '96 playoff run, blew out his ACL, and effectively ended his career.

Want to bring NFL football to Canada?  Enter into an agreement with a poorly run franchise, have a press-conference where the senile owner of that franchise cackles with the dessicated owner of the broadcaster over the fact that the taxpayers of Ontario built the stadium the event will be held in and then gifted it to you so you can then gouge the same taxpayers for tickets to that event.  Make sure to appeal to the citizens' sense of civic pride.  It would be a black eye for Torontonians to not snap up every over-priced seat.  Racketeers such as Ziggy Wilf and Jim Irsay and the corpse of Al Davis would cluck their disapproval.

Puck-teased a whole country with a vow to livestream the Memorial Cup, and now you kind of have to put out?  Just throw on a horsebleep one-camera shot from the corner of the rink, with no replays or commentary or scoreclock.

You guys are heroes.

Will Danny Kristo spurn the Canadiens, like Justin Schultz with the Ducks?

Some Canadiens fans are worried that Danny Kristo's decision to not turn pro this summer but rather return to the University of North Dakota is a bad portend of things to come.  They liken it to the Justin Schultz situation with the Anaheim Ducks.  Mr. Schultz is setting up to become an unrestricted free agent by spurning Anaheim's offers, and who can blame a player in his shoes for choosing his own future as opposed to having it dictated to him by the NHL's rules?

In Danny Kristo's case though, I am not concerned.  He has never expressed any reluctance to join the Canadiens, as Justin Shultz has with the Ducks. His reasons for going back to school is that for him playing at the University of North Dakota is a boyhood dream. His options are taking a year off hockey to become a UFA, signing with the Canadiens and playing in Hamilton next season, or playing another season at UND and shoot for a Frozen Four berth and even a national championship.  It shouldn't be seen as a bad omen that he chooses to stick with his team and teammates and takes another shot at a title.
His links to the Canadiens are not strong, but neither are they tenuous. He’s good buddies with Louis Leblanc, having roomed with him in the USHL. He also played this season with Mark MacMillan at UND, so it’s likely that the two Canadiens draft picks talked to each other about the Grand Club.
His goalie at UND, Aaron Dell, had a tryout at the Canadiens development camp last season, and there was a rumour that he had signed a contract, but ultimately he returned to UND for his final season. Mr. Dell will be back at the development camp this summer, and it’s not unlikely that he may be offered a contract that he accepts.
Taking all this in consideration, with the fact that there will be a flood of rookies joining Hamilton this fall, he made a good decision to follow his heart back to UND, which won’t hurt him since he hasn’t dominated competition at the college level to the point that he doesn’t have anything left to learn there.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Ilya Kovalchuk redeems himself

You guys remember how good it seemed Illy Kovalchuk was going to be when he broke in with the Trashers? He was on the cusp of being one of the faces of the NHL. Remember the Nike commercial with Markus Naslund and him?
He then seemed to fade, with his contract status and a bad team the prime suspects for the drop-off in performance. Last summer the mammoth contract with the Devils almost turned him into a punchline.
What a difference a strong playoff run makes. He’s finally arrived at where we always thought he would get to.

The Canadiens introduce Rick Dudley as their new Assistant GM

So the Canadiens finally bring over Rick Dudley from the Toronto Maple Leafs, the hold up being tied to language regarding his non-compete clause which apparently states he will not divulge draft info gathered while working with the Leafs.  Some argue that there would be little advantage in that since the Canadiens are picking before the Leafs in most rounds, and especially in the first where we pick 3rd and the Leafs have the fifth pick.

I disagree with this view.  I think the Canadiens would benefit massively from sharing info with Mr. Dudley, and I think it is fair that this agreement has been reached.  Mr. Dudley got this information from scouts working for the Leafs organization, and it wouldn't be fair for the Canadiens to benefit from it.  In a number of industries, when an executive gets hired by a competitor, such non-compete clauses specify what areas are off-limits to discuss and within what timeframes.

As far as the benefit the Canadiens would receive from comparing info, I think the clear advantage would be in the later rounds.  Some outstanding Canadiens picks in very recent years such as Morgan Ellis, Brendan Gallagher and Darren Dietz now seem inspired.  Colin Sullivan gathered a little bit of ink lately for a seventh rounder, he was a kid with little to draw attention except his size and skating ability, but now that seventh round choice is looking good, in that he is developing nicely and is headed in the right direction.  These players were probably scouted once or twice, and background checks done as well as interviews, and on this basis they were selected when still available in the later rounds, due to whatever factors.  These selections are not quite hunches, but they're not as researched as the likely candidates in the first and second round were.

With this in mind, imagine that Trevor Timmins and his staff have quite a few dark horses that, due to less than ideal size, or injuries, or a late birthday, or poor linemates on a horrible team, or an experienced goalie ahead of a potential draftee on the depth chart soaking up all the starts, have not had a chance to shine and shoot up the rankings.  The Canadiens scouts hope to grab them in the later rounds.  These guys will have been scouted as I've said before only a couple of times, but the backgrounders and interviews will confirm what they showed on the ice and we'll get an organizational, let's say, tumescence for them.

So let's say Mr. Timmins and his team have 10 dark horses.  If he was able to pick Rick Dudley's brain and run these names past him, and finds out that he also absolutely loves 8 of them and completely agrees that they are diamonds in the rough.  One thing that does is it validates your scouting and your hunches.  Another is that it alerts you to the fact that other teams see what you see in these dark horses, and maybe you need to revise your board and create a Top 8 dark horses and leave the other two for free agent tryout contracts.  Also, maybe Mr. Dudley has info from an uncle or neighbour that the shifty small but very talented forward you're considering in the fourth round is undoubtedly the giant dick and pain in the butt that everyone says he is, so maybe you wait until the fifth or sixth for him.  As we should have done last year.

So I have no doubt that the Canadiens would derive an advantage from being able to copy from the Leafs exam sheet, and being able to consequently change a couple of answers.  I fully understand Toronto's reluctance to allow Mr. Dudley to join the Canadiens prior to the draft.

In general, his joining our staff is good news.  We saw what happens when a lone wolf GM tries to do everything by himself and micromanage every facet of the team.  The results are apparent by analyzing recent roster moves, and by the tone of comments from players such as Jaroslav Spacek.  Instead of that approach, Marc Bergevin is confident enough to surround himself with smart hockey guys, that's great news.  It allays the fear some might have had in a rookie GM being faced with such a monumental task.  Mr. Dudley along with Larry Carrière is a good brain trust with vast experience to support him.

As I've stated before, we now must also attend to the succession plan, and be ready when another team raids our front office for talent, or people decide to leave for whatever reasons.  We have to have personnel ready to assume higher positions in the organization when someone at the top moves on.  We have to have people in the front office learning the ropes and being groomed to succeed when an opportunity arises, either in Montréal or elsewhere.  It won't hurt us to have five or ten people who were groomed at the University of the New Forum working in other organizations.  They'll be good contacts to have, and a pool of candidates to draw from when we have openings as well.

Having lots of hands on deck will allow more coverage, more support for our prospects.  We shouldn't hear stories any longer like Ryan McDonagh's, when he explained that before the trade in June 2009, he was looking forward to attending the Canadiens development camp since he hadn't heard from anyone in the organization in a long time and was wondering what they expected from him.  We should have a staff of people keeping in regular contact with our prospects and visiting with them and giving any support they need.  We can do that if we have staff on hand to allocate this area to.

To fill these junior roles, I am partial to former Habs who wore the bleu blanc rouge with pride and honour.  I nominate Vincent Damphousse and Hal Gill, off the top of my head.

Vincent had to remove himself from consideration for the head job due to family commitments.  Most people know he's going through a divorce right now, and the prospect of the travel involved in the job was not feasible in his mind, he needs to be a stay at home dad.  He may be amenable to a junior role though, one that allows him to mostly stay in Montréal.  As his boys get older and he has that situation under control, he can start to assume more responsibility.

As far as Hal Gill goes, I'm not sure if he's ready for retirement from active duty, he may be able to get a contract to play somewhere, but if he wants a job with us, let's give him one.  He seems to like Montréal, his family does as well and they stayed here when he was traded to Nashville.  He's shown calm and leadership in his time here, and we've been able to overlook his Leaf and Bruin antecedents and have grown to love the guy.  He's funny, he's smart, he commands attention, let's get this guy working with our prospects on the ice, let's give him an office upstairs, let's find out what he likes to do and what he's good at, and harness the potential of that guy.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Canadiens need to add character free agents like Taylor Pyatt

Taylor Pyatt is a legitimate NHL’er who would contribute character and toughness to our lineup. He was a noble warrior in Vancouver, good contributor to the team. At the right price he would be a great addition to our club, we need a couple of players like that, and we have a few holes on our roster we need to fill.

Last year near the end, we could barely put a second line together, the third and fourth were not NHL lines. Re-signing Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche and adding a Taylor Pyatt would help hold the fort on the third and fourth line while we wait for our prospects to be ready. Adding a P.A. Parenteau and/or another forward with skill who can play on the powerplay would be ideal.
It would mean a better chance of seeing Louis Leblanc and Blake Geoffrion in Hamilton next season also, which they need to mature into the players they can become. I’m an advocate of letting kids play, but this only works when the farm team is brimming with guys who are ready to take the next step. We don’t have that situation, there’s kind of a three year gap in the supply pipeline. We don’t want to force Brendan Gallagher into a scoring role too soon, or force Aaron Palushaj to be the square peg in the round hole again.
In any case, these free agent signings, if done at the right price and term, are assets that can be flipped when the kids in Hamilton show they are ready and we need space on the roster.
The other option would be to ‘make do’ with what we have, which would mean wins would be hard to come by, and allow the team to slide in the rankings. While this would help our draft ranking for 2013, I don’t think we can run our organization that way, by accepting that we will lose. The pressure would be hard to resist as the losses mounted, and we’d be hard pressed to not rush up our prospects from Hamilton.
So in summation, Taylor Pyatt yes.

It's too early to write off René Bourque for the 2012-13 season

I know it’s trendy to write off René Bourque, a big winger who can skate and score because he had a bad stretch of fourty games, but I think it’s way too early to give up on the guy.  We seem to, in our haste to rid our roster of Scott Gomez, want to include Tomas Kaberle in the divestment, and reasonably so, but we then get caught up in the excitement and throw Mr. Bourque on the sacrificial pyre.
Here’s what he went through last season:
1) Started the year on a Flames team going through some turbulence with a new GM and lame duck coach, and with fans expecting too much from an aging lineup.
2) Two on-ice incidents that lead to suspensions. He’s called out in the media with some very strong attacks on his character, something which isn’t usually seen, unless your name is Avery or Yashin. One of the players he injured doesn’t return until the end of the season, and his name constantly re-surfaces in a negative light. Max Pacioretty explained that his suspension unsettled him and he had to re-think how he played and hit after returning to action. Mr. Bourque had to deal with two suspensions, and much stronger criticism.
3) Before he comes back from his second suspension, he is traded to the Canadiens, away from a team in his home province. His first game with the Canadiens is against the Capitals, and the spotlight is trained on him as the media expects/demands he fights to ‘face the music’.
4) The team he is now on is also in flux, with a new, even more lame-duck coach, a GM with no credibility in the league and the dressing room. They are beset with injuries, notably to the Captain and the best defenceman.
Now, a player like Brian Skrudland or Vincent Damphousse or Kirk Muller would have dealt with this tumult and risen to the occasion, but we knew going in that Mr. Bourque is not a brash, outgoing leader type of player, but rather more of a withdrawn, fragile player. It’s not surprising that he had trouble producing under these circumstances. We can hope that Marc Bergevin has some insights on how best to use and motivate him from his days with the Blackhawks. Mario Tremblay remembers him as a player difficult to play against when he was coaching the Minnesota Wild, maybe he can recapture that form here with the right coaching, teammates, linemates, and expectations.
Michel Thérrien likes to say that the easiest thing to do is to get rid of players, but the hardest is to find them. So let’s not give up on a 6’2″ 220 lbs winger who can skate and score 25 goals and can even fight when needed. He’s a player to be coached and developed, not another asset to squander.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Jaroslav Spacek speaks, as always, and trains as never before.

I can't believe the love-in for Jaroslav Spacek.  Mr. Stubbs' interview with him is enlightening, and I don't dislike Jaro, but he was horrible here, way overpaid, and his fitness was obviously lacking while he was here as demonstrated by his double chin and wobbly cheeks.  The fact that he crumpled at the merest hint of a bodycheck wasn't due to his playing on the left or right side, but rather to a lack of conditioning and advancing years.  It's actually kind of galling to now see him in the gym attending to his strength training, now that he's on the hunt for a new contract.

It seems no one here remembers that at the start of last season all everyone wanted to do was get rid of him somehow, to trade him for a bag of pucks.  We bemoaned that we couldn't bury  him in Hamilton due to his over 35 contract.

Again, never thought he was a bad guy, I appreciate that everyone said he was funny, but really, this guy was a waste of cap space for the duration of his contract here.  So let's keep things in perspective.  That he calls it as he saw it in the interview is refreshing, good on him, but let's not retire his jersey or have a re-sign Jaro protest just yet.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A Canadiens fan's wish list for the summer of 2012

My expectations for this summer:
1) A grand-slam homerun of a first-round pick, then judicious, inspired picks in the second and third rounds like we used to do, in the vein of Sergio Mommesso and Claude Lemieux and Patrick Roy, followed by a succession of great finds in the lower rounds like Morgan Ellis and Brendan Gallagher and a couple of Andrei Markovs and Jaroslav Halaks. During the broadcast, Bryan Burke fulminates as it appears his tie is strangling him after each of our picks.
2) Another bullseye free agent signing à la Erik Cole.
3) A long lost draft pick or two comes home and contributes immediately, à la Alexei Emelin, 2011′s prodigal son.
4) An overlooked LHJMQ free agent product sneaks in at camp and snags a roster spot. I want a hard luck/feel good story about how he played in the Bayou League for a season, where they have staged alligator fights to rev up the crowds and ‘get ‘em goin’ ‘, Don Cherry style. Bonus points if he’s referred and vouched for by an ex-Hab great. Extra bonus points if Max Pacioretty says he played with him and he’s the second best player he’s ever played with.
5) Colon Campbell’s email account is hacked again, and the rest of the emails are revealed to the public. It’s not good. Implicated among others are Bill Daly, Stephen Walkom, Terry Gregson, Marc Savard’s nurse, Jack Edwards, Dennis Leary, Claude Julien, Zdeno Chara’s wrestling coach, and a group of broadcasters known only as Shoe-B-boy, Mini-B-boy and B-boy-Prime. The US Justice Department investigates, along with the Royal Mounted Constabulary in Canada. The probe widens and includes Jeremy Jacobs, who quickly flips the team to a consortium led by Jean Ratelle and Raymond Bourque. He’s led away in handcuffs at his hastily called press conference to present the new owners. Gary Bettman stridently denies any wrongdoing by the league, and announces that an internal investigation will be conducted by the same firm which did the due diligence on Boots Delbaggio, John Spano, Charles Wang, Len Barrie and Oren Koules. He also states that he is resigning as NHL Commissioner effective immediately to spend more time with his family. Meanwhile, the NHLPA’s Don Fehr holds a press conference with thick binders stacked on his table and on the chairs nearby, on the tables behind him and in boxes on the floor. He picks one up at random and idly leafs through it as he claims his group is ready for the negotiations to begin. Reports out of Toronto claim that a trophy-engraving company regularly contracted by the Hockey Hall of Fame for work on the Stanley Cup has ordered an asterisk punch as well as an industrial strength polisher that buffs out scratches on a silver-nickel alloy. A day later, Gary Bettman is arrested on board a private plane as it taxied for takeoff. A flight plan had been logged for the Turks and Caicos.
That is all.

Friday, 11 May 2012

President Putin's hockey skills not as good as Kim Jong Il's golf skills

This has probably been posted already, but how bogus is that penalty shot goal by President Putin? One rung above Elvis Presley’s black belt on the legit scale, two rungs above Kim Jong-Il’s golf game maybe?

Mitt Romney's mealy-mouthed apology doesn't wipe the slate clean

So Mitt Romney apologized for tormenting his gay classmate fifty years ago.  Sort of.  In that new way people have of kind of apologizing, but not really owning up to a wrong-doing, of not admitting that their conduct was hurtful or wrong.  

The New Apology always starts with: "If I offended anyone, ...."  The clear imputation being that the offended party chose to be offended, and that the offender had no intent and no idea that his conduct would be offensive.  Indeed, there is usually a tinge of bewilderment in the tone of the New Apology, as the guilty party bristles that all this political correctness and culture of victimhood is really starting to strain his patience.

The Huffington Post article quotes Mr. Romney thus:

"They talk about the fact that I played a lot of pranks in high school," Romney said. "And they describe some that you just say to yourself, back in high school I just did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended by it, obviously I apologize."

So, taking into account that Mr. Romney uses the word 'if', he implies that he's unsure or unconvinced that someone should feel hurt or offended by being held down by a group of classmates who are clearly not friends, and having his hair chopped off.  Once he was pinned down, the victim shouldn't have been concerned that a pair of scissors was being waved around his head, or have been emotionally distraught afterward by this harrowing loss of control and dignity.  After all this is just a "prank".  Not an assault or hate crime.

Also, the apology is conditional upon the confirmation by the victim that he was hurt.  So that: 'Well if he's hurt, then obviously I apologize'.  The word 'obviously' contains a tone of exasperation and facility.  There is no forthrightness or contrition to the apology, it's reflex, knee-jerk.  A formality.  There is no recognition that the act itself was repugnant and callous, that it requires reflection and a genuine expression of remorse.

This explanation and apology is several different kinds of bullshit.  It minimizes the act itself, then dismisses any responsibility since it happened a long time ago.  Since the perpetrator was a minor.  Since it was just high-jinks, something that happens in high school, all the time.  It blithely skips over the uncomfortable fact that this was a targeted attack on someone whose only crime was that he was different than Mr. Romney's cadre of budding aristocrats.  It is not an apology so much as damage-control, a cynical attempt deflect splatter from his campaign.

Mitt Romney needs to understand a few things, if he really is ignorant and not just playing dumb.  

First, for someone to be swarmed by a group and subdued, then subjected to such an indignity, is a traumatic experience, not a prank.  People who have been tortured, or experienced anesthesia awareness during surgery, whereby they are awake and sometimes feel excruciating pain, but cannot signal or communicate with the surgeons, subsequently develop psychological problems such as depression, mood swings and aggressiveness.  This is due to the loss of control they experienced; such a significant event is enough to 'rewire' the brain.  What Mr. Romney's target experienced is akin to this.  It's orders of magnitude more serious than a sibling subjecting a younger sibling to a round of "Why are you hitting yourself?" 

Second, nobody is buying his assertion that the fact that his victim was a closeted gay teen didn't play into the equation.  He asserts that back then, he and his friends didn't really know about this subject, and that the victim came out as gay years later, so he couldn't have known and it couldn't have played a part in their decision to harass and haze him.  Which anyone who has been to high school knows is balderdash.  Whether Mr. Romney and his friends had a sophisticated understanding of homosexuality or not, whether their 'gaydar' was fully developed, they would simply have targeted the kid because he looked or acted different.  They assaulted their classmate because he looked like a fag, whether they knew what that meant or not.

Third, the important thing with respect to Mr. Romney's campaign isn't really this youthful indiscretion and how long ago it happened, it's how he's changed since then, and how he reacts to it now, and that's the test he's failing in spectacular fashion.  Instead of being very clear that he did something stupid as a teenager, that he's embarrassed by it and that he learned from it, and that he categorically condemns any kind of hazing or bullying directed at homosexuals in general and gay teens in particular, he's engaged in a rearguard action that emphasizes the time elapsed since then, his young age, his ignorance whether his actions had any lasting impact, or that this was merely a prank.  He states that he's not too concerned with this incident, trying to minimize it instead of facing it head on.

He can't be the nominee of a Party that obsesses over his adversary's birth certificate, his place of birth, his upbringing, and his attendance at a Muslim school when growing up in Indonesia, and then turn around and pretend that this incident from his own youth shouldn't be a focus of the press and isn't relevant to his campaign.  This is especially true as the issue of marriage equality and gay rights are shaping up to be major issues in this election, one that is sure to be politicized by the Republican party.

Finally, the worst part of all this is that he claims to not remember the incident in question, just that he did stupid things in school.  This is so disingenuous that I'm comfortable calling it an outright lie.  His conspirators agree that the incident was disturbing, and that the victim was terrified.  Some have spoken of being ashamed of being a part of it, and disturbed by it to this day.  If Mitt Romney doesn't remember this, it means that he committed so many similar assaults that they get lost in his mind.  Either that, or he's a sociopath who isn't able to feel empathy for others, and so was able to forget about this and move on to other lives waiting to be wrecked.  Or most likely, that he's a craven opportunist who'll lie and cheat and say anything to get elected President.  One so consumed by the thought of winning the White House that he'll do the correct thing, the strategic thing, instead of doing the right thing.  Which would be to apologize.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Gary Bettman is a short big fat idiot

 From the Globe and Mail:

" “We know the future is extraordinarily bright,” said Bettman, who referred to the Blues as a member of the NHL's “Original 12” franchises. “The balance sheet looks much, much better, much, much stronger." "

What a useless commissioner Gary Bettman is.  Has anyone, ever, heard the term Original 12 used, or anyone even thought it?  How obvious is it that this is not a hockey guy?  That he has no grasp of the history of the game and its culture?

Just because the last 6 NHL franchises standing, after a few went belly up early in the 20th century, became known as the Original 6 after the 1967 expansion, doesn't mean that the six new franchises then became part of an Original 12.  And the Sabres and Canucks aren't part of the Original 14.  And then didn't drop down to an Original 13 when the Golden Seals ceased to exist.

Gary Bettman will try to spin it as something cute he was trying, that he was being mirthful, that he was trying to honour the fact that the Blues were part of the first expansion.  In fact, I bet that what happened is that he got his facts twisted.  He's a nerd and a book-smart guy, so I'm sure he can rattle off facts and lists and statistics, but memorizing things and having fond memories of something, things that you know because you grew up living and dying by them are two different things.

Smarmy, condescending idiot savant Gary, who keeps trying to convince us that he was not just a Knicks fan growing up, but also a big Ranger fan, just got caught with his pants down, and showed us again that the knowledge you get by cramming for an exam and that which comes from actually knowing it are not the same.

He is such a bad liar, it must cost him a fortune being married, he must have, like fellow sub-creature Newt Gingrich, a revolving line of credit at his jeweller and his florist.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Vic Toews as a movie villain?

If you were filming a movie and had to cast a part for a government official or corporate exec who was corrupt, reactionary and cartoonishly villainous, could you do better than Vic Toews and his bristly personality and countenance?

Should teams shy away from Alex Galchenyuk due to his ACL reconstruction?

Lots of pundits mention Alex Galchenyuk's knee injury as a factor to consider when evaluating the players slated to go in the top 5 in next June's NHL draft.  People point to Andrei Markov or even Bobby Orr as examples of players who "were never the same" after such injuries.  While every team has to do its due diligence and consider every variable, I think that the injury is given way too much import by analysts, for the following reasons.

1)  It is a first ACL reconstruction for Mr. Galchenyuk, as opposed to Mr. Markov’s second reconstruction in two years, which is way more problematic and has a lower probability of success.  While Andrei has struggled to return, others such as James Wisniewski eventually made a full return from double ACL reconstructions.  Evgeni Malkin has shown no ill effects after his ACL repair, we should look to him as the valid example in this case.
2) Alex Galchenyuk suffered this injury as a 17 year old. Teenagers have a very good prognosis with these surgeries, their ability to recover is much better than an adult in his thirties.
3) Mr. Galchenyuk has already returned to active duty at the end of the Sarnia Sting's season and their playoffs, and showed no complications. The knee was solid and he was skating and moving effectively, with no limits on his icetime.  
If Edmonton and Columbus are scared off by the injury, that's fine.  It will give the Canadiens another option to choose from at the #3 slot when they try to fill the need of a big scoring centreman between he and Mikhail Grigorenko.

How will contract negotiations between the Canadiens and Carey Price go?

Do the lack of results obtained by Ilya Bryzgalov and Pekka Rinne weaken Carey Price’s bargaining position, or is it the converse, that Martin Brodeur’s steady play and body of work strengthens his agent’s hand as he shoots for a long-term deal for his client?

I guess what I’m wondering about is what’s the zeitgeist now in the league as we prepare to negotiate Carey’s new contract. Two summers ago, apparently the thinking was that you didn’t need elite goaltending to win, since the Hawks had won the Cup with unheralded Antti Niemi, and subsequently walked away from him after his July arbitration award was too rich for their liking. It seems the market was deflated, as the Canadiens got less than impressive returns for trading playoff hero Jaroslav Halak.
Last summer, the mindset seemed to perform a complete 180. Pekka Rinne gets an outlandish contract from the Preds, based more on his physical tools and potential than actual production. The Flyers cave and finally buy their frontline goalie with an even more outrageous contract, which is proving as reckless as it first appeared in July.
So where are we at this summer? 2010 groove, where the going rate is deflated, and we believe that in the right situation (Kevin Hitchcock, Dave Tippet, Jacques Martin) any goalie gets the job done? Or 2011, where the goaltenders are King, and back their trucks up to the bank vault and help themselves?

Monday, 7 May 2012

Does Alex Galchenyuk's knee injury make him damaged goods like Dan Marino was?

Some fans are leery of Sarnia Sting centre Alex Galchenyuk, in part because of his reconstructed right knee.  Dan Marino is used as an example of a player who fell in the draft due to his ACL reconstruction, but I remember there being more this story.
Dan Marino was a can’t miss star quarterback out of the University of Pittsburgh, and would have been drafted first overall in his junior year, except he wasn’t allowed to enter the draft until after his senior season. That senior season was subpar for various reasons, including injuries. In hindsight, many think that he lost his focus having nothing left to prove, and coasted during his last season. This loss of focus manifested itself off the field, and he was rumoured to have made full use of his Big Man on Campus status, and gone on a year-long college farewell party of Matt Leinartian proportions.
When the draft came around, he and John Elway were the can’t-miss prospects at quarterback, and Elway went first overall. The off-field rumours and poor play pushed Dan Marino out of the top 5, then top 10. A weird phenomenon then took over, whereby teams who were on the clock had not done their due diligence on him, thinking he would never get that far down the draft. In the meantime, they had done their homework on other players and fallen in love with them, and decided to stick with their chosen player and let Mr. Marino slip by.
Even teams that needed quarterbacks fell prey to this, and it caused Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason and Ken O’Brien to be chosen ahead of Mr. Marino. I remember the New York Jets GM, when challenged on Ken O’Brien (“Ken Who?”), vowing that while he was from a smaller college with less media attention, Mr. O’Brien would prove to be a quarterback for the ages, that he had all the tools and Hall of Fame ability.  
It took until the Dolphins in the 27th and penultimate selection in the first round to shake their heads and leap to the podium with their selection. They realized that they were getting a huge bargain, and instead of believing the rumours that were inflating by the minute, they trusted the game tape and Dan Marino’s production on the field.

Eventually, John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly landed in the Hall of Fame, while the other three had more muted success.  Together, these six quarterbacks formed what was known as the Great QB Class of 1983.
This process of teams falling in love with the one or two guys who they think will be available when it’s their turn to choose, and being unable to react when a blue-chip prospect falls in their lap was in effect when the Canadiens saw Nathan Beaulieu fall in 2011. Whoever they had targeted, they quickly adjusted and grabbed the putative Top Ten choice when he proved to be available at 17th overall, about ten spots lower than generally expected.
Marc Bergevin’s assertion that he will beef up the scouting team in Québec is heartening, as well as his desire to build a larger front office. Let's hope he just builds up the scouting team in general.  This will allow the team to more completely cover the prospects available in the draft, and be ready to respond when opportunities present themselves. There is a fear that too many voices at the table can lead to confusion, but with good leadership this risk is alleviated, and there is more value to having more information than to having a smaller, more unified group when decisions need to be made.

Hey Sportscaster! (5)

Hey Darren Pang!  Stop using 'reactionary' as a synonym for 'reflex' or 'instinct' or 'reaction', because it isn't one.  To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, "I am certain that it doesn't mean what you think it means."


re·ac·tion·ar·y  (r-ksh-nr)
Characterized by reaction, especially opposition to progress or liberalism; extremely conservative.
n. pl. re·ac·tion·ar·ies
An opponent of progress or liberalism; an extreme conservative.

So stop it.  If you want to say a reflex save, or instinctive play, say that.  It's perfectly fine to say that a move was a reaction.  Don't add syllables to a word to turn it into an adjective, it doesn't make you sound smart.  It does the opposite.

Coyotes to remain in Phoenix for good? Or is Seattle or Vegas or Québec on the horizon?

So another group has now been found to be the patsies, er, owners who take over the Phoenix Coyotes from the NHL.  I guess they have not had an opportunity to talk to Jerry Moyes about his experience running a hockey team in Glendale and of being in a partnership with Gary Bettman's syndicate.

It'll be interesting to see how much freedom the new group would have to relocate to a different market, in terms of the lease at their arena, and any constraints put on them by the NHL.  Gary Bettman has been frantically trying to keep this franchise in Phoenix, both for the economic footprint of the league, and possibly for the validation of his Sunbelt Strategy.  We can imagine that he's not going to let them buy the team and pull a Michael Heisley, using the Glendale arena as a placeholder while they look for more lucrative climes.

Mr. Bettman was at his whiny sanctimonious self while being interviewed by James Duthie on TSN.  He explained that the prior deal struck with the Hulsizer group and which had been underpinned by taxpayer dollars had been torpedoed by the threat of a suit from the watchdog Goldwater Institute, a suit without merit in his opinion.  It was only the chilling effect of the threat that killed the bond issue that scuttled the deal though, not the fact that this group wasn't willing to pony up any of its own dough.

We'll believe in this deal when we see it.  We don't believe the math.  Prospective buyers have been kicking the tires on this franchise for years, and only show interest if it's to pick up and move to a better locale, or if they're not spending their own money.  They either want to pay a very low price to stay in place, or have the 'flexibility' to move if they have to meet the Bettman-inflated, other-franchise-value-protecting full sticker price.

Everyone knows about the empty seats, and the low revenue brought in by those tickets that are actually sold, at a huge discount, with deals on hotdogs and beer as sweeteners.  We know that the team suffered $25 million losses the last couple years.

We know about the unfortunate location in Glendale, instead of downtown Phoenix or anywhere near a vibrant neighbourhood which would encourage a festival atmosphere.  Going to a Canucks or Canadiens game is preceded by a cool walk in surrounded by other fans in team jerseys.  I had the good fortune to attend a Chargers game in Seattle, and the walk to the Seahawks' stadium was a great prelude to an afternoon of watching football, with various catcalls and good-natured jibes at my Chargers jersey.  The Chargers fans found each other in the mass migration to the field, and banded together for electric blue moral support in an ocean of Seahawk green.  All the pubs had sidewalk tables set up, the pregame shows and early games were blaring from patio speakers, and the whole downtown was alive and vibrant on a Sunday morning.  No such magic occurs for a Coyotes game.  You drive in, park and walk in to find your seat.  That sterility may be sustainable in hockey-mad Ottawa, but the experience doesn't cut it in fickle Arizona.

Personally, we'd much prefer if the Coyotes were allowed to move and fill a need in a relevant market like Québec.  We've all seen the success the Jets had this season, that is all the confirmation we need that the NHL needs to be in northern markets.  We'd even relish the prospect of a move to Seattle, as that would provide more hockey options for Vancouver and Whistler fans.  Seattle could count on sellouts whenever the Canadiens or Leafs played.  The putative owner of the new arena, which would be built mainly to house the return of the Sonics, has a chance to build an arena in a downtown location that is surrounded with shops and pubs and would provide a good atmosphere for game day, contrasted to the current Glendale white elephant.