Thursday, 28 June 2012

Does Justin Schultz 'deserve' to choose his NHL team

Lots of angst on social media on Justin Schultz and how unfair it is that he can choose the team he plays for rather than go to the team that drafted him, and I suspect all the guys who were drafted by the New York Islanders last week agree with this sentiment.  Why does he get to use this loophole and others don't?

There are many facets to this issue.  One of the main ones is that as fans, we have now come to accept and maybe even revere the universal draft as a just and immutable way to distribute talent throughout sports leagues, to help competitive balance, and as an annual tradition that promises better days ahead.

Yet the NHL draft has a more complex history.  Before it existed, the Original 6 teams had farm systems that included junior teams and pro teams.  Players were scouted as young teenagers and signed to contracts before they reached adulthood.  Once they signed, the player belonged to that team until traded or released, for their entire career.  Society being what it was, the modest sums offered as signing bonuses seemed astronomical to well-meaning parents unprepared to negotiate, and the chance to play in the NHL was too much to resist.  

Now some players were the subjects of bidding wars as early as twelve or thirteen years old.  Player agents began to enter the fray, notably Alan Eagleson with Bobby Orr, and all of a sudden, monopolistic owners began to frown at having to pay more than a pittance for a player's rights.  This is how the NHL draft morphed from one to claim all players who hadn't yet been signed by NHL teams by the time they turned 20 to a universal draft.  Now teams didn't have to bid against each other for phenoms.

Meanwhile, courts began to strike down the 'reserve clause' that bound players in all major sports to their teams for their entire careers, which was seen as unfairly restrictive and monopolistic.  Player unions and owners began to negotiate collective agreements that tried to allow for competitive balance but also some freedom of movement for players.

In this way, it has evolved that a player who is drafted yet cannot come to terms with the team which drafted him is not forced to sign.  This comes at a significant cost to the player.  For example, a junior player who doesn't sign a contract with the team that drafts him must wait out two years, but even then doesn't become a free agent but rather re-enters the draft, for his rights to potentially be held by another team for two years.  NCAA college players such as Justin Schultz and Blake Wheeler before him have to wait out their entire four year college career and not sign a contract and forego lots of money in salary and bonuses they could have earned had they turned pro.  In the case of college players though, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.

To some it may seem that it is too easy for a player to play for four years in college, possibly earn his degree, and then call his shot in the pros, yet it's inaccurate to call it a loophole.  This facet of the Collective Bargaining Agreement was freely negotiated by the owners and players.  With the attention focused on this area by the Justin Schultz situation and the frustration voiced by the Anaheim Ducks, we can expect that the next round of negotiation will spend some time on this issue.  

Having said that, it is unreasonable in modern society to expect that a player will be bound to the team that drafts him for an indefinite period of time, courts wouldn't allow it.  Leagues are already pushing the envelope by limiting rookie wages with entry-level contracts.  Sports leagues walk a tightrope to avoid anti-trust scrutiny; the probable remedy will be to allow for greater compensation for teams who lose players this way by awarding valuable draft picks.

In the case of Justin Schultz, I personally have to say that I don't have a major problem with the kid's decision.  He didn't do anything illegal or immoral or rig the system, he played the cards he was dealt and is making use of his options, the same as players who choose to go to the KHL rather than earn less than what the market would dictate normally in the NHL or AHL.  

Further, as hockey fans we have to like that he's turning his back on a glitzy Southern Californian franchise and looking to play in hockey markets such as Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.  The inclusion of Edmonton on this kid's list is his get-out-of-jail card.  He wants to play hockey and he's trying to do so in the right environment so he can have a regular shift on an NHL team, we should cut the kid a break. 

Euro shmeuro. Soccer is a terrible spectator sport

I refuse to have a rational discussion about soccer. The satin, the diving, the nonsensical rules, the boredom, the fake pretentious fans who get all excited every four years, the fragile, emotionally overwrought players. The ludicrous throw-ins that accomplish nothing. The corner kicks where nothing ever happens, but everyone gets so hyped because there’s an infinitesimal chance that through dumb luck something might. It’s a sport that’s fundamentally broken. It’s as if baseball were played with raw eggs instead of a ball, and a spaghetti strainer instead of gloves, you couldn’t get anything accomplished, but all its fans insisted that that’s the way it is and there’s lots of subtle nuances about batting the egg that are enthralling.
I hate the way the players are either jogging listlessly, then sprinting until the ball goes out of bounds, inevitably, and then everyone starts jogging again, or until someone passes the ball backward, and any incipient threat is quelled, and everyone starts jogging again.
I hate the way players surround the ref after controversial decisions, yelling and crying and waving their arms and acting like someone is about to get shivved. It’s ridiculous how out of control a soccer game gets, when a rugby referee who theoretically has much more violent players to deal with can impose calm and respect in the proceedings.
I hate the outfits and the hair. And the whining. And yeah, the obvious fake injury, rolling on the ground, Mamma Mia lamentations, it goes without mention, but I don’t want to go off on a rant about that.
I hate the offside rule. It’s abysmally stupid. Aficionados always try to explain it to me, like I don’t understand why it was put in. They always refuse to understand when I patiently explain to them, as I would to a 3 year-old, why it should be taken out, or at least adapted. They think it’s okay for a defender to nullify a good play by their opponents simply by stopping to run, or running in the other direction.
I hate how the fact that it’s popular is brought up as proof of its validity as a sport. As if the Journal de Montréal and Fox News and McDonalds and Madonna were valid.
I hate the penalty kicks. There is absolutely no skill involved, the arbitrariness is astounding. The goalie isn’t allowed to move before the ball is touched, except that he always does, but it doesn’t matter anyway, since the net is always wide open anyway. Still, they often miss the net. Somehow that’s high drama.
So all you soccer guys can get all wrapped up in the Euro and then the Mundial and then the CONCACAF whatever. I know better. Soccer is worse than basketball. Probably.

Do the Canadiens need to re-sign Travis Moen?

It's not certain that Travis Moen will re-sign with the Canadiens, and some question whether he's all that effective anyway, and whether he should be brought back.  There is some question as to whether he's as physical or as effective in that role as his reputation lets on.
I think these kinds of guys are more effective if they’re not the only physical presence on the team. If Travis Moen had some support, with another defenceman in the Kevin Bieksa-Lyle Odelein-Donald Dufresne level of toughness, and a couple more wingers in the Dave Maley-Taylor Pyatt mold, he’s one of a few guys who can inspire respect. Together they all make each other better, the sum is greater than the individual components. I think that’s what Marc Bergevin has in mind when he talks about the team concept.
Just last season, I saw Wayne Simmonds run amok one game, slashing and rabbit-punching and cross-checking with impunity, unhindered by the Yannick Webers and the Tomas Kaberles.  He was giving out facewashes like candy on Halloween, acting like a big tough bully.  The next Flyers game, after a whistle in front of Carey Price, with a bunch of players from either team close in, I fully expected some more mindless intimidation.  Except that was when Mike Blunden was in the roster, and Alex Emelin finally was given a regular shift on D, and they were on the ice, and he was confronted by Travis Moen, face to face.  I observed him look around for a likely target, but surrounded by 200 pounders, he meekly skated back to the bench.  We didn't need a Georges Laraque or a Chris Nilan, just having a few players who stood up for each other completely change Mr. Simmonds' attitude from the previous game, for the better.
I hate it but that’s the way hockey is being refereed now. Brad Marchand is allowed to punch Daniel Sedin in the head, Brad Boyle can facewash Erik Karlsson, and the refs won’t blow the whistle and call a penalty, they’ll only make a move if the recipient crosschecks back, and then the penalties will offset anyway. In this Empire of Idiocy, we need a Travis Moen, but also another two or three guys like that. It’s an arms race, and we need to have as many weapons as the opponents.
It’s ridiculous, but that’s Gary Bettman’s and Brian Burke’s NHL. At the end of the season, after the Jets and Leafs were eliminated, both teams stated at their recap press conferences that they needed to get bigger. Not that they needed better defence, more scoring, a setup centreman, more depth, better goaltending, just more size. No qualifiers as to skill. Just bigger. And that’s how Charles Hudon falls to the 5th round, and that’s how David Desharnais and Martin St-Louis go undrafted.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Terrell Owens is on the skids, but I'm not laughing

Great article in Grantland about Terrell Owens. Some really dark stuff going through his head, he’s in bankruptcy court now, has been released from his arena football team.
T.O. is a pathological narcissist and not a sympathetic figure to anyone, but he has a background. Hockey players are routinely described as the best-mannered and most likable athletes out of the four major team sports in North America. A good reason for that is that most kids who make it to the NHL had a stable home life and good parents to support them financially and emotionally as they jumped the hurdles to the bigs. Kids from a poor single-parent family will not likely be kitted out for hockey, or be driven to hockey practice early mornings and weekends. Mom might need to work two jobs to just pay the bills. Football and basketball players likewise don’t necessarily have the same advantages as these great kids we saw on the weekends with devoted parents.
I can’t stand T.O., he’s a selfish jerk and should have been a decathlete instead of a football player. He’s a fame whore and a boor and I never wanted him to win, whatever team he was on, since he kneecapped Jeff Garcia, one of the toughest, best football players I’ve ever seen.
Reading this piece though, it’s hard to really bask in the schadenfreude. It’s not like when the wrestling villain finally gets his comeuppance at the hands of Jacques Rougeau or the Can-Am Connection, the catharsis isn’t pleasurable. This is real life, and he has kids mixed up in the collapse of his career and his life. Somehow, the story is ending the way we always knew it would, it’s as formulaic as any Hollywood offering, but there’s no payoff.

Ryan White deserves a mulligan for 2011-12

Some of the comments regarding Ryan White seem to be based strictly on what he showed last season.  He's being relegated to being noting more than a crasher and fighter by many posters here, but in fact he is a player of some talent.

I've noted before how he's a kid who his Calgary Hitmen coaches loved.  They described him as a headsy guy who played hard and always seemed to have the puck.  His promise is illustrated by the fact that he was ranked above Ben Maxwell and Milan Lucic for skaters coming out of the WHL in his draft year.

Possibly the reason he 'fell' below those two guys is that he was described as having a bad body.  He wasn't a guy with great fitness or an inspiring physique, and it's possible his doughy appearance at the Combine turned off a few scout, but he changed his habits once he was drafted and began to work hard off the ice to improve his athleticism.  To see him charging around the ice now, there's no reason to suspect that fitness or power is an issue with him anymore.

Last season wasn't a great one for Ryan, he didn't put up points as we might have expected from him, and didn't seem as useful as the previous year.  Let's remember he had to undergo hernia surgery early in the season and recover from that, it's a tricky, painful condition, and it hampered his development.  He was miscast as the team fighter, a role which he assumed gamely, when others wouldn't.

So let's give Ryan a mulligan regarding 2012.  Let's give him another season in a new dressing room, with new teammates and new chemistry, and an adjusted roster that will allow him to play on the fourth line and provide valuable minutes and services for his new coaching staff.  Let's see if he can play his way on the club for good.  If at the end of the season the results still aren't great, and we don't see progression, we'll have a brace of kids in Hamilton who will be chomping at the bit for a shot at the Grand Club.

Is there a method to the Canadiens drafting madness?

One thing that struck me about the Canadiens' draft was how six of the seven picks were forwards, with a preponderance of skilled players vs. the 'two-way' work ethic types.  That is good news for those who long for a return to an exciting, more offence-oriented brand of hockey, if not quite the old firewagon style popularized by the team in the glory years.  A look at the farm team and what prospects there were in the system revealed a definite lack of forwards with offensive flair; the more surefire prospects were defencemen Jared Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu.  Longer shots like Brendan Gallagher and Danny Kristo showed an offensive dimension, and then the talent dropped off to Hail Mary candidates.

So with the shelf restocked with great to good prospects like Alex Galchenyuk, Sebastian Collberg and Tim Bozon, as well as intriguing long shots like Charles Hudon and Erik Nystrom, the balance has been re-established.  We've got some forwards coming in the pipeline, and not just pluggers.  It's almost as if the Timmins team did so intentionally, although both he and Marc Bergevin claim that their was no preference given to position, that they only drafted the best available players.

Or did they?  Are they executing a plan skillfully engineered by Pierre Gauthier and Bob Gainey before their unceremonial ouster in March?  Have the Canadiens set in motion a machine that will inevitably manufacture a Stanley Cup championship?

It's an oft-repeated fact that NHL defencemen take longer to mature than forwards, usually a season or two longer.  Goaltenders usually need even longer, maybe another season or two.

So have the Canadiens harnessed these forces and are they now poised to reap the benefits of this phenomenon?  Have they timed these waves to coalesce together in a tsunami of talent that will sweep any and all that dare to confront it?

Let's imagine Pierre and Bob, meeting by themselves in a twenty-person boardroom, patting each other on the back, replete with confidence that the first stage of the operation has been successful: Carey Price is the franchise goalie every team seeks but few actually find.  He's young, has been tempered in the fire of the playoffs and the cauldron of fan expectation, and seems to have come out stronger.  He's 24, and will reach the peak of his athletic ability in about four years, and stay there for another five years or thereabouts, at least.  He may be a freak like Martin Brodeur who doesn't fade in his thirties.

In any case, you have your franchise goalie, and you start to plan for the future.  To build a consistent winning team and Cup contender, you need to do it through the draft, as trying to do so in free agency is impossible in a salary cap league.  So you know you're going to stockpile draft picks and prospects, but to have a chance, it really helps when your team matures in sync, so that you're not just adding rookies while your veterans are declining, and barely keeping up with the treadmill.  Ideally, you have a bunch of youngsters who blossom in the NHL around the same time, with a few support players and veterans, à la Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins.  How do you ensure that they all peak at the same time?

You start with defencemen.  You already have P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges, but need some talent up front, the fans say?  Damn their pusillanimous hides.  You don't care what they think, you barely condescend to speak to them once or twice a year.  So you draft Jared Tinordi and Morgan Ellis.  When you make a trade you take a defenceman back, any defenceman, like Greg Pateryn or Mark Mitera.  Some of these guys are bound to turn out.

The next year, with the hounds baying for more forwards, you double down, and draft still more defencemen, Nathan Beaulieu, Josiah Didier, Magnus Nygren, Darren Dietz and Colin Sullivan.  You sign European defencemen, guys like Raphaël Diaz, and long-lost prospect Alexei Emelin.  You can't have too much of a good thing.  Fans schfans.  Direct them to the gift shop.  Point at the legends dropping the puck at centre ice, to open the loss to the Hurricanes with a bit of pomp.  You know what you're doing.  They'll grovel with gratitude in a few years.

Now with the system teeming with defenceman talent that needs to percolate, you have successfully manoeuvered to the end of Stage 2.  You sit back, have a cucumber sandwich with Perrier to celebrate, and plan for Stage 3.  You'll need forwards.  Talented forwards.  Top of the draft forwards.  But never fear, you've skillfully dragged down team morale and left gaping holes in the roster, and a couple of fortuitous injuries later, your squad is settling towards the bottom of the standings.  You ensure the draft position by poisoning the well, savantly-timed coaching shuffles, questionable trades.  You're scouting some talented 18 year olds and dreaming of Nail Yakupov when...

You're ousted in a palace coup.  Some ignoramuses who never understood you or the way you work slit your throat and dumped you in a ditch.  The plan will now fail.

Except the assassins are morally irresolute.  They take pity on your young protégé and spare his life.  He retains control of the machine, and continues your mad experiment, unknown to the self-satisfied courtiers he pretends to serve.

Now a different wave builds to merge with the others: Alex Galchenyuk, Sebastian Collberg, Tim Bozon, Charles Hudon, Erik Nystrom.  A wave that will peak quicker than the other two, but at exactly the same time....

[EDIT: Brian Wilde plagiarizes the piece above nicely this article.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Kid, you've been drafted by the Islanders. Now smile.

One thing I’m wondering about, but am too lazy to actually research, is what a draftee says to the local press after being drafted by the New York Islanders or the Columbus Blue Jackets. In Montréal, we keep hearing the same things, how excited they are to be part of such a prestigious organization. We know these kids are trained to deal with the media and their responses are rehearsed, but what about if they’re Long Island bound? What’s the script then?
With the Canadiens or the Leafs, you have an easy job talking about the history and rabid fan base. The Wings and Devils you mention the strong organization, the Rangers you talk about the Big Apple and Mark Messier, the Kings is easy with the beaches and Hollywood and a Stanley Cup to boot. Southern cities have climate and young fan bases to conquer, Nashville has a special character you can refer to, and the unspoken aspiration to also bed Carrie Underwood eventually, which confers a genuine smile to the starry-eyed prospect. In like fashion, the western Canadian teams have unpluggable gushers of puck bunnies, which you can refer to as the ‘awesome fans’.
So what about the Islanders?
“I really excite about grrreat trrradishin of Mike Bossy a decade before I vaz borned.”
“I’m really stoked about the facilities. The Canadiens’ already have a decade of use or more, the Islanders' will be brand spanking new when they get around to starting construction, in five or ten years or so, and we can then move out of the rusting shit pile that is Nassau Coliseum!” (High-fives Larry Brooks)
“Onstage I got to to shake hands with eccentric nutjob owner Charles Wang. I can’t wait to meet lifelong Islanders like Alexei Yashin and Rick DiPietro. Maybe some day I can be a goodwill ambassador like Pat Lafontaine for a few months before I get kicked out the back door too.”

James van Riemsdyck for Luke Schenn. Or Yannick Weber.

There is an enduring honeymoon between Canadiens fans and Marc Bergevin, one that can only grow stronger after yesterday's draft, which hauled in a bounty of talented forwards, which our system was in crying need of.  Alex Galchenyuk and stealing Charles Hudon on the cheap in the fifth round will buy him a lot of good will.

Or will it?  There are grumblings in social media that he could have gotten into the Jordan Staal derby, or gone after James van Riemsdyck.  The fact that he didn't is putting him an unflattering light compared to wheelers and dealers like Mike Holmgren and Brian Burke.
I think it's ridiculous to fault him for not landing Mr. Staal or van Riemsdyck, since both of these trades occurred in special circumstances.
Gaston Therrien of RDS was quite vocal on the Jordan Staal trade, he's leading the charge there.  He contends that the price paid by Carolina was quite low for a stud centreman who in Montréal "would have taken care of the centre situation for the next ten years."  A package of Lars Eller and the third overall pick from yesterday's draft would have easily matched the Carolina offer he argues.  He also pondered whether the Penguins did Mr. Staal a favour by sending him to a likely landing spot to play with his brother, which he says is madness, since they had offered him a generous ten-year deal which he refused to sign.  In that situation, Mr. Therrien says, your team no longer has any obligations to the player, you made him a fair offer, and now must treat him as an asset that you need to get maximum value from.  
Detractors of Gaston Therrien were quick to denounce his argument as ludicrous, since Mr. Staal could have walked away next summer as a free agent, but that's not a sensible counterpoint.  I think it's obvious in the Therrien argument that he's assuming that the Canadiens would have spoken to Mr. Staal's agent with the Penguins' permission and obtained assurances that he would sign a long-term deal, it's intrinsically in his argument about him being a ten-year solution.  If Jordan Staal had not wanted to sign, and indeed preferred going to Carolina or the Rangers has it is posited by many, then the whole discussion stops right there.
In any case, I think the Canadiens were pretty happy with their #3 pick, and while they professed openness to discussions on trades, they were pretty enamoured of Alex Galchenyuk and valued the prospect more than Jordan Staal the player.  If the Penguins did call and offered Jordan Staal in exchange for the #3 pick as a starting point, it's probable the discussion didn't go very far.
The Canadiens did however try to deal back into the later part of the first round, probably to get a shot at Stefan Matteau, but Mr. Bergevin and Trevor Timmins explained that no team was willing to flip its pick, that they all had a player they wanted to select rather than trade down.  This attempt should quell the 'too passive' camp somewhat, but evidence often is subordinate to opinion and prejudice.
In the case of the James van Riemsdyk trade, again there are barbs directed at Canadiens management, mainly because he's a big left winger with some skill and lots of promise and upside, and he would have filled a huge chasm on the current roster.  Fans like this one have visions of him playing alongside Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, and giving the Canadiens another credible forward line that would be tough to match up against.
The problem is, we didn’t have a trading chip like the Leafs had though, one the Flyers wanted. The Leafs had a big young pedigreed defenceman who had fallen on tough times from the fans and media, and would benefit from a change of scenery, and hadn’t lost a lot of his trade value. That’s why this trade happened, not because Marc Bergevin was asleep at the switch. If the Flyers had needed a fleet-of-foot puck-moving defenceman who comes cheap and can help offensively, then we could have entered the discussion with Raphaël Diaz or Yannick Weber. We didn’t have a horse to help fill the Chris Pronger vacuum, so we were out of the running from the start.
This is kind of like when the Canucks traded for Roberto Luongo. The Panthers wanted a significant player coming back, and Vancouver just so happened to have a hulking forward who could snipe goals who needed a change of address in Todd Bertuzzi. Both teams had complementary assets that they could swap. Not all teams can offer what one team wants/needs.
So let's appreciate the work that was done so far by Mr. Bergevin, the fact that he has built a modern organization with talented hockey people from all over the league, with some former Glorieux to provide a link to the past.  Let's give him credit for retaining our scouting staff and trusting their judgment in the last couple of days, instead of blowing draft picks on short term band-aids.  Let's trust that he seems to understand that the Canadiens won't be turned into a contender overnight, but over the long term, and the best course of action is to pile up young players and develop them.

Friday, 22 June 2012

My man-crush on Michael Matheson, explained

I came across the name Michael Matheson midway through last season, he was touted by a poster on with some regularity.  There is a lot to like about him.

First, his description as a player is enticing, in that he's a decent-sized defenceman with outstanding skating ability and good hockey sense.  With that toolbox, he's got a great chance to make the NHL and be a good to great defenceman.

Second, he seems to be aware of what he needs to do to get there and has a plan, as opposed to just waiting it out and see how it turns out.  It's interesting that he feels he needs to spend a lot of time to work in the weight room to build size and strength and power, and he chose to go the USHL and NCAA route to allow him the time to dedicate himself to this area of his skill development, as opposed to the LHJMQ where he would play more games but not have time to lift and concentrate on schooling.

Third, his family seems to be a group of high achievers, athletically and otherwise, and they would form the perfect support network that Trevor Timmins has referred to as being an important consideration when drafting an 18 year old.

Last but not least, he's a local kid, having grown up on the West Island and grown up as a Habs fan.  This is an important consideration for me, I think that homeboys will care about the CH a little more, and will engender excitement in the next generation of hockey players for the Canadiens.  This is an advantage we have over the Columbuses and Nashvilles of the league, we need to capitalize on it.

Here's to hoping he slips through the first round and we can snag him at #33.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Is Mikhail Grigorenko still the one? Er, or rather, still the #3?

The way Mr. Grigorenko has fallen in final draft rankings and mock drafts is surprising.  Whereas he was thought at the start of the season to be in competition with Nail Yakupov for the honor of being the first player taken overall, he is now seen, for example, as the 12th ranked prospect in Bob McKenzie's final draft rankings for TSN, a historically reliable indicator of draft intentions since they are compiled by averaging the scores of numerous NHL scouts' lists.

The grumbling started midway through last season, Mr. Grigorenko's first in the LHJMQ, when anonymous scouts were quoted as saying he was lazy and didn't give full effort, especially on the back check.  The money quote came from a scout who said that he wouldn't pick him in the Top-15 if his team's turn came up that high.

On the record, some scouts would partially agree that it sometimes appeared that he didn't give full effort, but would temper their words by explaining that his game is a more cerebral game as opposed to an in-your-face puck-chasing physical centre like Brendan Gaunce.  Whereas the latter hits and digs with energy in the corners, Mr. Grigorenko is more of a positional player who anticipates where the puck will be and uses his body effectively but unspectacularly.

The further explanation that he had mononucleosis during the playoffs and thus couldn't play with full energy, as well as having to fight off an ankle sprain suffered during the World Junior Tournament hasn't managed to salvage his reputation.

One factor which can't be overlooked is how much the comparison with Alex Galchenyuk paints him in an unflattering light.  Mr. Galchenyuk has a more spectacular playing style, he's a touch shorter and has a shorter skating stride, which makes him appear more engaged.  He is also a gym rat, a fact which helped him wow the scouts at the NHL Draft Combine, while Mr. Grigorenko had to stay on the sidelines and couldn't participate in the physical testing as he recovers from his illness.  An important component in the comparison is how much more fluent and comfortable Alex Galchenyuk is in the English language compared to his counterpart.

The result is that while he was seen as a reasonable option for the Canadiens at #3 as recently as a couple weeks ago, he now would be seen as a 'reach' if he was taken there.  This is a ridiculous analysis of the situation for various reasons.  

One is the fact that aside from Nail Yakupov and possibly Ryan Murray, there is no clearcut choice who is head and shoulders above the other prospects.  Indeed, Mr. Yakupov is thought to be slightly better than his cohort, but not to the same degree as Eric Lindros or Vincent Lecavalier or Sidney Crosby was. This isn't even a Taylor-Tyler situation, where two picks are clearly, significantly better than the other choices.  Further, the other choices in the Top 10 or 15 are thought to be 'bunched up' and relatively equal in value.  So if the Canadiens deem it an organizational need to get a big strong skilled centre, Mikhail Grigorenko is as valid a pick as Matt Dumba or Filip Forsberg, and not a case of passing over clearly better players to choose a project.

Second, the concept of a reach is stretched to the point of meaninglessness by draft analysts.  A team is reaching when they pick a player a full round or two ahead of where they could reasonably have expected to snag that player.  For example, if the Canadiens had Malcolm Subban ranked as the best player on their board at #3, and they picked him, they might be assailed as having reached for him since he was only ranked #25 or so.  In fact, however, they would have drafted the best player available to them in their estimation, their own research showed them, right or wrong, that he was the most logical choice, regardless of outside rankings.  Now, if Malcolm Subban had been ranked closer to #45, then the Canadiens could be accused of reaching, since they conceivably could have picked him up at #33.  They could have taken a very reasonable risk and waited until the second round, and have picked up another player rated highly on their board in the first round.  Clearly, this won't be the case on Saturday, Mr. Grigorenko will be long gone by the time the second round starts.

So if on Friday the Canadiens choose Mikhail Grigorenko, convinced that he is the best player for the team for years to come, I'll be happy with the choice and will trust that the scouting staff made the best decision it could.

Oilers take Yakupov, Jackets take Murray, Canadiens choose between Galchenyuk, Forsberg or Grigorenko

The mood of Canadiens' fans seems to be turning from excitement and anticipation to angst as the draft draws nearer.  The biggest reason would be that by now, geeky obsessive fans have scoured all the publications and scouting reports, they've watched all the highlights on YouTube, heck some may have actually watched junior games, even attended them live, and by now have made up their mind who their favourite is.  Man crushes have fully bloomed.

For Canadiens fans, the consensus seems to be that Alex Galchenyuk is the most desirable option, and already there are visions of a big, tall, speedy and skilled centre wearing the bleu blanc rouge and sating the perennial famine for the 'gros joueur de centre'.  This is indeed not a new requirement, but rather a perceived need for our team since the seventies.  We did have Peter Mahovlich back then, all 6'5" of him, playing between Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt, but somehow that didn't seem good enough, we wanted someone better, bigger, faster, who scored more, another Jean Béliveau perhaps, chop chop.  Over the years, players such as Bobby Smith, Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse came and went, all not quite filling the bill in our eyes.  We'd look past them, searching for someone better.  We had a long dalliance with Vincent Lecavalier which was never consummated.  Last winter there was alleged sexting going on with Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf.

So now that we're so close to the object of our affection, we're agonizing that he may slip through our fingers, whisked away by an undeserving American beau, leaving us standing at the altar.  We'd have to enter a marriage of convenience with a less enthralling prospect, one who may be a very sensible choice and would be a very good provider, but doesn't get our pulse racing like the one we had promised our heart to.

I do think an Alex Galchenyuk would look good as a Hab, and it's highly likely we'll get him, but if we end up with someone else I'm not too worried about it.  We'll get a very good prospect no matter what happens on Friday, and I really think we're in a can't lose position.

Let's imagine that the Oilers take Nail Yakupov, or trade down with a team that snatches him at #1.  While there's a lot of noise lately about there not being that much separation between he and all the other prospects, I think a lot of that is media hype and manufactured controversy to feed the clamour we create for draft news and analysis.  I fully expect sanity to prevail and that the player long expected to go #1 will do so.

Next will come the Columbus Blue Jackets, and I expect they will draft Ryan Murray, as he is the most NHL-ready prospect and is the player who will sell the most tickets there and provide the most hope, which this franchise dearly needs to survive now that it's in the process of shopping its franchise player.  With Rick Nash potentially gone next season, the Blue Jackets will be in the business of selling fans on a young exciting team, and they can do that much better by plugging Mr. Murray in their lineup and touting him as the next great defenceman than by drafting a player with a Russian name, considering the Jackets' draft history, and one who will most probably be in Sarnia next fall.

Even if my confidence proves unfounded, and either the Oilers or Blue Jackets or a team they make a deal with chooses Mr. Galchenyuk before we can, there are still two big centres with talent available in Radek Faksa and Mikhail Grigorenko.  The Canadiens could manoeuvre to trade down a few slots to pick up assets and still pick up one of these promising players.  These young gentlemen would ably fill the putative need for a big playmaking centre, if that is what the management team has decided must be done with this once-a-decade high pick.

Or they could snap up Filip Forsberg, who most of us have not seen play, but is highly coveted by scouts who have.  Mr. Forsberg is spurned by those who dream of Alex Galchenyuk, but he must have some definite promise to be included in every scout's Top 5.

In any case, there isn't a Vincent Lecavalier or Sidney Crosby in this draft, a player who is head and shoulders above every prospect and who will turn a franchise around by himself.  Mr. Galchenyuk is certainly an enticing prospect, but he doesn't bring that much potential and isn't that much of a prize, certainly not relative to all the other quality prospects and according to all the professionals who evaluate potential draftees.

So I'm excited to see what unfolds on Friday, will be moderately optimistic no matter who we end up with, and will allow Trevor Timmins and his staff a lot of latitude to do the best they can with the situation they're faced with.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The TSN 2012 NHL Draft final rankings have a few surprises, disappointments

Some relative surprises in Bob McKenzie's 2012 NHL Draft final rankings.  His rankings deviate markedly from the NHL Central Scouting Services rankings, and other private scouting services rankings.  Mr. McKenzie's rankings are historically reliable, in that they are an average of many NHL scouts' lists.  This has the effect of eliminating outliers and giving a realistic picture of how these players are valued.

From a Montréal Canadiens fan's amateur perspective, one unexpected ranking is how Alex Galchenyuk is ranked 'only' #5, and Mikhail Grigorenko is ranked way down at #12.  Suddenly, Craig Button doesn't look like he's so far out in left field anymore.  We've been obsessing over whether we'll have a shot at Alex Galchenyuk, and have to 'settle' for Mikhail Grigorenko, since the conventional wisdom is that we need to draft a skilled player to fill a perennial need.  A small minority think that Filip Forsberg is the better choice at #3, especially if both Nail Yakupov (#1) and Alex Galchenyuk are taken 1-2.

We're faced with a good possibility that Alex Galchenyuk will be available at #3.  If he's there, it's probably an easy call to make.  If he's gone, do we grab Mr. Grigorenko at #3, or maybe trade down a few spots and stockpile some assets and still scoop him up later on in Round 1?  Heck, do we even want him?  Even Radek Faksa has jumped ahead of him in the rankings.

Another thing that deflates my balloon is that my personal favourites to snag with the #33 pick, based on very little objective evidence, all seem likely to be gone by the time we get to the podium.  Stefan Matteau is ranked #23, Mike Matheson at #26, even Martin Frk at #32.  I guess the players who seem to have a lot of tools and promise are bound to be highly prized, and not just by me.  I shouldn't have gotten carried away and started to dream about players for the second round.

Meanwhile, grinder Colton Sissons is slotted at #33.  I know this isn't a mock draft, but I don't want our team to grab a two-way player with limited scoring potential with this high a pick.

A final buzzkill is that aside from Mikhail Grigorenko and Martin Frk, two import players, there are no skaters from the LHJMQ in the Top 60 rankings.  I know Gilles Courteau and a whole bunch of poobahs are working on the problem and have been holding summits and are promising changes, but this is ridiculous.

Bob McKenzie, take a bow.

I think it’s remarkable how trusted Bob McKenzie of TSN is in hockey circles. He’s a good broadcaster and communicator, writes well and explains his thoughts and opinions cogently. He doesn’t exaggerate or hype, he uses modifiers and conditionals liberally, so that he comes across as a temperate voice in an overheated marketplace.
The draft rankings he puts together every year is a great indication of the trust and credibility he holds in the NHL and hockey in general. We saw how guarded an organization can be around its draft planning with the Rick Dudley hire away from Toronto to Montréal, yet Mr. McKenzie manages to obtain the draft lists of numerous teams to put together his yearly ranking. That is all we need to know about his status in the league, and is why when I see a news source report that so-and-so is about to do this and that, I take it with a grain of salt and wait for confirmation, but when it’s Bob McKenzie reporting I sit up and take notice. The Claude Lapointe scoop he had was the latest example of how often he’s either right on the money, or quiet on an issue.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Blunden, Berger, Quailer and Schultz should try the left wing

Another point about Mathieu Darche is that both he and Travis Moen play on the left wing. If we decide not to re-sign these guys, we have really, really slim pickings in our organization to try to reload. There’s Max Pacioretty, René Bourque, and then nobody fit to play in the NHL. We have Blake Geoffrion, but I think he needs this summer spent on plyometrics and powerskating, next season in Hamilton, and yet another summer developing his leg strength and explosiveness before he can be thought of as a legitimate NHL player. The rest of the left wingers under contract will most probably never make the NHL.
Here’s a quick list of our left wingers:
Max Pacioretty
Travis Moen
Rene Bourque
Mathieu Darche
Blake Geoffrion
Hunter Bishop
Dany Massé
Philippe Lefebvre
Andrew Conboy
Robert Slaney
Olivier Archambault
Dustin Walsh
Maxim Trunev
With this considered, and the meager pickings in free agency and the overbidding which will occur for the few useful players out there, we can understand the need to ink both our UFA left wingers promptly, before July 1.
Also, the Hamilton coaching staff should experiment with right wingers who aren’t necessarily puck handlers and slick passers, but rather physical wingers and finishers, and flip these guys to the left side and see how they do there. I’m looking at you, Steve Quailer, Ian Schultz, Mike Blunden and Alain Berger…

Yes, we bring back Mathieu Darche for another season

It's become fashionable to bash Mathieu Darche as an untalented player who contributes little and only has a job because he's a francophone player, the only one on the Canadiens with David Desharnais.  Looking at all the holes on the roster last season, and all the injuries we suffered, and looking at the unappetizing list of unrestricted free agents who will be available July 1, I wouldn’t turn up my nose at Mathieu Darche so quickly. 
While he doesn’t play a spectacular game, there’s a reason his coaches love him and trust him, and keep giving him icetime. Being put on the powerplay ahead of Erik Cole by Jacques Martin was probably exaggeration, but served as a good indication of the value a coach puts on his contributions. He comes relatively cheap, will be happy to be a Canadien and will practice and play like it, and be a model citizen on and off the ice. Youngsters benefit from having a player like him in the dressing room rather than an Andrei Kostitsyn or Alex Radulov.
Another benefit of having him along with Travis Moen is that these two guys will reduce the pressure to graduate Brendan Gallagher, Blake Geoffrion and Louis Leblanc too soon. They can get down to business in Hamilton and learn their craft without being yo-yoed like poor Aaron Palushaj last season, who was repeatedly brought up and sent down and constantly miscast as a fourth liner because we were short of players. Having Mr. Moen and Mr. Darche in the lineup buys us some time and allows our youngsters to simmer in the AHL instead of being scorched in the bigs. Add a P.A. Parenteau and a Brandon Prust, and now you’re not sending out Ryan White, Yannick Weber and Petteri Nokelainen as your fourth line.
A final point is that Mathieu is a really smart guy who will have a future in hockey, whether in coaching, scouting, or management. I say we keep him in the fold and give him a soft landing when he retires as a player.

Mac Bennett, Alain Berger, Daniel Prybil, Alexander Avtsin

Relatively unauthoritative opinions on some Canadiens prospects who attended the Development Camp in Brossard June 13-16.

Mac Bennett actually did not attend this camp but plans to attend the later edition after the draft, and some are worried it indicates he will pull a Justin Schultz, or will stagnate by not turning pro.  I don't share this concern.  He is still only two years into his college career, he can easily use another year of seasoning at Michigan, they have a good program with good coaches, and he can mature physically while getting top-pairing minutes.  We shouldn't be worried that he wants to go back for his junior year at Ann Arbor, we should probably encourage it.  Let's think about how the Bulldogs will have to absorb four rookie defencemen this September. That's stretching things to the point of breakage, adding another rookie is not feasible.  Let's leave Red Berenson in charge of this prospect for this year.

Alain Berger had a disappointing year by all accounts last season, but let's hope that he's the kind of guy whose game translates well to the NHL, a big guy with some mobility who's not afraid of being near the opponent's net, and who has the hands to cash in some loose pucks.  Let's give him a mulligan on his first pro season, hope that it comes together this season.  We need a couple of bigger bodies on our team at forward.

Daniel Prybil is still the longshot he was when picked last year, it would be nice to have him here so we can keep an eye on him, but then again there may be some benefit to him doing some growing up in a familiar culture and environment.  Fingers crossed, an additional season in Europe does him some good and he can work on his skill development and add some size and strength.  Getting crosschecked in the mouth and slashed on the arm while he stickhandles by talentless plugs in the AHL can come in 2013, when he's a bit more mature.

As far as Alexander Avtsin, he's the guy who I want the coaching staff to focus on this season in Hamilton.  There's the old saying in management that you spend 90% of your time on 10% of your employees, it's not ideal and you'd rather focus less on your problem employees and coach your stars more, but that's probably inevitable.  Guys like Brendan Gallagher, Jared Tinordi, Michaël Bournival, Greg Pateryn and Morgan Ellis are mature and driven enough that they'll probably only need to be pointed in the right direction and given a pat on the back to develop, but not Mr. Avtsin.  He's such a talent, the rewards if he pans out are so great, that we have to find a way to make him click.  The kid has had two years in Hamilton that were difficult and unproductive, and we can excuse that with his youth and the adaptation problems he has to a new culture and language, but now he'll be a relative veteran compared to the rookie class.  He'll have an opportunity to show leadership, and we have to capitalize on this and his growing maturity to gain confidence and to deliver in a manner appropriate with his skill level. 

I put this on Sylvain Lefebvre and his staff, that's their big job this winter.  If it means hiring the right coach who can reach a talented but not quite mentally-prepared player, so be it.  We may not have spent enough resources on player development in the past, but there's obviously an openness to the idea with the Nouveau Régime, let's not miss out on a player who offers what every team is looking for, an agile, mobile forward with size and skill who can score.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Sylvain Lefebvre, Patrice Brisebois, Martin Lapointe are good hires for the Canadiens

The Canadiens are amassing a formidable brain trust and I couldn't be happier about that.  I'd posted last winter about how the Canadiens needed to have an effective organizational structure and a good succession plan.

For example: "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."

These three new hires serve that purpose precisely.  They will have a useful role currently and in the short-term, but we can also think longer term and see them being promoted to posts with greater responsibility when necessary, as they demonstrate their competence.  They can also be hockey people who can be poached by other organizations who can then eventually be poached back.  There is nothing wrong with stocking the pond with quality homeboys.  As we can discern, the NHL is a bit of an old-boys network, and if guys like Patrice Brisebois or from the LHJMQ can't get their start here, where are they likely to get it, aside from maybe Tampa Bay?

Sylvain Lefebvre is an experienced player and coach in the NHL, taking on a new challenge as a head coach in the AHL for the Hamilton Bulldogs.  He was a hard worker who had some success personally as a player and won a Stanley Cup.  His boyish mien may have been replaced with a Dr. Evil countenance, a striking change which made me look twice, and a third time before I recognized him.  He seems very aware of what his career path is, what his strengths are as a coach, and what his role will be in the organization.  I have been advocating for Les Glorieux to draw on their history, and dip in the pool of former players who can be a link between the past and our future, and Sylvain Lefebvre fits that bill.  He can speak eloquently to our prospects about what a long successful career he had after slogging through a thorough AHL apprenticeship.

Patrice Brisebois is another former Hab and welcome addition to our management team.  He's obviously a thoughtful, dedicated guy who can keep tabs on our prospects and help keep them pointed in the right direction and provide any support they need.He'll work primarily with the defencemen, and may do the heavy lifting with Québec prospects, since he'll be based here as opposed to Martin Lapointe who will remain in Chicago.

Mr. Lapointe explained that his and Patrice's job will involve a lot of traveling, so he can work out of anywhere, and he didn't want to uproot his family.  Martin Lapointe is an intriguing choice in that he once spurned a comparable offer from the Canadiens to sign with the Boston Bruins as a free agent.  Such a history would nullify the possibility of a job within the Canadiens organization in this blogger's mind, but he brings a background as a winner and of strong leadership as a player.  He served on the Blackhawks' front office staff with Marc Bergevin, so there is a connection there.  When asked by reporters whether his friendship with Mr. Bergevin would preclude one from challenging the other, Mr. Lapointe was quite clear that their strong relationship would ensure that they can speak frankly with each other.  

This atmosphere of collaboration and collegiality will hopefully prevent situations like occurred in the Gomez trade, where Trevor Timmins advocated against including Ryan McDonagh in the deal, but who was overruled by Bob Gainey.  We can hope that these guys all work in the same mindset with the same team goals in mind, and that we won't make short-sighted decisions or let things slip through the cracks.  We have a big, varied brain trust, with homegrown talent and experience from various organizations.  Let's see it get to work on June 22 and July 1 and beyond.

Monday, 11 June 2012

The new Stanley Cup presentation ceremony sucks

The new Stanley Cup presentation ceremony sucks, and not only because Gary Bettman gets to jabber and touch the Cup.
When we win the Cup in a couple years, I don’t want all those carpets in the way, and all those hangers-on on the ice. I want the boys to do laps of the New Forum, like the old days. I don’t like the new way they do it, where the guys only hold it for a couple seconds and then pass it off.
I want team laps.

Is Jared Tinordi the next Canadiens' enforcer, or the next Rod Langway?

I hear too many fans wax enthusiastically about Jared Tinordi and how he'll beat up anyone and everyone when he makes the Grand Club.  I think it's selling him short and setting him up for failure.  We didn't pick him in the first round to goon up the league.
Mr. Tinordi will bring a physical presence to the team, and will drop the gloves when necessary as he showed in his OHL career.  While he didn't dominate in all his fights, he still has lots of maturing to do.  He’s still quite a young man, he’s going to fill out even more, he has the frame for it. He’s got the nastiness and the will. Now what we have to do is hope that he won’t be typecast as Godzilla, just here to wreak havoc on other cities.
Way back when, we had a young defenceman from the States join the Canadiens at training camp by the name of Kent Carlson. He was a U.S. College player, we’d never heard of him, and he showed up and seemed to have great size, but also good talent. He had a couple of fights with established NHL tough guys during exhibitions and he won them handily, the call-in shows were buzzing about him, how he was a kid who’d never fought in organized hockey who was taking on all comers.
Unfortunately he developed that reputation, and had to fight against other goons constantly, he was always challenged, and he had to respond, despite the fact we had other tough guys on the roster, like Chris Nilan and Mike McPhee and even Normand Baron. Kent was constantly injured, lost some development time and got pigeonholed as an enforcer instead of a physical defenceman.
What I don’t want to hear or see happen is for Montréal fans to expect Jared Tinordi to charge after Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara the minute he hits the NHL. It’s too much pressure to put on a young kid to attack grown men to avenge past wrongs, it’s not his fault Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell don’t do their jobs.
So let’s appreciate Jared for what he can become, a tough stay-at-home defenceman who moves well and who will inspire confidence in his teammates, respect in the opposition, and can adjust an opponent’s attitude whenever the refs forget where they put their whistles.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

My mock draft/birthday wish for Canadiens

As a complete amateur who has no expertise save for reading other people's opinions, I have to trust Trevor Timmins' staff, but if pressed to voice a rooting interest, I would be happy with:

1st round:  Alex Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko.  Mr. Galchenyuk seems to be more mature, but I sense Mikhail Grigorenko might have more skill and more upside, especially if he develops the work habits of his counterpart.  Either or, I'm happy.

2nd round,  #32:  I would be happy with any of Michael Matheson, Stefan Matteau or Martin Frk, probably in that order.  I know more of these guys since they have a local connection, and I value that connection.  Nothing wrong with the Matheson kid, good size, good head on his shoulders, good family background and great skating.  Stefan Matteau has good bloodlines, great size and strength for a teenager, is coming to play in the LHJMQ for the Armada, and is proud of his Québec roots.  Martin Frk dropped a little bit from where he was projected at the start of the season, but has great skills and size, and would add talent to a system that doesn't have a lot of it in terms of scoring forwards.

2nd round, #50:  Out of ideas here, maybe the best available goalie?  Maybe let the experts make that choice.

Mathieu Darche should return for another season with the Canadiens

The question is asked, is it time to cut bait with Mathieu Darche?

Having Mathieu Darche as a 12th or 13th forward isn't a bad place for a team to be.  The thing about Mathieu is he's going to be a complete pro, model player on and off the ice, that kids can emulate to develop their own careers.  He's a much better option than a frustrated fourth-liner who thinks he should be on the power play, or a misplaced kid like Louis Leblanc or Aaron Palushaj, who should be in Hamilton.

He's also very cheap, and he'll be happy to get what he gets, and play like it, as opposed to other guys who might wonder if the grass is greener somewhere else.

Finally, the fact that coaches love him and love putting him on the ice has to count for something.  While it was ridiculous that Jacques Martin was using him on the powerplay rather than Erik Cole early last season, it shows that he must do quite a few things right that he is trusted and used in all situations.

I'm not going to discount the local kid angle, and I'd tack on a future with the team in coaching or management too, which would be an easy transition once he retires.  He's a pretty smart guy as we can see from the interviews, and his stellar academic career at McGill.  This only adds to the reasons why we should retain his services.

Unless we luck out in free agency and we get at least three or four useful forwards and re-sign Travis Moen, Mathieu has a place on this team.

RDS, des matches des Bulldogs en 2012-13, S.V.P.

So am I the only one who wants to see RDS broadcasting some Hamilton Bulldogs games next season?  Especially with the NHL lockout looming, I'd love to see the Nouvelle Vague™ (Tinordi, Ellis, Gallagher, Bournival, Pateryn, Beaulieu, Holland) playing next season, as well as guys like Alexander Avtsin, Joonas Nattinen and Gabriel Dumont.

A quick search on the Google machine didn't show any problems with the TV rights, certainly not in French, so there should be no problem.  

For RDS, it would seem to me to be a much better draw than strongman competitions and basketball and other nonsense.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Should the Canadiens trade up or trade down at the 2012 NHL draft?

If a regular, average guy with a family and job and mortgage ever comes into a $100 000 windfall, his best bet is usually to invest it, pay down his mortgage, that kind of deal. The right move is never to go to Vegas and try to double it; if he's a dumbass and tries it and is successful, he's still made the wrong decision.

The Canadiens are in a great position with the #3 spot in the draft, it’s our version of the windfall. They are guaranteed one of three elite forwards in either Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko. Filip Forsberg and Ryan Murray are good fallback options based on the scouting reports.
As such, there is no need for the Canadiens to trade up. The cost does not justify the potential gain. We don’t have a wealth of assets that we can spend in this manner. We have gone years without having a second round pick. The shelf is bare in Hamilton. We don’t have organizational depth, we can’t afford to squander assets on getting ‘our guy’ when we’re assured of a very high quality prospect as it is.
Also, this isn’t the same situation as 2010 with the Taylor-Tyler duo. If you had the #3 or 4 pick then, you might decide that either of those players was so much better than the player you might end up with instead in your own slot that trading up made sense. Not in our case, not with the putative Top 3 forwards.
We can also consider the option of trading down, to add assets, if Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk go 1-2 and we think we can snag Mikhail Grigorenko at #5 or 6. Trouble is, while there have been unflattering reports about the latter during the season, he didn’t fall all that far in the final rankings. He’s even ranked #2 by ISS, and #3 by NHL Central Scouting among North American skaters. Some teams may have him lower than that, Craig Button certainly does, but you can’t bank on him being guaranteed to be there even at #5. Fallback options that were batted around mid-season such as Radek Faksa or Brendan Gaunce are clearly being seen as a notch or three below the top 3 forwards, so they shouldn’t be seriously considered and trading down shouldn’t be an option unless we get an offer that blows us away.
I’ve been impressed with the arguments that at the top end of the draft, it makes more sense to pick an elite forward than a defenceman. History shows that All-Star and scoring champion forwards come from the very top of the draft, whereas Norris Trophy winners can be found in the second round or later. So I do think we should take one of the Top 3 forwards, although if Trevor Timmins and his team think Ryan Murray is the next Scott Niedermayer, then I have to trust their work and expertise.
So again, we can sit tight on June 22, wait for our turn and pick the best available player.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Michel Thérrien is not a great public speaker, in English or French

I agree with those who point out that making fun of a coach for his accent and the way he speaks is pretty low-brow. Just as I’d respect the hell out of Marc Crawford for his efforts to learn a second language and be able to converse in it, Michel Thérrien should have everyone’s respect for his efforts to live and work in a world where he has to function using a second language. All of you who mock him, please take a look in the mirror and question whether you are fluently bilingual. In any case, we should all please refrain from taking cheap shots.
Having said that, Mr. Thérrien isn’t the most eloquent speaker in either language, English or French, he brings to mind the classic line about Jean Chrétien, how he was our first Prime Minister to have two second languages, English AND French. He could mangle both languages at the drop of a hat.
Michel Thérrien isn’t the most polished of speakers, even in French, and even though he works as a broadcaster on RDS. His analysis on RDS sometimes abrades the eardrums, but he does provide some insight and is often the calm voice of reason, who pulls in the other direction when a Michel Bergeron gets overly excited. He often cautioned this season, in response to criticisms of Andrei Kostitsyn or Yannick Weber, that getting rid of players was the easiest thing for a team to do. The hard part is to find, and then coach and develop players, he would repeat.
We have to look past his inelegant oratory and understand that he, much like Mr. Chrétien, has skills beyond being a polished public speaker. In fact, Mr. Chrétien’s popularity depended in large part on his commoner’s touch, he was ‘le p’tit gars de Shawinigan’, who could relate with people at an ‘épluchette de blé d’inde’ or a hockey tournament, the anti-Mitt Romney, if you will.
I’m strongly in favour of hiring Patrick Roy as our next coach, but if the current brain trust is comfortable with hiring Michel Thérrien, if after multiple face-to-face interviews hockey people with diverse backgrounds such as Marc Bergevin, Rick Dudley, Larry Carrière, and Scott Mellanby think he is the best candidate available and are willing to stake their reputation and possibly their jobs on it, then I have to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Is Trevor Timmins about to leave the Canadiens?

I've been worried about Trevor Timmins leaving, even before Marc Bergevin was appointed GM and brought with him a coterie of associates.  It's the natural order of things, the Circle of Life of the NHL, where a young driven talented guy gets poached by another organization for a promotion, or a régime change makes a few dominoes fall.  If anything though, the more collegiate atmosphere in the Bergevin era, one whereby he empowers his team members and allows them to flourish rather than micro-managing them possibly means that we have a better chance to retain Mr. Timmins.

If anything, the Trevor Timmins we have seen lately, at ease in front of the cameras and knowledgeable on the issues may mean that he feels comfortable in his role and may be less tempted to seek sunnier climes.  The vow by Marc Bergevin that he will beef up the scouting staff means more responsibility for him, and more resources.  The fact that he had the title of player development taken away can be seen in two ways, either a positive in that it allows him to focus on one task that he loves and enables him to do it well, or possibly it is seen negatively by him since it takes away a responsibility which he enjoyed.  Certainly the opportunity to speak about the coming draft and the prospects in the Canadiens' system to the media is a responsibility he enjoys and is well-suited for.

If I was Marc Bergevin, after the dust died down after the draft, I'd have a conversation with Trevor Timmins about his career path within the organization, what development steps he can take, and how to improve his chances when  the next big opportunity comes along.  If he is offered a clear picture of what his future holds, he will be less tempted to mail out resumes and send out feelers.  If he is headhunted, so be it, we shake his hand and wish him luck, and maybe down the road if need be and the circumstances are right we can repatriate him.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Darren Dreger tweets: Michel Thérrien to be the Canadiens coach

 Okay, so this is the part in the movie where the second-banana hero, the guy in the movie who's best buds with the hero, and may even be funnier, but isn't quite as handsome or tough or brave, think Goose in 'Top Gun' and you're on the right track, anyway that guy at this point would yell at the hero and the damsel in distress: "Go!  Save yourselves!" while the airlock creeped shut or the water rose in the engine room or he held the grenade in the cave/mine tunnel that was going to keep the ninjas/dinosaurs/Slavic bad guys from catching up while he nobly sacrificed himself.

We're at this juncture in our own escapade, the one that's lasted since Réjean Houle crowed about how insistent he was that he receive Jocelyn Thibault instead of Stéphane Fiset in return for Patrick Roy.  And team captain Mike Keane.  We've seen this in the movies before, Bruce Willis is about to win, except that he realizes that his daughter has been kidnapped and is being held hostage, or the bomb countdown was a sham, there's a second bomb under a secret compartment in the futuristic foot locker the bomb disposal experts were crowding around, or he just pulled the trigger to kill the bad guy, but his revolver was out of bullets, because he can't count to friggin' six, and the bad guy escapes by jumping off the skyscraper's roof and gets away.  And he still has the annoying rebellious teenage daughter in his clutches.

So just as we thought there was light at the end of the tunnel we now realize that it was actually the cliché'd headlight of the oncoming train.  We're not about to kiss the girl quite yet.  There will be some more bumps and bruises along the way.  We're likely to take a slug in the thigh or shoulder, nothing too bleedy, but it will make our final triumph even more worthy, against even more insurmountabler odds.

So it will be Michel Thérrien.  Probably.  Darren Dreger was a tool for his feeble attempt to play up to the Maple Leafs fans by suggesting a ridiculous, unnecessary and illogical compensation scheme for the Leafs to indemnify them for losing Rick Dudley to the Habs, but he's not that much of a tool.  He wouldn't stake his reputation on this scoop, without modifiers or attribution, if he wasn't certain.  So it will be Michel Thérrien.  

Michel Thérrien.  I kind of promised that I'd trust the, uh, brain trust of the Canadiens to know what they're doing, since they're the ones doing the interviewing and research, and that they'd hire the best coach possible.  But Michel Thérrien....

So what we must do now, and this isn't inconsistent, since I'm a big believer in succession planning, and since we shouldn't be caught in this same position of having few available candidates in two years or so, and I'm saying that without wanting to sound pessimistic, but what we have to do is stock Hamilton and and even Wheeling with young talented coaches who potentially have a future in the NHL.  Even if they get poached by other teams like Guy Boucher did, it's still not a bad idea to stock the pond with homeboys who we can poach back when needed.

Michel Thérrien....

No room for reason in debate over Canadiens' next head coach

Lots of passion regarding the coaching hire, which can be good, but a lot of it seems overboard. People are expression anger and frustration already, before a decision is made, at the mere thought of a candidate other than their favourite possibly being chosen.
I’ve posted consistently about wanting Patrick Roy as the head coach of the Canadiens, and tried to present the positives he would bring to the team, and how to contend with some of the weaknesses in his resume.
Unfortunately, a lot of the comments regarding the coaching choice tend to be very negative, like political attack ads. Marc Crawford is a borderline criminal, Michel Thérrien is a goon who can’t coach, Bob Hartley was going to blow a fuse and cause a riot every time his team lost.
Rumours are taken as gospel, and we flip our lid when they’re shown to be unfounded. The Hockey Writers, a website-blog tries to scoop everyone with a hasty post that Bob Hartley was about to be named the next head coach of the Canadiens. One by one, like dominoes, reputable news outlets give in and trumpet this, being careful to credit the source so as to be able to absolve themselves of blame if this is eventually discredited. Even Sports Illustrated falls for it.
We’re outraged that The Hockey Writers pulled this stunt, yet when RDS commenter Gaston Thérrien explains his opinion that Patrick Roy must be out of the running due to his various interpretations of the absolute lack of news emanating from the Canadiens on this, it’s again treated as if inscribed on stone tablets handed down at a burning bush.
Yet when a solid article explains how Patrick Roy is a good coach, well-liked by his players, a coach who was demanding but supportive of his players and who could adjust in game to various systems and situations, a true and passionate ‘winner’, citing three of his current players on the Remparts, with names and quotes, this is skipped over and no discussion ensues.
It’s a little tough to have this discussion when we talk at cross purposes with each other like this, where we point to every other candidate’s warts and act as if the hiring of anyone else but our favourite in this horse race should be the subject of a public inquiry, or at least a good flogging.
Can we agree that whoever is hired by the Canadiens will have been thoroughly vetted by the brain trust now in place, references will have been checked, backroom channels will have been tapped to find the dirt on every one of these gentlemen, and that the last man standing will be the best possible choice in these circumstances? And can we give this poor sap a moment of grace and the benefit of a couple doubts in his first year or so?

Friday, 1 June 2012

Mikhail Grigorenko or Alex Galchenyuk as the future #1 centre of the Montréal Canadiens?

Lots of angst over which player to draft on June 22.  Some agonize over Alex Galchenyuk's surgically repaired left knee, even though the ACL graft seems to have been successful and he was able to play at the end of the season, a relatively quick turnaround time.  Even more fans and pundits are concerned that Mikhail Grigorenko will be a bust because of scouts characterizing him as lazy.

Mario Lemieux used to be be accused of being lazy too, as well as Jean Béliveau, Bobby Smith, Peter Mahovlich, Joe Thornton.  Because big centres have a long stride and don't buzz around the rink like a Yvan Cournoyer or Pavel Bure or Theo Fleury, people make the leap of logic that they are lazy and don't care.   Their role isn't to fly around with abandon like a Shayne Corson or a Mario Tremblay, it's to be the general who carries the puck, distribute it to the snipers and score big goals.  The general doesn't run around like a chicken with his head cut off, he's usually the cooler guy who sees the whole ice and thinks strategically.

Mikhail Grigorenko is a talented 6'3", 200 lbs centre who was the rookie of the year in the LHJMQ his first year ever in a new country speaking a different language, with his mother as his only local support, and the rest of his family back in Russia.  He had to deal with an ankle injury and mononucleosis at the end of the season.  His numbers, despite these travails, compare well with other LHJMQ stars who went on to have solid NHL careers.

In the end, I have to trust Trevor Timmins' staff to make the pick, they have way more info and access than I will ever have.  If we end up with either Alex Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko I'll be happy.