Sunday, 29 July 2012

Never give an 11 year old girl a microphone

This video has it all: parents who push/accommodate their kids’ famewhore tendencies, lipstick on an 11 year-old girl, the spawn of the collision between the American Idol culture and karaoke, Texas-style nepotism (obviously).

And an audience shuffles nervously, wondering if everyone else is in on the joke: “Didn’t I see this on The Simpsons once?”

Friday, 27 July 2012

Shane Doan a Canadien?

According to a report from TSN, Shane Doan is seeking a four-year, $30M contract.  The report continues that the Canadiens are interested in his services, and that the right winger will visit Montréal next week.

So which is it?  In my estimation, only one of these propositions can be true, not both.  If he wants that massive contract, and it's not that outlandish a figure(!) since various reports have stated that a similar offer has already been made by an East Coast team, and if it's not just an opening bid that can be whittled down by healthy chunks, then there's no way the Canadiens would continue discussions.  I'm sure the Canadiens inquired what his ballpark intentions were, but as they did with Jaromir Jagr and P.A. Parenteau, they would quickly withdraw from the chase and not submit a contract offer if they found them too rich for their liking.  Right?

How can the Canadiens, struggling currently with albatross contracts on Scott Gomez and Tomas Kaberle, and having recently committed large chunks of their salary cap to middling to decent performers like Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec, and having rolled the dice on a strong recovery from All-Star Andrei Markov and having come up snake eyes for at least one year of the three-year deal, now turn around and throw another boatload of cash at a decent winger with good intangibles but on the downslope of his proud career at the age of 36?  

We remember the criticism Pierre Gauthier received for signing a 32 year old Erik Cole last summer, a player who had scored 26 goals the previous season and never exceeded 30, to a 4 year contract at $4.5 M a season, with a No Trade Clause on top.  Mr. Cole was aging and fragile it was said, and not likely to be worth this much money or term.  If it didn't make sense for him, it makes sense to offer the same deal, but at $3M more per season, to a 36 year old who has comparable production, but has only averaged 20 goals the past three seasons?

I concede that Mr. Doan is a bigger, stronger player than Mr. Cole, and that signing the latter was a spectacular success at least for the first year, but it's hard to see how importing a Right Wing who would soak up so much of the salary cap fits in with the team needs and the rebuilding program now in progress.  I could understand if there was a moderately priced pure Left Winger with size who can snipe goals available and he was signed to slot in next to Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, that's a natural fit, but not Shane Doan, and not at that price and term.

We have to sign Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais to new contracts next summer, and there are no big contracts coming off the books until 2014.  We have young players slated for Hamilton next fall, and they'll profit from an apprenticeship in the AHL, but we'll rather quickly need to give them a roster spot in the NHL, and I don't see how having Shane Doan here on a potentially untradable over-35 contract fits in with this.

The Canadiens-Canucks Stanley Cup final of 2011

PITTSBURGH, Pa.  June 23, 2012 --  Peter Chiarelli loves a challenge, and he didn't back down from one today as the NHL completed its annual draft and his Bruins came away with a brace of prospects who he hopes will help transform his team to better compete for the ultimate prize that's eluded the team since 1973.

"Well the game has changed since the lockout, and we need to adapt.  We're still the Bruins, but we need speed and skill to hope to win the Stanley Cup one day.  So we're really happy with some of the players we got this weekend, guys like Sebastian Collberg who fell to us at #24.  He's a really talented kid, he's got good size at 5'11", but more importantly the kid can skate and he'll dazzle you with the puck," said Chiarelli, describing his draft day haul in a rambling interview as crews tore down the stage at the Penguins' arena.

"Other guys we snagged like Matt Grzelcyk, Charles Hudon, they're really talented players, character players who will augment our roster and bring the skill element that we've been lacking," he added, with a note of excitement.

Pressed on what he meant when he referred to a deficit in skill, he brought up the previous season's Stanley Cup final between their division rivals Montréal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks, a skating affair that went seven games and was described by many analysts as some of the best hockey since the Oilers vs. Flames playoff series of the 1980's.

"We were so close, if we'd gotten through the first round, I really think we had the team to make it to the finals at least last season," he ruminated sourly.  "We had a great regular season, had solid defence and a good offence, good goaltending, but we kind of lost our way in that first round.  Stuff we got away with in the regular season wasn't going to fly in the playoffs, I mean, Commissioner Dryden makes it very clear that when our biggest audiences are watching we'll put forward our best product.  There's a good reason they bring out the best refs for the playoffs, and we talked about it before every game, but we just went over the line a couple of times."

Charelli hesitated when asked if he meant the notorious 'Ference Finger', when defenceman Andrew Ference offered his middle finger to the Montreal crowd after scoring a goal during Game 4, a move that promptly got him suspended for the rest of the series and may have sealed the Bruins' fate.  The Canadiens deadly power play took advantage of the five-minute man advantage to score three times and gain a 3-1 lead in the series.  Charelli accepts the league's decision and speaks to the fact that there is no place in the game for disgraceful gestures towards paying customers, but still defends his defenceman.

"We don't want to pile on Andrew, he's just recently put an end to his appeals and the 'glove malfunction' angle and accepted responsibility for what he did.   He apologized and spoke clearly and honestly about what happened, that's what we wanted as an organization, also as a league, and we kind of want to move on.  He's a hyper competitive guy immersed in a really hot rivalry, and he got carried away a little bit and we paid the price.  But that's why we talk so much about discipline and character, and we're shaping our team to have the toughness to not take those penalties that aren't necessarily competitive penalties, those you take as you fight to win the game, but instead maybe more selfish penalties.  We need to as a team rely on each other to keep our cool and fight hard but fair and not attract the officials' attention.  We want guys who wince when they hear the whistle and are sent to the box, guys who understand that you're hurting the team when you're in the box and that you can't win that way.

"It hurt us to lose that game, but losing Andrew for the series was another hard blow.  He's one of our more mobile guys on the blue line, and to not have him out there meant we had to rely on guys like Zdeno  (Chara) and Adam (McQuaid), and playoff hockey is a whole different game and maybe we didn't have them prepared like we should have."

When the status of Zdeno Chara was brought up, Chiarelli was uncharacteristically curt.

"Zdeno Chara is a member of the Boston Bruins, and he's still our Assistant Captain." When pressed to elaborate, he added: "He had a tough playoff, but he still has a lot of hockey left in him.  There's always room for a guy with good size and a cannon from the point.  I mean, no one's asking Vincent Damphousse about the status of Sheldon Souray.  With the right partner, Zdeno can play the same kind of game Souray does, and be just as effective as he was before the rules started being enforced more strictly.  We just need to adapt, look at how a guy like Hal Gill of the Penguins can just use his long stick and position himself to block shots and defend well."

On the Milan Lucic suspension, the Boston GM was also supportive of his player.

"I still think that the crosscheck to Dominic Moore was a reflex, a reaction.  There's no way that should have been a twenty game suspension, that's way too harsh, but again, we've moved on from that.  We have to respect (Director of Player Safety) Steve Yzerman's decision, he has a tough job to do, a lot of things to balance.  The new partnership between the (NHL)PA and the owners is taking us in that direction, we need to accept it and move on."

Asked about the effect on his player and the team, Chiarelli added: "Well obviously it killed his post-season, he was a little bit rusty and tentative, it's hard to get thrown on the ice in the middle of a playoff series after being away a quarter of the season, it's hard to keep up, the skating definitely suffers.  He didn't know if he gave someone an elbow or a slash if he was going to be suspended again, so he was off his game a little bit."

Asked whether a player with Lucic's skating can be effective in new NHL, Chiarelli responded thus: "Milan has a lot of talent as a hockey player, he has a nose for the net and is hard to move off the puck, he's effective in the corners, he can chip in a few goals, play ten-fifteen minutes a game, and that's really valuable from a fourth-liner.  Not many teams like playing against him and Scott Thornton.  A lot of teams would love to have Milan on their side."

About the only subject the Bruins' GM refused to discuss was Tim Thomas, currently being prosecuted in Federal Court for assaulting an ATF agent, stating the organization would not comment while the trial proceeds.

When the subject moved to the tradition of the Big Bad Bruins and how the early exit from the playoffs two years in a row coupled with the drafting of skilled players instead of the more traditional brawny Boston picks might mean the end of the team's identity, Chiarelli shrugged and pointed to his rival team's coach Guy Carbonneau, surrounded again by a Montreal media scrum.

"You look at Guy, he has a lot of skill on his roster, but it's not like they don't have size either.  (Guillaume) Latendresse, the Kostitsyn brothers, Max Pacioretty, all these guys, they're all six footers and all 200 pounders, and they all skate like crazy and hit a ton.  So it's not like you can't have size anymore and toughness, it's just that you also need those guys to skate and put the puck in the net.

"Look at their defencemen, Markov goes down for twenty games with a knee, they don't flinch.  Guy rolls out these big bruisers, Souray, Fischer, Emelin, McDonagh, they're all tough guys and they can clear the crease, but they can all skate and move the puck and get it out of the zone.  That kid Subban, he's up to stay, there's no way he's going back down to the AHL after the season he had.  It's a good problem for a team to have.  And that's the way we're going to do it too, we're going to draft well and develop our players."

Asked about the convulsions in the Bruins' front office, Chiarelli disputed the notion that they were a team in crisis.

"First of all, the idea that Mr. Jacobs being behind bars has any effect on the way we do our business is just erroneous.  Completely false.  There was a smooth transition to a blind trust that's headed by Ray Bourque, he's the acting owner.  Cam Neely reports to him, he's the President, and I report to Cam.  And when the team is sold, we'll review the structure then.  It's not much different than what they do in Montreal, with Vinny reporting to Gainey who reports to Serge Savard and Geoff Molson.

"Same with the player development team we hired, we're following our prospects more closely now, we're going to give them all the support they need, same as Montreal does.

"They have all their former players showing them the Canadiens way, we're going to show ours the Bruins way.  They have Larry Robinson as their Assistant Coach working with their D, we'll have Carol Vadnais next season.

Asked about the frequent comparisons to the Canadiens rather than other division rivals like the Québec Nordiques or the Markham Marauders or the currently under NHL-trusteeship Toronto Maple Leafs, Chiarelli shrugged:

"Those guys are the team everyone copies, what with all the tradition and the history.  They've just won back-to-back Cups, they must doing something right."

Thursday, 26 July 2012

'Prideful'? Do you mean 'proud'?

Since when has ‘prideful’ become a word? What the heck?
I guess some people use it as a way to denote someone who commits the sin of pride, but then there’s the airhead Selena Williams who toots her own horn and describes herself as a “very prideful” person, instead of using the plain old correct ‘proud’.
And maybe just maybe she should describe herself as a humble person, and stop trying to be a fashionista and designer, because it ain’t working, and stop appearing in bikinis in magazines, and cut down on the cosmetic surgeries disguised as “I disappeared from public view for months to have surgery because I cut my foot while walking on broken glass.”

Hey Sportscaster! (6)

Hey Jamie McLennan!  Easy on the mixed metaphors there, fella!

When describing an unpalatable situation that one got oneself into, it's okay to say that someone has made her bed, and now must lie in it, or that she has called the tune, and now has to pay the piper.  Both work, you're using the metaphor correctly, if you do so as above.

What you can't do is say: "The Nashville Predators have made their bed, now they have to pay the piper."  That's wrong, it's nonsensical, and it's called mixing metaphors.  Stop trying to be cute and stop using sayings you don't understand.  Stop it.

TSN should have an English professor on staff or at least on retainer to work with you, Mark Osborne, Darren Pang, Steve Kouleas, ...

Does Alex Galchenyuk play in the NHL in 2012?

Is it possible for Alex Galchenyuk to make the Canadiens out of training camp this season?  After all, they're not flush with talent or even mere NHL forwards, especially if an injury or two hit.  It's not uncommon to see a high draft pick make the NHL that same year.  
The opposing view is that Mr. Galchenyuk, as talented and physically gifted as he is, missed pretty much an entire year last season due to his blown out knee.  As such, it sets back his development, since there's no substitute for repetitions when learning skills, whether by playing games or hard practices.  If he goes back to junior, he'll get lots of those reps, but the exposure might be more limited on an NHL roster.  So the thinking goes that you send him down to the OHL to be the man for one year and gets lots of practices in and lots of game icetime under his belt.
One thing to consider when figuring this out is the very clear statement by Rick Dudley during a radio interview that for him or any player to make the team on his draft year, he has to clearly, decisively win the roster spot outright. In Mr. Dudley’s words, he has to force the team to keep him. Couple that with Marc Bergevin’s statement that a team never regrets leaving a player in the minors too long, but often regrets bringing one up too soon, and it kind of frames the discussion we’re having.
Another consideration is whether the team is very comfortable with the coaching and physio staff they have in Sarnia. What if he gets traded to a Memorial Cup contender and it’s an organization they really don’t have a good read on? Could it be that they may have more confidence if the crown jewel was in Montréal under the watchful eye of Michel Therrien and Dr. Mulder and his support staff?
I’ve floated the idea of easing him into the lineup like the Bruins did with Tyler Séguin, putting him on left wing for a season, but the trial balloon didn’t last very long. I’m not married to the idea, wouldn’t like the kid to be exposed to the shrieks of the media and fans if he was a healthy scratch for a couple of games for example, as Mr. Séguin was, ultimately to his benefit.
So does he progress more in Montréal surrounded by pros with lots of coaching and training staff support, being given achievable assignments and playing third-line minutes on the wing against topflight NHL competition, or in Junior where he’s the #1 centre Top Banana who gets the most minutes and plays the powerplay and kills penalties and takes key faceoffs against softer competition? And in junior, does he get playoff exposure and possible Memorial Cup experience and World Junior experience that he can’t duplicate being babied into the NHL, especially if next season is deemed a development year by the Canadiens and they don’t mind missing the playoffs too much?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Surprises to be hoped for at Chargers camp

So with training camp started in San Diego come lots of hope and good vibes for the upcoming season, and also the potential for surprises.  A classic example from the Chargers is how they specialize in finding undrafted free agents who win jobs at camp, guys like Antonio Gates, Kris Dielman and Mike Tolbert.

Here are some of the other surprises we'd like to see.

1)  Our draftees are actually ready to play.  They can step in and contribute right now.  They make an impact on the field and in the win column.  They're not projects who are athletically gifted but don't really understand the X's and O's and for who the game goes a little too fast.  Instead of guys like Robert English and Antoine Cason or Buster Davis, who are projects who need to be babied into the lineup, or even guys like Jonas Mouton and Donald Butler who go onto Injured Reserve right from camp, we have guys like Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes and Brandon Taylor getting lots of snaps, and not just on special teams, but defensive snaps.  Quality snaps that get the ball back in Philip Rivers' hands.

2)  Heck, our team comes out of it ready to play.  The Chargers are renowned for their struggling starts to seasons, and then coming on strong in the second half to barely make the playoffs, or barely miss them.  For once it would be nice if baffled Norv Turner, he of the muddled, tormented, whiny-voiced post-game press conferences and master of the head-scratchingly awful play call and and clock mismanagement, could have his charges ready to play at the start of the season.  And no, last season's 4-1 start doesn't count, not when we got trounced by the only decent team, and eked out wins against the abysmal Vikings, Dolphins and Broncos and the castrated-by-injury Chiefs.  If they had lost one of these games, I might have put the blindfold on Norv myself, and lit his last cigarette.

3) Ryan Mathews has somehow X-Men'ned velcro hands and forearms.  Yeah, that would be cool.

4)  Chargers fans don't get the vapours over the next Bryan Walters. Hey, I get it, my interest was piqued by his buzz last year, and I know we shouldn't have cut Wes Welker, and I love to root for the underdog, the physically overmatched kid with the big heart, but we kind of fell for it, and maybe A.J. went against his better judgment and bowed to public pressure, but this guy cost us Scott Tolzien or Laurent Robinson when we gave him a roster spot.  Let's not do that again okay?

5)  We actually get the attacking, blitzing defence we were promised.  I'll deal with this at more length in a future post, but did you ever notice no defensive coordinator ever announces when he's hired that he'll have a conservative prevent defence installed?  No, they always swear that they'll be aggressive and attack the quarterback.  Ron Pagano didn't disappoint this off-season, he said all the right things.  But so did Greg Manusky last year, he told us we'd swarm the backfield and gamble and be exciting and rack up sacks and interceptions.  Well, no.  We did not.  Now I don't necessarily blame him completely, he probably realized coming out of pre-season that he didn't have the horses, not like he did in San Fran. He figured that with only Shaun Phillips to rush the passer from the linebacking corps, and an inept front three who didn't develop as we'd hoped, and a backfield he didn't trust in man-to-man, he was going to have to nickel and dime offences to death.  The third-down conversions accumulated, teams marched up and down the field against us, we couldn't cover and couldn't stop the run.  So Greg Manusky went 'bend don't break' on us, and of all the rotten luck, the very same season Philip Rivers had an off-year.  So I want Vaughn Martin, Cam Thomas and Corey Liuget to develop much closer to their full potential, I want Kendall Reyes to surprise in his rookie season, I want Aubrayo Franklin and Antonio Garay to be the trusty veterans who lead the way, I want Donald Butler and Takeo Spikes to plug up the middle of the field while Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes, Melvin Ingram and what the heck even Robert English swarm all over the backfield, I want Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer to blanket their charges for a count or two until the quarterback is buried, and I want Eric Weddle and Atari Bigby to snag balls out of the air and return them for touchdowns.  If they all play like we expect them to, which shouldn't be too much to ask but is still probably unrealistic, then maybe Chuck Pagano can let slip the dogs of war, and we'll actually watch when the defence takes the field instead of going to the kitchen to make a sandwich.

Shane Doan won't come, Andrei might, Max and DD will stay

So many topics:

1) Shane Doan won't be a Canadien.  He'll be the 'missing piece' who puts a contender over the top, for which that contender will be glad to overpay and give term to an over-35 player.  We're not in a position where overpaying for Shane Doan is good strategy.

More importantly, Shane Doan probably can't see himself being a Canadien.  Leaving aside the lawsuit against Denis Coderre, he's not about to go to a bottom of the standings team in a city with poor weather and high taxes after years of playing in Phoenix.

2) Although I've been critical of Andrei Kostitsyn's play and lack of hockey sense in my game recaps last season, and just in general, I'm not against the idea of bringing him back.  The frame of reference has shifted.  Last year we were worried about having to compete on the UFA market and being forced to offer a five year $25M contract, that seemed to be where Andrei was headed in the current NHL salary madness, if he just puttered along and scored 25 goals in his contract year.

Well, that fear has been allayed.  We can now hire Andrei on the cheap, paying him at most $2M for the season, to plug the big hole at left wing beside Lars Eller on the third line, maybe we can recapture the AK-Eller-Moen magic of last season.  We'd be a stronger roster if we went that way.  Andrei can be a placeholder for a season, allows another youngster the chance to work on his game in Hamilton, and offers us a better chance to ice a decent team.  There's always the chance that the additional boots to the head of being traded, being vilified as an unmotivated and brain-dead lush in Nashville, not being re-signed, and then left to wither on the vine past July 1 may force reality to sink in through his thick, thick skull and he now has half a clue.  Maybe he comes back with a touch more determination and something to prove.  Heck, maybe halfway through the season we start thinking about extending him, if he's showing us something.

Of course, there is the strong probability that Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot Arizona strip-club pole, that they feel his presence in the dressing room and around the team is a negative influence that outweighs anything positive he episodically brings on the ice, and that the style he plays will not work in the new system they are trying to install.  Maybe they think that they'd rather spend those minutes on a youngster learning his craft in the NHL, at the cost of a few losses, in what they may have already decided is a 'development' season.  And that's why they're the bosses and this is just my opinion.

And which brings us to....

3)  Our highest-paid player will not be on the roster next season.  No way nohow.  The team will want a clean break from the past in this regard.  He has played himself off the roster by going a calendar year without scoring a goal.  His career arc is plain to see, the numbers are plummeting, and there is no chance that he'll regain his form when the trend is toward the brutish hockey exemplified by the Bruins and Kings, and championed by Mike Milbury and Don Cherry.  There is no need to scout him or to adopt a wait and see attitude, the results are in.  We'll give his minutes to an industrious Petteri Nokelainen, who'll scratch and claw and chip in five goals, or an improving, underestimated Ryan White, who'll chip in ten or fifteen.  Maybe a Louis Leblanc or Blake Geoffrion now gets a regular shift in the NHL, instead of pressbox duty and fourth-line duty.  We are a better team without our dressing room jokester.

4)  Next summer will be interesting when it comes to the roster and signing players.  As I've pointed out before and was mentioned today by another poster, we have to re-sign Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, and both will receive big raises.  Meanwhile, no big contracts are expiring, only in 2014 are Brian Gionta, Andrei Markov and Tomas Kaberle coming off the books.  So I'm sure that will enter the discussion in the boardroom when the braintrust is discussing whether to sign a Shane Doan and Alex Semin.

Pierre Gauthier said before, especially when challenged about taking on Tomas Kaberle's contract, that cap space wasn't really an issue, that you can always create cap space.  In the Canadiens' case, with big contracts attached to underperforming players, often with No Trade Clauses, I'm not sure how true that statement is.  The Blackhawks showed that you can create cap space, but at the cost of stripping your roster of valuable pieces like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell for not much in return.

I think we should consider Max and David before we enter long term deals for aging veterans.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Shea Weber gets $26M if there's a lockout, $27M if there isn't

One point which I’m not seeing discussed is that the $26M signing bonus payments in the first year of the Shea Weber contract offer sheet are payable by the team whether a lockout is in effect or not. That is, when either the Flyers or the Preds end up with his contract in six days, they must pay him $13M that day. Then, if there is a season, the team will have to pay him $1 million in salary, or not pay that amount of money or a portion thereof if the season is affected by a lockout. Followed on July 1 2013 with another $13M payment, whether play has resumed and revenues have started flowing again.

So the Predators have to evaluate if Shea Weber will be unhappy in Nashville, will he sulk and affect the rest of the team, or whether he can suck it up and be a pro like Joe Sakic did in Denver and Sergei Fedorov in Detroit when their teams matched offer sheets from other teams, at which point the contract is just a problem in terms of finding the cash for the first couple of years. It isn’t a problem in terms of the total amount, you’d be paying the going rate for a Norris Trophy candidate. This isn’t a Bobby Holik contract, it’s not overpaying for a player who probably doesn’t deserve this much money.
Then they have to evaluate whether they can pay out this much bonus money without revenues coming in, and in case of a lockout not being able to amortize it over the entire fourteen years the contract will run, barring early retirement. And as a small market team which is all in with Gary Bettman’s aggressive stance in bargaining, they may have insight and foreknowledge of the likelihood of a long work stoppage, and that may enter their calculation of whether they can match this contract offer sheet.

A way for the Predators to get out of this is to threaten the Flyers that they will match the contract unless they sweeten the offer, with the Flyers having to compensate the Preds with a better offer than the four first-rounders they'll currently be indebted to.  If the Preds can play this right, maybe they can come away with a Kimo Timmonen to plug the hole on the blue line for now, a Sean Couturier or Wayne Simmonds or Jakub Voracek and a couple of picks, they've set themselves up for now and for the future, and they have been compensated more fairly for arguably the best defenceman in the NHL at the height of his game.  The Flyers would then have done no worse than set in motion a trade that netted them the prize they were seeking at a palatable cost.  Theoretically, everyone would be happy could move on from there.

Luis Castillo released by the Chargers, Aubrayo Franklin signed

The San Diego Chargers cut Defensive End Luis Castillo on Thursday and quickly replaced him on the roster on Friday when they signed Nose Tackle Aubrayo Franklin, formerly of the Saints.

Franklin is a true Nose Tackle who enjoyed success at that position, but struggled last season in the Saints' 4-3 defensive front.  We can hope that he returns to form in the Chargers' scheme, and that he brings experience and a competitive presence to the position, currently staffed by Antonio Garay and Cam Thomas.

Mr. Garay had a surprisingly good season in 2010, but tailed off in 2011 and gathered more attention for his hairstyles and jocular relationship with the local media than for his on-field production, which was unfortunate for him in a contract year.

Cam Thomas was drafted in the fifth round in 2010, although he was projected to go much higher, possibly in the second round, and caused Mike Mayock to muse that he might not get out of the first round after a great Senior Bowl.  He has been primarily a backup.  He's seen as a naturally big and strong kid who unfortunately has a bit of a concentration and work ethic problem.  Nevertheless, he's considered an important member of the young defensive line the Chargers are trying to develop with ends Vaughn Martin and Corey Liuget, and augmented by Kendall Reyes at this year's draft.  

So Aubrayo Franklin may act as the senior statesman on the line, dispensing wisdom and tips to the younger Cam Thomas, and lighting a fire under him and Antonio Garay.  He'll also serve as injury insurance, should one of the incumbents fall during training camp or pre-season.  Nothing wrong with having depth on the defensive line in today's NFL, and especially for the infirmary-cursed Chargers.  

Meanwhile, Luis Castillo's role on this team was unclear, and what he could contribute to the defense at this stage of his career questionable.  Some might argue that his veteran presence might help the young defensive ends around him, but there is already a healthier, more productive Jacques Césaire to provide that.  Also, it's debatable whether the team at this point needs veterans and continuity as opposed to a break from the past, from the complacency and self-satisfaction and propensity for failing under pressure and displaying astounding brain cramps.  

I think the team needs an infusion of youth, talent, of real football players who will produce and win.  The Chargers did well in the draft this year by snapping up three team captains at major programs who are football junkies who will play hard instead of workout wonders who will need time to develop.  These guys need playing time and trial by fire, not to be coddled on the sidelines while Luis Castillo underwhelms on the field.

Mr. Castillo was never a spectacular talent or performer, doing okay early on in his career when playing alongside Jamal Williams.  The Pro Bowl Nose Tackle would occupy two or three blockers and allow Luis free rein, especially when opponents had to worry about Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips behind him.  As the talent around him dwindled, so did Mr. Castillo's performance.  He never became the impact player that his first-round draft status or college career indicated he might turn into.

An interesting, unspoken aspect in all this is that both Mr. Castillo and Shawne Merriman were drafted in the first round in 2005 to great hype, and at first it seemed to be a draft for the ages, especially considering that Vincent Jackson was nabbed in the second round and Darren Sproles in the fourth.  Unfortunately for the team, both first-rounders were shown to have used performance-enhancing drugs, and both were never the same players after getting caught.  

In Luis Castillo's case, he tested positive before the draft combine, and explained in a letter to all NFL teams that while he admitted his culpability, his reasons were to aid in his recovery from an elbow injury. Mr. Castillo was a bright and likeable kid, a Northwestern grad with a Wonderlic test score of 37 (!), and the Chargers took a chance on him.  While Luis Castillo was not a bust, he never quite turned out as well as we'd hoped, and while we waited for him to blossom we had a middling performer on the line on a defense that was a liability as soon as Shawne Merriman and Jamal Williams tailed off.  

So better off giving the reps to Vaughn Martin, Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes right now, and seeing what the kids can do.  We can wish Luis Castillo the best in his future career, and thank him for his years of service.

It's time to repatriate James Wisniewski, and send away an unmentionable

Okay, so hear me out here. Don’t jump all over me for this, I’m just throwing pasghetti on the wall and seein’ if it sticks.
The Blue Jackets have a plethora of NHL calibre defencemen, lots of puck movers and offensively-oriented ones, and just added Jack Johnson last season and now Tim Erixon. They’re at the salary cap floor, and are a low-budget and revenue team, they can’t spend much beyond the floor. They’re kind of pinching pennies.
Meanwhile the Canadiens have a need for a right-handed defenceman who can shoot the puck on the powerplay, and need some grit and toughness back there.
Can you see a framework of a deal where we repatriate James Wisniewski for a package of youngsters and prospects and a veteran centreman who’s a leader and good in the room and will provide a higher cap hit than the salary he’s actually going to receive?  Maybe a Hispanic player might attract some ticket buyers in Ohio?

Why don't the Canadiens land big fish like Rick Nash?

So the question is why aren't the Canadiens in on the Rick Nash bonanza.  Couldn't we have packaged Tomas Plekanec, Danny Kristo, Nathan Beaulieu and a first-rounder to match what the Rangers offered the Blue Jackets?
First off, Rick Nash didn't have Montréal on his list of teams he would have accepted a trade to.  That's the non-starter in that thought experiment.  When the team becomes more solid and stable and wins consistently, it will be a more attractive destination and we will be in the running for such sweepstakes.
More importantly, such a trade would have depleted our organization, and made it hard to ice a decent team this year and beyond.  The Rangers, having organizational depth, could afford to part with pieces like this. The Canadiens have no such depth, as we saw at the end of last season with a couple of injuries to Travis Moen, Ryan White and Mathieu Darche depriving us of legitimate third and fourth lines. We will need another year or two of shrewd drafting from Trevor Timmins’ team and for the Player Development team and Hamilton coaches to turn a couple of borderline players into solid NHL’ers before we can start trading quantity for quality, and for the Canadiens to be in a position where we can profit from such moves.  The Rangers are very close to winning a Stanley Cup and Rick Nash may be the missing piece; the Canadiens are under no such illusion.
A connected gripe we used to hear about Pierre Gauthier and now hear about Marc Bergevin is that they’re not bold wheelers and dealers like Paul Holmgren or Brian Burke or Glen Sather. The thing is, to play poker you need to have chips to play with. You need a stack of assets to be at the table, if you’re there with four dollars, you can’t bluff or manoeuvre or threaten someone to go all-in, they’ve got fifty or a hundred bucks in front of them and will laugh at any such ploys. Marc Bergevin will be wise to be patient and wait to accumulate some chips before he sits down at the table with the big boys.

Rick Nash is a Ranger, and Scott Howson is a lame duck

So Scott Howson is not the unreasonable, inflexible GM that we thought he was.  In reality, he's just as malleable as any other GM in crisis.  Bullying will do that to a man.  After months of pressure from the media and fans to deal with the Rick Nash situation, he caves to the pressure and deals him away when there was really no deadline or reason for him to act, especially with a lockout all but certain until January 1.  He could have waited for a training camp epiphany by an opposition GM, or an early-season injury to create more favourable conditions.  Instead, he fumbled the ball in the open field, with no one near him.

It's on days like this that I appreciate even more the work of Brian Burke, who dangled Tomas Kaberle for two seasons, kept enticing teams with a player, who he hyped as a frontline offensive defenceman, at training camp and early season and at the trade deadline and the draft, and kept pulling him back, while I howled at how he should dump the mug for a third-rounder and be done with it, but no, he persisted and kept up his carnival barker act until he got the Bruins to bite on the lure, and hauled in a first and second-round pick and a decent prospect for his scrap heap special.  He held on to his 'asset' like Wayne Gretzky would hold on to the puck behind the opposition net.  He'd sit there and wait and fake and fidget and pretend to go one way and wait some more, seconds elapsing until it seemed like minutes, until one of the defencemen would flinch and, against his better judgment and everything he'd be coached to do, give up and chase Mr. Gretzky around the net, which was precisely what he wanted.  No, Scott Howson played this one like Andrei Kostitsyn, taking the puck from the high slot and skating it towards the corner, then down along the boards, shepherded gently by checkers, all the way to the blue line, where he'd pass it into Josh Gorges' skates and cause a three-on-one breakout.

Make no mistake about it, the Blue Jackets lost this trade.  They gave up a crown jewel in Rick Nash, a player that every team craves and hopes to uncover in a draft.  In return for such a topline player, they received some nice assets, but nothing to show to the fans that there are better days ahead.  Brandon Dubinsky is a useful character player I'd love to have on my team, Artem Anisimov is a quality young forward with upside, Tim Erixon a decent defensive prospect.  They also get a low first-round draft pick, which is nice, but all these assets are a lot easier to find, through trade and the draft and free agency and a proper development system, than a player like Rick Nash.

The Rangers get a big strong marquis player with lots of skill, good enough to make the Olympic Team Canada roster twice so far as a no-brainer, and a lock to make it again for Sochi.  He's reaching the peak of his athletic ability, his prime years as a 28 year old.  He's signed to a contract that will keep him happy and on the Rangers' roster for years.  They get a finishing piece to a strong Cup-contending team.  It's as if they obtained a Double Jos Louis in a lunchtime trade for a celery stalk, a half a PBJ, an apple, and an apple to be named later, from a sucker kid who should have held out for a Mae West today and another one tomorrow, on top of the apples.  He could have made a PBJ himself when he got home, or found one still in the wrapper in the garbage, if he thought he really needed one.

Before the announcement, one trade I thought the Rick Nash deal could eventually compare to was the Joe Nieuwendyk trade from Calgary.  The Flames held a known quantity, a big and very skilled scoring winger that any coach would want on his team.  They flipped him to the Dallas Stars for a package that included a budding similar forward in the making in Jarome Iginla.  When that trade was made, critics were evenly divided as to which team had won the trade.  Those who thought Calgary had won admitted that losing Mr. Nieuwendyk was a big blow, but rightly analyzed that Jarome Iginla could turn out to be just as good and would lead the team for a decade, and most people agreed.  I kind of thought that the Blue Jackets would get a nice package of players to fill holes now, but would also land one similar future prospect that would be their leader for years.  They failed to do that.  Sure, their demands at the outset for two quality roster players and two blue-chip prospects and a high pick might have been sky high, but they crashed back to earth when they gave up on receiving at least one blue chipper.

We can't discount the negative role played by Rick Nash in this.  He's the one who asked to be dealt, not wanting to go through another rebuilding process in Columbus, which is fair enough, but at this point the Jackets should have insisted he waive his No Trade Clause and at most provide the team with five or ten teams he didn't want to go to.  This isn't the same kind of situation as the Canucks are embroiled in with Roberto Luongo, where they are nicely asking a player with a near-immovable contract to please allow them to trade him pretty please if it's okay and all.  Rick Nash made this bed for the Blue Jackets, they shouldn't have been the only ones to lie in it, or as Jamie McLennan would intone, the ones to now pay the piper.

All in all, this trade with the Rangers is disappointing for the Columbus Blue Jackets fans.  Also, combined with the Predators losing Ryan Suter and on the ropes with respect to retaining Shea Weber, the equal-opportunity NHL that Gary Bettman dreams about is far from a reality, if the weak sisters keep playing the role of farm teams for the prestige clubs.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Flyers sign Shea Weber to an offer sheet

So the Flyers 'broke the code' and probably caused Brian Burke to have a minor aneurysm when they signed restricted free agent Predators defenceman and captain Shea Weber to a 14 year, $110 million offer sheet.  The ball is now in the Predators court, and they have seven days to decide whether they will match the Flyers' offer and retain Mr. Weber's services, or choose to let him leave and accept four first-round draft picks from the Flyers as compensation.

First off, the amount laid out by the Flyers is mostly reasonable for a player of Shea Weber's caliber.  He is a Norris Trophy-quality defenceman with no holes in his game.  He is good in the defensive zone, can play well offensively and is on the first powerplay unit, has a cannon of a shot that inspires fear in Carey Price (and douchy detachment from Tim Thomas), is tough and has a bit of a mean streak.  He is the all-around player who has the total package, a modern-day Larry Robinson or almost, and a more than adequate substitute for Chris Pronger, who was brought in to Philadelphia to lead the team to the Stanley Cup but whose career is threatened due to concussion injuries.

Put another way, if in today's crazy NHL free agent market Ryan Suter and Zach Parisé are worth 13 year $98M contracts, then Shea Weber's offer sheet is quite sane and buys his services at a decent price.  Mr. Weber is a much more valuable player than Ryan Suter, and has the edge over Zach Parisé in my book.

David Poile was forthright with the media and his fans when communicating the shock and frustration he felt with Ryan Suter for his leaving the team to sign with the Minnesota Wild on July 4.  The General Manager of the Predators knew losing him outright was a possibility when he chose not to trade him last season, instead signing Pekka Rinne to an extension and keeping his core of players intact for a playoff run, and adding pieces at the trade deadline.  What he believed though is that Mr. Suter would look around on July 1 but give the Preds an equal shot to match any offer out there, and would show some hometown loyalty.  He averred that he thought there was a verbal agreement between the team and the Suter camp that was not followed.  He expressed his astonishment that Mr. Suter would pass up a chance to play alongside Shea Weber for the rest of his career and be the most dominant pairing in the League, better than even the Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook pairing of the Blackhawks.

In a way, some might have thought that the departure of Mr. Suter would make it easier to sign Shea Weber, in that they could now shower him with a huge pile of money, which may not have been possible if they were trying to retain both.  With their undivided attention on Shea Weber, a monster contract was thought to be quite feasible.

Enter the Flyers, and their wheeling and dealing General Manager Paul Holmgren, who in a small way did the Predators a favour by setting the market for Shea Weber.  Rumours abound that the Flyers and Preds were embroiled in trade negotiations, and the Flyers twice thought they had a deal for Mr. Weber but the Preds would turn around and try to use the Flyers offer as a negotiating ploy with other teams, causing Mr. Holmgren to lose patience and force the issue.  Now Shea Weber is committed to play with the Flyers unless the Predators match the offer.  If they do, they cannot trade Mr. Weber for at least one season.

And there lies the issue.  The Flyers know that the Predators, as a small market low-revenue team, are vulnerable to an aggressive front-loaded offer sheet, and they acted consequently.  They structured the contract so that Mr. Weber will receive two $13M bonuses in the first year.  If the Preds can't amass that amount of cash this quickly, or if their intention would be to match the offer and subsequently trade the defenceman, this initial outlay of $26M may be enough to get them to back down and accept the four first-rounders.

In a way, if the Nashville team wants to send a message that it is a serious team and wants to contend for the Stanley Cup, if it wants to be major league in the eyes of the League and the fans, and if they want to win, then they have to match the contract offer and retain their captain and best player.  The draft picks will not adequately compensate them for losing one of the best players in the league.  There is also the concern that they are currently $14M below the cap floor as it sits in the current CBA.  If they let Shea Weber walk, who will they spend that money on?   The list of remaining unrestricted free agents isn't very appetizing.  They'd be like Monty Brewster at the 99 cents store.

There are reasons for which the Preds may not match the contract offer however.  The big reason in this observer's eyes is that he apparently doesn't want to be in Nashville.  If he did, he would have worked out a similar deal with the Preds a long time ago.  He and Ryan Suter wouldn't have done the uncomfortable shuffle they did the past couple of years, claiming allegiance to Nashville but refusing to set pen to paper, choosing instead to point fingers at each other ("You jump first." "No, you jump first.") and stating they wanted to see where the organization was headed.  It looks like they knew all along what the direction was, it pointed out of town.

The Predators may also think that a 14 year contract is folly, even for a durable and valuable player like Shea Weber, and even when it seems to be transparently set up so that the last three years will be moot and the player will retire rather than play for a million dollars a year at age 40.

And this may be a card the Preds will play.  They may appeal to League Commissioner Gary Bettman and get him to rule the offered contract an attempt to circumvent the rules of the salary cap, void it, and send the team back to square one with its free agent.  While this has happened before when he punished the Devils for their initial contract with Ilya Kovalchuk, it remains to be seen if Mr. Bettman will dare to defy Ed Snider, owner of the Flyers and ComCast, the parent company of NBC Sports Network, the broadcasting partner of the NHL.  We've seen Mr. Bettman recently treat one 'partner' shabbily when he made a ludicrous opening offer to the NHLPA during their collective bargaining process, but it's another matter entirely to go up against someone who is essentially his boss.  I expect Gary to play nicey nicey.

Last season, it was thought likely that someone would offer sheet Steven Stamkos or Drew Doughty or both, since they are generational talents who were already dominant players very early in their career.  When one wasn't made, there were accusations of collusion between the owners and GM's to not jack up the bidding between themselves.  A very logical explanation was made by a GM who said that the only way an offer sheet works is if you overpay the player.  If you don't overpay, the player's current team will match the offer.  If you overpay, the team doesn't match and you land the player, then you have other problems on your hands, in that you have now upset your own team's salary structure, and are probably going to have to divest yourself of some useful players to stay under the cap.  Thus, he explained, offer sheets don't really work, and that's why they're not used often.

In this specific case, the Flyers found that they can work quite well.  They will either end up with Shea Weber at a reasonable cost in terms of salary and compensation owed to Nashville, and will have a big piece of the puzzle in place for a few runs at a Stanley Cup.  If the Predators match the offer, the Flyers at least kept him out of the hands of the Rangers and the Penguins for a couple years.  And they can show that in certain targeted situations, when used against a team hard up against the salary cap or struggling to generate revenue, an offer sheet is one more trick up a GM's sleeve.

Will the NHLPA consider the nuclear option and decertify?

 I guess one bargaining chip that the NHLPA has is the threat of decertification.  If they decertified as a union representing the players, then the CBA would obviously be null and void, and there would no longer be a salary cap, the Rangers and Leafs could buy all the players they want without restrictions.  There would be two or three tiers in the league, with traditional powers (or rather, rich teams) at the top, a middling few who fight every year to get in the playoffs through ingenuity, and a lower tier of untouchables who would be punching bags for the rest of the league.

The league would be markedly changed, in that the players could sue in court to remove the universal draft and reserve clause, which are restraints of trade and monopolistic.  Players could once they reach the age of 18 sign with the club they want for as long or short a period as they want, and at the conclusion of that contract be full free agents.  They could demand crazy things like are offered in the KHL, cars, appartments, they could insist on No Movement Clauses.  Faced with the possibility of signing a Taylor Hall with a NMC or losing him to another team that would acquiesce, a dozen teams would stampede to do so.

There would be no 'standard contract', players would bargain individually for guarantees and bonuses, options, and renegotiate or extend the contract when they wanted.

So in a way, the NHL has to be reasonable, they have to hold off the threat of the KHL on one hand, and prevent the courts from sticking their noses in the way they do business if the PA decertifies.  We can hope that their ridiculous opening offer was just some sabre rattling.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Erik Cole to mentor René Bourque? When Jarome Iginla failed?

The dog days of summer are upon us, and we have precious few topics as Canadiens fans to whip ourselves into a frenzy over.  With Shane Doan still hoping to stay rooted in Phoenix, and the trade market at a standstill, there are no controversies we can really sink our teeth into.  Well, there is the negotiations between the NHL and the Players' Association, but that discussion usually degenerates into a pro-owners vs. pro-players shouting match, with neither side able to convince the other of the clarity of its arguments, and no real benefit, kind of like if a 'Blame-the-Captain' faction formed against a 'No-It's the-Iceberg's-Fault,-Dumbass' mob on the increasingly vertical top deck of the Titanic.

So we recycle never-ending controversies, bring up Ryan McDonagh and Pierre Gauthier, and revert to the old saw about how we have to get rid of Scott Gomez and Tomas Kaberle.  While there is wisdom in unloading both of these albatrosses around our necks, especially the former now that Dennis Wideman happened, we still sometimes come across the argument that René Bourque is just as useless and just as much of a drain on the team's fortunes as the other two pariahs.

Fortunately, there is a contervailing opinion that René Bourque is signed to a reasonable contract for his usual production, brings size and decent skating and finish around the net, and should bounce back this season, especially if Erik Cole can perform the same magic he did when he mentored Max Pacioretty.  Maybe he can learn something from the way Erik Cole plays with passion and drive.

While I’m optimistic that René Bourque will improve his play this season, we should accept that since he didn’t “learn something” from playing with Jarome Iginla, he will never be the player we hope he can transform into and the Flames dreamed he can be.  He's also a different player than Erik Cole and Jarome Iginla too, he's not a flamboyant winger who'll carry the puck and score on the rush, but more of an Eric Dazé/Al Secord-type who is dominant because of his size, and can find room in front of the net to pot goals from close in.  The comparison to Erik Cole or Max Pacioretty is inapt.  He's even bigger than those two, but doesn't have the wheels they do or the hockey sense.

Let’s temper our expectations and think of him as a 20-25 goal scorer, who can chip in on the defensive side of the equation, as he did last season when he killed penalties, and provides a physical presence if merely due to his size, and occasionally by delivering a hit or dropping the gloves. He’ll never be a rah-rah Mike Keane type, an inspirational Erik Cole or Jarome Iginla type who dominates games, or a quietly efficient player who exudes leadership like a Brian Skrudland or Josh Gorges. He’s an introverted, streaky player who can be moody, but who’s never been seen as a dressing room distraction, he’ll mold in to whatever atmosphere is concocted by Michel Therrien and Brian Gionta.

If I'm Coach Therrien, what I do with him is whittle down his responsibilities and give him easy targets to focus on.  I judge him on his behaviours on the ice during games, not his moods, his 'passion', his 'drive', and I tell him that.  I pull him into my office at the start of camp and explain that during games, I expect him to play within the system, and be positionally sound, be where he should be.  At the end of the game, if he did that, and he got two shots on goal, and delivered two hits, that's a win for him.  That's it.  Play the system, get us two shots and two hits.  Focus on that.  Don't try to do that cool thing that David Desharnais did two shifts earlier, or try to go off on a breakaway like Aaron Palushaj just did.  Play the system, fire two shots on net, get two solid hits per game, and you'll have a successful season.  Don't get down on yourself if the fans get impatient, or you go ten games without a goal, give us two shots on net, two hits.  If you do that, we're all happy.

Another thing I do with René is I insulate him from the media and the fans to some degree.  I explain that he's pulling his weight, doing everything we're asking for, that he's potting goals or that the goals will surely come, that he's working hard in practice and in games, he's killing penalties.  I use the strategy that Expos manager Dick Williams used with his second baseman Rodney Scott and the media, and tell the reporters that it doesn't matter what his batting average is, he does a hundred other things well, I have my own book of stats on Rodney Scott and he's having a great season.  That worked for the Expos and Mr. Scott, it shielded him from criticism, allowed him to play his game, let's do the same for Mr. Bourque.

Finally, I get Tomas Plekanec to be the on-ice tutor for Mr. Bourque.  At faceoffs, he checks in with him regularly and reminds him of his assignment, or points out special circumstances, be it the clock winding down or the need to clear out the zone because of the long change.  Tomas is a wily vet, he's smart, he can keep René focused, keep his mind on the game, reduce the noise and the amount of decisions he needs to make.  If they're facing off agains the David Krejci line in the defensive zone, Tomas makes sure that René knows he's got Nathan Horton, and what he does if we win the faceoff, and what he does if we lose it.  If the Bruins start doing things a little different, they have a chat about that.

Mr. Plekanec showed a little frustration last year near the end of the season, so it's important to get him onside, and make sure he understands that this isn't a burden on him, but an opportunity for leadership and something that could pay off for him too, if he and René can develop a rapport and kill penalties together, send each other off on breakaways.  There's nothing wrong with having a big guy like that on your wing who has good hands and a bit of a mean streak.  Tomas has worn the 'A' on occasion, this responsibility is well within his wheelhouse.

If the Canadiens give René Bourque clear assignments like this, clear deliverables, and hold him accountable for those, and understand that he's probably the kind of player who responds to the carrot rather than the stick, that while he's not a headsy self-starter but rather a capable role player who can be productive in the right environment, and if the fans can rein in their enthusiasm and not take his 27 goals from two seasons ago and round it up to 'thirty-goal potential', we can enjoy a good season from René Bourque.

CTE isn't just something you discover during the autopsy: the story of Steve Hendrickson

Really interesting story of former NFL’er Steve Hendrickson, who at 45 is dealing with probable chronic traumatic encephelopathy (CTE). It is a relief in a way that these poor guys who used to be dismissed as being ‘punch-drunk’ or just never too bright to begin with, now can be diagnosed with a medical condition and at least know what is wrong. Another positive is that he is starting to receive disability payments from the NFL’s pension program.
In Mr. Hendrickson’s case, his health has deteriorated so much that his appearance in the cover photo is shocking, I did a double take, since he looks like he’s 75, not middle-aged. I’m not sure how many people remember him, but he was a bit of a funny guy, was quotable in a John Kruk-Lenny Dykstra-Charles Barkley kind of way. Amazing that a guy who seemed to be so vibrant and in charge has gone downhill so fast.
Another interesting facet is how his daughter describes his mood swings, how she would avoid him sometimes and just thought that was how he was, not a symptom of a medical condition. For anyone who’s read Bob Probert’s biography, or remembers his career, we all thought the same thing, that he was erratic and an uncontrollable wild man, not that he was suffering early onset dementia.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Blake Geoffrion signs a one year contract

The Canadiens announced today that they had signed left winger Blake Geoffrion to a one year, $800 000 contract.  This is a bargain basement deal, and I guess Mr. Geoffrion and his agent thought that they could greatly improve his bargaining position with a strong showing next season, and preferred a shorter term.  Let's hope he's focused on training like a madman this summer, to become the type of player his Hobie Baker Award and bloodlines suggest he can become.  The team is devoid of depth at the left wing slot, so retaining his services was a no-brainer.

The thing about Blake Geoffrion is his skating needs a lot of work before he’s a true NHL caliber player. I’m not the best judge of these things, but in some games on the plasma last season his skating stood out he was so slow, and I usually only notice for guys like Hal Gill and Derek Boogaard.  I see prospect reports say he's a good skater and has good mobility, but when I saw him play he was chugging like Ryan Walter or Stan Smyl.  Nothing against those two stalwarts, but they were the slowest guys in the NHL when active, and had to bring a lot of other qualities to become the quality NHL'ers they were.  Unless you can snipe goals like Luc Robitaille, especially these days, you need to be able to skate.

Another consideration is that once he’s played three more NHL games it will make him waiver eligible.  The Canadiens don't have a lot of flexibility in terms of calling him up.  If they do play him for three games, they can't send him back down without risking losing him, so they may not take the chance unless he plays lights out for half the season and/or they are ravaged with injuries and have no other options.  

A lengthy lockout only strengthens the likelihood of his spending a full season on the farm.  A factor to consider is that all AHL teams will be stronger with a lockout, with the NHL sending down their young prospects that might normally make the big league, so the competition should be even fiercer than usual, and Hamilton will be a great proving ground for him and the other young Canadiens.

So with these things in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was kept in Hamilton all of next season, to work on his skating, his game, get tonnes of minutes in all situations, provide some ‘veteran’ presence for the AHL newbies, maybe develop a rapport with likely future Glorieux like Louis Leblanc and Brendan Gallagher like David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty did.  He can try to lead a young but talented Bulldogs squad deep in the Calder Cup playoffs, valuable experience for a player, as we remember when the Sherbrooke Canadiens won the Calder Cup and in the next couple of seasons sent players to Montréal who were instantly effective.

2013-14 would be his chance to make the team, when he can see if he can wrest a roster spot away from Petteri Nokelainen and/or Colby Armstrong.  If he can't, the Canadiens can re-evaluate his future with the team then.

Carmelo Anthony is another big fat idiot

 I'm going off the board here with a basketball comment, a sport I abhor, but it's impossible to avoid knowing about this if you read Sports Illustrated.  Asked to comment on the Houston Rockets' offer sheet to fan darling Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony chose to kneecap his current teammate thus: "It's up to the organization to say they want to match that ridiculous contract that's out there."

Jealous much, you doughy overhyped douchebag?  Maybe if you tried half as hard as Jeremy Lin had to to get to the NBA, and if you actually cared about your conditioning and worked on your game, and tried to lead your teammates to a championship instead of pouting until you get traded to a major market, you wouldn't feel so insecure.  But have a good time on the Dream Team.  I'm sure you'll be a Titan against Senegal, but whine when an Argentinian plays you the tiniest bit tough.

Looking back, Andrei Kostitsyn wasn't so bad, I wonder why we ever broke up...

Friday, 13 July 2012

The NHL owners don't really want a deal, they want to crush the NHLPA

Renaud Lavoie tweets the NHL owners initial contract offer to the NHLPA, and it's a doozy.
Mike Boone of the Gazette recaps it thus:
• The players’ share of revenues drops from 57 per cent to 46 per cent
• 10 seasons in the league before a player can become an Unrestricted Fre Agent. It’s currently seven.
• Entry-level contracts run five years, up from three.
• Contracts are limited to five years. There is currently no limit.
• No salary arbitration.

Nice non-starter of an initial offer. If the owners have 46% as their cynical opening bid for splitting revenues, it’s an indication of how much they’ll fight to get 50% or under. The players will be in a fight to stay anywhere near 57%. We’ll have our lockout yet, and burn off a year of Scott Gomez’ contract the easy way.
5 year entry-level contracts and no arbitration are another ridiculous opening position. They know that can’t stand, players like Steve Stamkos and Drew Doughty would be underpaid for years in that system. It would probably open them up to legal challenges too. They’ll probably yield on that in a last-minute deal. pretend to give up on something they don’t believe they’ll get anyway. The system works fine now, rookies have to earn their big second contracts and beyond, and owners aren’t on the hook for first-round busts.
10 years to free agency is an honest opening position, in that an 18 year old phenom is a free agent at 28, at the height of his earning powers. Problem is the majority of players or college players who make it at 22 or 23 years old, and would probably never have a shot at free agency. A compromise can be worked out there.

Let's trade Tomas Kaberle to the Wings. Or anyone. For anything.

I’ve been thinking that Tomas Kaberle might be attractive to the Wings since they struck out on Ryan Suter. They would have to make the leap of faith that they are getting the Tomas Kaberle of five years ago, as opposed to the ineffectual and uncommitted disaster of the last couple of years. Maybe they get intel from the Czech Republic and investigate whether the summer training program with Tomas Plekanec is paying dividends, especially compared to his admitted botched efforts after last summer’s Stanley Cup partying.

Trading Tomas Kaberle would be a case of addition by subtraction, in that the quartet he forms with Raphaël Diaz, Yannick Weber and Frédéric St-Denis all bring a lot of the same skillset, and do not bring a lot of toughness and defensive ability. Since all four are eligible for waivers, and we will have nine defencemen under contract who we can’t sneak down to Hamilton once P.K. is signed, we need to start flipping one or more of these four guys for future assets instead of just losing them for nothing.
His contract is looking more palatable after this off-season, two more years at 4.5M is not quite Widemanesque. It is now off-loadable, and we benefit by ridding ourselves of that cap hit.
Everyone writes off Yannick Weber and Raphaël Diaz as nothing more than trade fodder, but they’re both young defencemen with skills who have room to improve, I’d rather invest the icetime in those two than Mr. Kaberle, who’s more valuable as a missing piece on a contender. Let’s cash in on any value he may have. We’ll probably get lucky sneaking down Frédéric St-Denis to Hamilton earlier in the season, he doesn’t have the pedigree and size that Jeff Woywitka has and caused him to be snapped up last fall.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Canadiens and Murphy's Law in 2013

There have been lots of passing references that everything that could go wrong with the Canadiens last year did.  While there were a few injuries over what can normally be expected, and subpar production from some players, was this really a case of Murphy's Law in action?  Did anything that could go wrong actually go wrong last season?

With Seth Jones on our mind, let's imagine that is the case this coming season, and compare to last season.

1)  Carey Price blows out his right knee on the first day of training camp.  It's a full ACL, MCL tear with cartilage damage.

2)  Do we really need to go any further?

3)  While Dr. Mulder weighs his options (the team that did Andrei Markov's first ACL reconstruction, vs.  Dr. James Andrews, the team that did his second reconstruction), Peter Budaj falls to his knees in wonder at the enormity of the task ahead and in piety at the magnitude of the opportunity he's presented with.  He blows out his left knee in doing so.

4)  Andrei Markov, who was feeling hale and hearty all summer, now starts to feel sympathy pains in his rebuilt joint, at the sight of both stricken goaltenders.

5)  Well gee, now that you mention it, Josh's knee is kinda sore too....

6)  Damn it all, the NHL and the Players' Association sign a deal after harmonious negotiations.  There's going to be a season, and it will start on time.

7)  The Canadiens burn up the phone lines searching for a replacement goalie for the season.  At first, as they look for a recently retired veteran as a one-year stopgap, they only manage to scare up Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph and Mike Palmateer.

8)  Electing not to go that route, the management team starts to look for a proven veteran on the trade market as the pre-season game blowouts accumulate and the pressure mounts.  TSN 990 goes to DefCon 1, since their staff really have nothing to lose, and gadflies the team and its fans into a frenzy.  Le Journal de Montréal is threatening to secede, while also writing curiously glowing pieces on the new Colisée being built just down the road.  The Gazette backs down and rehires Mike Boone at a greatly enhanced wage and benefit package to deal with the frequent meltdown of its host servers of HIO.  He posts a video to a GoalieTradeArmageddon Liveblog where, clad in tattered overalls and a sweat-soaked wifebeater,  he wipes off his forehead with a greasy rag and explains that the Tandy mainframes have a lot of miles, but after the rebuild and overhaul he just gave them there's still a lot of life left in them.

Finally some news break on the eve of the first game when Darren Dreger tweets that the Canadiens have acquired Ilya Bryzgalov from the Flyers in return for Louis Leblanc, Sebastian Collberg, and a second-round draft choice.  Scratch that, Renaud Lavoie says they actually traded for Roberto Luongo, flipping to the Canucks hometown boy Brendan Gallagher, Sebastian Collberg, and a first-rounder.

Now Bob McKenzie clears the whole mess up and explains that the Ilya Bryzgalov deal is the one which went through, but the Canadiens and Canucks were deep into their negotiations and it went down to the wire.  Renaud Lavoie stands by his story, and now Steve Simmons also says the Roberto Luongo trade is concluded.

Wait, what?  Both trades went through?  What in tarnation?!....

9)  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is brought in to adjudicate, as it seems the Canadiens Marcel Aubut'ed this trade, with Sebastian Collberg playing the role of a bewildered as opposed to recalcitrant Eric Lindros.

It turns out that Marc Bergevin and Scott Mellanby dealt with the Flyers while Rick Dudley and Larry Carrière were dealing with the Canucks.  Both trades got the same timestamp at NHL head offices.  Gary Bettman validates both trades, Sebastian Collberg goes to the Flyers and Dalton Thrower to the Canucks.  The Canadiens are penalized further by the loss of their 2013 first-round draft pick, and also as the Flyers are awarded Jared Tinordi and the Canucks receive Nathan Beaulieu as compensation.  Somehow Glen Sather obtains Greg Pateryn in this deal.

10)  The Canucks flip Nathan Beaulieu and Dalton Thrower to the Bruins in exchange for David Krejci and Jordan Caron.  Mr. Beaulieu easily wins a job on the Bruins blueline and takes a regular shift on the power play.  He destroys Chris Neil in an early season tilt in Ottawa.  Dalton Thrower mauls Tim Bozon in the WHL.  Bozon leaves Kamloops and joins HC Sierre in Switzerland.

11)  After being shelled in an 11-2 loss to the Leafs, then shelled by the media, then shelled by fans at the dépanneur and the SAQ, and on the Décarie and at the Place des Arts with his mom and dad, Roberto Luongo decides to hold out and demand a trade to Florida.  The Panthers offer up a protected fifth-round pick.

12)  Ilya Bryzgalov, to compound matters, decides to not hold out.

13)  On the first road trip to Boston, the line of David Desharnais, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty is felled by a mysterious food borne illness after dinner at The Black Rat.  Their season is compromised as they experience liver failure.  While Marc Denis interviews Brad Marchand pre-game, he seems unnaturally interested in the symptoms, asking: "Is it like a flu?  Weird, I was told it would seem like a regular flu."

14)  Concerned for his well-being, the Canadiens ship René Bourque back to his beloved Alberta to be close to his Lac La Biche home.  The Oilers offer up Ryan Smyth in return, but he threatens to retire.  In desperation, they reacquire Colin Fraser from the Kings and deal him to the Canadiens, who at this point are happy to get him.

15)  Réjean Houle is promoted to be the special advisor to Marc Bergevin.

16)  After a disheartening loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Michel Therrien holds a press conference to apologize to his 2006 Penguins defensive squad, saying they weren't so bad after all, and that they played with comparative toughness and passion.

17)  A blogger breaks the news that Marc Bergevin is still receiving a regular paycheque from the Blackhawks, and so is Rick Dudley from the Leafs.  Another press conference is held and everything is explained in terms of severance pay and tax advantages and all is smoothed over.  Except that all of those involved look unsettled, and come to think of it, so does Scott Mellanby in the background there.

Sports reporters start to dig around the plethora of minor deals that have occurred between the Hawks, Leafs and Canadiens, which were loudly decried as a conspiracy by a social media commentor known only as 'nunacanadien'.

18)  The Phoenix Coyotes, operated by the NHL like Larry and Richard operated Bernie that weekend, start shipping furniture and office supplies to Québec.

19)  The San José Mercury News reports that Patrick Roy has requested permission to speak to Larry Robinson from the Sharks.  Meanwhile, Guy Carbonneau resigns from RDS to pursue other opportunities.

20)  At the trade deadline, the Canadiens are involved in a complicated nine-team trade that sees them deal away Tomas Kaberle, but land Jaroslav Spacek, Roman Hamrlik and Marc-André Bergeron.

21)  After a torrid three game assist streak, Scott Gomez is called up from Hamilton for the drive for a playoff spot, and to substitute for Lars Eller whose bum shoulder is acting up again, and come to think of it never felt right since the injury.  Mr. Gomez flies through waivers with nary a nibble.

22)  The season comes to a close with the Canadiens dead last.  They don't have a pick in the 2013 draft until the third round.

The Flyers and Bruins battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference right to the end, with Boston earning the top seed.  The Maple Leafs finish a strong fourth, with notable free agent pickups Mathieu Darche and Chris Campoli as well as waiver-wire acquisitions Frédéric St-Denis, Raphaël Diaz and Mike Blunden all being strong contributors.

The Bruins waltz to the Stanley Cup. Nathan Beaulieu is broadcast hugging Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic. Later, pictures are tweeted of him and Brad Marchand shirtless and drunk at an after-party.

Nathan Beaulieu, Brendan Gallagher and Louis Leblanc are the three finalists for the Calder Trophy.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Jeff Finger or Kurt Sauer? Ryan McDonagh or David Fischer? Lars Eller or?

Have you ever heard the story that the Leafs thought Jeff Finger was someone else, namely Kurt Sauer, when they signed him to that contract? I don’t remember the exact story, but I think it goes that in the July 1 panic, they offered him the money they were prepared to offer another, better player?
Then there's the urban legend that Bob Gainey, when asked by Glen Sather for the privilege of taking Scott Gomez and his ludicrous contract off his hands to ship him Ryan McDonagh, he must have thought he was David Fischer when he said yes.  After all, both were Minnesota-born stay-at-home type defenceman picked in the first round by the Canadiens, with Mr. Fisher going 20th overall in 2006, and Ryan McDonagh going 12th overall in 2007.
In the great number of analyses I’ve read about that trade, I think I remember that when Glen Sather asked for Ryan McDonaugh, Bob Gainey asked Pierre Gauthier about him, and Mr. Gauthier flew out to see him play a game at Wisconsin, and he obviously came back with a report that greenlit the deal.
Meanwhile Trevor Timmins was advocating against it, and part of his reasoning would have been Mr. McDonagh’s performance at the Draft Combine, which the Rangers’ scouts never forgot, and described him as being a ‘man among boys’, so big and strong and dominant was he.
So I’m not sure if there was a mixup between David Fischer and Ryan McDonagh, never read anything of the sort, but it’s possible that the organizational perception of one player bled onto the other, since both weren’t seen as Paul Coffeys but more like Craig Ludwigs, and thus interchangeable and replaceable. Of course, Mr. McDonagh’s skillset is exactly the type that we’re lacking right now, he is the guy that we don’t have, a big, tough and strong defenceman who plays well in his own zone and can get the puck out with a good clearing pass, while we have too many of the smaller skilled puck handlers. 
If Glen Sather had insisted on Yannick Weber, we wouldn’t be in this mess.  We'd still have Andrei Markov, Raphaël Diaz, Tomas Kaberle.  Hell, we might not have traded for Tomas Kaberle if we had had Ryan McDonagh, we might have thought that we had enough talent on the blue line to make do in Andrei Markov's absence.
Anyway, with these tales of mistaken identity in mind, is there any chance Lars’ agent Kevin Epp, with too many clients to juggle and too many contract offers jamming his fax machine, thought he was accepting the Canadiens’ initial lowball offer as a good offer for someone else?
Looking at CapGeek, Lars is not doing horribly, just that he’ll be making Louis Leblanc-Peter Budaj money. Once you’re hovering around 1 million, I would think you could talk the Canadiens in tacking on a couple hundred grand for a guy who’s a former first-rounder and about to start his third full NHL season.
Maybe Travis Moen doesn’t feel so bad now. Sure Brandon Prust is making way more than he is, but he can always look to Lars for a more favourable comparison.
So, glad to have Lars signed for a couple of seasons, and I hope he's motivated to earn a blockbuster deal two years from now, and that he'll be worth every penny of it.