Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Scott Gomez signs contract with Florida, is no longer indigent.

News item:  Scott Gomez has signed a one-year, $900 000 contract with the Florida Panthers.  This will help with the mortgage payments, and the car repair bills, since Scott is now on a fixed income, and set to draw only $1.5M from the Canadiens for the next two seasons.  Such financial downturns are hard to absorb, and we can only hope he squirreled away some of the tens of millions of dollars he earned earlier during his MegaBucks contract he signed with the Rangers.

Of course, any mention of Scott Gomez is enough to send Canadiens observers screaming to the battlements, of how we had to endure seasons of his ineptitude and diffidence, while Ryan McDonagh, one of the pieces we swapped to New York in return for the privilege of Mr. Gomez's 'services', is rounding into one of the best young defensive defencemen in the league.  Imagining him as a pairing on the left side of P.K. Subban, the lost opportunity which was all too realizable, is almost too much to endure.

So it's no surprise a lot of fans gnash their teeth at the Scott Gomez trade, and proclaim that the minute it was announced they hated it and predicted a catastrophe.  I however wasn't that prescient, I'd spent a few seasons not following the Canadiens too much, so I couldn't evaluate it properly, not really knowing the players involved.  I was in Montréal at the time, visiting my girlfriend at the time, and reading her Gazette Sports section, trying to make sense of it all.  Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, Travis Moen, Jaroslav Spacek...  Really?  And Saku is gone?  Alex Kovalev was made an offer, he dithered, and lost out and ended up in Ottawa, to his public chagrin.  Is that significant?  And this Spacek guy, and Roman Hamrlik, that's our defence now?  That doesn't sound good does it?  Wasn't this Mike Komisarek supposed to be good?  Why did they let him walk?

Ultimately, I decided that Bob Gainey was a good man and a smart GM, he'd won a Stanley Cup in Dallas after all, he knew what he was doing.  That's as far as I could venture on this one.

The Réjean Houle hire, however, I called it.  I rang the bell.  I screamed "Iceberg, right ahead!" as loud as I could.  But it was too late.

We all know what an unprepossessing character Réjean Houle is.  Ken Dryden aptly described him in his book "The Game" as the small-town naif who never matured or wised up.  His bad investments were a great source of mirth in the dressing room.  One wag opined that he would finish his career with more "points (de suture, meaning stitches) on his face than on the scoresheet" which was funny but unfair, given that Réjean had a decent career, especially the WHA years, but referred to his astounding ability to flub on shots and miss open nets, as well as his legendary bad luck with injuries.

After his playing days were done, Réjean, ever the company man, started working at Molson.  My sister worked at National Relations Publique, and one day asked me who Réjean Houle was.  I did the best I could, and she nodded as if the picture I was painting made sense.  She then explained that he had been at her offices, and had made quite an impression, and not a good one, with the awkward way he would shuffle over to everyone he saw, with arm extended out way too soon, with poor timing and no charm, and repeat, incessantly: "Réjean Houle, Brasserie Molson...  Réjean Houle, Brasserie Molson..."

His bad trades were kicks to the gut.  I remember how he crowed about landing Jocelyn Thibault, and implied that the Avalanche were trying to foist Stéphane Fiset on him, but he had stuck to his guns and insisted on Mr. Thibault, as if it was a feather in his cap, as if he'd kind of swindled them a little.  It didn't seem to occur to him that they no longer had any use for him once they had Patrick Roy, that Mr. Thibault was almost a perishable item.  About another stumper, in which he dealt away Lyle Odelein, he explained that he was getting in return Stéphane Richer, and how that would make his club tougher to play against, since Stéphane was a big boy.  In his inimitable French-Canadian accent, he proceeded to list his height and weight: "Stéphane is six foot tree, two hundred pound, he's a big player..."  And I wondered how trading away Lyle Odelein and his toughness and dedication was mitigated in any way by Mr. Richer, as spectacular a player as he had once been, fleetingly.

So some moves give you the ice-cold shower heebie jeebies, like the Réjean Houle hire and subsequent Patrick Roy trade, or more recently the Tomas Kaberle trade, but for Scott Gomez trade I didn't have that sinking feeling, that premonition.  Which is good, since as the ship was slowly filling with water and our fate was doom, I was blissfully unaware, and didn't experience terror all the way down.  I had another season where I actually enjoyed myself, unlike the wiser Canadiens fans, who knew there were no lifeboats big enough for this catastrophe.

Review: "Coach: The Pat Burns Story" by Rosie DiManno

I had hesitations about reading "Coach: The Pat Burns Story", having worked my way through some underwhelming hockey biographies lately, but I needn't have worried.  Whereas "Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire" and "Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge" by Bob Probert were wooden, and relatively unenlightening, the Pat Burns biography is a strong effort.  It provides a full, warts-and-all illuminating portrait of a colourful person and successful hockey coach who left his mark on the game.

The difference here might be that it is strictly a biography, whereas the previous two efforts were more autobiographies, with a ghostwriter who seemed to act more as a typist, transcribing words spoken into a dictaphone onto the page.  Indeed, Kirstie McLellan Day, who helped Theoren Fleury and Bob Probert, seemed ill-equipped to tackle these projects, and let them tell their story without guiding them to clarify certain statements or events, or shining a light on certain personal failings that her co-authors felt didn't need any more scrutiny.

In this case, author Rosie DiManno is eminently qualified for the job of portraying Pat Burns, being a news and sports columnist with the Toronto Star, and having covered the Maple Leafs when Pat Burns was their Head Coach.  She also calls Pat Burns a friend, and states that their relationship carried through to the end of his life.  As such, she has good command of the material, and provides a rich and detailed look at the man, with insights and anecdotes that testify to her acquaintance with the tempestuous coach.

While she evidently has affection for her subject, this is certainly not a puff piece.  His failings are addressed in a straightforward manner, such as his difficulty in communicating with some of his players in certain situations.  Whereas he was verbose and a quote machine for the media, and could be warm off the ice, or even with opposing players, he was guarded with most of his players, aside from a few favourites.  His many broken relationships with a succession of women are not glossed over, as is the distance he kept between himself and his children, an error he tried to rectify later in life but never could quite overcome.

While these difficult subjects are discussed, we do not dive too deeply, as this is not a Kitty Kelley-style hatchet job, creating controversy to drive sales.  Instead, Rosie DiManno makes a point of contrasting how Mr. Burns avoided certain areas of conflict, in marked contrast to his public persona as a fiery, driven coach who didn't deal in double talk or understatement.  A theme in the book is how while Pat Burns never backed down from a fight as a coach, he was squeamish on the personal side, and would literally abandon former domiciles if it made a breakup with a former lover less messy.  Fortunately, Ms. DiManno brings up the personal life of her subject only to counterpoint his public image.  In this way, she paints a complete, human picture, of a man who was contradictory, imperfect, but magnetic and powerful in his professional life.

And there is a wealth of information and background on his career, from his humble beginnings as a part-time coach who worked his way up to an assistant position with the Hull Olympiques while still working fulltime as a police detective for the city of Hull.  He obtained the head coaching job, with the benediction of the police department, which granted him a leave of absence.  He of course would never return to his policing career, eventually graduating to the AHL Sherbrooke Canadiens, and the Montréal Canadiens a year later.  

It is on the professional side that Ms. DiManno does her best work.  Every step of the way, she does her research and background work, providing context and quotes from media sources at the time, and plenty of reminiscences from former associates, superiors and players.  It is a treasure trove of opinion and commentary, and most often supports the story's main thread, but the author is sure-handed and allows some statements from her interviewees that contradict it, and it fleshes out the story.  For the Olympiques period, she allows Charlie Henry, Wayne Gretzky, Pat Brisson, Luc Robitaille and Stéphane Richer to tell their stories and impressions.  For the year in Sherbrooke, she interviews Serge Savard, André Boudrias, Mike Milbury, Mike Keane, Brent Gilchrist and Sylvain Lefebvre.  The legwork pays off in the depth and accuracy of the story, and is obviously a joy to read for the hockey fan.

If there is a flaw in the book, it's how much of it is devoted to his period coaching the Leafs, as opposed to his other coaching stops.  Of course, this gripe comes from a Canadiens fan, but there is some factual basis to this claim.  Whereas the five years he spent in the Canadiens' organization is covered in eighty pages, she spends a hundred pages plus the prologue on the four years spent in Toronto.  The Canadiens' 1988-89 season that lasted to Game 6 of the Finals is dealt with in 38 pages, but the Toronto 1992-93 season and playoffs, which only lasted three rounds, are dissected in 57 agonizing pages, with stomach-turning helpings of Todd Gill and Dave Ellett and Nikolai Borschevsky and other horrors.

We can understand this in terms of the personal impact the Leaf years had on the author, as well as her authoritativeness on the subject, but we wonder also if this is a cynical pander to the multitude of Leafs fans, and a crass attempt to relieve Sean McIndoe of his hard-earned pageclick dollars.

This question also arises as to the choice of a cover picture.  Instead of being provided with a classic Pat Burns photo behind the bench, with his trademarked blow-dried mullet and $1000 suit, foaming at the mouth and waving a stick over his head, about to leap over the glass to take on an opposition coach, index finger pointed like his service revolver, we instead get a shot of him smiling astride a motorbike.  With the jeans and the sunglasses, he looks more like your midlife crisis-stricken uncle than the tough, blustery coach we picked up the book to know more about.  Which makes one wonder whether the publishers made the calculated decision to not put off Canadiens fans with a photo of Pat Burns leading the Leafs, and vice versa, and furthermore to not offend both these markets with a cover shot of him as a Bruins coach.  Still, a more fitting cover shot would have been of him raising the Stanley Cup as the Devil's coach, which everyone would have approved of, the Devils being a neutral enough organization to not cause too many potential customers to recoil.  Failing that, a shot of him 'in action' behind a bench, artfully cropped, should have been used.

These two last concerns are not reason enough for me to not recommend this book however.  It's a great, enjoyable read (except for those one hundred pages in the middle, but I don't want to quibble), and deepens our understanding and appreciation of an important figure in Canadiens and hockey history.  Every hockey fan would do well to pick up this book at their bookstore or local library.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Mike Brown, idiot-son of Paul Brown and owner of the NFL Bengals, has an opinion on all this concussion nonsense

Cosseted plutocrat Bengals-owner Mike Brown, monopolist, racketeer, profiteer off-the-public-teat extraordinaire and living fossil, speaks out on concussions, harrumphing that they're not a big deal, there used to be concussions back in the day, too.


He also used to wear an onion on his belt.  Which was the style at the time.

That this shill and science-denier inherited the Bengals from his father, who actually knew something about and loved football, is Exhibit A on the perils of nepotism and the crying need for a massive estate tax in the U.S.A. and in general.

These oligarchs don't think a McDonald's employee should get a raise, and certainly not a living wage, since as Charles Koch asserts, it kills the incentive for individuals to go out and start their own businesses.  He wants a little more competition in society, less safety net.  Well then, let's not allow rich-kid buffoons like Mike Brown to inherit his daddy's team and live off the good people of Cincinnati his entire life.  Let's dispossess him of the Bengals, which taxpayers have bought and paid for many times over, and throw him on the street and have him display his survival of the fittest bona fides.

Brenden Morrow to join the Canadiens? Inconceivable!

The Canadiens cannot in their right mind be considering Brenden Morrow.  Imagine Bob Cole or Benoit Brunet trying to get things straight with him and Brandon Prust and Brendan Gallagher on the same ice.  Imagine the cluster at HIO.  Throw in the Montreal Gazette's Brenda Branswell and you've got yourself a Category 6 namestorm on your hands.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

We should sign Anthony Stewart, or "How easy it is to be the Canadiens' GM"

Is it just me, or does Anthony Stewart make too much sense on the Canadiens?  At right wing with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, all 6'1" and 225 lbs of him, he stands in front of the net and digs the puck out of the corners, pots in ten easy goals on tape-to-tape passes from David, banks in a couple off his butt, finishes out around twenty and gives his linemates some physical support.  Reinstitute the kid line with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher on either side of Lars Eller, Tomas plays with Brian Gionta and René Bourque again, that's three scoring lines, and Ryan White or Gabriel Dumont centre Brandon Prust, Travis Moen and George Parros depending on the opposition and injuries.  

Now all we need to do is trade Daniel Brière, and we're set to go, allez hop, en voiture...

Ah, damn.  Forgot about Mr. Brière's No Trade Clause...

Nathan Beaulieu's growing pains

Nathan Beaulieu is a crown jewel in the Canadiens' farm system, a former relatively high first-round pick, and one who is counted on, heavily, to provide the Canadiens with a solid nucleus on the blue line with Jarred Tinordi.  With P.K. Subban already in the fold and almost fully developed, and a number of other prospects who are longer shots but can play a supporting role to this triumvirate in the future, it seems that there is a solid basis for a Cup contender.  The old maxim is that you build a team from the net out.  Well now, with Carey Price and Zachary Fucale in goal, and the three young studs on D, we've taken a big bite of that sandwich.

Nathan Beaulieu's prospects are not unblemished however.  He's a high-risk high reward player, in that while he has tremendous skill and upside, there are also certain issues he needs to work on to become the player he can be.  On ice, he's a gambler and showman, often taking risks on offence but not being as diligent on defence.  Nathan probably has been head and shoulders above other kids growing up, he learned to play hockey in that style, where he gets the puck and keeps it and does what he wants with it.  This is common in young players, and can be worked out of his game to an acceptable degree in the minors.

Off-ice issues cloud the picture even more in my eyes.  For me, showing up out of shape to Bulldogs camp last fall is a big red flag.  I'd understand if he was a naif like Stéphane Richer, a small town kid who doesn't know better, or Nazem Kadri, whose family apparently doesn't/didn't approve of his choice of careers, and who doesn't have the support system, but Nathan's a coach's son, for cripes' sake.  He of all recruits should know better.  Much was made of how he hangs around with NHL'ers, and how he grew up around Rick Nash and Corey Perry.  Some kids will use that as inspiration, or models to pattern their behaviour after, but does he take it the wrong way, and use it as evidence that he'll make it, that he doesn't have to work for it, since he's already there?

Off-ice, there was a bit of a Twitter war between him and his ex-girlfriend around the time he was drafted, which I studiously avoided, and which some people may think is no big deal, since he's only a kid, but still, it didn't happen to Louis Leblanc or Jarred Tinordi or Alex Galchenyuk.  It happened to Nathan.  As far as the assault charges and court appearances, some people brush it off, and hope that it's no big deal, but as I've written before, things that are no big deal don't end up in Criminal Court.

So taken together, the kid is no Aaron Hernandez or Steve Howe, but there are enough warning signs that we the public know of that cause me to be cautious.  He does have a bit of a cocky demeanor, which is fine, but is it a sign of a kid who's a Cool Kid And He Knows It, and he acts like it?  Do his workouts consist of skating and practicing his slap shot, things he's good at, but not all the pesky stuff that's hard like dryland training?  Did his modest slide in the draft occur because he did poorly in interviews, based on some of these factors?

No one wants him to be successful, and to be the first-wave powerplay quarterback and first-pairing defenceman for years to come more than I do.  I can't however discount these issues, just ignore the warts and proclaim how marvelous he is.

The good thing is that he played himself into shape last season and improved his game to the point that he was the scoring leader on the Bulldogs.  I hope that he shows up in great shape this fall, that he's grown up a bit, and that Sylvain Lefebvre, Donald Dufresne and Patrice Brisebois can help him realize his great potential.

And as far as he being a callup, I hope it doesn't happen too soon, or the kid will maybe think that he doesn't need to put in the work, to not try to skip any steps, since he'll have made the NHL with only a so-so AHL season under his belt, and that was enough for him.

Marc Bergevin's summer job difficult to assess so far

There's some debate as to whether Marc Bergevin has done enough this off-season to improve the Canadiens' roster, and I agree that the fiddling with the roster so far has left me perplexed.  I thought the cap room would be spent on short-term solutions to areas of need in our roster.  So maybe buy up one or two free agents at forward for a year or two, guys like David Steckel or Anthony Stewart who add to our roster and improve the mix at forward.  Same thing on defence, get a big righty as a plug for a one or two-year deal, a Ryan O'Byrne or Jeff Schultz.  Understand that these guys are not world-class, but they fit a role, and because they bring what we sorely lack their contribution would be more important than their mere talent would indicate, it would be magnified.

For example, a light-hitting shortstop like Rodney Scott isn't an All-Star, and won't put any team in the World Series by himself.  But if you've got a big hole at shortstop, your defence is abysmal, and you need a little speed on the basepaths ahead of the meat of your order, then Rodney Scott is the perfect solution.  If you throw in the salary-cap consideration, then the fact that he can be had for cheap makes him even more attractive.  Rodney Scott on this specific roster is worth more on a relative scale than an absolute scale.

Another way to think of it is salt.  You can't eat salt for dinner, you need ingredients like protein and vegetables and maybe a starch, but if you have those and no salt, you totally notice its absence.  Once you have that stir-fry going but don't have salt, you don't really have as much as you could potentially, a pinch of salt is what you need to bring everything together and make it pop.

So after the elimination by the Sens, I thought the road map was relatively straightforward.  Dispose of Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber, get some stopgaps who will upgrade the size and toughness quotient on D while we wait another year or two for the kids to be ready.  At forward, let Armdog and Jeff Halpern and Michael Ryder go, get a bit more toughness to help out Brandon Prust and Ryan White, and get a big forward to play in the Top 9, even if he's got bricks for hands.  Just having a crasher and banger, a Mathieu Darche amped up 20% or more, would improve the flexibility of our roster, and again be a place saver until the Collbergs and Hudons and Leblancs are ready.  We don't need to spend all of Michael Ryder's cap space this year, we can sit on it and hold it as strategery for the trade deadline or next summer's UFA crop.

In fact, what we did was the first part of the plan, clean out the bottom of the roster a bit, but didn't upgrade the defence, even with Alexei Emelin's problematic absence staring us in the face.  At forward, we got George Parros, which I'm on board with, but squandered the Michael Ryder cushion on Daniel Brière's deal.  Which is a step back, that cushion was obtained by sacrificing Erik Cole.  If I had a choice, I'd rather have Erik Cole back for the next two seasons rather than Mr. Brière.

The thing is, these fixes that I was envisioning were not pie-in-the-sky stuff, I wasn't trying to get Bobby Ryan with a mix of Travis Moen, Patrick Holland and a bunch of late-round picks.  I wasn't, like the Leafs, shopping for a big #1 centre, which we all recognize are routinely available on the trade market.  My plan wasn't overly optimistic, just a way to ice a respectable roster next season, but refraining from taking out a Clarcksonian or Cloweian mortgage.

So far then, I'm not overjoyed with the immediate solutions provided by Marc Bergevin.  Maybe he's biding his time, and will bottom-feed in August when players start to get desperate, and will accept a job on a one-year deal.  Maybe he's decided that next season is a development year, that Jarred Tinordi is ready for a regular shift, and the Beaulieus and Pateryns and other Bulldogs will plug the injury holes as they occur.  Same thing at forward, he'll rely on Messrs. Dumont, Blunden, Leblanc, Bournival, et al. when the Canadiens infirmary welcomes patients.  Maybe he's looking for another injection of youth, similar to that Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk brought last season.  Maybe he's not too concerned with playoff positioning this season, a repeat of last season's flirtation with the Conference championship unimportant in his eyes.

Overall, I'm very satisfied with the work that Mr. Bergevin has done so far.  The long-term approach he's taken is impressive.  I'm very happy with the increased focus on scouting, how he's built up that department.  I'm also happy with the player development side he's created, something that was sorely missing in the Gainey administration.  I'm satisfied that he hoards draft picks and is replenishing our farm system.  So I'm not going to squawk too much about this summer, and give him lots of slack to keep doing what he does and hope for the best.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Will Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu play a significant role on the 2013-14 Canadiens

Love an analysis on social media of the situation the Canadiens are facing next season and how Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu fit in.  The take by a contributor on HockeyInsideOut is that if things work out, Jarred Tinordi could be the defensive stalwart who adds a physical presence and kills penalties, while Nathan Beaulieu could also take some even strength minutes but pitch in on the powerplay.  His thinking was that Mr. Tinordi is ready to go right now, while Mr. Beaulieu should be the first callup.

If these kids can plug the gaps in the depth chart that we have this season, it'll go a long way to improving our team.  I'm more naturally conservative, and was hoping Jarred Tinordi would at least start the year in Hamilton, and Nathan be given a full year to work on his defensive game and maturity (discipline, conditioning, off-ice issues).  I'd have brought in journeymen currently on the UFA rolls to fill in the #6 slot and cover for Alexei Emelin's first half absence, plug these holes as it were, but the Canadiens' brass are in the best position to assess that and we have to trust their judgment.  If they think they're ready to step up, who am I to disagree?

Remember the old days, when some kid we'd never heard of would start the season or get called up to sub in for injured players, and they would contribute right away?  Guys like Rod Langway, Craig Ludwig, Sylvain Lefebvre, Donald Dufresne, Lyle Odelein?  They'd come in, play hard right away, and the team would sail along.

We had other situations, when guys with bigger profile would be hyped before they ever joined, and we hoped they'd turn out as good as advertised, which was seldom.  The exception to that was Chris Chelios, who was nicknamed 'Le Sauveur' by the francophone press, so much was Serge Savard banging the drum on him.  "Just wait until after the (Sarajevo) Olympics", he'd crow, and a lot of us were skeptical, he didn't seem that big, and his numbers weren't Orr-esque or anything.

Eventually, he and Petr Svoboda and Tom Kurvers were pitched as the 'New Big 3', which didn't quite materialize.  Tom Kurvers was okay, but couldn't find a role with the other two already there, and Larry Robinson and Craig Ludwig still taking up icetime among others, so he was traded.  Petr Svoboda was an amazing skater and good player, I marveled at how easily he moved when seeing him play at the Forum.  He didn't tape up his ankles at all, they were bending this way and that.  I tried to do that the next game I played and couldn't stay up on my skates, I had to go back to the room after a couple of shifts to tape up.

What gets me a little bit is how the media toss the term "Big 3" around like it's applicable to any situation.  Any team that has three defencemen that are decent, or roughly the same age, or have some of the same skills, whatever, bingo, that's a big 3 for them.  Which is inapt.  There are only two Big 3's.  One was GM, Ford and Chrysler.  The other was Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson.

They were the Big 3 because all of them were big defenders back in the day, all 6 footers and over 200 lbs, with Larry the standout in that department.  All of them played big, could handle the rough stuff and dish it out, and drop the gloves on occasion.  All of them could play big minutes, in all situations, clutch or end of game.  They all played on the powerplay and the penalty kill.  I daresay that each of them would have been the #1 defenceman on any other team that didn't already have a Orr or Park or Potvin or Salming on its roster.  All of them played together for a long time, probably a full decade, won multiple Stanley Cups, and ended up in the Hall of Fame.

So when TSN's Mark Masters is telling me that Ralph Gunterson and Kevin Kostka and Colby Frantic are the Leafs' next big three, I want to hurl.  Child please.  If there's a new crop of players or defenceman coming up from the Marlies, find them their own nicknames, don't misappropriate and mangle one used and used well by the Canadiens, and now retired.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn were only 15 minutes late, that night in Phoenix.

Alex Radulov has explained what really happened in Phoenix the night before Game 2 of the 2012 playoffs, in an interview with a Russian news agency. Predictably, his version sounds too good to be true.  They were only fifteen minutes late coming back from dinner, and they weren't drinking that night, he claims.

Justin Bourne had a great recap of the situation at the time, with insights about how curfews work on hockey teams, and he debunks the notion, presciently, that it was anything as trivial as a fifteen minute tardiness in returning to the hotel.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe:

(Cell phone rings.)

"Hello, Barry speaking."

"Coach, it's Alexander here.  Sorry to call late like this, it is okay?  You're not sleeping?"

"No, no Alex, I was watching Law & Order.  What's up?  You okay?"

"Yes Coach, it's everything okay.  No problems here.  I'm with Andrei."


"We left the hotel to come eat at the 'Tia Alejandra's Muy Loco Coyote Cantina & Go-Karts', it's far from the hotel, but the whole team is here, and you know, I'm a team guy, I wanted to be with my teammates.  But we leave the hotel late, and traffic, and the waitresses very beautiful but slow, so we just get our food now.  We think we may get back to the hotel late, maybe 11:15, 11: 30?"

"Oh, no problem Alex, eat your food, and come back with the rest of the guys."

"That's okay Coach, they're already on their way home, we're going to be a little bit later."

"No problem Alex, thanks for calling though, that's being a true professional.  It removes any awkwardness if I was to run into you later in the lobby, or if a reporter saw you and told me about it later."

"Well yes, that's what I thought, Coach, with cellphones nowadays, all these problems can avoid with communication."

"I agree, Alex, cellphones now remove a lot of the necessity for trust and excuses and stuff like that.  If there's anything wrong, one phone call can prevent a lot of headaches."

"Thanks Coach, we won't be too late.  And don't worry Coach, we're not drinking, not too much, we have a beer, and the manager he sent this waitress, oh boy, and she made us drink a tequila, but that's it, that's all we're having."

"Alex, I trust you and Andrei, you're grownups, we all know you can enjoy a couple of beverages without it going overboard and affecting your performance the next day.  You didn't get to be the leading NHL'ers that you are by messing up when it comes to things like that."

"Yes Coach, thank you.  Our food just got here, so I will let you go now.  Do you want anything, maybe we bring you the doggie bag?"

"No thanks Alex, that's very nice of you to offer, but in these fancy hotels we stay in, we always have the option of ordering room service, so if I want anything I'm set, even late at night."

"I understand Coach, next time we wake up late from the nap, maybe we get room service instead of going out to eat a dinner.  Don't worry Coach, the manager he has our bill ready here, and he will have a taxi for us for when we finish, we should be back very soon."

"That's great Alex, you guys enjoy your dinner, and I'll see you tomorrow at morning skate.  And thanks again for calling, that's the mark of a true professional, and it's a small courtesy, but it could prevent any big misunderstandings later on.  Good night, and say good night to Andrei."

"Good night Coach, and I agree, with all of us having cell phones now, there is no reason for any problems never."

Max Pacioretty is a courageous warrior, and a great Canadien

Social media is great to get information on my beloved Canadiens, and exchange with other fans, but it can sometimes be trying and disappointing.  As is the case now, when some posters on have taken to saying that, get this, "Max Pacioretty is soft"(!)

I've posted before on how some things get said on HIO, then repeated enough times that it becomes gospel.  Last summer the tom-toms beat constantly for the Canadiens to 'get rid' of René Bourque, and of Andrei Markov, who was finished since he'd injured his knee like Bobby Orr did in 1974.

This summer the Insane Brigade has taken potshots everywhere, loose cannons that they are, but lately they've been parroting at each other that Max Pacioretty is "soft".  Which is incredible.  And completely wrong.  It's demeaning to a player who has shown nothing but courage and toughness so far in his tenure as a Canadien.

Max isn't soft.  Their brains are.  They're as mushy as their logic.

Click on this link and this link, then try to tell me this guy is soft.

We all remember him coming back from a broken neck, right?  How about when he returned to the lineup weeks before it was expected from his appendectomy?  These are the most spectacular examples of his toughness, but he has routinely played through pain and overcame injuries.

Two seasons ago, he hurt his wrist in the eighth game of the season against the Panthers, knocking him out of the game.  There were whispers that he might be out for weeks.  He played in the next game and scored two goals plus an assist in a 5-1 win against Philadelphia.  After the game he allowed that doctors recommended he sit out a couple of games to avoid the risk of aggravating the injury, but he didn't want to miss a game against the Flyers.  I didn't see any clowns running around then squawking that he was soft.

Look, you want to take a position that he doesn't play physical enough, that you wish that he'd bodycheck more, muck and grind in the corners, joust in front of the net to get more garbage goals, then say that, precisely.  Don't say that he's 'soft', because that's inaccurate and untrue.  It's actually lazy and stupid to say that.

Carey Price, P.K. Subban invited to Team Canada Orientation Camp

Hockey Canada has released the list of 47 players invited to the Team Canada Orientation Camp in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.  Of note to Canadiens fans is the fact that Carey Price and P.K. Subban both received invitations.

At the start of last season I was hoping/counting on Carey to be routinely, effortlessly excellent and thus to take a stranglehold on the Canadian Olympic team starting job.  And, I thought that if P.K. played hard and kept his nose clean, he'd be able to build on that this season, and with another strong start in 2013, he might squeak in as a seventh defenceman.

How things changed.  Carey is in a horse race, having let the other competitors eat away at his lead, he's now neck and neck with five other guys.  Roberto Luongo, if he has any success with the Canucks early next season, will be very hard to dislodge from the starting job, being the incumbent and gold-medal winner from 2010.  Corey Crawford, fresh off his conquest of the Stanley Cup, will be a formidable opponent as well.  Carey has his plate full

Meanwhile, P.K. is going to force people to think up reasons if they want to not include him on the 2014 team.  His skating and familiarity with the big ice surface after his junior career in Belleville, and his quality two-way play should overcome any objections based on 'chemistry' or inexperience or the fact that he's a rightie.  He hits, he skates like the wind, being quick and fast, he's strong on the puck, he has a cannon on the blue line, and has greatly improved his play selection on the powerplay or generally in the offensive zone, some of Andrei Markov's magical moves having rubbed off on him.  Pylons like Dion Phaneuf and slower veterans like Dan Boyle and Marc Méthot won't be obstacles, but ultimately, if he continues this season like he did last year, there's no reasonable way to keep him off the roster.  Is there?

Hockey's Future's take on the new Canadiens' 2013 draftees

At long last, the website Hockey's Future has updated its Canadiens page and folded the new draftees into their respective positions, and graded them as to their career prospects.  Gone are Alex Avtsin, Olivier Archambault and Daniel Prybil.

Now I know that a few experts cast doubt on the validity of this website's scouting, but it is an easy, accessible resource for information-starved fans, and we can use it as a starting point for discussion.

Note that the explanation for the grading system can be had at Hockey's Future.

1)  Zachary Fucale is the highest-graded draftee, garnering an 8, and instantly leaps to the top of the depth chart at goalie, a full grade above Dustin Tokarski.  The latter had better make hay while the sun shines, because in a couple of seasons the Bulldogs' goalie spot will belong to Mr. Fucale.

I wasn't enthused with this pick when it was made, believing we had other concerns to address, but now have warmed to it and understand the value of getting the best goalie prospect in this draft class in the second round.  The fact that he's a local kid also helped me come around.  I really like the arguments that he was the starting goalie for two seasons before getting drafted, not a backup being eased into Major Junior.  He's already seen lots of rubber, pressure situations, has been the starter on the world stage, now he gets another season in Junior on a depleted team, it will be interesting to see how he deals with getting bombarded by pucks night after night.  Let's hope it benefits him, and that he makes the World Junior team for some more pressure-packed games to add to his experience.

2)  Jakob de la Rose is listed as a centre, which surprised me, since I've seen him listed as a left winger in his draft writeups.  I thought that hit the spot, since when I looked at the potential roster for next season's Bulldogs in late June, I noticed that there wasn't a single 'natural' left winger in the bunch, our forwards consisted of four centres and three right wings.  Now, last draft we addressed that with Tim Bozon and Charles Hudon, and this year we added another brace of left wings, so the imbalance has been rectified, for the medium term at least.

In any case, Mr. de la Rose is graded a 7.0 as a centre.  I guess they're not as high on him as we were when he was picked.  The writeup they provide for him is as we've seen before, a talented big guy who does most things well and should turn into a second or third line forward.  It's interesting that he's grouped with Louis Leblanc, Michaël Bournival and Joonas Nattinen who also get a 7.0, but then you think about the fact that they were drafted in the late first round, the third round, and the third round respectively, and all have had the benefit of a few seasons development, and we can agree that Mr. de la Rose can be seen as an equivalent prospect at this point.

3)  The left wing penury has been addressed with the addition of Artturi Lehkonen, Connor Crisp and Martin Reway.  So we now have Charles Hudon, Tim Bozon and Artturi Lehkonen getting 7.5's, and Mark MacMillan, Connor Crisp and Martin Reway getting 7.0's.  The well is replenished.

There are no surprises on the writeups of Mister Lehkonen, he comes as advertised, but in the case of Messrs. Crisp and Reway, they don't even rate a writeup.  I guess that shows they are the off-the-radar picks I thought they were on June 30.  Of course, as an uninformed fan who never saw any of these young men play, I had huge objections to each of these three picks, I would have gone another way.  Now that they're Canadiens, I hope these young gentlemen prove me wrong in a big way.

4)  On the right wing, both Mike McCarron and Sven Andrighetto receive a 7.5 grade, even with Brendan Gallagher (would that they have the same impact their rookie season), and a notch below Sebastian Collberg who gets an 8.0.  This seems counter-intuitive, if only because with his size, draft status, and lack of competition for the big winger role, Mike McCarron will receive every opportunity to graduate to the Grand Club, whereas Mr. Andrighetto will have to force his way through the thicket of players similar to himself in the Canadiens system.  Indeed, there is a surplus of small, quick talented players that can fill the role he's destined for.  

Maybe this incongruity is meant to be addressed by the fact that he gets a 'D' as his likelihood of reaching his developmental potential, whereas Mr. McCarron gets a 'C'.  Again though, with the Collberg-Gallagher-Holland-Kristo/Thomas combo at right wing, and with Steve Quailer being the only right winger with size in the system, and especially since he didn't have the most auspicious debut in the AHL, I would have increased my odds of being able to add some size to the Canadiens in a few years by drafting a big winger like Hudson Fasching instead of doubling down with Sven Andrighetto.

5)  Stéfan Fournier gets a 6.0 and the spot at the bottom of the depth chart at Left Wing.  His ace in the hole is that he gets to join a Bulldogs team that has a crying need for his skillset, so he'll get proportionally more icetime than would befit an undrafted free agent.  Let's hope that he can add some toughness and grit to the relatively young roster and makes them a little harder to play against.  If all goes well he can get some powerplay time and cause havoc in front of the opposition net, and allow more room for the Louis Leblancs and Patrick Hollands to show their stuff.

Jérémy Grégoire gets a 6.5, and has two more seasons of Junior hockey to work on his game.  He's in a group at centre with Gabriel Dumont and Brady Vail, which seems about right, but I've also often seen him described as a gritty forechecking winger.  Maybe another detail that will work itself out in time.

6)  Hockey's Future still has some cleanup to do.  They haven't folded these new recruits in the 'Top Prospects' list yet.  Blake Geoffrion is still listed as a left winger, while he recently had to make his retirement official.  Dustin Walsh is also on the books, but it seems inevitable that his rights will expire on August 15.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

P.K. Subban excluded from the 2014 Team Canada?

So Sportsnet released their prediction-selection of the Sochi Olympics Team Canada hockey roster, and seven out of ten 'experts' left P.K. Subban, this year's Norris Trophy winner and scoring leader for defencemen, off their list.  Which causes a bit of an outcry among Canadiens fans.

Now, about Sportsnet's Olympic Team rosters being awful, and they generally being horrible, I wholeheartedly agree.  I'm on the record that they are.  That P.K. Subban should be on that team is a no-brainer.  Especially after years of this Toronto-shackled crew watching Dion Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles, how could they not see the comparative leap in talent?

And I regularly find myself pointing out how bad Nick Kypreos is.  I resent the fact that a 'player' whose only achievement was taking out Grant Fuhr in a playoff, crashing into him and blowing out his ACL, effectively ending his career, is given a microphone and asked to opine on the game.  That meathead only causes me to want to change the channel when he appears.

On P.K. Subban, I don't think they're biased against him, since they actually employ our boy as a studio personality.  I've seen Doug MacLean and Nick Kypreos and P.K. kibitzing during the lockout, they actually seem to get along.  So that isn't an obvious reason for the snub.

At the start of the season there was some analysis that Team Canada might have too many righties on the blue line, and questions whether they'd take the best d-men and shift the extra righties to the left side, or go with a balanced lineup, three lefties, three righties, match them up, and then throw in a spare.  P.K. was seen as a guy on the cusp, who'd have to play lights out to be included.  Well, he did.  So why the hesitation?  Do they know something we don't know?

One point which we may be forgetting is how Steve Yzerman grudgingly, only at the last minute added P.K. to the World Championship roster in May.  We remember how the blue line on that team was less than impressive, and once the Canadiens were eliminated in five games we felt that P.K. was a lock.  Instead, Steve Yzerman tacked on Dan Hamhuis, harrumphed that he was satisfied with the lineup, and would only add to it if there were injuries.  To which we all went: "Huh?"

Within hours of that announcement, there was a change of heart, P.K. flew to Sweden, and I wondered whether Lindy Ruff told Mr. Yzerman to stop messing around and get him P.K. on his blue line, having been exposed to what the kid can do while coaching the Sabres.

So P.K. still has his work cut out for him, he won the Norris but there are still some doubters and equivocators out there.  I think he's a lock, but just to make extra sure, he'll need to come to camp in great shape, as he usually does, and be routinely excellent early in the season.  More importantly, he'll need to play disciplined hockey, and to keep his nose extra clean off-ice, with no controversies to give ammo to the naysayers.  Because that's the only way they'd try to justify his exclusion from the team: nebulous team dynamics issues and veteranship and chemistry concerns.  That and the 'there are too many right-handed d-men, we could only fit Weber, Seabrook, Doughty, Letang, and Pietrangelo' excuse.

So P.K., fresh off a Norris Trophy season, and racking up all those points in a season when he missed training camp and few games to start, still needs to add to his résumé to merit a spot on the Olympic Team.  Strange but true.

Think of it as having North and South America locked up at Risk, and you're protected on the three landing pads of Kamchatka, Iceland and North Africa.  You've got thirty armies on each, and seem unassailable, but when your turn comes you pile up the new armies you get on those three fronts, because you're also a tempting target and you know someone will inevitably take a shot.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Is Andrei Markov mentoring P.K. Subban?

After making stars of defence partners Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit and Mike Komisarek, Andrei Markov last season set to work on doing the same for Alexei Emelin.  It was something to see those two work together.  Andrei, having clearly lost a step, would when racing back for a puck sometimes call off the chase, and 'switch off' with Alexei, letting the younger, faster, and usually more conservatively-positioned defenceman go dig the puck out of the corner while he headed off to the front of the net.  It was remarkably effective, and the two Russians worked well together.

It is also argued that he had a similar positive effect on P.K. Subban, his first-wave of the powerplay partner, and some fans are already calling for Andrei to be re-signed beyond next season so he can serve as a mentor to the young defensive prodigy.  An even more vocal faction claims that Andrei carries too big a cap hit, is too old and slowed by past injuries, and that he's a poor mentor anyway.

Which side is right in the mentorship debate?  It depends on our definition of 'mentor'.  We tend to think of it in warm and fuzzy terms, of a nurturing older player taking a rookie under his wing and showing him the ins of outs of the position they both play, of the NHL, of the pitfalls of the pro hockey player's life on and especially outside the rink.

If we take a more strict definition of mentor, of someone who is a skilled tradesman working with an apprentice, and sometimes actively teaching, but more often just working alongside and providing examplars by his every day conduct on the ice, then Andrei accomplished that in spades.

Andrei is a bit of an oddball, a prickly fellow, as we saw last season with the "Next question!" press incident.  There's also the Habs TV clip where the guys are asked to do an impression of Andrei, where Josh Gorges does a Russian accent and says, in a scolding tone: "Why you always talk so much?  You should not talk so much.  You always talking."  Something like that, anyway, it's hilarious, and gives insight as to who Andrei is.  We can deduce that he's not going to mother-hen P.K.

What we did see on a few occasions though, was Andrei, on the ice before a faceoff, or on the bench between shifts, give direction to P.K.  It was clear who was talking and who was listening, Andrei would gesture and point and motion, and P.K. would pay attention and nod.  I took it as a sign that P.K. respected Andrei, and as an illustration of his growing maturity.

Practically, Andrei's mentorship was demonstrated by P.K.'s qualitative improvement in the offensive zone, and on the power play.  His stats bear that out, but it was more than a case of him just doing the same thing but reaping more points.  P.K., finally, after seasons of hearing us yell at him through our TV sets to cut down on the big looping backswing prelude to the predictable one-timer, decided to, finally, inject some variety into his game.  Instead of being all one-timer all the time, P.K. learned to mix in some feints, some hesitation, some passes, some dekes, some wristers, some slap passes, some walking the line with a fake and another fake to a drop pass back to the spot he and his forechecker just deserted.  Some bank passes off the back boards.  And more.  Finally.

What this did was make him a more formidable weapon, a more multifaceted threat.  And I believe he learned this by observing Andrei do all this.  Andrei has an arsenal of moves that he displays every game.  Most players will, given time, fake one way and go the other.  Andrei fakes one way to prepare his real fake the other way, and that's the one other players bite on, hard, while he's already gone the other, original way.  He doesn't fake as a formality, as an inevitable sequence, he fakes until the opponent can take no more.  He feints to position the opponent where he wants him, and does so as often as necessary.  He sometimes fakes a fake, a subtle head bob that stalls the action for half a second, then fakes and goes.  The initial bob 'freezes' the opponent; if the opponent was a goalie, he'd drop down to his knees in the butterfly.  Add this to his bewildering array of options when choosing whether to shoot or pass or control the puck and skate or give-and-go, and the audacity and capacity to do all this on his backhand too, and that's quite the encyclopedia or training film P.K. is presented with.

P.K. absorbed a lot of this, and this season wasn't solely reliant on his speed and power.  He started to use the mental tactics and puckhandling that Andrei uses, and it transformed his game, to the point that he was recognized with a Norris Trophy, an amazing leap for a player who had a difficult time the previous season.

So is Andrei a mentor for P.K.?  I say, with the brief preamble above, yes.  Conclusively.

Ryan White gets another contract, another chance to contribute

The Canadiens re-upped restricted free agent Ryan White to a one-year deal, which is good news.  Retaining an asset that you drafted and developed is mostly always positive.  There have been detractors though, pointing to his meager one goal, no assists point 'totals' from last season, and his suspensions and untimely penalties.  As a possible explanation for the stagnating performance, the question is posed whether Ryan White felt threatened by the acquisition of Brandon Prust.

I didn't get that sense at all, and I have to say it seems unlikely.  First, I don't think Mr. Prust being on the roster would threaten Ryan's standing on the team, it's not like we had a surplus of physical forwards on the roster or in the system.  If anything, they both complement each other more than they duplicate each other, or make each other redundant.

For example, two seasons ago, Ryan and Brad Staubitz got along famously by all appearances, fed off each other and had a significant impact in how the Canadiens played against teams that use intimidation as a tactic.  In my game recaps, I noted how they spelled each other from game to game, one would fight a tough guy one game, the other the next, and we'd see them applauding each other, with the guy having a 'rest' day on the bench tapping his stick to the pugilist freshly-landed in the box.  I made special note of how Ryan started a fight against Steve Veilleux early in the game against the Wild, negating any need for Brad to get into it with a former teammate so soon after he changed teams.

I'm not sure if Mike Yeo is trying to instill a more offensive mindset, but this game had flow and action, and lots of physical play. We saw Ryan White engage Stéphane Veilleux in a fight right off the faceoff, which Marc Denis of RDS posited was an attempt to energize his teammates at the start of the game. I actually wondered if he had started the scrap to relieve the pressure on his teammate Brad Staubitz to challenge one of his ex-teammates during the game. Not sure if I'm misinterpreting The Code here, but if so that was a cool move Ryan.

Looking through that  prism, I was inclined to think that Brandon Prust and Ryan White might develop the same relationship, that they'd compare notes on teams and who plays how, what certain players are like.  I thought they'd be thankful for each other's presence.

While Ryan had a difficult season, I didn't think there was one cause, one reason for him to underperform and take up residence in Michel Therrien's doghouse for incidents of indiscipline.  I attributed it to a constellation of factors such as the shortened season, change of régime and coaching philosophy, and to a tendency for Ryan to try to do too much.  Ryan was also one of the players I was giving a mulligan to, since he was seriously concussed the previous season, like René Bourque, Travis Moen, and Raphaël Diaz.

There has been lots of talk of Ryan getting a "last chance", even in season last year.  We need to remember that he's still young, he can still improve, and that he's shown the willingness to work hard and improve certain aspects of his game, notably his fitness.  We traded up in the third round his draft year to pick him up, he was rated higher as a prospect than Ben Maxwell or Milan Lucic in the WHL.

With a clean slate, a full season, and hopefully a long, productive off-season to get healthy and train hard, I think Ryan can improve markedly on last season.  He won't have Petteri Nokelainen or Jeff Halpern in the way, but will possibly have to compete for the fourth line centre position with Gabriel Dumont, maybe from game to game, at least early in the season before injuries strike.  This competition will be salutary.

What I would want Ryan to realize would be that he no longer needs to go out of his way to play tough, to goon it up.  While in the past there was a toughness vacuum on the Canadiens that he, the ultimate 'can do' hard-worker and team-player rushed in to fill, now with Brandon Prust, George Parros and yes, Travis Moen on the roster, he doesn't have to do it all himself, he doesn't have to tag team all the tough guys like he did when Brad Staubitz came to town.  He'll be more effective and have a longer career if he focuses on hockey, works hard in practices and games to become a reliable player, but still be tough to play against.  When circumstances dictate, he can stand up for himself or stick up for a teammate, but he doesn't need to run up and down the ice crashing into every opponent to prove a point or compensate for his less physically-inclined teammates.  He just needs to bear down and play his game and he should be fine.

Michael McCarron chooses to become a London Knight. And he didn't ask us for our opinion. For shame.

Canadiens fans often get drawn into minutiae, and I think Michael McCarron's decision to become a London Knight is one of these instances.  The Canadiens first-round pick had the choice to either attend Western Michigan University and play under Coach Andy Murray, a talented hockey man who formerly was head coach of the St. Louis Blues and L.A. Kings, or go join the brothers Hunter's NHL player factory in the OHL.

Offhand, the NCAA route had some potential advantages, and so did the London Knights route.  We thought he'd get more skills development time at Western Michigan, with more time for lifting in the gym, and that he'd be in an environment where he could concentrate on hockey and not be constantly challenged to fight, since it's forbidden to do so in the NCAA.  Meanwhile, he could get more practice time, more game action and stronger competition in the OHL, and maybe the fact that more rough stuff is allowed in junior hockey would play to his strengths and allow him to develop his physical side more fully.  Both of these are reasonable assessments.

Somehow though, we all made up our minds as to which path we'd like him to make based on these perfunctory assessments, and some of us are disappointed in the outcome, and already making pronouncements on how this will turn out.  In reality, we have to understand that both routes he could have chosen were good options, and he had great advice from his former coaches, the coaches at the teams competing for his services, and the Canadiens organization.  He chose London, it's probably the right one for him to make since he has all the information, and it's one of the two good paths he could go on, not the 'wrong' choice.

As for whether he'll get first or second-line minutes on a stacked Knight roster that will load up some more in preparation for a Memorial Cup automatic slot, that's a concern, and surely one everybody foresaw, took into account, and maybe he had some assurances about.  In any case, if he's having to work hard to get powerplay time and icetime, maybe that's not a bad scenario, maybe he can't sit on his butt as he could if he was the big fish in a small pond.

The "will he have to fight too much" issue is one of note.  Observers of the OHL point out that Junior enforcer types will often challenge a high-profile prospect to make a name for themselves and hope to earn a pro contract, but again, we have to know that the Canadiens, through Director of Player Development Martin Lapointe, have sussed this out with the Hunters, and that it's not a dealbreaker, they've come to some understanding.  Martin Lapointe and Marc Bergevin will tell the kid to not waste his time fighting goons, to work on his skating and puck skills instead, to work on being a reliable forward the coaches can use in many situations, that's what will get him a long NHL career.  Jarred Tinordi did fight quite a bit in junior, but it doesn't seem to have derailed his development, he still mostly worked on his game and became a first pairing defenceman on the Knights, we can hope for more of the same for our new shiny prospect.

Some fans are seeing subterfuge and underhanded dealings in how he got to sign a contract with the Canadiens, as if it was done to force his decision in the direction of London.  This is another way that the narrative escapes what we know as a fact, and mutates into a legend that becomes canon.  Nowhere do I see any indication of any backdoor dealings.  All that happened is that, since Mr. McCarron chose to go the OHL route, he was permitted to sign his NHL contract, something he wouldn't have been allowed to if he went the NCAA route, since it would void his amateur status.  So that's all that happened.  Had he chosen to play at Western Michigan, he wouldn't have been allowed to sign his contract for that duration, but it would have been waiting for him as soon as he left the school.  It's a mere formality: OHL=contract, NCAA=(sh)amateur status.

So let's see this as the best decision the young man could take in his situation with the help of his support team and parents, and rejoice that he will have an opportunity to play hockey at a high level in the OHL, in the playoffs and Memorial Cup, with a strong organization that turns out quality NHL players, along with a chance to play in the World Junior Championship if he makes the U.S. roster.  That's a busy schedule for a young man, and we wish him all the best while he takes on these challenges.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Is Gary Bettman responsible for the 'concussion epidemic'? Yes he is.

Apologists often defend Gary Bettman, saying he's "growing the game", and making everyone rich.  As far as the goonery, well, that's not his department, they say, that's because of the refs.

I disagree completely.  The concussions and dirty play are entirely Gary Bettman's fault.  He's the CEO, he's ultimately responsible.  He's more concerned with balance sheets and entering into incestuous TV deals with networks owned by one of this 30 owners (instead of the correct choice of ESPN) than he is about the actual quality of the game he's trying to sell.

I've said this often, and I'll repeat it now, but other sports have taken steps to make their game more fan-friendly and spectacular.

Rugby Union was a sport that was threatened by Rugby League's growth, and its own insistence on players retaining 'amateur' status.  Rugby Union eventually reacted, legalizing professional players, and the game has exploded.  European clubs, the Super Twelve in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the Tri-Nations and Six Nations tournaments, and the crown jewel, the Rugby World Cup, all are leaving Rugby League in the dust.

Also, the sport has tweaked its rules to ensure that boring, defensive teams like England, who used to kick the ball away without mercy, like dump-and-chase in hockey, and then hoped for a fortuitous penalty call or two to kick an easy penalty kick or two, and win a stultifying 6-3 game, at the expense of ticket buyers and television spectators, cannot prevail anymore.  Now, the value of the try has been increased from four to five points, so it's worth it to attack instead of just play for a kick, and it's near impossible to strictly play defense against a superior team.  If you try to collapse a maul or ruck, or wheel a scrum, the attacking team gets the ball , the defending team is penalized.  The refs don't even need to 'prove' that the infraction was intentional, it's not like the incidental trips that NHL refs turn a blind eye to.  The team that was going forward keeps the ball, the team that had everything to gain by playing anti-rugby, is held strictly responsible.

It makes sense.  If an NHL player is on a partial breakaway and is being backchecked by a defenceman, and both tangle and fall and the play is over, it makes sense that the defending player caused it and benefited from it.  Why not automatically call the penalty on the defenceman, it's not like the attacking player made himself fall.  Except that with referees not calling hooking and slashing and holding, defensive players do all of that, and prevent a clear chance on goal, so the player on breakaway now decides he may try to dive and draw a penalty, get a scoring chance that way, on the powerplay, cause he's not going to score with Mike Kostka hacking away at his hands.

NFL football liberalized its passing rules to allow for more open games, to transform the game from the Ohio State "three yards and a cloud of dust" approach to the Air Coryell philosophy.  Offensive linemen were allowed to extend their arms in pass blocking and put their hands on defensive players, as long as they don't hold (wink, wink).  Defensive backs were restricted to a five-yard bump zone, beyond which they cannot contact a receiver who doesn't have the ball without incurring a penalty.  This caused an explosion in scoring, and the NFL easily vaulted past MLB as the most successful sports property in North America.

Later, rules such as the Tom Brady rule, preventing a defensive player from tackling a quarterback at the knees or below were enacted.  Another rule prevents any defensive player from striking a QB on the helmet, no matter how slight the contact.  These were introduced in the realization that the quarterbacks are the ones responsible for the success of the league, they're the face of their respective teams, they're responsible for the quality of the show.  The NFL knows it's better off with Peyton Manning starting against Ben Roethlisberger, rather than if their backups were.  Defensive players who grumble that you can't touch Aaron Rodgers are missing the point that it's the same rule for both defences, so it evens out, and more importantly, it's Aaron Rodgers that makes everyone rich, including the defensive linemen trying to sack him.

Somehow the NHL doesn't get that.  Star players such as Sidney Crosby or Daniel Sedin or Jeremy Roenick are fair game, they're beaten to within an inch of their life during the season and playoffs, and some miss vast stretches of games.  It would make too much sense for the league to protect its stars, like the NFL does, but instead, it kow-tows to Mike Milbury and Don Cherry.

I've mentioned how the NBA went all in on Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and later Michael Jordan, and allowed them to play the game at the peak of their potential, instead of allowing Bill Laimbeer to knee and push and roughhouse them to a standstill.  Again an easy call.

Meanwhile the NHL lets Mike Hough hook Wayne Gretzky, and allows Matt Cooke to headhunt Marc Savard, and Duncan Keith to elbow and slash Daniel Sedin, in the name of defensive hockey.  Which is ridiculous.  Hockey should be tilted toward the skill players, towards scoring and offence, not the slashers and muckers who can't keep up.  Hockey should be about pleasing the fans, instead of parity, or about allowing desperate coaches to grimly hang on to their jobs through the trap.  Hockey should be up and down, back and forth, high scoring action, with tic-tac-toe passing, speed and breakaways and two-on-ones and three-on-twos, still with hitting and toughness, but the kind where Ryan Kesler squares off against Patrice Bergeron, Vincent Lecavalier against Jarome Iginla, not where Milan Lucic takes Dominic Moore's head off, because he might as well since he's going to get away with it.

The fact is, third liners and fourth liners should be guys like Mason Raymond and Aaron Palushaj, not Travis Moen and Ryan White, or George Parros.  Imagine if that's what we saw when the fourth lines were on the ice, 'undersized' flyers from the European leagues, or the LHJMQ, racing up and down the ice still, not quite as good as Ovechkin or Malkin, but still darn entertaining, instead of Ryan Malone and Greg Campbell.

So yes, the NHL is strangling its own game.  They should be serving non-stop action, but instead deal up shotblocking and 2-1 scores.

I've used a restaurant analogy before, where you have a barely surviving operation, and the chef wants to take some dishes like macaroni and cheese or the fried baloney sandwich off the menu, but the manager won't let him, because there's a small but vocal bunch of regulars who'll squawk when that happens.  And instead of realizing that those regulars, with their loudmouth antics and cigar smoke and intolerant attitudes to other patrons who'd appreciate a different atmosphere, are the ones driving the business into the ditch, the manager tries to placate them, for fear of losing their $8 bi-weekly check.

Instead, take the baloney off the menu, tell the cranky regulars to go somewhere else for their baloney if they're not happy, and by the way they can't occupy the best tables all afternoon lording it over everyone and acting like they own the joint.  Let's reserve those tables for the college girls looking for a nice salad after yoga.

In my analogy, Gary Bettman is the GM of the restaurant, who worries more about the books and trite marketing with coupons and cross-promotions with the tire store down the street, instead of securing the central pillar of his business, a quality product at a fair price.  Sure, he can't go in the kitchen and cook himself, but he can ensure that everyone responsible for putting out quality meals are supported with training and equipment, and then held accountable for that high standard to be maintained.

Instead, Gary Bettman is incapable of seeing that the game is much less than it could be, since he has no feel for it, no experience, he didn't grown up with it, watching it or playing it.  He thinks because the ratings are rising that things must be okay.  He can't remember the Oilers of the eighties, Guy Lafleur flying up the wing, has no sense of what Hakan Loob meant to the people of Calgary, and how such a player might not even make the NHL nowadays.

He has abysmal, fatally-flawed Colin Campbell as his Director of Hockey Operations, even after the conflict of interest exhibited in his leaked emails mortally wounded any credibility he might have had.  Mr. Campbell is the dim bulb that brainiac Bob Probert easily outwitted to continue using drugs and drinking alcohol while 'on rehab' as a Wing, as told in the latter's biography.  That such an underqualified goon is allowed to lay waste to hockey, while there are so many other talented people who could fill the role, is a fireable offence.  Why doesn't he have a Paul Kariya or Igor Larionov being groomed to take that role?

So yes, Gary Bettman is responsible for the concussions and defensive-play and triumph of coaching and systems over talent, skill and creativity that brings us out of our seats.  Think about it, when was the last time Anton Volchenkov brought you out of your seat by blocking a shot?  Gary Bettman favours the practitioners of anti-hockey, maybe without really being aware of it, since he don't know hockey, but as the CEO, he's ultimately responsible for the dead-puck era and the concussion era.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Chris Chelios for Denis Savard trade felt wrong even at that time

The announcement of Chris Chelios' induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame is bittersweet for Canadiens fans, since we wonder what could have been had he not been traded away.

I've told this story before, but when the Chris Chelios trade was made, I was working security at the Jazz Festival.  The funny thing is, one of my supervisors was André Savard, Denis' cousin.  He's not the André Savard you're thinking of, this one played Junior A hockey but never got any farther, although he had the size for it, he looked like a hockey player, a big dude.  Anyway, I think it was early in the morning, we were all at our posts but there was no activity yet, no shows going on, just a few people walking around, going to work, doing the Walk of Shame, etc.

Anyway, Christian, the big boss and owner of the security company that provided services to all the Festivals and a few concert venues (I'm telling you, this was a great job) came on the air and told everyone over our radios that the trade had been made, and gave us the particulars.  And there was a silence.  Me and the couple of guys I was stationed with kind of looked at each other, and I could tell we all had a bad feeling about this.  Then a lone, forever unidentified voice crackled over the air and said: "Savard yé trop vieux!", and everyone laughed so hard we could hear the other guys whooping on the other stations and street corners.  We all knew the guy was taking a dig at André, calling him too old, but also stating what we all felt, that Denis was kind of past his prime.  And the worker bees, we were all young, and we'd all come across Chris Chelios at the Peel Pub or on Crescent Street, so we knew about the partying and the rumours, but we all thought we'd regret this.  Even if we didn't go into details about it when André was around, because he was really happy and really proud his cousin was coming home to Montréal.

So yeah, I didn't like that trade right off the bat, but I tried to see how it could work out, if best-case scenarios went our way.  This wasn't the immediate kick in the gut of the Patrick Roy trade, the Rod Langway trade, or the Tomas Kaberle trade, but if I could have waved my magic wand I would have undone that deal.

The Aaron Hernandez case is merely overwhelmingly circumstantial

If I was Aaron Hernandez, I wouldn't sweat.  The prosecution's case is strictly a circumstantial, nothing a sharp lawyer can't poke holes in.  With juries trained on years of watching "The X-Files" and "The Fugitive", how easy will it be to bafflegab a jury that it wasn't him, it was the one-armed man, anything is possible, there's a reasonable doubt, never mind the photos of him still chuckling over the corpse.

Daniel Brière signs with the Canadiens, or, the Inuit purchase more ice

A puzzling free agent acquisition is about the nicest way one can characterize Montréal's decision to sign Daniel Brière.  Canadiens' General Manager Marc Bergevin wants a team with character and one that is bigger and tougher to play against, and it's hard to see how this deal moves us in that direction.  We acquired another small, skilled, speedy forward, on a roster that already has a surplus of such players, given the current state of the NHL, where Brian Bickell and Michael McCarron are valued more highly than players that can actually skate and shoot and pass and, you know, play hockey.

Mr. Brière is seen as the replacement of Michael Ryder, and some say that is an upgrade, but that misses the mark.  We have to see if he's an upgrade on Erik Cole, the player Michael Ryder was traded for.

I was quite happy with the Erik Cole trade at the time.  I was betting that his best days are behind him, he had a career year his first season with the Canadiens, but we were now in for the long slow fade, based on his performance last season.  Which would have meant two more years with his contract around our necks as an anchor.

But this wasn't certain.  I still fear that he may this summer have a better off-season conditioning-wise and return to the Stars re-energized.  Maybe he'll avail himself to some of the funny vitamins that he eschewed last summer, thinking the whole season was going to be scrubbed, so he might as well give his liver a break.

So for the Michael Ryder deal to work in our favour, we had to hope that Erik Cole was done as an impact player, that we'd rid ourselves of his cap hit for the next two seasons, and that we'd use that money to get a comparable player, hopefully younger and cheaper.  If Mr. Cole has a rebound season, and finished off his contract playing great or even good hockey, we've made a really bad trade.  What we're left with as a trade is Erik Cole for Daniel Brière and Connor Crisp.  That's not as much of a slam dunk as I thought it was at the time.

The No Trade Clause included in Mr. Brière's contract is another big irritant.  If we viewed Daniel Brière as a marketable asset who can be flipped at the deadline for other assets if things aren't going right, well that angle is dead.  Some will say he wouldn't have signed here without one, and I'll retort that that would have been fine, since the NTC significantly decreases his value to the team.  If the Oilers are in a playoff run and are desperately looking for scoring next February, we can't be in the race to fleece them of prospects, because there's no way Mr. Brière would accept that trade.

So no dice.  If I had a choice right now between Erik Cole and Daniel Brière, I'd take Mr. Cole with no hesitation.  And I haven't even touched yet on how Mr. Brière could have signed here before when he first hit free agency, but chose to play in Philadelphia for less money than we offered.  But I'll save that rant for Mr. Brière's first dry spell.  Or sooner.

Sure, Tyler Séguin is immature, but he's a 21-year old rich kid, what can we expect?

The whys and wherefores on Tyler Séguin's "immaturity" is easy to find in the papers.  From reports on his drinking and partying after games, while players are now expected to return home to hit the hay and 'be professional', to his Twitter antics, the bloom has faded.  The Toronto Star is ready to revisit how catastrophic Brian Burke's Phil Kessel for two first-round picks and a second really was.

So yeah, with cellphones and Instagram nowadays, the celebrity lifestyle may no longer be all it's cracked up to be.  While Guy Lafleur, Chris Chelios and Shayne Corson, among many, many others, took full advantage of Montréal's vibrant night life, and were able to keep a relatively low profile and avoid the details being broadcast, nowadays a player can't be seen in public without people rushing up to them wanting to take a picture.  It's kind of hard to be boozy at the club at 0100 hr and not have it Twittergram-ed all over MySpace the next day.

Tyler Seguin's father explains that while his teammates all go home to their families after games, he is alone in Boston, with his family back in Toronto.  He does have friends his own age, but of course when they socialize they all want to hit the pubs and nightclubs.

Which makes you wonder, why not leave a kid in junior for an extra year or two, or let them go to college, and let them be kids, get the partying and craziness out of their system?  Tyler Séguin turned pro at 18, and immediately had to act like a banker, eating right, sleeping, abstaining from drinking, going out.  His buddies are probably having more fun than he is right now.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Eric Lindros should be in the Hall of Fame

The list of Hall of Fame inductees is out, and this year's class consists of Chris Chelios, Scott Niedermayer, Brendan Shanahan, Geraldine Heaney, and Fred Shero.  Putting aside any latent Canadiens-centric biases, these are all worthy candidates for the Hall, and are beyond debate.

Every year though, this announcement leads right away to a discussion of those who didn't get in, even though it's fairly evident that none of this year's candidates displaced a more worthy contender.  This isn't like the Baseball Hall of Fame, which this year inducted no one, because steroids.  And it isn't like the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with its longstanding fascination with quarterbacks and skill players at the expense of linemen, and offensive players over defensive players, although the selection committee is working hard nowadays to right the imbalance.  Which of course has led to a backlog of record-breaking receivers being forced to wait their turn, with more joining the list as Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss reach retirement age.

In any case, the discussion when inductees are announced invariably turns to who was 'snubbed'.  This year, the victims claimed to be at the forefront are coach Pat Burns and Eric Lindros.

Pat Burns is a legitimate choice for inclusion, but not a mind-boggling omission so far.  His credentials certainly warrant inclusion, and he certainly will at some point be voted in.  If Pat Burns has had to wait, Fred Shero has been waiting decades longer, and had two Stanley Cups to his résumé, so it makes sense that this was his turn, if we disregard the reprehensible tactics his teams used.  If we think of the Hall of Fame in the broader sense, the notoriety and spectacle quotient of his teams certainly weigh the scales in his favour.

Eric Lindros is another member in waiting at the forefront.  Maybe timing, logistics, and his abbreviated career all have some part to play in his having to wait at least another year, and that's fine, but that his inclusion is even up for debate is outrageous.

The Hall of Fame is exactly that, a building and tradition to mark the careers of legendary players who have left their mark on the game.  And Eric Lindros left an unsurprisingly huge imprint on the sport.  

He was one of those once in a lifetime players, following in the tradition of Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, players who broke records in minor hockey and junior and scored insane numbers of points.  These players were followed throughout their childhood and adolescence by the hockey world, and were eagerly anticipated in the NHL.  

Eric Lindros' entry into the hockey world wasn't storybook, he refused to report to or sign a contract with the Nordiques who drafted him, and after sitting out one year, he was eventually traded to two teams, the Rangers and the Flyers, in a celebrated moment in hockey history that was ultimately resolved by an arbitrator.  While we waited, he had a memorable turn as a Canadian Olympian in 1992.  I still have the image of him carrying the puck along the boards as an opponent tried to check him, and bounced off and cartwheeled in the air for his troubles, while Mr. Lindros continued into the attacking zone seemingly unaffected, an unstoppable force meeting a quite movable object.

His Flyers years were spectacular, and he personified the new NHL, good or bad, the big talented scorer who could put up points or penalty minutes.  He updated the tradition of the Flyers as the Broad Street Bullies: they could still tangle with you, but they could outscore you too.

The early-end to his career is lamentable, and shouldn't count against his candidacy.  If it didn't affect Cam Neely or Pavel Bure, it shouldn't deter from Mr. Lindros' bona fides.  If anything, his concussion injuries should be seen as the dawning of a new awareness of the dangers of brain injuries.  Both his and Keith Primeau's and Pat Lafontaine's and Paul Kariya's abruptly terminated careers now serve as the figurative canaries in the coal mine.  They paid a heavy price, but their sacrifice will ultimately save countless others.

In any case, as I often argue in cases like these, any detractors pointing to his controversial reputation, adversarial posturing in his dealings with teams, and to his numbers not quite reaching a desired threshold, can be silenced by pointing to Dino Ciccarrelli, Class of 2010.  If that disgusting whackjob can get in, everyone can get in.  And Eric Lindros probably above all others.

Roberto Luongo treated "like garbage" by Vancouver? Not in the least.

Some questionable comments about Roberto Luongo and the Canucks on social media, stating that he was treated like garbage by the fans, the media, and the organization.  I'd have to dispute that.

Roberto Luongo was acquired in a great trade, and Vancouver thought it had its next great goalie, after Richard Brodeur and Kirk MacLean, a goaltender who would make everyone forget Dan Cloutier, the Achilles' heel to the great teams of Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi.

Except Roberto never really 'settled' here.  His wife is a Florida native, and never took to Vancouver, ultimately deciding to stay in Florida during hockey seasons, with the rumours pointing to the weather, or the proximity of her family as the main reasons.

So when Roberto was approaching free agency, the Canucks made him an offer he couldn't refuse.  Sure, he could have waited out until his UFA summer and cashed in then, but he chose security with the Canucks instead, negating the risk of an injury, etc.

In the same vein, the Canucks could have had a real talk with Roberto, and figured out he'd be happier back in Florida or nearby, and worked out a trade to make the best of a bad situation, but instead trained a fire hose of money at him, much like the shlubby guy going out with a girl way too hot for him would buy a big house and propose with a honking big ring to seal the deal and keep her in the fold.

So now we have two parties who are not really happy married by circumstances.  It could still have worked if Roberto had performed at the same level he did in Florida, or even the first couple of early years in Vancouver.  Unfortunately, he had a couple of playoff collapses, against the Bruins notably, and the Blackhawks.  I still remember him doing the splits as he went post to post but, oddly, would also pitch forward while doing so and land on his stomach, leaving the top 2/3 of the net wide open.  It was eerie, no other goalie had done that before, and I've never seen it since, but Roberto would do it regularly.  Eventually, Corey Schneider was given a real shot and did well.

Roberto saw the handwriting on the wall, and he demanded a trade, but oddly, still invoked his No Trade Clause, so that the Canucks were handcuffed at first to trying to trade him to a small handful of teams.  As both parties grew more desperate, word is that he increased the number of teams he'd allow to be traded to, but that didn't keep pace with the steadily worsening conditions for his trade (cap hit, declining performance, advancing age, lockout, decreased salary cap,...).

So the organization has treated Roberto with fairness, signing him to a fabulous long-term deal, begging him to love Vancouver and stay forever.  They've tried to treat him decently and never 'Bobby Clarked' him, castigating him for his trade demands and diva behaviour.  They've tried to honour his trade request, but they painted themselves in a corner and couldn't get the deal done.

The fans have been very supportive of Roberto, as anyone who's watched Canucks game would know.  Whenever he'd make a big save, the whole arena would chant: "Luuuuuuuu...", it was kind of neat.

As far as the media, there's been some criticism of Roberto, but nothing that the Sedin brothers or Markus Naslund or Trevor Linden or Mark Messier or Pavel Bure didn't see when they were relied on to lead the team and wouldn't quite live up to expectations.

So again, Roberto Luongo was not treated like garbage in Vancouver, but rather like royalty or a favourite son, and everyone tried to make it work, but ultimately it didn't.  And now they have to live with each other anyway.

Friday, 5 July 2013

The Canadiens 2013 re-draft

 It's still bugging me.  This should have been the Canadiens' draft.

(Note: picks with strikethrough are replaced with options in italics)

1 25 25 MTL Michael McCarron RW USA 6' 5" 228
2 4 34 MTL Jacob De La Rose LW SWE 6' 2" 190
2 6 36 MTL Zachary Fucale        G CAN 6' 1" 181
2 25 55 MTL Artturi Lehkonen LW FIN 5'11"163
 3 3 64 NSH Jonathan-I. Diaby D CAN 6' 5" 223
3 10 71 MTL Connor Crisp        LW CAN 6' 3" 225
3 27 88 EDM Anton Slepyshev LW RUS 6' 2" 194 or
4 3 94 EDM Jackson Houck        RW CAN 6' 0" 186
3 25 86 MTL Sven Andrighetto RW CHE 5' 9" 175
4 2 93 COL Mason Geertsen D CAN 6' 3" 199 or
4 19 110 NYR Ryan Graves        D CAN 6' 4" 220 or
4 24 115 VAN Jordan Subban        D CAN 5' 9" 175
4 25 116 MTL Martin Reway        LW CZE 5' 8" 158
4 27 118 LAK Hudson Fasching RW USA 6' 1" 213 or
5 18 139 DET Mitch Wheaton        D CAN 6' 4" 228
6 25 176 MTL Jeremy Gregoire C CAN 5' 11"190

Now hear me out.  I know that's the worst type of revisionism, second-guessing a team's picks without their inside knowledge, their scouting reports, etc.  I'm still going to do it.  In most cases, I'm not hung up on a particular player, I'd have been okay with picking a player rated in the same cluster, but with different attributes (size and toughness) that earn them that grade.

As you can see, I'm not touching the first three picks, since I feel the Canadiens were doing fine until that point, and were addressing some organizational needs with those players.  I can't argue, really, that one specific player would have been better than the incumbents.

At pick #55 though, we're starting to fishtail off the road.  I really don't discount that Arturri Lehkonen is a highly skilled forward, and I understand that he's already playing with men in Finland.  Still, I'll believe when I see him scoring a goal while chewing on Dion Phaneuf's VaporLite.  Instead, the Canadiens should have picked giant defenceman and local kid Jonathan-Ismaël Diaby, as an adjunct to Jarred Tinordi in the medium term.  While guys like Darren Dietz, Dalton Thrower and even Nathan Beaulieu play a physical style, they'd benefit from a bigger prospect who brings additional toughness to the ranks.  It was a squandered opportunity to not add this guy to our system, as he'll be difficult to match up against in the NHL; he won't be just tall, but strong as an ox.

The Connor Crisp pick at 71 is difficult for me to argue against, since I militate for a more physical prospect profile, but I'm going to do so anyway.  Instead of a beefing-up reaction to the previous pick, if we already had the size of Mr. Diaby on board, we could focus on a big scorer like Anton Slepyshev, and take a second kick at the Alex Avtsin-Andrei Kostitsyn can, the undervalued (Bielo)Russian pick that could hit the jackpot.  Or, to play it safer, we could take ho-hum Jackson Houck from the Giants, a bigger Brian Skrudland-type.  He'd bring grit and hard work and leadership to the fold.

#86, with Sven Andrighetto, we're launching off the road into the ditch.  Why we take a chance on a short offensive player, when we've already got Mr. Lehkonen on the books, and Charles Hudon, Sebastian Collberg, Tim Bozon, and (at the time) Danny Kristo on the farm, is difficult to explain.  Instead, we could have taken heart-and-soul tough guy defenceman Mason Geertsen of the Vancouver Giants, or PEI Rocket Ryan Graves.  Yes, we've taken Jonathan Diaby in the second round in my parallel universe, but you can't know which players will make it to the NHL eventually.  We increase our odds of having a bigger defenceman to go along with Jarred Tinordi by taking a second d-man, whether Mr. Geertsen or Mr. Graves.  If both Mr. Diaby and the big d-man picked here pan out, that's a great 'problem' to have.

If we were to take a "homerun swing" on a smaller player, I would have preferred we take it on Jordan Subban, P.K.'s little brother, and see if he can make something of himself.  Maybe by the time he's ready for The Show in three or four years, with the expected turnover in personnel, we'd actually have room and opportunity on our blue line for a smaller offensive specialist, like the Bruins had for Torey Krug this playoff.  That's if we had to take the smaller player gambit.  I really, really liked Mason Geertsen.  Man he'd have worn the bleu blanc rouge proudly, like a bigger Lyle Odelein.  In my parallel universe.

Once we get to pick #115, with which we drafted Martin Reway, we're upside down in the weeds with pond water slowly filling the passenger compartment.  We don't know if we can recover from this.  He is the player-pick Trevor Timmins himself described as his "homerun swing".  The thing with swinging for the fences, instead of trying to make solid contact, is that you strike out a lot more that way.  Especially since the howling wind of idiocy which is buffeting the NHL right now is blowing in our face and keeping the ball in the park.  Mike Milbury's and Don Cherry's constant effluvia of argle-bargle makes it hard to connect with 5'9" players.  Instead, still on the board was Hudson Fasching, a big winger with the USNTDP with a cool story of how he had to mature quickly to help care for family members stricken with a genetic disorder.  Ben Kerr had a glowing review, and compared his style to Andrew Ladd.  We're in the fifth round, this kid slipped down from a potential 2nd round pick, let's take a cut at this pitch instead.  It seems so easy to me.  Or, let's spin the Kelowna Rockets Big Wheel of Big Defenceman and land on towering project Mitchell Wheaton, see how he turns out.

The obvious criticism of my re-draft will be that I don't know the players, and I'm only focusing on size.  And we can go back and forth.  My point again remains that we needed to complement what we already have on the farm, take players with size to assist the smaller scorers like Sebastian Collberg and Brendan Gallagher, and the tweeners like Louis Leblanc and Michaël Bournival.  And I think this re-draft demonstrates that there were talented prospects that would have served our purposes well but also were not as bafflingly small as Messrs. Lehkonen, Andrighetto and Reway.