Monday, 30 June 2014

My free agency shopping list for the Canadiens on Canada Day

So it's hard to tell how the NHL 'Free Agency Frenzy' will run tomorrow.  On the one hand, there was a five-day discussion period allowed for free agents, prior to the opening bell tomorrow at 12:00 hr EDST.  This will allow a lot of teams and players to have concluded handshake deals, and I would expect a tidal wave of deals being announced at the kickoff, and very soon after.

I would also expect a few teams to re-sign their own free agents early on, finding out that the one or two players they coveted and kept cap room free for are now signed elsewhere.  So let's say the Canadiens are in the Dan Boyle market, but find that he's signed a ludicrous contract offer with, oh heck, let's say the Rangers.  Marc Bergevin's team might swoop back in and sign Mike Weaver, who they'd backburnered while they were chasing the former Shark.

There will be two types of teams out there, some like the Bruins and the Flyers who are hard up against the salary cap, and won't be able to make offers, and bottom-feeders like the Sabres, the Panthers, Flames and Islanders, who are below the salary-floor and need to purchase big name players to get above the floor and reach compliance.  It will be interesting to see if some players value the chances of winning by accepting an offer from a contender, versus a much higher offer from a weak sister in an unenviable locale.

Since the teams with cap-room are rebuilding and looking long-term, and may not want to sewer their chance at the #1 draft choice next summer, is it possible that they are strategic in who they sign, maybe showering one or two forwards with cash, but refraining from picking up a goalie?  That way they'd have two more pieces in play, but the kind which would have little effect on the standings in the short-term.  Two or three seasons later, when their youth comes together, they'd have those assets already in-house.  I'm very interested to see how the Sabres spend all that money to reach the floor, and don't unintentionally get strong enough that they end up picking 10th overall.

So there might be a fierce bidding war for luxury items, who put on a show and sell tickets, but your solid defencemen, or an unspectacular Dave Bolland who helps you win, may not get a peep, the contenders who would be interested in their services having their hands tied financially, and not able to enter the fray.

There are also stories of interest to Canadiens fans.  Will Thomas Vanek go to the highest bidder, or to a contender?  Will he forego a higher offer to go to his preferred Minnesota, which has already told him that he'd have to accept a shorter 3 or 4-year deal, being leery of entering new long-term contracts after the deals for Zach Parisé, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville?

Where does Brian Gionta land?  Is it a foregone conclusion that he'll be in Buffalo, near his Rochester home?  That might not be a bad play for them, spend on a veteran who may not win you any extra games, but will keep the team on an even keel and help the coaches during the losing streaks, keep the youngsters focused and motivated, help their development.  And I don't know if that's being uncharitable for Brian.

Another point of interest is how many goalkeepers, suitable for backup duty, are available on the open market.  This should deflate the trade value of Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski enough that they're excluded from tiresome trade proposals to Winnipeg to pry Evander Kane out of the Jets' hands.

Will Saku Koivu get a contract offer right away, or will he have to wait a while?  Are Christian Erhoff, Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Ribeiro, Ilya Bryzgalov and Brad Richards going to get another massive contract, on the back of their lucrative buyout settlements?

My shopping list as Armchair GM of the Canadiens would be relatively limited.  With P.A. Parenteau in the fold now, we have a little more balance in our forward corps.  I don't expect us to nab one of the top free agents, but maybe we'll go bottom-feeding for a bargain like David Booth, who may not fit the character type that Marc Bergevin looks for, but could be a low-risk, low-price acquisition, and could contribute with his size, speed and offensive ability, if he stayed healthy.

I'd also like a replacement for George Parros, and maybe there's someone in the AHL like Steve MacIntyre who can fill this role, or maybe we acquire someone on the cheap from a team looking to dump salary.  We can't refuse to accept that the Bruins caused an arms race in our division, and we have to have the nuclear capability that the other teams do.

The main need would be for a rightie on defence.  Dan Boyle would be a great fit, on a two-year deal, and he wouldn't come cheap, but he could play on the right side of Andrei Markov or Alexei Emelin, and take the second wave of the powerplay to give P.K. a breather.  P.K. could learn a thing or two from Mr. Boyle as well, both in watching him play, and in conversation.  Failing that, we go even cheaper and sign, in descending order of preference, Tom Gilbert, Sami Salo, Anton Stralman,  or Stéphane Robidas.  Or Shane O'Brien's evil twin, the one with the real mean streak, and who shoots right.

Generally, I'll trust Marc Bergevin to be prudent, to not enter into any entangling alliances, like his ill-advised deal with Daniel Brière last summer.  I'd rather fold than to keep anteing up at the table, let other teams strangle themselves with cap and term.  I don't mind taking a step back in the standings next season if we let our kids play and develop, and open up some roster opportunities for the Bulldogs.

I don't think we're one or two players away from being contenders, we need to stay the course, keep stocking our farm system and think long-term, the Thomas Vanek beau risque of last April notwithstanding.

More thoughts on the draft: Alexis Vanier, Alexis Pépin could have been Canadiens. Instead, we have Brett Lernout and Daniel Audette.

After a satisfactory first-round on Friday, my expectations for the Canadiens were lowered on Saturday at the draft.  I'd written off Ivan Barbashev or other sexy picks who'd fallen out of the first round since we didn't have a second-rounder, didn't have the ammo to go up and get one, but I was hoping we'd have a crack at the Alexises from the LHJMQ later on.  Based only on what I could read online, I just liked their size, the fact that they had skill, and the homeboy angle.

I was surprised that Alexis Vanier lasted into the fourth round, maybe not being able to showcase his game in the playoffs hurt his stock.  He's a big defenceman, variously listed at 6'4" or 6'5", 225 lbs, supposedly good skillset but still a project, would take time to develop.  With 15 goals, 36 points in his draft year, he has the skill with the puck, there's something there to work with.

He was scooped up in the 4th round, 102nd overall by the San Jose Sharks.

The other Alexis is Alexis Pépin, who is more of a risk.  He's big, listed now at 6'2" and 225, and has a big, big frame.  Trouble is, he's had trouble with his conditioning, with maturity, in that he ballooned up to 240 or 250 pounds last year, and obviously it wasn't 'good' weight.  Still good skill, good shot, has potential.  Knocks on him about his will, his ability to battle, and his skating, were thought to be caused in large part by his excess weight.

Patrick Roy took a chance, the Avalanche got him in the fourth, 114th overall.  It's debatable that the Canadiens would have considered him, given their emphasis on character, and the ability to compete.

Still, the fourth round is where you can afford to take these long shots.  Last year, we were swinging for the fences with players like Martin Reway, who had huge skill but issues due to their size.  I wouldn't have had a problem to gamble on the long shots who have the size, strength, and frame to make it to the NHL, but need to work on their game and their maturity.

It's moot in any case, the Canadiens traded up in the third round to snag a potential enforcer in Brett Lernout, using their fourth round pick to move up a fourteen spots in the third.  I have to trust what they saw, their decision, but that's what I had in mind, what I'd hoped for at the draft.

Instead, the Canadiens took some players who were relatively unknown, quite low on the radar.  Mr. Lernout is described as a very tough, defensively oriented defenceman, who shoots right and has a hard shot.  We can see him becoming a third-pairing defenceman who brings toughness to a lineup.  At 6'4" and quite a few tilts under his belt as can be viewed on YouTube, he does have the mean streak you'd look for in that kind of player.  Again, the Canadiens nabbed a rightie in the lower rounds, and added him to their group of rightie d-men in the pipeline.

The Canadiens then had to wait until the 5th round, and took Nikolas Koberstein, another obscure defenceman from the plains.  He plays Tier II Junior so he can retain his NCAA eligibility, and has committed to the University of Alaska at Anchorage.  He's 6'2", 190 lbs, seems like he plays tough too, but has no discernible offence based on his numbers.

With their second 5th-rounder the Canadiens snapped up another undersized, offensively-oriented forward in Daniel Audette.  He was a better bargain, we got him much lower than where he was ranked, due in no small part to his 5'9" listed height.

I still question whether we should take chances on very small players, after last season's picks of Lehkonen, Andrighetto and Reway.  We're taking three chances on guys on that the Kings or Ducks or Sharks wouldn't touch, based on their philosophy, and we take another chance this season.

I understand the point, what if their number comes up, what if they're the winning ticket.  I'd counter that with the idea that a big winger who has a lot of holes in his game could also be the winning ticket.  We already have taken a lot of chances on small players, let's take fliers on big guys.

And yeah, some will argue about balance, how young Mr. Scherbak isn't small, and Mr. Lernout is big, so you need a bit of both, but the thing is, we've already got a lot of 'small and skilled', we're already not in balance.  To rectify the balance, you don't get 'a bit of both', you load up on what you're lacking.  If the bathwater is too cold, you add hot water, not 'a bit of both'; you don't add lukewarm water.

Practically, I'll take comfort in the fact that since everyone is stocking up on size, those shelves are going to be very bare, but the ones with small skilled players are going to be well-stocked, there will be a good selection, good value there.  But I do suspect that the Canadiens adding Donald Audette to our already relatively slight prospect pipeline was not the way to go.

To round out our draft, we got the USHL goalie of the year in Hayden Hawkey, who'll have four seasons to work on his game in the NCAA before we need to decide whether we need to offer him a contract.

Same concept in the seventh, we got a Tier II Ontario Junior player, Jake Evans, a playmaking centre who's headed to the NCAA also.

The number of NCAA-bound players we picked up must not be by accident.  The Canadiens are very close to the 50-contract limit, and may have decided to relieve some of that pressure, push some decisions later by taking college-bound rather than CHL players.

What this did though is that, contrary to the 2012 draft, our haul this year seems underwhelming, deflating almost.  In 2012, we knew most of the players who were drafted the instant their name was called, they mostly seemed as bargains who fell into our laps, highly-touted players like Sebastian Collberg, Dalton Thrower, Tim Bozon, Brady Vail and Charles Hudon,

Again, I'll defer to the judgment of professional scouts, but I would have loved to sneak in one of the Alexis, rather than the miniature Daniel Audette.

Daniel Brière is traded to Colorado, P.A. Parenteau is now a Canadien

News is coming fast and furious out of the seventh floor at the New Forum.  After the Josh Gorges rumours, there was a rumbling about Daniel Brière, which was followed almost immediately by the news that he'd been traded to the Colorado Avalanche for P.A. Parenteau.

It seems like a win for the Canadiens, they get a younger player signed for a reasonable amount in return for a player who was a square peg on the roster last season, and who while he acted professionally, was ultimately unhappy with his role on the team.

What the Avalanche get in return is more questionable.  They seem stacked at centre, especially if they retain Paul Stasny.  The thought was that they were trying to shed salary, which they haven't done with this trade, the money is even on both sides.  And they're not acquiring Mr. Brière to buy him out more cheaply, with his one year remaining compared to two for Mr. Parenteau, since the Avs have stated they will not buy him out.

The good thing about the trade for the Canadiens is that Mr. Parenteau is a right wing, and happy to play there.  Gaston Therrien on RDS repeated all season long that Daniel Brière was signed with the understanding that he'd be on RW, but wasn't effective or happy there, he preferred playing centre.  Which was fine to a point, it allowed the coaches options when injuries struck, and he was right-handed, the only centre other than Ryan White who could take draws on the right side, optimally, in the defensive zone.

We now have another right wing to play in our Top 6, to step in for Thomas Vanek, and don't have Daniel Brière somewhat miscast as as fourth-line centre.  That role can now fall to Ryan White, Brandon Prust, even Gabriel Dumont.  So a better allocation of personnel on hand.

Another factor to consider is that P.A. Parenteau is good friends with David Desharnais. They never played together, but are both former Chicoutimi Saguenéens, and met in alumni events. Maybe these two can spark up some magic like David has with Max.

Josh Gorges, suddenly, is about to be traded by the Montréal Canadiens.

A little bizarre how the Josh Gorges contract and status story is exploding now.  I made a pithy observation this season, wondering what compensation he gets for housing Brendan Gallagher his first couple of seasons in Montréal.  I figure he can't get any financial remuneration, that would be seen as a breach of the CBA, but wondered whether it made his No Trade Clause "even more iron-clad", whether he'd again gone above and beyond and cemented his status as a core player.

The fact that he's commenting now on the situation shows that Bob McKenzie's tweet didn't just reflect that the Leafs enquired, were rebuffed, and someone at MLSE had loose lips.  There's more of a concerted effort from the Canadiens to move him, it's not just other teams sniffing around.

We remember how Josh's contract happened, how he and Pierre Gauthier couldn't come to terms on a long-term deal in 2011, so they hatched a one-year deal to put things off, and maybe see what the lay of the land was.  He signed a $2.5M deal, and we all thought that was a bargain, and there was much handwringing that we were about to lose him as a UFA come July.  We were in the throes of the Roman Hamrlik-Jaroslav Spacek era, Andrei Markov was injured, we couldn't envision losing Josh at that time.

Then the new contract was announced mid-way through the season, and we gasped at the amount, a not inconsiderable $3.9M, and the term, which at six years seemed like an eternity.  Realists thought it was market value, and we'd made our bed by not agreeing to a deal earlier, we couldn't do much better with a gun to our temple.  The optimists tried to see the good side, how what looked like a huge amount would eventually seem quite reasonable as the cap went up.

I like Josh, maybe more as a person than what he contributes, and like having him on my team, but at the time I couldn't shake the feeling that we had been struck by 'Leafs disease', the symptoms of which are an average player being forced into a role more demanding than he should fill, and getting lots of press and hype as a result, then getting a contract out of proportion with the talent and potential he possesses (for a recent example, see Bozak, Tyler).

A couple of years went by, and it appeared that the 'pill', as difficult to swallow as it might have seemed at first, was going to go down.  Maybe we were more focused on the Tomas Kaberles and Scott Gomezes in the meantime, the guys who were getting paid obscene amounts of money in return for no value.  Josh faded into the background.

Now, with money needed for P.K. and Andrei and some enticing free agents on the market who'd do nicely here, Josh is caught in the spotlight again.  Daniel Brière would seem to be a more likely candidate for this kind of attention, but it's a surplus of leftie d-men we have, not a surplus of scoring forwards.  Plus, Daniel's contract is up next summer, Josh's deal has an interminable four more years to go.

We talked about players whose contracts "suck", like Roberto Luongo found out, and Vincent Lecavalier, and many others.  Josh's agent rolled the dice and seemed to have come up sevens when he signed his big deal, but it's now hurting his client.  If he'd signed closer to a $3M deal, Josh would be a foundation player, a cost-effective piece who would draw only positive attention.

We often talk about how the NHL is a business, and Josh is caught up in that now.  A consideration is that the contract wasn't signed by Marc Bergevin's team, so he doesn't feel any compunction in shopping the player, it's not an admission of a mistake on his part.  All we can hope is that he lands somewhere out West, closer to his beloved Kelowna, where he can play an integral role and have success.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Thoughts on the 2014 NHL Draft

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

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

  • Michael Dal Colle, you drew the short straw and are headed to Charles Wang's madhouse.  Pray that he sells to someone else, soon.
  •  Jake Virtanen goes to the Canucks at #6, Abbottsford kid with size, lots and lots of speed, scoring touch.  He's been on my radar since he was listed as a possible pick for the Canadiens in mock drafts early in the season.
  • I fear what the Canucks will do with their #24 pick.  They'll be in the market for pretty much exactly what we're looking for.  Like last year when they took Jordan Subban one pick before we were up in the fourth round, they're going to cockblock us.
  • The Leafs take some nobody named William Nylander, who I never liked anyway. And I’m sure I’ll learn more than I ever care to about this stiff due to the ministrations of Mark Masters. Stupid Leafs.
  • I hope this young man has a great career after he gets traded to another NHL team so the Leafs can acquire an overrated fourth-liner.
  • Trade between the Preds and the Preds announced on Twitter: BREAKING NEWS: James Neal traded to the @PredsNHL for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
  • Can't believe the Penguins couldn't win more than one Stanley Cup with a core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Kris Letang.  Breaking it up already.  
  • For not much return it seems.  Why rush to make this trade on the draft floor if you're not getting picks in return?
  • The Jets get Nikolaj Ehlers, lots of talent, but a few questions too, about his size, and whether his production is attributable to his playing on a line with Jonathan Drouin.
  • The Ducks spend the #10 they got from Ottawa in the Bobby Ryan trade on Nick Ritchie, another thumper to compete against the Kings and the Sharks.  This might sting for the Sens if they get crumbs for Jason Spezza, and can't retain Bobby Ryan next summer. 
  • Why do talking heads, who are paid for their public speaking, so often mess up the word 'boisterous'.  They're not completely sure what the word is exactly, they kind of confuse it with vociferous, so it kind of comes out as "bvoister-ous".  If you don't know the word, don't use it.  Say loud, or animated, or another word that means what you think it means.
  • And stop saying "mischeevee-ous".  It's mischievous.  "Miss tchivas", if you must.
  • The Preds never score, so they go for a slick smaller scorer in Kevin Fiala. 
  • The Coyotes go for another thumper in Brendan Perlini, to keep up with their conference rivals.
  • So far so good, haven't lost any players we could conceivable covet when our turn comes around.  If we play our cards right, we may get three or four players we like at #26.  But the Bruins will probably object, insist we only take one...
  • Who's the Bond villain announcing the pick for the Blue Jackets?  Oh, it's just former Pittsburgh Penguin Ville Siren.  Nice accent still.
  • Prediction: Philadelphia messes up again, picks Danny Watkins, again.
  • Nope, they snag Travis Sanheim.  Sorry kid, I hope you bust.  Or get traded out before that happens.
  • Whenever I come across a commercial on TSN, I try to switch over to RDS, but they're running commercials then too.  It's like they planned it that way...
  • Hello, the Lightning draft Anthony DeAngelo. That means someone else falling to us at #26.
  • Gahd I can't stand Gary Bettman.  If he was the principal at my school I'd vandalize his car and bully his son.
  • Ah, Nick Schmaltz goes to the Blackhawks.  Glad I don't have to cheer for a guy in a bleu blanc rouge 'Schmaltz' sweater.
  • I fear the Pens will snap up Ivan Barbashev.  They'll want his scoring, after trading James Neal.  But no, they take Kasperi Kapanen.  Phew!.  Three more bullets to dodge.
  • Cameras trained on the Canadiens draft table, and RDS goes to commercal?!?  I wants my rumour-mongering, and I wants it now.
  • Conner Bleackley, there was a guy who we hyped up, I wouldn't have minded him on our team.  Colorado gets him though.
  • Vancouver takes Jared McCann, while I keep cringing.  At this point though, we're kind of sure to have a crack at a player I'd like to have.
  • What petard do we want Boston to hoist itself with?
  • Bruins grab David Pastrnak (where'd the 'e' go?), a Czech from Sweden (?) who never got on my radar, after the minutes of intensive research I've done.  Hope he has a nice career in Division 2 hockey in Sweden.
  • What a tan on Michel Therrien. He looks relaxed.  A four-year contract extension will do that for a guy, I guess.
  • Wow, Marc Bergevin really pushing it, speaking French at the podium, cracking jokes, not getting booed out of the building.
  • Nikita Scherbak, a scoring winger, who I didn't have man-love for, but who had crept up on me, a couple of highlight videos and positive writeups.  Happy with the pick.
  • Marc Bergevin explains that he was rated high on the list, they decided to keep their pick when he was still there at #26.  Mentioned that having Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin and Alex Galchenyuk on the team will help to support the kid.
  • Some scouting reports on the kid follow.
  • Jackets Cannon:  Another guy who comes into the draft with some “grit” to go with a big body, some good skating, and some hands, Scherbak has a lot to like in his game. He’s still very raw, since he’s really just getting his feet wet in North America despite being older for this draft class. He has room to improve on his defensive game, and there are some questions about his effort level and consistency of said effort. One wonders how much of that is the “Russian” tag versus actual results. All of that having been said, he’s known to be willing to win battles in the corners.  Scherbak is a player who still needs a lot of polish, but might have one of the highest ceilings of the “middle” tier of players in the first round given the fact that he’s still really finding his game in North America. Still, he’s made steady improvement and looks to continue doing so.
  • Brendan Ross – Dobber Prospects: An intelligent player who’s shown to be very coachable, Scherbak’s game is featured around strong skating, creative vision and a willingness to engage physically in puck battles at both ends of the rink. He’s learning quickly and his big steps in development are exactly what teams covet.
  • Elite Prospects:  Scherbak is a skilled but gritty forward who has a strong shot and offensive senses plus the ability to evade would be checkers by using his quick agility and slick hands. He puts pressure on opposing defenses every game. Has some work to do with regards to rounding out his defensive game and effort levels.
  • On the Forecheck:  Scherbak is a very creative playmaker, and his 50 assists attest to this. He has excellent offensive-zone vision and is able to find teammates with laser-like passing. His combination of speed, excellent puck protection, willingness to take a hit to make a play or drive to the net adds a little “power forward” to his game as well.  Defensively, Scherbak has come very far this season thanks to his strong work ethic and desire to get better. He is both willing to hit and be hit to make a play and that has helped him become less of a defensive liability for his team.
  • Hearing Garth Snow talking about his GM'ing is like listening to Matt Millen do the same.  
  • He drops an 's'-bomb, drops the mike, smiles contentedly.  
  • Realizes what he's done, that he works for Charles Wang, that his life is a mess.  Smile fades, in slow-mo, for all the world to see.  Riveting TV.
  • More teams picking more players, blah blah blah, who cares, the Canadiens have picked already.  
  • Let's trade the rights to Douglas Murray and George Parros for some second-round picks.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Francis Bouillon, Mike Weaver have not received a contract offer from the Canadiens, will likely walk.

I think the report that neither Francis Bouillon nor Mike Weaver got an offer from the Canadiens is good news.

While they both provided precious service to the Canadiens last season, it's time to provide opportunities to our youngsters in Hamilton.  It also gives us a chance to size up on the back end.  Both of these guys were tough and played with heart, but as they say, there's no substitute for cubic inches.

In any case, if management thinks the kids are ready, and won't melt in the face of the pressure, I want them on the ice, not on the bench or in the pressbox.  I don't mind taking a step back next season, losing a couple extra games, in exchange for the long-term gain.

I was surprised that Francis, as good a man as he is, and as well as he's played for the last two seasons, didn't get his walking papers at the end of the year like Douglas Murray and George Parros did.  I thought that maybe he was being kept in the bank as veteran insurance, as negotiation ammunition in the dealings with Andrei Markov.

Now that Andrei is signed, we really can't use him, he's part of the leftie glut on the blue line, behind Andrei, Alexei Emelin, Josh Gorges, and the two Bulldogs Jarred and Nathan.

So a hearty handshake and well-wishes to both of these gentlemen, and if Marc Bergevin can't land Erik Gudbranson for what he finds under the couch cushions, let's sign a veteran stopgap rightie until Magnus Nygren and Greg Pateryn prove that they're ready and need the icetime.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Andrei Markov re-signs with the Canadiens until 2017.

So after much speculation and hand-wringing, with fans fretting about cap-space and waning effectiveness and reconstructed knees, the Canadiens went ahead and re-signed Andrei Markov to a three year deal, with a yearly caphit of $5.75M.

I think it’s clear by now that Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien value experience, that they want youngsters to earn their icetime, and not have it handed to them like it has been in Edmonton.

It was telling when in year-end interviews, Marc Bergevin would repeat that Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu had progressed, and were “close”. He obviously doesn’t see a scheduled coronation in September for either guy, they’ll have to be ready to out-compete others to get a job.

They want to win, as opposed to taking losses to improve their draft position. They believe in leadership and veteranship, as was demonstrated when the GM spoke very highly of Brian Gionta at the end of the year.

So that Marc Bergevin re-ups his veteran d-man to the same deal he signed three years ago is not a surprise. We fans might have wanted it to be for a little less, but that’s not realistic for a player who was playing first-pairing minutes, one who wasn’t easing into a secondary role.

If we find that Andrei is losing his effectiveness, being displaced by some of the rookies in the next couple of seasons, we’ll probably be able to flip him at the deadline to a team looking to goose its powerplay. My preference though would be that he finish his career in bleu blanc rouge. Hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Another thought is that now that Andrei is sewed up, it probably means the end for Francis Bouillon.  I was a little surprised that he wasn't one of the automatics like George Parros or Douglas Murray who would be told they weren't going to be re-signed, but imagined that he might be kept on the back-burner in case Andrei left as insurance, and maybe even a bargaining tactic to be wielded against him.  Now that Andrei's locked up, and because we have a surfeit of lefties on the blue line in Andrei, Josh, Alexei Emelin, Jarred and Nathan, Francis is going to be squeezed out.

To a much smaller degree, this may affect the negotiations with Brian Gionta.  With Andrei in the dressing room, and more importantly on the ice, that's another big piece in terms of experience, veteranship.  It's not such a dire need any more that Brian must return.  Sure, different players, different positions, different brands of leadership, but it would be easier to forego the captain's services now.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Jake Gardiner rumours a cautionary tale for Canadiens fans, Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu?

I don't understand the end of this conversation with David Nonis, in which the idea of shifting Jake Gardiner to forward is discussed, and not rejected immediately by the Leafs' GM.  It comes as a complete surprise to me.

I thought Jake Gardiner was a jewel, an untouchable building block for Toronto's future.  I thought he was a young, talented, offensively-oriented defenceman with decent size.  Sure, I know there's been talk of defensive lapses, as most if not all young d-men commit, and that it grated on Randy Carlyle and strained the relationship somewhat, but I thought that was just growing pains, that another season or two and the kid would be money in the bank.

So why would this even idea even be mentioned by the media, and not quashed immediately by Dave Nonis?  Is it because of the glut they have on the left side?  Is that a solution to the right-handed defenceman penury, that we'll take a leftie and push him up to forward?

Is it because of the Brent Burns experiment in San José?  Because of Dustin Byfuglien?  Both of these guys had some success at forward, but both prefer playing defence, and were returned to their blueline position.  Big Buff was back at forward at the end of this season, but that was just Paul Maurice cracking the whip on the under-conditioned, unfocused but talented Jet.

Unless a defenceman can't skate backwards, I don't understand why you'd want to shift him back to forward, and lose a precious asset.  Are the Leafs, or more centrally, their fans, about to give up on a soon-to-be 24 year old defenceman?  Did I fall prey to Toronto hype in his case, to Mark Masters-puffery?

What a cautionary tale for Canadiens fans who are impatient with the progression of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, and the time they're spending in Hamilton.  Marc Bergevin says they've progressed this year, that "they're close", but we want to consider it a done deal that both will be with le Grand Club in October.  We've waited long enough.  We wants ours first-rounders, dagnabbit.  A balm for our Louis Leblanc bruising.

"Throw them out there," we say, "they'll learn from their mistakes."  Because we've heard that before, so it must be true.  It sounds true.  You learn from your mistakes.  You're not scarred by them, or start to put pressure on yourself, or start to listen to the boos and catcalls, or second-guess yourself, or start to overthink or rush plays.  No no.  You learn.

Canadiens lose Assistant Coach Gerard Gallant to Florida Panthers' Head Coach position.

The Florida Panthers have hired Montréal Canadiens Assistant Coach Gerard Gallant as their new head coach, and that's caused a bit of worry among Habs fans.  Some think he played a vital role in smoothing out the rough edges of Michel Therrien's coaching style, and wonder if he's irreplaceable.

I don't think we need to be overly concerned about this 'buffer' role that Gerard Gallant played, as if it's crucial to the Canadiens, specific to having Michel Therrien.  Generally, that's the role the Assistant Coach plays in most if not all NHL dressing rooms, the go-between, the guy who soft-pedals the message, who smooths ruffled feathers.

We occasionally hear of an assistant coach who is/was promoted to head coach, and part of his problems is that his role changes, he now needs to be more a disciplinarian and taskmaster, and it's hard to accomplish that switch effectively, with the same players.

If anything, Gerard Gallant, with his bruiser looks and rambunctious playing career, always struck me as slightly ill-suited for that role, that he may have had to keep some of his more natural impulses to bark and blow his stack once in a while, like Randy Ladouceur sometimes couldn't keep it in check.

We'll be able to find someone who works well as a team-member of Michel Therrien's staff, and can play that role of approachable guy for the younger players, who can pitch the message in a different, more palatable way to players sometimes.

And while the coaching team has done an excellent job based on their results in the standings and the latest playoffs, one of Mr. Gallant's bailiwicks was special teams, and while the Canadiens did well on the penalty kill, as they've done in recent years, the powerplay got off to a tremendous start but petered out as the season wore on.  It's not entirely on Gerard Gallant's shoulder that it did, but it doesn't indicate a mad scientist irreplaceable type, a Mouse Davis or even a Kirk Muller, who gets great results with what he's given to work with.

So good luck to Mr. Gallant, congratulations on what should overall be an amazing job opportunity, but we shouldn't take this as an ill-portend.  It's good news that our coaching staff, our organization is being raided by other teams.  We should find a fresh young coach with new ideas ready to make the jump from the LHJMQ, and he'll be another guy we can stock the pond with.

In non-news, Marc Bergevin is willing to trade the Canadiens' first-round draft pick.

As reported in La Presse, Marc Bergevin is open to trading the Canadiens' 1st round pick, 26th overall.  Nothing earth-shattering, any GM should be open to offers, willing to move or swap picks for players or prospects, depending on how the draft is shaping up, and whether a good opportunity or offer arises.

A few observations, as we approach the draft:

1) Mr. Bergevin does say that he could move up or down the draft, it will depend on how it goes.

2) He states that Director of Amateur Scouting Trevor Timmins and his team are telling him that the draft isn't as deep as last year’s draft and next year’s draft. I like that he, again, gives credit to his brain trust, his management team, relies on them.

3) It would seem appealing to flip a first-rounder this year for one next year, if next year’s draft is deeper, but that opportunity may not exist, with everyone wanting a ticket in the Connor McDavid lottery. Also, I’m starting to think that we have to consider Carey Price’s, P.K. Subban’s and Max Pacioretty’s ‘window’. These guys are in their mid-twenties, they need help now, or soon anyway, if they’re going to take us to the Cup.

4) I guess he’s reading my posts. He’s sending up a smokescreen, but it’s blatantly obvious he’s going to trade down for more picks and snap up Alexis Vanier (man-crush, growing…)

5) The GM says he’s not a big fan of July 1, saying you ‘can improve your team, but you must be careful on that date.’

6) An anonymous player agent predicts lots of trades leading up to the draft, due to the poor class of UFA players available, and a crop of new GM’s, some with a win-now attitude (Pittsburgh) or needing immediate results or at least a big splash (Vancouver).

Draft day anticipation, increasing...

Friday, 20 June 2014

Guy Boucher as the next head coach of the Canucks?

TEAM 1040 Vancouver's Matt Sekeres and co-host Pete Schad are beating the drums for Guy Boucher as Canucks head coach now.  They're mentioning the hands-on, passionate coaching, the job he did in the AHL with the Bulldogs, the work with young players, the teaching, the sports psychology background.  They like the scar.

Again though, they talk about how he "flamed out" in Tampa Bay, and I maintain that it's more of a case where he didn't have a goaltender to work with.

In 2011-12, the Lightning got a save percentage of .893 out of four goalies, Mathieu Garon being the most reliable with a .901. Dwayne Rolloson put up an egregious .886. Dustin Tokarski pitched in a .879 over five games. Their goal differential that season was – 46.

Steve Yzerman failed to get Guy Boucher a proper goaltender that season, banking on aging Dwayne Rolloson, who’d put up a .912 the previous year. Every analyst agreed that the Tampa GM stood pat, which was a risky move, and it came back to bite him. He fiddled around, getting Anders Lindback from Nashville in the next offseason, and dealing Dustin Tokarski to the Habs for Cédric Desjardins midway through the next season, but these moves didn’t stanch the bleeding.

So the response to the constant losing was to fire the coach. Jon Cooper came on, still lost a lot of games, until Ben Bishop came on midway through the season, and contributed a .917 save percentage.

This year, Ben Bishop is considered a Vézina Trophy candidate, and everyone is singing the praise of the new Tampa coach Jon Cooper. And he does seem to be a smart guy, I like the way he spoke to the media during the playoffs, but a great goalie helps out a coach immensely. When he had to make do with Mr. Lindback, John Cooper wasn't quite the wizard any more.

I think Guy Boucher is a great coach, with a proven track record.  Now with more experience, he'd be a good hire for most teams, especially one considering a rebuild, or a 'reset' as Trevor Linden and Jim Benning say.

Review: "Up, Up and Away" by Jonah Keri

The title of Jonah Keri's "Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos" should be the tip-off for readers.  This book will be inclusive.  It will be exhaustive.  It will be written not from a dispassionate observer's point of view, but rather from a tortured fan's perspective.  And for those who don't know this already, it will not end well.

I read this book with many memories of the Expos, having grown up loving our local team.  I was alive but not yet aware when the Expos were born.  For me, they always existed, were a part of the fabric of our culture.  I know that I attended a game at Jarry Park, but the only thing I remember is that before the game my Little League team got to walk in a procession on the field, I guess the Expos were honouring amateur baseball, setting down roots.  So around the infield we walked, I think the coaches had a banner in front, and some of the players from the visiting team said something to me as we walked by.  They seemed friendly enough, but I scowled at them and rolled my eyes.  

The thing is, we'd been read the riot act before the game about staying together as a group, not running around, and definitely not going to talk to the players.  I guess the organizers had done this before and seen mayhem, and told the coaches to keep their little guys in line, and our coaches put the fear of God in us.  So when those players lobbed a joke at me, never mind that I don't know what they said, since they probably spoke to me in English, and I didn't speak a word of it at the time, but yeah, I figured those guys were trying to get me in trouble.  I was no fool.  So I dismissed them as haughtily as I could, being all of six or seven years old, and kept marching with my flock, eyes locked straight ahead.

Jonah Keri's book does a great job of explaining how the Expos came into existence, how improvised the plan was, how incredible that a franchise could be started on a wing and a prayer like that.  Mr. Keri conducted exhaustive interviews with some of the major players of that era, and gets us an insider's account of the machinations that brought Nos Expos into existence, along with many rich anecdotes.  The first few seasons, of which I'm dimly aware of only through the fact that I knew the terribly exotic names of the players, heroes like John Bocabella and Rusty Staub and Coco Laboy.  We tried to pronounce the names with the same English inflections Jacques Doucet used.  For some reason, I really liked pitcher Carl Morton.  Whenever I played pitch and catch, I was Carl Morton.

Years passed, players came and went.  I listened on the radio at summer jobs, while doing chores around our house/hobby farm, or evenings, sometimes very late, trying to stay awake when they were on the West Coast, with my transistor radio turned down low so I wouldn't get caught by my parents.  Jacques Doucet and Claude Raymond's voices were part of my summers.  I watched them on TV when they were on, and when I could win over my parents and older sister and get to watch my preferred program for a change, no small task.  

Players came and went.  Proto-superstars like Gary Carter, André Dawson, Ellis Valentine, Warren Cromartie, and Larry Parish folded in the roster.  Wins became commonplace.  The Expos became aggressive.  Contenders.  We acquired star players, like Ron LeFlore, through trades now, not just content to wait for talent to graduate from the AAA Denver Bears and AA Memphis Chicks.

I fully believed we'd be World Series champions, it seemed inevitable.  The Canadiens won Stanley Cup routinely.  Our Alouettes won a few Grey Cups, when they weren't running into that juggernaut from Edmonton.  It was only a matter of time until we started racking up World Series, I felt.  We were the 'Team of the Eighties'.  And it wasn't just hype from Réjean Tremblay or Serge Touchette, I'd heard American play-by-play teams saying that, when I caught games coming from south of the border, on days when our roof-mounted TV antenna and atmospheric conditions allowed a reasonable picture, with not so much snow and static that I'd give up in frustration.

This is where Mr. Keri's narrative catches up with history of the Expos that I remember, the young core of Carter-Dawson-Cromartie-Valentine-Parrish maturing together.  He spends a lot of time diving into newspaper archives and speaking with the players, so we get a nice mix of what the situation was at the time, and some analysis with the benefit of hindsight.

On the story goes, telling the tale of a team full of promise, with talent on defence, on the pitcher's mound and at the plate, yet never quite able to get over the top.  Of course, we cover the 1981 NLCS loss against the Dodgers, the 'Blue Monday' game, which I caught the tail end of in the teachers' lounge at my high school, missing my bus home in the process, bringing me to a double-barreled "Now what?" at the end.

These fruitless chases were always disappointing, but as a fan I truly believed 'there's always next year'.  Jonah Keri does a great job of focusing in on the one or two things that went wrong each season, that could have been addressed by a player move or manager's decision.  It crystallizes how close we came, and how many opportunities were squandered, as I and John McHale sat back and waited for the championship to come to us, while our window closed.

As the chapters start to tackle the late eighties and the nineties, Jonah Keri comes into his own, as this marks the years he was a fanatic Expos, uhm, fan.  More dedicated to the 'Spos than the Canadiens, he spent countless games at Olympic Stadium, and draws on these experiences and backstory to flesh out the Expos of Buck Rogers and Felipe Alou, of Larry Walker and Vladimir Guerrero, of Dennis and Pedro.  Which comes in very handy for me, since I soured on the Expos a little bit at this point, on the fire sales and the poor results, and I eventually moved to the West Coast, which made it hard to stay current.

The end of the team, the protracted death throes, are almost too sad to get through, to relive.  Mr. Keri is to be commended for trying to remain even-handed, as he recounts the loss of his team.

So a very engrossing read, that will bring back many great memories for Montrealers and Expos fans, and can serve as a great introduction to their colourful history and unfulfilled promise for those who didn't get a chance to live through this era.  I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Canucks and Lightning an even bet to win the Stanley Cup in 2015.

Apparently the Stanley Cup odds for next season are out, and Vancouver TEAM 1040 is puzzled that the Canucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning are even at 25 to 1 to win the Cup in 2015.  They mention that the Lightning made the playoffs, and they have Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop.  The Canucks, sigh...

This is a perfect illustration that casino odds don't necessarily reflect the likelihood that a team willl win the Cup, but rather the likelihood that gamblers will bet on that team to win the Cup.  And teams with large, rabid fan bases like the Leafs and Canucks and Rangers and Habs will have a lot of people who will bet with their hearts rather than their brains.

And the casinos will adjust their lines to reflect this, to entice money on the Lightning and other smaller-market teams, to keep their books even.  This ensures that they don't have a nightmare scenario, where massive sums are bet on a particular team like the Rangers who end up winning, without being offset by a bunch of money bet on all the other teams.  The casino isn't really interested in who will win, or predicting who will win, they just want to make sure to make money, and they do that by equalizing the risk of a Senators win vs. a Leafs win.

And if still more money flows to the Canucks than the Lightning, the casino will react and move the line some more, and you'll see the Canucks getting better odds of winning it all, and the Lightning made an even longer shot to win, until the books balance again.

Canadiens to trade with Coyotes? Tomas Plekanec for Keith Yandle?

I don't trust in the rumour that the Canadiens are close to a deal on a Tomas Plekanec for Keith Yandle trade with Phoenix, but man I want to believe it.  Even the spoilsports at are trying to douse my enthusiasm, dampen the hype.  But still...

I was imagining our lineup with a Yandle-Subban first pairing, and how much that helped our team.  A leftie and a rightie who both can skate, pass, shoot and score.

Breaking out of our zone.  5-on-5 scoring.  Second-wave powerplay.  Easier minutes on Andrei.  Lesser role for the third pairing, thus smoother intro to the NHL for our rookie d-men.  Availability of Josh Gorges for a minor deal.

Lars Eller given more minutes, an opportunity to assume a larger role, take on more responsibility, and thriving.  Alex Galchenyuk able to switch over to centre.  Daniel Brière being relied on more in the Top 9, giving us more value in his final year.

Forwards hit with precise passes on breakaways, in full flight.  Opposition trying to figure out ways to pressure a trio of Carey Price, P.K. and the newbie with dump-ins, and coming up snake-eyes.

Dealing away some of our strength, our centres and defensive prospects.  Converting that into assets that bolster our weaknesses.

Mr. Bergevin, you have my permission to pull the trigger on this deal.  And try to get us a second-rounder while you're at it, we'd like a shot at that Alexis Vanier kid.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Guy Lapointe will have his number 5 jersey retired.

The Canadiens have announced that they'll have a ceremony next season to retire Guy Lapointe's number 5. 

I loved, loved Guy Lapointe as a player, he had the more exciting style compared to the sedate ‘Sénateur’ Serge Savard. I’d tell that to my dad and he’d repeat that Serge Savard was just as spectacular and offensively-oriented as a young player, but became more defensive after the broken leg he suffered colliding with a goal post, before the advent of E-Z release goalposts, which facilitate kreideration of goalies nowadays.

One thing I kind of thought was unfair was that of the Big Three, Guy would play on his own. Well not really, he got Bill Nyrop or Brian Engblom as a partner, someone like that, while Larry Robinson and Serge Savard got to play together. I just felt bad for him for being the Big Three who was the third wheel.

The cool thing back then is that since no one wore helmets, except Jacques Lemaire and Réjean Houle and the newer players, and Guy Lapointe was a very emotive player, you could see his facial expressions while he played. I can’t imagine how much better we’d have seen him mug and grimace with the HD TV’s we have now, and how many more fans he’d have, to see him working so hard, seemingly caring so much when he stickhandled or fought for the puck.

So yes, he should be honoured with his jersey retirement, kind of a no-brainer, the number 5 is already out of circulation and hanging from the rafters. It doesn’t diminish Bernard Geoffrion’s honour that Guy be credited with #5 as well.

This news re-ignites the old debate about jersey number retirements though.  And this is another instance of Canadiens fans being split into two camps on an issue and talking at cross-purposes to each other.

One side says there are too many jerseys retired, they don't like seeing linebacker or offensive linemen numbers on player sweaters.

The other side says "Are you crazy, Guy Lapointe was a great player!"

And we go around and around, with the former faction talking about hockey numbers, about different kinds of ways we can honour former greats, about the Toronto-method of honouring the player, but keeping his number in circulation.  About Jean Béliveau being open and direct in offering to take his number out of mothballs, telling Vincent Lecavalier he could have it if he came to Montréal to play.

The other camp is greatly offended that a player with multiple Stanley Cups, who was a major part of the 1976-79 dynasty, who was great with the puck, yet could play tough, is being slighted by those who would begrudge him this honour.

So let's get it straight: Every proper Hab fan thinks Guy Lapointe was a great hockey player, and deserved to be honoured in such a manner or otherwise, it was long overdue.  A subset of this group who think that Guy was awesome also kind of thinks that maybe we shouldn't be retiring numbers at all though, or maybe it should be restricted to a very select few.

I'm part of the subset.  Hall of Fame great Howie Morenz died playing for the team, his number doesn't get used anymore.

Neither does Maurice Richard's '9'.  L'idole d'un peuple.  Symbol for a few generations of Quebecers.  Catalyst for social change.  He was larger than life.  His jersey shouldn't be worn by any other Canadiens.

Jean Béliveau, playing almost two decades as the consummate star professional, and a decade as captain.  Embodied class, was respected by foes and admired by all.  Bridged the fifties, sixties and seventies generations.  No one uses his jersey.

All the other players can be remembered in different, other ways.

Having said that, I don't imagine we're going back, the course is set, so I can live with it.  I understand my rant will change nothing, so I can tilt at other windmills.

Like how the Hockey Hall of Fame should be reserved for great players only.  Then I remember.  Dino Ciccarelli.  That ship has sailed too.

Dale Weise happy, but thinks Canadiens could have won Cup had Carey Price not been kreiderated.

Dale Weise was interviewed by RDS after signing his new two-year deal.  Here are translated excerpts from the interview (translations mine).
« Je suis fou de joie, a-t-il exprimé dans une entrevue à RDS mardi. Le simple fait de revenir à Montréal ferait mon bonheur, mais d’obtenir un contrat de deux ans, c’est encore mieux. Je viens de passer à travers quatre saisons avec autant d'ententes d’un an, alors cette nouvelle stabilité est bien appréciée! J’ai déjà hâte de recommencer, je suis prêt. »
Translated: "I'm overjoyed.  Simply returning to Montréal would have been plenty, but getting a two-year deal, that's even better.  I just played four seasons on one-year deals, so this new stability is much appreciated!  I can't wait to get back at it, I'm ready."

« Les séries à Montréal, c’était malade. Tous ces drapeaux sur les voitures... Ma femme et moi ne pouvions pas faire deux mètres sur le trottoir sans se faire arrêter sur la rue. Chaque match au Centre Bell était débile. C’est indescriptible, un rêve devenu réalité. »
"The playoffs in Montréal are crazy.  All the flags on the cars...  My wife and I couldn't take two steps on the sidewalk without getting stopped.  Every game at the Bell Centre was wild.  It's indescribable, a dream come true."

« Si Carey ne s’était pas blessé, il aurait facilement été le joueur par excellence des séries et on pourrait être en train de célébrer une conquête de la coupe Stanley au lieu d’un nouveau contrat. Je crois que ce parcours en séries aura un énorme impact sur l’avenir de cette équipe. C’est une expérience qui ne peut être que bénéfique. »
"If Carey hadn't been injured, he easily would have been the MVP in the playoffs and we could be celebrating a Stanley Cup win instead of a new contract.  I think this playoff run will have an enormous impact on the team's future.  It's an experience that can only be beneficial."

So very positive news for Habs fans.  A lot of pundits think Montréal is not a likely destination for players if they have to choose, since they'd rather avoid the 'fishbowl' that it is, the constant scrutiny from the media and fans.  We all remember Carey Price's 'hobbit in a hole' comments from last season.

Dale Weise, however, has a different take.  He loves the attention, the pressure, the noise at the New Forum.  He's played in New York and Vancouver, and could be forgiven for wanting a lower profile in his next port of call.  Instead, he thrives on the adulation, and wants more.

Something that's important to consider is that his father is a rabid Canadiens fan, always was, much before Dale ever slipped on the bleu-blanc-rouge.  Dale grew up wishing, wanting to be a Canadien.

I often mention that it's important to have homegrown players, partly because they'll tend to have this emotional attachment to the Habs.  Now, some players can be overwhelmed by the pressure of playing for their childhood favourite team, in front of family and friends.  Stéphane Richer struggled with it.  Benoit Pouliot may not have had the right personality to deal with it.  Guillaume Latendresse went the other way, and maybe enjoyed the attention and perks a little too much.  Generally though, instead of importing mercenaries who only care about getting paid on time, who don't feel passionate about the Canadiens, let's get homeboys who do care about this team.  Or Manitoba boys, same thing.

The other point is that I'm not the only crazy out there who thinks the Canadiens got jobbed when they lost Carey Price.  Or rather, when he was taken from us.  I'd be foaming at the mouth when TSN and HNIC were constructing this 'team of destiny' narrative for the Rangers, how it was a team that pulled together in the face of tragedy, how they had a nonpareil goalie who would take them to the next level.  I'd scream at my TV that the results were queered, there was no destiny, no excellence there.

If Travis Moen had kypreosed Henrik Lundqvist's ACL in Game 1, and the Canadiens had coasted to a four or five game series win, none of this stuff they were spouting would have applied, would have been dreamed up.  Now the Canadiens would have been the team of destiny, the little engine that could.  The narrative would have been about the Cinderella teams in Habs history, in '71, '86, '93.  How when the Canadiens were on a roll, when the Ghosts were about, nothing you would do could stop it.

So yeah, thanks Dalesy, glad to know I'm not the only one.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Is Andrei Markov able to act as a mentor to the Canadiens young defencemen?

About Andrei Markov's ability to mentor P.K. and the younger defencemen, there is some debate online about whether Andrei has the mentality of a mentor.  He's a bit aloof, curt, sarcastic sometimes in his public persona.

I think there are different ways of looking at this.  We tend to think of mentors as cuddly fostering types, who'll be a sounding board and a shoulder to cry on, but there are different approaches to this.  We've all had bosses, coaches, parental units, people in a position of authority in one way or another, who were tough, blunt, demanding, and forced us to do our best, raise our game, to perform and produce.

There are mentors out there who are prickly, aren't into the group hugs, will call you out on your B.S. when you're trying to get away with something, but who you'll look back on fondly, as someone who had a big, positive influence on your life.  I have a couple of teachers in mind, and an acidic, loud boss who would would see through me when I was trying to coast.

When P.K. came back from his holdout last season, after the lockout, Andrei and P.K. were partnered, and it was clear who was the boss on that pairing, and who was the pupil.  Andrei did all the talking, P.K. would mostly be silent and nod in the affirmative, to his everlasting credit.

Fast forward to this season.  P.K. had earned his stripes, more credibility, and in these pre-faceoff conversation, or on the bench, it was much more of a two-way conversation, with both players talking and pointing and agreeing on a course of action.  Andrei was still the boss, by all appearances, but P.K. could now participate instead of obeying.

My take is that Andrei won't be the cuddly veteran like Francis Bouillon or Jaroslav Spacek, but his experience, his on-ice decision-making, his work ethic, these would serve our young defencemen very well, as a template to copy, and he'll be able to play an active role in developing the rookies as the veteran leader of the blueline corps.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Magnus Nygren wants to play for the Canadiens next season, or for another NHL team.

Sports fans by and large love the concept of the draft.  It equalizes fortunes in the long term, with weaker teams having a better chance at the best players at the start of a new season.  Weak sisters can in the course of a few years turn into powerhouses.  Every fan can one day cheer on a champion.  The draft is the promise of a better tomorrow.

Athletes and the unions that represent them have tolerated, maybe even accepted the draft as a necessary evil.  For a league to be healthy and to ensure franchises don't fold, it was felt in the recent past that perennial losers needed propping up by way of the draft.  So a player being told where he will live and for who he will work for the next decade or so has become something we don't blink at.  The draftees themselves have been inculcated in this system, they proudly don the cap and jersey of the team that chose them.  They immediately gush over how lucky they feel to be drafted by a great (team/organization/city) that has such a tremendous (reputation/tradition/future).  In the NFL, the kids go so far as to ritually hug league commissioner Roger Goodell, the guy who locked out their brethren, and will do so again as soon as he's legally capable.

So good Canadian kids, having grown up rooting for their hometown team, and having been browbeaten by Don Cherry on countless Saturday nights about loyalty and sacrifice and commitment to the team, surrender totally to this system, gulp freely of the Kool-Aid proffered, and dutifully submit to the whims of their new employers as to where they'll play next.

European teens, growing up in a different system, with club teams and transfers and other such esoterica, and often having no loyalty to an NHL team beyond maybe liking one on which their favourite player plays, sometimes don't buckle under that easily.  They often choose to remain in Europe, and play for their current club team, instead of obsequiously flying over to report for duty.  When the Sedin brothers were drafted by the Canucks, they caused a minor storm when they announced that they would remain in Sweden for another season since they felt that was better for their development.  Brian Burke chased after the news and supported his new draftees, but it felt hollow to the average fan, the Canucks hadn't made this decision, these inscrutable, ungrateful Euros did.

And I don't want to make this a question of nationality, it's really a question of options.  European players have options, and they often choose to use them.  Given the choice between the AHL or the KHL or SHL, many European players feel perfectly fine choosing to remain in Europe, close to home, getting the star treatment and being paid well, rather than riding buses in third-tier American cities and Toronto, getting paid a relative pittance.

Whenever an athlete is given a choice, he shouldn't be faulted for exercising this power to choose, but fans of the teams that are left holding the bag can't help being bitter.  The USFL, which competed briefly with the NFL in the 80's, caused a lot of anguish, stealing away future prodigies like Hershel Walker and Marcus Dupree before they were eligible for the NFL draft.  The fans of the Bills saw their 'Class of '84' QB Jim Kelly bolt to Houston, dominate the league, and make unflattering comparisons between Houston and Buffalo.  And their respective women.

John Elway used Major League Baseball and a minor-league contract with the New York Yankees to force a trade out of Baltimore to Denver, not wanting to play for drunken buffoon Jim Irsay's Colts and having his career and his health consequently imperiled.

Justin Schultz was a second-round draft choice of Anaheim Ducks, and continued his development at the University of Wisconsin where he blossomed.  Sensing a changing tide, and wanting to play closer to his Kelowna home, he used a technicality in the CBA to opt out of signing with the Ducks and become a free agent, eventually landing, inexplicably, in Edmonton, when he could have chosen Vancouver.

All this is preamble to examine Magnus Nygren's statements in the Swedish press that he wants to play in North America next season, but in the NHL only, not the AHL.  If the Canadiens can't find room for him, he wants to be traded to another team that will play him at the NHL level.  He goes so far as to say that the Canadiens have already told him that they "won't stand in the way of his getting traded", if they can get fair value in return.

Now the last statement isn't very controversial, it's rather sensible, but we denote a hint of naiveté in the way he couches it, if it's not just something being lost in translation.  As I said, Europeans usually deal with transfers rather than trades, I don't know if Mr. Nygren understands how complex trade negotiations can be, how trades are actually conducted, and what fair value can mean to two or multiple parties.

But he's being very logical.  He experienced life in the AHL, and found he didn't like the game, the physicality and goonery, he didn't like the system taught by his coaches, and didn't like the city of Hamilton, being taken aback by the squalor and the criminality.  So he used his options, and went back to Sweden to a higher-paying gig, in a safer, more familiar environment, and in in his homeland instead of abroad.  He now wants to return to North America, but in the big leagues, not the minors.  He'll opt to remain in Sweden otherwise, but won't mind if it means he doesn't play for the Canadiens; in fact he'd gladly go anywhere if traded.

The thing is, his statements weaken the Canadiens bargaining position with other teams, and make it harder for Marc Bergevin to extract that fair value out of another team.  They also kind of paint the Canadiens management into a corner.  What if Magnus Nygren does win a job on the team, by a slim margin?  Does he operate under a cloud in the eyes of his teammates, as the guy who extorted a roster spot while they all played it straight, went to the AHL and earned their job the old-fashioned way?

This is disappointing for me, in that I saw Magnus Nygren as a dark horse to make the team out of training camp.  He brings a lot to the table that we are short of.  He's a right-handed, puck-moving defenceman, who can play the powerplay and has a rocket for a shot.  He scratches a lot of our itches.

He would be an NHL rookie, but a mature one, in that he's 24 years old, and has played against grown men in the Swedish league for years.  As Raphaël Diaz and Alexei Emelin won an NHL job with us without going through the Bulldogs, so could he.  He was on Sweden's World Championship team this year.  He won the SHL equivalent of the Norris Trophy the previous season.

Building a team is never easy, and you have to contend with a number of different personalities, they can't all be Bob Gaineys or Jonathan Toewses, Dudley Do-Rights whose only utterance to the coach are "Sir, yes Sir!"  Some of them will have quirks, inflated self-esteem, a bit of the superstar in them.  Some will be Johnny Manziels and have all three, and much, much more, and will take their fans on a wild ride.

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin has a bit of a flashy personality, but he in his words and deeds prizes character and teamwork, preaches the 'team concept' tirelessly.  It will be interesting to see if he can get past these statements and envision his team including the Swedish prospect.  Does he see the player as unmanageable, unrealistic, a prima donna, one who'll upset the team chemistry?  Or does he see a player who can be very useful to us, plugs a lot of holes, has a lot of upside, and will be hammered into shape by his strong coaching staff and veteran group?

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Louis Leblanc era ends in Montréal, as he's traded to Ducks for a conditional 5th-round draft pick.

Watching the playoffs lately has stung a little bit for Canadiens fans, and not only because it could/should have been the Habs who got fed to the lion-Kings.  Watching Ryan McDonagh skating all over the ice, assured and imaginative with the puck, dependable and sure-handed when fighting to retrieve it, that smarts.  Ouch.

There was also the play of towering Chris Kreider, who maybe exemplifies the archetypal forward needed in the new NHL.  Big and strong, yes, but also able to do something with the puck, he can carry it, pass it, shoot it.  And man can he skate.

Now the tenuous link Mr. Kreider has with our Canadiens is that he was drafted by the Rangers immediately after the Canadiens picked Louis Leblanc 18th overall in 2009.  In hindsight, that wasn't an inspired choice.  How good would Chris Kreider look on the Canadiens' roster now, with his size and speed?  He'd be exactly the type of player Marc Bergevin would try to build around.

But that is what it is, hindsight.  I've made the point repeatedly that at the time, both were merely eighteen years old, it was understandably hard to project how they'd develop.  Maybe the Rangers had a player on their hands, maybe they had another Hugh Jessiman.

Similarly, while the Canadiens' pick didn't exactly quicken the pulse when he was drafted, not like Jarred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu did when their names were called, Louis was described as a very smart player, and I had hopes he could turn into a Guy Carbonneau-type, which would have been very nice.  But injuries and being bounced around in his development path from the USHL to Harvard-NCAA to the LHJMQ to the AHL to the Canadiens and back and forth may have stalled his progress.  At least, that's what we think as Habs fans.

As recently as two seasons ago, both Louis and Blake Geoffrion got off to a very promising start playing on a line together with the Bulldogs, against tough competition in the AHL as the NHL lockout forced a lot of good young players into the minors.  They were both producing and playing a leadership role on the ice, regularly described by the Bulldogs play-by-play team as the best players on the ice.  Which is really what was expected of these young 'star' players, that they'd lead the way.  But Louis wrecked his ankle ten games in, and then Blake suffered his career-ending injury.  Louis never got back on track when he returned to the ice.  I still wonder what might have been, had that early flame been allowed to grow.

And I don't want to get sidetracked, but isn't this a great illustration of how hit-and-miss prospect development is?  During the lockout, coming off a horrible 2011-12 season, as I mentally shuffled the Canadiens roster, I envisioned Blake and Louis as better off in the AHL to work on their game, but the very best available options for injury callups.  They were the guys who were knocking on the door at the forward position.  They might have been a year out, at most.  Instead, they got leap-frogged by Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, and both former prospects are now flushed out of the system.

And here we are today, after the announcement that Louis Leblanc has been traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional 5th-round draft pick in 2015.  That's very meager returns, I would have kept the kid if it was up to me instead of swapping him for those magic beans.  The measly haul shows just how far the the relationship between the player and the team had run off the rails.  There had been outbursts from the Leblanc camp, a Twitter tirade from his girlfriend after he got cut from the last training camp, and unattributed comments about the humiliation he was submitted to in Hamilton, that to me sounded like they must have come from his worried mother.

And it makes me wonder why, if we traded away Louis, we didn't sign Brady Vail to an entry-level contract.  Organizationally, wouldn't the Windsor Spitfire have slotted into the role Louis was now asked to play, the defensively-oriented, responsible forward?  Did the Canadiens know Louis wouldn't be back, and still chose not to sign Mr. Vail?  If so, that's not very flattering to the latter.

So we've opened up another contract slot, and have lost even more depth at forward at the AHL level.  The cupboard is really, really bare.  The Ducks get a player who's now a project instead of a blue-chipper, and who's eligible for waivers next season.  We wish Louis well and hope he can use the change in scenery to blossom and have the NHL career he gave up a Harvard scholarship for.

Things fell into place for Lars Eller and René Bourque in the playoffs. Was it thanks to Brian Gionta?

What did happen to René Bourque and Lars Eller in these playoffs?  They displayed their skills and abilities, their tools, in a manner much closer to the potential we envisioned for both of these gentlemen.  We can theorize that it's simply a case of greater maturity for Lars, and greater confidence for both that carried them to better results, but even if that's so, what caused the 'click'?

Did playing with Brian Gionta help both of these young men?  Does his quiet leadership and incessant effort inspire René to put out more of an effort, to go from 95% to 98%?  Does it remove the mantle of responsibility from Lars, who instead of over-thinking everything, of feeling the pressure to produce points and manufacture offence, or think of defence when he's carrying the puck?  Could he now just react, just play hockey, and this allowed his speed and talent to shine through?

One big factor I've wondered about is whether the fog of concussion lifted for them, simultaneously.  René got cold-cocked in February 2013 on an NHL-approved hockey play by Colton Orr, after the latter had almost blown out Tomas Plekanec's knee, on another NHL-approved hockey play.  That Colton Orr, what a warrior, what a solid 'team guy', that was worth three Don Cherry open-mouth kisses.  It's a head-scratcher why the Leafs don't win more with players like this on their roster.

René got diagnosed with a concussion belatedly and then sat out the last quarter of the season, and it's open to question whether he finally got all his ducks in a row, was back mentally, and had his confidence back as these playoffs started.

And Lars, he got destroyed by the Erik Gryba hit to the head in the last playoffs.  Was his up and down season the side-effects of a player also coming back from a major brain injury?  A player whose timing and decision-making is off?  Did it take him the whole season to get back in the groove?

It's a little optimistic to believe that both players have now put all their issues behind them, and will now continue to play at that level for the rest of their careers.  We'll see both have ups and downs, but the promising aspect of their showing in the playoffs is that it showed that René is not 'finished', he's not a player who doesn't care and won't put out.  He needs to be in the right frame of mind and surrounded by the right players, but when he is he's a handful for other teams.  And Lars, who has developed in fits and starts, displaying great talent in streaks but then frustrating spells where his production dries up and he makes baffling decisions with the puck, can hopefully start his summer training program with a better frame of mind and a clearer idea of what kind of player he can become.

And as much as my fan-GM impulse is to clear the roster of Brian Gionta to allow the team to get younger and bigger, the effect he had when placed on a line with both these guys gives me pause, and forces me to allow that maybe Marc Bergevin knows what he's doing.  He's stated that he wants us to be tougher to play against, yet he wants to retain the Captain, despite his small stature and waning production.

That is paradoxical.  How can I reconcile these two conflicting indications?  Maybe he has more information than I can obtain from my couch.  Maybe there are more factors at play than a strict transaction, that it's not a mere 'subtract small guy, add bigger guy'.  Maybe it's not as simple as adding cubic inches.  Maybe the mix of the team, the veteranship, the experience, all of that will benefit by retaining the Captain for a couple more seasons.

Is it crazy to think that?  Or is it more crazier that Marc Bergevin hasn't observed that Brian is small and old and therefore worthless?  Because if he'd looked at or watched a game like I do, he'd have noticed that, right?  It's self-evident to this armchair GM, but maybe I'll trust the pros to handle this, the guys who saw a little more value in Dale Weise than I did from my couch.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Should the Canucks obtain 1st overall pick, do they choose Sam Reinhart or Aaron Ekblad?

The rumour the TEAM 1040 radio guys are batting around is that the Florida Panthers want the Canucks first-round choice, #6 overall, plus last year’s first-round pick Bo Horvat in return for the first overall pick. Now Bo Horvat has never impressed me, caught my eye, in any Memorial Cup or other game I’ve seen him in, or at the World Juniors. I’m probably underestimating him, but if I’m Trevor Linden I pull the trigger on that deal.

But that’s me, and I’m not the best judge of these things. The thinking is that the Canucks would use this pick on local product Sam Reinhart, while I’d go for Aaron Ekblad. I know the deal about choosing a defenceman that high, history shows you should go for the skilled forward instead, but this year I don’t think the forwards are in the McKinnon-Drouin league, they’re not all that exciting, not franchise players like Steve Stamkos, clear first overall material. Aaron Ekblad is the d-man who has it all, plus he’s a rightie. He steps into the Canuck lineup immediately and makes it better for a decade.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Should the Canadiens re-sign captain Brian Gionta?

In my dispassionate analytical view, which I expressed earlier on, the Canadiens should have thanked Brian Gionta at the end of the season for his many years of generously-compensated loyal service, and moved on to a new era where the young veterans assume control of the team.

It appears that my view is not shared by Marc Bergevin however.  According to RDS, the Canadiens and Brian Gionta have already started to work on a new deal.  The captain's agent, Steve Bartlett, told ESPN that both parties have mutually expressed interest in the other, and all that remains is to agree on the salary and the role his client would play.

Obviously I'm a little leery of re-signing Brian Gionta, and I hope it's for a two-year deal at most, and it better contain a pay drop to David Desharnais' pay grade, or even lower.  I think the Canadiens would be better served to forego the stability, his leadership, to open up more opportunities and icetime for their young forwards.

To a lesser degree, I'm not 100% on re-signing Andrei Markov, even though he's been my favourite player the last ten years or so.  We've seen his performance trend down as the season advances, his points dry up.  Now, he can be a very useful 2nd pairing d-man, but we can wonder if he'll accept getting paid as one.  And if I'm him, I'm skeptical of that too, I can see a scenario where I swallow the pay drop, but the head coach keeps sending me out there as the de facto #1 for the next two seasons anyway, so why take less money?

Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province was just on TEAM 1040 and was saying Canucks fans should be overjoyed with Ryan Kesler making his trade demand.  He says it'll force management's hand, prevent them from handling the team as if it's a contender, that with one or two tweaks can get back to the Stanley Cup final.  Now, being forced to trade Ryan, it kickstarts the re-build, dispels any illusion that you should keep the core and try to win now.  Instead, they now will deal Ryan Kesler, and probably one of their defencemen while they're at it, there's no sense in hanging on to their veteran d-corps now.

I can see Marc Bergevin's reasoning, that Brian Gionta is the captain, and has tremendous value to his team beyond the goals he scores, he makes everyone around him better by making the team function smoothly.  The GM is betting that keeping the team stable will provide an environment in which the young players can keep developing within a system, a hierarchy that will serve them well later on.  So retaining the captain is worth it, compared to the vacuum his absence would create.  That's his call.  We have to respect it, he's the guy with the most info, with all the advice from his coaches and brain trust.  We can just hope that it be done in a cost-effective, relatively short-term manner.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

An elegy for Ryan McDonagh. A eulogy for what could have been.

So after watching the Rangers a little more closely for two playoff rounds now, we ask ourselves what to make of Ryan McDonagh.

A few times in these playoffs, and again last night, I see a loose puck, behind the Rangers' rush or forecheck, and an opponent ready to pounce, and I think "Breakaway opportunity!"  The race develops, and I see this Ranger wearing #27 effortlessly skate down the puck/opponent.  His stride is smooth, assured, but not stately, just fast.  A micro-second later, my mental Rolodex spits out that #27 is Ryan McDonagh.  And I'm elated and crushed, concurrently.

The race actually didn't develop, but aborted.  A guy that big shouldn't move that fast.  That's what impresses me more than anything.  And there are other obvious matters to consider, like his offensive production.  He's not eye-catching like P.K. or Erik Karlsson in that regard, but he's so mobile, so confident with the puck, he gets it on net, scores a lot that way, or gets assists.

But it's the mobility, again, that impresses me, like when he jumps into the rush, or tries to sneak in back-door like Andrei Markov does.  Heady, mobile, skillful.

And I start to think about what could have been, what a pairing that would be with him on P.K.'s left, but then I wonder.  Would that have been too much of a good thing on the same pairing?  Do you want to spread out that talent on two different pairings?  Would one puck be enough for both of those guys on the ice at the same time?

I tended to think of Ryan McDonagh as a very skilled, smart steady-eddie.  A guy who's reliable, dependable, big and tough enough, that won't get you in trouble.  The kind of guy the Sens were looking for when they traded for Marc Methot.  And that's just selling him short.  He's not a defensive guy who can skate and who can handle the puck, but would defer to a puck-mover.  He's an all-round excellent defenceman, the archetypal two-way All-Star defenceman.

I bow to you, Glen Sather.  The polls have closed, the results are in, and it seems you've won this one.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Rangers lose to Kings in double overtime, down 0-2 in series. Good. Two more losses and justice will be served.

The Rangers lose 5-4 in double overtime to fall to 0-2 in their best of seven series against the Kings.

Good.  The Rangers shouldn't even be there.  They cancelled out Carey Price, that's the secret to their success.  We eliminated the Bruins for them.

They shouldn't be there.

Glen Healy today was talking about a goal by Chris Kreider against the Canadiens that "blew the series wide open", and I wanted to kick him in the head through my 50-inch Panaphonics.  You butthead, the game was 2-0 in the second period when that same Kreider character crashed into him skate blades full frontal.  What blew the series wide open was Carey's blown MCL, no system or team speed or King Henrik on the NY side.  You butthead.

Buttheads.  Plural.  All of you.  I'm tired of hearing about Alain Vigneault's tactics, and Derek Dorsett's speed.  You're tailoring your narrative to fit a version of events that shouldn't be.  Don't pretend there's an inevitability, a fatality about the Rangers being in the finals.  If Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers gets taken out on a cheap shot in the Conference Final, and his team does not advance as a result, I don't want the other team to be lionized for its resourcefulness, for its shrewd coach, for their feel-good Cinderella story.

I noticed Mr. Kreider on a breakaway tonight, and even when tripped from behind, found the wherewithal to brake and steer away from Jonathan Quick, and go collapse in a pathetic whiny heap in the corner while trying to draw a penalty call.  And I wondered if, or more accurately, understood that, it was a function of the shamelessness of his prior bulldozing assaults on goalies, now nicely compendiumed on YouTube, and the gajillion cameras trained on him that made him decide to not try the Fleury-Anderson-Price manoeuvre.

A pox on you Boo Shirts.  May you lose Games 3 and 4 all at once on Monday, and have a collective bathroom accident on the ice in front of your fans.

And a root canal the next day.

The 2014 Hamilton Bulldogs free agents

So we looked at which draftees the Canadiens should sign before losing their rights, and which NHL free agents the Canadiens should retain and which should be allowed to leave.  Let's now look at the Hamilton Bulldogs' free agents, and figure out how the farm team will/should look next season.

We're not necessarily experts in this area, don't have any sources in Hamilton or with the Canadiens management team, but based on the last couple of seasons, there are some conclusions we can make, some expectations we can harbour.  After a very tough 2012-13 season, the expectation was that last season would be one marked by improvement, with the kids maturing, more prospects joining the fray, and the management team injecting AHL veterans to help them along.  The hope was that they'd fight for a playoff spot, and get some competitive experience that way.

That's largely how the off-season went last summer, and after a soft start the Bulldogs made a push, but they petered out at the end of the season and missed the playoffs.  There were rumblings in Hamilton that developing players for the Canadiens is all fine and good, but the local fans want to cheer on a better team, if they're going to be the ones buying the tickets.

With that backdrop, let's look at the Bulldogs who are free agents.  The restricted free agents (RFA) are Louis Leblanc, Joonas Nattinen, Peter Delmas and Robert Czarnik.  The unrestricted free agents (UFA) are Devan Dubnyk, Nick Tarnasky, Martin St. Pierre and Mike Blunden.  As always, it's important to understand that there is a limit to how many players, how many prospects a team can hold on to.  This is mainly governed by the 50-contract rule.

For our purposes, the easier cases to deal with are some of the RFA's.  For starters, Peter Delmas and Robert Czarnik will not return.

Robert Czarnik was obtained in return for Steve Quailer in trade, and we still don't know, don't understand why.  While Mr. Quailer wasn't producing, he at least brought some size to the table, you could hope he'd pan out at some point.  Mr. Czarnik on the other hand doesn't hold any value, in terms of his production or the type of player he is.

Peter Delmas has been with the Canadiens' organization for a few years now and has not really progressed.  He has been passed on the depth chart by players like Mike Condon, Dustin Tokarski and Zachary Fucale.  He finished out the year in the ECHL, but not even with the Wheeling Nailers, our affiliate, he was assigned to a team outside our system.

This is a clear signal that the team no longer sees a future for him.  The slight chance he has to be re-signed might be because the other Bulldog goalie, Robert Mayer, has come to an agreement with the Canadiens to go play in Europe, so the Canadiens may need Mr. Delmas purely in terms of numbers.  The thinking here however is that there are other, younger goalies with more promise that the Habs can take a flyer on.

Much more delicate is the situation of 2009 first-rounder and hometown product Louis Leblanc, who needs a qualifying offer this summer, but is now eligible for waivers.  A good update of his situation was provided in La Presse. It states that it's not a foregone conclusion that he will be qualified, that he may be traded to another organization that offers a clearer path to the NHL for him.  It underscores the fact that Marc Bergevin's team didn't draft him (although Trevor Timmins did) so there is no real tie or investment there.

Louis seems more resigned to the fact that he's seen as a defensive player, a third or fourth-liner, but not completely.  He's quoted as saying that when kids practice their hockey, they work on scoring goals, not chipping in the puck.

Nevertheless, while he admits that he had a difficult relationship with head coach Sylvain Lefebvre two seasons ago in Hamilton, last year was better for him, if not for the team.  He talks about the ankle sprain from 2012, and how he needs to stand out even more in the AHL, through more grit and work ethic.  He says he's improved as a player, as a skater, even if that hasn't been reflected through his stats.

Louis' agent is Pat Brisson, so a reasonable, more than competent representative.  He and Marc Bergevin should be able to see their way through this.  Look for Louis to receive a qualifying offer so his rights are retained by the Habs, even if he's traded later to another team, for a low-ish draft choice.  The Canadiens don't have a draft pick in the second round due to the Thomas Vanek deadline deal, and may want to take an additional chance on some of the talent available in the later rounds, especially one of the local kids.  That might cushion the blow for fans a little bit.

As far as Joonas Nattinen, that situation clarified itself when he signed a deal to play in Sweden next season.  While he seemed a promising player to fans if only based on his World Junior Championship appearances, and was described two summers ago by former Bulldog head coach Clément Jodoin as one of the most improved players on the team, he never took the next steps to deliver on that promise.  This season, he should have been one of the young veteran leaders of the team, kind of like Gabriel Dumont was, but he instead floated around the third or fourth line, supplying little impact.

His departure for Europe eases the decision the team has to make.  A qualifying offer can be tendered that Mr. Nattinen won't accept, but it will mean the Canadiens will be able to retain his rights on the 90-player reserved list, and he won't count against the 50-contract total.  This is similar to the Andreas Engqvist situation, who is now playing in the KHL, but whose rights still belong the Canadiens.  If either of these players make giant strides and want to return to the NHL in the next couple of seasons, great.

Dealing with the UFA's now, Martin St. Pierre is the headliner.  He was brought in on a generous two-way contract, to provide scoring and leadership to a young team, and was a bit of a disappointment.  Late in the season, he was made a healthy scratch by Coach Lefebvre on a couple of occasions.  He did lead the team in scoring, but with a meager total of 48 points, barely ahead of super-rookie Sven Andrighetto who tallied 44 on an impotent offensive team.  We think that the Canadiens management team will look for another AHL veteran to fill his role next season, and Mr. St. Pierre will not be back.

Nick Tarnasky by contrast was a pleasant surprise.  He brought the toughness angle that was expected, acting as the enforcer to shepherd some of our younger prospects through the shoals of minor pro hockey, but also chipped in some offence.  He scored 13 goals, and actually saw some powerplay time as the big forward who tries to screen the goalie, deflect pucks and cash in rebounds.  He wasn't relegated solely to a fourth-line role, but moved up and down the roster from game to game, period to period.

Mr. Tarnasky's role next season may be impinged upon by guys like Stéfan Fournier and Nathan McIver, and newcomers Connor Crisp and Jack Nevins.  They may make him expendable, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was offered another contract.  As stated, the Bulldogs are a young team, and a veteran AHL guy like him can be an important component of the group next season.

If anything, he may be signed to a more generous AHL deal, which wouldn't count against the 50-contract limit.  This is one way the Canadiens can flex their financial muscle, by offering him a dollar amount on a straight AHL deal that he can't refuse, and other teams won't match.

Mike Blunden also had a good season with the Bulldogs, coming in as the third leading scorer.  He performed as expected for a veteran player who has some NHL games under his belt, and formed a good tandem with Gabriel Dumont.  He may be forced out by the numbers game, the Canadiens may want to unclog the system for some of their younger forwards, or he may want to move on to another team that gives him a better chance at the NHL, but he may very well be retained to fulfill the role he did this season, the big steady veteran winger who can in a pinch be recalled by the Canadiens when injuries strike.

Devan Dubnyk is the most intriguing UFA on the rolls, in that he's a big NHL goalie, a former first-rounder, and that the Canadiens' goaltending situation past Carey Price is now more muddled.  Dustin Tokarski will be eligible for waivers next season, and has probably little left to learn at the AHL level, it may be time for him to take the next step and function as the backup to Carey Price.  This would mean Peter Budaj getting traded away, and every goalie in the system taking another step up the depth chart.

Most probably, Devan Dubnyk will ply his trade elsewhere next season, in the NHL most likely.  He's obviously not eager to remain in the AHL, few players are.  The fact that he left the Canadiens during their playoff run rather than remain with the Black Aces, and was unavailable for emergency duty when Carey Price fell to injury, probably didn't endear him to Canadiens management.  It would be no big loss, in that he was received at the trade deadline at no cost, in a 'future considerations' move to help out the Predators.  There is nothing invested in him by the Canadiens.

Yet a fan can dream.  What if he did stay as the main guy in Hamilton, and got some of the Stéphane Waite treatment that worked wonders with Carey this season?  Could our goalie coach point the former Oiler in the right direction, and unlock his potential?  Could Mr. Dubnyk see this as a necessary step for the good of his career?  This is a very long shot, but it's worth discussing it before dismissing it as a pipe dream.  Right?

For the Bulldog free agents who were on AHL contracts, it's hard to figure out who'll stay and who'll go.  Maxime Macenauer was a useful player, may be kept as a veteran, but may be forced out by the influx of new players, guys like Charles Hudon, Connor Crisp, Daniel Carr, and maybe Jacob de la Rose.

Same goes for Justin Courtnall, he brought in some size and speed and veteranship, but not too much else.  He might return, or might be forced to move on.

Nick Sorkin finished the season on a try-out contract with the team, and came on very late with some dazzling rushes.  His size and speed mean he may yet be offered a contract, most probably an AHL deal.

On defence, the field is very crowded already with all the young prospects currently with the Bulldogs, and Mac Bennett, Dalton Thrower and possibly Magnus Nygren trying to muscle their way on next season.  This is a complicated situation to deal with, and may mean the Canadiens are more inclined to graduate more mature players like Jarred Tinordi, Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu for good, to relieve the pressure in Hamilton, or to trade some defensive depth for help at forward.

It also affects the ability to retain AHL vets on the blue line.  It's not optimal to have a bunch of rookie or sophomore defencemen on the same squad, there would be no mentorship, they'd get eaten alive, and wouldn't be good for their confidence, their development.

This season, Joël Chouinard, Drew Schiestel and Nathan McIver provided that veteran presence, with varying degrees of success.  Mr. Chouinard was probably the most effective defenceman, but Mr. McIver brought a physical component that was important to a young team.  It's also important to note that they're both lefties, which normally isn't a great advantage, except that the Bulldogs blue line will be replete with righties.  Mac Bennett is the only leftie once Nathan and Jarred leave.  Morgan Ellis, Greg Pateryn, Darren Dietz, Dalton Thrower, Magnus Nygren,  they're all right-handed.  So either Mr. Chouinard or Mr. McIver could be brought back as veteran AHL'ers, or the team could go in another direction entirely, there are lots of journeyman defencemen available out there.

So there we have it.  We can expect Louis Leblanc, and probably one of either Nick Tarnasky or Mike Blunden, and maybe even both, to be re-signed for the Bulldogs next season.  Add in some more quality veteran AHL'ers to go along with the incoming prospect brood, stir, and hope for much better results.