Tuesday, 30 September 2014

University of Michigan dealt with Shane Morris' concussion the same way Canadiens dealt with Dale Weise's.

The University of Michigan football team’s handling of quarterback Shane Morris’ concussion in Saturday’s game is troubling. They’re still today calling it a mild concussion, which an analyst today said “is correctly called ‘a concussion’.”

The way the incident happened during the game and the way the team officials backpedaled and tried to justify their actions days later is eerily reminiscent of the Dale Weise concussion against the Rangers last spring. Both athletes were visibly staggered during play and needed a teammate to help them stay upright. They were examined by training staff, both “passed the concussion protocol”, and were allowed to return to game action, even though a player acting or seeming dazed should immediately lead to them being taken out of the game and re-evaluated the next day.

In both cases, the teams bring up the fact that the athlete wanted to return to action to exculpate themselves.

In both cases, it seems the head coach wasn’t made aware of the fact his player had had ‘his bell rung’, and there seemed to be a lack of communication between the coaching and training staff.

Where the narratives diverge is with what excuse the teams are taking refuge behind. The Canadiens said they’d followed NHL protocols to the letter. Michigan head coach Brady Hoke seemed to as late as two days later still be unaware that his QB had sustained a concussion, and talked about the ankle injury he’d suffered.

In this case, it does seem as if the ankle injury and his difficulty walking masked the concussion symptoms to an extent, but critics are pointing out that the severity of Mr. Morris’ limp should have lead to him being removed from the game in the first place, leaving him in the game was like leading a lamb to slaughter. With no mobility, he was a sitting duck. Sure enough, on the very next play, a defensive lineman got a clean shot at him and concussed him.

I’ve been very supportive of the Marc Bergevin administration, I like the philosophy, the approach he’s taken to building a team, and the means he’s employing, assembling a team of equals to out-brainpower any other team. This specific case though, the way the Dale Weise concussion was handled, is a definite black mark against the Nouveau Régime, as previously outlined in the excerpt below.

The matter of Dale Weise’s concussion was brought up again, and Mr. Bergevin took refuge behind the fact that the NHL’s concussion protocol was followed to the letter. He repeated that the doctors examined him and said he was okay, the player said he was okay, so he was allowed to continue to play. Reporters tried to grill him on whether the team tried to avoid the ‘c’ word to prevent the need for Dale to sit out seven days, and Marc Bergevin explained that the seven-day thing is no longer in effect, but you could tell that he is uncomfortable dealing with this.

It’s clear to anyone who saw Dale Weise after the head shot that he was stunned, visibly unstable. According to guidelines I found after the briefest of Google searches, that is an immediate, unquestionable symptom of concussion, and information sheets advise that an athlete who displays that symptom should be taken out of the game/event, and re-evaluated the next day. It seems like basic stuff, yet the Canadiens missed or ignored it. If the Canadiens did follow the protocol, then the protocol itself is faulty and needs serious revision. Mostly every observer was surprised that Dale made his way back on the bench, and in this case, the fans and journos were right and the pros were wrong.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Jarred Tinordi a victim of the double-standard applied against the Montréal Canadiens

Recently, I've been thinking about how I'm tired of our players getting gooned, getting destroyed by Boston Bruins.  I didn't dive too deep, didn't do any research, but off the top of my head, I thought about how since Kyle MacLaren tried to decapitate Richard Zednik, there have been a multitude of Bruins assaulting Canadiens, with rarely any response from the NHL in terms of outrage, condemnation or supplemental discipline.  I can rattle them off, Zdeno Chara on Max Pacioretty, Greg Campbell being a big tough guy pounding on Tom Pyatt with an elbow pad, tenderizing his face into hamburger.

It can be little cheap stuff like Milan Lucic spearing Alexei Emelin in the groin, and again, and later on that season uttering death threats in a handshake line after getting eliminated by the Habs.  Cheap stuff like the entirety of Shawn Thornton's oeuvre, but specifically memorable incidents like him squirting water from the bench at P.K. Subban on the ice during play, with full video evidence, yet still being allowed to remain in the game, laughing like a baboon from the bench, as if he'd figured out hockey.

Even when it's 'fair play', two players squaring off, we come out losing in the exchange.  Milan Lucic basically ended Mike Komisarek, owned him in two titanic fights that should have been evenly matched based on the tale of the tape, but which ended badly for our boy.  The same Milan Lucic wrecked Alexei Emelin's knee when the latter tried to punish him with a bodycheck along the boards.  Why is it our guy that gets injured here, and not the Bruins'?  Shouldn't it be 50-50?  It's a man's game, stuff happens, you never know, all that jazz.  Except it's never 'you never know', you always know, it's us who'll end up with the short end of the stick.  We'll get injured or embarrassed, and they won't get suspended.  Ever.

Hence my admitted Bruins issues, I feel anxious when we play them, on the verge of righteous indignation, premonitiously, ready to kneejerk freak out at the drop of a hat.  Or a Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.

But it's not just Bruins that prey on us.  We've been pigeonholed as a small, skilled team for a long time now, along with being dirty, refusing to face up to the music man-to-man, but running away and using stickwork behind the play.  We dive, we embellish.  We're french guys and Europeans who wear visors, we can't take it.  So when Ryan Malone knocks Chris Campoli senseless, or Eric Gryba knocks Lars Eller senseless, or Chris Kreider strategiccidentally slides skates-first into Carey Price, the league kind of shrugs and wonders, "Well, what do they expect?  They had it coming."

When Derek Dorsett knee-on-knees David Desharnais, it's a hockey play, what talking heads have taken to calling a 'reactionary play', however ugly and misapplied that term is.  He was going to get beat, and couldn't very well just let his more agile opponent skate by, he had to reach out with a knee or elbow or stick or something.  He had to do something, anything.  It was a reflex.  As Nick Kypreos advocates, he had to "let him know he's there", however that's accomplished.  Derek Dorsett isn't a goon who can't skate and can't keep up with the talented players on the ice, he's a "gritty fourth-liner".  One that the Canucks were only too happy to obtain in a trade this summer, to keep up with the arms race in the Western Conference, and begin to dish out the treatment they've endured for a couple of years now.

So I'm forcibly converted, co-opted, I salute and goose-step along with the rest of the Viennese crowd.  I champion the drafting of largerer prospects, not just the decently-sized; we need to boost our size profile in the system.  5'11" 190 pounders won't do.  I squawk when we draft Arturri Lehkonen, Sven Andrighetto, and Martin Reway in the same year, to add to our collection of undersized forwards of Charles Hudon and Patrick Holland and Sebastian Collberg.  They're more ice for the Inuit.

I make the point that they're not 'finds' or 'steals' or 'diamonds in the rough' or 'homerun swings' or 'boom or bust' picks, they're not players that other teams failed to notice and will rue not picking later on, but rather players that other teams deliberately overlook, leave off their draft board entirely.  They're the Underwood in a modern office, useless.  They're the Vernier caliper or lemon zester in your carpentry kit, completely unnecessary, misapplied.  Other teams make the conscious decision to draft for size and strength at the expense of skill with the puck and speed and agility, since when the playoffs roll around, these players will wilt, if they're not already out with injuries by the time the referees put their whistles away for summer storage.

When hulking Mike McCarron cruises around the ice bashing prospective Bruin bodycheckers into their own goalies, I rejoice briefly, but shortly after accept my fate when he gets chopped down on a rush to the net and is injured.  It's the natural order of things.  The Circle of Life.  I make excuses for the opponent.  That Warsofsky kid is completely overmatched physically, he's just trying to protect his goalie, he was only trying to show his coaches that he can play at this level.  Can't blame him.

And when 6'6" Jarred Tinordi catches Nate Schmidt flush with his shoulder, knocking him out, and has to answer the bell against supposed-tough guy Chris Brown and embarrasses him, I can't even enjoy it, I'm already thinking that this won't do, the league will crack down.  What's the Canadiens player thinking, using his greater size and strength to dole out a perfectly clean hit and lay out an opponent?  Does he think his father Mark works at the NHL head office, and will fix this whole mess for him?  Who does he think he is, Zdeno Chara?

When Mr. Chara hits someone, we have to assume the best, 'he's not that type of guy, that type of player', we're told.  It's explained that it's not his fault he's so big and strong, that his arms are at head-height for most of the players in the league.  We're not supposed to consider the backstory of his on-ice assaults.  He didn't know where he was on the ice, it's explained, or the player who was racing by him.  There was no premeditation, it was just an unhappy coincidence.

When Milan Lucic spears and wreaks havoc, they're love-taps, not really intended to cause any harm.  He's not out to castrate, we're assured, it's just that he's an emotional guy, he gets jacked up for the hated rivals.  It's the kind of thing that happens on the ice.  Why, in the fourties, Eddie Shore took out someone's eye, we should take Mr. Lucic's spears in context.  Analysts laugh off this behaviour as tomfoolery, as a lovable imp getting caught near the empty cookie jar again.  "What are you going to do?" they shrug, chuckling at his delightful mischief.

But Jarred, wearing bleu-blanc-rouge as he does, gets no doucheplomatic immunity.  I get to my newsarator to check if he'll receive supplementary discipline, and this is the headline that pops up first.
Nate Schmidt Gets Elbowed Violently in the Head by Jarred Tinordi
Even though the elbow played no part whatsoever in this legal hit.

I know the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha.  I know agony is born of desire.  I shouldn't expect, by now, that the Canadiens will get a fair shake at the league office or in the court of public opinion, chaired as it is by Nick Kypreos and Don Cherry and Mike Milbury.  I read "Animal Farm", I know some are more equal than others, and that the pigs end up running things.



Saturday, 27 September 2014

Jiri Sekac: how much does a Czech weigh?

This is getting comical.  I know we're simultaneously traumatized and fascinated by the player size question as Habs fans, but the see-saw Jiri Sekac is being put through is unprecedented, I guess.

I posted on hockeyinsideout.com the following bon mots on this subject a few days ago:
Un Canadien errant SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 AT 9:24 PM

Let the prospect inflation begin. According to Mario Tremblay, Jiri Sekac is 6’3″ and 220 lbs. I can’t wait ’til the end of camp and after another goal or two, he’ll be 6’5″, 235 lbs.
Monsieur Tremblay, who has been championing Mr. Sekac's play and for his inclusion on the roster on RDS, had indeed stated he's 6'3' and 220, although he backed off last night and used 215 lbs as his number.

Today we get this from Frédéric Daigle of Canadian Press: "Quand on lui pose la question, le Tchèque de six pieds trois, 183 livres rougit et sourit timidement."

I wonder where he fact-checked these measurements.  Hockeydb and Elite Prospects list him as being 6'0", 174 lbs, which was his size from back in his junior days with the Peterborough Petes.

The Canadiens updated these measurements to 6'2" and 195 at the prospect development camp, but listed him on the roster at the rookie camp as being 190 lbs.  As I've observed before, the five pound drop is not a bad sign, 190 lbs on a 6’2″ frame is a good weight for a speedy forechecking winger, and he probably lost the weight doing all that training to murder the beep test.

I don't know, until further notice, let's use the official Canadiens' figure of 6'2", 195 lbs, it's straight from their website.  Even if we accept that there's a little rounding up when listing these figures by NHL teams, it's a reasonable size increase to expect from a kid aging from 17 to 22.

And as far as where Mr. Daigle pulled that figure from, I note that on Elite Prospects, his height is listed, in cm/in, as "183 cm/6'0" ".  The same dynamic exists on hockeydb.

So I assume a harried reporter, with no fact-checking and little editorial of his contributions, made a simple mistake and it went right to press.

Journalistic standards, declining...

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Can Michaël Bournival produce offensively in the NHL?

Sometimes we tell each other something and repeat it until it becomes an internet fact.  Canadiens fans have been saying that Michaël Bournival's shot and offensive instincts aren't that great for so long that now we're on the verge of tagging him with the 'Can't produce' label.

His final year in junior, two seasons after being drafted, he potted 30 goals in Shawinigan, and followed that up with 10 goals in Hamilton the next season.  So yeah, we shouldn't expect any more than 15 or 20 goals at very most from him reasonably.

I do remember him scoring what felt like every game at last season's camp, however, and building on that for a good start to his season.  Maybe that was due to puck luck, but it might have been due to the great results he's been getting during his off-season training, and maybe because his game is complemented better by NHL linemates than it was during his Bulldog year.  Early that season, the team lost the players who should have been its leaders to injury, when Blake Geoffrion and Louis Leblanc were lost after a promising start, and Brendan Gallagher was promoted to the NHL halfway through.

And yeah, his offence dried up over the second half of the season, but that was after coming back from injury and seeing his icetime being squeezed by returning veterans.

So yeah, Michaël is a bottom six winger, but his game has at its best a speed and quickness, a 'dog in the bowling alley' quality that may allow him to chip offensively.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Reporters and their access, Take 2.

I’ll get on my hobby horse again, but this is a few mentions of Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau’s fitness level. Marc Bergevin on l’Antichambre explained that they expected good things from him, that he and Michel Therrien had asked him to report to camp in great shape.

Which kind of makes you ask “Don’t you ask that of everybody?” And it starts to dawn on you that P.A.’s difficult season last year, the two MCL strains, and being in Patrick Roy’s doghouse, maybe it wasn’t arbitrary, or just a function of two people who don’t mesh well. Maybe this all started when the player reported at camp out of condition, and the coach disapproved.

We’re not getting any quotes about coaches asking Brendan Gallagher or Max Pacioretty or Andrei Markov to report in great shape. Presumably, nobody had to ask, that was understood and not an concern for anyone.

René Bourque had a difficult season last year, but we can’t attribute it to fitness or lack thereof. He passed, in Paul Maurice’s words, the ‘shirt-off test’, last season and this one. But there have been allusions to focus and state of mind. Was he having girlfriend problems? Money issues? A lawsuit weighing on his mind?

Again, these are things that reporters know, but won’t share with us, to not blow their access with the team and their sources, so this knowledge remains ‘inside knowledge’, to be doled out when the conditions are right.

We saw how Dave Feschuk got hold of the Steve Spott “Phil Kessel is 15 pounds overweight and won’t listen” story, did impeccable work, and was assailed by some as stirring up trouble, that these issues with Phil Kessel are well-known, why even bring them up? Well, these issues are well-known to you Darren, but not to us, since you act as an employee of the Leafs, instead of a journalist, and you never told us.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

TVA Sports talk show barker Dave Morissette hosts Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin

Man, I’m trying to watch Dave Morissette’s interview of Marc Bergevin, and it’s awful. I tried to enter the program with an open mind, but after reading comments and reviews, it's hard. I definitely watched for the guest rather than the host or the format with all the cutesy games and other nonsense.  Mr. Morissette is acting all chummy and relaxed, but he’s nervous as hell, all these little chuckles and asides.

Compared to this, “L’Antichambre” is “The McNeil-Lehrer Report”.

He asked the GM if he’d like a re-do for one of his decisions, and the response was “There was a trade I didn’t do that I should have done.” Which is succulent enough on its own, and even though you know you’re not going to get specifics, you’d still want him to probe further. Was it a player you were looking to unload? A buy-low candidate who exploded and you now wish you had in your organization? Was it moving up at the draft in June 2013 to nab Anthony Mantha?

Instead, Dave Morrissette interrupted him with an outburst of laughter, which was misplaced and odd, he was laughing at what he thought he heard, what he thought he was about to hear, and then went on that he “had a couple in mind he was thinking of…”

Uh? You have a couple of Marc Bergevin’s trades he never pulled off in mind?

Obviously, he had his own answer in mind already and was commenting on that, he didn’t listen to the actual response from his guest. Which is the best trait of an interviewer or investigator, is saying as little as possible, letting the guest speak, and listening to what he’s saying. It’s certainly not to crowd him out with your own patter and jokes that fall flat.

I managed to get through it. They asked him about losing Josh Gorges' leadership and experience on defence, and he repeated that he didn’t mind the proverbial ‘small step back’ to groom some youngsters.

When the host asked him of Greg Pateryn, Jarred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu, who would make the team, who was his favourite, he said he didn’t have any favourites, and he insisted on including Magnus Nygren in that group.

The downside is that he said “on October 7, probably one of those four will make the team, but it’s too soon to say”.

Only one? I hope he misspoke.  I hope at least two of them make it, if not more.  It's time for these guys to get NHL ice time.

Sports reporters have access to information, but don't share that information to preserve their access.

I’m listening to “TSN Drive” with Dave Naylor, Dave Hodge and Darren Dreger, and they’re talking about the Dave Feschuk story on Steve Spott and his take on Phil Kessel.

All three are downplaying the story, saying it’s nothing new, “nothing that we don’t already know about Phil Kessel and his relationship with his coach”, or words to this effect. And I wonder what they mean by ‘we’.

I’ve gone off on this topic before, but it seems to me to be a classic case of reporters knowing stuff, being told stuff, and not passing it on, since they’re trying to stay on the good side of the organization they’re covering, the cash cow that the company they work for depends on. They’re protecting their access, and their sources, but again these don’t serve us, the consumers, it serves these ‘insiders’ who wallow in this cesspool, and only allude to the truth or these incidents in covered, indefinite terms.

Phil Kessel is routinely described as enigmatic, prickly, difficult with the media, and sometimes getting special treatment from the team, but that can mean anything.

Now we get facts, we get data, we get an incident and case study. What I would want to know now would be how common is it that a player refuses to go along with a drill or strategy, and how was that dealt with in the past. Is this part of the back and forth between players and coaches? Does this happen once to a Mike Ribeiro and he gets a meeting with the coach, and on the second incident he gets shipped out? Or does a Chris Pronger regularly tell a coach to go eff himself, and everyone shrugs and moves on, and says: “That’s Chris…”

Phil Kessel is objectively described as being 15 pounds overweight, and that is not discussed either, they repeat that the comments were told somewhat “tongue in cheek”, that he was sort of joking. So what does that mean again? When I tell a story to a group of people, I’m usually joking too, that’s why people gather around and hush up when I speak; I throw them a couple of nuggets to thank them for their raptness. But what does it mean with this statement? He’s only 12 pounds overweight? Why don’t the reporters say it clearly, yes he is overweight when he plays, when he comes into camp, with this explanation, or no, he’s in acceptable shape compared to his peers.

This is relevant to us sports fan who follow our teams on social media, how we read entrails and make mountains out of molehills, but we don’t really have a choice, since very often this info that we base our discussion on isn’t complete or reliable. We often castigate each other for harping on rumours, but really that’s what we have to work with is rumours, since you can’t get a straight answer out of a reporter, who’s keeping his info to himself, and will dole out this info based on how the wind is blowing, or once the player is traded.

The Canadiens have 64 players at training camp

The Montréal Canadiens will have 64 players at training camp, and that sounds really busy. Feels a little overloaded. And I know about the extra bodies needed for the pre-season games, but still…

Some of the guys from the rookie camp I've described as ‘no-hopers’, like Tanner Eberle and Zach Yuen and Evan Wardley, they get to move on to the next stage, and fight for a spot on the Bulldogs.

And no dark horse unsigned junior player survived the cut, the giants Tyler Hill and Matt Shmaltz, the skillful Alex Goulet and Phillippe Gadoury, the heavyweight protégé of pugilism proponents Bokondji Imama. We don’t steal a draft pick from next season’s crop.

On Saturday, Stéphane Leroux of RDS explained that the Canadiens debated at the 2012 draft on whether to spend a seventh-round pick on Sven Andrighetto, but relented and traded the pick to the Panthers instead. Eventually, they spent a third-round pick on him in 2013, and not a round too soon, since the Colorado Avalanche are reported to have been targeting him early in the fourth round.

Had the Canadiens pulled the trigger in 2012 in the seventh round, or even offered the kid a contract as an undrafted free agent that summer, we’d have been that much further ahead. Of course, this is with hindsight, the team wanted to see more from the kid, and when he had another great season, they picked him up at the next draft.  But it would have been nice to pick up what turned out to be a third-rounder for free, essentially.

A fantasy football player's contortions to see Josh Gordon's side of things.

Perpetual headline denizen and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Brown recently plead guilty to an outstanding driving while impaired charge from this summer, one that was already on his record, so to speak. He did so because it will mean more lenient punishment for him, to plead guilty now rather than drag it out in the courts and be subject to a new drug policy hammered out between the NFL Players' Association and the League that will be in effect soon.

Josh Gordon is obviously not a Rhodes Scholar, but as a fantasy team owner who took a chance on him this season, hoping his suspension would be drastically reduced or quashed with the new drug policy agreed to between the NFLPA and the league, let me play devil’s advocate.

We often see NHL players from good, strong families and backgrounds ‘blow up’ when they get to the NHL, the lifestyle, the puck bunnies, the party favours, it’s all too much, and they flush their career away. So much so that we now fret about Canadiens being left alone to fend for themselves in the Big City, lest they turn into Shayne Corson and Chris Chelios, or Chris Higgins. We applaud when we find out that Alex Galchenyuk will live with mom and sis in a condo, and Brendan Gallagher, that loose cannon, will get to bunk in with Josh Gorges.

I kind of wish that every kid had the Vladimir Guerrero or Alex Galchenyuk treatment: every day he comes home to a loving mom and a home-cooked meal, but also a bullspit test that triggers whenever anything out of the norm happens. Have a couple beers too many? Hang out with questionable characters? Going to be late for practice? You’re going to hear about it.

Compare with Josh Gordon’s background. Here’s an excerpt from an article Peter King wrote for Sports Illustrated:
…as he grew older and his middle-class family life began to deteriorate, Gordon found it tougher to discern fact from fiction. Just like that, the radio ad sales game turned on his father, Harold Sr., leaving his mother, Elaine, an elementary school teacher, to pick up the slack. The family moved eight times (a few times separately after a divorce in 2006), and the accommodations around southwest Houston—already a dodgy part of town before Hurricane Katrina refugees took it over—weren’t getting any cozier. Death always seemed to have their forwarding address. There was the loss of an aunt to lung cancer, a grandfather to another lung ailment, another aunt to heart failure; only his oldest brother Andrew, who survived an IED explosion while stationed in Iraq, dodged a visit. This all happened within a four-year span, starting with Gordon’s high school transition from Westbury Christian (enrollment: 600) to Lamar (enrollment: 3,300). Outwardly, Josh never broke from his strong, silent-type character, but under his stony exterior was a mess of hurt.

So yeah, it’s easy when I see a story like his or Justin Blackmon to find fault and question their intellect, but these guys are thrust into the limelight with huge paycheques and the adulation they receive, with a team taking care of everything for them as long as they play ball. A lot of these young men don’t have the life skills to deal with all this, the support network that allow them to succeed.

Of course, I’ll admit that I started rooting for him when I picked him up as a free agent in both my fantasy leagues, when the first rumblings we heard about the new drug policy stated he might have his suspension lifted entirely. Now that it’s been confirmed he’ll be gone for another eight games at least, I’m dumping him tonight for other guys on waivers, and he’s back to being a bum in my book.

Because that's what fantasy league team owners are, craven immoralists who'll pick up Aaron Hernandez on waivers if it will help their team win.  Fantasy league owners are probably less scrupulous than even honest-to-goodness NFL owners.

Can Dustin Tokarski clear waivers if sent down to the Bulldogs?

The hosts of Vancouver TSN 1040 had Bob McKenzie on and discussed the three-goalie situation in Vancouver.  I still don't quite agree with their decision to sign Ryan Miller to such a long deal, I don't think there could have been lots of competition for his services, since he admitted he wanted to sign with a West Coast team and shortlisted himself out of an entire conference and a division, and since he didn't have that great a stint in St-Louis anyway.

So now the Canucks have him wrapped up for three years, along with goalie-of-the-future Eddie Lack, who did well when Roberto Luongo was traded, and who is very popular with his teammates.  They also have Jacob Markstrom, who was thought to be a future superstar but whose development has stalled, who came from the Panthers in the Roberto Luongo trade.

The Canucks are discussing whether to start the season with three goalies on the roster, since neither Eddie Lack or Jacob Markstrom can be sent down to their farm team in Utica without first going through waivers.  And it's accepted as fact that either of these youngsters would be claimed by many teams if on waivers.

Jacob Markstrom has apparently worked very hard with goalie coach Rollie Melanson, and has changed his game and style greatly.  'Rollie the Goalie Coach' has had success with this in the past, changing Roberto Luongo's style from a flailing, athletic style to a more controlled blocking-the-angles style.

They don't see him as a failed prospect.  They think he'll pan out.  He has great size and athleticism, and with the quirks worked out of his game could be a good starting goaltender.

So they don't want to risk squeaking him through waivers, even though he's on a one-way deal and a high salary.  There's even some thought that maybe they'll try to trade Eddie Lack, who has proven more in the NHL and may have greater trade value as a solid young goalie, and keep Jacob Markstrom as Ryan Miller's backup.

All of this is comparable to the Canadiens' 'good problem' of currently having three goalies who can play at the NHL level.  Bob McKenzie referred to it when discussing the Canucks situation too.  And he made the point we've made as Habs fans, which is that there is a glut of goalies on the market now, that the average to mediocre goalie is much closer in performance to the stars than he was a decade or two ago.  A backup goalie isn't hard to find.

He pointed to veterans like Martin Brodeur and Thomas Vokoun who still don't have a contract as further evidence of the depressed goalie market, and how unlikely it is that the Canucks will get anything of value in return for one of their youngsters.

Which brings me to ask the question again: if we put Dustin Tokarski on waivers, are we sure that he'll get claimed?  He's a quality prospect, and has had some good streaks and performances in the past, but he's not the type of player who makes hockey men drool.  His small size is in complete opposition to the current trend in the NHL to have a big goalie with big pads in front of your net to block out any openings.

If the Canucks put Jacob Markstrom on waivers, then we're home free with Dustin Tokarski, right?

Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren play training camp musical chairs.

Some quick thoughts about our young defencemen:

1)  Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu get more press, more love because they're first-rounders, sexier picks.  They're also nice contrasts, one the huge, tough stay-at-home prospect, the other the smooth-skating Guy Lapointe-clone.

2)  Greg Pateryn is a jack of all trades, a lower draft pick, so he's not as flashy, and doesn't get the attention the other two get.

3)  There is also an open spot on the left side on the third pair, there for the taking, so we're watching that race more, there's a clear finish line.  Greg Pateryn will have to displace Mike Weaver, which would be surprising this early on, or latch on as the seventh defenceman, which is like getting Miss Congeniality in a beauty pageant, no one cares about that.

4)  Magnus Nygren, unlike last season, doesn't have a contract with a SHL team, so he doesn't have a fallback position.  I'm not sure how easy or hard it would be for him to go back there if he doesn't nab a spot with the Canadiens out of camp, and is asked to report to Hamilton.  Do SHL teams have a cap, import quotas, time limits on when they can sign players?

5)  When interviewed by Dave Morissette, Marc Bergevin was asked if he had a favourite out the three Bulldogs defencemen, which one should the host wager on to make the team.  Of course the GM refused to answer that, and in fact insisted that Magnus Nygren be included in this discussion, and said that most probably by the end of camp, one of them would snag a roster spot.  I kind of hope he misspoke and wanted to say "at least one".

Vincent Riendeau named Assistant General Manager of the Hamilton Bulldogs

An under-the-radar bit of news broke yesterday, lost in the flak of training camp splashy sexy items.  Vincent Riendeau, already employed as an assistant coach in charge of goaltenders for the Hamilton Bulldogs, has been named Assistant General Manager for the team as well.  He will retain his goalie coach duties.

There are a few aspects to discuss with respect to this announcement.  The main point I think is that this is good news for the team and its fans, starved as they are for a competitive team and some playoff actions.  Since he was hired, Marc Bergevin has been listed as the general manager of both the Canadiens and the Bulldogs.  While I have no doubt that he got a lot of help from his scouts and assistant GM's, what with the panoply of qualified hockey men in the organization, I sometimes worried that Mr. Bergevin might be stretched to cover both teams, that things might slip through the cracks.  There was no one specifically tasked with Bulldogs duty, as happened in the past when Julien BriseBois was the Bulldogs GM outright.

Also, I thought that Marc Bergevin might have come into the job with a good functional knowledge of the AHL, it might have been a large part of his duties as an assistant GM in Chicago, and he may have known the league and its players quite well.  After two years spending most of his time in Montréal dealing with the NHL though, that edge may have dulled, so it might have been time to hand off some of the duties to a man who has his ear to the ground, is plunged in the AHL environment.

Last season, Martin St.Pierre and Nick Tarnasky were some of the AHL vets brought in to support the youngsters in Hamilton, to muted results.  This season, we have Jake Dowell, T.J. Hensick, Joe Finley and maybe Drayson Bowman as these AHL vets, and we'll see if they're more effective in this role, if their contribution translates into a playoff push.  But finding these AHL players who'll fit in well with your team takes an intimate knowledge of the league, day-to-day exposure that you can't get in an NHL head office, probably.  

Vincent Riendeau, spending his games in the press box, is in a good position to observe players from other teams, and pitch in on the management side.  It's also a good intro to the hockey operations world.  Some Habs fans sometimes complain that the French language preferred-qualification cuts down on the number of applicants.  While we may dispute this, and show that the Canadiens actually have a vast pool of qualified hockey men in Québec who seldom get NHL opportunities since they're not part of the old boys network, there's no downside to stocking the pond, so to speak, and to start to groom some staffers to increase the number of qualified applicants for the future.

And while we're speaking of succession planning, there might be a concern that Mr. Riendeau will lose focus on the goalie coach side of his duties, and we'll suffer that way, but there is already a quality goalie coach in Hamilton who can pick up some of that slack.  Marco Marciano, who is the former Blainville-Boisbriand Armada goalie coach, graduated to the AHL last season as video coach.  He's already in the fold, and may be ready to transition back to goalie coach duties, if Vincent Riendeau steps away from these duties to more fully concentrate on the general manager side in the future.

So this is good news, in keeping with the Marc Bergevin régime, with an emphasis on building a strong brain trust, and delegation of duties, as opposed to the centralized control and micro-management which prevailed during the Gainey-Gauthier administration.  Let's hope this helps the Bulldogs to become a quality hockey team that builds winners and competitors, and turns into the hockey player factory and the pipeline of prospects we've envisioned for the last few years.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Canadiens get some fresh digs, and a fresh new left winger?

Watching L'Antichambre can be a frightful slog sometimes, and you end up giving your thumb a vigourous workout on the remote, doing reps on the skip button, but tonight's installment was enjoyable.  They had as a guest Pierre Houde, and his dignified manner and speaking voice are always a treat.

During a discussion on the energy, talent, and potential of Nikita Scherbak, the panelists were in agreement that they should rein in their enthusiasm, since there are only a couple of spots available on the team, so it's a fait acompli that he's headed back to the WHL.

Or is it?  Which is what Mr. Houde interjected, in his polite, deferential tone, that Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien have been emphatic since they took office that they wouldn't deviate from the plan, the goal, which is to win the Stanley Cup.  He continued that they've taken big or controversial decisions before, without giving examples, but I imagine one he was thinking of was keeping Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk after the training camp which followed Gary Bettman's Third Lockout.

He finished by saying that a natural response after the success of last spring, coming so close to the Stanley Cup Final, would have been to try to recapture the magic, keep that team intact, and take a run at it again this year.  Instead, the team has undergone a significant change, with a multitude of players being churned.  That in his mind indicates fresh thinking, and a management team that sticks to its convictions.

François Gagnon then discussed the new dressing room and the new digs at the New Forum.  Apparently, the dressing room has been doubled in size, and major improvements have been made to the training and physio areas, the lounge where the players take their meals, among others.  This started from a simple conversation this spring, when Pierre Gervais, the equipment manager, was approached by team owner Geoff Molson, who asked him where the facilities ranked with respect to the rest of the league.  Mr. Gervais replied that when the team moved from the Forum, the new facility was at the very top, but twenty years on was now in the bottom third.  At which point, apparently, Mr. Molson sent out a memo and started cutting cheques, and presto, we did a reno.

It's refreshing when we compare to certain organizations which can't get out of their own way.  We can think of Charles Wang who wouldn't spend his own money to improve Nassau Coliseum or build himself a new rink, and for decades has run a laughingstock of a team.  Instead, Geoff Molson, if we are to trust the anecdote as factual, made a decision and got quick results, instead of studying and hemming and hawing.  And this was not driven by complaints, as far as we know, but from Mr. Molson's attention to detail, and desire to run a first-class organization.

And, as all the panelists agree, not only is the renovated facility going to be an attractant for free agents, and a tool for re-signing our own players, but I have to think that the mentality, the way the Canadiens conduct business, is refreshing and will win over players.

Canadiens won't have an enforcer, will use 'team toughness' concept in 2014-15

As relates to the toughness-goon question, and whether the Canadiens will import an enforcer at this late stage to start the season, Dave Morrissette of TVA Sports asked Marc Bergevin that very question during their interview.  Mr. Bergevin said that he discussed this with Michel Therrien, and they feel comfortable going into the year with the roster they have.  He says Michel Therrien wants to roll four lines, and that they'll use a 'team toughness' concept.

So it seems that Marc Bergevin isn't biding his time to pick up an enforcer from a cap-strapped team, as we we sort of assuming.  He mentioned that the team will have more size generally, and specifically referred to Dale Weise as one example.  The simple subtraction of Daniel Brière, Brian Gionta and even Josh Gorges, all of who will be replaced by players of a larger stature, will ensure the team isn't such a small team, such an inviting target.

This team toughness approach doesn't worry me when it comes to playing a team like the Sharks if they dress John Scott, for example, he'll know he doesn't have a partner to dance with, will generally be unable to catch up to anyone with the puck, and any of his three or four minutes of icetime will be clearly in our advantage.  What I'm more concerned with are the teams like the Bruins and Flyers (as always), teams that have some behemoths who actually play for them and who we know from empirical evidence are much more tame when a Douglas Murray and George Parros is cruising the ice occasionally.

I'm also concerned that our pugilists aren't up to snuff, even to the moderate level we've decided to aspire to.  Brandon Prust is a willing combatant, and is very skilled at it.  I'm not as fatalistic as everyone seems to be that he's 'done'.  Sure he had a difficult season last year, but that doesn't mean his career is over, or his shoulders are shot, as a lot of aspiring Dr. Recchis are quick to assume.  I'd just like him to tone it down a bit, he has nothing to prove.  He can answer the bell, but maybe not go looking for trouble, or starting it, or accommodating young up-and-comers who want to make a name for themselves.

Travis Moen and Dale Weise aren't very good scrappers.  Travis is big and tough, but he's getting up in years and lost a bit of nasty.  The elephant in the room is whether his next concussion will be his last, or even whether the last one should have been.  Two seasons ago, Travis had a poor season, and caught some heat for not 'stepping up' sometimes, but that changed last season, he seemed more ready to take up some of the load.  I deduced, from what insiders were saying and from his behaviour, that he didn't mind being a bit player behind a George Parros, as long as he had support by the likes of Brandon, Douglas Murray, Jarred Tinordi, etc.  It'll be interesting to see if he'll be reluctant once again to tangle with heavyweights, whether he decides that this isn't his job, that he'll take on a Johnny Boychuk or an Evander Kane, but a Matt Kassian is out of his league, and not part of his job description.

Dale Weise had a big impact on the team upon his arrival last season, and it was discussed at length how he's best used as a fourth-line forechecker and energy player, but was miscast when asked to be a scrapper by Mike Gillis, Alain Vigneault and John Tortorella.  It's strange that he couldn't refocus his game once Tom Sestito joined the team, or that he wasn't allowed to.  In any case, Dale can cancel out another team's middleweight, he can answer the bell, but that's about the extent of his expected contribution to the cause.  Which could/should be enough, hopefully.

Another player this team toughness philosophy will affect is Jarred Tinordi.  This will play in his favour, in that in his training camp battle with Nathan Beaulieu for the available third-pairing job, he can bring a lot of snarl to the table.  If we had an extra Mike McPhee or Chris Nilan on the roster now, Nathan would have the inside track, but as it is, Jarred has that extra arrow in his quiver.

One final point is the icetime given to Brandon Prust.  He was brought to sign as a free agent with the Habs when Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin showed up on his doorstep on July 1 with a generous contract offer, and probably a lot of promises as to the importance of his role with the team, and how he'd be used.  We see this somewhat in how Michel Therrien doesn't hesitate to move him up the lineup when possible, whether with the kids for a while two seasons ago, or to a higher line when injuries strike, or to kill penalties.

I was worried a little bit about whether Brandon might be bound for, almost locked into a fourth-line role, and what that might do for his morale.  Michel Bergeron on L'Antichambre used to repeat that you can't put a heart-and-soul player like Brandon Prust, a guy who gives you everything and sacrifices himself every game for his teammates, on a fourth line.  He'd argue that he had to be on a third-line and be given a leadership role equal to his contribution.

We see the importance of Brandon Prust on the team when watching him interact with his teammates on 24CH.  He's obviously a beloved teammate, one of the ringleaders.  He's forever tussling and play-fighting with Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, P.K., always involved in the pranks going on in the dressing room.  In that context, you can grasp the validity of Michel Bergeron's observation even better.

My fears are allayed somewhat by the 'roll four lines' philosophy the team will use.  The fourth line won't be the mismatched cast of horrors from three years ago, an indigestible Aaron Palushaj-Petteri Nokelainen-Frédéric St. Denis-Brad Staubitz-Rajesh Koothrappali goulash.  It won't be centred by Ryan White and used sparingly.  The addition of a credible checking centre in Manny Malhotra, and potential linemates Dale Weise and Michaël Bournival means they'll get around twelve minutes a night, not three or four.

Add in penalty kill time and Brandon will be kept busy, will get his minutes and won't be embittered as is feared by Michel Bergeron, by being shunted aside until it's time to square off with a Colton Orr.  He'll be an integral part of the team, even on a fourth line.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Bokondji Imama back in Baie-Comeau, picks up an assist against the Remparts in first game.

I watched the Remparts-Drakkar game from Friday, and kept an eye on Bokondji Imama during the game.  He didn't impress at first, but by the third period he seemed more involved, got a couple of odd-man rushes in, shot the puck at the net a few times, came close to scoring himself.  He picked up an assist, when he was involved in a late goal as the Drakkar were trying to tie up the score, buzzing around the net.

His skating needs work, he's below average compared to the others, but his puck skills aren't bad, he can take and make a pass.  He's effective along the boards, often coming out with the puck, and I suspect that's partly because opponents can't match up physically, or hesitate to do so.

He certainly was involved on the physical side, he's impossible to ignore whenever there's a scrum or nonsense after the whistle.  Very understandably, some opponents would literally turn sideways and refuse to make eye-contact, they'd make themselves scarce, get away from the pile, which is reasonable behaviour for a 165 lbs teenager confronted with a specimen like young Mr. Imama.

And not to harp on TVA, but in an interview between the second and third periods, they kept referring to him as "un espoir des Canadiens", a Canadiens prospect, which is false.  He would have been "un espoir des Canadiens" if he'd been signed to a contract before being sent back, but they chose not to, so he's now headed for another crack at the draft as a 19-year-old.  He's a prospect, but not for any team, he's unaligned.

So Mr. Imama was a little flustered, embarrassed by this, but gamely carried on, gushed about the organization, the experience he had, and talked about what he wanted to accomplish in the coming season.

It wasn't the only misstep by TVA, they'd also wrongly announced previously that Mr. Imama had been arrested at the wheel of a rented Porsche in Ottawa during camp, which they later unreservedly retracted.

Meanwhile, the Leafs did sign a training camp invite, Cody Donaghey of the Remparts.  Which burns my toast, they found a 'free' prospect out of the prospect-rookie camp process, and we didn't.

So overall, a fair effort by Bokondji Imama, who could be having difficulty focusing and getting motivated, getting back in the flow of LHJMQ action in the next few games, although it should pass as he sets his eyes to the 2015 draft.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

P.A. Parenteau's fitness level, journalistic access, and 'inside' knowledge.

The Max Pacioretty-David Desharnais-P.A. Parenteau line did some damage again during the Blanc-Rouge scrimmage, with the newcomer getting two goals and an assist.  The NHL website has a story on him by Arpon Basu, which discusses on which line he might play, and how he came in camp in great shape according to the testing done two days ago.

I'll get on my hobby horse again, but this is a few mentions of Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau's fitness level.  Marc Bergevin on l'Antichambre explained that they expected good things from him, that he and Michel Therrien had asked him to report to camp in great shape.

Which kind of makes you ask "Don't you ask that of everybody?"  And it starts to dawn on you that P.A.'s difficult season last year, the two MCL strains, and being in Patrick Roy's doghouse, maybe it wasn't arbitrary, or just a function of two people who don't mesh well.  Maybe this all started when the player reported at camp out of condition, and the coach disapproved.

We're not getting any quotes about coaches asking Brendan Gallagher or Max Pacioretty or Andrei Markov to report in great shape.  Presumably, nobody had to ask, that was understood and not a concern for anyone.

René Bourque had a difficult season last year, but we can't attribute it to fitness or lack thereof.  He passed, in Paul Maurice's words, the 'shirt-off test', last season and this one.  But there have been allusions to focus and state of mind.  Was he having girlfriend problems?  Money issues?  A lawsuit weighing on his mind?

Again, these are things that reporters know, but won't share with us, to not blow their access with the team and their sources, so this knowledge remains 'inside knowledge', to be doled out when the conditions are right.

We saw how Dave Feschuk got hold of the Steve Spott "Phil Kessel is 15 pounds overweight and won't listen" story, did impeccable work, and was assailed by some as stirring up trouble, that these issues with Phil Kessel are well-known, why even bring them up?  Well, these issues are well-known to you Darren, but not to us, since you act as an employee of the Leafs, instead of a journalist, and you never told us.

Are the Winnipeg Jets, by coddling Evander Kane, about to take off?

Interesting to see how the Winnipeg Jets are handling Evander Kane's situation this pre-season.  They repelled any notion that he would be traded this summer, sending a clear message to the league, the team and the player.

Now in camp, they intend to put him on a line with Mark Scheifele and possibly Blake Wheeler.  If that lasts, he'll basically be on a stacked line and have lots of opportunities to put up points.

And maybe that makes him happy, or close enough, in Winnipeg.

This summer, at the height of the fan turmoil surrounding Mr. Kane, Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press explained that the Jets not only were not willing to trade him because they thought they couldn't get fair value in return, but also thought his value would actually rise this season, after a blip due to injuries and growing pains the previous one.  They think he's about to take off as a genuine star in the league.

Head Coach Paul Maurice could also have an effect.  When he took over last year, he crowed about the size of the team, how he himself was already a pretty big guy, yet on the ice during chalk-talks he has to look up at pretty much every one of his players.  When he was asked what had gone wrong, he was polite and respectful of former coach Claude Noël, speaking nebulously about systems and buy-in and respect.

This season, it's clear what he intends to change, and that's the relatively lax work ethic.  He put his players on notice last spring that they needed to come into camp in better shape, and Mathieu Perreault was wheezing about the hard practice they had to go through on the first day of camp.

Now, if only the Jets could get their hands on a goalie.  I wonder if we sent them Dustin Tokarski, whether we could get a big scoring winger back in return?...

Friday, 19 September 2014

Training Camp scrimmage: Blancs 3, Rouges 3

Some quick thoughts:

1) I love the pairing of Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn.  I know we always remind ourselves that it's only training camp, but I can't help but think that it's management kind of tipping their hand as to their wishful thinking.

2)  Not so enamoured of the Francis Bouillon and Magnus Nygren pairing, are they the long-long shots?  I don't want to waste Magnus Nygren, I think of him as a 150% boostified version of Raphaël Diaz or Yannick Weber.  Or one who could actually pan out.

3)  Gabriel Dumont not looking out of place.  I have a soft spot for this kid, he's not a yappy undersized player who stirs things up and lets bigger guys clean up his mess, but almost the opposite.  He plays hard and tough, and if anyone has a problem he'll gladly accommodate them, as Mike Zygomanis found out the hard way last season.

Obviously his small size is a hurdle, we already had a full portion of undersized players on our team last season, but without hoping for injuries, I hope he gets a look during a callup this season.

4)  Christian Thomas is looking good since the start of camp.  I read an article recently which reminded us that he dealt with a sports hernia injury at the start of the season, and he explained that he never felt right during the season.  This of course could explain his underwhelming production in Hamilton.

He started under a cloud in the eyes of many Habs fans, being traded for the much-ballyhooed Danny Kristo, a bigger player we felt might have been more ready, and who outproduced him in the AHL, but a strong camp from Christian will be a nice start to redeeming himself in our esteem.

5)  It didn't take long for P.A. Parenteau to end up on the first line with Max and David.  As in, no time at all.  It does seem like a natural combo, a rightie who's known as a point producer, and a slightly bigger winger to go opposite Max.

Stéphane Leroux and Gaston Therrien were saying that it made sense to put them together early and see if they can develop some chemistry.  We saw again last season with the Thomas Vanek experiments how long it can take for a forward line who want to pass and set up plays to score to find that groove, for everyone to figure out their roles.  As opposed to a Dale Weise on a fourth line, where the plays are more simple, dump and chase and forecheck and drive the net.

6)  I saw Mike McCarron gain the zone and go right to the front of the net.  Good job kid.

7)  Drayson Bowman impressed early, caught the eye.  I hope he can pass through waivers and catch on in Hamilton, that team really needs some talent and experience to balance out another influx of rookies, and all the losing is getting old, for the fans and the players.  They need to have a stronger lineup and a chance to win every night.

I know we went through that last season with guys like Martin St. Pierre, Nick Tarnasky and Akim Aliu brought in as AHL vets, but let's try again and hope that players like Mr. Bowman and T.J. Hensick and Jake Dowell at forward, and Bobby Shea and Joe Finley on D, that they can support the young vets like Patrick Holland and Gabriel Dumont and the new kids, and they can contend for a playoff spot.

8)  If anything, the stronger goaltending tandem of Joey McDonald with either Dustin Tokarski, or more likely Mike Condon, should be worth three or four wins by themselves.

9)  Seeing Davis Drewiske out there, I don't want to be uncharitable, but I couldn't help but think that he'll be needed in Hamilton as well, if only since he with Mac Bennett and Joe Finley will be the only lefties on defence, unless Jarred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu get sent down.  There are a lot of righties on defence, with prospects Greg Pateryn, Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, and Dalton Thrower, and invites David Makowski, Bobby Shea, Justin Baker, Evan Wardley, ...

So, uh, sorry Davis, but we need you more down there than up with the big club.  That one-way contract of yours should soothe the sting somewhat, you'll still get paid.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Newsflash: Michel Therrien wins a popularity contest! Fans polled are satisfied with his and Marc Bergevin's work.

Le Journal de Montréal offers today, aside from breathless reports about Jean Béliveau and his arrest in Ottawa last night at the wheel of a rented Porsche, the results of a poll among Canadiens fans.  There are lots of articles about various questions and the numbers, but the one I jumped to is the popularity question for GM Marc Bergevin and Head Coach Michel Therrien.

I sometimes address the 'Two Solitudes' question, and try to make the point that what rages as controversy on Habs Inside Out and Hockey's Future boards isn't necessarily so for all fans, specifically franchophone supporters of les Canadiens.  In this matter, we can see that dichotomy.

For Marc Bergevin, 79% of respondents claim to be satisfied with the job he's done so far, and Michel Therrien gets an even better grade of 84%.  

Now the methodology is unclear, I can't find how the poll was conducted beyond the fact that Sondages Léger did the work and asked 1000 respondents, and it's almost certainly not a poll of french-speaking fans only, but we can assume they're the vast majority, Le Journal probably being more interested in reporting on fans in Québec rather than those far-flung fans in Whistler, Sydney and Turku.

And the numbers couldn't be more clear.  I don't know what the results to the same question may have been when Michel Therrien was first hired, it was generally greeted as good news as best I can remember it, but there was a significant undercurrent of unease, for a lot of the same reasons we bat around on HIO: his gruff, sometimes inarticulate manner, his coaching style that prefers effort to talent or mostly anything else, and his checkered history and track record.

But after two seasons of surprisingly good results, it seems the fans have come to the conclusion that the coach might know what he's doing and have the team pointed in the right direction.  

This concords with all the public pronouncements from the players.  Many reporters have tried to get an Andrei Kostitsyn moment out of one of them, to get a player to whine about his icetime or the style employed, but they overwhelmingly parrot that their coach is doing a good job and they love to play on their team.

Like many fans I had strong qualms when Michel Therrien was announced as the head coach, but I must surrender to the evidence, and say that he has my confidence.  Until the team starts to underdeliver.

Friday, 12 September 2014

More observations before the 2014 Canadiens rookie camp.

A good overview of the Canadiens rookie camp before it plays out is offered by La Presse.

For those of us who don't parlent français, here are the broad strokes:

1)  Following up on a July article in which Tim Bozon said his goal was to recuperate enough to make it to the rookie camp, the Canadiens' winger is happy to have reached his goal.

2)  Suddenly there's a dearth of centremen in Hamilton, while two short seasons ago we were taking players like Louis Leblanc off centre and putting them on the wing, since there were too many.  Now, with just T.J. Hensick and Gabriel Dumont as natural centres, the coast is clear for Charles Hudon to continue at centre, after trying the position for the first time at the prospect development camp.

3)  Again we go over how Jiri Sekac, Jacob de la Rose and Sven Andrighetto might be called upon to fill the third-line winger spot.  The author is careful to mention that the solution might be to simply flip René Bourque over to right wing, and plug Michaël Bournival in on the left side.

4)  It's a make-or-break year for Patrick Holland and Christian Thomas, who underwhelmed in Hamilton and during callups last season.  It's noted that Patrick Holland isn't a Bergevin man, but rather was brought in by Pierre Gauthier in the Mike Cammalleri trade.

5)  Zachary Fucale's difficult end to his season last spring is discussed.  His junior coach Dominic Ducharme is not worried, saying he has played three impressive seasons since he started as a 16-year-old, long seasons that went deep in the playoffs, and it's normal that he may have sagged a bit.

6)  Players on tryout: Philippe Gadoury is noted, how he scored 20 goals in 19 games after joining the Mooseheads midway through the season, after playing Junior A.  Tyler Hill, a 6'5" Mike McCarron clone is also highlighted, and he had a difficult first year in the OHL after playing in the USHL.  Again like Mike McCarron.

Toothless, clueless NHL again tries to curb diving, and to re-invent the wheel.

The NHL announced a new system to try to address the "diving epidemic", and it's an improvement on the last, but still a more of a half-step, a tentative attempt to eradicate a problem that's easy to solve if you attack its root.

I'll say it again, the way to curb diving is to call the actual penalties that precipitate the dives.  Last night on TSN's "That's Hockey", both the insipid Darren Dreger and the conformist Jamie McLennan were in lockstep with the GM's on this one, and harped on how diving was horrible, blah blah blah.

They used two videos to illustrate what is wrong with the act of diving, and just how outrageous it is.   One of them featured Ryan Kesler really laying it on thick, but the opposing player had first grabbed him with his arms as in a wrestling move.  The other featured a player falling back as if he'd been hit in the chest with a shotgun beanbag round, again a transparent dive, but what triggered it was a post-whistle outright punch to the chest by his opponent.

Neither of the esteemed analysts thought to mention that both of these previous acts should have been penalized, and that the diver was possibly frustrated at the repeated offences that didn't cause the refs to blow their whistles, and was just trying to help the refs figure things out.

This idea of a graduated scale where repeated offenders' names are circulated, and which leads to fines, suspensions and repercussions for the coach is much better than idiot Colin Campbell's previous byzantine system of correspondences, "Stop it or I'll warn you to stop again", but it's relatively lenient and ponderous.

It should be based on video review of game tapes, not just calls on the ice, and 'two strikes and you're out'.  First time is a warning, second time you're suspended.  Penalties shouldn't just be to the coach to, but also the team, in terms of draft and/or salary cap penalties.

But the actual root of the problem, and the easiest way to address this, is to penalize players when the hook, hold, trip, etc.  If players know that when they're restrained, the other guys will get penalized, they won't feel a need or think they gain an advantage by diving.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Francis Bouillon will be at the Canadiens training camp on a tryout basis.

Guillaume Latendresse, acting as a panelist on the RDS show "L'Antichambre", just broke the news that Francis Bouillon will be at the Canadiens training camp on a tryout basis.  I thought I'd check in to witness the meltdown at this news on social media, but I'm surprised at the calm that reigns.  I guess it will wait until tomorrow, maybe the Eastern Time Zone fanboys have already gone to bed.

I'm not really happy at the news, but the fact that he's on a tryout makes it less worrisome.  He gets a chance to get in game shape with the Habs, and if he gets a call from another team great for him.  If we get injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, we can use Frankie as a patch job for the very very very last time.

I'll never fault him for his heart and his effort, and I hope things work out for him, but I hope we find that we don't need him coming out of camp, that Jarred and Nathan have things well in hand on the third pair.  We have a backlog of young d-men in Hamilton, we should rely on them rather than a soon-to-be 39 year old modestly talented defender, as proud and noble a warrior he may be.

Montréal Canadiens announce their rookie camp roster

The Canadiens have finally announced their rookie camp roster, which we get to feast on after months of speculation.

Quick takes:

-My favourite prospect Bokondji Imama is on the list, as reported earlier this summer.

-So is Nick Sorkin, we figured this one out a week ago or so.  Derek Wills of the Bulldogs' broadcast team spoke highly of his play the last few games of the season.  Big fast winger, we could do worse.

-Despite poor reviews at the prospect camp, Stefano Mommesso is back for another kick at the can.  And who the heck is Riley Brace and Sahir Gill?

-Stéfan Fournier is listed as injured on the roster.  I hope this kid gets healthy in time for the season, he's got a steep hill to climb, he can't be missing time due to injuries.

-As pointed out on social media, both Darren Dietz and Dalton Thrower are now listed at 209 lbs, as opposed to the 195-200 lbs range we're used to seeing them at.  Good for them for filling in, they'll need the extra beef to continue playing at the pro level the physical style they employed in junior.

-Runner-up in the race for our heart is Seattle Thunderbird 6'4" enforcer Evan Wardley, who is also a return figure from the prospect camp on the blue line.

-The future is set in net, with Zachary Fucale, Mike Condon and Hayden Hawkey, and Jordan Papirny playing the role of the guy who goes down to the planet surface with Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

-Generally, there is some serious size and heft on that roster, even aside from players who are already our property like Michael McCarron, Connor Crisp, Brett Lernout and Jacob de la Rose.  Invited players are also impressive in their size if not for their stats.  We've already covered Messrs. Imama and Wardley, but others include 6'5" forwards Tyler Hill and Matt Shmaltz, the latter having been passed over this June in his first draft year.  So we're seeing the Marc Bergevin team put a premium on size, for better or worse, to a much greater degree than the Bob Gainey régime, which seemed to favour tweeners or undersized Québec players like Dany Massé and Olivier Fortier.

Review: "Searching for Bobby Orr", by Stephen Brunt

Stephen Brunt is one of the more thoughtful, insightful, and measured sports journalists who populates the Canadian landscape.  Even in this modern age when sportswriters are meant to give good footage on camera, and good quotes on air, he does so by the content and analysis he provides, rather than by RPM's or decibels.

Because that's what he is at his core, a sportswriter, and it shines through in his biography "Searching for Bobby Orr".  Having had to read some autobiographies that are stunted and barren lately, Mr. Brunt's work distinguishes itself both in the quality of the prose and the care taken to present facts, and quotes from different sources and actors in the life of the Bruins Hall of Famer.  Whereas some other books can be slogs, this one causes the reader to race ahead to find out more, and then to fight that urge and backtrack to re-read some passages that were initially skimmed over, just to savor the language and imagery contained therein.

The interesting aspect of this book is that it is an unauthorized biography.  Not that the author claims a strained or broken relationship with his subject, he in fact had what he describes as a very cordial meeting with Mr. Orr before he launched this undertaking.  Despite this, Bobby Orr declined to participate, and further asked that Mr. Brunt refrain from contacting his immediate family and a few other close relations, a request that the author honoured.  

While this could have hamstrung a lesser writer, aborted the journey before it began, Mr. Brunt forges on, and uses the plentiful documents which exist on Bobby Orr's career, and excerpts them extensively.  There are also numerous players, officials, journalists, and other figures who had contact with Mr. Orr who are not in the imposed 'no-fly zone', and who have lots of anecdotes and remembrances to provide.

One of the products of the decision of Bobby Orr to stand aside on this project is that it perfectly illustrates the private nature of the man.  While he is universally described as warm, hospitable and generous in this and other works, he is also famously guarded with his home life.  He has numerous friends and partners and colleagues who are in his inner circle, but those outside this find him, while courteous and genial when the occasion is right, to be generally aloof or guarded.

Stephen Brunt takes care to illustrate that this is at least partly as a result of his experience with his former agent, business partner, and closest friend and confidant Alan Eagleson.  It is of course impossible to write a book on one without dealing with the other, they are inextricably linked.  Mr. Orr still feels slighted by how he was demeaned and abandoned by some in the press and hockey world when Alan Eagleson's legal battles started and forced some to take sides.  

Mr. Brunt takes care to explain how Bobby Orr was under great financial duress during this time, and came as close as can be to bankruptcy, but managed to repay any debts outstanding and rebuild his personal fortune.  The author makes the argument that his travails make him uniquely qualified to advise young players in his current role as a player agent.  If his mega-watt name and personality doesn't win over young players and their parents, the authority he can speak with when it comes to the necessity of keeping an eye on their contracts and investments will often clinch the deal.

There are many enjoyable aspects to this biography.  For this reader, who came of age very shortly after Bobby Orr's prime, it provided a great deal of knowledge to flesh out the legend.  The early career, his family life, how he was pursued by many teams, how the Bruins may have been the only organization to truly understand how special a player he could become, all are engrossing.  There are explanations for Leafs fans of their team's lukewarm pursuit, how they felt they already had 'enough prospects' on defence, they could allow the Bruins to snatch one away.

The crucial part of the story is how the Orr family felt railroaded somewhat, how all these scouts were beating a path to their door while Bobby was barely a teenager, yet they could never get a straight answer as to what signing one form or another meant, and how much money their son was entitled to or could expect to earn.  His mother was inflexible that he should finish high school and graduate, but felt that was a low priority for these hockey men.  These factors among others played a large part in Bobby's father enlisting the aid of a young Alan Eagleson at a fateful summer barbecue chance meeting in Parry Sound.  

Another interesting aspect of the Bobby Orr story this book deals with is the legend that he never knew the Bruins offered him part-ownership in the team prior to his leaving them to sign with the Blackhawks, that this was kept secret.  In fact, Stephen Brunt finds two mentions of this offer in newspapers published at the time, along with Alan Eagleson's comments that he felt taking a stake in the team might be unworkable, not in Mr. Orr's interests, and that the league "would never allow it" in any case.  Of course, that is just further indication of the conflict of interest Alan Eagleson had, his job was to further Bobby's interests, not to worry about whether John Ziegler might have a problem with a player, even one of his client's magnitude, being also an owner.  We of course saw a couple decades later Mario Lemieux suit up for the Penguins while a part owner, so these hurdles can be negotiated.

I highly recommend this book to anyone, and specifically to those Canadiens fans who only knew Bobby Orr as a superlative opponent, or a legendary foe to those a little younger.  While we know the lore of les Habitants, we tend to not be so well versed on that of other teams, and this is as good a place to start as any.  Mr. Brunt tells the story with even-handed care but also with affection for his subject, as difficult to pin down as he may be, and the result is a great read for any hockey or sports fan.

Monday, 8 September 2014

ESPN's Berman and Dilfer dance around the Ray Rice subject, fearful of upsetting their NFL overlords/cash cow.

Hearing NFL shill Chris Berman comment on the fallout of the Ray Rice tough-guy-in-the-elevator video release is making my brain leak out of my ears.  Boomer, ESPN's contract with the NFL is solid, it's signed for the next hundred years or so, you can tip-toe up to the line where some would think you're verging on disapproval, and your bosses won't flip out or anything.

"The Ravens' owner acted decisively," says Trent Dilfer.  Let me help you out with the adverb here Trent, how about 'belatedly'?  Acting decisively would have involved making a call back in February, when the first video surfaced of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious girlfriend out the elevator like she was his least-favourite neighbour's couch on moving day.  The Ravens had all the information they'd ever need back then, but only reacted to the shifting tide of public opinion and online media today.

But then again, the Ravens and ESPN are well-known for their moral equivocation, what with both's willful association with unconvicted murderer Ray Lewis.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Martin Brodeur is of no use to the Montréal Canadiens.

QMI, the news 'agency' that brought you the scoop that Pope Francis was arrested in Ottawa while driving a rented Porsche, puts forth a news-adjacent item that free agent goaltender Martin Brodeur would listen to an offer if the Canadiens were so inclined.  Which leads me to ask, who would be most superfluous on the Canadiens, Martin Brodeur, Francis Bouillon, or Paul Bissonnette?

As much respect as I have for Martin Brodeur, he overplayed his hand here. He could probably have eked out a couple more seasons at a generous wage from the Devils if he’d accepted the backup role, but his insistence that he wanted to start made it easy on Lou Lamoriello to part ways with him.

Now he’s without a team, it’s questionable that any organization would take him on with his wilting stats over the last few seasons. Unless he consulted with Roger Clemens and experienced a similar late-career surge in performance, I think he’s done, and the league seems to think the same way.

The Canadiens have a capable backup in Peter Budaj, who posted better numbers than Mr. Brodeur last season.  Dustin Tokarski is waiting in the wings, ready to battle for a job in camp.

Even if the Canadiens felt they needed help in nets beyond Carey Price, there are lots of options out there in free agency and on the trade market, more effective or likely ones than Martin Brodeur.

There has been a lot of talk related to Michael Sam about a player being a distraction, and that is exactly what Martin Brodeur would be, at best a curio, at worst a distraction and source of controversy in Montréal. That we’re even discussing this is another indication that we are indeed in the dog days of August, and there is nothing going on that’s newsworthy. So we need to generate discussion.

Or with Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s putrid Québecor and Sun Media and QMI, to actually invent news.

Francis Bouillon back with the Canadiens on yet another one-year deal?

Kind of shocked at the news Francis Bouillon might be signed to another one-year deal by the Canadiens.

I think social media is way, way too hard on him, some posters just unload on the guy like they do on David Desharnais, dogmatically, I thought he played well for what he was last year, a spare, depth defenceman who could move up in the lineup.  I remember his opportune goals, and his taking on Derek Dorsett after his cheap shot on David Desharnais, and giving at least as good as he got in that tilt, as the narrative for his season.

Having said that, I thought it was time to move on, that bringing him back wasn't even in question.  I fail to see how he helps our roster next season.

Marc Bergevin said he was willing to take a step back next season, so there's no reason to bring in a steady-eddie player who has very low upside and potential.  If you're contemplating a Cup run and think you need the depth, fine, but that's antipodal to the stated acceptance of letting kids play and weathering the storm.  Our kids, the guys in Hamilton, that's our depth.  If he brought in depth at forward we'd understand, but we're swimming in depth on defence.

We have lots of young defencemen, the pipeline is full, so it's not like we're missing bodies.  We have players who can take shifts on the third pairing, get their feet wet, move up the ladder.  We need to relieve the congestion in Hamilton.

We have lots of veterans on the blue line already.  Andrei Markov will lead the way.  While new to the team, Tom Gilbert has seen it rain, been through a lot in his career, and can provide some direction to the youths.  Mike Weaver seemed to integrate seamlessly to the team last season, and he'll be back for another tour.

P.K. is one of the young veterans who's expected to carry a larger load, we cleared out Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges to let these guys take a step forward.  At 25, P.K. should ease off on the class clown antics and mix in some gravitas, be less of a line-soldier and more of a lieutenant to Andrei.

Even Alexei Emelin has lots of experience, with his time in the KHL, and now entering his fourth season.  He has a language barrier to overcome, but leadership takes many forms.  If he continues to train and play hard, recovers his game from two seasons ago now that he's playing on the left, if he keeps battling hard against monsters like Milan Lucic, he'll contribute to the leadership corps.

Strictly in terms of nuts and bolts, we have Andrei and Alexei to man the left side.  Then we have two first-rounders who are on their last season of being exempt from waivers in Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu.  We need to play these guys this year, give them increased minutes and responsibility, in all situations.  Next year we can't hide them in Hamilton, it's make or break this year.

So the idea that Francis Bouillon is in negotiations with the Canadiens sounds almost dubious.  How much of a negotiation can there be in August?  Wouldn't it be just a take it or leave it situation?  How much leverage does he have?  How did the P.K. negotiation affect this in any way, as stated in the article?  Doesn't the deal with P.K. reduce the need for Francis even further, rather than clarify the picture, as it's alleged?  And if we suffer a spate of injuries, and the rookies just plain aren't ready, we're risking their development by playing them too soon at this level, couldn't we just sign Francis off the street, later on in the fall?

This isn't a Tomas Kaberle situation, a player I never liked, never wanted in bleu-blanc-rouge, who never fit in, never delivered, and who I wanted to be rid of as soon as he arrived.  My skin won't crawl seeing Francis wearing the CH, I'll be happy for him.  But I'll wonder why he's getting icetime, and why the youngsters are watching from the pressbox, like when Jaroslav Spacek was taking minutes away from Alexei Emelin, Raphaël Diaz and Yannick Weber.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Raphaël Diaz to get a try-out invite to Canadiens' training camp?

I'm not anti-Raphaël Diaz at all, I supported him in numerous posts over the years.  I did see the idea floated on another blog to get him a tryout with the Canadiens, but I can't get on board.  It's not anathema, it's a good discussion point in early September, but the tryout in and of itself would be unnecessary, we already know what he can do.

I agree with those who mention that ultimately his problem was how he fit on the team, that his skittishness in games where the refs 'let them (the thugs) play' was his undoing.  He had concussion issues, his offence dried up at the worst time, overall he was less than the sum of the parts of his game, he didn't deliver on the early potential we thought was there.

If we didn't have limits on roster size and on the number of contracts, sure, bring him on, see if everything falls into place and he finally blossoms, but we have to deal with our current reality.  We have two right-handed d-men who we are pretty close to needing to fish or cut bait with in the two guys who are usually mentioned after the Subban-Gilbert-Weaver triumverate.

Greg Pateryn is on his last year of being exempt from waivers, and had the strongest, steadiest campaign with the Bulldogs last season, over even Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu.  He could fill a need as a big guy who can play steady defence and injects size and strength on our blue line.

Magnus Nygren has a different skillset, being more of an offensively-inclined defenceman, and we all know about his cannon from the point.  If anything, his skillset makes another Raphaël Diaz experiment superfluous, if we're going to bet on a longshot offensive d-man, let's go with the younger, bigger guy with even more upside.

This is where the brain trust gets to put its money where its mouth is, when they say they want to turn the team over to its youngsters, that you build through the draft and development, that they want the kids to compete for jobs and make the decisions for them, that they wouldn't mind taking a step back in the standings while doing these things.

Let's have Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren fight to displace Mike Weaver as the third-pairing rightie, and to sub in when injuries hit.  Let's have them see the goal be so close they can taste it, rather than putting a Raphaël Diaz or Francis Bouillon in their way.

I know as a fan I wouldn't fault the team, the coach or the management if Greg Pateryn and/or Magnus Nygren were on the roster and playing every game and cost us a few losses next season.  I actually think having an influx of young defencemen is exciting, like the Chelios-Svoboda-Kurvers seasons, or three years ago when we had Emelin-Diaz-Weber jockeying for position in addition to P.K.

Pierre-Karl Péladeau arrested in Ottawa while driving a rented Porsche.

The link below is from the mobile site for the Toronto Sun.  Sun Media has been tardy in taking it down.


Here is what it says.  Names have been altered to protect the innocent.

Billionaire monopolist and scion of the Péladeau family fortune, former president and CEO of Quebecor Inc., Quebecor Media Inc. and Sun Media Corporation, and current Parti Québécois MNA Pierre-Karl Péladeau was arrested by Ottawa Police late Tuesday while driving a rented Porsche, sources have told QMI Agency.

Reasons of his arrest were unknown, but appear to be driving related.

Sources say Péladeau was taken to the Ottawa police headquarters on Elgin street for fingerprinting and a mugshot.

It is unknown at this time why the dissolute playboy and champion of deregulation was in Ottawa.

Ottawa Police have been unable to be reached for comment.

Where to begin...

1)  I've harped on how abysmal the journalistic standards are at Le Journal de Montréal, the cash cow on which Pierre Péladeau made a fortune and launched his series of acquisitions and mergers, dumbing down the national discourse in the process.  Idiot son Pierre-Karl inherited the empire and continued the tradition, with a new hint of Fox News-style pandering to right-wing nutjobs.  Sun Media of course follows its "If it bleeds it leads" ethos and shoddy ethics.  So it's not surprising that they raced to be first to the scoop, without doing any fact-checking.

Putting out nearly-slanderous, erroneous titillation as news without bothering to fact-check is irresponsible, and far from the ethical standards that any credible news organization strives for. Sun Media raced to post a ‘scoop’, they tried to be “First!”, at the expense of getting it right.

A belated retraction, even with an apology, doesn’t make it right.

During the “Le Journal de Montréal” strike a few years ago, this is exactly the sort of practice that the reporters decried and were fighting zealot Pierre-Karl Péladeau on. He’s the one who wanted to slash budgets for reporters and editors, he wanted to rely on a network of contracted stringers who get paid by the story. The reporters basically lost their fight, but we see this as one spectacular example of how far journalism has fallen in the Québecor empire, in their scoop-by-Twitter approach.

Remember Louis Jean’s tweet about how Scott Gomez was about to be bought out when Marc Bergevin took over? This is the same deal, no overseers in the staff room, no editorial experience, and crap output by them.

2)  Judging from the last sentence in the article, they employ child labour, and a thirteen-year-old who couldn't forge a note to his principal is in charge over there.  According to the release, it's the sources themselves that have been incapable of making themselves available to Québécor's army of intrepid investigative reporters.  Get that teenager an English course, pronto!

3)  I'll not fail to repeat that this is the clown college of an organization that Gary Bettman sold the NHL rights to, not the relatively dexterous and trustworthy RDS, who have over a couple of decades become a worthy successor to the quality "La Soirée du Hockey" broadcasts on Radio-Canada.  But what's professionalism and experience in the face of another ten million dollars, right Gary?

EDIT: The article linked to above is no longer available.  Here are some others:


http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/nhl/sidney-crosby-arrest-report-retracted-by-qmi-1.2754013 )