Saturday, 22 November 2014

Marc Bergevin turns water into wine, René Bourque into Bryan Allen.

First, Marc Bergevin flipped an extra, plodding, square peg veteran forward in Travis Moen, who has trouble contributing in the physical arena due to multiple concussions, and who was blocking the way for promising young forwards Jiri Sekac and Michaël Bournival, for Dallas' Sergei Gonchar.  The latter comes with a much bigger cap hit, but his contract runs out this year, whereas we had another year beyond this one on Travis'.

Now, suddenly, without any previous rumblings, he's transmuted René Bourque, who mere days before had passed through waivers with no claimants, into huge, tough, stay-at-home defenceman Bryan Allen.  Which is kind of the role we were hoping Jarred Tinordi would play this season.

So instead of Jarred and Nathan Beaulieu learning the ropes in the NHL and making mistakes, we now have veterans Bryan Allen and Sergei Gonchar, and a team that is obviously going to try to make a run for the playoffs.

Nathan Beaulieu has probably sealed his fate and bought his ticket back to Hamilton with that brain-dead pass across the middle of the defensive zone to Dale Weise, which was intercepted and ended up in his own net.  It was even more troubling when seen from the endzone camera, since it showed that Nate had an alley wide open to Drayson Bowman in the neutral zone if he'd chosen to go off the boards, as he's been taught to do his whole life, along with every other defenceman who ever played.  Instead, he tried to go against the grain, to be creative, he tried the dangerous play, and it bit him, hard.

Some will grumble that Michel Therrien isn't patient enough with youngsters, that he staples them to the bench after a mistake, but there are different degrees of mistakes.  I'm willing to bet that the coaches, Jean-Jacques Daigneault most notably, but also Sylvain Lefebvre and Donald Dufresne in Hamilton, have hammered the point home to him to take what the opposition gives him, to choose the safe play, to move the puck up and good things will happen, not to make risky plays unless he's in a desperate situation, etc.  I bet that Michel Therrien in his pre-game video and meetings emphasized again and again to his team that the Penguins were dangerous, to not try anything fancy, to work as a team and support each other, etc.  And then Nathan went and did the exact opposite.

There are different kinds of mistakes.  Fanning on a shot is one kind of a mistake, an error of execution, like a goalie getting beat by a soft shot through the legs.  You can take those as long as they don't happen too often.

There are mistakes when the player misses an assignment, blows a coverage, messes up a line change.  That's an error of focus, of concentration.  Those are a little more frustrating, but again, they happen.

Nathan's mistake was one of obstinance.  He did what he knew he wasn't supposed to do, because he thought he knew better, that he was better than that, that he thought the safe play was too predictable, so he should surprise the Penguins with a dashing breakout pass up the middle.

So the brain trust decided that they couldn't ride their young ponies this season, they needed some trusty Clydesdales instead, and we have an instant transformation of the back end, with a solid third pairing rough-and-tumble guy in Bryan Allen, and a borderline second-pairing guy in Sergei Gonchar if his minutes are carefully managed.

I’ve sometimes thought that Marc Bergevin did take the job in 2012 thinking that while he had a good core to work with, some good pieces, that he had a rebuild on his hands, although not one reflective of a team that should have been in last place in the conference. I think when play finally resumed, he was pleasantly surprised at the results, two seasons in a row, and decided not to go all Sabres on us, go scorched-earth, and adjusted his plan to win rather than swap assets for futures.

This season also, he may have been, as he stated, ready for a step backward in the standings, but again, solid goaltending and a resilient team that fights for every point may be causing him to rethink that. Surveying the landscape, he may have switched gears again, and decided that with a Carey Price at the height of his powers, there was no better time than the present to go for the Cup.

At no great cost he obtained patch-job defencemen that enhance the roster, sending away pieces that was more superfluous than useful this season. And his organizational plan that Jarred and Nathan would experience their growing pains on the big league roster gave way to one where, in light of the journeymen results of Alexei Emelin and Tom Gilbert among others, he modified to one where the youngsters got more miles in the AHL, since they are waiver-exempt this season anyway.

One thing about watching 24CH, or the press conferences at the trade deadline or the end of the season, is that it shows these gentlemen are all aware of the issues we rail about on HIO, they have a little more info than we do let’s admit, and they make the best decision they can. They’d love it if Jarred and Nathan were the second coming of Rod Langway and Tom Kurvers this early in their pro career, that’d make things easy, but since they’re not quite there, they have to make a decision.

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