Thursday, 13 August 2015

The best players to ever wear every jersey number in the NHL.

A couple years back Pro Football Reference compiled a list of the best players to ever wear every jersey number, based on an objective measure they cooked up, the Approximate Value.

It yields an interesting and highly debatable list.  I like the fact that these lists often skew young, ignoring older stars in favour of some we've actually seen play.  Their AV compares players from the 1950 season on, which we can peg as the start of the modern era in the NFL.

TSN has tried the same exercise with this list/graphic.  One of the things which jumps out at a reader is how beyond the number 30, and especially once you wade into the 40's and 50's, it becomes an arbitrary list, with some truly marginal players making it on the basis of very few players ever having worn that particular number.

Again, this list skews toward the younger players, those from the seventies and beyond, and probably ignores some Hall of Famers from the Original Six era.

Here are some of my observations on some of the arguable choices:

#9: Gordie Howe. Yeah, but no.

#12: Jarome Iginla over Yvan Cournoyer? Come on…  Then I dive deeper, and find that Jarome has amassed 589 goals so far in his career.  I give, I give.  I knew Jarome was great, but didn't realize how great.

#16: Brett Hull over Henri Richard I can be talked into, I guess… Um, maybe not.  Captain of the Canadiens and winner of 16 Stanley Cups trumps an 86-goal season and 741-goal career.  Doesn't it?

#19: Steve Yzerman wasn’t bad at all, but that’s Larry’s number.

#28: Steve Larmer over Pierre Larouche? Lucky Pete scored way more, on and off the ice.

#32 is an absolute crying shame. I’d give it to Travis Moen over that guy.

#44: Glad he got it, but I’m surprised Stéphane Richer got this one, I thought there would be a newer player who wore this and had success, it’s kind of a glitzy sexy number.

#45: Aaron Asham. I guess at these higher numbers we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, beyond the obvious 66, 77, 88, and 99.

#59: Clutching at straws. Roman Josi’s been in the league three years.

#67: A few more seasons and maybe Max makes this a famous number.

#75, 76, 79: Good that those numbers are represented by the titans of defence for the Canadiens, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban and Hal Gill.

#98: Brian Lawton, the ‘Can’t Miss Kid’ as christened by Sports Illustrated. He was drafted 1st overall, chose his jersey number. SI commented: “Nice touch, kid.” A few years later, when things weren’t going his way, he quietly changed to a nondescript 25 or something like that. Maybe Lou Lamoriello has a point when he forbids vanity numbers, why add pressure on yourself when you’re starting in the league.

The Canadiens roster and lineup for 2015-16

All right, let's take a look at what the Canadiens roster will/could be this season, as the team heads into camp, with the current players under contract available to build a lineup.  I've been itching to do this since the season ended, and then do the same for the St. John's IceCaps, but on post-free agency 'frenzy' day, when Marc Bergevin defiantly told the press corps asking if he was happy with his team as constituted, that it was "only July 2", and threw in an impish smile, I held off.  He's unpredictable as a GM, but here at least he hinted that there might be more cooking in the kitchen.  And there was, with the announcement a month later that Alex Semin would join the team.

The players who are being allowed to walk away are no surprise.  Sergei Gonchar might have been retained in a different situation, if he'd signed a low-cost deal, he still has veteran wiles and some utility, but the Canadiens have a bounty of options on defence.  Having Sergei taking minutes away from the three young d-men who'll now require waivers to be sent down to the AHL isn't wise, or even necessary.  Manny Malhotra, Bryan Allen, Mike Weaver, they'd served their purpose as patch jobs which were no longer needed.

Buying out P.A. Parenteau wasn't ideal, but it's not a catastrophe either, the cap hit can be absorbed relatively easily.  Since we couldn't gin up a reason to terminate his contract like the Kings did with Mike Richards, and/or bring Emperor Bettman on board with this three-card monte, we didn't have any choice but to play by the rules.  Unlike the Kings.

One of the issues we had last season, the lack of pure goalscoring ability, has been allayed with the addition of Alex Semin and Zack Kassian.  Alex's bona fides need not be argued, if he's in the right frame of mind and right situation, he can snipe, I'm penciling him in for 20-25 goals, accounting for the preferred icetime and linemates he'll receive, and the drive he'll have to rinse away the bad taste of the end of his Hurricanes tenure and to sign another bigger deal.

Zack Kassian is a surprisingly talented large forward, but the reason we were able to acquire him at all, let alone at such a bargain cost, should be its own note of caution.  He's mercurial, and may not conform to the image that hockey people and fans believe he should project on the ice.  He can use his great size to throw thunderous checks and engage in pugilistic pursuits, but this is not a consistent feature of his game.  Expectations shouldn't be of a Milan Lucic-clone, he's more of a Benoit Pouliot-type with more edge, with lots of talent, but sometimes unfocused or downright unmotivated.  If he can play with the drive to earn his big UFA contract, he could be a pleasant surprise and a steal for the Canadiens, another fleecing of the Canucks.

The best news of the off-season was Marc Bergevin's ability to re-sign Jeff Petry, and solidifying the Top 4 for a couple of seasons at least.  He's what we hoped Tom Gilbert would be, the guy who skates with the puck with authority, clears the zone without any migraines for the coaches and fans, and has shown an affinity for jumping in on the rush and creating offence that way.

Another pleasant contract signing was Torrey Mitchell, who didn't quite wow us last season, but will replace Manny as the fourth-line centre.  He's a rightie who brings lots of experience and speed, and should mesh well with the team construct.  I'm excited that the team is generating good vibes and players now back up their words, their praise of the city and the New Forum with ink on new deals.

Brian Flynn, who also came from Buffalo at the trade deadline, was just more depth for the Bottom 6.  It'll be interesting to see how much he'll play, whether he becomes trade-bait during the season, but as a RFA who cost little to retain, it didn't make any sense to not do so.

The great big departure is Brandon Prust, exiled to Vancouver and away from Mariepier Morin in the deal for Zack Kassian.  While he was limited in talent and what he could bring to the team in terms of tangible production, the list of what he did bring, the intangibles, was lengthy.  He's the type of player who'll sacrifice and work hard and stand up for his teammates.  He'll be a role model for young players, a big brother on and off the ice.  He'll take on any comers, even when he's often outweighed and apparently outclassed, and never be outmatched.  He killed penalties, skated with abandon, assumed the mantle that was vacant when Marc Bergevin got the job, and became the self-professed "new sheriff in town".  His bickering and playfighting with the kids and P.K. was priceless.  He was the very definition of a great teammate.  He had embraced the fans and the special culture of Montréal, with his girlfriend's help to introduce him to that realm.  He will be missed.

With this preamble aside, let's look at what the lineup could be for Game 1.  Note that this isn't my best guess of what it will be, but my opinion of what it should be, with the current pieces.




Assumptions:  Max will be ready for the start of the season, and we don't make any trades until then to clear out some opportunities for the youngsters.

If neither of these hold up, if Tomas Plekanec and Tom Gilbert were traded to unclog some of the rosters jams we're in and to allow more icetime for the youngsters, here's what I'd like to see.




Notes:  1)  David Desharnais takes a lot of flak on social media, but he's shown in the past that with two strong wingers he can be very productive.  Mike Cammalleri and Thomas Vanek complained when they were taken off his line, and we know how close the relationship with Max is, on and off the ice.  If we have slot receiver who can in the right scheme amass catches and yards, you can bemoan that he's not the rangy speedy WR type in the Randy Moss mode.  Or you can put him in the right scheme and use him in the best way possible.

2)  If I had my druthers, we'd trade away Tomas because he's in the last year of his contract, he has good value in a putative trade, and we need to stir things up, the centres we have aren't the right mix, don't get the job done in the playoffs, even though they've taken a good number of kicks at the can.  This opens up an avenue for Chucky to play centre.

3)  Tom Gilbert is redundant.  We can clear off a bit of salary, get some return for the rightie, and free up some icetime for Nathan, Jarred and Greg Pateryn.

4)  Alex Semin is a rightie who prefers to play on his off-wing on the left side.  He's played both sides at various times in his career.  In Washington, he played some on the left, but was often put on the RW to allow him to play with Alex Ovechkin.  Since we have four strong RW'ers but are a little softer on the left side, especially if Max is out/Alex plays at centre, let's try him on the LW, at the start of the season at least.

5)  The last thing the brain trust will do is to lose the assets they've accumulated lately for little or no return, so waiver situations will play a large role in the decision making.  For Jarred Tinordi or Greg Pateryn or Michaël Bournival to not make the initial roster, I think it would take a disaster, or another youngster to have a Keith Acton or Kent Carlson-type of training camp, one that demands attention and unquestionably bumps one of the 'incumbents' down the depth chart.  Which I don't know is possible in the span of a month-long camp.

6)  The deviation from the above will be with players who are not likely at all to be claimed on waivers, guys like Christian Thomas, Gabriel Dumont and Morgan Ellis.  I believe they'll clear waivers and continue their career in the AHL in October.

7)  Special case #1:  Mark Barberio is eligible for waivers, but I don't think the Canadiens will risk one of the other young defenceman on waivers, so the new signee will draw the short straw by process of elimination.  I think he was signed as organizational depth on the blue line, and to provide veteranship and a leftie for the IceCaps.

8)  Special case #2:  George Holloway.  He's the International Man of Mystery, a player who can be dismissed by fans as a European league longshot, but there's more to the story.  It's not like he couldn't hack it in North America, but more of a case of an independent thinker who decided he preferred to continue his career in Europe rather than be stuck in the Kings' system, stuck in the AHL, waiting for an opportunity.  He has obvious talent, a seasoned pro, has offensive skill, so if any players are traded away off the current roster, he'll be kept from waivers and make the 23-man roster if he has a decent camp.

9)  Special case #3:  Jacob de la Rose spent the latter half of the season in Montréal, where he didn't embarrass himself, earned praise from Head Coach Michel Therrien, but didn't exactly wow anyone either.  I see the roster decision coming down to either him or Michaël Bournival.  Since Jacob doesn't require waivers to go to the farm team, and since he didn't show that he has nothing left to learn down there, that his offensive game compared to his defensive strengths, I see him being sent down to start the season at least in St. John's.  He can be a leader down there on the ice, on the Top 6, and polish up his game in the offensive end.  And we wouldn't risk losing Michaël.  Win-win.

10)  The addition of Zack Kassian and Alex Semin has reduced the need/hope that one of the prospects win a job out of camp, Sven Andrighetto or Charles Hudon or Daniel Carr or Nikita Scherbak or Mike McCarron.  If one of these guys does sneak his way onto the roster, I suspect Sven will earn the spot.  He has two years of AHL experience, has evidently spent a lot of time in the gym to build himself up and counter the fear that he may be too small, and has the ability to score goals, something we need.  Charles Hudon can continue his AHL journey, build on a great rookie year, and vie for a callup.  The crown jewels McCarron and Scherbak get their feet wet in the pro hockey pool in St. John's.

11)  I see a platoon or rotation on the bottom pairing on defence, with Nathan getting 70 games in, and Jarred and Greg each getting 40-50.  This hinges on Tom Gilbert getting traded away, and a lot of wishful thinking.  If not, the guys, specifically Jarred and Greg, will not waste their time practicing hard every day against NHL'ers and continuing their apprenticeship, necessarily, that way.  For one season at most.

12)  It's time for Alexei Emelin to finally, solidly assert himself in the Top 4.  He's had flashes of promise and growing pains, injuries, a lengthy recovery from ACL reconstruction surgery, ups and downs.  He has the opportunity, and the mission, to become that steady Top 4 guy who can play solidly on defence, dish out big hits and demand respect from opponents, kill penalties, and chip in some on offence as he's shown he can do.  If he doesn't take that step forward, he can see himself supplanted by Nathan Beaulieu or even an improved and confident Jarred Tinordi, in a flash.

13)  I'm not crazy about our backup goalie situation.  I kick myself thinking how the Canadiens could have retained Devan Dubnyk last year, or have snapped up Jacob Markstrom on waivers partway during camp.  Dustin Tokarski garnered a lot of support from the coaches, specifically from Stéphane Waite.  He needs to have a solid season, on his own right, and not just as compared to other backups or with allowances that he's not Carey Price.  The excuse that the team isn't playing with the same gusto that they do with Carey behind them is actually not an excuse for him but a condemnation.  He needs to play so as to inspire his teammates, and to not let in routine bad goals.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Noah Juulsen impresses at the Summer Showcase, while Jérémy Roy does not.

After the last NHL draft, I thought one of the themes when we look back on it as Canadiens fans might be the comparison between the career arcs of our first-round pick, Noah Juulsen, and another rightie defenceman from a local team, Jérémy Roy, who was passed up by the Canadiens and taken by the Sharks five slots later.
I think Trevor Timmins will have a great read on Jérémy Roy, since he plays on the same team in Sherbrooke as Daniel Audette, who's already on board as a draftee. Donald Audette, his father, is a scout for the Canadiens too, so lots of intel, lots of viewings, if there’s a player they can get right it’s him.
Noah Juulsen is in a situation that’s somewhat alike, in that he played on the Silvertips with Nikita Scherbak. 

This has happened often when the Canadiens pick a player and pass up a comparable player.  Think of Mark Napier over Mike Bossy.  Think of Terry Ryan over Jarome Iginla, although this comparison didn't begin immediately, very few of us knew Jarome or what he'd become at the time, it only developed later on.

This one is a natural, ready-made incipient controversy in the bud.  All that will need to happen is for Noah to struggle and Jérémy to have more success for us to have grist for the mill.  I posted that there will be markers along the way where we can measure each prospect/player.

The Summer Showcase is one such marker, and it's very early in the race, but Noah Juulsen is clearly in the lead.  While Jérémy Roy was practically invisible during the two games he played, Noah shined.  We shouldn't put too much stock in an off-season development camp and exhibition games, but the opportunity for comparison is apt, since both players dealt with identical situations and conditions.

Mr. Roy didn't catch the eye much, in one game I only realized he was playing in the second period.  Although that could be an unintentional bias introduced by the play-by-play team, he really didn't do anything to make us notice him, while Thomas Chabot, by comparison, was all over the ice.  In the second game against Russia, Jérémy coughed up the puck and made a bad giveaway, fell down while trying to cross over skating backwards, and that was pretty much his night.

Meanwhile, I thought Noah played quite well.  He skated strongly, all over the ice.  He could defend an onrushing forward, starting from a standstill and skating backwards, generating plenty of speed, instead of the common practice of turning around, skating forward for a while to generate speed, and then turning around to face the opponent.

He was lauded by Craig Button for 'closing the gap' in the neutral zone, and it was noticeable.  He dished out hits.  He was aggressive while defending, pinching up to break up a pass, to fight for a loose puck along the boards.  He played actively, like he wanted the puck, instead of wanting to prevent the opponent from doing something with it, more Andrei Markov than Hal Gill.

Offensively, there were a lot of positives.  He carried the puck with confidence and found his teammates with his passes.  When controlling it at the blue line, he'd feint and deke with authority.  Some players have one or two moves, they'll fake one way and go the other.  Noah has a couple more tricks in his bag, he'll feint and dodge and head-bob and stutter-step until the defender commits, takes the bait, and only then does he go the other way.

He walks the line with assurance, and found ways to get the puck through the shotblockers reliably.  None of his shots found the back of the net, but they forced the goalie to make a save, created the potential for a rebound or deflection.

All in all, a very encouraging turn for Noah Juulsen, and I'm anxious to see how he develops this winter in Everett.  To the point that I'm going to think about a road trip to see a couple of games there.  Certainly I'll see him when he plays in Vancouver against the Giants.

In 1984, there were two LHJMQ defencemen who were highly-touted at the draft, Jean-Jacques Daigneault and Sylvain Côté.  J.J. was the more skilled player offensively, but Sylvain was thought to be a better all-round defenceman, bigger and more physical too.  There was also Craig Redmond who got lots of hype, and the shadowy specter of a little known Czechoslovakian player called Petr Svoboda.

The leadup to the draft had lots of excitement, there was a report that Craig Redmond's father made him wear lifts in his skates to appear taller to scouts, which was vehemently denied by them, so we all assumed it had to be true.  Add in that the Canadiens had two picks at #5 and #8, and I was rubbing my hands with glee.  Could we trade up to get the first overall pick and snag Mario Lemieux?

My cousin and I decided we had to go, back then it was held at the Forum, and we took it the extra step.  We wore our best, shiniest smartest (and only) suit, and tried to look like two prospects waiting to hear their names called.  The Canadiens had a coup-de-théatre in store, they had Petr Svoboda hidden in the wings, and called his name at #5, bringing him out literally from behind the curtains, where they'd hidden him in a back room.

He looked so skinny.  Steve Shutt, at the subsequent training camp, quipped that Petr had been tortured before escaping the Communist régime, that they'd "removed his shoulders".

But it didn't matter, I stood up and applauded, like the rest of the crowd.  My cousin rolled his eyes, thinking this was going overboard.  Our positions were cemented from there on.  I was a fan, he was always a bit of a skeptic.

Anyway, I followed the careers of these four guys the rest of the way.  Craig Redmond never amounted to much.  Jean-Jacques had a decent career, but never was the Phil Housley-Ryan Leetch-Kris Letang type he was projected to be.  Sylvain Côté became a solid NHL defenceman, playing in over 1000 games and in some All-Star games.  Petr Svoboda never quite became a star, but he played a vital role on the Canadiens in the 80's.  Whenever I attended a game at the Forum, I'd focus on him and watch him skate, it was a joy to behold.

I think the 2015 draft will be the same for me, I'll keep tabs on Thomas Chabot, who went to the Senators (gag!), Noah Juulsen and Jérémy Roy, but also the three other LHJMQ prospects who were often described by observers as just as good, just as promising as the Roy/Chabot tandem: Nicolas Meloche who went to the Avalanche at #40, Jérémy Lauzon who went to the Bruins (shudder...) at #52, and Guillaume Brisebois who went to Vancouver at #66.

And so far, in the Juulsen-Roy head-to-head matchup, the first round was decidedly in our favour.