Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Transcendental Zack Kassian appreciation.

The key to enjoying life as a Habs fan with Zack Kassian in the lineup is to not expect him to be Rick Tocchet or even Mike McPhee. He’s a better, occasionally more physical version of Benoit Pouliot.

Big talented forwards with good hands, drafted high, inconsistent, infuriatingly uninvolved sometimes. You sour on them not because they’re the worst player on your team, but because you think they could be so much more.

That’s it in a nutshell.  Anything over and above that expectation is not guaranteed. Potential shmotential. Zack isn’t Brendan Gallagher, he’s not Chris Nilan, he’s not Max Pacioretty. He’s not the anti-Lucic Buffalo hoped he’d be. He’s a talented guy with size who sometimes is unfocused and struggles to get results. Alert Gaston Therrien.

Instead of piling on him after a couple of pre-season games, let him get his bearings, maybe get caught up in the excitement, and get pulled along in the wake of P.K. and Max and David and Gally. His floor in terms of production is 12 goals, with 20 as a ceiling if everything falls in place. The ceiling he had as a draftee is unrealistic, write that off.

This ain’t no surprise, or disappointment. We knew this about him the moment we traded for him. Instead of thinking of him as a failed Clarke Gillies, think of him as the steal we got, along with a treasured fifth-rounder, for Brandon Prust’s expiring contract with a high cap hit.

If RDS set their sights on him so early, they’ll have a tough time with him. Reduce your expectations. Agony is born of desire. Accept the Universe, endure its weight. Take the good, bank the incremental gains.

Now all of you get off his back, get off Jarred’s back while you’re at it, and accentuate the positive instead of picking at warts ’till they bleed.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Pre-Season Game 5: Canadiens 1, Leafs 0

Here's my take on the Canadiens 1-0 win against the Leafs tonight, as presented by Sportsnet's band of Toronto homers.  Thank you Gary Bettman.

--But really, how bad was that?  They basically took a fawning local Leafs broadcast and aired it nationally, quality and objectivity be damned.  It's Lou Lamoriello this, Mike Babcock that...  Awful.

--With the generalized fault-finding centred on him, I'm reduced to tallying occasions when Jarred Tinordi makes an easy, simple play as a big win.  At one point, he got the puck from Greg Pateryn, skated forward, scanning the ice, and I yelled from my couch "No, no!  Give it back to Greg!"  Even I could see there was no easy play to make for him, that the right choice was to pass it back and see what Greg could do with it.  Sure enough, Jarred slid it back to him, I jubilated audibly, and Greg passed the puck up and got us out of our zone.

--Another time, Jarred gets the puck and headmans it quickly to his open winger.  "Success sire!" I shout, like the Klingon lieutenant to Khan, upon their photon torpedo finding its target.  But before they realize that Kirk has more tricks up his sleeve.

--Greg and Jarred had a pretty solid game overall I thought.  Hopefully it's not confirmation bias.

--Darren Dietz and Mark Barberio formed an effective pair, they were like twins out there, similar size, good wheels and offensive instincts.  Young Mr. Dietz didn't help his cause though with two minor penalties.  Go practice your self-control on the windswept Rock, young man.

--I see T.J. Brennan crosscheck Mike McCarron in the back in front of the Leafs net, making him fall to the ice, followed quickly by a whistle.  Big Mac gets up on his knees and looks around, thinking "What the hail?"  Realizing what he's done, Mr. Brennan gives him a friendly tap, breaks off eye contact, and skates off towards his bench.  Quickly.

--Less noticeable turn by Mike tonight, but still saw good things.  He goes to the net when a shot is about to develop.  He fights in the corners.  He doesn't shy away from skirmishes.  Good job.

--If Zack Kassian is going to fight, I'd prefer he'd reserve his efforts for others rather than plugs like Mark Fraser, who's on a PTO with the Leafs, has little effect on the game, and is a seriously tough kid.  You don't owe him anything Zack, don't let him wow his bosses on your back.  Save that for players and games that count.  I don't know what caused it, but yeah, Zacky boy, save it.

--The RDS boys didn't get the memo on Zack.  They already want him to play more physically, to involve himself more, to use his size, like Brandon Prust did.  This bodes ill.

--I just realized who Leo Komarov looks like, it's the London Police inspector or whatever who's Sherlock Holmes' foil, the Cumberbatch series.  That character is plenty dumb, and so is Leo Komarov.

--If the Leafs are going to crash into Mike Condon like that in pre-season, what're they going to do to Carey Price in December?  And more importantly, why didn't one of our guys pick up Tyler Bozak and throw him on top of James Reimer's head?  What are we waiting for, that the NYPD will arrest Chris Kreider, and everything will be okay hence?

--I thought I was jonesing for pre-season hockey, but now I'm kind of over it.  Maybe it's because there's so much good football and rugby on right now, after a summer of famine I'm now bloated from TV sports.

--Or maybe it's because the camp has been a little disappointing.  There's been no Brendan Gallagher, no Michaël Bournival this year.  Sven Andrighetto, Nikita Scherbak, etc., none of them are taking the bull by the horns.  No cavalry.  Maybe next year...

Rugby World Cup: Canada 18, Italy 23

Disappointing 23-18 loss by Canada to Italy today at the Rugby World Cup, for a few reasons.  Mainly, this was the only realistic chance for our boys to get out of the qualifying round into the quarterfinals.  In the pool they're seeded in, Ireland and France are virtually guaranteed a pass into the elimination stage.  Romania is the minnow.  So Italy and Canada were in a fight for third place and the ticket out of the round-robin phase.

Both teams are virtually guaranteed losses against France and Ireland, and a win against Romania.  The tiebreaker, essentially, was the head-to-head matchup.  This was win and you're in the playoffs.

So the disappointment of the loss has to be seen through the prism of how close the result was, were it not for a couple of bounces, a couple of questionable decisions or oversights by the referee(s), an overturned try, and various other woulda coulda shouldas.  Our whole tournament pivots on these happenstances, and the games against France and Romania are now largely academic.  We're playing out the string.

For me, the disheartening aspect of the loss is how captain Tyler Ardron, with Canada pressing and threatening at the Italian goal line, and awarded a penalty, chose to kick for goal and the sure three points, instead of trying to score a try.  Maybe a prudent choice, to narrow the margin to 20-18, and still 8 minutes to go, but I think it deflated the Canadian side, who were so close they could smell it.

Contrast to Japan against South Africa, who twice in the final minutes of their game had an opportunity to kick for goal and tie the game, which would have been a huge moral victory if it stood at the final whistle.  But the Japanese never wavered, they chose to keep pressing for the win, which they thrillingly did, in the final minute.

Sometimes these decisions send a message to your opponents and to your own side.  Faint heart never won fair maiden.

Despite the bitter conclusion, the match was thrill-a-minute.  I've grown accustomed in past World Cups that the best Canadian players are in the forwards, but that's not the case this year.  The play-by-play team talked often of how many of our boys were successful 7's players, how they're comfortable with ball in hand in the open field.  Prime among them was DTH van der Merwe, who scored what may be the try of the tournament, a weavy exciting run through overmatched Italians.

The forwards held their own, notably in the scrums.  After the poor showing in the Pacific Nations Cup, I expected the Italian scrum, steeled against other Six Nation packs, to make lunchmeat out of ours.  The Canadian pack actually held them to a standstill a couple of times when they tried to push us back, and forced the Italians to wheel when they themselves were driven back.  On our put-ins, the ball came out quick and clean, so that the opponent couldn't mount much of a drive.

The lineouts weren't so good though.  Again, we chose not to contest a lot of their throw-ins, and I don't really understand the strategy, in basic terms.  I'll have to look up the pros and cons of conceding their throw-ins, I assume it's to be more ready to defend, but philosophically I hate it.  It looks awful.  It doesn't gibe with our ethos of furiously defending and tackling.

At the start of the match Brian Spanton of TSN stated that Canada was very capable of causing this upset, but I didn't think it was realistic.  Not after getting shut out this summer against other Tier 2 powers.  But as the game progressed, I did believe, this was easily in our grasp.  We now have to rue the lack of killer instinct.

Further readings:

Italy fire up their World Cup campaign with comeback win over Canada

Agonizing loss for Canada against Italy at Rugby World Cup

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Pre-Season Game 4: Canadiens 1, Blackhawks 5

Random thoughts and observations on tonight's pre-season loss, as viewed on RDS' "Canadiens Express", the full game being blacked out.  Thank you Gary Bettman.

1)  Were Jeff Petry and Alexei Emelin really on the ice for all three of the Blackhawk goals in the first period?

2)  Charles Hudon clanged two shots off the post so far.

3)  When Ryan Johnston gets plastered face-first in the glass by Ryan Garbutt, who rushes in to exact revenge but le bouledogue, Gabriel Dumont, who doesn't get out the tape measure or check his opponent's number and prior fight card before engaging.  That kid has got heart, gets short shrift from Habs fans.

4)  Hard to get a sense of Zack Kassian's game.  Pierre Houde mentions that he refused invitations to fight, but then immediately gets a hooking call.  Zack can turn down opportunities to tangle with the gloves off, but must not try to compensate by being extra frisky in other areas and give up cheap minor penalties.

5)  Mark Barberio moves well and looks the part, but he has to be hoping that Marc Bergevin had gone to the bathroom when he tried to thread a pass from his corner cross-crease through two Chicago players, who did intercept it, and were left in front of Carey Price with the puck.  Don Cherry will have an aneurysm, don't ever show him that tape.

6)  Nathan Beaulieu's take-chargeiness increases to fill up the available space left by the absence of P.K. and Andrei.  He's a pleasure to see skating around out there, head high, just flying.  The couple of hiccups we'll beat out of his game.

7)  Still very impressed with Brett Lernout's game, the kid has moves, and moxie.  I kind of wished the Canadiens had drafted Alexis Vanier instead in 2013, but maybe Trevor Timmins has a better handle on the draft prospects than I do, no matter how many scouting reports I glean.

8)  Great crash-bang bodycheck by Devante Smith-Pelly in the Hawks' zone.  Guy Carbonneau was saying that to play physical today in the NHL, you have to have speed.  So far in camp, Devo has shown a little more zip.

9)  When Gabriel Dumont gets run himself by Christopher Desousa, Jeremy Gregoire takes it upon himself to avenge him.  RDS broke away from the fight midway, but did I see Jeremy fighting leftie?

10)  We scoffed at the no-name roster of the 'Hawks when we first saw it, but now I'll admit that kid Garrett Ross for one is pretty good.  And our kids didn't quite rise to the occasion like Chicago's did.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Speculation on, criticism of Jarred Tinordi reaching fever pitch.

I see we're reaching DefCon 1 on Jarred Tinordi, approaching critical mass at which point we'll achieve fusion furore.  And it's not just a social media and chat forum deal, like Zenon Konopka a few summers ago, RDS for one is all in, picking apart his game every chance they get, every pre-game or post-game or between-periods talky-talk segment they run.

I appreciate that at least they're accurate on this subject, they're correct, contrary to Mike McCarron's case, where they keep saying that he got moved to centre last season after the trade to Oshawa.  In fact, we know well that Mike got put at centre two seasons ago by the London Knights' perfidious head coach, and played mostly fourth-line centre the rest of their Memorial Cup Host season.  Last season, he played first-line centre with Max Domi and piled up points, until getting traded to Oshawa, where he played second-line centre behind Cole Cassels, and obtained more muted results in the points column, but still played a critical role in their conquest of the Memorial Cup.

I've criticized RDS on this subject before, how fuzzy or plain uninterested they are in the prospect pool, in the farm teams, with Gaston Therrien being shaky, and Gilbert Delorme, Mario Tremblay and Jacques Demers basically ignorant of the situation.  But in the Jarred Tinordi case, they're on the ball, they know the issues.

1)  He's a leftie, behind Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, and Nathan Beaulieu on the depth chart.

2)  He's in a battle for a putative #7 spot with Greg Pateryn if there isn't a trade involving defencemen, since Greg is behind P.K., Jeff Petry and Tom Gilbert on the right side.

3)  He's in a battle for a putative #8 spot and fourth on the left side with Mark Barberio, who's having a good camp and giving good competition for that spot.

4)  He's got to go through waivers to be sent down to the AHL, but it's a foregone conclusion that he wouldn't sneak through, that another team would claim him.  That means he has to be on the roster this season, or be traded to avoid losing him for nothing.

Gaston Therrien and Denis Gauthier had a good discussion yesterday about the practical realities.  Gaston tried to tamp down the controversy, saying that he hadn't had a bad game against the Leafs, that he's still a singular talent, with a big heart and size and strength and mobility.  He argued that other teams, not having familiarity breeding contempt, and not focusing on his warts, would see great value and great potential in Jarred, so we shouldn't get burned, unload him for nothing.  We should be patient.

Denis agreed with all that, but also talked about what being patient means.  Yes we can keep him on the roster, stash him that way, but that only works for a little while.  He explained that you can't keep a kid like that in the pressbox for 10 or 12 games straight, if there aren't any inuries, at some point you have to make a decision.  It's not fair to keep a kid like that if you're not going to play him.

It's been said that the aspects he needs to work on, decision-making and on-ice vision, are things you work on while playing, you can't improve those while sitting in the stands.  And I agree in a large degree, it's not ideal at all to sit out Jarred when he should playing.  It would be much better to have him in the AHL this season, getting minutes.

Being in the roster but sitting int he stands still would help though in one important way, which is to give the kid time, confidence, and to quell the indecision.  The kid is so confused right now, getting hounded by the press and social media that he's tight, overthinking, fearful of making mistakes.  If he's on the team in November, getting the occasional game in to spell Andrei Markov or sub in when someone's banged up, he'll settle down, settle in, and start to contribute.

It's often been said that Jarred needs to simplify things, speed up his decision-making.  I posted before how instead of trying to make Markov-quality zone breakouts and passes, what he should do is simply pass the puck to his partner whenever he's open.  Yesterday I was limited to viewing the "Canadiens Express" version of the game, so I didn't see the whole thing, but on one sequence, Jarred was on his side and had the puck, took a quick look up-ice and found nobody wide open.  He didn't insist, just slid the puck to Tom Gilbert, who drew a forechecker before sliding the puck back to Jarred, who then hit a forward with a clean pass.

Success!  I cheered at this simple play.  And hoped that the coaches would show him this video, and ask him to do more of that, and less of the behind-the-net quarterbacking.  Just pass it to your more puck-skilled partner.  Your job is to be big and tough and protect Carey and work the corners and front of the net.  Let the others be Phil Housley.  Keep it simple, big lug.

One final point about Jarred is that yes, his size is a big part of the fascination with him as a prospect, compared to a Darren Dietz or Christian Thomas.  Precisely.  That's the whole point.  His being 6'6" makes him a singular weapon, and not just in the intimidation sense.  We saw him correct his own mistake when he was backtracking and trying to corral a puck, a Washington forward bearing down on him.  Jarred bobbled the puck, but calmly stripped it off his opponent a couple seconds later, with a surgical poke check, his long reach serving him well.

The RDS boys echo this concept, stating often that the toolkit that Jarred brings to the table is different than the other prospects, and therefore more enticing.  They explain that with Andrei, P.K., Jeff Petry, Tom Gilbert and Nathan Beaulieu, there are enough puck movers and offensively-gifted d-men on the squad.  What we really need is another guy to help out Alexei Emelin in terms of toughness and physical play.

So yeah, it almost feels like a losing battle, I'm starting to re-think my advocacy sometimes, but then remember how Marc Bergevin loves defencemen, loves size and character, how he tells us all the time to be patient, and I continue believing that Jarred is secure in Montreal.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Re-visiting Jarred Tinordi's situation, with training camp in full swing.

In response to something I'm seeing on social media, I'll repeat that it's kind of unfair for us as a fanbase to tell Jarred Tinordi to stop playing with that physical edge and just focus on hockey, when he was sent down to the AHL two seasons ago with marching orders to play with more physicality, to hit more and impose himself when the going got tough.

I accept the general consensus that Jarred is confused or invisible these pre-season scrimmages, but I'll take that in stride, as the symptoms of a kid still learning to put his game together.  We always parrot to each other that we need to be patient with youngsters, that it takes longer for defencemen, well now is the time to put this patience in action.  Let's allow Jarred to play games under more real conditions, when he can actually hit people and contribute that way, instead of no-contact scrimmages.  Let's give him the time to develop, like Jamie Oleksiak is taking, like Erik Gudbranson is taking, like Hal Gill took.

And I'll repeat that there really isn't any imminent risk, or any urgency to 'do something', to prepare for the fact that we may lose Jarred Tinordi to waivers.  That would only happen if we exposed him to waivers, which won't happen, since we don't need to.  It's like if there are three staircases to get to the ground floor, and one of them is closed for construction, and we'd fret endlessly about what could befall us if we went that way, what risks we'll have to face.  That staircase is clearly marked and signed and closed off, we won't go that way, we'll use the other two staircases, so really there's no reason to worry.

The Habs' 23-man roster will allow the Canadiens to carry Jarred as the 7th or even 8th defenceman, where he'll keep working on his skills and his game, and he'll be babied and spoonfed minutes and games and get into gear.  The unfortunate recurrence of concussion symptoms to Michaël Bournival relieves even more pressure on the 23-man roster, as any decision in his case will have to wait until he's ready to compete, which I have to believe will take months, not just a couple of weeks.  So Michaël will be on the injured list and in limbo for the opening of the season, like Davis Drewiskie for a few months was a couple seasons back.

The concern over Mark Barberio is also misplaced, I believe.  While he may be a talented player and one we'd like to retain and develop, that won't take precedence over Jarred.  Let's remember that the Lightning chose not to make him a qualifying offer this spring, but rather let him walk as a free agent, as we did with Yannick Weber and Frédéric St-Denis and Ryan White recently.  Further, he didn't receive a one-way contract offer, but a few two-way deals.  The Canadiens goosed up the AHL salary portion to make the two-way offer palatable, but in my mind is also an indication that they realistically see him with the IceCaps as a trusty veteran and callup insurance.

If anyone is getting sent down and exposed to waivers, it's Mr. Barberio, a player we have little investment in, we obtained for free, and is eminently replaceable by many, many other defencemen who are fleet of foot, offensively-inclined, and haven't managed to crack an NHL roster yet.  His market value, the demand for his services, is indicated by Tampa allowing him to walk, and by the relative lack of concrete offers he received this summer.

John Blum is a defenceman who had great success in junior, is a wiz with the puck, but hasn't managed to stick with the Minnesota Wild yet.  Canucks fans, remembering his star turn as a Vancouver Giant, often call for him to be acquired, but the retort is usually that they already have similar players like Yannick Weber and John Clendenning and others who themselves can't crack the lineup.  The NHL has a lot of prospects and players who fit that bill, a heady puck-mover who's a little undersized and needs a break or three to have a career.  Mark Barberio is one of these types of players.

6'6" defencemen who were picked in the first round with Jarred's pedigree don't come available very often though.  You'd do well to retain a prospect like him, and choose to risk losing a more replaceable asset like Mark Barberio.  In an ideal world, we'd keep both and roll sevens on both cases.  Practically, we can hope that Mark sneaks down to St. John's and goes unclaimed, other teams having their own roster and waivers headaches to deal with, and has a strong start to the season and gets called up if/when needed.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Rugby World Cup: South Africa 32, Japan 34

To stay true to my vow of being insufferable about the World Cup of Rugby, I have to chime in about the South Africa-Japan game.  What an incredible display of rugby, and of character and sport, by both teams.  The two-point win by Japan is being called the most shocking result ever in rugby history.

A commenter on social media had tipped me off that I was in for a goodie, which is fine, but what a game that would have been to come into cold, with the expectation of a blowout, but the Japanese side refusing to lay down for the juggernaut.

The Japanese make up for the lack of stars on their roster, their relative lack of size and high-end speed, with ferocious dedication and team discipline, and by boundless energy.  It's refreshing that in rugby, if you're an underdog, the only way to win is to attack, to keep up the pressure on offence and defence and try to cause mistakes and breakdowns by the other side, there's no collapsing into a shell and trying to lull the game into a coma.

Gary Bettman, stop lecturing other sports about the moral superiority of your athletes, and pay attention to how rugby has a theoretically overmatched referee to police 30 overgrown louts, but somehow keeps excellent control and gets assistance from the touch judges, and, wonder of wonders, a video referee who'll stop play and tell the ref "I want you to look at a high tackle, two minutes ago, by #8 green, should be a penalty, ...", and no one gets away with anything because the ref "didn't see it."  Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic would be out of the game, out of a job.

Pay attention also Gary, to how the team on the attack, the one that is mauling or rucking or scrumming towards a try, gets to keep possession of the ball if organized play breaks down, if a maul or a scrum is collapsed.  Even if the ref can't beyond reasonable doubt point to a culprit, to who caused the maul to fall to the ground, it's plenty bloody obvious that it was the desperate defending team resorting to this tactic.  The team on the attack had nothing to gain, the defending team everything to lose.  So the defending team gets a penalty, the attacking team gets the ball, and we play on.

A point of emphasis in this World Cup is to keep the flow going, so when a player is tackled he's given latitude to post the ball for his teammates, and the tackler has to release the player and roll away.  This has been called unfailingly, and the players are getting the message, making a great show of getting out of the way when on the ground, to not spoil the ball and bog down play.  Again, it's pretty clear that the team that's defending is the one trying to slow down the game, so the onus lies on them.

Compare to those tedious cycle games in hockey, or when a player falls on the puck and freezes it, suddenly losing any control of his body, and unable to 'find' the puck or do anything to free it.  Puzzling that a superbly conditioned athlete now turns into a sack of soggy rice.  And that it's always the player in the defensive zone who does this.

Same for the pucks being frozen along the boards, in a tangle of skates and sticks.  Which team benefits from this?  Could it be that it's the defending team, having a chance to catch its breath, make a line change, send out the right personnel, and now have a 50% chance at the draw, with players properly positioned?  Wouldn't it make more sense to penalize the team that freezes the puck, blatantly, and slows down the pace of the game, to take it to OT and get a loser point?

Anyway, if you have this game stacked on your PVR, as I did, give it your first priority.  If not, try to find it online somewhere and watch it cold, without knowing the score, although you can kind of guess that it's a close one, shockingly.

Although if you're reading this now I've spoiled the ending for you.  I tried to preserve my virginal purity before the game, avoided websites and skimmed over a message enjoining me to watch this one, but then TSN's "The Reporters" panel blew the ending for me.  Yes, even they were talking rugby, and Michael Farber compared it to the Miracle On Ice at the 1980 Olympics.

This one rugby game was better than the combined action of the entire previous World Cup of Soccer Histrionics and Staged Dives.  And I should know, because I didn't watch a single game of that, would sometimes tune it in to see if it was worth the fuss, and then turn away in disgust after no more than five minutes at the shamelessness and the blow-dried-iness of the peacocks trotting around aimlessly.  And billion-dollar stadiums built in the midst of the Amazonian jungle and crushing, endemic, hierarchically-imposed poverty.

More readings:

Japan win over South Africa has given the world hope. This was rugby's game changer.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love P.K. Subban.

I've been accused recently of being in the “PK booster club”, which is funny since I’ve been more critical of P.K. than the norm for a Canadiens fan. I at one point wanted to package him and Andrei Kostitsyn to try to pry Shea Weber out of Nashville.

I’ve been called on the carpet by HockeyInsideOut regulars over my critiques, that I’m too harsh on him, and some members even claim that I ‘hate’ him.

I spent some time this summer re-watching the 2013-14 season 24CH, and one thing I came away with is that, while P.K. doesn’t have the personality we equate with a captain usually, he’s no Bob Gainey or Jonathan Toews or Steve Yzerman, he’s definitely a leader on the team, off the ice as well. He’s a rabble-rouser, a chatter instigator, a willing foil for pranks, but he is a big presence on the team. It does take all kinds to make up a team, and P.K. plays an important role, that a Brian Gionta, for example, couldn’t and shouldn’t undertake.

Another facet which struck me is how money he is. So many episodes recapped how, when the game was on the line, P.K. made the big play, scored the big goal. In real time, I applauded but took it for granted, since he’s on the PP and offensively-gifted. Of course he’ll score the goal, right? If not he who will? But watching 24CH in that concentrated manner, you’re struck by P.K.’s late-game, big-game heroics. And I’d mentally soft-pedaled these.

So my resolution for this season is to, taking Hal Gill’s injunction to heart, “let P.K. be P.K.” I’m not going to try to hold him to the standard of Raymond Bourque or Chris Chelios, I’m going to allow him to be himself, with all his glory and his little foibles. That I’m not going to list here, because that’s not what I’m about any longer. I’m celebrating P.K., not trying to improve him. Anymore. I’m not ruing the contract, the perceived lack of the ‘hometown discount’ that I thought a team player should give, never mind Don Meehan’s advice.

And I want to be clear, I’d arrived at this resolution before yesterday’s announcement of his incredibly generous and meaningful gesture towards Montréal and the province of Québec and Canadian families. This came as a cherry on the sundae. It only strengthens my resolve.

Dustin Tokarski though, if he botches a save or two, I have a feeling he might become my whipping boy, my spiritual scratching post.

More thoughts on reducing Andrei Markov's icetime this season.

I think it was Vincent Damphousse who had an interesting comment a couple days ago about trying to reduce Andrei Markov’s icetime. He said that Jacques Martin, when his team was killing a penalty, would send out as his first option Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, they’d take the big bite of that sandwich, and those are hard minutes.

On the contrary, powerplay time is relatively easy on a defenceman, so a vet like Andrei can easily play a lot of PP time as he’s done the last few years, and not suffer much fatigue relatively speaking.

So that would be one way to go, and we’ve batted that around on social media, that Andrei shouldn’t kill penalties anymore. Trouble is, as Vincent said, that Michel Therrien’s best option for the PK is still Andrei and P.K., they’re his best defencemen not just for the powerplay, but for killing penalties also. He doesn’t really have a trusty Hal Gill on his bench.

Now, we can argue with Vincent that Jacques Martin didn’t have a P.K. at the height of his powers or a healthy Andrei either, and that if he did they might have been killing penalties under his watch too, but the point is well taken. Our #5-6 defencemen have to be trusted to kill penalties.

Right now, with a projected Emelin/Beaulieu-Gilbert pairing, I don’t know that we’re there. Certainly if Greg Pateryn can assert himself, his skillset might make him dependable on the PK, and same for Jarred Tinordi, his great size and reach make him a potentially difficult d-man to play against when on the powerplay.

But until that happens, Michel Therrien will be tempted to use and overuse his first pairing.

Another consideration that Vincent had is that when a game is out of reach in either direction, Michel Therrien should almost bench Andrei, drastically limit his minutes to reduce wear and tear and risk of injuries. But that got me to thinking, when is a game ever out of reach. 3 or 4 goal margins are rare in today’s NHL, this isn’t the eighties, so while the concept is sound, I’m not sure how useful it is.

Training Camp Scrimmage 2: Blancs 2, Rouges 4

Impressions on the Blancs-Rouges intrasquad game this morning at the Canadiens’ Brossard rink.

-Stéphane Leroux and Gaston Therrien are doing the honours. I always have time for Monsieur Leroux, he’s humourous, humble and self-effacing, and knowledgeable if not downright encyclopedic when it comes to the LHJMQ.

-Gaston Therrien I’m less sold on. I like when he speaks plainly about players and situations, when he tells us what’s going on instead of protecting his sources, his access. Last season though, he botched this assignment, seemed put off at having to watch recruits and pre-season. He wasn’t informative, seemed foggy on who was who, and his comments were limited to incessantly saying about this or that player “Il doit en donner plus”, or “Il peut en donner plus.” Not very insightful.

This time around, at least based on yesterday, he seems better prepared, maybe attending the rookie tournament in London helped.

-Gabriel Dumont wins a draw to Jeff Petry, who wrists it past McNiven.  1-0 for les Rouges.

-Thomas Fleischman scores to make it 1-1, on a penalty shot against Mike Condon. Alex Semin had been called for hooking on a backcheck.

-P.K. gives the puck away in his zone, Christian Thomas puts it behind the goalie and makes it 2-1 for les Rouges.

-Ryan Johnston gives the puck away in his own zone, Lars Eller makes it 3-1 for les Rouges.

-Second period will feature Carey Price on les Blancs, Dustin Tokarski for les Rouges.

-Connor Crisp inherits another P.K. giveaway, gets off a shot on Carey Price who calmly makes the save.

-Really jumpy stream, constantly refreshing after an interruption. Very frustrating, considering what I’m paying for this.

Actually, it’s a little bit like torture, you hope and expect to see the youngsters, and get denied. Maybe we were better off when we’d read about scrimmages the next morning in La Presse, and discovered the exploits of Mike McPhee or Kent Carlson or Gaston Gingras that way. In print. With everything left to the imagination. The way it was meant to be, apparently.

-P.K. on a penalty shot, advances on Dustin Tokarski and winds up, unleashes a slapshot and scores. I think Dustin conceded the goal, stood up before P.K. actually shot it. 3-2 pour les Blancs.

-Lars on a feed from Alex Galchenyuk, cruises in on Carey Price and picks the top corner. Stéphane and Gaston are very appreciative. 4-2.

-McCarron, Scherbak and Carr still playing on the same line.

-Game ends 4-2, hard to pick out any standouts with the poor quality webcast. Yesterday Nathan Beaulieu and Brett Lernout jumped out at me, today it was really hard to follow the action.

Training Camp Scrimmage 1: Blancs 2, Rouges 1

Notes on a pre-season scrimmage.  Vivement la saison régulière...

-Alex Galchenyuk and Alex Semin on the same line during the scrimmage.  Lars Eller is on left wing.

-Nikita Scherbak with a nice individual effort and break on goal, stopped by Dustin Tokarski. He makes another save on Jérémy Grégoire.

-Pateryn and Tinordi on a same pairing. Pateryn sneaks a shot on net, Sven Andrighetto hits the post with the rebound.

-Brett Lernout moves very well, gets a couple shots on net, looking good.

He’s paired with Mark Barberio, gets another couple of shots on net, doing pretty well. Maybe Trevor knew what he was doing when he traded up to get him in the third round…

-Alex Semin beats Carey Price on a one-timer slapshot, from a feed by Alex Galchenyuk. 1-0 les Rouges.

-Zack Kassian misses on a penalty shot for les Blancs, tried to deke and go backhand on Dustin Tokarski.

-Mike McCarron at centre with Nikita Scherbak and Daniel Carr on the wings, pour les Blancs.

-End of first period. Rouges 1, Blancs 0.

They’re cleaning the ice and having the second of two periods.

-Start of the second, Zack Kassian beats Condon with a wrist shot.

Tied 1-1.

-Dale Weise skating well on a partial breakaway, with Nathan Beaulieu closing in fast, that was some skating. Weissy hits the post on Zach Fucale.

Nathan had a wide open look at net, faked a big huge slapshot and passed to the left of the net, he may have been too generous.

-Les Blancs win 2-1 on penalty shots. Brian Flynn nets one, Daniel Carr and Mike McCarron miss. Alex Galchenyuk, Alex Semin and Lars Eller all stopped by Zach Fucale.

It's hard to make an impression based on such a snapshot of a brief practice scrimmage, but Brett Lernout jumped out at me as very mobile and self-assured, especially considering his skillset, his being projected as a tough defensive third-pairing d-man.

And I thought Nathan Beaulieu was near-dazzling on a few plays, but wondered if it was just because of the camera placement, until Renaud Lavoie concurred, that Nathan Beaulieu excelled and dominated when he was on the ice.  So yeah, way to go Nathan, great moves.  Hope all that confidence and mobility fuse into something close to his promise this season.

Rugby World Cup: Canada 7, Ireland 50

Canada has been a second-tier rugby power in the World Cup era.  Always qualifying for competition, always good for a win in preliminary action, but advancing to the quarterfinals only once.  Not on the level of the Five Nations (England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France), or the Southern Tri-Nations (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), but in the mix with the Argentinas, the Fijis and Tongas, always tough, always liable to cause an upset.

And every World Cup I come away optimistic for the future, how all these young bucks are destined to great things, how the grassroots programs will pay dividends, how Canada could solidify its status and one day be a legitimate challenge for the traditional powers.

Except this year, we come into the World Cup reeling.  The Pacific Nations tournament was a disaster for Canada, failing to win a match against any of Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, even Japan or the U.S., which are traditionally easy fodder for us.  While the U.S. and Japan are improving, we're at a standstill and maybe even regressing.

I always wonder how much better we could be if our boys didn't waste their time playing football, if we played hockey in winter and rugby in summer.  They're both sports that require strength and stamina and teamwork and dedication, they complement each other, much more than ridiculous basketball or effete soccer.

But the progress those latter sports are making is possibly coming at the expense of rugby.  Even with the good/great showings by our Sevens sides, it seems we're getting passed by in the fifteen-a-side original version.

Aside from 37-year-old Jamie Cudmore and maybe DTH van der Merwe and John Moonlight, I didn't recognize many of the players on the pitch today.  There isn't that year-to-year, World Cup-to-World Cup consistency in our squad.  Where did all the kids from 2011 go?  I recognized more faces on the Irish side than ours it seemed, their skip Paul O'Connell front and centre.

Ireland was a fourty-point favourite, which seemed outlandish at the outset, and I would have bet money on Canada to cover that huge a gap.  Even if we'd been playing so poorly, and even though Ireland has won the Six Nations two years in a row.  Even if they greatly outweighed us in the pack.  That's just too many points to concede, right?

The game followed the usual script when Canada is over its head.  They started out well, standing up to a bigger, better, stronger side by playing ferociously, with lots of heart.  They tackled relentlessly, showed passion and courage, caused breakdowns, attacked and threatened to score on a couple of occasions.

Usually that lasts until the second half, when the opponents usually find their bearings, and after weathering the storm their greater preparation and depth of talent and experience starts to turn the tide, and they finish with a few tries to win going away, with Canada getting plaudits from the analysts and a moral victory.  We gave them all they could handle, we mutter.

This time, the tide started shifting after ten or fifteen minutes, if there was a tide.  Captain Jamie Cudmore*, a great beast of a second-rower but frightfully undisciplined, gave away a cheap penalty to Ireland, earning a yellow card and forcing Canada to play 14 against 15.  It wasn't a fair fight, and Ireland scored three quick tries during his ten-minute absence.  A fourth try late in the half gave Ireland its sought-after bonus point.

(* Fun fact: Jamie Cudmore is the older brother of Daniel Cudmore, the actor who played Collossus in the 'X-Men' franchise.)

Canada came close in the dying seconds of the first half, scoring a try of their own which was rightfully overturned on review due to a forward pass.  Close but no cigar, but again, kudos for not giving up and trying to send a message before the end of the half.  Which finished 29-0 in favour of the other guys...

Surprisingly, the boys came charging out in the second half, coming close on a few occasions, with many phases right near the opponent goal line.  Unfortunately, they kept getting blown back by the ferocious Irish defence, and instead of advancing the ball they'd stumble backwards.  Many early chances were unrealized, and again as the half wore on the Irish put things together and overcame the gallant resistance of the Canadians.  Eventually, the green squad poured on three more late tries, on clear runs following breakdowns, for a final score of 50-7.

The lone Canadian try came when an Irish back tried to get fancy and attempted a grubber kick which popped right into DTH van der Merwe hands.  He ran it in easily for a very small consolation for the good guys.

What can we say about this loss?  We should probably be as forgiving as if the Irish national hockey team had lost by twenty to a Sidney Crosby-led Canadian team, something like that.  The Canadian side did well in terms of never admitting defeat, playing hard until the very last couple of minutes, when they fiercely defended their goal line to prevent a crowning Irish try.  Their scrum was surprisingly effective, cohesive and reliable, winning all its put-ins and never being driven back by the bigger Irish pack.  This came as a surprise after the shoddy performance in scrummages during the Pacific Nations Cup.

The big negative was in the lineouts, in my opinion.  Canada lost the first one on a questionable call by the referee, who judged the throw as not straight.  From then, Ireland easily won its throw-ins, with Canada often choosing not to try to spoil, conceding the ball, and just getting ready to defend, which I hate.  Giving the Irish a clean ball is not sound strategy in my unschooled mind, and sends the wrong message.  Further, Canada lost a number of its own throw-ins, due to lack of cohesion, and trying fancy plays, instead of relying on Brett Beukeboom's jumping ability to win its balls.

So Ireland narrowly beats the 42 point spread, putting up a 43 point win on the good guys.  And Canada has to convince itself that it earned some moral victory, had some bright points in a thorough defeat, as it readies for a more realistic challenge against Italy.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Lars Eller embracing a possible move from centre to left wing.

As they say on RDS, “selon les échos de vestiaire”, according to the scuttlebutt from the locker room, Lars Eller stated clearly that he would play wing during training camp, and seemed to embrace it, he didn’t look like he was sucking on a lemon when he met the media.

It’s understandable, perfectly reasonable that the actual position players play is important to them, all sorts of value and pride is attached to it. You want to be the first-line centre, that’s the glamour position. You want to be at centre, directing your teammates, taking draws, having the spotlight on you. Nobody wants to be on the fourth line if they can help it, or the backup goalie.

Alex Galchenyuk was moved to the wing his last season with the Sarnia Sting to accommodate the team, since Charles Sarault was more effective at centre. Same with Steven Stamkos, who due to roster considerations, started on the wing in Tampa, graduated to centre, and now moved back to the wing.

Jeff Carter mostly plays centre now for the Kings, but for a while he also played a lot of wing, where he was effective with his size and big shot. Vincent Damphousse, Tyler Seguin, there are lots of examples of players who considered themselves centres who were effective on the wing. Heck, Evgeni Malkin sometimes plays wing on Sidney Crosby’s left when they need to stack one line. Even more heck, Mario Lemieux played on Wayne Gretzky’s wing. So if players like that can move to the wing, …

Lars grew up in Denmark as the best player in his age group. We saw on 24CH how he and Michael Boedker played on the same team and pushed each other for icetime and scoring championships. Eventually, Lars moved to Sweden to play in a more competitive environment and further his career aspirations. Again though, he was the best player on the ice, the leading scorer, etc.

His story isn’t much different than most players who eventually make the NHL, they all were dominant as youths and as they climbed the hockey ladder. The thing is, as they move into the larger ponds, most realize that they’re no longer the big fish, and they have to adapt, contribute in a different way. Many Junior scoring leaders become checking forwards in the NHL.

I’m floating a trial balloon here, but maybe Lars never had that epiphany. In his mind, he’s still destined to be a scoring leader, the best player on his team, the guy who wows teammates and foes and fans. Maybe that’s why we still see him going on stickhandling adventures, making low-percentage passes, trying to play keepaway with the puck instead of taking it to the net.

Marc Bergevin said of Lars last season that he had to play like a big player with skill, instead of a skilled player with some size. He’d done so in the 2014 playoffs, and the hope was that he would carry on that streak. Instead, we saw him revert on many nights to the uninvolved, undisciplined player that he could be from years past.

When there was a shakeup in previous seasons, and Lars got moved to the wing, he was ineffectual. I’m not ready to say that he sabotaged himself on the wing, that he willingly played poorly so that the coaches would put him back at centre, but I’m inclined to believe that he was mentally unable to ’embrace and thrive on change’, that he may have sulked, felt miscast, lost. And that was his loss and ours as fans of the team.

I’m encouraged by what may be a change in mindset by Lars. He may understand that there’s more competition for the Top 6 than in past seasons, there’s even competition for the third line, for a while he lost the centre position to Jacob de la Rose last season. And with Michaël Bournival’s recurring concussion problems, young Mr. de la Rose ain’t going anywhere.

With that in mind, Lars may understand that playing Top 6 on left wing wouldn’t be so bad for him, for his career, rather than being marooned on the third line, possibly facing demotion to the fourth if some of those kids start really pushing for jobs. He may have a more positive attitude, may look on the bright side. Playing with the Alexes on a scoring line wouldn’t be a bad deal.

Further, even though Lars may still see himself as the next Mats Sundin, maybe playing left wing is more in line with his skillset. He’ll have an easier job description, won’t have to be responsible for feeding savant passes to his wingers. His decision-making will be simplified. Maybe he can start playing like the big player with size that Marc Bergevin wants, with a lighter load on the wing.

It will be one of many interesting scenarios to watch unfold this year at training camp, and it dovetails with the idea that training camp competition is always a good thing. If it allows Lars to show this flexibility and accept a possibly temporary move to the wing, it’ll make him a more valuable forward and player and Canadien.

Rugby World Cup: England 35, Fiji 11

What a great opener to the Rugby World Cup between England and Fiji. The final score 35-11 belies the feel of the game, which was closely fought right to the end. For much of the game, Fiji, while down in the score, was on the attack and had England on their heels.

Of interest to hockey fans, once England went up 28-11 at the 70th minute, and Fiji deflated somewhat, the pace of the game didn’t flag. There was no ‘running out the clock’ as we see in football, or a team collapsing back into its own zone to protect a lead. Instead, the points system at the Rugby World Cup has a bonus for teams scoring four tries in a game, so England kept pressing to get their fourth. They had to open up, and this created gaps and opportunities that Fiji, always dangerous, could attack and try to narrow the margin.

Gary Bettman take heed. Instead of worrying about how to foist Transfat Royalty logos on sweaters without the fans rebelling, maybe install a similar system in the NHL, so coaches don’t feel it’s to their advantage to smother the life out of the game. Reward creative play and offensive ingenuity, not stifling defence. You nitwit.

Another interesting aspect to hockey-fan rugby neophytes is how the game is officiated. The referee is miked, and is in constant contact with the touch judges and the video referee. And you can hear him conversing with his assistants, and talking to the players, directing the flow of the game, disciplining players. NHL officiating operates in secrecy, and leaves many fans to question what the heck happened? How did the Bruins get away with that?

One instance from tonight’s game is when an England player, on the fringes of a maul, grabbed a Fiji player around the neck and threw him to the ground. The ref missed it, which is normal, there is so much going on that you can’t catch but a fraction of the action. Except that the video referee buzzed down, spoke to the ref live, so we could hear their discussion. The video ref told him what he saw, played the relevant video on the giant screen at the stadium, so everyone could see what was being deliberated on.

Sure enough, the ref agreed about the infraction, reversed a penalty on Fiji and applied it to England, and gave the English captain and the offender a verbal warning.

There. Handled. Play carried on, no one got away with anything because they “didn’t see it”. Gary Bettman, look up from your bank statements and pay attention.

We got another six weeks of action, tonight was the appetizer, and a tasty one at that. Tomorrow morning, Canada plays Ireland. Let’s all wake up early and hoist a few Greyhounds or Caesars while we cheer them on.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Which young forward can win a job with the Canadiens

There's lots of buzz regarding junior graduates Nikita Scherbak and Mike McCarron.  The latter had a strong showing at the Rookie Tournament in London, proving that his game is more suited to live 'real' action than scrimmaging against teammates.

Charles Hudon also caught the eye at the Rookie showcase.  RDS analysts Mario Tremblay and Gaston Therrien claimed that he practically wasted his time there, so above the competition was he.  They also praised his professional attitude, the way he handled the media, his maturity.

The natural question to ask is which of these youngsters can/will win a job with le Grand Club in October.  Earlier this summer, there seemed to be holes in the roster, jobs for the taking in the Top 9, but the recent additions of Alex Semin and Zack Kassian, even the news that Thomas Fleischman is getting a tryout, makes the likelihood much more remote that one of the youths can stay in the NHL out of camp.  But still we wonder...

I tend to put all these young guys on an even very-slim footing to win a job out of camp, they’ll have to blow the socks off the management and coaching staff.  Before July there was opportunity, now the kids have to be King of the Mountain to get a chance.

As a prudent armchair-GM who loves to stockpile picks and prospects and never wants to give up any of them in trades or otherwise, I think of the waiver status as a primordial factor. Frontrunner Sven Andrighetto can be sent to the AHL without having to go through waivers, same with Charles Hudon, so I suspect that’s where they end up.

Michael Bournival though is waiver-eligible, so I think he’ll at least start the season in Montreal, he effectively has a roster spot that’s his to lose, the left wing fourth-liner slot vacated by Brandon Prust. If he has a good camp or better, and doesn’t get his doors blown off by another youngster, he’ll be on the 23-man roster. The Canadiens won’t want to lose him, they won’t risk him on waivers.

The other waiver-eligible players like Christian Thomas or Morgan Ellis, I don’t think are a big risk to be claimed, or are an asset that the organization isn’t prepared to risk on waivers, so they get sent down. If they get claimed so be it, but more likely they sail through and we keep working with them.

Maybe the special cases are the ‘worthy’ vets like George Holloway and Mark Barberio. These guys have to go through waivers, they’re more likely to be claimed, and be seen as a loss. A strong camp may make them indispensable, you’d want to keep them, but then the numbers wouldn’t work, they’d bump someone else down like Monsieur Bournival or Jarred Tinordi, and obviously that can’t happen.

That’s when Marc Bergevin would have to pull another one of his trades out of his hat and resolve the numbers, get an asset back for some of these guys instead of outright losing them.

And Sven I think very favourably of now, after two AHL seasons and definite progress, in his physical conditioning certainly, I see him as an early callup candidate.

Alex Semin at the Canadiens' golf tournament displays linguistic hurdle.

About Alex Semin, what I learned from his appearance and press scrum at the Canadiens' golf tournament is that his English skills are very very poor. Not saying that as a knock on him at all, but he didn’t come to North America as a teenager and learn the language on the fly, while bro-ing down with his buddies. He arrived here in his twenties and maybe he’s one of those people who never got it, who languages don’t come easy to.

We all know people like that, two friends who immigrated at the same time from Ecuador for example, and one you can’t shut up he’s such a chatterbox, and the other guy just keeps to himself and just nods and says “Yes” and “Thank you” a lot.

We batted around earlier on this summer, how he might have had a tough time in Carolina, maybe exiled in his own dressing room with no other Russians to speak to, and how he might have an easier time in Montréal with a few compatriots to exchange with and relieve the tension. Judging from his press scrum, he really isn’t comfortable talking in English beyond the very basics of hockey, the platitudes. “Great city. New season.”

During the scrum, there was a little bit of nervousness, some long pauses, and even though I think I’m pretty enlightened on the subject, I caught myself on the cusp of opining that he maybe wasn’t very bright. I’d then ask myself how smart I’d sound if I had to conduct such an interview in Spanish.

“Hola! Soy muy bien, muy bien! Las rodillas son bueno! Soy muy feliz. Quiero el desporte hockey.”

I loved Andrei’s answer about what he told him before he signed with the Canadiens: “I said it will not be easy.”

He actually said it twice! Talk about a realistic job preview. Speaks to Alex’s limited options, or to his sense that Montréal and its Russophile hockey market might be the best avenue for him this season. Probably a bit of both.

Canada enters the Rugby World Cup after a tough stretch and as a clear underdog.

Man the World Cup is getting so little attention over here. The only people who seem aware are a couple of guys from work and TSN, with its desultory hype for it all summer long.  After every World Cup, with the Canadian team obtaining results and chock-full of youngsters who seem ready to take the team to ever improved results, I think the game is on more solid footing here, and that we're bound to improve.

Canada plays Ireland on Saturday to start their tournament. It's gonna be a tough one, we usually go in as the scrappy underdog who can cause an upset, who’ll surprise teams with their toughness and tenacity, but man we’ve been losing a lot of matches lately, the Pacific Nations Cup was an ordeal. Even the States are giving us a run for our money now.

I keep hoping for a white knight to come in and be the patron of Canadian rugby, our version of a Paul Allen or corporate entity who'll invest/sink a lot of money in grassroots programs, with coaching as a priority.  I'd like to see a Canadian Super League, with a couple team in Vancouver, one in Victoria, four or five in Toronto and a couple in Montréal.  Have kids shoot for that as an intermediate goal, to play minor pro in Canada, before they're recruited to play in Europe in 2nd or 1st Division.

So anyway I’ll watch the tournament, but I won’t even have my fingers crossed.  We're beyond a longshot now, we're more of a team on the downswing of what is hopefully just a fallow period.

But I do hereby resolve to be as insufferable about it as a lot of members were about the Soccer Pratfall and Histrionics World Cup last year.  I'll talk it up and blog and try to get viewing parties going, especially for the final game.  And hope that the next World Cup, that's the one where we make some noise.

Or the one after that, same diff.

58 players at Canadiens camp? Isn't that a lot?

A few seasons ago under Jacques Martin, with a wonky pre-season calendar with lots of back-to-back games, the Canadiens had a lot of players at training camp, to have some audition for jobs in the AHL, sure, but mostly so they could fill out rosters for the exhibition games.  They last couple of games all the vets were brought together to cohere, but the results suffered, they never seemed to gel or get off on the right foot, and a poor start to the season was the result.

Now, that team wasn't very good, productive training camp or no, it would still have lost more than its share of games, but the resolve was expressed plainly: in the future, training camp would be about getting ready for the season.  It wasn't going to be about developing kids or tryouts or giving fans a show during exhibitions.

Add to that the fact that the Canadiens are now a league power, there really aren't many spots on the roster in question, so you'd expect the team to have a lean camp, and send all the youngsters to the AHL camp but quick, save for a few exceptional cases.

That may still come to pass, but for now there are 58 players invited to the training camp. (!)

On top of the mild surprise that Daniel Audette got sent down to junior before camp, there are a few interesting factoids while scanning the roster.

Noah Juulsen is listed as attending. Not sure if he’ll be cleared from his concussion in time though, he already missed the Rookie Tournament.

Nicolas Blanchard, Markus Eisenschmid, Angelo Miceli and Jamal Watson are invited players, along with Thomas Fleischman. That’s far fewer than in recent seasons.

Oh, Michael McNiven is also there, the big goalie who did well at the rookie camp.

Stéfan Fournier listed at 6’3″ and 226 lbs. He may not have a great camp, but he definitely won’t be invisible. Hope that he avoids injuries and can contribute in St. Johns, this will be his third season in the minors.

Only four players on AHL contracts, Brandon McNally, Travis Brown, Josiah Didier, and Eddie Pasquale. Again, better depth in the farm system, Canadiens draftees will pick up most of the slack, compared to previous seasons.

Daniel Audette doesn't make the Canadiens' main camp, is sent down to the LHJMQ beforehand. Message received?

About Daniel Audette being sent back down to junior by the Canadiens and not being retained for the main camp, isn’t that a swat on the nose with a rolled up newspaper for him? Like Brady Vail a couple summers ago, sent back down before he could play a pre-season game?

The big difference is, Daniel Audette already has signed an Entry-Level contract, whereas Brady never got an offer, but it’s still surprising to me that he got sent down so soon, a little more than the Simon Bourque situation, since the latter just got drafted this June.

I read the RDS article on this, being curious about that move, and as I suspected, many commenters felt that it was a clear message to Daniel Audette, that he hasn’t progressed as much as he should have, both physically, and his play. With a stronger team in Sherbrooke last season, better teammates, being more mature now, and especially since his strong suit is supposed to be his skill and creativity on offence, I expected a points explosion from him last season, and it didn’t transpire.

Everyone is kind of taking it in stride, that he’s still young, and was only a fifth-rounder, but according to LHJMQ watchers, he needs to make a big leap in his physical development, like Charles Hudon and Sven Andrighetto have done for example, and in his involvement during play, to not avoid contact or the front of the net or corners, etc.

With 58 players invited to camp, it’s not like the Canadiens were trying to run lean, to focus on a few players rather than casting a wide net. Definitely a message to young Monsieur Audette, that they couldn’t find room for him to attend camp.

How to reduce Andrei Markov's icetime to save him for the playoffs.

I think it was Vincent Damphousse who had an interesting comment yesterday about trying to reduce Andrei Markov’s icetime. He said that Jacques Martin, when his team was killing a penalty, would send out as his first option Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, they’d take the big bite of that sandwich, and those are hard minutes.

On the contrary, powerplay time is relatively easy on a defenceman, so a vet like Andrei can easily play a lot of PP time as he’s done the last few years, and not suffer much fatigue relatively speaking.

So that would be one way to go, and we’ve batted that around on social media, that Andrei shouldn’t kill penalties anymore. Trouble is, as Vincent said, that Michel Therrien’s best option for the PK is still Andrei and P.K., they’re his best defencemen for killing penalties also. He doesn’t really have a trusty Hal Gill on his bench.

Now, we can argue with Vincent that Jacques Martin didn’t have a P.K. at the height of his powers or a healthy Andrei either, and that if he did they might have been killing penalties under his watch too, but the point is well taken. Our #5-6 defencemen have to be trusted to kill penalties.

Right now, with a projected Emelin/Beaulieu-Gilbert third pairing, I don’t know that we’re there. Certainly if Greg Pateryn can assert himself, his skillset might make him dependable on the PK, and same for Jarred Tinordi, his great size and reach make him a potentially difficult d-man to play against when on the powerplay.

But until that happens, Michel Therrien will be tempted to use and overuse his first pairing.

Another consideration that Vincent had is that when a game is out of reach in either direction, Michel Therrien should almost bench Andrei, drastically limit his minutes to reduce wear and tear and risk of injuries. But that got me to thinking, when is a game ever out of reach. 3 or 4 goal margins are rare in today’s NHL, this isn’t the eighties, so while the concept is sound, I’m not sure how useful it is.

The only conclusion becomes that the best way to reduce Andrei's fatigue as the season wears on is to use discipline, to draw up the plan based on these strategies and stick to it, not deviate based on the short-term.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Canadiens at the NHL Rookie Tournament a success.

I've been accused of being a fan boy and part of the "Everything Is Awesome!" chorus by the negative nellies in the past, and at the risk of taking more flak, I'll lavish more praise on Marc Bergevin and his Team of Equals.  The NHL Rookie Tournament was a success and a step forward for the organization, and another example of his prudent but decisive leadership.

I'm repeating what I've heard and read before, but never observed personally, when I say that in the past, the Canadiens used to show up with young prospects, skilled players who'd get thugged and beaten on by older 'energy' players, fourth-liners and grinders who hoped to catch on with their team by fighting their way in.  This got so bad that the Canadiens eventually pulled out of this type of tournament, they saw more value in a teaching camp, a skills-development camp with inter-squad scrimmages, where players can polish their game and avoid injuries.

When Marc Bergevin took over, he was asked about that practice, of having 20-30 invited players coming in to camp to fill out rosters for scrimmage purposes, which on the one hand is good in terms of leaving no stone unturned, but on the other meant a lot of coaching attention squandered on no-hopers instead of your prize pupils.  His answer was that he'd seen both types of approach, that he personally liked the rookie tournament approach, but he'd observe the current practice and keep an open mind.

And he did, maintaining the status quo for three training camps.  He went further than that though, he gave it every opportunity to succeed, by beefing up the resources, notably in terms of coaching.  It was only a few years ago when Trevor Timmins was the lone coach on the ice directing drills.  I'm sure Trevor knows a lot, but that's clearly not his bailiwick, and it was a sign to me of an organization that improvised, that ran on a shoestring.  Fast-forward to the Marc Bergevin years, and he has all the AHL coaches in attendance, plus guest coaches from the LHJMQ, because why not get a look at the sprouting talent in that area.

Still, the decision was made to change it up and move to a tournament camp against other teams.  I wonder whether Mike McCarron's showing last summer, when he was relatively invisible in scrimmages, but shone in pre-season games, notably against the Bruins, played a role in this decision.  It's easy to deduce that he may have held back against his own future teammates, and that his game suffered as a result.  To say nothing about Bokondji Imama and Jack Nevins, who tip-toed around until the final scrimmage of camp and then squared off at the end for a mutually-beneficial punchup.  Except that Jack Nevins got injured in that scrap.

So the Canadiens joined the Penguins, Leafs and Senators in a three-game round-robin rookie tournament, and despite only seeing one game, I'd call it a success.  Mike McCarron, him again, was allowed to perform in a realistic environment and proved that he has a lot to offer the organization.  On the other end of the spectrum, Angelo Miceli and Ryan Johnston proved that they could play in 'real' conditions, not just scrimmages, and have success at that level, despite their diminutive stature.

Another benefit was explained by Jérémy Grégoire:
«J'adore ça, je veux gagner. Je ne me souviens pas d'un match intraéquipe que j'ai gagné!, explique le numéro 47. Ici, d'être avec les gars, on apprend à se connaître un peu plus. Oui, on se côtoyait dans les matchs intraéquipe, mais on apprenait aussi à se haïr.»

Le jeu physique était évidemment à l'honneur, en particulier dans le duel Canadien-Sénateurs d'hier. «Les gars n'ont pas peur de s'arracher la tête», reconnaît Grégoire.

(Translated):  "I love it, I want to win.  I don't remember a single intra-squad game that I've ever won.  Here, being with the guys, we learn to know each other better.  Sure, we were around each other too in the intra-squad games, but we also learned to hate each other (when we faced off against each other)."

"(Playing against the Senators or other teams), the boys aren't afraid of tearing some guy's head off."

So an environment that allows players whose game is based more on competitiveness and hard work than talent to shine also, and brings the players closer.  Our skill players, our goalies, being tested by high-caliber players instead of the remainders, the invitees who'll never have a shot at even the AHL.  What's not to like?

The ground rules for they tourney seemed to be more conducive to development of the youngsters too, with only players having a maximum of one year of pro hockey experience allowed, which curtails the situations described earlier, about grown men beating on teens to a large degree.  There are a few players approaching their mid-twenties, but they're college players getting their first taste of the pros, which is a more level playing field.

My quibbles and qualms are mostly roster-based.  I wish Sven Andrighetto had been allowed to participate, but he had too much seniority.  I wish Mac Bennett had asserted himself more, along with Daniel Carr, they're more mature and should stand out.  Josiah Didier was on the ice for a lot of goals against, based on the Leafs game and highlights from the others, his 72 sweater stuck out like a sore thumb, repeatedly.

But overall, a positive development for our team, for our prospects, and also, a demonstration that the team Marc Bergevin is trying to build, with a healthier dose of size and pugnacity, can survive and thrive in this referee-deficient environment of the new NHL.  Our GM observed the situation, gave it a shot, but decided a change was in order and pulled the trigger when the opportunity arose.  Which is kind of his modus operandi, actually.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

NHL Rookie Tournament: Canadiens 6, Maple Leafs 4

Notes on the Canadiens prospects win over the Leafs prospects:

-- Bozon scores a powerplay goal to give the Canadiens the lead 2-1 early in the second. Johnson has an assist and Scherbak (I think).

Jamal Watson had a shorthanded unassisted goal late in the first.

Mike McCarron tuned up a Leaf who threw a big hit on Charles Hudon earlier in the game, had plastered him in the glass.

Brett Lernout was face-to-face with a baby Leaf (Nikolas Brouillard) who gave him a punch shove, then a slash. Bad idea. The Canadien didn’t quite land anything, but just kept feeding him so many rights, his poor victim was begging for a left.

I guess Connor Crisp is up next?

-- Nikolas Brouillard none the worse for wear, walks in from the blue line and wrists one in halfway through the second.

Michaël Joly scores one seconds later, on a rush poorly defended by Travis Brown and Josiah Didier.

3-2 Leafs.

-- Connor Crisp ties it up 3-3. Scherbak fed it to Hanley at the blue line, he snapped a shot to the net which Connor Crisp tipped in. The goalie never saw it coming, Mike McCarron was in front of him blocking his view.

Good to see the kids doing what they should.

-- Period ends 3-3. Nervous final minute, Brett Lernout took a holding penalty in his zone, then Jérémy Grégoire took an undisciplined penalty in the offensive zone on a break with Jamal Watson, crosschecked Nikolas Brouillard into the goalpost after the whistle. I guess that kid is getting under the Canadiens’ skin.

With the Canadiens down five-on-three for 20 seconds, they win the faceoff and clear the zone, kill off the two-man advantage.  Mike McCarron wins the next draw in his zone and shields the puck, drains off the last few seconds until the period ends.

I like the character and toughness the Canadiens are showing, it’s contrary to past years, as it’s been described, when the Leafs would thug the Canadiens’ prospects with older, bigger players, but our boys can’t go over the line.

-- The Rogers crew is doing a pretty good job with the play-by-play and analysis. I was expecting a homer show focusing on the Leafs, but they’re actually pretty even-handed. They have good notes/knowledge of the Canadiens’ prospects, they can tell the viewers who Tim Bozon or Donald Audette is, they’re not just focusing on the Leafs and Mike McCarron.

You can tell that sometimes they have to refer to their lineup sheet, they’ll say “And the defenceman will be going off on a penalty… (pause)”

[Number of the player comes into view]

“…that’s Brett Lernout who is called for hooking.”

So hats off to Todd Crocker and Bob McGill for a good call of the game.

-- Third period.  Beautiful goal by Charles Hudon during 4-on-4 play. They rushed the Leafs zone, who scrambled and coughed up the puck. Ryan Johnston sent a pretty backhand pass through the slot to Charles who buried it into the open net.

4-3 Canadiens with 11 minutes to go.

-- Dalton Thrower adds another seconds later, now 5-3.

McCarron and Grégoire on the chip and chase, digging in behind the Leafs net, the pucks pops free to Dalton Thrower who was sneaking in from the blue line. He stickhandled into the slot and backhanded a shot in.

-- Nikolas Brouillard floats one in from the blue line that sneaks behind McNiven, who’s had a good game regardless.

5-4 Canadiens, with 3 minutes left.

-- Charles Hudon out to defend 6-on-5 to kill off the clock, scores the empty-netter to seal it.

Canadiens 6-4, final.

-- Hard to really voice an opinion, I was watching the game on a small window on my computer, but here are some broad impressions.

-Mike McCarron looked large and in charge, wearing the ‘A’, trusted by Sylvain Lefebvre to take the important draws in the defensive zone.

-His line was a notch above, he and Nikita Scherbak caught the eye on a few occasions. Nikita has two assists, Connor Crisp scored a goal. Nothing to get excited about though, they weren’t dominant, just the best Canadiens line.

-Nikita Scherbak is eye-candy, but late in the game stickhandled the puck back towards his defenceman in the offensive zone, the Andrei Kostitsyn move, instead of keeping it deep and protecting the lead.

-I liked the way the team stood up for itself, there was team toughness, but also some gentlemanly play, our boys weren’t goonish. Good job.

-Mike McNiven had a good game in goal, faced a lot of shots, looks big and confident out there.

-Dalton Thrower started slowly but turned it on late, it’s like he realized he should be the leader out there, a couple years older than most.

-Different-era Leafs, no Colton Orrs or Tyler Biggses. Nikolas Brouillard is very small for a pro hockey defenceman, but he was noticeable out there, confident with the puck, not giving an inch, taking a beating and coming back out not cowed by it. Tip of the hat.

Tomorrow, we crush the Sens and their mini-Grybas.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Jarred Tinordi and Mike McCarron trained hard in London this summer, as promised.

Here's a great article in the London Free Press about Jarred Tinordi and Mike McCarron's summer of hard work in London, ON.

I’ll say it again, it’s great that Mike McCarron is hanging with Jarred Tinordi. I do think these two will be a central part of the team, will provide the pushback and insulation from intimidation in a large part, what with the league moving away in wittle baby steps from fighting. The ‘muscle’ is going to have to come from big players who actually play, not John Scott anymore, until the NHL in three or four decades gets around to outright banning blows to the head and an effective refereeing system and philosophy.

The article also confirms a lot of what we ‘know’ as Hab fans, that Jarred Tinordi is a great teammate, a great leader who commands respect. Guy Carbonneau can't say this enough, as coach of the Canadian U18 team, he was very impressed by Jarred, who captained the American team.  Carbo constantly refers to the way Jarred talked to his teammates during timeouts, on the bench or on the ice, encouraging them and directing them.  Despite the fretting by some impatient fans, I really don’t think he’s in danger of being traded or waived anytime soon, he’s an asset that’s hard to replace, that is still liable to pay off for the team for years to come.

It also shows that Mike’s difficult first season, which was caused by his bumpy transition to the OHL, was probably due to his poor physical condition because not of laziness, but poor training methods. I can see a well-meaning coach laying out a circuit for his whole team, trying to get everyone challenged, and struggling and failing to account for the giant young man in the group. The twenty pound dumbbells he laid out for the military press station might have been fine for the rest of the group, but allowed Mike to coast through it, unknowingly. It wasn’t what he needed in the first place. But it’s not the will that was lacking, he slavers at the thought of the next workout, his personal trainer says, which is the best attitude for a kid to have.

I loved when it first came out that Mike was tagging along with Jarred, patterning his behaviour after him, making London his new off-season home. That gave me a lot of comfort.

Good interviews with the prospects on the Habs’ website too. Mike McCarron is asked what his plans are for the summer. “Going to be in London, training with Tinner.”

Attaboy! Hope those two push each other to new, uhm, heights.

We spent a lot e-ink this summer on those two, generated lots of sturm und drang, but I believe they’ll be all right. Let’s not rush them, let’s allow them to come to us.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank looks longingly on to the absolution Tom Brady received.

Are the vultures circling overhead?  This article on Deadspin describes Arthur Blank's frustration with the increasingly litigious method of resolving disputes and discipline issues in the NFL.

The article fails to mention that Arthur Blank's team was punished for piping in crowd noise through the stadium speakers, to give the Atlanta defence an advantage.  Which for the life of me I think the Seahawks also do, when at their stadium, there's this kind of rumble that comes on the speakers and whips up the fans, the 12th Man, into a frenzy, and dies away as the ball is about to be snapped.  And it seems to work, the Chargers had a number of false starts, dagnabbit.  

When this happened earlier this off-season, it didn't get much media scrutiny, and I wondered how much of the reason for that relatively lenient sentence was because the Falcons investigated themselves and reported their findings to the satisfaction of the league, and agreed to the penalty that was handed down without squawking.  Which of course is the 'other way', the method that the Patriots decided not to follow.

The other aspect that must have played into the harsher treatment they received is how the Patriots got caught cheating before in the Spygate affair, and they got off relatively leniently, the league destroyed the tapes the team had obtained illegally and let them off the hook in terms of the possible public disgrace, in return for them coming clean and admitting their wrongdoing.

Instead, we all remember Bill Belichick's mealy-mouthed, rote response to questions by reporters, that they'd merely misinterpreted the rules, and then refused to broach this subject again.  Sure Bill, you were the dumb one who couldn't understand that you can't film the opposition sideline and steal signals.  But Rich Kotite grasped that complicated concept.  Right.

And that's why the League, with Roger Goodell and the other owners apparently in lockstep, wanted to punish them harshly, for this transgression, and other indiscretions that they'd been suspected of, and when they wriggled out of the previous cheating scandal they were on the hook for.  And the League thought it could run its league the way it sees best, within the boundaries of the law.  And ran an investigation that brought up lots of circumstantial evidence but apparently not much substantial proof.

If you or I run a small business and find something wrong, like money missing from the till, we'll do an 'investigation', figure out what could have happened.  If it's you and your wife and the other employee who had access to the register, it may come down that no one confesses, but you decided to terminate the employee, you and your wife wouldn't steal from yourselves.  You have no 'proof', but you know what happened, and that's good enough.

That kind of conclusion is essentially what the League had against the Patriots, couldn't stick it on them, and Bob Kraft protested at the punishment his team got, notably the loss of a 1st-round draft pick, until the other owners probably got him to knuckle down.  But then the League, since it couldn't pin this on Bill Belichick, tried to make Tom Brady pay for the sins of the father, but he had the gumption and the backing of the NFLPA to contest his suspension, and ultimately win out.

I have no doubt that Tom Brady did direct the behaviour of the equipment men who fiddled with the balls, and that he obstructed the investigation rather than cooperated.  That's what the League will probably be furious about.  They didn't have subpoena powers, couldn't investigate thoroughly, talk to everyone involved, yet are held to a high standard of proof by Judge Berman.  They feel like the store owner in my example being forced by an external arbitrator to employ the the person he believes stole from them.  

But this is the world the NFL is in right now.  A 4-game suspension isn't just a sports issue now, there are tens of millions of dollars in the balance, you can't hand those out in a kangaroo court fashion, there has to be due process, or at least its appearance.  The consequences are greater than letting go a minimum-wage worker from a nondescript job, the exposure much greater.

And now I wonder if Arthur Blank regrets just accepting the League's punishment.  Or, more centrally, Sean Payton and the Saints, who took their medicine when their punishment was handed down in the Bountygate scandal.  The players involved had their suspensions overturned, but the Head Coach lost an entire year of his career, a year of his earnings, and others in his staff received similar harsh sentences.

Roger Goodell, when he was rebuked by an arbitrator for the poor quality of the notes he took during the Ray Rice hearing, offered the feeble "I'm not a lawyer" excuse.  He and the League have to realize this is intolerable, and they'll need to set up an internal arm to investigate and adjudicate these issues, and allow its Commissioner to have a more detached, dispassionate role.  Whoever he may be.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Jarred Tinordi is secure as a Montréal Canadien next season.

I want to address the Jarred Tinordi question, because it boggles my mind that there is still doubt, still in effect a question in some posters' minds as to what exactly will happen with him this training camp and pre-season.

Jarred Tinordi will be on the 23-man roster this season.

There's no need to hedge our bets or wring our hands on this, there really isn't any other option.  He won't be sent down to the AHL, even if he has a relatively poor camp, since as we've noted many times, he's now eligible for waivers, and would not pass through, he would get claimed by another team.

He also won't be traded.  I could say unless and list a bunch of exceptions and outlandish hypotheticals, but really, the Canadiens have invested a lot in terms of draft picks (a first-rounder plus a second to move up four slots to pick him) and player development time.  They've done the heavy lifting, and now that he's close to paying off, they're not going to ship him somewhere else.

Marc Bergevin keeps telling us, even though sometimes we don't quite listen, that defencemen take longer to develop.  He's told us that he might have had a better, easier journey in his own career if he himself had spent a couple seasons in the minors, instead of playing in the NHL right away as a 20-year old right out of Chicoutimi.  He tells us that the big defencemen take even longer to get their timing and skills down.

He's not going to fire-sale the kid now, just as he's ready to take off.  There's no urgency, no time constraints.  This isn't like the Flames unloading former first-round pick Sven Baertschi for a second-rounder and being glad to get that, since they didn't think they could carry him on their 23-man roster next season, and had kind of lost patience anyway.

The Canadiens can quite easily carry Jarred all season.  Imagine the following eight-player defensive corps next season:


There it is, easy-peasy.  Add in 13 forwards and two goalies and we're set.  No need to bend over backwards to keep Jarred, it's actually quite simple.  Trade away someone else like Tom Gilbert, that makes it even easier.  Tom's skillset is kind of redundant now that Jeff Petry is here to stay.

I see a lot of posts stating that we have to consider Mark Barberio also, that he's eligible for waivers, what about that?, but to me that is so off-base.  There is no investment in Mark Barberio, he was acquired as a UFA at minimum wage.  Further, and not to demean the young man, I believe that he has talent and potential and could help this season if called upon, but in truth he's eminently replaceable.  You say Mark Barberio, I say Adam Clendening or John Blum or Bruno Gervais.  There are a lot of AHL-NHL tweener puck-movers out there.

Jarred Tinordi, with his great size and strength, his surprising mobility, his pedigree, his vaunted leadership and good abilities as a teammate, is much more precious, much harder to find.  You'll pick up a Torey Krug as an undrafted college free agent, but not a Jarred Tinordi.  What he brings to the table you don't get cheaply from another team or on the waiver wire.

And as we consider the team makeup in the next couple of seasons, and with the demise of the NHL enforcer, we find that Jarred Tinordi will be a linchpin of the team.  He and Mike McCarron, along with possible support players like Zack Kassian, Greg Pateryn, Brett Lernout and Jacob de la Rose, will be needed to counter other teams' attempts to intimidate our team.  Sure, Colton Orr and John Scott won't be around, but the Ryan Malones and Wayne Simmonds will be, the Dion Phaneufs who bravely crosscheck Tomas Plekanec in the mouth when they think they can get away with it, when Douglas Murray or Brad Staubitz aren't in the immediate vicinity.

I have to believe that when Marc Bergevin moves his little magnets around on his dry-erase board, trying to figure out his roster for 2018, that the twin towers of Jarred Tinordi and Mike McCarron are integral to the plan.  He's a GM who appreciates tough players and character, Jarred Tinordi is right up his alley.  He didn't bring in Brandon Prust and Douglas Murray and George Parros, and make a point of drafting Mike McCarron and moving up to draft Brett Lernout only to turn around and defeat the purpose by giving up on Jarred Tinordi.

Is it too late for Milan Lucic to play for the Canucks? For the Canadiens?

About Milan Lucic and his interview on TSN 1040, it started out innocently enough when he explained that he always wanted to play for his hometown Canucks, his favourite team growing up.  Somehow it's become a bit controversial, with some talk that he's 'campaigning' to return to Vancouver, where he had a lot of success as a Giant in the WHL.  I think that's overblown.  He did mention that he had one more year on his contract, and you never know how things will work out and if he'd even reach UFA status.

His interview is the kind of pabulum that is expected of professional athletes, that they say all the right things and try to not offend anyone, to flatter the audience as best can be achieved.  The kind of declarations that we found empty a few years ago when every hockey player raved about the mystique and the history and fans and the atmosphere in Montréal, but hightailed it out of town at the earliest opportunity.  The kind of talk that, reassuringly for Canadiens fans, gets backed up by ink on contracts nowadays.

So Milan did backpedal from his impulsive statements after the poutine rumble that he was done with Vancouver, etc.  Cooler heads and all that, and maybe Vancouver fans are ready to forgive and forget now that he's no longer a hated Bruin anymore.  While the Kings are a rival and there have been some heated games and back-to-backs the last few seasons, the Bruins are orders of magnitudes more despised out here.  As a King he can be more of a Rick Tocchet or Clarke Gillies rather than a Tiger Williams or Tie Domi, both in how he's perceived and how he conducts himself on the ice.

What I found more objectionable in his comments was his guffawing, chuckling statements about "running a goalie", and the broad hints and allusions to when he did that to Buffalo Sabre Ryan Miller.  We all recall how back then he claimed it was a purely accidental collision, that he'd "looked up and saw him and only had time to brace" himself, or words to that effect.  Now he's the tough guy again, the goon who's claiming his dummying of a player 80 lbs lighter than he is.

I've often thought and posted that Milan Lucic was ultimately poorly-served by being drafted by the Bruins.  While it seemed like a match made in heaven, a big burly ornery forward becoming a Big Bad Bruin, it actually fed his worst impulses and got him into trouble, especially near the end of his tenure there.  It's a little reminiscent of the situation described by Christie Blatchford when she described the appointment of Mike Duffy to the Senate as "When the man with no shame met the place with no rules..."  Another example was Theo Fleury who described that his playing in New York was ultimately not the positive change of scenery he could have had, but instead was a venue that allowed him to intensify his propensity to 'party' with more opportunities and more anonymity.

Milan and the complicit Boston media had painted him into a corner and he had to act as the biggest meanest indestructible player, he had no room to concede defeat and be gracious and sportsmanlike when required.  Cue the spearings (plural!) to the groin, the upraised middle fingers to the Nouveau Forum crowd, and the handshake line fiasco, among other shameful episodes.  Had he landed in Phoenix or Calgary, he could have built an image and a career as a tough but honest player.  And yes in Montréal, he would have been steered in the direction of John Ferguson, Sergio Momesso or Mike McPhee, a big strong tough player you don't want to rile up and tangle with, but who'll stick to hockey and the business at hand if allowed to.

I’m going to venture further and state that not only does Claude Julien not control his dressing room and his ‘energy’ players, I think he at least tacitly encourages or enables them. Stating that Brad Marchand was trying to “protect himself” from noted goon Sami Salo when he submarined him, or that he and Peter Chiarelli “hadn’t watched the tape yet” two days after the handshake line fiasco are only two examples of a coach who looks the other way on his players running wild, benefiting from the impotent NHL refereeing.

And yes, it's highly debatable that there would be any benefit to the Canadiens pursuing his services now, for all the reasons that flared up lately, the decline in production, the lack of footspeed, the indiscipline and poor focus.  If he does reach UFA status, it's worth questioning how much he'll cost and how much he'll contribute in return.  There's the whole 'distraction' angle to work into the equation.

While it's pleasant sometimes to consider what could have been, what a player Milan could have turned into in bleu-blanc-rouge, with a team where his worst, basest instincts were muted rather than fueled, we have to realize that in the present, that ship has sailed.  I can't imagine the Canadiens investing the cap dollars in such a player approaching thirty when they have all these quality youngsters in the fold who'll need contracts of their own in the near future.  And I can't for the life of me imagine Milan subjecting himself to the media storm his donning a Hab jersey and returning to the New Boston Garden would create.