Friday, 31 July 2015

Gary Bettman gets to shoot his mouth off on concussions again, but under oath this time.

So the concussion class-action suit by former NHL players, notably including Bernie Nicholls, proceeds.  Today, Gary Bettman will be deposed.

Under oath.  We'll see if he's still as intellectually dishonest on this subject, or just criminally misinformed.

And whether he utters more clunkers like this one:
“From a medical science standpoint, there is no evidence yet that one necessarily leads to the other,” Bettman told reporters in Chicago. “I know there are a lot of theories, but if you ask people who study it, they tell you there is no statistical correlation that can definitively make that conclusion.”
That statement is a load of malarkey. I’d give him a bit of wriggle room, excuse him if he wanted to correct what he said on the grounds that he was speaking extemporaneously, and was unprepared to deal with specifics, but this is classic Gary Bettman, who instead of a ‘no comment’ will go out of his way to lecture and belittle his interviewers.

Here are two whopping untruths or errors, take your pick.

1) There is plenty of evidence, good evidence, strong evidence, scientific evidence that “one necessarily leads to another”.

If Mr. Bettman wanted to say, meant to say ‘proof’, to whatever standard he’d want to cling to, then he could go through that dance. But in terms of whether evidence exists, necessarily or not, there’s tonnes of it.

2) About the “statistical correlation”, that also exists. Athletes who engage in sports where they’re subjected to repetitive head trauma suffer from CTE in a much higher proportion than the general population. Again, if Gary Bettman meant to say ‘causation’, then he could try to squirm out that way, but it’s not unlike him to use bigger longer words to bafflegab and prove to everyone how much smarter he is than everyone else.

Let's hope that the Commissioner has had time to bone up on this subject and has his facts straight.  And/or unforks his tongue.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The future of the Winter Classic and outdoor hockey games.

Call me crazy…

(waits self-consciously for the clamour to die down)

… but the future of these events would be to hold them not at stadiums, but on actual bodies of water, on frozen surfaces where in the past people played hockey.

A natural location would be on the Rideau canal, in Ottawa. Have the Canadiens and Sens play it out on the ice, and put fans on the banks, watching from afar.

And that would be the key. Don’t just see these as occasions to squeeze in as many fans as possible in a stadium to charge them exorbitant ticket prices, don’t treat the outdoor games solely as a cash cow, but rather as an investment in the sport, as a real ‘event’, memorable ones that fans will refer to decades from now.

And this will really get some people riled up, but let’s have these games played like real shinny, with no boards, which just obstruct sight lines anyways.

(pauses some more as the furore grows, dodges some projectiled fruit)

Play the game on a nice large sheet, with some cones or lines painted on, and with the usual method if the puck goes out of bounds. Whoever shoots it out the side loses the puck, the other team brings in back in, with no one allowed to ‘crowd’ them outside the line. And whoever shoots and misses the net, whenever the puck goes past the where the end boards normally would be, the defending team brings it back in. No friggin’ faceoffs.

And hell yeah, do away with offsides during that game, let’s open ‘er up, get some passing going. Without boards, there’d be no bank passes, no clearings, just tape-to-tape passes or you probably lose the puck.

Do another outdoor game between the Canucks and Oilers or Flames in Kelowna or Prince George.  Have a home-and-home between the Oilers and Flames in Banff and Jasper.

I’ve looked at Beaver Lake on Mount-Royal on Google Maps and don’t think you could fit a regulation NHL ice-sheet on there, but again, who cares, just put a surface on there, and play a game between the Leafs and Habs, make it four-on-four if we have to. Have spectators shuttled up from downtown, maybe put in a chairlift-gondola system, and have them ring the outside of the lake with their wineskins and thermoses and cameras and binoculars and bullhorns and signs. And don’t even charge them admission, have this be a festival of hockey, a return to…

(Is escorted out of the meeting hall under a harried police escort as he is excoriated and excommunicated)

Canucks, Canadiens trying to win and build at the same time.

Speaking of trying to build a winner while trading away draft picks, Matt Larkin wrote a scorching article on the Canucks and the sinuous direction they're taking.

The Canucks are like the Canadiens in a lot of respects, with a demanding fan base, lots of media attention and no other teams to really take away the spotlight, and the belief that they can't take a season or three off like the Sabres or Oilers did to dwell at the bottom of the standings and rack up some blue-chip prospects.

Jim Benning inherited a bunch of veteran players who gave up a hometown discount to stay in Vancouver and play for a winner, and received a No Trade Clause in return.  Now he has to sort through the pile.  He's traded away Jason Garrison, Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa, but these were the attractive pieces, and because of their NTC's he could only cash them in at a reduced value.

Now he has the indigestible Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins contracts among others to deal with, and it may be hard to trade them for anything at all, same as Zack Kassian, who apparently couldn't fetch a 7th-rounder from anyone at the trade deadline last season.  And the new deals he gave Luca Sbisa and Derek Dorsett have raised eyebrows.

The elephant in the room is the three years remaining on the Sedin brothers contract.  Not that they're not living up to the deals, last season they were among the league leaders in scoring and most often the best players on the ice, but since they're on the team, you can't tear down and rebuild as the Leafs are currently doing.  Their presence on the team forces Jim Benning in a 'one foot on the dock, one foot in the boat' position, needing to ice a competitive team while trying to rebuild.

Marc Bergevin is in a situation that is in some ways similar, in that with Carey Price, Max Pacioretty and PK hitting their prime, and the team flying high in the standings, he has had to surrender second-round picks and prospects to get help for his roster at the trade deadline the last two seasons, which goes against his instincts to amass these assets.

Hopefully, we can soon be in a position where we can trade older prospects and players for younger ones and picks.  Alex Semin might be a prime candidate if he can be flipped at the deadline this season for a second-rounder or so to a team looking to upgrade their offence, and if we have AHL kids and callups who show they can shoulder the load.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The revival of les Nordiques would be good for hockey in Québec and the Canadiens.

About the potential revival of the Nordiques, one of the effects might be that it increases interest in hockey in the Province of Québec. Although that may seem unthinkable with the media saturation coverage of the Canadiens and the NHL to a lesser extent on RDS, TVA Sports, TSN 690, The Gazette, La Presse and Le Journal de Montréal to name just the heavy hitters, there might now exist a lassitude, a significant number of fans who could be engaged further.

I used to be a baseball fan until the fishtail end of the Expos. Now I make it a point of pride to ignore baseball news and coverage, I fast-forward over that when I watch SportsCentre. Similarly, there may be a number of disaffected Nordiques fans who’ll ‘rejoin’ the NHL with a return to action of their team. Local families who may think of the Canadiens as a team from ‘away’ might now jump in with a team in their backyard that represents them.

Also, the rivalry bordering on hostility may be a stimulus for more eyeballs, more hearts and minds. Similar to elections with no great stakes in the balance that see a low voter turnout, compared to those where fundamental issues are in question, and every voter feels more affected.

I used to discount talking heads who’d pronounce about Bobby Orr or Jean Béliveau that he was “one of a kind” and “we won’t see anyone like him again.” To me, as a kid, that seemed silly, there was always a new crop of greats to replace the older ones, one look at the record books proved that. Sure, there was no Bobby Orr that succeeded Bobby Orr, exactly, but there was Brad Park, our Larry Robinson, Denis Potvin, Paul Coffey. There was no other Jean Béliveau, but Gilbert Perreault was mighty good, and that kid Mario Lemieux might be just as good.

Same in every sport, sure Jim Brown, I never saw him play, but I could see his stats, but then O.J. Simpson came, and Hershel Walker would break all their records, and/or that kid Marcus Dupree, and then shortly after Emmitt Smith and/or Carlos Snow would obliterate those.

Now I understand more what they meant when they said that, there isn’t an inexhaustible supply of Wayne Gretzkys coming down the pipe, you enjoy them when you can.

And if we want to see more Gilbert Perreaults and Mario Lemieux and Pierre Turgeons and Vincent Lecavaliers, it has to come from a thriving minor hockey system, which by all reports of declining enrollment and parental suspicions about the risks and benefits of the game, we don’t have right now.

I wager that the return of the Nordiques would play a significant role in engaging families and youngsters in the game of hockey, and not only as spectators but participants, in minor hockey and rec league play. And that will be better for the game of hockey, and better for the Canadiens too.

And speaking of French-speaking coaches and stocking the pond, the Norfolk Admirals have promoted Éric Veilleux to the head coach position. Here’s a guy who won a Memorial Cup with les Cataractes and made the Finals of la Coupe du Président twice more with the Drakkar. He never missed the playoffs while coaching in the LHJMQ.

Alexander Semin, at $1.1M, transforms from a 'negative value player' to an asset.

Sean McIndoe wrote an article earlier this year that started with this line:
In the NHL’s salary cap era, a good player with a bad contract is not a good player.
It’s almost as if the article applied directly to Alex Semin. In fact, he is listed as one of the ‘negative value’ players, like Vincent Lecavalier or Mike Richards, that you’re either stuck with or have to buy out, since no other team would trade for him or even take him off your hands off waivers.

When he was allowed to walk by Capitals management eager to find the right coaching-star player-effort-talent mix, Alex Semin signed on with Carolina for 1 year at $7M, which most experts and all fans agreed was the way to go. A short-term contract would be an effective carrot, to ensure his focus didn’t waver too much, a flaw that affects Alex reportedly.

But when Jim Rutherford signed him for five more years at the same cap hit, we all winced, and knew it wouldn’t turn out well. It’s the same reaction we had to the Ryan Kesler contract the Anaheim Ducks just gave him, although not for lack of intensity and consistency, but rather because of his high-impact style and injury history which makes it doubtful he can ever play at the same level for its lengthy, uh, length.

Too long. No chance he can make that contract worthwhile. Some have already speculated that Bob Murray is planning on a lockout and accompanying amnesty buyouts near the end of the contract, or that he’s factored in that Las Vegas or Phoenix should be ready for a Chris Pronger LTIR salary-cap/floor-type trade by then.

Apparently Jim Rutherford had no such contingencies, to Peter Karmanos’ chagrin based on his recent tirade, and it was up to Ron Francis to clean up the mess

But now Alex Semin is playing for a pittance, a salary capmosquitobite rather than a caphit. He’ll be chastened, he’ll be motivated, he’ll maybe approach the level of play he did when he amassed 44 points in 44 games after Gary Bettman’s Third Lockout.

He now definitely has value, positive value, with this contract.  He's an asset.

Alexander Semin signs bargain one-year contract with the Canadiens.

When pundits floated the idea of adding Unrestricted Free Agent Alexander Semin, recently bought out of his long-term deal by the Carolina Hurricanes, I was strongly dismissive, for many reasons.

Marc Bergevin and the whole organization on down favour character as one of the traits that's essential for a player to possess to be a part of the Montréal Canadiens.  Guys like Josh Gorges, Brendan Gallagher, Dale Weise, they're not necessarily the most skilled players, but they all have a lunch-pail work ethic and team-first approach that made them valuable members of the group, and provided it with an atmosphere that newcomers rave about, how 'tight' the dressing room is.

Alex Semin isn't that type of player, on first blush.  I don't like the way he floated himself off two teams now, being supremely talented but inconsistent, with allusions to a lack of effort and moodiness.

I also thought that his contract was too onerous, didn't want to part with assets in a trade to take him on.  Even once he was UFA, I assumed a Daniel Brière-type deal would be necessary, a two or three year deal at 3 or 4 million or more, and I didn't, wouldn't want to risk that.  The idea that we could get him for less, even as July marched on and he and Cody Franson and Christian Ehrhoff withered on the vine, was far-fetched to me.  He'd sign with a flush KHL franchise that would be glad to have him instead of playing for a pittance, right?

Wrong.  Here he is, freshly-signed, come to save the day, rescue the Canadiens pass-first good-guys and the popgun offence with his laserbeamcannon of a shot, all at the bargain price of $1.1M.  Word is he'll provide his own sticks too, accept his per diem in Cage Aux Sports 50%-off vouchers, and will as a signing bonus detail Marc Bergevin's Escalade.

The salary cap being the all-important consideration it is when analyzing player transactions, there is virtually no downside to this deal.  If he produces as he should, he'll vastly outplay his contract.  If he underperforms and is a headache, he can be buried in the minors and count for little more than a hundred grand (pro-rated) for the season.  If he plays decently, there's also the outside chance of flipping him at the deadline for picks/prospects/players, if we think we can do without him entering the playoffs.  Options.  The anti-Gomez.

If he wants to earn another long-term deal, and remain in North America as he states he prefers to do rather than play in the KHL, he'll need to have a solid season.  He's in a contract year, always a great stimulus for mercurial players.  Advantage, us.

And with Nikita Scherbak and Mike McCarron and Sven Andrighetto and others pushing up from the rear, it gives Marc Bergevin a bit of cushion, some insurance, cause for restraint, if ever he enters into those same long-term contract negotiations with Alex and his agent Mark Gandler.  He won't exactly have us over a barrel.  Berge won't fall in the same trap Jim Rutherford did, when the latter gave Alex an overly-generous deal after a 'prove-it' one-year contract.

On the ice, this should instantly upgrade the offence, not only in terms of, let's say, the 20-25 goals he'll provide, but also how opposing teams will have more threats to cover, so he should provide Max Pacioretty for one with a little more breathing room.

Our 'You take it no you take it no YOU take it well I'd love to blast it from here but this guy's right on top of me like a timeshare mortgage so you take it I'd love to but what am I supposed to do with it all the way out on the wall over here?' powerplay should also radically improve.  We've bemoaned the lack of a threat like a Mike Cammalleri or Alex Kovalev, a guy who can pick a corner and cash in a pass; well now we've got one.

Being the sunny enthusiast and team supporter that I am, I've done a complete 540° on the pros and cons of acquiring him now, and see that what I thought was clouds is mostly silver lining.

His poor production last season is possibly attributable to his wrist injury that made him undergo surgery last offseason.  The Hurricanes knew he was recovering and were patient at first, but both sides got frustrated after a while.  Maybe fully recovered, in a new environment, with added incentive, he returns to form.

I also think of Paul Maurice and his statement, when asked on TSN what he'd learned in his year coaching in the KHL, that what he'd never take for granted again is how difficult the transition must be for Russian players in North America.  Being plunged himself in a Russian-speaking world, even with the benefit of a translator, and feeling a bit disconnected and at odds with his environment, he said he can now better put himself in the shoes of a teenager or young man trying to play NHL hockey in a new city/country with that stumbling block in their way.

Of course, some adapt quicker than others.  We were all wowed at how engaging and voluble Sergei Gonchar was last season, certainly in comparison to Andrei Markov for example.  Andrei and Alexei Emelin seem to suffer from the cultural barrier to some extent, certainly when it comes to dealing with the media, while still functioning well as members of the team.

Maybe that small outpost of Russian players in Montréal, Andrei and Alexei Emelin with an assist from Chucky, and Nikita in the system, can serve to make Alex Semin feel more comfortable with the team than he did last year in Raleigh, with maybe only Anton Khudobin from Kazakhstan to bro down with.  It's worthwhile to note that Alexander didn't play CHL hockey, but rather spent three of four season in Russia after being drafted.

We'll now spend the rest of the summer wondering where he'll play, and with who.  Alexander is a right shot who grew up playing on left wing, and reportedly prefers that side.  Yet the Hurricanes had him listed as a RW.  Michel Therrien and most defensively-minded NHL coaches prefer to play forwards on their strong side, rather than the other.  Even Adam Oates put rightie Alex Ovechkin on the right wing rather than his preferred, habitual left wing.

If we go with Alex Semin on the right wing, we've now plugged that hole on right wing that was created by the departure of Brian Gionta and Daniel Brière/P.A. Parenteau.  We're now, dare I say it, stacked on RW, with Brendan Gallagher, Alex Semin, Zack Kassian, Devante Smith-Pelly and Dale Weise.

Five bona fide NHL'ers who normally play regular shifts, that wouldn't seem to work.  I can't see any of them sitting out games, one of them would have to flip over to the other side.  Or a trade might be in the offing.

Especially early in the season with Max Pacioretty missing in action due to his knee injury, I'd wager we'll see Alex Semin on the left wing, where he's comfortable, ready to unleash one-timers.  When Max returns, that will really solidify the left side, and might allow Alex Galchenyuk a better opportunity to play at centre, since he might not be required to play LW on the Top 6.

After that, based on who's hot and who's not, and chemistry concerns, we might see the lines being juggled and players switching sides and callups, but it will be easier, with that added shot of talent and offensive productivity in the Top 6, to come up with the right recipe(s).

Chapeau, Monsieur Bergevin.

Messieurs Therrien et Lacroix, au travail.

Zack Kassian rising in Canadiens fans collective esteem.

Here's a video interview of Zack Kassian from the Habs site.

I’ve slowly warmed up to this trade, although admittedly I’m an easy sell. I was sour at the outset at the loss of veteranship and chemistry and effort from Brandon Prust, but I do see the greater potential of Zack Kassian, especially the type of skills he brings.

This isn’t a Christian Thomas for Danny Kristo trade, ‘quatre trente sous pour une piasse’, this is a topnotch light-heavyweight enforcer for a heavyweight with hockey skills who can tally goals, and who fills a need on the Top 6 RW side. Add in the smaller cap hit, his upcoming RFA status compared to Brandon’s UFA, and the throwed-in 5th-rounder we got, which is gold in Trevor Timmins hands, and this may be an inspired swap.

I remember how over the last couple of years, when someone would float a Zack Kassian trade, I’d derisively shoot it down, explaining that the ‘Nucks would want a similar type of prospect/young player in return, a Mike McCarron or Jarred Tinordi, to replace that kind of talent and size profile, which they are also short of, as they measure up to the Ducks and Kings. I wanted the player, but I didn’t want to give up that much. Now we have him, and didn’t.

Sure, Zack’s trade-value has fallen even further since then, I know that the Canucks were at their wits’ end with Zack, couldn’t even fire-sale him for a seventh-rounder at the deadline last season, but he is young, can benefit from a change of scenery. He certainly seems to have the right attitude and vowed to work his hardest this summer to have a career year. Based on the video he is trim and fit, he’s less jowly than he’s been at times with the Canucks, and passes Paul Maurice’s now-famous ‘shirt off test’.

If Michel Therrien can do the same job with him as he did with Dale Weise, giving him clear direction and then letting him play, we might have something on our hands here.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Alexander Dergachev and the Canadiens' quest for a big #1 centre.

Alexander Dergachev (or, as it seems he'll be called in North America from now on, Dergachyov), was a player that there didn't exist solid consensus on leading up to the NHL Draft last month.

On the one hand, he's got the combination of skills and attributes that so many teams look for, that screams Top 6 centre.  He measured in at 6'4" and 200 lbs at the Combine, and apparently has the hands and the vision that scouts look for.

I saw some discussion on social media that he might be slow, that his skating was the big knock on him, but Ben Kerr had his skating as "very good, especially for his size", and had him ranked as the 51st-best prospect this year.

About the only real negative might have been that the Russian Factor would affect him, he wasn't one of those Russian players who 'proved' he wanted to be an NHL'er by coming to play in the CHL, like Ivan Provorov or Evgeni Svechnikov, but rather signed a three-year deal to play in the KHL with St. Petersburg, two of which still remained on his contract.

As a consequence, he 'fell' to the third round, while some thought he might sneak into the first round, or be snapped up in the second as a gamble on a player with high upside.  The Kings got him at 73rd overall, to pad their Kopitar Index I guess.  And then, you'd think they'd hunker down and wait for that KHL deal to expire, and see what comes next.

Except that he got drafted by the Cataractes de Shawinigan, and it seems that it's a done deal that he's coming to play for them this fall.  In this article from La Presse, it's described how Mr. Dergachyov latched on to Russian-speaker Dennis Yan, another Cataracte, at the NHL Draft Combine and the Draft itself.

So the kid lands in a great situation, with one of the strongest organizations in the Q, and with a veteran to show him the way and translate a little bit for him, smooth over the initial bumps.  Paul Maurice, who spoke eloquently on his newfound respect for the challenges a Russian player faces when coming over to North America, having spent a year coaching in the KHL himself, would approve.

The Cataractes' GM Martin Mondou says the Kings are fully behind the idea of having their prospect play in the LHJMQ with them.  No kidding.  The rich get richer.

And the Cataractes will have him to feature in their offence among their forwards, along with Dennis Yan and Anthony Beauvillier.  Last season, TVA Sports showed a lot of Cataractes games, possibly because their geographic proximity to Montréal simplified logistics, and also because they were the featured team in the Classique Hivernale in Saint-Tite.  Expect a lot more of these this season, the Cataractes should be a high-powered, exciting team to watch.

And this kind of fits in with the discussion about draft picks that we're having, about whether you need to draft in the Top 3 to amass a team of players who can win a Stanley Cup.  That's obviously the shortcut, the quickest way to the prize, having a high-pick Jonathan Toews or a Vincent Lecavalier, that big stud #1 centre to go with a few other elite pieces.

There are a few ways to get around the need to crash and burn at the bottom of the standings, maybe you luck into a Tyler Séguin like the Bruins did, although nowadays you usually hear that a first-round pick obtained in trade will be lottery-protected.  GM's have learned the lesson provided by Brian Burke's bluster.  So to fall bass-ackwards into a Tyler Séguin or Guy Lafleur by way of trade is a remote possibility.

Another way might be to take a chance on a high-risk player, a Daniel Sprong or Josh Ho-Sang or an ungettable Russian, a player with lots of talent and high ceiling who is blemished in other ways that diminish his draft stock.

The Blackhawks used that same method when they picked up Brandon Saad, a player who fell to them in the second round for various reasons.  They looked past the warts and staked their claim to a highly talented big forward and it paid off in short order.  The story doesn't quite have the happy ending Chicago fans might like, but Stan Bowman managed to transmute his value into Artem Anisimov plus, which isn't bad at all.

And this is where the Canadiens, despite Marc Bergevin's best intentions, might be falling short a little bit.  After a couple of drafts in 2012 and 2013 with extra picks in the second round, we've been lacking those picks since then, due to deadline trades, on top of picking low in the order, due to our good regular season finishes.

This year, there were a lot of talented prospects left over late in the first or early in the second.  With multiple picks, we could have had a shot at some of these risky picks who can pay off huge, but after picking Noah Juulsen, we had to wait until the 87th pick to choose again.  Bye bye Anthony Beauvillier and Daniel Sprong and Dennis Yan and Oliver Kylington and Julius Naatinen and Jansen Harkins and Gabriel Gagné.

This is not a knock on Marc Bergevin, it's more of a constatation that his situation, helming a team poised to make a run in the playoffs at the trade deadline kind of ties his hands, he can't unload a Michael Ryder or a Brian Gionta for picks onto a needy team.  He has to keep them on his own roster, and let them walk as UFA's the subsequent summer.

It's not his disposition that's a problem, his inclination.  He wants draft picks, more of them.  He wheedles out fifth-rounders from trade partners when acquiring the likes of Zack Kassian and P.A. Parenteau.  He understands the value of giving Trevor Timmins more shots at the dart board.

And this brings me back to the Tomas Plekanec situation.  He's entering the final year of his contract, can go UFA next summer.  He commands a significant chunk of our cap, but doesn't do anything that's truly irreplaceable.  We could cobble together a committee, with Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller and David Desharnais that would pretty much provide what he does.  The penalty killing and the checking against other #1 centres, Lars can do more of that, and Alex and David can tend to the offence and the powerplay, hash it out between themselves.

I'm not saying that Tomas is disposable, that he's not valuable, but he is replaceable.  And we can't be accused of not 'giving him a chance', he's had a decade to show that he's a playoff performer who can lead the team.  It just hasn't transpired in this environment.  Maybe playing behind a Joe Thornton or a John Tavares might be the right circumstance, but we don't have the mix for him, evidently.

So when it comes to Tomas specifically, and to players whose deals are coming due generally, I want to cash these guys in.  Especially when we have a plethora of young forwards in the system now knocking at the door, and when so many cheap UFA's are begging for a job.  Especially when you consider the cap situation of the Canadiens, with many big-ticket items like Carey and P.K. and Andrei and Jeff Petry and Max, and more to come.  Tomas can't hog $5M or more of our cap space in the next few seasons.

If we aren't going to tank a season or three like the Sabres did, or take advantage of a cocksure Brian Burke, we have to amass second and third-rounders, knowing full well that most of those won't pan out, they'll collberg on us, but that one or two will subban.

The path couldn't be more clear.  We need to convert Tom Gilbert and Tomas into picks and prospects, and we have to convert some of the right-handed defencemen in our system, the longshots, into scoring forward longshots.  If we're not going to go scorched-earth like the Leafs are doing now.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Noah Juulsen signs a contract, considers his Habs jersey number, prepares for WJC Team Canada evaluation camp.

Noah Juulsen, not too up-to-speed on the Canadiens' history, being an Abbottsford lad and Canuck-Kevin Bieksa fan, did some research apparently, trying to figure out which number he could eventually wear.  This article from La Presse's Marc-Antoine Godin says that he's worn #16 in the past, but checking upon its availability, stumbled upon "un certain Henri Richard."

Tough luck kid.  For #3 also, by the way.  Although I always have to think real hard about this one.  "What, #3 isn't available also?  John Van Boxmeer got his jersey retired?  Brian Engblom?"

An interesting point is that he's one of three defencemen from this draft year who got invited to the WJC Team Canada evaluation camp in August, along with Mitch Vande Sompel who played with Mike McCarron in Oshawa and won the Memorial Cup, and Jérémy Roy.

This will be an interesting comparative if these two have a long career.  It may be a Mike Bossy-Mark Napier situation, the Canadiens preferring a player relatively unknown to its fans to the obvious local kid.  Or, if we're lucky, Noah will be Ryan McDonagh/Max Pacioretty over Angelo Esposito/David Perron.

But the dynamic will exist, these two players will be linked in the eyes of many fans and draft-watchers.  The Canadiens could have had either at #26, chose Nikita Scherbak's teammate rather than Daniel Audette's teammate, and the Sharks were only too happy to trade up to #31 to pick up Jérémy Roy as the first player chosen in the second round.

So this summer will be the first marker in what could be a long race between these two.  Who will be the one to catch the eyes of the coach and management staff at the evaluation camp?  Will we start snapping our suspenders, or flaming Trevmarc Bergetimmins on HIO so soon after the June draft?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Canadiens were in a great position to get to know both defencemen prospects, with comparatively greater access and familiarity to the Silvertips and Phénix players and coaching staff, and more 'viewing' opportunities.  I have to trust that they made the best decision they could, and it wasn't based on faulty or incomplete information.  They had a book on both guys.

Maybe it'll turn out that they chose the wrong player, five years down the road, but not for lack of information or due diligence, like the Terry Ryan pick.  This isn't an Erik Nystrom or Lukas Vejdemo pick, based on limited but positive info.  They looked under every rock for both these kids, got to ask Donald Audette about Jérémy Roy's study and off-ice habits, got to ask Kevin Constantine about what Noah Juulsen's family is like, etc.

So yeah, I trust that we made the right decision, but you can be sure I'll verify.

I remember a WKRP episode where Les Nesman was finishing up his news segment with the happy announcement from the British Royal Family that Prince Charles and Princess Diana were expecting their first child, relatively soon after the fairy-tale royal wedding.  Mr. Nesman closed off by saying, with pauses for extra significance, "We'll be watching the dates very closely..."

I too, will be watching the dates very closely, starting with the August evaluation camp.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Canadiens have openings in the Top 6, forward corps.

The way I see it, since we have to replace Brandon Prust as the left winger on the fourth line, Michaël Bournival has the inside track on that position.

We then have to replace P.A. Parenteau on the right side in the Top 6.  Let's assume that Brendan Gallagher has one of those RW spots sewn up.  Zack Kassian and Devante Smith-Pelly will battle for a Top 6 RW spot, and failing that will land in the Top 9.

I think Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas, by virtue of their longer AHL apprenticeship, have the inside track to battle for a Top 6 or Top 9 RW spot.  Sven has more promise, has produced more, and feels comfortable playing the right side even though he's a leftie.  Christian Thomas is a natural rightie who was injured with an abdominal problem two seasons ago, but underwhelmed last season as well.

As talented as they are, we have to keep our exuberance in check regarding Mike McCarron and Nikita Scherbak.  They're still very raw.  Especially looking at Nikita, while he has natural size, he's still not mature physically, if only judging by the Prospect Camp videos, he needs to develop further.  They're in the AHL next season, with a callup or two maybe.

Assuming that Alex Galchenyuk starts the season at left wing, based on the lack of transactions so far in Tomas Plekanec's, David Desharnais' and/or Lars Eller's case, let's assume we need a Top 6 winger on the left, and two in the Top 9 early on while Max rehabs.

Again Sven Andrighetto has a really good chance, he's a natural leftie, and conservative NHL coaches, of which Michel Therrien is one, hesitate to play wingers on their off-wing unless he's a special case like leftie Erik Cole on RW, of leftie Alexander Ovechkin on RW (although Adam Oates wasn't crazy about that either, he put Ovie back on LW).  Note that René Bourque played on LW despite having success on RW in Calgary, and Jiri Sekac wasn't given an opportunity on RW, as fans clamoured he should.

Charles Hudon also set himself up for one of those LW spots, he's a leftie also, and made a great impression last season in the AHL, and again at the Development Camp, he was the guy who was kind of above that level, like Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn have been, and Sebastian Collberg too in the recent past, the guy who's too good and maybe shouldn't be on the ice with those other guys.

So, I'm not crazy about making these line combos usually, but just to envision what it could look like, and to hazard a wager as to who lands where based on their development curve, here's what I see while Max is injured:

Hudon-Eller-Smith Pelly

Once Max is healthy again, we'd see:

Andrighetto-Eller-Smith Pelly

Notes (lots of qualifiers and loopholes to allow me to backtrack and worm my way out of things):

1)  Pre-Max situation has five smallish forwards (Tomas, David, Sven, Charles, Gally), post-Max it's four.  Do we run with that, since this is the Dawning of the Age of the NextTylerJohnson, or do we need MOAR size?  Does Marc Bergevin feel comfortable, or does he adjust this with trades or promotions from within (Mike McCarron)?

2)  Christian Thomas has to go through waivers to go to the AHL, but Sven and Charles are waiver-exempt.  Do the Canadiens try to wring out all the juice out of the Son of Steve before jumping off and saddling up another horse, Pony Express-style?  I think Christian would need a heck of a training camp to beat out his more productive teammates, but everything being equal, the brain trust may decide to manage assets conservatively, and not expose him to waivers, give him a shot, and let the others mature some more in the AHL.

3)  Not that these are suggested line combos, more of a 'general who lands where on the roster', but I like idea of giving Zack Kassian a real shot in the Top 6, and playing with a good passer.  David might replicate his success the year he got to dish off to Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty, with the former having a career year and the latter getting his breakout year.

I've compared David to a scrappy smart but undersized scrum half in the past, useful but not optimal.  Yet if you have him in your lineup, and can surround him with the right players who can take advantage of his passes and mask his deficiencies, you maximize the asset and the team's potential.  So give him a fly half and centers and a crew of loose forwards who'll be ready for the ball and run it with authority, instead of pausing and trying to create with it.  Let's give David two big wingers who can cash in the puck.

4)  Again, not recommended line combos exactly, but Tomas with the kids on the one hand has the benefit of experience, they've played together a lot, but they've not necessarily shown great chemistry.  Not a lot of size on that line either.

5)  I can see a lot of movement on the right wing, whoever is clicking gets to move up, whoever isn't producing gets to move down.  That may seem like a truism, but I think this is so to a greater degree than on the left side.

If Max had a ten or twelve or twenty-game drought, you wouldn't necessarily bump him down the lineup, to the Bottom 6.  By virtue of his past performance, you'd give him every chance to fight his way out of the slump, with good linemates to help out.

None of the guys on the right side has that luxury.  Two or three games is all they'd need to be shuffled.  And AHL guys might be called up in case of really bad cold streaks.  And Sven moving over to the right as another risk.  These guys would need to be on their toes to keep their roster standing.

6)  Jacob de la Rose?  It's probably wishful thinking on my part, but I'd like him in the AHL, at least to start the season, for like fourty games.  I know Michel Therrien has a soft spot for the big guy, and looking at this suggested forward corps he might not like the lack of size, but I think he needs to be put in a position of leadership, in the Top 6, in a lower level to progress.  I don't want to accept that what we saw last season, a big guy who forechecks and backchecks and that's about it, is all we're going to get out of a high second-round draft pick.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Weighty concerns at the Canadiens Development Camp: Charles Hudon and Mac Bennett

Every kid who's drafted has it written in his scouting profile that he needs to get bigger and stronger, every kid this side of Connor Crisp and Eric Lindros maybe.  They all know it, and recite it rotely in their interviews, how they'll work out hard all summer long to get ready for camp, to become a pro.

And fans obsess about their players' size.  Certainly the Canadiens and the Canucks fans do, PTSD'ing over run-ins with Boston Cavepersons, they want their recruits, to be trite, MOAR bigger.

And we get satisfaction, mostly, outside of a Louis Leblanc or Brady Vail, the kids hit the gym hard and the results show from one summer to the next.  It's visible when they get interviewed, there's more trapezius there, the shoulders are more rounded, the neck flares out.  We hug ourselves in self-congratulation at the sight of it.

For example, Charles Hudon was a bit of a concern when he was drafted, being very slight, and eventually developing a wonky back, it didn't look good.  Not catastrophic, we only spent a fifth-round pick on him, but still, odds seemed remote that he might ever make the NHL at one point.

But the back healed, with diligent rehab and physio and exercise, and the kid had a super rookie season in the AHL, finishing second in rookie scoring.  His future looks brighter, suddenly.

And, he stated in an interview that he weighed in at 191 lbs at the physical testing portion of the development camp, so he’s addressing this area, he’s progressing.  If he settles in at 5'11" and just under 195, that might be ideal hockey weight, strong enough to withstand the rigors of an NHL season.

Prospect defenceman Mac Bennet while interviewed sang a slightly different tune.

He says that he worked hard to show up at his first pro camp at 200 lbs., but that he won’t try that again this fall. He’ll try to weigh in at a shade under 195, he says that will suit his game better, he’ll be able to skate better, with more stamina. In previous development camps, he talked about how former Player Development Coach Patrice Brisebois encouraged him to work hard at getting bigger and stronger.

I’m sure the base he built up won’t hurt him, that all that extra work he put in will serve him in terms of strength, and in having developed his connective tissue, it may prevent injuries in the future.

And we’re seeing how the League is slowly changing course, despite the Bruins, how skating and skill are starting to take over from size and outright intimidation. If a prospect AHL’er can make a decision to play five pounds lighter, that this will be an advantage for him and his future career, then maybe the tide is shifting.

For realz this time.

Christian Ehrhoff to shore up the Canadiens defence at a reasonable cost?

If we're talking about UFA's available for cheap, we could do worse than Christian Ehrhoff, a smooth-skating left-shot defenceman who'd instantly upgrade our blueline.

He's the kind of defenceman that the Canadiens look for, what the managers were hoping for when they signed Tom Gilbert and then traded for Jeff Petry, a really agile, almost-elite skater who can break the puck out, either with a quick pass or by skating out of trouble.  He's really brainy, almost Markov-lite in that sense, but certainly much more fleet of foot.

Paired with P.K. or Jeff Petry, he'd be a handful, pretty hard to get around, and always a threat to turn an opposition rush into a three-on-two going the other way.  Let's say we keep P.K. and Andrei together, and have Christian Ehrhoff with Jeff Petry, that's four guys who can move the puck, and turn defence into offence in a hurry.

Or, if we want to ease up the minutes on Markie, we slide him down to the second pairing with Jeff Petry.

On the third pairing, you could have Alexei Emelin and/or Nathan Beaulieu with, on the right side, Nate, Greg Pateryn or Jarred Tinordi.

While the ticket price for Mr. Ehrhoff may be dropping daily, he'd probably come in at what he played for last season, $4M in Pittsburgh.  Consider also that his buyout from the Sabres pays him almost a million dollars a year for the next decade.  It shouldn't really enter the equation, but then again maybe he figures he'd like to play for a winner and adjusts his demands accordingly, if the thinks the Canadiens roster and recent performances give him that opportunity.

Practically, with Nate and Jarred needing waivers next season, and needing to be on the 23-man roster, it would require almost certainly that Alexei Emelin be traded away, to remove his cap hit, and unclog the defensive corps of too many bodies, to say nothing of Tom Gilbert.  The kids need to play some, after all.  Whether Alexei would waive his No Trade Clause, and whether the Canadiens think they can do without his physical presence is definitely in question though.

As a fan though, and having appreciated Christian Ehrhoff's turn as a Canuck, I would very much be down for an Andrei-P.K. and Ehrhoff-Petry Top 4, with the kids providing in my opinion a raft of good options for the third pairing.

Man, would we be skating with that defence corps.  Other teams wouldn't know what hit them.

Jarred Tinordi's summer, and beyond.

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.

About Jarred Tinordi, in the past few seasons we've been anxious to know where he'd play, if he'd make le Grand Club, or if he'd need more seasoning.  There was pressure to have him up in the NHL, from the fans on HIO at least, if only to thwart the Bruins' thuggery to some degree.  We know those guys aren't so tough when they're facing off against, for example, the Leafs with Colton Orr and Frazer MacLaren and Mark Fraser and Mike Brown.  In that case, surprisingly, they're more interested in playing hockey than in their usual crosschecking extravaganzas.

Anyway, this year, I'm feeling that this particular area of concern, our Tinordi account, is settled.  He can't be sent down to the AHL because he'd have to go through waivers, he would be immediately claimed if we tried to pull that stunt, so he'll be on the 23-man roster, as the #7 or even #8 defenceman.

That's not ideal, we'd like him to play big minutes if it was possible, but by now he's probably done most of the learning he could have done at the AHL level.  Former Bulldog Assistant Coach Stéphan Lebeau told us that he was dominant there, that his presence or absence in the roster was a big factor in whether they'd win or lose games.

In my feverished imagination, I can see him getting in fourty games with the Canadiens next season.  Let's say we rest Andrei on every back-to-back game and put Jarred in, that's seven or eight games right there.  Give Alexei Emelin five games off during the season, maybe when his enthusiasm flags a little and he's not destroying opponents the right way, or maybe when he is and has a couple of bruises and ouchies to heal up.

Tom Gilbert would have been traded away for a non-protected first-rounder, so Greg Pateryn is the rightie on the third pairing.  He gets a dozen games or so off whereby either Nate or Jarred play the right side.

Add in some minor injuries, strains and pulls where the regulars have to take a few games off, and baddabing, Jarred gets his fourty games.  Factor in all the practice time and extra work with Jean-Jacques Daigneault during the 'optional' skates, and that's not a bad way to ease in our big project of a proto-Langway.

Of course, this would need to be the plan at the onset of the season, from which we wouldn't deviate unless stricken by a 'force majeure'.  As Brendan Shanahan said this spring, it's easy to have a plan, the hard part is sticking to it.  I know our GM and Head Coach are very cautious with youngsters, they love their steady veterans.  Michel Therrien is coaching to win games, he doesn't see the NHL as a development league.

The advantage Jarred would have in this scenario is that he's not Jonathan Drouin, a smallish flashy forward who has a lot to learn about how to play his position in the NHL, how to 'play without the puck'.  Jarred is a tower of a defensive defenceman, with the attitude that coaches love, so I'm sure Michel Therrien has a soft spot for him, wants him to succeed most of all, even though he loves all his children equally.  He might be more forgiving of mistakes when dealing with a player like Jarred.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Greg Pateryn is now under contract for three seasons.

About the contract extension for Greg Pateryn, what welcome news for Habs fans, and what a good move by the agent and the player.  The rugged rookie defenceman seemed to have caught on with the Canadiens late in the season and during the playoffs.  His steady game and physical style may have endeared him to Head Coach Michel Therrien and General Manager Marc Bergevin, both former defencemen themselves.

At 25 years old, Greg is a mature player, having played four seasons at Michigan under coach Red Berenson, and almost three full AHL seasons before his callup last spring.  His first season as a Bulldog was marred by injury, but during the 2013-14 season he surprised observers with some offensive flair and a nice hard slapshot that helped him rack up 15 goals and 34 points.

Greg is also mature physically, he's a grown man at 6'2" and 220 lbs, a stature he's not afraid to use.  He was reportedly asked to focus on his defensive play in his own zone and on a more physical style, which may have contributed to his diminished offensive production last season.  Again though, the coaches seem to have liked what they saw, never mind the scoresheet.

While I don't necessarily expect or even want a Chris Pronger-level of aggression in all defencemen, it was nice to see Greg skate effectively and dish out hits liberally.  And it was nice to see him sneer at huge Jimmy Hayes of the Panthers when the latter objected to a hard clean hit.  We need a little more brass in our lineup, some strength and stoutness of character.  Greg brings that.

With that in mind, Greg and his agent's decision to sign this extension is a masterstroke.  They tack on another two years to their deal, which means he’s in the fold for three, with a modest raise from NHL minimum to a cap hit of $800 000 the next two seasons.

In his situation, as a fringe #6-7 defenceman, what he needs to do is play and work on his game, to improve, to solidify his status as an NHL’er.  By making himself cost-effective, predictably so, he gives himself the greatest chance of being on the roster and getting these minutes, at an NHL wage.

He wasn’t going to have a great next season that would translate to a bigger contract, it’s not like he’s poised to score 14 goals and wow an arbitrator, so his opportunity cost, the trade-off for the stability is negligible.

But he’s set himself up to be a workhorse, a necessary cog, by the time he approaches UFA status, at which point he may be in a position to cash in.

The Canadiens meanwhile, when they envision and plan the roster for the coming seasons, can plug him in with some assurance, he’s signed for three seasons, a known quantity, they can see that as taken care of and figure out other issues.

So good work by all, the Canadiens retain a useful young defenceman on a cap-friendly deal for the next three seasons, and the player sets himself up as such an inexpensive option that he may make himself indispensable on the roster.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Doug Wilson moves the goalposts on Jim Benning, scuttles the Kevin Bieksa trade.

Ian MacIntyre autopsies the failed Kevin Bieksa trade with San Jose on TSN 1040, and says the stumbling block is that Sharks GM Doug Wilson “moved the goalposts” on Jim Benning, and wanted the 2nd-round pick he gave in return to be a 2016 pick. Mr. MacIntyre says that’s extremely poor form, and not a common mistake that happens often, just normal confusion in the heat of the action. On the draft floor, when you’re batting around the idea of swapping picks, it’s understood to be that they’re for the current draft, unless you specify a future pick.

There’s some faint corroboration for this, in that during the second round, a talking head reported that Doug Wilson didn’t want to part with his second rounder, the GM “needed it” to acquire Jérémy Roy, and sure enough he traded up for the 31st pick and got the Sherbrooke defenceman as the first player drafted in the second round. Which is neither here nor there, it’s actually more accurate to say that he wanted to keep it so as to move up, blah blah blah.

I know there are lots of unwritten rules and codes in hockey, maybe this is one where Doug Wilson broke the code, reneged on his word, but I always kind of think that until you ‘fax it in’ and the NHL makes it official, it’s not official, it’s not a trade. Maybe the contract extension was taking a while to figure out with the agent, maybe Jim Benning hadn’t quite shook on it yet, and meanwhile, Jérémy Roy kept falling, and falling…

Anyway, he reports that the Canucks management were furious, they were left out to dry. Kevin Bieksa was negotiating a new deal, had gone house-hunting in San Jose, thought he was gone, and now isn’t. Not great.

One of the differences between Marc Bergevin and Jim Benning is that while our GM is approachable, affable, and can be quotable, he’s remarkably unwilling to discuss much. If it’s official, if a deal has been made, he’ll inform the media and discuss the matter, but otherwise you can’t get anything out of him. Which is good, there are seldom any leaks from the New Forum.

Jim Benning isn’t polished when speaking, not as entertaining as his counterpart in Montréal, he’s kind of rough around the edges, but he’s remarkably candid with the media.  He’ll get into hypothetical scenarios, divulge his intentions, etc. I was taken aback, pleasantly so, when he told the press flat out that he was trading Eddie Lack, not Jacob Markstrom, and that he was confident he’d get a “fairly high pick” in return. I thought it was refreshing to see a GM not bend over backwards to pretend, to deny what everyone can see is shaping up.

And that’s where he got into trouble, and why the mood is so foul with Canucks fans now. Jim Benning set up expectations of a Kevin Bieksa trade and an extra second-rounder for his popular goalie, and neither deal came about.

Expectations and Zack Kassian

Zack Kassian was acquired from the Sabres three seasons ago at the trade deadline, with the Canucks taking another shot in their unending quest to find a (better) RW to play with the Sedin brothers.  At the time, it was thought that maybe the Sabres had rushed him to the NHL, that maybe he should have played more in the AHL, but it was hoped that the 'change of scenery' might be what makes him click.

In hindsight, the Canucks should have sent him down to the minors themselves while they still could, before he'd need to pass waivers.  There were a lot of growing pains, whispers about off-ice problems, clashes with the coach and/or management.  Maybe now that he's gone the journos will spill the beans on some of that stuff.

But what's clear is that Zack Kassian has hockey skill, he's talented.  He can score goals, he can pass, there are some great highlights of his on YouTube, see for yourself.

Unfortunately, Canucks fans are forever waiting for the 'next Cam Neely', the 'next Todd Bertuzzi'.  Zack Kassian didn't immediately fit in on the Sedin line, he played lower down the lineup, at which point they wanted him to lay waste to humanity.  Canucks fans are still scarred by the way the league let the Bruins goon them out of the Stanley Cup, they want big and tough, maybe more than Canadiens fans.

Dale Weise was expected to be an enforcer in Vancouver.  Jason Garrison was thought too meek and mild to some tastes.  Zack was expected, by the fans at least, and also due to the roster construction, to face off against the Derryk Engellands and the Brian McGrattans.  He was their size, after all.

The thing that can help him in Montréal is that Michel Therrien wants effort, he wants forecheck, but more than anything he'd rather have the puck than seeing one of his players make a hit.  If Zack plays responsibly, and does well when he has the puck, he won't be asked to drive guys through the boards.

There are guys like Jeff Carter or Rick Nash who are big, but don't necessarily play tough, according to Don Cherry.  Their size is an asset, if someone tries to intimidate them it's not that easy, but they're also not running around creaming guys, they have better things to do.

If we fans can accept that Zack Kassian isn't the anti-Lucic we all pine for, if we accept that he's a skill player who's really big and who sometimes can get nasty, then we'll have the right expectations and won't be disappointed.  And Zack won't feel miscast, like Dale Weise did also in Vancouver.

It's good that he accepted responsibility for his underwhelming turn in Vancouver.  Three different coaching staffs found him wanting, so it's not the case of a coach playing favourites.  If he can come into camp in better shape, in good spirits, if he can click with some linemates that complement him, we'll compliment him on his great play, and we'll compliment Marc Bergevin for another swindle of the Canucks.


Kassian should have been Vancouver royalty.

Gallagher: Canucks failed with Kassian, wash their hands of his problems — and massive potential

Canucks pay a toll to unload Kassian 

Hot Takes on the 2015 Free Agency Opening Day

Ducking in and out, catching up on the July 1 opening day of the NHL Unrestricted Free Agent signing period, as it accumulates on my PVR.

---TSN starts off with a glitch right off the bat, announcing that Mike Weber had been signed by the Vancouver Canucks for $1.5M, which immediately set my spidey senses tingling.  Did they really mean Mike Weber from the Buffalo Sabres, or the Canucks Yannick Weber, their very own Restricted Free Agent?

They cleared it up about fifteen minutes later, it was indeed Yannick who got re-signed, which will make Carey Price's sister Angela happy, that her boyfriend keeps playing in Vancouver.

This wasn't a slam dunk, the Canucks hadn't qualified Yannick, apparently afraid that he might take them to arbitration, where his point production might sway the decision in a costly direction.  He still got a healthy raise from the $850 000 he earned last season, when he hadn't been qualified either in the off-season.

Interesting, tumultuous off-seasons for Yannick, after apparently solidifying his status as a regular defenceman and first-wave powerplay quarterback late in the season, he's tumbled back down the hill, and he's still seen as a #6-7 fringe guy by the administration, by the coach, and by the fans.

---Andrej Sekera signed by the Edmonton Oilers.  Amazing what a competent GM and President can do, in this case attracting one of the prime UFA's to what used to be the Siberia of hockey.

It looks like Jeff Petry's contract was the template they used, $33M over 6 years.  Which they weren't able to afford for Jeff last season.  And have now spent on a leftie who's two years older.

---Michael Frolik decides early on to go to the Calgary Flames, for five years at $4.3M per.  He'd professed an affinity for Montréal a couple days ago, how he liked it there and trained with fellow NHL'ers in the off-season, and I thought he'd be a good band-aid for a couple of seasons on right wing, at $4M per max.

Of course, I knew that was unreasonably low, that he'd get much more on the open market, so I'd crossed him off the list.  Apparently so did Marc Bergevin.  Good move, that's a lot of money for a Middle 6 forward, it doesn't fit in our salary structure.

---P.A Parenteau will play in Toronto, he'll make $1.5M for one season.  I'm a little surprised at this.  I thought he might go to a team like San Jose or Washington, a team that has some playmaking centres and can use a creative winger like him, a final piece of the puzzle.  The Maple Leafs certainly don't fit that bill.

Another reason is that the Leafs are now apparently heavy into skill, which P.A. has, but also into analytics, led in this area by assistant GM Kyle Dubas.  From what I read, I thought that P.A.'s underlying numbers were poor, he didn't 'drive possession', etc.  Maybe the Leafs had a different read, or different numbers entirely.

I'm saddened that he didn't flourish in Montréal, that injuries stalled his season, he seemed genuinely happy and positive during his stay in Montréal.

I liked how Gabriel Dumont, who was a little glum when he was sent down to the AHL and exposed to waivers last October, explained that Pierre-Alexandre spoke to him and tried to encourage him, telling him he spent seven seasons in the minors before he finally got a fulltime job in the NHL, so he should keep working hard and believing in himself.

So as hard as it is for me to say this about a Leaf, I wish him good luck with his new team.

---Raphaël Diaz returns to the Rangers, one of his former teams.  Really Rangers, don't you have enough defencemen?  He had a mediocre season with the Flames, only got playing time due to injuries to other defencemen.  I guess they know him over in NYC, and must think his 'particular set of skills' will fit in with the rest of their blueliners, especially if Keith Yandle is on the trade block as the TSN guys floated.

---Cody Hodgson signs with the Preds, and they'll undertake the reclamation job with him that they did with Mike Ribeiro.

---Zack Stortini, remember him from the Bulldogs?  Ottawa signs him to a two-year deal.  I guess having dealt away Eric Gryba's elbows, they needed to load up on toughness, especially with Don Sweeney acquiring 'character players' like Zac Rinaldo, but Zack Stortini is more of a punch-taker than a puncher.  Two years?

Add in one-time Toronto wonderboy Mike Kostka on a two-way contract, and you know that Colton Orr and Korbinian Holzer can't be far behind.

---I was with some coworkers preparing for the Canada Day Parade when one of my buddies who's a Canucks fan approached me and informed me of the Zack Kassian trade.  They usually like getting my goat, know when I'm PVR'ing a game and will pretend to check their phones and blurt out the score.  With this in mind, I thought I was being set up, and said as much, out loud, that this was a faintly plausible ridiculous trade hoax.

So, Zack Kassian, and the proverbial fifth, for Brandon Prust.

  • I hate dealing away Brandon, a leader of the team, and a guy who'd voluntarily come here as a UFA, and embraced the community.
  • Mariepier Morin had promised there would be hell to pay if he got traded away, especially now that they were engaged.  Her media career is not 'portable', she needs to be in Québec.  I'd hate to be Marc Bergevin right now, and incur her fury.
  • Brandon's pugilism isn't replaced by Zack Kassian, who's big but not a great fighter, he's reluctant to assume that role.  Maybe this is another opportunity for Jarred Tinordi, to contribute to a 'team toughness' concept.
  • Trading away a Bottom 6 left winger for a right winger who could/should (by all rights) play in the Top 6 should be a no-brainer.  If Zack can put it together.  Whereas Brandon is a sure thing, you know what you're getting.
  • From Vancouver's end, I don't understand what they did, they already have a 3rd/4th-liner that they're moderately overpaying in Derek Dorsett, who plays that exact same role of 'energy heart-and-soul gritty leadership provider'.  Maybe they'll only hold Brandon for two days and flip him to another team, like Boston did for Martin Jones.  
  • The Canucks better not trade him to the Bruins.
  • Jim Benning says that Brandon Prust was brought in to partly allay the leadership and toughness deficit created by the departure of Kevin Bieksa.
  • The Vancouver media believes that Zack Kassian's departure creates a spot for scoring prospect RW Jake Virtanen to win in camp.
  • The Canadiens save about a million dollars in cap space in the one-for-one trade.
  • Brandon's 3rd/4th-line and PK duty can be assumed easily, fingers crossed, by Michaël Bournival.  Go, kid!
  • If things work out, Zack provides some size and skill in the Top 6, and is a true right-winger, not a leftie asked to play the right side.  He has great hands, some surprising moves, clever passes, if he can be consistent, that guy can play, absolutely.
  • We get Brendan Gallagher, Devante Smith-Pelly, Dale Weise, and now Zack to replace an ineffective P.A. Parenteau.  That's really not bad, if things work out following a somewhat optimistic scenario: Gally and Dale hold steady, Devo takes a step or two forward, and Zack makes a big jump.
  • Positive Mental Attitude: Zack, when interviewed by James Duthie, spoke about how excited he was, how the Canadiens are his dad's favourite team.  He said how, regardless of a trade, he'd resolved that next year he was going to have a big year, make a statement.  
  • He didn't go into details when James Duthie probed into this area, he just said that he was going to prepare to take his game to the next level.  Plainly, based on his last couple of seasons in Vancouver, he means being more diligent in his off-season conditioning.  Zack is a little jowly, never broke any records during testing at training camp.  If he can drop a dozen pounds and get stronger, that'll go a long way to improving his game, his intensity, his consistency so he doesn't wear down during the season, or suffer shoulder injuries, etc.
  • At first blush, I didn't believe this trade was even real, and then I hated it.  But going through the process, analyzing it, I feel better about it.  If Zack can make the same quantum leap that Dale Weise did when he arrived from Vancouver, we're laughing.
  • The fifth-rounder we get in addition is a big bonus.  Let's stockpile more picks, always.  And the fifth round is where Trevor Timmins does his best work, right?

---The Penguins acquire Phil Kessel to play right wing with Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin.

Oof!  That could be deadly, they could explode.  Especially if Sid can pound some sense into him, and get him to get in adequate physical condition for an NHL player.  As everyone has thought, if Phil Kessel can score 30 with Tyler Bozak and Cody Franson, imagine what he'll do with Sidney and Kris Letang feeding him the puck.

And good on the Leafs for pulling the trigger on a relatively decent deal.  They weren't going to hit a homerun trying to trade such a prickly player with that contract.  Better to cut the cord and move on, since they don't really care about the next couple of seasons.  This isn't about maximizing value to make a Cup run, this is a strip down of the roster, an inculcation of the organization to a new philosophy.  And quite honestly, the Leafs are looking to be bad, to get a few high picks before they get better.

The Leafs unload their 2011 first-round bust Tyler Biggs in the deal, the guy they'd traded up to get, to add truculence.

Tim Erixon, who's ping-ponged from the Rangers to Columbus to the Blackhawks and the Leafs, goes to Pittsburgh too.  He's maybe going to have a career as a throw-in, on the Rick Nash trade, and now the Phil Kessel trade.

Sidenote: interesting that Scott Harrington gets dealt away by Pittsburgh.  One blogger whose work I enjoy thinks he's the posterboy for over-valued CHL defensive defencemen.
One of the things that drives me off-the-wall crazy about Hockey Canada at the junior level is the fetishization of stuff as nebulous as "heart" and "grit" and "toughness." Consequently, we get guys on our international junior teams who, when they appear to exhibit some of these intangible qualities, are lauded for their on-ice defensive abilities. Take, for example, Scott Harrington. A Penguins 2nd round pick in 2011, he was named the captain of the OHL champion London Knights this past season (leadership!), was a finalist for OHL defenseman of the year (defense!), and was guaranteed a spot on Canada's World Junior Championship team's blueline because he was there before because he blocked shots (heart!). Corey Pronman lists him as one of Pittsburgh's top-10 prospects, saying that his upside is a 3rd or 4th NHL defenseman due to being a "high-end thinker" with stellar defensive ability.
And yet he'll more than likely be out of NHL hockey by the time he's 25, doomed to a career bouncing around the minor leagues and Europe, mostly because he's not a very good hockey player, relatively speaking.

Maybe Mark Hunter, formerly GM of the London Knights and now with the Leafs, knows something we don't.

---Mike Green signs with Detroit, by the same stroke stifling my dreams of flipping them right-handed puck-moving Tom Gilbert for Anthony Mantha.  And a couple of picks.

Mike Green is a few seasons away from the phenomenal 31-goal year he had once, he's suffered a few injuries and concussions since then, so the three-year term is very reasonable for the Wings, compared to some of the prognostications by TSN's panel.  I thought they were still relying on his rep, which used to be of an All-Star.  That's not the case any longer.

---And the Wings adds some talent with Brad Richards at a reasonable $3M cap hit for one year.  Those guys aren't kidding around, we may tremble at their approach next year.