Thursday, 24 March 2016

Should the Canadiens re-sign Tom Gilbert on a short-term contract, to retain an asset?

"Okay, hear me out.  Don't be so quick to dismiss."

[Crowd mutters, pre-emptively angry]

"We sign Tom Gilbert..." [ducks a rotten tomato]

[Crowd leaves its seats and gestures at the stage, at each other]

"No listen!... Gimme a chance here.  We sign Tom Gilbert..." [flinches at nothing at all]

"...and we play him a dozen games next season..."

[Mutters and murmurs have grown to a roar as some audience members clamber onto the stage]

"...but just to showcase him..." [is swarmed by a mob who knock the microphone stand down and headlock/drag/carry the speaker stage left]

"...(muffled) trade... mpfffasset..." [dull thud of fist making explosive contact with ribs]

[As William Wallace addressing his army of Scotsmen]

"...For the Draft!  For the Draft!..."

[Voice dies away]

Eugene Melnyk is a terrible NHL owner.

From the Ottawa Citizen:
Melnyk hasn’t liked what’s happened with the Senators since Day 1. He was mystified by Cameron’s decision to sit starter Craig Anderson in the club’s home opener in October and give O’Connor, a raw rookie, the start in a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. 
He was asked why it went so badly?
“No idea. Bryan and I sit there and we just nod our head. We can’t get it. We get it now. I remember back in December some of those games, three in a row that we lost by a goal we were leading. It was inconsistency and some stupidity,” said Melnyk, who then pointed at Cameron’s decision in Game 3 of the season.
“I go back to the very first game. You put in the second goalie. What was that about? On opening night and the guy gets clobbered. It’s not fair to him, not fair to the fans. Just a lot of little tiny mistakes that all of a sudden escalate and get serious and get in people’s heads.”

Man, I’m so glad we have an owner like Geoff Molson instead of windbag Eugene Melnyk. To start off, our owner is an honest purveyor of a staple to the masses, a scion of an honourable Montréal family, not a shady pharmaceutical shell-gamer. I still can’t quite shake the opinion that his public appeal for an organ donor was unseemly, an example of the plutocrats line-jumping the system.

When it comes to his team, despite his denials, it’s a fact that he doesn’t ‘spare no expense’ to build a winner, it’s widely known that the Sens work to an internal budget, like the Jets do, and unlike teams that will spend to the cap ceiling.

Generally, I want a pro sports team owner, if we must have such a thing, if we’re not quite at the stage where every team is a publicly-owned community organization, like the Roughriders or the Green Bay Packers, to be a benevolent trustee for the fans. Not a self-important demagogue like the Yankees’ George Steinbrenner or the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, not an arriviste like the Raiders’ Mark Davis or the Bengals’ Mike Brown or the Bruins’ Charlie Jacobs or the Colts’ Jim Irsay, who like the saying goes, were born on third-base and act like they hit a triple. Not a windsock like the Browns’ Jimmy Haslam or an underhanded schemer like the Oilers’ Darryl Katz, he of the fact-finding mission to Seattle.

And certainly not a cash-strapped Napoleon-complexed parasite who comes up short in stick-measuring contests with other, wealthier owners, who leeches profits off a team for his personal enrichment, like the Nordiques’ Marcel Aubut or the Chargers’ Spanos family. Or the Sens’ Eugene Melnyk, who wants to hang with all the bigwigs in the VIP, but looks the other way or goes to the bathroom when it’s time to buy another round of Crystal.

Occasions like this, when his GM is keeping it together in more ways than one, are a great time to keep his damn mouth shut and let the pros do the talking. Or better yet, have a Daniel Alfredsson in place as the knowledgeable President in charge of these types of decisions, and let him talk to the press, with credibility, instead of shooting his mouth off to a legion of fans who see right through him.

P.K. Subban reported to be the source of locker room friction.

Lots of rumours, Twitter reports lately about how P.K. Subban is a source of friction and discord in the Canadiens' dressing room.

I don’t understand why this is controversial, why we need to disbelieve. P.K. has a huge personality, is a character, a chatterbox, he’s loud and he’s proud, he attracts attention to himself, doesn’t mind being the butt of jokes or pranks as long as he’s in the middle of things.

This act is a lot easier to swallow when the team is winning and P.K. is slaying the Bruins all by himself, you give him a lot of slack, accept the little foibles and the loudness, my lord the loudness. But when you’re having a horrible season, and everyone is on edge and under pressure, and P.K. bobbles the puck and allows the opposition’s winning goal on a brain cramp, then the antics they wear on you.

Next season when we’re in the midst of a run for the Cup, and P.K. is blasting 25 goals in on the powerplay, he can be the fashion model and the dressing room clown and the rapper-in-training all he wants, and the other 22 guys will fight to the death for him.

I’ve thought of an analogy between P.K. and former Expos great Gary Carter, but I’ve never posted on it, P.K. being a bit of a third rail on social media.

Gary Carter was definitely a good comparable. Supremely talented, a fan favourite, but a target of discontent and jealousy in the clubhouse. There was the story of the other players busting his chops once at the airport, when he got off a bus and made a beeline for the gaggle of reporters, instead of waiting for them to come to him. I can’t remember the exact quote, but they were catcalling him, saying “Jeez Gary, can you let them take out their notebooks first, …” He was the first guy I ever heard the quote “He’s never met a microphone he didn’t love” being used on.

In 1983, when hardline manager Bill Virdon took over, there was a much ballyhooed incident at spring training, when Gary Carter was yelling for an infield popup. Bill Virdon came out of the dugout with both guns blazing, chewing out Gary. Apparently, infield flies are handled in a certain way, someone ‘calls’ it and everybody listens, but on the Expos Gary always called them for himself, which was unusual but the rest of the infield kind of let it happen that way.

It was easy to see what was going on, the reporters all explained that Bill Virdon probably came in with some background knowledge about some of the quirks of the team, maybe some of the resentment towards Gary, justified or not, and the manager put his imprint on the team, seized the reins. Probably a few Expos kind of muttered “Right on” under their breath.

Some of the resentment also apparently fell along racial lines, that Gary was the squeaky-clean media darling who got all the press and endorsements, while André Dawson and Tim Raines and Warren Cromartie got the crumbs.

As I wrote earlier about P.K. though, when the Expos were winning, when it was September, you saw the Expos celebrate as a whole team, nobody shunned Gary when he threw out a would-be base stealer or got another timely double.

Devante Smith Pelly, Part 3

I've contributed long posts on Devante Smith-Pelly since he was traded to the Devils, how I don't get why he didn't 'go to the net and cause havoc', as he describes what he now tries to do with great success for the Devils.
After Smith-Pelly’s three-point performance Thursday night, he told “So far, I think I fit like a glove (with the Devils). I’m just getting in on the forecheck and creating havoc, going in front of the net and parking myself right there, at the edge of the crease. That’s something I knew I definitely had to do.

I asked what prevented him from doing so as a Canadien, since Michel Therrien constantly pleads with his charges to go to the net, that's where goals are scored.  I gave specific examples of the head coach doing precisely, specifically that, enjoining his players to go to the net, instead of trying fancy passing plays.
My question for the learned  folks here is, did anything in the Canadiens' vaunted/cursed system prevent Devo from doing this while he was here?  I'm not being glib or trolling anyone, I'm asking an honest question, looking for some analysis.

HockeyInsideOut member 'Phil C' wrote a long, cogent analysis and dissection of our system compared to the Devils.  With his (tacit) approval, I've linked his entire post, but list here the main points he brought up and supported with video clips:

1. Carrying the puck across the blueline vs carrying it in.

2. Poor net drive/Perimeter play.

3. (Poor) Cycling the Puck.

He and I agree that his current explosion is a blip in performance that is unsustainable, is too small a sample size (7 goals and 3 assists in nine games) to draw definite conclusions from.  I'm persuaded by his post that there are system and roster differences in both teams that partially explain his greater success on the scoresheet so far.

But it nags at me that the quote that kind of twigged me, that kind of stuck in my craw a little, where he says he parks himself in front of the net and that's where he's going to be successful, it's kind of baffling, since that's what I'd yell at him to do through my magic Panaphonics screen, to go to the front of the net, to battle with opposition d-men and keep them busy, create space, and he did so very rarely.

So I've been digesting this, and eventually circled back to an article from earlier this season, where he confessed that the Canadiens' system was a little alien to him, where he was asked to not necessarily finish his checks but rather chase the puck:
“I’m just getting on the puck and not necessarily going for the big hit all the time. I’m trying to get my stick in there and create turnovers. That’s something that, before I came here, I wasn’t told to do,” offered Smith-Pelly, who joined the Canadiens last February in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks. “I was always told to run guys right through the boards. I was never told to do anything else.”

I've mentioned this often in posts, how that philosophy largely explains why we get outhit in the stat sheet regularly, although sometimes it's galling when a bigger player like Jacob de la Rose flies by a player who himself has been pretty generous with the hits and crosschecks and elbows, who should be made to pay back a little bit.

But another quote caught my eye:
“Our speed is a big part of our success. We’re doing everything we can to make it hard for other teams to break out clean and create offensive chances. That’s how we’re being asked to play, and I think we’ve been doing a really good job. Those two other guys [Mitchell and Flynn] are really fast. If you dump it in, they’re going to get in there and make it hard for defensemen to make a clean pass,” explained Smith-Pelly, who has one assist so far this season. “We’re all a little different, but at the same time, it matches perfectly. I’m just going to go to the front of the net. If they’re looking for me, that will be the first place they’ll look. Those are two speedy guys. We’re just reading each other perfectly. We matched well together right away.”

At the start of the season, we saw a slimmer Devo being more limber and more noticeable on the ice.  But as the season progressed, he kind of blended in, to the point where at the end of some nights you wondered if he played, if he was in the lineup.  He was actually healthy-scratched a couple of times.

Some have brought up that he was injured partway through the season; Michel Therrien did so when he was asked about Devo's explosion in New Jersey, that his injury set him back and he struggled to get back on track after.  He missed games starting in late November with a 'lower-body injury'.  So I'll attribute some of his ineffectiveness to that.

But mainly, I notice how he said the same thing then that he's saying now in NJ, about crashing the net and using his size to screen goalies.

And it sticks in my craw.  When he was acquired last season, it caused a hue and cry among Montréal fans who were sore about losing Jiri Sekac in the deal, but I pleaded for patience, I stuck up for him.  It hurt to lose Jiri, but I always had my eye on Devo, was jealous that the Ducks at nabbed him in the second round and he played in the NHL at 19, he was a find, I thought.

I explained often that he was a right-shot right-winger, which we needed, a young player with potential, and that we needed his skillset more than Jiri, all things considered.  We needed his thumping amongst our forwards, his ability to push back against other big opponents, with our relatively light complement of forwards.

And he never quite delivered.  He seemed uninvolved.  Not personally, since he mostly said all the right things, seemed to mesh well within the team.  Not as uninvolved as Michael Ryder in his second stint here, not as uninvolved as Thomas Vanek hiding in the stick rack against the Bruins in the playoffs, but playing desultorily.  Invisibly.  When Marc Méthot was facewashing one of ours, the best we could expect was that Devo might grab a Senator and hang on, which left me wanting a little more snarl, more of a message sent.

And about saying all the right things, he actually uttered a headscratcher when he claimed to the reporters that he didn't know why he was being left out of the lineup, during his healthy scratches.  Michel Therrien, when asked the same question, tersely replied that Devo needed to be responsible defensively, and more involved physically.  It oughtn't have been that much of a puzzler for Devo.

So I'm going to let this go, but I'm going to be a little frustrated with Devo, that he didn't do here what he's embracing in New Jersey, that he didn't keep his word about being the bigger guy who'd be found in front of the net on his line.  I'll give him partial dispensation that he didn't quite fit the system here, that NJ may be better for him, but going back to that October quote, seeing that, it's going to make me a little bitter.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Game 74: Canadiens 4, Ducks 3

Condensed "Canadiens Express" thoughts, thanks to Gary "Our Game" Bettman, on the 4-3 win against the Ducks.

--This is the first game I've ever noticed Cam Fowler.  We always talk about him as this mythically great defenceman we wish we had, but he never caught my eye, and I'm not saying this to demean him, it's more of a knock on me as a fan, who watches players for the Canadiens but only notices opponents when they foil us or goon us.

Tonight, I realized that he's much taller/bigger than the picture I had of him in my mind, more robinsonny than cheliosy.  Moves well, has a nice stride.  Good play by him on the Perry goal, nice shot on net that created a rebound.

--We found one thing Stefan Matteau can do: he can come out of the cycle with the puck down low, curl out towards the corner and bank pass the puck back to his defenceman.

Take that all those of you who say he's a worthless player incapable of anything.

--I cringe whenever I see Mike McCarron fight.  Call it the Komisarek effect.  I've grown accustomed to having our big physical players get cut down to size, usually by Milan Lucic.  I'm afraid someone's going to pop our balloon.

And now it crystallizes for me that having big Mike on the team won't work next year, unless we have two other guys at least who can throw their weight around and drop the gloves, or else he'll be a constant target and have to fight fourty times.

I guess Connor Crisp and Brett Lernout make the team by default next season, straight out of camp.

Unless we sign Milan Lucic as a UFA.  And David Backes.

--I'm very happy that Jacob de la Rose is not subject to waivers next season, because he needs at least another season in the AHL, that poor kid just isn't a player of any impact in the NHL.

--I like the Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn pairing, in theory at least.  Two youngsters who can skate, play physical and follow the classic model: the puck mover attacking guy, and the bigger more defensive tougher guy who can support the attack by having a decent shot.  Lefty-righty.

Let's keep those guys playing together, build on their history together in the AHL.

--That Paul Byron to Max Pacioretty to Greg Pateryn back to Max to Alex Galchenyuk et le buuuuuuut! goal was a beauty.  As it developed, I kept seeing how the attack would abort, the defenceman would check Max, or the puck would skip over a stick, in my mind, four or five times before the puck found mesh.  Great stuff.

I was just formulating the thought that Max really won't get to thirty goals this year as the play developed.

--"On n'a pas nécéssairement mentioné le nom de (Mike) Brown souvent ce soir, il a quand même trois mises en échec dans ce match, et il vient d'en rajouter une quatrième, et une cinquième, ben là pas vraiment..., ha ha ha, Simon Després ha ha ha l'attendait..., ha ha ha, et le buuuuut, ha ha ha, c'est 3-2!"

Okay, I'll say this about Jacob de la Rose, he and Lucas Lessio forechecked hard in the Ducks' zone, and he covered up on two occasions for Darren Dietz and Joel Hanley when they pinched in along the boards to keep up the pressure.  Maybe developing a hate-on for him will allow me to notice when he does something good.

And nice goal for Mike Brown, good story for him.  Sure, he lucked into a puck in the slot, but he deserved that, his forechecking and the threat of a crunching hit from him created that loose puck eventually.

--On that Jacob Silfverberg goal, Max didn't make a strong play with the puck, a defensively responsible play.  Some argue that we should leave our zone as a five-player unit, with possession of the puck, but here, on this play, the defensively-safe strong play of getting the puck out of our zone by clearing it off the boards would have made Michel Therrien happy, and not led directly to a goal against.

--Seeing Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa on the Ducks, it brings a bit of clarity to the convulsions the Canucks are going through the last couple of seasons.  Two great leaders those two, big tough talented guys who play hard every night, have a nasty side, who compete and will play mean, keep the other team honest.  Disregarding their contracts, I'd take those two guys on my team any day.

--Forechecking works.  Lucas Lessio and Mike Brown have some speed, maybe not as much as Michaël Bournival and Brian Flynn, but bring the added component of size and strength, which festers in the back of the mind of a harried opposition defenceman.  Nice goal for Lucas Lessio, and Mike Brown adds an assist and an argument for obtaining a contract next season.

And a goal which came on a cursed dump-in, to boot.  With Jacob de la Rose standing in front of the net.  And which endangers our draft status.  Cognitive dissonance aplenty.

--Darren Dietz and Joel Hanley having a nice game, supporting the attack by pinching in, after a difficult couple of games.

--Stupid mean Michel Therrien would never give Lars Eller two good wingers like Mike Brown and Lucas Lessio, along with more ozone.  David Desharnais gets all the O3...

--Maybe the boys heard Daniel Sedin's sortie about giving 100% effort every game, every shift, that you demand the puck every time, while they were looking in the mirror, and it had an unintended effect.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Game 73: Canadiens 1, Flames 4

Ouf...  What a 'game' it was.  Mike McCarron scored late to give it the appearance of decency.

At the end in 2012, I don't think we were all quite so blue or homicidal.  I don't have a lot of context, that was my first season back watching Canadiens games assiduously, after years of missing out on Andreas Dackel and Radek Bonk.

I think that year we could be more Zen because we knew there was going to be a massive cleanup at the Nouveau Forum, Geoff Molson had been the owner for only a year, and would have spent that time to evaluate the organization top-to-bottom.  That, combined with the certainty of a high draft pick, and a great chance at 'un gros joueur de centre' in either Alex Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko, meant a brighter future to look forward to.

We'd have to outwait the millstone contracts of Scott Gomez and Tomas Kaberle, sure, there's no miracle cure to those, Gary Bettman hates long contracts to veterans and would ensure that we wouldn't slip out of those, that we'd take our medicine, drink our gallon of cod liver oil, like every other team that gives crazy contracts.  Fair is fair.

But we were proven right.  Geoff Molson purged the hockey operations staff, hired a bright young go-getter with lots of experience from a quality organization as his GM.  We ended up with 'only' the third pick, but the stars aligned, the Oilers picked the consensus best player in the draft in Nail Yakupov, the Blue Jackets took a defenceman some compared to Scott Niedermayer in Ryan Murray, and we were left with the player we wanted, uber-talented Alex Galchenyuk, who if he hadn't lost his draft season due to an ACL reconstruction, some pundits claimed, would have been the lock for first overall.  And the farm system, long neglected, would start to overflow with the shrewd picks from Trevor Timmins, so we'd be able to deal with the salary cap and make trades from a position of strength, swapping superfluous assets to desperate teams, because we had kids in the minors who couldn't be denied a chance in the NHL any longer.

The table was set for unfettered progress.  We weren't enthused with the new head coach, dreaded what may come, but I figured we should give him a chance.  I hadn't been happy when we hired Jacques Martin previously.  "What, the Ottawa reject-coach who couldn't get it done with a stacked team?", I scoffed, but in time he proved to be a quality NHL coach, inspiring confidence in his charges, winning more than he lost.  I thought maybe Michel Therrien will have the same effect, would be preferable to a rookie head coach, a guy from the minors learning the ropes.

This year, I'm not looking ahead at next season with the same optimism.  Sure, Carey Price will be back healthy, and so will Max after a full summer of workouts, something he couldn't do last summer with his tibial plateau fracture.  So will Brendan Gallagher.  If anything, we're lucky these three core members of the team had their injury-marred season concurrently.  It will allow us a high draft pick this season, and we can maybe get right back into Cup contention next season.

Looking past the solid pieces of this core though, we get so many more question marks than anything else.  We used to jones for the day when we were rid of riffraff like Travis Moen and René Bourque, but in our minds they'd be replaced with newer, shinier, better, cheaper players, it's the Wheel of Life right?  It seems to me that next season, we'd be happy to have these players, those pros, on our roster, compared to the callow youths we're seeing in the forward corps lately.

And there probably won't be a cathartic housecleaning at the New Forum.  I'm afraid a New School coach like Guy Boucher, freely available now for hire, will be left at the altar, in pursuit of organizational stability, so as to put an end to the endless cycle of coach hirings and firings, to stop the madness.

Which is fine in principle, but ignores the practical reality that the players are speaking loud and clear how they feel about the current régime.  They're not playing with any pride, any desperation.  They've thrown in the towel.

How awkward will it be if the whole gang is brought back together next September?  Are we supposed to cheer them on as if nothing happened?  Kind of like the morning after, when your life partner found your texts on your phone, and furniture was wrecked and dishes were smashed and words were said that can't be unsaid?

If we knew there was closure coming this April, we'd deal with this a lot better.  Instead, we're forced to protest ever more stridently, like opponents of a Trump presidency being ever more fervent as they are faced with what seems like a fait accompli.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Stefan Matteau and Devante Smith-Pelly, Part Deux.

I wrote a long post on Devante Smith-Pelly recently, it's a subject that might intrigue us over the next few seasons.  My take is that he and Stefan Matteau are found money, we got them in exchange for Jiri Sekac, who while flashy and showy is struggling to show he's an NHL'er, to say the least.

Reading a Montréal Gazette article by Stu Cowan, I come across this passage:
After Smith-Pelly’s three-point performance Thursday night, he told “So far, I think I fit like a glove (with the Devils). I’m just getting in on the forecheck and creating havoc, going in front of the net and parking myself right there, at the edge of the crease. That’s something I knew I definitely had to do.

My question for the learned  folks here is, did anything in the Canadiens' vaunted/cursed system prevent Devo from doing this while he was here?  I'm not being glib or trolling anyone, I'm asking an honest question, looking for some analysis.

Now, I know that Devo expressed surprise last season at how we play, that relentlessly pursuing the puck rather than thumping and finishing checks was a different deal than he'd grown accustomed to in Anaheim.  I've observed and posted on this, how on 24CH you see the coaches enjoin players to not 'look'  for big hits, that these will happen organically, that they should rather focus on the puck.  I've posted a couple of times when I'd see an opposition defenceman behind his net flip the puck along hurriedly and then brace for impact, only to see a Torrey Mitchell or Michaël Bournival or Jacob de la Rose speed by and chase off after the puck.  You'd see the d-man kind of frozen for a second, shocked they didn't get pounded into the boards.

So maybe that's what Devo means when he says "creating havoc", although I'd argue that when Brandon Prust and Dale Weise were racing around on the forecheck, that created havoc also, but without the Ryan Reaves flying elbows.

But the rest of the quote, I'm scratching my head.  "...going in front of the net and parking myself right there, at the edge of the crease."?  Michel Therrien does nothing but promote that.  I've posted on that as well.  The famous "We are a grinding team!" quote that social media latched on to, it's actually part of a longer segment when he torches his guys for not 'driving the net', for hesitating to go to the net, he lampoons them about how they seem as if they're negotiating or debating as to who should go there.

Another example I've caught is a couple seasons back, early in the year when the boys weren't scoring very much.  I lauded Michel Therrien for using a different teaching method, whereby instead of telling them (again...) to go to the net, go to the slot, he simply invited every goal scorer thus far that season to come to the front of the dressing room and mark on the whiteboard where he was when he scored.  The picture and lesson was clear, and he was hoping it would sink in if he presented it this different way: every 'X' was in and around the crease, none were along the boards or far out at the blue line.

So, I wonder, what prevented Devo in his 80 games or so here from parking himself at the edge of the crease, like Yvon Lambert did, or like rookie Mike McCarron seems to grasp as a raw rookie, right off the bat?  If anything, that's what we'd fault Devo for, for playing entire games when he was invisible, when you'd catch a fleeting glimpse of his number 21 and wonder "That's odd, I didn't know Doug Jarvis was playing tonight?..."

I'm genuinely asking this.  Is there a difference in the system the Devils use that allows DSP to play a netfront role and have success which wasn't possible given the system predicated in Montréal?  Was there a reason why he couldn't forecheck and create havoc in Montréal?  Or are we thinking his recent success is a product of puck luck, unsustainably-high shooting percentage, and a change in scenery/kick in the rear?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Stefan Matteau and Devante Smith-Pelly.

When we acquired Devante Smith-Pelly, it stung for this Canadiens fan, since I liked Jiri Sekac, I had bought in, I liked his backstory, I liked his size and speed, it showed even on my TV screen.  I had confidently predicted great things.

I understood the reasoning for the trade.  Anaheim needed a left-shot forward, a left winger, and had too many righties in their forwards.  They wanted someone who could potentially complement Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on their top line, someone better than Patrick Maroon, and also a little boost of speed, since many of their forwards were lumberers, built to battle heavy teams like the Kings and Sharks and Blues.

Meanwhile, Marc Bergevin needed to unclog the left side and beef up the right side of his forward corps.  And speaking of beef, he needed some added heft, someone to play a little more physically, and to add a little snarl, a little pushback.  So Devo was what the doctor ordered for our team too.  Good trade, like in "Dances with Wolves", both parties getting something they wanted by giving up something they didn't need as much.

Devo wasn't a throwaway in my eyes, a useless plug, a fourth-liner, a grinder as he was castigated on HIO, he was also a good prospect.  In my all-too-frequent perusals of past years drafts on HockeyDB, he stood out to me as the guy who played NHL games one year after being drafted, the only second-rounder to do so, ahead of most first-rounders outside of Taylor-Tyler.  At the time, I thought the Ducks had unearthed a steal, kind of like the Avalanche with Ryan O'Reilly or the Blackhawks with Brandon Saad, the high-second-round pick who plays in the NHL early in his career, who's effective, the diamond in the rough.

He didn't take to our team and system like a Duck to water though.  He struggled, was sat out a few games, and the coach explained he needed to work on his endurance.  Devo admitted as much, said that in Anaheim they wanted him to play heavy so he could battle along the boards.  He said that our system, which is predicated on puck pursuit rather than finishing your checks, was something he had to adjust to.

The latter half of his season was inauspicious: 3 points in 20 games, and another 3 points in 12 playoff games.  He did dish out a few hits, but wasn't the force in the corners and in front of the net that we would have liked.  We discovered he wasn't a guy who had a temper and would right our wrongs with his knuckles.

Over the summer, we expected him to trim down, be in a better condition to skate all night, be in better shape overall, and come back and prove what he was made of.  He accomplished that to some degree, he looked less jowly in camp, if not carved out of rock like modern NHL'ers.  He seemed to have extra spring in his stride.  Maybe it was hopeful confirmation bias, but he seemed faster on the ice, better able to keep up with the play.

Except that he still seemed inconsistent, at least, on some nights relatively invisible, still a step behind, and those nights became more and more frequent as the season wore on.  I asked, with concern, whether I was the only one noticing him slowing down rather than getting better and better as the season progressed.

Plus, with our relatively lightweight roster, de-Prustified and de-Kassianized, it didn't help that Devo wasn't the most aggressive of players:
He’s big and has potential, but he’s another ‘pacifist’, a guy who’ll not make eye contact with Mark Stuart when the going gets facewashy in front of the Jets’ net. With Lars Eller in the Winter Classic, and Jacob de la Rose against Tie Domi’s spawn, we have enough big players who won’t push back, who’ll look the other way, literally turn the other cheek. And with P.K. and Alexei Emelin getting under opponents’ skins but not able/willing to drop the gloves, that’s too many guys who won’t face off against a pugnacious opponent to give him the what for.

On a roster like we had in 2014, with Travis Moen, Brandon Prust, George Parros, Douglas Murray and Francis Bouillon, we could have carried a Devante Smith-Pelly, a guy who'll get involved in scrums after the whistle, grab a guy and hold on, but not do much more than that.  Heck, on that type of roster, he might have felt his oats a little more, benefited from the facilitated aggression, been a little more adventurous once in a while, with the ample backup behind him.

But not on our current roster.  Devo is not quite the player we thought he was, the big bruiser with hands that can surprise you, who can develop into something, and who'll fit right into our team.  It's not quite that seamless a fit.

And I can't help but wonder about Devo's maturity level, whether he really understands how tenuous a hockey career is.  When he was a healthy scratch earlier this season, he expressed confusion about why he wasn't playing.  Meanwhile, the head coach, asked about this by reporters, tersely replied in ten seconds what we all knew, what Devo should have known, that he needed to play hard, be consistent, involve himself physically, be responsible defensively.  That Devo said he was confused about this showed disingenuousness, at the very least.

So before the trade deadline, with a dearth of assets to ship out in return for oodles of scrumptious draft picks, I threw Devo in the lot.  I had seen enough, I declared.  As much as I wanted him to flower, to explode, to become a bruising Top 6 winger, I cut bait.  How long had I waited for Benoit Pouliot, for René Bourque, for Lucien DeBlois, for Perry Turnbull?  I wasn't going to be fooled no longer nohow.

Again, I'd seen enough.  And I wanted to stock up on draft picks.  I thought Devo and a fourth might get us a second.

Instead, we got what I thought was even better, Stefan Matteau, a promising but erratic former first-rounder who would add the toughness and snarl that Devo never did:
I floated the comparison yesterday to a Patrice Cormier or Charlie Coyle, a talented player who can put up points, but has size and strength and a screw loose. I’m normally predisposed to dislike these guys, once they start to raffitorres it out there, but generally a big tough mean player, like Sergio Momesso, Mike McPhee, Shayne Corson, they’re always welcome on our team. Because they’re ours, dammit.
I don’t know that Stefan can rack up the points like these guys, but if he has a livelier stick than Devo, and is more effective at throwing hits, and isn’t a pacifist, I’ll be very happy.
His contribution will be magnified because there are precious few guys on our team who can do what he does, be a menacing presence at forward, and will crosscheck back when Clayton Stoner starts gooning it up in front of the net. There being this bigger vacuum in our lineup for that kind of contribution, he can be that much more valuable.

In checking his points totals on HockeyDB, I kind of ratcheted down my expectations, despite the first-rounder status.  I figured if he provided some speed and energy and popped in 12-15 goals on the Bottom 6, that would be a good trade, in that Devo more often than not merely occupied a lineup spot but didn't make the most of it, was relatively invisible, contrary to guys like Paul Byron or Torrey Mitchell who overachieved, who often flashed and won games outright.

That was my take on the trade, and I was comfortable in my assessment.

That was before, however, Devo's current scoring outburst with the Devils, who now has six goals and three assists in seven games.  And before Monsieur Matteau was healthy-scratched a couple of times by a coach juggling spare parts, trying to squeeze rookies in his roster for experimental purposes.

I'm allaying my fears by reckoning that we know what Stefan Matteau will bring, he's secure as a roster member for next season.  He'd have to go through waivers, so that won't be an option, sending him to St. John's.  He'll be part of the team out of training camp next fall unless a trade or something unforeseen occurs.  We saw what happened this season with no Brandon Prust/Zack Kassian on the roster, and Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi in the pressbox where they couldn't be of help.  Stefan will have a big role to play, in concert with others.  We will have pushback.

And Devo, well, good on him for his current success, maybe the change of scenery was the second swift kick in the rear he got, but the one that took.  Maybe he's more suited to the system they play in New Jersey.  Maybe he was never meant to be on a fast-break team, or had the stones to be the one heavy on a team.

I don't necessarily want him not to have success, but I'm a little green that it's happening on another team, that he didn't find the touch and expend the effort here, for the team which he cried for upon learning he was no longer a member of.  We could have used those goals last season in the playoffs Devo.  Or in December and January.

In context though, we're playing with found money.  The Jarred Tinordi trade really cut me deep, because we'd invested a first and a second-rounder to draft him, then years in developing him, waiting for him to hatch, all for naught.  For What-ley.

Devo came to us for Jiri Sekac, a player we signed as an undrafted free agent.  So we're flipping this found asset for Stefan, and he has some time to develop into a commodity.  No skin off our nose.

Game 71: Canadiens 3, Sabres 2 (OT)

A funny thing happened on the way to watch the game.  I had the full game broadcast on my PVR, since Sportsnet had deemed this a national game, not subject to rapacious and arbitrary blackouts (thank you, Gary Bettman), but I also noticed that the RDS 'Canadiens Express' version was already under way, mostly complete, all warm and fresh from the oven, also ready for consumption.

So I chose to subject myself to the condensed, one-hour RDS offering rather than the full offering of bland, ultimately pointless hockey.  There's too much cognitive dissonance associated with goals where you think "Ah, man, someone should have covered Trochek there but at least it means we're one step closer to Auston Matthews".  Morosely rejoicing at the opponents' successes is driving me to drink.

First period:

20:00  The Pacioretty-Galchenyuk-Andrighetto line, while exciting and shiny new, isn't an optimal combo in my opinion.  It's fine for now as we play out the string and experiment, but in the long-term, Max is wasted on that line.

Both he and Chucky are snipers, guys who shoot first, and with Sven completing that line, Max finds himself often mucking in front of the net.  And despite his size and strength, he's miscast wrestling in the slot with Roman Polak, he's better when he lurks around like a shark, looking for a pass or loose puck he can fire at the net.

As we continue the experiment, I'd like to see a Charles Hudon be recalled and tried on the left wing with Alex and Mike McCarron on the right to battle in front of the net, or a big body like Lukas Lessio on the left if we keep Sven Andrighetto on the right.

But resorting to Max as the netfront presence is not using him to play to his strengths, it's like asking a power hitter to bat leadoff, and to not take big swings, just try to make contact  and get on base.  It's like using your screwdriver as a chisel: it'll do in a pinch, but you'll probably mess up the job, and ruin your tool.  Take the time to get the proper tool for the job.

08:38  The Canadiens cleanly win a puck battle along the boards.  Lukas Lessio, aided by Mike McCarron, scoots off with the puck and dishes to Mark Barberio, who has a lot of time to operate at the blue line with the Sabres having collapsed around their net.  Andrei Markov ends up taking a good low wrist shot at the net, with Mike McCarron blocking the goalie's view.

And, this is the big one, after Mike McCarron takes an exploratory poke at the goalie to see if he can find the puck and pry it loose, the whistle blows, and the Sabres act all cool about it.  They stop playing, we stop playing, no Canadiens forward loses the top layer of his facial epidermis to a Sabres' glove.

No one gets crosschecked back to the Stone Age.  We knew this was the case, but it's being demonstrated again, the benefit of having players with big bodies and a temperament, what with the officiating being what it is in the NHL.

00:00  Gosh NHL refereeing sucks.

--They'll install cameras at the blue lines to agonize over trivial offsides, to the millimetre, but they can't figure out a better way to determine if a puck was struck above the crossbar?  Wimbledon uses cameras to deal with 140 mph serves, but the NHL has linesmen shrugging at refs who shrug back?  They've never heard of IR lasers?  Because Frankie Goes To Hollywood had those in the early Eighties.

--Alex Galchenyuk gets crosschecked by Rasmus Ristolainen into Robin Lehner, and then gets crosschecked a few more times by Rasmus Ristolainen for the crime of having been propelled into Robin Lehner.  Referees call offsetting minors, shrug again.

--Evander Kane loses his excrement and tries to go Tomas Plekanec, and both get offsetting penalties?  Because it's impossible to determine who was the culprit between the 5'11' 175 lbs guy and the 6'3" 215 lbs guy?  Who started it, who caused it?  More shrugging.

--Max Pacioretty is standing in the high slot without the puck, and gets crosschecked and then tripped with an obvious stick between the legs right in front of the ref, in full view?  Oh, the Sabre was just playing defence, he 'had his man'.  Play on.  Don Cherry would approve.

Meanwhile NHL GM's agonize over how to increase league-wide scoring in Del Boca Vista...

Second period:

19:13  Greg Pateryn with his first career NHL goal, very happy for him.

When he was at Michigan, he was described as an exclusively defensive defenceman, his last two seasons were played with Mac Bennett taking care of the offensive rushes while Greg minded the store.  To me, that didn't bode well for his NHL prospects, with all the studies that show that successful NHL defencemen, even those who becomes defensive defencemen à la Rod Langway or Craig Ludwig usually put up points at the lower levels.

But when Greg got to the AHL, the coaches there encouraged him to shoot more, worked with him and told him to keep his windup small, his release quick, and he started to create goals, pick up assists with it.  He started trusting it more, seeing powerplay time, and racked up 15 goals in 2013-14.

It took him a while to get his first NHL goal, 47 games over three seasons, but it was textbook, a low hard shot from the far edge of the faceoff circle, on a perfect feed for a one-timer from Alex Galchenyuk.  Good for Greg that his first goal is indeed one to remember.

And we've been hard on the AHL coaching staff, Sylvain Lefebvre first and foremost, but maybe we could chalk up Greg as a win for him, a guy who developed his game and blossomed with the Bulldogs, and who has a shot at being a regular NHL defenceman now, no small feat for a fifth-round pick by the Leafs.

10:00  Mike Brown on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty?  Our worst fears are realized.  Michel Therrien is becoming the goon coach we all predicted he would be, circa Summer 2012.

2:29  "Nathan Beaulieu est venu à la défense de Lars Eller..."

Cautiously avoiding the third rail, but kind of tip-toeing around it, can I ask why Nathan needs to defend Lars?  Our great big Viking needs to assert himself a little more, no?

1:10  Can I laud Andrei Markov for how smart he is, the way he handles the puck, offers it to a penalty killer, draws him in, then passes to his open man?  He's a joy to watch, makes it look easy, almost routine.  "Why can't Nathan do that?", you wonder.  After his powerplay goal at the end of the period, I'm more inclined to begin the process of forgiving him for quitting on his team in January-February, when he stopped trying.

00:05  What does Robin Lehner need to do to earn a penalty?  I guess assault and battery isn't the threshold.  Is it aggravated assault?

00:00  Greg Millen must be doing very well for himself, being employed by Sportsnet as a hockey analyst, and evidently drawing a handsome wage from the Buffalo Sabres as their on-air apologist.  Sure Greg, Lars Eller started all that ruckus by facewashing Robin Lehner, that's what happened.

Third period:

18:53  Mike Brown again on the top line.  I guess the coaching staff can feel my vibe about Max being assigned netfront duty, crosschecking against other defencemen, and assent to the wisdom of my observations.  As they should.

10:57  Dan Bylsma can't control the tempestuous Evander Kane, who's about to lose the game for Buffalo all by himself.  I have to say, for a best-qualified English coach, I'm not impressed.

08:04  Still pussyfooting around third rails (they're everywhere), Ben Scrivens should have stopped that.  But I know, I know, it's the Canadiens' lack of scoring that let in that Markus Foligno softie.

01:57  The refs have seen enough.  Alex Galchenyuk gets popped in the chops by Josh Gorges in the first.  Mike Brown gets a bloody nose from a crosscheck in front of the Sabres net in the second.  When Andrei Markov elbows Markus Foligno late in the game though, that won't stand, that's the straw that breaks the North American woodland bison's back.


02:45  What's Tomas Plekanec doing on the ice in overtime?  He hasn't scored in fourty games, hasn't tried in fifty.

02:02  Uh, about Andrei's smarts and all that...

01:45  Big Game
Torrey MitchellPaul Byron with another game-winner.  The guy's money in the bank.

And we avoid the worst-possible outcome, the loss while being splattered with a loser point.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Jaromir Jagr wanted to play in Montréal? Really wanted?

This whole meme of Jaromir Jagr wanting to play in Montréal, but being thwarted by short-sighted GM Marc Bergevin, that's going to be the particular windmill I tilt at for the next while.

Jaromir Jagr might have expressed a lot of things, but he demonstrated a desire to play for the highest bidder.

2012: Jaromir Jagr expresses a desire to return to the NHL, to his roots in Pittsburgh, where he still maintains a house, he's eager to point out.  He avows so much admiration for Pens' owner Mario Lemieux, he states he's willing to sign a minimum deal there.

They reportedly strike a deal and set up a press conference, but the day of, he's nowhere to be found, his agent can't reach him on the phone, rumours pop up about Philadelphia, and it turns out that he signed a deal with the Penguins' archrival Flyers.  For a few dollars more.

The next day, Jaromir doesn't face the Pittsburgh press, but rather does a phone conference, and explains that he feels uncomfortable speaking English, that's why he's on the phone rather than in person.  He'd forgotten to speak the language in the three years he's spent in Omsk.

That spring, he helps the Flyers eliminate the Penguins in that series when Sidney Crosby was pre-concussated by Claude Giroux for Brandon Dubinsky's future use.

2013:  During his stay in Philly, Jaromir waxed elegiac, in Vincent Lecavalier fashion, about how great the city was, the organization, his teammates, how he fit in so well.

That summer, he signed as a free agent in Dallas.  For a few dollars more.  But he expressed how invigorating it was to play with so many young players, have a chance to mentor youngsters, build something.

He's shipped out at the deadline, as a mercenary, to Boston.

2014:  Although he'd expressed a willingness to return to Dallas, and then to re-sign in Boston and have a chance at a Stanley Cup, Jaromir signs with the bottom-feeding Devils, for $4M.

When Jaromir Jagr speaks about his desire to play/sign a contract somewhere, he's acting as his own tout, his own auctioneer, driving up the price.  Montréal was another salary-cap strapped pawn he was trying to entice into the game, to create a market.  Thankfully, Pierre Gauthier and later Marc Bergevin never played that game.

Jaromir as the supremely-talented grand old dame of the game is a really cool story, I don't begrudge him his extended turn in the spotlight, but as far as him expressing interest in signing a contract here, I trust him as far as I can throw him when he's all slicked down with sweat from those 1 AM workouts and laden down with those weighted vests and his pockets full of Vegas poker chips.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Did the Canadiens err selecting Lukas Vejdemo over Nicolas Roy?

Before last season, two Roys, Jérémy Roy of the Phénix de Sherbrooke and Nicolas Roy of les Saguenéens de Chicoutimi, were touted as potential first round picks for the 2015 NHL draft.  Of the two, Nicolas Roy was thought to be the better prospect, being a 6'4" centre with offensive skill, while Jérémy was a smallish puck-moving defenceman with a great hockey sense.

As the season unfolded, the offence never kicked in for Nicolas Roy, he progressed as a player, but one who was now projected as maybe more of a shutdown centre, a mission he nailed during the summer Ivan Hlinka tournament.  He finished the season with only 16 goals, and 50 points total, and no chance to be picked in the first round.

He was chosen early in the fourth, 96th overall, by the Carolina Hurricanes, while Jérémy Roy barely missed the first round, being the first pick of the second round, with the Sharks trading up to claim him as the first player chosen on the second day of the draft.

This season though, Nicolas Roy has taken a great leap forward.  He's still excellent by all reports in terms of his defensive play, but he's also scored 46 goals so far, with three games to play.
«Il est extrêmement consciencieux de sa défensive, a noté Jean. Je savais qu'il était capable de faire 90 ou 100 points, mais je pensais qu'il allait devoir tricher pour y arriver. Il a prouvé qu'il pouvait le faire sans tricher. Si tu m'avais dit qu'il allait faire 90 points, j'aurais préféré qu'il en fasse 20 de moins, mais en étant dominant défensivement. Il a toutefois réussi à atteindre ce plateau tout en jouant de façon impeccable dans sa zone.»

"He's extremely conscientious about his defence.  I knew he could put up 90 or 100 points, but I thought he'd have to 'cheat' to get there.  He proved he can do it without slacking off on defence.  If you'd have told me he'd get 90 points, I would have preferred he score 20 fewer, while dominating on defence.  But he reached that level while still playing flawlessly in his own zone" -- Chicoutimi Head coach Yanick Jean.

I didn't squawk too much when the Canadiens didn't snap up Nicolas Roy, preferring Lukas Vejdemo late in the third, describing him as a sneaky dark horse pick that their European scouts loved, and as a big centre who compares to Alexander Wennberg.  I figured the Canadiens know what they're doing, they can evaluate and compare the kids and make the best decision.

But now, so early in the race, I'm getting cold feet.  Lukas Vejdemo is a year older than Nicolas Roy, couldn't crack the Team Sweden roster for the WJC tournament, and this season has put up a meager 5 goals and 17 points in the SHL, which is admittedly a men's league, difficult for a 19-year-old to play in.

Evaluating young prospects is difficult, and there is a long way to go before either of these players reach the NHL, but it's not great for us that Lukas Vejdemo, who we were led to believe was on the cusp of a great jump in his development, instead seemed to stall, while the bigger local player we passed up, who was there for the taking, is the guy for who everything fell into place.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Game 69: Canadiens 1, Wild 4

The Canadiens, staffed mostly with interns and summer students, lost 4-1 in a tedious game against the Minnesota Wild.  With their horrible jerseys.  I so miss the Minnesota North Stars sweaters.

–The Wild were in the Canucks’ division for years, and they played soporific Jacques Lemaire hockey, so that there were lots of tickets always floating around for their four or five appearances every year at the New Pacific Coliseum, people just offering them up, practically begging others to take them off their hands. I guess they’re still weaving their magic, HIO decided to Netflix-and-chill instead tonight.

–I’m so glad we’re not paying the $7.3M yearly salary to Ryan Suter and Zach Parisé, until 2025. Good players, but so not worth the money. They’re not the ballyhooed ‘impact’ players teams look for, the Wild are still that mid-pack team they’ve always been, eking into the series and flushing out in the first round.

–Great suit on Michel Therrien, shiny and zooty. Should have been double-breasted though, with wider shoulders.

–The RDS boys were a little guarded in their evaluation of Mike McCarron. They question whether his skating is up to NHL standards quite yet, whether he’s being given a little too much responsibility right now, and whether he wouldn’t be better off in the AHL. The consensus is that next season he should at least begin in St. John’s. Stéphane Leroux mentioned again how Marc Bergevin prefers to not call up AHL rookies to the NHL, but rather give them a full season to acclimate to the pro game, as he did with Sven Andrighetto two seasons ago, and Charles Hudon last year. Of course, the situation is different, with injuries changing the plans on a daily basis it seems.

–Mark Barberio post-game, explaining that Andrei Markov was probably his favourite player growing watching the Canadiens, and how it was a little surreal this morning seeing his name penciled in next to his in the lineup.

–Darren Dietz looked like a big teenager, appropriately so, his last year in Saskatoon, with blotchy complexion and gangly physique. He’s grown up a lot in the last couple of years, looks like a man now.

So, what a difference a loss makes, a balm for a tortured fan’s soul, after a few calamitous wins.

Our lottery odds, according to NHL Lottery Simulator, have zoomed back up to 5%, a substantial increase from our recent sojourn to the depths of 3.5%.

We spin the Great Wheel of Destiny, with a melancholy nod to Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel and their epic work on “The Man Show”.

Two spins in, we get Sabres, Canadiens and Jets. I could live with that, our choice of either Finn wingers to fold into our Top 6. Except that as a fan, I’d be tortured by which player to claim, I’d hem and haw. It’s as if I’d be relieved to pick at #3 and let someone else decide for us. I mean, I can’t even decide between Pierre-Luc Dubois or Julien Gauthier.

I can’t stand it. Let’s spin again.

At 14 spins, we get the second pick again, sandwiched between the Flames and the Leafs. Feeling up for more spins?

At 18, we get:



Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens


Calgary Flames

Calgary Flames


Ottawa Senators

Ottawa Senators

Draft Order

Montreal Canadiens
Calgary Flames
Ottawa Senators
Toronto Maple Leafs
Edmonton Oilers
Winnipeg Jets
Buffalo Sabres
Columbus Blue Jackets
Arizona Coyotes
10 Vancouver Canucks
11 Colorado Avalanche
12 New Jersey Devils
13 Carolina Hurricanes
14 Philadelphia Flyers

The Leafs have really done all they can, they come up incessantly in these attempts. Out of 18 attempts, they ended up with 14 Top 3 picks. The next best team was the Oilers with seven. Compared to our measly 3. Dagnabbit.

Monsieur Condon, please accomplish more fooferawed giveaways like that gift for Nino Niederreiter. One or two a game for the next dozen games should do. Make it look accidental, like Chris Kreider broad-jumping into Carey Price.

And, how low can you limbo in terms of playoff odds and still not be mathematically eliminated?

Montreal Canadiens Playoff Chances

Lost to Minnesota 1-4, playoff odds down 1.5 to 0.5%

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Canucks to add Pedan and Tryamkin to embiggen themselves.

The Canucks have a reputation a little like the Canadiens', deserved or not, of a team that’s skilled but undersized, that can be bullied and intimidated, that will resort to stickwork and diving in response. Its fans are also Bruin-scarred, for not as long as we are, but in a very notable instance of NHL goonery and thievery that transpired over 7 traumatic games.

So like us, they’ve been trying to beef up, with stockier players like Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen at the draft, getting Derek Dorsett and Brandon Prust in trade, and Zack Kassian before that. And they’re still waiting.

But the cavalry may be coming up over that hill yonder. They have Andrey Pedan, who is famous for that one-punch KO of Jarred Tinordi last season in the AHL, who is getting called up. He’s a big leftie defenceman at 6’5″ who skates well, has some skill although it hasn’t translated into many points yet, and has an aggressive style which the fans will welcome, after years of seeing their slick defencemen getting facewashed by Kyle Clifford.

Also comes news of Nikita Tryamkin, a 6’7″, 230 lbs giant they drafted high in the third round in 2014, a few slots before we picked Brett Lernout. He’s playing in the KHL, and there was faint hope the team could bring him over now, his season being finished since his team is out of the playoffs, and his contract expiring this summer. The talking heads were cautious, explaining that it’s not common for KHL teams to do NHL teams any favours, but it appears he has been released by them, and all that would remain would be paperwork and visas and a contract and bureaucracy with the NHL as to whether he can join the team this year.

He’s also a leftie, so there’s not much hope of that ever happening on a consistent basis, but can you imagine these two playing the third pairing for the Canucks? Imagine that Corey Perry might not be so frisky with the crosschecks after the whistle blows in front of their net?

And I’m not bitter at all that we dealt Jarred Tinordi in a joke of a trade, in what should have been his development year, while the Canucks have their Twin Towers just about ready to go. For the next time Milan Lucic comes to town and looks to torment Yannick Weber again.

You say tank, I say engineered dive.

With spring approaching, a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of the draft.  When his team is winding down an abject season.

According to NHL Lottery Simulator, the Canadiens are still only the ninth-best worst team in the league, with lottery odds of 5%, one in twenty chance of hitting the bullseye on the dartboard.  Heck, I could do better than that, unless the waitress has my number and can sell me rather than just wait for my orders.

Giving the simulator a workout, I get an All Canadian result on the first pull of the Wheel, Flames-Leafs-Oilers 1, 2, 3, and us getting 9th overall.  Let's spin again.

And we get:


Montreal Canadiens


Edmonton Oilers


Arizona Coyotes

Draft Order
1 Montreal Canadiens
2 Edmonton Oilers
3 Arizona Coyotes
4 Toronto Maple Leafs
5 Calgary Flames
6 Winnipeg Jets
7 Columbus Blue Jackets
8 Buffalo Sabres
9 Vancouver Canucks
10 Ottawa Senators
11 New Jersey Devils
12 Carolina Hurricanes
13 Colorado Avalanche
14 Philadelphia Flyers

You have run the simulator 2 times.

I'll stick with this, despite the sub-optimal results at 2 and 3, the perennial losers from Edmonton who squander young prospects with their ineptitude, and Gary Bettman's pet American franchise, which he has coddled and propped up for years.

It makes you wonder though, how much Phoenix would give up to swap their #3 pick for the first overall, with local-born Auston Matthews as the prize.  Would it start with Anthony Duclair and a second-rounder?  Plus Laurent Dauphin?

Jarred Tinordi?

And making our way to Sports Club Stats, we find that:
Montreal Canadiens Playoff Chances
Did not play, playoff odds down 0.2 to 1.1%

At what point does the ref finish his ten count and call this fight?  This is no standing eight count, we're flat on our backs, and everyone can see the little cartoon birds fluttering and circling over our heads.  We have x's where our eyes should be, and our tongue is hanging out.

Looking at the mock draft sites,

Draftsite has us picking Calgary Hitmen defenceman Jake Bean at #9.  Pierre-Luc Dubois goes to the Sens at #8 (Drat!), and Julien Gauthier to the Flyers at #11, according to them.

First of all, I don't know anything about the young man, but that's a terrible pick for our team.  I don't want anyone named Mr. Bean playing on our team.  I'm nothing if not superficial, I kneejerk quite a bit to those kind of things.  I hated Nick Schmaltz too as a prospect, sight unseen.  And Boone Jenner.  So there.

But also, and more importantly, it would take huge cojones for Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins to pass up Julien Gauthier like that, what with his pedigree and local roots.  They'd have to really hate the player, to pass up a huge scoring winger like that.  As if it wasn't an organizational need.

MyNHLdraft has us at ninth in their current mock draft too, but deed us Michael McLeod, a 6'2" centre who is the object of many Canadiens fans' affection.  That I could get on board with.

They also have the Sens picking Monsieur Dubois at #8, and the Flyers again snagging Julien Gauthier at #13.

I'm kind of over that whole deal of the Flyers fishing in our pond and coming up with Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Samuel Morin.  Enough.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Will Michel Therrien return as the head coach of the Canadiens next season?

I posted this morning:
I often try to draw parallels between the Canucks and the Canadiens, various situations they’re facing. The head coach position is one area where there are a lot of questions, and a lot of the fans are clamouring for a change.

Willie Desjardins isn’t loathed personally as Michel Therrien seems to be by many in Montréal, but a lot of the accusations are the same, that he doesn’t play youngsters, doesn’t develop them well, that he only plays them because Brandon Prust and Chris Higgins are no longer there to be on the roster, every day.

One big difference though is that when Trevor Linden gave his Head Coach a vote of confidence, the wording was quite different. Instead of like Marc Bergevin answering in the affirmative a direct question on if his coach would finish out the season no matter what, from which a lot of Canadiens fans deduced that he would be fired after, assuredly, Trevor stated calmly that Willie would be the coach next season.

Right or wrong, his coach is a lot more secure in that regard, in that fans know what to expect, and don’t feel like they have to whip themselves into a frenzy of hatred and personal attacks to try to tilt the balance in what small way they can come May.

And I thought about this some more, how the RDS guys are confident that Michel Therrien will be back next season, how Michel Therrien seems very assured, relaxed and in control during his press conferences, and it's starting to sink in for me that he will indeed return next season.

During the depths of the swoon, when neither goalie could be relied on, and the team played listlessly, defeatedly in front of them, I thought there was 90% chance that Michel Therrien would be relieved of his duties, if not immediately then most probably in the off-season.  It was quite clear that the players had spoken, they weren't playing hard or with any inspiration.  They were looking for a change, and it seemed inevitable.

And I was secretly relieved, I've never been a big fan of Monsieur Therrien, I generally prefer young coaches who are 'players coaches', who motivate them, who trust them, who unite a team rather than play mind games with them à la Scotty Bowman.  I yearned for Guy Boucher, who was unavailable when we were last hiring, the Lightning having stolen him from us, from the Bulldogs while we relied on white-bread Jacques Martin.  He is now freely available, with his impressive résumé, fresh off a stint coaching in Europe to stay sharp while he awaited an opportunity to jump back on the merry-go-round.

Except I'm no longer seeing the stars align, the dominoes falling.  My 90% confidence margin has shrunk to a 33% chance that Michel Therrien is let go.  It's possible that GM Marc Bergevin has already made a decision, which he will announce in due time, but hasn't bruited yet, hasn't sent out the signals that usually presage such coaching changes.  But it's now more likely that he wants to give Michel Therrien more rope, to chew through more of that contract extension he was offered two summers ago, and which expires in 2019.

And I wonder why.  Coaches have a shelf-life, and Michel Therrien is believed to have a relatively short one, his tough love approach, his 'my way or the gangway (to the pressbox)' style wears on players.  Would this summer not be a good time to make a fresh start, now that the team's culture of hard work, of team work, of selflessness, of 'Pas d'excuses' is established?  Have a more fan-friendly, player-friendly coach swoop in and build on this foundation, maybe unlock the latent, potential offence to be found in players like Alex Galchenyuk and rookies like Charles Hudon?

One of the big points which Marc Bergevin hammered home early in his tenure is how he wanted to put an end to the revolving door at head coach at the Nouveau Forum.  He stated and repeated often that organizational stability is a trait of winning organizations, that the media-fueled madness directed at the coach, the pressure he had to withstand, had to end.  He pretty much stated that there was a new sheriff in town, and things were going to be different.

And maybe we nodded facilely, too readily, not understanding to what degree he meant it.  Maybe Marc Bergevin is trying to reshape the market, tame the external forces that guided decisions like this in the past, when Red Fisher and Réjean Tremblay were power brokers to be feared, like Walter Cronkite weighing in on the Vietnam War.

More importantly, maybe Marc Bergevin is trying to serve, has already served a message to his players.  He is quoted as saying in his past evaluations that he liked his core, his leadership group.  During the swoon, he went into the dressing room and exhorted his troops, telling them that they had to rely on each other, that they were the ones who had to pull out of this slump.

And it seemed like they didn't believe him, because they played a slew of games when they gave less than 100% effort, and I'm going to point the finger at my favourite player Andrei Markov here.  He along with many of his underperforming teammates seemed to have thrown in the towel.  They played as if to force the issue.  To speak on the coaching situation louder, since the original message wasn't getting through.  By remaining steadfast, Marc Bergevin sent his own message.

Michel Therrien was famously glib and emotional in his previous stints in Montréal and Pittsburgh, and it made for good press copy, good YouTube to this day, but it was ultimately self-defeating, and after getting fired in Pittsburgh, he took some time to develop himself, improve his skillset as a coach.  He took some PR and public speaking training with a top firm in Montréal, and it seems to have taken hold.  He now has a wide array of inoffensive bromides and clichés he applies to any situation, instead of firing quotes in the heat of the moment.  One of which is his trusty line about how adversity isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's how you respond to adversity that's important.  How when you have one knee on the ground, the important thing is what you do next, do you put the other knee down, or do you get back up?

The leadership corps has been tested by adversity this season, and may have put the other knee down.  They might have looked to the GM to get them a new coach, a different goalie.  They looked for help 'outside their dressing room'.  And their pleas went unheeded.  The GM gave them some tough love, he meant it when he said they had to get themselves out of the mess, he wasn't going to do it for them.

Maybe in the long run, in terms of changing the culture, in terms of empowering the veterans and leaders and steeling them for what they'll have to face in the next few years, Marc Bergevin is ready to weather the current storm to ensure smoother sailing for the future of the organization.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Is Michel Therrien singularly bad as a NHL coach?

Fun game: who is this article (excerpts) about?

Hint: it’s an NHL coach.
The(y) don’t have enough talent… They have too many injuries, and everybody knows that too. But it’s still hard to fathom they (…) look flat-out terrible at times, especially at home.

At some point, you have to start discussing how much of this responsibility lies with the coach. No matter who he has at his disposal to dress.

Sound familiar? There’s more.
A lot of this gnawing feeling grows from (his) stubbornness, a trait you heard plenty about… A bad home record is often a product of not getting the right matchups on the ice when you should be able to.

The power play continues to struggle. (…) Deployment is an issue.

(…) we’ve watched immortals like XXX suit up for a franchise that once employed YYY and ZZZ…

One of his biggest failings this year has been how his constant line shuffling has impacted XXX. Other teams have gotten regular linemates for their stars….

Everyone can take one guess. No Googling allowed.

Another hint: your first guess may not be your best guess.

But if you must have the answer...

So I guess my point is, as a social media contributor posted out, that there are more than one 'bad' coaches in the NHL.

Also, that the oft-cited “most qualified, regardless of language” label is a chimera, much more difficult to discern than objective ones like ‘the Fastest Man on Earth’ or the National Spelling Bee champion. That it’s dependent on conditions, there are no sterile lab conditions where you can test that, one candidate vs. another, and come up with a 100% certain answer.

Finally, that we tend to echo-chamber ourselves into fixations as Canadiens fans, that looking over the fence at the neighbour’s yard often reveals their grass isn’t all that green after all.

And I say this as a member of the ‘Take Guy Boucher off the market right friggin’ now’ faction.

I’d also like if Benoit Groulx replaced Sylvain Lefebvre in St. John’s. Marc Bergevin says he’s always trying to improve the team, maybe that should apply to coaching staffs, and maybe we’re seeing the incumbent struggling to break through a ceiling. I think Mr. Groulx has lots of potential and experience, and has nothing left to learn in the LHJMQ. Let’s bring him in the fold, stock the pond.

Éric Veilleux is also one I’d keep an eye on, lots of leadership and charisma, coached Michaël Bournival and Morgan Ellis to a Memorial Cup in Shawinigan.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

IceCaps 3, Devils 1

I watched the IceCaps game against the Albany Devils, which featured a tame first period, then three quick goals in the second period by the good guys, followed by three fights.

The 'Caps opened the scoring with a powerplay goal by Charles Hudon, on a beautiful feed from Gabriel Dumont, who'd corralled a rebound of a Nikita Scherbak shot.  RDS' Stéphane Leroux took care to mention that all five IceCaps touched the puck on this play, so props to Darren Dietz and Bud Holloway on this one, they should by all rights earn tertiary and quarternary assists on the play.

Shortly after, Alexandre Ranger made it 2-0, cashing in a pass from Mark MacMillan on a 2-on-1.  And seconds later, Brandon McNally redirected a Bud Holloway pass into the Devils net with a skate, a play which was reviewed and found to be legal.

After this, Ben Thomson, a 6'3" 215 pounder according to the roster, acted like he wanted to go with John Scott at a faceoff, but ultimately chose an easier target, transparently so.  Kind of like when René Bourque had to atone for his knockout elbow to Nicklas Backstrom, and had to fight someone on the Capitals in their next game, and he chose to go Matt Hendricks instead of John Erskine.  Smart move.

Josiah Didier was Mr. Thomson's foil, and the poor guy, as big and strong may he be, is not a good fighter.  He came to us from the NCAA Denver Pioneers, and as such played with a full cage, and fighting was not allowed/tolerated as it is in the CHL. He has no experience fighting on the ice, but I hoped that he might have a natural affinity, to act as an insulator on our roster, a guy who can cool the temper of 'agitators' and the like.  Lots of NHL enforcers get to the NHL after a college career where they couldn't drop the gloves, they find a talent for it in the AHL.  Kent Carlson, famously, came to Canadiens training camp as an unknown in the '80's and swept through the NHL, surprising many tough guys.  He said he got into a few street fights as a youth, but had never fought in organized hockey until he turned pro.

I don't think we should bet on this happening with Josiah.  His natural size and strength aren't much help for him, he's not agile or quick, he struggles to grab on to his opponent without taking shots.  This is the third fight I've seen him in, and this was his best effort, in that he managed to not get knocked out by the willing and able Ben Thomson, he grabbed him, ripped off his helmet and ducked haymakers before pulling him down.  I let out a sigh of relief.

About a minute further in the game, Mark MacMillan got checked hard into the boards, and a line brawl erupted with everyone involved.  Brett Lernout ended up tangling with Dan Kelly, and due to questionable work by the camera staff and the director, we didn't see what transpired, they focused instead on Mark MacMillan barely hanging on to the much bigger Ryan Kujawinski.

So the Devils had done what they could to try to turn the tide of this game.  We hoped that the rest of the game would continue without incident, but that was too much to hope for.  Dan Kelly, freshly emerged from the penalty box, ran Nikita Scherbak into the corner of the glass partitions near the Devils' bench.  Stéphane Leroux compared it to Zdeno Chara's vicious assault on Max Pacioretty, and the thought had occurred to me as well.

Darren Dietz rushed in to avenge his teammate, while the medic attended to a dazed Nikita Scherbak, who is having a star-crossed rookie season as a pro.  During the cleanup, Bud Holloway and the Devils' captain Rod Pelley talked it over with the refs, and there was some disenchantment from newly-installed assistant captain John Scott when he learned there wasn't a major penalty on the play, just offsetting minors for Dan Kelly and Darren Dietz, and fighting majors.

Sure enough, immediately after puck drop, John Scott grabbed Ben Thomson by the neck, literally.  He'd told Jérémy Grégoire to shift off to the left wing so he could line up against the Devils tough guy, and then mauled him.  I have to say it was a punishing fight.  In the past, when I saw John Scott play for the Wild, I was never impressed, found him to be slow, ineffective.  Nobody wanted to fight him, and when he did, it turned into a grab fest, nothing much transpired.

Here, he fed him seven or eight rights before the Devil could get organized, and they all seemed to land on the chin.  He then switched to lefty to keep his adversary off-balance, incapable of mounting a defence, and tagged him four or five times, although mostly in the visor.  He went back to the right and cranked him ten or twelve times through the earhole in his helmet, then finished off with a roundhouse left/push/takedown.  Kudos for the kid for not buckling at the knees, and not puddling himself.

My biggest worry was that John Scott might get suspended if he went overboard, since tomorrow's game against the Devils promises to rock and roll, we may need him then.  He did get the instigator penalty and get ejected, but I had to believe that Ben Thomson, after two fights, wouldn't be much trouble the rest of the game.  Or the next day.  Or the rest of the Devils for that matter.

The third period started off calmly, and thankfully Nikita Scherbak was back in action, after some time in the quiet room no doubt.  He took a poor penalty early on, crosschecking a Devil into the boards, probably trying to avenge himself for the earlier hit by Dan Kelly.  He ended up costing his team a goal while shorthanded, making the game 3-1 with 15 minutes to play.

Noticeably, both Nikita Scherbak and Tim Bozon, who were drafted as scoring wingers, played centre.  I knew that Nikita had been shunted to the middle recently, and that the results were moderately encouraging, that the position might be a good fit for his skill set, but I didn't know that Tim Bozon was being asked to do that as well.  After Charles Hudon last season, that's quite a few skilled guys who we switch positions.  I know that Marc Bergevin claims you're advantaged by having many forwards who can play centre, that must play a role.  The team's status might be like the Canadiens' too, with all the callups and injuries, they're having to scramble and experiment, test the youngsters.

RDS' Norman Flynn mentioned that Nikita is getting a lot of icetime, no doubt due to the Canadiens calling up Mike McCarron, and the resultant vacuum at centre.  With 6:30 left, Mr. Flynn also noted an instance when Stéphane Lefebvre sent out Gabriel Dumont to take a faceoff, who quickly returned to the bench and was replaced by Nikita.

The Devils tried to mount a comeback but couldn't get organized.  They even played 3 minutes with an extra skater after pulling their goalie, but couldn't sustain any real pressure.

So a good win for the IceCaps, although their playoff prospects are looking grim, being six points back and with Hartford in their way.  I like how they battled, they worked and skated hard, and pushed back when needed against intimidation attempts.

And that's refreshing.  I don't want to harp on this, or maybe I do, but the Canadiens have been targeted this season, and certain moments have left a bad taste, like Lars letting himself get punched in the head during the Winter Classic, and Jacob de la Rose doing the same, letting Max Domi punch him repeatedly in the head, with no response.  Not good Jake.  If you're not going to bring offence, you have to bring more than positional play.  You have to contribute something else.  Especially at 6'3".  Against frigging 5'8" Max Domi.


Nikita Scherbak is finally starting to show something, but I wouldn’t count on him at the NHL level until at least another half-season in the AHL. He still needs a lot of work in my estimation.

Last night, seeing him dazed on all fours after being run into the corner glass stanchion, then seeing him back on the ice for the third, I wondered why they didn’t keep him out of the game for precautionary reasons. According to the Centre for Disease Control, any evidence of a concussion, such as a player being stunned, or dazed for a few seconds, is symptomatic of a concussion, no matter how mild.

You’d think that after Michaël Bournival, they’d err to the side of safety. It’s not like the situation was crucial, up 3-0 in the second period late into what is probably a lost season. Developing the asset(s) is job #1, not beating the Albany Devils at all costs.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

P.K. Subban not included on 'First 16' preliminary World Cup roster.

The unfortunate thing about P.K. being left off now is that he only has 20 games or so, and no playoffs, to convince the decision-makers that he deserves a spot on the team.  With the ingrained knocks on him as a player and a person in the minds of conservative hockey people, that's not a lot of time to change those kinds of perceptions.

We've been through this kind of situation before when, with the Canadiens eliminated from the playoffs by the Senators, P.K. was available to join the 2013 World Championships Canadian team, but GM Steve Yzerman balked.
My focus was on the defence corps, a definite weakness at the start of the tourney, replete as it was with Luke Schenns and Brendan Dillons and Jay Harrisons.  Not to exaggerate, but my first take when the roster was announced was that it was definitely underwhelming, and that it wouldn't even be a very strong unit on an NHL team.  Later, Steve Yzerman added Dan Hamhuis, who's a capable, mobile defensively-oriented piece, but not necessarily what the team needed, then publicly stated he was going to stand pat with the team he had, unless injuries struck.

Now, the elephant in the room, certainly in Montréal and online media, was that P.K. Subban was an available offensive force from the blue line yet didn't receive a call. (...)

... this year seemed to point towards the addition of P.K. Subban.  After the Canadiens were eliminated, it was spoken of as a 'fait accompli'.  Why the hesitation?  Did Steve Yzerman worry about team chemistry, with P.K.'s strong personality a concern?  Did his lack of discipline from last season, and a noteworthy lapse in the late-season game against Pittsburgh on national television, tinge the esteem the management team had for him?  How can there not be room on the blueline for one of this year's Norris Trophy candidates?  Did Steve Yzerman relent when Lindy Ruff advocated for his inclusion, knowing full well from facing the Canadiens the last couple of years what an impact P.K. could make on this D-corps?(...)

At the start of this season, I thought P.K. had to play very hard, disciplined hockey and keep his nose clean both on and off the ice to merit inclusion on the Sochi Olympics team.  I thought he'd done a remarkable job of that, despite a couple of blips, and had gone from a darkhorse candidate to one who was routinely mentioned by prognosticators as a sure thing, on the strength of his offensive explosion and stellar play.  Now it seems the battle isn't quite won.  He'll have to be excellent in the first couple of months of next season to cement his participation on Team Canada.

P.K. made it on the Olympic team, barely, almost grudgingly, with the benefit of another couple of months to properly evaluate his performance, with cooler heads.  Now, he'll have to battle the likes of Brent Burns, Alex Pieterangelo and Kris Letang for one of the guaranteed right defenceman spots, and T.J. Brodie and Mike Giordano and others for the 7th D position.  And as we remember from the Sochi selection ordeal, hockey men tend to prefer having a leftie as the 7th D, all things considered, since lefties tend to play the right side more often than righties play the left.

To me, it's a no-brainer that P.K. should be on the team.  He brings something to it that the other contenders don't.  They might be more steady-eddie, but none of them have shown the big-game ability, the clutch scoring that he has.

But Team Canada managers have shown recently that they're a cautious bunch.  They know they have a winning hand, and play it cautiously.  They're like a chess player with material advantage, risking nothing, agreeing to exchange piece for piece, looking to strangle the opponent at the end with that same advantage.

With Mike Babcock at the helm, and a slew of defensible alternatives on hand, it doesn't look good right now for P.K. to make the team.