Monday, 30 May 2016

Alexis Vanier, Alexis Pépin about to re-enter the draft?

Here's a list of drafted players whose ‘rights’ will expire by June 1 if not signed by their clubs.

1) We talked a couple of days ago about Conner Bleackley. Not signed by the Avalanche, Patrick Roy was reportedly seriously disenchanted with this prospect. Traded to the Coyotes in the Michael Bodker deal.

2) Keegan Iverson, a tough heart-and-soul type who coaches love, but whose production and game has regressed apparently. Ten years ago there’s no doubt he would have been signed, “you need these kind of guys, warriors, who battle for their team, …”

3) Alexis Vanier, Alexis Pépin. A couple summers ago, a deluded blogger lost his marbles about the Canadiens passing those guys up, choosing to trade up and draft Brett Lernout instead.

Alexis Vanier has just been wrecked by injuries. Wasn’t available for the Drakkar when they were trying to make a playoff run, was acquired by the Phénix last season. They thought they were loading up for a run this year, but they never got in gear, and he got dumped at the deadline.

I’d still think hard about picking him in the late rounds if he goes back in the draft. Lots of talent, leadership, great size, good production when he’s healthy. I’d still be surprised if the Sharks passed on him.

Alexis Pépin is the classic case of the uber-talented player with everything going for him, except discipline and desire. Even more questions about whether he ‘gets it’. Production underwhelming. Bounced from team to team, finally had a full season on a stacked Foreurs team, didn’t score enough for a drafted 19-year old.

But all that size and talent though…

4) Lukas Sutter, again. We went through that with him last spring, he went back into the draft after the Jets elected not to sign their 2012 2nd-rounder. You have to wonder if he’d have been picked that high if his name was Lukas Smith.

Anyway, he went back into the draft last season and the Islanders took him in the seventh round. It looks like he’s been playing in the ECHL and AHL on AHL-only or pro-tryout contracts.

The Brendan Gallagher-Brad Marchand bromance is bitter to swallow.

The emotional trauma I suffered when Zero Chara, a good man who is active in the community blah blah blah, botched his homicide attempt on Max, when Milan Lucic attempted, repeatedly, to geld Alexei Emelin, when Andrew Ference gave me the finger, it’s all self-inflicted. I think I’m battling with my team, for justice and the Canadien way, against the Axis of Evil, and then find out Brendan Gallagher is training with Milan Lucic and gently teasing him over the summer, post handshake-meltdown. As if nothing happened.

And now Gally is having a grand ole time with Brad Marchand in St-Petersburg, the Venice on the Volga.

I went through much the same with the Chargers, who always played a fan-friendly wide-open style, compared to the thuggish, cheating Raiders. For decades I knew I was right, and justifiably hated those losers in black, and their stupid fans, all so badass because they apishly wear black, black like their souls.

Yet last year Dean Spanos, the unprincipled racketeer whose father frauded and stoled his way to a station in life when he could acquire my team as a plaything for his imbecilic progeny, announced a ‘partnership’ with those same Raiders to build and share a stadium in L.A., complete with an eternal flame for Al Davis, and in so doing dispossess his hometown fans. For no better reason than to earn even higher profits than the already guaranteed hundreds of millions of dollars in profit that every NFL owner is already guaranteed.

Why have I been cheering so hard? Why was I glued to my television? Why did I make trips and buy tickets? Why do I anticipate each new season so intently, why do I agonize over every loss? If it’s all the same to the jerk who owns the team, and willingly tears back the curtain if it means ten more millions to pile on the stack of millions he already has?

There was that promotion last season when Zdeno Chara was in Montréal and Canadiens fans could have a free burger if they hugged the Bruin, something like that, it was a surprise reveal, and I know that if it had been me, I wouldn’t have ‘Aw shucks”ed it. I might have announced to him that I was coming at him, that he needed to defend himself, but I definitely would have attacked him, done my duty, since Gary Bettman and the SPVM didn’t do theirs. I would have loaded up my mighty righty, and as he prepared to fend off my roundhouse, would have kicked-stepped hard on his knee, to hear it crunch-pop, and hobble the loathsome beast, fell it like a Douglas Fir. As a brutish roar erupted from his foul gizzard, I would have zigged, he would have bought it, at which point I would have zagged and imprinted my steel-capped toes on his granitic forehead. Repeatedly and with escalating fury.

That’s the way it goes down when I visualize it, but in real life, he probably would have taken me, most likely. He’s a bit younger, and while we’re about the same weight, his is distributed a little differently, all things considered, that extra lankiness of his is hard to counter, that extra reach. So I might have lost the fight that I started, possibly, but kind of like Happy Gilmore, who loses a fight so bad he lands in the hospital, I could have comforted myself that he may have got in a few lucky shots, and still feel I won the fight.

But I definitely would have goed him. The moment his monstrous snout emerged from hiding, where it belonged. I wouldn’t have had to decide on it, it would have been instinct. While Gally is bromancing the schnoz.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Marc Bergevin and asset management.

I don’t mind when we obtain players like Brian Flynn and Davis Drewiske or Paul Byron, and sign them to easily digestible, disposable contracts, because they’re assets that can be exchanged for draft picks down the road, even if they’re low picks.

What I find though is that Marc Bergevin tends to not realize these assets, to clear the way for his younger players. I understand his philosophy that the young players have to prove they belong, to beat out the vets, and he’ll then make room for them, but it’s a question of degrees, of modulating that concept.

In practice, it leads us to offering a contract to Francis Bouillon, then another year, then another, while Jarred Tinordi plugs away in the AHL. And sure, Jarred wasn’t ready to play in the NHL, but maybe there was a moment when he could have been eased in, and it might have goosed his confidence to play a half-season in Montréal, instead of always being sent back to Hamilton, deemed to need seasoning.  Maybe we never found the gap in traffic to allow him to merge in from the on-ramp.  Maybe we never created that gap.

In practice it leads to our head coach clinging to Tom Gilbert, playing him exclusively over Greg Pateryn and Jarred, until Jarred sours and is traded for pennies on the dollar. Until Greg is nearly lost also. Until Tom gets injured and will now walk away, with no return for the organization.

The devil is in the details. Like Michel Therrien often bemoans, there’s a lack of execution. Organizational depth is fine, but there comes a time when these assets need to be converted into draft picks, you move on from solid replacement-level players, cultivate new prospects, who you then flip for more picks, etc. It's the Wheel of Life.

Is Conner Bleackley headed back into the draft this June?

Conner Bleackley is getting a chance to show his stuff with the Red Deer Rebels at the Memorial Cup, which isn't a bad thing for him.  He has fought through injuries this season, and has yet to sign an Entry Level Contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, who acquired his rights from the Colorado Avalanche in the Michael Boedker trade.

I couldn’t find the article online with a quick Google, but I’d read that the moment Conner Bleackley showed up at the Avalanche training camp, Patrick Roy was seriously disenchanted, and if I remember correctly some scouts were fired over it. He apparently was not his type of player at all, not the player he felt the Avalanche can use in their system.

Which surprised me a little bit, lots of glowing reviews on him before the draft, how he might land in Montréal with our first-round pick, lots of heart and grit and character, blah blah blah. But it didn’t surprise me that the Avs flipped him to the Coyotes in the Michael Boedker trade, considering.

Looking at his stats, his production is headed the wrong way, points total diminishing both years since he was drafted.

We Canadiens fans and draft nerds had our mini-breakdown about Daniel Pribyl signing a contract with Calgary this spring a few years after we let his rights expire, and we had some back and forth over Brady Vail not being offered a contract. These were sixth and fourth-round picks, respectively. And both are still very far from the NHL.

But to completely whiff on a first-round pick like the Avalanche did with Conner Bleackley, a 23rd overall selection, that they weren’t going to even offer him a contract, is staggering.

That there’s that much of a disconnect within the organization that the scouting and hockey ops staff are that far apart that immediately on a player, doesn’t reflect well on that organization, in how Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have set up this team.

Does the blood clot issue actually make Steven Stamkos a more attractive UFA target?

Not to be overly cynical, but the Steven Stamkos blood clot, while at first worrisome, actually now allows me to see giving him a contract as less troubling than before. Whenever we float the idea of signing him, to provide P.K. with a friend, I worry that another massive cap hit of $10M will be too much to bear, too much money will be invested in those two, and Carey Price and Alex Galchenyuk when they come due, we won’t even be able to afford Max when his contract is up, or anyone else really.

And this is before I worry that the Tampa centre isn’t really a centre, that, like Jon Cooper, I see him more as a right wing and a triggerman rather than a playmaker. So are we overpaying for a square peg to bash into our ever unfilled round hole, our 'gros joueur de centre'?

And hasn’t his production fallen off in the last few seasons, post-broken tibia? We think of him as the 60 goal guy, but really he’s been 29, 25, 43 and 36 goal guy. Sure sure, injuries, lockout, blah blah blah, he’s got explanations, but we’re going to give $70M to a guy with explanations?

So in the past few months I’ve been scoffing at the notion that he’ll ever sign here. The fact that Nick Kypreos champions Montréal as his most likely destination confirms the outlandishness of Steven Stamkos in bleu blanc et rouge.

But I’ve also fretted that if it comes true, if we win this lottery, it’ll be more of one of those robocall grand prizes, where you win a trip to Hawaii, but first you have to pay $400 in taxes and fees, and give them your account information and personal info so they can arrange a direct deposit.

So in this light, Steven Stamkos’ blood clot issue, instead of being another red flag, is almost a parachute, an easy way out, à la Mike Richards or Nathan Horton. If after three or four years, his production has fallen off a cliff, we can kovalchuk him, and we’d still have to pay him, but it’d wipe the salary cap slate clean. We could go back to the well for another free agent saviour.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Sam Pollock, Mario Tremblay and the 1974 NHL Draft.

Mario Tremblay on L’Antichambre explained that when he was drafted in 1974, he didn’t even know any teams were interested, he didn’t expect to be drafted. He ended up going 12th overall, between Lee Fogolin and Jack Valiquette, and he only learned this the next day when the Canadiens phoned him to inform him.

The Canadiens had 5 first-round picks that year, and spent a 5th overall pick on Cam Connor, 7th on Doug Risebrough, 10th on Rick Chartraw, and a 15th on Gord McTavish, along with Mario.

In later round, the Canadiens picked Gilles Lupien in the second round, 33rd overall, Marty Howe in the third, Jamie Hislop in the 8th and Dave Lumley in the 12th round.

So Sam Pollock was a genius in that he saw the importance of the the draft far before other GM’s and accumulated a lot of draft picks as he converted all the depth of the Canadiens’ farm teams in the Sixties into future picks. But he only hit on two of those five first-round picks, if we agree that Rick Chartraw was kind of borderline, a useful role player who played right wing and provided size on Doug Jarvis’ line, with Bob Gainey.  Rick could also play defence in a pinch.

But even then, as good a line as the Lambert-Risebrough-Tremblay line was for the Canadiens, if today we spent a 7th overall pick on a scrappy third-line centre or a pugnacious right winger with a bit of a scoring touch, we’d be merciless towards the GM. And if he spent a 3rd on a Cam Connor, we’d garrote him.

Pierre Larouche was sitting there, having scored 94 goals and 247 points for les Éperviers de Sorel, and we passed him over for a useless ‘gros boeuf de l’Ouest’.” (And nobody would cop to having had real concerns for how slender Lucky Pete was as a junior, how ‘soft’ he was.)

“We should have picked Ron Chipperfield, the guy scored 90 for the Brandon Wheat Kings, and now he’s tearing up the WHA!” (We’d gloss over the fact that we’d never heard of the Chipper before he was drafted.)

“We had five shots at the abhorent Bryan Trottier and his cheesy mustache and salad bowl helmet, or at Guy Chouinard, that guy will score 500 and have his number retired by the Atlanta Flames, mark my words…”

But again, Sam Pollock was smart. He saw Mario, with his 49 goals and 100 points final junior season as a great complement to the team he was building, a feisty guy who feared no one and played with passion. And Doug Risebrough had similarly modest stats, 52 points in 46 games which was no great bonanza at that time, the way players were scoring in junior, but he probably saw the heart, the character, the 114 PIM’s as another tool in his kit.

Because he had all these picks to play with, Sam Pollock could take chances, take fliers on certain players, he didn’t need to ‘hit’ on his solo first-round pick, especially since he doesn’t have a second or third-rounder, etc., as often happens nowadays.  With the scatter-gun approach, even if he and le Prof Caron and Claude Ruel missed on Pierre Larouche and Bryan Trottier, they found enough useful players in that draft to build his ’76-’79 dynasty. Mario Tremblay, Doug Risebrough, Rick Chartraw and Gilles Lupien was a great haul.

Pierre-Luc Dubois interviewed à L'Antichambre.

Mario Tremblay tells us that he met Pierre-Luc Dubois for the first time recently at a charity/media event, and that the #1 ranked North American skater by Central Scouting was being tailed by some Vancouver Canucks scouting rep or other.

I really don’t think he’ll slip to #9.

Monsieur Dubois appeared on L’Antichambre.

He says that the draft will take place on his birthday, and being chosen to start his NHL career will be a great birthday present.

Asked if he’s bummed that the Canadiens are only picking 9th, he says for sure he and his family are Canadiens fans, but his dream has been to play in the NHL, he’ll be happy anywhere.

Guy Carbonneau asks what he needs to do to crack a roster next fall, he says he needs to add on some weight, work on his explosiveness, and he’ll need to be consistent, play his best every game.

Vincent Damphousse asks what his best asset is, and what he needs to work on. He says as a big guy, to play his physical style in the NHL, he’ll need to get even bigger and stronger, more explosive, but his biggest asset is his hockey sense. When Mario Tremblay asks how he developed this, Pierre-Luc explains that when his father coached in Baie-Comeau, he’d sit in on the video sessions, and his father would quiz him on certain situations, what to do here, in this example, and he believes this helped him as he grew up. Growing up watching games, alongside LHJMQ players helped. His father would encourage him to be flexible, to adapt and be ready to play any position.

Guy Carbonneau asks what kind of prep he’s doing to get ready for the drafting and interviewing process. Pierre-Luc says that he’s already met with twenty teams, and that he’s a client of Pat Brisson, so they’ve been working with him, flew him out to L.A. along with other draft prospects, and they went through a boot camp to learn how to comport themselves, how to react to different situations. He’s done sessions on Skype to simulate interviews.

He explains that he’s fully bilingual, since his mother is American.

Asked by Vincent if there was a competition with Julien Gauthier about who’d get ranked/picked higher, he says there’s a bit of that, they’ve been friends for a while, both clients of Pat Brisson, so there’s a friendly rivalry, but he says it’s not acrid or overly competitive, says Julien Gauthier is a really good player, a really good person. They do have fun with it though.

When asked how he’d react to landing in Vancouver, a team which may be the Canadian team that struggles the most in the near future, he’s positive, says that such teams will have lots of change, lots of turnovers, and lots of opportunities for a young player to make the roster.

Mario asks him which he’d prefer, to get picked by a team on which he can play right away, or by a strong organization in which he’d go back to junior and eventually the AHL for a few seasons. He says as a young guy who dreams of playing in the NHL, the first option is tempting, but ultimately what he cares about is winning a Stanley Cup, so whichever gives him a best chance at that is fine with him.

Vincent says in his day they’d take a couple months off after their junior season, before they’d get back to training and getting ready for a NHL training camp. With the Scouting Combine coming up, he asks how much of a break he was able to take, and Pierre-Luc says he took ten days off before getting back in the gym.

Asked what his goal is for the Combine, he says he wants to do well in the interviews, but also that he wants to be one of the strongest players there, to show teams that he can play in the NHL next season, he’s physically ready for that.

Stupid Stéphane Langdeau stupidly asks him a stupid question, if the WJC team not winning a medal made him happy a little bit, feeling a little vindicated, and Pierre-Luc neatly avoids the trap he could have fallen prey to, by saying that he’d have liked to be there and help them win, but he always roots for the Canadian team, and he had lots of friends on that team, Julien Gauthier and Anthony Beauvillier and Thomas Chabot, so of course he wanted them to win. Pressed on whether he should have been on the team, he says that when you’re fighting to get on Team Canada, it’s difficult, there are a lot of good players, you can only do your best and see how it goes.

Vincent tells him to capitalize on his strengths, that’s what he got drafted for, so when he goes to camp he should focus on those, and not be intimidated by all the veterans around him. Guy Carbonneau riffs off that, telling how when Mike Keane showed up for his first training camp, no one had ever heard of him, but he showed up with a confidence and intensity and everyone was taken aback, how mature he was, from the first day.

He’s later asked by Stéphane Leroux, who’s at the Memorial Cup, whether it irks him that the player who’s most often floated as a rival to be chosen #4, London Knight Matt Tkachuk, still has the opportunity to play games and impress scouts while he’s at home, his season over, Pierre-Luc says he gave everything he had during his season, everything he had to showcase he did, so he’s happy for Matt. He says he’s friends with him, met him at the Top Prospects game, and that he has friends on all four teams still playing, so he’s still watching those games, wishing he was there a little bit, but still enough of a fan to watch games.

Eugénie Bouchard admits to suffering from an eating disorder.

Something which had been alluded to obliquely for a while now is brought out in the open by Eugénie herself: she's been struggling with an eating disorder.

During the past year or maybe even longer, we scratched our heads as to why 'Genie didn't take that next step forward after a few tourney wins and some Majors success, instead taking a few steps back.  We were puzzled at the escapades, the revolving door with her coaches, and her public giggling flirtation with the biggest jerk on the men's tour.  Her concussion suffered at the U.S. Open still to me doesn't make sense, the circumstances haven't been clarified properly, if only due to the raised eyebrows of insiders when they're discussing this.

So now she comes clean about a big problem that she says affected her performance.  I've wondered about what was 'wrong' with her.  Her game used to be about shotmaking, hitting balls right on the line and keeping her adversaries off-balance.  Did her eye desert her, cause her to make all those unforced errors, whereas before she was on target to an amazing degree?

When she admits that she's struggled with keeping her weight up, that jibes with the barest of whispers on that subject, a mention or two in passing that she had to stop trying to be a model and focus on tennis, on being an athlete.

And when those tasty morsels were tossed out by a frustrated analyst or other, it reminded me of Carling Basset, the '80's Canadian tennis star who faced the same accusations, that she was more interested in being thin and Hollywood-ready and a movie star, that her rich father removed much of the hunger that a world-class athlete needed to have to perform at a championship level.

Anna Kournikova faced the same type of criticism, that she was too slender to compete with the Steffi Grafs and Martina Navratilovas, that all she'd ever be was a glorified swimsuit model, but those who supported her denied that she suffered from a lack of focus.  They pointed to her rigourous physical training régime, her efforts in the gym and off the court to be the fittest athlete on tour, and that it wasn't her fault she wasn't as big and tall as a Steffi Graf or Venus Williams.  Ultimately, she was a scrappy élite tennis player who had a decent career, but was never able to generate the power with her serve and groundstrokes to compete with those athletes at the top of her sport.

So it's interesting to see Eugénie go through the same type of scrutiny, reportedly falling into the trap of the attractive tennis player who gets sucked up by the fame and the sideshow.  Good for her that she's identified it and is attacking it head on.  In conjunction with her recent decision to return to her original coach Nick Saviano, with who she had her initial success, maybe it's an indication that she can return to her previous form and challenge for tournament wins and Major titles again.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Mikhail Sergachev, Jacob Chychrun, and Vladimir Kuznetsov as draft targets for the Canadiens.

Based on the rankings and mock drafts, it appears that two leftie defencemen, Jacob Chychrun and Mikhail Sergachev, will likely be available when the Canadiens' turn to pick comes up in June in Buffalo.

I’m really torn between those two, or all the others who are supposed to be in our range really, I can’t develop an arbitrary uninformed man-crush, I want all these prospects on my team.

Something which I’ve heard a couple of times now in reference to Jake Chychrun is the phrase “undisclosed injuries”, which has me intrigued. The whispers are that he played really well despite having all these injuries that would have sidelined a less worthy, less Don-Cherry-approved player. And I immediately move him back up my board. Sure he had trouble making plays and dishing the puck, but that’s understandable, with a torn shoulder labrum or jiggified metacarpalism.

And then I pause, and remember that that’s what we heard about Mikhail Grigorenko, how after a poor draft season when he fell from a potential first overall ranking to the mid-teens, that he’d suffered from an injury, and then mononucleosis for the latter half of the season.

So maybe that’s ‘Agent Draft-ranking Damage Control 101’, as soon as your player falls in the rankings, you float all these undisclosed injuries. As if all these young men didn’t have various ailments playing 70 games of SmashUp Derby hockey.

Meanwhile, a lot of the modulation pundits are making with Mikhail Sergachev have to do with the fact that, as great as his first year in the OHL was, it was also his very first year in North America.  And I think that’s an under-appreciated hurdle.  Imagine a teenager moving away from home, in a different country, who doesn’t speak the language, adjusts to different food, customs, etc. In spite of this, he’s dominant playing high-level competitive team sports. Amazing.

Paul Maurice was eloquent on this subject, explaining, after coaching one year in the KHL, that he’d never again underestimate the difficulties a Russian player has adapting to life and hockey in North America, after what he went through in Russia, despite having a 24-7 interpreter at his disposal.

So I’ll goose up the kid in my rankings too, also, as well, equally. And he and Jake Chychrun are back where they started.

In the same vein, keep an eye out for Vladimir Kuznetsov, a 6’2″, 215 lbs winger for the Titan in the LHJMQ. First overall pick in the import draft, didn’t quite shoot the lights out with 25 goals, but I was giving him the same ‘first-year Russian’ adjustment factor.

Might be worth a third-round pick if he’s still there, which he might not, given the size and raw talent. An Andrei Kostitsyn-clone, without the steep 10th-overall-pick-in-the-2003-draft price tag.

Vadim Shipachev, a target of the Canadiens' affection.

Martin St. Pierre, the erstwhile Hamilton Bulldog/Canadien, is on L’Antichambre sharing his stories of playing in the KHL. When asked by Vincent Damphousse, who the next likely player is to come over to the NHL, who’s the next Artemi Panarin, he says it’s Vadim Shipachev.
“The centre who played with Panarin and Kovalchuk in St. Petersburg, Vadim Shipachev. He’s on the Russian national hockey team. To me, he’s the hardest to play against. I don’t know him personally, but he’s the best hope for the next player from the KHL to come to the NHL. He’s tall, he’s strong, he has vision, he’s fast, it’s impressive seeing a young player like that.”

Watching a few minutes of the Russia-Czech game, Vadim Shipachev is getting lots of icetime, is very comfortable and skillful with the puck.  He’s the alternate captain for Russia, and seems to trade off with Pavel Datsyuk as centres on the two top lines.

I guess with a good tourney he could boost his asking price, his contract demands. He’s no more ‘in the bag’ for us than Auston Matthews was I guess, to my chagrin.

I’m not sure how much of an improvement he would be over Tomas Plekanec, and this is a factor since I’m not sure we can afford both at the same time. He’s going to command a decent contract, trading away David Desharnais or Lars Eller might not clear enough cap room. Certainly, it would hamper any effort to sign a Kyle Okposo or David Backes.

I don’t know what the market might be. I thought he was a Jiri Sekac-type of signing, a guy who has to sign an Entry-Level Contract, so essentially risk-free, and no subject for a bidding war, but no, at 29 he’s able to negotiate whatever contract he can.

Especially if he has a good tournament, he’ll be able to drive up the bidding, so he should get term and a good amount.

When I thought he was locked into a ELC, it made sense to sign him, but now I’m wondering if it’s worthwhile, if he’s merely a player who’ll be Tomas Plekanec 2.0, in terms of production and cap hit. If so, we might as well stick with Tomas.

But I do want a shakeup…

[EDIT]

See, this is why it’s great to expose your half-baked ideas to all on social media.

I only watched most of the third period, liked what I saw from Mr. Shipachev, but don’t see a great difference in the way he plays compared to Tomas. Maybe he is more skillful, outwardly, now that you bring it up. Supporters will be quick to bring up that Tomas kills penalties.

And I thought they were essentially the same age, but it has been pointed out, 33 and 29 are quite different in terms of where you are in your hockey career.

Sebastian Collberg is waived by the Islanders. Score one for Marc Bergevin.

This news came across the wire today:

have placed Sebastian Collberg on uncondtional waivers. Forward acquired in Vanek-MTL deal didn't pan out. Off to Europe.



So, score one for Marc Bergevin and his team of yes-men advisors?

I don’t think Marc Bergevin walks on water, but I do think he has the team on the right track, despite several reversals this season. Overall, I like his approach, his philosophy.

When I saw the tweet, I figured that’s one in the win column, one for his scorecard, using what he correctly saw as a diminishing asset as part of a package to obtain Thomas Vanek in 2014, a move that supercharged the Canadiens for a while that season.  Until Thomas quit on the team.

So I thought I’d point it out, in a season when he rolled craps on Alex Semin, Zack Kassian, P.A. Parenteau, Ben Scrivens, Mike Condon, holding on too long to Tom Gilbert, Brian Flynn, etc, etc…

To me, this is a scintilla of good news, in that he got out while the getting out was good, when it comes to Sebastian Collberg, got something out of the second-rounder we spent in 2012, even if it was ephemeral.

I hate it when we lose assets like Louis Leblanc, Ryan White, Jarred Tinordi, for a big pile of nothing.

I scratch my head when we trade Danny Kristo for Christian Thomas, quatre trente-sous pour une piastre.

But I like when we flip Christian Thomas for Lucas Lessio, something we have too much of traded for something we need. I like when we sign a Mark Barberio on the cheap, park him successfully in the AHL, and bring him up when we need him. He’s now RFA, an asset we can qualify for cheap.

And I like when we flip a depreciating asset like Sebastian Collberg for a top line scoring winger, that’s a win in my book. We can call it a Phyrric victory, but it’s successful asset management.
I prefer to think of it, as the expression goes en français, “sauver les meubles”. You lost the house to a  structure fire, but at least had enough time to save the furniture, the contents.

Compare to the Jarred Tinordi fiasco, and Sebastian Collberg is a feelgood story for Canadiens fans.

To those who'll argue that picking Sebastian Collberg is a mistake in the first place, so Marc Bergevin's brain trust shouldn't get brownie points for their rearguard action, I'll argue that the pick was not a wrong decision at the time.

Every Canadiens fan, and I’ll stand on this, I dare anyone to prove me wrong, every poster on social media during the second day of the NHL draft in 2012, was ecstatic about the Sebastian Collberg pick, there was a blizzard of exclamation marks greeting his selection. He was a pretty highly-rated prospect, sort of like Teuvo Teravainen, who fell a little bit, and we were doing handsprings at our luck.

Two summers in a row, spectators who attended the prospect development camp in Brossard swooned at his skill and moves, that he was the best player on the ice by far, too strong for the rest of the players in scrimmages.

So he was a good pick. Not a reach, not a blunder, just a player who didn’t develop, didn’t pan out. This happens when you’re projecting how a 17-year-old will develop. Not every player reaches his potential.

This is only a problem if too many don’t make it. And in 2012, we hit on Alex Galchenyuk in the first round, missed in the second with Sebastian Collberg, the jury’s still out, with extenuating circumstances on Tim Bozon in the third, missed on Brady Vail in the fourth while cutting our losses early and not wasting a contract on him.

We’re close to a hit on Charles Hudon with the fifth-round pick, it looks like we’ll at the very least have an asset that we can turn into something, and in the sixth we missed with Erik Nystrom.

Not a great, but not a bad draft.

RDS' John Kordic and Georges Laraque documentaries.

With the absence of the Canadiens from the playoffs, and to celebrate its 25th anniversary, RDS has been running a lot of documentaries and such programming, and much of it has been fascinating. For example, the one-hour retrospective on John Kordic’s career was very interesting, and went over familiar ground, how he was a legitimate defenceman prospect coming out of the Portland Winterhawks organization, and a final season with Seattle in the WHL. In those pre-internet days, he was one of the few prospects we’d actually read about in the papers between the day they were drafted and a subsequent training camp, he was drawing a lot of attention as a very likely future Canadien, with that intriguing mix of size and skill and toughness.

We mostly know how it turned out, through various factors John got pigeon-holed as an enforcer in the pros, a role he seemed to embrace with vigor. Back then the Canadiens were, as they have through their history, going through a spell when they were generally undersized, and other teams tried to out-tough and intimidate them. Serge Savard was the GM who tried to turn things around in that regard, and his drafts and the Sherbrooke Canadiens produced some youngsters like Sergio Momesso, Claude Lemieux and Brian Skrudland who could play hockey but play tough against any opposition.

The Canadiens already had Chris Nilan as their enforcer, and he was a superb technical fighter who could take on all comers, no matter what size imbalance existed, but he didn’t really instill fear in opponents, not like the Rangers with huge guys like Nick Fotiu or Ed Hospodar, or fearsome heavyweights like Bob Probert or Dave Brown could.

At least Knuckles had that screw loose, the ability to draw attention and get opponents off their game and change the momentum. His linemate Guy Carbonneau once explained how sometimes when they were sitting on the bench and the game was not going in their favour Chris would tell him to get ready, that he was going to start something on the next shift, and Guy admitted how he’d get a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, think to himself “Aw, heck, here we go…” Sure enough a few minutes later he was in the middle of a huge scene with people grappling and refs blowing the whistle and gloves and equipment littering the ice.

John Kordic became the true heavyweight we’d been looking for, maybe since the days of John Ferguson. In the seventies the Canadiens had Gilles Lupien and Pierre Bouchard, but they more big tough guys who could rumble, legitimate third-pairing defencemen who could pull double-duty when the going got tough, who could cancel out any team’s enforcer during a game. John was more of a true, dedicated fighter, a guy you’d toss some raw meat to in his cage between games, and unleash and send out against your Lyndon Byerses.

For me there was a memorable game at Le Colisée against les Nordiques, when John took on, one after the other, all three of their enforcers and tuned them all up, and then cruised by the Nordique bench and taunted Michel Bergeron, who was losing his mind, asking him to send out more weaklings for him to fight. If I remember correctly, shortly thereafter, the NHL instituted a rule that once you had three fights in one game, you were expelled, your night was done.

The RDS documentary did a passable job of retelling his story, how he clashed with his father about his role, how his father thought he should stick to hockey and not fight all the time. They told the familiar tale of how he showed up at training camp one year looking just massive, more huge than athletic, more bodybuilder than hockey player, how the rumours of steroid use started, about his acne and disproportionate physique, how players just don’t get that much bigger in a couple of months.

The surprising thing in the documentary for me was the allegation that John’s mercurial turn as a Canadien, his problems with discipline and drug abuse and untimely demise, may have originated from a run-in with Portland team owner Brian Shaw, a man who was subsequently accused of sexually abusing some of his players. Unfortunately, the doc just threw that in at the end, without doing any further research, any digging, when it should have been covered more in depth. In any case, a couple of testimonials by those who knew him best described how John became a different person, almost overnight, after playing for Mr. Shaw.

Another interesting documentary was a “Trajectoires” special on Georges Laraque, a player who I admired when he broke in with the Edmonton Oilers, how dominant he was, the undisputed heavyweight of the league in my mind, I never saw him lose a fight, and we saw a lot of their games out West. I sort of regretted how he didn’t land on the Canadiens, but also thought that the Oilers maybe overspent, taking him in the second round, a steep cost for an enforcer.

The thing is though, as often happens with these guys, he wasn’t just a goon in the LHJMQ, he had a lot of raw skill, lots of athletic ability. They told the story how he was a man among boys playing minor hockey, how he’d dominate, even though he went up against players who took up the game at an earlier age, or who had the advantage of playing against kids who played higher levels of competition, at All-Star tournaments, summer hockey. Meanwhile, bouts of discrimination, and his father’s insistence that school comes first, may have conspired against Georges to some degree.

One story he told was how he didn’t tell his dad he played on a travel team, he’d go to hockey games on public transit, and to away games with parents of other kids, so he managed to keep it a secret until a year end tournament that involved spending the weekend. Another story was how, after a coach had showed a racist attitude, Georges’ father pulled him out of hockey for the year, instead signing him up for speed skating, along with his sister. Georges did well, winning medals and competitions, and he credits the year of speed skating for how he was a pretty good skater in the NHL and had strong legs, but you wonder how much this held him back as a hockey player, how hard it is to make up for a lost season of hockey at that age.

One troubling tale he tells is how, as a 16 year old, he tried to avoid fighting with outright goons in the LHJMQ, tried to stick to hockey and the spontaneous, ‘natural’ fight here and there, but his great size made him a target. He mostly managed, except for one game against the Granby Bisons, when during the warmup their head coach Michel Therrien harangued him, taunted him that he wasn’t so tough, that he was afraid to go up against his enforcer, a 20-year old ‘specialist’. Sure enough, Georges gave in during the game and got his nose busted for his troubles, falling to the ice, bleeding profusely, shocked at losing his first fight.

He explained that this is the only fight he ever lost outright, and he regrets that he never got a chance to avenge himself. When he played in the AHL he played a few games against this player, who staunchly refused any invitations and studiously avoided the now mature, fully-grown Georges.

There were other surprising insights, how Georges could have played in the LHJMQ right after being drafted in Midget, but he deferred himself for one year, figuring that he would develop better playing a further season in Midget AAA. And he did this again in the pros. He had a great camp after being drafted by the Oilers, and team execs were talking to him as if he’d start the season in the NHL, but he explained how during a pre-season game he found himself lined up against Bob Probert for a faceoff, and he couldn’t believe how fast this was happening. He realized that if he played in the NHL, that would be his job, dealing with a Bob Probert, and he didn’t feel ready for that.

So he tells the tale, disbelieving it himself today, how when the Oilers were trying to tell him that he’d start the season in Edmonton, he kind of refused the Oilers’ offer, telling them he was probably better off going back to Junior for another season. In hindsight, he probably benefited from this, he might have been eaten alive in the NHL and not had the long career he did, but you wonder how this player’s career might have been affected. Maybe he would have developed better with NHL coaching and stiffer competition? Maybe he becomes a star and the apple of the Oilers’ eye, instead of that headstrong kid who doesn’t ask “How high?” when they tell him to jump?

In any case, Georges returned to the LHJMQ, but not with his St. Jean team, but rather traded to the Titan, and bounced to another team before landing with Michel Therrien’s Granby Prédateurs, funnily enough. Michel Therrien hadn’t come across very well in the previous anecdote, goading a 16-year-old into a fight with his adult goon, and we all know how Georges feels about the Canadiens’ head coach currently. It obviously wasn’t the warm and fuzzy relationship the coach had with Francis Bouillon, for example. But the team did win the Memorial Cup that year, so that tenuous partnership did end relatively well.

And we get to learn a little more about that year, that relationship, with RDS's a special on that Granby Prédateurs team, the first Québec-based LHJMQ team to win the Memorial Cup since Guy Lafleur’s Remparts in 1971 (the Cornwall Royals had won the Memorial Cup also). It’s interesting to see how Georges Laraque describes his time on that team, playing for that coach who he didn’t have the best first impression of.

Arturri Lehkonen elects not to try out for Team Finland at the World Championships.

Here's an odd story in Le Journal de Montréal, which seems to be based on diligent reporting: apparently Arturri Lehkonen could/should have been a member of Team Finland at the World Championships, but in the words of the Finnish coach:
En entrevue au Journal de Montréal, Kari Jalonen n’a pas mâché ses mots pour décrire son absence de l’équipe nationale.

«La raison principale, c’est qu’il ne voulait pas venir, a dit l’entraîneur en chef de la Finlande après un entraînement de son équipe à l’aréna Yubileiny de Saint-Pétersbourg. C’est sa décision. Nous avions de l’intérêt pour lui, mais il a répondu qu’il était trop fatigué.»

«Honnêtement, je ne comprends pas, a poursuivi Jalonen. Je me répète, mais la raison de son absence, c’est lui. Nous voulions lui faire une place.»

Translated:
Kari Jalonen was blunt in explaining his absence from the national team.

“The main reason is he didn’t want to come”, said the Team Finland coach after a practice in St. Petersburg. “It’s his decision. We were interested in him, but he said he was too tired.”

“Honestly, I don’t understand,” continued Jalonen. “I’ll say it again, but the reason he’s not here is him. We wanted to give him a spot on the roster.”

The coach presses on, explaining that players like Mikko Koivu and Sasha Barkov and others who had just completed the NHL playoffs showed up and they weren’t fatigued, they flew over from North America and they’re playing.

Jean-François Chaumont got Arturri’s version of what happened through a Canadiens representative, who explained that Team Finland wanted him to attend the training camp the day after he’d won the Swedish League championship, and he needed more time to get his passport (from home, I would guess). He also didn’t have a Russian visa.

The main reason though seems to be that he wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the team, he was going to have to go through camp, and then face the possibility of being cut, depending on which NHL players became available later on. So he decided not to attend.

So, kind of understandable in a way, but disappointing that he couldn’t be on the team and we could see first-hand how he’s progressed, what kind of a player we have on our hands. Not great that our boy isn’t a “Yes sir, can do sir, how high should I jump sir?” kind of player, that he maybe has a spine and all. Or does he take after his draft-year classmate Martin Reway, in clashing with coaches and team executives?

If I’m going to go out on a limb, I’d guess there is a little resentment towards a homegrown player choosing to play in the Swedish League instead of playing at home? And that maybe the coaches and team managers played hardball a little bit, refusing to coddle a(n ungrateful) player or bend the rules, insisting he go through their selection camp and win a spot on the team like everyone else? And that it backfired, and they’re even more bitter?

[EDIT]

I'm assured there is no rancour towards Finnish players who jump to the SHL, that it's seen as a normal step in a player's progression, a move up to a tougher league to play in.

Macaroni and cheese restaurants are why the terrorists hate us.

I read a breathless report online that a mac & cheese emporium has opened recently in such and such neighbourhood, and I scoff.  The macaroni and cheese restaurant craze is this Age’s equivalent of opening a go-kart track in the 80’s, a faux entrepreneurship, the ineluctable evidence of the absence of an idea.

Goddamn millenials, too lazy to make their own damn macaroni and cheese, and throw in sliced hotdogs to give it nutritional substance, glop in some BBQ sauce you boosted from the restaurant for added flavour, or adding in a handful of frozen vegetables to turn it into pasta primavera. I guess they’re too busy snapchatting in the nude to boil some goddamn water their own selves.

Macaroni and cheese is the food of the broke-ass university student, or at worst the meal-equivalent of the space-saver tire, something you throw together when you’re too lazy to go out and grocery shop.

My coworker’s roommate, way way back, had found a supplier for the nuclear-orange goop-powder you get in an envelope in every box, so he bought that in bulk, and the same for the noodles, and he swiped butter packets and coffee creamers at his workplace's cafeteria. We’d be watching hockey and eating pizza, and he’d sneer at us for having to pitch in $7 each, he’d tell us how he’d brought the cost of a macaroni and cheese meal down to a quarter or so, compared to $2 for the KD box. And only one pot and one fork to clean, he’d chortle, as he scraped the bottom of the aluminium pan he favoured.  Then he’d help himself to one of our beers.

Forget the Fort McMurray fires, the fact that people will buy a $18 bowl of macaroni and cheese is the most transparent sign of the impending apocalypse.

LHJMQ draft prospects Julien Gauthier and Pierre-Luc Dubois, Part 2.

Lots of talk on TSN 1040 Vancouver this morning on Pierre-Luc Dubois, as being reputedly the ‘best of the rest’ outside the Top 3, whether he’ll slide to the Canucks at #5, whether the Oilers have no choice but to pick a lesser-prospect defenceman and pass up on Pierre-Luc, whether another team will swoop in and scoop him up by trading for the Oilers’ #4, whether the Canucks should trade with the Oilers themselves, to ensure they get the prized LHJMQ player.

They had Marc-André Dumont on, the Screaming Eagles coach, and here's what he said:
He’s not sure if he’ll be a centre or winger in the NHL, that there are advantages to him playing either position, he’d be a good fit at either. He rates him as a better prospect than Claude Giroux, Evgeni Schevnikov, Anthony Mantha, all players he’s coached. He’s further along in his progress.

He is not however an elite skater. He’s greatly improved since he started playing junior, but has more room to improve, needs to improve for the NHL.

Physically, he put on 19 lbs lean mass from last year. He trained in Montréal with the Tampa Bay strength coach last summer, in a program to improve his speed, and got those kinds of result, put on muscle but didn’t add fat over the season. He has a ‘get out of my way and I’ll do it’ attitude. He’s ‘pro-ready’, not just due to the tale of the tape, there’s no doubt about his size and strength.

He played 90 games this season, won gold at Ivan Hlinka as Assistant Captain, Subway Series, WJC training camp. He tailed off a little at the end, maybe ran out of gas in the playoffs, but he’s physically ready for NHL. He anticipates he’ll play in the NHL at 215 lbs. He has the type of body that he’ll last in the NHL, have a long career.

He would spend 20-25 minutes before and after practice working on faceoffs, he’s smart, reads opponent very well. Surprising to see for a guy who played winger all his life, how well he did at centre. Evgeni Schevnikov did the same thing last season.

On the powerplay, he can either play the half-wall and create, or play in front of the net and screen the goalie, work deflections, pick up rebounds.

No off-ice problems at all, the coach calls him a great kid. At 2300 hrs, after a Saturday night game that ended at 2115 hrs, as he was leaving the rink, he heard noise from the gym and looked in and saw Pierre-Luc having a post-game workout, instead of going to the bar and getting into trouble.

So again, despite that mock draft from the Hockey Writers recently that had him slipping to the Canadiens, I doubt ever more that we’ll have a crack at him by the time the #9 picks rolls around.

Merely to add to the discussion, since I only saw Julien Gauthier play a couple of times for Val d’Or and also at the WJC, but his 'late birthday' is certainly something which should be considered, that he was a more mature player this season generally playing against younger, less physically developed boys.  This fact is sometimes underestimated when a player has a dominant draft year, that he's essentially an 18-year-old being compared to other players who are closer to 17.

But this was also something used to knock Anthony Mantha, that he was a third-year junior compared to most other draftable prospects in his class who only had two junior seasons. and he answered his critics with the season he had subsequent to his being drafted.

Personally, I was very high earlier on Julien Gauthier, but understood why he started to slip as the season progressed, it reminded me of Lawson Crouse, another huge 17-year-old man-child who played on Team Canada at the WJC, didn’t quite impress, and started to sag in the rankings.

It’s kind of like all the early hype sets up expectations, and you start to look for warts, you look beyond all the good stuff. Dan Marino in his senior year at Pittsburgh, with nothing left to prove, started getting dissected like this, and NFL scouts looked past him, the guy who would have been the unquestioned #1 pick if he could have come out for the draft after his sophomore or junior season. Instead, they started to look for newer, shinier toys, and picked guys like Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien and Todd Blackledge ahead of him in the 1983 draft.

My latest impression of Julien Gauthier came from his appearance on L’Antichambre.
Julien Gauthier appeared on L’Antichambre tonight. He looks great, got a haircut and shaved off that wispy mustache, guess the Pat Brisson treatment is having its effect.

Very well-spoken, presents well. Damn it. He’ll probably rise in the draft due to his showing during Combine interviews.

I hate to admit it, and it reminds me of the phenomenon described in “Moneyball”, how scouts fall in love with athlete’s stature, fall in love with horseflesh, rather than production, but I can understand why a Vincent Lecavalier or Pierre Turgeon is so highly sought after, compared to maybe a Nail Yakupov. A tall, striking, handsome young prospect has an appeal, a magnetism that a Mike Ricci has trouble overcoming.

So yeah, when I saw Julien Gauthier during the season, with his mullety scraggly hair and backwards baseball hat, I had trouble believing he was a member of the famous Gauthier family, the matinée idol ‘lutteurs’ and ‘culturistes’. But on L’Antichambre, all cleaned up and wearing a $2000 suit, I had less trouble buying in.

Maybe we do move back a few slots from #9 to 12 or thereabouts, and pick the local guy. Who happens to be 6’4″ and who scores a bunch…

In praise of Sam Pollock. And Serge Savard.

There have been a few retrospectives recently on Sam Pollock in the Montréal Gazette and its online offering HockeyInsideOut.  And I read this comment:
“The difference between Bergevin and Pollock is that Pollock would do anything he could to make a team better. Bergevin will do things to make his make his team better but there are some things he will not do.”

While I have nothing but high regard for Sam Pollock, having lived through the great dynasty of the Seventies in my formative years, I don’t know that we can make the statement quoted above with any certitude. Marc Bergevin is dealing with much different conditions than Sam Pollock did, with 29 other teams to contend with, all of them strong organizations instead of nickel-and-dime front offices you can snow under. He has the salary cap to shackle him, limit how much he can spend on player salaries.  He is forced into line with 29 other GM's at the universal draft every June.

What we can say about Sam Pollock is that he didn’t squander the huge advantage the Canadiens had when he took over, with their deep farm system in the Sixties, before the inauguration of the universal draft. He used this bank of assets to wheel and deal. He realized that this new draft was going to be the way to build a great team in the future, while other teams were slow on the uptake, it took them a decade or so to not surrender their first-rounders so readily.

So Sam Pollock was probably the best GM of his day, and he started the race with such a huge lead that there was no way any other GM, any other team could catch him. I’ve used this analogy before, but he was like the best player at the poker table, blessed with a formidable stack of chips in front of him, with which to bully and bluff opponents, essentially in an unbeatable position.

But to say that he would “do anything to make a team better” is probably unknowable, since he never was scratching and clawing to get into the playoffs, to get fans into the stands so the team could survive another season in Kansas City or Cleveland. It’s like if Jacques Villeneuve had never left Williams to start B.A.R., and had kept piling up wins and championships. We might have been tempted to think of him as one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers ever, but there would also have been many to speculate that if he hadn’t been on such a dominant team, he might have been more of a journeyman.

And in fact, I’ll argue against the proposition that he did 'anything' to make the team better. For example, there was some attempts made before the 1971 draft to pry the second overall pick out of Detroit, so he could then draft both Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne. The tale goes that he put together a very enticing package, that the Red Wings were tempted, but ultimately turned down the offer. So he folded his hand, broke off negotiations, accepted that he wouldn’t have the #2 pick.

Did he “do anything to make the team better” in that case. How do we define “anything”? Did he fail in this instance, or did he calculate the risk, do the cost-benefit analysis and figure that there came a cost when this trade became unwise? Did he decide wisely that throwing more players, more proven commodities, more potential in further draft picks at Detroit might be too much? That Marcel Dionne might not thrive in the NHL with the small stature he possessed?

And this wasn’t the only time Sam Pollock stopped short. Another case came in 1973, when Sam Pollock correctly identified Denis Potvin as a potential superstar, and tried to fish the first overall pick from the Islanders, to no avail. Bill Torrey couldn’t be swayed, he probably saw the same thing in Denis Potvin that “Trader Sam” did, he had his heart set on picking the guy. But what if Sam Pollock had offered developing youngsters Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt and Larry Robinson to Bill Torrey, would that have sealed the deal? Would that have been doing anything to improve the team? Would that have been wise? Or did Sam Pollock do the right thing by holding back, analyzing the risk that Denis Potvin could end up being more of a Dale Tallon than a Bobby Orr?

Irving Grundman, Sam’s handpicked successor, can be said to have done “anything to improve the team”, when he dealt away Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin for defenceman Rick Green, himself a former first overall pick, and Ryan Walter, a player we pined for in the heyday of open-lines talk radio shows, he was “le gros ailier gauche” we were obsessed with acquiring. Mr. Grundman went for it, made a ‘big move’, instead of retaining his disgruntled and ‘greedy’ young defenceman, he sent him to the Capitals where he’d win Norris Trophies, in an age when a player’s options were limited to holding out, before free agency. And it can conclusively be argued that had he folded his hand earlier in the negotiation, we’d have come out a winner, if he hadn’t “done anything” to get this deal done.

Serge Savard was faced with a similar situation in the 1984 draft, when he was trying to obtain the first overall pick from the Penguins so as to pick Mario Lemieux. Eddie Johnston knew what he had in the Laval Voisin superstar, he’d sabotaged his season to get the #1 pick in the first place, but he apparently entertained the notion of trading the pick in return for a king’s ransom that reportedly included young proto-superstar Chris Chelios. I can’t remember the package exactly, but I know that upon reading about it I wondered if it would have been worth it, even for Mario Lemieux, whether the cost would have been too high. You had to wonder whether Mario Lemieux might have developed differently in Montréal, under all that media pressure and fan scrutiny. And Serge Savard, probably weighing the pros and the cons, taking into account the whispers that Mario was a bit lazy, he kind of loafed around when he skated, decided not to pursue these trade talks.

To me, Marc Bergevin is exactly the kind of GM I appreciate. He’s careful with his assets, understands that you get good players by drafting them, not by lucking into lopsided trades, by volume.

He also had a self-confessed moment when he pushed away from the table rather than anteing up. Dave Morrissette had him as a guest on his show, and asked him if there was a trade he made that he regretted. Marc answered that there was one that he didn’t make that he regretted, but didn’t go into details. My hunch, based on the climate at the time, is that he was talking about his attempts to move up in the draft in 2013 to pick Anthony Mantha. He was a little out of range with our 25th pick, and he probably couldn’t find a deal he liked to move up in the teens, a cost he considered acceptable, given what we knew of the kid, his size and scoring touch, but also questions about his effort and consistency and leadership.

Fast-forward to a year later, and Monsieur Mantha had answered all these questions with a 57 goal, 120 points in 57 games regular season, and a trip to the Memorial Cup with his Foreurs, during which he maintained his goal per game pace. I’m relatively confident that this was the trade he regretted not pulling the trigger on, deciding instead was too rich for his blood. Fast-forward another year though, after Mr. Mantha’s difficult first season in the AHL, and maybe he felt better about his decision now, maybe he felt good about not having done ‘anything’.

That’s my take on this, that slow and steady wins the race, that in today’s NHL you build up assets through the draft, patch on some players with trades and free agency and waiver claims, and wait until you have an extra Seth Jones burning a hole in your pocket to go out and get a Ryan Johansen. But you don’t make Paul Holmgren trades, deals to appease your impatient fanbase and wingnut owner, where you rob Peter to pay Paul, plug a hole but in the process create one elsewhere. I’m glad Marc Bergevin won’t do anything to improve the team.

[EDIT]

In our discussion about Sam Pollock yesterday, I mentioned that he had the advantage of a huge overstock of prospects and players when he took over, as the universal draft era began. I contended that while it’s impossible to compare him with other GM’s at that time and say for sure that he was the best, since they were dealing with vastly different circumstances, it’s easy to see that he was very shrewd, saw how the game was changing and adapted rapidly, and effectively used his bigger stack of poker chips to wheel and deal and draft, he didn’t waste that advantage.

Didn’t waste it like Irving Grundman did.

Serge Savard, when he took over and did his first tour of the wrecked house he was being ceded, didn’t have the vast inheritance that Sam Pollock did, didn’t have the advantages at the draft table and when swapping horse flesh.

In that light, while we rue a few of his moves, the ill-advised Chris Chelios trade, letting John LeClair and Éric Desjardins go, Serge Savard did very well as a GM, winning two Stanley Cups with a roster he largely built himself, with shrewd drafting, and excellent trades, like acquiring Bobby Smith for fading talents Keith Acton and Mark Napier.

Serge Savard didn’t have the huge headstart that Sam Pollock had in his race with other GM’s, he was more neck-and-neck with them, so his errors smarted more than Trader Sam’s. We didn’t have the ability to withstand losses of assets in the eighties and nineties as we had in the sixties and seventies. So Serge Savard was creative, he was aggressive, like he did when he swapped draft positions with the St. Louis Blues’ Ronald Caron so as to leapfrog the Nordiques in the draft, and have first crack at potential Sergio Momessos and Patrick Roys.

Serge Savard gets more than a healthy passing grade, an A- or so in my book.

Experts can't agree: 'cycling' the puck is proof of Canadian Team's dominance or ineptitude at the World Championships.

I caught up to the France-Canada game midway through the second period on TSN, and watched the start of their second intermission. I wasn’t paying close attention, but Dave Reid’s analysis centered on how the French were doing a good job of keeping the Canadians to the outside, forcing them to the periphery and forming up as a defensive shell around their own net.

It was a little surprising that he would poo-pooh the blessed cycle game that is so prized in the NHL, that hockey analysts spend so much time lauding, that endless tedious grind along the boards, but Mr. Reid insisted that the Canadians were playing right along in the French’s strategy, were not effective as they should be penetrating to the slot area. And he had video to prove it, complete with a blue-shaded overlay, showing the Canadians cycling along the boards in the blue, and the French massed inside, in the white or non-shaded area.

Until TSN took a commercial break, at which point I remembered that RDS is also televising these World Championships. So I switched over to their telecast, just in time to see Vincent Damphousse offer his own analysis of the game so far.

Vincent, oppositely, praised the Canadian team for being superior with their puck protection, with their possession game, how they held on to it and the French team was incapable of stripping them of the puck, of gaining possession. And he had video as well, with the same region highlighted, except RDS used a red cross-hatch instead of a blue shading, but the action Vincent selected to replay was much the same as that which Dave Reid had, Canadian players skating along the boards, protecting the puck, cycling it among themselves, playing keepaway against the French.

It’s moderately surprising that two credible analysts can view the same game, witness the same strategy, from the same perspective about the same team, and come to completely different conclusions. One thinks the Canadians are displaying their superiority with that aspect of the game, the other believes it shows a weakness, that the same display is a result of the Canadian team being stymied, suffocated by their adversary.

There’s a saying in American football, that compared to the pro game, college football is more about the Jimmys and the Joes than about the X’s and the O’s, meaning that in college it’s not so much about coaching and systems and strategy, it’s about which team has the better athletes, does better at recruiting high school talent to come play at their school. So while in the pros, with the best football players in the world being concentrated in 32 teams, there is a relatively equivalent talent level between competitors, in college there exists vast disparities between teams, between a UCLA and a UC-Irvine, an Alabama and a Vanderbilt, a Miami and a Miami (Ohio), a gulf that can’t be bridged no matter what schemes the coaches come up with.

The fact that the focus during the France-Canada game fell on this aspect, on a somewhat tangential matter that isn’t reflected on the scoreboard, that can be interpreted in diametrically opposite manners by two analysts who have themselves played the game at its highest level, shows that hockey is coming to a crossroad, that there needs to be a fundamental change in how the game is played, kind of like basketball when it introduced the shot clock and the three-point shot, or football with the introduction of the forward pass or the rule changes in the Seventies to foster the passing game.

Hockey is being held back by its own traditions, its own rules. The game, its most talented practitioners, must be freed from the routine holding and crosschecking and slashing and hooking and mugging that is currently endemic, that allows journeymen to reduce the stars to their level.

The reliance of teams on defensive systems, the way coaches can utilize replacement-level players, fringe talent as cogs in a machine, a rampart massed at the blue line or around its own net, and make goalscoring an incidental, accidental event, rather than a true reflection of the flow of the game, the relative quality of the teams involved, has to be reined in. The blue line needs to be transformed from a difficult hurdle for the attacking team to negotiate, to a formality that must be met before entering the zone, one that prevents players from loafing in the offensive zone and waiting there for a long pass and a cheap goal. Rules must be put in place to prevent illegal defences, whereby teams jacquesmartin around their own net and merely try to prevent shots from getting through, play prevent instead of play hockey.

And goaltending gear must be reduced so that it serves its original function of protecting the goalie, rather than just add bulk and cover more surface area. Either that, or the surface area of the net must be increased to provide more of a target for players to shoot at. Goaltending shouldn’t be the mere act of standing, or flopping down in the crease, and allowing the puck to hit your pads. Athleticism and reflexes and spectacular saves should be the defining factors when defining excellence, not merely a goalie’s size.

The game must be tilted in such a manner that your fringe players, your fourth-liners are shifty types like Linus Omark rather than pluggers like Matt Hendricks, that you search high and low for players who can handle the puck and pass and skate and shoot, rather than guys who can thump and grind and finish their checks/commit interference-charging-boarding,who can be a picket in your formation.

Only then will hockey be exciting not merely due to the induced parity we see now, when games are being kept artificially close despite big disparities in shots, when games tend to go to overtime not because teams are so evenly matched, but because scoring is such a rare event.

To paraphrase the football saying, hockey needs to be less about the Hitchcocks and the Babcocks, and more about the Huberdeaus and Tarasenkos.

The game has to showcase its biggest stars, allow them to thrive like Gilbert Perreault and Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne used to in the '70's.  Teams have to have recognizable identities, distinct strategies and tactics that flavour the game, instead of everyone forced to form up in the same bland, boring defensive shells.

NHL owners see the NFL conquer all with parity, with the premise that every team’s fans has hope at the start of the season, how teams can go from worst to first in one season, how a Wildcard team can win the Super Bowl. They want some of that.

I’m more of the opinion that you can sell the game better, season to season, generation to generation, with teams that have the same players, the same characters from year to year. I grew up in the Seventies, so my thinking is that dynasties sell, they’re memorable and meaningful. For me, the NHL went from the Canadiens dynasty to the ugly Islanders to the beautiful Oilers team, there was symmetry and order.

Instead of the short-term excitement of a shootout or a lottery ticket win you get out of parity, you have the lifelong fealty of fans, affection/rivalry for various teams and their principal actors, drama and storylines that are handed down through the ages. The Don Cherry ‘too-many-men’ loss in the Semis to the Canadiens has emotional resonance even now, compared to the Brett Hull ‘toe-in-the-crease’ defeat of the Sabres, which is more a trivia matter, an accident of history, with no real backstory.

Since the arrival of parity, it’s more of a muddle. It’s kind of arbitrary which team won what year, it’s kind of a hodge-podge, with various Panthers and Canucks and Hurricanes teams making surprise and unearned visits to the Final.

Mark Cuban, even though he owns the Dallas Mavericks, or maybe because he owns the Mavericks, warns that the pro sports hegemony over television and culture isn’t immutable. He believes that there will come a day when VR technology will be good enough, cheap enough that experiential entertainment will blow spectator entertainment like movies and pro sports out of the water.

I believe that, if pro sports had any vision, they’d foster a deep meaningful connection with the communities and the fans they serve. If someone has a superficial relationship with their team of choice, if watching hockey is a way to pass time instead of a deeply held passion that you shared with your friends and family, it’ll be all the easier for a new generation to abandon it in favour of Halo 55.

Les frères Héroux, drafted early by the Canadiens and Nordiques, profiled on RDS

RDS aired one of its “Trajectoires” one-hour specials on les frères Alain and Yves Héroux.  Alain was a first-round pick of the Canadiens and General Manager Irving Grundman in 1982, 19th overall.

Gord Kluzak to the Bruins, Brian Bellows to the North Stars, and Gary Nylund to Toronto were drafted 1-2-3 that year. Leave it to the Leafs to pick a highly-touted defenceman and colaiacovo him.

Immediately before Alain Héroux, Buffalo picked Dave Andreychuk, Detroit picked Murray Craven, and the Devils got Ken Daneyko, who all had 1000+ games in the NHL.

At #21, two slots later, the champion Islanders, with three Stanley Cups already in the bank, picked up Pat Flatley, who for a few years teamed up with Pat Lafontaine to give me nightmares about a ten-year Isles reign.

Anyway, Alain Héroux had the impact of a damp firecracker. I’ve posted before about his being picked:
None of us, no one in the media, had ever heard of Alain Héroux. Marc Lachapelle never uttered his name as far as I could remember in his game recaps. Alain Qui? We furrowed our brow and wondered if this wasn’t a longshot, an outright pander to the fans by an already hot-seated Irving Grundman, trying too hard to get a French-Canadian player on board.

Ultimately no harm done, 1982 wasn’t that great a draft year, and at least we didn’t take Rocky Trottier 8th overall like the Devils did. I hated Brian Trottier, couldn’t stomach the idea of having a player named Rocky Trottier on my team. Not that I’d ever heard of him or anything. I strongly suspected the risible Devils were trying to catch lightning in a bottle and picking the player on his name alone.

And, at least we didn’t double down and draft Yves Héroux, Alain’s brother, the next year. The stupid Nordiques did that. The Canadiens ignored him and picked Claude Lemieux and Sergio Momesso, back to back, bang bang, early in the second round. I was elated over that. Those two were on heavy rotation on Marc Lachapelle’s recaps, and not just for points, they were tough and mean. This was in a time period when the Canadiens would get amazing players from the Q in the second rounds and lower, other players like Stéphane Richer and Patrick Roy, for example.


We never heard much about Alain Héroux, he came and went so fast, I never learned what happened to him. His HockeyDB page is underwhelming.

In the program on RDS, he seems like a pretty mild-mannered guy, and he explains that after one season in Sherbrooke under the new Serge Savard administration, during which they won the Calder Cup, he felt like they weren’t too keen on him, that he was getting passed by their own drafted prospects, so he asked for a trade. He said former Canadiens coach Bob Berry, who was working for the Baltimore Skipjacks, the Penguins’ farm team at the time, expressed interest in having him on board.

Which to me sounds like tampering, we should petition the league for redress, get their 2017 first-round pick or something as competition, now that dogged investigative journalism has uncovered this outrage.

In any case, the Canadiens complied with his request, bought out his contract, and he attended the Pens’ camp.  They wanted to send him to the AHL, but on a tryout basis only, they didn’t want to sign him to a contract. So he retired, and started working for the hockey company Titan as a rep, and he eventually got into refereeing as a sideline.  Which is fine, the guy had a good life, he has a great family and all, so good on him.

His brother Yves only played one game for les Nordiques, when they were pretty stacked and he couldn’t crack their roster, but he played a lot of AHL, IHL and in Europe.

But it seems like Alain Héroux, as nice a guy as he seems, didn’t have the passion, the temperament of the players Serge Savard seemed to like, Patrick Roy, Sergio Momesso, Claude Lemieux, Shayne Corson, all players with a healthy amount of attitude, they weren’t no pushovers nohow. Alain Héroux kind of confirmed that fact by the very fact that he asked out, instead of going to Sherbrooke for a second season and battling for an eventual roster spot.

So an interesting bit of light shone on a player, a prospect who stumped me when he was picked, during his brief tenure as a Canadiens prospect, and when he dropped off the face of the map.

And it kind of validates Marc Bergevin’s concern with character, how he looks for certain traits in his players. Alain Héroux, as intriguing as his potential might have seemed, clearly didn’t have much ‘dog’ in him, didn’t have the stones for a pro career, all the ups and downs, and the effort that would be needed, if we judge him by his words during this TV program.

And that, as much as size and production and other traits are things which must be evaluated when drafting 18-year-old prospects, so must character, and all it entails, and which separates the wheat from the chaff, the Brendan Gallaghers from the other fifth-rounders with significant hurdles to overcome to ever obtain a NHL career.

That time Michel Therrien, Francis Bouillon and Georges Laraque won the Memorial Cup.

RDS showed a 1-hour documentary on the Prédateurs de Granby’s Memorial Cup conquest in 1995-96.

Interesting points to note:

–The Granby ownership brought in the Morrissette brothers, who used to own the Laval Titan, to run the team. They brought in their own crew, including head coach Michel Therrien, who brought in the conditioning coach from Laval as well, Stéphane Dubé.

Michel Therrien brought in three ‘character’ players, including Francis Bouillon, who was made captain.

–They started the year on a 9-0 run, scoring 57 goals. Players talked in the documentary about how they knew that if they were leading, or even if the game was close in the third, only down by a couple of goals, that they’d win. They knew other teams couldn’t keep up with them in the third, their fitness and conditioning meant they dominated in the third.

“We’d been holding off-ice conditioning sessions all year. In the third, we’d crank it up a notch, augment the tempo, and they couldn’t follow.”

“What we were trying to do with our conditioning, was establish a culture of hard work, of winners.”–Stéphane Dubé

–There was a climate within the team, starting at the top with the Morrissette brothers, that merely winning wasn’t enough, you had to win convincingly, playing the right way, in keeping with their talent and strength as a team.

“At home, we’re not going to get outworked, roughed up. No one is going to come and beat us at home.”

“The owners were there before every game, before every practice, it showed how serious they were about winning.”

“For us, the players were like our children.”–Georges Morrissette

“The players knew they had backing, they had support, but they also knew the owners were very demanding.”

–Maybe the most important battle cry for the team was ‘Respect’. The team took note that even as they piled up wins, they never made the #1 spot on the weekly CHL rankings.

“With good reason, we never got the #1 spot. The common question at the time was which of the OHL or WHL team would win the Memorial Cup.”–Michel Therrien

“I heard that LHJMQ President Gilles Courteau contacted the CHL to note the lack of consideration for Québec teams. The reply he got was that a Québec team hadn’t won a Memorial Cup in 25 years, so it was hard to put a LHJMQ team #1.”–RDS’ Stéphane Leroux

“We used this as team. Like it or not, you had to use this for motivation, that we were going to earn respect.”

–The team kept adding pieces during the season, notably Winnipeg Jets’ first-rounder Jason Doig, and centreman Benoit Gratton. That gave the team 3 powerful lines, which a player explained made it hard to pinpoint which was the first and which was the second or third.

(Interesting point: I’ve never heard of Benoit Gratton, he was a fifth-round pick of the Capitals, but he eventually played a dozen games for the Canadiens and Michel Therrien in the NHL.)

–Even after these acquisitions, it was felt that there was an element missing, that there wasn’t a heavyweight enforcer around to protect the players when other teams tried to goon them.

As the trade deadline approached, the Lasers owner gave Georges Laraque the option of going to Hull or Granby.

“I detested Michel Therrien, so I wanted nothing to do with Granby. In the meantime though, I spoke with Samy Nasreddine who I’d played with in Bantam AA, spoke with Francis Bouillon and Jason Doig, and they convinced me to come to Granby.”–Georges Laraque

Lasers head coach Norman Flynn was so mad he got traded to a division rival that he refused to let him leave with his equipment in a Lasers hockey bag, he got the staff to put his gear in a garbage bag.

The feeling with the team was that they hadn’t just added a tough guy as a replaceable missing piece, they’d added the best enforcer in the country. (I’ll note that that pre-season, Georges had had a good training camp with the Oilers, so much so that they wanted to keep him in the NHL to start the year, but he demurred.)

–Georges Laraque tells the story of how he got from Mont- Laurier to Drummondville the day of the game, wiped out from the travel, after the first period. Michel Therrien asked him to don his gear to just sit on the bench with his new teammates. Georges explained that he kind of put it on loose, wasn’t expecting to play, but between the second and third, Michel Therrien asked him to skate around during the warmup, to get his legs going, that maybe he’d get a shift to start the third period.

On the ice, he was approached by Drummondville tough guy Joël Theriault who told him Washington scouts were in the stands, that he needed to go with him to show what he could do. Reluctant every step of the way, he went through with it and won a convincing K.O. (You can tell the uneasy relationship he had/has with Michel Therrien when he tells this anecdote.)

“Georges made a statement right off the bat. It made the guys an inch taller, ten pounds heavier. What it brought also was confidence.”–Michel Therrien

–An interesting insight into the psyche of Michel Therrien, and his relationship with Georges. Before their game against the Olympiques de Hull and their giant Peter Worrell, a game that everyone had circled on the calendar as a clash of the titans, the coach brought him in and had a chat, and told him he didn’t want him to fight against Peter Worrell, that he’s too tough, and that because of game situations, because they didn’t have the last change, it would be best if he stayed away.

“I’m telling him ‘You don’t want me to fight Worrell? That’s why you traded for me. You think I’m going to lose against him? Never in a million years! I’ll destroy him.”–Georges Laraque

This bit of reverse psychology served, in the head coach’s eyes, to motivate le grand Georges before the game, and Stéphane Dubé and Francis Bouillon noticed how he wasn’t loosey goosey in the dressing room, but instead was very focused.

Georges won a clear K.O. against his adversary, the Prédateurs easily won the game 7-2. The players explained that this was a psychological hurdle that the team cleared, they realized they were now the team to beat, they got more confident, more cocky. They went on to win the regular season championship.

–The Prédateurs easily won the playoffs and la Coupe du Président. The owners proclaimed that there’s still a lot of work to be done, that the ultimate goal still is ahead of them. They refused to hold a parade at this point, as other LHJMQ teams had done before shipping off to the Memorial Cup.

The first practice back, after winning la Coupe, they had a one-hour bag skate.

–The documentary goes into some background on how there hadn’t been a Québec-based Memorial Cup winner since Guy Lafleur’s Remparts in 1971, how since then teams would show up to the tournament a little intimidated. They faced off against Guelph to start, a team that had been ranked ahead of them in the CHL standings all year.

“We told ourselves, ‘Hey boys, ‘Respect’, it starts tonight’.”–Stéphane Dubé

“Michel said ‘When the puck drops, I’m opening the gate, and I want my racehorses to go’. And we went.”

Les Prédateurs easily beat the Storm, 8-0, and the team thought they caught them unprepared, that they expected an easy game against the Québec team.

Unfortunately, the players, in hindsight, also think that they got a little ahead of themselves, started to believe their own press, and they lost their subsequent game against the Peterborough Petes 6-3.

“It was a loss that hurt us, that brought us back to Earth, and woke us up for the rest of the tourney.”–Francis Bouillon

They went on to win 3-1 against Brandon to finish the round-robin portion.

–With a bye to the Final, the team went on a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Morrissette brothers brought a Prédateur jersey and donated it to the Hall of Fame, in a gesture of anticipation of a championship.

“It was the best thing in the world to happen, for us to lose against Guelph in the round-robin, and now get to face off against them for the Memorial Cup. Having lost, we wouldn’t be overconfident, and we’d be motivated to avenge the initial loss.”–Georges Laraque

“It’s probably the easiest pre-game speech to give, once you’ve gotten to that game.”–Michel Therrien

–In a bit of gamesmanship, the Morrissette brothers had their mascot Preddy come in to Peterborough, lace up the skates in secret before the game, and jump on the ice during the pre-game ceremony.

–The players felt they were dominated in the first period, but their goalie Frédéric Deschênes kept them in the game.

“Mike came into the room, made a couple of adjustments, and that was it. In the second period, I scored the opening goal. We knew that we were now in the driver’s seat, and we stepped on the gas pedal.”

“The home crowd isn’t quite as loud anymore. The other team, the players start to look at you a little differently. The more the second period unfolds, the more we start to dominate.”

–As the period continued, fog started to build in the arena. Michel Therrien used this as a pretext to rest his players when he felt they needed it, he’d get the refs to call a break and have both teams skate around to dissipate the fog.

Early in the third, the Prédateurs scored to make it 2-0. They went on to win 4-0.

“The first thought I had when I lifted the Memorial Cup, was that the last Quebecer to raise the Cup before me was Guy Lafleur.”–Francis Bouillon

–The documentary goes on to propose that this win ‘broke the seal’ for the LHJMQ, that other teams followed with Memorial Cup wins.

“It was a question of pride, province-wide, to win that Memorial Cup, and it changed the LHJMQ.”–Stéphane Leroux

“It was the best year in hockey of my entire life.”–Francis Bouillon

“I’m convinced that there isn’t one of those boys who didn’t become a better person in the future, because of what they went through that year.”–Stéphane Dubé