Sunday, 3 December 2017

Game 27: Canadiens 10, Red Wings 1

On the 22nd anniversary of the Patrick Roy meltdown at the Forum against the Wings, the one that precipitated a seething feud between goalie and head coach Mario Tremblay into an outright divorce, the Canadiens shellacked Detroit 10-1, a bit of karma that salved the wound not at all.

(Reading: Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated on the fallout of that December 6 1995 game.)

1)  The boys on Sportsnet kept referring to what a difference a week makes, how everyone was calling for heads to roll at le Nouveau Forum, but four wins had made all that die down.  I want to introduce the Sportsnet talking heads to my confrères at ex-HIO/RATW.

2)  I'm not the only one who keeps it front of mind that the Canadiens have feasted on the Sabres, Senators and Red Wings on this streak, right?

How bad is the new Adams Division?  The Lightning are the best team in hockey, the Leafs are good and on the rise, and then it's a mishmash of mediocrity.

3)  I'm a Posi-Troll, but I do not take heart from this mini resurgence.  If anything, I think this is when we strike, while the iron is hot.  Let's unload Jordie Benn and Andrew Shaw for draft picks while they're playing well and we're dealing from a position of relative strength, rather than one of Houleian crisis.

4)  "Ken, that kid Byron who just lit your boys up last night, I hear you're interested?  You can have him for the Mantha kid, if Blashill doesn't like him.  Throw in Ouellet and his -2 from last night, and you can have Benn or Davidson, either or.  Hell take both, and give me a second-rounder, and we're square."

5)  Since when do the Canadiens' blue helmets come with a black chinstrap instead of white?  I'm always the last to notice these things, I admit.  A couple seasons back, there was a picture of Chris Chelios, just a head shot with him wearing a red helmet, and I was arguing that it was of him with the Wings or Blackhawks, not the Canadiens, since the red tint was wrong.  Someone pointed out patiently that yes, it must not be from his Canadiens days, since our boys don't have red helmets, just white ones and blue ones.  Until that moment, I would have sworn and put my hand in the fire that the Canadiens wore red helmets.  They must, right|?

6)  Is Nicolas Deslauriers the player we thought Devante Smith-Pelly/Stefan Matteau would be?  I've been uncharitable towards Mr. Deslauriers, I must admit, when he was a Sabre.

7)  Charles Hudon is going to be a useful forward.  And it's nice that Jacob de la Rose got on the scoreboard finally.  I don't have high expectations, just want him to be what Lars Eller was, a big body third-line centre who can skate all day, chip in 12 goals a season, and back down from Nazem Kadri when the going gets rough.

8)  David Schlemko and Jakub Jerabek are an uptick on Brendan Davidson and Joe Morrow, and relieve the pressure on a fading Victor Mete, but I'd still take Andrei Markov on my team.  Even if he deserted us.  Until Rasmus Dahlin gets here.

9)  An off-night for Max Pacioretty, the only forward to not garner a point for the Canadiens.  Meanwhile, Alex Galchenyuk bags four assists.  François Gagnon on L'Antichambre pointed out how he was quietly effective, didn't try anything overly spectacular, just got the puck to the open man and did his job.

10)  Carey almost got the shutout, stopped 22 of 23 shots.  All these scrimmages against the weak sisters of our division are hopefully doing wonders for his confidence, and rounding him into form, working out the kinks and the ouchies.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Game 24: Canadiens 3, Sabres 0

Okay, so we can't beat the Coyotes, but we have the Sabres' number.

--We won the game, but the Sabres won the Dahlin Derby, or this round of it anyway.

--Alex Galchenyuk can't buy a break.  He committed the mortal sin of scoring a goal when we were leading 1-0.  Thus giving us the worst lead in hockey, the dreaded two-goal lead.

--I barely saw Nathan Beaulieu.  Not that I was searching for him, maybe he had a steady, no-crisis game.  But he's not taken the step we dreaded he might in Buffalo, where he becomes an effective puck-moving Top 4 defenceman.

I'd still take him on our team though, over Jordie Benn, Brandon Davidson, Joe Morrow, or (nearly) 6 Million Dollar Man Karl Alzner.

--Carey is going to (mess with our stuff) if he keeps this up.  He'll get us a dozen or two meaningless points that will only (mess) with our draft ranking.  Blast his cool, smooth, effortless goaltending style.  Not a Charlie Lindgren bobble rebound.  Not one instance when he swam in his crease with his back to the shooter à la Mike Condon.

--It bears repeating that Nicolas Deslauriers made a name for himself in the LHJMQ as a defenceman.  He said last night on l'Antichambre that he was an offensive defenceman who never fought, it just never came up since it wasn't his role.  He figured out that he'd need to fight, more often than he expected, if he was to stick in the NHL.

I first found this out on a Québec blog, from the same guy who follows the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and who had a major man-crush on Sven Andrighetto, well before he was drafted by the Canadiens.  That blogger has described Nicolas Deslauriers as a "dominant" defenceman while he played for the Huskies, which I have to believe is a stretch, a misuse of the word 'dominant', but still.

--Jakub Jerabek has looked decent so far, certainly more noteworthy than Joe Morrow or Brandon Davidson. 

--Anti Niemmi should get a couple more starts, to ease Carey in, and give Al Montoya all the time he needs, and then a month beyond that.  Hopefully Mr. Niemmi can show some good performances, and we can flip him down the road to another team in need of a backup for another conditional fifth or thereabouts. 

--I know low-round picks have a very low chance of amounting to anything, and at the same time, we have unrealistic expectations of what a fifth-rounder can be because of Brendan Gallagher, but the secret in my mind is to have plenty of these picks.  Once you get to that level, you can take a chance on players who you might have had as a Do Not Draft, since you wouldn't take that player with a second-round pick where he was slated to go.  Now in the fifth-round, maybe you overlook those giant warts and take a flier on a player who has some great skill and/or upside, but is slow-footed (Mark Stone) or a coaching headache (Anthony Duclair).

I've been jealous of what Tampa has been able to do with their sackful of draft choices lately, being able to pick up Anthony Cirelli in the third round in 2015, Mathieu Joseph in the fourth round, and Bokondji Imama in the sixth, and Brayden Point in the late third in 2014.

Let's give Trevor Timmins a chance to work his magic, give him and his crew a shot at wowing us again, with a bunch of shots at the dart board where they can explore riskier options.  Let's allow them to, when presented with Lukas Vejdemo or Nicolas Roy, think "Why not both?"

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Torrey Mitchell traded to Kings for conditional fifth-round draft pick.

The Canadiens have traded Torrey Mitchell to the L.A. Kings for a conditional fifth-round pick.  If the Kings make the playoffs, the Canadiens will instead receive the 2018 fourth-round pick they gave up last season in exchange for Dwight King.

This trade makes me disproportionately happy.  For five years now, I've wished that we divest ourselves of non-core players or stalled prospects for low-round draft picks, to go back to the well again and try our luck. 

Torrey Mitchell served us well, was a welcome addition in that he was a true centre who shot right, so he helped us out when our only centres were all lefties (David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Manny Malhotra, Lars Eller, etc.)  He was a local boy who was happy to be in Montréal, a veteran who'd won before, who complemented our arsenal of swift, fleet-footed forecheckers who might not think the game at a high-level offensively, might not score a lot, but did mesh well with the high-tempo puck pursuit and fast-break offence of Michel Therrien. 

Last season, he had a kaboom of a start to the season, when he and Phillip Danault and Paul Byron/Brian Flynn overwhelmed opposition fourth lines with their speed, and he and Phillip would split the faceoff duties, Torrey taking those on the right, Phillip those on the left.  It was a very good fourth line, and should have provided Tomas Plekanec more leash to focus on offence, if he hadn't chosen to hibernate for another winter.

This season though, with Jacob de la Rose and Charles Hudon needing to be rostered or lost on waivers, with Mike McCarron looming as a potential right-shot fourth-line centre, and with his effectiveness waning at least in the points column, Torrey wasn't even a regular, he'd been healthy-scratched a few times.  Either his footspeed is declining, or he's not a fit for Claude Julien's puck support five-man breakouts, but he was a diminishing asset. 

We'd acquired Torrey from the Sabres for a seventh-round pick and Jack Nevins, a middleweight scrappy enforcer in the OHL who we'd taken a flier on as an undrafted UFA, and who looks like he'll be a minor leaguer at best.  We made good use of Torrey's services, and now swap him for a fifth-round pick.  That's a win.  Would that every acquisition work out like that, like Dale Weise, rather than those of Mike Condon or Sven Andrighetto.

I understood Marc Bergevin's reasons for acquiring Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn, they were useful vets who'd bring a right shot to balance out our roster, who could play wing or centre.  But it always stuck in my craw that we didn't instead use Gabriel Dumont in that role, he was an agile rightie who can play centre, and who brings grit and toughness to boot.  Now, I'm not going to argue that Gabriel is just as good as Torrey, he's clearly not.  Torrey has had a long, productive NHL career, while Gabriel is still trying to establish himself, he just got waived by the Lightning and picked up by the Sens. 

But we had Gabriel in our system, we'd already spent a draft pick to acquire him and years developing him in the AHL.  Maybe he's not as good as Torrey Mitchell or Brian Flynn, but the difference is marginal.  He won't be the reason you win or lose games. 

You give Gabriel an opportunity.  You 'live with his mistakes'.  You energize your farmhands ("That could be me next!")  You develop him, groom him, and maybe get to swap him later on for a draft pick if he tops out.  It's the Circle of Life. 

In the short term, maybe you're better off spending draft picks acquiring fringe players, maybe your team is slightly better on the ice, but it's organizationally counterproductive to do so.  That's how you show up at the draft every June without a second-round pick, with only five picks, while Tampa has nine and Toronto has ten.  This is how we lose the race, as we have for decades now.  We constantly bitch about being broke, but go out to a restaurant dinner and blow fourty bucks we could have spent on a bag of rice and veggies and chicken that would have fed us for the week.

So, good trade.  Finally.  Sorry to see a homeboy like Torrey go.  Maybe he can return and work for the organization after his playing career is done.  We need guys like him.  But this trade is a step in the right direction, in a lost season.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Canadiens shooting percentage is last in the league, and even worse than that.

So I'm taking a relatively Zen approach to this Canadiens' season, having decided early on, before training camp, that this was a fundamentally flawed team, without a #1 centre, a #2 centre, and a first pairing left defenceman.  Those are crucial elements to a team's success, there's no way to patch this need.  It's not like a couple years ago when we were weak on the right wing, and had to shift over a couple of left wingers. 

This led me to believe that the Canadiens won't make the playoffs, and that the best-case scenario is that the Canadiens get decent seasons from their trade pieces and make a few good trades prior to the deadline, to stock up on picks before the draft.  I don't want the Canadiens in a fight for the playoffs, clinging to Tomas Plekanec and Torrey Mitchell, and even worse, maybe trading for another round of Jordie Benns and Dwight Kings and Steve Otts as the deadline nears.

So I'm going to remain phlegmatic as the storm roils and the hounds bay for more blood and the Canadiens sink to the bottom.  I'll keep watching games but won't be expecting wins, I'll be happy with glimmers from Charles Hudon and Jacob de la Rose and Artturi Lehkonen. 

Tonight, watching L'Antichambre, I notice that they put up a graphic showing the Canadiens at the very bottom of the League in shooting percentage, which is sad in and of itself.  What is surprising is that the Canadiens are last by such a wide margin.  The Islanders are 25th at 7.8%, then the Rangers at 7.3%, then the Ducks, Coyotes and Stars clustered around 6.5%, and the Oilers 30th at 5.3%.

The Canadiens are at 3.9%.  One and half percent, roughly, from the second worst team.  It's not statistically insignificant.  It's a healthy margin.

Based on the comments I'd read on social media, Michel Therrien's brand of hockey was boring and defensive, and I disagreed about that specifically, but anyway, the same comments would state that Claude Julien's puck control system would take care of all that.  We'd control the puck instead of dumping the puck in, and by controlling the puck, boy howdy, that's how you score goals.

Maybe the Canadiens are caught out this season, with a team built for Michel Therrien's fast-break style and ill-suited for the Claude Julien system.  Maybe all it will take is a few more games for his system to become second-nature for the boys, and for it to bear fruit.  Maybe next year, when Mike McCarron has moved up, and a couple more moves are made, will the new coach have the team he really wants.

But for now, as an indicator, the shooting percentage, and the gap between us and the rest of the pack is shocking.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Vancouver has buyer's remorse on Olli Juolevi, covets Victor Mete

Interesting discussion on TSN 1040 Vancouver this week on how 2016 draft 5th overall pick Olli Juolevi is going back to Sweden this season, after an uninspiring training camp, and disappointing results and reports from his previous season in London with the Knights. The hosts bat around how their crown jewel didn’t really improve last season, how he was reportedly “bored” with the junior game and had a cocky, arrogant vibe.

Meanwhile, they cast jealous glances at Victor Mete, who they say improved every game he played, every benchmark he had to meet, worked hard at his game, and is now playing NHL games as a lowly 2016 4th-round pick while Mr. Juolevi is nowhere near ready, appearing stagnant.

They took time to rue some other Jim Benning moves, notably his gambling on trades for players who were drafted high but were not faring well in their situations, and rattled off names like Linden Vey and Emerson Etem and others who didn’t pay off, at the cost of a second-round pick each. The Derrick Pouliot trade falls in this sphere, and they hate the fact that again, Jim Benning chipped in a fourth-rounder on top of Andrey Pedan, a disturbing habit on his part. Since you could get a Victor Mete, let’s say, if you had a fourth-rounder to spend.

And as always, they trotted out the fifth-round pick they had to offer to sweeten the Zack Kassian for Brandon Prust trade. Based on the tone of their voice, Brandon Prust has now lost all of the luster he had when he rolled into Montréal with a UFA contract, proclaiming “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

The Canucks got boned two years in a row, dropping down three slots in the draft lottery, especially the Auston Matthews-Patrik Laine season. Especially when you consider that they didn’t outright tank, they were just bad and ravaged by injuries. I daresay Vancouver fans deserved Patrik Laine, he’d have looked great on the Sedins’ wing.

Olli Juolevi was described as a safe pick, with maybe not the high ceiling Mikhail Sergachev had, but more certain to be an NHL regular, having a higher floor. I remember Jim Benning speaking highly of him, how he’d be your do-it-all first pairing defenceman for a long time, how he was making the smart decision all the time, he maybe wouldn’t wow you but he made things look easy.

Now, it seems he has the diva aspect to a high pick after all, he’s not your no-nonsense Nick Lidstrom, as some would float, compared to the temperamental Russian-with-KHL-risk tag some tried to attach to young Mr. Sergachev. Mikhail was seen as more boom-or-bust.

I never had a doubt who I wanted, if we weren’t going Top 3 or getting Pierre-Luc Dubois, I wanted the second coming of Larry Robinson, or at least Roman Hamrlik, the big strong defenceman who can skate, pass, shoot, defend, and seemingly has no warts. I was glad to have Misha at #9, and am sorry we had to let him go.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

My position paper on Victor Mete

I love Victor Mete as a prospect we got high in the fourth round. 

1)  Victor Mete is too small and frail to play in the NHL.  He's a 19 year old who still has a lot of growing and maturing to do, physically.  Saying that he's stocky doesn't address that fact.  Of course he's stocky and strong.  If he wasn't, he wouldn't be a successful OHL player, thriving against bigger peers with an explosive stride and low centre of gravity.

2)  Referring to Jakob Chychrun and Mikhail Sergachev as young defencemen who can play in the NHL is not relevant.  Those two had an NHL player build the year they were drafted.  They were physically mature last season.  Jakob Chychrun was 6'2" and 200 lbs at the Combine, and described as if carved out of rock.  Mikhail Sergachev was 6'2" and 221 lbs.

3)  Referring to Torey Krug or Ryan Ellis or Troy Stecher as undersized but agile puck movers who can thrive in "today's NHL" is not relevant.  Those players were 22 when they made the NHL for good.

4)  Playing Victor Mete in NHL games is risking his health and his player development.  There's a real chance you could stall or derail his development with an unfortunate injury.  His head will be at concussive-elbow-height for most NHL players.  Zac Rinaldo is still in the league.

5)  One of Marc Bergevin's better-known quotes, one of his mantras that are/should be an organizational touchstone is that 'you often regret calling up a player too early, you seldom regret calling up a player too late'.  Having Victor Mete held up as a potential partner for Shea Weber is a direct contravention of that principle.

6)  If Victor Mete was a potential third-pairing option who could be eased into the game alongside a trusty veteran who'd be a perfect complement off and on the ice, if he could be babied on to the powerplay and held off the penalty kill as a #6-7 d-man, if his skillset worked perfectly with the rest of the defensive rotation in a supporting role, maybe it would be a reasonable gamble to hurry along his development curve.  Instead, the reason he's staying with the club is because he's the 'perfect' complement to first-pairing stud Shea Weber.  His skillset and development doesn't match up to the expected role, not by a long shot.

7)  The reason he's being kept with le Grand Club is because we divested ourselves of Andrei Markov, Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin in the off-season, and because we lost Mark Barberio on waivers last winter.  Now, each of these decisions is defensible, there were pros and cons, it's reasonable to argue that with the complications of the 23-player roster and waivers and the expansion draft and arbitration and the salary cap, all these player moves had to happen. 

The contingencies failed, however.  The reason Victor Mete is being given a chance to fail is because none of the backup plans panned out.

8)  Most importantly, we're flailing and going for a Hail Mary when there's no need, and no chance of it succeeding.  The Canadiens, despite all the talk of the 'window' and the 'must-win', are a fundamentally flawed, undermanned unit.  The Canadiens don't have a proper #1 centre, don't have a proper #2 centre, and don't have a proper first pairing left defenceman.  We're not even sure we currently have an appropriate backup goalie.

This roster is not going to win the Stanley Cup.  It won't even go far in the playoffs.  My guess is they'll miss the playoffs. 

With this in mind, you shouldn't throw good money after bad.  You shouldn't risk the development of an organizational asset who'll benefit the team long-term for a short-term high-risk low-reward gamble.  Even if Victor Mete has as decent a season as can be expected from a 19-year-old fourth-round pick, it won't put the Canadiens over the top.  It might mean five or six more points in the regular season, but it's not the Penguins adding Ron Francis to the Lemieux-Jagr forward corps. 

Even lacking Andrei Markov or a decent Michael del Zotto-type substitute, the wise, better move is for Victor to go back to London, dominate the OHL and his peers as a #1 defenceman, be a leader on his team, get on the World Junior squad and see what he can do on a team stacked with talent and high-pressure no-tomorrow games, and get one year older, wiser, and more mature.  That's what will pay off in the long-term, not some half-baked scheme to see if he can do better than Brandon Davidson.

We can't refuse to accept the situation we're in.  Marc Bergevin was left holding the bag when he couldn't come to an agreement with Andrei, and is now sitting on $8.5M of cap space and Karl Alzner as his only credible, tested option on the left side of the blue line.  Éric Desjardins isn't driving down from Laval and walking in the door. 

In that situation, you take your lumps.  You understand that it will be a long, tough season.  You suffer through it, you showcase your trade deadline chips and you plan ahead for the 2018 Draft.  You cross your fingers for a win at the Rasmus Dahlin lottery. 

You don't drag down Victor Mete with you.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Joël Bouchard on Victor Mete

Joël Bouchard of l'Armada in the LHJMQ, and who is involved as a GM of the World Junior Canadian team, shares his thoughts on Victor Mete.

He says he's liked him for a long time, isn't surprised by his early success at Canadiens camp, since his playing style meshes well with the current type of game in vogue in the NHL.  He says he plays a clean game, is a good defence partner, has good feet, good hands and is 'well-positioned'.  He keeps things simple with the puck, doesn't overhandle it, keeps his head up.  Nothing is complicated, unpredictable, or erratic with him, "what you see is what you get".  He had a good summer camp in Plymouth with Team Canada.  He'll potentially be a part of a strong defence squad for Team Canada this year.  He's a good person, not "complicated guy", he's fun.

Asked by Dave Morrissette if he'd be surprised if he stuck with the Canadiens, Mr. Bouchard says that nothing surprises him anymore, surprises always happen, and he brings up Jacob Chychrun and Travis Konecny as examples.  It's not necessarily the most obvious candidates (I think he meant the high draft picks), it depends also on the situation (I think he meant the penurious Phoenix owners were desperate to keep Jacob Chychrun on his Entry Level deal, instead of sending him back down if money wasn't so tight).  He also mentions Samuel Girard's early success in Nashville.  He says Victor Mete is just doing his thing, leaving his calling card, and the Canadiens are in a 'win-now' mode, so it will depend how things go.

Asked how he lasted until the fourth round, Mr. Bouchard immediately brings up his small stature.  Still, he's a gamer who shows up for big games, he shows leadership.  Generally, he says teams tend to overlook "good players", and will draft for "big potential", big players with high upside.  It makes sense, even though it's not necessarily his approach, to draft big players, to take 'homerun swings'.  He brings up Mike McCarron as an example, says the pick made sense, there are no other players drafted right after him who the Canadiens missed out on.  He calls Mike "a nice gamble", you can't find guys like that, they have their place in a draft.  But there's also room for good players, and Victor isn't big, isn't a sexy prospect, but he's a good player.  Those kind of players will tend to slide, every draft he sees a few players at the draft who he's shocked are still available by a certain point.  Sometimes the player who can't skate like the wind or who's not 6'4" will slide.  When the Canadiens drafted Victor Mete, he believes they knew what they were getting, a good player, a good kid, a guy who knows how to win and who won in London, but you weren't getting the 'wow factor'.

He also has high praise for Thomas Chabot, says he had him on Team Canada, but also faced him often in the LHJMQ and especially in the playoffs.  He says it's a little different in that he's got enough seniority that he can go to the AHL, whereas Victor is stuck going back to the OHL if he doesn't make the Canadiens.  The potential of Thomas Chabot is extraordinary on the long term.

I'll again whine that the Canadiens haven't already signed Joël Bouchard to work in the organization.  This summer, Sylvain Lefebvre's contract expired, it would have been a perfect time for Mr. Bouchard to come in and take the next step, coach the Rocket, bring a bit of excitement to the team, and prepare the succession for Claude Julien.  Same as the missed opportunity in 2016 when, after a season when the team demonstrably, shamefully quit on Michel Therrien, Guy Boucher was available to hire, was looking for an NHL coaching job.

I understand Marc Bergevin's desire for stability, for continuity, to stop the revolving door and the media madness in Montréal, but there should also be room in there for the maxim that 'you're always looking to improve the team'.  We'd have a stronger organization now with Guy Boucher and Joël Bouchard working for us.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

2017 Rugby Women's World Cup: Canada 98, Hong Kong 0

Just catching up to the Women's Rugby World Cup on the PVR, and it was a laugher for the Canadian women against the overmatched ladies from Hong-Kong, a 98-0 slaughter.  Women's rugby has a shorter history, and there are great differences in talent and participation levels between countries, as we see in other sports like hockey for example.

Rugby is also a sport that lends itself to huge blowouts.  When you're faced with a team that is bigger/stronger/faster/more talented than you are, and you're getting shelled and run through and run over, it's hard to keep your focus and tackle just as hard as you can and run all out, especially as the second half drags on.  You lose your desire and the other team piles it on and you get sulky and bitter and dejected.  You don't necessarily stop trying, but it's hard to sacrifice yourself in a lost cause.  You start looking at your teammates and wondering if they're working as hard as they should, you think the opposite fullback is being a bit of a glamour boy and deserves to be put back in his place, you question if your own teammate's hamstring pull was all that bad and whether he just pulled himself and left you to deal with the mess, and your own game falls apart.

It's easier to desultorily backcheck in hockey, to coast around once you get up to speed, to just get in position and clog up a lane, but in rugby, once you stop running and once you stop hustling to the breakdowns, there's no way to limit the damage.

Magali Harvey has a great name for rugby, and a great game.  Fast, agile and good with her ball handling, she scored five tries and made us question, again, why she wasn't included on the Olympic squad in Rio.  The coach explained at the time that the best team isn't necessarily built from the best players, that he was looking at the program in a holistic manner, keeping an eye on the future, blah blah blah, but it all sounded like hogwash to me.  With the P.K. Subban situation having just exploded, it was hard to not see parallels, a massively talented player and a coach who couldn't get on the same page.

 Another athlete who caught the eye was Canadian captain Kelly Russell.  The big, strong and fast #8 was all over the field, surehanded with the ball, solid in her tackles, always supporting the ball carriers.  She chipped in three tries herself.

So a good start for the team, but one that shouldn't carry too much weight, Hong Kong being known as one of the 'minnows' at this tournament, just happy to be there.

[Further reading from cbc.ca]

Another crucifixion of Gary Bettman, this one occasioned by the expansion draft.

(June 18, 2017)

One more point about this expansion draft, about Gary Bettman being tone deaf, and not seizing on opportunities to grow the game. I’ve read over the years quite a few apologists claiming that the NHL is a business, and that he’s doing his job since he’s increased NHL revenues. My retort to that is that the reason we love hockey and consume it ravenously isn’t that it’s a business like steel-making or the insurance gambit, but rather that we have grown up with the game and are emotionally attached to our team, to our game’s greatest players. There’s a romance associated with hockey and its history, and an affection for the players we grew up with.

And, while it’s true that NHL revenues are growing, they’re doing so at a slower pace than that of the NFL, NBA, MLB and PGA. Heck, even soccer is growing at a faster rate than than pro hockey. The rising tide of exploding media revenues and ticket prices somehow isn’t raising our leaky boat as well as all the others. If anything, Gary is underperforming compared to his counterparts.

We’ve seen many, many blunders committed by Visionary Gary, one of which may yet be averted, namely his stated refusal to let NHL players compete in next year’s Winter Olympics. Added to his three lockouts of the sport, and it gets difficult to assert that Gary really does like hockey, when he stands in its way so often.

He claimed after his Second Lockout that he wanted to open up the game, to increase offence, but in practice, after an initial blip, he’s allowed GM’s and coaches to strangle the life out of the games, to promote defence over offence. We see this in how the NHL allows slashing and hacking routinely, as evidenced by the recent playoffs, and by Marc Méthot’s exploded finger.

We see it in how the sport is guided by veteran high-profile coaches like Mike Babcock, Ken Hitchcock and Claude Julien, all of who preach ‘responsible’ hockey, ‘playing the right way’, and ‘being on the right side of the puck’.

Meanwhile, Linus Omark is playing in Europe. Yes, that Linus Omark. The one who caused Don Cherry to turn purple with rage. Who wasn’t showing the proper “respect” for the game, according to various NHL players.

And meanwhile, NHL GM’s and pundits contorted themselves to find a way to protect goalless wonders like Jordie Benn and Brendan Gaunce from being claimed, horrors be, by the Las Vegas Gilded Questing Troubadours.

Gary Bettman also has a false sense of what fans want to see, how they want to be entertained, evidenced by his lame awards ceremonies, or his puzzling ‘samurai’ TV ads after his Second Lockout. Of course, these ads were motivated by a desire to focus on the sport in general, instead of spotlighting its stars.

Which is remarkable, given his background in the NBA, and the way that league goes all-in when it comes to marketing its greatest stars. At the time, the NHL had marketable, TV and fan-friendly stars such as Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier, among many others, it could have leaned on to re-launch the league to its fans. Instead, it cooked up a cockamamie campaign centered on a faceless, nameless anonymous warrior-player embodied by an actor. Ludricrous.

And this leads us to the expansion draft, and the release of the protection lists for every team. For months this has been discussion fodder for hockey fans, and this morning is all the rage on social media and hockey blogs. The expansion draft process sells, yet Gary at first didn’t want to release the lists, under the pretense that it might embarrass some players. More likely, the desire was that GM’s not be assailed for their decisions, that they not be held to account a couple years down the road. Or that they not have to have tough conversations with some players and their agents.

Sanity prevailed though. Probably due to the realization that these lists would be leaked anyway, the NHL backtracked upon its initial decision and allowed the lists to be disseminated to the fans. Which is what is right and proper and practical, never mind the ruffled feathers.

But it’s not the first time the League tries to operate in secret, or states its preference in that regard. We all remember Gary’s boneheaded statement that fans don’t want websites like CapGeek, don’t care for that type of information, when his blessed salary cap has actually made that knowledge central to any hockey discussion.

There was also the 2005 Entry Draft. The NHL and Gary came out of his Second Lockout battered and bloodied, exhausted by the more than year-long fight, and only signed the new CBA in July. Feeling rushed for time, and thinking this was the best way to go, Gary decided that the next draft would be decided by a lottery, and it would be held by phone, away from the cameras, because who has time for anything else?

It took the people at TSN to intervene, and make the league realize that, as broadcast partners, they wanted/needed that content, and that hockey fans were actually greatly interested in where Sidney Crosby would end up. Without TSN, the lottery might have been held in relative secret, and we can imagine all the conspiracy theories that would have been fueled by that move. Frozen envelope anyone?

And we often hear that Gary is merely a shifty lawyer who does the owners' bidding, but it’s imprecise to say that he’s a lawyer for the owners. He’s actually the NHL Commissioner, that’s his job, and he probably has a retinue of actual lawyers to do the drudge work.

It’s such a simplistic way to look at it, that he’s merely doing the owners bidding, and therefore is blameless in the various catastrophes that befall the NHL regularly under his dictatorship. I worked for a restaurant manager once who painted on the wall in a backroom, “Did you make a sale today, or did you just take orders?” Do you think that that cantankerous cuss, with the smarm and the eye-rolling just takes orders, or do you think he makes a sale once in a while? Do you think the owners are of a single bloc, or do they maybe differ on certain matters, and that Gary may influence where they decide to go?

Your lawyer can and will often decide what’s best for you, will recommend a course of action, and you’re usually wise to follow it. Sometimes, you’ll put your foot down, and make the decision. “We’re suing”, you’ll tell her. Or, “I don’t have the money to take this to court, let’s settle as best we can.” But usually, your lawyer has a big influence in your decision, in your direction.

Same with your doctor. He’s the expert, the guy you trust to help you decide. If he wants to be all aggressive and operate and go with an array of treatments, who are you to argue? That’s what you pay him for. Sure, sometimes you’ll choose a treatment option, or go get a second opinion, but mainly, you’ll trust your doc to guide your decision-making.

And you can’t convince me that Gary’s divisive, adversarial style and abrasive personality is strictly to align with the owners, that it doesn’t come naturally to him. To believe that Gary isn’t always spoiling for a fight, that he’s a meek and weak underling to Jeremy Jacobs is not tenable.

Gary Bettman may be seen to serve the owners well with his ornery approach to every question/battle. But there is another way. Sure his penny-pinching ways save money for the owners directly, tangibly.

But what if they’d hired an inspiring leader instead, a supportive manager who understood that while you’ll save a couple dozen bucks by sending a busboy home on a not overly busy night, you’re better off in the long run, in the big picture, by keeping him and ensuring he’s motivated and enjoys his job, and by allowing the waitresses and other staff to have comparatively more time to spend with their guests and upsell them and provide them with a better evening and better experience, which will grow revenues in the long run with their return visits. Maybe the couple dozen bucks that drop to the bottom line tonight are fool’s gold, maybe it’s a false economy.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and unsurprisingly, the NHL chooses the wrong way, by choosing the short-term dollar over the longterm health of the game. It chose profit over fan experience again and again, and now wonders why the NBA has zoomed by it in terms of revenue and ratings, even as they cash their one-time expansion cheques from William ‘Shiny Hockey’ Foley.

So one more big spitty raspberry for Gary Bettman and his insensate grasp of what the sport needs and the fans want. With you at the helm Gary, the NBA can sleep soundly and worry-free. And maybe that’s been the plan all along.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Canadiens' enduring #1 Centre search

On the Canadiens' historical failure to obtain #1 or franchise centres, the thought occurred to me, and I wonder what you guys think, but is there a true blue #1 centre that we could have drafted recently, within the Bergevin tenure or shortly before, that we overlooked? Strictly in the first round mind you, I’m not talking about a long shot or anything, but at our draft position, was there a Mark Scheifele or a Ryan Johansen or a Sean Monahan who we could have picked and then plopped onto our roster for a decade as a Top 6 centreman and team leader that we passed over?

We’ve been looking for our ‘gros joueur de centre’ ever since I was a kid, since we traded away Peter Mahovlich, and we had interludes with Bobby Smith and Pierre Turgeon, but the quest continues, and I don’t think recently we’ve had a chance to fill that need neatly and easily and botched it by drafting a tough grinding winger instead.

I’m asking the question before going on to Hockey DB to do my own research, maybe I’m forgetting about an obvious case, but the only example I can think of recently of a big talented centre who was passed over in favour of someone else is Anze Kopitar for Carey Price. And that's not so recent, actually.  I admit I wasn’t paying much attention back then, remember reading that the Canadiens had picked this kid Price from B.C., fifth overall, and my kneejerk reaction was “Not a goalie!…” But I didn’t know what the other options were aside from Gilbert Brulé, and wasn’t the accepted wisdom back then that Anze Kopitar was certainly intriguing, but not necessarily a no-brainer, there were doubts about picking a Slovenian player so high?

Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud, but it’s my sense that we just haven’t been ‘lucky’ at the draft, that we’ve not had the chance to pick high when a franchise centre was up for grabs, that we’d have a chance at.

Even last June, we had the #9 pick, and it’s clear in my mind that Mikhail Sergachev was the best option for us. No shot at Auston Matthews, no shot at Pierre-Luc Dubois, and with reservations about Tyson Jost (size), Logan Brown (skating and skill level, conditioning) and Michael McLeod (maybe not a Top 6 centre), Mikhail Sergachev, the kid with all the tools and no visible flaws was the way to go.

Another thought I get about can’t-miss franchise-centres and how easy/difficult they are to find is when I think back to the 2012 draft. We held the #3 pick, and we all had our hearts set on Alex Galchenyuk, but it wasn’t a sure thing. Nail Yakupov was pretty much guaranteed to be the first overall pick, but the Oilers then as forever needed defence, so it was possible that they might take Ryan Murray instead, or that they’d prefer Alex to Nail, since he was a more valuable centre.

And Columbus at #2 seemed likely to pick Ryan Murray, although they might also go off the board, they might snatch our centre right before our very eyes.

So we had long and far-ranging discussions on social media about what the Canadiens could or should do, if we couldn’t pick Alex at #3, or even as a strategic move, to maximize our assets.

A lot of this talk was on the idea of trading down a few spots to draft Mikhail Grigorenko, who had started the season as the top-ranked CHL prospect for the next draft, but had a difficult season marred by injury and illness (mononucleosis). Or, some discussed trading down further to the middle of the first round and drafting one of Brendan Gaunce or Radek Faksa. The thinking was that they were just as good or almost as the more ballyhooed Galchenyuk and Grigorenko, that you could get your big centre that way and stockpile another asset, maybe a late first or early second round pick.

The Flames’ Jay Feaster, the day of the draft, shocked a few people by choosing centre Mark Jankowski out of Stanstead College (?) 21st overall, and then proclaiming him the best prospect in the draft.

Fast forward a few years, and we have to admit that the scouts had these players properly ranked, with Alex as the best centre prospect, and Grigo a few slots back, then Brendan Gaunce, Radek Faksa and Zemgus Girgensson in their own mid to late-first round tier.

For me, seeing the travails of Brendan Gaunce as a Canuck, seeing his ‘ceiling’ creep lower and lower every season, it puts the difficulty of finding and developing big talented centres in perspective.

In all this, I’m receptive to the argument that five years on, it seems the Canadiens are no further ahead than they were when Marc Bergevin took the reins, in terms of still relying on the same core group, save the P.K.-for-Shea swap. Sure, Gally and Chucky are now mature and in the meat of their careers, they’re no longer raw rookies, but on the flip side, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov are nearing the end of the line. We’re seemingly treading water.

The only way Marc Bergevin’s hot seat cools off is if the young players all take a big step forward, Charles Hudon, Jacob de la Rose, Mike McCarron, Daniel Carr, if they can be a wave of fresh legs and energy, and organically replace the offence and minutes that is lost by the departure of Alex Radulov, Lars Eller, Dale Weise, guys who contributed to the success of the team in the recent past.

But in terms of not getting that #1 centre, I don’t think Marc Bergevin has much to account for. There hasn’t been one available to us since Alex Galchenyuk, and we took him. That’s how you get these guys, you have to draft a Sean Monahan or a Bo Horvat. They’re tough to acquire otherwise, especially if most players list us as a forbidden team on their limited NTCs. If Eric Staal and Joe Thornton and Vincent Lecavalier don’t want to come here, there’s not much Marc Bergevin can do about that at the trade deadline or when July 1 comes around.

I would argue that we haven’t had a Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby available to us certainly, but not even a second-tier franchise centre, if there is such a thing, a Sean Monahan or Mark Scheifle, that we could have claimed for ourselves.

I think this can help us put Marc Bergevin’s “failure to obtain a #1 centre” in context. He didn’t have one to pick up in the draft, but he also didn’t trade a first round pick for a hill of beans and then see that pick become a Jeff Carter.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Donald Fehr, Gary Bettman and NHL revenues

News Item: Donald Fehr speaks at NHLPA golf tournament on apparent union disenchantment, big signing bonuses and much more

Donald Fehr and the players are unhappy with their take, with the size of the pie which is the NHL's hockey-related revenue.  After a period of robust growth, the curve has flattened out, with ticket prices about as high as they can go in their respective markets, and the league locked into its current TV deals.

A lot of the low-hanging fruit have been picked, that’s for sure. Revenues can rise with things like the Canadian dollar, but that’s out of the NHL’s control.

One thing they do have some control over though is the number of eyeballs during telecasts, and the demand for tickets for the show. And Gary Bettman being the Little Dummy Emperor that he is, keeps insisting that the game is fine and has never been better and will yammer your ear off about their own stats and facts that show the game has never been healthier, as Bruce Arthur disputes here.

But my own indices certainly are falling. I often read or cook dinner during games, instead of being inert on the couch, transfixed. I’ll fast-forward when I’m sleepy and just want to see how it ends, stopping for goals and fights. The playoffs are held up to be the pinnacle of competition, but really, it’s a mudwrestle, superficially exciting, but once you’ve seen a couple of minutes, it gets old. It’s not normal that every player sports cuts on his face or bruises or a black eye. It’s not an indicator of a successful league. Once the Canadiens are out, I don’t watch anymore.

Back in the day, after watching the Canadiens rooney the Whalers into submission or lalor the Nordiques along to the golf courses, which was fine and all, I used to stay up late and be amazed at the back and forth action of the Western Conference games, the Oilers vs. the Flames being the best example, but the Kings and the Jets also had exciting teams. I’d watch the games for the pure joy of it, with no real rooting interest.

And that’s the problem with hockey. It’s being run by people who love the minutia of hockey, they’re the pigs in the mire who really appreciate a good and fragrant mire, who’ll grudgingly respect another hog who really gets down and dirty. But the average fan isn’t entertained by that obscure, somewhat repellent spectacle. She’d much rather watch the cute ducks flit around on the pond all graceful and effortless.

Only when the game of hockey is rescued from the NHL, when the NHL-equivalent of the NFL’s introduction of the forward pass or the NBA’s introduction of the shot clock occurs, will the NHL start to get the numbers that reflect how great the game of hockey is, or should be.

Hockey is run by myopic purists, like the old days when football men would rhapsodize about John Hannah and the ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ approach of Woody Hayes. And that’s a bad thing. Purists insist that golf clubs should be retroactively backdesigned so that it’s harder to make par. Tennis purists hate oversize carbon fiber rackets.

Ski purists advocated against sidecut on skis, because racers used flat planks, so everybody should use flat planks. Sidecut would make the sport easier, would make carving turns a breeze, and thus were cheating. They only relented, after decades of an industry-wide self-embargo, led by a small cabal of European reactionaries, when snowboarding started eating their lunch, when beginners would strap on a board and, after a couple of days, would say “This is easy, and way more fun, I’m never skiing again.” Then, and only then, did the ‘shape-ski revolution’ begin.

So yes, all you Gary Bettman apologists, revenues are rising under his watch, but please understand that they’re rising at a slower rate than all other North American major team sports.  As Donald Fehr observes:
"The NHL's revenues have fallen behind all the other sports. Basketball’s have exploded. We used to be 20% behind and now it’s 50% or more behind …"

The NHL wears the dunce cap among the NBA, the NFL and MLB.

Yet it would be so easy to fix. Let the players play, get the cheating and hooking and slashing and mugging and violence and overcoaching out of the game, and watch spectators flock in.

The Canadiens organization goalie situation in 2017-18.

With Carey Price and Al Montoya, the Canadiens are set in goal at the NHL level.  It should also be crowded in the crease in the minors with Zach Fucale, Charlie Lindgren and now Michael McNiven battling for icetime in the AHL, with one seemingly destined for the ECHL.

As fans, we're now driven to pronounce on what will happen this season and beyond.  Here are my wishes in that regard.

1) OHL late-bloomer phenom Michael McNiven gets his first taste of pro and lots of rubber playing with Brampton in the ECHL, which are announced soon to be moved to Brossard.

2) Zachary Fucale and Charlie Lindgren split duties in Laval, where the stands are overflowing, and it’s a clash of titans, both are at the top of the league in goaltending stats.  Trade supplicants beat a path to our door with their piddly offerings of first-round picks and Clayton Kellers and Anthony Manthas.

3) Carey Price is having a no-contest Vézina season, he's so head and shoulders above the competition, while a rash of injuries hits the league’s goaltenders. We begrudgingly trade Al Montoya to the Senators for a second, a third, a fifth and Thomas Chabot. Al promptly dislocates a hip when Fishface Borowiecki falls on top of him trying to knee Auston Matthews in the tympanic membrane. The Senators finish 12th in the conference.  And lose big in the draft lottery.

4) Garth Snow, in a panic to secure his job and sign John Tavares for life, can’t watch idly as his team sinks in the standings and settles at the very bottom. He trades Anthony Beauvillier and a first-round pick to the Canadiens for prospect Hayden Hawkey, since he thinks the kid’s name has a nice ring to it, and is just the kind of trickery he needs to sell seats in Brooklyn.

John Ledecky, picking at the remains of this trade, asks good ol’ Garth “You made sure that draft pick was lottery-protected, uh?”

“Flatternry-prorated?” queries a befuddled Garth Snow.

You arrogant ass,” cries Ledecky, verily observing his investment implode and contemplating a future of baby blue uniforms, being noogied by Bonhomme Carnaval and having to be a good sport about it, and Berlitz French lessons, “you’ve killed us!

5) Carey causes a province-wide meltdown when he jiggifies his transverse groinary process, and needs to take a month “or so” off to rest and rehab. In his stead, Charlie provides a Martin Jones-like performance, solidifying the Jennings for the Canadiens.

6) Hayden Hawkey having chosen to remain in the NCAA rather than jump with both feet into the Chernobyl that is the Islanders, Garth Snow tries to engineer an elaborate multi-team trade whereby he can wheedle his now-traded 1st-round pick and likely the top lottery pick back from the Canadiens, and obtain a goalie in the process, to at least rise in the standings and make the situation somewhat tenable, maybe have his first not be the first overall but have the Canadiens end up with the 10th pick or so.

But when the dust clears, Garth Snow somehow has obtained Mathieu Garon and David Aebischer, and the Canadiens his first-round picks through 2028. A haggard, unsteady Snow, mopped in sweat as he faces the media, borrows a page from the Claude Julien Big Book of Lies and says “I’d need to see a replay to comment. I haven’t see the replay…”

7) Having claimed ‘general lassitude’, John Tavares takes personal leave to play in the Seoul Olympics for Team Canada. There, he’s witnessed wearing a Canadiens ballcap and bro’ing down with Carey Price, who’s been assigned to the Canadian team for ‘conditioning purposes’. The gold medal they earn over a dispirited group of KHL All-Stars and Alex Ovechkin proves Carey is ready to return to NHL action.

8) At the June draft, in the seventh round, the Canadiens pick little-known Salvador Saint-Sauveur from les Saguenéens de Chicoutimi. The gangly kid didn’t have a great season in terms of Wins and GAA, but saw a lot of rubber with a great Sv%, and his coaches rave about his athleticism and competitiveness.

Later that summer, during a celebrity golf tournament, Salvador is partnered with Patrick Roy and two nuns in a foursome. At the thirteenth hole, Saint Patrick lends the kid his new nanotech driver for him to have a swing, and as the handoff occurs, they are struck by lightning. Miraculously, both are unharmed. “It’s a miracle”, Soeur Liette confirms.

Except that Salvador, who used to have brown eyes, now has a steely blue, confident, some might say cocky glare, and Patrick’s baby-blue eyes are now brown.

In a battle of owners, Geoff Molson wins over Jeremy Jacobs in a rout, eleven times out of ten.

Here's a Deadspin article showing another aspect of the degree of douchebaggery of Jeremy Jacobs.  And it makes me think of a discussion on social media shortly after the draft, on the topic of the poor crop of LHJMQ prospects lately, when some HockeyInsideOut members idly wondered whether the Canadiens and Geoff Molson did anything for the grassroots, to promote and develop participation in minor hockey.  Everyone seemed to agree that this was unclear, nobody posted a response, and the matter lay unresolved, at best.  The tone suggested that the Canadiens do very little if anything that we know of.

I was surprised at this, and disappointed, since two clear examples sprang to mind, one being the Canadiens annual construction and inauguration of refrigerated outdoor rinks, and the annual minor hockey coaches clinic.  These events are well publicized, but apparently don't sink in to the HIO consciousness as good deeds by their beloved team.  In fact, when the news release occurs, when the video of the event shows up on Habs TV, many wags will opine that the Canadiens are trying to draw attention away from (...) and the poor forecast of success as the playoffs approach.  "It's media pablum", they'll agree.

Yet these are two endeavours that the Canadiens undertook at their own expense, and not as a contractual obligation, since we know that the team built its own rink at no cost to the taxpayers, and pays a tax bill every year that is higher than all other teams'.  Meanwhile Jeremy Jacobs used public funds to build himself a palace to grandstand in, and welched on the community benefits that he floated as an inducement to get civic authorities to chip in.

The Canadiens have been reacting to climate change and declining enrollment in minor hockey by opening these rinks in various Montréal neighbourhoods and now around the province to stimulate participation, and targeting low-income families with programs and donations of equipment in cooperation with various partners.

The Canadiens also have been hosting a coaching clinic every year at the Nouveau Forum, where minor hockey coaches can rub shoulders with the pros, learn new tricks, develop relationships with others, and be invigorated and rewarded by the experience.  We all know this, we all remember this, from the blowup Michel Therrien had at Rangers' assistant coaches watching his team practice during the playoffs, and then later having he and Alain Vigneault play nice and laugh about it as they host a Q&A in the stands.

There was a discussion today on whether HIO is filled with optimists or rancid with pessimists.  Especially since it's putatively a Canadiens fan site, it's astounding how negative the slant is, it's the default setting actually.  The Canadiens hold two of these community and hockey-development events that I can think of off the top of my head, but HIO concludes that at best it's unknowable whether the Canadiens expend any efforts in these areas.

Ever since he took over from a not-bad George Gillett, who didn't turn out to be the Michael Heisley I feared he would be, Geoff Molson has been everything we should hope for from the owner of our beloved team.  He's been involved, yet hands-off, letting the hockey men handle that side of the business, which we could compare with Charlie 'Silver Spoon' Jacobs, who's in competition with Donald Trump Jr. for guys born on third base who think they hit a triple, declaring that everyone on the Bruins is "on notice" due to unsatisfactory performance.  Or compare to Arthur Blank remarking that his players weren't tough enough and there'd be some changes.

Geoff Molson grew up among the Canadiens, he witnessed the legends first-hand, has personal memories of Jean Béliveau and Guy Lafleur and Bob Gainey.  He plays beer league hockey.  His sons play minor hockey.  He is doing everything he can to restore our team to its past glory, sparing no expense, as is often seen by the one-way AHL-buryable contracts Marc Bergevin dishes out.

So yeah, if there is any doubt, HIO is the Assembly of the Negative Nellies, it's not even close.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Karl Alzner liked what he saw during his Montréal visit

Catching up on my reading, here’s an article on how Karl Alzner describes his visit to Montréal during the UFA window, and why he ultimately chose to sign here.

It sounds like the tour the players get shows off the best of Montréal (evenings out in the summer, the facilities and support they’ll receive) and allays the fears and prejudices some players may harbour (schools, where do I live, phone call with Shea Weber).

It seems like the Canadiens will do well to focus on guys like Jeff Petry and Karl Alzner, settled family guys with a head on their shoulders who are up to a challenge, rather than a Shane Doan or a Vincent Lecavalier, who take the easy way out.

I still think the contract and investment is ill-advised, he’s not a perfect fit, the puzzle piece we needed, like Jeff Petry was, when we needed a true-blue Top 4 rightie on our blue line to support P.K. and displace Yannick Weber and Raphaël Diaz, but I’m willing to give the guy a chance, maybe a leeway of four to five games before I put him in my digital doghouse.

Andrei Markov is still unsigned, still a UFA

Simply put, with P.K. Subban and now Nathan Beaulieu and Mikhail Sergachev gone, the Canadiens need Andrei Markov.  They need his offensive ability, his talent at passing the puck out of the zone.  No one currently on the roster or in they system has anywhere close that ability.

Yet there he sits on the Unrestricted Free Agent rolls, unsigned.  Based on what Marc Bergevin said on July 2 and various reports, it seems Andrei wants a raise from his $5.75M he was earning the last few years, and a two-year deal.  And obviously Marc Bergevin is balking.

Some will say that the Canadiens should offer him a two-year deal, but with a reduced salary the second season, say six million and then three.  I'm pretty sure the Canadiens would have explored this option though.  At a reasonable cost, with the cap hit spread over two years, it becomes doable.

My theory is that with Andrei representing himself, and wanting to save the 5% on agent fees, he's the one butting his head against a GM, and there enters a personal element in what should be business.  There's a hardening of positions, no one in your ear to sway you, pride becomes a factor in the equation.

Some commenters have compared it to the Daniel Alfredsson situation in Ottawa, causing him to play his last season in Detroit, but I think it's pretty different.  In Daniel's case, he wanted to sign as what he thought would be his last NHL contract a three-year deal, but the Sens convinced him to make it a four-year deal with a fake last season at $1M tacked on, which was the practice in those cap circumventing days, and would have brought the cap hit down to $4.9M.  Reports are that Daniel did so reluctantly, since he didn't want to box himself in, he wasn't certain he'd retire after three seasons, but he went along with the ruse.

He then had three very productive seasons, and decided he didn't want to retire, he felt great and wanted to keep playing and maybe win a Stanley Cup, his team having done well in the playoffs in 2012.  But he was now locked in and forced to play out the contract and the 2012-13 season at $1M.

Still, Daniel had a good season during Gary Bettman's Third Lockout season, with 10 goals, 16 assists in 47 games played, and felt he could still play.  So for his final 'final contract', Daniel wanted the going rate for a team captain at his level of play, and a top-up for the previous season when he gave the team that $1M sweetheart deal.  Instead, broke billionaire Eugene Melnyk tried to nickle and dime him, and that's why Daniel, who wasn't in a mood to do any owner any favours, quickly left and slammed the door, signing a contract with the Red Wings.  Mr. Melnyk was left to backpedal and try to explain what transpired, presenting it as a perplexing turn of events, since it was a 'money's no object' situation for them.  They had adopted that stance after playing hardball/insulting Mr. Alfredsson though.

In Andrei's case, the Canadiens can be said to have treated him fairly, certainly during the Pierre Gauthier administration.  We all remember how the GM didn't really hesitate when it was time to re-up Andrei, but merely extended Andrei's previous $5.75M per season contract for three more.  This was when Andrei was recovering from a problematic ACL reconstruction that had to be redone, and we all remember the portends of doom on social media, how it was wasted money since when Bobby Orr shredded his knee in 1969 he was never the same afterwards, so certainly the same fate would befall Andrei fourty years into the future.

Andrei did return to his former productive self, with maybe a mile or two off his fastball and a step late in some situations, but well worth the cap hit and money spent.  So much so that the carbon copy of that deal was used essentially by Marc Bergevin when Andrei needed another new contract, even though he was three years older.

And I guess this is where the crux of the matter is.  Andrei's performance is tailing off slightly, yet he asked for a raise and a two-year deal, and you can kind of understand his view.  Since he's playing first-pairing minutes anyway, he wants to be compensated as such.

The Canadiens see him as a valuable but declining asset, and want him on a one-year deal.  It seems like an impasse, but this is what negotiation is about, and where a good agent would come in and be worth his fee.

Alouettes 30, Stampeders 23

Having given up my NFL addiction cold turkey, I tried today to rekindle an old love affair with the Alouettes.  They were hosting the Stampeders at Percival Molson Stadium.

--Darian Durant threw a couple of balls off balance and under pressure in the first half.  One was tipped and the other intercepted, an awful toss as he was being brought down that was shot-putted into the defender's belly.

--I'd never heard of Nik Lewis until he was traded to the Alouettes.  TSN put up a graphic during the game that showed he's set to become the career reception leader in the CFL with 40 catches or so.  Ahead of guys like Brian Kelly and Peter Dalla Riva, I immediately wondered?

Like I said, I haven't kept up.

--I keep being surprised by how short Matt Dunnigan is.  As a quarterback he was so good, and pretty jacked, I don't think I ever noticed that.  He's listed at 5'11" on Wiki, but I believe that's charitable, it's not an honest-to-goodness 5'11", it's more like a 5'10"3/4 if he stands up real straight and tall.

--The Boris Bede experiment seems to be a success, after last season went off the rails a little.  They gave the kid some time, and now appear to have a talented, dependable kicker and punter all in one package, despite his miss on a point-after attempt.  What a benefit to a team to not have to waste two roster spots on these two special team spots, and have one player do both jobs instead.

That should be the rule, really, in the NFL and CFL.  Force players to be more complete athletes, that degree of specialization is a little overdone.  Precious little kicker can't kick the ball if it's not held on the ground off a tee?  Have a tablespoon of cement and toughen up.

2nd rule suggestion: eliminate kickers entirely.  The player who scores the touchdown has to kick the point after.

3rd rule suggestion: eliminate punters entirely.  The player who punts has to have been on the field on the preceding down, as a wide receiver or running back or quarterback or right tackle.

4th rule suggestion: the point after has to be attempted at a point on a line perpendicular to where the ball crossed the goal line on the touchdown, kind of like at rugby.

I'm full of ideas like that.

--A great advantage of the Canadian game is the absence of illegal formation, procedure, false start and illegal motion penalties, which all infest NFL games, nitpicky annoyances that serve no discernible purpose but which occur around five times a game.  There's a reasoning behind every rule, but really, how come a CFL game can proceed without having all these arcane administrative strictures?

--Vernon Adams is a trainee quarterback with the Alouettes.  When he played for the Oregon Ducks, I thought he'd be a perfect candidate for a CFL quarterback.

--I always wondered why Jacques Chapdelaine didn't play for the Alouettes, but now, I wonder why Marc Trestman isn't coaching the Alouettes.  We should have had dibs on him when his NFL career petered out.

--CFL football in the summer is better than no football.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Martin Lapointe at the Canadiens Development Camp, on Nikita Scherbak

Martin Lapointe, after discussing a few prospects during his media scrum, is probed about Nikita Scherbak:
“You can’t forget about Scherbak. We have to understand that he’s a ‘late birthday’, he only played one more season of Junior after being drafted, and then two seasons of AHL. The AHL isn’t really a minor league, it’s a big league. It takes time, you have to be patient. Scherbak, from year to year, he gets better and better. The skill he has, it’s NHL-level skills. But it’s about maturity, he has to mature a little more. He’s the one who’s going to decide when he’s going to make the jump.”

It’s hard to make it out, but someone follows up with a question about why Nikita has to attend another development camp, with two pro seasons under his belt:
“I think he’s matured a lot since we drafted him. He still has a way to go, like every other young player. For me, Nikita is an important player for the organization, and in Laval this year, if he doesn’t make the Canadiens, he has to prove he wants to play for the Canadiens.

“We invited Nikita because he’s a guy who still needs structure (guidance), and we want to develop him. Nikita will stay in Montréal all summer, will train with the big boys. We’re giving him the resources he needs. We want him playing in Montréal as soon as possible. That’s the reasoning.”

There's no need for a red alert on Nikita Scherbak, although we wish he was further along in his development, that he wasn't being singled out for not being in good enough shape before training camps.  But the kid is still young, he'll be 21 to start the season, and still has a full season of waiver exemption, so he can marinate further in the AHL this season, and let his work and study habits catch up to his skills.

Let's hope that another summer of the Pierre Allard régime does him some good, and that this season he take another couple of steps forward, that he leads the Laval Rocket as a veteran-ish player, and is consistently one of their best players every game.

We need that kid's skillset on our Top 9, and next season, it's make or break for him I would think, once he needs to start going through waivers.  At that point, we may face a decision like we did with Sven Andrighetto and Jarred Tinordi.

Canadiens Development Camp: Joni Ikonen vs the blahs

The buzz about the Canadiens Development Camp was the play of Joni Ikonen, a low second-round pick we're convincing ourselves will be the steal of the 2017 draft, such is his progress curve at Frolunda, and the demonstration of talent and hockey IQ at the Brossard rink these last few days.

The last time we were this hyped about a second-round European prospect was when Sebastian Collberg was showing such sublime skill, observers thought he was wasting his time against such poor competition.  He was that good.  A lock.

When I started blogging, and posting on social media about hockey, I was really high on the Canadiens' prospects, in both sense of the term, but veteran killjoys would douse the flames of passion of this young man, recalling similar situations when Tomas Plekanec and the Kostitsyn brothers and Mike Komisarek and Alex Avtsin and many young hopefuls seemed like a great combo of surefire stars-to-be.

So now, with the perspective of Louis Leblanc, Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu no longer with the team, and two of them arguably busts, with Alex Galchenyuk not yet established as the Pierre Turgeon he was sure to become, I'm quite jaded on the farm system.

Is young Mr. Ikonen an interesting prospect?  Sure.  Did Josh Brook form a good pairing with that other 2017 draftee d-man (I forget which)?  Great.

But every team right now is chortling over their draft hauls.  Nashville seems to think they have too many good young players, they'll lose some through the cracks.  The Canucks are rejoicing that finally there's some help on the horizon, lots of talent.  Blake Price of TSN 1040 Vancouver called the 'Summer Showcase', a scrimmage at the New Pacific Coliseum to close off their development camp, "the most highly anticipated July Canucks game ever."

So I'm not going to cartwheel to training camp, and have high hopes.  I actually expect a very difficult season, and missing the playoffs a distinct possibility.  Even if we get a hot start to the season.

But this development camp, with Nikita Scherbak stalling, and Mike McCarron and Jacob de la Rose taking their time, and the apple of my eye Mikhail Sergachev gone, with Bokondji Imama signed away by those darned Kings, it was hard to get excited about.  What I'm looking forward to is getting picks at the deadline for Tomas Plekanec and Ales Hemsky and Joe Morrow, and a better draft position next June.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Carey Price didn't give the Canadiens a hometown discount.

When news hit that the Canadiens had signed Carey Price to an eight year contract extension, quite a few fans were shocked if not angered at the sticker price attached to it, which works out to a $10.5M a year cap hit.

Mainly, if we are to go by the posts on social media, a lot of supporters believe that Carey should have taken "a little less", say, $9M per year, to allow his team to win, how that's more important in the big picture than making "a few extra million dollars."  And that's where we are now, with the average fan siding even more with billionaire owners in their contract talks versus players, with the justification that the salary cap determines the fortunes of the team.

Now, on whether players should be happy with $5M vs. $8M, or $50 vs. $100M over their career, I completely agree from my perspective.  If I got my hands on 5 mill, I wouldn't need to baby another couple of years out of my ol' truck, I'd upgrade my TV to a 100" model from the current retinally underperforming 50", and get a living room beer fridge and be perfectly happy, fulfilled.

The thing is, evidently when you attain that level of income, your lifestyle expands to match it, and it's trite to even say it, but all of a sudden you have a big house with a gardener and pool maintenance and the tech guys who keep coming around to fiddle with your home theatre since it's never quite right.  You're Jonathan Bernier cruising around near your spread in Terrebonne on the river in your boat with your fashion model wife, and it's a nice cruiser, but the berthing costs and maintenance are in the back of your mind, they're killing you, and even then you're thinking you need to upgrade your dinghy, since when the in-laws come for a visit it gets too crowded on deck.

So you need to kill it on your next contract, this one you're playing on, once you pay your agent and the tax man and minus escrow which mostly you never get all back, there's nothing left, and your wife wants to send the kids to private school.

Even beyond that, that your new lifestyle now soaks up what would be enough to cover your current lifestyle ten times over, one phenomenon is that when you reach that tax bracket, you tend to hang out with others in that same bracket, and now you're comparing vehicles, houses, wine cellars, and you have to compete on those too, enough is never enough.

We see this when a George Clooney, who's richer than 20 putzes like me will ever be, goes and hangs out with Paul Allen on his yacht, and Vanity Fair or GQ reports back how wowed he is, how what he aspires to is not a comfortable life and secure retirement that would make any of us very happy, he now wants to produce and have a stake in the films he stars in, and gets into a dodgy Costa Rican land scheme to try to triple his money.  Because his own yacht in Italy is kinda chintzy, all things considered, there's not even deck space for a heli-pad.

Pro athletes and hockey players tend to rub shoulders with investment bankers at golf tournaments and when they go out to dinner, and think that those guys really rock, and now $9M is nowhere as good as $10.5M per season.

So yeah, when a Tom Brady takes a little less on his contract so the team can 'afford' to pay his offensive line a little more and get him some better running backs and receivers, it is noteworthy, it's not ultimately meaningless.  There is 'sacrifice' there, although usually the guys who are in position to do that, they make so much on their endorsements that their salary is almost a side-income.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Ales Hemsky signs one-year deal with Canadiens, will try to fill void left by Alex Radulov's departure to Dallas.

My knee-jerk reaction to the news that Alex Radulov has signed a contract in Dallas, and that the Canadiens have (resultantly) signed Ales Hemsky to a one-year deal:

--I'm happy not to get entrapped in a five-year contract for a 31-year old winger, as good a season as he had last year.

--I admit it's a little bit like slamming the barn door shut after the horse has already bolted, though, with Carey's 8-year contract having been announced yesterday.  That's going to be problematic to build around, and a lot will have to go right for it to turn out okay.

--I hope this makes it more likely that Andrei Markov will return.  We need him more than Alex, I still think, and on a one or two-year deal, it fits into our plan.

--Ales Hemsky is who he is, I'm not doing cartwheels or anything, but he's a talented veteran on a one-year deal, no skin off our nose.  Best-case scenario, he has a good, productive season, but gets pushed out of the lineup by Charles Hudon and Daniel Carr and the like, and we can trade him at the deadline for more draft picks.

The Canadiens prioritize their 'List' at the draft, not French-Canadian players.

It was interesting how the Québec quotient on the Canadiens was discussed during the Sunday press conference, and how it's being spun on English social media forums.  Because to hear it, Marc Bergevin admitted under hard questioning that his feet are being held to the fire by the Evil French Media and his priority is to draft French-Canadian players onto the team, or obtain them somehow, by hook or by crook.

What actually happened was that Marc Bergevin was asked, en français, after a preamble where the journalist noted that for two years now the team hadn't picked a LHJMQ prospect, whether it was still the case that the Canadiens would, everything being equal ("à talent égal"), pick the local-born player at the draft, to which he readily agreed.

"Toujours.  La raison qu'on a pris tel joueur avant est qu'on évalue qu'il va être meilleur que le joueur (du Québec).  Mais à talent égal, on y va avec le p'tit Québécois, ça ça ne changera pas, tant et aussi longtemps que je suis ici."

Translated: "Always.  If we pick another player, it's because we project that he'll be better than the player from Québec.  But everything being equal, we go with the kid from Québec, that will not change as long as I am the General Manager."

He explained that they often have a Québec player in their sights but get scooped at the draft table, and he brought up the example of Anthony Mantha and Frédérik Gauthier in 2013, how they got taken just before it was our turn, and it was surprising to me that he'd discuss players on other teams so freely, how this verged on tampering, when Trevor Timmins is leery of using names in his post-draft pressers.  Trevor broadly hinted at Rouyn-Noranda prospect Zachary Lauzon as being a target with our late seconds last week, but wouldn't say the name.  With the way Marc got mad at Jim Benning for his tampering in the P.K. Subban case, you'd think he'd stay clear of expressing prior interest in a player on another team.

Marc Bergevin also said they sometimes try to move up unsuccessfully, or think a player will drop to a lower round, but he certainly expressed an organizational awareness of the importance the fans place on having local players on the team.  Specifically about this year though, he pointed to the poor crop of LHJMQ players, how only 9 were drafted in total.

To me, this reinforces the fact that the Canadiens stick to their list, and how theirs may be wildly different than other teams' list, or what fans expect based on the scouting services and websites they consult, or what transpired after the fact.  And this isn't the first time this happened.

In 2012, Trevor Timmins had a draft which had us dancing a jig afterwards.  Alex Galchenyuk, sure, great pick, but later on he also 'stole' Sebastian Collberg, then Dalton Thrower in the second round, sniper Tim Bozon in the third, Brady Vail in the fourth and Charles Hudon in the fifth.  Each and everyone of these players had been 'ranked' higher by the various services, by Central Scouting.  Sebastian Collberg was seen by some as a Top 10 pick, and Dalton Thrower as a possible late first-rounder.  Only his diminutive stature would drop talented Charles Hudon to the second or top of the third, it was thought.

So after the draft, Trevor Timmins was asked by some giddy reporters how he felt, getting so many value picks, getting so many highly touted prospects much lower than previously thought possible.  "Really?" Trevor asked, suddenly intrigued, evidently unaware of what the accepted wisdom was, what the groupthink was.  He knew his List, but not the Bob McKenzie or Central Scouting rankings.

Last week, Trevor said all the players they picked were on the first page of their List, they never had to go to the second page.  They even acquired a seventh round pick when they saw that goalie Cayden Primeau, another 'first-pager', still remained available late in the draft, and they scooped him up too.

So for the Hockey DB scouting expert like me, the guy who retroactively looks at drafts and decides he would have picked Jarome Iginla rather than Terry Ryan, would have chosen Simon Gagné over Éric Chouinard, (I mean, how obvious was that one?), when I see Antoine Morand being picked right after we pick twice in the second round, when I see Nicolas Roy picked in the early fourth when we used a late-third on long shot Lukas Vejdemo, I squawk that when two players are so evenly ranked, why not pick the local kid?

And the obvious answer is that our List evidently diverges widely from the final draft results, when Scott Walford is a first-pager who they draft high in the third, but who is ranked 90th overall among North American skaters by Central Scouting.  Just because two players are drafted near each other in a draft, doesn't necessarily mean that all teams thought they were essentially equivalent.

Connor Crisp was drafted early in the third round in 2013, but it doesn't mean that all teams thought he was a high third rounder.  Same dynamic with Keegan Kanzig to Calgary, also picked high in the third round, he 'landed' near Connor, and both landed above yet near Anthony Duclair, but all three were perhaps completely off some teams' lists, for various reasons.

Also, and this wasn't brought up on Sunday, but was clearly illustrated last week again, as Marc Bergevin once said when asked this same question, "Everything being equal, sure, but things are never equal."

The case against re-signing Alex Radulov

I know a lot of us are turning into Chicken Littles at the thought of losing Alex Radulov, and he had a heck of a season and was very entertaining to watch, but I’ll repeat that I don’t want him signed to a long term deal, at all. And when he walks away, well the Earth will keep on spinning. I think back to the Predators losing Ryan Suter as a UFA, with no compensation, and while it seemed a crushing blow at first, they survived and prospered. With young players moving up and filling the void. Eventually.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Wild are caught with these two monster contracts, to Mr. Suter, and Zach Parisé, who’s even more of a headache, and their roster is shackled to those two guys, until 2024.

Alex Radulov is a valuable asset, but at 31 years old, the cap space he’d occupy on a 5 or 6 year deal is even more valuable, I’d cherish that before the player. Alex’s best years are behind him, and we shouldn’t be paying him more as this evidentiates.

Now, as we build our fantasy rosters, we scratch our heads and wonder where the offence will come from, how do we replace his 18 goals and 55 points, we ask ourselves. The thing is, I don’t think we need to go out and get a Radu-equivalent in trade, or on the July 1 marketplace.

Can’t we get organic growth as our players improve, as they rebound from fallow seasons, as the kids take a step forward and assume greater roles? Won’t Alex Galchenyuk easily score 10-15 more? Daniel Carr had a difficult sophomore year, but maybe his third season he takes a step forward and then some, and fulfills the promise of his Gallagher-Lite 2105-16 season? Maybe Charles Hudon is that good, and chips in 15-20 himself.

We talked the big talk during the aborted playoff run, how we shouldn’t stack our roster with Brian Flynns and Tom Gilberts and block the advent of young players. Well this is where the rubber meets the road. Let’s let the kids play big(ger) minutes and the powerplay and let’s see how they do. Let’s guentzel the heck out of our kids, put them on the same lines as our Crosbys and Malkins, and see how they fare. Instead of losing them on waivers, because we have vets occupying all the musical chairs.

The last thing I want to do is to panic-pay Alex Radulov, like we did with Josh Gorges, who was playing a role he shouldn’t have, that of a first-pairing d-man, because we had no other option. Not that Alex didn’t play like a first-line winger last season, but what about when he’s 33 or 35?

Protect the cap space. Protect the draft picks. And Radu has already wished us goodbye and good luck on Twitter at the end of the season. Let’s move on already.

UPDATE:  Alex Radulov signed a five-year deal with the Dallas Stars.

The Canadiens filled the need for a scoring forward by giving Ales Hemsky a one-year deal.

Michel Therrien's system was not defensive, but rather a high-tempo puck-pressure system.

I still keep reading that the Canadiens played defensive hockey these last few years, and I'll say again that Michel Therrien’s fast breakout out of the zone, go for the quick pass or even the long bomb for a breakaway and have two men forechecking in the offensive zone, as well as the years of The Swarm in the defensive zone are inaccurately described as ‘defensive’ in my opinion.

We’ll see how Claude Julien does, but historically, he has a slower-pace ‘everybody support the puck’ style, and everyone break out of the defensive zone together, which some see as plodding, some see as ‘puck control’.

The Jacques Martin years, there’s no question that he had a man-the-battlements system, probably based on the makeup of his team, but for him, you’d barely have one forward forechecking. If the other team had the puck, the Canadiens would retreat, collapse into their own zone and surround their net, and then Hal Gill would zamboni the ice with his shin pads.

I saw the Canucks play often at their barn, which can be fairly sedate at times, and when his charges would gain control of the puck in their own zone, you could hear Alain Vigneault yell at his forwards, at his defenceman skating with the puck. “Speed! Speed! Speed!” he’d cry, and when I watched the Canadiens, that’s what I saw too, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty and Paul Byron speeding out of the zone for a breakaway.

Which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but is hard to label a defensive style too.

And as far as the ‘bang it off the glass’ angle, that is inextricably entwined with Don Cherry-thinking, that it’s the ‘safe’ play and brutish defencemen who can’t make a pass and chew gum at the same time are condemned to that strategy, and I understand that, but for Michel Therrien’s system, it was more, in context, a strategy to get the other team struggling to skate back, it was a way to put more pressure on them, again and again, to give our fast forwards a chance to forecheck, again.  Let's not get bogged down in our zone, let's get the puck out, and fight over it in the neutral zone, far from our net, when their defencemen are flailing.

And when we complained about our forwards not finishing their checks, and when opposing defencemen were visibly surprised about it, would have braced for a hit they were expecting but never came, because Dale Weise or Lars Eller just flew by them and chased after the next guy with the puck, it was a little confusing, and even I would get frustrated sometimes.

But that was part of the puck-pressure style that Michel Therrien wanted. “Don’t go looking for the hit. Hits will come naturally. If you have to choose, choose the puck over the hit.”

Michel Therrien once said a non-sequitur, or if I’m being charitable he refused to answer a question and made a statement instead, but when asked if his team was “feeling the pressure” of something or other, a losing streak or big game coming up, he replied “We don’t feel pressure, we apply the pressure.”

And when after a tough loss, the coach would be a little curt in his answers during the presser, and a few times said the players didn’t “execute”, we’d lose our minds, that he was blaming the players, and there was some truth to that, but what he was saying was that if the team didn’t play the system, if only half the guys did what they were supposed to do, it wouldn’t work, and they wouldn’t win.

If a defensive end decides he wants the glory of a sack, if he thinks the QB can’t possibly escape, and he chases after the quarterback, and ‘loses his contain’, then the scheme doesn’t work, and the QB goes on a thirty yard run. The player didn’t execute, and the coach gets hung with the loss, but whose fault is it?  Players have to have the discipline to execute the scheme, to stay in their lanes in the pass rush, or to cover their guy and not bite on a fake when looking for a glory-boy interception.

So yeah, Michel Therrien would ask his d-men to move the puck out of the zone quickly, with the proverbial ‘good first pass’, but if that option wasn’t available to him, then don’t muck around, don’t overthink, just bang it off the glass, let the opposing d-man retrieve it, with Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn hounding them, that’s not that easy to achieve either. It’s not a bad option for us.

And when it worked, we’d be singing with the crowd at the Nouveau Forum, “Olé Olé Olé Olé!” Talking heads on TSN 1040 Vancouver would explain, when the Canadiens were on one of their winning streaks, usually at the start of the season, that the Canadiens were reputed around the league as a tough team to play, that by the third period the other team is exhausted, they have to play their third pairing more and their fourth line, and they can’t keep up, and the Canadiens skate them in the ground.

When it worked, it was beautiful. But it wouldn’t work if Ryan White finished every check, that just gave the guy who received the pass more space, more time to make a decision, instead of having Ryan all up in his face. And it wouldn’t work if our defenceman decided he wanted to rush and stickhandle the puck, and our fleet forwards were standing still at the opposite blue line, and would now have to go get the puck in the corner and grind against thumpers, instead of getting the puck on the rush and making Mark Stuart or Dion Phaneuf look like the pylons that they actually are.

Unrestricted free agent Nick Bonino

About Nick Bonino, the boys at TSN 1040 Vancouver were a little skeptical. They see the rumours, the scenarios, and they don’t buy it. He spent a year in Vancouver, after the Ryan Kesler trade, as his putative replacement, but he was more pudative© than anything else.

Their take is that he looks good in Pittsburgh, with Sid and Geno ahead of him in the lineup, so he can be a low 3, a third-line centre who doesn’t see any matchups, and with no pressure otherwise, but as a #2 behind Henrik here in Vancouver he was overmatched.

Same with Brandon Sutter too. Two years in, he’s not too convincing as a Middle 6 centre, certainly with his contract it’s not pretty, but he did relatively well in Pittsburgh with those two centres protecting him.

So as a UFA, I want to stay far, far away from Mr. Bonino, and let’s protect our capspace instead. And if we’re walking into a buzzsaw next season with our centre situation the way it is, so be it. Let the chips fall where they may, and let’s enjoy our high draft position next June.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

My wishes for Marc Bergevin's post-Free Agent Frenzy press conference

So my wishes for the press conference:

1) Andrei has accepted a one-year deal. Our defence is now set. Ish.

2) Alex Radulov has seen the lay of the land and has taken a three-year deal at market rates. I will still squawk that I wouldn’t have given him a minute over 2 years, but I’ll learn to live with it, and cheer like mad when he weaves his magic next season.

3) Alex Galchenyuk has accepted a reasonable bridge contract and is eager to prove it on a ‘Prove-It’ deal. It might be the new tattoos, but he looks great and jacked and ready to go.

4) Mikhail Grigorenko and Nail Yakupov are added to our Russian Contingent, on dirt cheap two-way deals that lights a hellacious fire under their underachieving butts. Later at their introductory press conferences, there’s a steely determination in their gaze that makes the rest of the league avert their eyes and quake, at the realization that the Canadiens have added major Top 6 talent with amazing skill. The League conducts an investigation to make sure there was no hanky-panky, such is the cumulative wizardry of our roster on opening night and during the 24-game winning streak, in this age of the salary cap. Finding nothing, Gary Bettman resorts to kicking his dog when he gets home at night. Kicking him more, that is.

5) Pierre-Luc Létourneau Leblond, Alexandre Grenier and Alexandre Mallet for the Laval Rocket, nearly twenty aggregate feet of French-Canadian beef and savoir-faire. Under the adroit tutelage of Sylvain Lefebvre and crew, the three dominate the AHL and are called up, having the same transformative effect on our fortunes that the Mario Tremblay and Doug Risebrough callups had in the 70s. Having various complementary skills on their trio, they end up splitting the Conn Smythe vote, and Shea Weber shoots up the middle and claims the prize.

That’s it. That’s all I can think of, unless,

6) Jaromir Jagr makes good on his promise, that he’s always loved Montréal and wanted to play with countryman Tomas Plekanec all these years, so he’s accepted the veteran minimum deal to make it happen. Two-way. With a season’s pass to the Casino. And he’s going to detail Carey Price’s F-350 after his hunting trips.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

The case for Andrei Markov and against Alex Radulov

Speaking of faulty logic, I’ve seen a few times now on social media that if we are ready to pay 38-year-old Andrei Markov one or two seasons at $5-6M, then it should be no problem to pay 30-year-old Alex Radulov the same kind of deal over 5 or 6 years, when he’d only be 36 or 37 when it ended.

First, let’s quickly mention that generally, defencemen take longer to mature, but also generally they tend to have longer careers, on average. The average defenceman will retire a little later on than the average forward, maybe because they can substitute anticipation and hockey sense and positioning for their aging legs, whereas an aging forward maybe can’t make up for the loss of explosiveness in his skating and his shot as easily.

Mainly though, the reason it’s okay to offer Andrei one or two years even as he approaches 40 is that he showed last year that he can still play at a relatively high level. Chances that his play drops off a cliff in one or two seasons are relatively low, and if it does, we’re not trapped in a contract we can’t deal with.

Same with Joe Thornton. Normally, you don’t chase after a nearly fourty-year-old centre, but in his case, he showed the last couple of seasons that he can still be productive. You factor in his knee surgery in there for sure, but there’s a very recent track record on which you can extrapolate production and performance.

For Alex Radulov, who’ll start the season as a 31-year old, we can be reasonably confident about what he’ll deliver on the ice next season, but the picture gets hazier the further along we get. Based upon historical records, the outlook for him, as he gets to 33 or 34, the decline in performance will be significant. A forward’s peak productive years are from 24 to 29 years old. Alex is most probably on the back side of the hill already.

So yeah, as an armchair fantasy NHL GM who’s a scaredy-cat and pathologically averse to risk, I’m fairly confident that we can pay Andrei a season or two at or near his current wage, and it won’t be a catastrophe. I’m fairly sure that Andrei will be very useful over the life of that contract, because I can look at last year and the year before that, and Andrei was still a very good defenceman at an age when most would have retired already.

In my same armchair, I can’t look four or five years in the future and have the same confidence in Alex Radulov’s play. I only have one season as his NHL track record, before that things are jumbled, he’s in the KHL, then the NHL before that, it’s harder to predict. I can’t be that confident that it won’t be an albatross around our necks, like the Loui Eriksson deal, like Alex Semin’s deal in Carolina.

So evaluating Andrei a year or two from now is a fairly simple job, whereas predicting Alex Radulov four years from now is fairly complex, and history shows that the outlook is not favourable. We have to contort ourselves into thinking that “his game isn’t based on speed, so he’ll still be effective”, those kinds of hopeful pronouncements, while the graphs show otherwise.

Comparing Andrei’s putative contract demands with Alex’s is comparing apples to oranges. And personally, reasonably, I prefer apples.