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 us 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.

In an upset, Sylvain Lefebvre returns as coach of the Canadiens' AHL team.

I have a hard time thinking that Sylvain Lefebvre deserves to return to his job, since eventually a coach’s results, his W-L record, should mean something. It has to enter the equation.

Four years of missing the playoffs, every season we’d see a new fresh crop of rookies, some AHL vets joining as well, and we’d think “This is the year they turn it around.” We weren’t expecting a Calder Cup, but a team taking a healthy step forward, certainly relative to weak, underfunded organizations like the Carolinas and the Phoenixes, but no, it was no playoffs for us every year. Last year we squeaked in, only to be bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

Every season, we could make excuses for Sly’s poor results, injuries, vets who didn’t fulfill their mandate, callups at exactly the wrong time, but aren’t all these bedeviling every other AHL coach? Isn’t it a truism that a AHL coach wants his players to play well, but not too well, since if they’re lights out fantastic they lose them to a callup? Mark Barberio was an AHL All-Star first pairing veteran defenceman for the IceCaps, but not for long, lost twice to callups and eventually to the Avalanche. Daniel Carr scoring goals and generating offence for you Monsieur Lefebvre? Well no longer, now let’s see if he can do the same for the Canadiens.

There are other red flags, like Louis Leblanc’s difficult relationship with Sylvain. One observer saw the Bulldogs play live in Abbottsford against the Heat, and reported the passionless performance of the coach, his poor body language behind the bench.

And, very importantly in my mind, Sylvain is kind of blocking the road for a young eager LHJMQ head coach, who could be getting groomed for the future, for eventually coaching the Canadiens. The AHL coach should be our farm team for not just players, but for our coaching succession too. Instead of a sinecure for Larry Carrière’s son.

So okay, Sly gets another kick at the can. He won’t be in such difficult situations anymore, in the Fort Apache the Bronx hell that Hamilton was, according to Magnus Nygren, or marooned on The Rock, with a grueling schedule and a comparatively more difficult circumstance to hold practices. He’ll be in a brand new facility, with close support from the organization. He’s now an experienced coach in the AHL, with a good grasp of who the players are, who’s coming in next season.

I’ll therefore be expecting results. I want a winning team, fans in the stands, kids gushing at how much they learn and like their Laval coach, a long foray in the playoffs, I want the works. And if I don’t get that, next season, or the next at the outside, we should go to the bullpen and call in a relief pitcher. Let’s see if someone else has his stuff.

The Canadiens should not re-sign 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.

The 2018 Canadian Olympic hockey team.

I don’t know if this has been decided yet or clearly explained, but how is the 2018 Canadian Olympic team going to be staffed? Is it going to be unsigned guys, down-on-their-luck UFA’s looking for a last kick at the can? Or are NHL teams going to loan out young players who aren’t central to their plans for next season, for the development opportunity, much like the World Junior team gets players from NHL teams, guys like Anthony Duclair in 2016, who wouldn’t play much otherwise?

And do these players just go to a training camp a couple weeks before the Olympics, or do they spend the entire season together, like the old-school Canadian teams in Lake Placid and Sarajevo did, with players like Eric Lindros and Craig Redmond choosing to go to the Olympics for various reasons, patriotism being one?

As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of Charles Hudon, Brett Lernout, Stefan Matteau. The latter could use this as a way to resurrect his career. The former two I could see as just the kind of tweeners the Canadiens could loan to the Olympic team, for the opportunity to play high competition hockey.

But then again, do you want your players developing outside your control, especially for a whole season or almost? Rumour is Willie Desjardins would be the coach of the Olympic team and Sean Burke the GM. Does that make it more or less likely that the Canadiens loan out players?

And, do the Canadiens want to hamper themselves like this, in a year when they’re launching the Laval franchise? Why would you not want to put out as competitive a team as possible up there all the way up North up there in Laval up there? What would be the putative benefit of playing against KHL stars in a tournament no one will watch?

Oh, and waivers? Do loaned players have to go through waivers first? Because if they do, then no one is getting loaned, right? No one of any consequence. If the Canadiens held on to Jarred Tinordi for so long for fear of exposing him to waivers, then no way is Charles Hudon being waived for the Olympic team.

Then it will be a snoozer of a tournament for me. I won’t be waking up at four in the morning and mixing up Greyhounds to watch, like I did for Sochi.

I have to say, grudgingly, that I’m surprised Gary Bettman actually carried out his threat, I always thought it was posturing but he’d announce a positive decision at the last moment, after squeezing the IOC for every concession he could.

I’m also surprised he kneecapped his precious ‘partner’ NBC like that. They can’t be happy about this.

The Blues don't qualify Nail Yakupov. He's now an unrestricted free agent.

It’s so hard to get clear intel on players these days. Either a player plays the right way, or he needs to be more consistent, there’s no in between, and no detail.

For Nail Yakupov though, we got this succulent quote:

“He plays like a guy being chased by a swarm of bees,” someone once said.

Remember how Dallas Eakins had worked with him to work out the kinks in his game, and how they got along and communicated very well?
“Our long term goal with Nail is not just have him be a player who would just score and not worry about anything else. Our long-term goal for him, and his own long term goal, was to be a very well-rounded player, a guy you could rely on to to all kinds of things.”
Isn’t that how Michel Therrien ruined Alex Galchenyuk, because the Canadiens are so awful at player development?

Mark Spector wrote:
Offensively, defensively, off the ice with his teammates… Nobody ever knew where to find Nail Yakupov. There was no system he could follow, no traditional path to success he could be led down.
Coach after coach told him where to go to support the puck, but when support was required he was somewhere else. They ringed the puck around the boards to the place he was supposed to be, but Yakupov was never there when it arrived, for reasons unknown.
They coached him on where to go when the puck was in the offensive zone, but too often when his centreman looked up to pass him the puck, he was elsewhere. It was like he had learned only to score as a junior in Sarnia, but somehow never to play hockey.
Teammates invited him to dinner with the boys. He most often had something else to do.”
From the same article:
Fittingly, the Nail Yakupov era began with a vote by the Oilers scouts: It was 9-2 against taking him ahead of defenceman Ryan Murray at the 2012 draft. The brain trust of then-GM Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe, in yet another of the brilliant decisions that orchestrated an NHL-record 10 consecutive playoff misses, overruled their scouts and took Yakupov anyhow.

A Canadiens fan's view of the July 1 Free Agent 'Frenzy'

At the tail end of this season some posters on social media were all tangled up in blue, and would state that not only were they downcast about the season that just ended, but were already depressed about the one to come, how there wasn’t much to look forward to, there wasn’t really a hotshot rookie on the farm who’d change our outlook or a high draft choice on the horizon who’d serve that purpose. There was no saviour coming off the injury list, or out of the KHL.

I felt much the same. The trade deadline was a fiasco in my eyes, we’d spent even more good money after bad, threw draft picks at an impossible situation and ended up with Steve Ott and Claude Julien somehow. And yeah, as we lost against the 8th-seeded Rangers, looking forward to the next season, there wasn’t no new hope, we’d still be bereft of a #1 centre, and probably a second-line centre too. P.K. would still be gone.

Looking at the coming July 1 UFAs on CapFriendly didn’t offer much to fix our forward lines, but there might be some hope to address our first pairing and find a solution there.

Here is my best-case scenario for today:
1) We re-sign Andrei at pretty much the same money he’s made for six seasons now, for one year or two. All that angst and tergiversation in the media about how contract talks were going, it was all a ruse, to fend off Gary Bettman’s ominousness when warning teams not to cheat his new cherished toy in Las Vegas of unprotected players they can avail themselves of.

2) One of Dmitry Kulikov or Michael Del Zotto, I’ll magnanimously let them decide which one. On a reasonable contract, to play the left side with Shea Weber, our Top 4 would be set and be very respectable. Trevor Daley is my third choice. Brian Campbell, does he have anything left?

Remember this is MY best-case scenario, leave me be with your doubts about one player’s questionable Twitter practices. It all works out in my figurings.

3) The Canadiens avoid getting entrapped by the Alex Radulov negotiations, and aren’t this year’s recipients of the David Clarkson Award, after last year’s trophy went to the Canucks for their acquisition of Loui Eriksson to play with the Sedin brothers. Except that he never really did, which means voters had the Canucks winning this one in a landslide.

So the Canadiens keep their powder dry, keep that cap space free and clear, and feel quite limber without an anvil chained around their neck for five years.

And that’s it. No one else needs to be signed today, the National Overpay Day.

Maybe in a couple of days, as prices come down, maybe a Brian Boyle or Mikhail Grigorenko is worth a shot, to address our shortcomings at centre, but not necessarily with a view that they are The Answer for our franchise centre. Keep our expectations in check.

And a few more days or weeks after that, we fill out our AHL roster with fringe guys still trying to establish themselves. Stefan Matteau, if he just was testing the market and found no takers for a one-way deal, if that relationship isn’t broken, if he’d accept a contract that saw him slated for Laval to start with, I’d be happy to re-sign. See if he can put it together in Laval and eventually graduate for good.

Another option for Laval is Alexandre Grenier, a 6’5″ forward with good hands who’s still working on his game and toiled in the Canucks system for a few seasons. Him and Alexandre Mallet, let’s repatriate all the Canucks’ LHJMQ experiments, and watch them hatch here.

And let’s sign Pierre-Luc Létourneau-Leblond, just because it would be fun to hear Pierre Houde say “Pierre-Luc Létourneau-Leblond” a couple times.

A Luke Gazdic or an Anthony Peluso or a Brett Gallant to keep the peace in the AHL, and we’re done.