Thursday, 2 October 2014

Pre-season Game 5: Canadiens 3, Blackhawks 1

I came home late, Canadiens Express-ed the game on RDS.

1)  Davis Drewiske, Greg Pateryn, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Darren Dietz as the five d-men along with regular Yemmy.  I wonder if that's a statement.

2)  Magnus Nygren is not part of that group.  I wonder if that's a message.

3)  I want Davis Drewiske if we use a clear #7, and it needs to be a leftie who can play a little on the right.  Not Francis Bouillon, Davis Drewiske.  Let's see what he can do.  Let's get a return on that 5th-round pick we spent on him.

4)  Kind of a surprising bush-league hit in the back by Patrick Sharp on Sven Andrighetto.  I don't know what it will take for players to learn you don't push someone in the back near the boards.  Stupid NHL.  Make it a strict liability offence, with escalating penalties for repeat offenders, whether someone is injured or not.  You see the numbers, it's a no-fly zone.  Dead easy, if the stupid NHL means it.

5)  Generally though, Chicago is a clean team, no scrums or nonsense after whistles.

6)  Alexei Emelin having a good game, hitting hard and passing the puck well.

7)  Both these observations are overtaken by events later on, when he tries to put a choke hold on Jonathan Toews, flips away his stick, and basically starts a free-for-all.  Alexei, you can't start sh!t if you can't finish it.  We'll accept that you can't fight because of previous facial fractures, but then don't pull cheap stuff like this and back away from a rampaging Brent Seabrook, you provoked him.  It's not someone else's job to deal with him.

8)  René Bourque flashed a couple of times, on a partial breakaway, got off a few shots, and then created and cashed in a goal.  Easy, easy... no one go near him, lest we upset the apple cart.  Don't nobody say nothing to him.

9)  Same with Lars Eller.  He seems to be on the same streak as during the playoffs, and taking Marc Bergevin's comment to heart, that he should play like a powerful player with skill, rather than a skill player with some power.  He's taking the puck to the net, and lurking around there constantly, instead of stickhandling around the periphery.

10)  At one point, he blocks a shot with his foot during a penalty kill, and limps along for a minute.  You kind of wish that he'd let those go in the pre-season, but I guess a player can't de-program himself like that.  We saw Brandon Prust among others do that too, sacrifice himself during a meaningless game, but they can't let that stuff go.

11)  Marc Denis explains that Carey Price appears fully ready, completely healthy, his knee injury long behind him.  Late in the game, he observes that Carey doesn't 'flinch' any more, doesn't drop to his knees needlessly on high shots, as he did when things were not rolling for him.

12)  Jiri Sekac continues to impress, he's always fast, always skating, he doesn't shy away from contact, and he seems to want the puck.  When he has it, he goes right for the net and shoots, he doesn't noodle with it.

13)  Youngsters going in opposite directions: Greg Pateryn getting a chance on the power play, walks the line and tried to feed the puck to his partner, but muffs the pass, which is intercepted and ends up in his net.  Meanwhile Michaël Bournival races around the neutral zone in the dying seconds, is first on a loose puck and immediately fires it into the empty net.  Greg will probably start the season in Hamilton.

It's somewhere between a toothless attack and a vicious homage.--Paul Rudd

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

A few simple rule changes could do away with dump-and-chase and the neutral zone trap, and improve hockey.

I used to think the dump and chase was an intractable problem, one that would endure forever now that coaches had discovered the neutral zone trap and begun to stack all their players at the blue line, a Maginot Line of Anti-Hockey.  For years I sighed and understood that I'd never again see a Guy Lafleur or even a Stéphane Richer in full flight down the wing, entering the zone and unleashing hell at the goalie.

But, a few times I've been forced to watch soccer, and thought it had abysmally stupid offside rules.  I understood why the rule existed, that you didn't want a player standing in front of the opposing goalie when the ball was all the way in his defensive zone.  Without the offside rule, this player would twiddle his thumbs, waiting for a clearing pass from his team's defenders to spring into action.  The game would descend into a succession of punts.  As soon as the defending side got the ball they'd hammer it down the field to their waiting striker, loitering near the goalie.

Surely the defensive team would counter by assigning a defender to stay back and cover the loiterer, so a bright coach would clue in and now leave two striker-loiterers, countered by two defenders eventually, and the game would descend into a different kind of more-boring gridlock, a tennis match of clearances.

So the offside rule has a good reason to exist, it addresses a potential problem, but the solution arrived at that nobody can be behind a defender to receive a pass causes just as great a problem.  It causes players to 'defend' by not moving, standing still, or even running away from their net, to put the opponent offside.  They defend by not defending.  They loophole themselves out of a jam.

The defunct NASL had for a couple of seasons a very relaxed offside rule, to open up the game, produce more attacking play, more offence, more spectacular playing styles, but the dispensation they got from applying the rule as it exists everywhere else in the world was only temporary.  I remember the Manic's GM or some other representative explaining during an interview that this exemption was about to expire, but that he was optimistic that FIFA would extend this exemption and help promote soccer in North America.

Realize, this was FIFA he was talking about.  Of course they didn't extend the exemption, they wanted the rule strictly enforced, and the NASL complied, they were fearful if they didn't that their players would be barred from any FIFA events in the future.  Remember this was in the day of the boycott of South Africa, of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain.  This was a real threat, a common method of doing business.  So yes, the NASL returned to the old offside rule.  And remember, this is the defunct NASL I'm talking about.

At the time, I thought soccer was pretty stupid to not help a new league in a new market sell the game.  At this same time period, the NFL was liberalizing its rules to favour a thrilling passing game, so that the classic Lynn Swan acrobatic catch would become a once-a-week event, rather than a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

The game wanted to move away from the soporific 'three yards and a cloud of dust' strategy epitomized by Woody Hayes' Ohio State Buckeyes, and toward a more fan and TV-friendly aerial game.  Rules were enacted to help the offence thrive.  Offensive linemen were allowed to extend their arms and use their hands to block.  Defensive backs like Jack Tatum and their celebrated savage style were reined in to a five-yard bump zone, after which they couldn't impede the progress of a receiver.  Other (Raider) defenders (cheaters) like Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes were brought to heel, with a prohibition on stickum, for example.

Passing and scoring exploded, and so did the game's popularity and ratings, which soared.  The NFL blew past Major League Baseball as the national pastime of our neighbours to the south.  The Chargers' 'Air Coryell' attack was succeeded by Bill Walsh and Joe Montana's West Coast Offence, which ushered in the age of John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly.  Realizing that they'd stumbled on a gold mine, the NFL subsequently continued to promote an exciting, open kind of game, as opposed to an impenetrable running game that coaches and purists love.

Meanwhile, hockey has been unable to get out of its own way.  Naming a succession of lawyers and suits who don't know or love hockey as Commissioner has definitely not helped.  John Ziegler to Gil Stein to Gary Bettman, none of these culprits have a sense of what's good, what's right for the game, they've been more concerned with their coiffe or the strict bottom line, with no vision for the actual sport, the product they're selling.

Improvements to the game has largely been left to the GM's, conservative, some might say reactionary types, in the truest sense, former worker bees who believe that the team ethos and tight checking that ruled and won championships in their day is, by divine decree, the 'right' way to play hockey.  Not those circling styles those Commie Russians employed.

So the neutral zone trap, which they profess to want to eliminate, is actually impregnable in their myopic eyes.  They tried everything else, the put in the trapezoid, and they futzed around with the size of the zones, so what are you going to do?

To me, after watching soccer again this summer, and seeing if for the sordid mess of diving and cheating histrionics and anti-sporting behaviour that it is, it is quite clear that the problem isn't the neutral zone trap, or dump and chase hockey, or obstruction or lack thereof (as in, "We have to slow down these forecheckers somehow to prevent defencemen from getting murdered.  Let's allow some hooking, or the bear hug, something...").  The problem is the blue line itself, and the requirement that the puck must go into the zone first.

How many times a game does the flow, the play stop because a player went offside?  A promising rush is developing, a three-on-one or a two-on-two, but one player is an inch inside the blue line before the puck comes in, and the whistle blows and the fans and audience are let down.  Now we have to sit through a boring faceoff, with all the messing around, the players in the circle ignoring the rules and trying to gain an edge, with one getting tossed, then complaining about getting tossed, then timorously heading to the winger's spot, while the winger coasts in, digs in with his skates, adjusts his helmet, then his elbow pads, digs in some more, before the process is stopped by a referee, because the two other wingers are now having a slashing battle.

Any method used to reduce the number of offsides and tedious faceoffs, and to get rid of the neutral zone trap in favour of puck possession, stickhandling, passing, and talent has to be an improvement right?

I know it will verge on heresy to bring this up, but why not allow attacking players to rush into the offensive zone and get open for a pass?  And to do so even before the puck has entered the offensive zone?  That would instantly make the stacking of defenders at the blue line obsolete.  No team would line up that way to defend and allow Steve Stamkos to get behind them and streak to the net, waiting for a pass.  Now teams would have to play a kind of man-to-man defence, or some kind of zone defence, but scattered inside their own zone, without their current massive advantage of the blue line being a barrier to entry.

For discussion's sake, here are a couple of ideas, and concepts we'd have to nail down.

1)  Once the defending team gains control of the puck in its own zone, they are allowed to pass the puck forward as they are now, up to the blue line, or effectively what's known now as a two-line pass.  The change would be that, beyond a line drawn let's say from the top of the circles, or even maybe through the dots, a pass can travel the length of the ice.  So you can make a long-bomb pass, but can't just whack at the puck from behind your goal line and clear it the length of the ice, that wouldn't really be a skilled play.  You actually have to control and advance the puck within your zone to a certain point to 'unlock' the opposite blue line.

2)  Another alternative is that any pass of any length through however many zones is permissible, as long as it doesn't hit glass or boards.  It must be tape-to-tape to be legal.  This would prevent a Josh Gorges or Hal Gill from just banging the puck off the boards in the hope of connecting with someone down the ice, in a happy accident.  Instead, a player would have to skate with his head up and anticipate and sync up with a teammate to find an open lane and hit him in full stride.  Again, this concept would favour offence, spectacle and talent over brawn and steady-eddie safe boring play.

3)  We probably would need some type of illegal offence rule, like the NBA's illegal defence call, except ours would take care of the loiterers.  As I've written before, this could be called the Pierre Larouche rule, and would legislate against being in the offensive zone when the puck is in the defensive zone.  Maybe you have to be in your own zone and 'tag up' before you sprint ahead for a pass.

4)  Let's examine whether with any rule we come up with, any strict interpretation is absolutely necessary.  Instead of blowing whistles every time someone is an inch offside, either with my new proposed rules or any of the existing rules, maybe we let things slide until you can't ignore it, until a team clearly gains an advantage.  We use this type of standard for too-many-men on the ice penalties.  There's a tolerable limit that is flexible as to how far from the bench players have to be before they are considered to be in breach, or how soon they can play the puck.

Similarly, Canadian Football allows players to cross the line of scrimmage a beat before the ball is snapped, if it's not too flagrant.  While this leads to some disputes, it is a much better approach than the five false-start and illegal procedure penalties that are called every game in the hidebound NFL.  I wonder sometimes when I read of a fan falling from a balcony at an NFL stadium if it's not an accident, but an exasperated fan who jumped because he couldn't take another marginal call, another stoppage of play because there was a wide receiver a half-step off the line of scrimmage.

Let's have offside calls be a 'spirit of the rule' breach rather than a technical, stipulative absolute standard that's more killjoy than enhancement of the game.

And that's my modest proposal to do away with dump-and-chase hockey, and the neutral zone trap.  Let's just allow players to enter the offensive zone when their team is in clear possession and control of the puck.  No rule will be perfect, there will be missed calls and arguments with the new rules.  The qualitative change to the game however, the tilting of the ice away from defence and hulking players who can slash and elbow and fight but can't play with the puck or skate, and in favour of artist and magicians and snipers, will make the sport much more exciting, and will grow revenues by offering spectators a sport that isn't just for the initiates and the self-proclaimed 'defensive hockey' buffs.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

University of Michigan dealt with Shane Morris' concussion the same way Canadiens dealt with Dale Weise's.

The University of Michigan football team’s handling of quarterback Shane Morris’ concussion in Saturday’s game is troubling. They’re still today calling it a mild concussion, which an analyst today said “is correctly called ‘a concussion’.”

The way the incident happened during the game and the way the team officials backpedaled and tried to justify their actions days later is eerily reminiscent of the Dale Weise concussion against the Rangers last spring. Both athletes were visibly staggered during play and needed a teammate to help them stay upright. They were examined by training staff, both “passed the concussion protocol”, and were allowed to return to game action, even though a player acting or seeming dazed should immediately lead to them being taken out of the game and re-evaluated the next day.

In both cases, the teams bring up the fact that the athlete wanted to return to action to exculpate themselves.

In both cases, it seems the head coach wasn’t made aware of the fact his player had had ‘his bell rung’, and there seemed to be a lack of communication between the coaching and training staff.

Where the narratives diverge is with what excuse the teams are taking refuge behind. The Canadiens said they’d followed NHL protocols to the letter. Michigan head coach Brady Hoke seemed to as late as two days later still be unaware that his QB had sustained a concussion, and talked about the ankle injury he’d suffered.

In this case, it does seem as if the ankle injury and his difficulty walking masked the concussion symptoms to an extent, but critics are pointing out that the severity of Mr. Morris’ limp should have lead to him being removed from the game in the first place, leaving him in the game was like leading a lamb to slaughter. With no mobility, he was a sitting duck. Sure enough, on the very next play, a defensive lineman got a clean shot at him and concussed him.

I’ve been very supportive of the Marc Bergevin administration, I like the philosophy, the approach he’s taken to building a team, and the means he’s employing, assembling a team of equals to out-brainpower any other team. This specific case though, the way the Dale Weise concussion was handled, is a definite black mark against the Nouveau Régime, as previously outlined in the excerpt below.

The matter of Dale Weise’s concussion was brought up again, and Mr. Bergevin took refuge behind the fact that the NHL’s concussion protocol was followed to the letter. He repeated that the doctors examined him and said he was okay, the player said he was okay, so he was allowed to continue to play. Reporters tried to grill him on whether the team tried to avoid the ‘c’ word to prevent the need for Dale to sit out seven days, and Marc Bergevin explained that the seven-day thing is no longer in effect, but you could tell that he is uncomfortable dealing with this.

It’s clear to anyone who saw Dale Weise after the head shot that he was stunned, visibly unstable. According to guidelines I found after the briefest of Google searches, that is an immediate, unquestionable symptom of concussion, and information sheets advise that an athlete who displays that symptom should be taken out of the game/event, and re-evaluated the next day. It seems like basic stuff, yet the Canadiens missed or ignored it. If the Canadiens did follow the protocol, then the protocol itself is faulty and needs serious revision. Mostly every observer was surprised that Dale made his way back on the bench, and in this case, the fans and journos were right and the pros were wrong.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Jarred Tinordi a victim of the double-standard applied against the Montréal Canadiens

Recently, I've been thinking about how I'm tired of our players getting gooned, getting destroyed by Boston Bruins.  I didn't dive too deep, didn't do any research, but off the top of my head, I thought about how since Kyle MacLaren tried to decapitate Richard Zednik, there have been a multitude of Bruins assaulting Canadiens, with rarely any response from the NHL in terms of outrage, condemnation or supplemental discipline.  I can rattle them off, Zdeno Chara on Max Pacioretty, Greg Campbell being a big tough guy pounding on Tom Pyatt with an elbow pad, tenderizing his face into hamburger.

It can be little cheap stuff like Milan Lucic spearing Alexei Emelin in the groin, and again, and later on that season uttering death threats in a handshake line after getting eliminated by the Habs.  Cheap stuff like the entirety of Shawn Thornton's oeuvre, but specifically memorable incidents like him squirting water from the bench at P.K. Subban on the ice during play, with full video evidence, yet still being allowed to remain in the game, laughing like a baboon from the bench, as if he'd figured out hockey.

Even when it's 'fair play', two players squaring off, we come out losing in the exchange.  Milan Lucic basically ended Mike Komisarek, owned him in two titanic fights that should have been evenly matched based on the tale of the tape, but which ended badly for our boy.  The same Milan Lucic wrecked Alexei Emelin's knee when the latter tried to punish him with a bodycheck along the boards.  Why is it our guy that gets injured here, and not the Bruins'?  Shouldn't it be 50-50?  It's a man's game, stuff happens, you never know, all that jazz.  Except it's never 'you never know', you always know, it's us who'll end up with the short end of the stick.  We'll get injured or embarrassed, and they won't get suspended.  Ever.

Hence my admitted Bruins issues, I feel anxious when we play them, on the verge of righteous indignation, premonitiously, ready to kneejerk freak out at the drop of a hat.  Or a Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.

But it's not just Bruins that prey on us.  We've been pigeonholed as a small, skilled team for a long time now, along with being dirty, refusing to face up to the music man-to-man, but running away and using stickwork behind the play.  We dive, we embellish.  We're french guys and Europeans who wear visors, we can't take it.  So when Ryan Malone knocks Chris Campoli senseless, or Eric Gryba knocks Lars Eller senseless, or Chris Kreider strategiccidentally slides skates-first into Carey Price, the league kind of shrugs and wonders, "Well, what do they expect?  They had it coming."

When Derek Dorsett knee-on-knees David Desharnais, it's a hockey play, what talking heads have taken to calling a 'reactionary play', however ugly and misapplied that term is.  He was going to get beat, and couldn't very well just let his more agile opponent skate by, he had to reach out with a knee or elbow or stick or something.  He had to do something, anything.  It was a reflex.  As Nick Kypreos advocates, he had to "let him know he's there", however that's accomplished.  Derek Dorsett isn't a goon who can't skate and can't keep up with the talented players on the ice, he's a "gritty fourth-liner".  One that the Canucks were only too happy to obtain in a trade this summer, to keep up with the arms race in the Western Conference, and begin to dish out the treatment they've endured for a couple of years now.

So I'm forcibly converted, co-opted, I salute and goose-step along with the rest of the Viennese crowd.  I champion the drafting of largerer prospects, not just the decently-sized; we need to boost our size profile in the system.  5'11" 190 pounders won't do.  I squawk when we draft Arturri Lehkonen, Sven Andrighetto, and Martin Reway in the same year, to add to our collection of undersized forwards of Charles Hudon and Patrick Holland and Sebastian Collberg.  They're more ice for the Inuit.

I make the point that they're not 'finds' or 'steals' or 'diamonds in the rough' or 'homerun swings' or 'boom or bust' picks, they're not players that other teams failed to notice and will rue not picking later on, but rather players that other teams deliberately overlook, leave off their draft board entirely.  They're the Underwood in a modern office, useless.  They're the Vernier caliper or lemon zester in your carpentry kit, completely unnecessary, misapplied.  Other teams make the conscious decision to draft for size and strength at the expense of skill with the puck and speed and agility, since when the playoffs roll around, these players will wilt, if they're not already out with injuries by the time the referees put their whistles away for summer storage.

When hulking Mike McCarron cruises around the ice bashing prospective Bruin bodycheckers into their own goalies, I rejoice briefly, but shortly after accept my fate when he gets chopped down on a rush to the net and is injured.  It's the natural order of things.  The Circle of Life.  I make excuses for the opponent.  That Warsofsky kid is completely overmatched physically, he's just trying to protect his goalie, he was only trying to show his coaches that he can play at this level.  Can't blame him.

And when 6'6" Jarred Tinordi catches Nate Schmidt flush with his shoulder, knocking him out, and has to answer the bell against supposed-tough guy Chris Brown and embarrasses him, I can't even enjoy it, I'm already thinking that this won't do, the league will crack down.  What's the Canadiens player thinking, using his greater size and strength to dole out a perfectly clean hit and lay out an opponent?  Does he think his father Mark works at the NHL head office, and will fix this whole mess for him?  Who does he think he is, Zdeno Chara?

When Mr. Chara hits someone, we have to assume the best, 'he's not that type of guy, that type of player', we're told.  It's explained that it's not his fault he's so big and strong, that his arms are at head-height for most of the players in the league.  We're not supposed to consider the backstory of his on-ice assaults.  He didn't know where he was on the ice, it's explained, or the player who was racing by him.  There was no premeditation, it was just an unhappy coincidence.

When Milan Lucic spears and wreaks havoc, they're love-taps, not really intended to cause any harm.  He's not out to castrate, we're assured, it's just that he's an emotional guy, he gets jacked up for the hated rivals.  It's the kind of thing that happens on the ice.  Why, in the fourties, Eddie Shore took out someone's eye, we should take Mr. Lucic's spears in context.  Analysts laugh off this behaviour as tomfoolery, as a lovable imp getting caught near the empty cookie jar again.  "What are you going to do?" they shrug, chuckling at his delightful mischief.

But Jarred, wearing bleu-blanc-rouge as he does, gets no doucheplomatic immunity.  I get to my newsarator to check if he'll receive supplementary discipline, and this is the headline that pops up first.
Nate Schmidt Gets Elbowed Violently in the Head by Jarred Tinordi
Even though the elbow played no part whatsoever in this legal hit.

I know the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha.  I know agony is born of desire.  I shouldn't expect, by now, that the Canadiens will get a fair shake at the league office or in the court of public opinion, chaired as it is by Nick Kypreos and Don Cherry and Mike Milbury.  I read "Animal Farm", I know some are more equal than others, and that the pigs end up running things.



Saturday, 27 September 2014

Jiri Sekac: how much does a Czech weigh?

This is getting comical.  I know we're simultaneously traumatized and fascinated by the player size question as Habs fans, but the see-saw Jiri Sekac is being put through is unprecedented, I guess.

I posted on the following bon mots on this subject a few days ago:
Un Canadien errant SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 AT 9:24 PM

Let the prospect inflation begin. According to Mario Tremblay, Jiri Sekac is 6’3″ and 220 lbs. I can’t wait ’til the end of camp and after another goal or two, he’ll be 6’5″, 235 lbs.
Monsieur Tremblay, who has been championing Mr. Sekac's play and for his inclusion on the roster on RDS, had indeed stated he's 6'3' and 220, although he backed off last night and used 215 lbs as his number.

Today we get this from Frédéric Daigle of Canadian Press: "Quand on lui pose la question, le Tchèque de six pieds trois, 183 livres rougit et sourit timidement."

I wonder where he fact-checked these measurements.  Hockeydb and Elite Prospects list him as being 6'0", 174 lbs, which was his size from back in his junior days with the Peterborough Petes.

The Canadiens updated these measurements to 6'2" and 195 at the prospect development camp, but listed him on the roster at the rookie camp as being 190 lbs.  As I've observed before, the five pound drop is not a bad sign, 190 lbs on a 6’2″ frame is a good weight for a speedy forechecking winger, and he probably lost the weight doing all that training to murder the beep test.

I don't know, until further notice, let's use the official Canadiens' figure of 6'2", 195 lbs, it's straight from their website.  Even if we accept that there's a little rounding up when listing these figures by NHL teams, it's a reasonable size increase to expect from a kid aging from 17 to 22.

And as far as where Mr. Daigle pulled that figure from, I note that on Elite Prospects, his height is listed, in cm/in, as "183 cm/6'0" ".  The same dynamic exists on hockeydb.

So I assume a harried reporter, with no fact-checking and little editorial of his contributions, made a simple mistake and it went right to press.

Journalistic standards, declining...

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Can Michaël Bournival produce offensively in the NHL?

Sometimes we tell each other something and repeat it until it becomes an internet fact.  Canadiens fans have been saying that Michaël Bournival's shot and offensive instincts aren't that great for so long that now we're on the verge of tagging him with the 'Can't produce' label.

His final year in junior, two seasons after being drafted, he potted 30 goals in Shawinigan, and followed that up with 10 goals in Hamilton the next season.  So yeah, we shouldn't expect any more than 15 or 20 goals at very most from him reasonably.

I do remember him scoring what felt like every game at last season's camp, however, and building on that for a good start to his season.  Maybe that was due to puck luck, but it might have been due to the great results he's been getting during his off-season training, and maybe because his game is complemented better by NHL linemates than it was during his Bulldog year.  Early that season, the team lost the players who should have been its leaders to injury, when Blake Geoffrion and Louis Leblanc were lost after a promising start, and Brendan Gallagher was promoted to the NHL halfway through.

And yeah, his offence dried up over the second half of the season, but that was after coming back from injury and seeing his icetime being squeezed by returning veterans.

So yeah, Michaël is a bottom six winger, but his game has at its best a speed and quickness, a 'dog in the bowling alley' quality that may allow him to chip offensively.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Reporters and their access, Take 2.

I’ll get on my hobby horse again, but this is a few mentions of Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau’s fitness level. Marc Bergevin on l’Antichambre explained that they expected good things from him, that he and Michel Therrien had asked him to report to camp in great shape.

Which kind of makes you ask “Don’t you ask that of everybody?” And it starts to dawn on you that P.A.’s difficult season last year, the two MCL strains, and being in Patrick Roy’s doghouse, maybe it wasn’t arbitrary, or just a function of two people who don’t mesh well. Maybe this all started when the player reported at camp out of condition, and the coach disapproved.

We’re not getting any quotes about coaches asking Brendan Gallagher or Max Pacioretty or Andrei Markov to report in great shape. Presumably, nobody had to ask, that was understood and not an concern for anyone.

René Bourque had a difficult season last year, but we can’t attribute it to fitness or lack thereof. He passed, in Paul Maurice’s words, the ‘shirt-off test’, last season and this one. But there have been allusions to focus and state of mind. Was he having girlfriend problems? Money issues? A lawsuit weighing on his mind?

Again, these are things that reporters know, but won’t share with us, to not blow their access with the team and their sources, so this knowledge remains ‘inside knowledge’, to be doled out when the conditions are right.

We saw how Dave Feschuk got hold of the Steve Spott “Phil Kessel is 15 pounds overweight and won’t listen” story, did impeccable work, and was assailed by some as stirring up trouble, that these issues with Phil Kessel are well-known, why even bring them up? Well, these issues are well-known to you Darren, but not to us, since you act as an employee of the Leafs, instead of a journalist, and you never told us.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

TVA Sports talk show barker Dave Morissette hosts Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin

Man, I’m trying to watch Dave Morissette’s interview of Marc Bergevin, and it’s awful. I tried to enter the program with an open mind, but after reading comments and reviews, it's hard. I definitely watched for the guest rather than the host or the format with all the cutesy games and other nonsense.  Mr. Morissette is acting all chummy and relaxed, but he’s nervous as hell, all these little chuckles and asides.

Compared to this, “L’Antichambre” is “The McNeil-Lehrer Report”.

He asked the GM if he’d like a re-do for one of his decisions, and the response was “There was a trade I didn’t do that I should have done.” Which is succulent enough on its own, and even though you know you’re not going to get specifics, you’d still want him to probe further. Was it a player you were looking to unload? A buy-low candidate who exploded and you now wish you had in your organization? Was it moving up at the draft in June 2013 to nab Anthony Mantha?

Instead, Dave Morrissette interrupted him with an outburst of laughter, which was misplaced and odd, he was laughing at what he thought he heard, what he thought he was about to hear, and then went on that he “had a couple in mind he was thinking of…”

Uh? You have a couple of Marc Bergevin’s trades he never pulled off in mind?

Obviously, he had his own answer in mind already and was commenting on that, he didn’t listen to the actual response from his guest. Which is the best trait of an interviewer or investigator, is saying as little as possible, letting the guest speak, and listening to what he’s saying. It’s certainly not to crowd him out with your own patter and jokes that fall flat.

I managed to get through it. They asked him about losing Josh Gorges' leadership and experience on defence, and he repeated that he didn’t mind the proverbial ‘small step back’ to groom some youngsters.

When the host asked him of Greg Pateryn, Jarred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu, who would make the team, who was his favourite, he said he didn’t have any favourites, and he insisted on including Magnus Nygren in that group.

The downside is that he said “on October 7, probably one of those four will make the team, but it’s too soon to say”.

Only one? I hope he misspoke.  I hope at least two of them make it, if not more.  It's time for these guys to get NHL ice time.

Sports reporters have access to information, but don't share that information to preserve their access.

I’m listening to “TSN Drive” with Dave Naylor, Dave Hodge and Darren Dreger, and they’re talking about the Dave Feschuk story on Steve Spott and his take on Phil Kessel.

All three are downplaying the story, saying it’s nothing new, “nothing that we don’t already know about Phil Kessel and his relationship with his coach”, or words to this effect. And I wonder what they mean by ‘we’.

I’ve gone off on this topic before, but it seems to me to be a classic case of reporters knowing stuff, being told stuff, and not passing it on, since they’re trying to stay on the good side of the organization they’re covering, the cash cow that the company they work for depends on. They’re protecting their access, and their sources, but again these don’t serve us, the consumers, it serves these ‘insiders’ who wallow in this cesspool, and only allude to the truth or these incidents in covered, indefinite terms.

Phil Kessel is routinely described as enigmatic, prickly, difficult with the media, and sometimes getting special treatment from the team, but that can mean anything.

Now we get facts, we get data, we get an incident and case study. What I would want to know now would be how common is it that a player refuses to go along with a drill or strategy, and how was that dealt with in the past. Is this part of the back and forth between players and coaches? Does this happen once to a Mike Ribeiro and he gets a meeting with the coach, and on the second incident he gets shipped out? Or does a Chris Pronger regularly tell a coach to go eff himself, and everyone shrugs and moves on, and says: “That’s Chris…”

Phil Kessel is objectively described as being 15 pounds overweight, and that is not discussed either, they repeat that the comments were told somewhat “tongue in cheek”, that he was sort of joking. So what does that mean again? When I tell a story to a group of people, I’m usually joking too, that’s why people gather around and hush up when I speak; I throw them a couple of nuggets to thank them for their raptness. But what does it mean with this statement? He’s only 12 pounds overweight? Why don’t the reporters say it clearly, yes he is overweight when he plays, when he comes into camp, with this explanation, or no, he’s in acceptable shape compared to his peers.

This is relevant to us sports fan who follow our teams on social media, how we read entrails and make mountains out of molehills, but we don’t really have a choice, since very often this info that we base our discussion on isn’t complete or reliable. We often castigate each other for harping on rumours, but really that’s what we have to work with is rumours, since you can’t get a straight answer out of a reporter, who’s keeping his info to himself, and will dole out this info based on how the wind is blowing, or once the player is traded.

The Canadiens have 64 players at training camp

The Montréal Canadiens will have 64 players at training camp, and that sounds really busy. Feels a little overloaded. And I know about the extra bodies needed for the pre-season games, but still…

Some of the guys from the rookie camp I've described as ‘no-hopers’, like Tanner Eberle and Zach Yuen and Evan Wardley, they get to move on to the next stage, and fight for a spot on the Bulldogs.

And no dark horse unsigned junior player survived the cut, the giants Tyler Hill and Matt Shmaltz, the skillful Alex Goulet and Phillippe Gadoury, the heavyweight protégé of pugilism proponents Bokondji Imama. We don’t steal a draft pick from next season’s crop.

On Saturday, Stéphane Leroux of RDS explained that the Canadiens debated at the 2012 draft on whether to spend a seventh-round pick on Sven Andrighetto, but relented and traded the pick to the Panthers instead. Eventually, they spent a third-round pick on him in 2013, and not a round too soon, since the Colorado Avalanche are reported to have been targeting him early in the fourth round.

Had the Canadiens pulled the trigger in 2012 in the seventh round, or even offered the kid a contract as an undrafted free agent that summer, we’d have been that much further ahead. Of course, this is with hindsight, the team wanted to see more from the kid, and when he had another great season, they picked him up at the next draft.  But it would have been nice to pick up what turned out to be a third-rounder for free, essentially.