Thursday, 24 July 2014

Will Patrice Brisebois coach in the LHJMQ?

The very nebulous rumours of Patrice Brisebois wanting to coach in the LHJMQ are taking shape I see.  He said he resigned from his position with the Canadiens partly because he wanted to coach, and couldn't see an opportunity with the Canadiens.  Jean-Jacques Daigneault with le Grand Club, Donald Dufresne with the Bulldogs are in charge of the defencemen, so there are no openings for him that way.

Good for him if that's what he does, goes into the trenches and learns how to coach young men.  Running practices, leading a team, bench strategy, knowing when to push, when to ease off, balancing the need to win vs. the need to develop players, there are so many facets to being a coach, I definitely don't think it's simple, and usually am loath to criticize a head coach.  I definitely don't think it's an easy gig, that I could do what they do.

Generally, it would be an encouraging step if another young recently-retired former NHL'er got into the coaching game.  Two high-profile guys who we got to know on RDS, Joël Bouchard and Denis Gauthier, have cut back on their TV commitments to assume roles on LHJMQ teams.

Joël Bouchard was an assistant coach with the Armada as well as part-owner, and ran a hockey school on the side in the summer, and had video 'capsules' on RDS breaking down skill development and strategy on RDS.  Eventually he spent less time in front of the camera and more with the kids, becoming the General Manager of the team.  He's a really bright guy, well-spoken and has a magnetic personality.  His career path seems to lead to the NHL in short order.

Denis Gauthier was a tough, defensively-oriented defenceman who was drafted in the first-round by the Flames in '95.  He retired relatively young from the game, and being telegenic and well-spoken, landed a gig as a talking head on RDS.  He's also in the coaching game, being the defencemen coach for the Voltigeurs de Drummondville, and also finding time to coach his son's Pee Wee team.

I've talked about this in the past, how the Canadiens need a strong, thriving hockey scene in Québec, and should do everything they can to support it.  Their farm team in Hamilton should be staffed by the brightest young minds from the LHJMQ, and even the team in Wheeling in the ECHL should be a training ground for young coaches who can one day land in the NHL.  Stocking the pond with a lot of candidates will only give the team more options when hiring decisions are made.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Josh Gorges still shocked by his trade to Buffalo, slowly coming to grips with it.

Here's a link to a great article on Josh Gorges by the Kelowna Daily Courier.  Josh is almost being willfully blind to the fact that his cap hit/contract are responsible for him being traded, and the glut of lefties on the blue line in Montréal.  He keeps saying he doesn't understand why he was traded.  But maybe that's the kind of obstinacy, of competitiveness that you need to make it to the NHL, especially as an undrafted free agent, like Josh did.

He repeats that the toughest parts are not getting a chance to win a Cup as a Canadien, and having to 'break up' with the other players, who he calls his family.  Josh certainly had the right mindset as a teammate and leader, as opposed to Thomas Vanek let's say, who has a more practical, mercenary approach.

While his departure may affect the rest of the team, and more particularly his close friends on the team like Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher, I think the players can accept the move, even if they don’t ‘like it’.  If the replacements Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu are solid players who are clearly better on the ice than Josh was.

I’ve been through this before in rugby, where guys I’d been playing with in 1st Division would get bumped down to 2nd for some hotshot South African or Brit, or a kid who barely knew or understood the game. Nobody was really happy about it, except when the game started and the new guy was clearly, unquestionably a better player, and we had a much better team on the field, any controversy was quickly quelled. The other guys would play second division and hope for a chance to get back up on the 1st if an injury happened or some other situation, and life went on.

There was a kid who quickly got the nickname ‘Psycho’ early on, and the coaches loved him and handed him the wing position right at the start of the season, even though he was frequently offside and fuzzy on the rules in practice. We were stumped. His first game though, we understood what the coaches saw, he was a snarling menace, tackling and running like crazy, and we were cheering him on and chanting “Psycho!” by the second half.

If Jarred/Nathan are good guys, not prima-donna Golden Boys who get handed the position by virtue of their draft history, everything should work out.

Canadiens' Tim Bozon fighting to come back from illness, making great progress.

Here's a link to a great, in-depth article on Tim Bozon from RDS.

Main points are:

- He feared never being able to play again after his bout of meningitis, but deep down he always believed he'd be back.

- He's going to play 6 games in 10 days with French youngsters against club teams in the Czech Republic.  It's a training/selection camp for the French team, and he normally wouldn't take part, he'd be exempted, but he'll play to benefit from the training and ice time and to regain 'game shape'.  He'll be better able to decide after if he'll be ready to take part in the Canadiens' training camp later this summer.

- Few of his family or doctors thought he'd be this far along in his recovery so soon.  He's following his program, being cautious, but is definitely ahead of schedule.

- He lost 18 kg due to what he calls his "accident".  There's a picture that shows him after his illness, and what he looks like now.  He feels he looked more like a cyclist than a hockey player.  He says he's done a tonne of pushups and situps in his life, and could barely do two of each after his illness.

- He's now about 5 lbs off where he was (200 lbs), and thinks he'll be all the way back in a month and a half, in time for camp.

- He's working hard, it's intense and exhausting, but he thinks he has got almost all the way back in terms of his on-ice play, he just needs to work on 'finishing' and timing.  He's loving it, felt like a kid in a candy store when he was allowed back on the ice.

- His main goal before his illness was making the Bulldogs next season, and it still is now (the alternative might be to return to Kootenay as an overager).  That's what he's working for, to play pro next season in Hamilton.

- His illness and the struggle to get back has given him new perspective on his life and career.  He thinks it might even make him a better player, that instead of being an obstacle it will help him attain his dreams.

EDIT:  Here's another piece on Mr. Bozon from the Canadiens website.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Review: "Tales of a First-Round Nothing" by Terry Ryan

I approached reading the memoirs of Terry Ryan, titled "Tales of a First-Round Nothing: My Life as an NHL Footnote", with eager anticipation.  I heard about it through the book tour the author did prior to the release, and I looked forward to an illuminating read, shining a spotlight on the fallow period in the Canadiens history after the '93 Stanley Cup, the dismissal of Serge Savard and Jacques Demers, and the inauguration of Réjean Houle and Mario Tremblay as the team's General Manager and Head Coach respectively.  I also expected some insight on the way the Canadiens supported the players they chose in the draft, and how they were coached in the minors.

Unfortunately, very few of the questions I had were answered, and the read was a disappointment, almost a slog to complete.  There are many fundamental problems with it, first and foremost that Terry Ryan is not a talented writer, and not given to introspection beyond the general, 'it is what it is' and 'I take full responsibility' platitudes.

The author starts his tale in 1991, when his family moved from Newfoundland to Quesnel, B.C. so that he could be eligible for the WHL draft, his father feeling that was the right junior league for him.  Mr. Ryan is fourteen years old but already a six-footer and 180 lbs., and plays Junior A hockey with and against players up to 21 years old.  From there he takes us to his stint with the Tri-Cities Americans, being drafted by the Canadiens, his years playing in the AHL in Fredericton under coach Michel Therrien, his trade demand, which he calls "one of the most ridiculous decisions I've ever made", and various stops with other clubs in progressively lower circuits: the ECHL, then senior hockey.

One frustrating aspect of the book is how the author hop-scotches from one season to another, or from one month to another, for reasons that are hard to discern.  It's not the expected use of foreshadowing and flashback, but rather a disjointed tale where one tangent follows another and lacks a unifying thread.  The reader who is used to sports biographies, and is accustomed to the rhythm they normally utilize, will be thrown.  Instead of going from one season to the off-season to the next season, with things like stats and awards earned, and progress in different areas and his personal life used to show the arc of his career, the author skips and jumps and backtracks in an incoherent fashion, and leads you to wonder fifty pages further on: "Wait, what happened eventually to that coach (teammate, opponent, season, team, objective set) that he was prattling on about?"  Frequently there is no resolution, just other matters raised, which themselves won't be resolved either.

Another issue, and it's a big one, is that the material in the book is often awkward, if not downright puerile and inappropriate.  Mr. Ryan must be a great guy to have a beer or two at the pub with, he seems full of tales to tell, some no doubt of the 'tall' variety.  The thing is, he might be a good story-teller in person, maybe he'd be great on the lecture circuit, or as a sports-talk radio host, but in print his stories fall flat, approaching the level of Abraham Simpson's 'onion-on-the-belt' yarns.

One story describes how their rink lost power during an ice-storm, and they had to clear out of the arena in their skates, but found that they could skate in the parking lot, everything having been coated by freezing rain.  Mr. Ryan and a couple of teammates did that for a while, got bored and decided to pile into his car and drive around, wouldn't you know it, with their skates on!  So around town they drive, really slow, fishtailing a bit, still in their full gear, until they realize they should probably head back, but stop beforehand at a drive-through to get coffee for the boys.  Once they get back, the practice has started again.  Boy was the coach ever mad!

And that's the kind of highjinks that are detailed in the book, 'you had to be there' stuff.  And, disappointingly, there are a couple of anecdotes that feel like they belong in Penthouse Forum, rather than a book about hockey.  I couldn't help but think about how Jim Bouton in "Ball Four" told a lot of stories about extra-curricular activities between players and groupies and airline hostesses, but always with a suitable reserve, that told you all you need to know without naming names or getting into juvenilia.

The most disappointing part for me is that an anecdote he told during the book tour, about meeting a Canadiens scout in an elevator the night before the draft, isn't contained in the book.  The most crucial stuff I wanted to read, about how the Canadiens scouted him (or didn't scout him), about the Mr. Magoo who ran the team, about how the actual draft day went for him, is glossed over and I was left with more questions than answers.  So we don't find out more about how that scout talked to him but believed he was Shane Doan the whole time, by reading the book.

I later figured out that it was when answering questions from competent journalists that these issues are raised and discussed, not in his book.  They got to the heart of the matter by probing with good questions, instead of letting Mr. Ryan ramble on.  And this to me crystallized that what the author would have needed is a good editor.  Not a proof-reader, but an actual editor, who would have read his book as a first draft, given him copious notes and constructive criticism, and got him to work on his second draft, with a lot of running commentary, and encouragement to delve into detail here, skip over this stuff there, tie all these loose ends everywhere, etc.

Terry Ryan in his many adventures does end up befriending some big names in the showbiz and hockey world, notably Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, Ron McLean of Hockey Night in Canada, and NHL'er and PEI native Brad Richards.  He currently works on the TV show "The Republic of Doyle."  My suspicion is that this book actually didn't get edited, that it was self-published, and therein lies the great weakness.  His friends may have opened doors, helped with the financing of the book, helped him obtain grants, if I am to trust the many 'arts councils' who are credited at the beginning of the book.

I'm not saying that Terry Ryan is a dummy.  He obtained his B.A. in English literature after his playing career wound down.  He's engaging, and tells his story with candor, even if he's oblique about the reasons why he 'busted', which is the main interest of most who will read this book I would wager.

Why he made a trade demand, after two seasons in the AHL in Fredericton, is unclear.  He does talk about friction with his coach Michel Therrien, but spends so much time re-iterating that he does not have any ill-will for him, and wishes him all the best in his current stint as Canadiens head coach, that it turns into a snow-job.  Aside from one anecdote about how he'd smoke on the team bus, and another when the coach told him he could make or break him, send him down to the IHL, there is no meat on the bone.  And so he does confess repeatedly that his trade demand was unwise, but he doesn't even enumerate the reasons he felt that way at the time.  We're left wanting much more, like an audience going to see Wolfmother in concert but not getting to hear "The Joker and the Thief".

Another consideration is that we never read about how he trained during the season and in the off-season.  He only mentions fitness twice during the book, once when he mentions that he worked on his cardio a lot before the season, and another when he says that he came into a training camp in the "best shape of my life".  Seeing as all the anecdotes about getting drunk and having beers with teammates are recounted, we get a sense as to the dedication he showed to his career.  Terry Ryan must have been a great teammate to have, with the laughs and high-jinks, but it probably came at the expense of his own success as a player.

One final, sad issue which is glossed over is how he started one season as a Canadien but didn't play much, and got sent back down to the WHL to finish out the season.  Startlingly, he explains that he shouldn't have played that season, since he was concussed when he got sent down.  Again though, there is no narrative, no explanation of how and when this happened, and whether he talked to doctors or coaches, all of that is skipped over.

As readers and fans we're trying to figure out why Mr. Ryan didn't pan out, and one of the big reasons must have been these concussions that he glosses over.  From being fourteen years old and fighting with nearly grown men in Junior A, to playing the role of the guy who won't back down from anyone, even heavyweights in the WHL, AHL and even the NHL, Terry Ryan prided himself on his toughness, taking on all comers, and giving everything he had.

This is where you wish that the Canadiens had had a player development staff like they currently have with Martin Lapointe and the recently-departed Patrice Brisebois.  You wish that the Habs had had a guy who could have taken Terry aside and told him that he shouldn't waste his time fighting CHL goons, but rather work on his hockey skills, develop his scoring and defensive play.  And you hope that that message is going out to the Michael McCarrons and the Brett Lernouts and the Connor Crips, that yeah, you stand up for your teammates, and yeah sometimes you have to drop the gloves, but not against the no-hopers who want to make a reputation at your expense in a nonsensical fight.

While there is a tale to tell, notably his work with disadvantaged Inuit youth, it isn't done adequately in this memoir, and I can't recommend this book to anyone.  At best, to those completists who will insist on reading the book for themselves, I'll urge you to read those sections you're really interested in, and skim or skip altogether those you're not.  You won't be missing out on anything.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

S.I. recap of the Canadiens' off-season moves fails to take into account the salary cap implications.

A good recap by Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated of the off-season moves by the Canadiens, even if it paints a slightly negative picture, if only in tone.  The headline is a little more pessimistic than the article itself, it's what I reacted to at first.  I should remember that he may not have written the headline, the editors of the site may be the culprits
Montreal Canadiens stuck in neutral

The Canadiens took two steps forward last season, reaching the 100-point mark for just the second time in 20 years and knocking off the Lightning and the Bruins in the playoffs on the way to an unexpected appearance in the Eastern Conference finals.

Now it might be time to take a step back.

Montreal isn't appreciably worse than it was in 2013–14, but it's hard to argue that the Habs are much better based on their first few weeks of summer activity. (...)

When I think of teams stuck in neutral this summer, I think of the Leafs, the Bruins who were caught too close to the cap ceiling, the Oilers who are spinning their wheels, talking big about the need to clear out guys like Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner, then diving right back into that pool with a ludicrous contract for Benoit Pouliot.

The Canucks too are kind of in purgatory.  They're locked in because of the big contracts to their veterans, they can't quite race to the bottom against the Sabres and Islanders, but won't get in the playoffs either.  And they assured themselves of mediocrity by signing a competent veteran goalie in Ryan Miller, who'll get them those extra four or five wins and OT losses that will murder their draft position.

Compared to those teams the Canadiens did well.  They cleared out three underperforming veterans, righted the balance on their defence, signed a European UFA, among other forward-thinking moves.

Yet the main benefits of the off-season transactions and changes are more in the medium and long-term.  And this is what Mr. Muir is missing.  Sure adding Tom Gilbert and Mike Weaver on defence doesn't quicken the pulse and bring you to Stanley Cup rêveries, but it does bring players who are better fits and cost-effective into the mix.  Plus, they're easily traded if any of the baby Bulldogs prove they're ready for the big time.

Losing Brian Gionta smarts, he's the captain and a role-model, but we couldn't afford him at the price the Sabres could in their special situation.  This might be a move that looks better and better as the months progress, what with Brian's injuries and declining productivity.

And swapping Daniel Brière for Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau cancels out when their cap hits are considered; in fact, the Avs kind of win that one, since their player's contract only has one more year on it.  But the Habs get the player they needed, a bigger, scoring winger, as opposed to a miscast player who was brought in to play on right wing but preferred and felt more comfortable at centre.  Daniel Brière might have been fine if we had a hole at centre, but in fact he was up against Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Lars Eller for a Top 6 centre spot, with Alex Galchenyuk literally waiting in the wings.

So Daniel Brière ended the season on the fourth-line, and he'll now be replaced by Manny Malhotra, who is much better suited to that role.  Mr. Malhotra is strong on faceoffs and on the penalty kill, he skates fast and has good size, so again we're trending in the right direction.

Allan Muir also failed to mention the addition of Jiri Sekac who could make the team out of camp.  He's potentially NHL-ready, we signed him as a UFA, at no cost to the organization except an Entry-Level Contract.

All in all, all these moves are more subtle than signing a Paul Stasny.  To the outsider, it might look like keeping abreast of the treadmill, but I see it more as putting players in positions to succeed, and giving the organization more flexibility.  We used to bemoan that no team would ever take Josh Gorges or Brian Gionta or Daniel Brière off our hands, because of their unwieldy contracts.  Well now we're free of these, and have added players who can at least provide the same level of production.  And if a farmhand proves he needs to play on le Grand Club, we'll have a much easier time clearing a roster spot for him.

So instead of seeing our situation as being "stuck in neutral", I prefer to see it as developing pieces on the chessboard.  Sure, we haven't captured any big pieces or put their King in check, but the last few moves haven't been wasted.  Now our knights are in the middle of the board ready to strike, our bishops have open lanes, and our rooks are free to wreak havoc.  It may not be spectacular to the casual observer, but these tactical moves allow us to now pursue our overall strategy.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Various thought on free-agency frenzy, and how the Canadiens remodeled their team on July 1.

1)  I thought Brian Gionta would find a job somewhere for a decent two-year deal, but the specific circumstances of Buffalo, with a team squarely looking to the future and trying to reach the cap-floor, and it being close to his hometown, were very fortunate for him. It inflated the worth and term of his deal.

And they were fortunate for Marc Bergevin’s team and their plan, that they could offload Josh Gorges’ contract, cleanly. Apparently Brad Treliving of Calgary was approaching teams with crazy contracts they were trying to get rid of, notably Phoenix with Mike Ribeiro’s deal, and telling them he’d take it off their hands, along with their first-round pick. His advances were rejected, but he was being serious, and the teams considered his proposals as such.

So that we had two teams in Toronto and Buffalo who were ready and able to absorb the four more years on Josh’s contract was a lucky bounce for us. Toronto was looking for a change of leadership in their dressing room, Buffalo was looking for mentorship. We got a second-round pick out of it.

I thought we were married to Josh, there was no easy was to divorce him. Instead we get a clean break, a better fit on defence for our team, a break in the logjam on the left side, and an extra pick. Nice.


2) Not to belabour the point, I liked Josh, the person, but the trade took care of so many issues:

- it reduces salary mass of team
- it rids us of a problematic long-term deal
- it cleared out one of too many lefties on blue line
- it allows Alexei Emelin to switch over to his preferred left side, which will mean he’ll play better, hit more, be more comfortable passing the puck
- it allows room for growth and development of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu
- it provides us with better balance on the ice, a probable lineup with three LD, three RD
- it yields better allocation of dollars on the team, instead of two #5 defencemen earning $4M.


3)  I wondered before noon July 1 if some of the teams going through a rebuild, and an eye on the Connor McDavid draft, might be strategic in how they manoeuvered to reach the cap floor, by signing players who wouldn’t really affect the teams’ results. One guess I had was that they might go after forwards who are all offence, put on a good show, sell tickets, but don’t lead to wins directly.

Conversely, such a team with a plan would stay clear of a veteran, proven goalie, who will steal you a few games, get you to a few shootouts, and might mean a climb in the standings for no real purpose, ultimately.

The Sabres might have been strategic this way. They got two veterans who’ll surround and support their flock of youngsters, they’ll keep the ship on an even keel, they got the Sabres to the cap floor, but they won’t manufacture meaningless wins.  They're not impact players, difference-makers, but rather loyal soldiers who work well within a team, at least at this stage of Brian's career anyhow.


4)  Losing Brian Gionta, the captain, Josh Gorge, an alternate, and Daniel Brière, a respected veteran, really hurts in the veterranship department, but it helps when we consider players like Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, Brandon Prust and Travis Moen are still here.

Plus, Marc Bergevin was clear that he didn’t see a problem with his leader corps, just that they made the decision his young veterans were ready for more, to assume these roles, so the transition is something desired, not just something you have to contend with.


5)  Also, the Habs added Manny Malhotra to the mix.  Not a huge fan of his, but they loooooved him in Vancouver, even though I didn't quite see it. I think it’s a case of reporters getting to know a guy off the ice, and seeing what he brings to a team there. They get to like the guy personally, and it colours their perception of his performance.

Manny was let go by the Canucks’ Mike Gillis who was saying he was concerned for his health and safety out there, due to his limited vision, so I don’t know how much better he can be playing now.

Still a cheap, disposable contract, I was thinking more of a Matt Hendriks-type in this spot. But then, we had Ryan White, and we let him go, so…


6)  And speaking of reporters championing the players they get to know and like personally...

The TSN guys were really over-reacting over the Canadiens letting Brian Gionta walk, and trading Josh Gorges.  Pierre McGuire was getting all maudlin on us.

I think it’s Pierre LeBrun who stated he talked to a “Western Conference GM” who said he would have done the same thing, it’s the four years left on Josh's deal you have to worry about.

The Sabres were a perfect match, they needed veterans to shepherd their rookies, and to reach the cap floor.

I don’t know what the Leafs were thinking. They obviously want a huge change in their dressing room, and were putting a big value on what Josh would have brought.


7)  You have to wonder if the Canadiens' organization and its reputation took a hit, at least when it comes to the players, with the sideshow the Josh Gorges trade became.

It’s something that was mentioned by the talking heads on TSN, and I’m not discounting it. Marc Bergevin seems like a straight shooter, and there are never any rumours leaking out, he said it again today, he doesn’t work that way. He would have preferred that Josh be treated with dignity.

I think that some players who don’t pay too much attention will see this as another indication that ‘Montréal is a circus’, but those who do their homework will realize that it’s a Toronto thing, not a Habs thing.


8)  Speaking of it being a "Toronto thing", Darren Dreger let it slip that the rumoured player to come from Toronto in the Josh Gorges deal that fell through was in fact Cody Franson.

Big, right-handed defenceman, some offensive skill, he’d have checked a lot of boxes for us.

Glad Marc Bergevin was able to get a comparable player in Tom Gilbert, for free as a UFA, and get an extra 2nd rounder from Buffalo. That’s pretty much an even-steven deal, and we don’t have to barf seeing Josh in that putrid blue sweater.


9)  One point some Habs fans missed prior to July 1, when some of us argued that it should be Alexei Emelin who gets traded, is that Alexei has a full No Trade Clause this season and the next, and then a limited NTC the last couple seasons. So we weren’t really able to pick and choose, it had to be Josh. And I preferred to keep Alexei, I think he’ll have a much better season next year, since he's:

- Fully recovered from his ACL reconstruction.

- Playing on the left, better able to pivot and crank out some hits.

- Fully acclimated to the NHL by now.


10)  Thinking again about how the Leafs wanted to trade for Josh Gorges, and apparently were willing to give up much-hyped Cody Franson in exchange.  They’re really looking for a culture change in Toronto, so they probably putting a high value on Josh's leadership ability and style, on the effect he can have on a team. Get sourpusses like Dion Phaneuf and whack jobs like Nazem Kadri out of there, and add some more steady eddies and loyal soldiers.

And possibly, we’re undervaluing Josh’s leadership, although I’m sure the braintrust did its homework, and want to start handing off responsibility to the young veterans a little more, and how the departure of Josh and Brian Gionta factors in there also.  It's not easy to calculate, discrete values to add and subtract.


11)  I raised the question before, but did Marc Bergevin ask Andrei Markov to do more in this regard, to consider wearing the ‘C’. Is this something that was brought up during negotiations, or after the contract was signed?  Not necessarily to change who he is, but to no longer stay on the sidelines, and let others handle that stuff and just mind his own business, but rather to take a step forward when needed?

He'll always struggle with the media angle of the captain's responsibilities, but we saw Andrei play the mentor role for P.K., and on one occasion actively calm the kid down when he was agitated at the coaches and the refs while he was on the bench.

Maybe there's a way for the team to delegate a lot of the routine interviews, the scheduled media work of the captain, to other players, and allow Andrei to focus on the hockey side of things.  This would be a change from the Brian Gionta régime, he was always front and center when the media had to get their answers, but to modify it thus would obviously play to Andrei's strengths, and remove a potential reason for him to say no to the responsibility.


12)  We've discussed how the Canadiens didn't necessarily choose between Cody Franson or Tom Gilbert, they might have been angling for both, but the question also arises: did the Canadiens choose between Stéphane Robidas and Mike Weaver?  Both are veteran defencemen very near the end of their career, shoot right and are relatively undersized.

There is no question that Stéphane Robidas is the better player, both throughout his career and at this point in time.  Mike Weaver might be the better fit as the third-pairing defenceman to play penalty-kill minutes, and reprise his role as Josh Gorges-lite that he played so well during the playoffs.

The clincher though is that Mike Weaver signed a cheap one-year deal, whereas the Leafs had to dish out a three-year deal to Stéphane Robidas worth $9M.  Since both players are beyond their 35th birthday, these contracts are locked in.  Specifically, Stéphane Robidas can't choose to retire if he doesn't feel he can play anymore, what with the numerous injuries he's suffered through the years.  Or rather, even if he does retire, the Leafs still have to count his cap hit on their total.

So the choice would have been easy for the Canadiens: Stéphane Robidas is the better player, but Mike Weaver is the better option when you factor in their respective contracts, and their fit/roles on their team.


13)  Manny Malhotra signed early on July 1 by the Habs, will replace Ryan White as the fourth-line centre.  He's a more effective player, comes cheaply, but he’s not able to bring toughness, and he’s a leftie. All our centremen are now lefties, with Daniel Brière and Whitey gone.

George Parros will definitely be replaced now, I would wager.  Probably as August draws on, a veteran puncher will sign a cheap deal with the team.


14)  Brad Treliving, the Calgary GM, talked on free-agency frenzy day about how his younger players can “take the ice with confidence”, how they’d created an atmosphere where they can play without getting gooned, with Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth and now the addition of Deryk Engelland.

George Parros, Douglas Murray and now Ryan White are gone from our roster.

It’s debatable whether that exists now in Montréal.


15)  You have to like what Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Richards chose to do. Both took smaller, one-year deals with contending teams, after getting bought out and not really needing a big pay day.

Christian Ehrhoff goes for one year at $4M to the Penguins, he’s much better value than what Matty Niskanen and Brooks Orpik signed for.

Brad Richards goes to Chicago on a one-year deal for $2M, plays second line centre behind Jonathan Toews, possibly with Patrick Kane.

Both will have a chance at a Stanley Cup, can maybe re-up long-term if the fit is right, or will be set for another bigger contract next season, when the cap rises and most teams have dealt with their cap crunch.


16)  Was it foreshadowing that Benoit Pouliot only came through intermittently on his phone interview with James Duthie on TSN, after signing his massive four-year deal with Edmonton? He was there, then he'd fade away, then he was back, then he cut out again…


17)  As an example of the Two Solitudes, a lot of the analysts on RDS, and many who were commenting on social media in French, felt that the Canadiens didn’t improve July 1.  I’m not sure what their expectations were, maybe they thought we had to replace Thomas Vanek and go from there.

My expectations didn’t include Thomas Vanek, just the roster we had at the start of last season. While we lost some leadership and experience, some scoring, with Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Daniel Brière leaving, I feel that the team is more balanced on the blue line, will be more effective without having to force Jarred Tinordi or Alexei Emelin on to the right side. I’m not as pessimistic about P.A. Parenteau. I think he can be an effective Top 6 winger, and he’ll play up to the circumstances.

We still need to address the toughness we lost with George Parros (the incarnation at the start of the season, before Colton Orr’s dirty takedown), Douglas Murray and Ryan White. I suspect Marc Bergevin isn’t in a hurry, he’ll let the market settle down and go bargain-hunting.

We’re not going to find a scoring winger easily, just like the Leafs may be in a bind trying to find their big #1 centre. We’ll have to go into next season with an imperfect team, but one that’s much stronger than two or three years ago.


18)  I am really happy with the moves by the Canadiens brain trust so far. Sensible moves, patching holes, upgrading the mix.

All reasonable, short-term deal. Glad we’re not in the Matty Niskanen market, with the five-year deal and huge money for a guy who had a good year playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Surprised that we added two right-shot defencemen, but I guess they didn’t want to hand a job over to Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren sight unseen.


19)  What I like is that the team now has a consistent, coordinated approach to drafting and development. As much as we hate the Bruins, their organization has done a good job of identifying what it wanted to accomplish as a team, and then going out and getting the players that mesh with that team concept.

Same with the Red Wings. They’re not trying to be everything all at once, they’ve played to their strengths, which is drafting, skewing towards Europeans in the later rounds, putting all their kids in a lengthy AHL stint before they’re graduated. They’re a skill team, they don’t goon, and they have clear leaders at the top of the hierarchy who run the team.

Marc Bergevin’s team seems to have a clear idea of what they want their team to look like, they have a goal in mind, and they’re working to that goal in concert.


20)  If we’re looking for toughness, for an enforcer, to augment Brandon Prust and Jarred Tinordi, I vote for a huge mean mother, someone like Steve MacIntyre that you sign at league minimum and send out when a Matt Kassian or a Colton Orr needs to be neutralized. There are a lot of these guys out there who can be put on the ice when needed, and taken out of the roster when we play teams interested in playing hockey, like Tampa or the Wings.

Or we could sign the unhinged Trevor Gillies. I wouldn’t mind it too much if he was on our side, beating Bruins upside the head with the stump of their bloody arms he just ripped out of their sockets.


21)  There are a few trolls who were uncharitable towards Josh during his tenure in Montréal, but most fans who wanted to trade Josh just disputed the cost-benefit equation. Most liked Josh, but wished he came cheaper.

I've posted before how the salary cap has transformed every hockey fan into accountants:
One unfortunate consequence of the salary cap system in the National Hockey League is that it transforms committed fans into vigilant custodians of the team’s payroll. Whereas before fans would harry their team’s ownership to pay whatever it costs to retain the hometown stars, nowadays fans are forced to take a stand on the wage a player will receive, as overspending on players decreases the likelihood that one’s team will be successful and championship material. In the days of the Guy Lafleur or Larry Robinson holdouts, every fan howled that the team made enough money to pay these guys what they wanted, and that they sure as hell deserved it. Especially if Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson are worth millions to the Rangers…


22)  So yeah, a tough business decision for Josh, unsavory but necessary.

You know the old joke.  A player tells another player that a teammate has been traded:

“Hey, did you hear Joe Somebody got traded?”

“Great trade. Who did we get?”

This is usually used when a dressing room cancer is sent packing. This in no way describes Josh, but with his cap-hit, and the glut of leftie d-men we have, I thought that almost any trade would be a good trade, allowing more time for Nathan and Jarred, and maybe for Alexei to play on the left also.

I think that’s the way most fans are reacting. Love Josh the person, respect his drive and effort, but think that him being sent packing solves a lot of our problems.

NHL players don't put on "ten pounds of pure muscle" over one summer.

Someone coming in with an additional ’10 pounds of muscle’ at camp is always a cause for celebration for fans of that team, but I’m skeptical usually.  These guys are trained athletes, operating at or very near to peak efficiency, Dustin Penner or Kyle Wellwood excepted.  To expect that they in three months packed on that much muscle is unrealistic, as we've discussed before in the case of Josh Gorges, who some fans would exhort to "put on fifteen pounds of muscle so he doesn't get ragdolled."

When a player reports ten pounds heavier to training camp, it’s often not 10 pounds of muscle, but more like 5 pounds of extra water weight from the creatine, 3 pounds of fat (not from laziness, just from being able to recover after hard training, rather than getting on a plane to Minnesota) and maybe 2 pounds of muscle in a best-case scenario, one of which would have been re-gained from the end of the season if the athlete had just sat on the couch, purely by recovering from the grind of the previous season.

Players weights fluctuate in other sports too, sometimes intentionally.  We see this in the NFL, and it’s amusing, how a linebacker or a running back comes into camp significantly bigger, and he explains how he hit the gym hard and worked on getting stronger and more powerful. The next summer, he’s described as coming in ‘shredded, ripped’, and the player explains that he wanted to get lighter and more agile, faster for the season, and felt too bulky and heavy the previous season. And the cycle never ends. A lineman comes in bulked up and says he wants to dominate the line of scrimmage, the next season he comes in twenty pounds lighter and says it will help him in the running game and he hopes the coaches allow him to ‘pull’ more and take on linebackers and safeties in the second level.

Murderer-at-large Ray Lewis yo-yoed from heavy to lighter to heavy again during his career, and he always rationalized it as needing to stack the line of scrimmage one year, then the next saying the scheme will be different and he needs to cover tight ends in the passing game. He credited bicycling for his loss of weight at the end of his career, but then ripped a triceps in his final season, which is normally a season-ending injury. Ray miraculously returned for the playoffs, and there were whispers about how huge he looked, how he’d packed on pounds, which is kind of hard to do for your upper body if your triceps is out of commission and you can’t bench-press, but anyway, no reporters wanted to get fatally stabbed so no one pushed the issue too far, even when the deer-antler spray malarkey surfaced. Anyway, no harm no foul, Ray must be a good guy, he’s a woofer for ESPN right along with MeShawn John$on.

We're not discounting that a player can put on muscle and benefit, especially when they come in after a summer of hard training, but it needs to be kept in context. Normally, a player will come in heavier than at the end of the previous season, just from having recovered from the previous season’s grind. So a smaller Brian Gionta will be two or three pounds heavier at camp maybe, while a larger Hal Gill or Douglas Murray will be five or seven pounds heavier. Then, the stress of the season, the exertion and the travel will wear them down again by the next spring.

Young players will come in with more significant weight gains, from natural growth and filling out, going from teen to man. So a an eighteen-year old Brett Lernout will 'recover' five pounds, possibly add another five pounds naturally, easily, through natural growth and training, so he’ll roll into camp ‘ten pounds heavier’. Journalists routinely add ‘of pure muscle’, but that’s not necessarily so.

As players age, the weight gains should become less noticeable. Jarred Tinordi is probably in the last year or so of coming into camp significantly heavier than the previous season. At 22, he’ll be pretty close to filled out, and his weight should stabilize for the rest of his career, he might add a pound a year the rest of the way.

A special case might be Nathan Beaulieu. He’s 21, still filling out, and he reportedly has never really dedicated himself to his physical conditioning, but is doing so this summer. Since he’s starting from a relatively untrained base, he has a lot of low-hanging fruits to pick, lots of room to grow, so he might make relatively large gains in size and strength and power in the next couple of years, until he gets closer to his ceiling and his gains become incremental.

Does the Canadiens defence corps stack up against the Bruins and the Lightning?

From a Helene St. James’ article in the Detroit Free Press:
They haven’t improved their scoring capability, and as a group Montreal’s defensemen don’t stack up to Boston’s or Tampa Bay’s.

I understand how an outsider can scan our lineup on a website and write this, but I think the Canadiens have a chance to make her and a lot of skeptics eat their words. P.K. and Andrei are excellent, I’m hoping the Tom Gilbert plays a steady heady game and benefits from a winning culture, and that Alexei returns to form after fully recovering from ACL reconstruction, along with now having the opportunity to play his natural left side, instead of being forced to the right side due to the roster being overloaded with lefties prior to the Josh Gorges trade.  Alexei may even take an extra step forward.

We then have four young defencemen that the out-of-towners don’t know about, but any of who can step up and play a significant role. Jarred Tinordi at 22 should be on the verge of putting things together.

I’m very optimistic that Nathan Beaulieu will have a great rookie season, I found his attitude at the prospect camp refreshing, and put a lot of hope on the fact that he’s putting in the hours in the gym.

Greg Pateryn had a surprisingly good season in the AHL, scored a few goals, and has the maturity at 24 that could allow him to play a role if injuries strike, if he doesn’t win a job outright at camp.

And I know it’s common for us to dismiss Magnus Nygren now, but based on his track record he could have the same effect on our roster that Raphaël Diaz had his first season, stepping in and contributing right away.

I saw Tampa’s defence corps get embarrassed in the playoffs. I know they signed a couple of free agents, but I’ll put my boys against Radko Gudas any day. And at the risk of annoying some, Zdeno Chara is getting on more on his reputation than his performance nowadays.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Should the Canadiens sign Dustin Penner to preempt the Bruins?

I’ve been wondering if Marc Bergevin will go dumpster diving in August to provide depth to his team, possibly on the wing(s), with the likely bargains in my mind guys like David Booth, Dustin Penner, Devin Setoguchi. Get one of those wingers at a 1 or 2 million dollar deal for one year, and if it works great, if not, bury them somewhere, loan them to an AHL club (not the Bulldogs if they’re a problem).  But I suspect that any of these guys would be very motivated if they ended up in that situation, and would work very hard to earn another, bigger contract. They’d be out to prove themselves.

With the signing of Jiri Sekac though, and the encouraging reports regarding Jacob De La Rose, I think it’s going to hinge on how the development camp goes. If these guys look good, our management may choose to stand pat, and promote from within. So I’m not so sure anymore that we will tack on a cheap veteran or two later this summer, as we did last season.

Oh, wait… It just occurred to me.

Dustin Penner will sign with the Bruins, and they’ll have that 240 lbs monster on their team, suddenly feeling his oats and throwing his weight around, because he’s, you know, a Bruin…  With the Caps, he wasn't feeling it, but slip on that black and diarrhea-yellow jersey on, and now he feels like a tough guy.

Damn. It just came to me, and now I’m convinced it will happen.

Mac Bennett, another defence prospect of the Canadiens, benefited from his four seasons at Michigan.

Good article on Mac Bennett by Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette.  It profiles the offensively-oriented d-man , who was drafted in the 2009 draft in the third round by the Canadiens, and who has spent four seasons since then at Michigan under legendary coach Red Berenson.  He used that time to develop his skills and mature physically.  He was also Greg Pateryn's defence partner for two seasons with the Wolverines.

Four years later, Bennett appears ripped as he launches his pro career. He stands 6-foot tall and tips the scales at close to 200 pounds. Earlier this year, he was recognized as one of the best-conditioned hockey players in the U.S. by an association of strength and conditioning coaches.  Last season, as he reported to the prospect camp, he was proud to have met Patrice Brisebois' targeted weigh-in goal of 195 lbs.

Some players really stand to benefit by going to the NCAA and getting four years of development, instead of just two in the CHL.  For example, Brady Vail might have sorted out whatever didn’t please the Canadiens, and been thought worthy of a contract after his senior year.

Mac's role on the Bulldogs next season might be a relatively important one for a rookie.  He'll be one of the few lefties on hand for the coaching staff.  Assuming both Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu start the year in Montréal, all the other defence prospects are righties: Greg Pateryn, Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, Dalton Thrower, and maybe even Magnus Nygren, if he can be convinced to report to Hamilton.

Of course, Davis Drewiske is a leftie, but it's hard at this time to call him a prospect anymore.

So, contrary to the common situation where teams have too many lefties and too few righties, and the righties get lots of icetime on their proper side of the ice, Mac might be for once the lone leftie, the guy who gets double-shifted and eats a lot of minutes.  Good for him.

And we can hope that if Greg Pateryn starts the year in Hamilton rather than with le Grand Club, he'll be a big help in getting the rookie started off in the right direction.