Friday, 31 July 2015

Gary Bettman gets to shoot his mouth off on concussions again, but under oath this time.

So the concussion class-action suit by former NHL players, notably including Bernie Nicholls, proceeds.  Today, Gary Bettman will be deposed.

Under oath.  We'll see if he's still as intellectually dishonest on this subject, or just criminally misinformed.

And whether he utters more clunkers like this one:
“From a medical science standpoint, there is no evidence yet that one necessarily leads to the other,” Bettman told reporters in Chicago. “I know there are a lot of theories, but if you ask people who study it, they tell you there is no statistical correlation that can definitively make that conclusion.”
That statement is a load of malarkey. I’d give him a bit of wriggle room, excuse him if he wanted to correct what he said on the grounds that he was speaking extemporaneously, and was unprepared to deal with specifics, but this is classic Gary Bettman, who instead of a ‘no comment’ will go out of his way to lecture and belittle his interviewers.

Here are two whopping untruths or errors, take your pick.

1) There is plenty of evidence, good evidence, strong evidence, scientific evidence that “one necessarily leads to another”.

If Mr. Bettman wanted to say, meant to say ‘proof’, to whatever standard he’d want to cling to, then he could go through that dance. But in terms of whether evidence exists, necessarily or not, there’s tonnes of it.

2) About the “statistical correlation”, that also exists. Athletes who engage in sports where they’re subjected to repetitive head trauma suffer from CTE in a much higher proportion than the general population. Again, if Gary Bettman meant to say ‘causation’, then he could try to squirm out that way, but it’s not unlike him to use bigger longer words to bafflegab and prove to everyone how much smarter he is than everyone else.

Let's hope that the Commissioner has had time to bone up on this subject and has his facts straight.  And/or unforks his tongue.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The future of the Winter Classic and outdoor hockey games.

Call me crazy…

(waits self-consciously for the clamour to die down)

… but the future of these events would be to hold them not at stadiums, but on actual bodies of water, on frozen surfaces where in the past people played hockey.

A natural location would be on the Rideau canal, in Ottawa. Have the Canadiens and Sens play it out on the ice, and put fans on the banks, watching from afar.

And that would be the key. Don’t just see these as occasions to squeeze in as many fans as possible in a stadium to charge them exorbitant ticket prices, don’t treat the outdoor games solely as a cash cow, but rather as an investment in the sport, as a real ‘event’, memorable ones that fans will refer to decades from now.

And this will really get some people riled up, but let’s have these games played like real shinny, with no boards, which just obstruct sight lines anyways.

(pauses some more as the furore grows, dodges some projectiled fruit)

Play the game on a nice large sheet, with some cones or lines painted on, and with the usual method if the puck goes out of bounds. Whoever shoots it out the side loses the puck, the other team brings in back in, with no one allowed to ‘crowd’ them outside the line. And whoever shoots and misses the net, whenever the puck goes past the where the end boards normally would be, the defending team brings it back in. No friggin’ faceoffs.

And hell yeah, do away with offsides during that game, let’s open ‘er up, get some passing going. Without boards, there’d be no bank passes, no clearings, just tape-to-tape passes or you probably lose the puck.

Do another outdoor game between the Canucks and Oilers or Flames in Kelowna or Prince George.  Have a home-and-home between the Oilers and Flames in Banff and Jasper.

I’ve looked at Beaver Lake on Mount-Royal on Google Maps and don’t think you could fit a regulation NHL ice-sheet on there, but again, who cares, just put a surface on there, and play a game between the Leafs and Habs, make it four-on-four if we have to. Have spectators shuttled up from downtown, maybe put in a chairlift-gondola system, and have them ring the outside of the lake with their wineskins and thermoses and cameras and binoculars and bullhorns and signs. And don’t even charge them admission, have this be a festival of hockey, a return to…

(Is escorted out of the meeting hall under a harried police escort as he is excoriated and excommunicated)

Canucks, Canadiens trying to win and build at the same time.

Speaking of trying to build a winner while trading away draft picks, Matt Larkin wrote a scorching article on the Canucks and the sinuous direction they're taking.

The Canucks are like the Canadiens in a lot of respects, with a demanding fan base, lots of media attention and no other teams to really take away the spotlight, and the belief that they can't take a season or three off like the Sabres or Oilers did to dwell at the bottom of the standings and rack up some blue-chip prospects.

Jim Benning inherited a bunch of veteran players who gave up a hometown discount to stay in Vancouver and play for a winner, and received a No Trade Clause in return.  Now he has to sort through the pile.  He's traded away Jason Garrison, Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa, but these were the attractive pieces, and because of their NTC's he could only cash them in at a reduced value.

Now he has the indigestible Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins contracts among others to deal with, and it may be hard to trade them for anything at all, same as Zack Kassian, who apparently couldn't fetch a 7th-rounder from anyone at the trade deadline last season.  And the new deals he gave Luca Sbisa and Derek Dorsett have raised eyebrows.

The elephant in the room is the three years remaining on the Sedin brothers contract.  Not that they're not living up to the deals, last season they were among the league leaders in scoring and most often the best players on the ice, but since they're on the team, you can't tear down and rebuild as the Leafs are currently doing.  Their presence on the team forces Jim Benning in a 'one foot on the dock, one foot in the boat' position, needing to ice a competitive team while trying to rebuild.

Marc Bergevin is in a situation that is in some ways similar, in that with Carey Price, Max Pacioretty and PK hitting their prime, and the team flying high in the standings, he has had to surrender second-round picks and prospects to get help for his roster at the trade deadline the last two seasons, which goes against his instincts to amass these assets.

Hopefully, we can soon be in a position where we can trade older prospects and players for younger ones and picks.  Alex Semin might be a prime candidate if he can be flipped at the deadline this season for a second-rounder or so to a team looking to upgrade their offence, and if we have AHL kids and callups who show they can shoulder the load.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The revival of les Nordiques would be good for hockey in Québec and the Canadiens.

About the potential revival of the Nordiques, one of the effects might be that it increases interest in hockey in the Province of Québec. Although that may seem unthinkable with the media saturation coverage of the Canadiens and the NHL to a lesser extent on RDS, TVA Sports, TSN 690, The Gazette, La Presse and Le Journal de Montréal to name just the heavy hitters, there might now exist a lassitude, a significant number of fans who could be engaged further.

I used to be a baseball fan until the fishtail end of the Expos. Now I make it a point of pride to ignore baseball news and coverage, I fast-forward over that when I watch SportsCentre. Similarly, there may be a number of disaffected Nordiques fans who’ll ‘rejoin’ the NHL with a return to action of their team. Local families who may think of the Canadiens as a team from ‘away’ might now jump in with a team in their backyard that represents them.

Also, the rivalry bordering on hostility may be a stimulus for more eyeballs, more hearts and minds. Similar to elections with no great stakes in the balance that see a low voter turnout, compared to those where fundamental issues are in question, and every voter feels more affected.

I used to discount talking heads who’d pronounce about Bobby Orr or Jean Béliveau that he was “one of a kind” and “we won’t see anyone like him again.” To me, as a kid, that seemed silly, there was always a new crop of greats to replace the older ones, one look at the record books proved that. Sure, there was no Bobby Orr that succeeded Bobby Orr, exactly, but there was Brad Park, our Larry Robinson, Denis Potvin, Paul Coffey. There was no other Jean Béliveau, but Gilbert Perreault was mighty good, and that kid Mario Lemieux might be just as good.

Same in every sport, sure Jim Brown, I never saw him play, but I could see his stats, but then O.J. Simpson came, and Hershel Walker would break all their records, and/or that kid Marcus Dupree, and then shortly after Emmitt Smith and/or Carlos Snow would obliterate those.

Now I understand more what they meant when they said that, there isn’t an inexhaustible supply of Wayne Gretzkys coming down the pipe, you enjoy them when you can.

And if we want to see more Gilbert Perreaults and Mario Lemieux and Pierre Turgeons and Vincent Lecavaliers, it has to come from a thriving minor hockey system, which by all reports of declining enrollment and parental suspicions about the risks and benefits of the game, we don’t have right now.

I wager that the return of the Nordiques would play a significant role in engaging families and youngsters in the game of hockey, and not only as spectators but participants, in minor hockey and rec league play. And that will be better for the game of hockey, and better for the Canadiens too.

And speaking of French-speaking coaches and stocking the pond, the Norfolk Admirals have promoted Éric Veilleux to the head coach position. Here’s a guy who won a Memorial Cup with les Cataractes and made the Finals of la Coupe du Président twice more with the Drakkar. He never missed the playoffs while coaching in the LHJMQ.

Alexander Semin, at $1.1M, transforms from a 'negative value player' to an asset.

Sean McIndoe wrote an article earlier this year that started with this line:

In the NHL’s salary cap era, a good player with a bad contract is not a good player.

It’s almost as if the article applied directly to Alex Semin. In fact, he is listed as one of the ‘negative value’ players, like Vincent Lecavalier or Mike Richards or Alex Semin, that you’re either stuck with or have to buy out, since no other team would even take him off your hands off waivers.

When he was allowed to walk by Capitals management eager to find the right coaching-star player-effort-talent mix, Alex Semin signed on with Carolina for 1 year at $7M, which most experts and all fans agreed was the way to go. A short-term contract would be an effective carrot, to ensure his focus didn’t waver too much, a flaw that affects Alex reportedly.

But when Jim Rutherford signed him for five more years at the same cap hit, we all winced, and knew it wouldn’t turn out well. It’s the same reaction we had to the Ryan Kesler contract the Anaheim Ducks just gave him, although not for lack of intensity and consistency, but rather because of his high-impact style and injury history which makes it doubtful he can ever play at the same level for its lengthy, uh, length.

Too long. No chance he can make that contract worthwhile. Some have already speculated that Bob Murray is planning on a lockout and accompanying amnesty buyouts near the end of the contract, or that he’s factored in that Las Vegas or Phoenix should be ready for a Chris Pronger LTIR salary-cap/floor-type trade by then.

Apparently Jim Rutherford had no such contingencies, to Peter Karmanos’ chagrin based on his recent tirade, and it was up to Ron Francis to clean up the mess

But now Alex Semin is playing for a pittance, a salary capmosquitobite rather than a caphit. He’ll be chastened, he’ll be motivated, he’ll maybe approach the level of play he did when he amassed 44 points in 44 games after Gary Bettman’s Third Lockout.

He now definitely has value, positive value, with this contract.  He's an asset.

Alexander Semin signs bargain one-year contract with the Canadiens.

When pundits floated the idea of adding Unrestricted Free Agent Alexander Semin, recently bought out of his long-term deal by the Carolina Hurricanes, I was strongly dismissive, for many reasons.

Marc Bergevin and the whole organization on down favour character as one of the traits that's essential for a player to possess to be a part of the Montréal Canadiens.  Guys like Josh Gorges, Brendan Gallagher, Dale Weise, they're not necessarily the most skilled players, but they all have a lunch-pail work ethic and team-first approach that made them valuable members of the group, and provided it with an atmosphere that newcomers rave about, how 'tight' the dressing room is.

Alex Semin isn't that type of player, on first blush.  I don't like the way he floated himself off two teams now, being supremely talented but inconsistent, with allusions to a lack of effort and moodiness.

I also thought that his contract was too onerous, didn't want to part with assets in a trade to take him on.  Even once he was UFA, I assumed a Daniel Brière-type deal would be necessary, a two or three year deal at 3 or 4 million or more, and I didn't, wouldn't want to risk that.  The idea that we could get him for less, even as July marched on and he and Cody Franson and Christian Ehrhoff withered on the vine, was far-fetched to me.  He'd sign with a flush KHL franchise that would be glad to have him instead of playing for a pittance, right?

Wrong.  Here he is, freshly-signed, come to save the day, rescue the Canadiens pass-first good-guys and the popgun offence with his laserbeamcannon of a shot, all at the bargain price of $1.1M.  Word is he'll provide his own sticks too, accept his per diem in Cage Aux Sports 50%-off vouchers, and will as a signing bonus detail Marc Bergevin's Escalade.

The salary cap being the all-important consideration it is when analyzing player transactions, there is virtually no downside to this deal.  If he produces as he should, he'll vastly outplay his contract.  If he underperforms and is a headache, he can be buried in the minors and count for little more than a hundred grand (pro-rated) for the season.  If he plays decently, there's also the outside chance of flipping him at the deadline for picks/prospects/players, if we think we can do without him entering the playoffs.  Options.  The anti-Gomez.

If he wants to earn another long-term deal, and remain in North America as he states he prefers to do rather than play in the KHL, he'll need to have a solid season.  He's in a contract year, always a great stimulus for mercurial players.  Advantage, us.

And with Nikita Scherbak and Mike McCarron and Sven Andrighetto and others pushing up from the rear, it gives Marc Bergevin a bit of cushion, some insurance, cause for restraint, if ever he enters into those same long-term contract negotiations with Alex and his agent Mark Gandler.  He won't exactly have us over a barrel.  Berge won't fall in the same trap Jim Rutherford did, when the latter gave Alex an overly-generous deal after a 'prove-it' one-year contract.

On the ice, this should instantly upgrade the offence, not only in terms of, let's say, the 20-25 goals he'll provide, but also how opposing teams will have more threats to cover, so he should provide Max Pacioretty for one with a little more breathing room.

Our 'You take it no you take it no YOU take it well I'd love to blast it from here but this guy's right on top of me like a timeshare mortgage so you take it I'd love to but what am I supposed to do with it all the way out on the wall over here?' powerplay should also radically improve.  We've bemoaned the lack of a threat like a Mike Cammalleri or Alex Kovalev, a guy who can pick a corner and cash in a pass; well now we've got one.

Being the sunny enthusiast and team supporter that I am, I've done a complete 540° on the pros and cons of acquiring him now, and see that what I thought was clouds is mostly silver lining.

His poor production last season is possibly attributable to his wrist injury that made him undergo surgery last offseason.  The Hurricanes knew he was recovering and were patient at first, but both sides got frustrated after a while.  Maybe fully recovered, in a new environment, with added incentive, he returns to form.

I also think of Paul Maurice and his statement, when asked on TSN what he'd learned in his year coaching in the KHL, that what he'd never take for granted again is how difficult the transition must be for Russian players in North America.  Being plunged himself in a Russian-speaking world, even with the benefit of a translator, and feeling a bit disconnected and at odds with his environment, he said he can now better put himself in the shoes of a teenager or young man trying to play NHL hockey in a new city/country with that stumbling block in their way.

Of course, some adapt quicker than others.  We were all wowed at how engaging and voluble Sergei Gonchar was last season, certainly in comparison to Andrei Markov for example.  Andrei and Alexei Emelin seem to suffer from the cultural barrier to some extent, certainly when it comes to dealing with the media, while still functioning well as members of the team.

Maybe that small outpost of Russian players in Montréal, Andrei and Alexei Emelin with an assist from Chucky, and Nikita in the system, can serve to make Alex Semin feel more comfortable with the team than he did last year in Raleigh, with maybe only Anton Khudobin from Kazakhstan to bro down with.  It's worthwhile to note that Alexander didn't play CHL hockey, but rather spent three of four season in Russia after being drafted.

We'll now spend the rest of the summer wondering where he'll play, and with who.  Alexander is a right shot who grew up playing on left wing, and reportedly prefers that side.  Yet the Hurricanes had him listed as a RW.  Michel Therrien and most defensively-minded NHL coaches prefer to play forwards on their strong side, rather than the other.  Even Adam Oates put rightie Alex Ovechkin on the right wing rather than his preferred, habitual left wing.

If we go with Alex Semin on the right wing, we've now plugged that hole on right wing that was created by the departure of Brian Gionta and Daniel Brière/P.A. Parenteau.  We're now, dare I say it, stacked on RW, with Brendan Gallagher, Alex Semin, Zack Kassian, Devante Smith-Pelly and Dale Weise.

Five bona fide NHL'ers who normally play regular shifts, that wouldn't seem to work.  I can't see any of them sitting out games, one of them would have to flip over to the other side.  Or a trade might be in the offing.

Especially early in the season with Max Pacioretty missing in action due to his knee injury, I'd wager we'll see Alex Semin on the left wing, where he's comfortable, ready to unleash one-timers.  When Max returns, that will really solidify the left side, and might allow Alex Galchenyuk a better opportunity to play at centre, since he might not be required to play LW on the Top 6.

After that, based on who's hot and who's not, and chemistry concerns, we might see the lines being juggled and players switching sides and callups, but it will be easier, with that added shot of talent and offensive productivity in the Top 6, to come up with the right recipe(s).

Chapeau, Monsieur Bergevin.

Messieurs Therrien et Lacroix, au travail.

Zack Kassian rising in Canadiens fans collective esteem.

Here's a video interview of Zack Kassian from the Habs site.

I’ve slowly warmed up to this trade, although admittedly I’m an easy sell. I was sour at the outset at the loss of veteranship and chemistry and effort from Brandon Prust, but I do see the greater potential of Zack Kassian, especially the type of skills he brings.

This isn’t a Christian Thomas for Danny Kristo trade, ‘quatre trente sous pour une piasse’, this is a topnotch light-heavyweight enforcer for a heavyweight with hockey skills who can tally goals, and who fills a need on the Top 6 RW side. Add in the smaller cap hit, his upcoming RFA status compared to Brandon’s UFA, and the throwed-in 5th-rounder we got, which is gold in Trevor Timmins hands, and this may be an inspired swap.

I remember how over the last couple of years, when someone would float a Zack Kassian trade, I’d derisively shoot it down, explaining that the ‘Nucks would want a similar type of prospect/young player in return, a Mike McCarron or Jarred Tinordi, to replace that kind of talent and size profile, which they are also short of, as they measure up to the Ducks and Kings. I wanted the player, but I didn’t want to give up that much. Now we have him, and didn’t.

Sure, Zack’s trade-value has fallen even further since then, I know that the Canucks were at their wits’ end with Zack, couldn’t even fire-sale him for a seventh-rounder at the deadline last season, but he is young, can benefit from a change of scenery. He certainly seems to have the right attitude and vowed to work his hardest this summer to have a career year. Based on the video he is trim and fit, he’s less jowly than he’s been at times with the Canucks, and passes Paul Maurice’s now-famous ‘shirt off test’.

If Michel Therrien can do the same job with him as he did with Dale Weise, giving him clear direction and then letting him play, we might have something on our hands here.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Alexander Dergachev and the Canadiens' quest for a big #1 centre.

Alexander Dergachev (or, as it seems he'll be called in North America from now on, Dergachyov), was a player that there didn't exist solid consensus on leading up to the NHL Draft last month.

On the one hand, he's got the combination of skills and attributes that so many teams look for, that screams Top 6 centre.  He measured in at 6'4" and 200 lbs at the Combine, and apparently has the hands and the vision that scouts look for.

I saw some discussion on social media that he might be slow, that his skating was the big knock on him, but Ben Kerr had his skating as "very good, especially for his size", and had him ranked as the 51st-best prospect this year.

About the only real negative might have been that the Russian Factor would affect him, he wasn't one of those Russian players who 'proved' he wanted to be an NHL'er by coming to play in the CHL, like Ivan Provorov or Evgeni Svechnikov, but rather signed a three-year deal to play in the KHL with St. Petersburg, two of which still remained on his contract.

As a consequence, he 'fell' to the third round, while some thought he might sneak into the first round, or be snapped up in the second as a gamble on a player with high upside.  The Kings got him at 73rd overall, to pad their Kopitar Index I guess.  And then, you'd think they'd hunker down and wait for that KHL deal to expire, and see what comes next.

Except that he got drafted by the Cataractes de Shawinigan, and it seems that it's a done deal that he's coming to play for them this fall.  In this article from La Presse, it's described how Mr. Dergachyov latched on to Russian-speaker Dennis Yan, another Cataracte, at the NHL Draft Combine and the Draft itself.

So the kid lands in a great situation, with one of the strongest organizations in the Q, and with a veteran to show him the way and translate a little bit for him, smooth over the initial bumps.  Paul Maurice, who spoke eloquently on his newfound respect for the challenges a Russian player faces when coming over to North America, having spent a year coaching in the KHL himself, would approve.

The Cataractes' GM Martin Mondou says the Kings are fully behind the idea of having their prospect play in the LHJMQ with them.  No kidding.  The rich get richer.

And the Cataractes will have him to feature in their offence among their forwards, along with Dennis Yan and Anthony Beauvillier.  Last season, TVA Sports showed a lot of Cataractes games, possibly because their geographic proximity to Montréal simplified logistics, and also because they were the featured team in the Classique Hivernale in Saint-Tite.  Expect a lot more of these this season, the Cataractes should be a high-powered, exciting team to watch.

And this kind of fits in with the discussion about draft picks that we're having, about whether you need to draft in the Top 3 to amass a team of players who can win a Stanley Cup.  That's obviously the shortcut, the quickest way to the prize, having a high-pick Jonathan Toews or a Vincent Lecavalier, that big stud #1 centre to go with a few other elite pieces.

There are a few ways to get around the need to crash and burn at the bottom of the standings, maybe you luck into a Tyler Séguin like the Bruins did, although nowadays you usually hear that a first-round pick obtained in trade will be lottery-protected.  GM's have learned the lesson provided by Brian Burke's bluster.  So to fall bass-ackwards into a Tyler Séguin or Guy Lafleur by way of trade is a remote possibility.

Another way might be to take a chance on a high-risk player, a Daniel Sprong or Josh Ho-Sang or an ungettable Russian, a player with lots of talent and high ceiling who is blemished in other ways that diminish his draft stock.

The Blackhawks used that same method when they picked up Brandon Saad, a player who fell to them in the second round for various reasons.  They looked past the warts and staked their claim to a highly talented big forward and it paid off in short order.  The story doesn't quite have the happy ending Chicago fans might like, but Stan Bowman managed to transmute his value into Artem Anisimov plus, which isn't bad at all.

And this is where the Canadiens, despite Marc Bergevin's best intentions, might be falling short a little bit.  After a couple of drafts in 2012 and 2013 with extra picks in the second round, we've been lacking those picks since then, due to deadline trades, on top of picking low in the order, due to our good regular season finishes.

This year, there were a lot of talented prospects left over late in the first or early in the second.  With multiple picks, we could have had a shot at some of these risky picks who can pay off huge, but after picking Noah Juulsen, we had to wait until the 87th pick to choose again.  Bye bye Anthony Beauvillier and Daniel Sprong and Dennis Yan and Oliver Kylington and Julius Naatinen and Jansen Harkins and Gabriel Gagné.

This is not a knock on Marc Bergevin, it's more of a constatation that his situation, helming a team poised to make a run in the playoffs at the trade deadline kind of ties his hands, he can't unload a Michael Ryder or a Brian Gionta for picks onto a needy team.  He has to keep them on his own roster, and let them walk as UFA's the subsequent summer.

It's not his disposition that's a problem, his inclination.  He wants draft picks, more of them.  He wheedles out fifth-rounders from trade partners when acquiring the likes of Zack Kassian and P.A. Parenteau.  He understands the value of giving Trevor Timmins more shots at the dart board.

And this brings me back to the Tomas Plekanec situation.  He's entering the final year of his contract, can go UFA next summer.  He commands a significant chunk of our cap, but doesn't do anything that's truly irreplaceable.  We could cobble together a committee, with Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller and David Desharnais that would pretty much provide what he does.  The penalty killing and the checking against other #1 centres, Lars can do more of that, and Alex and David can tend to the offence and the powerplay, hash it out between themselves.

I'm not saying that Tomas is disposable, that he's not valuable, but he is replaceable.  And we can't be accused of not 'giving him a chance', he's had a decade to show that he's a playoff performer who can lead the team.  It just hasn't transpired in this environment.  Maybe playing behind a Joe Thornton or a John Tavares might be the right circumstance, but we don't have the mix for him, evidently.

So when it comes to Tomas specifically, and to players whose deals are coming due generally, I want to cash these guys in.  Especially when we have a plethora of young forwards in the system now knocking at the door, and when so many cheap UFA's are begging for a job.  Especially when you consider the cap situation of the Canadiens, with many big-ticket items like Carey and P.K. and Andrei and Jeff Petry and Max, and more to come.  Tomas can't hog $5M or more of our cap space in the next few seasons.

If we aren't going to tank a season or three like the Sabres did, or take advantage of a cocksure Brian Burke, we have to amass second and third-rounders, knowing full well that most of those won't pan out, they'll collberg on us, but that one or two will subban.

The path couldn't be more clear.  We need to convert Tom Gilbert and Tomas into picks and prospects, and we have to convert some of the right-handed defencemen in our system, the longshots, into scoring forward longshots.  If we're not going to go scorched-earth like the Leafs are doing now.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Noah Juulsen signs a contract, considers his Habs jersey number, prepares for WJC Team Canada evaluation camp.

Noah Juulsen, not too up-to-speed on the Canadiens' history, being an Abbottsford lad and Canuck-Kevin Bieksa fan, did some research apparently, trying to figure out which number he could eventually wear.  This article from La Presse's Marc-Antoine Godin says that he's worn #16 in the past, but checking upon its availability, stumbled upon "un certain Henri Richard."

Tough luck kid.  For #3 also, by the way.  Although I always have to think real hard about this one.  "What, #3 isn't available also?  John Van Boxmeer got his jersey retired?  Brian Engblom?"

An interesting point is that he's one of three defencemen from this draft year who got invited to the WJC Team Canada evaluation camp in August, along with Mitch Vande Sompel who played with Mike McCarron in Oshawa and won the Memorial Cup, and Jérémy Roy.

This will be an interesting comparative if these two have a long career.  It may be a Mike Bossy-Mark Napier situation, the Canadiens preferring a player relatively unknown to its fans to the obvious local kid.  Or, if we're lucky, Noah will be Ryan McDonagh/Max Pacioretty over Angelo Esposito/David Perron.

But the dynamic will exist, these two players will be linked in the eyes of many fans and draft-watchers.  The Canadiens could have had either at #26, chose Nikita Scherbak's teammate rather than Daniel Audette's teammate, and the Sharks were only too happy to trade up to #31 to pick up Jérémy Roy as the first player chosen in the second round.

So this summer will be the first marker in what could be a long race between these two.  Who will be the one to catch the eyes of the coach and management staff at the evaluation camp?  Will we start snapping our suspenders, or flaming Trevmarc Bergetimmins on HIO so soon after the June draft?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Canadiens were in a great position to get to know both defencemen prospects, with comparatively greater access and familiarity to the Silvertips and Phénix players and coaching staff, and more 'viewing' opportunities.  I have to trust that they made the best decision they could, and it wasn't based on faulty or incomplete information.  They had a book on both guys.

Maybe it'll turn out that they chose the wrong player, five years down the road, but not for lack of information or due diligence, like the Terry Ryan pick.  This isn't an Erik Nystrom or Lukas Vejdemo pick, based on limited but positive info.  They looked under every rock for both these kids, got to ask Donald Audette about Jérémy Roy's study and off-ice habits, got to ask Kevin Constantine about what Noah Juulsen's family is like, etc.

So yeah, I trust that we made the right decision, but you can be sure I'll verify.

I remember a WKRP episode where Les Nesman was finishing up his news segment with the happy announcement from the British Royal Family that Prince Charles and Princess Diana were expecting their first child, relatively soon after the fairy-tale royal wedding.  Mr. Nesman closed off by saying, with pauses for extra significance, "We'll be watching the dates very closely..."

I too, will be watching the dates very closely, starting with the August evaluation camp.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Canadiens have openings in the Top 6, forward corps.

The way I see it, since we have to replace Brandon Prust as the left winger on the fourth line, Michaël Bournival has the inside track on that position.

We then have to replace P.A. Parenteau on the right side in the Top 6.  Let's assume that Brendan Gallagher has one of those RW spots sewn up.  Zack Kassian and Devante Smith-Pelly will battle for a Top 6 RW spot, and failing that will land in the Top 9.

I think Sven Andrighetto and Christian Thomas, by virtue of their longer AHL apprenticeship, have the inside track to battle for a Top 6 or Top 9 RW spot.  Sven has more promise, has produced more, and feels comfortable playing the right side even though he's a leftie.  Christian Thomas is a natural rightie who was injured with an abdominal problem two seasons ago, but underwhelmed last season as well.

As talented as they are, we have to keep our exuberance in check regarding Mike McCarron and Nikita Scherbak.  They're still very raw.  Especially looking at Nikita, while he has natural size, he's still not mature physically, if only judging by the Prospect Camp videos, he needs to develop further.  They're in the AHL next season, with a callup or two maybe.

Assuming that Alex Galchenyuk starts the season at left wing, based on the lack of transactions so far in Tomas Plekanec's, David Desharnais' and/or Lars Eller's case, let's assume we need a Top 6 winger on the left, and two in the Top 9 early on while Max rehabs.

Again Sven Andrighetto has a really good chance, he's a natural leftie, and conservative NHL coaches, of which Michel Therrien is one, hesitate to play wingers on their off-wing unless he's a special case like leftie Erik Cole on RW, of leftie Alexander Ovechkin on RW (although Adam Oates wasn't crazy about that either, he put Ovie back on LW).  Note that René Bourque played on LW despite having success on RW in Calgary, and Jiri Sekac wasn't given an opportunity on RW, as fans clamoured he should.

Charles Hudon also set himself up for one of those LW spots, he's a leftie also, and made a great impression last season in the AHL, and again at the Development Camp, he was the guy who was kind of above that level, like Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn have been, and Sebastian Collberg too in the recent past, the guy who's too good and maybe shouldn't be on the ice with those other guys.

So, I'm not crazy about making these line combos usually, but just to envision what it could look like, and to hazard a wager as to who lands where based on their development curve, here's what I see while Max is injured:

Galchenyuk-Plekanec-Gallagher
Andrighetto-Desharnais-Kassian
Hudon-Eller-Smith Pelly
Bournival-Mitchell-Weise

Once Max is healthy again, we'd see:

Galchenyuk-Plekanec-Gallagher
Pacioretty-Desharnais-Kassian
Andrighetto-Eller-Smith Pelly
Bournival-Mitchell-Weise

Notes (lots of qualifiers and loopholes to allow me to backtrack and worm my way out of things):

1)  Pre-Max situation has five smallish forwards (Tomas, David, Sven, Charles, Gally), post-Max it's four.  Do we run with that, since this is the dawning of the age of the NextTylerJohnson, or do we need MOAR size?  Does Marc Bergevin feel comfortable, or does he adjust this with trades or promotions from within (Mike McCarron).

2)  Christian Thomas has to go through waivers to go to the AHL, but Sven and Charles are waiver-exempt.  Do the Canadiens try to wring out all the juice out of the Son of Steve before jumping off and saddling up another horse, Pony Express-style?  I think Christian would need a heck of a training camp to beat out his more productive teammates, but everything being equal, the brain trust may decide to manage assets conservatively, and not expose him to waivers, give him a shot, and let the others mature some more in the AHL.

3)  Not that these are suggested line combos, more of a 'general who lands where on the roster', but I like idea of giving Zack Kassian a real shot in the Top 6, and playing with a good passer.  David might replicate his success the year he got to dish off to Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty, with the former having a career year and the latter getting his breakout year.

I've compared David to a scrappy smart but undersized scrum half in the past, useful but not optimal.  Yet if you have him in your lineup, and can surround him with the right players who can take advantage of his passes and mask his deficiencies, you maximize the asset and the team's potential.  So give him a fly half and centers and a crew of loose forwards who'll be ready for the ball and run it with authority, instead of pausing and trying to create with it.  Let's give David two big wingers who can cash in the puck.

4)  Again, not recommended line combos exactly, but Tomas with the kids on the one hand has the benefit of experience, they've played together a lot, but they've not necessarily shown great chemistry.  Not a lot of size on that line either.

5)  I can see a lot of movement on the right wing, whoever is clicking gets to move up, whoever isn't producing gets to move down.  That may seem like a truism, but I think this is so to a greater degree than on the left side.

If Max had a ten or twelve or twenty-game drought, you wouldn't necessarily bump him down the lineup, to the Bottom 6.  By virtue of his past performance, you'd give him every chance to fight his way out of the slump, with good linemates to help out.

None of the guys on the right side has that luxury.  Two or three games is all they'd need to be shuffled.  And AHL guys might be called up in case of really bad cold streaks.  And Sven moving over to the right as another risk.  These guys would need to be on their toes to keep their roster standing.

6)  Jacob de la Rose?  It's probably wishful thinking on my part, but I'd like him in the AHL, at least to start the season, for like fourty games.  I know Michel Therrien has a soft spot for the big guy, and looking at this suggested forward corps he might not like the lack of size, but I think he needs to be put in a position of leadership, in the Top 6, in a lower level to progress.  I don't want to accept that what we saw last season, a big guy who forechecks and backchecks and that's about it, is all we're going to get out of a high second-round draft pick.