Thursday, 13 August 2015

The best players to ever wear every jersey number in the NHL.

A couple years back Pro Football Reference compiled a list of the best players to ever wear every jersey number, based on an objective measure they cooked up, the Approximate Value.

It yields an interesting and highly debatable list.  I like the fact that these lists often skew young, ignoring older stars in favour of some we've actually seen play.  Their AV compares players from the 1950 season on, which we can peg as the start of the modern era in the NFL.

TSN has tried the same exercise with this list/graphic.  One of the things which jumps out at a reader is how beyond the number 30, and especially once you wade into the 40's and 50's, it becomes an arbitrary list, with some truly marginal players making it on the basis of very few players ever having worn that particular number.

Again, this list skews toward the younger players, those from the seventies and beyond, and probably ignores some Hall of Famers from the Original Six era.

Here are some of my observations on some of the arguable choices:

#9: Gordie Howe. Yeah, but no.

#12: Jarome Iginla over Yvan Cournoyer? Come on…  Then I dive deeper, and find that Jarome has amassed 589 goals so far in his career.  I give, I give.  I knew Jarome was great, but didn't realize how great.

#16: Brett Hull over Henri Richard I can be talked into, I guess… Um, maybe not.  Captain of the Canadiens and winner of 16 Stanley Cups trumps an 86-goal season and 741-goal career.  Doesn't it?

#19: Steve Yzerman wasn’t bad at all, but that’s Larry’s number.

#28: Steve Larmer over Pierre Larouche? Lucky Pete scored way more, on and off the ice.

#32 is an absolute crying shame. I’d give it to Travis Moen over that guy.

#44: Glad he got it, but I’m surprised Stéphane Richer got this one, I thought there would be a newer player who wore this and had success, it’s kind of a glitzy sexy number.

#45: Aaron Asham. I guess at these higher numbers we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, beyond the obvious 66, 77, 88, and 99.

#59: Clutching at straws. Roman Josi’s been in the league three years.

#67: A few more seasons and maybe Max makes this a famous number.

#75, 76, 79: Good that those numbers are represented by the titans of defence for the Canadiens, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban and Hal Gill.

#98: Brian Lawton, the ‘Can’t Miss Kid’ as christened by Sports Illustrated. He was drafted 1st overall, chose his jersey number. SI commented: “Nice touch, kid.” A few years later, when things weren’t going his way, he quietly changed to a nondescript 25 or something like that. Maybe Lou Lamoriello has a point when he forbids vanity numbers, why add pressure on yourself when you’re starting in the league.

The Canadiens roster and lineup for 2015-16

All right, let's take a look at what the Canadiens roster will/could be this season, as the team heads into camp, with the current players under contract available to build a lineup.  I've been itching to do this since the season ended, and then do the same for the St. John's IceCaps, but on post-free agency 'frenzy' day, when Marc Bergevin defiantly told the press corps asking if he was happy with his team as constituted, that it was "only July 2", and threw in an impish smile, I held off.  He's unpredictable as a GM, but here at least he hinted that there might be more cooking in the kitchen.  And there was, with the announcement a month later that Alex Semin would join the team.

The players who are being allowed to walk away are no surprise.  Sergei Gonchar might have been retained in a different situation, if he'd signed a low-cost deal, he still has veteran wiles and some utility, but the Canadiens have a bounty of options on defence.  Having Sergei taking minutes away from the three young d-men who'll now require waivers to be sent down to the AHL isn't wise, or even necessary.  Manny Malhotra, Bryan Allen, Mike Weaver, they'd served their purpose as patch jobs which were no longer needed.

Buying out P.A. Parenteau wasn't ideal, but it's not a catastrophe either, the cap hit can be absorbed relatively easily.  Since we couldn't gin up a reason to terminate his contract like the Kings did with Mike Richards, and/or bring Emperor Bettman on board with this three-card monte, we didn't have any choice but to play by the rules.  Unlike the Kings.

One of the issues we had last season, the lack of pure goalscoring ability, has been allayed with the addition of Alex Semin and Zack Kassian.  Alex's bona fides need not be argued, if he's in the right frame of mind and right situation, he can snipe, I'm penciling him in for 20-25 goals, accounting for the preferred icetime and linemates he'll receive, and the drive he'll have to rinse away the bad taste of the end of his Hurricanes tenure and to sign another bigger deal.

Zack Kassian is a surprisingly talented large forward, but the reason we were able to acquire him at all, let alone at such a bargain cost, should be its own note of caution.  He's mercurial, and may not conform to the image that hockey people and fans believe he should project on the ice.  He can use his great size to throw thunderous checks and engage in pugilistic pursuits, but this is not a consistent feature of his game.  Expectations shouldn't be of a Milan Lucic-clone, he's more of a Benoit Pouliot-type with more edge, with lots of talent, but sometimes unfocused or downright unmotivated.  If he can play with the drive to earn his big UFA contract, he could be a pleasant surprise and a steal for the Canadiens, another fleecing of the Canucks.

The best news of the off-season was Marc Bergevin's ability to re-sign Jeff Petry, and solidifying the Top 4 for a couple of seasons at least.  He's what we hoped Tom Gilbert would be, the guy who skates with the puck with authority, clears the zone without any migraines for the coaches and fans, and has shown an affinity for jumping in on the rush and creating offence that way.

Another pleasant contract signing was Torrey Mitchell, who didn't quite wow us last season, but will replace Manny as the fourth-line centre.  He's a rightie who brings lots of experience and speed, and should mesh well with the team construct.  I'm excited that the team is generating good vibes and players now back up their words, their praise of the city and the New Forum with ink on new deals.

Brian Flynn, who also came from Buffalo at the trade deadline, was just more depth for the Bottom 6.  It'll be interesting to see how much he'll play, whether he becomes trade-bait during the season, but as a RFA who cost little to retain, it didn't make any sense to not do so.

The great big departure is Brandon Prust, exiled to Vancouver and away from Mariepier Morin in the deal for Zack Kassian.  While he was limited in talent and what he could bring to the team in terms of tangible production, the list of what he did bring, the intangibles, was lengthy.  He's the type of player who'll sacrifice and work hard and stand up for his teammates.  He'll be a role model for young players, a big brother on and off the ice.  He'll take on any comers, even when he's often outweighed and apparently outclassed, and never be outmatched.  He killed penalties, skated with abandon, assumed the mantle that was vacant when Marc Bergevin got the job, and became the self-professed "new sheriff in town".  His bickering and playfighting with the kids and P.K. was priceless.  He was the very definition of a great teammate.  He had embraced the fans and the special culture of Montréal, with his girlfriend's help to introduce him to that realm.  He will be missed.

With this preamble aside, let's look at what the lineup could be for Game 1.  Note that this isn't my best guess of what it will be, but my opinion of what it should be, with the current pieces.

Pacioretty-Desharnais-Kassian
Semin-Plekanec-Gallagher
Galchenyuk-Eller-Smith-Pelly
Bournival-Mitchell-Weise
(Flynn)

Markov-P.K.
Emelin-Petry
Beaulieu-Gilbert
(Tinordi-Pateryn)

Price
Tokarski

Assumptions:  Max will be ready for the start of the season, and we don't make any trades until then to clear out some opportunities for the youngsters.

If neither of these hold up, if Tomas Plekanec and Tom Gilbert were traded to unclog some of the rosters jams we're in and to allow more icetime for the youngsters, here's what I'd like to see.

Semin-Desharnais-Kassian
Andrighetto-Galchenyuk-Gallagher
Bournival-Eller-Smith-Pelly
Flynn-Mitchell-Weise
(Holloway-Thomas)

Markov-P.K.
Emelin-Petry
Beaulieu-(Pateryn/Tinordi)
(Pateryn/Tinordi)

Price
Tokarski

Notes:  1)  David Desharnais takes a lot of flak on social media, but he's shown in the past that with two strong wingers he can be very productive.  Mike Cammalleri and Thomas Vanek complained when they were taken off his line, and we know how close the relationship with Max is, on and off the ice.  If we have slot receiver who can in the right scheme amass catches and yards, you can bemoan that he's not the rangy speedy WR type in the Randy Moss mode.  Or you can put him in the right scheme and use him in the best way possible.

2)  If I had my druthers, we'd trade away Tomas because he's in the last year of his contract, he has good value in a putative trade, and we need to stir things up, the centres we have aren't the right mix, don't get the job done in the playoffs, even though they've taken a good number of kicks at the can.  This opens up an avenue for Chucky to play centre.

3)  Tom Gilbert is redundant.  We can clear off a bit of salary, get some return for the rightie, and free up some icetime for Nathan, Jarred and Greg Pateryn.

4)  Alex Semin is a rightie who prefers to play on his off-wing on the left side.  He's played both sides at various times in his career.  In Washington, he played some on the left, but was often put on the RW to allow him to play with Alex Ovechkin.  Since we have four strong RW'ers but are a little softer on the left side, especially if Max is out/Alex plays at centre, let's try him on the LW, at the start of the season at least.

5)  The last thing the brain trust will do is to lose the assets they've accumulated lately for little or no return, so waiver situations will play a large role in the decision making.  For Jarred Tinordi or Greg Pateryn or Michaël Bournival to not make the initial roster, I think it would take a disaster, or another youngster to have a Keith Acton or Kent Carlson-type of training camp, one that demands attention and unquestionably bumps one of the 'incumbents' down the depth chart.  Which I don't know is possible in the span of a month-long camp.

6)  The deviation from the above will be with players who are not likely at all to be claimed on waivers, guys like Christian Thomas, Gabriel Dumont and Morgan Ellis.  I believe they'll clear waivers and continue their career in the AHL in October.

7)  Special case #1:  Mark Barberio is eligible for waivers, but I don't think the Canadiens will risk one of the other young defenceman on waivers, so the new signee will draw the short straw by process of elimination.  I think he was signed as organizational depth on the blue line, and to provide veteranship and a leftie for the IceCaps.

8)  Special case #2:  George Holloway.  He's the International Man of Mystery, a player who can be dismissed by fans as a European league longshot, but there's more to the story.  It's not like he couldn't hack it in North America, but more of a case of an independent thinker who decided he preferred to continue his career in Europe rather than be stuck in the Kings' system, stuck in the AHL, waiting for an opportunity.  He has obvious talent, a seasoned pro, has offensive skill, so if any players are traded away off the current roster, he'll be kept from waivers and make the 23-man roster if he has a decent camp.

9)  Special case #3:  Jacob de la Rose spent the latter half of the season in Montréal, where he didn't embarrass himself, earned praise from Head Coach Michel Therrien, but didn't exactly wow anyone either.  I see the roster decision coming down to either him or Michaël Bournival.  Since Jacob doesn't require waivers to go to the farm team, and since he didn't show that he has nothing left to learn down there, that his offensive game compared to his defensive strengths, I see him being sent down to start the season at least in St. John's.  He can be a leader down there on the ice, on the Top 6, and polish up his game in the offensive end.  And we wouldn't risk losing Michaël.  Win-win.

10)  The addition of Zack Kassian and Alex Semin has reduced the need/hope that one of the prospects win a job out of camp, Sven Andrighetto or Charles Hudon or Daniel Carr or Nikita Scherbak or Mike McCarron.  If one of these guys does sneak his way onto the roster, I suspect Sven will earn the spot.  He has two years of AHL experience, has evidently spent a lot of time in the gym to build himself up and counter the fear that he may be too small, and has the ability to score goals, something we need.  Charles Hudon can continue his AHL journey, build on a great rookie year, and vie for a callup.  The crown jewels McCarron and Scherbak get their feet wet in the pro hockey pool in St. John's.

11)  I see a platoon or rotation on the bottom pairing on defence, with Nathan getting 70 games in, and Jarred and Greg each getting 40-50.  This hinges on Tom Gilbert getting traded away, and a lot of wishful thinking.  If not, the guys, specifically Jarred and Greg, will not waste their time practicing hard every day against NHL'ers and continuing their apprenticeship, necessarily, that way.  For one season at most.

12)  It's time for Alexei Emelin to finally, solidly assert himself in the Top 4.  He's had flashes of promise and growing pains, injuries, a lengthy recovery from ACL reconstruction surgery, ups and downs.  He has the opportunity, and the mission, to become that steady Top 4 guy who can play solidly on defence, dish out big hits and demand respect from opponents, kill penalties, and chip in some on offence as he's shown he can do.  If he doesn't take that step forward, he can see himself supplanted by Nathan Beaulieu or even an improved and confident Jarred Tinordi, in a flash.

13)  I'm not crazy about our backup goalie situation.  I kick myself thinking how the Canadiens could have retained Devan Dubnyk last year, or have snapped up Jacob Markstrom on waivers partway during camp.  Dustin Tokarski garnered a lot of support from the coaches, specifically from Stéphane Waite.  He needs to have a solid season, on his own right, and not just as compared to other backups or with allowances that he's not Carey Price.  The excuse that the team isn't playing with the same gusto that they do with Carey behind them is actually not an excuse for him but a condemnation.  He needs to play so as to inspire his teammates, and to not let in routine bad goals.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Noah Juulsen impresses at the Summer Showcase, while Jérémy Roy does not.

After the last NHL draft, I thought one of the themes when we look back on it as Canadiens fans might be the comparison between the career arcs of our first-round pick, Noah Juulsen, and another rightie defenceman from a local team, Jérémy Roy, who was passed up by the Canadiens and taken by the Sharks five slots later.
I think Trevor Timmins will have a great read on Jérémy Roy, since he plays on the same team in Sherbrooke as Daniel Audette, who's already on board as a draftee. Donald Audette, his father, is a scout for the Canadiens too, so lots of intel, lots of viewings, if there’s a player they can get right it’s him.
Noah Juulsen is in a situation that’s somewhat alike, in that he played on the Silvertips with Nikita Scherbak. 

This has happened often when the Canadiens pick a player and pass up a comparable player.  Think of Mark Napier over Mike Bossy.  Think of Terry Ryan over Jarome Iginla, although this comparison didn't begin immediately, very few of us knew Jarome or what he'd become at the time, it only developed later on.

This one is a natural, ready-made incipient controversy in the bud.  All that will need to happen is for Noah to struggle and Jérémy to have more success for us to have grist for the mill.  I posted that there will be markers along the way where we can measure each prospect/player.

The Summer Showcase is one such marker, and it's very early in the race, but Noah Juulsen is clearly in the lead.  While Jérémy Roy was practically invisible during the two games he played, Noah shined.  We shouldn't put too much stock in an off-season development camp and exhibition games, but the opportunity for comparison is apt, since both players dealt with identical situations and conditions.

Mr. Roy didn't catch the eye much, in one game I only realized he was playing in the second period.  Although that could be an unintentional bias introduced by the play-by-play team, he really didn't do anything to make us notice him, while Thomas Chabot, by comparison, was all over the ice.  In the second game against Russia, Jérémy coughed up the puck and made a bad giveaway, fell down while trying to cross over skating backwards, and that was pretty much his night.

Meanwhile, I thought Noah played quite well.  He skated strongly, all over the ice.  He could defend an onrushing forward, starting from a standstill and skating backwards, generating plenty of speed, instead of the common practice of turning around, skating forward for a while to generate speed, and then turning around to face the opponent.

He was lauded by Craig Button for 'closing the gap' in the neutral zone, and it was noticeable.  He dished out hits.  He was aggressive while defending, pinching up to break up a pass, to fight for a loose puck along the boards.  He played actively, like he wanted the puck, instead of wanting to prevent the opponent from doing something with it, more Andrei Markov than Hal Gill.

Offensively, there were a lot of positives.  He carried the puck with confidence and found his teammates with his passes.  When controlling it at the blue line, he'd feint and deke with authority.  Some players have one or two moves, they'll fake one way and go the other.  Noah has a couple more tricks in his bag, he'll feint and dodge and head-bob and stutter-step until the defender commits, takes the bait, and only then does he go the other way.

He walks the line with assurance, and found ways to get the puck through the shotblockers reliably.  None of his shots found the back of the net, but they forced the goalie to make a save, created the potential for a rebound or deflection.

All in all, a very encouraging turn for Noah Juulsen, and I'm anxious to see how he develops this winter in Everett.  To the point that I'm going to think about a road trip to see a couple of games there.  Certainly I'll see him when he plays in Vancouver against the Giants.

In 1984, there were two LHJMQ defencemen who were highly-touted at the draft, Jean-Jacques Daigneault and Sylvain Côté.  J.J. was the more skilled player offensively, but Sylvain was thought to be a better all-round defenceman, bigger and more physical too.  There was also Craig Redmond who got lots of hype, and the shadowy specter of a little known Czechoslovakian player called Petr Svoboda.

The leadup to the draft had lots of excitement, there was a report that Craig Redmond's father made him wear lifts in his skates to appear taller to scouts, which was vehemently denied by them, so we all assumed it had to be true.  Add in that the Canadiens had two picks at #5 and #8, and I was rubbing my hands with glee.  Could we trade up to get the first overall pick and snag Mario Lemieux?

My cousin and I decided we had to go, back then it was held at the Forum, and we took it the extra step.  We wore our best, shiniest smartest (and only) suit, and tried to look like two prospects waiting to hear their names called.  The Canadiens had a coup-de-théatre in store, they had Petr Svoboda hidden in the wings, and called his name at #5, bringing him out literally from behind the curtains, where they'd hidden him in a back room.

He looked so skinny.  Steve Shutt, at the subsequent training camp, quipped that Petr had been tortured before escaping the Communist régime, that they'd "removed his shoulders".

But it didn't matter, I stood up and applauded, like the rest of the crowd.  My cousin rolled his eyes, thinking this was going overboard.  Our positions were cemented from there on.  I was a fan, he was always a bit of a skeptic.

Anyway, I followed the careers of these four guys the rest of the way.  Craig Redmond never amounted to much.  Jean-Jacques had a decent career, but never was the Phil Housley-Ryan Leetch-Kris Letang type he was projected to be.  Sylvain Côté became a solid NHL defenceman, playing in over 1000 games and in some All-Star games.  Petr Svoboda never quite became a star, but he played a vital role on the Canadiens in the 80's.  Whenever I attended a game at the Forum, I'd focus on him and watch him skate, it was a joy to behold.

I think the 2015 draft will be the same for me, I'll keep tabs on Thomas Chabot, who went to the Senators (gag!), Noah Juulsen and Jérémy Roy, but also the three other LHJMQ prospects who were often described by observers as just as good, just as promising as the Roy/Chabot tandem: Nicolas Meloche who went to the Avalanche at #40, Jérémy Lauzon who went to the Bruins (shudder...) at #52, and Guillaume Brisebois who went to Vancouver at #66.

And so far, in the Juulsen-Roy head-to-head matchup, the first round was decidedly in our favour.

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, that you’re either stuck with or have to buy out, since no other team would trade for him or 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.