Sunday, 17 August 2014

UFA Kevin Hayes causes a minor stir in the dog days of August.

The reaction to the Kevin Hayes pursuit is hitting all the notes that the Justin Schultz situation did two years ago.  On one hand there are detractors who rightly point out that this player is not a guaranteed superstar, just a prospect, no better than a hundred or so NHL prospects already under contract, at least.  Plus, Mr. Hayes only had his one great season, his breakout year, last season as a college senior, playing against a lot of eighteen and nineteen year old freshmen.

What this narrative fails to point out is that those other, better prospects are already locked up by other teams, they were snapped up at the draft, and a lot of teams never had a shot at them.  Kevin Hayes is now an unrestricted free agent, who can sign with anyone, he'll be found money to the team that signs him, an 'asset' dropped in their lap.  It'll be like adding an extra first-rounder to an organization's prospect pool.

Further, this asset is close to matured.  Contrary to a Mike McCarron or Nikita Scherback, who'll need a few seasons of development in the lower levels, Kevin Hayes is 22 years old, fully grown, pretty much ready to go.  He may need some time to adapt to pro hockey by playing in the AHL, but it will be comparatively short.

Finally, adding Kevin Hayes is virtually risk-free, since he will have to sign an Entry-Level Contract, which is by necessity a two-way deal.  Its salary, its bonus structure, all are governed by the CBA, and if the player doesn't pan out, there will be no cap hit to speak of, he'll toil in the minors until the contract runs out.  The only cost to the team will be to spend one of its 50 contracts-limit slots on him.  Everyone agrees that's not much of a drawback at all.

We see this rationale every spring when undrafted college free agents hit the market.  This year, players like Christian Folin probably entertained offers from twenty teams of more, with the kicker that there was no real 'bidding' war, with the ELC's specifying most of the contract parameters.  Players were left to choose teams based on how they felt they would fit there, in terms of their chances of cracking the roster, geographic location, sytem, etc.  (The Canadiens did relatively well in this gold rush, snapping up Daniel Carr and David Makowski.)

I'm not sure when these undrafted college free agents first hit public consciousness, when they first garnered attention as opposed to being considered minor-league fodder, the dregs of pro hockey, but for me it was in the eighties, when the Red Wings made a big splash signing two of them the same season.  At the time the Red Wings were a pitiful team, they'd been at the bottom of the standings for years, and must have decided to try this avenue to improve.

They won the bidding war for Ray Staszak, a big, fast, high-scoring college player who reporters explained might be comparable to Bill Barber.  And at the time, there were no limits on contracts, no salary cap, but also no set entry-level deals, so there was in effect a true salary auction, and the Red Wings paid through the nose to sign him.  There was a lot of pressure on him to produce, since he was as a rookie earning more than most pros were at the time.  Unfortunately, he never developed as envisioned for them.

The other guy they signed, the next-best player available, was a two-way smart player named Adam Oates.  I remember thinking his name didn't really fit for a hockey player, it wasn't a cool hockey name like Ray Staszak, and so what if he's a passer.  Those guys are everywhere, you can get a Pierre Mondou anytime at the draft.  Sure enough though, this would be the guy who would justify his big rookie contract with the Wings and go on to even bigger and better things.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Can the Canadiens trade a Pateryn-Nygren package to the Dallas Stars for Brett Ritchie?

SI's Allan Muir linked to a blog post on how Dallas' defencemen are all lefties.  Every single one on their NHL roster.  And Jamie Oleksiak, the giant prospect they're waiting on, is also leftie.

I've harped on the fact that, in the later rounds, the Canadiens have concentrated in the last couple of seasons on right-handed defenceman.  They drafted Jarred and Nathan in the first round, but every other defenceman picked up was a rightie, after Mac Bennett was chosen five years ago.

I've guessed that it wasn't entirely by chance that Trevor Timmins was focusing on righties, that they weren't unfailingly the 'best-player available', that there was method to the madness.  If your blue-chippers, those you can almost count on making it, are lefties, maybe all of your longshots should be right-handed, to even things out.

We've got a backlog of righties in Hamilton, with Greg Pateryn, Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, and now Dalton Thrower.  Magnus Nygren is in the fold for now, as a mature offensive d-man prospect, and he's righthanded.  Josiah Didier is continuing his college career in Denver, and even-longer-shot Colin Sullivan is playing in the USHL, and yes both are righties.

And we added another rightie with 3rd-rounder Brett Lernout at the draft in June, before finally breaking the trend with Nikolas Koberstein in the fifth.

So are we in a position to deal with Jim Nill's Stars?  Surely he sees that his defence needs a major tweak, a shuffle to balance it out.  There seems to be no help on the way, their farm system is also skewing to the left.  Julius Honka, who they drafted in the first round this year, is a rightie, but he's smallish and might be a few seasons away from being able to help.

It would be better if Magnus Nygren and/or Greg Pateryn were a step closer to the NHL, that they'd progressed to the point where Nathan Beaulieu is right now, a player who should have a roster spot out of training camp.  Magnus Nygren has an impressive skillset, and Greg Pateryn had a solid, almost surprising AHL season.  They're not Evander Kane-worthy trade pieces, but to a team like the Stars, who are more desperate for right-handed help on the blue line, they might be kind of sparkly and tempting.

And the Canadiens could spare a couple of righties without being left destitute.  If one or both of those guys leave, the Bulldogs, our system can continue chugging along, every other prospect takes a step up the ladder and we keep rolling.  In fact, it might be healthy for our organization, and spur the development of the other guys, allow them to play more minutes in all situations.  Dalton Thrower might not be headed to the ECHL anymore.

And what could interest Marc Bergevin in return?  Might he want to take a superfluous leftie like Jamie Oleksiak off their hands, since they already have too many of those anyway?  That might be nice, everybody wins.

A more realistic, and more attractive target might be Brett Ritchie though.  A big right winger who can crash and bang  but has offensive talent and can produce, that would fill a few needs on our team.  He's had one season in the AHL, and did well there, he's getting close to the NHL, and could really help fill our hole on right wing.

He wouldn't come cheap, the Canadiens would have to ante up more than a Pateryn-level prospect or two, there'd have to be a package and it would sting a little bit, but what makes it feasible, in my mind at least, is that both teams have what the other needs, the trade pieces align very well.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Review: "Journeyman", by Sean Pronger

As he often derides himself, Sean Pronger is famous for having a little brother, namely Chris.  Even though Sean as an NHL player measured in at 6'3" and 220 lbs, he had to look up at his 6'6" brother, literally and in terms of their respective hockey achievements.  His good grace in dealing with his lot and the constant comparisons are evident throughout his memoir "Journeyman: The Many Triumphs (And Even More Numerous Defeats) of a Guy Who's Seen Just About Everything In the Game of Hockey", which he co-wrote with his friend Dan Murphy of Sportsnet fame.

The book is a thoroughly enjoyable read, and delivers on the promise of an insider's look at the world of the fringe NHL player, with the trades and demotions to the minors and recalls, the anxious summers waiting for a contract and the toll it takes on a player's psyche and on his family life.  While the subject is dealt with frankly, it's also a humourous account, with many self-deprecation potshots.  Mr. Pronger doesn't deal in 'Woe is me.'  He is very aware that even the life of a minor-league hockey player is pretty good, considering he's getting paid very well to play a game he loves.

There is a foreword by Brian Burke, in which he recounts that he had a hand in drafting both Sean (with Vancouver) and Chris (with Hartford), and that he's "one for two".  Having gotten that witticism out of the way, Burkie is highly complimentary of the character, the person that is Sean Pronger, and also the type of fully committed player he was.

The authors launch right into the tale, starting with a vignette from Mr. Pronger's time in the ECHL playing for Knoxville.  We then flash back to his draft day, his time at Bowling Green in the NCAA, his graduation and subsequent halting start to his pro hockey career.

While reading, I was forced to compare this book to a similar work I read recently, "Tales of a First-Round Nothing" by Terry Ryan, and can say that without question "Journeyman" is a much stronger effort.  It's a much more readable, coherent account, and delivers on what the reader wants, which is what happened, when and how did it happen, and why did it happen.  We get a much fuller picture and more satisfying read from Mr. Pronger than we do from Mr. Ryan.

I suspect much credit should go to co-author Dan Murphy, who among other duties acts as between-periods host of Canucks telecasts.  While he is not the wordsmith and jokester that co-host Don Taylor is, he is an able and knowledgeable reporter and media person, and very well-spoken.  Putting two heads together on this project must certainly have helped the final results.

Another reason this is a better read is that Sean Pronger confronts his lack of success in the NHL head-on, realistically describing his 'low ceiling' and how his game was centred on effort rather than talent.  Further, he is a more sympathetic figure than Terry Ryan, possibly because we get a sense that he expended every effort, on the ice and off, and during the off-season, to make a career for himself.  "Journeyman" is replete with stories of working out before and after practices, during games when he was a healthy scratch, and over the summer.  All of this is notably absent from Mr. Ryan's book.

Further, Sean Pronger probably has better tactics than Mr. Ryan, in how he listens to his agent, and how he approaches the game, and his coaches when he wants more ice-time and opportunities.  In comparison, Mr. Ryan tells how he clashed with his coach, and his efforts to impress are limited to pugilism with the other teams' heavyweights.  It does seem that Sean Pronger had a clearer plan of what he needed to do, and while he doesn't entirely succeed, he does eke out a decade-long pro hockey career.

There are many insights in the book on how a borderline NHL'er deals with teammates, veterans, newcomers.  He explains the weird situation in the AHL whereby he goes to war every game with his teammates, yet is in constant competition with them, jockeying for position while they await the next recall or at training camp.  He has a few brushes with greatness, notably playing with Wayne Gretzky on the Rangers, and with Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya with the Ducks.

On a topical note, he was in the Canucks' lineup the night Todd Bertuzzi assaulted Steve Moore.  I imagine he might be called as a witness by the Canucks/Marc Crawford/Todd Bertuzzi in these proceedings, as his comments on the matter play well in their favour.  Anyone wanting to know more about what happened that night will certainly get one clear perspective by reading his book.

Another interesting chapter deals with his experience in Europe, playing with Frankfurt in the German First Division.  We tend to think of players going to Europe getting paid generously, with other compensation like housing and a car being supplied by the team, and playing in a less-intense league, a semi-retirement, semi-vacation.  His memories are not that rosy, and we come to understand that some situations are not ideal, which is informative when we think back to Max Pacioretty's experience in Switzerland during Gary Bettman's Third Lockout.  Some of what Max was up against sounds very similar to what Mr. Pronger recounts.

There are many, many other reasons to read this book, such as his time playing for Pat Burns with the Bruins, or his time in the Canucks' system playing for the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg.  His anecdote in the bar with Kevin Bieksa and Sergei Fedorov's 'little' brother Fedor is hilarious.  Even though the reader knows there is no ultimate payoff, no Cinderella ending, the pages fly by.

I have no hesitation in recommending "Journeyman", it's an engrossing, rewarding read, and helps the average fan fill in the picture regarding what the fourth-liner with the one-year, two-way contract goes through.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Mount Polley Mine disaster.

I'm still in shock at the incredible demonstration of corporate malfeasance and greed as well as the provincial government's abdication of its obligation to act as the watchdog for the public good in the case of the Mount Polley Mine disaster.  The headline to this linked article reads:

Mount Polley Mine tailings pond dam stable: Imperial Metals

Meaning, the bathtub is now empty.  No further cause for concern here, people.

The company president Brian Kynoch gives the corporate-speak meaningless statement that they "take full responsibility", but immediately goes on that:

"The dam is an independently engineered structure (emphasis mine) that operated within design limits and specifications. Monitoring instruments and onsite personnel had no indication of an impending breach," the company said.

Meaning: "We didn't build the thing, just accepted the lowest bid from a contractor."

How's that for pre-lawsuit manoeuvring?

Meanwhile, B.C. Energy and Mines Minister and industry lapdog Bill Bennett had this nugget for us to weigh:

"We will determine the cause of the event and we are determined to prevent an incident like this from happening again," Bennett said in a statement.

Meaning: "But not so determined as we were before in our assurances to everyone that this kind of disaster could never happen."

I would love to be able to read the public consultation process notes before this mine was allowed to open, when concerned citizens who raised objections were probably dismissed as cranks and tree-huggers by the company and ministerial staff.

I'm sure their fears of a tailings spill were poo-poohed, with insiders exasperatedly claiming that a breach was impossible, the dam would be "over-engineered", there would be sensor equipment, monitoring staff, etc.  And once the project was pushed through, and profits were paramount, not safety or the preservation of nature or job-creation as previously claimed, standards slowly dropped.  Sensor equipment was allowed to fail and not repaired.  Maintenance on the dam fell off.  Training and staffing levels dropped, because operating costs detract from bottom line results.

But that's what we get with Christy Clark's neo-con cabal of a 'Liberal' government.  She rode to power with a very passé campaign platform plank of "Blame the unions!", but business is given free rein to run amok.  Her ideals that industries should self-regulate lead us to these situations, where mine inspector staffing levels are cut back, and their powers are curtailed.

This dam was inspected years ago and warnings were issued, but there were no penalties for non-compliance.  Because it's more important to "get government off our backs" and to "cut red tape" than for the government to actually serve its function, which is to protect citizens and the common good from rapacious individuals and corporations.

So get your bloated corrupt face smudged with charcoal all you want Christy, you're already covered with it, you're in it up to your neck.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Pascal Vincent, Éric Veilleux, Mario Ducharme out of the running for Canadiens' assistant coach job.

Three putative candidates for the assistant coach job in Montréal can be eliminated, according to this article in La Presse.

Pascal Vincent made it clear that he's happy in Winnipeg and hasn't talked to anyone about any other job.  He says he wants to honour his contract with the Jets.  The writer points out that it would be hard for him anyway to leave the organization for a lateral move, rather than a promotion.

Éric Veilleux, the head coach of the Drakkar de Baie-Comeau, who was at the prospect development camp as an invited coach, and played for Michel Therrien as a Laval Titan, just signed a contract to be the assistant coach of the Norfolk Admirals.  He says he spoke at camp with Michel Therrien about his future plans, but it sounds like it was more of a mentor, professional development conversation rather than an official interview, which would have been with Marc Bergevin anyway.

The other invited coach at the prospect camp, Mario Ducharme, head coach of the Halifax Moosehead, explained to the writer that he hasn't had any contact with the Canadiens for the assistant coach job.

The article reminds readers that Michel Therrien stated at the June draft that he wanted an "experienced coach" to replace Gerard Gallant, one who'd be close to the players.

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 versus 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.