Saturday, 25 April 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 1, Game 5: Canadiens 1, Senators 4

The Canadiens, looking a little feeble offensively, failed to bounce the Senators out of these playoffs, losing 4-1 and setting up a sixth game in Ottawa.

I don't want to get off my rant here, my sensibilities are hair-trigger, uh, sensitive, but the game started out decently, as far as the 'physicality', 'la robustesse' was concerned.  If anything, the Canadiens were a little more insistent on finishing their checks than the Senators, but overall, it was played relatively cleanly.  Even after whistles, with an opponent standing in front of a goalie, no tiresome, low-level-concussion generating scrums erupted, with all the jabbing and cross-checking and ref blindness that results.  Aside from Erik Karlsson putting Lars Eller in a headlock, and a Senator knee-on-kneeing Jeff Petry, it was downright gentlemanly out there sometimes.

I fast-forwarded through Don Cherry's Sclerotic Brain Spasm Hour, but I bet he revoked a few 'good Canadian kids' licences.  I think Andrei Markov might have actually apologized for falling into Craig Anderson on one of his sneaky rushes in the first, but the ole' Bruin would have been ready for something like that coming from a Commie.

The Sens had jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the third and there was little life left in the Canadiens it seemed, until Tom Gilbert threaded a shot in on Craig Anderson, who was ably screened by Dale Weise.

There was a bizarre but all too normal sequence in the middle of the third period, an infuriating one for Canadiens fans listening in to Paul Romaniuk, Mike Johnson and Glenn Healy.  First, we saw Brendan Gallagher try a sharp angle shot from a distance which was stopped.  The whistle blew.  A scrum ensued behind the net, with neanderthals Eric Gryba and Mike Borowiecki taking evident pleasure in jabbing at Tomas Plekanec's and Max Pacioretty's head.  Brendan, of course, joined the fray, but the good guys were outmanned, since by rule their defencemen had to stay at the blue line, or see the subsequent faceoff be moved out of the offensive zone.

I want to take the time to emphasize how the Senator twosome reveled in this situation, wallowed in this mire, like the proverbial pigs in shit.  The rictus on Eric Gryba was telltale, as he had a grip on Tomas Plekanec's jersey and kept jerking and jabbing at his head.  Two linesmen were trying to intercede, and literally having a conversation with him, probably telling him to stop, but he debated the issue and kept throwing jabs.  The camera didn't show as clearly what was going on with Max, but I feared for him too, due to his recent concussion.

The powerlessness, the toothlessness, the lack of seriousness of NHL officiating was again, unsurprisingly, but still exasperatingly in evidence by this sequence.

A couple of seasons ago, after a Competition Committee or other such body had met, the word came out that any blow to the head of any player would be proscribed, and met with a penalty when it happened.  This was a progressive, forward-thinking move, with all the concussion research coming out that shows that it's not just an accumulation of diagnosed concussions that causes CTE, but also a lot of blows to the head that fall below what would trigger a concussion but still adds up.

Anecdotally, there are a lot of boxers out there who claim to never have been 'knocked out', but still end up 'punch drunk' later on.  Also, a lot of football linemen would say the same, that they might have seen stars once in a while, but had never suffered a concussion, but still later in life showed signs of CTE.  So the NHL was on the right track in limiting willful, avoidable blows to the head.

And while it seemed like it might be an impossible change to manage in the game, the NFL had actually had robust success in doing so with its quarterbacks, training teams and players and refs that any contact with the head, neck, or helmet of a quarterback, however minor, while he is in the pocket is an automatic 15-yard penalty, and ejection from the game for flagrant offences.  While there was a lot of gnashing of teeth from the football versions of Don Cherry, the game endures, and thrives, and fans get to see the star quarterbacks on the field as opposed to on the sidelines, and players are marginally less susceptible to brain trauma.

Unfortunately for hockey fans and players, someone got cold feet and this change was never enacted as reported in the NHL, and we're where we are, with anti-hockey perpetrators like Messrs. Gryba and Borowiecki, who can do nothing to actually contribute hockey-wise, leaping into these scrums with both feet and trying to do what they can to 'help their team win'.

So after the smiling and sneering Eric Gryba was cajoled and convinced to let go and be on his way, the HNIC hacks took over, showing replays, and their bias was on display.  Again.

After explaining that the three Montréal Canadiens in the scrum couldn't dare take a penalty, since they were essential to their team, and Max and Tomas were able penalty killers, Glenn Healy intoned "Of course it all instigated by our favourite player, (chuckles) Brendan Gallagher."

Which is completely wrong.  Gally had been away from the action, had heard the whistle, had stopped playing.  He was one of the three Canadiens not daring to take a penalty while being swarmed by thugs and watched by lickspittle zebras, but he hadn't been anything close to the instigator.

Minutes earlier in the broadcast, when Paul Romanuk was chiding him on a prediction that didn't pan out, Healy had responded "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story".  In this case, Mr. Healy was not letting the facts get in the way of his biases, and was too lazy and hidebound to change his set narrative.  Brendan Gallagher is an instigator.  The Sens play 'physical'.   So it will come to pass.

Mike Johnson: "Pack mentality takes over.  Everybody in there."  Well no Mike, it was 5-on-3, the Canadiens defencemen were pinned at their blue line.

More Johnson laughing, approvingly: "Borowiecki and Brendan Gallagher have had it going on since Game 1."

As if that is laudable, or appropriate.  You have a small talented hockey player being mugged by a 6'2", 205 lbs player, who scored 12 goals in three seasons of college hockey, and has 2 in a little over 80 games played in the NHL.  The Senator goon went right at Gally's head, poked him in the eye under the visor in the process.

Later, he chortled about it on the bench, and the on-air hacks praised his "Bobby Clarke smile."

Hockey is a great game, but it's so easy to hate the NHL.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 1, Game 4: Canadiens 0, Senators 1

The Senators stave off elimination by winning 1-0 against the Canadiens.  Nuts.

I decided, to change it up, to watch the game on TVA rather than CBC.  If Jim Hughson had called the game I'd have stayed with CBC, but since he's assigned to the Canucks series, and I'm lukewarm to Paul Romanuk, I thought I'd give Félix Séguin and Marc Lalime another shot.

Generally, I don't mind those two, they're not quite as good as Pierre Houde and Marc Denis, a little more 'joual', and the technical team at TVA isn't as polished as RDS', but not enough to dissuade from watching completely.

Immediately in the first period, we saw some errant camera work, with the cameramen losing track of the puck and Eric Condra breaking in on Carey Price out of frame, but we can hope that their technical proficiency increases and eventually matches RDS' proficiency, seeing as they have a decade ahead of them with this new TV deal.  Sigh.

We also saw some errant refereeing, with the Senators' Mark Borowiecki earning an interference penalty on Jeff Petry.  The Senators figured that gave them free rein to goon it up, that the refs would be unwilling to award an additional penalty, and they were correct.  Clarke MacArthur and a couple of other Sens took some punches and vigourous shoves at Brendan Gallagher after the whistle, they were the clear instigators, with no provocation, yet this was allowed to go unpunished.  Score another one for NHL justice.  In the negative column.

Many unpenalized minor incidents in the first, nothing that approached an opponent's vivisection necessary for a penalty in the NHL's 'justice system', but noteworthy were the couple of jabs by Marc Méthot, administered at Max Pacioretty's head, with the puck nowhere near, and the Sens' defenceman well-aware of the Canadien's recent concussion I don't doubt.

'Let them play', indeed.  How to interpret this bromide in incidents like these?

The second period was back and forth, and Devante Smith-Pelly and Dale Weise tried to inject some 'robustesse' in the Canadiens' game, throwing a few hits, pushing back against the physical Sens.  Neither team was able to capitalize on the powerplay, and Brandon Prust almost scored on a short-handed breakaway.

One area which was routinely penalized earlier this season, but is now covered by the generous laissez-faire blanket used by the league and its refs nowadays, was the practice of obstructing an attacking forward who is chasing a puck deposited behind their opposition defencemen.  Before, anything more than standing in the path of an attacking forward, any reaching out with a stick or hand, any move to block the path of the rushing forward, was met with an obstruction penalty.

Now, and specifically in this game, this practice is looked on with benign neglect by the refs.  Many times, Dale Weise or Brandon Prust would try to dump the puck behind a lumbering behemoth, and would find their path blocked, a clear case of obstruction.

A painful goal opened the scoring, tallied by Mike Hoffman, after a giveaway by Tom Gilbert.  The Canadiens defenceman has been a little skittish this season, although he's grown better as the season progressed.  Tonight however, he reverted to previous habits, and tried to clear his zone quickly by ringing the puck around the boards, in advance of getting stamped in the corner by a Sens forward.  Unfortunately, it was intercepted by Cody Ceci, and Mike Hoffman got a clear shot at goal and beat Carey Price.

That was the only scoring of the game, so the Sens stave off elimination, live to fight another day.

Hope the Habs can wrap it up on Friday, evince the pesky Sens.

Time to replace Sylvain Lefebvre as coach of the Canadiens' AHL team?

Okay, I’ll come out and say it, if only to prove to those who accuse me of being a sunny-side-up cheerleader for the Habs, that I can cast a critical eye and find areas that can be improved:

Is it time to replace Sylvain Lefebvre as Head Coach of the Bulldogs? Three seasons now that he’s been in charge, and he’s missed the playoffs every time.

Marc Bergevin and Martin Lapointe have in the past defended him, saying he was charged with developing players, not winning AHL championships, and Michel Therrien has lauded the preparation of some of the youngsters who come up from Hamilton, but it’s still a results-based business. I know the Bulldogs are a development team, their prime reason is to groom players for the Canadiens, not necessarily to win games, but at some point, being competitive and getting playoff experience for the farmhands is part of that equation, no?

With a move to St-John’s next season, and a probable further move to Laval after that, is the time right to consider a change?

How about Guy Boucher, who’s coaching in Europe now? He could see it as a move backwards, to return to the Canadiens farm team, but financial compensation can overcome that stigma, and he’d be bench strength, for whenever the Michel Therrien touch grows stale. We know how much it can be a headache to have a pool of French-speaking candidates to choose from for the Head Coach job, how about having one parked in the AHL as a spare tire, ready to be pulled out of the trunk at a moment’s notice?

Or does that de-stabilize the hierarchy? Does that make Michel Therrien more of a lame-duck?

I gave Sylvain Lefebvre a mulligan twice now for missing the playoffs, but I’m growing impatient. Part of the experience for the farmhands should be some playoff battles. We remember how the Voyageurs and the Sherbrooke Canadiens would win championships or battle to the end, and the next season send a flock of young players who were battle-hardened, ready to fold into the Canadiens lineup. Missing out on AHL playoff experience is a detriment to our prospects’ development.

Michael Ferland having an outsized effect on the Canucks-Flames series.

The Vancouver Canucks have had their problems dealing with physical or gritty players in recent history, especially during the playoffs, when the referees let most every infraction slide, and teams that try to intimidate can be more effective using that style, because of that additional leeway.

Offhand, I can think of Ben Eager, Mike Bolland, Dustin Byfuglien, and Brad Marchand, if not the the whole Bruins roster really, as players who've been bugaboos for the Canucks.

We can now add Michael Ferland's name to the list of players who will reside in Canucks' fans nightmares for the foreseeable future.  He's been playing low minutes for Bob Hartley's Flames, but having an impact far greater in proportion to his icetime.  He's big and strong and tough, and has been treading the line between finishing his checks and charging effectively, at least in the eyes of the refs.

And he's in the heads of the Canucks.  After Game 2, Kevin Bieksa was quoted as calling him "Ferklund, or whatever his name is", and stating he was "irrelevant".  Sure enough, the next game, Kevin Bieksa got into a furious fistfight with the Flames rookie, deciding enough was enough, despite his irrelevance.

We first became aware of Michael Ferland while watching Sportsnet's "Road to the Memorial Cup" series during the 2012-13 season.  Head Coach Lorne Molleken acted as the GM, and could be seen making some phone calls to other GM's to bolster his roster for their Memorial Cup appearance, one that was guaranteed since they were playing host to the tournament.  The Blades hemmed and hawed at the steep cost to acquire the 20-year-old, but finally gave in, thinking his combo of size and scoring was too good to pass up.

In the end, while Mr. Ferland was effective, he couldn't be the difference-maker, and the Blades were swept out of the tournament.  As a Habs fan though, I couldn't help but wonder how much a better fit he might have been in our prospect pool than Patrick Holland was after the Mike Cammalleri trade, or how he might be a good throw-in to seek in any Danny Kristo trade, as was rumoured for a while.

It transpired in time that Michael Ferland had some issues of his own to deal.  Warning flags such as starting out his 20-year-old season in the AHL, then being sent back to the WHL, then being traded to another team.  He was involved in a fight outside a bar in 2012, for which he was charged with assault but eventually found not guilty, and then sued civilly.

While playing with the Abbottsford Heat, there were some rumours in the Vancouver area of him partying way too hard, and it seemingly affected his play and production.  He suffered a knee injury, then spent the end of the 2014 season in alcohol rehab.

Now clean and sober, having turned his career around, he's a one-man wrecking crew, emboldened by the indulgence of the referees, and repeatedly compared to Milan Lucic by the HNIC crew.  No Canucks can match up to his 6'2", 220 lbs size, and his abrasiveness is forcing them to change their game, proving to be the proverbial distraction.

Still as a Canadiens fan, I now wonder, after having written off the youngster when he struggled in Abbotsford, how he'd fold into the Canadiens roster, whether he'd help against intimidation campaigns by the Senators, and the Bruins.  His skating is still suspect, he might be accused as Devante Smith-Pelly currently is of being "too slow", unable to contribute in the Canadiens' system.
But it would be such a relief, a pleasant change in these thuggish playoffs being prosecuted this spring, to have on our team a player that other teams struggle to contain, one who's the hammer, for once, instead of being another resilient, fleet-of-foot nail.

Canadiens to take part in rookie tournament in London next fall.

Marc Bergevin continues to put his stamp on things, and transforming his team.  The latest indication is the announcement that the Canadiens will take part in the '2015 NHL Rookie Tournament', along with the Maple Leafs, Senators and Penguins.

These camps are common in the NHL, and features young prospects, recent draft picks and camp tryouts in games against other teams' prospects.  There is the Traverse City tournament hosted by the Red Wings that this year will include the Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and St. Louis Blues.

The Canucks every year host the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C., featuring the youngsters of the Flames, Oilers and Jets.

For the last few years, the Canadiens have avoided taking part in such rookie tournaments.  The Gainey-Gauthier admin preferred a ‘teaching’ camp, not a prospects tournament.  They'd hold an individual rookie camp, then a main camp with some of the luminaries from the previous camp to flesh out two full teams for scrimmage purposes.  This entailed inviting a lot of players to try out, to ensure having enough bodies for full lineups, and to account for dings and injuries.

One advantage of this approach is the 'leave no stones unturned' aspect, that you get a closer look at a lot of players and may find a diamond in the rough, a player who for some reason(s) slipped through the cracks of the draft or was let go by the team which held his rights.  This screening process was largely aimed at LHJMQ products, in the hope that more local players could be found and developed.

Another reason that the Canadiens in the recent past decided not to take part is that when in the past they did participate, their prospects were getting gooned, assaulted by those of other teams.  I wasn’t on social media back then, but the vets say that while the Canadiens would show up with 'true' prospects, other teams would stock up on young professionals, players in their early twenties who had been let go by other teams, and who were desperately trying to catch on with a new team, by any means, and being 'physical' against teenagers was one way they were trying to catch a GM's eye.

Mix in some natural rivalry between divisional opponents, and the games reportedly degenerated into slugging matches, nasty affairs replete with stickwork, fights, etc.  It got so bad that the Canadiens management team decided they could get more done by running their own camp, there was no benefit to being in these rookie tournaments.

I think it was last summer that Marc Bergevin was asked about the value of a prospect camp, and he said there were advantages and disadvantages for both options, but that they’d held a tournament in Chicago and he’d thought that it was valuable for their rookies. He said at the time that he was happy following the current practice for now, and he’d study the matter further.

So I guess our GM has decided to have a more competitive, baptism-by-fire experience for the young ‘uns, even at the cost of a greater likelihood of mayhem and/or injury.

One important distinction is that Marc Bergevin is given a lot of credit in league circles for his people skills.  He has strong relationships with a multitude of executives and coaches on other teams, and is famously adept at cultivating and maintaining these, whereas the previous régime was more idiosyncratic, more wonky than anything else.

We can hope that the current braintrust can establish some ground rules with the other teams, about who is eligible for inclusion on these teams, how the games will proceed, how they'll be refereed, so there are no nasty surprises.  The last thing we want is for our kids to act as punching bags for opponents vying for a grinder/enforcer role.

So get ready for a new camp routine, one with fewer Sahir Gills and Stefano Momessos, but one where players like Mike McCarron, Connor Crisp, Brett Lernout, even the odd Bokondji Imama is better able to showcase their particular set of skills, to use their size and strength with more abandon, as opposed to the restraint they had to show when facing their own teammates in controlled scrimmages.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Connor McDavid is apparently not overjoyed at being an Edmonton Oiler.

Connor McDavid's muted joy when the Oilers won the NHL Draft lottery was a good indication of the malaise going on in Edmonton, how that organization is viewed by the rest of the hockey world. Clearly, despite being chipper and upbeat prior to the draft, and indicating that he'd not "be that guy" who balks at being drafted by specific teams and demands a trade, he had a mental, unpublicized wish list, and in that ranking Edmonton was at or very near the bottom.

Sure, the city itself is not all that appealing, relatively.  It's not that Edmonton is without charm, or not a good 'hockey town', but if you're a teenager blessed with boundless hockey talent and opportunities, it's easier to envision maximizing these, and benefiting from them, in other areas, like New York or L.A., and yes even Toronto.

Still, Edmonton isn't condemned to be the NHL's Siberia by its small size and northern locale with attendant cold-weather drawbacks.  Calgary has much the same geographic and climatic issues, but isn't seen as negatively as Edmonton or Winnipeg.  In the NFL, many (Southern-born) players dread being drafted by Green Bay or Minnesota, and then quickly learn to love it there, playing for a great organization and passionate fans.

We also saw how Bobby Ryan, after many rumours of he not being happy at being traded out of balmy So-Cal, and his girlfriend fretfully asking when the news broke whether Ottawa was "north of Detroit", choosing to sign an extension to stay in that environment.  The dénouement remains to be seen, whether Mr. Ryan will play out the full contract term with the Sens, but it's not hopeless for smaller Canadian markets to attract and retain quality players.

Heck, we actually saw, no more than a couple years ago, college free agent Justin Schultz decide to sign a contract with the Edmonton Oilers, rather than any other team, rather than his hometown Canucks, based on the youthful talented squad amassed by Kevin Lowe, and a chance to play on a winning team.  Obviously that hasn't panned out yet, but this instance shows that hockey players may overlook unfavourable details like weather if they're offered a chance to be on a strong organization, on a talented team that can win a Stanley Cup.

So Connor McDavid lands in Edmonton, and struggles to contain a bitter, devastated pout while sitting across from Strombo.  Some have tried to explain the moue away.  Horrid Sportsnet's abysmal Nick Kypreos downplayed the reaction, saying it was due to "emotion".  Well, yeah, genius, no one's arguing the opposite, the whole entire issue is that he was emotional at the news, and not in the good way.  If you discount the emotion, then there's no story, but again, you're missing the point.

Michael Farber made the observation that of all the destinations he was slated for, Edmonton was the worst in terms of hockey, in terms of the attendant pressure, since the comparisons to Wayne Gretzky will be unavoidable.  Whether a teenager who never saw Wayne play will feel that pressure is arguable, it won't be self-generated probably, but it may come from all the fans who remember the days of glory from back in the eighties.

Aaron Ward made a different point, that the Oilers aren't a great 'fit' in terms of what he brings, contrary to what an Aaron Ekblad would have for example, or a Seth Jones.  There is already a good centre there in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, one who is viewed as a #1 centre, if somewhat more slender than your prototypical Joe Thornton or Ryan Getzlaf.  The Oilers also drafted centre Leon Draisaitl third overall last June, so they weren't necessarily crying out for another centre.

Now, any team will gladly take on Connor McDavid no matter who they already have on their rolls, they'll make any adjustments necessary, but the natural fit isn't quite there, as it would have been in Toronto or Arizona, for example, teams with a great big chasm in the middle of their top line.

Maybe that's what Connor reacted to, not just the bitter January cold, but the fact that he spent the last few months envisioning wearing Leaf blue and playing in his hometown, or in sunny Arizona playing next to Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, but couldn't picture himself in the Oilers lineup.

In any case, I was quite ready to pile on the NHL and come up with a conspiracy theory of how the lottery was ginned up Patrick Ewing-style to gift the generational talent to a major media market, or a struggling franchise.  Instead, Gary Bettman perfidiously fixed it so that I couldn't attack his credibility and honesty any further.

Which is a really crooked way to operate Gary.




[Further reading: http://espn.go.com/blog/nhl/post/_/id/35713/oilers-rewarded-for-years-of-ineptitude-with-another-no-1-pick

http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/mad-men-power-rankings-episode-710-the-forecast/]

'15 Playoffs Round 1, Game 3: Canadiens 3, Senators 2 (OT)

Okay, I’ll say it: this 2-1 OT win by the Canadiens over the Senators was an unwatchable mess. I seethed the entire first ten minutes of the game, about the anti-hockey that was being played, the slashing and the gooning and the more slashing. It was more pinball, more foosball than hockey. Just reef on the puck and hope it bounces somewhere good.

So I fast-forwarded through pretty much the entire rest of the game. I couldn’t take another minute of Paul Romanyuk hyping this sludgefest as “competitive” and “intense”. If I saw another Senator crosscheck P.K. blatantly in the ear, I was going to call the police and ask that they launch an investigation. Obviously the on-ice officials are congenital idiots, and can’t handle this.

Thank you Gary Bettman.

And maybe all these Sens fans with upraised fingers at the end of the game can tell us Montréal fans about decency and comportment while at the arena, I’m eager to hear their do’s and don’ts.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Tim Murray kind of wanted Connor McDavid, sort of.

Despite all the brave words and misdirection prior the lottery balls falling, all the references to Jack Eichel being more than a consolation prize, Sabres GM Tim Murray couldn't hold back after the announcement that the Oilers would pick first overall.

He was shattered.  Crestfallen.  And said this:
"This is two years of me coming up here, and uh, it's a two-minute draw I guess, and uh, one team is happy and the rest aren't, so, uh, I don't know what they're going to do with it, the league may think this is the best system, and if it is, I support them, but uh, it almost feels like you're a World Junior player and  getting that call at 6 in the morning from Team Canada saying that you haven't made it again this year.  So, you know what, we'll get over it, we'll get back to work tomorrow and get ready for the draft.

"I feel for the fans, we went through a tough year, ..., they were extremely excited about it, watching him play in Erie, I do feel bad for them, but we have to play the hand we're dealt, and get ready for it."

He only forgot to add "Welcome to the Sabre family Jack!"

Evidently, Jack Eichel is a very bitter dish to be served when you were eyeing that slab of OHL prime beef, dreaming about it, and had scuttled your own ship two seasons in a row to engineer a way to land him.

This is a telling moment, and I'm going to take comfort from it.  I've been afraid that the Sabres were amassing so many picks and prospects that they'd an unstoppable juggernaut for a generation, one which we couldn't match up against with our feeble Arturri Lehkonens and Sven Andrighettos.

But now, I think the Sabres organization isn't being led by a nouveau-Sam Pollock, but rather that the guy is as described, impulsive, tempestuous, and may make some rash decisions more worthy of Mike Milbury.

First, it's worrisome for sane Buffalo fans that he reacted this badly, was so unprepared for this eventuality, when it fact it was the overwhelmingly more likely scenario, that his team would be leapfrogged like this.  For over a year he's known that the last-place finisher had a 20% chance of picking first.  He knew that he had an 80% chance of ending up with Jack Eichel.  It shouldn't have been such a shock.

So Tim Murray isn't no genius, he ain't too acquainted with all that fancy book learnin' and math stuff.  He's no cold, calculating clinician, he's wasted the year dreaming about the unlikely, rather than preparing for the probable.  He leads with his heart, he's emotional.  He can be manipulated, swindled.

Also, he's kind of poisoned the well, sent the very clear message to young Mr. Eichel that he's the second choice, by a wide margin.  In his mind, it's obviously not a Taylor vs. Tyler scenario, or a Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf decision, one where the #1 choice isn't all that clear.  It's more of a Mario Lemieux-Kirk Muller deal, getting the #2 is equivalent to getting coals in your stocking.  "Sorry kid, there's no more blueberry pie.  Have an apple for dessert."

This can be handled, smoothed over, but compare this to the way Peter Chiarelli for example had said all the right things, intoned unfailingly that whichever player he ended up with, his team would be over the moon, they're both fine young men, tremendously talented, etc.

Tim Murray bungled his reaction.  If that's his poker-face, I want to sit across from him next time he's playing cards.  I need a new La-Z-Boy, the one with the massage function and the little fridge.

And I can't finish this meandering train of thought without torpedoing Gary Bettman's brazen lies and manipulations that teams weren't tanking, weren't intentionally stripping their rosters to lose games and increase their odds of getting the #1 pick.

I repost from HockeyInsideOut:
Un Canadien errant        MARCH 4, 2015 AT 5:20 PM

Louis Jean (of TVA) asks Gary Bettman about the NHL’s perception of Buffalo and Arizona divesting themselves of players and racing to the bottom.
    
“I don’t think they want to finish as low as they can in the standings, what they’re doing is they’re looking at the assets they have, and they’re deciding what they need to go forward, and as you said they’re accumulating lots of draft picks in return for players because they’re rebuilding. And if you have a team that hasn’t been as successful as you want, then you have to make decisions. And if it looks like you’re not going to make the playoffs, and that’s not something new this year it goes on every year, that teams that don’t think they’re going to make the playoffs decide how they’re going to rebuild going into the future, and generally it’s through accumulating young prospects and draft picks, that you can grow.”

And Louis Jean, fresh off the announcement that TVA Sports has been awarded the broadcast rights for the World Cup in French in Canada, replies: “A formula that has worked extremely well for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Chicago Blackhawks, etc.”
Sure Gary.  Look at Tim Murray's deflated countenance, his mounting sense of righteous anger that two full seasons of tanking were for naught.

He wasn't looking to accumulate "young prospects and draft picks", he was looking to hook into the biggest prize at the fishing derby in a decade.  He was looking to land Connor McDavid, and no one else.  He intentionally threw this season.

Friday, 17 April 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 1, Game 2: Canadiens 3, Senators 2 (OT)

Thoughts on the Canadiens 3-2 OT defeat of the Senators in Game 2.

--I'll allow that I feel kind of okay about it, that if Alex Galchenyuk is going to swat his stick on anyone's helmet and take a penalty, that Eric Gryba be the beneficiary of this attention.  But really Alex, pick your spot.  And if you do slug a d-man in the ear-hole, make it count, make it Erik Karlsson.

And Mr. Gryba, next time, bring along some semaphore flags, to signal even more clearly to the officials that you did get dinged.  Glenn Healy wasn't moved to complain that you 'sold it' to the refs.  Next time, give it your full effort.  Don't just go down on one knee, and dramatically clutch at your head seconds late, give it a full markstone.

--Speaking of salesmanship, clear, blatant dive at the 7 minute mark of the first period by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, on a 3-on-2, reacting to a tap from David Desharnais.  I expect that Daddy Campbell will be just as outraged by this one as any by P.K.  Right?

--Some fans have complained that Devante Smith-Pelly's hits were after the puck was gone, relatively ineffective, that they weren't a significant contribution to the success of the team, that he just takes himself out of the play to 'finish his check', which doesn't jibe with our methods.

At the 9 minute mark, he stamped Erik Karlsson into the boards as the Senator unloaded the puck in a hurry.  Let's keep at it, get more of these on the relatively slender defender, and see if he wilts.

--Second period, the ice slowly tilted in the Canadiens' favour.

--After P.K. rocket-laser-beamed that shot millimetres from Andrew Hammond's noggin, I would have kissed him too if I could have.

--Devante Smith-Pelly might work alongside that David Desharnais-Max Pacioretty tandem.  He had a couple of opportunities on the powerplay he didn't finish, but he neatly solves the problem we've bemoaned in the past, which is that the line didn't have net presence, Gally was too small to be effective.  I'm interested to see if these guys can mesh.

And Devo had another crunching hit on Erik Karlsson.  Keep it up.

--In the third period, after Patrick Wiercioch's penalty on Lars Eller, we saw him skating to the box shaking his head, and I'll give him credit and posit that he was partly upset at himself for coughing up the puck to Lars in the first place, and for getting caught for tripping him.  We still got the sense though that there was a strong sense of disbelief, that kind of imputation that's all too common nowadays, that Lars fell too easily, that he kind of sort of doved, slightly.  And it's so ridiculous.

The Ottawa defenceman was two steps behind Lars.  His stick blade was a good two metres away from Lars' stick blade and the puck.  What he could possibly have achieved by placing his stick anywhere near Lars' shin pads?  Except trip, hook, hold, interfere with him?

Or slash him.  That 'non-aggressive light slashing' the rulebook specifically tolerates.  Leaving it up to the referees to evaluate, whether it's light or medium or moderately heavy.

And what if that lightish slash had caught Lars where there wasn't any padding, and now he's rolling on the ice clutching his hand?  Do we go through an emotional implosion, let slip the dogs of war, and launch an armada of a thousand tweets at the league and the Senators and their fans?

This act is tolerated a thousand times a game.  Countless times, players are slashed, held, interfered, crosschecked, headlocked and tackled (Gryba category only).  The NHL congratulates itself on the fact that play is "intense", that the players "fight for every inch".

But really, what's happening is it's suffocating the game.

--An important contribution from Mike Zibanejad to his team is that he allows Mark Borowiecki to not feel all that bad about his physiognomy, all things considered.

--Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk hustled and chopped wood all game long, and it was great to see them be rewarded with the overtime goal.  That team celebration, apparently conducted to the strains of the Kriss Kross' signature hit, was a sight to behold, especially with that kid behind the glass, seeing it all unfold, maybe the highlight of his young life.

If we're to have any success, these two youngsters need to step up and contribute, tangibly, on the scoreboard.  Over the last few seasons, the team has evolved, improved, but has also sloughed off some significant scoring talent, players like Mike Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn, Brian Gionta, Daniel Brière.  We've loaded up on youth, on character, but this season goals were hard to come by.  Aside from Max, there's precious little reliable scoring talent on the Canadiens.  The twins have to be a big part of the answer in these playoffs.

--What made it especially sweet was that slow-footed and slower-witted Eric Gryba wears the goat horns on this night, having given the puck away in his own zone even though he had clear and complete control of it.

The tide has to shift away from the game finding room for practitioners of anti-hockey such as Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki.  It's my hope that with every such giveaway, every loss he's directly responsible for, Mr. Gryba drives another nail in the coffin of the sham of his NHL career.

Prospect goalie Brandon Whitney signs ATO contract with Hamilton Bulldogs

Marc Bergevin has signed prospect LHJMQ goalie Brandon Whitney to an amateur try out contract.

Funny, since I rued that we didn’t have a 7th-rounder in the 2012 draft, that we’d spent our sixth on Erik Nystrom, a self-admitted flyer by Director of Amateur Scouting Trevor Timmins, who tried out with the Bulldogs but ended up not earning a contract.

We could have instead picked up this big kid from the LHJMQ and added to our goaltending depth, I thought. See if he pans out.  Now we get him for free if we want.

I can’t quite remember how it went, but I think Brandon Whitney had a great rookie camp and then training camp with the Blackhawks, the team that had eventually drafted him in the seventh round, and the Hawks had an injured goalie, so there was talk of keeping him up, maybe for the AHL, it’s fuzzy, but anyway ultimately he was sent back to Victo. He then suffered a crazy injury in practice, fractures to his larynx after taking a puck in the throat.

He eventually was not signed by the Hawks. It’s not quite the olden days, where a guy would hurt his knee and stop playing hockey and get a job at CN, but injuries still play a big part, are a big risk for a player, especially one who’s not a high pick.

This season he struggled, had more injuries, pulled a groin, but he’s still got the tools, the size, the potential. It’s worth taking a look.

Of note: From that same draft, the much-regretted (in some histrionic corners) Brady Vail played 6 games for the Toronto Marlies and was shut out, but got 30 points in 65 games for the Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL. I still think the Solar Bears is the coolest team name in hockey.