Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Canadiens won't draft Zack Fucale AND Phillippe Desrosiers in successive rounds

In an earlier post, I referred to a mock draft done by, and picked apart their choices, mostly as they related to the Canadiens.  The thing is, now they've updated their mock draft, based on what information is not known, and they've not archived the prior mock, so it's hard to compare between the prior edition and the most recent.

In any case, let's dive in the new one, just for the fun of it, again strictly as a discussion starter.  And as always, as the big caveat, I've pretty much never seen any of these kids play.  These are pure kneejerk judgments, with little grounding in observation or fact.

1)  In the first round, they have us snagging Curtis Lazar, who I'm not sure scratches our itch.  He's not small, but he's definitely not big, or an offensive threat it would seem.  Ben Kerr compares him to a Ryan Kesler in terms of style of play, which makes me feel marginally better about the pick, but scanning down the list I see Samuel Morin is still available, and I'd prefer to draft that huge project and send him to Hamilton U. for three years and have professors Lefebvre and Dufresne put the big lad through his paces.

2)  In the second, they have us taking Zac Fucale at #34, and Émile Poirier at #36.  Again, not that I know very much about these guys, but the last mock had us getting Frédéric Gauthier and William Carrier in these slots.  I thought that was too good to be true, but now I feel disappointed that we're not getting them, and with the choices we're assigned.

I'm not sure I want a goalie drafted this high, I feel we're set in nets, have other needs to meet.  Of course, if Mr. Fucale is graded way higher than anyone else by Trevor Timmins' staff when we get to this point, then we should get him, but we should also not reach for him.

Scanning down from our pick, we find William Carrier still available, and starting at #43, Nick Sorensen, Anthony Duclair and Jacob de la Rose in succession.

3)  Late in the second, with our own pick, we're slated for Marc-Olivier Roy, a 5'11" winger who I know nothing about, but whose writeup is not enticing.  I want more.

4)  This is where it gets ridiculous.  With the Stars' third-round pick that we got for Erik Cole, this mock has us taking another goalie in Phillippe Desrosiers.  I'm beginning to suspect these guys are even less knowledgeable or organized than I am.  Why the Canadiens would spend two picks on goalies this high in the draft, when there are so many areas of need on the team, and when there are probably clusters of players with equivalent grading to choose from, is hard to explain.

Instead, admittedly strictly based on what I've read, I'd rather we go with Michael Downing, or Hudson Fasching, another guy Ben Kerr wrote positively about.

Late in the third, at #86, we'd get Gage Ausmus, a 6'1" stay-at-home defender.  Josh Gorges, 2.0.  Let's trade down for more picks instead, and grab Jonathan Ismael-Diaby.  Or, grab Mason Geertsen, who's slated to go at #90, who I've actually seen play, and have developed a man-crush on.  Big strong kid with lots of heart, defensive defenceman with character.  Read: hits and fights.

5)  We have no picks in the fourth and fifth round.  The ghost of the ultimately fruitless trade for James Wisniewski still haunts us.  So does the current presence of Davis Drewiske.  Mr. Bergevin, please transmogrify Yannick Weber into picks in this region please.

They have J.C. Lipon, Anton Slepyshev and Jordan Subban going in the fourth.  I'd take a crack at an enigmatic russian forward here if I could, even with the Alex Avtsin foundering fresh in our mind.  Jordan Subban is a feelgood story, but I'm afraid if we take on more defencemen on the farm, they should complement rather than exacerbate our skillsets.

6)  In the sixth, they have us picking a 5'11" LW out of Seattle named Riley Sheen, one spot ahead of a 6' C homeboy Jérémy Grégoire from Chicoutimi.  Even discounting the whole Lindsay Vallis-Turner Stevenson-Brent Bilodeau history we have going on with the Thunderbirds and reassuring ourselves we're not superstitious, I don't see that happening.

7)  In the seventh, they have some nobody defenceman named Jordan Gross that I've never heard of, and he's a smurf so who cares, they say he's only 5'10" and 170, and they say he has exceptional mobility... and a huge shot....

and this is where the league has taken us to.  Kids like this who apparently can actually play are being scorned and pushed down the draft in favour of 6'4" plugs like Brian Bickell, who don't know how to play hockey, but who'll be snapped up in the second round and given four years in the AHL to learn how, because you need a thumper or six like that to hope to compete against the LA Kings and the St. Louis Blues.  Meanwhile, I'm desperate to dispose of Yannick Weber for a fourth or fifth-round pick, because it's reasonable, nay, vital that we do so.

8)  At the very top of the draft, they now have Nathan McKinnon #1, probably based on the Memorial Cup show he put on.  Then it's Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin, Valery Nichushkin, Sasha Barkov and Sean Monahan, a bit of a shakeup compared to the last time, but they don't explain their reasoning.

Nikita Zadorov goes 9th (sigh...), Frédéric Gauthier 17th to the Senators, and Anthony Mantha 22nd (so close!) to the Flames.  Unless Jay Feaster picks a Cypriot goalie there and proclaims him to be the best player in the draft.

Brian Bickell rising ever more out of reach of the Montréal Canadiens

Regarding trade-deadline acquisitions in April, Marc Bergevin was pretty clear that he wasn't looking for rentals, and that he wanted character players.  The names bruited after the deadline were Mike Rupp, Kyle Clifford and Brian Bickell.

I'd never heard of the latter before, but checked him out online at the time, and noticed he was UFA in July, so I crossed my fingers and hoped that the Marc Bergevin-Chicago connection would play in our favour, that he could do a Brandon Prust-style sales job on him.

Now, with the solid post-season he's having, and the fact that his name is commonly brought up by talking heads, our chances of landing him are becoming ever more remote.  Our little secret is out.  Back to the drawing board.

They had a graphic on Hockey Night in Canada last night, and it showed that he played four seasons in the AHL.  That's patience, on both parts.  The team for letting the big man learn the pro game, and the player for sticking to it, not giving up and getting frustrated.  They're both being rewarded now.

At the pub last night, we were discussing him, and the Canucks fans were comparing that treatment with Zack Kassian, how he's being asked to play with the Sedins, to score some goals, but also to fight, yo-yoed down to the fourth line, back on the powerplay, healthy scratch, down to the AHL for four games, back up because of injuries, on with Ryan Kesler and "now he gets it he scored two goals", followed with "What's wrong with Zack" a week later, ....

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Sportsnet is horrible, again

How Mickey Mouse is Sportsnet?  Apparently their Hockey Central Twitter account has been hacked for five days before they figured it out.

Please note, this is not safe for viewing at work.

Good job Justin Bourne for pointing this out, even though it involves your putative supervisors.  Although it looks like they couldn't supervise a kindergarten nap period.

I'll ask again though, are we sure that we want CBC to lose Hockey Night in Canada so these clowns can get their simian paws on it?

The 2013-14 Hamilton Bulldogs

(***NOTE:  This post was followed up on September 2.***)

Okay, after dealing with the Canadiens' unsigned players whose rights were about to expire, and then the players who were about to become free agents, we have a better idea of what the roster(s) will be next season.

Let's deal with what the Hamilton Bulldogs roster will look like for the most part at training camp, making educated guesses along the way.  We did this last season, and it helped frame the discussion.

The team will once again be a young but talented team, and should benefit from the trial-by-fire season they just endured.  The main goal for next season's squad should again be one of development rather than competitiveness, to get the youngsters some experience and continue their progression, but it should aspire to take a step forward in the standings, and learn how to win.  Another season of crushing losses can damage the psyche of such young players, it's important that they see improvement in their game and their team.  Finishing dead last again won't do, the team has to realistically challenge for a playoff spot, the battle will do them some good.

To achieve this, while the heavier workload should still be borne by the Morgan Ellises and the Michaël Bournivals, it may be wise to add a few quality veteran AHL'ers to the team so they can impart some experience and steadiness.  These vets may not necessarily be the most talented players, or the ones we'll want on the ice during crucial faceoffs, but they'll calm the waters on the bench and in the dressing room just with their presence.  In effect, I envision their use being a 'reverse Galchenyuk': whereas young Alex was sheltered by Coach Therrien this season, in terms of the quantity of minutes he received, as well as the situations he was placed in, these Bulldog vets would pull their weight but step aside during key faceoffs, special teams, end of game situations, etc.  The kids would get the lion's share of minutes, their apprenticeship would enter its second phase, but they'd have someone to lean on.

In nets, we're set with Dustin Tokarski to be the starter.  His backup will probably be Robert Mayer, depending on his state of mind or whether the long arm of the law will collar and drag him back to Biel, Switzerland.  Robert Condon and Peter Delmas will compete for a spot, but will likely end up in Wheeling.  It's doubtful a draftee muddles this picture, unless it's an overager from Europe or some such scenario.

On defence, I expect that both Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, despite making a good account of themselves when called up to Montréal this season, will at least start the season in Hamilton.  It's important to remember Marc Bergevin's statement that you rarely regret leaving a player in the minors too long, but often regret bringing them up too soon.  This will affect Jarred Tinordi more, in that there is a hole on the roster and a crying need for a physical defensive-minded player on the blueline with the Grand Club, especially with Alexei Emelin being injured and unavailable until Christmas.  It would appear that Jarred could slot in there nicely, except that it would be unfair to ask him to fill this role while his apprenticeship is not near complete.  Better to let him continue logging heavy minutes in Hamilton, and sign some plugs for the Canadiens as short-term solutions, even at the cost of a few losses.  Short-term pain for long-term gain.

Add to these guys incumbents Greg Pateryn and Morgan Ellis, joined by newcomers Darren Dietz and Magnus Nygren, and that's a packed d-corps, with not a lot of room or icetime for anyone else.  Because of this, I strongly suspect that Dalton Thrower will be asked to make amends for his poor season in Saskatoon with an overager season with the Vancouver Giants.  He needs to put things together.  Also, Mac Bennett stays at Michigan for another season, if there was any doubt.  He didn't have a dominant season in the NCAA, he might benefit from another at that level anyway.  Expect Antoine Corbin to be pushed down to Wheeling.

So with six young, inexperienced defencemen, we can see how a tough veteran or two will help out.  I don't know if Frédéric St-Denis fits that bill, while he's smart and has skills, he lacks the size to 'protect' his younger charges.  In any case, he may not even want the job, preferring to go to an organization with a better opportunity for him to crack the big league roster.  We wish him well.

At forward, there is no infusion of talent expected from the recent draftees.  Daniel Prybil might join the team, but it's a remote possibility at this point, he's not even signed yet, and the clock is winding down in his case.  Dustin Walsh might be offered an AHL contract, he has some size and skill, but based on his production at Dartmouth it's doubtful he's a likely prospect.  Sebastian Collberg will be playing with Frolunda for at least one more season.

So we're going to have to make do with the guys currently on the roster.  Danny Kristo was, at long last, brought into the fold late in the season, so that's an upgrade of scoring talent, he'll join the current crop of forwards.  We can expect that Michael Blunden and Gabriel Dumont, who were called up late in the season, will at least start in Hamilton as well.

Based on what we know, we can assume that Blake Geoffrion will retire, which is unfortunate since he'd started last season very well, showing leadership and playing strong hockey on a line with Louis Leblanc.  We wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

Stopgaps like Phillippe Lefebvre and Joey Tenute don't bring our organization any benefits, and should be phased out in favour of depth and experience.  We can have a longshot or two to make it at forward in Hamilton, not five or six.

Since there isn't an overabundance of prospects at forward, there is a good opportunity to add the AHL veteran players we discussed earlier.  The thing is, these veterans are prized by AHL teams, they're in demand, so it's easier said than done to acquire them, but that's where the Canadiens' financial resources can be brought to bear.  While other teams run their minor leagues on a shoestring, we can spend more in this area than they can, and can attract some minor leaguers with a good offer that others can't or won't match.

As far as coaching goes, Sylvain Lefebvre took some hits for some of his decisions by observers who followed the Bulldogs, and lost assistant coach Ron Wilson along the way for nebulous reasons.  He needs veteran help, a trusty coach who's seen it rain, and can help with the offence and powerplay.  Whether that means Clément Jodoin heads back to Hamilton or not, it's clear that another assistant beside Donald Dufresne is needed.

So the roster would look like this:

AHL Veteran-Naatinen-Blunden
Hagel-AHL Veteran-Stortini

Spare forward 1, spare forward 2

Tinordi, Pateryn
Beaulieu, Ellis
Dietz, Nygren

Spare AHL Veteran


1)  The forwards aren't matched up to indicate preferred line combinations.  Some issues we have are that while we have three prospect RW's and four C, there is not a single LW prospect in Hamilton.  Since Michaël Bournival is a lefty, I put him on LW on the second line.

2)  I could have put Louis Leblanc on the wing, since that seems to be where he is projected to go, but he's a right-handed shot and we needed left wings, so I left him at centre.

3)  I expect that some of Olivier Fortier, Alex Belzile, Stefan Chaput or Phillippe Lefebvre will be retained, but I don't know enough about them to guess which one, and suspect they're interchangeable in the grand scheme of things.  Plunk any one or two of them in the slots assigned to 'AHL Veteran' or 'Spare Forward' if you want.

4)  Messrs. Stortini and Hagel remain, since we have room on this conjured roster and have already stated we need a little bit of veteran protection for our youngsters.  If we can upgrade in that area, then obviously we do so.

5)  Aside from Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, all our defencemen are right-handed shots.  I'd noticed in previous drafts how many righty D's we'd snapped up, and I know they're relatively harder to find, but we now have a bit of an imbalance in that regard.  I know that's a hard thing to control, whenever you think you're set an injury happens, so you can't get too caught up in that, but we also have Dalton Thrower, Colin Sullivan and Josiah Didier in the organization as righties.  That's an advantage for leftie Mac Bennett in 2014, and another nail in the coffin for rightie Joe Stejskal in the present.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Which Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents should the Canadiens retain?

We discussed recently the players whose rights are about to expire that the Canadiens should sign.  The deadline for these decisions is June 1 for the most part, and the announcements have been rolling in, with, for example, Olivier Archambault's agent Normand Dupont confirming today that he has been told by the Canadiens they will not be offering him a contract, and Mr. Archambault will re-enter the NHL draft in June.

Next we need to consider which free agents on the 50-man roster the team will retain.  Some of these are easy calls, for others the picture is more muddled, but we'll risk an opinion/recommendation/prediction.

Going off the Canadiens' CapGeek page, the first unrestricted free agent we come to is one of the very easy calls in Michael Ryder.  His contract and cap hit of $3.5M comes off the books this summer, and it's hard to imagine a scenario whereby he remains with the team.  While he might have made the decision more interesting had he continued his fifteen games or so point streak immediately after the trade from Dallas, he cooled off noticeably at the end of the season, and was basically invisible in the first round exit against the Senators.  

Gaston Therrien of RDS was very realistic when analyzing Michael Ryder's play early on, during the streak, when some fans were already debating whether we should offer him $5M/year, and for how long a term.  He kept repeating that Michael has a role, which is to score goals, and when he does he's not hurting his team.  It's when he stops scoring that he becomes a problem on your roster.  Gaston Therrien reminded us repeatedly that he won't go in the corners, he won't play physical, that's never been his strength.  What he does is cruise around like a shark, looking for empty space from where he can take a pass and snipe at the net.  That's all we can expect from him, he'd state, and as long as he's clicking, he contributes, but you have to weather his droughts.

The fishtail end to his season probably kills any hope anyone had that he might remain with the team, but there would have been a fundamental impediment to this even if he'd had a good finish.  Michael Ryder, at 33, will most likely sign the last contract of his career, and he will want to cash in, and want a term of four or five years.  His needs and desires completely clash with those of the Canadiens, who want to build with youth, and stay away from expensive free agent deals for now since they hamper a team's flexibility.  If the Canadiens were like the 'Hawks or Penguins, with the framework of the team set, and needed one final piece to make their contending team 'complete', then there might be interest for Mr. Ryder.  As such, we can expect that another team out there, desperately in need of a scoring forward and with cap space will make an offer that the Canadiens couldn't or wouldn't dream of matching.

One caveat we can explore is that Mr. Ryder may have hurt his contract value with this end to his season.  Factor in that next year the salary cap is going down to $64M, and a lot of teams will be struggling to ice a competitive team while staying under this number, so his options may be more limited.  I can perhaps see how he might think that a one-year deal to polish his resume with a strong season might be to his advantage, allowing him to re-enter the free agent market in 2014, when the cap should rise again and there might be more demand for his services.

Next up is Colby Armstrong, who was thought last summer to be a 'beau risque' for les Glorieux, in that the team was getting a player who, while hampered by injuries in the last few seasons, had talent and offensive ability, could play in the corners and against the tough teams, kill penalties, had leadership ability, was familiar with Coach Therrien since their days in Pittsburgh...  I opined at the time that he was an upgrade over Mathieu Darche, and now understood why the latter was not offered a contract he could accept (Mathieu did receive an offer for a two-way deal, but he turned it down).  In hindsight, I'm not sure how much better Colby was than Mathieu.  While he didn't play badly per se, the hope that he'd vastly outplay his million dollar cap hit never materialized.  It does look like this sponge has been wrung dry, and I would be surprised if he was offered another contract.  Let's hope for his sake that he can obtain a sinecure in Phoenix or Florida to finish off his career.  Good guy, but we need to move on and improve.

Jeff Halpern was added at no cost to the roster, being plucked off waivers, and he served a valuable role as a fourth-line right-handed centreman who could take draws and kill penalties.  Since we were in a race for first in the East and getting ready for the playoffs, it was a sensible move.  Going forward, we're not going to set ourselves up as contenders with a 37 year old checking, defensive player.  I imagine the team thinks it can find another player who can fill this role who is younger and maybe plays a little more physical.  Shake his hand, thank him for his loyal service (again), and move on to the next...

....right-handed defensive centreman with some size who can play physical and kill penalties and take some draws who was signed as cheap roster insurance, namely Petteri Nokelainen.  He's only 27, and was injured at the start of the season so he didn't have a chance to prove himself, and it's not his fault, but it will play against him.  While he has decent size and is a former first-rounder, he's not been able to establish himself in two abridged seasons here, and it's hard to see how Marc Bergevin might not want to try something different.  We were moderately surprised that he was re-signed last summer, and it would be stunning to see him get another offer from the Canadiens, unless it was a two-way deal.

Davis Drewiske was acquired for cheap at the deadline from the Kings, who swapped him for a fifth-round pick, and he was seen as only roster insurance, a depth player who added a little size to the back end.  Trouble is, soon after the deadline he was forced into duty when Alexei Emelin was lost for the season, and his performance was uneven.  Some fans are willing to cut ties and move on, but I have to believe that Marc Bergevin's pro scouting staff saw something in him, and that he can be re-signed for relatively cheap, given that he didn't set the world on fire when he had a chance.  I think it's even money that he stays on an affordable one or two year contract.

In Hamilton, Frédéric St-Denis and Jason DeSantis are both UFA.  With the crowded depth chart on the blue line in Hamilton, and more youngsters coming in like Darren Dietz and Magnus Nygren, it's hard to see how they will be retained.  Frédéric is a headsy player and a homeboy, so maybe he'll be offered a two-way contract, if Mr. Bergevin thinks they have enough room under the 50 contract limit, but if I was his agent I'd recommend going to another organization not overloaded with defence prospects.  Like the Canucks maybe.

Shifting gears and looking at the restricted free agents, we see quite a few borderline players that won't exactly challenge for an All-Star Team nod, but they are assets that are worth retaining and developing, for the most part.

Ryan White is first in the list, and while he had an up and down season, it makes sense to retain a tough forward who plays with heart and can play centre, can fight and will always stand up for his teammates.  He can still develop his game, although his upside is relatively low we can now safely assert, and his window is closing.  He gets a cheap qualifying offer.

Mike Blunden is also RFA, and looks like a tweener, a guy who'll be effective in the AHL but may not have what it takes to make the next jump.  Again, he's an asset, he could turn out to be a late bloomer, we re-up the guy and hope he doesn't get snapped up on waivers by another team and then goes all Charlie Simmer on us.

Gabriel Dumont is a coach favourite, for all the right reasons, they love his heart and effort and hockey sense and how he doesn't back down despite his size.  He makes up for a lack of stature by being reputedly very strong.  He was the best player in Hamilton for a long stretch this season and earned an injury callup.  This one's a no-brainer, we qualify this guy, despite the fact that he's another smallish player on an undersized team/organization.

Yannick Weber may have run out of road with the Canadiens, he didn't show enough to continue playing here.  He had opportunities to earn a roster spot, we all waited for him to contribute reliably on the powerplay, but it hasn't happened yet.  While he's still young and he's not a Benoit Pouliot-style lost cause, he's being pushed from behind by the prospects in Hamilton, so it's time for a change of scenery for him.  Having said that, the Canadiens will still qualify him and dump him on another team for a low draft pick, or another longish shot prospect whose skillset fits in better with what we need.  I can see a big winger languishing in the minors in another organization being targeted if his team needs offensive defenceman help.

In Hamilton we have four players who are RFA's this summer.

Dustin Tokarski was acquired this season, and he's a tender who still needs a lot of work, but I don't doubt that he will be re-signed, especially with the lack of quality goaltending prospects in the organization.  

Robert Mayer's situation is cloudy at best, his signing a contract with a Swiss team and then instantly reneging on it is a puzzler.  I guess the Canadiens re-up him, I just don't know if they can, legally.  Expect the team to draft a goaltender this June.

Ian Schultz had a great chance this year, if he'd shown up in good condition, to earn a spot on the roster as a thirteenth or fourteenth forward at some point.  That's been his Achilles heel his entire career, being overweight and out of gas during games.  In 2011-12, he showed up to camp in decent shape, and earned praise from coach Clément Jodoin as the most improved Bulldog along with Joonas Nattinen.  He backslid however this season and for his troubles was sent down to the ECHL, and not even the Canadiens' Wheeling Nailers.  That's a huge red flag, that they didn't even want him in the organization.  

It's baffling that a player can fumble an opportunity like this.  The team had a crying need for a physical player, a tough forward, he could easily have earned a callup based on injuries or situation (read: Bruins).  I have a hard time believing he's too dense to figure this out, and wonder what else is going on there.  He's not coming back, evidently.

Finally, we have Joe Stejskal, a big D-man who had two seasons in Hamilton and the ECHL but hasn't impressed/improved enough to merit a contract.  There are plenty of youngsters in Hamilton who need icetime, he won't get a sniff of it next season.  It's probably best to use his roster spot on a veteran AHL defenceman, who'll steady the troops and can shepherd them through the tough games.  Mr. Stejskal will not receive a contract.

So there we have it.  The Canadiens have 31 players currently under contract, if we add Darren Dietz, Magnus Nygren and Mike Condon, that's 34.  We assume Sebastian Collberg stays at Frolunda one more season, and Charles Hudon goes back to Chicoutimi-WJC, so their contract 'slide' and don't count against the limit.  We add Davis Drewiske, that's 35, then Whitey, Yannick, Mike Blunden and Gabriel Dumont, makes 39.  The two Hamilton goalies make it 41.  Daniel Prybil, who I've already said should be offered a contract, bumps that up to 42.  

Eight contract slots is plenty to add a few free agents come July 5 to round out the roster until 2014, when Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov come off the books and by which time Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu should be ready, and we're in business.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

No body checking in peewee hockey in Canada starting next season

A progressive move was made by Hockey Canada's board of directors, when it voted overwhelmingly to ban bodychecking in peewee hockey, the age group for 11 and 12 year olds.  With what we're learning about concussions, and how severe the ramifications can be, the decision to remove bodychecking from peewee is a step in the right direction.  Honestly, with the size disparity that exists between kids, it's not fair to some of them that they're getting tagged by kids who outweigh them by half their body weight.  Also, this will allow young players to focus on things like stickhandling, skating, positioning, etc., instead of just trying to survive, and getting rid of the puck so they don't get tattooed.

My buddy's kid is a little powerhouse, all muscle, and I keep telling him that he'll be able to retire soon, when his kid gets drafted by an NHL team.  The thing is, his wife is paranoid about him getting hurt, and doesn't want him to play hockey.  I'm having none of it, bought the kid a stick, ball and net so he can start working on his shot in the basement, but that's the kind of challenge hockey is facing.  Declining enrollment in hockey is based on demographics, high cost, but also skittish mothers who don't want their kid put in that environment.

Besides, despite what the toughness crowd says, the easiest thing to teach is how to hit and take a hit.  That can happen much later in the progression, once the players have a better grasp of fundamentals.  It wouldn't be a bad idea also that it only be in higher level leagues, and not recreational leagues, but that battle can be waged later.  For now, moms and dads can rest easier knowing that their eleven-year olds will be much safer playing the game they love.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Mario Tremblay and Patrick Roy, Michel Therrien and P.K. Subban

Interesting report in the Gazette that Mario Tremblay and Patrick Roy haven't spoken since the infamous trade to Colorado in 1995.  Not once.  Even though they worked on the same TV show on RDS.  Apparently, they've never been scheduled to appear as panelists on the same night.  Tense.

The Canadiens' hiring of Mario Tremblay as a head coach was a bad idea for many reasons.  We've all discussed how he had no coaching experience of any kind.  He had a fiery, some would say abrasive personality that is not always well-received.  He didn't have the capacity to detach himself emotionally when necessary, I guess that was the flipside of his passion and love for the Montréal Canadiens.

The feud between him and Patrick Roy lies in the fact that Mario before his coronation was the host of a call-in show on CKAC.  He was opinionated and plain-spoken, and one of his hobby-horses was how Patrick was too coddled by the team, how he played by his own rules.  He kept pointing to how when he played, no one was above the team, everyone was equal, which is paradoxical, because as a matter of fact, Mario always felt that he was treated unfairly by Scotty Bowman, that he was singled out for punishment more than was deserved.  In any case, the undertone was that Mario didn't really care for Patrick and if he was calling the shots, well golly, things would be different.  According to legend, Patrick would listen to these shows and seethe (for you young ones, call-in shows were big, really big, back before the internet, that's how you took the pulse of the nation, and everyone listened to them, even the players who said they "didn't read the newspapers.")

Sure enough, when Mario was parachuted behind the bench, he tried to rein in Patrick, right or wrong, and he was never able to have a productive relationship with him.  Eventually, it blew up during that game against the Red Wings, but it wasn't because of that game.  It had been building for quite a while.

It's interesting that some Montréal fans had expressed the same fear regarding Michel Therrien and his remarks concerning P.K. on l'Antichambre.  Now, I've heard Michel Therrien comment on P.K. last season, and when young Mr. Subban would screw up Mr. Therrien wouldn't skirt the issue, but he was always respectful, and he always explained it as a coaching problem, not a player problem.  Now, Mr. Therrien had to be circumspect, so as not to appear to be campaigning for a job, but the message was clear.  This was an important distinction.  Patrick Roy was the problem in Mario Tremblay's mind, P.K. Subban's coaching was the problem in Michel Therrien's mind.

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Blades and Darren Dietz are unceremoniously bounced from the Memorial Cup

So...  Our little scheme to have the Blades lose last night so as to not go straight through to the finals, but rather lose, play a tiebreaker game, win that then play in the semi-final, and after another victory get into the finals, has, um, backfired.  The Blades, a team that appeared disjointed all season, going on alternating hot and cold streaks, were overmatched in the last game, as their high energy, physical style couldn't make up for their comparative lack of talent.

In the first period, Saskatoon battled bravely, propped up by another excellent performance by Andrey Makarov, who was under siege even when his team was on the powerplay.  It seemed a matter of time until the Knights exploded, and they did in the third, making the score 4-0 then 5-0 from the opening faceoff, and what was still a possible win became a rout.  While the Blades dumped and chased, and cycled, and grinded, and cycled some more, the Knights were one-touch passing, playing the 'three passes before you can shoot game'.  The first round talent they had overpowered the mature, physical lineup of the Blades.

Dalton Thrower was suspended for his shoulder check to the head of Taylor Leier of the Portland Winterhawks, so we were now stuck watching Darren Dietz as the only Canadiens prospect in the tournament.  And again, he did a lot of things well, but tonight some of his miscues were glaring.

On the plus side, he played major minutes, especially when the Blades still had a chance, being on the ice more often than not, even strength, on the powerplay, on the penalty kill.  He was confident and creative with the puck, got off a few shots on goal that came close, and he was physical when in front of the net.

On the debit side, he committed a couple of gaffes that almost ended up in his net, notably when he tried a tricky little bounce pass off the boards to a teammate while behind his net, and that pass was easily gathered in by an opponent.  The Blades scrambled in their end blocking shots and chasing the puck for an extra 30 seconds instead of having easily cleared their zone.  Also, as the wheels were coming off, Mr. Dietz was frequently out of position, chasing the puck or a hit, although the whole team was coming unglued, the system was unraveling, so he's not completely to blame.  Another blight was his huge deliberate elbow to the throat of a London Knight who was already engaged with a Blade in a corner.  Mr. Dietz was lucky to get away with only a two-minute penalty.  As an assistant captain, we expect more maturity and discipline from him.  He played the rest of the game straddling the line between resignation and dejection.

Overall, we have to assess Darren Dietz as a good prospect, but he's no slam dunk.  He does most everything pretty well, but he's not a world beater in any respect.  He's not a scalpel, he's not a sledge hammer, he's a good, useful multi-tool.  He'll need to spend a couple of seasons in the AHL to develop further, and I can see him as a Josh Gorges type, in that he won't be huge, but not small either, he'll be reliable and dependable, but in contrast he'll have an offensive component to his game that Josh doesn't.

The game offered glimpses of Nikita Zadorov also, and he again impressed with his mobility and agility.  Usually, a very tall defenceman is easy to pick out on the ice, he'll be the guy with the slow, chugging stride, the ungainly pivot, the slow stick that a Daniel Brière or Saku Koivu will exploit.  He'll be the one who mid-stride will teeter, coast as he windmills his arms, then resume skating.  Well, in Mr. Zadorov's case, as well as most young giant defencemen coming up these days, that's not the case.  We saw him walking the blue line with the puck, stickhandling all the while, and getting off good shots.  He was confident skating forward or backward, and his lateral movement and crossovers were effortless.  He scored another goal, although this one was a rebound off his skate blade as he charged the Blades' net, not a beauty like his powerplay marker in his earlier game against Saskatoon.  Overall, he's not a defenceman who's tall yet pretty good, he's a really good player who is really big and tall to boot.

Fingers crossed.  Central Scouting has him ranked #22, you never know.  Maybe we can start planting KHL rumours....

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Let's call the Memorial Cup what it is: the Memorial Cup. It's not the [title sponsor] Memorial Cup.

One more thing people, it's the Memorial Cup, plain and simple.  Not anything else.  We don't have to, shouldn't, and mustn't contort ourselves to affix a company's name in front of the title just because they paid Sportsnet a couple of mill.  Just because Darren Millard and his stooges and the announcers are being forced to say this unwieldy phrase eight times a period doesn't mean we have to jump through the same hoop.

That company didn't invent the Memorial Cup, or play any part in its development as a grand Canadian tradition.  All they've done is shovel money into Ted Rogers' estate.  We get no benefit from it.  They get no credit.

From Wikipedia:
The trophy was originally known as the OHA Memorial Cup and was donated by the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) in 1919 to be awarded to the junior champion of Canada. From its inception until 1971, the Memorial Cup was open to all Junior A teams in the country and was awarded following a series of league, provincial and regional playoffs culminating in an east-west championship. The three-league tournament format began in 1972 when the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association divided the Junior A rank into two tiers, naming the Memorial Cup as the championship of the Major Junior level.

The Memorial Cup was proposed by Captain James T. Sutherland during World War I, who wanted to create a trophy as a memorial to remember the OHA's players who died during the war. When the trophy was created, it was dedicated in honour of the soldiers who died fighting for Canada in the war. It was rededicated to honour all soldiers who died fighting for Canada in any conflict during the 2010 tournament.

Let's honour the tradition and legacy that is the Memorial Cup, and not sully it by parroting what the talking heads at Sportsnet are bleating incessantly.

David Ortiz is skinny, then huge, then smaller, then powerful again, but it's not suspicious.

Interesting, or rather, astounding article in Grantland regarding the supposed resurgence of David Ortiz.  It's described as unique in baseball history to see a 37 year old hitter go on a tear such as he's on right now, and the author duly notes that there have been whispers about Mr. Ortiz using performance enhancing drugs in his career, but blithely carries on.  I admit I stopped reading at that point.  Gleaning, I should say, actually, I wasn't really reading.

After this article by Bill Simmons appeared in the same publication, you would think that there would be a healthy cynicism to any kind of late-career production or performance surge by an athlete, especially a baseball player.  Their stats are quantifiable, they're not as affected by a slumping centreman, or a lousy offensive line.  There can be variations from season to season, but abrupt spikes?  Those would leave me dubious, if I cared about baseball anymore.

Here's a thought: why don't baseball reporters/investigators/authorities measure a player's bat speed, and see if they can use that metric as a sure sign of cheating?  Just spitballing, free advice, because it's Thursday.

Anyway, even to the casual observer, who is subjected to baseball highlights when he watches SportsCentre despite his best intentions, David Ortiz is obviously a cheater.  We saw him in his prime as a massive, mountain of a man, a superhero who maybe didn't watch his calories, but with superpowers nonetheless.  Then, when the drug testing programs got stricter, and players were warned that HGH would soon be tested for, Mr. Ortiz, along with his compadre Manny Ramirez shrunk like raisins over the course of a season.  It's maybe not detectable to the rabid Red Sox fan, since they're tuning in every day and the change is somewhat gradual, but to the person who sees that transformation from one season's highlights to another's lowlights, it's obvious that there's been a drastic, transformative weight loss.  As was also immediately apparent in Albert Pujols, for exhibit 'C'.

We've seen athletes undergo shocking anabolic spurts in too short a time for those to not raise suspicions.  We're now beyond that period.  Athletes don't just do steroid or HGH cycles in the off-seasons, they're now cycling through their careers.  David Ortiz was skinny, then he was a grizzly bear of an all-star, then he got smallish in the shoulders and chest and doughy, and now apparently is back on the horse and he's using and producing again.  And we shouldn't act surprised, or even care.

Seth Jones impressive as Winterhawks defeat the Blades 4-2, Dalton Thrower faces suspension

I've been paying more attention to the Memorial Cup games that involve the Saskatoon Blades in order to see Canadiens' prospects Darren Dietz and Dalton Thrower in action.  The other teams also hold some interest however, if only due to the number of players eligible for the 2013 NHL draft.  One player I was looking forward to watching was Seth Jones, the #1 ranked prospect according the NHL Central Scouting.

While his performance in the tournament has been uneven, he didn't disappoint tonight.  While he only netted one assist, he was frequently dangerous, skating with the puck and getting shots off.  He is noticeable whenever he's on the ice, being tall at 6'4" but also very mobile.  He's quite an agile skater, and I don't mean the damning-with-faint-praise 'moves well for a big man', or 'deceptively fast'.  On a couple of occasions, he took off with the puck from his own zone and easily outdistanced a much smaller forechecking forward who you would expect would be a better skater.

One aspect of his game which was somewhat odd was that he didn't show any kind of toughness.  While the game itself was very physical, with every check being finished, Mr. Jones didn't throw his body around.  If this is an indication of the type of game he'll play going forward, his size will still be an asset, as his reach is intimidating and he's very good with his stick, but he probably won't be a Chris Pronger (few are) or Shea Weber.

Dalton Thrower, who had been relatively unnoticeable to date, threw a big hit in the first period on Winterhawk Taylor Leier, apparently catching him in the head with his shoulder and stunning him.  Mr. Leier ended up bleeding face first on the ice, yet no penalty was called on the play.  Whether the hit was legal or not will be adjudicated later, but it seemed that Mr. Thrower was going to be in for a long night as the 'Hawks sought to avenge their teammate.  Instead the WHL champions kept their cool and discipline, and aside from finishing every check on Mr. Thrower, didn't try to exact their pound of flesh.

Interestingly, the hit also seemed to focus Dalton Thrower.  He may have figured he needed to tighten up his chin strap and bear down, keep his wits about him, and it showed up in his game.  He showed more aggressiveness with the puck the rest of the period, at one point trying a nifty spinaround backward pass deep in the offensive zone.  Overall, he played the best game I've seen from him at the tournament.

Darren Dietz also played a big game, in that it seems he played thirty minutes, and if he wasn't on the ice, Dalton Thrower was the one manning the right side of the blue line.  Both are obviously being trusted by Head Coach Lorne Molleken over the other younger defencemen.  Mr. Dietz is a more elegant, classic skater than Dalton Thrower, and seems more comfortable with the puck.  In the third period, when the Blades were trying to close the gap and were attacking the 'Hawks' zone, he repeatedly left the blue line to sneak up to the net in an effort to score.  Indeed, on the Blades' second goal, he was in the blue paint of the Portland goalie, causing havoc, battling with an opposite defenceman, without causing interference.  His offensive instincts, confidence and ability with the puck are at this point more polished than Dalton Thrower's, and it showed in this game.

The Winterhawks have two other high-pedigree defencemen who played well in Tyler Wotherspoon, a steady presence who foiled countless Blades attacks, and Derrick Pouliot, who scored a goal and was entertaining when he carried the puck and always dangerous.

A disappointing result for the Blades, who finish the round robin at 1-2.  During the game, I formulated the thought that it might be better if the Blades lost, since this way they'd potentially play three more games, whereas if they won they'd have bypassed the tiebreaker and semi-final and gone straight to the final.  If we regard the Memorial Cup as a developmental tool (which I do), this is the preferred outcome, that both the Canadiens prospects have an opportunity to play high-level, high-pressure hockey games, the more the better.  So we'll see if Dalton Thrower is suspended for his hit, and whether the Blades can follow the Cinderella journey the Draveurs de Trois-Rivières did last season.

The Canadiens should sign Daniel Prybil, but not Olivier Archambault and Dustin Walsh

The Montréal Canadiens, sadly, are already preparing for next season, instead of keeping busy slaying Bruins.  Not an exciting time for most fans, except that this is the season during which a lot of the work that makes a franchise successful is done.

The first order of business is to sew up the players the Canadiens presently own the rights to but who must be signed to a contract before these right expire.  General Manager Marc Bergevin has already started this process by giving a contract to Magnus Nygren and Sebastian Collberg.

The former was drafted in the fourth round in 2011 and had two strong seasons in the Elitserien in Sweden, winning the Borje Salming Trophy this season, awarded to the best defenceman in the league.  The scouting report and highlights on the web show a guy with decent size who can play physically, but whose strength is on the offensive side of the ledger.  He has a booming shot on the powerplay, and shoots right, so he's a welcome addition to the organization.  Where he'll end up next year, whether in Sweden for another season, or in Hamilton to acclimatize to the North American game, is not clear yet.

Sebastian Collberg was drafted last season early in the second round, so his rights didn't expire this June, contrary to his countryman, but Mr. Bergevin evidently figured there was no point in waiting.  The scouting reports describe a very talented scoring winger, with lots of speed and a wicked shot.  He shoots right but reportedly can play either wing.  He will need to get bigger and stronger, as most young players do, and will probably stay with Frolunda next season, where the head coach Roger Rönnberg is also the coach of Sweden's National Junior Team, for which Mr. Collberg is expected to play next December.

The other players who the Canadiens must make a decision on are Kyle Klubertanz, Daniel Prybil, Dustin Walsh and Olivier Archambault.  The first player is only on the books in the technical sense, since he has played in the Finnish League for years, and the organization has no designs on him.  His rights will expires on June 1.

Daniel Prybil is a tantalizing prospect in that he combines size, being listed by the Canadiens at 6'4" and 194 lbs, with a long reach, and playmaking and scoring ability.  So far, he's not wowed anyone with his production, he's mostly a young prospect with potential, but the Canadiens should be patient with such a player.  At 20 years old, knowing how big players often take time to grow into their bodies, and taking into account that he plays against grown men, he should be given an entry deal and allowed to mature and realize his potential.  He'll eventually need to come over to North America, but the team can determine if he'll be better served by playing another season in the Czech Extraliga.

As far as the other two players are concerned, this is where the business side of hockey dictates that the Canadiens shouldn't offer them a contract.  Long gone are the days when an NHL team could own a vast system of junior and senior teams and have an endless supply of players vying for a spot on the Grand Club.  To promote parity, as well as to avoid situations where players are stuck in one organization with no chance to crack the big leagues, a number of rules were enacted by the League to limit how many players any team could have control over.

One rule limits each team to a maximum of 90 players they own the rights to, signed to a contract or not. Further, each team is limited to 50 players under contract at any time.  While that may seem a generous number, when one considers that an NHL team usually has 25 players on its roster, if allowing for a couple of injured players, and a farm team with an equivalent number, and we see that this maximum number is easily reached.  To allow for this, teams will usually have a number of players on their AHL 'farm' team on AHL-only contracts, which don't count against this limit.

In any case, it's important to understand that these 50 roster spots are precious, not to be squandered on players who have a low probability of ever making the NHL.  And this brings us to Messrs. Walsh and Archambault.

Dustin Walsh was drafted in the 6th round in 2009, and then played four years of NCAA hockey at Dartmouth.  In that time, he battled injury and didn't produce much offensively.  The scouting reports show that he has size and skill, but he hasn't developed into a player who projects to play in the NHL.  At 22, it's debatable how much upside he still has.  If anything, he might be a good candidate for an AHL contract, but I doubt he merits an NHL entry-level deal.

Olivier Archambault is a player who showed great talent, being the #1 overall pick in the LHJMQ draft in 2009 by the Val d'Or Foreurs.  He seemed promised to a great career, but his development stalled in many respects.  He measured 5'10" at the time, but has only grown one inch since then, and remains relatively slight physically.  His work habits on and off the ice are inconsistent, as well as his offensive production.  More worrisome, he clashed with his coach and teammates in Val d'Or, to the point where he was traded before the NHL draft to Drummondville.

The Canadiens took a chance on him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft (ahead of Messrs. Nygren and Prybil), but to all appearances it has not panned out.  His two seasons in Drummondville have not shown much improvement, his offensive numbers being flat instead of increasing.  Once the Drummondville Voltigeurs' season was done this April, he was signed to an Amateur Tryout Contract to finish out the Bulldogs' season.  In ten games, he tallied a goal and an assist, and the reports from Hamilton were not encouraging.

Mr. Archambault also would seem to be a poor fit within the team concept promoted by Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien.  He comes across as petulant and arrogant, and has a reputation for being moody and hard to coach.  Further, the attributes he brings to the table are those the Canadiens' organization already has an excess of.  Smaller, skilled players who are offensively talented but might not thrive in a physical playoff series abound in the system.  Charles Hudon, for example, roughly fits the same profile as Mr. Archambault, and is more than a year younger, yet received glowing reviews for his showing in Hamilton, having also finished the season there.  Does the team have room for more of these types of players?  If we choose one, which one do we go with, the player who represents Canada internationally on the World Junior Team, or the one who battles with coaches and teammates?

It's an easy call.  If anything at all, Mr. Archambault should receive an AHL contract, nothing more.  In fact, there's a rumour that the Canadiens have already made such an offer, but he's balking at it, not wanting to battle it out in the ECHL and AHL to eventually earn an NHL contract.  Which is not encouraging.

If there were no roster or contract limits, the Canadiens could afford, certainly, to sign all their draft picks and hope they deliver, but since that's not the case, and since contract slots are valuable, let's offer one to Daniel Prybil, but not to Dustin Walsh, and especially not to Olivier Archambault.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Jonathan Ismael Diaby = Gilles Lupien 2.0 ?

Samuel Morin gets all the attention, and deservedly so since according to the scouts there's a lot to like, but scanning the prospects from the LHJMQ, we come across this guy.

Not as talented, not as polished, not as much upside as Mr. Morin, but according to the scouts he has lots of heart and plays with an edge.  If we can get him as a late-rounder, he could potentially play the role of Gilles Lupien on the team, the #6 defenceman who's around when needed, but steady and disciplined when things are going smoothly.

Nick Kypreos is consecutively awful in a row

During the open to the broadcast of the Saskatoon Blades game against the Portland Winterhawks on Sportsnet, Darren Millard just referred to Andrei Makarov as "Andrei Markov", so two minutes later the abysmal Nick Kypreos took care to correct this and enunciated the name carefully, and it felt like he was rubbing Mr. Millard's nose in it.

Of course, a minute after that, Mr. Kypreos, beacon of broadcasting excellence that he is, stalwart of the English language, stated that the Blades' goalie has started "31 consecutive games in a row..."

Tony Reali of ESPN's "Around the Horn" and "Pardon the Interruption" always has fun with this.  Whenever he has the panel discuss any kind of streak, he makes a point of referring to it as, for example, "...31 straight games, consecutively, in a row..."

I wonder if Nick Kypreos gets that joke.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Will the Colorado Avalanche (and Patrick Roy) draft Seth Jones or Nathan McKinnon 1st overall?

It's not clear-cut, but the consensus going into the Memorial Cup was that defenceman Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks was the #1 ranked draft-available player for the coming June draft, with Halifax Moosehead centre Nathan McKinnon #2, and his linemate Jonathan Drouin the next highest rated player.

It's early yet, but Nathan McKinnon is going to muddy the waters even more if he keeps playing like he has so far.  In three games, he has four goals and four assists, most of these of the highlight variety, and has generally played spectacularly.

Conversely, Seth Jones, author of one goal in two games, hasn't been a difference maker.  Of course, during the World Juniors tournament in January, the roles were reversed, with Seth Jones playing a leadership role in the US squad's gold medal showing.

As far as Patrick Roy offering draft advice or being listened to by the management team of the Colorado Avalanche, holders of the first overall pick, I think he'll have some say in the matter.  Usually NHL head coaches have little to offer, since they don't know the players involved, being too busy with daily coaching duties to do much scouting.  In this case however, we have to remember that as the Remparts de Québec head coach, he faced Nathan McKinnon repeatedly over the last two seasons, and he has insights to offer.

Similarly, new Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly joined the team after four years coaching the Oregon Ducks, and in that capacity was very familiar with Pac-12 conference teams and their players.  It's interesting that the Eagles ended up choosing four players from that conference, out of eight picks, and signed two more Pac-12 players as free agents.  Of note, they took Zach Ertz of Stanford, who had some big games against the Ducks, and University of Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley when he fell to the fourth round.

It only makes sense as an organization to make use of the intel a coach fresh out of junior/college can provide.  As such, I would expect that Patrick Roy will be encouraged to weigh in on his evaluations regarding Nathan McKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, and probably some other LHJMQ players in the later rounds.

The Canadiens won't draft Frédérik Gauthier or Nikita Zadorov

 To satisfy my inner draft-nerd needs, I've been Googling and found this handy resource from, it's a 'dashboard' of the Top 30 picks according to various drafting services and prognosticators.

This gives us a sense of where a player might fall, whether it be a Valery Nichushkin or a Frédérik Gauthier.  For me, the Nikita Zadorov dream is dead.  So might be, to a lesser degree, the Anthony Mantha 'kind of' wish.

There are some significant discrepancies with the NHL's Central Scouting final rankings, notably how they have Mr. Zadorov ranked as the #22 North American skater.  When you fold in the Europeans and maybe a goalie or two, you think he'd be down around #30 when the draft happens, but some services in the dashboard have him as high as #7.

When Bob McKenzie releases his final rankings, we'll be able to compare to those and they're usually reliable, made from the combined rankings of a number of NHL teams.

We also have to factor in that the Flames' Jay Feaster, after desperately trying to trade down and feverishly attempting to trade up, will take a Quebec high school player as his first-rounder, and that should bump every other prospect down one rung.

Monday, 20 May 2013

P.K. Subban's icetime was managed by the Canadiens this season

It's a little surprising, looking at the Montréal Canadiens year-end statistics, that P.K. Subban only had 23:15 minutes Average Time on Ice, less than the 24:18 he amassed in 2011-12, and less than veteran Andrei Markov did this year with 24:08.  P.K. is a strong, dynamic player with excellent conditioning, lots of energy, and is equally adept in the offensive or defensive zone, in virtually all situations.  He seemed like he could easily have taken more of a load, especially at the end of the season when the team was struggling with injuries.

Some commentors on the blogosphere are positing that there may have been a plan/conspiracy by Canadiens management to keep his icetime down to not hand P.K.'s agents too much ammunition before the next contract negotiations.  I disagree with the reasons given for his relatively low icetime, but I do think it was managed, if not restricted to that 'low' number.

When Marc Bergevin was hired by Geoff Molson, he took as Job #1 the task to change the culture of the team.  The first gesture he made in that direction was to remove Scott Gomez from the roster at the first opportunity.  It's obvious that bringing P.K. back in line was another item on the to-do list to achieve that.

It's hard to blame the player or the management team for this, since the circumstances of the previous season kind of set the stage for P.K. to run wild a little bit.  The team had few reliable defencemen, having let Roman Hamrlik walk in free agency in favour of playing more young players.  This was a decision I supported, but compounded with the surprise medical setbacks of Andrei Markov, it left the team bereft of credible blueliners.  Add to that Jacques Martin's reluctance to use rookies, and P.K., as a second-year and talented player, got more than his share of minutes.  Enter lameduck Randy Cunneyworth as Head Coach midway through the season, and you now have to factor in lack of control and leadership.

This led to some static in the dressing room, and some ruffled feathers.  Denis Gauthier of RDS explained that "if there are five team rules, P.K. will break seven."  There was the famous curt response from Andrei Markov when questioned about P.K.  P.K. was viewed as being too big for his britches, maybe loving the limelight a little too much for a young player.  The nail was sticking out and needed to be hammered down.

When Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien discussed P.K., it's clear to me that they agreed on a plan of action to provide him with direction, with leadership, and discipline.  As I've talked about before, discipline doesn't mean punishment, but clear guidelines to adhere to, and consequences when they're not.  They felt that the previous régime had let P.K. run wild, that the Hal Gill 'mother hen' approach could only go so far, and they took a firm grasp of the reins.

Other than the way the contract negotiations went, and the way the team veterans explained that they didn't want to answer questions about P.K. while he was absent, another way this iron hand in a velvet glove manifested itself was in the limited icetime P.K. received, especially at first.  Michel Therrien tried to explain it away at first by the fact that P.K. didn't have a training camp, didn't know the system, and needed to be brought into the fold slowly.  Then, the fact that the team was winning insulated the head coach from any questions in that regard, for why would anyone want to upset the applecart?

To his credit, P.K. reacted like a champion to this new approach, saying all the right things from the get-go, playing hard and keeping his nose clean.  He took to the new system and gave it all he had and thrived.  He never complained, and we didn't see the outbursts that occurred on the bench last season.  He took to his role and kept his nose to the grindstone.  He should be applauded for this.

Now that the season's over, we look back and think that it was unwise to limit P.K. thus, that he's far and away the best defenceman on the team, and that we should have played him more.

This is where the relationship between Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien is crucial, and where Michel Therrien's job security is key.  The head coach, being newly minted, has a couple seasons of leeway before he's under any pressure to produce results.  This season, with this security as his shield, he was immune to any 'win this game at all costs' philosophy, and 'now we have to win the next game at all costs' corollaries.  He could afford to develop his system, create and strengthen his team, groom his future champions.  So he remained impervious to the siren songs, steered clear of the reefs of short-term thinking, and stubbornly protected Alex Galchenyuk, for example, limiting his minutes and exposure, keeping him hungry, ensuring that the kid always felt he could do more and wanted to show it on the ice.

When applied to P.K., this philosophy led to his diminished icetime, and an equitable distribution of this icetime among his blueline partners.  P.K. was not bigger or better than the team.  The 'team concept' was more important, and developing this was more important to the Canadiens' management team than any single victory or loss.  The team would ultimately benefit if P.K. understood this, and so would he.

As the season wore on and P.K. proved himself, and developed into the player that so many thought he would become, we saw the reins relax on him, his ATOI slowly creep up, and his responsibilities increase.  When Alexei Emelin went down to injury, P.K. took a bigger bite, but still within the team concept, he wasn't treated as if he was the only solution to the problem.

While some see this management of P.K. as a great injustice, a slight he'll never forget and guarantee he'll skip town at his earliest possibility, I think the Canadiens provided P.K. with an environment in which he could progress and thrive.  The results speak for themselves.  P.K. amassed a lot of points, created a new and improved image for himself, and now seems to be a lock for inclusion in the Canadian Olympic Team for next February.  He's a finalist for the Norris Trophy.  These are worthy accomplishments for the young man, and bode well for the future.

P.K. will never be the steady-eddie type like Bob Gainey, Trevor Linden or Jonathan Toews, that's not who he is.  He's more of a fiery guy, a bucking bronco, more Guy Lafleur or Chris Chelios, and that's not a bad thing.  We need many types of players on a team.  What he proved this season is that he can, when pointed in the right direction, cut down on the distractions and be an even greater contributor than he was last year.  And we can thank the Canadiens coaching staff and management team for their plan in this regard.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Canadiens' Darren Dietz shines at Memorial Cup; Dalton Thrower more muted

This Memorial Cup isn't the All-Canadiens Festival that last season's was, with Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, Michaël Bournival and Morgan Ellis playing starring roles on their respective teams.  We do however get two similar prospects playing on the Saskatoon Blades, a couple of righthanded shooting defenceman who play a tough, physical style and have offensive skills.  Darren Dietz was drafted in the fifth round in 2011, and after two more seasons in Saskatoon has signed an entry-level contract with the Canadiens.  Dalton Thrower was picked in the second round last summer, 51st overall.

Darren Dietz has looked good and drawn praise from the announcers and analysts so far.  He had some good battles in front of the net against the Knights, notably on the penalty kill when they were two players down.  He was steady with the puck, skating and passing well, loading up the slap shot, and made the simple plays and few mistakes.  I was surprised a couple of times when he made a backward pass in the neutral zone, but realized that it was a set play the Blades had worked on during their layoff.  He would skate the puck right at the lone forechecker, force him to commit, then slide the puck back to a forward ready to receive it and skate up with speed, kind of like when a rugby player makes a pass once the man covering him has committed to the tackle.  He wasn't mistake-free, being outmuscled in front of the net and effectively interfering with his own goalie on the first London goal.   Tonight, he was matched up against the Nathan McKinnon line and played big, important minutes, looked sure-handed handling and shooting the puck, and quarterbacking the powerplay.  He showed some offensive flair sneaking up to the net Andrei Markov-style, and was rewarded with a 'garbage' goal on a rebound.

Dalton Thrower is less visible so far.  No obvious flashes, a hooking penalty, no big hits, no display of the physical style and the mean streak that endeared him to Trevor Timmins and Marc Bergevin last summer.  He had a difficult year, being involved in some off-ice incidents that were whispered about but not reported by the hockey scribes who cover the Blades, or shown on the Memorial Cup documentary.  We can hope that he's given another year in junior to polish up his game and mature, and based on the situation in Hamilton, with an overstock on young D-men learning their craft there already, that seems likely.  The ideal scenario, and one that is probable, is that Saskatoon will trade him to a team that will contend next season, in exchange for picks and young players, since the Blades will need to rebuild after breaking the bank exchanging picks for veterans in anticipation of this tournament.

The Blades' Duncan Siemens, the 11th overall draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2011, does seem unimpressive for now.  You would expect him to be the leader on the blue line, but he's being overshadowed by Darren Dietz.  No great plays, nothing eye-catching, and he committed a doozie of a giveaway against the Knights, flubbing the backward-pass play we previously discussed, by trying to stickhandle the puck first and getting stripped on the Seth Griffith goal.  He had a tough year personally as shown on "Road to the Memorial Cup", but still, you expect to see a dominant player for a guy who's two years removed from his draft year, he should be more mature physically and mentally than most other players.

He's also kind of a gawky kid, a little scrawny, with acne...  It reminds me of the chapter in "Moneyball" when the old-school scouts give players a negative report if they have "a bad body" and/or an "ugly girlfriend."  This shouldn't be relevant to a scout's evaluation, but I can see how it could colour your perception of a player, and how if another prospect with roughly similar talent and potential has a more engaging, magnetic personality, you'd be more inclined to rate him higher.  It might not be a conscious process exactly, but if you're about to enter into a long-term relationship with a player, the golden boy would probably win out against the over-achieving runt of the litter.

Nick Kypreos is trying to drag hockey down to his abysmal level

So during the intermission of the Halifax Mooseheads vs. Portland Winterhawks game, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos is castigating Seth Jones for allowing Nate McKinnon to score without “at least making an effort to chop him down, get a stick on him, make him aware that you’re there…”  
Sure Mr. Kypreos.  What Seth Jones should have done is take a penalty.  Or take a good shot at it.  Maybe injure his opponent.  Make sure he knows he's there.  Never mind that as the rules are written, 'getting a stick on him' is not permitted. 
Are we sure as hockey fans that we want CBC to lose Hockey Night in Canada and have these clowns end up in charge of it? Is Nick Kypreos, the guy who never did anything of note in the NHL except deliberately fall on Grant Fuhr and rupture his ACL, knock him out of the series, and eventually end his career, really an upgrade on Don Cherry and P.J. Stock?

Saturday, 18 May 2013

World Hockey Championships Quarterfinals: Canada 2, Sweden 3 (SO)

Not that Sweden is ever a pushover in international competition, on Olympic-sized ice, at home, but the final score for this World Hockey Championship quarterfinal game is surprising.  We saw a Canadian team that was neck deep in scoring talent at forward manage only two goals.  Meanwhile, the goaltending was solid, as was expected at the start of the tournament, and Mike Smith was large in net, confident, moved the puck well, and acquitted himself of the task honourably.

My focus was on the defence corps, a definite weakness at the start of the tourney, replete as it was with Luke Schenns and Brendan Dillons and Jay Harrisons.  Not to exaggerate, but my first take when the roster was announced was that it was definitely underwhelming, and that it wouldn't even be a very strong unit on an NHL team.  Later, Steve Yzerman added Dan Hamhuis, who's a capable, mobile defensively-oriented piece, but not necessarily what the team needed, then publicly stated he was going to stand pat with the team he had, unless injuries struck.

Now, the elephant in the room, certainly in Montréal and online media, was that P.K. Subban was an available offensive force from the blue line yet didn't receive a call.  Historically, Team Canada has been built from professional players eliminated from Stanley Cup contention.  Some teams, especially in the eighties and nineties if memory serves, would start with a skeleton roster, picking the best of the worst, the pearls from the teams who didn't make the playoffs.  They'd try to muddle through until some stronger teams which were bounced from the first round had more players to offer, and then stock up on some of those goodies.  What was found was that while the pieces were more impressive, the teams were not cohesive and didn't add up to the sum of their parts.  The jetlagged, dejected players from eliminated NHL teams who were added at the last minute didn't have a chance to adapt to the ice surface, their teammates, the style of play, etc.  They didn't provide punch they were expected to.

So Team Canada moved away from this practice, and tended lately to mostly fill out its roster with eager younger players and add a deluxe piece or three later on, and this seemed to work out better.  The team worked better as a unit, its players were more committed.  The team gelled.

Which this year seemed to point towards the addition of P.K. Subban.  After the Canadiens were eliminated, it was spoken of as a 'fait accompli'.  Why the hesitation?  Did Steve Yzerman worry about team chemistry, with P.K.'s strong personality a concern?  Did his lack of discipline from last season, and a noteworthy lapse in the late-season game against Pittsburgh on national television, tinge the esteem the management team had for him?  How can there not be room on the blueline for one of this year's Norris Trophy candidates?  Did Steve Yzerman relent when Lindy Ruff advocated for his inclusion, knowing full well from facing the Canadiens the last couple of years what an impact P.K. could make on this D-corps?

In any case, P.K. was added to the roster, got a practice in, and then played a regular shift in this game.  He seemed to know what was expected of him, since he played hard and tough, but also spent a lot of time skating up the puck and rushing into the Sweden zone.  He was the can-opener to their defence, as it was, the Swedish players having a tough time keeping up to his skating and figuring out his dekes.  He managed to score a goal, but unfortunately after the second period buzzer had sounded.  Eventually, P.K. wasn't the difference maker, Team Canada falling short due to a surprising lack of offence from the elite forward corps.

At the start of this season, I thought P.K. had to play very hard, disciplined hockey and keep his nose clean both on and off the ice to merit inclusion on the Sochi Olympics team.  I thought he'd done a remarkable job of that, despite a couple of blips, and had gone from a darkhorse candidate to one who was routinely mentioned by prognosticators as a sure thing, on the strength of his offensive explosion and stellar play.  Now it seems the battle isn't quite won.  He'll have to be excellent in the first couple of months of next season to cement his participation on Team Canada.  Of course, now, so will Carey Price.

In any case, the real lowlight of this game though was the inexplicable act committed by Alex Edler on Eric Staal.  For a reason that I and numerous other commentators can't understand, Mr. Edler rushed at Eric Staal and collided knee-on-knee with him, with the latter suffering an injury.  Mr. Edler was ejected from the game, and will suffer additional sanctions from the IIHF.

What Mr. Edler was trying to accomplish is baffling.  He didn't play or attempt to play the puck, holding his stick to his left side while he crashed into Mr. Staal with his right knee.  He didn't try to bodycheck the Canadian player, actually veering away from him slightly at the moment of impact.  Was he trying to avoid hitting his head, since Mr. Staal was leaning forward at the time?  That's the best I can come up with, and that's really stretching it.

Most knee-on-knee collisions occur when a player is 'on the train tracks' in his attempt to bodycheck an opponent, and the opponent senses this and veers away.  The checker is committed and unwilling to let the 'checkee' slide by, and tends to react by sticking out a knee or sometimes an elbow.  Now, this is an explanation but not an excuse.  The player trying to deliver the check is responsible for not targeting the head or, in this case, deliver a knee-on-knee hit.  If he miscalculates and the opportunity to deliver a clean check disappears, he has to adapt, he has to let the player go, and in the future adjust his strategy, be aware that if he commits he needs to hit his target square on, or risk letting him go entirely.

In this case, Alex Edler could have stayed at the blue line.  He could have poke-checked the puck, to himself for a relatively clear path to the net, or a teammate.  He could have bodychecked, either to wrest the puck away, or harder, to cream Eric Staal.  What he did instead is still bewildering.

The thing is Alex Edler is not a tough or dirty player.  He's a slick puck-mover who quarterbacks the Canucks' powerplay.  He has size and can play the body, but has enough hockey sense and puck skill that he's not chained to that option, a thuggish one-trick pony.

The 'good news' is that Eric Staal doesn't have a blown ACL, but rather a third-degree tear of his MCL.  While this is still a grave injury, it usually doesn't require surgery.  It's hoped that three months of rehab will stabilize the joint and he'll be ready to resume skating.  It doesn't mitigate however the brain-deadness of the act, and the severity of the transgression.

An unfortunate incident in a disappointing game and end of tournament for Team Canada at the Worlds, which is going home without a game in the medal round for the fourth straight year.

Hey Sportscaster! (7)

So at work, I have to deal with the loathsome, business-speak neologism 'competency', instead of the correct term 'competence.'

When I watch hockey, high-school dropouts armed with microphones natter on about teams or players showing 'resiliency' (ugh..) instead of resilience.  Why that is, why one person decided to tack on an extra syllable to a word, and the rest of the commentationingists seemingly as one decided to ape him immediately, is something I don't understand.

Now, brace yourselves, Sportsnet talking head Sam Consentino just said that Nathan McKinnon, on a fine play, had , wait for it, "just started to show his brilliancy".

I really fear for the children.

I try, I really try, to refrain from alluding to how sportscasters mangle the language, but the self-restraint sometimes eludes me.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Can the Canadiens draft Anthony Mantha, Frédérik Gauthier and William Carrier this June?

I came across a mock draft that does all seven rounds of the coming 2013 NHL draft(!).

Not sure how much value we'd ascribe to this, probably pretty low, but useful as a discussion starter.


1)  They have the Canadiens drafting Mirco Muller, a defenceman who I know nothing about, in the first round.  Right after is Anthony Mantha going to the Ducks.  I doubt that the Canadiens would let a 6'3" scoring left winger homeboy slip by them to add another defenceman on an overloaded depth chart at D.

2)  At #34 and #36, they have the Canadiens picking up Frédérik Gauthier and William Carrier.  From their HTML to God's ears.

3)  Late second we get D Brett Pesce, early third G Austin Lotz.  Never heard of them.  Not that that would be a stamp of approval or anything.

4)  Late third, we get a 6'4" RW called Ross Olsson from the USHL.  I'd rather we get the guy they have slotted two picks later, Mason Geertsen of the Vancouver Giants, he's a 6'3" defensive D who's all kinds of nasty.  I saw him play twice.  Man-crush.  Think of him as the second coming of Craig Ludwig.  Or Donald Dufresne.  Or Ryan McDonagh.  All kidding aside, he played on a bad team this year, and played really hard, like it mattered, and his coaches love his character.

5)  Where did our fourth-round pick go?

6)  Where the hell did our fifth-rounder go?  Oh yeah, Davis....

7)  In the sixth we get a 6' 3.5" 230 lbs D called Mitchell Wheaton from the defenceman factory known as the Kelowna Rockets, so we got that going for us.

8)  In the seventh, we play small-ball again with a 5' 10.5" 172 lbs winger from Niagara, Anthony DiFruscia.  I think that's a reach.  I wouldn't grab that guy any higher than 210th overall.

9)  They have Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin, Nathan McKinnon, Sasha Barkov and Sean Monahan going 1 through 5, no surprises there.

10)  Anthony Duclair falls to #42 in their mock, which would mean half of the fanbase would have conniptions about letting a talented homeboy slip by us when we could have used a second-rounder on him.  Of course, if we did choose him, the other half would have aneurysms at the thought of another small and skilled player, although I think they'd use another colourful moniker.

11)  They have Jackson Houck going #44, and I think that's way too high, that kid has guts, but he has Mike Hough written all over him.

Bruins crush Leafs: The enemy of my enemy is still my enemy

I didn't want the Bruins to win.  That was the extent of my involvement in the Leafs-Bruins series.  Eliminate the Bruins is Job 1.  But even that is hollow since the League handed them the chalice in 2011, it doesn't really matter that they lose or not anymore.

And I didn't mind all that much that the Bruins would cakewalk to a win, since they'd crush the Leafs along the way, which is always enjoyable.

So when the Leafs were up  3-1 and then 4-1 in Game 7, I was okay with that, sort of, happy they were making Bruins fans boo their team, but still gagged at the coming lovefest on CBC.

So if the Bruins had to win, it was great that they popped the Reimer balloon and crushed the HNIT homers.  Patrice Bergeron deserves it.  Except now I have to see Zdeno Chara's happy/scary gape.  And Brad Marchand, uh, evades extermination.

So yeah, I'm a little conflicted.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Tim Tebow should back up Michael Vick for Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles

Tim Tebow is a singular talent, in that he's a gamer, a fierce competitor, a superb athlete, a great team guy and leader, and a potent weapon for any offence with his mix of size, strength, mobility and speed.  Trouble is, he plays quarterback, but he's not very good at the defining skill for that position, which is throwing the football to an open receiver.  He has a wonky delivery, which in itself isn't a deal breaker, since QB's like Dan Marino and Philip Rivers don't have the classic windup and pitch coaches love.  But when you add that he doesn't have great arm strength, and that he's not an accurate passer, it becomes difficult to see him as an NFL quarterback who'll have a productive career.

Right now, his best bet seems to be as a backup, on a team where he can step in an emergency, and also provide different wrinkles to an offence that opposing defensive coordinators will develop ulcers over.

It seems to me that the best fit for him would be with the Philadelphia Eagles, for many reasons.

First, and maybe most trivially, he's a lefty, and would be backing another lefty in Michael Vick.  As a receiver, catching balls from a quarterback who throws left when you're used to a righty is a bit of a problem.  It's not insurmountable, but it's the kind of detail that when you're stretching out for a pass thrown long, or trying for a one-handed catch, makes a difference, and can mean a couple of extra drops in a game, which is often the difference between winning and losing.  The Eagles could seamlessly go from Michael Vick to Tim Tebow and the receivers wouldn't need an adjustment period, or drop passes when the spin surprises them and causes the ball to roll out of their hands.

An important facet of Chip Kelly's offence is that while it's uptempo and requires bright QB's with lots of mobility and the ability to make quick decisions, it doesn't rely on a 'golden boy' with a rocket arm, or pinpoint accuracy.  At Oregon, he made do, or better yet, favoured athletes who were leaders over classic quarterbacks with polished passing skills, since the former worked better in his offence.  Michael Vick has never been a particularly accurate passer, and prefers to improvise instead of studying game plans for hours, so he'll fit right in.  So will Tim Tebow.  He'll make up for his lack of passing skill with his leadership, smarts, and ability to take the ball and go with it, and challenge linebackers and safeties to try and bring him down.

Also, he could alleviate some of the pressure and wear and tear on Michael Vick, who is relatively slight of build and has run into injury trouble throughout his career.  We can envision Mr. Tebow handling short-yardage or goal-line duties for the Eagles, they wouldn't even have to put in special packages for him like the Jets did, he could run the basic sets the Eagles have.  He'd just be more of a ground and pound threat, and would be harder to stop than Michael Vick, while saving the latter from taking too much of a beating.

We could even see him dress as the third QB on the team, if it so chooses and feels more comfortable with Nick Foles as the true backup.  He'd pitch in on special teams, as he did on the Jets, could still sub in on short-yardage situations, but wouldn't necessarily be the go-to guy in case of emergency.

For all these reasons, I think he'd be a natural fit on the Eagles roster.  A lot of teams are apparently hesitating to sign him because they're afraid the media attention he'll bring will be a distraction, but most teams would benefit from having such an athlete and competitor on their roster.  His potential contribution in the right situation far outweighs any potential negative effect from added public scrutiny.

Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly is an original thinker and is not afraid to take chances.  This would be a relatively low-risk/high reward decision, and the NFL and its fans would benefit from it.  Make it happen Chip.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Round 1, Game 5: Canadiens 1, Senators 6

Well, I didn't say it out loud, but I wasn't expecting much.  A week ago I announced I was organizing a hockey party at our hall, with a pre-game street hockey game, followed by Canadiens-Sens, then Canucks-Sharks.  I pulled the plug on Tuesday, explaining that with the Canucks out it didn't make much sense to carry on, but really I just didn't want to celebrate our elimination.

And it was indeed a bitter night.  Kind of like a condemned man's last meal, we couldn't enjoy it, and didn't really get to choose the menu anyhow, we were the geese and a sour mash of Chris Neil and Chris Phillips was about to be jammed down our throat with a funnel, our collective liver be damned.

Those fans who were clamouring for Peter Budaj got their wish, and we can hope on this subject they'll now mercifully be quiet.  The poor guy didn't deliver, but he's absolved of blame, it was a team loss, a series loss, not the matter of one game.  We were off our game since we won in Boston and lost Alexei Emelin.  Someone pulled back the curtain and the magic was lost.  Carey Price lost it, our three scoring lines lost it, Andrei Markov lost it, even P.K. slowed down and sometimes lost focus.  We didn't have the horses, didn't have the depth, Hamilton wasn't an armory we could draw from.

We were overwhelmed by the physicality of the Senators, which is surprising, since we dreaded the Bruins or Leafs more in that regard.  Not firing on all cylinders, with a shaky goaltender, a suddenly impotent powerplay, and complacent refereeing, we never had a chance against the bigger Sens.  When we tried to fight fire with fire we were slapped down.  The toughness that was supposed to come from the Prust-Moen-White triumvirate, assisted by Francis Bouillon and Colby Armstrong, proved to be no match to a plethora of facewashing defencemen 6'3" and over, and the flagrant transgressions of Chris Neil.  We couldn't beat them on the ice, and certainly couldn't beat them in the alley.

In a way, there are a lot of positives that we can take into next season.  Carey Price, despite his plummeting performance and season-ending injury, is a solid piece to build around.  P.K. Subban isn't Raymond Bourque or Chris Chelios yet, but his improvement since last season's training camp is astounding.  Lars Eller keeps showing signs that he's about to reach the summit.  Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher will be able to build on excellent rookie seasons.  Brandon Prust is a warrior and team leader who can play on any team in the league.

Yet we have a lot of questions too.  Some of them of the existential type.  One of them: do we take the St. Louis Blues or Los Angeles Kings road, and choose to go with size at all costs?  What does this mean for our current lineup, veterans like Tomas Plekanec or team captain Brian Gionta?  Do we make a decision that, as good a defenceman as he is, and as promising a season as he had, a defenceman like Raphaël Diaz cannot play in the NHL?

What about our skilled guys in Hamilton, or those yet to come?  If we decide to go with size, what do we do with Danny Kristo, Charles Hudon, Sebastian Collberg, Louis Leblanc, Michaël Bournival?  What do we do at the draft?  Do we pass up on Mike Bossy to draft Dwight Foster, every time?

It may be too soon to worry about these questions, but they've been at the forefront for the last few days, another indication that we knew we weren't too long for this world.  The boys battled hard, but depleted, weakened by injuries, it wasn't enough.

We have to tip our hat to the management team and the players who transformed last season's toxic climate, and changed our team from a laughingstock to one that battled for the President's Trophy, no small feat.  It was an exciting season to watch games, one that showcased grit and heart and skill and wins, and as a fan, it's hard to find fault with that.

Nice work guys, rest up, enjoy your off-season a little, then hit the gym and start getting ready for September.