Saturday, 1 June 2013

Do the Canadiens need to get bigger?

Since the season ended so abruptly and dishearteningly against the Senators, we've been talking at cross-purposes as Canadiens fans in the "Canadiens are too small"-"Are not!"- "Are too!" debate.  The thing is, this debate isn't as polarized as some have been in the recent past (Price vs. Halak, Kaberle is a somewhat effective d-man on powerplays who can still sort of help and produce a half a point per game vs. lynching Pierre Gauthier, Konopka vs. sanity).  It's not even the tide shifting as much as a sea change.  We're left debating getting bigger quickly, versus getting way more bigger way more quicker, damn the torpedoes full speed ahead.

Some moderates point out that big doesn't necessarily mean tough, and vice versa, and there's truth to that.  Marc Bergevin pointed out how much heart Brendan Gallagher has at his year-end press conference.  As a contrast, Hal Gill, Benoit Pouliot and Guillaume Latendresse are brought up.  This conversation usually ends up moving the goalposts, and we end up agreeing that the Canadiens do have lots of heart, and fight to the bitter end.  What was the question again?

Some caution we're already big, and point to the average weight or height of our team compared to the rest of the league, that we're only a couple inches shorter than the Senators, and three pounds under the average weight of the Bruins, for example.  Heck, we're almost even if we take out Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic, they skew the data, they don't really count.  The fact that we rank 28th and 30th in these average team measurements are statistical anomalies, and probably not significant.  We're just looking to confirm our perceptual bias, because it makes us feel bad when Chris Neil gets all scowly and grabs  Brendan Gallagher's head with both hands and tries to unscrew it from his shoulders so he can take it home as a keepsake, to the mute, complacent assent of the referees.  Three pounds aren't really that much, and neither are ten or twelve, that's just a couple of weight classes in boxing.  Right?...

Baseball has its 'Mendoza line', which denotes a .200 batting average, and which is thought to be the minimum proficiency a baseball player must maintain to remain in the major leagues.  Hockey is at risk of developing its own such demarcation, namely that a player needs to be 6 feet tall to be considered draftable and likely to have a career in the NHL.  To deviate from that a player pretty much has to be named Crosby, McKinnon or Drouin.  And after the parade of giants that is the blue line of the Capitals or Senators or a dozen other teams, the Mendoza line for defencemen might be creeping up to 6'2".  Our reinforcements from Saskatoon, Darren Dietz at 6'1" and Dalton Thrower at 'really close to 6 feet tall' will be considered short in Gary Bettman's NHL.

Of course, we exhort ourselves, we should get some huge guys, but not necessarily goons.  Rather, we should look for giant players who can play hockey, skate, and score some goals, because there're warehouses full of these guys, just sitting and waiting for a call, all cobwebby, like Maytag repairmen.

I have to admit that watching the Blues vs. the Kings this year, and the Kings last season, and the Bruins the year before that, and the way the Canucks and Canadiens get beaten down playoff after playoff, has me convinced.  I fought the good fight, tried to be a proponent of elegant, skillful hockey, of the frères Rougeau being superior to Abdullah the Butcher, but I've decided I need to be a realist as opposed to an idealist.

One thing that stands out in my mind is how much of a crosschecking menace Dion Phaneuf is against our smaller skill guys, how he's big bad Dion after the whistle when he wants to take a free shot at Brian Gionta, compared to his muted appearances against the Bruins in these playoffs.  His was a shameful performance, another embarrassment in a long sequence of these for Toronto fans, that he wears the C on his jersey, as he was a veritable purring wittle kitty cat against Milan Lucic and Sean Thornton, stopping short of voluntarily surrendering his lunch money during pre-game warmups as a ploy to ingratiate himself and sail through the game unscathed.  Also, like when faced with Brandon Prust, he was much less intrepid than when confronted with Aaron Palushaj last season.

I remember other instances like these last season, like Ryan Malone being a rampaging buffalo and tossing Canadiens out of his way while trying to decapitate Alexei Emelin or Chris Campoli, but being much less hotheaded one game when confronted on a regular basis by Mike Blunden and Brad Staubitz.  These two gentlemen must have a post-career future as crisis counsellors because they had a real calming influence on Mr. Malone.  A similar effect was obtained when Travis Moen and Alexei Emelin were fronting Wayne Simmonds after whistles in front of the net, he was a lot less elbowy and facewashy then.

So the craven Dion Phaneuf is the final piece of anecdotal evidence that I need to admit that the Canadiens need to sacrifice some speed and quickness for some beef and nastiness, at the cost of my viewing enjoyment.  The 1986 team was fun to watch because it won, but Steve Rooney and Dave Maley didn't exactly get the pulse racing.  I'd watch our slog against the Whalers or the Sabres, then stay up late and watch the second game, the offensive show that was the Oilers against the Flames or the Jets, all the skating and passing and scoring, and wonder to myself which installment of the double-header I enjoyed watching more.

So will our future Canadiens be: big, tough, cementally-handed, plodding, resolute, skirmishy and facejabby and headlocky, crosscheck resistant and unaverse, eager to "pay the price" and scrum in front of the net, lumberingly efficient, soporific perhaps on occasion, relentless battering rams but hopeless with the puck on their stick and the top half of the net wide open.  But they will be Darwinianly adapted to their Hobbes-ian environment, and ultimately more successful than our current herd of sprightly gazelles.

Which is progress, I guess.

1 comment:

  1. I am firmly in the camp of adding more size and physicality. Our smaller guys play big; Gionta, Gallagher & Dumont but our bigger guys are not overly physical; Moen and Eller. I think our LW side looks ok but adding a bigger body on the RW side would help.

    Bourque - Plekanec - Gionta
    Pacioretty - Desharnais - Gallagher
    Galchenyuk - Eller - Prust
    Moen - Dumont - White

    Excluding Ryder & Armstrong, this is what we have for next year. I am not sure why so many guys on the HIO site don't see that Desharnais is clearly keeping the seat warm for Galchenyuk? Chucky missed an entire season, then showed as a 19yr old in his rookie season he is as good as DD. The big test is his sophomore season, if Galchenyuk can out produce DD in a strictly offensive role and maintain that pace into mid-season then a trade will happen. Watching Galchenyuk on the wing is like watching Eller with Pleks and Cammalleri, a natural centre on the wing.

    The real question is which centre they will trade Desharnais or Plekanecs? I think the wildcard in this, will be Lars Eller. If Eller can maintain his improvement then my $$ will be on Plekanec. Pleks is turning 31 in October and although he's never suffered a major injury, faster smaller players start to slowdown around 33-35. He also has a $5mill cap hit.

    Another thing about Eller is that the entire time he's been with the Habs he's never been given a chance to play with good wingers. His play with Galchenyuk showed he could be a productive player.

    Pacioretty - DD/Pleks - UFA
    Bourque - Eller - Gionta
    Prust - Galchenyuk - Gallagher
    Moen - Dumont - White

    LW has a nice blend of size, speed, grit with some scoring touch. Prust is versatile and can play either wing and be moved up or down the line-up. Trading The disappointing Moen then signing a UFA LW like a Raffi Torres, Stu Bickel or Viktor Stalberg would help.

    Centre ice size and push down the middle will improve one Galchenyuk shows he is ready. Like a lot of young, offensive players, Chucky is not good in his own end. His plus-minus is deceiving bcos he was never asked to take defensive zone faceoffs. A trade will happen here.

    RW could use a bigger body, power forward type. A UFA like Nathan Horton would be perfect. MT could put him on a line with DD and Pacioretty. Even Guillaume Latendresse would be an ok fit as you could put him on Eller's RW, giving the HABs a pretty big line since we already hv some big LWs. Also keep in mind Gionta is a UFA after next year, there is no bloody way he is coming back now that Danny Kristo is in the mix and Gallagher has shown he can replace him.

    So I think our centre ice position will resolve itself once Galchenyuk is ready. Then hopefully Bergevin can make a trade for a big RW. LW is a strength; so adding a Stalberg or a Bickel would help but not a glaring need. It's the RW position where the Habs need help.