Saturday, 26 July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Will Patrice Brisebois coach in the LHJMQ?

The very nebulous rumours of Patrice Brisebois wanting to coach in the LHJMQ are taking shape I see.  He said he resigned from his position with the Canadiens partly because he wanted to coach, and couldn't see an opportunity with the Canadiens.  Jean-Jacques Daigneault with le Grand Club, Donald Dufresne with the Bulldogs are in charge of the defencemen, so there are no openings for him that way.

Good for him if that's what he does, goes into the trenches and learns how to coach young men.  Running practices, leading a team, bench strategy, knowing when to push, when to ease off, balancing the need to win versus the need to develop players, there are so many facets to being a coach, I definitely don't think it's simple, and usually am loath to criticize a head coach.  I definitely don't think it's an easy gig, that I could do what they do.

Generally, it would be an encouraging step if another young recently-retired former NHL'er got into the coaching game.  Two high-profile guys who we got to know on RDS, Joël Bouchard and Denis Gauthier, have cut back on their TV commitments to assume roles on LHJMQ teams.

Joël Bouchard was an assistant coach with the Armada as well as part-owner, and ran a hockey school on the side in the summer, and had video 'capsules' on RDS breaking down skill development and strategy on RDS.  Eventually he spent less time in front of the camera and more with the kids, becoming the General Manager of the team.  He's a really bright guy, well-spoken and has a magnetic personality.  His career path seems to lead to the NHL in short order.

Denis Gauthier was a tough, defensively-oriented defenceman who was drafted in the first-round by the Flames in '95.  He retired relatively young from the game, and being telegenic and well-spoken, landed a gig as a talking head on RDS.  He's also in the coaching game, being the defencemen coach for the Voltigeurs de Drummondville, and also finding time to coach his son's Pee Wee team.

I've talked about this in the past, how the Canadiens need a strong, thriving hockey scene in Québec, and should do everything they can to support it.  Their farm team in Hamilton should be staffed by the brightest young minds from the LHJMQ, and even the team in Wheeling in the ECHL should be a training ground for young coaches who can one day land in the NHL.  Stocking the pond with a lot of candidates will only give the team more options when hiring decisions are made.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Josh Gorges still shocked by his trade to Buffalo, slowly coming to grips with it.

Here's a link to a great article on Josh Gorges by the Kelowna Daily Courier.  Josh is almost being willfully blind to the fact that his cap hit/contract are responsible for him being traded, and the glut of lefties on the blue line in Montréal.  He keeps saying he doesn't understand why he was traded.  But maybe that's the kind of obstinacy, of competitiveness that you need to make it to the NHL, especially as an undrafted free agent, like Josh did.

He repeats that the toughest parts are not getting a chance to win a Cup as a Canadien, and having to 'break up' with the other players, who he calls his family.  Josh certainly had the right mindset as a teammate and leader, as opposed to Thomas Vanek let's say, who has a more practical, mercenary approach.

While his departure may affect the rest of the team, and more particularly his close friends on the team like Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher, I think the players can accept the move, even if they don’t ‘like it’.  If the replacements Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu are solid players who are clearly better on the ice than Josh was.

I’ve been through this before in rugby, where guys I’d been playing with in 1st Division would get bumped down to 2nd for some hotshot South African or Brit, or a kid who barely knew or understood the game. Nobody was really happy about it, except when the game started and the new guy was clearly, unquestionably a better player, and we had a much better team on the field, any controversy was quickly quelled. The other guys would play second division and hope for a chance to get back up on the 1st if an injury happened or some other situation, and life went on.

There was a kid who quickly got the nickname ‘Psycho’ early on, and the coaches loved him and handed him the wing position right at the start of the season, even though he was frequently offside and fuzzy on the rules in practice. We were stumped. His first game though, we understood what the coaches saw, he was a snarling menace, tackling and running like crazy, and we were cheering him on and chanting “Psycho!” by the second half.

If Jarred/Nathan are good guys, not prima-donna Golden Boys who get handed the position by virtue of their draft history, everything should work out.

Canadiens' Tim Bozon fighting to come back from illness, making great progress.

Here's a link to a great, in-depth article on Tim Bozon from RDS.

Main points are:

- He feared never being able to play again after his bout of meningitis, but deep down he always believed he'd be back.

- He's going to play 6 games in 10 days with French youngsters against club teams in the Czech Republic.  It's a training/selection camp for the French team, and he normally wouldn't take part, he'd be exempted, but he'll play to benefit from the training and ice time and to regain 'game shape'.  He'll be better able to decide after if he'll be ready to take part in the Canadiens' training camp later this summer.

- Few of his family or doctors thought he'd be this far along in his recovery so soon.  He's following his program, being cautious, but is definitely ahead of schedule.

- He lost 18 kg due to what he calls his "accident".  There's a picture that shows him after his illness, and what he looks like now.  He feels he looked more like a cyclist than a hockey player.  He says he's done a tonne of pushups and situps in his life, and could barely do two of each after his illness.

- He's now about 5 lbs off where he was (200 lbs), and thinks he'll be all the way back in a month and a half, in time for camp.

- He's working hard, it's intense and exhausting, but he thinks he has got almost all the way back in terms of his on-ice play, he just needs to work on 'finishing' and timing.  He's loving it, felt like a kid in a candy store when he was allowed back on the ice.

- His main goal before his illness was making the Bulldogs next season, and it still is now (the alternative might be to return to Kootenay as an overager).  That's what he's working for, to play pro next season in Hamilton.

- His illness and the struggle to get back has given him new perspective on his life and career.  He thinks it might even make him a better player, that instead of being an obstacle it will help him attain his dreams.

EDIT:  Here's another piece on Mr. Bozon from the Canadiens website.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Review: "Tales of a First-Round Nothing" by Terry Ryan

I approached reading the memoirs of Terry Ryan, titled "Tales of a First-Round Nothing: My Life as an NHL Footnote", with eager anticipation.  I heard about it through the book tour the author did prior to the release, and I looked forward to an illuminating read, shining a spotlight on the fallow period in the Canadiens history after the '93 Stanley Cup, the dismissal of Serge Savard and Jacques Demers, and the inauguration of Réjean Houle and Mario Tremblay as the team's General Manager and Head Coach respectively.  I also expected some insight on the way the Canadiens supported the players they chose in the draft, and how they were coached in the minors.

Unfortunately, very few of the questions I had were answered, and the read was a disappointment, almost a slog to complete.  There are many fundamental problems with it, first and foremost that Terry Ryan is not a talented writer, and not given to introspection beyond the general, 'it is what it is' and 'I take full responsibility' platitudes.

The author starts his tale in 1991, when his family moved from Newfoundland to Quesnel, B.C. so that he could be eligible for the WHL draft, his father feeling that was the right junior league for him.  Mr. Ryan is fourteen years old but already a six-footer and 180 lbs., and plays Junior A hockey with and against players up to 21 years old.  From there he takes us to his stint with the Tri-Cities Americans, being drafted by the Canadiens, his years playing in the AHL in Fredericton under coach Michel Therrien, his trade demand, which he calls "one of the most ridiculous decisions I've ever made", and various stops with other clubs in progressively lower circuits: the ECHL, then senior hockey.

One frustrating aspect of the book is how the author hop-scotches from one season to another, or from one month to another, for reasons that are hard to discern.  It's not the expected use of foreshadowing and flashback, but rather a disjointed tale where one tangent follows another and lacks a unifying thread.  The reader who is used to sports biographies, and is accustomed to the rhythm they normally utilize, will be thrown.  Instead of going from one season to the off-season to the next season, with things like stats and awards earned, and progress in different areas and his personal life used to show the arc of his career, the author skips and jumps and backtracks in an incoherent fashion, and leads you to wonder fifty pages further on: "Wait, what happened eventually to that coach (teammate, opponent, season, team, objective set) that he was prattling on about?"  Frequently there is no resolution, just other matters raised, which themselves won't be resolved either.

Another issue, and it's a big one, is that the material in the book is often awkward, if not downright puerile and inappropriate.  Mr. Ryan must be a great guy to have a beer or two at the pub with, he seems full of tales to tell, some no doubt of the 'tall' variety.  The thing is, he might be a good story-teller in person, maybe he'd be great on the lecture circuit, or as a sports-talk radio host, but in print his stories fall flat, approaching the level of Abraham Simpson's 'onion-on-the-belt' yarns.

One story describes how their rink lost power during an ice-storm, and they had to clear out of the arena in their skates, but found that they could skate in the parking lot, everything having been coated by freezing rain.  Mr. Ryan and a couple of teammates did that for a while, got bored and decided to pile into his car and drive around, wouldn't you know it, with their skates on!  So around town they drive, really slow, fishtailing a bit, still in their full gear, until they realize they should probably head back, but stop beforehand at a drive-through to get coffee for the boys.  Once they get back, the practice has started again.  Boy was the coach ever mad!

And that's the kind of highjinks that are detailed in the book, 'you had to be there' stuff.  And, disappointingly, there are a couple of anecdotes that feel like they belong in Penthouse Forum, rather than a book about hockey.  I couldn't help but think about how Jim Bouton in "Ball Four" told a lot of stories about extra-curricular activities between players and groupies and airline hostesses, but always with a suitable reserve, that told you all you need to know without naming names or getting into juvenilia.

The most disappointing part for me is that an anecdote he told during the book tour, about meeting a Canadiens scout in an elevator the night before the draft, isn't contained in the book.  The most crucial stuff I wanted to read, about how the Canadiens scouted him (or didn't scout him), about the Mr. Magoo who ran the team, about how the actual draft day went for him, is glossed over and I was left with more questions than answers.  So we don't find out more about how that scout talked to him but believed he was Shane Doan the whole time, by reading the book.

I later figured out that it was when answering questions from competent journalists that these issues are raised and discussed, not in his book.  They got to the heart of the matter by probing with good questions, instead of letting Mr. Ryan ramble on.  And this to me crystallized that what the author would have needed is a good editor.  Not a proof-reader, but an actual editor, who would have read his book as a first draft, given him copious notes and constructive criticism, and got him to work on his second draft, with a lot of running commentary, and encouragement to delve into detail here, skip over this stuff there, tie all these loose ends everywhere, etc.

Terry Ryan in his many adventures does end up befriending some big names in the showbiz and hockey world, notably Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, Ron McLean of Hockey Night in Canada, and NHL'er and PEI native Brad Richards.  He currently works on the TV show "The Republic of Doyle."  My suspicion is that this book actually didn't get edited, that it was self-published, and therein lies the great weakness.  His friends may have opened doors, helped with the financing of the book, helped him obtain grants, if I am to trust the many 'arts councils' who are credited at the beginning of the book.

I'm not saying that Terry Ryan is a dummy.  He obtained his B.A. in English literature after his playing career wound down.  He's engaging, and tells his story with candor, even if he's oblique about the reasons why he 'busted', which is the main interest of most who will read this book I would wager.

Why he made a trade demand, after two seasons in the AHL in Fredericton, is unclear.  He does talk about friction with his coach Michel Therrien, but spends so much time re-iterating that he does not have any ill-will for him, and wishes him all the best in his current stint as Canadiens head coach, that it turns into a snow-job.  Aside from one anecdote about how he'd smoke on the team bus, and another when the coach told him he could make or break him, send him down to the IHL, there is no meat on the bone.  And so he does confess repeatedly that his trade demand was unwise, but he doesn't even enumerate the reasons he felt that way at the time.  We're left wanting much more, like an audience going to see Wolfmother in concert but not getting to hear "The Joker and the Thief".

Another consideration is that we never read about how he trained during the season and in the off-season.  He only mentions fitness twice during the book, once when he mentions that he worked on his cardio a lot before the season, and another when he says that he came into a training camp in the "best shape of my life".  Seeing as all the anecdotes about getting drunk and having beers with teammates are recounted, we get a sense as to the dedication he showed to his career.  Terry Ryan must have been a great teammate to have, with the laughs and high-jinks, but it probably came at the expense of his own success as a player.

One final, sad issue which is glossed over is how he started one season as a Canadien but didn't play much, and got sent back down to the WHL to finish out the season.  Startlingly, he explains that he shouldn't have played that season, since he was concussed when he got sent down.  Again though, there is no narrative, no explanation of how and when this happened, and whether he talked to doctors or coaches, all of that is skipped over.

As readers and fans we're trying to figure out why Mr. Ryan didn't pan out, and one of the big reasons must have been these concussions that he glosses over.  From being fourteen years old and fighting with nearly grown men in Junior A, to playing the role of the guy who won't back down from anyone, even heavyweights in the WHL, AHL and even the NHL, Terry Ryan prided himself on his toughness, taking on all comers, and giving everything he had.

This is where you wish that the Canadiens had had a player development staff like they currently have with Martin Lapointe and the recently-departed Patrice Brisebois.  You wish that the Habs had had a guy who could have taken Terry aside and told him that he shouldn't waste his time fighting CHL goons, but rather work on his hockey skills, develop his scoring and defensive play.  And you hope that that message is going out to the Michael McCarrons and the Brett Lernouts and the Connor Crips, that yeah, you stand up for your teammates, and yeah sometimes you have to drop the gloves, but not against the no-hopers who want to make a reputation at your expense in a nonsensical fight.

While there is a tale to tell, notably his work with disadvantaged Inuit youth, it isn't done adequately in this memoir, and I can't recommend this book to anyone.  At best, to those completists who will insist on reading the book for themselves, I'll urge you to read those sections you're really interested in, and skim or skip altogether those you're not.  You won't be missing out on anything.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

S.I. recap of the Canadiens' off-season moves fails to take into account the salary cap implications.

A good recap by Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated of the off-season moves by the Canadiens, even if it paints a slightly negative picture, if only in tone.  The headline is a little more pessimistic than the article itself, it's what I reacted to at first.  I should remember that he may not have written the headline, the editors of the site may be the culprits
Montreal Canadiens stuck in neutral

The Canadiens took two steps forward last season, reaching the 100-point mark for just the second time in 20 years and knocking off the Lightning and the Bruins in the playoffs on the way to an unexpected appearance in the Eastern Conference finals.

Now it might be time to take a step back.

Montreal isn't appreciably worse than it was in 2013–14, but it's hard to argue that the Habs are much better based on their first few weeks of summer activity. (...)

When I think of teams stuck in neutral this summer, I think of the Leafs, the Bruins who were caught too close to the cap ceiling, the Oilers who are spinning their wheels, talking big about the need to clear out guys like Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner, then diving right back into that pool with a ludicrous contract for Benoit Pouliot.

The Canucks too are kind of in purgatory.  They're locked in because of the big contracts to their veterans, they can't quite race to the bottom against the Sabres and Islanders, but won't get in the playoffs either.  And they assured themselves of mediocrity by signing a competent veteran goalie in Ryan Miller, who'll get them those extra four or five wins and OT losses that will murder their draft position.

Compared to those teams the Canadiens did well.  They cleared out three underperforming veterans, righted the balance on their defence, signed a European UFA, among other forward-thinking moves.

Yet the main benefits of the off-season transactions and changes are more in the medium and long-term.  And this is what Mr. Muir is missing.  Sure adding Tom Gilbert and Mike Weaver on defence doesn't quicken the pulse and bring you to Stanley Cup rêveries, but it does bring players who are better fits and cost-effective into the mix.  Plus, they're easily traded if any of the baby Bulldogs prove they're ready for the big time.

Losing Brian Gionta smarts, he's the captain and a role-model, but we couldn't afford him at the price the Sabres could in their special situation.  This might be a move that looks better and better as the months progress, what with Brian's injuries and declining productivity.

And swapping Daniel Brière for Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau cancels out when their cap hits are considered; in fact, the Avs kind of win that one, since their player's contract only has one more year on it.  But the Habs get the player they needed, a bigger, scoring winger, as opposed to a miscast player who was brought in to play on right wing but preferred and felt more comfortable at centre.  Daniel Brière might have been fine if we had a hole at centre, but in fact he was up against Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Lars Eller for a Top 6 centre spot, with Alex Galchenyuk literally waiting in the wings.

So Daniel Brière ended the season on the fourth-line, and he'll now be replaced by Manny Malhotra, who is much better suited to that role.  Mr. Malhotra is strong on faceoffs and on the penalty kill, he skates fast and has good size, so again we're trending in the right direction.

Allan Muir also failed to mention the addition of Jiri Sekac who could make the team out of camp.  He's potentially NHL-ready, we signed him as a UFA, at no cost to the organization except an Entry-Level Contract.

All in all, all these moves are more subtle than signing a Paul Stasny.  To the outsider, it might look like keeping abreast of the treadmill, but I see it more as putting players in positions to succeed, and giving the organization more flexibility.  We used to bemoan that no team would ever take Josh Gorges or Brian Gionta or Daniel Brière off our hands, because of their unwieldy contracts.  Well now we're free of these, and have added players who can at least provide the same level of production.  And if a farmhand proves he needs to play on le Grand Club, we'll have a much easier time clearing a roster spot for him.

So instead of seeing our situation as being "stuck in neutral", I prefer to see it as developing pieces on the chessboard.  Sure, we haven't captured any big pieces or put their King in check, but the last few moves haven't been wasted.  Now our knights are in the middle of the board ready to strike, our bishops have open lanes, and our rooks are free to wreak havoc.  It may not be spectacular to the casual observer, but these tactical moves allow us to now pursue our overall strategy.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Various thoughts on free-agency frenzy, and how the Canadiens remodeled their team on July 1.

1)  I thought Brian Gionta would find a job somewhere for a decent two-year deal, but the specific circumstances of Buffalo, with a team squarely looking to the future and trying to reach the cap-floor, and it being close to his hometown, were very fortunate for him. It inflated the worth and term of his deal.

And they were fortunate for Marc Bergevin’s team and their plan, that they could offload Josh Gorges’ contract, cleanly. Apparently Brad Treliving of Calgary was approaching teams with crazy contracts they were trying to get rid of, notably Phoenix with Mike Ribeiro’s deal, and telling them he’d take it off their hands, along with their first-round pick. His advances were rejected, but he was being serious, and the teams considered his proposals as such.

So that we had two teams in Toronto and Buffalo who were ready and able to absorb the four more years on Josh’s contract was a lucky bounce for us. Toronto was looking for a change of leadership in their dressing room, Buffalo was looking for mentorship. We got a second-round pick out of it.

I thought we were married to Josh, there was no easy was to divorce him. Instead we get a clean break, a better fit on defence for our team, a break in the logjam on the left side, and an extra pick. Nice.

2) Not to belabour the point, I liked Josh, the person, but the trade took care of so many issues:

- it reduces salary mass of team
- it rids us of a problematic long-term deal
- it cleared out one of too many lefties on blue line
- it allows Alexei Emelin to switch over to his preferred left side, which will mean he’ll play better, hit more, be more comfortable passing the puck
- it allows room for growth and development of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu
- it provides us with better balance on the ice, a probable lineup with three LD, three RD
- it yields better allocation of dollars on the team, instead of two #5 defencemen earning $4M.

3)  I wondered before noon July 1 if some of the teams going through a rebuild, and an eye on the Connor McDavid draft, might be strategic in how they manoeuvered to reach the cap floor, by signing players who wouldn’t really affect the teams’ results. One guess I had was that they might go after forwards who are all offence, put on a good show, sell tickets, but don’t lead to wins directly.

Conversely, such a team with a plan would stay clear of a veteran, proven goalie, who will steal you a few games, get you to a few shootouts, and might mean a climb in the standings for no real purpose, ultimately.

The Sabres might have been strategic this way. They got two veterans who’ll surround and support their flock of youngsters, they’ll keep the ship on an even keel, they got the Sabres to the cap floor, but they won’t manufacture meaningless wins.  They're not impact players, difference-makers, but rather loyal soldiers who work well within a team, at least at this stage of Brian's career anyhow.

4)  Losing Brian Gionta, the captain, Josh Gorge, an alternate, and Daniel Brière, a respected veteran, really hurts in the veterranship department, but it helps when we consider players like Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, Brandon Prust and Travis Moen are still here.

Plus, Marc Bergevin was clear that he didn’t see a problem with his leader corps, just that they made the decision his young veterans were ready for more, to assume these roles, so the transition is something desired, not just something you have to contend with.

5)  Also, the Habs added Manny Malhotra to the mix.  Not a huge fan of his, but they loooooved him in Vancouver, even though I didn't quite see it. I think it’s a case of reporters getting to know a guy off the ice, and seeing what he brings to a team there. They get to like the guy personally, and it colours their perception of his performance.

Manny was let go by the Canucks’ Mike Gillis who was saying he was concerned for his health and safety out there, due to his limited vision, so I don’t know how much better he can be playing now.

Still a cheap, disposable contract, I was thinking more of a Matt Hendriks-type in this spot. But then, we had Ryan White, and we let him go, so…

6)  And speaking of reporters championing the players they get to know and like personally...

The TSN guys were really over-reacting over the Canadiens letting Brian Gionta walk, and trading Josh Gorges.  Pierre McGuire was getting all maudlin on us.

I think it’s Pierre LeBrun who stated he talked to a “Western Conference GM” who said he would have done the same thing, it’s the four years left on Josh's deal you have to worry about.

The Sabres were a perfect match, they needed veterans to shepherd their rookies, and to reach the cap floor.

I don’t know what the Leafs were thinking. They obviously want a huge change in their dressing room, and were putting a big value on what Josh would have brought.

7)  You have to wonder if the Canadiens' organization and its reputation took a hit, at least when it comes to the players, with the sideshow the Josh Gorges trade became.

It’s something that was mentioned by the talking heads on TSN, and I’m not discounting it. Marc Bergevin seems like a straight shooter, and there are never any rumours leaking out, he said it again today, he doesn’t work that way. He would have preferred that Josh be treated with dignity.

I think that some players who don’t pay too much attention will see this as another indication that ‘Montréal is a circus’, but those who do their homework will realize that it’s a Toronto thing, not a Habs thing.

8)  Speaking of it being a "Toronto thing", Darren Dreger let it slip that the rumoured player to come from Toronto in the Josh Gorges deal that fell through was in fact Cody Franson.

Big, right-handed defenceman, some offensive skill, he’d have checked a lot of boxes for us.

Glad Marc Bergevin was able to get a comparable player in Tom Gilbert, for free as a UFA, and get an extra 2nd rounder from Buffalo. That’s pretty much an even-steven deal, and we don’t have to barf seeing Josh in that putrid blue sweater.

9)  One point some Habs fans missed prior to July 1, when some of us argued that it should be Alexei Emelin who gets traded, is that Alexei has a full No Trade Clause this season and the next, and then a limited NTC the last couple seasons. So we weren’t really able to pick and choose, it had to be Josh. And I preferred to keep Alexei, I think he’ll have a much better season next year, since he's:

- Fully recovered from his ACL reconstruction.

- Playing on the left, better able to pivot and crank out some hits.

- Fully acclimated to the NHL by now.

10)  Thinking again about how the Leafs wanted to trade for Josh Gorges, and apparently were willing to give up much-hyped Cody Franson in exchange.  They’re really looking for a culture change in Toronto, so they probably putting a high value on Josh's leadership ability and style, on the effect he can have on a team. Get sourpusses like Dion Phaneuf and whack jobs like Nazem Kadri out of there, and add some more steady eddies and loyal soldiers.

And possibly, we’re undervaluing Josh’s leadership, although I’m sure the braintrust did its homework, and want to start handing off responsibility to the young veterans a little more, and how the departure of Josh and Brian Gionta factors in there also.  It's not easy to calculate, discrete values to add and subtract.

11)  I raised the question before, but did Marc Bergevin ask Andrei Markov to do more in this regard, to consider wearing the ‘C’. Is this something that was brought up during negotiations, or after the contract was signed?  Not necessarily to change who he is, but to no longer stay on the sidelines, and let others handle that stuff and just mind his own business, but rather to take a step forward when needed?

He'll always struggle with the media angle of the captain's responsibilities, but we saw Andrei play the mentor role for P.K., and on one occasion actively calm the kid down when he was agitated at the coaches and the refs while he was on the bench.

Maybe there's a way for the team to delegate a lot of the routine interviews, the scheduled media work of the captain, to other players, and allow Andrei to focus on the hockey side of things.  This would be a change from the Brian Gionta régime, he was always front and center when the media had to get their answers, but to modify it thus would obviously play to Andrei's strengths, and remove a potential reason for him to say no to the responsibility.

12)  We've discussed how the Canadiens didn't necessarily choose between Cody Franson or Tom Gilbert, they might have been angling for both, but the question also arises: did the Canadiens choose between Stéphane Robidas and Mike Weaver?  Both are veteran defencemen very near the end of their career, shoot right and are relatively undersized.

There is no question that Stéphane Robidas is the better player, both throughout his career and at this point in time.  Mike Weaver might be the better fit as the third-pairing defenceman to play penalty-kill minutes, and reprise his role as Josh Gorges-lite that he played so well during the playoffs.

The clincher though is that Mike Weaver signed a cheap one-year deal, whereas the Leafs had to dish out a three-year deal to Stéphane Robidas worth $9M.  Since both players are beyond their 35th birthday, these contracts are locked in.  Specifically, Stéphane Robidas can't choose to retire if he doesn't feel he can play anymore, what with the numerous injuries he's suffered through the years.  Or rather, even if he does retire, the Leafs still have to count his cap hit on their total.

So the choice would have been easy for the Canadiens: Stéphane Robidas is the better player, but Mike Weaver is the better option when you factor in their respective contracts, and their fit/roles on their team.

13)  Manny Malhotra signed early on July 1 by the Habs, will replace Ryan White as the fourth-line centre.  He's a more effective player, comes cheaply, but he’s not able to bring toughness, and he’s a leftie. All our centremen are now lefties, with Daniel Brière and Whitey gone.

George Parros will definitely be replaced now, I would wager.  Probably as August draws on, a veteran puncher will sign a cheap deal with the team.

14)  Brad Treliving, the Calgary GM, talked on free-agency frenzy day about how his younger players can “take the ice with confidence”, how they’d created an atmosphere where they can play without getting gooned, with Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth and now the addition of Deryk Engelland.

George Parros, Douglas Murray and now Ryan White are gone from our roster.

It’s debatable whether that exists now in Montréal.

15)  You have to like what Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Richards chose to do. Both took smaller, one-year deals with contending teams, after getting bought out and not really needing a big pay day.

Christian Ehrhoff goes for one year at $4M to the Penguins, he’s much better value than what Matty Niskanen and Brooks Orpik signed for.

Brad Richards goes to Chicago on a one-year deal for $2M, plays second line centre behind Jonathan Toews, possibly with Patrick Kane.

Both will have a chance at a Stanley Cup, can maybe re-up long-term if the fit is right, or will be set for another bigger contract next season, when the cap rises and most teams have dealt with their cap crunch.

16)  Was it foreshadowing that Benoit Pouliot only came through intermittently on his phone interview with James Duthie on TSN, after signing his massive four-year deal with Edmonton? He was there, then he'd fade away, then he was back, then he cut out again…

17)  As an example of the Two Solitudes, a lot of the analysts on RDS, and many who were commenting on social media in French, felt that the Canadiens didn’t improve July 1.  I’m not sure what their expectations were, maybe they thought we had to replace Thomas Vanek and go from there.

My expectations didn’t include Thomas Vanek, just the roster we had at the start of last season. While we lost some leadership and experience, some scoring, with Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Daniel Brière leaving, I feel that the team is more balanced on the blue line, will be more effective without having to force Jarred Tinordi or Alexei Emelin on to the right side. I’m not as pessimistic about P.A. Parenteau. I think he can be an effective Top 6 winger, and he’ll play up to the circumstances.

We still need to address the toughness we lost with George Parros (the incarnation at the start of the season, before Colton Orr’s dirty takedown), Douglas Murray and Ryan White. I suspect Marc Bergevin isn’t in a hurry, he’ll let the market settle down and go bargain-hunting.

We’re not going to find a scoring winger easily, just like the Leafs may be in a bind trying to find their big #1 centre. We’ll have to go into next season with an imperfect team, but one that’s much stronger than two or three years ago.

18)  I am really happy with the moves by the Canadiens brain trust so far. Sensible moves, patching holes, upgrading the mix.

All reasonable, short-term deal. Glad we’re not in the Matty Niskanen market, with the five-year deal and huge money for a guy who had a good year playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Surprised that we added two right-shot defencemen, but I guess they didn’t want to hand a job over to Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren sight unseen.

19)  What I like is that the team now has a consistent, coordinated approach to drafting and development. As much as we hate the Bruins, their organization has done a good job of identifying what it wanted to accomplish as a team, and then going out and getting the players that mesh with that team concept.

Same with the Red Wings. They’re not trying to be everything all at once, they’ve played to their strengths, which is drafting, skewing towards Europeans in the later rounds, putting all their kids in a lengthy AHL stint before they’re graduated. They’re a skill team, they don’t goon, and they have clear leaders at the top of the hierarchy who run the team.

Marc Bergevin’s team seems to have a clear idea of what they want their team to look like, they have a goal in mind, and they’re working to that goal in concert.

20)  If we’re looking for toughness, for an enforcer, to augment Brandon Prust and Jarred Tinordi, I vote for a huge mean mother, someone like Steve MacIntyre that you sign at league minimum and send out when a Matt Kassian or a Colton Orr needs to be neutralized. There are a lot of these guys out there who can be put on the ice when needed, and taken out of the roster when we play teams interested in playing hockey, like Tampa or the Wings.

Or we could sign the unhinged Trevor Gillies. I wouldn’t mind it too much if he was on our side, beating Bruins upside the head with the stump of their bloody arms he just ripped out of their sockets.

21)  There are a few trolls who were uncharitable towards Josh during his tenure in Montréal, but most fans who wanted to trade Josh just disputed the cost-benefit equation. Most liked Josh, but wished he came cheaper.

I've posted before how the salary cap has transformed every hockey fan into accountants:
One unfortunate consequence of the salary cap system in the National Hockey League is that it transforms committed fans into vigilant custodians of the team’s payroll. Whereas before fans would harry their team’s ownership to pay whatever it costs to retain the hometown stars, nowadays fans are forced to take a stand on the wage a player will receive, as overspending on players decreases the likelihood that one’s team will be successful and championship material. In the days of the Guy Lafleur or Larry Robinson holdouts, every fan howled that the team made enough money to pay these guys what they wanted, and that they sure as hell deserved it. Especially if Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson are worth millions to the Rangers…

22)  So yeah, a tough business decision for Josh, unsavory but necessary.

You know the old joke.  A player tells another player that a teammate has been traded:

“Hey, did you hear Joe Somebody got traded?”

“Great trade. Who did we get?”

This is usually used when a dressing room cancer is sent packing. This in no way describes Josh, but with his cap-hit, and the glut of leftie d-men we have, I thought that almost any trade would be a good trade, allowing more time for Nathan and Jarred, and maybe for Alexei to play on the left also.

I think that’s the way most fans are reacting. Love Josh the person, respect his drive and effort, but think that him being sent packing solves a lot of our problems.

NHL players don't put on "ten pounds of pure muscle" over one summer.

Someone coming in with an additional ’10 pounds of muscle’ at camp is always a cause for celebration for fans of that team, but I’m skeptical usually.  These guys are trained athletes, operating at or very near to peak efficiency, Dustin Penner or Kyle Wellwood excepted.  To expect that they in three months packed on that much muscle is unrealistic, as we've discussed before in the case of Josh Gorges, who some fans would exhort to "put on fifteen pounds of muscle so he doesn't get ragdolled."

When a player reports ten pounds heavier to training camp, it’s often not 10 pounds of muscle, but more like 5 pounds of extra water weight from the creatine, 3 pounds of fat (not from laziness, just from being able to recover after hard training, rather than getting on a plane to Minnesota) and maybe 2 pounds of muscle in a best-case scenario, one of which would have been re-gained from the end of the season if the athlete had just sat on the couch, purely by recovering from the grind of the previous season.

Players weights fluctuate in other sports too, sometimes intentionally.  We see this in the NFL, and it’s amusing, how a linebacker or a running back comes into camp significantly bigger, and he explains how he hit the gym hard and worked on getting stronger and more powerful. The next summer, he’s described as coming in ‘shredded, ripped’, and the player explains that he wanted to get lighter and more agile, faster for the season, and felt too bulky and heavy the previous season. And the cycle never ends. A lineman comes in bulked up and says he wants to dominate the line of scrimmage, the next season he comes in twenty pounds lighter and says it will help him in the running game and he hopes the coaches allow him to ‘pull’ more and take on linebackers and safeties in the second level.

Murderer-at-large Ray Lewis yo-yoed from heavy to lighter to heavy again during his career, and he always rationalized it as needing to stack the line of scrimmage one year, then the next saying the scheme will be different and he needs to cover tight ends in the passing game. He credited bicycling for his loss of weight at the end of his career, but then ripped a triceps in his final season, which is normally a season-ending injury. Ray miraculously returned for the playoffs, and there were whispers about how huge he looked, how he’d packed on pounds, which is kind of hard to do for your upper body if your triceps is out of commission and you can’t bench-press, but anyway, no reporters wanted to get fatally stabbed so no one pushed the issue too far, even when the deer-antler spray malarkey surfaced. Anyway, no harm no foul, Ray must be a good guy, he’s a woofer for ESPN right along with MeShawn John$on.

We're not discounting that a player can put on muscle and benefit, especially when they come in after a summer of hard training, but it needs to be kept in context. Normally, a player will come in heavier than at the end of the previous season, just from having recovered from the previous season’s grind. So a smaller Brian Gionta will be two or three pounds heavier at camp maybe, while a larger Hal Gill or Douglas Murray will be five or seven pounds heavier. Then, the stress of the season, the exertion and the travel will wear them down again by the next spring.

Young players will come in with more significant weight gains, from natural growth and filling out, going from teen to man. So a an eighteen-year old Brett Lernout will 'recover' five pounds, possibly add another five pounds naturally, easily, through natural growth and training, so he’ll roll into camp ‘ten pounds heavier’. Journalists routinely add ‘of pure muscle’, but that’s not necessarily so.

As players age, the weight gains should become less noticeable. Jarred Tinordi is probably in the last year or so of coming into camp significantly heavier than the previous season. At 22, he’ll be pretty close to filled out, and his weight should stabilize for the rest of his career, he might add a pound a year the rest of the way.

A special case might be Nathan Beaulieu. He’s 21, still filling out, and he reportedly has never really dedicated himself to his physical conditioning, but is doing so this summer. Since he’s starting from a relatively untrained base, he has a lot of low-hanging fruits to pick, lots of room to grow, so he might make relatively large gains in size and strength and power in the next couple of years, until he gets closer to his ceiling and his gains become incremental.

Does the Canadiens defence corps stack up against the Bruins and the Lightning?

From a Helene St. James’ article in the Detroit Free Press:
They haven’t improved their scoring capability, and as a group Montreal’s defensemen don’t stack up to Boston’s or Tampa Bay’s.

I understand how an outsider can scan our lineup on a website and write this, but I think the Canadiens have a chance to make her and a lot of skeptics eat their words. P.K. and Andrei are excellent, I’m hoping the Tom Gilbert plays a steady heady game and benefits from a winning culture, and that Alexei returns to form after fully recovering from ACL reconstruction, along with now having the opportunity to play his natural left side, instead of being forced to the right side due to the roster being overloaded with lefties prior to the Josh Gorges trade.  Alexei may even take an extra step forward.

We then have four young defencemen that the out-of-towners don’t know about, but any of who can step up and play a significant role. Jarred Tinordi at 22 should be on the verge of putting things together.

I’m very optimistic that Nathan Beaulieu will have a great rookie season, I found his attitude at the prospect camp refreshing, and put a lot of hope on the fact that he’s putting in the hours in the gym.

Greg Pateryn had a surprisingly good season in the AHL, scored a few goals, and has the maturity at 24 that could allow him to play a role if injuries strike, if he doesn’t win a job outright at camp.

And I know it’s common for us to dismiss Magnus Nygren now, but based on his track record he could have the same effect on our roster that Raphaël Diaz had his first season, stepping in and contributing right away.

I saw Tampa’s defence corps get embarrassed in the playoffs. I know they signed a couple of free agents, but I’ll put my boys against Radko Gudas any day. And at the risk of annoying some, Zdeno Chara is getting on more on his reputation than his performance nowadays.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Should the Canadiens sign Dustin Penner to preempt the Bruins?

I’ve been wondering if Marc Bergevin will go dumpster diving in August to provide depth to his team, possibly on the wing(s), with the likely bargains in my mind guys like David Booth, Dustin Penner, Devin Setoguchi. Get one of those wingers at a 1 or 2 million dollar deal for one year, and if it works great, if not, bury them somewhere, loan them to an AHL club (not the Bulldogs if they’re a problem).  But I suspect that any of these guys would be very motivated if they ended up in that situation, and would work very hard to earn another, bigger contract. They’d be out to prove themselves.

With the signing of Jiri Sekac though, and the encouraging reports regarding Jacob De La Rose, I think it’s going to hinge on how the development camp goes. If these guys look good, our management may choose to stand pat, and promote from within. So I’m not so sure anymore that we will tack on a cheap veteran or two later this summer, as we did last season.

Oh, wait… It just occurred to me.

Dustin Penner will sign with the Bruins, and they’ll have that 240 lbs monster on their team, suddenly feeling his oats and throwing his weight around, because he’s, you know, a Bruin…  With the Caps, he wasn't feeling it, but slip on that black and diarrhea-yellow jersey on, and now he feels like a tough guy.

Damn. It just came to me, and now I’m convinced it will happen.

Mac Bennett, another defence prospect of the Canadiens, benefited from his four seasons at Michigan.

Good article on Mac Bennett by Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette.  It profiles the offensively-oriented d-man , who was drafted in the 2009 draft in the third round by the Canadiens, and who has spent four seasons since then at Michigan under legendary coach Red Berenson.  He used that time to develop his skills and mature physically.  He was also Greg Pateryn's defence partner for two seasons with the Wolverines.

Four years later, Bennett appears ripped as he launches his pro career. He stands 6-foot tall and tips the scales at close to 200 pounds. Earlier this year, he was recognized as one of the best-conditioned hockey players in the U.S. by an association of strength and conditioning coaches.  Last season, as he reported to the prospect camp, he was proud to have met Patrice Brisebois' targeted weigh-in goal of 195 lbs.

Some players really stand to benefit by going to the NCAA and getting four years of development, instead of just two in the CHL.  For example, Brady Vail might have sorted out whatever didn’t please the Canadiens, and been thought worthy of a contract after his senior year.

Mac's role on the Bulldogs next season might be a relatively important one for a rookie.  He'll be one of the few lefties on hand for the coaching staff.  Assuming both Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu start the year in Montréal, all the other defence prospects are righties: Greg Pateryn, Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, Dalton Thrower, and maybe even Magnus Nygren, if he can be convinced to report to Hamilton.

Of course, Davis Drewiske is a leftie, but it's hard at this time to call him a prospect anymore.

So, contrary to the common situation where teams have too many lefties and too few righties, and the righties get lots of icetime on their proper side of the ice, Mac might be for once the lone leftie, the guy who gets double-shifted and eats a lot of minutes.  Good for him.

And we can hope that if Greg Pateryn starts the year in Hamilton rather than with le Grand Club, he'll be a big help in getting the rookie started off in the right direction.

Could the Canadiens have iced a team with both Tom Gilbert and Cody Franson?

We saw during 'free agency frenzy' on July 1 the Canadiens trade away Josh Gorges for a second-round pick, after a deal with the Leafs in exchange for Cody Franson fell through, due to Josh refusing to waive his No Trade Clause.

I was pretty much of that opinion, that receiving Cody Franson in trade, or a second rounder and signing Tom Gilbert as a UFA on a very reasonable contract roughly evened out, and that since I prefer the short-term contract of Gilbert while Greg Pateryn, Magnus Nygren, Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz, Dalton Thrower, etc, get their game ready, versus the investment that would be required in Cody Franson, I was happy how that deal turned out. Tack on Mike Weaver on the right side on another cheap deal, and we’re set.

So in my mind:

Tom Gilbert (short-term UFA) + 2nd rounder + Mike Weaver > Cody Franson + Mike Weaver

But it’s been pointed out that it might not have been either Cody Franson or Tom Gilbert, but maybe the plan was Cody Franson and Tom Gilbert. Only once the Cody Franson deal fell through and Marc Bergevin pulled the trigger on the Buffalo trade did he turn to Mike Weaver as a fallback option, possibly.

So the equation might have been instead:

Cody Franson + Tom Gilbert (short-term UFA) > Tom Gilbert (short-term UFA) + 2nd rounder + Mike Weaver

We’re really headed far into conjecture here, but it’s still fun to discuss. I would have preferred Cody Franson and Tom Gilbert, but I’m still very, very happy with how things turned out.

Can the Canadiens replace the leadership and experience of Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Daniel Brière?

An interesting piece at The Hockey Writers, with the thesis that the Canadiens having lost a trio of leaders and veterans in Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Daniel Brière, their fans should expect a small step back in the standings.  Nothing too novel in that article, no insights that we haven’t beaten to death. I agree with most if not all that the author writes.

One point he misses in his thesis though, is that the brain trust did plug in Manny Malhotra as the fourth-line centre. So yeah, Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec are the last men standing of the old guard, but they do get help this season with the UFA centre, who was constantly lionized by the Vancouver press when he was a Canuck, about being unfailingly professional, tireless in his efforts, and a great guy to have in the dressing room.

Brandon Prust is another player who has reached that phase of his career, the veteran who’s seen it rain and can steady the ship, can lead the way, and who seems to be very popular with his teammates.

Also, Mike Weaver will be on hand, and he seemed to be a veteran ‘glue guy’ last season, so he can pitch in when the waters roil a bit and we hit a losing streak.

So we lose some veteran players, but now allow Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, P.K., and Brendan Gallagher to take the next step and assume the reins, and they’ll have veterans and trusty lieutenants to help out, unlike the situation in Edmonton.

It's always risky to see a team as a pure mathematical sum rather than an organism with mutually dependent systems.  To view the departure of Brian, Josh and Daniel as a pure loss, a discrete amount of leadership to be subtracted, with no repercussions or feedback loop elsewhere, is maybe simplistic.

I prefer to see a team as walking on a treadmill, with some members staying at the forefront and keeping pace or even gaining, while some others lose the pack and risk falling off the back.  To manage a team properly, you need to know when to add youngsters or give them more rope, and when to cull veterans who are holding the group back.

I'm confident that while some trusty veterans have been lost, others will step forward, and the young veterans will expand their role and contribution, and shoulder part of the load that Brian and company used to.

Canadiens Player Development Director Martin Lapointe interviewed at Prospect Development Camp

Canadiens Player Development Director Martin Lapointe plays a pivotal role in the Canadiens' hierarchy, tasked with guiding the prospects drafted and/or signed by the Canadiens through their development path in the hopes that most max out their potential.  The thought is that by following up with them and offering any support they may need, more of them will pan out, and this will provide the team with organizational depth and a greater chance at winning consistently.  This isn't anything revolutionary, but it is new to the Canadiens, and the position and the work he does is long overdue.

Having said that, he hasn't been prominent in the media.  If anything, his direct report Patrice Brisebois has had more camera time, appearing on l'Antichambre, and often being interviewed by newspapers and other sources.  So it was a welcome opportunity to hear him speak when he was interviewed during the Prospect Development Camp last week, he took on a scrum of reporters and had lots to offer.  He's an engaging, positive and optimistic type, and we can hope that it rubs off on our prospects.

The trouble is, the scrum was conducted entirely in French, and I haven't found any video of him fielding questions in English.  So here is my translation of the video from RDS.

He's asked about the kind of physical testing the recruits undergo at the camp:

"There are many factors: cardio, power output, agility, quickness and speed, and these are tests we do every prospects camp and training camp, and it allows us to establish a baseline, and see if the youngster is progressing."

Asked whether he undergoes that testing, he scoffs, and says that it's not a very pleasant experience to undergo, but it does give a good picture of what their conditioning is and how they're improving.

He's then asked about that, whether many of the kids do progress: 

"Generally, there's always a progression.  If you want to become a (pro) hockey player, the kids know that it takes sacrifice, so they mostly come into camp quite ready, and every year there are great steps taken and improvements."

Next the subject of improvement on the Bulldogs is brought up:

"I admit that two years ago, it wasn't fun losing games, a lot of games, but last year, it went well.  The coaches are very patient, they spend a lot of time with the young players, they do a lot of video sessions, and we saw the progress this year.  Like I said before, by taking small steps, we'll get there."

About Michael McCarron: 

"Michael is a big guy, it will take time, we need to be patient.  He spoke to you, and told you himself that he had difficulty adjusting (to the OHL), but he played better in the second half.  Michael understands, he's ready to work hard and dedicate himself to improve, he knows what he has to improve on.  From there, we can help him improve."

Asked if he can see a difference from the previous season: 

"Yes.  We saw him this summer, before he came to the prospects camp, he came to town and showed his progress, and to see that is great.  He's a big guy, he got stronger, 'harder'.  I asked him to increase his muscle mass, and that's what he did, his body-fat percentage is much lower."

The subject of Michael playing centre for the London Knights is raised:

"That surprised me also.  It's good to see that a youngster can play at every position, he's a big guy, he takes up a lot of space at centre, and he's not that bad playing there, on the faceoffs.  So it's an extra asset, an additional skillset being able to play there."

Asked about which specific players progressed enough to challenge for the open roster spots that Marc Bergevin said were available:

"We (Player Development) are here to observe, evaluate, help them to develop.  Final decisions are not for us to make.  We have the coaching staff from Hamilton which is here to evaluate, some LHJMQ coaches in Éric Veilleux and Dominic Ducharme gaining experience.  The big decisions, we'll leave those to Marc."

He's asked about Jiri Sekac:

"This is the first time I've seen him play.  I've seen him on YouTube like everyone else, but I've been very impressed.  What impressed me the most is his competitiveness.  He's able to hit, to play physical, he won't get intimidated, he skates very well, incredible hockey sense, so very positive."

He talks about the team bonding activity that was held at Bromont, video of it showed the boys doing some orienteering and team-building challenges.  He explained that he didn't want to let the cat out of the bag as to where the kids were going and what they'd do, since the players themselves didn't know yet, they'd find out once on the bus.  In general though, he explains that the group would be broken up into teams, and it would allow them to get to know each other, as well as the Canadiens management to get to know them better.  He reminds us that the kids drafted this year were scouted by Trevor Timmins' staff, but he hasn't really gotten a chance to meet them and work with them.  

He is asked about the number of players at the prospects camp, 50 players in all, lots of invited players on top of those drafted/signed by the team.  I was glad this question was asked since that is the biggest number of players I've heard of, compared to the Canucks, Jets, Flames and Oilers, for example, who seemed to hover around 30 players.  Note that I didn't dislike this, I thought it was an indication that the Canadiens were spending their money in an area that's not governed by the salary cap, using their resources and financial clout to leave no stone unturned:

"Well, it allows us a first look, a closer look at players that we may want to follow next season.  It's also to give them experience.  We have a lot of LHJMQ players who are here, I think it's important.  We want to have games (at camp), so it allows us to make up (full) teams.  But the principal reason is to have that first look, a good close look in advance (of next season, or over other teams, the meaning is unclear)."

A reporter asks him about his own progression in his role, about his comfort level over last year:

"Well first of all I think it's great fun.  I've done pro scouting before, now I'm in development, it's more coaching one-on-one.  I have an opportunity to work with the Hamilton coaches who do excellent work.  When there are video meetings with young players, with Donald Dufresne, Stéfan Lebeau, Sylvain Lefebvre, I want to be in the meeting, it lets me learn how to coach a guy, to analyze video, lots of things.  It's more one-on-one work.  

"When I meet with a young player, we talk, I take him to dinner, we talk about his game.  Last year I started to film them, and it gives me footage to talk about with them.  It's fun."

He's asked if the feedback from the young players is good, especially compared to previously when prospects were left more to their own devices: 

"Certainly things have evolved since my days (as a player), it's the same everywhere.  I don't want to take anything away from what Trevor did before (Note: Trevor Timmins had to do this follow up with our prospects under the previous administrations), but teams have evolved.  More and more, tasks get delegated, and it makes more sense."

He's asked if the vacant assistant-coaching job with the Canadiens interests him:

"Not really.  I have a job to do, I like what I do, I have young children, I would have to move my family.  I live in Chicago, my family is happy there, my children are young, so I'm happy in my current position.

He's asked about Gabriel Dumont, who played well in Hamilton but wasn't called up, whether he's getting frustrated or discouraged:

"Again, the decisions are not up to me.  I don't see that he'd get frustrated.  He played every game with impeccable intensity.  Gabriel has lots of character, I don't see why he wouldn't get called up."

When a player is 'dropped' like Louis Leblanc, how does it feel, and why didn't it work out for him?:

"Why didn't it work out...  Our role is to bring them to the highest level they can attain.  If it doesn't work out, maybe he needs a change of scenery.  I'm happy he's going to Anaheim, getting a change.  I called him, wished him good luck, told him the change might do him some good."

Asked about Magnus Nygren leaving Hamilton to go back to Sweden, and what the Canadiens will do to help European players integrate better there:

"One thing I want to assure you is that every player who goes to Hamilton is treated in an incredible, impeccable manner.  Players who decide to go back to Europe, that's their choice, we can't prevent them from leaving.

"Those who go to Hamilton, I know one thing: we spend time with them, and the Hamilton coaches do excellent work.  I'm there a week and a half per month, I see it, I feel it.  To say that players aren't well supported, and that Europeans aren't taken care of, I can't say that.  It's their personal choice to go to Europe, they get a better offer, we can't control that."

The reporter insists, clarifying that his question wasn't related to coaching, but to the conditions faced by players in Hamilton:

(Martin Lapointe scoffs) "The coaches and I stay just outside of Hamilton.  We're good, we eat well every night, there's no problem there.  Hamilton isn't better or worse than Montréal."  (He rolls his eyes and chuckles, to indicate that he thinks any concern in that regard has no merit)

He's asked how it feels when he hears that there's no ready prospects in Hamilton, no one really ready to make the jump:

"Patience, patience...  You get prospects through the draft.  You have to have patience, you have to develop them.  What's the use of bringing a kid up before he's ready?  Marc Bergevin will make the decisions when the players are ready.  Our job is to develop them.  Patience is the key word."

Daniel Audette and Brendan Gallagher coincidences

Interesting coincidences between Daniel Audette and Brendan Gallagher, they have more in common than their diminutive stature.

1) Both were picked in the fifth round, 147th overall.

2) Both have May 6 as their birthdate.

Source: video from Evelyne Audet.

And that’s a very welcome return from Ms. Audet, I wondered what happened to her since her days on Habs TV.

Michael McCarron is training hard in London with Jarred Tinordi, and that's good news.

We'd heard that Michael McCarron trained last summer in London with former Knight and Habs prospect Jarred Tinordi, and I thought that was great news.  Jarred has demonstrated a seriousness, a commitment to his physical training, and the proof is in the pudding.  From a gangly 205 lbs. youngster when he was drafted, Jarred has added some serious muscle, some size since then, and weighs in at 227 pounds according to the latest update on the Canadiens website.  And you can tell it's 'good weight', his traps and neck are markedly more developed then before.  He's not puffy in the face, it's not cheeseburger weight.

So that was a great help for Michael to start his pro career, even though his initiation to the OHL wasn't smooth.  There's nothing to help motivate you like a good training partner, especially one who's stronger than you.  We hoped that he'd put in another good summer of training, and come back bigger, badder, better next season.

And that seems to be what's in the offing, since Mike is training again this summer with Jarred Tinordi and Bo Horvat among others in London, under the direction of a physical conditioning coach.  He has already put on five pounds this summer, and weighed in at the prospects camp at 241 pounds.  Martin Lapointe said that he's come into camp bigger, stronger, and leaner, that his body composition measurements are all improved this summer, so he's shedding some french fry-derived baby fat.

Michael also said the team has asked him to work on his speed, so that’s what he’s focusing on right now in the gym.  Some may think that's paradoxical, putting on weight yet working on quickness and speed.  A poster on social media brought up the point that usually a player drops weight to get quicker.  David Desharnais did that very thing last off-season.

In Michael's case though, we need to remember that he's a growing boy, still a teen, and he'll just naturally add weight as he fills out.  We definitely don't want him to be dropping weight at this stage of his development.  He's not a rolly-polly kid like Alexis Pépin, a guy who didn't train and didn't pay attention to nutrition, and now needs to slim down to become a pro.

Further, when a player adds muscle in the amounts that Michael McCarron and Jarred Tinordi do, most of it ends up in the legs and the hips, the core.  So it's not dead weight that needs to be lugged around the ice, but rather extra cubic inches for the engine.  It's muscle that helps a player go.

If Michael is training hard, doing squats in the gym and box jumps and plyometric work, if he's running stairs, and doing his work on the ice, and eating lots of protein, his quads and glutes and hamstrings will grow like weeds, like when Wile E. Coyote sent away for those ACME pills.  He's a growing boy, he's got lots of testosterone, packing on muscle is no problem for a kid like that.

So I'm happy that Mike, since he has that giant boyish frame anyway, is packing on some meat, which will make him quicker, faster, more explosive, stronger on his skates, and improve his balance.  A lot of the critiques of his play, that he's 'not on the puck' but rather chasing the play, that he takes a while to get going, that he's not very agile, that he doesn't hit that hard, he has a hard time lining up a player and really unloading on him, that he falls down a lot after contact, all these issues can be addressed by him being stronger and more explosive in his legs and hips, and stronger in his core.

Another concern we have with Michael is what next season will look like for him in the OHL.  It's a foregone conclusion that he will end up back in junior, even though the AHL is technically an option for next season.  In reality, he still hasn't progressed enough to show that he's ready to play against men, against pros.  Another season in junior will allow him to hone his skills at a level appropriate to his ability right now.

I thought he might be traded to another OHL team, one that's likely to contend, for picks and young players, as the Knights rebuild from their Memorial Cup run team.  Instead, Dale Hunter speaks like he will be back in London and will play a prominent role.
«Nous avons besoin qu'il le soit et il le sera. Il va éclore à l'attaque et noircir sa fiche de points»
Translated: "We need him to be a frontline player and he will be.  He's going to break out offensively and get on the scoresheet."
So for now, it looks like the Knights won't go scorched-earth like the Blades did last season, trading away any veteran player of value in return for young players and rebuilding after going for broke the season they were hosting the Memorial Cup.  Instead, the Knights will have a few good players still, notably Mitch Marner who is projected to go in the first round of the 2015 draft.

Also, Bo Horvat, who some saw as a likely member of the Canucks next season, now will have a tougher row to hoe, with the patch job that Jim Benning did to retool on the fly.  It's now thought that Mr. Horvat would have to play on the fourth-line, and there is some debate as to whether he'd be better off in London playing 25 minutes a night.  If that was the case, Michael McCarron would have some decent linemates to play with and learn from.

So a big role change for Michael, compared to the fourth-line minutes he received for much of the season last year.  And if he's up to it and shows great improvement and produces, there's yet another step he can climb, by taking part in the World Junior tournament for Team USA in January 2015.

A positive aspect is the attitude of Michael relative to his performance last season.  He's not trying to snow anyone, he admits he didn't perform that well, and has to improve a lot next season, as he stated at the prospect camp.  He said flat out that not getting selected for the 2014 World Junior team in December stung and was a wake-up call.

One final consideration is the progression Jarred Tinordi showed between his first and second OHL season.  I remember one of the RDS boys, not sure if it was Stéphane Leroux or Renaud Lavoie or someone else, who explained that when they first saw Jarred at the prospect camp after he got drafted, they were dumbfounded, he seemed so uncoordinated compared to the others.  The next season, it was like night and day, he came in with more size, coordination, skill, and the pick now made a lot of sense to that observer.

We can hope that Michael, having faced a lot of the same hurdles that Jarred did, in terms of growing into his huge body, and making the jump from the USNTDP team to the OHL, shows the same development curve at camp and next season.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Canadiens to sign Bokondji Imama as a pre-emptive strike?

An article on RDS about Bokondji Imama, and we learn a couple of things therein.  He's not quite 18 yet, but is already 6'1" and 220 lbs.  And apparently, he can skate, unlike a lot of the enforcers who infest the NHL.

None of the reports I read from the development camp were very encouraging regarding his level of play, but I'm now taking into account that he only recently began to 'focus' on hockey, having also played football at a competitive level, as well as soccer and baseball and other sports recreationally.  And that he's very young, he was one the least experienced players at camp lined up against pros and college players.

The Canadiens haven't had a true-blue homegrown heavyweight since Donald Brashear, if memory serves, and John Kordic before that.  I know the buzz is that the league is moving away from fighting, due to the Bruins decreasing their nuclear capability, and the requirement for players entering the league to wear visors among other factors, but I'll believe it when I see it.

We got burned when Gary Bettman said after his Second Lockout that the league would be all about skill and offence and scoring and entertaining hockey.  Bob Gainey took the bait and chomped down on the hook, putting together a team in 2009 that was small but speedy and skilled, and we got gooned by the likes of the Bruins, who bullied our players with evident glee on their vicious, villainous faces, and the truculent, bellicose Leafs.  So I don't want to lay down our arms before they do.

We're kind of off-trend, drafting and signing players like Jack Nevins, Stéfan Fournier, Connor Crisp, and Brett Lernout, and inviting players to the development camp like Evan Wardley, while the rest of the league is supposedly pointing at our defeat of the Bruins as a sign that the 'Boston model' needs to adjust to include more skill and skating.  Supposedly, the new templates for success are Chicago and the L.A. Kings, teams that don't have a classic enforcer in their ranks, and don't tend to fight very much, but instead just have a lot big players who can actually play and can all take the heat.

And I don't care.  Sure very soon, probably in a couple of seasons, we'll have a team that has the toughness as an intrinsic part of it, like the Kings do with their size and useable fourth-liners who can square off with another tough guy once in a while, but until then I don't want to risk being the only team without a chair when the music stops.

So let's make sure we have a battleship this season for when we run against the devious Bruins waving a white flag, or when the Sharks are in town and they insist on dressing John Scott.  And let's keep turning over every rock in the CHL and elsewhere searching for the next Chris Nilan, the next Georges Laraque, and then coach him up to become the next Tim Kerr while we're at it.

EDIT: On July 25, RDS reported that Bokondji Imama was invited to the Canadiens rookie camp in September.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

After a successful Canadiens development camp, let's stay calm.

Okay, the draft, July 1 free agency have passed, now the prospects camp is over.  We have a long wait to go until rookie camp.  Our job now is to be patient and keep our expectations in check.

I mean, both the Canucks and the Flames also think they had great talent in their camp, their future is bright, their first-rounders are augmented by a lot of shrewd late-round picks, …

Two years ago at this time, Habs fans were high-fiving each other on social media, thinking how great our prospects pool was, how the Bulldogs would do well with that infusion of talent.  

Our closest to being ready players were Louis Leblanc and Blake Geoffrion.  We'd picked up snipers that summer in Sebastian Collberg and Tim Bozon, to add their offensive talent to Danny Kristo's in the near future.  One of late-round 'steals' Daniel Prybil or Charles Hudon was bound to pan out.  Alexander Avtsin was going to finally get his bearings and get going.  With that much offensive talent on the forwards group, we couldn't find room for everyone in our line combination projections.

Yet how quickly things have changed with respect to these specific players.  The first three are now no longer in our organization, and neither are Danny Kristo and Alex Avtsin. Tim Bozon was felled by a viral meningitis and is taking months to recover.  Daniel Prybil never panned out and wasn't signed to a contract.  Charles Hudon has been slowed by a (gulp!) back injury.

We were warned by a few grizzled Habs watchers to stay calm before, they'd bring up the ghosts of Chipchura and Latendresse, but we wanted to get carried away, it was so much fun.  Let's see if we can keep a more even keel this time.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Nathan Beaulieu seems a determined, humble, changed man at the development camp.

I love this interview with Nathan Beaulieu. He looks serious, mature, grounded, mentions he’s been training hard and wants to show that to the team, that he’s at the camp to improve and learn, and “make a big step”. He wants to get “bigger, stronger, more mature.”

Gone is that cocky, almost arrogant attitude he exuded before.  Instead, we see a calm, resolved young man with a goal in mind, and one who seems to understand now what his role is and how the off-ice game is played.

Great, great stuff.

Are bigger defencemen more susceptible to injury as they age?

An interesting article on the Canadiens' website demonstrates that as they age, bigger defencemen are more susceptible to injury than their more modestly-sized counterparts.  And it's not just a crackpot theory pulled out of my tinfoil hat, but science, son.  It's all shown graphically, with math and stuff.

The money quote:
“Shorter players may perform better for a longer period of time due to experiencing less strain on impact and less wear and tear on their joints,” noted Philippe Renaud, a biomechanics researcher at McGill’s Ice Hockey Research Group. Renaud added that the laws of physics suggest the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles of a player such as Francis Bouillon, who is 5’8”, receive much less torsional amplitudes as those of a player standing at 6’6”. 

We tend to hunger for the big tall physical defenceman, the second coming of Larry Robinson.  The late-model version of Chris Pronger.  Shea Weber 2.0.  The stats show that these guys really are the outliers, that most tall defencemen don't make the NHL, and if they do they tend to break down earlier in their career.

We've already looked at the stats for CHL defencemen who are defensively-oriented rather than those who pile up points in their draft year: those who produce have a greater chance of making the NHL, whereas the stay-at-home types tend to wash out, overwhelmingly.

So we should be safe for the boys in our farm system right now, save for Jarred Tinordi and Brett Lernout, and maybe Greg Pateryn.  We do have quite a few defencemen 6'2" or thereabouts, and puck movers who can put up points and contribute.

And I'll take this into account the next time I'm scanning the draft-available rolls and see a Jonathan Ismaël-Diaby or Alexis Vanier and think: "Oh, he's huge, let's grab him..." 

Yannick Weber qualified by the Canucks, signs a one-year, $800 000 contract.

Yannick Weber's status with the Vancouver Canucks was touch and go for a while there, but they decided to qualify him at the eleventh hour, and then shortly after, signed him to a one-year deal for $850 000.  So a contract that can be buried in the minors with no cap hit if need be.

Some pointy heads think that it may be a salvo aimed at Chris Tanev, another rightie defenceman, who had a protracted negotiation with the team last summer, and is not being any more accommodating this year.  There have 'leaked' some rumours about how he may be traded to Detroit, among other destinations, with the Canucks relying on Kevin Bieksa, Frank Corrado and Yannick on the right side of the blue line.  I don't think that's going to happen, the Canucks have the upper hand in these negotiations, and they see Chris Tanev as a building block for the future, while Yannick is more of a stopgap at this point.

Zack Kassian also re-upped, for two years at a very reasonable $1.7M per.  Some feared that he'd use the scoring surge he showed at the end of the season as a reason to ask for much more.  This contract should squash any trade rumours or hare-brained trade proposals.  Even before this good contract was signed, Zach is the only piece the Canucks have in terms of great size and some scoring ability, and there's the faint hope he could eventually be the thumper/bodyguard/finisher on the Sedin line.  He's not going anywhere.

Tomas Plekanec helped recruit Jiri Sekac to the Montréal Canadiens

Here's an interesting article by Jean-François Chaumont of Le Journal de Montréal, who explains that Tomas Plekanec met with Jiri Sekac the day he was in Montréal to meet with the management team, and they spoke very briefly.  They later had a phone conversation to talk about the city and the organization before he accepted the Canadiens' offer.

Tomas continues that he doesn't know Mr. Sekac very well, they being of different ages and never having played together except on a summer celebrity ball hockey game.  He adds that he's heard nothing but good things "since the Montréal rumours started", and that he played very well with the Prague team.

Tomas also commented on the other new Canadiens, saying that he's played against them many times.  He says that Tom Gilbert is "a good defenceman who moves the puck well".  Manny Malhotra "has lots and lots of experience and is excellent in the faceoff dot.  He's one of the best in the NHL at this."  He concludes by saying that he's sure that "they'll help the team and that they'll probably show good leadership."

We were pretty happy with this free agent signing all things considered, that we can attract free agents to our team and compete against the Rangers and the Kings and other glamourous locales.  Sure, the prestige of the Montréal Canadiens still holds sway over young players from overseas, they respond to it more than they would to the Minnesota Wild or Dallas Stars.

But a major attraction now is also the new climate at the New Forum, a lighter, more fun atmosphere, and a dedication to and possibility of winning.  The nonpareil facilities and the vibe on a Saturday night, all these things matter to players, and we're seeing tangible results, with players like Tom Gilbert and Jiri Sekac jumping at the chance to play here.

It is a pleasant change from the days when Mike Komisarek jumped to the Leafs for an extra half a mill per season.  I don't think this will be happening again anytime soon.

And Josh, thanks again buddy, I totally understand and sympathize with your decision.

EDIT: Mr. Sekac downplayed the importance Tomas Plekanec played in his decision to join the Canadiens, stressing that he made the decision based on his impressions of the city and the quality of the organization.

"It was just my decision.  I wasn't making a decision because of someone (else's) opinion," he explained at the 45 second mark of this video of a press scrum after Day 2 of the development camp.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Jiri Sekac signs Entry-Level Contract with the Canadiens; is like found money.

Who the heck is Jiri Sekac?  That's what I asked myself when the announcement was made that he'd signed an Entry-Level Contract with the Canadiens.  I raced to the Google machine to find out more about him, and the best information I could find was this article from a fan site for the Islanders.

That he was so hotly pursued by so many teams is not surprising.  A player like him available as a free agent is almost like getting an extra second-round pick.  Some would argue that his development is already mostly done, he having just turned 22 years old, so a lot of the uncertainty that comes with drafting an 18-year old is taken out of the equation.  So maybe it's more like drafting a 'safe' first-rounder, one who may not have a very high ceiling, but who has the tools, the size, and the skating that projects very easily to the NHL.  So yeah, found money.

The Canadiens have had success before with unsigned European free agents with Raphaël Diaz, who we got for free, got some use out of, and then flipped before he became a UFA to Vancouver in exchange for Dale Weise, who figures to be a usable piece for the Canadiens for a couple seasons yet.  If we get that kind value from Jiri Sekac it will be another net positive.

One of the main knocks on Mr. Sekac is that he's small and weak physically, but that seems based on his first appearance in North America.  He's still listed on hockeydb as being 6 foot and 174 lbs, whereas reports now put him at 6'2" and 190 lbs.  Certainly he looks bigger than his official stats suggest, when seen on video highlights, he has a lanky swooping quality that reminds one of Rick Nash, strictly speaking of style and not making a direct talent comparison obviously.

Another reported weakness in his game is his "unorthodox" skating stride.  While we're not able to deny this finding, we may think to players like Michael Ryder who while not being burners can make up for it with instincts and good puck talent.  A tradeoff of speed in exchange for his useful size and nose for the net is one we can make.

Whether he lands in Hamilton or with Le Grand Club in October is up to question.  If Marc Bergevin stands pat until training camp, there's certainly a roster spot available on right wing, but that's a big if.  Last off-season the Montréal GM went bargain-bin diving later on in the summer and tacked George Parros and Douglas Murray onto the roster to address a need for physical players.  We can surmise that he sees the holes in the roster at least as well as we do, and that he'll go shopping for a Dustin Penner or Devin Setoguchi or some other such budget band-aid that is withering on the vine closer to September.

In short, Jiri Sekac is a can't-lose proposition, an asset added at no cost other than the dollars attached to his contract.  We need to be cautious in our evaluation and expectations, but it's another move in the right direction.  Even if he only provides organizational depth his first year, if he adds some experience and scoring punch that is sorely missing on the Bulldogs, it's a worthwhile use of one of the precious 50 contract slots available to the team.

EDIT:  TSN has a five minute video of Jiri Sekac being interviewed in a scrum at the development camp in Brossard.

More musings on the P.A. Parenteau for Daniel Brière trade

The Canadiens website has some cool video on P.A. Parenteau getting his first tour of the training facility in Brossard.  We've seen a lot of this behind-the-scenes stuff on 24CH, but it's nice to take the tour regardless.  A great insight on the value of David Desharnais, and potential for chemistry with him is when the discussion turns to Mr. Parenteau's stall location in the dressing room, and he points at David's stall and requests: "Don't put me too far from him..."

As we've discussed before, the Canadiens have some hurdles in attracting some of the best talent to Montréal, but increasingly, some strong selling points, with a modern, approachable management team, and a culture of winning.  The New Forum, and the training facility are top-notch, and that has to play into it when the players talk to each other, how their working conditions are A-1 in Montréal, that the team will go above and beyond to ensure nothing stands in the way of winning games.

There are still fans questioning why P.A. Parenteau got dealt by Colorado.  Some argue that the trade must be a trap, as in how could the Avalanche have been so desperate to trade their right wing for so little return?  I think the rationale for Colorado to make the trade to acquire Daniel Brière isn't immediately obvious, but there are a few things we can go on as fans without the behind-the-scenes knowledge.

The main one is Stan Kroenke, who as has been pointed out is beyond wealthy, but was a 'hawk' for the owners during the lockout, and is relatively penurious when budgeting for his team.  So Joe Sakic wanted to get out of the P.A. Parenteau contract, but couldn't buy him out, so flipping him for Daniel Brière saved him a year of salary.

Also, the Avs lost Paul Stasny, a centreman, and gained a right wing in Jarome Iginla in free agency.  Now the timing doesn't line up quite right, since Mr. Iginla's deal was only announced on July 2, but they may have seen this developing, and felt that they should strengthen the centre line, and could part with an offensive RW, already having Alex Tanguay there, who's still productive if healthy.  Especially if the Avs decide to stack one line like the Penguins do and put both their star centres on the same line (Crosby-Malkin, Duchesne-McKinnon), they'll need another centre who can play second or third line, or second wave of the power play.

We had the 'opposite' problem, in that we already have a glut of centreman, so Daniel Brière was a poor fit.  I'm quoting Gaston Therrien again here, but he repeated throughout the season that that latter had been signed with the understanding and intent that he'd play right wing, but that never worked out.  He wasn't comfortable or effective there, and ended up at centre on the fourth line.

So we had two teams swapping misfit toys, but the Avalanche were a little more desperate to sell than we were, so we got an extra shiny fifth-round pick out of the deal for Trevor Timmins to dazzle us with again.

Personally, I like the trade, I've had P.A. Parenteau on my fantasy teams for a few seasons now, and he's relatively consistent and productive.  I'm hoping that his friendship with David Desharnais turns into on-ice chemistry.  The fact that he also played with Brandon Prust and Dale Weise in the Rangers system means we had access to intel on him.

The fact that he landed in Patrick Roy's doghouse isn't great, I worry about that a little, but maybe the management team applied the same logic they did to the Ryan White situation, that "sometimes a student needs a different teacher," and vice-versa.

And in retrospect, how happy are we that the René Bourque for P.A. Parenteau rumoured trade never happened last season?

René Bourque, for all his inconsistency, is still a big strong fast winger who doesn't kill us when he's in a funk, he adds to the team by his mere presence in the roster rather than adding to our problems.  At $3.3M per year, he's affordable.

Daniel Brière on the other hand exacerbated some of the issues we faced with lack of size and physicality in our lineup, and had a cap hit that was out of line with his contribution to the team.

Mr. Parenteau isn't a bruiser, but he's got decent size and will be able to push back to a greater extent than Mr. Brière.  He's younger, and we didn't have to swap a winger for a winger and end up where we started.

I didn't believe the initial rumours around the trade deadline, feared that trading René Bourque to Colorado for P.A. Parenteau could have been a move we'd regret.  I feel much more comfortable with the deal we ended up making.  We do end up receiving P.A. Parenteau in a trade, but he comes with a fifth-rounder now, and not at the cost of René Bourque but rather Daniel Brière.

Great trade, getting value in return for our surplus.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Ryan Johansen leads with his heart, if not his immaturity.

I tend to always side with the players when it’s time for them to bargain for a Collective Agreement.  They're the ones who we pay to see, they create the wealth, not some piratical monopolists who happen to have restraint-of-traded their way to ownership of the teams we cheer for.  Teams we've grown up to love deeply, and have imbued with the value these fraudsters and shills are now squeezing for ever more golden eggs.

But NHL players have agreed, often against the advice of their union leads, to a lot of new rules and restrictions with their last two CBA’s. Within the constraints of these rules, I understand that a GM who has more bargaining power will use it to restrict the amount of money he pays his younger players so he can lavish it on his veterans to retain them, or to attract free agents.

Notwithstanding that, I also understand a smart GM who thinks this shouldn’t apply to a Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews, who thinks that young player earned a huge raise on his next deal.  If your prized rookie is already an All-Star and the leader of your team, pay him accordingly.  That makes sense.

This is a much better system than before, when rookies would get drafted in the first round and sometimes hold out, eventually sign a contract and collect a gigantic payday, without having played a minute in the NHL.  Veterans who’d played for years had to settle for minimum deals, because the dollars were all spent on Alexandre Daigle and Radek Bonk.

In light of the preceding, the Blue Jackets don’t appear to want Ryan Johansen to get a huge contract so soon into his career, which we could call the Jonathan Toews method, for players who instantly step up and show leadership and maturity. The Jackets must be afraid he might not be ready for a huge deal, that it might affect his coachability and focus, and let’s call that the Edmonton Oilers effect.

Instead, they want the player to mature and improve as a player, and to prove that he’s worth the mega-deal, and prefer to sign him to an intermediate 'bridge' contract, and let’s call that the P.K. Subban approach.

Mr. Johansen’s response hasn't been positive.  His comments regarding his negotiation, about having earned a four-year deal after one season of strong play, are off-putting.  This kid bargains like Nazem Kadri bargained last season:
“I’ve earned more than a two- or three-year deal with my play,” Johansen said. “It seems a little disrespectful, to be honest. … I want to play in Columbus, and I want to be a Blue Jacket, but I want to get this done. It seems like a slap in the face.”

Pretty bold for a kid who had one good season, and was a problem before that, with indiscipline and poor work habits.  In the right hands, with the right actor, it could almost be parody, a spoof of an entitled, spoiled athlete with a poor grasp of what’s going on in the real world.

Here’s what Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Post-Dispatch had to say about the matter:
…But the organization’s position on Johansen is well-established.

The Blue Jackets spent the first two years of Johansen’s career with a firm boot behind him, insisting he play with a drive and passion that didn’t seem to come to him naturally or consistently.

It came to a head last year. After Johansen had been sent to the minor leagues to keep playing when the Blue Jackets’ season ended, Johansen was made a healthy scratch in an American Hockey League playoff game because coaches didn’t like his effort level.

Those concerns seemed to fade last season, when Johansen’s play became more consistent and he began taking over games with his skill.

Johansen said the Blue Jackets still believe his conditioning isn’t up to snuff, and the organization is miffed that he didn’t remain in Columbus this offseason to train with other players.

The Vancouver sports talk station Monday morning was Ryan Johansen wall-to-wall, and how the Canucks should offer-sheet him, and Columbus is too poor to match, or they should trade them Alex Burrows and Yannick Weber and a second-rounder for his rights…

So we’re not alone, trying to land superstar players with spare parts and castoffs.

But it's another clear reason why Marc Bergevin goes after character when building his team.  Ryan Johansen is obviously a singular talent, but you have to factor this level of petulance into your equation when you're choosing between prospects at the draft table.