Sunday, 31 May 2015

Memorial Cup Final: Generals 2, Rockets 1 (OT)

Not the most exciting Memorial Cup Final I can remember, it certainly wasn't the Cataractes against the Knights of 2012, but we can take some joy in the fact that Michael McCarron's Oshawa Generals won 2-1 in overtime.  

I don't come to bury Michael, but I'm not going to praise him either.  After a strong start to the tournament, with a goal and an assist in the first game against the Remparts, he only picked up another assist the rest of the way.  He was shut out tonight, although he did create/have a few opportunities.

Another area where he petered out was his faceoff prowess.  He'd gotten plaudits early on from the Sportsnet crew for his strong work on the dot, but before tonight's game he was down to a 48% win percentage for the tournament.  Maybe the other coaches figured him out in the preliminaries, maybe they did some good video work with their centres, but he lost his edge as the games wore on.  

Tonight, he lost the faceoff cleanly on the play that led to Kelowna's only goal.  He finished 9/23 for the game.

Oshawa head coach D.J. Smith had relied heavily on Cole Cassels and Michael throughout the playoff run and during the Memorial Cup games, and I wondered if our boy was getting worn out, fading as the games and tournament progressed.  

It seems the coach adjusted, starting to rely a little more on Anthony Cirelli, who rewarded him by scoring his team's two goals, not a bad way to set himself up for the June draft.

It wasn't a bad outing for #55 though, just maybe not as clutch as we might have wanted to close out his CHL career, maybe a 3 or 4 on the Messier-Toews scale.  He dished out 6 hits during the game, the most of any player.

Overall, this isn't alarming to me, it might actually work to tamp down expectations as he comes into camp next fall.  There was talk early about Michael maybe being the solution we need for a big centre in our Top 6, there all along, right under our noses.  His cooling off as the tourney progressed will cool our feverish imagination as well.

Michael has a future as an NHL right winger who can do some necessary work in the corners and in front of the net, maybe he can pitch in and take the occasional draw.  He has a long road ahead of him to develop further in the AHL, and we need to be realistic and patient with this prospect, who can play a big role in the success of the team in the future.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Are the Canadiens disadvantaged by the French-language requirement when hiring a head coach?

When posters say that the only reason the Canadiens hire a francophone coach, or sign Québécois players, is so that media types don’t have to go through the trouble of translating the interviews, it reveals a profound ignorance about how much of a barrier language is. They’re immersed in an anglophone culture, with Canada and the U.S. able to communicate freely. They don’t run up against the obstacles francophones do.

If anglophones want to know what Céline Dion or Claude Giroux think or say, they can hear it first-hand, because most media personalities from Québec learn to speak English. The reverse isn’t true. A kid from Sorel who speaks French can’t hear what 50 Cent or LeBron James has to say, he can’t communicate with him directly.

Anyone watching 24 CH gets a glimpse of this. When the team made a trip to Lac Mégantic, the players who got the most attention, and could share the most with the fans, were the francos, David Desharnais, Daniel Brière, Francis Bouillon. The coach, Michel Therrien, is seen in a ‘bain de foule’, signing autographs, comfortably exchanging with residents. There is a scene where Daniel Brière is speaking with workers and volunteers at the arena, and they’re explaining what happened during the tragedy, which areas were affected, etc. It’s a moment of humanity that happens because Daniel can speak with these guys directly, and which wouldn’t happen with Ryan White or Kyle Turris.

Another moment is when P.K. meets with the young boy who got hit by his errant shot a few weeks ago. P.K. goes the extra mile, calls the family, invites them to another game, and meets with them afterward. Now, P.K. has a million-watt personality, and tries to engage with the kids, who are agog at meeting their hero in the flesh, but unfortunately they don’t speak English, and the parents have to translate. It’s still a moment the kids will remember forever, but comparatively less special than it could have been had P.K. managed to learn to speak French, as Ken Dryden and Bob Gainey and Steve Shutt and Larry Robinson did, just enough to hold a basic conversation.

I met a few of the Expos as a kid, I was there with my Little League team, and we got autographs, but none of us spoke English, and none of the Expos spoke French, so it was all orchestrated by intermediaries, and was a little wooden and stilted. I loved the Expos, but the Canadiens, they were special to me, they were mine, I could identify with them a lot more.

So the difference between Ginette Reno and Kate Smith is that a kid from San Diego or Tallahassee can identify with and understand Philadelphia’s good-luck charm, but the kid from Sorel can’t. It’s goes beyond the ‘local singer’ angle.

It’s the ‘hiring a French coach is a problem, we should hire the best-qualified people’ meme that’s the red herring.

The policy has forced the Canadiens over the years to hire obviously unqualified candidates such as Pat Burns, Alain Vigneault, Claude Julien, and Michel Therrien, who were so far out of their element that they were fired, and quickly washed out of the league, never to re-appear. Right?

The idea that there’s a ‘best-qualified’ candidate that can be objectively determined, who will receive a determinate score of 98 during the hiring process, while all others score in the 70′s and 80′s, is a fallacy, and flies in the face of the realities of recruiting and people management.

Any candidate evaluation ventures into subjective parameters, it's an inexact science.  If it wasn't, no one would ever once hired ever be fired.  No draft picks would ever bust.

Thought experiment: is there a best-available candidate to manage a restaurant, objectively, or many that are suitable, with some strong on experience, some on youthful enthusiasm and fresh ideas, some on hitting the numbers, some on motivating and training and retaining staff? And then is it just a question of figuring out what your priorities are, and hiring the manager that will be the best fit?

What about if your restaurant is in Montréal or Toronto or Shanghai, is the objectively-best candidate one and the same? Do you tailor your choice based on your staff and clientele?

To reduce candidate selection to a simple math issue, to the concept that if there are more options you're bound to find the winning ticket, is naive, and ignores the practical realities recruiting and personnel departments face every day.

The Canadiens' and Trevor Timmins' draft record is excellent.

I guess I’ll keep posting these whenever the Canadiens’ recent drafting record/Trevor Timmins is questioned.

1) Last year, I came across some articles skewering the Canucks on their poor drafting record. One article had a system for evaluating objectively how Vancouver did. Some of it is hilarious.  It's also interesting, but most of all for how well the Canadiens do in that review.

2) Derek Willes did a study a couple years ago to see which team did the best at the draft table, and was surprised to find that the Canadiens did. Andrew Berkshire was skeptical, modified the methodology, and still the Canadiens and Trevor Timmins come out on top.

The Canadiens haven’t batted a thousand at the draft, nobody does. For every David Fischer we have, other teams have their Hugh Jessimans and Patrick Whites.

Any doubt some may have as to Trevor Timmins' and his staff's ability to do the most with the picks they have comes from a mistaken belief that, you know, at least half the picks we make should become regulars, right?  But that's not how it works.

Compared to every other team, using whatever objective method you can devise, the Canadiens' and Trevor Timmins' drafting record holds up very well.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

2015 Off-Season: Should the Canadiens offer Josiah Didier a contract?

With the dust having settled somewhat after Marc Bergevin's mildly controversial end-of-season press conference, we can start to assess what moves the Canadiens will make in the off-season, starting with what to do with unsigned drafted players.

In 2013, we advocated offering a contract to Daniel Prybil, but not Olivier Archambault and Dustin Walsh, these three being the players whose rights were about to expire.  It came to pass that none of them were offered a deal.

In 2014, we thought Dalton Thrower should be signed, but not Mike Cichy and Erik Nystrom, and that came to pass, but we were puzzled by the decision to not offer Brady Vail a contract.

Ultimately, none of these players who were let go have come back to haunt the Canadiens.  It may happen that down the road one of these guys blossoms, but it will be a surprise, and we won't be able to fault the Canadiens for that decision, since they have to evaluate the players as they are now in their progression, and the likelihood that they will pan out.  

With the 50-contract limit, you can't hoard all your prospects, and hope that one of the very longshots turns it around and pays off like a lottery ticket.  You have to make educated decisions, weigh the opportunity cost of holding on to a fringe prospect versus having the flexibility to sign unrestricted free agents who are closer to the finish line.  

And so far, the pedestrian results offered by Brady Vail, Olivier Archambault and Daniel Prybil among the others cut loose vindicate the decision-making of the team, which allowed the brain trust to pursue and sign players like Jiri Sekac and Daniel Carr.  

The longest journey begins with the first step.  Slow and steady personnel moves like this eventually win the race.

This off-season, we don't have a handful of players we need to make decisions on.  The 2013 draft yielded a bounty of prospects, and the leading lights, Michael McCarron, Jacob de la Rose and Zachary Fucale are already signed.  Sven Andrighetto was picked as an overager, was immediately signed and folded into the talent-starved Bulldogs.  Arturri Lehkonen is still playing in Europe, delaying the decision in his case for another couple of years.

Longshot Connor Crisp is signed and already has a season in the AHL under his belt, although it was difficult for the rugged winger.  Hopefully he adapts more fully next season.

And Jérémy Grégoire, a lowly sixth-round pick, had an injury-marred season with the Drakkar in the LHJMQ, but came back with a vengeance when healthy, scoring at a greater than a point/game pace, and two points/game during the post-season.  His style of play should mesh well with the Canadiens' system and the AHL in general.

Which leaves unsigned from the 2013 draft only Martin Reway, who played one season in the LHJMQ with the Gatineau Olympiques, was drafted, played another season and then returned to Europe to play pro in the Czech League and earn more money than he could in the CHL.  While it's not ideal perhaps in terms of prospect development, the silver lining for the Canadiens is that through a technicality in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it gives the team until 2017 rather than this June to make a decision on whether to sign the diminutive Slovakian forward or not.  This is in contrast of some alarmist, misinformed reports to the contrary on a Canadiens blog and le Journal de Montréal, which again, as is its custom, gets it wrong.

While he is undoubtedly a skilled player, Martin Reway is also very small, beyond undersized.  While the NHL game may slowly be shifting away from the lumbering WHL grinders towards skill with the present success of the Tampa Bay Lightning's cadre of small fliers, his stature will probably still be a challenge for him, whether it's just in terms of an NHL GM bias, or a practical barrier to entry based on his actual play on the ice.  Certainly, his performance at the World Junior tournament turned heads, again.

His maturity is also in question, having clashed with Olympiques coach Benoit Groulx on a few occasions.  Marc Bergevin famously, avowedly prizes character, players who buy into the program and the team concept.  The Canadiens GM will have to weigh the team's need for talent and offence and goal-scoring versus the potential headaches this player could cause.

So far, the 2013 draft is a dramatic success, in that not a single player has been an outright whiff.  Everyone of them has progressed to the next level, and either has been signed or will be so in all likelihood, even the low-round picks.  Encomiums should rain down on Trevor Timmins and his staff for a clean sweep, as far as these things go.  And despite some overwrought bloggers who are tempted sometimes to justifiably, measuredly second-guess him.  And may still be proven right in the fullness of time...

In effect, the only drafted player the brain trust has to make a decision on this summer is Josiah Didier, a 2011 fourth-round pick of the Pierre Gauthier administration.  The GM had made a trade on draft day, dealing away a third-rounder, 78th overall, for two fourth-rounders, 97th and 108th overall, which Trevor Timmins used to pick Messrs. Didier and Archambault, respectively.

Josiah Didier has spent four seasons at the University of Denver.  His pluses are his tremendous size and his dogged defensive work that is loved by coaches.  The big negative, that would give the Canadiens pause, is his non-existent offence.  

A couple of seasons ago, it was thought that teams could and should have a big tough nasty #6 defenceman who didn't do much except hit, clear the crease, make the opposition a little bit more likely to tiptoe around the slot, and occasionally enter into a fight.  This was especially so in the Canadiens fans' minds, tired as we were of getting pushed around by the Leafs and Bruins, among other usual suspects.

It's debatable now that this need is still the case.  The heavyweight designated puncher has been extirpated from the game.  The game has shifted more and more in favour of players, of defencemen who can skate, create offensively, or at least make a decent first pass to start the breakout of the zone.  The unidimensional defensive defenceman may also be going the way of the dodo.

So it's a little less likely that Josiah can have a pro career, given his struggles in the offensive area.  If CHL defencemen need to score approximately 0.6 pts/game in their draft year to have a good chance at an NHL career, where does that leave Josiah with his 0.25 pts/game in his senior season in the NCAA?  

Further hurdles exist to his being signed by the Canadiens, to having a likely chance to succeed at the NHL level, like the fact that his likely role, that of the ornery defensive defenceman, is being applied for by a few others in the Canadiens' farm system.  It's like Josiah is getting to the party too late.  

A few seasons ago, we had Jaro Spacek, Raphaël Diaz, Yannick Weber, and Tomas Kaberle as our light-hitting defencemen.  P.K. Subban was a little young to really contribute any toughness.  Hal Gill was a little too tame, despite his great size, although he'd jump in when things exploded and neutralize his man, usually the biggest one around.  Josh Gorges was willing, a gamer, but rarely inspired any fear in anyone.

If Josiah had been around then, fully matured as a prospect, he might have won a job by default.  Now, he has other youngster vying for a similar role, among them Greg Pateryn, Jarred Tinordi, and Brett Lernout.  He'd have to beat out many challengers.

Another challenge he'll have is that if he joins the farm team, he'll be another rightie on a blueline replete with them.  It's arguable that we have too many of them.  

I've been harping on this for a couple of seasons, but it seems the Canadiens made a conscious decision a few seasons ago to balance out their blue-chip, can't-miss leftie prospects Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu with a plethora of right-shooting longshot prospects.

We have on the rolls right now, slated to join the AHL team next season, righties Darren Dietz, Dalton Thrower, Morgan Ellis,  and Brett Lernout.  Magnus Nygren is still in the picture nominally.  Greg Pateryn has probably made the NHL for good, but will 'block' any likely advancement by these youngsters, adding to the complex picture.

So it's worthwhile to ask whether Josiah is a fit for the organization, whether a longshot like him would be better served being given a shot with another club that needs his services to a greater degree than do the Canadiens.  A few commenters on social media have been predicting a trade by the Canadiens, to unclog the system of so many defencemen prospects who can't all be developed at once.  Things may be coming to a head in this regard.

The Canadiens have until August 2015 to sign Josiah, so they have some time to make a decision in his case, or make a trade.  It’s noteworthy that Josiah played eight games with the Bulldogs to end the season, but it was on a tryout contract, so the Canadiens were still hedging their bets.

My hunch, based on the kid's diligence, character and leadership on the Denver U. team, is that he'll get a contract offer.  The Canadiens aren't hurting for spots on their 50-contract limit, there's room to retain this asset, even if it's then swapped out later on to another team for another one we have a greater need for.

Ron Reusch on Guy Boucher.

I like Ron Reusch as a personality, like the fact that his blog gives us something to chew over in the fallow summer months, but this article is shoddy.  It would be great if Mr. Reusch correctly used the words its and it's.

He also calls Marc Bergevin "Bergeron" in the final paragraph.

And don't get me started with the habit he has of using the internet wackery of starting sentences with "..." when he does his pre-game notes.  Those are an eyesore, I wish a professional journalist would not do that.  I actually refuse to read those.

That lack of attention makes his site less than a must-read, and makes me wonder what else he's getting wrong.

So I really like the content of this article, the recent history of the powerplay and how it correlates with some coaching staff changes, but it's a bit of a pain to read.  And I'm not sure I can trust the info with those other errors in the article.

As far as the Guy Boucher comments, I'd love it if he was hired by the Canadiens, but I'm not sure of the dynamics, of having a guy who is obviously gunning for a head coaching job as the assistant.  It works sometimes, we seen guys go back to assistant duty before returning as head coach, but it's relatively rare.

Plus, I want to stockpile Mr. Boucher, have him on hand as a 'callup' if Michel Therrien loses his magic touch.  If he's a Canadiens assistant coach, it would be hard for him to pivot and become the head coach, that's been a problem for others in the past, it rarely works.

Finally, Ron Reusch refers to "some of the stuff Bucher (sic) pulled while coaching Tampa Bay", which I think is a tired fallacy, based mainly on the say-so of congenital idiot Chris Pronger.  Guy Boucher played a defensive system, we should get over it.  It only became a circus when the Flyers got involved.  Big surprise.

If Guy Boucher had had a goaltender while in Tampa, his tenure would have been much longer, and more successful, based on his success and his players' testimonials from his days as a Bulldogs coach.

In any case, this may be a case of us having tunnel vision, thinking that there isn't anyone else out there who can help beside Guy Boucher.  There are plenty of candidates who have proven themselves in junior, university hockey, the AHL, etc.

Social media has focused on Dan Lacroix as the possible/likely culprit of the impotence of the powerplay, but I wouldn't hesitate on including Clément Jodoin in our bullseye as well.  He's the video and strategy guy, the man who's supposed to break down opponents, figure out how to attack them.  The powerplay was kind of toothless when Gerard Gallant was in charge of it too.  And Clément Jodoin is a common denominator to both.  If his wonkish style is ineffective, isn't getting through to his charges, his role should be reviewed too, not just Dan Lacroix's.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Memorial Cup Round-robin: Generals 2, Rockets 1

Toughts on the Generals-Rockets game in the Memorial Cup preliminaries.

--The Oshawa coach didn't roll his four lines to start the game, instead trying to rely on his top 2 lines and matching up Cole Cassels against star Rocket forward Leon Draisaitl.  This approach meant relatively more icetime for Michael McCarron early on, and he stood out, driving to the net early on and generating a scoring chance when his winger rang the rebound off the crossbar.

--On another sequence, with a prolonged cycle game when giant Hunter Smith was also on the ice, Mike came out of the corner with a clean possession and fed his winger, again for a strong scoring chance.

--Kelowna was the home team, so they had 'last change', Dan Lambert could see who D.J. Smith was sending out on the ice for faceoffs and react accordingly.  The way the Oshawa coach handled this disadvantage was by sending out Michael McCarron for draws early and often, almost daring his counterpart to send out his star centre.  When he did, Mike would take the faceoff, and then quickly leave the ice and allow Cole Cassels to jump on.

Again, great assignments for our boy, lots of responsibility and heavy minutes.  It's doubtful that he'll play Top 6 centre in the pros, but this icetime is good training for him, and his ability to take draws might come in handy in the NHL, especially since he's a rightie.

--The first period closed with Michael on the rush getting a shot off that squeaked through the goalie and hit the far post.  Great period by him, he drew plaudits from the play-by-play crew, generating scoring chances, coming close in goalmouth scrambles.  Nice job.

--During the intermission, Patrick Roy was a guest of the panel, and was asked about Zachary Fucale.  I'm not sure if he confused the time he scouted him as a junior coach or GM, or if he started saying something and thought better of it due to the NHL tampering rules, but he gave a jumbled story about trying to obtain an extra first round pick to draft him, but he obviously thinks highly of his character and his competitive ability and mental makeup.

Which is fine by me.  If we're going to get someone's stamp of approval for our young goalie, we could do worse than having Patrick Roy's.

--I'll observe again that Sportsnet is diligent about describing first-round NHL picks as "Montréal first-rounder Mike McCarron" or "Washington Capital prospect Madison Bowey", and even for "Calgary second-round pick Hunter Smith", but it doesn't extend to the Canucks' Cole Cassels for some reason.  Maybe this nicety doesn't extend to third-rounders?

Living in B.C., we get a lot of references to Cole Cassels as a forward who could figure in the Canucks future, and that's partly due to the bare shelves of their system the last few years, but certainly also to the great progress he's shown since he's been drafted, and his good showing at prospect camps and rookie camps.

--The Generals strangled play some more in the second period, allowing precious few chances to the Rockets, and scored twice to lead 2-0, until a late goal on the rush by Kelowna closed the period at 2-1.  

I noticed that Michael played a lot at the end of the period, and didn't look great defensively on the goal and a couple other close calls.  I wondered if he was getting a little winded, or had geared down a bit to pace himself for the long haul.

--Nice feature on Michael in the second intermission, how he was a trade target of the Generals to make a run to the Memorial Cup, how he's fit in, how much his play has improved.

--Third period was a little more uneven for Michael, he struggled a little bit on faceoffs, was on the ice for a few sequences when the Rockets dominated.

--The Rockets had eight or ten chances to tie the score late in the third on a five-on-three powerplay, but they were more rushed, more scrambly than snipy and clinical, so no solid shots got off, it was more batting at a bouncing puck when the goalie seemed vulnerable, ripe for the taking.

--Generals win and advance straight to the final.  If I was coldly calculating, I'd have preferred they lost, to give our prospects potentially two more high-stakes games, the semi-final game AND the final, instead of the one he's now guaranteed.  But I'll take it.  Good for Mike and good for us that he's in this position, has a chance to finish off his junior career on a major high, set him up to take the next step in the right frame of mind.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Memorial Cup Round-robin: Generals 5, Remparts 4 (OT)

The Generals got through the Remparts 5-4 in overtime to assure themselves of a playoff berth.

This is the matchup Canadiens fans most anticipated, the Generals and hulking forward Michael McCarron and the Remparts with all-star goalie Zachary Fucale.  Two jewels in the crown, big pieces on the farm for the Canadiens, players who can have a big say on the future success of the franchise.

And as discussed earlier, this would be a game where fans were conflicted.  Sure, you want Michael to score and produce and have a good game, but not at the expense of the goalie, the other guy you're cheering for.  You want him to stone the other team.  Except for Michael, who we want to score.  Round and round we go.

Both guys held up their end of the bargain early.  Michael scored the first goal of the game with a textbook deflection of a shot from the point.  Zachary had no chance on it, the puck was headed for the crossbar and bounced down at his feet and through his legs.  The play was actually reviewed by the refs to ensure Michael's stick didn't touch the puck above the crossbar.

Later, Mike and Mike (Dal Colle) took off on a two-on-one, with our boy carrying the puck, then making a perfect pass right on the tape of his linemate's stick, who converted it for the Generals' second goal.  Again, Zachary could not be faulted on this one, it was a well-executed two-on-one, with a cross-crease pass and no bobbled puck.

Aside from that, Zach was solid, making a few good saves, handling the puck well, getting kudos from the broadcast team.

The second period was more of the same, with Mike showing dominance in terms of his size and play along the boards, and Zachary Fucale minding the store, and shutting down the other team.

It wasn't flawless for Michael, he's not quite Eric Lindros just yet.  While he was strong on the cycle, he sometimes would bury the puck, allow himself to get outnumbered and eventually lose it.  He got surprised in his zone when off-balance and a smaller Rempart decided to ignore his stickhandling and just stick a shoulder into him, which rocked him backward.  And on one sequence on a powerplay, he stood high in the slot and banged his stick incessantly, asking for the puck, when he wasn't really that great an option or that open.

So maybe we should participate in the draft this June after all, pick up some new prospects.  I don't think Michael by himself will solve everyone of our problems.

But it's great to see the development in his game, the confidence, the leadership he's asserting as a 19-year-old player.

And it's cool to see him getting some love from the media.  Damien Cox of Sportsnet did a focus segment on him during the second intermission, and Rob Faulds interviewed him on-ice before puck drop at the start of the third.

Two quick goals started off the third.  The Generals got a powerplay goal on a shot from the point, and again I'll make an allowance for Zachary that he was screened by 6'6" Hunter Smith.

The Remparts tied it up at 3-3, also on the powerplay.  Michael McCarron I assume lost the draw on the penalty kill, but I can't swear to it, since Sportsnet's picture didn't show us the play, the director was more interested in a shot of the Generals' coach behind the bench than the actual play going on.  Par for the course for them I guess, they routinely miss faceoffs when they're too busy showing slick graphics or promos.

The third period was more of the same for Michael, a strong drive to the net for a good shot and scoring chance, a wraparound attempt, strong play on faceoffs and the cycle.  Oshawa coach D.J. Smith relied on him quite a bit, giving him lots of ice and responsibility, killing penalties, powerplay, everything.

Another hiccup though, when trying to stickhandle and deke behind his own net with the puck, and almost getting burned.  This isn't the time to be fancy Mike, your coach would love a 'strong play' right now.  Just bang it off the glass.

Zachary also distinguished himself, resisting the onslaught when the Generals were bottling up the Remparts.

A long overtime period was needed with the score tied 4-4 after 60 minutes, and it went as the latter stages of the game went, with the Generals dominating positional play, spending a lot of time in the Québec zone, until the Remparts would break out and be dangerous on the rush.  The Generals won late, on a goal by defenceman Stephen Desrochers off a clean faceoff win by Canucks prospect Cole Cassels.

Zachary, who was bombarded with 50 shots during the game, might have gone down a little early on that one, but again it's hard to say he's responsible for that one, with the hard shot going in off the crossbar, it wasn't a cream puff by any means.

So now the Remparts have to beat the Océanic to try to make the playoff round.  It would be sweet revenge for them, after losing the Presidents' Cup against this very same team, in overtime of Game 7.  Should be a good game too.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Memorial Cup Round-robin: Generals 4, Océanic 3

This game was interesting for this Habs fan for two reasons: to see Canadiens 2013 first-rounder Michael McCarron assert himself and continue his progression, and to see a Flyers prospect and a Leafs prospect fall flat on their face.

I don't really hold any ill will towards Samuel Morin and Frédéric Gauthier (respectively), but it's kind of the same dynamic I have with Malcolm Subban: I don't want them to be successful at this point in their career.  Until they change address.  And I hope all the rumours about a possible trade out of Boston for Malcolm come true so we can start cheering for him.

My first reason for watching was borne out early, with on his first shift Michael McCarron making a good pass on an odd-man rush and streaking to the net for a rebound.  None was to be had, but you have to love the instincts, such behaviour will be fruitful in the pros.

On his second shift, Michael took a draw in the offensive zone, and instead of going backwards on his backhand, he poked the puck forward, pushed/kicked it to his winger as he bowled the opposite centreman over onto his butt.  Tobias Lindberg shot once, got a rebound and cashed it in.  Advantage, McCarron.

The Generals jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, and the theme for the talking heads was the complete domination they had over the Océanic, limiting them to 2 shots in 15 minutes.  The last five minutes of the period was all Rimouski though, as they evened the score, and the analysts shook their heads and explained that junior hockey is a game played by young men, and that emotion plays a big role, both positively and negatively, you can see wild swings in momentum quite often.

In the second period, while on a powerplay Mike McCarron took a draw in the offensive zone and won it, and shortly thereafter took on Samuel Morin in a visor-punching  contest.  We didn't see what started it, how it came about, due to poor camera work and director work from Sportsnet, but Michael got the takedown after an uneventful scrap.  Game, McCarron.

Later, Mike had a golden opportunity to finish off his Gordie Howe hat trick when he got the puck right on the doorstep of the Rimouski net, with the Océanic goalie already down on his knees.  Our boy didn't quite bossy it though, he réjeanhouled it instead and lifted it above the crossbar, and over the glass into the netting.

Little hiccup early in the third, with Michael killing a penalty.  He won the faceoff, the Generals couldn't quite clear the puck, but he eventually stole it away from a rival and took off on a two-on-two break.  He didn't have the jets though, he got caught from behind by Frédéric Gauthier, who turned the puck over and went the other way with it.  The Océanic quickly scored.

Okay, maybe it was a medium hiccup.  Nothing wrong with being aggressive on the penalty kill, but you need to be aware, if you don't have separation, maybe just clear it, make the safe play.

Still waiting on the Gordie Howe hat trick.

And then Mr. Gauthier took a nice pass in the slot for a good scoring chance later, so while he was relatively invisible the first 40 minutes, the kid was now coming on.

Oh well, maybe it's with the Marlies that he's destined to bust...

The Generals scored the go-ahead goal in the third, a beauty by their other twin-tower Hunter Smith, a 6'6" Calgary draft pick.

Michael had a couple more strong shifts in the third, where he and his linemates played a strong cycle game and pushed around the smaller Océanic players, and set our boy up for a couple of chances, but couldn't find mesh.

The Generals win their initial game.  About which I'm mildly conflicted.

In a way I don't really have a dog in this fight, and usually I'd want the LHJMQ team to win, but in this case I want Mike to get as much icetime and big-game experience as possible, which means they need to win and get in the tourney playoffs.

Tomorrow, Mike is trying to score on Zachary Fucale when the Generals play the Remparts, so we'll have even more mixed feelings I guess.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Memorial Cup Round-robin: Remparts 4, Rockets 3

The Remparts won 4-3 against the Kelowna Rockets, but it could easily have been 8-3. The Remparts had countless great opportunities to score, Anthony Duclair having three or four breakaways himself, but couldn’t cash in any of them.

Whoever is their powerplay strategist, Marc Bergevin should pay close attention. They pass the puck around with celerity, there’s a lot of creativity, lots of potency in that attack.

I said earlier today that I wasn’t a big fan of Leon Draisaitl, but after seeing him play tonight, I’m at least a medium fan now. Good looking player, reminded me of Vincent Damphousse for some reason, skates with power and authority, but great puck control, dekes, passes. Again though, discipline was an issue for him, he got tangled up with a Rempart after the horn sounded at the end of the second period, and he got a ten-minute misconduct for his troubles. Losing him for that long in a tight game may have been the determinant factor.

Speaking of discipline, the Remparts had it sewn up after an Adam Erne empty-netter, leading 4-2 with a little over a minute left, but then they tried to goon it up, rub the Rockets’ nose in it I guess. Marc-Olivier Roy and Massimo Carozza were pains in the butt all night, slashing and jawing in scrums after whistles. This time the Remparts got caught, and drew two minor penalties.

Sure enough, the Rockets pulled their goalie and quickly scored on a 6-on-3. A game that was already won turned unnecessarily into a nailbiter for the Remparts.

One man-crush which abated somewhat was Madison Bowey, the silky smooth skating defenceman with a big right-handed shot, he starred at the World Juniors, loved how he played. He had a difficult night though, turning the puck over, missing on passes. He may have been rusty after a long layoff, the Rockets having dispatched their opponents in the WHL final over a week ago.

Solid, solid night by Zachary Fucale, he made some excellent saves, seemed in control. Good to see him back on his game after a difficult end of the regular season for him.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Is it time to trade Tomas Plekanec for a healthy return?

For two off-seasons I’ve been posting that Tomas Plekanec should be traded. Not in the Stéphane Langdeau sense of “se débarrasser de Plekanec”, not in the Jiri Sekac-HIO-style of ‘giving up on him’, just that we keep circling around the same question about lack of size up the middle, lack of scoring on the wing, etc., yet we stand pat, season after season.

It’s time to adjust our roster, “brasser la soupe.”

Tomas is a trade chip that can return some value. Teams are always looking to upgrade at centre, with size if possible, but not necessarily. Centre centre centre. That’s all I hear from Canucks fans, especially now that Ryan Kesler is gone.

That’s all I hear from my Oiler fan friends, why they kept Leon Draisaitl far later than they should have in the NHL instead of sending him back to junior. ‘Mac T’ had RNH on his first line, then Leon Draisaitl as his second-line centre, then a succession of nobodies for the third line. Matt Hendricks was a stopgap option for the fourth line.

So yeah, despite the near-rant from Marc Bergevin, let’s install Alex Galchenyuk at centre, let’s give our melancholy Dane a boot in the rear and tell him to get going. Let’s scour the sport, C. Montgomery Burns-style ("Alright, find me some good players. LIVING players! Scour the professional ranks. The American League, the National League, the Negro League!”), and see if there are unloved minor league centres out there, or NHL’ers who can be obtained by trade.

Let’s keep David Desharnais as a swing-utility player, a guy who can play Top 9, at centre or left wing, be an insurance policy. And I say this with cold-eyed realism, knowing full well that his trade value is low to non-existent, due to his size and cap hit.

Let’s bring up the kids from the minors for a look, a three-game audition, groom them, ease them in. Not to interrupt their AHL apprenticeship, just to keep our finger on the pulse, help their progression along. Charles Hudon had an extended audition at centre with the Bulldogs, let’s see if that recurs next season, if he can hack a game or two in the bigs. Let’s see if Jacob can take a big step next year, with his rookie pro season under his belt.

So I think it’s time for Tomas to ply his trade somewhere else. I like the guy, like how he competes, how he represents the team. I like how he busted P.K.’s chops after the Olympics roster announcement, when he asked him if he’d made the Canadian squad. P.K. said yes. Tomas said, with a very stern look: “Good. For us.” Meaning, the Czech team’s chances were enhanced by P.K.’s presence on our roster. Classic.

After another mildly disappointing playoffs, with a couple of gaffes that shouldn’t be expected from a smart two-way vet like him, and after another season of not really clicking with his wingers, after many other seasons of making allowances for him for having David or Scott Gomez or Saku playing ahead of him, and of excusing his lack of production by pointing at the poor quality of his wingers, or the paucity of his o-zone starts, or his being worn out from overuse on the penalty kill, I’ve kind of run out of runway for him.

Not a bad player, just maybe not the right player for our team at this time, maybe not the right fit.

Tomas had a good career in Montréal, but it’s time to unclog the logjam at centre, draw from that relative strength to shore up weaknesses elsewhere. And I understand Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien when they say that having more centres on a roster is great, they can play wing and be available in certain situations to pitch in, but really, we’ve taken enough kicks at this can, let’s try a different approach.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 2, Game 6: Canadiens 1, Lightning 4

Let's get this over with.  Which may have been what some Canadiens had in mind in this game.  Certainly once they were behind in the score, at least.

The Canadiens were eliminated from the post-season with a 4-1 loss to a Lightning team that found its bearings again, and played more like the edition we saw in Game 2 and 3, fast, skilled, scoring goals that left no doubt.

In fact, the final game was a microcosm of the series: Tampa being fast and lethal on offence, featuring pinpoint passing and sure snipers, while the Canadiens came up short when generating opportunities, hitting a post, leaving pucks in the crease uncashed.  For the Canadiens to win, they had to dominate Tampa, hope that they didn't get lucky once or twice, and for all the chaff left around Ben Bishop's net to find its way into his net.

Tampa's first two goals, a beautiful deviation by Nikita Kucherov on a sly setup from Ondrej Palat, and a wrist shot from Steven Stamkos from directly in front of Carey Price's net, were no-doubters.  No luck was involved.

Meanwhile, Tomas Plekanec was slamming his stick to the ice after a miss, P.A. Parenteau hit a post but this time didn't bank it in.  The powerplay failed to connect on its two opportunities.  So it goes...

As Habs fans, we may have underestimated the difficulty of winning a Game 6 on the road in Tampa Bay, where the Lightning held the best home record this season, in our haste to imagine a Game 7 at the New Forum where we'd hold all the cards, the momentum.  We may have looked beyond the sixth game.

We'll dissect the corpse over the next couple of weeks, get ready for the draft and free agency, build our funeral pyres and gallows, but until then, it's appropriate tonight that we congratulate this group of men for a great season, where they quieted the naysayers yet managed to inflate their expectations, a neat trick all in all.

To the management team, the coaching staff, the support staff and the players, a job well done.

Now get to work and find us some snipers.  With character.  And size.  And grit.  But don't sell the farm.

Get to it.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 2, Game 5: Canadiens 2, Lightning 1

The Canadiens staved off elimination tonight with a 2-1 win that was much closer than it by all rights should have been.  (Do we use the word 'stave' in any context or meaning other than teams avoiding elimination?)

The win was obtained courtesy of an offensive explosion from the heretofore dormant hyphenated right wingers Devante Smith-Pelly and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau.  Both of them finally picked up their first post-season (hey, hyphen!) goal, and it was high time, since that was all the scoring the Canadiens could muster.

Fans sometimes castigate the Canadiens for being a team that plays on the periphery.  Certainly, they've been shooting on the periphery.  SportsCentre opened with a video-audio montage of all the posts they hit this game, to go along with all the other posts they've hit so far in this series.

And it may be an apt microcosm for this matchup, one team with a behemoth of a goalie who blots out the sun and obliterates angles with his 6'7" frame, and another with a plucky band of brothers long on heart but short on snipe, the modern-day Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.

This was something that was discussed in hushed tones in the Canadiens dressing room probably, until the irrepressible P.K. Subban impishly blurted out that Tampa goalie Ben Bishop had "been sitting on a horseshoe", overloading the Lightning's bulletin board to the point of collapse.

You don't do that, provide the other side with extra incentive, certainly not in the playoffs.  You say how those guys in the other room are talented and they work hard and the next game is going to be a battle.  You don't point and laugh.

Even though P.K. was decidedly right.  And again tonight, Mr. Bishop looked clumsy, was caught stumbling by the HNIC cameras in an isolation shot when tracking the puck.  He let pucks get by him and slam into the post, repeatedly.

The thing is even both Canadien goals clanged in off the iron.  And that's kind of the point.  Ben Bishop isn't an athletic or goaltending marvel, but he's effective, he poses a problem for the opposition.  He covers a tonne of the net just by being in the crease.  He was only beaten by two perfect shots that banked in off the posts; half an inch further out and they wouldn't have gone in, they'd have bounced out.  A couple of inches in and they would have been occluded by the gargantuan goalie, haplessly struck in his acromegalic shoulders.

Not to go too far down the path of Charles Wang's sumo-wrestler-as-a-goalie idea, but there's getting to be a ceiling for what players can do when faced by gigantor netminders.  In the days of Rogatien Vachon and Emile Francis, there was a lot of net to be seen, to shoot at, but goalies nowadays are as much as a foot taller, and have much lighter equipment that doesn't soak up sweat and water off the ice, doesn't bog the goalie down, can be made bigger without sacrificing agility and mobility.

Hockey skate and stick technology has been outpaced by goalie technology.  It's like World War 1; one side has horses and muskets, and the other has tanks and mustard gas.

The laughable sport of basketball has a similar problem, with a net set at a certain height that allows a colossal human being who can barely get around to have a significant contribution to offer a team, by standing near his own net, à la Marc Eaton or Manute Bol.  Hockey may be hitting its head on this ceiling, with the evermore obsolescent 4'X6' dimensions of the hockey cage.  This needs to be looked at.

So as unsteady and unimpressive as Ben Bishop was, he still had an effect on the game.

Fortunately, so did Devante Smith-Pelly, who I reverse-jinxed today by claiming to be unimpressed with his hands and skill level, and P.A. Parenteau.  Both of these guys have fallen off the radar, so much so that we might be tempted to think of their snipes as 'secondary scoring', but it would be an inaccurate representation.  Both of those dudes were brought in to play on the Top 6, to add offence.

So again, the Canadiens played a game where they were clearly the better team, but couldn't prove it decisively on the scoreboard.  Games 1 and 3 should have been wins but turned into one-goal losses.  Tonight's game, despite a preponderance of scoring chances on the Good Guys' side, came right down to the wire again.

We now head back to Tampa Bay, steal a game there, and then bring it home for a Game 7 on home ice in front of demented fans.  Easy peasy.

And I'd strongly suggest that Les Boys use the strategy I implored them to enact today, to score four or five goals very early on, to take the other team out of the game.  Patent pending.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Canadiens-Lightning: Pre-Game Thoughts

1)  My sense about tonight’s game, and the rest of the series, is that the Tampa Bay Lightning are very talented, and when they’re on their game, cohesive and firing on all cylinders, they’re hard to beat and we don’t match up very well with them.

They’re not unbeatable though. We dominated play in Games 1 and 3, two one-goal losses in which we didn’t get the puck luck. We beat Ben Bishop quite a few times, but the puck didn’t end up in the actual net, just on his forehead once, on the post half a dozen times, skittering through the crease, etc.

They’re like a knockout artist in boxing though, only needing one punch, or a batting order with lots of homerun hitters, who can put you away with one or two swings. And if they have a good night, it can be a slaughter.

So I’m modestly optimistic about Game 5, on home ice, feel we can win and go back to Tampa for Game 6, but I’m not underestimating the explosiveness of their team, or the propensity Ben Bishop has for throwing a shutout, the problem he causes for the opposition with his sheer size.

2)  We get Steve Kozari and Marc Joannette as refs for tonight's game.  So we have to fear the Québec referee who bends over backwards to show he's impartial.

I hate how that's become the norm.  Either we get a dyed-in-the-wool Hab-hater Ontario ref, who grew up wearing a Leaf jersey and sneering along with Don Cherry at visor-wearing "Europeans and French guys", or a local guy who feels he has to meet their low bar, to prove himself.

Ron McLean would have an easy solution to all this.

3)  Devante Smith-Pelly has had little effect on this series, aside from soaking up minutes on the right wing and delivering a few hits.

My sense before the trade, admiring the player from afar, mostly from his hockeydb page early on when he was the sole second-rounder of that class who was playing at the NHL level, was that he was a talented kid, an early-bloomer who'd be a big Top 6 forward, kind of like Curtis Glencross or Wayne Simmonds, a guy you can pencil in for some hits, who can resist the Tim Gleasons and Deryk Engellands out there, and notch twenty goals and season.

It's early yet, he's only 22, so he has room to develop, but so far I'm a little disappointed in his hands, his offensive acumen.  He does deliver on the toughness, the hits, the disciplined play, he's contributed that, and he's not lazy, the effort and commitment is definitely there.

But I thought he was a little niftier around the net.  And since there's a giant vacuum on the team in that regard, nobody who's naturally gifted at causing havoc in the crease and screening the goalie, I thought he take to it like a fish to water, compared to Anaheim where maybe there were three or four other guys who did that well and 'blocked' his development path.

He's got hands of stone, both based on his results so far, and what I've seen.  You don't see him make nice plays that don't quite connect, that come oh-so-close, and gives you that sense that he'll explode soon.  He doesn't wow you, doesn't show you the flashes of skill that promise a better future.

He's still valuable, an asset to the team, and there's hope that he'll improve, just maybe it won't be an immediate, showy addition to the roster like Dale Weise was last season.

But I temper my fanboy frustration by going back to the fact that he's only 22.  Looking at hockeydb yesterday, I noted that he's from the same draft class as Jarred Tinordi, who's still developing in the AHL.  And I'm very patient with Jarred, think the best is yet to come, so I should allow Devo some of the same latitude.

There's no rush in the grand scheme of things, it's not like he's about to turn UFA and we have to fish or cut bait with him.  We've got time to turn him into a productive Canadien yet.

I just want him to train with Max or P.K. this summer, join the latter for some crazy workouts at Laylor Performance in Toronto.  Work on his legs, squat until you puke, and get some explosiveness in his lower body, and maybe keep up with the pace a little better next season, be a little quicker, be on the puck instead of half-a-step behind.

4)  Tuukka Rask after a few goals, swearing, smashing his stick? Rattled.

Miika Kiprusoff after a few goals, calmly skating out of his crease to allow one of his d-men to retrieve the puck from his net, re-focusing, then coming back to take a swig of water and carry on? Not rattled.

Carey Price after a few goals, still poker-faced, still talking calmly with Andrei and P.K. about where they should be on faceoffs, not changing his expression or his style, still making saves and making them look easy in the third period of a lost game? Not rattled.

Ben Bishop swimming in his crease, on his backside, bobbling and mishandling the puck, dropping his stick numerous times, fainting after being brushed, whining to the refs, with the saucer eyes caught by the camera? Rattled.

Why do NHL goalies struggle to catch the puck?

We've seen Ben Bishop, the goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning, muff a save with his glove hand in Game 4, allowing a crucial goal and getting yanked as a result.  The only goal he allowed in Game 1, to Max Pacioretty, was largely the same, a simple glove save that he misplayed.

I’ll ask again, for the goaltending experts out there: Why do NHL goalies struggle to catch the puck?

Hockey goalies nowadays are bigger, better conditioned, more athletic, and they generally tend to be mobile and handle the puck better on average than goalies in the 70’s and 80’s, if anyone remembers Ken Dryden’s adventures outside his crease.

One area where they’re nowhere near as good as goalies of yesteryear is how poor they are at catching the puck. I’ve thought of two hypotheses why this might be.

1) Fewer hockey players play baseball nowadays. In the olden days, practically every hockey player played baseball or softball in the summer. Everyone was handy with a glove. And the catcher and first baseman positions were usually reserved for the goalies. For one, they usually had the appropriate, specific glove, the tool of the trade, but it was also understood that those positions allowed them to train for winter, and also that they were best suited for that spot, good at actually catching. It was a positive feedback loop in essence.

Nowadays, maybe kids don’t play baseball, but rather play soccer, or even don’t play a summer sport, just summer hockey camps and whatnot?

So while goalies are better prepared overall, the cross-training they used to get on the diamond for their glovehand has gone away. And we see it by how many times goalies will bat the puck with their arm, fend it off with their glove, but not actually catch it, trap it.

2) Goalie gloves nowadays are huge, more like a pool skimmer than an actual mitt. It probably has a tonne more padding than the olden days too. So goalies can’t quite ‘feel’ the puck in their glove, when it hits, when it rests in the pocket. The glove serves more to cover a large surface area of the open net than to be a precise, surgical instrument to snag the puck.

Any thoughts? Anyone?


Someone raises an interesting point about Ben Bishop simply not 'following' the puck very well.

A common problem for football players is catching the ball properly, not dropping the ball. It’s usually not so much a question of a lack of ability, but a lack of focus. It’s commonly seen in games when a receiver drops an easy toss when he’s wide open. The play-by-play caller will usually say the player “took his eyes off the ball”, or that he “tried to run before he caught it”, or that he “heard footsteps”, braced for a tackle.

I had a coach whose simple drill was to follow the ball with your eyes all the way into your hands, and when you caught it, you had to yell out the position of the laces as you hold the ball, relative to a clock. So if once you have the ball in your hands the laces are pointing straight up, you’d yell “Twelve o’clock”, and if they were a quarter turn clockwise, you’d yell “Three o’clock”, and so on.

I got the point of the drill immediately: it made you focus on the ball, on looking it all the way into your hands, into completing your catch. You completed the act of catching the ball, until it was in your hands, you didn’t start thinking of something else, like juking or sidestepping or bracing for impact as the ball approached.

Torry Holt, an All-Pro wide receiver for the Rams for many years, was known for his exceptionally good hands, even though they were small for a receiver. He worked on it every day on the Juggs machine, doing a specific drill, forcing himself to focus, and doing it flawlessly, with no drops, for 50 or 100 straight reps, a pre-determined figure. If he dropped one, he’d start over at zero.

He’d do things like have his back to the ball, spin around, locate the ball and catch it.  He'd toss the ball to a coach, and then turn around and face away again, and repeat the process, a hundred times.  Another day, he'd stand still but have the ball be targeted at hip level to his right, and catch such a pass 100 times.  The important skill he practiced was the actual catch itself, in various conditions, until it did become routine, failsafe.

Anyway, I’m sure goalies and goalie coaches have their own exercises and drills, but yeah, Ben Bishop may need to work on his focus, on making sure he has the puck in his mitt before he thinks of doing anything else, like whining to the ref, or dropping on his fainting couch.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 2, Game 4: Canadiens 6, Lightning 2

Okay, are the chairs suitably re-arranged on the deck of the sister ship of the Britannic?  Did the expired feline rebound appreciably after hitting the tarmac?

Or was the decisive 6-2 win by les Canadiens, one in which we saw perennially lucky Ben Bishop be chased from the net, more than just the final throes of a combative head injury patient?

Whatever the case, this was a refreshing, redolent shower for downtrodden Habs fans, rinsing away the grime from three bitter losses in a row.

One meme which sprang up in Vancouver during the first round was the '18-year-old-Sam-Bennett' joke, with local fans tiring of the Hockey Night in Canada crew harping on the young player, using this precise nomenclature.

Well, Jim Hughson and his boys had me climbing the drapes with their adoration of 'Undrafted-Tyler-Johnson' this whole series.  But with his relatively nondescript showing tonight, we got to hear a little more about the Canadiens, our players, our stories.

Props to Michel Therrien for sticking to his guns, and resisting the pressure to make wholesale changes to his roster.  He told the media after Wednesday's game that he couldn't fault his team's effort, that he was satisfied with how they played.

True to his word, he returned the same lineup, the same line combinations to the ice, and was rewarded for it.  He would have been mercilessly second-guessed if he'd lost the game for not adjusting, for going back to the same well after three straight losses.

And if I'm the coach, I tell my guys to fire every puck at Ben Bishop weak, weak glove hand.  That guy might as well be holding a cast iron skillet, or wearing an oven mitt.

I'd made the witty observation today that, never mind the secondary scoring, we needed some primary scoring today, and that's what we got, with goals by Andrei Markov, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, and Brendan Gallagher, some of the guys who need to produce offence.  Jeff Petry and Brandon Prust also chipped in a goal each.

The Lightning seemed stunned, almost down and out, but they had some bite left, you could see how easily they could get back in the game with their speed and effortless puck movement.  So maybe that's the trick: jump on them early and break their back, put up three or four goals on them in the first period.  Let's see if we can employ that strategy on Saturday.  It would be madness not to, when you think about it.

But how obvious was that dive and embellishment, that pretend-head injury suffered by Braydon Coburn following that phantom clothesline by Dale Weise?  Does that paragon of professionalism, integrity and respect, Mr. Colin Campbell, spring into action and launch the ponderous 14 secret warning letters before the issuance of a fine system he concocted to deter diving?  Or does Mr. Coburn get fast-tracked, get the P.K. Subban treatment?

We saw Alex Galchenyuk show encouraging signs, firing many pucks at the net, being dangerous, connected.  He took a penalty late in the game, but it's the kind I don't mind, an offsetting one, for cross-checking a Lightning and sneering at him to let him know he wasn't buying his tough guy act.  Good job kid.

Same with Lars Eller.  I liked his effort on the last goal, he didn't overthink, just skated hard and took a good low shot on net that generated a rebound for Brandon to cash in.  Keep it simple Lars, play hard and tough, go to the net, and dare others to contain you.

Carey Price wasn't miraculous, but he didn't need to be.  He was just effortless, effective.

So all I want on Saturday is another win, and for someone to crush Brian Boyle, dislodge the mustache from his villainous face.

Canadiens-Lightning Game 4: Pre-Game (Dark) Thoughts

1) Marc Bergevin has made the point repeatedly that all a team can do is set itself up and make the playoffs every season. He’s made the point that with 30 teams, it’s hard to win it any season, the only thing you can do is have the depth and talent to try to make a deep run and hope the bounces go your way.

Conversely, Brendan Shanahan in his post-season wrap-up, said that it’s easy to say you have a plan for a team, for a rebuild, but it’s much harder to stick to it. When you get close, in a market like Toronto, there comes pressure to ‘go for it’, and you deviate, you squander your talent and future for band-aids, right now.

And, we’ve seen where the Penguins ended up with the notion that they had to go for it, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as huge pillars of their team, with big pieces like Marc-André Fleury, Kris Letang and James Neal, that they should add a couple of pieces at the deadline to surround them. Now they’re at the point where they’ve dealt away a lot of their depth, their future, even some of the big pieces, to add players at the deadline, and whittled away the core.

Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford said at the end of the year that he already regretted dealing away Simon Després. He’s done that before too, remember how he told the media he’d made a huge mistake in signing Tomas Kaberle as a UFA, a couple months into his massive three-year contract? Right before Pierre Gauthier obliged him by taking that rotten player with a rotten contract off his hands?

So I hope that Marc Bergevin resists the temptation to capitalize on Carey Price’s window, that he sells the future for some immediate help.

I agree with the hope of Habs fans that the GM can wheel and deal and improve our team, but with the caveat that every team out there is looking for that steady Top 4 defenceman, or the big skilled centres. The Leafs are looking for their true #1 centre. The Canucks say they’ve moved on, but watching Ryan Kesler in these playoffs, it’s easy to rue the trade. The Oilers tried to force Leon Draisaitl into being ready. The Sabres despair that Mikhail Grigorenko will make the jump.

I’m not very worried, because in his recent interviews, Marc Bergevin did explain that it’s hard to do a rebuild, add talent, when you’re drafting 25th or so every year. He’s got his eyes wide open.

I’ll allow that two seasons in a row he flipped his second-rounder for a veteran rental player, but I think that’s a reasonable response, to acquire a decent player at a decent cost, but not sell the farm. It’s a little bit like having one foot on the dock and one in the boat, it’s delicate, you can’t quite stay in the middle, you eventually have to choose one, but he’s managed so far to get a little help, without sacrificing prime prospects or his first-rounders.

2)  I don’t know, I’m kind of out of ideas.

Has anyone checked the inflation of the pucks, made sure Yzerman, Brisebois & Cooper haven’t tampered with those?

Maybe the Lightning have somehow gained access to video that shows all our plays and know what we’re about to do before we do it?

3)  “Brandon Prust’s post-game comments were both baseless and demeaning of a referee whose 20-year career in the league has been marked by professionalism, integrity and a high degree of respect from players, coaches and management,”--Colin Campbell

How would that corrupt biased moron know anything at all about professionalism and integrity and respect?

4)  Once again, or rather, still, the glare falls on Michel Therrien.  It’s a results-based business, and in the post-mortem Michel Therrien and his methods will be dissected. But it’s not outlandish to suggest that an assistant coach take the fall for the popgun powerplay, a traditional strength of our organization.

NHL coaching is moving away from the old days when a tyrant played one-man-band, like Bob Pulford or Toe Blake, it’s accepted that it’s more of a staff now, more like the NFL, with various areas of responsibility for different assistants, but the HC retaining ultimate accountability.

Also, as I’ve posted a few times, Marc Bergevin was quick to act a couple summers back when Carey Price seemed lost and sliding all over the place, he let go Pierre Groulx and got a different goalie coach, who he thought could get better results.

So my hunch is that Dan Lacroix will take a lot of this heat, may walk the plank, and with a slew of talented coaches and wizkids out there, someone new will get a kick at this can next season, see if a different approach and fresh ideas get different results.

5)  Lots of talk about whether Alex Galchenyuk has been ruined, wasted by playing in the NHL rather than the AHL, played too much too soon, by a defensively-oriented coach.  That Detroit would never have rushed him to the NHL like that.

I would qualify that Detroit seldom or never have a Top 3 draft pick, an exceptional player like Aaron Ekblad or Nathan McKinnon who’s ready to go his draft year.

The Canadiens have tried to straddle the fence by having him play in the NHL immediately, but easing him in, on the wing, with limited minutes, and slowly bringing up the heat.

Note how Nathan McKinnon had a killer year in his rookie season, but with Paul Stasny gone this season, and having to play Top 6 centre against tougher opponents, kind of regressed points-wise. I don’t think Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy are too worried, ready to write off the kid. They’ll make adjustments, try to allay the issues, and move on next season.

It’s a little of an indication of how easily we’re shaken as a fan base, how the media pressure translates into a problem, that we’re now focused on Alex as a problem, some fragments of the fan base is already moved past looking at the blemishes, the current warts, and is now writing him off.

The kid is going through a rough patch, but he’ll be fine. He’ll learn from this. It would have been ideal, in hindsight, for him to not miss his draft year with his ACL, or to have the ability and roster depth to give him time in the AHL to work his way up slowly, but it doesn’t mean the kid is ‘ruined’.

Carey Price probably should have spent more time in Hamilton, as Guy Carbonneau wanted, but ultimately he rose above. I think Alex is a great kid, loved by his teammates, he has a strong support network with his family, he’ll figure this one out.

6)  Just to reiterate a point I’ve made recently, we’ve steadily eroded scoring talent over the last few seasons in trade for character, and it’s now achieved critical mass, as demonstrated by our toothless offence and powerplay.

Subtract a Mike Cammalleri here, a René Bourque there, an Andrei Kostitsyn, a Daniel Brière, a Thomas Vanek, and you can’t really fault any of these moves, there’s pros and cons to all of them, but in sum total, we now have a team that has Max who can score, and Brendan and Alex who both chipped in twenty this season, but aren’t quite there yet.

As flawed as those departed Canadiens were, they had the ability to put the puck in the net, it came naturally to them, and not so much to the reinforcements we brought in.

And I’ve mentally done that exercise this season, and despite how jubilant we were two or three seasons ago that help was on the way, realized that the shelf was still bare for next year, in terms of Top 6 talent ready to go.

Danny Kristo got traded.

Tim Bozon got deferred for a year at least by his bout of illness.

Sebastian Collberg didn’t quite bloom and was bartered away.

Arturri Lehkonen, the slew of smaller shifty forwards are progressing but still not quite ready.

It would be nice if one or two of these guys had been a pleasant, Gallagher-like surprise, but I suppose you don’t get one of those every year.

As a fanbase, we have to realize there are way more teams in our boat than the opposite, too many talented forwards to squeeze onto the roster.

The Canucks are going through the same self-examination: Brendan Gaunce, Jared McCann, Jake Virtanen, …, none of them are quite ready to go next season, it’s more of a hope than anything else that one of them steals a job.

The TSN 1040 guys are talking about this right now, how you can’t count on a Bo Horvat every year.

7)  Jacob de la Rose has to be in the AHL next season, work on his game. We can get a UFA plug to fill his current role on the team, and allow the kid to apprentice properly.

8)  I really hope that Michaël Bournival can come back strong next season, that this concussion-wasted season doesn’t derail his development.

9)  Lars Eller unfortunately still spends a lot of time stickhandling the puck away from the net, away from pressure, instead of towards it. He has a little bit of P.K. in him, stickhandling feats that ultimately don’t seem to have a plan behind them, and lead nowhere.

Now, I’m being a little blunt, partly to pander to my many critics who accuse me of being profligate with the keystrokes. I’m not calling these guys dummies, but their stickhandling is a little bit pointless, results-free to my frustrated fan eyes.

Kind of like a running back who instinctively dances side to side at the line of scrimmage instead of hitting the hole decisively after making his read. Some RB’s juke to get a defender to commit one way, so they can then go the other, while some RB’s juke as a matter of course, they do it out of a bad habit.

P.K. sometimes decides to try to deke out the opposition when he doesn’t have an easy, obvious option. He’s getting much better, but still reverts back to that when he feels pressure to do something late in the game, instead of just headmanning the puck and gaining position, making the safe play. I wish he used the bungee cord leash, to use Michel Therrien’s example from a couple weeks back, to jump on an odd-man rush, instead of feats of spinning and dekeing.

I’ll admit that Lars is getting better at this, he made a real effort this season to try to take the puck to the net, to shoot more, and I’ve given him props for this in my recaps a few times, but he’s still a work in progress.

I’m okay with readers disagreeing on this matter, but my assessment is that Lars sometimes gets in his own way, his efforts are wasted.

I remember when Marc Bergevin opined early this season that Lars needs to play like a big forward with skill, as opposed to a skilled forward with size. Lars has wavered on this, reverted a few times in some games or streaks to trying to out-deke Alex Galchenyuk. Lars gets better results, satisfies me as a fan, when he does the former, uses his size, plays with authority as opposed to dexterity.

10)  I’ve got a strong suspicion that Andrei Markov is banged-up. Not enough to be out, but maybe a hamstring or charley-horse or something, just enough to slow him down. Noticeably.

There’s no way he’s experiencing that sudden, huge drop-off in performance just due to fatigue.

Next season, Andrei has to play much, much less on the PK, give those minutes to a Nathan Beaulieu or Jarred Tinordi. In the past, the Big Three, or Chris Chelios and Petr Svoboda, they wouldn’t sit out the PK, they’d play their fair share, but the coaches would use this opportunity to even out the icetime by giving Craig Ludwig or Rod Langway more minutes then.

PK should be tailor-made to play Jarred, and rest Andrei, reduce the wear and tear and risk of nagging injury.

11)  I can’t help but think we’re a couple years behind trend, zagging when everyone is zigging. Again.

A few years ago, Bob Gainey radically transformed his roster by acquiring Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri, small talented forwards who can skate and take advantage of Gary Bettman’s promised obstruction-free game, to provide fans with a fan-friendly offensive game.

And we got bruined and leafed. The league actually went for size and grit, and we got reffed out in the cold.

Now that we’re sizing up, drafting players like Jacob de la Rose and Mike McCarron, who have size but not necessarily the offensive chops, the league is de-gooning and maybe being dragged scratching and clawing towards a more open game, Don Cherry be damned.

Is Steve Yzerman ahead of trend, picking up various Ondrej Palats and Cory Conachers and Tyler Johnsons and seeing what sticks, while we’re behind trend, trying to add toughness to survive assaults by the Bruins and Leafs and Senators and Sabres?

12)  I was watching Canada-Sweden yesterday, and the Swedish goalie is 6’5″ Anders Nilsson.

He couldn’t thrive in Long Island, big surprise, and went back to Sweden where he apparently had a good season working with a Finnish goalie coach.

How’s about we bring this kid back to North America, on the cheap, and let Stéphane Waite go to town on him, coach him up good?  Be next season's Devan Dubnyk?

Dustin Tokarski had his chance, despite his questionable measurables, and he didn’t deliver. Let’s be decisive here, and try something different.

13)  The Lightning goals are beauties, wide-open nets created with beautiful passes, I’ve posted on this before.

We’re trying to win ugly, like every frigging team in the NHL. When a talking head asks Player A “How do you solve Team B?” or Goalie C, the answer is invariably:

“Keep it simple. Get shots on the net. Get in Goalie C’s kitchen, try to disrupt him or screen him. Crash the crease. Don’t let him get too comfortable.”

That’s what hockey has been reduced too. Homogenized big tough players who beat on each other, with the odd Sidney Crosby or Henrik Sedin mixed in.

In the NFL, when you ask how do you beat this team, this defence, there can be twenty different responses.

“We’ll use the pass to set up the run.”

“We’ll use the run to set up the pass.”

“We’ll use our running backs and tight ends to connect with short passes over the middle, nullify the pass rush, get the ball out of our QB’s hands quickly, pick on their slow linebackers who can stop the run but can’t cover.”

“We’ll stretch the field, brutalize their DB’s who can’t cover man-to-man.”

“We’ll use play action, keep their safeties playing shallow, open up the passing routes.”

“We’ll run over Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, gas them so they can’t rush the passer.”

“We’ll run the no-huddle so they can’t substitute and bring in their fancy situational packages.”

But hockey has been dumbed down to the point where it’s a sludgefest, dump and chase, grind along the boards, hope for a powerplay, hope that your interference is more effective and unobtrusive than their interference.

We’re trying to get enough puck at the nets that one will bounce in, that eventually a scramble will pay off.

And somehow, the Lightning are tic-tac-toeing us to death.

14)  I’ve been hard on P.K. in the past when he committed a glaring mental mistake, something borderline unforgivable, like a pass through the slot in his own zone that gets intercepted, or turning over the puck when he’s the last man and trying to deke around a defender. I’ve noted this season when Andrei tried to be fancy in his own zone and got burned and the puck ended in his net.

In this game, while we slam Michel Therrien for his overly defensive, safe approach, Tomas Plekanec deviated from that in the final seconds, and it led directly to the loss. In the neutral zone, with about ten seconds to go, he should have dumped the puck behind the Tampa Bay net, made the safe play. Instead, he tried to create, tried to manufacture one last shot at the Tampa net, and he got burned. Somehow the Lightning found the time to turn around and score, even though I was checking the time on the clock as they rushed in and figured they wouldn’t be able to.

Sometimes a poster on HIO makes the very reasonable point that not every goal against is a mistake by our team, that we should grant the other team some credit for making a nice play. In this case however, Tomas goofed badly, and amazingly, wasn’t bailed out by the clock.

It’s situational, hindsight, but I wish Tomas had been thinking OT.

15)  Something that caught my eye in the crawl on TSN yesterday:


So it's not like their pipeline is now tapped out.

The World Hockey Championships' Canadian Team is a joy to watch.

I’m watching the Canada-Czech game from Monday, even though I already know the score. The hockey is actually entertaining, fast, back and forth, and no concussions from scrums after every whistle, like Oprah giving away Buicks.

“You get head trauma. AND YOU get head trauma! Everyone gets head trauma!”

Really enjoying these World Hockey Championships, the quality of play, and the work of the play-by-play team of Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro, who may be the best in the business, on an equal footing with Pierre Houde and Marc Denis. It’s criminal how Gary Bettman handed the TV contract to Sportsnet, and left TSN on the sidelines, with all that experience and talent.

The Canadian team is a joy to watch, great forward lines, with Matt Duchene centering Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle probably being the most eye-catching so far.

My favourite player and best surprise is Brent Burns, I never really got to watch him play before, usually I’m watching the Canadiens or more often the Canucks play against him, so I don’t really notice him. Now that he’s on my team, I’m paying attention, and he’s very good. His stick is really quick, he lulls opponents into thinking they have a passing lane, and then snaps when they try to sneak the puck through. He’s very entertaining in the offensive zone, not afraid to carry the puck and charge the net. Great stuff.

Let's get Jiri Sekac back with the Canadiens. And keep Devante Smith-Pelly.

Okay, not every trade can be like a James Neal acquisition by the Pens a few seasons ago, or a Dale Weise for a Raphaël Diaz we have no further use for.  You can't expect those every time you pull the trigger.

I had great hopes that Devante Smith-Pelly would be a great acquisition, partly due to my fanboy admiration for this pick from the Ducks, who played NHL games early in his career and stood head and shoulders over his draft class neighbours.

I also thought the fit, the complement of attributes he brought would be well-received on this roster.  He was the big tough winger who wouldn't shirk from contact, would Bruin-proof our roster a little bit more, and slotted in easily on the right side.

The goals would come I thought.  If Dale Weise can bloom here, so can Devo, with his even better pedigree.  The deflection Scott Hartnell-goals scored in the crease, in the slot, they'll come.

But it hasn't transpired.  Yet.  Sometimes a recipe looks great, until you try it a couple of times.  A super-group gets you all excited until the first album.  A Doug Wickenheiser doesn't become what you thought he'd be, despite the fact that he's everything you ever wanted, your 'gros joueur de centre' to take his rightful place between Steve Shutt and Guy Lafleur.  You end up making do with Keith Acton.

So Devo hasn't been a revelation.

Neither has Jiri in Anaheim.  François Beauchemin was quite clear when interviewed, he was acquired to play on left wing next to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the seventh or eighth such experiment for the Ducks the last little while.  And now he's healthy-scratched.

So, no team got swindled or anything.  Even steven.

But, since they're not using him, let's get Jiri back from the Ducks.  We'll gladly have him back.

You guys spent a low-ish second-rounder on Devo a few seasons back, how about we give you one of those to make you whole, and you send back Jiri, and we're all good, done with it?  Cool?

Except, we don't have a second-rounder Bob Murray, so you'll take a third, and you'll like it.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 2, Game 3: Canadiens 1, Lightning 2

Speaking of the Fight of the Century, remember when 'Duke', Appollo Creed's manager, was trying to talk his protégé out of the idea of a rematch with Rocky Balboa?  Here's what he said:
"He's all wrong for us, baby.
I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before...
...and the man kept coming after you.
We don't need that kind of man in our life.
I know what you're feelin'.
Let it go.  Let it go.
You're the champ."

I was reminded of this after Game 1, and again tonight.

We swarmed their net.  We hit posts.  We made their goalie look unsteady and ungainly.  We outshot them.  We outchanced them.  We outhit them.

But it didn't add up to a win.  We came close countless times, and they cashed in their chances when it counted.

I thought the season sweep by the Lightning might be a statistical anomaly, due to travel and the vagaries of scheduling and the luck of the draw.

I don't think that no more.  They're our kryptonite.

***Re-posted from May 4***

Generally guys, this is where and when Marc Bergevin's 'small step back' happens.  All season long we've overachieved.  This is where it hits us.  We've prolonged the dream, delayed the inevitable.  Now, our balloon deflates.  

It's just going to sting a little more that it happens on the national stage like this, with talking heads from Toronto finally having the chance to let loose on our team, after the whole season spent damning us with faint praise, 'du bout des lèvres'.  

Like facing up to an abscessed wisdom tooth that should have been yanked much earlier, we now have to take our medicine, and willingly subject ourselves to this process.

This isn't the first time we suffer a bitter series loss that turns our attention inward, colours everything candy-apple grey.  Remember Minnesota?  Remember Guy Lafleur's "petite poche", as catastrophically-phrased by Steve Penney?

The thing to do now is to support the boys, hope they keep fighting valiantly, don't embarrass the bleu-blanc-rouge.  Realizing that this is the next step in the journey, a bit of a detour to a dead-end.  We'll get the car turned around, check out the map, figure it out, and get going again.  Next season.

In the meantime, what we have to avoid as a Commentariat is to turn against each other.  We must stay united, supportive.  This is a bitter pill we have to swallow, we kind of knew it was coming.  We can't degenerate into an unruly mob, resort to name-calling each other, and making wild accusations about the coaches, demanding the head of Jean-Jacques the Baptist.

No, Habs fansites must remain the bastion of the sane, be the warm bosom that provides succor to the passionate but reasonable, equable, tolerant Canadiens fans that we are.  

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Is Zachary Fucale about to turn around his season with a strong run to the Memorial Cup?

I'd like to ask any goalie experts out there to comment on the season Zachary Fucale has had.  Is there another goalie out there who had a great two seasons, got drafted, then tailed off for the next two in Junior, yet who’s gone on to have a productive career in the NHL?

Is the issue with Zach mental, something that can be fixed? Can Stéphane Waite and Vincent Riendeau work with him to get back on track, since he has the tools? Or are his skills not as good as we thought?

Can Zach get back on track with a strong end to these playoffs and Memorial Cup tourney?
I wasn’t overly optimistic or pleased when Zach was drafted high in the second round of the 2013 draft, was hoping we’d draft another forward and load up on size and talent for 2-3 years down the road...
Pick #36: The Canadiens draft Zachary Fucale. Not necessarily happy with this pick, but I have to trust their judgment on this one. I would have preferred another sizeable forward or defenceman. Taking the best goalie in this class this low is a steal I guess.
…but came around after getting to know him from the reports we got on him:
With these comments I tipped my hand and showed how much I wanted a bigger, talented forward picked here, again to inject some size in the prospect mix, and right the current imbalance. I was hoping that Trevor Timmins would snag a scoring winger like Valentin Zykov or William Carrier. With time, I’ve grown to like this pick very much, the reports on Mr. Fucale are very encouraging, in terms of the talent he has, his attitude and character, and the fact that he has been the starting goaltender on a championship team for two seasons now. This is quite a lot of experience and work for a seventeen-year-old.
I can’t remember who it was who said this, maybe RDS' Stéphane Leroux, but the good thing about Zach was that he’d been his team’s starter as a 16 and 17-year-old, and won a Memorial Cup at 17, which is uncommon, usually there’s a veteran goalie picking up most of the load on a championship team, and the youngster gets groomed and sheltered a bit.
Instead, Zach was the man, and he was a leader on the Mooseheads, along with Nathan McKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, young super talented kids not yet drafted in the NHL.

I allow that Zach had a decent season last year, but he didn’t really take that big step forward I was hoping for, and he had some meltdowns in the playoffs, at the worst time possible, if I recall correctly.
I hoped that the trade to the Remparts might be the change of scenery, the shock to the system to get him re-focused, with another trip to the Memorial Cup guaranteed, but he’s had a disappointing end to the season, and I wasn't overly hopeful that Zach, and Québec in general, would get it together this spring.

So far he seems to have righted the ship after a rough first couple of games.  He started the first round on the bench, watching his backup Callum Booth play, but took over when he struggled in the first two games.  Zach got the job done, won the series, but finished with a pedestrian .881 save percentage.

That's when he seems to have kicked it into gear, helping the Remparts to sweep the next two rounds, and putting up a .922 against the Islanders and an epic .963 against the Wildcats.

His goalie coach on the Remparts, Maxime Ouellet, thinks that he's finally settled down after a big shock to the system, due to getting traded from the Mooseheads.  He also believes that Zach may have hit a trough in terms of his energy, after a big emotional World Junior Tournament played on home ice, but now he's back in the groove and the adrenaline of the playoffs is helping.  They've worked a lot on video analysis, and Mr. Ouellet has tried to help him focus on the 'here and now'.

Finally, he's encouraged him to try to be himself, be vocal and enthusiastic on the ice, something he may have been hesitant to do at first as a newcomer on the team.

So we can hope that Zach has turned the corner and will finish off his junior career on a high, and be better prepared, mentally at least, for life as a pro in the AHL next season.

Bill Simmons is entertainingly ignorant about hockey.

I really like Bill Simmons for his takes on the NFL, on sports and pop culture in general, and think his Grantland is one of the best reads online.

Unfortunately, he’s from Boston, and mostly a basketball as opposed to a hockey connoisseur, so he takes some uninformed stances on the NHL that often grates.

Including this one:
Bill SimmonsVerified account ‏@BillSimmons

The Sedin Twins are the worst. God I love sports-hating the hell out of those guys. And Burrows – you suck too.

Unfortunately, this comes on the heels of the juvenile Tyler Séguin and Jamie Benn comments, and the completely twisted narrative that the Canucks are the 'most hated team in hockey', mostly propagated by the Bruins army of apologists and cheerleaders. As if the dirty Bruins with Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara and Andrew Ference and Tim Thomas aren’t the dirtiest, the most worthy of being despised and censured.

Dave Pratt of TSN 1040 made the observation that the NHL pays lip service and inclusion with its “You Can Play” campaign, but the constant ridicule of the Sedins, and we could possibly include the booing of P.K. Subban in this phenomena, indicate that the league is actually an intolerant environment that targets anyone who steps out of some nebulous boundaries or conducts himself in any way that’s perceived odd or different.

And again, to focus on the Sedin brothers for ‘hate’ is so completely off-base. They’ve played at an elite level for over a decade now, patiently putting up with intimidation attempts by other teams, with no real support from the league hierarchy. They’re nothing except complete gentlemen who are very involved in their community and give generously of their time to charity endeavours.

Meanwhile, Brad Marchand gets a tut-tut from the league and the press and Bill Simmons, after years of being a complete jerk, dirty player, a fake and cheapshot artist.

Moments like these, I think back to Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla’s “Man Show”, and its “You Can’t Win Theatre”.