Thursday, 30 April 2015

Marc Bergevin thinks blows to the head are the cost of doing business in the NHL.

From HockeyInsideOut, Stu Cowan quoting Marc Bergevin at a press conference:
• On head injuries and potentially revising the NHL’s concussion protocol: “There’s a protocol, but if we have to sideline a player every time there’s a hit to the head — and you’ve seen what happens in the playoffs — there’d be 10 guys in the quiet room on each team. Punches after the whistle, you see those left and right, hits to the head happen on every play. It’s just that if there’s a sign that a guy has a concussion, if there’s a sign that he’s shaken up, we’ll take him out.”

This segment of the press conference was arresting.  A NHL GM explains that during every play, after every play, during every scrum, a player gets hit in the head, whether it's an elbow or crosscheck or punch. Because of that, it's impossible to send a player to the quiet room every time there's a blow to the head, since, as he continued, "you'd have ten guys in that room for each team."

His conclusion, after giving assurances that he has full confidence in his medical team, and that if the league decides to go to an independent observer he's comfortable with that too, was still that the protocol only kicks in when a player has symptoms of concussion.

For Marc Bergevin, a player gets checked out by a doctor when he has been knocked out or staggered or took a blow to the head that made him woozy.  Not if he takes a blow to the head, but was "fine".

I have nothing but respect and affection for the current Canadien GM, but this mindset is a few years behind the current research and best practices.  According to concussion care and prevention guidelines you can find online easily, from reputable sources.

If there is "a sign that a player has a concussion", that means there is a symptom, which means that there has indeed been a concussion, which means that the player should be taken out of the game.  Period.  And not come back.  And not return to action or to the bench like Dale Weise last season after the hit by John Moore.  Or like Nathan, possibly, after the hit by Erik Karlsson.

The 'quiet room', the evaluation by doctors, that process doesn't overrule the initial symptoms that the player displayed.  If Dale Weise can't stand up, to the point that P.K. has to grab him and hold him upright so he doesn't fall down, if Dale has Bambi legs, he has suffered a concussion.  No matter how clear-headed he feels afterwards when examined by doctors, no matter how much he pleads that he's okay and wants to go back in.

He can't be okay after showing these symptoms, and the fact that a concussion occurred can't be ruled out.  The sign is the symptom, which is the evidence that the concussion occurred.  Where there's smoke there's fire.  Where there's a sign there's a concussion.

And the best care in these cases is to immediately cease activity, and avoid exposure to noise or bright lights.  Not to sit on a player bench as a decoy to the other team.

But even beyond that huge problem, that shows to me that either the NHL concussion protocol doesn't follow the best practices I can find online from the Center for Disease Control or the Mayo Clinic or American Academy of Neurology, or that the Canadiens medical team or its General Manager and coaches don't understand it, is the primary cause described in the first quote.

The NHL fully accepts that guys will receive blows to the head in scrums, punches to the "side and to the back of the head", and there's really nothing they can or will do about it.  It's the cost of doing business.  Standard operating procedure.  Even though the rules as written in its own rulebook could easily deal with all these 'unavoidable', routine blows to the head.

When a player rabbit punches Sidney Crosby in the head, when a Marc Méthot jabs a recently-concussed Max Pacioretty in the head, that's an act of God.  It's impossible to prevent.  Skate blades are sharp, players will sometimes get cut.  And players have fists and have used them in the past and will use them in the future.

The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, there's nothing we can do about it, or even understand why, according to Bill O'Reilly.

What madness is this?

If I'm a lawyer and am about to represent Sidney Crosby and Max Pacioretty and David Perron and countless others in Round 3 of the concussion class action lawsuit against the NHL, and the league argues that the players knew the risks, I'm going to counter with this quote from Marc Bergevin.  This will be the smoking gun, that the league knew its players were getting bashed in the head routinely, and did nothing about it.  Even though its own rulebook, which should be a big part of its health and safety protocol, specifically proscribe all these blows, and the manner in which they're delivered.

Monsieur Bergevin, I give you big props for the work you've done, the energy and attitude you've injected into the team, the brain trust you've surrounded yourself with, the kind of team and organization you've built and continue to build.

But on this topic, you're a fullblown dunderhead.  You don't get it, you don't understand the concussion protocol, or the need to radically improve it.  Which means you haven't put in the effort, because you're not a dummy.

Further, this means that you're a part of the problem, part of the old guard, as much as Brian Burke or Jeremy Jacobs and Don Cherry and P.J. Stock.

So things aren't about to change.  I better understand that now.

And why when a Zdeno Chara punches a Sidney Crosby in the mouth the first game after the latter removes his faceshield to protect his recently fractured jaw, after play ends, during a scrum, that the offender gets away with it.

Marc Bergevin, unfortunately, is one of the proverbial frogs swimming in the pot of water being slowly brought to a boil.  He can't feel the temperature rising, immersed as he is in his environment.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 20 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is a really crooked way to operate Gary.

[Further reading:]

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

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

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

Thank you Gary Bettman.

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

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Tim Murray kind of wanted Connor McDavid, sort of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This can be handled, smoothed over, but compare this to the way Peter Chiarelli for example had said all the right things during the Taylor-Tyler process and while holding the #2 pick, intoned unfailingly that whichever player he ended up with, his team would be over the moon, they're both fine young men, tremendously talented, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 17 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prospect goalie Brandon Whitney signs ATO contract with Hamilton Bulldogs

Marc Bergevin has signed prospect LHJMQ goalie Brandon Whitney to an amateur try out contract.  He has been assigned to the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Funny, since I rued that we didn’t have a 7th-rounder in the 2012 draft, that we’d spent our sixth on Erik Nystrom, a self-admitted flyer by Director of Amateur Scouting Trevor Timmins.  Mr. Nystrom tried out with the Bulldogs at the start of the 2013-14 season but ended up not earning a contract.

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

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

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

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

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

The P.K. Subban slash, "a failure to communicate", and signal-to-noise.

"What we've got here is failure to communicate"

The quote from the warden in "Cool Hand Luke" applies to the NHL, specifically in terms of a signal-to-noise ratio.  The NHL, its Director of Crooked Operations Colin "Daddy" Campbell, and its cadre of cowed on-ice officials, trapped in a job they can't possibly love anymore, trapped by their salaries and the memory of a game they remember as once being pretty cool, allow so much background chaff, so much low to medium-level nonsense, goonery, routine allowable crosschecking in retaliation for the offence of a player having the temerity to stand somewhere, that incidents like P.K.'s reckless slash on Mark Stone are inevitable.

They're slashing us, so we slash them back with a little extra vim, and they're not going to stand for it, so they put some elbow grease in their subsequent slashes, and you can hear the contact of the slashes on the padding of the recipient.  And then P.K.'s on the ice killing a penalty, and has been trained to expect that in these situations, unless he guillotines an opponent's head clean off, he'll get away with any level of mayhem short of flipping the puck into the stands.  So he takes a good old-fashioned swipe at a player (I think it was player #61) in front of his net, to "let him know he's there" like Nick Kypreos would intone approvingly.

Except it smacks Player #61 right on the wrist, where there's little padding with those newfangled gloves, compared to the gloves I used to wear, and it really smarts.  Player #61 reacts in pain and surprise, and then, to ensure that the refs don't miss that this was a bad one, hams it up like a midfielder with perfectly bouffanted hair.  He's not cheating, exactly, it's a question of shading, of tone.  Of signal to noise.

This slash needs to stand out, it must stand out from the background noise of slashing that's been established.  It doesn't do Player #61 any good to stand upright, wince and shake his hand, or skate to the bench doubled over, all that's going to do is get the talking heads to chuckle and bleat "Hudson's Bay rules", followed by, "the zebras have put the whistles away", a bon mot, and then "they're letting them play."  Everything is happening.

So he falls to the ice, no harm in that, it's not like he's Kramer wearing the pants he wants to return and he's about to fall in mud, and then Player #61 gives it an extra roll or two, might as well merylstreep it at that point, commit to the performance.

We see it all the time.  David Desharnais or Brendan Gallagher are trying to get at the puck, do something with it, play some actual hockey, but the grinders and the checkers, the guys who are in the NHL to prevent hockey from happening, are tugging and holding and hooking them and crosschecking them and punching them behind the head, and it's okay, it's 'defensive hockey'.  So when next they're hacking away at Tomas Plekanec and he's banking into a turn and he's not going to be able to make a play, Tomas kind of allows the force of the hack to trip him, make him fall to the ice.  What's the point of fighting through it?  You don't get any brownie points for it.

The NHL thinks that it cancels out, that at the end of the game both teams will have a few penalties, and will have gotten away with an equivalent number of transgressions.  Except that it doesn't.  The muckers, the anti-hockey players, the Eric Grybas and the Chris Neils, they prosper in that environment.  The Bruins and the truculent Leafs win in that exchange.

And the fans get to sit some more, and wait, until such a time as Alex Galchenyuk can fight through a thicket, a veritable forest of slashes and hooks and manage for a couple of seconds to appear as if he can get in a position where he can make a pass or a play, and then they can feel some anticipatory excitement, before the next salvo of a half-dozen hooks and slashes and the manoeuvre aborts and a Mark Borowiecki can golf the puck off the boards.

That's entertainment.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

'15 Playoffs Round 1, Game 1: Canadiens 4, Senators 3

What an ugly, dirty, ugly game.  Unlike a few of my compadres who couldn't wait for the playoffs to start, I wasn't that keen, fearing just the type of spectacle that was delivered to us tonight, courtesy of the Ottawa Senators.

Sure, the Canadiens won 4-3 and take an early lead in the series, but I cringed while watching, or my mind wandered.  There was no flow, and certainly no beauty.  Intensity, desperation, there was lots of that, but this was a battle of stickwork, of hacking rather than handling the puck, dumping rather than shooting, mucking and clutching rather than skating.

This is the parity that Gary Bettman wanted, where talent and swiftness are relatively immaterial to the end result.  It's a game for grinders and checkers, a game of lucky bounces and questionable refereeing.  5-3 is a decisive win.  6-2 is a blowout.

The big talking point will be P.K. Subban's slash on Mark Stone, for which P.K. got a game misconduct.  The CBC talking heads thought it could draw supplemental discipline, that it bordered on the egregious, but to my trained but inexpert eye, it seemed relatively routine.  It wasn't a baseball swing à la Bobby Clarke, it was all wrist.  It just got soccerific Mark Stone somewhere he didn't have any padding, and he took that and ran with it a little.  That was emoting on a Nicholas Cage level.

But this is the circular nonsense the NHL bogs itself in, by saying, in its very own rulebook, that slashing is not permitted, but that incidental and non-aggressive slashing isn't slashing.  So the refs have to somehow figure out a malleable, variable limit from game to game and period to period, and they tend to 'let the little stuff go', but to me a lot of it is medium to large stuff, but never mind.  They just stand there and watch, phlegmatically, arms at their side, secure in the knowledge that Don Cherry will give them a thumbs up for 'letting them play'.

Still, P.K. needs to control himself.  He's on a streak of five or six penalties over the last few games where he contorts himself in paroxysms of disbelief and outrage at being called, following which the replay clearly shows that he did indeed trip or hold or clock someone flush on the helmet.  

P.K., keep your cool.  Again I'll point to Chris Chelios as your model, give them hell, give them all you got, but when you get a penalty just skate to the box and let your buddies kill it off.  Don't grandstand, don't show up the refs, and give them another extra additional reason to pick on you or the Canadiens in the future, to just slaver at an opportunity to whistle you for another call for the merest pretense.

The fourth line was lauded by Glenn Healy over the last few days, he kept repeating that the Canadiens "didn't have that last year", which is odd, because I remember Daniel Brière leading a pretty effective if unconventional unit, feeding Dale Weise for some big goals.  But maybe the CBC blowhard knows a little hockey after all, since Torrey Mitchell, Brandon Prust and Brian Flynn scored two goals, and the latter picked up three points.

Another story line was expected to be the battle in net between Andrew Hammond and Carey Price, but that didn't materialize, they weren't a deciding factor one way or the other.  The Hamburglar in particular looked unimpressive, flailing and foundering in his crease, being more lucky than adept in my opinion.  Of course, we used to say the same about Dominik Hasek, and Tim Thomas, but I'm not shaking in my boots, and I don't think the Canadiens are either, they have bigger fish to fry.

Stray observations:

--Eric Gryba tries to scythe off Brendan Gallagher's head with a vicious reverse hook, and complains about the two minute penalty he receives.  Hockey would be better if he was removed from the league.

--Mark Borowiecki's only function on the Senators is to insulate Mika Zibanejad from accusations that he's the ugliest man in show business.

--I assumed that we'd get Jim Hughson to call our series, but I was being an East Coast élitist probably, forgetting about Mr. Hughson's background working Vancouver Canucks games.  Paul Romanuk isn't bad, overall, and Mike Johnson is excellent as the analyst, so I'll live with that team.

--Every whistle, every stoppage in play, a Senator is crosschecking and facewashing a Canadien, and the refs wade in and do their "Break it up.  Break it up." no-harm-done routine.  So tiresome.  Such a change from games against the Lightning and the Red Wings, that flowed back and forth, with none of that nonsense.

--I know the Sens are still PTSD'ing over successive losses against unskilled Leaf teams that would goon them out of the playoffs, their current roster reflects a conscious decision that Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker wouldn't run them through the boards anymore, but it's been a while since then.  They have to realize that they're wearing it now, they're the goons.  

--Jeff Petry and Tom Gilbert, the two righties remaining after P.K. was ejected, played 24 minutes each, and Alexei Emelin and Andrei Markov did the heavy lifting on the left with 23 minutes each.  Nathan Beaulieu got 15 minutes of icetime.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Darryl Sutter being locked out of his own team's dressing room isn't that big a deal.

As far as the Kings locking out Darryl Sutter so he couldn’t enter the dressing room, that has to be taken in context, as this report does very well.

We fans tend to think that the coach(es) stalk the dressing room before the game, between periods and after the game, pumping them up Herb Brooks-style, or haranguing them if they’re not performing up to their standards. This is a fallacy perpetuated by the movies, but also by our common experience in minor hockey, where the coaches would be in the room with us, for want of anywhere else to be.

In the NHL, the coaches have their own meeting room, and an office in their home rink where they can take a break, put their heads together and make adjustments based on how the game is going. Coaches also usually recognize that it’s ‘the players’ room’, and some if not most will leave them to sort things out between themselves, beside an occasional or perfunctory pep talk between periods to communicate any changes, goalie changes, etc.

Michel Therrien has been very clear to the media that he tends to leave the players to figure things out, that it’s their room to run. Brian Gionta last year, now the leader quartet are those who give the pep talks and dish out encouragements and corrections between periods, with assists from vets like Manny Malhotra, and big inputs from Carey Price, etc.

Coach Therrien also made it clear that he will almost never enter the dressing room after a game, especially after a loss. He admitted that it’s too easy to let your emotions get the better of you after a tough game, and explained that whatever corrections need to be made, they can be handled more coolly, clinically during the next practice.

I’ve noted that this season’s 24CH episodes reflect that, spotlighting on the player interactions in the dressing room, and seldom showing any coaches in there, short of Dan Lacroix taking the picture of the boxing cape ceremony after wins. The first season, we saw a lot more of the coaches, how they’d wrestle with various issues or discussed adjustments between periods over a slice of pizza, how they’d give a pep talk of a minute or so sometimes between periods. I remember one episode where, during a game where things were going badly, Michel Therrien came in, and instead of lighting into his team, he calmly sat down and asked his team what they thought was going wrong. This year, bupkus.

So maybe the L.A. Kings grew tired of the “series of lectures/tirades” from Darryl Sutter, maybe that coach handles his business differently, and it became a burr under the saddle of the team, but it’s not that flagrant a case of insubordination as some seem to think it is. The Kings players may have tried to enact the practice that is common with other NHL clubs, to hold a ‘Players-only meeting’, and it degenerated somewhat from there.

Is Mike Babcock destined for the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Dave Pratt and 'Bro' Jake on TSN 1040 Vancouver are batting around the idea that if Mike Babcock is going to take the Toronto job, it will be as a Head Coach-GM. Now we tend to think this dual-duty generally doesn’t work in the NHL nowadays, since coaches are pre-occupied with the day-to-day, the short-term, and a GM needs to make decisions that take the long-term into account. Also, common wisdom is that the job is too complex for only one man to do both effectively.

I do think this could work for the Leafs though, in this specific eventuality. Mike Babcock is obviously very qualified, experienced, and could have the ability to do both. He’d have the self-confidence and control, and the security not normally afforded to a coach that comes with a mondo contract, that he could sacrifice the short-term occasionally to make these calls, on whether a player can be left in the minors some more, or whether a vet needs to be let go or traded instead of re-signed to a huge deal, for example.

Additionally, the common practice is now to have a team, a brain trust to perform the GM duties, it’s no longer a one-man job, a wizardly Sam Pollock with maybe a draft-guru Ron ‘Prof’ Caron to lean on. We see how Marc Bergevin has a half-dozen guys in his circle who collaborate on these tasks, and the same exists in Vancouver, with Trevor Linden doing a lot of the lifting in terms of media presence and fan relations, and Jim Benning able to focus more on the scouting and guts of the job, with a slew of assistants.

One of the pitfalls of having a GM-Head Coach is that players have to negotiate their contracts with the same guy who doles out icetime.  That's a great potential for ruffled feathers, so it's something that needs to be handled expertly.

Gary Valk told the story of how he once met with former Canucks Head Coach-GM Pat Quinn after the season ended, and tried to get a new deal done with him by discussing what a good year he’d had as an effective and tough 4th-liner. Quinn shot back: “The only reason you were on the fourth line is because we weren’t allowed to have a fifth line.” Gary Valk walked out and decided he’d hire an agent to do his negotiating.

But even when these jobs are clearly separate, there’s even then often a need to tiptoe around. Lots of GM’s want to be the face of the franchise, and be able to attract players, motivate them, they don’t want to be the ‘bad guy’, so they’ll delegate the haggling to a capologist who’ll grind every penny. “Gee, I really want to keep you, but Mr. Smith is in charge of contracts, he handles the numbers, my hands are kind of tied, …”

Certainly it wouldn’t work with every team or every individual, but with a proven, capable Mike Babcock, surrounded with a team of quality hockey men who are committed to supporting him, who don’t have different agendas, and with a talented, credible leader like Brendan Shanahan to insulate him from the MLSE Board soap operas, it could work, I’d bet.

So yeah, Mike Babcock could be the CEO, kind of like a Bill Parcells or a Bill Belichik, who’s the coach, and makes the big decisions, with a lot of assistants in both areas to take care of the details, advise him, support him.

And I’d be happy if this occurred. While it’s amusing to see the Leafs implode year after year, and I never wanted the Tie Domi-Darcy Tucker-Wade Belak group to have success, or Brian Burke’s truculent goon squad, if they had a skilled fast team that was a pleasure to watch, like the Wings and the Lightning, I’d certainly love that. If they beat us at hockey, instead of coltonorring us, I can accept that, respect that. I actually would prefer if the Leafs were a worthy rival, instead of the joke media-whore team they’ve become.

Maple Leafs fire Nonis, Horachek, along with fifteen of their scouts, plus others.

An interesting aspect of the Leaf housecleaning is that they dismissed 15 of their scouts, weeks prior to the draft. Brendan Shanahan was questioned on this during his presser, and explained that the staff they did retain led by Director of Player Personnel Mark Hunter will be able to do the job in June.

In “Future Greats and Heartbreaks”, Gare Joyce describes a similar situation where the Columbus Blue Jackets performed a purge of the Doug MacLean régime near the end of the 2007 season, and the author speaks with the scouts who are now unemployed. This is a strain on them, obviously, but equally disappointing for them is that they miss out on the draft, they don’t get to have their Super Bowl, to play in their big game, after a long year of scouting. We can imagine how frustrating that could be in our own work life, working hard on a project for a long time, but then not being able to do the presentation.

The Blue Jackets went a different direction at the 2012 draft, where they held the draft, and then the next day fired almost their entire scouting staff. A lot of posters on social media thought that was bush league. I guess it’s hard to figure which tack is worse. Certainly, the scouts seem to understand that their ‘free agency’ is immediately following the draft, that’s when guys looking for work and teams needing help match up.

In Vancouver, General Manager Jim Benning has chosen to largely retain his team of scouts rather than ousting them when he took over, despite an abysmal track record by the team at the draft table. Team President Trevor Linden explained that they didn’t think the scouts necessarily did a bad job, but that a different draft philosophy would be held in the future. It was interesting to read that Mike Gillis had some set ideas on how to game the system at the draft, believing in the practice of drafting overagers, players who’d gone through a previous draft year without being selected by anyone. He believed that projecting 18-year-olds is hard enough, you might as well make it easier on yourself and evaluate 19 or 20-year-olds, with prospects who are closer to their full potential as players. He believed in snapping up college free agents for the same reason.

Trevor Linden thought that the same scouts could continue in their roles, but come draft day, the team would be better off picking fruits of the first harvest, the best of the CHL and European leagues, rather than try to look for diamonds in the leavings of previous years. Same staff, different attitude, and hopefully different results for him and his team.

If Connor McDavid can't be a Montréal Canadien, let him be a San Jose Shark.

When it comes to the NHL draft lottery, and which team I'll root for to earn the right to draft Connor McDavid, I'd made up my mind that whichever Canadian team missed the playoffs in the West, be it the Jets or the Flames, I'd want them to get the first overall pick.

Both cities genuinely love their hockey, would cherish and celebrate the young player.  It wouldn't be like when the Impact sign some European former star, or the Grizzlies got to draft Stromile Swift, an oddity that's hyped up by the team, pumped up by the media, to a befuddled, generally uninterested citizenry.  There would be genuine joy at Portage and Main or on the Red Mile if Connor McDavid landed in Western Canada.

Of course, this 'plan' of mine was dashed when both cities, happily, made it into the playoffs.  Five out of seven Canadian cities in it to win it, how about that?  Aside from Ottawa, I'll root for all of them the rest of the way.

Now, I could wish for him to land in the remaining two Canadian cities who are in the lottery, but I can't bring myself to do that, I'm actually actively hoping they don't get the #1 pick.  If we can't stomach the Toronto hype for its sad-sack franchise the way it is now, imagine how bad it would be if they got the phenom?  They've cleaned house of their former management team, so it's not a foregone conclusion, but I still wouldn't put it past them that they'd 'ruin' the kid anyway, that he'd be a treasure lost to hockey, like an Assyrian statue clobbered by a sledgehammer-wielding superstitious barbarian.

As far as the Oilers go, they've had three kicks at the can, they've had enough shots at the first overall pick, never mind that it's never been in a Steven Stamkos year.  Their tank manoeuvres have gone from unseemly to tiresome and icky, to shameless, immoral.  I don't want that team to benefit from their ineptitude.  Plus, it doesn't seem fair that the best player in a decade to come out of junior be marooned, exiled to Edmonton, because he's been 'drafted'.

In a league where there's already a salary cap, plus other limits on player rights and brakes on teams' ability to load up their rosters, the draft is a monopolistic, antiquated, unnecessary practice, as much as we may love the conceit as fans.  And, this is especially so in a world where Darryl Katz can go to Seattle to "explore" his options, or where the Spanos family can move their team to L.A. because San Diego won't chip in enough taxpayer money to build them a new palace, when there's a perfectly good stadium already in place, and when they could just do what we do and friggin' take out a mortgage and finance the new stadium themselves.

If owners can be rapacious mercenaries, and extort money out of their citizenry or pack up and leave town on their own whim, then I can't justify why Connor McDavid should be forced to play in Edmonton for a decade before he can be free to offer his services to the best bidder.  I'll root against that eventuality.

So I'm left with very few desirable locations for him to end up.  As a Habs fan, obviously the Bruins are out.  Further, I'll probably rule out any Eastern teams, and would rather he land in the Western conference, if only so that I can have more opportunities to watch him live, in Vancouver, Seattle, and/or Las Vegas.

So I'll rule out Carolina, that hockey hotbed of round ball.  New Jersey certainly, they can't fill their own rink, and have a history as a stultifying team playing soporific shinny.  Florida, they're already stacked with young prospects, and they're division rivals of the Habs, on top of being in a bizarre locale that can't work.

Buffalo, normally I'd not be averse to that, their fans have suffered long enough, it's a great hockey town, but again, I don't necessarily want that team already chock-full of young prospects and replete with future high draft picks to land that plum also, and turn around and slaughter the Canadiens every time we play them.  They get the Jack Eichel consolation prize.

Philadelphia deserves a special hell all of their own, so I never want to see him in a Flyer jersey.  It was tough enough to see the stupid Nordiques trade Eric Lindros there, where I couldn't appreciate what he did and retain my sanity.  You boys content yourselves with Claude Giroux.  And Vinny.

Columbus is a college football town, the kid would be a bauble the team would use to try to drag people to its games, instead of being the treasure the citizenry has prayed for.

Out West, I wouldn't really want the Kings to land the prize, they've won two Cups lately, and already have the advantage of its location to attract free agents, they don't need the leg up.  The same advantage disqualifies the Ducks, you don't get palm trees and Connor McDavid.

The Avalanche already have Nathan McKinnon and Matt Duchene on the roster, that's enough superstar young talent for any city.

The Coyotes are a moribund franchise, I don't want Gary Bettman to use the kid as a crutch to prop up this shanty any longer than it's already gone on.

Dallas is a football town, they have their Mavs, they wouldn't appreciate the phenom for what he is.  Plus, they robbed us of the Minnesota North Stars, the team with the second or third-best jersey in the league.  You don't Al Davis your team out of town and prosper, even if it's two decades later.

So we're left with the Sharks.  San Jose is a strong hockey town, they've supported their team from the get-go, apparently lots of transplanted Canadians who actually attend games, contrary to Jack Kent Cooke's experience in L.A. in the early seventies.  The kid gets to be in a major American centre and sells the game to the infidels, grows revenue, stabilizes the league.  San Francisco is a short flight from Vancouver and a great place to visit and attend games.  The Sharks play in Vancouver often, so I get more opportunities to see him play.

So San Jose it is.  Come on, lucky ping-pong balls, weave your magic, make that 5% chance pay off.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Game 82: Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 3 (SO)

Thoughts on the Canadiens' 4-3 shootout win against the Leafs tonight.

-- I set my PVR to the game without really thinking about it, and when I fired it up, found out that Bob Cole would be dithering the plays, instead of Jim Hughson.  D'oh!  I would have tried the TVA offering had I had been forewarned.

-- It's an odd feel to the game.  The Leafs are probably just trying to get it over with, and the Canadiens look like they're playing at 95, 96%, but not quite the proverbial 110%.  I get the feeling that they'd also just as soon it be over, but they have something to play for.

-- Can a hockey team coast through a game and still play a 'real' game?  I thought of comparables while watching the first period, and the way the offensive and defensive linemen play in the NFL Pro Bowl came to mind.  They have to be there, they have to play the snaps, but you know they're just trying to get through the game without getting injured or extending themselves too much.

That's not very apt, the intensity, the urgency of this game is much greater than any Pro Bowl, but still.  Maybe things sort themselves out in the second.

-- I thought that maybe Dustin Tokarski might have been the better choice after all, seeing Carey let in two goals, at least one of which he'd want to have back.  And seeing that Toronto rookie kreiderate into him.

I'm not second-guessing the coaches, I understood and agreed with their decision to start Carey, this isn't a game with no stakes attached, there was something to play for.  But now with hindsight, seeing that having Carey in goal didn't inspire the team to stomp on the Leafs, get an early lead and put the game away so they sleepwalk through the rest of the game, maybe having Dustin in there to prevent a potential injury and to make the players a little more 'accountable' might have been the right call, heads-or-tails style.

-- Usually, the Canadiens get jobbed, get cheated by the control room in Toronto, which allows goals against and negates goals for, brazenly.  Tonight, in a refreshing change, they were cheated by the on-ice officials in Toronto.  Nice palate cleanser.

-- A Brendan Gallagher goal that would have given the Canadiens the lead in the third was disallowed by the refs, after a confab where they rigged up a way to rip off the Habs, claiming goalie interference on Jonathan Bernier.

Hilariously, the HNIC analysts agreed with the call, and were stating that Brendan wasn't pushed into the Leaf goaltender/crease while at the same time the replay clearly showed a Leaf defenceman's stick on his back.

-- The refs were probably tipping their hat to Colton Orr in his last game in the NHL, saluting the end of his scourge, by overlooking all manner of slashes, crosschecks, late hits, etc.

-- Dirty punk Nazem Kadri's 'courage' was probably embiggened by the presence of the Marlies enforcer.  He took a vigorous punch at Alexei Emelin, long after play had stopped, to the mute assent of the ersatz referees.  Later, he hit him in the back and projected him into the boards, again with no call, and no pushback from the Canadiens.

The Senators were probably watching this and licking their chops.  Certainly Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki must be, Bryan Murray had to be tossing lots of raw meat and offal in their cages, poking them with sharp sticks, getting them ready for 'playoff hockey'.

-- The abuse directed at Alexei Emelin was in retribution for a hip check against Eric Brewer.  The Leaf veteran objected and, in response, literally grabbed Alexei by the head and threw him down backward.  A scrum ensued.  Somehow, the refs concocted a scenario where the minor penalties cancelled out, Alexei was retroactively penalized for clipping, and the only penalty to the Leafs for starting this whole mess was a minor for roughing.

All is well in Don Cherry's, Mike Milbury's, and Colin "Daddy" Campbell's NHL.  Now 33% scrummier!

-- Michel Therrien tried a couple of times to inject reason in the proceedings, to no avail.  Eventually, the frustration grew so great that first Andrei Markov, and shortly after, during the same break in play, P.A. Parenteau were ejected from the game for unsportsmanlike conduct.   Way to crack down refs!  No tolerance on words, those can injure.

-- I'm liking the livelier, shootier version of Lars Eller.  He's less prone to feats of stickhandling that carry the puck away from the opposition net, although he had a couple of relapses in this game.  We want him using his size and firing pucks at the net, not competing with Alex Galchenyuk for a magic hands award.

-- The blue line may end up being a strength this post-season.  Jeff Petry has really solidified this unit, and I feel as confident in Greg Pateryn as I do with Tom Gilbert in the lineup.  The rookie pairing with Greg and Nathan Beaulieu has me very hopeful for the future.

-- The shootout was so emphatically won by the Canadiens that it was almost anti-climactic.  First, Alex Galchenyuk faked Jonathan Bernier out of his Desmond Tutu fanclub jockeys ("He's always been a great hero of mine, the way his sons worked their way up to the NHL...").  Then, after Tyler Bozak soiled himself at the prospect of facing Carey Price and meekly shot wide, David Desharnais idled in to about 20 feet away from the net, took a P.K.-quality backswing and blasted a slapshot glove corner.  Joffrey Lupul forced Carey to make a pad save, and then the Canadiens goalie picked up the puck for his well-deserved team record-setting 43rd win.

-- Now we get set for our playoff calvary.  What outrages will be committed against our heroes but be chuckled at by the Sportsnet apes?  Why do we put ourselves through this?  We could watch pro wrestling, and it would be less crooked.  At least there'd be a narrative thread, and the stars would be showcased, featured, favoured.

But not in a league where a quality forward like Jamie Benn wins the scoring championship with 80 points or so, over a debilitated Sidney Crosby, playing without Kris Letang who was knocked out for the season, and may even have to retire, due to a Phoenix Coyote "finishing his check".

Nice work Gary!  Don't worry about details like that, focus on selling tickets in Vegas instead.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Game 81: Canadiens 4, Red Wings 3 (OT)

Here are my thoughts on the Canadiens' 4-3 OT win over the Red Wings, derived from the RDS "Canadiens Express" broadcast.  It's the last game of the season for Pierre Houde and Marc Denis, from now on it's your choice of the shlockfest at TVA or Sportsnet.  Pick one.

Thank you Gary Bettman.

1)  Seeing Jimmy Howard in front of the Detroit net, I think of teams who are kind of stuck between two chairs, with an Anti Niemi or Dan Cloutier in goal.  A player who is adequate, but short of the elite.  One not able to sustain a team on his own when necessary, not able to excel on a consistent basis.  Should you play this hand, or fold and wait to see what else the dealer has for you?

And how do you know when to cut ties and look elsewhere?  Are you walking away from a Chris Osgood, or are you selling early on a Ben Bishop, a Devan Dubnyk, a Miikka Kiprusoff?

2)  Pleasantly surprised to see Greg Pateryn get a game in place of Tom Gilbert.  Not that the latter deserves to be sat, he's been improving steadily all season, but it's good to give Greg some icetime, he fully merits it, and needs to stay sharp in case he's called on in the playoffs.

3)  Good first period by P.K. Subban.  He picked up an assist on the first Canadiens goal by dishing off to Andrei Markov for a one-timer.

More saliently in my opinion, in the last minute, Alexei Emelin had been stuck in no-man's land with the puck while the Canadiens made a player change, and the breakout sputtered and died.  P.K. picked up the puck and chose that moment to rush the puck up and see what he could create.

I'm hard on P.K. when he makes a mental lapse, when he costs the team by being too adventuresome at the wrong time.  This however was the perfect opportunity.  His teammates were jumbled up after a brief puck battle, they were caught halfway between a backcheck and a breakout, at a standstill.  There was no teammate speeding up ice to feed the puck to.

Further, the score was tied 1-1, so it wasn't a bad time to take a gamble.  There was a good chance to establish the attack in the Red Wings zone, and drain off the last minute that way.  The team wasn't protecting a lead late in the game, it wasn't a situation where being conservative is the wise choice.

Good job P.K.  And closing in on 60 points too.  Maybe I should focus on what you do well, instead of what you don't chelios, what I wish you'd lapointe.

4)  When Danny DeKeyser interfered with Dale Weise in the second period, I was already grumbling to myself on my couch about Gary Bettman and Daddy Campbell and the abysmal refereeing, how they allow players to cheat in the name of 'letting them play', but that's really what it is, 'let them cheat', 'let them hook', 'let them slash', 'let the Bruins prosper with their big thuggish teams and not pay the price in being called for a correspondingly higher number of penalties and not suffer for not being able to skate with the fleeter teams'.

And then the whistle blew, and I realized that it was just a case of a delayed penalty call.  The ref had seen it and made the call.

Uh..., good job ref.  Good call.  Sorry for kind of jumping the gun there, kind of.

5)  Forget what I said.  Brendan Smith just brought down David Desharnais with a slash and a crosscheck expertly administered in quick succession.  The Canadiens were already on the powerplay, so the Wings have a Get Out of Jail Free card for anything short of an amputation.  Or an illegally-curved stick, can't have those.  That's zero tolerance.

6)  Early on in the Devante Smith-Pelly reign, when the scuttlebutt filtered out about him needing to work on his conditioning, I posted that the six weeks he had until the start of the playoffs was enough time to show significant improvement in that regard.  He could maybe shed a kilo or two, improve his anaerobic performance, develop a little more power in his legs.

Sure enough, while he was relatively invisible in the first few games, lately he's been able to carry the puck and drive to the net, to be in the right place at the right time for a deflection or a one-timer.

Nice job Devo, looks like your hard work is paying off.

7)  It's hard to tell in the condensed, edited version of the game I'm watching, but is Brendan Gallagher having a bad game?  On both Red Wing goals so far, he's been unable to control/clear a puck in the defensive zone, and Pavel Datsyuk pounced.

8)  Start of the third, we see a graphic stating that Mike Babcock has amassed 526 wins so far in the NHL, most likely because he doesn't speak French.

9)  P.K. had an uneven third, and Andrei committed a rare boner with a giveaway that Darren Helm took on a shorthanded breakaway to give the Red Wings a 3-2 lead, but again, let's accentuate the positive.  They both had an assist on Tomas Plekanec's powerplay goal, and played a strong game overall, as they did for most of the season.

10)  Is Lars Eller revving up the playoff runaway train?  He scores in OT, his seventh game-winner of the season, and reaches 15 for the season, after a very difficult campaign.

11)  Les Boys keep Carey Price humble after a huge ovation and post-game interview with Marc Denis, and get him with the ol' pie-in-the-face gag as he turns away from the mike.

Nothing really decided though, the Bruins are still in it even though they're in ninth, the Lightning are still pushing to take over the division lead, playoff opponents are still not determined for the most part.  The good thing is that the Habs can clinch it on Saturday with one point against the Leafs, they don't need help from other teams.

So off to Toronto we go for a Saturday night classic, and a dignified sendoff for pivotal ex-Leaf Colton Orr.  Should be grand.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Game 78: Canadiens 4, Capitals 5 (SO)

Thanks to Gary Bettman, I didn't see the Canadiens' OT loss to the Capitals, just RDS' "Canadiens Express" condensed version.

-This wasn't an easy game, one we 'should' win, like when we're faced with the Leafs or Sabres.  The Capitals are a strong playoff team, energized by an excellent coach this season, with seasoned vets and talent.

So to come away with a point shouldn't be a disappointment, but coming on the heels of a loss to Tampa Bay, and in the midst of a post-trade deadline period when the team is struggling to play .500 hockey, it's a little sour, again.

Add in that you'd like the team to hit the playoffs at cruising speed, rather than with the engine misfiring, and Canadiens fans will fret over a loss, however close it might be.

-Lars Eller had a good game.  Maybe playing with two no-nonsense vets like Dale Weise and Brandon Prust, who work and skate hard and drive the net will have a positive influence on our malleable, mercurial centre.  When he plays with shifty guys, maybe he tries to match their artistry?  Last night with his linemates, he simplified his game, drove the net, which is what we want from him.

-The defencemen chipped in offensively.  Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry on the rush, and P.K. on a blast from the point with the man advantage all scored.

-David Desharnais had a really good game, working hard, battling with bigger opponents, being a constant threat around the net.  He caused a Cap to take a penalty while trying to contain him on a rush, he got off shots, fought for loose pucks and rebounds.  It's hard to fault him on a night like this.

-Special teams were the story, with the Caps cashing in three of four powerplays, while the Canadiens only had P.K.'s goal to show for their four chances.

Against the best powerplay in the league, as Pierre Houde reminded us, the Canadiens kind of gifted them the game, by taking some silly, lazy hooking penalties.

-P.K. had an uneven night.  Strong on the scoresheet with three points, strong on Alex Ovechkin, but also showing lapses in judgment.  The first goal by Joel Ward, he created the odd-man rush by getting beaten on the boards, pinching in but failing to make a 'strong play' on the puck.  He tried to control the puck, handle it, instead of bashing it in deep with opponents bearing down on him and having no support.  Mental mistake.

Gaston Therrien on L'Antichambre showed this play and made the same point, explaining that P.K. had only one hand on his stick, and was going to try to stickhandle the puck while he fended off his opponents with his free arm.  Not the right time or place, when he was flat-footed and his teammates were in front of him.

Further, Marcus Johansson gave him a little tug on the shoulder with a free hand, and it was enough to bring P.K. down to the ice.  Now maybe the hold was a legit one, maybe it caught him off-balance, but with his history, his reputation of embellishing, he didn't get the call.  Daddy Campbell has told the refs to ignore it when P.K. and Brendan Gallagher are hooked or interfered with in any debatable manner.

P.K. needs to understand this, and play accordingly.  They've won.  The league has him in a box.  That's the shoe he has to wear.

He now needs to take a page from Chris Chelios' book, and fight through these little tugs and hooks and keep playing, and respond with strong to savage elbows, slashes and crosschecks.  Anyone tangling with him has to know that he's a porcupine.  Chelly elevated this to an artform, he'd take it to the limit and then a shade over, and the refs mostly allowed him to do so, and it kept the abuse he received to a tolerable level.

-Another error committed by P.K. was when he pushed Curtis Glencross from behind so that he toppled onto Carey Price.  Risky.  I sweated bullets.  P.K. got away with it, the refs actually whiffed on the call and gave the Washington forward a penalty on the play, on which Subbie scored, but this is a dangerous game.

It's not a mortal sin, every team and every player struggles with how to protect his goalie, and it didn't work out this time, but P.K. has done this a few times lately, memorably against Logan Couture of the Sharks.  The way, the time to protect Carey is when you're in front of the opponent, between him and the crease, and can bring the shaft of your stick to bear, forcefully, on the situation.

-Alex Galchenyuk also played a strong game, picking up two assists, being creative and a threat out there.  On a couple of plays I saw, he was the playmaker, wheeling around the offensive zone, and he found David as the triggerman, a nice change.

After a dozen or so games where he'd look ineffectual, a little lost out there, he's coming around, getting his bearings, at just the right time.  If he can start to click with David or whoever his centre will be, if he starts to be a scoring threat on the second line, and provide offence for the Habs beyond Max Pacioretty, we'll be in good shape.

-It's very late in the game, and I'm not sure how realistic or practical this is, but maybe the Jacob de la Rose experiment has run its course, or at least the first phase?  He's now confined to the wing on the fourth line, and he was largely invisible.  He's not useless, he does contribute just by dint of his size, skating and hockey sense, but maybe it would be better for his development to be sent down to the Bulldogs?  Playing more minutes in crucial situations in Hamilton instead of limited responsibility in Montréal?

We've burned out promising rookies before, so I'm gun-shy.  Sure, other teams have done so too, and also there are exceptional cases, kids who are more mature and ahead of the curve, but isn't the proof in the pudding?  His meager point totals, his declining icetime, his waning effect on the game, are these all indicators of a rookie who's running out of steam after a good start?

We haven't hesitated to send down Greg Pateryn, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, and others when their effectiveness declined.  We should do the same if Jacob is now treading water.  He'll gain confidence by playing more.

Gradual steps.  Progression.  Patience.

-Maybe this is where practicalities collide with the best-case scenario.  And I speak of P.A. Parenteau and Devante Smith-Pelly.  The former is playing on the Top 6 but is not hitting his stride or convincing me that he'll find his groove.  Concussions are tough on an athlete, recovering from them is hard to plan for.  I don't fault him for struggling, but you'd hope for more from him.

Same for Devo, he's still looking for his first goal, and is now relegated to fourth-line duty after a couple of games in the pressbox.

With such areas of need to address on the roster, there may not be the luxury for the team to spare Jacob de la Rose.  Exigencies will prevail.  I fear the short-term will carry the day, over the long-term.