Sunday, 28 June 2015

Thoughts on the Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau buyout.

I have a couple of thoughts on the P.A. Parenteau buyout.  He's just been placed on waivers for those purposes by the Canadiens.

I figured he'd dodged that bullet when I wrote this a few days ago:

I had the odds that P.A. gets bought out at 33%, but since he hasn’t been put on waivers yet, I guess that ship has sailed too. I guess they’re taking a chance that with another strong off-season of work, maybe fewer injuries, he can contribute more.

I had in my mind’s eye an image of Rick Dudley giving him a call every couple of days, checking in on him, maybe Scott Mellanby drops by while he’s working out at the gym, sizing him up, poking and prodding him, while they hem and haw about whether to buy him out.
The first thought is that Pierre-Alexandre is another asset that we have to write off, that goes to zero instead of being realized or amortized.  We tell each other often that if a player doesn't work out, he can be 'flipped for picks', or 'traded to another team', but sadly it seems it rarely happens.

I know that the mantra painted on the dressing room wall is "Pas d'excuses", but I think we've been a little unlucky.  Off the top of my head, P.A., Mike Weaver, Bryan Allen, Sergei Gonchar, Louis Leblanc, Yannick Weber, Ryan White, on and on it goes, all these 'assets' end up being non-negotiable.

I envision the team as being on a treadmill, and we're taking on new players every year, and some fall off the back.  It's nice and easy to talk about the fact that we're not taking aboard any Sydney Crosbys, any Connor McDavids, so we'll never win, but I think the secret to success is to keep replenishing, to trade off a Douglas Murray or a Roman Hamrlik before they're due to fall off, even for 'low picks', and to keep replenishing the well.  Ideally, for every player who falls off, we add two prospects, and inevitably some of them will be winning tickets.

Of course this is easier to do when you're not in a race to the playoffs, if you're not holding on to everyone for depth, in case of injuries, but I think there's a way to bet on both horses a little bit.  We can have a little more success, be a little more far-sighted, by flipping players for futures, if we make that our mission, if we refuse to take lightly that players will leave without compensation.

I don't have the figures in front of me, it's more of a sense than a conviction, but seeing the Lightning pick up nine players in this draft, take Dennis Yan and Anthony Cirelli with two third-round picks, while we made do with five picks, is a bit of a stark contrast.

As astute as Marc Bergevin has been, I think we've bled out a little more than we could have.  And even as he juggles so many balls, I'd like to add in another one, that diligence, that conviction that a player traded for a 3rd rounder two years from now is a win, is very much better than nothing.  I'd like it to become part of the management philosophy.

And it would necessitate some changes in the way we do things.  Leaving Mike Weaver in the pressbox for an entire season may not be the way to go.  Maybe if we see we're not using him, we send him off for a low pick, and depth is provided with prospects doing injury callups instead.  We take a little hit there, for a bigger gain elsewhere, by giving Trevor Timmins more shots at the dart board.

These are not black and white, right or wrong issues, just tweaks, nuances, another factor to add into the equation.

And I don't think it's a matter of outlook, of policy that sank the value of Pierre-Alexandre.  If he'd popped in a handful more goals, if he hadn't been injured, that would have been the determining factor.  Just a little luck...

But another facet we now have to consider is how we structure our contracts.  For years we spoke of how big ticket contracts could be dumped on teams trying to reach the salary cap floor, in a theoretical sense.  We always hoped that Scott Gomez's front-loaded contract could become attractive to such a team in its last couple of seasons, when it would deliver a big $7.3M salary cap hit, but would require only 3 and 2 million in salary or thereabouts.

The thing is, teams trying to reach the cap floor won't take an awful player on to do so (exception: Chris Pronger loophole).  They want guys who can still play.  They still need to sell tickets, attract fans, they're budget teams because they're trying to establish themselves.

But this off-season, we've seen two players go to budget teams because of this dodge.  James Wisniewski was taken by the Hurricanes in trade, because, aside from still being able to play, he'll provide the Hurricanes with $11M in cap hit, but require only $8M in salary.

Same with the Flyers dumping Chris Pronger's contract on the grateful Coyotes, who'll enjoy his almost $5M in cap hit as they jury-rig themselves a roster that'll reach the cap floor.  The Glendale team will only have to pay out a half million in actual salary though.

And now I kind of figure that that's what the Blackhawks are counting on with Marian Hossa, and the Kings might have hoped for in Mike Richard's case, that they'll be effective for a few more seasons, but as they get to the cap-circumventing years of their contract, when they're making a million dollars or so, they can be dumped on a budget team trying to reach the cap floor.

And it makes me wonder, if P.A.'s contract had been similarly structured, if it called for him to receive only $2M this season, would he have been much more marketable.  Could we have wheedled a mid-rounder out of a budget team for him in that case?

Now, we didn't sign P.A., we didn't write the contract, but I think there's a clear opportunity for a rich team like the Canadiens.  If we're bidding for a free agent and the contract is going to be necessarily high, we can front-load it, pay as much money as possible up front, and in the last year or two, those that might be a problem due to declining performance by the player, he can hopefully be packaged to a team looking for salary-cap floor relief.

I don't think it would be a problem for players and their agents to receive most of the money up front.  That's usually what they want.  And I note that Jeff Petry will earn $7M in the first couple of seasons, but 'only' $4M during the final two.

And that's an advantage we have over the Nashvilles and the Glendales, we can churn through players like this, with 'ejectable' final years on their contracts.  The contracts can't quite 'backdive' so aggressively with the new CBA, but we can still derive an advantage this way.  We can have a yearly salary cap hit in line with the rules, but spend more than that, and ice a more competitive team.

If Mr. Molson is willing to write slightly bigger cheques and charge us a little bit more per 'stimé' to facilitate a winning team.  Which I do not doubt he is.

EDIT: June 29, 2015 AT 11:46 AM

According to La Presse, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau was informed of the buyout by his agent Saturday evening. He still hadn’t spoken to anyone from the organization as of Sunday noon, and Marc Bergevin hadn’t raised the subject at their end-of-season talk. He wasn’t expecting a buyout.
«C’est sûr que je n’ai pas eu la saison escomptée, a-t-il reconnu au bout du fil. À cause de ça, je peux comprendre la décision du Canadien, c’est une décision d’affaires. Ça ne s’est pas passé comme prévu pour moi, ce fut une saison en dents de scie.»

“I admit I didn’t have the kind of season I was hoping for. I can understand the Canadiens’ decision, it’s a business decision. It didn’t go as expected for me, I had an uneven year.”

He says he hopes to get a chance with another team in the fall.

Hot takes on the 2015 NHL Draft, Rounds 2-7

Stream of consciousness as I watch the second day of the 2015 NHL Draft.

1)  I’m looking and looking at my TV channel guide, and scrolling through my channels, and can’t find where Round 2-7 are being broadcast.

Sportsnet has eight channels, they can’t fit this in somehow? Have they run out of loudmouths to bark over the proceedings?

I guess I have to watch it in standard def on the NHL Network.

2)  Disappointing return for crowd-favourite Eddie Lack for the Canucks, They get a third-rounder from the Hurricanes.  Some fans were apoplectic, they started a petition when they thought he was getting traded for a 2nd rounder.  And people laugh at Canadiens fans for dialing 911 and reporting to police Zdeno Chara’s assault on Max Pacioretty…

3)  Jérémy Roy leads off the second day, he goes 31st overall to San Jose.  You have to wonder how close the evaluation was between him and Noah Juulsen for the Canadiens.

4)  TVA Sports also isn’t televising the 2nd round now, just a replay of last night’s first round proceedings.

Take a bow, Gary Bettman! Your partners Sportsnet and TVA are sure doing a bangup job. As a fan, I concur with you that I’m very well served by this new deal. That still has a decade to go. As a fan.

5)  The Senators just snapped up Gabriel Gagné of les Tigres de Victoriaville. 6’4″ forward who can score goals.  I was hoping that Marc Bergevin could get into the second round and get him.

I saw him play on TVA on Friday nights, they had a couple of games by the Tigres, but it’s not like he caught my eye really, just his size and potential are enticing.

6)  Boston goes for giant defenceman Brandon Carlo right after. You can take the goon out of Boston…

7)  Patrick Roy and the Avalanche take A.J. Greer from Joliette, Québec, and Nicolas Meloche of the Drakkar back to back at 39 and 40.

8)  James Wisniewski is traded from Anaheim to Carolina.  Love the Wiz. We should have signed him pre-emptively, before he got too close to UFA, and got that massive contract.

9)  Daniel Sprong, another LHJMQ product, is a Penguin. How soon before he’s on the wing with Crosby or Malkin?

10)  Interesting that the Ducks sent Emerson Etem to the Rangers, with Carl Hagelin coming back. When he was picked 29th overall in 2010, Mr. Etem was the poster boy for how hockey was growing in Southern California, and how great it was that the Ducks picked a guy from their backyard, etc.

11)  About the Oilers acquiring Griffin Reinhart from the Islanders, the timing, his development curve matches up really well with the rest of the young stars on the Oilers. And they knew him inside out, since he was an Oil King.

The Oilers have a GM. Finally.

12)  Ah man!…

The Bruins just picked up Jérémy Lauzon from les Huskies de Rouyn-Noranda. He was ranked 42nd overall, 65th at the midterm, for N.A. skaters. He was a dark horse I hoped we could sneak in the third round, but he caught a lot of eyes late in the season.

There’s going to be no one left…

13)  Truculence is dead in Toronto. The Leafs drafted Jeremy Bracco, the pipsqueak of the draft.  This is the guy the anti-Smurf brigade was afraid Marc Bergevin might acquire. Not for any definite reason, just to pursue a narrative.

The kid looks like he’s fourteen on camera.  It’s unfortunate for him that while he's running through his canned, rehearsed comments during an interview, he says “I couldn’t be happy to be a Maple Leaf…”, when he meant to say ‘couldn’t be happier.

14)  Kids who come off the board in the 3rd round:

Dennis Yan, the Shawinigan Russian kid by way of the U.S..

Guillaume Brisebois, another highly touted LHJMQ defenceman.

Keegan Kolesar, cool name, tough guy, bit of a dinosaur checker-enforcer out of the Seattle Thunderbirds.

J.C. Beaudin, one of the guys I was hoping for in the third round, centre with size.

Alexander Dergachev (it seems his name will be spelled differently), a prospect that some on HF Boards absolutely loved, others thought would be too, too slow to play in the NHL.

Samuel Montembeault, the goalie from the Armada.

15)  And the Canadiens pick a kid in the 3rd round who, despite all my diligent gleaning of scouting reports, I’ve never heard of.  Lukas Vejdemo, an overage centre from Djugarden in Sweden.

16)  Carolina gets Callum Booth early in the fourth, Zach Fucale’s backup.

They also get 6’4″ Chicoutimi centre Nicolas Roy, who was projected as a first-rounder at the start of the season, but fell to the fourth. Oh well, I guess Trevor no likey.

My original plan to draft the best Roy available is seriously in the weeds now.

17)  Nashville picks up a nifty little centre, Anthony Richard, who put up 43 G , 91 points in 66 games.

18)  Trevor Linden looks subdued during an interview, explains that it was tough getting good value in return for Eddie Lack, but they wanted to resolve it so they pulled the trigger.

He kind of winced when discussing the aborted Kevin Bieksa trade.

He started a sentence with: “Ultimately, at the end of the day, …”

This media buzzspeak is getting out of hand.

19)  What are the odds that Christian Wolanin isn’t Craig’s son, or that Michael Spacek is Jaro’s son?

The Senators trolling Habs fans, get a big player we coveted, Philip Ahl.

The Preds going back to the LHJMQ well, pick smallish but productive defenceman Alex Carrier.

20)  Looking at the differences between Peter Chiarelli and Mac T (and Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini), and how the new guy seems to know what he’s doing, it seems like night and day.

Think about the fiasco last fall when they signed Alexander Tkachev. Except they weren’t allowed to, he wasn’t eligible to sign as a UFA, he had to go back in the draft.

I was making allowances in the past for them, how it’s hard to get around all the No Trade Clauses, but it seems that it was incompetence more than anything that was a barrier to excellence.

I sense a plan, rather than the 'just sit back and wait’ approach from the former administrations. Remember Homer with his fifty lottery tickets before the big draw?

“With so many tickets, how can I possibly lose?…”

21)  I don’t know anything about Matt Bradley, the Canadiens' fifth-round pick, but I’ll affirm that he’s the grand-nephew of five-star general Omar Bradley.

He's described as a 'good skater, high hockey IQ, good both ways, wins faceoffs, relentless on the forecheck, protects the puck well on the cycle, decent shot, might not have the hands to be a top 6 guy' kind of player.

Is this Brady Vail all over again?

The kid has a lot to live up to, being a Trevor Timmins-approved fifth-rounder and all…

22)  The Lightning snooping around in our backyard again. Stay in Florida!

They get Mathieu Joseph, who some were touting as a possible undrafted Prospect Development Camp invite, in the fourth round.

And you can’t ignore Connor Garland anymore, or at least Arizona can't, not with his production this season. 129 points!  They get the overager in the fifth round.

23)  Toronto at it again, pick a smallish brainy player in Dmytro Timashov. Not necessarily a good skater, but great passer, was knocked for not scoring enough goals this year. David Desharnais clone?

24)  Remember Matt Schmalz? He was an invite to the Prospect Development Camp last summer, didn’t get a contract. The Kings (surprise, surprise) get the 6’6″ Sudbury forward.

25)  Martin Brodeur interviewed on the NHL Network, talks about how much he's learning as a new executive with the Blues.

Would St. Louis be a better place to live than New Jersey?

26)  I don’t know if I’m remembering correctly, but didn’t some tout Ryan Pilon as a 2nd-rounder? He’s drafted at the end of the fifth. I guess scouts thought his game depended on his partner Ivan Provorov to a great degree.

He was actually ranked 24th by Central Scouting. Ouch, that's quite the drop.

The Leafs nab Stephen Desrocher in the early sixth, the kid made an impact in the playoffs and Memorial Cup, big, threw some hits, moved the puck well, scored a few goals.

I like this pick in the 6th. The Sportsnet crew was getting carried away during the Memorial Cup, saying he could sneak into the second round he was playing so well, but this low it’s a great shot to take.

27)  The Canadiens take Simon Bourque, one of the dark-horse defence prospects from the LHJMQ, definitely not on that first tier, but described as intriguing. If he’s half as good as his namesake Raymond, I’ll take it.

It's nteresting that Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports had him in the same range as Jérémy Lauzon, who I’d seen elsewhere ranked in the third round or so, and Alexandre Carrier, and they both got picked much higher than him.

I would love to hack into these NHL scouts' computers and read the notes and get the lists from different teams, see how they compare, how one team will see a guy as a first or second-rounder, and others as a DND or very low-round pick.

28)  I’m guessing Sens fans will be okay with Joel Daccord (it’s a thinker…)

29)  The Canadiens pick Jeremiah Addison with their seventh round pick, an Ottawa forward.

I wouldn’t mind a little more Québec content, maybe sign an undrafted player or two after the Prospect Development Camp?

I believe RDS and TVA might be heard on this subject too.

30)  Well I’ll be darned. Those T-Bay jerks in our backyard again.  They pick Bokondji Imama at the end of the sixth round, I'd missed it.

I was excited about his potential after the Canadiens Prospect Development Camp last season. The big thing is they said he could skate, and he’d taken up the sport ‘full-time’ only recently, instead of also playing other sports.  Also, he was the youngest invite at camp, hadn’t turned 18 yet, so I figured there was a lot of upside.
This season didn’t quite follow the appropriate growth curve though.  He didn’t produce much after an initial outburst when he returned to the Drakkar.  He had a couple of disciplinary issues, one where he shoved a referee out of his way, got suspended.  Add in that the Age of the Enforcer is over, and that’s three strikes.
So while I fretted that we'd missed an opportunity by not signing him as a free agent last summer, my qualms subsided.  I wasn't sure that he was worth the bother.  Now that another team snagged him though, I'm green with envy.
But good on the kid, 6th-round pick, now he has to work and become a hockey player, he won’t have a career by just punching people.
31)  So the Canadiens only make 5 picks this year.  By comparison, Tampa had 9.  For them, Dennis Yan and Anthony Cirelli, the hero of the Memorial Cup, both jump off the page in the third round.
I’m not blaming anyone, and I understand that the second and fourth-rounder used to acquire Jeff Petry were well spent.  With that in mind, it’s still worrisome that as loaded as they seem to be with young prospects, Tampa is still adding more, at a faster rate than we are.
Our division isn’t getting any easier, what with the Sabres also now stacked with prospects, and the Leafs under actual management now.
32)  About the discussion on social media whether the Canadiens should have traded or tried harder to trade for a second-rounder, or to trade down, with the counter-argument that maybe there were no partners to dance with, I think there’s one point that’s important to bear in mind.
When the Canadiens’ turn came up, they weren’t dithering on the phone, they got up and went to the stage.
Further, there were multiple trades for first-rounders at the end of the first round. The Maple Leafs traded down from 24 and 29, and Tampa traded down from 28. So there probably were opportunities for Marc Bergevin to flip the pick, there were teams looking to come up.
But the fact that he kept the pick means that they felt strongly about Noah Juulsen, they saw good value at that point, didn’t want to risk going down and losing him. They didn’t think other players they might come up with were equally good prospects.
So let’s accept that the Canadiens really wanted the kid, they got to know him through the Silvertips-Scherbak connection, and felt he was their boy.
Now, a caveat I’ll introduce is that this was the way we landed David Fischer in 2006, some of the scouting staff got to know him in minor hockey at various tournaments, and tagged him as the guy they wanted years in advance. Some teams had him as Do Not Draft, and the Canadiens managed to trade down from 16 to 20 and still get him.
Let’s hope that this year isn’t also a case of tunnel vision, of ‘falling in love’ with a prospect and failing to properly evaluate others in comparision.
But that’s just a bone to chew over, something to pick at. I believe the Canadiens staff is as qualified as any to make this pick. If it doesn’t pan out, it won’t be because they réjeanhouled it.
33)  And to finish off with a theatrical snap of my suspenders, here's a post from HockeyInsideOut, from way back in early June:
Un Canadien errant    JUNE 11, 2015 AT 4:22 PM
Submitted for your consideration as a first-round pick target, Noah Juulsen, a defenceman ranked 22 among North-American skaters by Central Scouting.
-6’1.5″, 174 lbs right-shot defenceman
-put up 9 G, 43 A in the WHL
-grew up idolizing Kevin Bieksa and patterns his game after him
and here’s the kicker:
-plays on the Everett Silvertips, the same team as Nikita Scherbak, so the Canadiens would have viewed him a few times this season.
The Canadiens have gone back to the same well before, drafting Darren Dietz in 2011 from the Saskatoon Blades, then taking Dalton Thrower in 2012 from the same team, and last season taking Brett Lernout, a kid who started his WHL career in Saskatoon. Player Development Coach Patrice Brisebois and the scouts must have been talking.

Friday Morning Angst: Thoughts before the 2015 NHL Draft

Love the draft, the anticipation, it's like Christmas when you're about to receive and unwrap sooooooo many shiny new presents.  I wish we had more picks, that we were drafting higher, but that's what having good management, competent coaching and a competitive team will do, it lands you at the bottom of the draft order.

1)  Since we're picking at #26, I think you take the best player available if there’s one clearly head and shoulders above everyone else, like someone you had ranked as 10th overall and is still on the board.

If not, then within a tier of comparable players, you can focus on an organizational need, someone who’ll fit in to your AHL plans. As we discussed before you can’t have a bottleneck where prospects are limiting each other’s ice time, like four goalies or four goal-scoring right wingers.

With these caveats, it might be time to look for a defenceman, with Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi now graduated, we don’t have any frontline prospects in our system, we haven’t drafted many d-men since 2012.

I have my fingers crossed for Jérémy Roy.

2)  We're not going to help immediate help for our forwards and to address our scoring woes.

Michael Frolik would be a really good option to band-aid over our Top 6 for a couple of years, I’d like to have him, but in a weak UFA class he’ll be in demand, and I don’t think we’ll be able to afford him.

3)  I often compare and contrast our situation, our team, to the Vancouver Canucks, it's funny how our fanbases are alike in many ways. Yesterday I brought up Patrick White, their David Fischer, as a ‘for instance’, and a buddy of mine visibly winced, shook his head, and asked me not to bring up that guy’s name ever again.

4)  Size isn't quite the attractant it once was.  Prospects like Brandon Carlo would have been fought over just a couple years ago.  Look at the Flyers grabbing Samuel Morin in the Top 10 in 2013.   The Canadiens traded up in 2010 to draft giant project Jarred Tinordi at #22, to make sure they didn't miss on him.

Now, look at the Norris Trophy nominees, all on the solid 6 foot range, with the smaller Erik Karlsson the actual winner.

At the start of the season I wanted 6’4″ Nicolas Roy, but now am smitten with Jérémy, and his size is a non-issue.  There was concern he was too slender throughout this season, but he measured in at a respectable 6′ and 188 pounds at the Combine

5)  I’m not averse to Daniel Sprong, never really saw him play, I like the descriptions I've read but take the warning flags in consideration.

I think Trevor Timmins will have a great read on Jérémy Roy, since he plays on the same team in Sherbrooke as Daniel Audette, who's already on board as a draftee. Donald Audette, his father, is a scout for the Canadiens too, so lots of intel, lots of viewings, if there’s a player they can get right it’s him.

Noah Juulsen is in a situation that’s somewhat alike, in that he played on the Silvertips with Nikita Scherbak.

Brett Lernout started his career on the Saskatoon Blades with Darren Dietz and Dalton Thrower, I think that’s when he planted a seed and the Canadiens kept tabs on him, and moved up in the draft to get him.

6)  Unrealistic Trade Scenario, Vancouver edition:

a TSN 1040 listener proposes Zack Kassian and Eddie Lack to Carolina for Jeff Skinner, a second-rounder, “and maybe a fourth-rounder.”

Note that their second is 35th overall.

7)  After hearing what Carey Price had to say in the press conference after the awards ceremony last night, I feel a little better about our team, it’s a very optimistic, positive assessment of the team, which isn’t necessarily what we’re faced with daily on social media.

8)  Viktor Stalberg is on waivers, apparently not to be bought out, just to see if another team would take the contract off the Preds’ hands.  Wasn’t he a great favourite of HIO, one or two summers ago, to embiggen the roster and the third line?

9)  Hold the phones, I’m not stuck watching Sportsnet or TVA if I want to watch the Draft. Apparently NBC will be using TSN talent, so I know what I’ll be streaming.

And, as the article points out, there’s an added bonus: less Leafs!
Of course, there will be an expected shift in the news that McKenzie and Dreger break. For TSN, anything and everything Toronto Maple Leafs was the focus; and even when it wasn’t, there would be some way to tie a story back to the Centre of the Hockey Universe.

This didn’t necessarily play well when the coverage was simulcast in the U.S., where the myopic debates about the Leafs’ checking line winger for next season aren’t exactly front-burner topics.

So with NBCSN doing its own thing, McKenzie anticipates that the franchises we constantly see on the network will be the ones they focus on – spending a little more time on the Philadelphia Flyers at No. 7 than the Leafs at No. 4, potentially.

10)  And is it my faulty memory, or didn’t TSN really truly have a ‘national’ component back in the day, with attempts to report from every team? Lisa Bowes covered Calgary, Ryan Rishaug Edmonton, Dave Pratt and Farhan Lahlji Vancouver, …

I’d have TSN on or off for a few years, depending on if I had cable, and when I did I’d soak it up, loved to find out what was going on elsewhere.

It seems that the Toronto focus has really intensified in the last decade. Due to budget cuts maybe, they’re slacking off from their original mandate to cover sports for all Canadians, like basically every cable network like History and Discovery starting to show teen pregnancy shows and ‘Fast and Furious’ sequels.

My sense, anyway.

11)  The KHL seems more and more wobbly.  There was just a 24-player trade, due to financial strife within the league and roster manipulations.

12)  Taking in various mock drafts, I hate how the Bruins end up with Barzal X 2, Meier X 2, and in the others could pick up Zboril, Guryanov, Svechnikov…

13)  With the Sabres acquiring Robin Lehner and Ryan O'Reilly, it looks like Tim Murray doesn’t have the cojones to lose another season for Auston Matthews in the 2016 draft. Too bad. I’d have liked to see him pout again about not getting the first pick, failing to understand that he had an 80% chance of getting the #2 pick, and only 20% chance at the #1.

14)  After his craven appearance at the NHL Awards ceremony, I wonder what disadvantaged child or three-legged puppy Gary Bettman will use as a human shield this time, to forestall the tsunami of boos.

It's not that I don't respect them, I have no beef with Panthers fans, but I fear they’re not knowledgeable fans, they don’t understand how urgent it is that you HAVE to boo, mercilessly, the whole session, whenever the repugnant little toad approaches the microphone and smarms into it.

15)  TSN 1040 Vancouver’s Dave Pratt and ‘Bro’ Jake (excitedly): “If Robin Lehner is worth a first-rounder, how much (more) is Eddie Lack worth?!”

Dan Rosen, of : “Well, what the Lehner trade does is take out one of the teams bidding for a goalie and which had a first-rounder in play out of the equation. There’s even less demand for Eddie Lack now.”

Dave Pratt and ‘Bro’ Jake: “…”

16)  I was hoping that Tom Gilbert could net a second or at least a third, but maybe that ship has sailed for now, maybe a pick for next season. A first for 2016 at the deadline?

I had the odds that P.A. Parenteau gets bought out at 33%, but since he hasn’t been put on waivers yet, I guess that ship has sailed too. I guess they’re taking a chance that with another strong off-season of work, maybe fewer injuries, he can contribute more.

I had in my mind’s eye an image of Rick Dudley giving him a call every couple of days, checking in on him, maybe Scott Mellanby drops by while he’s working out at the gym, sizing him up, poking and prodding him, while they hem and haw about whether to buy him out.

The buyout window is more helpful for players, allows them to find a job, rather than teams, who if it was mid-July let’s say, could evaluate their roster, see who they picked up in trades at the draft, as UFA’s on July 1, and then decide if they need to buy anyone out, a player they couldn’t trade.

Video: Noah Juulsen's First Day as a Hab

Video: Noah Juulsen's First Day as a Hab


1) He’s a leftie who shoots right. Which is good, when skating backwards and defending and pokechecking, he’s using his strong side, his dominant hand.

That’s why most righties shoot left, when you’re a kid, you hold the stick with your right hand on top, generally. And that’s why it’s a little harder to find players who shoot right.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, my father is a rightie but shoots right, a lot of players do that.

2) Michel Therrien brightened in his presence and beamed, like he was his prom date. He couldn’t keep his hands off him. I sense love at first sight, a big strapping stud of a defenceman for the Head Coach.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Hot takes on the 2015 NHL Draft's first round.

Stream of consciousness as I watch the 2015 NHL Draft.

--Marc Bergevin on TVA Sports, says the only GM he hasn’t talked to today is Glen Sather.

Lots of talk, but he says in the past he’s gone further in talks that went nowhere, so nothing’s in the bag so far.

Doesn’t think any other major trades will occur beyond what the Bruins did.

He’s spoken with Pat Brisson, but not on Alex Galchenyuk yet, that’s in the next few days.

--Craig Button keeps saying that Jack Eichel is no consolation prize. I know what he means, but it’s misleading, not what he means to say. He should say “he’s no mere consolation prize.

Because Jack Eichel is a heck of a consolation prize if you don’t get Connor McDavid.

--  I can't read Mac T's expression, seated as he is beside a Peter Chiarelli in charge at the Edmonton table.

--After Gary Bettman gets an altogether decent booing, by Florida hockey standards, the Oilers prepare to announce their choice.  We're treated to camera shots of Connor McDavid in the stands with his family, hoping against hope for a last-second call from the Governor.

--Connor McDavid not exactly overjoyed at hearing his name called, but he manages an expression of relief.

--Owner Darryl Katz, onstage for a group shot, refrains from making an expression of interest for a Seattle franchise.

--Tim Murray walks onstage, about to make his disappointing pick at #2.

He just barks it out: "The Sabres select Jack Eichel".  No intro or nothing.

Last year, he was blunt at the mike, straight to the point, didn’t spend a minute thanking everyone, so I’ll not read too much into that.

But I do hope against hope that Jack Eichel goes back to Boston College next season.

--Darren Dreger tweets that the Sabres and Avalanche make a trade: Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, the 31st overall pick, and JT Compher for Ryan O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn.

So the Sabres clear out a waivers headache in Mikhail Grigorenko, who gets to play under former Remparts coach Patrick Roy.  The Sabres get some experience and talent, they're not losing intentionally next season.

Good return, great haul for the Avalanche for Ryan O'Reilly.

Sabres have Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons and Ryan O'Reilly as a 1-2-3 murderer's row at centre.

--At 4th overall, the Leafs Mark Hunter wins the arm wrestle and chooses the London Knights' Mitch Marner, contrary to Kyle Dubas who reportedly was leaning in Noah Hanifin's direction.

I always liked Mark Hunter, although he didn't quite pan out.  Big, disciplined player, more exciting than older brother Dave, sane as opposed to his homicidal brother Dale.  When he came up with Gilbert Delorme, two huge kids, massive and powerful, I thought they'd tear Nordiques limb from limb.  

First lesson, that I had to constantly re-learn, that prospects don't always turn out as expected.

Wait a minute, I think the first time was with Doug Wickenheiser...

--Oh yeah, the Coyotes select Dylan Strome 3rd overall, and he'll probably insist on certified cheques when payday comes around.

--5th overall, the Hurricans choose Noah Hanifin, who some compare to Scott Niedermeyer.  Man he looks good in highlights, he can skate like crazy, and he's 6'3".

--6th overall, the Devils go against type and select a big talented offensive player, centre Pavel Zacha.  All I know about him is his stats, and they do make a draft nerd salivate.

--A felon who was somehow never found guilty, never sentenced, announces that the Flyers choose Ivan Provorov at 7th.  Hate to do that kid, but I hope you bust.

--It's official: Sportsnet hosts can't count to ten.  They kept saying the Flyers were about to choose the eighth overall pick.

--Ville Siren looks like a Bond villain.  Last season he went fully-shaved bald, and looked like the nemesis to 007, but tonight with stubble he feels more like a henchman, someone who dies eight minutes from the end.

The Blue Jackets use the 8th overall on Jack Ver... Werr...

Jack Vrenski?...  Werenski?  Zach not Jack?

I don't think they're pronouncing right.

--My skin crawls at the canned, rehearsed 'moment' between Darryl Katz and Connor McDavid.  I muted him before he threw a tantrum that the city should pick up 2/3 of the cost of the Entry Level Contract for him.

--Sam Consentino does the CHL telecasts on Sportsnet, and he's on the broadcast for the draft.  He’s heavy and sometimes unclear on the clichés (“He’s cool, calm, collective…” “For all intensive purposes…”), but he does know the junior game and the players.

--The Sharks grab another big talented forward in Timo Meier at 9, a LHJMQ product, the first one picked.

--The Avalanche nab Miikko Rantanen 10th overall.  One of those guys so 'out of range' I never developed any opinion about, it's like the housing market in Toronto, irrelevant to me.

--Dale Tallon, the dude the Canucks ended up with after the Sabres picked Gilbert Perreault first overall in 1970, and now the Florida GM, yields the floor to Bill Torrey to make the 11th pick. Special advisor?

The Panthers get huge Lawson Crouse, to line up next to their other sides of beef, Nick Bjugstad and Kevin Hayes.

--The first 'reach'?  The Dallas Stars grab Denis Gurianov at #12, a highly-skilled big, fast scoring forward who I was hoping was in range, if we were lucky, at #26.  

The Russian Factor doesn't enter into it for the Stars, who are happy they picked Valeri Nichushkin in 2013.

Oh well, that means someone else is falling to us...

--Effin' Bruins have three first rounders in a row now.  I hope that's remembered years from now as Bust Alley.

--They grab Jakub Zboril at 13.  Sigh...

--Jake DeBrusk, a guy we thought might land in our laps, goes 14th overall to the Bruins.

Son of a goon...

Based on the body language between his mom and dad, are we to deduce that they’re divorced?

--Zachary Senyshyn at 15th overall?  Wow, the Bruins must love this guy.  I'd see him him touted as a sneaky, dark-horse pick for the late second round.

I thought for sure they'd take a huge guy like Brandon Carlo or Paul Bitner, with three shots at the dart board.

--The Oilers deal away 16th overall to the Islanders for Griffin Reinhart, an Edmonton Oil King product, so a kid they know.

And dumb, dumb Garth Snow, who spent a Top 5 pick on him a couple years ago, spent two seasons developing him, sells short on him, for a 16th and the 33rd pick.  Brilliant.

I bet he drafts Slava Voynov…

But no, the Islanders take Matthew Barzal at 16th.

--Yeah, great move by Peter Chiarelli and the Oilers.

1) They get a young defenceman, with a lot of development out of the way, World Juniors, AHL, some NHL.

2) They’re not waiting for him, he should be ready to go. They have to start winning now, especially with Connor McDavid.

3) They know him inside out, they own the Oil Kings, his junior team.  Right there, that should have set off alarm bells for Garth Snow.  If they want him, that should be a sign you should keep him.

--With the Bruins taking Zach Senyshyn, one of my man crushes falls closer to us.  Evgeny Svechnikov?

--At 17, the Jets select Kyle Connor, who comes from the future to save his mother Sarah.

--The Senators at 18th take one of the guys I hoped would fall to us, local boy/defenceman Thomas Chabot.  Mom and dad look pleased, they can easily keep track of him, watch his games.

Chabot and Marc Méthot, that should be a fun time on the same pairing for Bob Cole.

--Another bites the dust: Evgeny Svechnikov goes to the Red Wings at 19. 6’4″ guy with wheels who can snipe, nothing wrong with that.

Great, the last two picks, guys I was pining for, land in our division.

Not a huge deal, I never really believed.

But Jérémy Roy though... 

Come on someone, draft a goalie already.

--And another down: Joel Eriksson Ek, a smart talented centre.  The Wild snap him up at 20.

--Stupid Senators again, at 21 they steal, outright thieve from us: ...

Colin White.  Good, actually.  No feelings for that guy.  

Looking better and better.  Either Brock Boeser or Jérémy Roy.

--Who sounds more the more likable oaf? Colin White or Mike McCarron?

--At 22, the Capitals draft a goalie!  Yayyyyy!  Ilya Samsonov.

We're guaranteed one of my man-crushes.  There's no way out now.  Marc Bergevin will do my bidding.

--Okay, the murderers' row of Canadian Clubs: Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, before Montréal.

The Canucks at 23 steal Brock Boeser, a scoring talented winger with decent size.

--Crap, the Leafs are going to take one of ours, I can feel it.

It's hard for me to de-train myself from hating them, due to years of Domi and Kadri.

Or are they trading?  To Philadelphia?  Both repellent organizations.

They're stealing our trade-down opportunity too...

Now the Flyers get to rob us.  I get hives just looking at Ron Hextall.

--Phew!  Travis Konecny is the Flyers' choice at 24.  Good little player, just not an organizational fit for us I believe.

--Okay, trade down, or Jérémy Roy.

--Jets grab Jack Roslovic at 25.  Lots of people were predicting him to the Habs, big centre.

It's wide open before us.

--Damien Cox comments that he thinks the Canadiens had Jack Roslovic targeted.  But they get up and go to the mike, so no trade down.

--Sam Consentino at it again. Talking about Travis Konecny, he says that the Top Prospects game was a “lightning rod” for him.

He meant something like ‘cattle prod’, a motivator.

A “lightning rod” is someone or something that attracts a lot of attention, mostly negative.


--The pick is:  Noah Juulsen.  

Look, I always, always called that shot. I wrote a few times that the Canadiens would be exposed to his game due to him playing on the Everett Silvertips with Nikita Scherbak.

I knew it.

Right-handed dman, two-way all-around game, had almost a point a game, played lots the last two years under Kevin Constantine.

I predicted it.

I did.

--It would have been easy to pick local boy and defenceman Jérémy Roy, who they also know really well, he plays with Daniel Audette, and father Donald Audette is a Hab scout. I guess they preferred Noah.

In Trevor Timmins and Marc Bergevin I trust. They are much better positioned than I am to make these decisions.

I believe that he’s a player we had rated quite high who fell to us. He’s an incredible find that other teams were moronic to pass over.

At 6’2″, he has ‘perfect hockey size’ for a defenceman. We need these guys who play in the rough and tough WHL, who’ve undergone trial-by-fire.

He’s a two-way defenceman. Outstanding, enough with the specialists like Tomas Kaberle and Hal Gill, we need guys who can play in every situation.

And he’s a right-shot defenceman, which is all the better, those guys are harder to find, they’re worth more in trade if necessary.

--With Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu graduated to the NHL, we are bereft of quality defence prospects right now. Everyone we have left are longshots, the highest-drafted is Dalton Thrower, who was a low second-rounder, and is struggling to develop, due to injuries among other reasons. So it was time to replenish the well on the blue line.

--About the rest of the 1st round, I feel like Kent Brockman after he wins the lottery:  "Great tragedy, many people killed, ... See ya!"

And NBC Sports, Gary Bettman vaunted partner-monopolist, have switched to a track and field meet from the NCAA long ago.


27: Jacob Larsson to the Ducks, Swedish defenceman.

28:  Anthony Beauvillier to the Islanders.  That one stings.  But if Garth Snow traded up to get him, that's like a kiss of death for a prospect, isn't it?  How good can he be really?  Man-crush, abating...

29:  Gabriel Carlsson to the Blue Jackets, Swedish Defenceman.

30:  Nick Merkley to the Coyotes.  Not a fit for us I thought.

--Draft fact #2:  I don't know the difference between Gabriel Carlsson and Jacob Larsson.  

It's going to be like Jared Cowen, Cam Fowler and Cam Barker, I still can't keep them straight.

--No really: If you’re Garth Snow and want to trade up, and find that Steve Yzerman is willing to trade down, he doesn’t have anyone he particularly likes at that position, don’t your spidey senses start to tingle? Don’t the little hairs on your neck stand up? Aren’t there huge red flags waving everywhere?

--About drafting a defenceman rather than a (scoring) forward, with Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu graduated to the NHL, we are bereft of quality defence prospects right now. Everyone we have left are longshots, the highest-drafted is Dalton Thrower, who was a low second-rounder, and is struggling to develop, due to injuries among other reasons. So it was time to replenish the well on the blue line.

--What do we need to do to get a second rounder for tomorrow?  What do we have to offer?  A shiny squeaky toy to Garth Snow?

My resolutions prior to the 2015 NHL Draft.

1)  In Trevor Timmins and Marc Bergevin I trust.  They are much better positioned than I am to make these decisions.  I'd sooner second-guess Dr. Burgess when he tells me I need to see a specialist (Won't that just heal/rehab/go away on its own?).

2)  I will hope for whoever the Bruins draft to be an unmitigated disaster.  Sorry (yet-to-be-named) kid.

3)  I will cheer extra hard if we get a local boy, someone like Jérémy Roy or Thomas Chabot or Anthony Beauvillier (in case of a trade-down scenario).  If we pass up one of these guys who are still available in favour of some exotic import, I might furrow my brow and purse my lips, but I'll remain silent, outwardly at least, referring to 1).

4)  I will hope that a player we had rated quite high 'falls' to us, or that we trade down and get the same player we'd have chosen at #26 in the second round, plus extra picks.  Or that we trade up to snap up a player who we just couldn't resist, was great value at the draft position we got him.

5)  I will adjust the narrative to fit whichever of the eventualities above actually transpires.

6)  I will hope that tomorrow in the third round we draft the best available Jérémy Lauzon or Nicolas Roy, factoring in the first resolution.

7)  Whoever we draft, I'll convince myself that he's an incredible find that other teams were moronic to pass over.

8)  I'll keep hoping to the very last minute that we can convert Christian Thomas, Magnus Nygren and the rights to Eric Tangradi into high third-rounders or even second-rounders.  These guys have got size, wicked shots, I don't know why we'd even trade them, come to think of it...

9)  When we draft a smallish skill guy, I'll hype those hands and gloss over his modest stature.  When we pick a giant, I'll believe that skills can be taught, improved, honed to a great degree, and argue that you can't coach size.  If we get a 5'11", 185 lbs prospect, I'll describe that as 'perfect hockey size'.

10)  If we trade picks for players and prospects, I'll militate in concert with the 'future is now' faction.  If we draft projects bound for at least four years of NCAA development and a couple more AHL years, I'll preach patience, the long view, and organizational strength.

11)  Are we sure Buffalo doesn't want Tom Gilbert for the 31st overall pick?  Just checking, no pressure...  But did we actually make the call?  Include the nebulous rights to Olivier Archambault?  Okay, okay, carry on, didn't want to be a bother, I just thought that...

12)  And before they got Robin Lehner, did we check with Tim Murray that he wouldn't rather have Dustin Tokarski?  No?...  What about Zach Fucale?  Really?  Really!...  But we anted up a second-rounder ourselves just two years ago.  What's that?  You'd like me to clear the line?  Of course, of course, wasn't trying to impose myself, get in the way or anything, I was just...  What's that?  Oh yes, of course, thanks.  Bye...

13)  If we get a Swedish player, I'll rejoice, that league is under-scouted, great value there.

14)  If we get a Finn, I'll be ecstatic, that league is even more under-scouted.

15)  If we get a KHL/MHL player, I'll jubilate, that we're playing the 'Russian Factor' to our advantage.

16)  If we get an American player from the NTDP, I'll nod affirmatively, that country's hockey development system is turning into a powerhouse, they're gushing great young players.

17)  If we get a Czech, I'll be pleased, we've had good success with Czech players (Tomas Plekanec).

18)  If we get a Slovak, I'll be enchanted, we've had good success with Slovaks (Martin Reway).

19)  If we get a WHL player, I'll be thankful, we need these guys who play in the rough and tough Dub, who've undergone trial-by-fire.

20)  If we get an OHL player, I'll be thrilled, it's the best, toughest development league in the world.

21)  If we get an LHJMQ player, I'll be overjoyed, the best yet most under-represented development league in the world.

22)  If we get a USHL player, I'll sit back and bask, these guys are diamonds in the rough, jest needs sum' polishment.

23)  If we draft a nifty offensive centreman, awesome, that's just what we needed.

24)  If we draft a '200 ft' centreman, great, that's always a great pick, those guys don't 'miss'.

25)  If we draft a scoring winger, fantastic, we need more snipers in the system.

26)  If we draft a big tough winger, super, we need to size up, for when the Kings come to town.

27)  If we draft a puck-moving, high hockey-IQ defenceman, terrific, can never get enough of those.

28)  If we draft a big tough defensive defenceman, perfect, we need someone to clear the crease and protect Carey.

29)  If we draft a two-way defenceman, outstanding, enough with the specialists like Tomas Kaberle and Hal Gill, we need guys who can play in every situation.

30)  If we draft a right-shot defenceman, all the better, those guys are harder to find, they're worth more in trade if necessary.

31)  If we draft a left-shot defenceman, way to go!  Best player available, don't worry about which way they shoot or position or details like that, that sorts itself out in player development and trades.

32)  If we draft a goalie, are you effing nuts?!  WE HAVE CAREY PRICE ALREADY!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The 2015 NHL Awards show.

Thoughts on the NHL Awards show:

1)  I like Rob Riggle, like his shtick, enjoyed his turn on the "Daily Show with John Stewart", in "The Hangover", and now on the Fox NFL pre-game show, but wouldn't this have been the best time to use George Strombolopoulos?  He could effortlessly host this, he's steeped in the game, its history, and has built relationships in his first season as host of "Hockey Night in Canada."

I'm just not sure of Mr. Riggle's bona fides in the hockey department.  He's a big booster of his local teams as a Kansas City native, loves his Royals, and his Chiefs, but I've never heard him pine for the days of the Kansas City Scouts.

2)  Erik Karlsson takes a lot of flak by Montréal fans, playing on the putrid team that he does, but he was all class accepting his trophy, congratulating the other nominees, and giving acknowledgment to Assistant Coach Mark Reeds who passed away this season, as well as the health issues owner Eugene Melnyk and General Manager Bryan Murray are facing.

And dagnabbit, I love watching that kid skate.  He can play.

3)  Brassy of Patrice Bergeron (Selke Trophy) and Bob Hartley (Adams Trophy) to say a few words en français during their acceptance speech.  Well done.

4)  Gary Bettman cravenly, cynically shielding himself from the blitzkrieg booing he so richly deserves by presenting an award flanked with 11-year-old Jordyn Leopold.  Shame.  Stand up like a man and take your abuse, you weasel.

5)  Very impressed with Henrik Zetterberg's targeted charity focus on the donation of smoke detectors, among other pursuits.  Smoke detectors are dirt cheap, and save so many lives.

6)  Matthew Modine presenting the King Clancy trophy.  Any 'Private Joker' sighting is fine by me.

Except he called Trevor Linden "Captain Canook".  Ugh...

7)  That crazy skinny projecting stage is a death trap, surrounded by stairs as it is.  No guarding, no handrails anywhere, I kept waiting for someone to pratfall off the stage like the Edge or Dave Grohl.  I'm sure that's not up to Code.

Where's a building inspector when you need one?  They should never have gotten occupancy.

8)  The thing with Jamie Benn and the band starting to play before he got a chance to speak, was that to keep him from telling sophomoric jokes about fellow NHL players Henrik and Daniel?

9)  To all you Gary Bettman apologists, who bleat that he is 'growing the game', how come the Awards show could only attract the admittedly attractive but low Q-rating Samantha Hoops?  The Commissioner shouldn't rest until we land Kate Upton.

10)  Costume changes for P.K.?

11)  Well-deserved Calder Trophy for Aaron Ekblad, he was up against guys a couple years older than he was, and they were forwards.  He had a great season as a defenceman immediately after getting drafted, he didn't get the benefit of a couple seasons more in college or the minors.  Very impressive.

Can't wait until the Canadiens sign him as a UFA when he turns 27.

12)  Jonathan Pitre.  Wow.  What a bright, sweet kid.

13)  How does Devan Dubnyk win the Bill Masterton trophy over Kris Letang?  Because he sucked last season and he didn't this season?  It doesn't really add up.

14)  Great job Carey Price, great season and a great night for you, your family and your fans.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Sabres trying to cut Mikhail Grigorenko down to size before they ship him out?

I've been unimpressed with newish Sabres GM Tim Murray, how he tends to bristle, to act like an ornery fool at times, notably this spring at the Draft Lottery, when he couldn't hide his disappointment at 'losing' Connor McDavid.

Here is another instance when his behaviour is odd: he's insisting that 2012 first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko take a two-way qualifying offer, and that he needs to spend more time in the minors.  Which in the practical sense is irrelevant.  The Sabres can never really make use of the two-way provisions in his case.

The Sabres are in the same position with Mikhail Grigorenko as we are with Jarred Tinordi, with respect to their waiver-eligibility which clicks in this season. They have to play him in the NHL, since if they try to send him down to the AHL he has to pass through waivers.  And he wouldn't pass through, many teams would be sure to claim him if he did appear on waivers.  So he has to be on their NHL roster, ready or not.

This is an example of bad asset management on their part, having him up in the NHL for 25 games his first season before sending him back down to the Remparts hastened the time it took for him to now require waivers.

So now any team discussing acquiring him in a trade has to be certain that he is useful as a roster NHL player, because they have to have him on their 23-man roster. They have to make the determination that he will be worth the compensation the Sabres would ask for in trade, to ensure they don’t ante up and then be faced with the prospect that it was a waste, that young Mr. Grigorenko needs more time in the AHL and you can’t send him down there without losing him.

The Sabres have to figure out what they’re doing this season, losing intentionally again, or trying to ice a legitimate roster and to win games. They have to figure out how Cody Hodgson fits into all this, whether he’s bought out, traded, or does he hold down one of the centre spots.

Or, do they go with a youth movement, promote Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel right away, and let them grow with the team, like the Flames did with Sean Monahan.

How Mikhail Grigorenko fits into this picture, whether he does at all or gets to be traded, is what the Sabres need to figure out.  But for Tim Murray to strain to make the academic point that he should be on a two-way deal smacks of the personal, of the ideological rather than the common sense.  It's more likely taking another swipe or two at the player before he's ushered out the door than to good player development and asset management.

Alexander Radulov leaning towards Colorado.

Some more smoke coming from the ‘Radulov to Colorado’ fire.

Joe Sakic didn’t flatly deny the rumour, and Alexander Radulov’s agent confirmed he can leave the KHL at the end of next season.

Yuri Nikolaev, his agent was quoted as saying: “Who was his junior coach? Patrick Roy, who now coaches Colorado. Roy called Radulov and told him he was expecting him next season. Yes, Radulov can leave after next season.”

I think Mr. Radulov fails to understand what an opportunity he'd have in Montréal, what a crying need we have for a scoring right winger...

Brandon Kozun, Corey Conacher off to play in Europe.

Remember the lovefest last October when the Canadiens opened the season against Toronto, and HNIC-Sportsnet was falling all over itself to praise Brandon Kozun, how great he was, how inspiring that as an undersized low-round draftee he had finally, probably made it to the NHL and would revolutionize the team/sport/humanity? Even though we had on our side undrafted free agent David Desharnais, who’d actually made the NHL and was playing a regular shift on the #1 line? How it was all about Brandon Kozun, how boy-howdy, I tells ya, you can keeps your Johnny Hockeys, for my moneys, Brandon Kozun is every bit as good as those other guys, he’s like Brendan Gallagher but with more speed, talent, hands, skills, quickness, Leafiness, ….

Well, la revolución es no mas.  Mr. Kozun has signed a contract to play with Jokerit in the KHL.

In related news, Cory Conacher has signed on with Bern of the Swiss League. That’s Guy Boucher’s team, so they know each other from their Tampa days.

Mr. Conacher made a splash when he first hit the NHL, but couldn't cling to a roster spot, and was traded to Ottawa for Ben Bishop.  Good for the Lightning, bad for the Sens.  He finished out the year in Utica in the Canucks' farm system.

With all the talk about the search for the ‘next Tyler Johnson’, with the draft approaching, we should qualify it as the ‘search for the next Tyler Johnson, but the next Nathan Gerbe will be banished, and soon, if he’s not putting up 60 points.’

There's a meme that ‘a small player has to prove he can play in the NHL, a big player has to prove he can’t’. That is proven out by both these signings I guess.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Off-Season of major changes for Canadiens' farm system.

After a few seasons of relative stability, the Canadiens farm system is in a state of upheaval this summer, with the AHL affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs being sold to the Canadiens and moved to St. Johns.  The Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer kept the name and trademark, and the lease on Copps Coliseum, and will now operate an OHL team from that location.

The Canadiens will move the AHL team to the Newfoundland capital and operate it under the re-logoed IceCaps banner.  While it will mean better crowds and maybe a better, Nygren-appropriate hockey environment for our prospects, it will complicate logistics in terms of travel and time zones, for example.  One problem which unmade the Abbottsford Heat was the fact that while they traveled great distances, it reduced the time available for practice, which we would agree is critical for young players trying to crack into the NHL.

Further, the Canadiens will no longer have a shared situation with the Penguins for their ECHL affiliate Wheeling Nailers.  Now, the Canadiens will work with the Brampton Beast in nearby Ontario.  And it will not be an arm's length relationship, with overflow AHL'ers sent down to the East Coast League, the Canadiens will actually be completely responsible for the hockey operations, for finding the players to fill the roster.

This is welcome news, in that the Canadiens are flexing their financial muscle, investing in the farm system to an even greater degree than before.  Literally no stone will be left unturned, there will figuratively always be room for one more prospect, for another intriguing longshot.  This shotgun approach may yield the next Josh Gorges, the next David Desharnais, the under-regarded undrafted guy who works his way up to the NHL.

One way in which this will transpire, a tangible difference, will be in the Prospect Development Camp held in early July.  In the past few seasons, these were skill development sessions for the blue-chippers, with the coaches paying close attention to them and preparing a list of chores, a program for them to follow during the rest of the off-season, and the next winter.

Other than the Canadiens draftees, there were a great number of invited players to this camp, who were guys who'd passed through the draft and were given a second look.  One of these guys would have had to absolutely scorch the camp to really draw attention, to get signed.  At best, they were vying for a Rookie Camp invite, and maybe an AHL contract.  Realistically though, they were cannon fodder, guys brought in to fill out jerseys, so that the blue-chippers could be seen in scrimmage conditions.

Now, these guys won't just have an AHL job to shoot for, but also a lesser but still valuable opportunity with the Brampton Beast.  It's a foothold in the organization.  They're on the inside, have access to all the facilities, the resources, the coaching, access they wouldn't have as a free agent, when they're paying out of pocket to rent icetime, etc.

And the coaches and the scouts and the brain trust won't be thinking "Hmmm, good little (big) player, but we already have Player X and Player Y filling that role, he'd just steal icetime away from them..."  Now, with three teams that need to be staffed, three rosters to build, you're truly evaluating everyone, to see if they can play.

Which brings us to the final big change for the farm system, which is that the Rookie Camp, which precedes the main Training Camp, and which in the last few years was almost a reprise of the Prospect Development Camp, with many of the same invited players taking part, is going to be radically transformed.

Instead of it being a skills and drills session that leads into scrimmages, and weeds out a few names before splitting up the field into the main camp and the Bulldogs camp, the Canadiens will now send their rookies to the Rookie Tournament in London, facing off against the Leafs, Senators and Penguins prospects.

So the invites will get a chance to prove themselves in live, competitive action, instead of controlled scrimmages, which can be hard to shine in if you don't know your linemates, or if you're a player who favours a physical style, like Bokondji Imama and Evan Wardley last year, who had to hold back against putative teammates, the apples of their putative bosses' eye.

And those heady gutty scrappy players, guys who don't necessarily wow you standing next to a tape measure, or skating through cones, they get to show what they can do in game conditions, against other guys who are also playing just as hard and also trying to win a job.

So lots of changes to the feeder system for the Habs, all of it positive developments, which promises to make for a busy, exciting 'off-season' for Habs fans, and we still have to get the Draft out of the way before we get to the Prospect Development Camp.

Can't wait.

Nikita Scherbak should spend next season with the IceCaps in the AHL.

Heresy Alert: I have some reservations with respect to Nikita Scherbak.  I certainly don't think he's ready to jump to the NHL, that he can be the 'solution' to our talent problem in the Top 6, specifically on the right wing.  I don't buy in that with a strong camp he can win an NHL job in October.

The simple reason that gives me pause, that keeps me off the bandwagon, is that Nikita put up 27 goals and 82 points this season, which is essentially identical to the production that he had last season.  And usually, you expect a player to take a big step in terms of production from one season to the next in the CHL, especially a highly-drafted scoring forward.  You'd like the points to build.

Now, I understand the caveats, that he played under Kevin Constantine, a noted taskmaster who insists on a defensive system, and effort in all three zones from his players.  I note with satisfaction that Nikita gets glowing reviews from his coaches, from everyone, about his attitude and dedication on and off the ice, his leadership and rapport with the team.

I also get that opposing teams had a simple book on his Silvertips team, that if you shut down Scherbak, you shut them all down, so he was facing very tight checking every game.

I saw all the highlights videos that showcase his incredible talent, his skill on skates and with the puck.

I read the comments that explained that he was given free rein with the Saskatoon Blades to focus on offence and entertain the fans, whereas his responsibilities were manyfold in Everett, so he contributed much more in his second season, it just didn't show up on the scoresheet.

Despite all this, it would have been nice if his point totals had jumped by 15 or 20 points.  As an illustration, lots of observers were anticipating a drop in production for Nikolaj Ehlers due to the departure of Jonathan Drouin this season, yet he maintained his point totals from last season in 12 fewer games.

When Nikita was traded to Everett, it was explained as an attempt to get a linemate for Ivan Nikolishin, that those two could rely on each other and lead the Silvertips.  That didn't quite transpire, the centre's production also was static this season.

Nikita will in all likelihood jump to the pros this fall, sending him back to the WHL seems pointless.  I do think he should put in a lot of time in the AHL though, it's not like he had nothing left to learn in junior, like he torched the league.  I envision him playing a lot, in all situations, specially on the powerplay.  I could see him being released to play in the World Junior tournament, if the Russian team would have him.

I can see him having a look with the Canadiens, either early in the season or for injury reasons, but to rely on Marc Bergevin's maxim that you often regret bringing up a player too soon, but seldom regret calling them up too late, he'll spend the most time in St. John's, learning the pro game.  He'll mature mentally and physically, adapt to the system and the opposition, make the progression.

And he won't turn out like Guillaume Latendresse, who was relied on too early in his career because he looked the part, he had size, what we needed, so we crossed our fingers, rationalized that his physique would allow him to 'withstand' the rigors of the NHL.  We enjoyed the early success, but now years later rue the decision, and wonder what could have been, if not for the early fame and fortune and stardom and injuries.

Let's allow Nikita to absorb more, to grow up, to reach cruising altitude, before we dump years of frustration and great expectations on his 19 year old shoulders.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Should Marc Bergevin go for it this off-season to try to win a Stanley Cup next year?

Is it time to 'go for it', capitalize on the window afforded us while Carey Price and Max Pacioretty are on cap-reasonable deals?  In theory, it makes sense, but I don't know if it's practical, possible.

For instance, doesn't P.K.'s $9M cap hit instantly negate this advantage?

For starters, going all-in would require a deft trade, almost an outright steal, whereby we get a great #1 centre, a scoring winger, but not giving up any high picks or 'untouchables', your Lars Ellers and Mike McCarrons and up.  That's the kind of X-box trade Marc Bergevin warned us about.

In the olden days, with the Canadiens run by hockey genius Sam Pollock, we could almost rely on these moves, but that was with other teams run by clowns, on a shoestring.  For years the Canadiens feasted because they were trying to actually ice the best team possible, while the Wirtzes ran two of the Original 6 teams as secondary concerns.  For them, hockey games were seat-filler events between profitable boxing and wrestling matches.

Now, every team is trying to win.  There are no, or fewer, crackpot owners like Harold Ballard who actively prevented their team from winning with their shenanigans.  There are no secrets anymore, communications are too good.  If a player is any good, he'll be found, he won't be kept a secret in a backwater.  Things like the 50-contract limit, waivers, the salary cap, they all make the previous Canadiens dynasties improbable today.

Front offices are staffed by capable teams of hockey men.  Mistakes will be made, but it's more on the margins, occasional.

At best, a team will place a correct value on a certain player compared to other teams, like the Flyers did with Claude Giroux, labeling him a first-rounder, while the Habs thought he could be available in the second round.  Or teams will find a player a couple rounds down from where he should have been, or as an undrafted UFA.

But even those teams that luck into Tom Brady make mistakes.  The Patriots get lots of credit for 'finding' him in the 6th round, but that means they ignored him for a few rounds also, drafting the likes of Jeff Marriott, Dave Stachelski, and Greg Randall before him.

The Lightning ignored Tyler Johnson so they could draft Kirill Gotovets and Alex Hutchings in 2009, and Geoffrey Schemitsch and Teigan Zahn in 2010.  Their breakout star was very much an afterthought.

There won't be drafts where one team accumulates Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson one year, and Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Andy Moog the next.  Or Petr Svoboda, Shayne Corson, Stéphane Richer, Patrick Roy drafts.  No Guy Lafleur, Murray Wilson, Larry Robinson drafts.  Not with 29 other teams in the league, all of them with more than a skeleton staff, with more than a Doug MacLean at the helm.

It's much harder to swindle another team now.  You can't be dishonest about your players, that's career suicide.  We see how Marc Bergevin has friends on every team in the league, he's a people person.  He's not going to hide the fact that a player has a bad knee.  Video and MRI's don't lie anyway.

There are good trades to be made, but these will be found to be so in hindsight.  The worst trade the Canucks ever made was when they traded a big young scoring winger they'd drafted in the first round a couple of years before but who wasn't panning out, and the best trade they ever made was when they traded a big young scoring winger they'd drafted in the first round a couple of years before but who wasn't panning out.  Fans bemoan the Cam Neely trade, but conveniently forget how their team transmuted Shawn Antoski, "the next Cam Neely, but bigger and better", into Markus Naslund.

Marc Bergevin says he's always looking to improve his team, that that's his job.  I'm sure he has a lot of lines in the water, he's taking the temperature, and if something comes up at a price he can bear, some objective limit he's set in advance, he'll put the trigger.

I've talked before how in my mind's eye, I can see Bob Gainey, who was ready to throw a lot of players and prospects at the Lightning to pry away Vincent Lecavalier, to finally get that longed-for "gros joueur de centre", the player we've been looking for since the Peter Mahovlich trade, slightly losing his bearings in the process.

He got in trouble when he got rebuffed and turned his sights on Scott Gomez.  He'd habituated to a steep cost in the prior wheeling and dealing, which now felt more palatable, so when he looked into the bargain option of the NYR centre, and Glen Sather asked for Chris Higgins and Ryan McDonagh plus plus, he didn't really blink.

I made the analogy of the process of buying a truck, where you establish you need a crew cab or at least an extra cab, long box, canopy, four-wheel drive, nothing older than ten years, so you have your list and a set cost in mind.  But then you get in the market and you come close on a couple of deals, but instead of the ten grand "Tops!" you were set to spend, now you've crept up in the 12, maybe 15 grand for something nice.  And after test-driving and coming close and missing out a couple times, and needing the damn truck because you've got that contract job starting next week, all of a sudden you need to pull the trigger on something.

So you find a truck in the pennysaver, and it's not exactly what you had in mind, it's a regular cab and two-wheel drive, but you rationalize and think "I'll drive this for a year, instead of three or four, it'll pay for itself, I can flip it next summer for this amount pretty much.  With good winter rubber and some weight in the back do I really need 4WD anyway?"  The good thing is that you can get this for $9500, which is a lot easier to swallow than the $14500 you'd offered for that really nice perfect truck you missed out on.  Man, that was everything you wanted, but this one is kind of nice too...

Before you started the search, you'd never have paid $9500 for this heap though.  At that time you'd have thought you'd pay six or seven for this subpar truck.  But swimming in the $15000 waters for a couple of weeks, now $9500 doesn't look like all that much anymore, it's a positive bargain, in fact...

So you kind of agree on the deal but when you come to pick up the truck and sign the papers, the tape deck is missing from the dash, that's not included, and neither were the winter tires that the seller had mentioned, and you know you're getting jerked around but you're under the gun, you grumble and sneer a little at the seller, but you sign and get the damn truck you need, finally.

That's my explanation to myself for the Scott Gomez trade, Bob Gainey habituated himself to a steep cost trying to land bigger fish, and when he went after smaller prey didn't re-bait the hook.

And I think that's what Marc Bergevin won't fall victim too.  We've seen him be very frugal in trades so far.

We had rumours floating around about P.A. Parenteau for a full season before he landed here, in exchange for Daniel Brière, a centre who didn't fit into the plans.  We heard that he had been interested in Sergei Gonchar for a while, but waited until he could get him at the modest cost of Travis Moen and his unwieldy contract.

Trade deadline deals are turning out to be his specialty.  He landed Thomas Vanek for a second-rounder and a prospect, when past experience showed that such a player usually comes at the cost of a first-rounder plus.  That's what the 'Hawks paid for Antoine Vermette this spring.

This year, the Canadiens got Jeff Petry for a second-round and an eventual fourth-round pick, on the morning of the deadline.  It seems that Marc Bergevin held firm, and was rewarded for his patience.  Compare to the Kings' acquisition of Andrej Sekera, who cost them a first-rounder and prospect Roland McKeown, a 2014 second-rounder.

So I'm sure Marc Bergevin has tested the waters on Joe Thornton and Eric Staal, on James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul.  He's checked the price tag, figured out what's close to affordable.  He's made his pitch.

In both the Thomas Vanek trade and the Jeff Petry trade, in the post-deadline press conference, the Canadiens GM explained that he made his offer the morning of, then waited for the other team to accept or decline.  I don't know too much more than that, but it seems to be his strategy, he figures out with his brain trust who he wants, what he's prepared to pay, then sticks with it.  He doesn't get sidetracked with modifications and throw-ins and codicils, that before you know it land you in a bidding war.

So Marc Bergevin for all we know may have bids out there for high-ticket items.  Or he may have decided that the asking price for the items he seeks is too rich for his blood.

I'm tempted to think that's the extent of it.  He doesn't strike me as a wheeler and dealer, like Paul Holmgren, who was so lauded for getting Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, until the wheeling and dealing exploded in his face, when the James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn deal didn't look so good anymore, when Scott Hartnell was signed to an instant-buyer's-remorse contract, when he 'won' the Vincent Lecavalier sweepstakes.

Nobody lauds Paul Holmgren anymore on social media, about how he's bold, how he 'goes for it.'

Marc Bergevin has been very clear in his actions and his declarations: the Canadiens will draft and develop their way to success.  As much as it's tempting to see this moment in time as a window of opportunity, I think he's still in the patience mode of his plan.  For the first couple of years he had to outwait the Scott Gomez, Tomas Kaberle, Brian Gionta deals.

Now he has to wait for his farm club to fill up with prospects.  That's not going as quickly as we'd like, but that's the situation we're in.  If you can shed an Andrew Ladd and sub in a Brandon Saad, jettison a Dave Bolland to a sad-sack franchise because you have an Andrew Shaw in the wings, that's the way to succeed in the salary cap NHL.

So he's waiting while he primes the pump.  He needs to be able to make trades from a position of strength, because he has players who are ready to step up, rather than out of desperation.  As the prospects and draft picks amass, he can start wheeling and dealing with more authority, like a poker player with a big stack of chips opposed to some who are worried about whether to ante in.

So should Marc Bergevin go for it, go all in?  Should he try to maximize this window of opportunity, while Carey and Max are on cheap-ish contracts, and while Andrei Markov can still contribute?

The thing is, I don’t think this a real window. Not if we go into the playoffs again with the same lineup at centre.

We can all agree that we’re solid/set in goal, that we’re comparable to most teams on defence.  I just disagree that the pieces are all there for us to be true contenders, to make a run during that window. The underwhelming play of our centres is flagrant.  We need our true #1, notre gros joueur de centre. But we don’t have Keith Acton on hand to flip for Bobby Smith.

I can compare this ‘window’ to the Markus Naslund-Todd Bertuzzi years in Vancouver. They were both veterans, and the thinking was that they had three or four seasons where they could drag a team to the Cup based on their dominance alone, along with Bryan McCabe and Ed Jovanoski among others.

Except every season their centre was Brendan Morrison, a nice player in a Tyler Bozak or Adam Henrique way, but not the kind of guy who you’d want centering two All-Stars.

And in goal was Dan Cloutier, a guy who was described as an emotional and scrappy goaltender, but never as a guy who could win you a series on his own.

Those two big holes on the roster existed year after year, I’m sure that GM Brian Burke tried to shop around for upgrades, but always played it cautiously and stood pat, returned with the same basic roster. And they’d get bounced out early.

I think that Canuck window was an illusory window, they didn’t have the horses to get there. A few great players, sure, but not a great Stanley Cup-worthy team.

I feel the same way after this year's playoffs.  Watching David and Tomas being ineffectual, David getting hooked and crosschecked and mugged, and watching Tomas miss passes and commit uncharacteristic gaffes for a seasoned veteran, I conclude that we are in such an illusory window.

It’s like we’re at the bottom of a snowy road, and we’ve tried four or five times to skid our way up, the tires spinning and humming, and we get close a couple of times, we think we’re there, but then we stall and start to slide sideways and backwards, and we have to go back to the bottom, take another run up, slip and slide and fishtail, and almost make it…

At some point, we have to understand that this ain’t going to work, we need to go back home and put on the snow tires, even if theoretically it’s going to take more time. We have to realize that practically, that’s the only way we’re getting up that hill. The loss of time is immaterial, because we weren’t going to get up with the next try, or the one after that. Taking the time to go back home to re-shod our car is actually an investment, the only way to go.

If we take a step back next year, if we miss the playoffs, so be it. We’ll have invested the time in developing players, and get a better draft pick in June.

So no, we shouldn't 'go for it', let's keep drafting and developing and building organizational depth.  We're not there yet.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Young prospects should have a 'Do Not Draft' list.

I didn’t know that Jonathan Toews grew up a Blackhawks fan as a kid.  Makes sense, they're right there across the border, a mere 1000 miles away, they probably get lots of TV time in Manitoba.  And with the Jets gone...

There should be more stories like that, kids playing for their childhood favourite team, instead of kids banished to hinterlands like Toronto or Columbus.

Here’s a thought for the CBA: give the kids the ability to list a number of teams they won’t accept a draft from. Kind of like a limited No Trade Clause.

It wouldn’t necessarily affect the same old same Oilers, the kid and his agent could be strategic and cross off teams that are already deep, and don’t allow a rapid ascent to the NHL, favouring a weak sister to fast-track to the NHL.

“So Mr. Holmgren, our next kid on our List would be Samuel Morin, but he’s a Canadiens fan, so he has us and the Bruins and Leafs and Nordiques on his ‘Do Not Draft’ list. Our next highest-rated prospect is Nikita Zadorov, but he too doesn’t like the Flyers for some reason, so we drop down to Max Domi. He and his dad are big Philly fans though…”

We could call this the Josh Gorges clause.

I don't like Ben Bishop, Part III, or IV, or V, ...

I don't like Ben Bishop.  I don't like that he flops and dives and acts like he's been snipered every time someone brushes by him.  I don't like his ungainly style, how he's more big than good as a goalie.

I don't like that he eliminated the Canadiens in these playoffs.

And I still wonder why Tampa kept Ben Bishop in goal while he suffered with a groin tear. You have to tip your hat to the guy for being courageous and wanting to stay in, but to flip it around, the real courageous thing nowadays would have been to say “No mas!” and step aside for a healthy teammate.

This is a situation like a baseball manager going to the mound and asking his starter if he thinks he should stay in, if he can get the next guy out and get out of the inning. Any pitcher will say yes. You wouldn’t want to have the pitcher who looks down at his feet and mutters “Gee, I don’t know…”

This is why the manager makes the decision for the pitcher, takes him off the hook. “Good job Smitty. Your curve didn’t bite today, you’ll get them next time.” And then he takes the ball off him and gives him a slap on the butt, sends him to the showers.

Even though the backup goalie is a rookie, he’s a talented one, and he could actually move, get up if he dropped down to the ice to make a save. He’d have given them a greater chance to win. Maybe this was a case where the coach thought that the emotional boost the rest of the team received would outweigh the loss in performance in nets.

And I have to wonder if this isn’t another indictment of Mr. Bishop skills as a goalie. Hobbled by a groin tear, unable to push off and go side to side, hesitant to drop into a butterfly to aggravate the injury, fearful of the pain, the Lightning still thought he could be effective.

“Well, he’s still 6’7″, he still covers a lot of the net…”

Ben Bishop’s great size, all that padding swaddling him, is still his biggest attribute. He’s not necessarily cat-quick or agile or good with the glove, but he is effective, a challenge to opposition shooters.