Sunday, September 23, 2007

Chris Higgins: Aspiring 40-goal man

When it comes to Christopher Higgins, I think the words "pleaant surprise" would express my feelings best. He may indeed even be a future captain of the team - a role he would seemingly relish.

He is not, however, the "Dauphin", the Golden Child that some people would pretend that he is. The ridiculous coverage that preceded his return to exhibition play this week was seriously misplaced.
One quote about Higgins from HabsWorld, gives you an idea of what I mean:

Chris Higgins is that unique player that has first line talent but plays like a fourth liner; a player who plays as if every shift is his last. He is in many ways the most versatile forward on the Habs roster, he excels on the power play, he is a threat on the penalty kill, and he can play all three forward positions. But more importantly it is how he plays the game.

I like Chris Higgins. I like the way he plays, I love that his education has made him into a mature leader at such a young age. I greatly enjoy his intelligent and modest comments which stand out so much from his peers hyperbole.

But, let's be clear about what Chris Higgins can do for our team.

In his first two seasons, the greatest thing he has done has been to find chemistry with just about anyone he has played with. He works hard, skates fast and can pass and shoot with quality. At the same time, he has scored 23 then 22 goals and 38 points in each season. In fairness, he did miss 21 games last season, but his prorated totals would only be 29 goals and 52 points.

It is my opinion that he will grow into a better player, and even reach higher totals, but he will never be the focal point of a team. The reason: his game is straightforward and 2-dimensional. I don't mean that in a derorgatory way - many players choose the up and down game, and many with great success. Many goalscorers would be thrilled to be called 2-dimensional, as they're probably used to the 1-dimensional tag (ahem, Michael Ryder). But the fact remains, Higgins needs to play with a center who can take the other team's top checker. He is not a zig-zagger and would be contained if he was playing with lesser lights. It is Koivu who elevates Higgins and not the other way around.

Coming off several years of starvation for a winger that could score and play hard (post-Recchi or the Dackell years as we like to call them), we have to be careful not to burden poor Higgins with the weight of the team's goalscoring.

Exaggerating the worth pf players like Higgins is the symptom of a syndrome that has affected the minds of many hockey fans (including those in Montreal) - grinder-worship (aka floater-loathing). The flaw here is that hard work is not enough. You need talent. Heck, Dackell worked hard, so do the Blue Jackets.

If it's goals we want, it's talent we need. Higgins will give us 30, maybe even 40, but he will never give us 60. But don't be confused, Higgins only provides a small step up in talent from Savage and Rucinsky. The talent we so missed for a near decade is found in our whipping boys, Ryder and Kovalev. If we continue to deride Ryder, who is only one season more experience than Higgins, but is the better goalscorer, as well as Kovalev, who is the only player with the talent to get a sniff of 50 goals on our team; we risk setting the team back a long way. As fans we have to learn that floating is part of goalscoring, and that digging it out of the corner, means you can't be in front of the net.

Higgins is a heroic digger, who can score when he gets the chance, but he's not got the killer goalscorer in him. He doesn't want to be the best goalscorer in the league. He wants to be Mr. everything. He said it himself:

“Chris replied, in a very confident voice, ‘I want to be a 40/40 (goals/assists) man with a big fat (Stanley Cup) ring on my finger.’

Let's celebrate Higgins for what he is. Applaud as he reaches 30 goals and 60 points this year. Let's put away the messianic language when we talk about him.

And, let's also appreciate our talent: Koivu, Kovalev and Ryder - since taking their contributions for granted and, heaven forbid, losing them would show us what a team of hard workers without enough talent can do (again!).


  1. Seriously, you need to do some homeworks.

    Is he talented enough to end up scoring 40 goals. I do think so. If he combined his talent with his hard work and some help on his line.

    But how in the blue hell would that "not be enough"?

    And who is expecting 60 goals from anyone today? This isn't the Guy Lafleur Era.

    Last year the best scorer had 52 goals. Only 10 players scored 40 or more.

    And that doesn't even include the likes of Crosby, Thornton, Briere, Iginla, Marleau.

    Why didn't anyone notice that with his 75 pts last season Saks was 37th in the league?

    SSo next time you try to remind people not to put too much pressure on a guy, try to check some rough numbers to see what is a logical target in the "New NHL".

    Otherwise good blog.

  2. Thanks for the tip. I checked the numbers.

    I would be very happy with 40 goals. But one 40 goalscorer couldn't carry a team alone. What's more Higgins is a 20 goalscorer, not a 40 goalscorer yet.

    Lastly, I predict someone will score 60 goals within the next two seasons. I wouldn't be surprised if it were this year. The league hasn't had exciting new talents like Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin breaking intot the ranks since the earcly 90s when it was Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan and co.

  3. I thank you for saying to people respect the talent you got.It is very real that we could lose Koivu,Ryder and Kovalev when this year ends,and who replaces them some kids in a Bulldog jersey or the many free agents that want to come here.Start to figure out a way to fill holes around your talent or else were in for another 10 years of rebuilding.

  4. I think you are seriously mising the boat on Higgins here.

    In his rookie year when he was placed on the top line with Koivu he finished out the year with 21 points in 26 games and scored 14 goals.

    Then he started off the 2006-07 Season with 13 points in 13 games. 8 of which were goals.

    His development last season was stunted by a high ankle sprain that he struggles to recover from and was followed by him finishing out the last month with a seperated shoulder.

    Take his final 26 and first 13 game production and project that and you have a totally different perspective.

    That would be a 71 point season with 46 goals. Now am I saying that is what he would finish But these are things that must be factored into an analysis of Higgins play.

    These numbers are closer to the production that I would expect than 52 points

  5. Wamsly, I appreciate your optimism. I too am optimistic about Higgins, and I don't think 70 points is out of reach by any means. All I was trying to point out is that a 70 (even 80) point-guy isn't going to singlehandedly change the fate of the team as people were making out late last week.

    As far as cherry-picking stats like you suggest. I am not a fan of that. All scorers get streaky and you have to judge them based on their hot streaks as well as their cold streaks.

  6. I believe an 80 point player can change the face of a team if he excels on both ends of the ice, kills penalties and sets the tone by working his ass off.

    This team lacks leadership. They continually fall into tailspins that they cannot get out of. They have accepted mediocrity and I am encouraged by things Higgins has said and his performance in the must win game against the Leafs last year where he was one of the best players on the ice (with a seperated shoulder). I think this kid is the real deal.

    Stats can say whatever you want them to. But one of the problems with young players is a lack of consitency. He has had dominant stretches and I expect them to get longer as he matures.

    Just an opinion though.

  7. Indeed Wamsley, indeed.

    I share your optimism about Higgins, truth be told. I like his humble and candid approach.

    This article was written as a bit of an attempt to temper the enthusiasm that tends to run away with itself. The last straw was mainstream media guys talking about how the team would turn around once Higgins returned.

    Anyway, thanks for your comments. Always appreciated...