Monday, December 01, 2008

The Brisebois File

The Player And Where He Fits

I have been very restrained on our friend this year I think. Last summer I was livid about the re-welcoming of Brisebois into the fold. That event alone kept this blog alive when it could have died out over a first August. But since then, I think I have been more restrained.

I can tell you I felt just as physically ill when we signed the Breezer this summer as I did last, but I kept it too myself. For one thing, I thought why rehash the same old stuff? For another, I thought – this is now a team with depth, how much harm can Brisbois do as an 8th D?

After Saturday night's win, and Tobalev's interesting game review, a comment from Dishonest John brought all the feelings welling up to the surface again. Now, I know Tobes explained his ire and this may have been done before; but for the my well-being and the benefit of new readers I would like to explain what it is that infuriates me (us) about:

a) Brisebois the player
b) The GM that keeps signing him
c) The coach that plays him more than would seem prudent

The player
Tobalev has admitted he is not unbiased, and I should do the same. There are players I like better than others. Some play the way I like hockey to be played, others less so. I don't think bias is a problem in editorial "journalism" like blogging. In fact, i feel it is an asset. If we had no opinions and biases, none of you would have any reason to visit us like you do.

When it comes to Brisebois, it would be fair to say I am biased. But, conversely, it would be unfair to say that I jumped to a conclusion about Brisebois or didn't give him a fair shake. In fact, back in 1991, Brisebois was a prospect I longed to see in the Habs lineup. I had his Laval Titan card. I knew his birthday. I could have told you all his stats. No, the fall of Brisebois was long and painful. It coincided with the fall of the Canadiens and the realization that Stanley Cup finals every 3 or 4 years were not normal – quite the opposite.

Whether it's fair or unfair that Brisebois was thrust into the number one defenceman role or not is up for debate. But, it was during this period (and also those 4 years where he would be the highest paid Montreal Canadien in the history of the team!?!) that his plummet would accelerate. Being thrust into the limelight and onto the ice for greater lengths of time exposed the fact that Brisebois could not compete with the best NHL forwards physically

At first, I was most frustrated by his weakness and misjudgments. But over time, my ire was reserved for his response to mistakes. For me the shoulder shrug and glare at the bewildered goalie of the day was enough to ruin an evening at the time. When you extrapolated his indifference to mistakes in game over a season and over many seasons, the frustration as a fan was mounting.

In fairness to the player, he has seemed to at the very least relent in his quest for headlines. He seems to want to do his job in a simple and straightforward manner now, and this certainly seems to be limiting his most obvious gaffes. There has been much more feeling of relief as his shifts end in line changes rather than faceoffs early this season than there ever used to be. And with regard to the simmering of the summer , one can hardly fault the player himself for signing an NHL contract when someone is offering (but please don't ask me to call $700,000 a pittance or call him a bargain).

Expecting (hoping for) more from management
It was commonplace for Breezer, our "number one" defenceman, to be overtaken by rookies and up and comers in the old days. There were many: Rivet, Bouillon, Robidas, Souray, Markov, Komisarek, Streit. It was frustrating to see. More frustrating was his reserved place at the top of the ice-time leaderboard amidst all the other progress around him.

It is this once again that frustrates a fan. A team of managers that had no qualms about benching and ostracizing our best even-strength goalscorer last year is now digging their heels in for this guy.

I don't think I'm alone when I say I just don't see why.


I fully understand the benefit of riding out mistakes with young players. I understand and endorse that approach. I would have once advocated it for this very young man. I have seen enough hockey to know that the best players are born out of the fires of their own worst crashes. It is imperative to let players fail to see if they emerge out the other side.

But if they don't emerge from the other side? If they've crashed hundreds of times and never learn? This is a puzzle. I personally don't see the benefit of riding out rookie mistakes when they are a result of the play from a player one year away from retirement (or more if he swindles the Canadiens again).

My view is that we could get the same efficacy with the same mistakes out of a youngster, say Shawn Belle or Yannick Weber (O'Byrne even) and the risk could lead to benefit. But I emplore management not to take the risk for nothing. It is akin to buying stock in GM at the moment.

I think that this frustration with management, more than anything directed at Brisebois himself (who for after most games I have been happily indifferent towards this season) is the primary source of editorial energy at the moment. I think that this too was Tobalev's impetus on Saturday. Because though he slighted Brisebois, his conclusion was that the Habs should be promoting from within – decisions which are out of Brisebois' control.

We started this summer asking to become a Stanley Cup contender. And the hope that was built over last season was a good foundation. But hope of gettng there by anyway other than luck is waning as management simply plays out the minutes. At current pace we are well past the point of asking Gainey to be proactive about reassembling a decent defensive 6. We can only hope that his reaction to Komisarek's injury will not take a further 9 games.

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