Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tomorrow Never Knows

Into The Free Agency Void

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream.
It is not dying, it is not dying.

Lay down all thought, surrender to the void
It is shining, it is shining.

Free agency tomorrow. Surrender to the void Habs fans.

Free agent preview

The previews for tomorrow's festivities must surely number in the thousands by now. I don't want to re-invent the wheel, so I'll make it simple. For me the most concise and useful previews were the following:

USA Today – Most popular: 25 free agents who'll draw plenty of interest

THN: The NHL's all-overlooked free agent team

Of the two, I'd most recommend the second because it eschews the more obvious diatribe about Bouwmeester, the Sedins and Gaborik – who in our hearts of hearts we all know we won't sign tomorrow anyway. Besides, the bargains in this free agency mess don't come from the top ten – where thanks to Philadelphia and New York, one always overpays.


Unfortunately, we may be in a bit of a pickle. Even with Koivu, Kovalev and Tanguay we needed a top forward to add a second wave. If we lose all those three, we need four.

While I'm not a fan of overpayment on every player, it seems to get a star forward (with the trade route barred to us), one must. Of the top players, I'd take Koivu and Kovalev back and stick with the trade option until we find a way to pry away that premier goalscorer we need. If Tanguay finds his real value is a pay cut, I'd welcome him back too.

If it's to be done tomorrow, I'd want Gainey to be in on conversations about Hossa and Havlat with a possible look at Mikael Samuelsson. The Sedins have a lot of allure, but a package deal? How old are you guys?

In addition, to replace Kostopoulos with a more skillful option, I'd take THN's advice and look into Joel Ward:
"At 28, Ward was too old to be rookie-eligible last season (he played 11 NHL games in 2007-08). But he scored 17 goals while cast in a defensive role for the Predators, including a couple shorthanded markers. This guy can fly, adding wings to any team's forecheck."


Unlike Gainey, I'd let Komisarek go without any fight. I can't for the life of me decide why he thinks differently, but then we share different opinions of what makes a thoroughbred, after all. While everyone's worrying about Jay Bouwmeester and Big Mike, I'd be swoping for some #3/4 guys to really get a solid squad at the back.

Someone I've been hot on for ages now is Johnny Oduya of the Devils. On him, THN says it nicely:
"Do you want Johnny Oduya? Yes, you do, if you're a fan of two-way defensemen at a bargain-basement price."

In keeping with the THN advice, I also thought someone just like Christian Backman would be a very nice addition and Brisebois-signing barrier. As they say:
"Quietly efficient and ever improving, Backman is the kind of support player that every blueline needs."


The fact is we need one for Hamilton. It could be Marc Denis, but I'd want a promise of no games in Mtl. Here I'd really veer towards the young and someone who might not mind sitting behind two or three better prospects. This isn't a July 1 priority and may come via trade as well...

A mentor for Carey Price?
How about a blanket? The guy is coddled. He doesn't need his own mentor to take up salary and dispatch Halak. He'll have his own coach and he'll have to make do.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy the fun. And remember tomorrow never never knows. The team you think is a bottom-feeder tomorrow may be a contender come April.

... play the game, existence to the end.
Of the beginning, of the beginning...

Losing The Plot

Habs Fans Need Some Perspective

I would have liked to be asking a question in the title for this piece: "Are Habs fans losing the plot?"

Sadly, I think I've seen enough to know they are.

Of course, there's always the argument that the segment of fans I have sampled never really had a grasp of the plot in the first place. Maybe the more salient question is: "When did Habs fans lose the plot?". I digress.

Public opinion

As you'll remember from my earlier rant, RDS conducted an elaborate poll with fantastical salaries to try and see what the lay of the land was for the free agent market with the fans.

In my piece, there were trends. People liked Jay Bouwmeester (who wouldn't) and Beauchemin (not a shock) and omitted Koivu. Well now their full results are in and tallied. The results and the trends have been validated.

33,000 people in all responded to the survey. I was one of them.

The most popular players to sign were Alex Kovalev and Alex Tanguay, with 20,000 selections apiece. To follow them were Jay Bouwmeester and Francois Beauchemin who we are told received a contract offer from about half the GMs.

Up front, people also veered towards the Sedins. RDS reports they were most popular, yet do not give an idea whether they beat Comrie by one vote or four thousand. One can only assume it's somewhere in between the half-way mark and the low-ball 1,400 that Saku Koivu received.

RDS extrapolate that this means:
"...la majorité des directeurs généraux fictifs, Saku Koivu a fait son temps dans l'uniforme bleu-blanc-rouge."

Strange how that worked out for them – to be so in sync with their agenda of attack and detraction for the past 3 or 4 years...

Now I am not saying Canadiens fans have lost the plot solely based on the evidence that many decided (or indeed lost interest in the simple game) to omit Koivu. Indeed, it is a question that must be asked and one whose answer has not been tested.

But how do half the fans think we'll sign both Beauchemin and Bouwmeester (forget for a moment that his rights have been traded)? How do so many fans justify locking up a potential 30 million in 4 defenders (all of them paid a premium, none a bargain) against a cap that will fall? Does anyone at all recall that guy called Markov?

Having 3 good defenders in this league is a luxury. Having 2 great ones is a rarity. To purport that Gainey should go out and stack a team with 5 very good defenders and leave the forwards in a state of limbo is nonsensical. Never mind that polling most of the Beauchemin/Bouwmeester boosters would reveal a severe longing for that Vincent Lecavalier trade as well.

Yes indeed. Many Montreal Canadiens fans have doomed themselves to a summer of disappointment. By thinking that 10 UFAs unsigned would mean no favourites lost with upgrades to all-star at every position, how could they not be?

Getting panicky

That survey may not count for much, and it's probably up for debate what it means, if anything. Beyond dispute, however, is the feeling I get reading and hearing from fellow fans these last couple of days.

There is real panic in the air as supporters realise what their dream of cap flexibility actually means in terms of July 1st and the week around it. People are panicking about the lack of trade. People are panicking about the unsigned. About the signed. About the available UFAs and about the unattainable. If there's something to panic about, Montreal fans are finding a way.

My initial response was to join in with the panic – it's hard not to when you here terms like frenzy every few minutes on the radio and TV. But instead of blindly going down that miserable path, I decided to look for some perspective.

I thought I'd share what I found to hopefully set some minds a t ease a little bit:

1) Gainey isn't the only GM not to have signed his players
If you lived in Montreal, read only Montreal newspapers, listened to Montreal radio and watched RDS, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Bob Gainey stands alone as the delinquent of all NHL GMs having left his UFAs unsigned.

It's hardly the case. Once we look outside the bubble, the view becomes clearer. A mere 21 players have been signed since April this year, not all were even UFAs. All of those signings have been concentrated on 13 teams. 7 of the 21 signings were made yesterday. Before June 29th, we were talking about 14 resignings by 11 GMs, many RFAs or rights-retained players among them.

That means Gainey is in the majority. Most UFAs remain unsigned and most GMs haven't moved. He's no delinquent. Quite the opposite, Larry Pleau is more of a standout for being so active when others wait.

2) July 1 is not a re-signing deadline

Despite how it might seem, July 1 is not a deadline for re-signing with your old team. Of 33 UFA signings last July 1, 8 were re-signings – showing that many a free agent tests the water and decides on home within hours. Add to that those that re-sign days after the floodgates open.

It is certainly true that no team has ever re-signed 10 UFAs of their own in the first week of free agency, but that doesn't make 3 or 4 out of reach.

If you're thinking you'd like Kovalev and Komisarek, take solace in the knowledge that 5 of the first transactions announced last Canada Day were re-signings (obviously offer in hand type decisions). New Jersey resigned 4, including important components Pandolfo and Salvador.

If you're worried about losing Koivu, remember Vyacheslav Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov who were both skilled players in his position that waited out their GMs and re-signed when the dust settled.

3) Decisions aren't made by the push of a button

Being a UFA doesn't mean you are put into a situation where you must accept or turn down offers on the spot. If an offer comes in, there is nothign stopping the player and/or agent from calling the GM (Gainey in this case) and asking for thoughts or a counter-offer.

This may not sound good for overvalued Komisarek. But it might work just fine with Tanguay and Koivu.

4) Rosters are fluid

A player lost, a player signed on July 1. Rosters are not set in stone. Gainey is still able to make trades until February and sign free agents until the spring as well. While some moves will produce roadblocks, others will create opportunity – see Philadelphia and Calgary making massive salary headaches for themselves.

5) The winners of free agency aren't known until June, or April at best

You can here the call-in shows now. Gainey lost big-time. You can hear them, because it's an echo of 2007. But the Canadiens actually won the conference that season to prove that teams on paper ≠ teams on ice.

Last season, Tampa signed the most players and made the most intriguining moves. This past weekend, they drafted second overall. Sometimes the best players aren't the ones the talking heads would have you believe.

Incidentally, Lecavalier on paper is not Lecavalier on ice either – proud owner of two conference bottom finishes in two years.

So you see? There's plenty of reason not to panic. Now, I know ideally we'd have signed all the players we wanted back to discount contracts and traded Halak for Lecavalier by now, but perhaps our ideal was a stretch?

I look on with plenty of interest, and a lot less panic knowing that a) we're not alone, b) we're not in uncharted waters and c) no points are being awarded for Gainey's performance today, tomorrow or even the next day.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hamilton Has An Entraineur

IN what was the worst kept secret from the draft since RDS filmed Trevor Timmins' chicken scratches, Guy Boucher will apparently now be formally been announced as the coach of the Montreal Canadiens AHL affiliate.

This is good news.

You can read what I thought of Boucher more than a month ago here.

Guy will surely be coaching one of his former wards in Dany Masse next October in Hamilton. While it might not be long before a second of his Drummondville successes becomes a dog either – from the sounds of Gabriel Dumont, he's competitive enough already.

As I said, very good news.

Who Won The NHL Draft?

Now that all's said and done, who won the affair the other night?

I have looked around for a verdict from someone else, and only found this so far. An article full of obvious choices that could have been entitled: "Who won the Draft Lottery?".

Given that the team who wins the draft is a bit subjective and very hard to ascertain until about 5 years on, it's difficult to say. For me, the winners are the ones who punch above their weight, who get good players without having to put in a dire season, who uncover players others didn't.

As we all know the first round was a bit of a formulaic affair, with most picks coming in the order that has been anticipated for near 2 months. So coming out of the first round, there wasn't really a clear out-and-out winner for me.

Some would be tempted to go with the Anaheim Ducks who made Philly overpay for Pronger to an almost criminal level. That may be, but they also have two picks that I don't rate at all – 2 two-way forwards in the first round is not good play. Paradoxically, some also rate Philly in the same sentence for nabbing Pronger. It certainly is a big pick-up, but they've dug themselves a mighty hole and anyone who do basic arithmetic can see that getting out will undo any good that it seems they've done right now.

Others might say the Islanders. And while they did the right thing by picking the prodigious Tavares, they traded up repeatedly only to get a player that should have been available later. That, and they took De Haan ahead of Kulikov, which I consider a massive slip.

The Canadiens are a winner in that they managed to get a Quebecer who may one day be a star (and thus unlikely to want to sign with us). They struck a PR coup and should have silenced all but the most possessed RDS commentators for the next while. A small victory.

I have this round in an almost dead-heat.

The second round and beyond really started to separate the men from the boys of NHL scouting departments.

In fact, the first two picks were very solid. The Islanders took the pro-ready Koskinen at #31, which for them is gold dust at this point. Detroit followed with a first rounder in the second thanks to some iffy picks from Calgary, Boston, Anaheim and Carolina.

By the end of the second, I like Atlanta, Colorado, Detroit, Edmonton, Florida, Nashville, Islanders, Ottawa and Tampa Bay. Each had produced a minor steal. Each had largely avoided drafting players that could be signed on August 8th of any given year and each had risked a bit.

It didn't look good for Montreal really, but they'd only had one at bat. The third and beyond saw the Habs and Timmins come out with some massive swats, trying to hit home runs while others tried to bunt a single.

You all know my biases from the previews, and so you know I think that Montreal did get contact with Leblanc but that also they hit a few potential homers on the weekend. Nattinen, given his size and talent should not have been available at 65th, and I'm not surprised that Timmins was as shocked as I was. We can thank a myopic view of Europe (with vastly overvalued Swedes) and teams settling into present-day hole filling mode far too early.

I think Timmins also cleared the monster with Avtsyn, though he played a dangerous game by taking a Connecticut high schooler before him. I suppose he put a man on base for Avtsyn to knock in. Russia has tough leagues that are only stocked full of more talent at the moment given the lack of flow to North America. For a 6'2", 200 lb winger to put up 56 goals in as few games as he did could not be passed up. From that point, Timmins hit a double to the wall to meet an important organizational need in Gabriel Dumont and took 3 more whopper swings on unknowns, including a goalie that could be a very good gamble.

Montreal wasn't the only team swinging away, though, and they were hardly the winners of this draft at all. They do in my opinion fit somewhere in the second echelon of teams, though we'll have to see whether their home runs clear the fence or even result in a hit before the final verdict. At least they swung!

My top 5

The best 5 teams, in no particular order, over the two days were:

Tampa Bay Lightning
Kept their pick and took Hedman, a number one caliber player at number two. But then they traded for another first and rounded out by taking two players I rate: Panik and Hutchings. I think they have at least 4 NHLers from this weekend here.

Ottawa Senators
Despite missing Kadri (Burke's never heard of reverse psychology) they got the better player in Jared Cowen. They then made up for missing Kadri by picking Jakob Silfverberg and stealing top goalie Robin Lehner. To add to their haul they nabbed 52-goal man Mike Hoffman from Drummondville (9 picks ahead of teammate Dumont).

Atlanta Thrashers
Evander Kane had an amazing year and is a top caliber player. But their kudos really come from picking Klingberg and my favourite Jeremy Morin – 2 very good players that shouldn't have probably fallen as far as they did. Add goalie Pasquale, who many thought could be the first goalie taken and they had a good draft indeed.

Edmonton Oilers
Award for being most on my wavelength. They also got the first mini steal in Paajarvi-Svensson, only to go on and nab Olivier Roy and Toni Rajala very late. Add to that Anton Lander – one of those Swedes Timmins surely coveted. Edmonton is stocking well and will start to make noise very soon, surely.

Nashville Predators

Solid right the way through, they never really batted safely. Their first pick Ryan Ellis will be very good, but fell past more conservative GMs. Ditto Zach Budish and Charles-Olivier Roussel (who I really thought would be a nice Hab). Their late picks were taken in the same spirit.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Draft Week

Later Round Names To Watch

A new phrase I've adopted from Down Goes Brown among others about the draft last night: Ctrl+V.

Most picks looked like they were taken straight from TSN's website. All that is, except Brian Burke who selected someone who's odds on to be the bust of the top 10 at the moment - someone has to be.

Last night was so boring to witness on TV, I can only thank my stars I didn't win the fight with the wife to actually attend. Strangely, I think today would be a better affair. For one thing, the Canadiens have six picks and are not hamstrung to take a native anymore. What's more, without the mass media spying on all the scouts, and Brian Burke unplugged might actually be conducive to trading.

We'll see. I'm not going to follow live, but will be happy to make do with the old fashioned report after the event. Before it all starts though, i thought I'd give a few thoughts on names and picks I'd like the Habs to consider (in case you get a chance to sneak a read Trevor, Bob).

Names that have dropped

Inevitably some names expected to be called in the first round have dropped into the second round. Now the Canadiens don't yet have a second round pick, but nothing stops them from trading if they think a player has dropped much further than they expected and they'd like to get in on the action. So, I thought I'd recap some of those names just in case.

The most important names haven't changed for me and they are Jeremy Morin, Landon Ferraro, Richard Panik and Toni Rajala. I previewed them all here for the 18th pick, so, obviously I think they'd be great pick-ups from this point.

3rd round and beyond

Now you'll remember that I'm a believer in the best asset available model of draft selection (a term I telepathically borrowed from Timmins or vice versa). As it comes to the late rounds of the draft, sticking to that policy is just as important as the first round.

As far as the Canadiens go, I think there are a few places they need to look for assets. All the names I chose were based on these characteristics:

1) A player or two from Quebec
Unique to the Canadiens. Due to their particular circumstances, it seems to me that it will be worth more to them to draft in these players to a) avoid a decade-long media sulk and b) to avoid having to overpay for these players later (see Dandenault). The Canadiens will probably always look to start 6-7 players from Quebec at a minimum, so it is certainly an asset to be able to have choice from within. We've already added Masse and Leblanc, so one more may suffice.

2) A goaltender
This draft pick will not himself be the asset. But it's as clear as mud that Halak is one of our most valuable trading pieces. At the moment we are not free to trade him because our depth is so shallow in goal. The Canadiens must and will pick a goalie so that organizationally they can make a trading chip. The goalie might as well be good, no?

3) Scoring forwards

This is back to the rarest commodity, pure and simple. Swing for the fence on every spare pick on a scoring forward, as far as I'm concerned. You'll never get a star like Datsyuk or Zetterberg in the late rounds if you keep picking USHL defenders in those spots. We're due a steal. We need a steal to jump to contender level.

On that note, here are the names:

Eric Gelinas, D, QMJHL -- my pick among the QMJHL defenders. At worst a giant Bouillon. At best another Desjardins. We started Brisebois in more than 50 games...

Charles Olivier Roussel, D, QMJHL -- doesn't sound like he'll drop far. The Hockey Writers say Shea Weber II. I doubt he'll be around, but if he is...

Benjamin Casavant, F, QMJHL -- Guillaume Latendresse with feeling behind the hits? 39 goals and 80 points in the Q was a very good show.

Mike Hoffman, F, QMJHL -- a little more Drummondville magic couldn't hurt, especially if we nab their coach (played with Masse some of the time). Late bloomer, but that doesn't matter to us anymore.

Ben Hanowski, F, Minn HS -- set all kinds of records for scoring in Minny, and apparently has character. If we miss Morin, I'd look here.

Alex Hutchings
, F, OHL -- 34 goals and 34 assists in the OHL. Tavares had 58 and he's some kind of generational talent. Might be worth checking this Barrie Colt out.

Alexander Avtsyn, F, Russia -- 56 goals in Russia's second league. The scouts say intriguing -- really guys? Those stats are rare and should garner a look. Sure he might prefer the sunny climes of the Caucasus, but what's the harm in trying for the big Slava Kozlov option?

Andrej Stastny, F, Slovakia -- Like Avtsyn it was crazy numbers in a lower league. But I still like that better than knowing, something like 10 goals in the OHL, for example. Not many late steals to come from overmined Canada and Sweden this year, that's why underappreciated Eastern Europe is the odds on producer.

Alexander Fallstrom, F, Minn HS -- Great season at Sidney's old haunt, and is committed to play at Harvard (w Louis?). If you want in on the Swedish, he's the hidden gem.

Mikko Koskinen, G, Finland -- mature, crazy stats (albeit one season), worth a chance if he's around on that second third rounder.

Olivier Roy, G, QMJHL -- shouldn't be available, but two birds with one stone is a good move if within reach.

Taylor Doherty
, D, WHL -- 6'6" and growing. Chara is the rarest of assets. to get a guy of that size who might play in a later round would be a coup. That's why I went out of my asset boxes here. Under 6'5" though, forget that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Draft Week

First Round Live Commentary

The Habs take Louis Leblanc. It's a good pick, and the best of the Quebec crop. Playing with Kristo must have helped and it certainly helped me to swallow the option.

RDS in their infinite professionalism still haven't mentioned Kristo as they collectively salivate from the press box.

Poor Louis gets his first taste of the press and does ably.

The Habs aren't any better for next year. I'm not sure we thought we would be. Louis Leblanc won't help us for ages yet and we have a third rounder coming up. Suddenly Koivu and Kovalev looking really good.

As for me, that's a good night for now.

9:34 RDS cameras have gone way over the line and they will be fined I think. At least they are consistent with their usual level of professionalism. RDS is a complete and utter joke.

9:31 Have we all recovered from our last big Quebec pick, Eric Chouinard? I hope so, Boivin's smile tells me we're trying big hometowner again...

9:27 Montreal will now be faced with a Quebec prospect who could have gone earlier. If they eschew the province again, they'll have hell to pay. That's the flip side. They could trade down, I suppose.

Blues take David Rundblad. Not surprising with Kekalainen the reknowned Euro scout at the helm. A good pick. not one for the Habs either.

Now the fans want Leblanc. We await. Even I'd be scared to stand up and take Jeremy Morin now. Perhaps if I pronounced his name with a real Sorel twang?

9:23 Surprised there aren't more cheers. It's better here with beer as predicted, I suppose. Montreal picks survive as offensive Dmen are not on the mind. Nick Leddy is a good pick, but you can see why Minnesota traded down.

9:18 6'2" isn't big everyone. Not anymore. Koivu can knock over a 74-incher no problem. ONe I was hoping we wouldn't pick, now we can't. Two more ahead and all my five survive. Schroeder should go in the next 2.

9:12 Hey at least Jacques Martin can lead a group of scouts, if the coaching thing doesn't work out. Kulikov at 14 is a great pick. Drummondville's turnaround was epic and Dimitri played a large part.

9:10 RDS cameraman crossing the line as he zooms in on Florida scout's screen. Russian names on the list. Someone's brave...

9:07 Gillett need not sell anymore bricks. The rest of the NHL is happily providing them today. Kassian to Buffalo, not as offensively talented as Lucic. Not good news for Buffalo.

8:56 Not a trade I'd have done. Kullkov survives. De Haan not a player I'd have taken at 18 even given the talent that remains.

8:54 Well done rookie GM in Minny. Value right there.

8:51 Montreal salivating for our Russian Quebecker? Trades in the wind...

Nashville took Ellis. Had bright eyes, looked an intelligent one.

8:38 At this point, we're about as expected. Only the amazing Kullkov remains from the players that should have been top ten. Oh that my fingers could all stay crossed and type at the same time.

Edmonton took the player I feared Toronto would get. Thankfully Edmonton is far away and Paajarvi-Svensson shouldn't hurt us too much more than the current Oilers squad did last Feb.

8:29 Meh. Ottawa have had some history of drafting good D, so I'll give them some benefit of the doubt here. But they missed the Swede.

8:18 Montreal will have to get the spin machine going if they're to outdo TO at this point. Brian Burke after all could have had the first overall pick and a local scoring phneomenon, but would not give up a 19-year-old defenceman to do it. Montrealers will be anxious but if teams continue to overlook people as they have been, it'll be a different story come #18 than we thought.

Dallas takes Scott Glennie, Robert's fantasy pick.

8:12 Out of spite, The Toronto Maple Leafs take Nazem Kadri. Ottawa will be pissed when they get Svensson.

8:07 That leaves Toronto with a good few options here. My system says go for the Swede Pajaarvi-Svensson. My hope is that they don't and take a defensive defenceman.

8:05 Now that's a surprise. I think it's a good pick. Ekman Larsson to Phoenix.

7:57 Anyone else notice that the Habs haven't acquired a big centre yet?

LA takes Brayden Schenn. Hooray. Not even overrated. Nor anyone in his family. never have been.

7:45 Rumour from Big D: Kaberle for Niskanen and their first this season. Sounds like a good deal for Toronto. Not so sure for Dallas.

Atlanta toe the line and take 48-goal man Kane. I'd have been happy with this guy. 48 goals don't lie.

7:39 Once Colorado get the last pre-set pick over with, I'll finally have something to say. Duchene looks a good pick now. Will all 3 make it here? Will there be a Pat Falloon? A Patrik Stefan? An Alex Daigle? You get my point. History tells us there might very well be.

And Philly. Ouch. That first in 2010 might be worth a bit by the time the roster is readjusted...

7:28 Tampa keep the script going, take Hedman at #2.

7:26 My mistake not a 2nd, 2 firsts. Blinded by the 2.

7:24 Mirtle has Sbisa, Lupul and a 2nd for Pronger. Haven't decided.

7:19: Islanders don't surprise anyone. Take John Tavares. Wow the hype was good though...

7:15: At least bettman has a sense of irony...

7:10: Dreger says Pronger traded to Philly. Not good news for the Habs. It's good news for Philly who hope to absorb half the league's entire salary load themselves.

6:49: Duchene, come the Island. Trade if you're throwing away your pick. Tavares over Hedman, fine. Duchene over Hedman, welcome to another 15 years of morass.

6:45: Under starter's orders here.

Watching RDS for now. May have to switch if Luc Gelinas keeps prattling on and on about Quebec players. Apparently they're all from the 6th round. Urquart and Lapierre (2nds unrecognised by him), then last year's Fortier in the 3rd.

Never mind the Habs have already signed Dany Masse this year as a free agent. Hush hush, though, the fans might be placated...

Best Asset Available

Does Timmins read LIW?

You tell me. All I know is that he seems to have come up with a new term: "Best asset available" (audio)

Search "best asset available NHL" on google and see what you see. Perhaps Trev took a little gander at NHL draft theory and noticed good sense when he saw it.

All the more reason for me to get that 2nd round wish list out, eh?

Anyway, enough self-aggrandizing. I didn't invent the term, or the concept. Furthermore, I hope Timmins didn't get his ideas from this or any blog. If he's been skiving on the internet at this his busiest time (only busy time?) of the year would mean big trouble for the team.

Still, it'd be nice if he took Morin...

Covering The Draft From The Comforts Of Home

I think I must be the only Canadiens blogger I know not going to the Bell Centre in person for the draft. That doesn't mean I won't have plenty to say.

Though I'd love to be sipping overpriced Molson/Coors products in the stands, I actually think I'll be handier with the comments from my own living room. For one thing, I won't be forsaking the internet and, for another, I won't have to delete all the characters created by the impression of my forehead as I nod off during the inevitable boredom that is 30 people holding 10 minute discussions over 18 year olds.

If you want the live and authentic touch though (and feel no shame in shunning me, why would you?) then you should check out one of the equally excellent blogs that are:

The Daily Hab-It and Eyes On The Prize

Both Arpon and Robert will be there with full credentials (I hope that means cheaper beer?) and providing updates as the night wears, I mean rolls, on. As usual, if you prefer, you can just peek at the right-hand bar and see what they've updated with, as LIW shows that automatically now anyway...

Defining night

I had written momentous, but that would be making an assumption wouldn't it. One thing I am sure of, however, is that this night will give us a feeling of where this team is going for the next 5 years.

For one thing, we should find out whether Lecavalier will ever be a Montreal Canadien. We'll also find out if Bob Gainey still has the ability to make a good trade like he did way back when for Zubov. We'll discover if the Canadiens feel they need to nab one of the exceptional crop that is the top 8 in this draft class, and we'll find out how important the Habs feel the lack of scoring talent in the system is.

Should be fun.

18 and out

As for myself, I'll be hanging in with the anti-social Friday night TV (so says my wife) until the Canadiens selection at 18 or whenever that may be. Though it would be funny to see who the guaranteed bust of the draft will be (aka Detroit's first rounder), I think it's a diminishing return don't you? After all, I'm sure like the playoffs you'll all want to tune out for a bit once the CH is done and dusted in the first round.

Chalk that up as another plus for not being there in person – no underlying sense of responsibility to pretend to care about what the Flyers, Bruins and Flames might do.

Second round and beyond

I'm not sure anyone will be masochist enough to sit through and live-blog the whole thing, and I'm no exception there. I have compiled a list for interested readers to post when the first round goes to bed of players I've penciled in as Canadiens targets. I'll be posting that after the festivities.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Draft Week

Habs First Round Preview

The draft is upon us guys. For a brief window, we'll have actual hockey news.

To mark the occasion, as promised, I have put forward my suggestions for this year's first-round pick. I have made several assumptions:

a) That we will not trade the pick
b) That we will be drafting 18th
c) That teams will not suddenly go all wacky and leave us with a top 10 ranked player at 18

In the past the Canadiens have been guilty of saying they have picked the best player available, when what they really meant is that they picked the most reliable and safest pick. Higgins, Chipchura, McDonagh, Fischer. the list goes on. This year I'd like that to be different and I expressed that in my selection.

Not again: against "picking not to lose"

The biggest danger is that the Canadiens continue picking with their picking not to lose policy. This is the dump in of draft strategies. It is the best way to ensure you don't turn it over ad give up a breakaway (i.e., pick someone you'll never hear from again), but it's not the best way to score a goal.

If every other team in the draft was picking not to lose, it'd be fine, but it only takes a few with some of them hitting paydirt for the teams picking not to lose to, well, lose.

I think I've covered this in my other posts well, so you can have a look there if you want. But essentially what i'm saying here is that no GM in his right mind should find himself justifying picking a defensive defenceman or a defensive forward come the press conference Friday night. That coming away with Kyle Chipchura at 18, when it comes down to it is losing.

You lose the opportunity to attain something money and trades can't buy and invested in something that money and trades can buy very very easily.

So then, picking to win

Thanks to an alert on twitter, I found this great piece on Bird Watcher's Anonymous -- an Atlanta blog. What you see when you scroll down is a technique used to evaluate player worth.

The system is complex, but essentially what it relies on is a score that shows how much better said player would be if you replaced him with one from waivers or the minor leagues. Hence, defensive defencemen (like Mike Komisarek) are worth less than forwards who can score. His analysis of the 2001 draft shows that Komisarek by this method is worth 46% of a Hemsky. Surprisingly, it also shows Mike to be less valuable than Tuomo Ruutu, RJ Umberger and Chuck Kobasew (lesser scorers). What it shows is that defensive defencemen in Komisarek's league are not a good high pick -- simply because you can find a player via other means much easier than you could with a scorer, even a 20-goalscorer.

That was a long-winded way to show just what I've been getting at all along. Swing for the fences on a rare commodity -- you can fill those more boring holes via other means. This is especially true in the first round where the best are commodities are typically found. This is picking to win vs. picking not to lose.

So from my Draft Theory essay, let me revisit how I'd be drafting for the Canadiens in this first round then:
  1. Don't worry about organizational needs – worry about the players available
  2. Don't pick the player with the best chance of being an NHLer, pick the one with a chance at being a star
  3. Don't even bother picking the types of players you can easily pick up by other means (i.e., OK goalies, defensive defencemen and bottom line forwards)
  4. Trade the pick if the organization gets a better asset mix from the swap

And with the 18th overall selection in the 2009 draft...

I've had a look through all the lists, I've read my share of previews and I've had an eye on fantasy drafts. If you want to do the same, by all means. I'll point you to one that differs significantly from the CSS and other lists: Fantasy Hockey Scouts. I liked it because it was different, it didn't reference broken records like Pierre (smashmouth) McGuire and Bob McKenzie and because it was original.

After doing my due diligence, I've come to two conclusions:

1) This draft is deep
2) Even so, most of the true good scorers may be gone by the time 18th comes along.

As such, I want to present a realistic option for the Habs, based on the fact Tavares, Hedman, Kane and Pajarvi-Svensson will be gone. Here goes. The player I'd be taking for the Montreal Canadiens at #18 is:

Jeremy Morin

We haven't heard much about Jeremy on the whole, despite his French sounding name and his Canadian heritage). I find that strange.

More than one scout has said that Jeremy is the #2 goalscorer in this draft, after Mr. Tavares of course, and that he has incredible hands and shot. Despite that he has slipped down the rankings:

27th on the ISS
33rd on the CSB
25th on the TSN
21st on the THN

Why dredge the depths you say? Why pick what by consensus is lower than our selection? Especially when the re will be people from the top 15 of those lists to slip to our level.

Precisely because of the players ahead of Morin on those lists. Many of them are already being described as two-way forwards. Say Jere Lehtinen all you want, but if you're being called a two-way forward when you're 17, there's not much hope you'll be a top one-way scoring forward for my team. Scorers have attitude, scorers have swagger, scorers are driven by one thing only: scoring. If a player has lost that in favour of the maturity of defensive awareness by draft time, chances are he'll already be stationing the blue line on the dump ins by the time he makes the NHL debut. Thanks, but I've already had to watch Bulis play.

The Hockey Writer's blog has good things to say about Morin:
One word — Sniper! There are some issues with his attitude and certain aspects of his game (skating and physical fitness – although the latter seems fine as note by his scouting combine performance noted below), but he has tons of potential, and the kid simply knows how to fill the back of the net with his lethal shot.

As explained, he is fit (top half in every category at the combine) and his attitude is just what it should be: he's cocky!

With 33 goals this season in 55 games, to go with 20 at the same level last year in 28 games, we're looking at a consistent and effective scorer (stats).

Quote that clinched it (Sportsnet):
"Morin I really like because he has as good of hands as anyone in this draft," Giese said. "He is kind of a clunky skater. People question his skating but at the same time he's always on the puck, he's always winning the puck. I like Jeremy Morin..."

I have a hunch about this guy, and I like to think he has the highest potential star power of the people that will be hanging around at 18. And while I've been pretty adamant about not going the US College route for a first rounder till now, this American prospect is already slated to be playing for the Kitchener Rangers next year, barring that is, an NHL callup.

Next on my list would be Landon Ferraro

Landon's another can-miss pick. But he's a can-miss guy who got 37 goals in last year's WHL without the help of Brayden Schenn. He may be a hog, but again it's about time we had that problem with a prospect. What's more, his team's poor performance, his low assists, they're all minuses that don't bother me. Then consider the scouts who do care about that stuff still have him in first round contention.

17th on the ISS
18th NA on the CSB
26th on the TSN
28th on the THN

From what I've seen of the guy he has a shot that doesn't need an open net to score into (sorry Higgins) and he also seems to have the knack fro floating right into scoring position at the tright times. A good combination. Some scouts also say that goalscoring is not his main talent, but that it is speed. Not bad either.

Third, Louis Leblanc

I'd be as happy as anyone else if the Canadiens ended up selecting Louis Leblanc. For me he's a tier down from Jeremy Morin, and I feel he's already getting the overall player creeping into his rankings here -- that's to say, he may not be a great scoring prospect at the NHL level.

But for me, the clinching quote said it all (Sportsnet):
"He's about as gritty a player as you'll find," Giese said. "He skates well, he has a powerful stride, really good speed and he's also got a good stick."

As gritty as they come? That sounds pretty good for someone who looks small by today's NHL standards. To me it says he competes for his goals -- and that is a requisite for someone who doesn't have the best shot there is.

It's also hard to ignore the fact that young Louis won the Rookie of the Year in the junnior US ranks (USHL). He scored 28 goals on his Omaha Lancers team and led them in scoring. That would be 7 more goals than Max Pacioretty at that age and 6 more than Danny Kristo this year. Speaking of Kristo, the two were on the same team this season, which could make for some nice synergy for the Canadiens to think about. It also means that he has been scouted heavily by the Habs and they'll know for sure whether they want him or not. Lucky break, as trips to Omaha sans Kristo might have been rarer...


12th on the ISS
13th NA on the CSB
17th on the TSN
29th on the THN

Fourth, Richard Panik

Panik stands out as a bit of an omission in this year's draft. It's easy to see from any ranked list that scouts this year (fuelled by their love of Detroit and their capacity to process a single variable at a time) have decided that all things Swedish will fly this year, but as for everyone else in Europe -- forget them.

Well, the last time I checked, Sweden was good, but they were not out and out winning every game and trophy to be won by landslide margins. What am i saying? I'm saying that in 10 years there will be players that came from Russia, Finland, Czech and Slovakia who will be better than some of the 20 Swedes we've been regaled about. I think Panik is one of them.

Quote that clinched it (TSN):
"Consistency and ability to play the North American style of game are the two biggest question marks that come with Panik, but his offensive upside is extremely high. He has good outside speed and quick hands."

You're not kidding his offensive upside is high: he scored 35 goals in 39 games with his junior team last year. He socred 4 goals and ten points in 6 games at the WJC 2008 (something he didn't repeat this year though). Apart from stats, he's already big and apparently strong both on and off the ice. He's playing in the OHL next season, so any worries about his adjustment should either be put to rest or settled in the very near future.

He's ranked lower, so he's a risk.

35th on the ISS
13th EUR on the CSB
38th on the TSN
31st on the THN

Because I'm into risks here, I like his chances. Call this one a hunch.

And wildcard Toni Rajala

You want the big gamble, this guy is it. Earlier this spring, Toni played in the under 18 tournament against his peers. He was named the tournament's top forward. he scored 10 goals and added 9 assists in only 6 games. Apparently that eclipsed some record by a guy called Ovech-something. His stats in other play have been sporadic, but always in the realm of the first round prospect from Finalnd. He's been on the radar for ages and has been said to be dominant at every level he's played so far.

Quote that clinched it (Sportsnet):
"I don't question any of his finesse," Giese said. "He can skate, he's smart, he's creative, great skill."

31st on the ISS
11th EUR on the CSB
50th on the TSN
49th on the THN

If there's one player GMs might be kicking themselves for doubting in a decade, I feel it could be Rajala. He does have the skill and the skating -- those all important things you can no longer teach. And despite his so-called distaste for traffic, he finds ways to score. What's more if the bronze medal game of the U-18 showed anything, it's that he has another gear -- something we've come to admire in some Finns.

Finally, some to avoid please Bob

Jacob Josefson
-- already gaining spots for 2-way play. Get him in a trade in 3 years if you want him that badly

Simon Despres -- very iffy. It sounds to me like there are QMJHL defenders not that far behind him in talent to be had later. I wouldn't waste a first on him.

Peter Holland -- looks to be getting big points for size.

Ryan O'Reilly -- 16 goals in junior is 5th round material, I can't explain why he's on the rankings.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Draft Week

Current Depth Check

Some good advice from this lake swimmer: always check the depth before you dive in.

The same goes for the NHL draft. One would hope a team's management wouldn't need such a review having a more intimate knowledge. But for us fans, who will be baying and braying for our own pet picks over the next few days, it's worth a refresher.

The best full depth chart I cam across for the Canadiens was at Faceoff.com. It really gives an idea of the absolutes of the situation.

My first step was to derive a depth chart without free agents. Remember this is a numbers exercise, I haven't considered the merits of each player staying in junior, etc.:

Canadiens club
Left wingCenterRight wing
A KostitsynPlekanecD'Agostini
LatendresseLapierreS Kostitsyn


Hamilton club
Left wingCenterRight wing



Anyone shaking in their boots yet?

Not anyone in Boston, that's for sure. I think I might be.


There has been endless calls for a new centre, and the chart shows the case. But is anyone else more than a little bit worried about our wingers should we lose Kovalev and Tanguay. Even with them, it's thin. Laraque and Wyman? We'd be in trouble. Looking at the chart tells me this team needs a whole top line to knock every single forward down a step. We can take Plekanec, Lapierre and Metropolit at 2, 3 and 4; never at 1, 2, 3. Similarly, the wingers.

The biggest hole for me in this analysis is not the centres though, but scoring wingers (exactly the same as last season at this time). The thought of icing Higgins, Latendresse, D'Agostini and Sergei Kostitsyn to back up scoring from Andrei is shocking. Latendresse may have 20 goals in him, and Higgins could rebound; but there's no 30-goal threat there. And that's just the top of the pile. If a winer were to get injured I don't relish the thought of Laraque being a mandatory starter anymore than I do the thought of Wyman being called into the already young core. It's dire.

The Canadiens must absolutely address this scoring shortcoming
, and they will. Whether the scorers happen to be centres or not is really a secondary concern at this point.

My feeling is that this is a concern that needs to be addressed for the immediate future and the long term.

Verdict: Address via the Draft and Free Agency


The Habs are blessed with one of the top 10 defenders in the league and probably one of the top 10 deputies as well. In the right system, this could work. Gorges is a gem when played within his abilities too. But that's where the party ends.

The prospects coming through are numerous enough to trust that at least three will one day be NHL material. Of that, I am not worried. The questions for me begin with this season. O'Byrne has been shaky, Weber has all of 5 NHL games behind him, Carle has little experience and didn't exactly light the AHL on fire. Then you have Subban (straight from juniors), Fischer, McDonagh and Pateryn (all NCAA). Belle could fill a hole, but even he's a free agent.

If I were in the management position, I wouldn't be looking to add more defenders to put behind these guys in the depth chart, but a few to put ahead of them. 2 D with NHL experience to the Habs and a little time and this depth should bear the fruit it promises.

Verdict: Address via Free Agency


People talk about two of the best goaltenders in the game. They're not joking. We wouldn't be getting on the case of an able 21-year-old with a 0.905 save% if there wasn't a 24-year-old with tantalising stats dying to get a few starts himself.

Like the defence, the fun stops there. It's worse than the defence though as the #4 goalie in Montreal is really someone you wouldn't want to be caught having to play in relief, let alone start. Desjardins would be OK, but with all due respect to Loic Lacasse, he was a pretty average (and over-age) QMJHL goalie as recently as 2 years ago. Not thanks.

Verdict: Address via Trade and/or Draft

As it affects the draft

As it is, I stand by my original scheme, which was to pick the player with a chance at being a star. The one who will be the biggest asset for the organization both for the future and for upcoming trade opportunities. Broadly speaking, I think this means picking a scoring forward – one with a 35-goal shot – or a potential star at the back vs. an all-rounder. I'll be giving my thoughts on who the player I think that should be in the next couple of days.

As for the glaring and immediate organizational needs, I don't think any are realistically addressable through this year's draft (barring a trade up, that is). Draft a forward at #18 and you'll be lucky if he scores one day, let alone next season. Draft a goalie or a defender and you are looking at a project. Free agency and trades will be relied upon for our 2009-10 team.

Lever And Wilson Dismissed

Lost in the flash and pop of the Canadiens sale was the dismissal of Don Lever and his assistant Ron Wilson from the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Some have questions. Some like Scott Radley of the Hamilton Spectator thinks the Lever move, in particular, was all wrong.

I think the moves are the right ones.

As the Hamilton article states, Lever and his staff did do a good job in Hamilton. Some would say excellent:
Since taking over the Hamilton Bulldogs four seasons ago, he brought this city its first-ever professional hockey championship by creating a game plan uniquely suited to the huge defencemen and technically-superior goalie entrusted to him that season. It's worth noting that along the way he knocked out teams coached by John Anderson and Bruce Boudreau, who both got their shots in the NHL since then.

But forgive me Hamilton, home of many of my friends and family, neither I, nor the majority of Habs fans care the least about championships where you are. For us, that doesn't even enter into the evaluation of Don Lever and Ron Wilson. For me, I'd say there are only two questions:

1) Is he himself a coaching prospect?
2) Does he deliver top players to our club (better than his predecessors)?

I could see myself answering both questions with a yes. More worryingly, I think I could justify two nos. I don't think it would be healthy to keep either coach when he hasn't convinced everyone that he is a firm yes to each question after a four year tenure. That's why the ruthless manager, the one who does every tweak possible and within the rules to win, let two good coaches go this week.

Apparently the way it was done was succinct, even harsh, as per Lever:
"They just said they were going in a different direction," he says. "It was a short phone call."

I generally don't like to leave good and valued employees hanging like that. Most of the time, a dismissal is not done over the phone, let alone in under 5 minutes. But sometimes might it be better? What do I know?

After all, who really wants to hear: "We think you really stalled the development of all those offensive players we hoped would be able to score in the NHL." (that's what I assume would have been said otherwise, reading between the lines). Hopefully the Canadiens will set things straight for the two men later with some kind of wrap and some letters of recommendation.

But what it comes down to for, you see is that Don Lever and Ron Wilson were the Steve Begin and Mathieu Dandenault of coaching. Yes, they did everything that was asked of them. Yes, they did a good honest job while doing it. But they fell short in terms of the outstanding. There haven't been any Calder trophies or scoring leaders. The one all-rookie effort happened on a player sequestered from Hamilton. While there's a good chance the next coach will not be as good as Don Lever. Good at the AHL level is just that – it doesn't seem to translate. And while Calder Cups are swell, you might remember there haven't been any Cups in Montreal during their tenure in Hamilton.

Unlike Hamilton beat reporters, the Montreal Canadiens brass don't worry too too much about how the Hamilton Bulldogs fare in the regular season, or the playoffs either, I'd imagine. For Gainey and co., winning would be nice, but it must be secondary to the development of skills necessary to ply the trade at the NHL level. And while it would be unfair to say that Lever and his assistants have failed in this regard, it can't have escaped the management (or indeed most fans) that when our prospects were making the jump to the NHL they were routinely playing under their expectations – particularly from an offensive point of view. While Plekanec and Lapierre count as Lever successes, I'd be reluctant to lump either Kostitsyn under that heading. And Pacioretty, D'Agostini and most notably Kyle Chipchura have underwhelmed with their habits in the bigs.

Lever and Wilson may both be nice guys, but sooner or later you say good bye if only to try someone else who could threaten to do more.

An eye to the future

While some would infer that the change in direction Julien BriseBois speaks of is veering towards the francophone. I believe that would be a misread – even if Guy Boucher is the man on the farm come September. Especially if Guy Boucher is the man on the farm in September.

If the best way to bring in a coach is from your AHL feeder system. And, if (as we now know) the coach in Montreal will always have to speak French. Then it makes sense for the Canadiens to make this move now.

I'm a fan of Jacques Martin and I wish him the best. But this is Montreal, and unless Jacques pulls off the Dick Irvin miracle tenure, it might be a good idea to start grooming someone that we can actually hire into the big club as soon as possible. I believe that person should be Guy Boucher. So does Arpon, whose opinion I sometimes use to make sure I am not completely off the wall.

I said it before, I'll say it again. I think this new ruthless Gainey is the best thing for this club.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Draft Week

Montreal Canadiens' Woeful Draft Record A Complete Myth

Imagine you're sat at home on a cold winter's evening in Montreal chatting on the phone with your friend down in Barbados. You sit and listen patiently through all the grumblings about the weather (rain on Monday, too hot on Thursday) before signing off until next time.

That's what it must be like for fans in some NHL cities to read year after year about the Montreal Canadiens organization's horrible record when it comes to draft day.

Yes, it's all relative. And Montrealers live in a dream world where the draft should be a time for your GM to take his 4 first round picks (stockpiled from eager, yet unready, expansion GMs) and bring home a superstar by the year.

But really, we've all had time to adjust – 16 years if not more – and the idea that 3 NHLers is a good draft should start to sink in, I think. On the eve of this year's annual amateur amalgamation, I thought it was time to set things straight for fans of the bleu, blanc, rouge – to show just how good our managers have been over the last decades.

My system for this analysis was simple (possibly simplistic) – I looked at every player who played an NHL game or more this year and I looked at where that player came from. Here's what I found:

1) Montreal has drafted the highest number of 2008-09 NHLers

TeamDrafted playersGPAvg GPPtsAvg Pts
San Jose35144453.555320.5
New Jersey34186854.984824.9

Montreal had 41 players from all rounds to Buffalo's 39 for first in absolute numbers of players. What's more the Canadiens were second in GP with 2096 vs. Buffalo's 2158 and second in points scored by those players with 841, only trailing New Jersey's 848 by 7 points.

These numbers are even more impressive when you consider Detroit only had 27 players drafted by them playing an NHL contest this year and some teams like Carolina, Vancouver and Minnesota (though on only 9 drafts) were at 19, 19 and 18 respectively.

2) Montreal second rounders and beyond outclass rivals picks by a long way

The media (and fans) in Montreal like to lambaste the general manager and the team for being pitiful on draft day, and some media bring up the same old chestnuts to discuss every single year. The story of first round draft picks gone missing (a tale from almost every team, by the way) is used to imply that Montreal isn't performing optimally on draft day.

Maybe so. But beyond that first round, no one team has really performed better. Everyone is really propagating a myth.

Non-first round picks
TeamDrafted playersGPAvg GPPtsAvg Pts
New York Rangers26114344.045717.6

Montreal's management managed to select 32 players (more than an entire roster-worth) to play in the 2008-09 season. The next closest rivals were all in the twenties. Montreal also led in games played by non-first round picks and only trailed Detroit (courtesy Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen and Lidstrom) in points scored by those players.

3) Montreal isn't that bad in the first round either

Considering the furor, you'd think Montreal were the absolute worst at picking an NHLer from the first round. never mind their success in other rounds.

In actual fact, the Habs sit tied at 15th with Toronto and Carolina with 9 first round picks skating in the league today.

The leaders (believe it or not) are Phoenix/Winnipeg with 14 NHLers (a lot of good that has done them) followed by New Jersey, the Isles and Washington at 13 apiece.

When you consider the Habs have only had the benefit of 4 top 10 picks in the past 20 years (and made all but Terry Ryan stick), then it's not such a bad record.
Take top 10 picks away and the Canadiens are 11th best (tied with Toronto, San Jose and LA with 6 picks playing).

Non-top 10 picks overall, and the Habs once again lead. 38 players vs. 37 for Buffalo, 34 for Colorado/Quebec and 31 for NJ (the rest under 30).

4) The Habs have been consistent over time

Of the 41 Canadiens draft picks who suited up this year, 21 were drafted before the millennium and 20 were drafted 2000 or later.

Though not first when looking from 2000 on, the Canadiens do still boast the third highest harvest of NHL able draftees since the last expansion. Their 20 puts them in a draw with Edmonton and Buffalo and just behind Columbus and Pittsburgh. Vancouver (Hi Burkie!) and Carolina continue to plumb the depths with 8 and 11, respectively.

5) The Habs have been most successful at the defensive end of the ice

As to be expected given their recent (and long-time) strategy of picking defenders, the Canadiens have been at their most excellent when not picking forwards in the draft.

When it comes to goalies the Canadiens are right near the apex. 5 of the goalies they selected over the past 15 years played this season. All five, including Price, Vokoun, Halak, Garon and Theodore were at times the starter of their respective teams. Only Colorado/Quebec, also with 5 (Thomas, Fernandez, Budaj, Johnson and Denis) can surpass them.

On D the Canadiens draft picks also stood out with a whopping 14 playing at least one NHL game this season. Most were regulars with only Matt Carkner, Ryan O'Byrne, Patrice Brisebois and Yannick Weber playing on the margins. The one team to outdo the Canadiens was the Buffalo Sabres who drafted 3 sets of NHL defense line-ups with 17 draftees in all. Standouts from the Sabres draft classes included Dennis Wideman, Brian Campbell and Keith Ballard. No Markov, though.

So, it seems Montreal is quite good at drafting after all.

If Montreal has not succeeded it is not for an abject failure in the scouting system, but perhaps a distaste for risk. After all, when you can go into rounds 2 to 9 of a draft and say - "we'll come out with 3 players who'll be suiting up in the next 5 years if we go with sound strategy" - who would go with less?

The problem is, as Jack Todd rightly pointed out this morning in the Charlottetown Guardian:

Sooner or later, you have to hit a few gems like Carter, Getzlaf and Parise if you want to go from also-ran to the top of the heap. The Detroit Red Wings, everyone’s model of the perfectly run franchise, drafted Henrik Zetterberg with the 210th pick of the 1999 draft, Pavel Datsyuk with the 171st pick in 1998 and Nik Lidstrom 53rd in 1989 — that’s how you build a great team.

So blame it on cautiousness, bad luck or getting outworked in free agency. Our woes don't come from a failure at the draft...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Molson Canadiens

It looks like it's a return to status quo. Well status quo for my lifetime anyway - the Molson family will be given the chance to buy out George Gillett as the owner of the Montreal Canadiens.

We will treat the news with some care, as it comes from La Presse via an as yet un-named source. I have a feeling that this time it might be a good one, though.

In other news, people who never stopped calling the Montreal arena the Molson Centre will probably be vindicated soon...

The news report cites the figure for the sale to be in excess of $500 million CAD. The terms of the deal, including ownership of the Bell Centre, the stakes in the team and the Gillett Entertainment Group have not been disclosed. One can only speculate that at that number it would be the whole shebang.

Serge Savard

The report also claims a special role for Serge Savard in this new venture for the Molsons.

You will recall #18 withdrew his money and support from a rival bid when the Molsons (whom he respected to much to go head-to-head with) emerged on the scene. It seems Serge is a slicker politician than we might have thought. The addition is certainly interesting, but adds an extra potential hockey voice. Let's hope we don't become a site for paralysis by analysis with Gainey, Gauthier, Boivin, Savard and Martin all competing for their say.

This should also be good news for Jacques Demers who might be in line for that role he misunderstood to mean coach. Yet to be seen.

PK Peladeau

Count me among those who agree with Mike Boone that Peladeau and Quebecor potentially losing out may be a blessing in the long run. The fact he ever thought he'd have a say about the coach (even as a bidder) was never going to be a good omen.

Phew, indeed.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Habs Shut Out At NHL Awards

Not surprising by any stretch of the imagination – The Canadiens "watched" last night's awards ceremony in the hockey hotbed of Las Vegas to come away with nothing. Astute members of the team would have been prepared, as trips out west rarely produce anything but heartache and highlights of opposing players celebrating over and over again.

It got me thinking about how far this Habs team is away. Last season was a close call as Carbonneau was nominated for the Jack Adams trophy, Carey Price 4th in Calder voting and earning an all-rookie team nod and Markov and Kovalev sniffing about the Norris and Hart trophies, respectively.

Well that mirage has passed and we're left with Markov and a team of third liners who were swept by their biggest rivals in an uncontested and largely unentertaining series. Not exactly the Canadiens of the 1970s who took temporary ownership of some awards.

If Columbus can have a surprise trophy winner and nearly a Vezina from a rookie, anything can happen, surely. But just where is our breakthrough likely to be?

To attempt to put some perspective on things, I have lined up the Canadiens candidate (selon moi) for each award next to the actual winner and nominees. Just for fun, I have also noted the player who would be nominated from our currently signed players:

Hart trophy:

Alexander Ovechkin (WAS)
Evgeni Malkin (PIT), Pavel Datsyuk (DET)
Andrei Markov (MTL) – has requisite Russian citizenship

Conn Smythe trophy:
Evgeni Malkin (PIT) – 36 playoff points and Stanley Cup
Saku Koivu (UFA) – 3 playoff points, 4 games, no wins
Yannick Weber (MTL) – 2 playoff points, 3 games, no wins

Art Ross trophy
Evgeni Malkin (PIT) – 113 points
Alexei Kovalev (UFA) – 65 points (57.5%)
Andrei Markov (MTL) – 64 points (56.6%)

Maurice Richard trophy:
Alexander Ovechkin (WAS) – 56 goals
Alexei Kovalev (UFA) – 26 goals (46.4%)
Andrei Kostitsyn (MTL) – 23 goals (41.1%)

Norris trophy:
Zdeno Chara (BOS)
Mike Green (WAS), Nicklas Lidstrom (DET)
Andrei Markov (MTL)

Vezina trophy:
Tim Thomas (BOS) – 2.10, 0.933, 5 SO
Steve Mason (CBJ), Niklas Backstrom (MIN)
Jaroslav Halak (MTL) – 2.86, 0.915, 1 SO

Selke trophy:

Pavel Datsyuk (DET)
Mike Richards (PHA), Ryan Kesler (VAN)
Maxim Lapierre (MTL)

Lady Byng trophy:
Pavel Datsyuk (DET)
Martin St Louis (TB), Zach Parise (NJ)
Chris Higgins (RFA)
Josh Gorges (MTL)

Calder trophy:
Steve Mason (CBJ)
Bobby Ryan (ANA), Kris Versteeg (CHI)
Matt D’Agostini (RFA)
Max Pacioretty (MTL)

Jack Adams trophy:
Claude Julien (BOS) – 53-19-10
Andy Murray (STL), Todd McLellan (SJ)
Guy Carbonneau (UFA) – 35-24-7
Bob Gainey (MTL) – 6-6-4

Bill Masterton trophy:

Steve Sullivan (NAS) – returned from 18 months of rehabbing
Richad Zednik (FLA), Chris Chelios (DET)
Patrice Brisebois (UFA) – Old and unbelievably hanging on to NHL employ
Glen Metropolit (MTL) – Nominated before for playing in Finland when no NHL team signed him

Foundation award:

Rick Nash (CBJ)
Alexei Kovalev (MTL), Dustin Brown (LA)
Alexei Kovalev (UFA) – actual nominee, hooray
Georges Laraque (MTL)

King Clancy trophy
Ethan Moreau (EDM)
Alexei Kovalev (UFA)
Georges Laraque (MTL)

Mark Messier trophy
Jarome Iginla (CGY)
Zdeno Chara (BOS), Sidney Crosby (PIT)
Saku Koivu (UFA)
Maxim Lapierre (MTL)

As you can see, our team was not stiffed. It just doesn't stack up to the quality of player around the NHL (with the exception of the excellent charity work, of course).

It was mostly pathetic attempts to win: see the Maurice Richard trophy, the Calder, Selke and the Vezina. The only way you see a Canadien in the running at all is if you consoder the season that Andrei Markov had – you'd have to think he's top 6 in Norris voting again.

Going into the future (next year, for example), it looks like Markov is our only shot at any silverware. Aside from the charity/leadership trophies (who would have guessed Moreau in a million years?).

Where do you think our best chance at a trophy will be for next June?

My top three would be:

  1. Jack Adams trophy (Jacques Martin) – a bad end to this season already puts him in the running
  2. Lifetime achievement award (Henri Richard) – one place we're stocked
  3. Lady Byng trophy (Georges Laraque) – a fighter who asks before fighting, how gentlemanly

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bottom Of The Barrel Still To Be Found

"I thought Jack Todd's column about Jacques Martin a whole week after he was hired was the bottom of the barrel," forward Christopher Higgins said of today's Canadiens lead news. "I guess the barrel is a little deeper than we thought."

Just a comment on the dire situation for Habs news fiends...

[Note, I may have misheard what Higgins actually said, static and years of loud rock concerts...]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NHL Draft Theory

The NHL draft is 10 days away now and the previews are coming thick and fast. I've been doing some analysis and will offer a preview of what I think the Canadiens should do very soon. To start with, though, I thought I would indulge a little abstract discussion on how I think a team's scouting department should target their efforts.

Generally speaking there are two ways that teams seem to approach a draft:

1) Address specific organizational needs


2) Pick the best player available

Both are very good approaches with arguments for and against. I dissect each below.

Organizational needs

This method is the favourite of analysts. For one thing, it allows them to predict which teams will take which players. It's clearly also a very popular approach among teams.

What this tack has going for it is that when you get it right, your team can tick over as a self-contained machine. The NHL club will be stocked with players from minor league clubs which are all fed through the draft at each position. You'll always have 6 goalies, 20 odd defencemen and many more forwards in the system to keep it alimenting the major league team.

The problem with this approach is that it requires teams to draft things like defensive defencemen and third line wingers. Scouts already have enough trouble seeking out the one player that could be an offensive star one day, giving them extra briefs to fill all on the same day every year is a tough one.

Another problem is that it assumes organizational strength throughout, not only at judging new talent but also at judging the talent within. Call me crazy, but I don't think most organizations are rightly equipped to approach the draft in this way. Most teams have enough trouble picking a GM and a coach, to expect not only that but also excellent NHL level scouts, heads of amateur scouting and eyes on the local arenas is probably stretching reality.

To boot, you'll end up being called the Nashville Predators.

Best player

Those who fall under the Montreal umbrella will be accustomed to hearing the party line that is "Best player available" for a while now. Trevor Timmins in particular is a premier adherent to this school of thought.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with picking who you think is the best, but you would run the risk of overstocking at one position (say defence) while other positions (like goalie and right wing, for example) are perilously weak.

It does alleviate the problem, however, of having to know what you've got in the system. That taxing activity removed would give more time for actually assessing the new potential coming through. I do like the focus of this idea a lot.

It's not necessarily a bad thing, but this system of choosing draft picks does require a good system to build equilibrium be in place. In my experience, a good NHL team has a balance of talent. It's very rare (and probably foolhardy to go against experience) to ice 6 great defenders a decent goalie and AHL forwards and expect much silverware. Similarly, 3 top centers with no defencemen doesn't work for most. That's to say, your GM better be darn good at trading away defensive prospects for forwards if your a head scout who constantly picks defensive stalwarts from Minnesota.

If your team's track record for trading up (or even sideways) in value and bringing in good players through free agency is poor, then you'd better be looking to the draft to fill some of the other positions as well.

Which system for the Canadiens?

Having looked at the alternatives, I'm not really turned on by either. I do feel the Canadiens have a good scouting network in place they certainly seem to turn up more late round steals than an average NHL club. That said, I wouldn't want to be limited to a team built from the draft - the club still does have it share of shocking picks and misses.

It's tempting to think that the best player approach is a worthy one, but I think these last few years have shown us a few things about Timmins' and Gainey's little theory. Drafting loads of defencemen is no good at all when the GM can't flip one in a trade - it just creates a log jam where perfectly good prospects are lost into the ether (or the KHL). It has to be said that losing Emelin and Valentenko when both Mathieu Aubin might be left as the top centre in Hamilton next season is criminal.

The lesson for me in all this is that defencemen are an asset, yes. But defensive projects are not, at least not in a trade. Most clubs trading away value are looking for value that will pay dividends in the relative short term - they don't want David Fischer until they see whether he's able to handle the jump to the NHL at age 25.

I think the Canadiens need a third way to approach this conundrum.

A third system

The third way is a bit different. Rather than selecting the best player, I think the Canadiens should be looking to select the best organizational asset with each pick they make.

Best asset

The first step is to be realistic about how the NHL is run. The draft is what it is, but it is not the only tool available to those building a Stanley Cup contending team. In order to fashion a team to win, a GM must also effectively use free agency, waivers and trades. In the context of all these other avenues of player acquisition, drafting recedes in importance. It is still vital, but in order to maximise your chances your overall, you need to understand what the draft is best for. Moreover, you need to understand what the draft can provide that unrestricted avenues like free agency and waivers cannot.

It's simple really, simple economics: supply and demand.

Recent history shows that the hardest things to get your hands on (from another team) are reliable scoring forwards and top-notch defencemen. Incidentally, these are also the two categories of player that will cost you the moon on July 1st - and due to taxes and other issues are probably out of Montreal's reach altogether in free agency. It follows that having these assets in the system for a possible trade will offer the best return should you want it.

By contrast, drafting and developing defensive or lower scoring forwards is something anyone can do. These players can be traded for with relative ease, signed on July 10th when the dust settles or even acquired through non-draft routes as undrafted players. In other words, one should not look at as a defensive forward or a future back-up goalie as a true organizational asset.

Swing for the fences

Another part of being realistic about the NHL is knowing that having 43 good prospects is not that much better than having 8. Trades are few and don't look to be rising, and teams with a raft of prospects often get shorted on trades because of the perception they are not giving up as much.

Knowing that you don't have to have seven draftees making it all the way to the NHL or the AHL or even the ECHL should be a relief. It's realistic. My question prior to each pick wouldn't be who has the best odds of being an NHL player, but rather who has the best odds (even if they're outside) of being the best offensive star or, if a defenceman, top defender.

A team shouldn't be using any pick, let a lone a top pick to select a player who's already called a defensive forward or defensive defenceman at the junior level. You can't criticise much in the draft, but you can criticise this.

Habs fans, how would you like to have Travis Zajac. He was picked 2 selections after Kyle Chipchura as a risky offensive prospect. He's already played 3 seasons on the New Jersey Devils and is a first/second liner with a 20-goal season by age 23. The Devils swung for the fence and the Canadiens have a forward that can play like their waiver wire pick-up Geln Metropolit (if they're lucky). Chipchura may one day have me eating my words, but Gainey could have traded Huet for him instead of that second round pick in a pinch if he liked him so much - it's just not hard to acquire the Chipchuras of this world. The Zajacs, well you tell me...

If your drafting is any good, and ours is, swinging for the fences should come off once in a while. And who knows, maybe we can replicate our Markov pick with a Datsyuk and Zetterberg of our own.

Trade picks if the math adds up

There will come times when someone comes knocking for that pick. At those times, I can only advise listening.

The Tanguay trade was a classic example of an opportunity well taken. No matter how you sliced it, the likelihood of getting a player as good as Tanguay (a scoring star – one of those rare assets) in either the first or second round of the NHL draft was slim to none. Gainey missed a chance at an organizational asset, but added an actual asset. Also, the addition of Tanguay bumped people down in the organization. Corey Locke, for example was now expendable and used in a trade for something of use to the team.

Trading picks like this is to be encouraged in my third approach, so long as the opportunity cost calculation is sound. a 25th pick for Tanguay (even for one year) is a win. Had that pick been a 10th overall, the choice gets murkier. 5th overall and it's a loser.

In sum

  1. Don't worry about organizational needs – worry about the players available
  2. Don't pick the player with the best chance of being an NHLer, pick the one with a chance at being a star
  3. Don't even bother picking the types of players you can easily pick up by other means (i.e., OK goalies, defensive defencemen and bottom line forwards)
  4. Trade the pick if the organization gets a better asset mix from the swap

This is the strategy I can only hope the Canadiens look to in the future. I hope that this year will be the first of many home run swinging affairs and to that 18th pick – whether we use it to choose an amateur or to bring in a pro.

Rumbles From Bolts Country

Scanning my morning news, I came across this piece of miscellany.

Apparently, the Lightning have asked a local radio broadcaster to do an embedded broadcast with them from Montreal. Not news we're concerned with here in Montreal, surely. But as we're into reading the tea leaves a bit lately, it's what this request means, specifically regarding a Lightning trade, that caught my eye.

Seeing as life in Tampa must be as quiet or quieter for real news than here, the speculation around this announcement was disproportionate.

The broadcaster himself, Steve Duernig, took the invite to mean that nothing was afoot.

One blogger, Joe Bolts Fan, thought the announcement and its timing suggested that the opposite might be the case, that the Lightning would complete a trade for their number 2 selection – perhaps only to assure themselves of Hedman, though.

Jpfdeuce of Raw Charge (my original landing point) goes further. He likes the speculation about a trade being in the works. He doesn't limit this trade to a #2 for #1 swap, but drops Lecavalier's name in there as well:
But what about the fact the team has put Tampa Bay's sports-talk radio "Dean" into their good graces and encouraged him to join the party in Montreal? Doesn't this suggest that, if something does happen regarding the #2 pick or Vincent Lecavalier, Duemig is going to get an excess of access to the what's, how's and why's by the Lightning to explain it all? We-scratch-your-back, you-scratch-ours kind of favoritism?

If Lecavalier is being bandied about the league, then Gainey is sure to be in the loop (thus this is Habs news). If the Lightning want to trade their pick, I hope Gainey is in the game there too. If we come out of this draft with Hedman, Tavares, Lecavalier or even St Louis, I think all the talk about Louis Leblanc being overlooked will quickly fade to black.

I know a massive stretch of the imagination based on the source. But in these times of imaginary news, signing and drafts, surely this is within bounds.

The reality is the Lightning would be foolish to close their ears to deals today, leading up to or at the draft. Nothing has been pre-deigned as of this point. If a deal had been hashed out, the GMs would have announced it. Any deal is open and any deal could happen.

At the same time, the perceived constraints on deals are all still there: salary struture, future cap, etc., etc.

Asking a talk radio man to accompany the Lightning scouts to Montreal does nothing to change all of that.