Tuesday, June 30, 2009

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.

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