Sunday, August 30, 2009

Where Will All of the Goals Come From?

It is hard to know whether we are a better team than last year or not, but with a month to go till the season we are bound to find out very soon. One aspect that I don't think will change that much is our offensive production. I believe that our goaltending, overall defensive play and special teams will all likely improve, but I believe that, as a team, we will score about as many goals as we have over each four of the post-lockout seasons. What I do know is that with no less than 7 new everyday players the landscape of our season-long goal scoring table will look vastly different.

Since the lockout we have scored 979 goals and our season totals (despite having a perceived offensive juggernaut in 2007-2008 and a group that we were led to believe were unable to score last year) have been within an 18 goal range in each of those seasons.

Ah, thank you law of averages. You have secured me a job, a girlfriend and now you are here to help me once again. You see averages always seem to come through, even at the worst of times. That is why in a season when Michael Ryder scores 10 less goals than expected Higgins scores 10 more. Or why Kovalev can have an 'off-season' at the same time that Robert Lang is re-born. If you look at the following stats you will know what I mean. In the NHL, and on the Habs in particular, goals get scored at a remarkably similar rate each season.

I'll now look at the past 4 seasons and try and predict what our players totals will look like come April. All I know is that if I give one player 5 too few it is probably because I gave another 5 too many.

Our Goals

2005-2006 - 241 Goals
2006-2007 - 239 Goals
2007-2008 - 257 Goals
2008-2009 - 242 Goals

That makes an average of 244.75, so as I believe that we are a very similar team to those teams (offensively) I'll make the bold prediction that we will score 245 Goals.

Where did those goals come from?

These totals include all players that played at least one game in a season. Thus players who didn't score still feature in these stats.


- 205 Forward Goals from 20 different forwards
- 36 Goals from 8 different defencemen
- We acquired 2 new players over the course of the season, they scored 1 of these goals

- 184 Forward Goals from 18 different forwards
- 55 Defenceman Goals from 8 different defencemen
- We acquired 1 new player over the course of the season, he scored 0 of these goals

- 213 Forward Goals from 19 different forwards
- 44 Defenceman Goals from 8 diferent defencemen
- We acquired no new players over the course of the season

- 203 Forward Goals from 20 different forwards
- 39 Defenceman Goals from 11 different defencemen
- We acquired 3 new players over the course of the season, they scored 7 of these goals


By looking at the averages I come up with the following numbers.

- We should have 19 forwards suit up for us this year and 9 defencemen
- We will likely acquire 2 players over the course of the year that aren't already with the organization; 1 forward and 1 defenceman, they will contribute 1 goal each
- Our 19 forwards will score 201 goals
- Our 9 defencemen will score 44 goals

What we are missing

This is a list of the players who scored for us last year. Of the 242 goals 123 (51%) were scored by players no longer with the club or by players who are unlikely to play in Montreal; those players are in italics.


Alexei Kovalev - 26
Andrei Kostitsyn - 23
Tomas Plekanec - 20
Robert Lang - 18
Saku Koivu - 16

Alex Tanguay - 16
Maxim Lapierre - 15
Guillaume Latendresse - 14
Chris Higgins - 12
Matt D'Agostini - 12
Sergei Kostitsyn - 8
Tom Kostopoulos - 8
Steve Begin - 6
Mathieu Dandenault - 4

Max Pacioretty - 3
Glen Metropolit - 2
Kyle Chipchura - 0
Ben Maxwell - 0
Georges Laraque - 0
Greg Stewart - 0


Andrei Markov - 12
Roman Hamrlik - 6
Patrice Brisebois - 5
Mathieu Schneider - 5
Francis Bouillon - 5
Josh Gorges - 4
Mike Komisarek - 2
Ryan O'Byrne - 0
Yannick Weber - 0
Alex Henry - 0
Doug Janik - 0

Predictions for this season


Mike Cammelleri - 33
Andrei Kostitsyn - 31
Brian Gionta - 27
Tomas Plekanec - 22
Scott Gomez - 18
Guillaume Latendresse - 17
Sergei Kostitsyn - 11
Matt D'Agostini - 10
Max Pacioretty - 8
Maxim Lapierre - 7
Travis Moen - 5
Kyle Chipchura - 3
Mikael Johannson - 3
Glen Metropolit - 2
Gregory Stewart - 2
Ben Maxwell - 1
Georges Laraque - 0
Dany Masse - 0
* Player not yet with the organization - 1


Andrei Markov - 14
Jaroslav Spacek - 10
Roman Hamrlik - 6
Paul Mara - 5
Yannick Weber - 3
Hal Gill - 2
Josh Gorges - 2
Ryan O'Byrne - 1 (hopefully into the opposition's goal)
* Player not yet with the organization - 1

So there you have it, the season in a nutshell. I think I'll still watch, however, as I am not quite sure when all these goals will be scored. I just hope that we don't waste too many of our 245 goals in games where the other team is having trouble scoring on us; better to save those goals for when we really need them.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

News and Notes

Not much is happening as summer winds down in Habsland, but there have been a few stories this week that have caught my attention. Let's all keep in mind, however, that these are simply of note since there isn't much else to write about. Here are 3 stories that I thought I'd chime in on.

Habs Get Senator; No not Kovalev

On a day when Kovalev, while playing golf in Montreal, revealed that he still hopes to one day play for the Habs there was another story with a Habs-Senator connection. This one involved our last Stanley Cup winning coach and current RDS flip-flopper: Jacques Demers. Stephen Harper (Canada's Prime Minister for the international readers) appointed Demers to the Senate today along with 8 others. Jacques gladly accepted the position and will join Frank Mahovolich as the voice of the Habs on Parliament Hill. I for one am glad for Jacques as I have always quite liked the man. I'll always remember the Stanley Cup (and the McSorley stick), the RDS commentary, but most of all the courage it took for him to tell the world about his illiteracy. I think that as far as the current Habs go he is the closest thing we have to a true champion (in hockey and in life) and I think he'll do a great job in Ottawa. Whether this is a ploy by Harper to win votes in Quebec or maybe from Habs fans is irrelevant as Demers still managed to top a list that would have surely included other Quebecers. Now, we will still see him on TV (although, less than before) where he will likely be high-fiving Brunet, combing Joel Bouchard's hair and talking about 1993, so we haven't entirely lost him to the Nation's Capital quite yet.

No Big O

You can count me among the disappointed to hear that the Habs have canceled their late November game at Montreal's biggest stadium. I for one was looking forward to a night back in my favorite sports venue, watching my favorite team; I was exited at the prospect of feeling the energy of the concrete-bowl one more time. Can you imagine how loud it would be after a goal? Just think to when the Expos were drawing less than 10,000 fans to a game and it was still the loudest park in the majors. I don't know who had the genius idea to schedule the game during Alouette playoff season, but you need just ask U2 to realize that the old stadium cannot play host to two major events in one weekend. This is pretty poor planning when you think of it as the stadium is vacant 51 weeks a year and the Habs have 20+ Saturday games in a season. To me that would have been the marquee event of the centennial; better than hosting an All-Star game which no cares about, better than having the snooze-fest that is the NHL draft at the Bell Centre and even better than wearing a slightly different shirt for a meaningless game. I hope someone gets on re-scheduling this event as I think it would have been quite the memorable game. Maybe if they can't play there though they could play at Molson Stadium...I am pretty sure the Als won't be needing it.

Team (Robidas) Canada

As you may or may not know most Olympic hockey teams are having camps now or over the next little while. This will serve as the only time these players will be together before the Games themselves. I have been reading mostly about Team Canada and what I read sometimes amuses me. Yesterday the lead article on RDS was about Robidas, not about the other, better, 45 players there, no it was about the worst one, Stephane Robidas. Maybe I am missing something, as afterall I am a Quebecer too, but do people only care about players from their own province on the National Team? The article was questioning whether Robidas may be out of his league and may not make the team. MAY BE??? MAY NOT MAKE THE TEAM??? No kidding, RDS, he is out of his league, he has a hard time cracking the top-4 on a non-playoff team. They can certainly write what they want, about whom they want (as I am doing now), but please, get over yourselves. There are 46 players at this camp and believe it or not the National Team includes players from Ottawa, Toronto and beyond. I guess that article served as a reminder of what I'll have to put up with 82 times this year as I sit through 40 Lapierre, Latendresse and Laraque interviews only to be riveted yet again in the second intermission by the voices of Bruno Gervais, Jason Pominville and Daniel Briere.

All this Olympic talk has made me realize that there are no Habs on this 46-man roster. We couldn't even muster one courtesy spot, but then again who could be there? Am I the only one who thinks that the Habs not having a good Canadian player is a crime? Ya we have Price, Lapierre and Cammelleri, but come on, they are all inferior to the players that are there. Is it time the Habs found an elite Canadian player? Is that what we are missing?

Now, I'll take in one step further and present a little survey. Below is the list of the 46 players who are at the camp and from that list the 23-man roster will likely be selected. There is the chance that a player not on the list plays well enough in the first half of the season to get a spot, (or injuries may play a part) , but our team is more than likely contained within. I have had enough with Captains Canada (ie. Captains 'unable-to-ever-lead-your-team-to-the-playoffs) Doan and Smith and there are a few other relics I can do without. I have made my selections in bold and encourage you all to suggest your rosters. I didn't choose players from outside this group, but please feel free to do so if you have a player (or a few) that you feel strongly about.

Forwards (13 of 25)

Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames
Simon Gagne, Philadelphia Flyers
Ryan Smyth, Los Angeles Kings
Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes
Dany Heatley, Ottawa Senators
Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning
Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning
Jeff Carter, Philadelphia Flyers
Dan Cleary, Detroit Red Wings
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins
Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks
Andy McDonald, St. Louis Blues
Brenden Morrow, Dallas Stars
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers
Derek Roy, Buffalo Sabres
Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks
Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators
Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Defence (7 of 16)

Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers
Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks
Jay Bouwmeester, Calgary Flames
Robyn Regehr, Calgary Flames
Dion Phaneuf, Calgary Flames
Francois Beauchemin,Toronto Maple Leafs
Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks
Brent Burns, Minnesota Wild
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Mike Green, Washington Capitals
Dan Hamhuis, Nashville Predators
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
Stephane Robidas, Dallas Stars
Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks
Marc Staal, New York Rangers
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Goaltenders (3 of 5)

Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The View From the Back Seat

Ever since Boston knocked the Habs off in 4 straight I have kept a pretty low profile. Some would argue this is because of a new job, a move and various travels, but deep down I know it is because there is still the sting of April in my heart. A lot has happened to our Habs over these past 4 months and I can't exactly say that I am thrilled about all of it. As a re-introduction to the blog for me, and as an introduction to the readers who don't know me, I will some up my thoughts of the past 4 months.

The way it ended

The season ended on such a negative note that I hope we haven't forgotten where we were as a team just a few short months ago. An inability to communicate, to score or to defend made us the laughing-stock of the league. Our January-April stretch was filled with such turmoil and heartbreak that it seemed like making the playoffs was only prolonging the bleeding. Things had to change and I think Pierre Boivin and Gainey knew this and, therefore, no one sat around. There were injuries and poor relationships to blame, but at the end of the day something needed to be done. How much or how little needed to be done was the question on every one's mind in May; we all know now it was way more than pretty much anyone had anticipated.

The coaching staff

I am very pleased with the direction we have taken in this department. It is unfortunate that we need a French coach (I would take a French-speaking coach, if and only if, he was the best candidate; to me, the ability to do interviews has no bearing on the success of a team that will sell out anyway), but I am happy to say that for the first time since Demers we got one with some experience. It took us 15 years to find an available French coach who has won - see why it is a very stupid policy? The other moves made can't hurt. Getting rid of Melanson and Lever were positive moves and we know their replacements were the right choices. Getting rid of Jarvis and keeping Muller may or may not work out, only time will tell. I am happy that we got a new strength/conditioning coach as it is about time we put 20 conditioned, top-level, athletes on the ice every night; endurance should never be a concern when you are asking professionals to exert themselves for 15-20 minutes 3 times a week.

The forwards

This is where we have made the most changes and is an area that will be of vital importance this year as we strive to be a better offensive team. I am happy that we at least replaced proven NHL talent with other proven NHL talent and that we didn't simply bank on guys like Lapierre, Chipchura and Sergei on carrying this team. I am, however, not sure if we addressed all of our biggest perceived weaknesses as we haven't really increased in size, toughness, leadership or winning experience. The good thing is that I always thought those 'weaknesses' weren't the reason we weren't winning, therefore I am glad we didn't go overboard to try and make Bob MacKenzie and Pierre MacGuire happy. If I had to guess I would say that we will score more goals than last year and be slightly better in our own end (at the forward position). We won't, however, have as much 'big-game' presence as the loss of Kovalev and Koivu may hurt our chances at creating late-game heroic comebacks.

The Defence

Our defence will look vastly different from last year, but once again those new faces won't be coming from Hamilton. Our moves prove how useless it is to draft defencemen (especially in the first round) as what teams really want are players who have got 5-10 experience in them. That is why free-agency (apart from the obvious stand-outs - Markov, Green, Phaneuf etc.) is likely the best way to get a solid defence. This also means that you could actually draft for the only un-teachable commodity, goal-scoring, at a much higher frequency. So, 3 of our 6 starters are all new and all come from the free-agent market and bring experience. I believe that they are better than Brisebois, Boullion and Komisarek as all three of those players had weak seasons. Losing Schneider was too bad, but we all knew it was coming and since he played so little for us it is hard to know how, or if, he'll really be missed. My main concern is that we solved the Brisebois-or-O'Byrne dilema by creating the Gill-or-O'Byrne dilema. Overall I think the core is better, but with Hal Gill as a #6 I wouldn't say that we are complete.

The Goaltending

In May I didn't expect any changes in this department, although I did hope for it. That changed on July 1st when Bob was making offers to anyone and everyone. In a way I think this position needed an upgrade as I don't believe Price nor Halak have proven themselves to be bona-fide starters yet, but on the other hand I was glad to see Bob resist going after such goaltending relics as Roloson, Legace or Fernandez. I think that our goaltending can only improve this year and with a more defensive team in front of them the two netminders may actually look quite good again. To me, this area is the biggest question mark going into the season. We weren't saved last year with heroic goaltending and it would be nice to know that if we had a bad patch this year these guys would be there to bail us out. The fact that both are so young likely means Bob will stick with them which may or may not be a good thing. I can't see us being a good team with bad goaltending (we aren't Detroit), and I can't see us being bad if we get spectacular goaltending (eh Florida?). So here is to average to above-average keeping; that should compliment the rest of our team and system quite nicely.

Lions in Winter

Since I have been 'away' I have seen our readership go up and with that has come more comments and more discussion. I am happy that people are liking the site and that we have had so much to talk about over the summer. I for one, however, am getting tired of speculation, rumours and reports and am getting ready for some much needed hockey.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Beach Week

Summer holidays are here for me and I will be off to the beach for a few days.

You'll be in good hands as Tobalev is hoping to return to his in-season form with a few pieces for you.

I'm back next week just in time to tune up those season previews, make my fantasy hockey lists and set up the home entertainment system for the winter season.

A week of floating around aimlessly (in the sea), I can't wait. I'll be able to remind myself what it's like to be Patrice Brisebois in the defensive end.

See you all in September.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mike Who?

The Forgettable Fifth Defender

Just before free agency opened I had set up my RSS feeds to aliment me with news on all the key free agents, both ours and those to be targeted as well. Call it laziness or morbid curiosity, but I've been keeping tabs on the same guys ever since. All Koivu news is served to me daily, same for Kovalev. All this despite not knowing the least about our actual players without some manual searching.

This past month has been a very quite one on many fronts and even the Koivu, Kovalev and Tanguay newsfeeds have started to taper off. But one feed keeps churning out the stories, albeit most unreadable. That feed is good old Mike Komisrek's, our former future captain, untradeable asset and defensive lynchpin – and now a traitor and instant enemy, of course.

As I said most of the stories are about the Leafs, and there's only so much a Canadiens fan can delve into the intricacies of Brian Burke's master "plan". But every now and again there's an article that pops out to file in the very worthwhile box. This week has seen a few on the big oaf.

Olympic camp

The first wave of interesting articles all dealt with the Toronto love triangle of Brian Burke, Ron Wilson and Mike Komisarek transposing their adoration on the stars and stripes. Mike, of course, was one of the invitees to the orientation camp (good article on that here) and had a swell time in Illinois. So swell, in fact, that it led the "ever-reliable" Steve Simmons to extrapolate from two comments that Mike Komisarek is in no danger of missing the Olympic cut:
Brian Burke admitted yesterday that more than two-thirds of the team has basically been selected and another Team USA source was clear that Komisarek would be on that list of sure things.

This interested me greatly because after watching Komisarek in Montreal, there were times where one would question his ability to avoid the NHL cut, let alone play for the elite of his country. At first I thought of nepotism, because after all it is Brian Burke. But then I had a look down the American options and thought again – the team doesn't look good. It can't be nice to look ahead to Komisarek and Scuderi marking Ovechkin, Malkin and Kovalchuk or the Canadian equivalent.

From this then two logical steps:

1) Mock the Americans – I quickly decided I couldn't do better than DGB's hilarious expedition

2) Start fretting about Timmins' propensity to take Americans over anyone else – when Scuderi or Komisarek clone is the pinnacle of likely achievement, you can stop ruing the loss of McDonagh

Komisarek on the Leafs

As the flood of articles on Komisarek from July onwards attests to, Leafs fans and writers have a lot to say about Mike. Some of what is being said is neutral, even, dare I say, realistic; but there's a big enough chunk of delusional prose to warrant my nausea.

That's why I was thrilled this morning when an article from The Hockey News: Komisarek More Common Than You Think found its way into my inbox.

This article is probably the article I wanted to write, but never did. It's certainly an idea that's been on the backburner for ages. I recommend you read it either to mash up the sour grapes in your gullet or just to enter into the spirit of mocking the newest of Leafs (I enjoy both). The spirit of the article I would have written can be found in this wonderful THN quote:
Just as Dion Phaneuf’s bombs from the point and bone-crushing hits mask defensive deficiencies, Komisarek’s willingness to tear after opponents and be the face of his team after a win or a loss belie the fact he’s not exactly from the Rod Langway school of defensive proficiency.

I couldn't agree more, nor could I have put it more succinctly. From September 2007 to April 2009, Mike Komisarek went from hopeful to emerging star to dependable to a man seemingly interested only his stats.

It all leads then to the interesting question, one that has nothing to do with how disappointed or pleased his new favourite fans will be: will we miss Mike Komisarek on the Canadiens?

I think I alluded to my answer in the title. Again, I draw a quote from a more inspired author:
Leaf fans could be disappointed to discover Komisarek’s game can often be comprised of more noise than nuance.

Fans of the Habs who hung around for April will know that by that time, will know this feeling well. By that time, Mike was a fifth choice defenceman playing a bigger role than we'd have liked him to. Never close to Markov or even Hamrlik in ability, he also made himself second choice to Gorges and Schneider and even Bouillon at times. His contributions all seemed to be recorded on the appendix stats sheet, as opposed to the win column.

Some will say that his descent in the depth chart was due to playing with injury. Some will say he was a hero for playing hurt. Maybe partly, but that theory dismisses the beginning of the season where he was in fact even less effective than he was when he was supposedly hampered by a shoulder/hand/upper body injury. It also ignores the fact his best stretch was actually post-injury, not pre.

Before his injury, Komisarek was already trailing Markov, Hamrlik, Gorges and Bouillon in the domes department – a deficit he would never recover from. His sorry season, injury or not left him with 8 domes (when most nights the second D spot was up for grabs by anyone who didn't shoot the puck over the glass or into their own net) and no game pucks. I remember several conversations about our lucky escapes, our "play with fire" style defence and Mike Komisarek's slide into 2004 form. Call us on bias if you want, but Komisarek was also a non-entity for the three-star selectors (despite his blocked shot stats) with a single third star to his name all season. The season before he had 26 domes to go with 2 second and 8 third star selections.

Last season he was very near the league in giveaways with 89, but unlike those who surpassed him (Markov, Ovechkin, Derek Roy, Souray, Green and Richards) who are victims of attempted breakout passes and creative plays gone wrong, he managed to get up there without ever trying to do more than pass squarely to Markov. His assist to giveaway ratio is the only thing more embarrassing than his giveaway to takeaway ratio. Add to that the fact he makes Markov a worse defender and attacking threat and the case builds.

So will we miss him? Well not in in 2008-09 form, we won't. Even at the pinnacle of his form (2007-08) Mike left us wanting in the playoffs as teams that saw our lineup on consecutive nights targeted the Komi side of the first defensive pairing with devastating effect. And given the likelihood that he's probably more the average of 2007-08 and 2008-09 than one extreme, I think Gainey's probably replaced him with Paul Mara at a fraction of the price.

Thank goodness for Google Reader, else I might not have got that off my chest.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lions In Winter Forecaster

A while back (you can tell by the players I thought would be around), the coordinator of the Score Sports Federation contacted all us NHL bloggers and asked that we make a contribution to the 2009 Score Sports Forecaster.

Always game to get my word in about the Habs, I happily contributed. For poolies like myself, you'll be interested to know that The Forecaster is now available on newsstands across Canada. If you want some fantasy predictions against which to weigh your own, then I recommend it. Also, you won't want to miss the blogger's section – Down Goes Brown rarely disappoints...

For those who are interested, here are the questions I was faced with and the answers I provided.

1. What lesson(s) did you learn about your team in 2008-09?

2008-09 was a year of learning for Canadiens fans. We learned that we can't keep losing players in free agency for nothing, that our prospects are not as good as they may have been billed (yet) and that our player development at the NHL level needs a major overhaul (bye bye Carbo).

But it wasn't all negative. This season we also learned that the Canadiens organization will now be a bona fide playoff team again – if not yet a conference leader. They piled up points in the good times when injuries were few and opponents and games were easier. They recovered from a few major hiccups along the way. They managed through two months of porous goaltending. And, most importantly, they got it done in the latter stages.

Looking back now, things have certainly taken on a new light with all the changes. Apparently we can keep losing free agents – but not for nothing, since we gain others. I think Gainey learned a couple of the lessons I mentioned too, particularly that of player development – as he has clearly tried to improve on that front (Melanson, Livingston, Jarvis, Carbonneau all out and Martin's crew in).

2. What particular statistic reveals something about a notable team strength or weakness? (For example, you could include your team Save Percentage and explain that it indicates that your team needs to upgrade their goaltending)

Tomas Plekanec: 19 assists

Tomas was supposed to be our second-line centre. But playing on a line with Kovalev and Kostitsyn for large parts of the season (26 and 23 goal men), he only managed 19 assists. Tomas' statistic is symptomatic of a team whose forwards don't pass well between each other ("cycle" is a bad word in Montreal). For each goal scored by a forward, there was 1.26 assists, putting Montreal at 28th in the league in this category. More worrying than that is that the assist leaders among the forwards are all UFAs, leaving Plekanec the top man among the rest.

This stat will have to be turned around, and not just by Tomas, but by Latendresse, Higgins, Lapierre and Kostitsyn who all scored more than they provided. A little more cooperation up front would go a long way to making the team harder to defend against.

I stick by this Plekanec statistic. Call it chemistry if you want, but our 1a/b centre garnering a mere 19 assists when he was never really injured is not good. The total blow out of that line, or rather other teams' abilities to smother them was integral to our shortcomings. That said, save percentage in January and February was a close runner up.

3. Which player on your team do you feel fantasy hockey players should keep an eye on because you think he might have a breakout season in 09-10?

With a new coach, a system that will defend him from quality shots and a vote of confidence as the #1 goalie in Montreal, Carey will have a better fantasy season than last year. I expect him to start as many as 60 games and win at least half. Add to that the fact the Canadiens under Jacques Martin should be much better than a 2 shutout team and you have a far bigger fantasy season from Price.

For everything I say about Price and for all my reservations, I will say this – if your league awards goalie points by wins and shutous, Carey Price will see a jump. He can't be demoted, he's even more anointed this year than last and the Canadiens should allow less goals with their changes. Will he be a better goalie? That's anyone's guess, but that wasn't the question.

4. Do you expect your team to make the playoffs next season? How far do you think they can go in the post-season, and what they need to do to get there?

I think the Habs will make the playoffs again in 2009-10. Not only that, I believe they'll win some games and rounds when they get there – at least one.

But as we saw last year, predictions are conditional on things being right. For the Canadiens to make the playoffs and win some rounds they absolutely need a healthy Andrei Markov. Their goaltending will have to be reliable, though will not need to be excellent. And importantly, the team will have to ensure they have a varied point of attack going into the post-season (i.e., more than one line firing at once).

Neck on the line here. But did I add enough caveats or what? If they play like last year's team in spring, I'm free from this prediction – not very brave. Now that it's nearly September, I have to say that there is encouragement to be taken from how teams in the East have moved. Most below have done nothing or made more questionable moves than us. Those above haven't blown anyone away either.

Still, if things are right enough by season's end, I think a playoff scalp should be ours, no sweat.

5. How many points will your team get and where will they place in their division and conference?

101 points: 2nd in the Northeast, 5th in the Eastern conference.

I'm pretty confident about the 101 points. But where this places us is anyone's best guess. That total can give you from 1st to 7th. But placement doesn't really matter too much. If you come first with 101 points, you can be sure there are 7 teams right behind you just as good as us in the Eastern conference playoff draw. If the Habs are 7th with 101 points, they'll have proven already they can be reckoned with.

I chose 5th as it would be nice to avoid the Bruins, just for variety. I don't think 2 teams from the Northeast will beat us, in which case 5th is Bruins free territory, guaranteed...

I'd be interested to know how all of you would have answered the same questions. Let us know what you think...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spacek Interviewed

Back after a couple of days off on holiday. I didn't know how much I needed one. Now I know that I need another. Luckily the hockey world was kind – refraining from making any news of note for another week. Maybe there's a hint of disappointment in that for me, but there must also be relief given some signings in recent Augusts for our illustrious GM.

At risk of becoming the voice of Jaroslav Spacek, I wanted to point you all to a lengthy interview with the new Habs blueliner from the Journal de Montreal via Canoe

I have paraphrased from the translation of a probable translation. Take the quotes with a very large grain of salt. The themes should hopefully be maintained:

Spacek not an offensive defenceman

At least in his own opinion, Jaroslav isn't an offensive player. Still, 45 points ain't shabby.
«Mais je ne me qualifie pas pour autant comme étant un défenseur offensif. Je suis sur la glace avant tout pour empêcher l'adversaire de marquer. D'ailleurs, s'il y a une chose que je déteste par-dessus tout, c'est quand je suis sur la patinoire pour un but de l'équipe adverse.»

"I don't consider myself an offensive defenceman. I'm on the ice to stop the opposition from scoring. In fact, if there's on thing that I hate most, it's being on the ice for a goal against."

Has a bad memory

Maybe the question I assume was asked wasn't, but Spacek appears to say he doesn' know any of his new teammates. He certainly should know Hamrlik, having been part of the same Olympic gold medal hockey team in 1998. Perhaps he's written Roman off just like 3/4 of Canadiens fans.

Calls for patience

Wise for his age. That or he knows he needs to buy his team some time from the fans here. Spacek thinks some parts of finding team chemistry will take time:
«Quand je regarde notre formation, je constate que nous présenterons une toute nouvelle équipe aux amateurs de Montréal. C'est évident que ça prendra un certain temps avant de trouver les bonnes lignes d'attaque, mais je suis persuadé que les entraîneurs et la direction ont déjà de bonnes idées à ce sujet.»

"When I look at the team, I can see that we are an entirely new proposition for the fans in Montreal. It's clear that it will take some time to find productive line combinations, but I'm convinced that the coaches and the managers have good ideas on the subject."

A question and answer session followed:

Q: The Canadiens are your 6th NHL team (after the Panther, Hawks, Blue Jackets, Oilers and Sabres). Did you ever think you'd end up in Montreal?

A: I'm really looking forward to joining the Habs, who have shown a real commitment to me with a 3-year contract. It was important for me to sign a contract that was over a few years.

Not quite driving to Montreal the minute he's signed, but I'll take it. It explains why we didn't sign him for one year...

Q: You've already played at the Bell Centre (vs. the Canadiens) many times. How do you find the crowd and the ambience?

A: I can't say anything but good things about Montreal when it comes to hockey. Canadiens fans are unique among NHL fans, making the Bell Centre a magical place to play. My family can't wait to hear the "Olé, Olé" cheer as we approach the end of a game with a lead!

A diplomat as well as a good negotiator of contracts.

Q: Montreal fans can be unforgiving, and have a tendency to let the team know when things are going badly. How do you feel about that?

A: I'm very familiar with the reputation of Canadians fans. I know that fans and the organisation take their hockey very seriously. They are knowledgable hockey fans and they want to see their team work hard to win games, which is a good thing. It was very similar when I played for Edmonton.

He may be surprised about the differences between us and Oiler fans. Hopefully he won't have to find out about the special cheer reserved for repeated defensive turnovers too early in the year...

Q: What are your best NHL memories? Was it the Stanley Cup final with the Oilers in 2005-06?

A: That series was incredible. Believe me, losing in a seventh game and coming so close to getting your hands on the Cup was not a pleasant experience for me. I have to admit I still feel a bit shaken just talking about it. I'd give everything to get back there. I hope that one of these days I will be raising the Stanley Cup...

A good level of lingering disappointment is good. Too bad the reporter forgot to ask why he signed elsewhere the minute free agency hit after that Cup run, though.

Q: You won the Olympic gold with the Czech team in 1998 and the bronze in 2006 in Turin. Are these the best memories of your career?

A: Just to have the chance to play in the Olympics was a great experience. But, without a doubt, the most unforgettable experience was what I went through in Nagano. It was the first time that all the best players from the NHL were at the Olympics. It was those Olympics that really kick-started my career. To be a part of the Olympics with the best players on the planet was a great experience. We'll soon see what the next ones will be like.

Olympic gold's not a bad way to launch a career at all. As he didn't mention the bronze, I'm guessing he's not so hot on the losing experience as the winning.

Q: How are you spending your summer? Where are you going on holiday?

A: I started my summer holidays earlier than I would have liked when the Sabres missed the playoffs. I took my family to the Bahamas for a while and then we came back to Europe, where we moved into a new house in Rokycany. So I was quite busy with the move. But we have had the time to relax a bit with family and friends.

A summer vacation in Czech never hurt anyone. Pilsener, sausages and the like. I can't believe he didn't stay in Buffalo...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Interpreting the charts

Chart legend

Categories based on all NHL players with more than 10 GP, 2008-09

Chart layout

Left half: Offense

Right half: Defence

Top half: Goals for and against while on ice

Bottom half: Totals chances (Shots + Blocked shots + Missed shots) for and against while on ice

Top arrow: Direction of +/- normalized over 60 minutes (blue +, red –)

Bottom arrow: Direction of CORSI number (chances for - chances against) normalized over 60 minutes (blue +, red –)

Statistics adapted from,, Olivier

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kostitsyns Not The Sedins

Time To Separate The Brothers

If I was an NHL GM, I can't tell you how tedious I would find it to have to deal with the Sedins.

I may already have a centre, but be very interested in a smoothe skating winger like Daniel; or vice versa, I may be on the lookout for a centre but wish to fore go the wing-man brother as I have been developing players of my own who frankly I like better.

Alas, to my chagrin, I am not an NHL GM. But I am a pretty big NHL fan, and I can tell you that it still annoys me that neither Daniel nor Henrik Sedin can ever be mentioned in a separate breath. You may remember the ranking of the top 50 players in the NHL by Adam Gretz at NHL FanHouse (mainly because he underrates Markov). He committed the crime I deplore, in that he didn't even bother considering the Sedins a separate entity and clumped them both together as the #21 player in the league (making his list a top 51...).

That's been an annoyance for a while, albeit a mild one. I've certainly never felt the need to write about it until now.

The need to put the proverbial pen to paper comes from the eerie parallel I see arising amidst Canadiens fans when they address the brothers Kostitsyn (a recent example can be found here). I just want to put that to an end right now.

Kostitsyns are not twins, not even similar

While I'm not that well placed to actually tell you which Sedin is the better player or whether they are even different people, I certainly watch enough Habs games to have a good feeling about our brotherly combo.

In my opinion, the Kostitsyn boys may be brothers by name, but for skills they may as well not be.

Andrei the shooter

I still have questions about whether Andrei likes shooting, because he clearly doesn't shoot enough. However, when he does shoot we are treated to a display we have not witnessed from one of our own prospects since the late 80s – an elite shot. Andrei has quick release, power in a wrist shot and accuracy when he has time to set. He has goalscorers hands and a shot that could net him 40 or 50 one day.

Contrast this to Sergei. His shot is adequate but is not released with either the speed or the weight of an Andrei shot. His shot is NHL level, but the level that all 10-15 goalscorers in this league possess, and the level that goaltenders stop with regularity when they see it. He's no corner-picking sharpshooter.

Andrei the strong
This is another area I feel Andrei has yet to fully develop, yet one that is there in flashes for him. When Andrei gets the puck sometimes you can sense that few defencemen in the league would be able to take it off him. Through a combination of body positioning and balance he seems to be able to muscle through the situations for which he can't make himself a free corridor with a deke.

Again, Sergei couldn't be further from. When people talk about running into dead ends, Sergei Kostitsyn comes to mind for me. Though he's tricky with the puck on his stick, he gets into trouble when the defender is ready and not buying his fakes. Smaller than Andrei, it just seems to me that he isn't at all as strong and that he just doesn't possess the momentum he needs to go through a defender, even if he wanted to.

Sergei the all-rounder

here I don't mean to say that Sergei is already an all-round player, because he certainly isn't. But one can see that the guy has at some point in the past recognised his limitations and has at east thought to develop the defensive side of his game. As I said, he's not a premiere defensive forward yet, but like Andrei with strength, you can sometimes see flashes.

I've been generous to Andrei so far, so I'll mete out a bit of criticism now. Andrei is not a player I would want to see on the ice when defending a 2-goal lead with 2 minutes to go. Nor would I want to see him on the PK. When I watch him, I recognise that he's just one of those guys who probably has never had a defensive thought cross his mind. He thinks offence and positions himself for that – that's all. It's fine, and we need a player like him; but I think it's a big distinction between him and his brother.

Sergei the weasel
Believe me, I mean this in the most complimentary sense. For you can't win any competition in a league full of weasels without some of your own. Sergei has this weaselling built in. It's clear. The Grabovski debacle. Those incidents with Chris Neil. He's a needler. he likes getting under peoples skin.

Does Andrei even know what a weasel is? Andrei, even in games where he seems possessed with energy and ideas is still the guy least likely to fight. The guy least likely to be slashing Jarkko Ruutu behind the play. To me, he seems a much more laid-back character, comfortable to play the game of entering the offensive zone, taking the chance and then reloading and trying again. The rest of the drama, he can take it or leave it. He's no Sergei in that department.

A couple of seasons ago, I opened the year with two articles entitle The Habs Future And The Two Andreis. The basic idea was that coming into 2007-08, the Habs were in transition but were starting to build around two vital pieces – Andrei Markov at the back and Andrei Kostitsyn up front. I still stand by all the gooey praise I had for both players back then.

My point here being that back then I believed Andrei Kostitsyn was a cornerstone player and I still do. Sergei Kostitsyn, for all his skills and attitude, is not in my opinion. This is much more Vladimir Guerrrero and Wilton Guerrero situation than it is the blurry distinctions of the Sedins or the Courtnalls. One player if nurtured has superstar potential, the other with some guidance has a nice place on a third line and second PP.

I think us Habs fans need to be clear about this. First of all, we should not be holding the two brothers to the very same expectations. Secondly, we don't need to package them off together in our heads every time one of them does something we don't like. In other words, if Sergei Kostitsyn doesn't produce again and puts on a Winter 2009 sulk, I don't see why that should affect how we see Andrei Kostitsyn at all.

These are no Sedins.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Scott Gomez

Setting His Place At The Table

The first news or interview of note to come out of RDS in a long while, and wouldn't you just know it, the headline deals with French language courses.

I don't want to dismiss the story, because it's actually a very good bit of news on many levels. They certainly clipped up all the interviews nicely. But should we be worried that no more than ten seconds into his interview, Gomez was asked the question: Do you speak French? Do have any connection with the French players? In this case it works out nicely because Gomez has a response in pocket, but will Spacek, Gill, Moen and Cammalleri have to ready themselves for this opening salvo?

I'm not going to question the situation anymore than that. In the end, it was a great question by the reporter because it gave Scott a great opportunity to talk about all the efforts he is making to come and be accepted in this town.

Speaking of which. Though it's been rather overshadowed by the quote and response to that, it must be noted that Scott Gomez was the only new member of the Canadiens to even attend this charity golf event in August. I think that on its own is worth applauding. Clearly Scott Gomez is committed and very excited for his new opportunity in Montreal. Moving to the city (almost as soon as the trade happened), making friends with the guys that are in town and just getting adjusted to life and the media here. It's encouraging to see his commitment. People have jokingly suggested he be made captain on the spot for his enrollment with a French language tutor, but you know what it's not so daft. Commitment to this team, so early, before anyone else – it's quite an example to set.

Maxim Lapierre golf tournament

Was anyone else surprised to see a golf tournament named for Maxim Lapierre? I haven't been keeping a tab on what the August charity golf event has been called year on year, but I do know that last year it was named for Guy Carbonneau.

I don't mean it as a slight to Max, who's clearly taking on a bigger role in the community here, but it certainly says a lot about how the lay of the land in Montreal has changed when they're naming their golf tournament fundraiser for a second-year fourth line player, doesn't it?

Incidentally, reports are that they made a very respectable sum on the day for their charity and exceeded expectation. The golden egg was apparently the chance to play hockey with Scott Gomez and his new best buddies Lapierre and Latendresse at the Habs facility in Brossard. The generous donor paid $18,000 for the privilege.

If I was paying $18,000 for a hockey game, I'd leave out NHLers for fear I'd never touch the puck. Though, I might leave in Latendresse to help my footspeed look a little better than it is...

Tanguay loses it

The other interesting interview to come out of RDS was the Alex Tanguay bit.

From the outset, Tanguay looked riled. Clearly his ego has taken a few massive hits this summer and he's put out about the whole situation.

Now, we don't know why Tanguay hasn't been signed anywhere or why no one floated him an offer ahead of Brian Gionta or even Hal Gill (with that money) in Montreal. There probably is a reason. I don't know if I've ever seen Tanguay so animated before, but one thing that was coming across to me today as I watched his interview was that he's one of those lucky people in this world who can go through life without anything ever being their own fault.

His sensitivity about treatment from the media is probably right on. I just feel that you get to this point of the summer without a contract, maybe some reflection on what you've done and what you may change in the future could be in order. Maybe he has been doing that – it just didn't come across that way.

I'll tell you what I remember vividly from the season though. Without ever for a moment considering that any player in the dressing room other than Kovalev and Koivu were organising people to stand against Carbonneau in February, i saw a Tanguay interview. It was after the firing of Guy, and I tell you something clicked for me then. It must have been what he said, or how he said it, but it immediately gelled that he was a guy who was not happy with Carbonneau.

This is what I wrote at the time:
We all spoke about communication, but yesterday was a revelation to me. Dandenault complained about communication. Begin complained. Carbonneau never spoke to Tanguay? The gist of what the reporters were saying was that almost to a man, every Canadien was dissatisfied with how their coach treated them.

Tnaguay's a very good player. I'd suggest he calm himself down and let the past transgresisons of the past fade away. Whether rightly or wrongly he may saddle himself with the label of bad attitude if he's not careful.

Where's Georges Laraque?

Conspicuous in his absence from the Maxim Lapierre event was BGL. To a man, every other French Canadian player from the Habs last season was at the event. That included Lapierre and Latendresse, of course, a jilted Tanguay and cast-offs Bouillon, Dandenault and Brisebois.

Of the latter 2 groups, Tanguay, Bouillon and Dandenault had every reason not to be there, if you ask me. Voluntarily putting yourself out to face the media after the July they've had would be like having dinner with your ex's parents the weekend she dumped you for another guy. They've all been shown up to one degree or another, yet all trot up because they've made a commitment and because a good cause trumps even avoiding humiliation.

But Laraque? He's still on the Canadiens. He lives in the Montreal area. He says he cares about charity work. Where was he?

Maybe he wasn't invited. Maybe he turned it down. Maybe he had prior commitments. Who knows? Just strange that's all.

Anyway, whatever it is, it gives me a good segue to a recommendation for an article for all of you from The H Does Not Stand For Habs about "The 260 Pound Elephant in the Room". From earlier in the week, it's a brilliant article on Laraque and the exchanges JT has had with him. Read it if you have 5 minutes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jacques Martin Again

Look Forward To Better Player Development

When I was putting together a piece on Jacques Martin, player development is what I had in mind. I have to admit to getting sidetracked by a tangential thought that grew into an article.

I say player development, because if winning against Toronto in the playoffs is what Jacques Martin is worst at, developing players into future stars is perhaps what he is best at. It's good thing too, because there's a fairly broad consensus on those who give report cards to the Canadiens organization that the mark for Gainey and co. should be "Needs improvement" or even "Unsatisfactory".

In fact, if one were to try and pinpoint the key element that has led to Gainey pressing reset on his five-year plan (i.e., the reason his original 5 years were eventually deemed a bust) it could well be player development. After all, 25 goalscorers completely losing confidence is right up there with sudden and inexplicable inability to win in the playoffs as the theme of the half decade. It's not nice to harp on about Carbonneau, but let's just say his name and "player development", though often finding their way into the same sentence were more often than not also accompanied by phrases like "has no aptitude for", "doesn't like" or "would rather go tie shopping".

Can't keep burning through prospects

The Canadiens have done an admirable job of piling up half decent prospects at most positions in the draft without really having to lose the league. But be realistic, they've been a bit lucky – they've avoided the busts that sometimes happen to even the best scouting departments. What this means for the future is probably that they are due a bust or two, and that they can't expect to keep pulling in top talent from later rounds.

When you're drowned in what seems like a wealth of new faces (like autumn 2007-08), ruining one or two careers or alienating a talent doesn't seem like such a big deal.

But it doesn't take long for the tide to turn does it?

A minute ago we had too many offensive minded centres to fit Grabovski into the plans. A few slumps and a few trades later and we're looking at Ben Maxwell to step in as the number two centre if there's an injury. I looked at centre, I could have looked at the wings, where there are even less enticing propositions.

From plenty to pittance in just a season – it's no wonder Gainey decided to say no more. In taking on Jacques Martin (who's more than a French Canadian, as we're discovering by the day), Bob has opted to put a stake in the development of the assets he has left. He has invested in a policy that might turn the career of Sergei Kostitsyn around, that might prevent Matt D'Agostini from descending from 8-goal wonder to on-ice nightmare again and who might even help more established stars push their limits.

It's a good gamble. And based on the past, it may just pay off.

Jacques Martin, the nurturer of offensive egos

The other day, I wrote about how Jacques was able to take the Pitiful 1996 Senators, stabilise their defence and then move to creating an offensive powerhouse. Not only that, he actually nurtured some of the leagues very best offensive talents so that they could fulfill their potential and score goals like they were expected to.

His record on developing goalscorers is very very impressive actually. For symmetry, I looked at two 4-year periods – that since the lockout to see the current goalscoring talent and those 4 years immediately before the lockout, which coincide with Martin's powerhouse Senators teams. What I found is that Jacques' players, those drafted and brought through the Ottawa system rose above the crops from other organizations.

Goalscorers since the lockout

Since the lockout, there have been 89 players to register 30 goal seasons.

5 players have done it 4 times
13 players have done it 3 times
20 players have done it 2 times

Among the 89, there were 4 players who started their careers on Jacques Martin team. But 2 of those (Alfredsson and Hossa) are among the elite 18 who've claimed 3 30-goal marks. One other (Spezza) has done it twice.

When you look at 40 goalscorers (the real elite), Alfredsson and Hossa stand out even more since they account 4 of 54 40-goal seasons across the whole league between them.

Goalscorers before the lockout

In the 4 years before the lockout, there were only 68 players to register 30 goal seasons.

6 players did it 4 times
10 players did it 3 times
18 players did it 2 times

Once again, Jacques' proteges were up there. Hossa, again was truly elite with 4 30-goal campaigns and one 45-goal season. Throw in three more (Yashin, Alfredsson and Demitra) with a couple of 30-goal seasons apiece and Havlat with one in his fourth season in the league and it looks good again for Jacques's fostering.

How did he do it?

I'm not going to suggest that he taught these guys how to score – that would be outlandish. It looks to me like he got a lot of help from the draft. After all, Yashin, Hossa, Spezza and Havlat are all first rounders. But as we should know by now in Montreal, draft talent does not always translate. We look at teams like Ottawa from that era and Detroit now and say "good drafting". But it goes beyond that, we have that. It's actually "good drafting, great development".

What one can say without question is that he didn't hinder their goalscoring instincts, even in a defensive system. And that is a strategy that Guy Carbonneau could never quite work out.

Jacaques Martin, the purveyor of defensive reliability

As he kept an eye on his talented forwards, Martin also kept another guiding hand for the upbringing of defensive prospects.

While I'll gladly concede that a goalscorer has all the skills he needs to score goals at the age of 20, a defenceman needs a tutor, he needs a really good one, too.

Just as we can rattle off 90-point and 40-goal seasons from the Ottawa graduates (that'd be nice to do again here one day – where are you Stephane Richer?), I can also recall a list of defencemen I would have listed as elite from Jacques time down the 417. Chara, Redden, Phillips, Volchenkov, Salo have all at times been decent to excellent defenders.

We're all to familiar with the recent exploits of Zdeno Chara, but does anyone remember what a terribly awkward 23-year old he was with the 2000-01 Islanders? Sure a change of team helped a lot, but from -27 one year to +30 the next has to say something about his own improvement too. I can honestly tell you from seeing the then pylon in orange and blue at the Bell Centre that Chara and Norris trophy were not in the same realm.

Equally, Wade Redden had an exemplary ten-year stint among the sub-Norris elite of the NHL defenders. A single season in the negative (and -1 at that) speaks to how he served a system for the benefit of the team and ultimately his bank account.

The other cast members, whoever they were (and notably Phillips) always made Ottawa a difficult team to play against and a difficult team to keep the puck away from. The coach must get a lot of credit here. You can see what impact he had, because for a while after he left Ottawa still assumed they could fill any hole on defence with the next guy in the depth chart, just as Martin always always did.

I know his years in Florida weren't anything to write home about. But I tell you what, When he went in Jay Bouwmeester was not as mature and dominating as he is now. is that despite Martin? Maybe. But I'd be surprised.

Player development in Montreal

All of this is good news for Montreal, I think. Bringing in a coach at this point who can foster personalities and flair and at the same time shape defencemen into contributors to the cause is something we've longed for.

I mentioned the forwards he could salvage like Sergei Kostitsyn and D'Agostini, but I can't see his influence being a bad thing on Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Latendresse, Cammalleri and some of the other relatively young guys either. What's more, he may just be able to make a Mike Fisher or two out of all those "defensive forwards" we have waiting in the wings.

What excites me more, though. And what I expect might have been going through Bob Gainey's mind is Jacques' potential to shape all those prospects coming through. It's about Josh Gorges' consistency, Ryan O'Byrne using his size, and Yannick Weber and PK Subban taking the right first steps. If even one of those 4 make significant strides, this signing will have improved our prospects over the defensive-forward trifecta.

Carey Price. What about Carey Price? Well, as for his personal development, I'm not sure. Jacques' record in turning out clutch goaltenders is nearly league worst. But, you never know, a better defence with some offensive conversion – maybe that alone will help Carey Price take the weight of the world off his shoulders enough that he can lift his left arm. We'll see.

A chance at making the playoffs without the customary ruining of 2 young careers. How's that for more reason to be positive about the season?

Elias On Gomez & Gionta

I wrote about these guys yesterday. Now it seems Elias is speaking on his fondness for the pair.

Check out the article in French on here.

The quote of the piece for me has to be this:
« Scott Gomez est un bon patineur ainsi qu'un bon fabricant de jeu qui doit contrôler l'action. Brian Gionta est aussi un bon patineur avec une éthique de travail irréprochable et des mains rapides autour du filet. Si on les jumèle ensemble, c'est très dangereux. »

Scott Gomez is a good skater and playmaker who (has to/likes to) control the game (tempo). Brian's also a good skater and has a work ethic beyond reproach, with quick hands around the net. If you put them together, it's very dangerous.

Terrific work ethic? If you say that about a teammate, I thought it was kinda like saying he's got a nice personality:

"Scott has great hair and these eyes you get lost in. Brian also has eyes and a really really great personality..."

Good interview, though.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Summer's For Fiction

Habs Trade Rumours Of Late

I do my best to ignore the rumours as they roll by. I mean are we honestly going down the Patrick Marleau road again for the 5th consecutive summer? You expect it from Eklund, he needs the readers; but for everyone to join in is a bit disappointing.

The hook for most rumours nowadays seems to be their perceived achievability. Are they realistic? This includes the salary exchange, of course. But added to the mix (and a favourite of the Hockeybuzz randomizer) is connections from the past.

When Saku Koivu was here, one consistent rumour from the guys who generate these "realistic" rumours was Teemu Selanne. Now that someone from Montreal has actually spoken to Teemu we know that Saku asked and he balked immediately – a question of enjoying California sunshine just that much. Bob Gainey GM, Guy Carbonneau father-in-law – it was only a matter of time back in the day before Brenden Morrow was added to the Habs. Big and cousin to Carey Price? That's two reasons Shane Doan always popped up. Don't forget anyone who can speak French with a contract running out – there's a whole other boatload of potential trade targets.

The trend of the summer seems to be that we will reunite any combination that our new free agents have ever successfully undertaken. Gainey, to be fair, has encouraged this kind of activity by signing Brian Gionta after he made the Scott Gomez deal. So the rumour-makers go to work. Cammalleri had a good year in LA, so naturally Frolov should be here too. Gomez and Gionta played well with Patrik Elias, so naturally Gainey must be pursuing him as well.

It's nonsense, of course. The stuff of August.

Why do trades that "make so much sense" so rarely happen?

Well one very good reason is that trades in general so very rarely happen. Now I'm not sure that they ever did really. I think what seems to make them so scarce nowadays is the simple fact that thanks to certain very imaginative internet users, about 5 or 6 are rumoured every single day. And when you look at interesting trades over the year, you'd be lucky to list 5 or 6 – that's a whole lot of unfulfilled dreams.

Honestly, though, I think the reason a lot of trades that "make sense" don't happen is because most of the time, they don't make any sense at all. Yes, Patrick Marleau for Halak makes sense in a one-eyed Canadiens kind of way, but for the Sharks? Throwing in salary doesn't help either, because it's rare that desirable asset and salary to shed fall on the same list for the trade partner.

Take the latest rumours. The trades for Elias and Frolov don't make as much sense to the teams reported to be shipping as they might for Montreal. For instance, there is good reason that Elias is the player from that line left in New Jersey from that line and Frolov is the one lingering in LA. There was reason to why those GMs made the choice to keep those two players ahead of their linemate(s). When you consider New Jersey, it would probably not be far-fetched to say that Elias has been the engine behind the offense there for a decade. Compared to Elias, Gomez was a blip on the radar. In LA, Frolov came first as well. A biggish winger who scores 25-30 goals like clockwork, it's easy to see why another team would covet him. Also easy to see why LA would not part ways with the guy.

Do these trades even make sense for Montreal?

It's all well and good to look down a roster and pick out players that played together (do we know that anyway, do we remember?) and come up with a story about the times they had together. It's quite another to substantiate those stories. It occurred to me that not only were these trades not the stuff of dreams for Lamoriello and Lombardi, but also that Gainey might not be getting the incredible boost that everyone assumes that would come from the moves.

If Luckily, there are resources available courtesy of the tireless stats crunchers who live in our computers to verify the hypothesis. We can have a look at how the partnerships we're supposedly working around the clock to reunite actually fared in the past. So that we can take our one eyed view if we want, yet make it an analytical eye.

Cammalleri – Frolov

In 2006-07, Cammalleri and Frolov did play together at even strength, but they weren't joined at the hip. They shared the ice for 481:33 minutes. Cammalleri played 564:49 without Frolov and Frolov played 637:35 withou Mike – so both played more without the other than with.

Interestingly, their partnership did seem to make both players more productive as they produced 28 goals when on ice together for a a rate of 1.163 a period. Cammalleri sans Frolov gave only 1.062 G/20 and Frolov sans Cammalleri 0.784 G/20. In case you're wondering Mike also made Alex a slightly better defensive bet, but Alex made Mike more of a liability.

But the duo didn't stop compiling evidence in April 2007. They did play another year together – and this is where it gets interesting. It seems that in 2007-08 (at least at ES), Mike and Alex were not primary linemates. Perhaps due to injuries and the resulting discovery of new combinations, perhaps due to coaching preference. Cammalleri in that season spent more time with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. Of his 1060 or so minutes of ice time, he spent less than a third with Frolov. And contrary to the season prior, 2007-08 was not a data set to suggest that the two were the second coming of Gretzky and Kurri. Offensively, both players were quite a bit better apart. Where together they popped out 0.846 goals a period, apart Cammalleri was good for 0.908 and Frolov for a whopping 1.237. Defensively, Mike was ever so slightly better with Frolov whereas Alex was again worse off.

If I'm Alexander Frolov, then, where's my burning desire to return to Cammalleri's side? I'm pretty happy with what I can do on my own. If I'm Cammalleri, I've shown I can be even better with Iginla – please get me Iginla.

Elias – Gomez – Gionta

At the very least, the rumour-makers got the line right. Back in 2006-07 (first year of data, last year for the line), the favourite linemates for each player came from the threesome – and they spent in the neighbourhood of two thirds of their even strength playing time together. And they were a good line on a good team. It wouldn't be a massive mistake to reunite them.

But really, who made who better? Well offensively it goes like this. Gomez made both Elias (1.143 vs. 0.453 G/20) and Gionta (1.022 vs. 0.281 G/20) a lot better producers at even strength. Elias helped Gomez a little (1.143 vs. 0.820 G/20) but not Gionta at all (0.828 vs. 0.841 G/20). And Gionta seemed to be leeching off the line because both Gomez (1.022 vs. 1.016 G/20) and Elias (0.828 vs. 0.927 G/20) were at least as good if not slightly better without his small frame around.

The next two seasons give us more fodder on the Elias front. In 2007-08, Elias dragged Gionta along again, but once again Gionta was not into symbiosis, preferring his parasitic ways. Last seasonsaw them together again, but like an old tired couple – neither really sparking the other anymore. Both seemed resigned just to plod on as they would. Importantly though, from Elias' point of view (and Lamoriello's), Patrik is still cruising along and steadily challenging the goal for every 20 minutes of play standard. He has also taken to playing with Zach Parise when possible, it seems, with massive boosts in production for both when they grace the same surface.

So if Elias were to be targeted, it would make sense to partner him with Gomez, but also to distance him from Gionta – so it would mean banishment for Brian from the centre he signed on for, hardly a very good strategy to welcome your new 5-year signing. From NJ's point of view, Elias is a leader and a very reliable offensive player who also happens to click with their new superstar forward. Not much incentive in the trade for them really. Not unless the trade includes someone named Andrei Markov.

In all honesty, if Gainey was as fixated on combination boosts as people are making out, it would be a better tack to go after Robert Lang who actually did potentiate two players on the team by quite a handsome margin (Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn) – all the more relevant, being that it happened in Montreal.

Both would obviously be great additions in Montreal as two of the top left wingers in the league. But considering salary, the current roster players, price to pay in a trade and the fact the combinations wouldn't bring quite the Midas touch the Eklunds of the world sell, it seems both are a massive stretch in the end – a bit of summertime fiction for the beach (and that goes for both the one-eyed or two-eyed onlooker).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Canadiens Outlook

The Expected Impact Of Jacques Martin

A couple of days ago, I saw a reporter joking about Bob Gainey's first answer when he's eventually asked the question about who he thinks his best off-season acquisition was. The reporter suggested that there will be no hesitation and Gainey will offer the name of Jacques Martin.

It's a joke because that's what Bob Gainey said this past winter when asked about his best move of the summer – replying without taking a breath that it was Guy Carbonneau. No sooner had he said it, was Guy losing games like a southern expansion franchise and earning his multi-million dollar salary for relaxing days on the golf course in March.

I can hear Bob Gainey giving the anticipated response. For one thing, he has that kind of humour. For another, it means he doesn't have to choose between players – the diplomat's way. But you know what, if you really think about it, shouldn't it be the answer we're all hoping for anyway? I'm sure we all hope Gomez is a success and that Spacek replaces Streit, but if come January Gainey stands up and says any name other than Jacques Martin's, I have a feeling we're not going to be a happy bunch.

Bad rap

The reason people probably don't wish to be looking to Martin as the beacon of hope in the mid-season is because of the fear for what that will mean. Upon his hiring, the media (especially outside Montreal) made a big deal about the hiring. They also tended to focus very heavily on two distinct elements of Martin's history: a) the trap and b) playoff failings.

Fair enough. Take your shots when you can get them in (Toronto). However, when one looks back over the career of Jacques Martin as a coach, one can see that the criticism as it was back in June, was a bit unfair. For one thing, labeling him as a trap-man completely ignores what he did for Ottawa at the other end of the ice. For another, his playoff record is only bad when placed in the light of the regular season success he had. Few coaches did better over the save time period.

I thought it would be interesting to look at what happened to Ottawa when Jacques Martin joins and what this might mean for the Habs.


The season before Jacques Martin's first complete campaign Ottawa were a pitiful outfit garnering just 41 points. In the space of that year, Jacques took largely the same team and made them a playoff qualifier for the next 9 seasons. His first season witnessed a 36-point jump in the standings to 77 points and by his 3rd full campaign, Ottawa were perennially hovering around the 100-point mark.

The points serve as a comfort to us Habs fans, but they hardly tell the story. Many teams see jumps in points from one season to the next and many go on to sustain those jumps as well. What was more notable with Jacques' changes in Ottawa was the impact he had on the way the team played. And it was that that eventually led to the winning ways.


Here you have it trappers – evidence that Martin did indeed tighten up the Ottawa defence. The changes he made to the system were marked and it's no wonder they stick out in so many peoples' memories. In 1995-96, the last year that started without Jacques Martin as the Ottawa coach, the Senators allowed an astounding 291 goals. The very next season, without a real jump in save % (0.888 to 0.891) and very few changes to the overall makeup of the team, Jacques' Senators sliced 57 goals from that total to a "mere" 234. The story comes together when you look at shots against as well, which nosedived from 2493 in 1995-96 to 2,113 the next season.

The changes were sustained as well, with further improvements even to the point that Ottawa could be counted upon to be much better than average in the GA column and even flirt with Jennings contention into the latter stages of seasons.

SeasonGoals againstShots against


Just as striking as the defensive turnaround over Martin's time in Ottawa was the complete jump start of the offensive juggernaut that they were to become under Jacques' tutelage – an oft forgotten side effect of good trapping.

While it's clear that Jacques Martin seems to target defence first, and that he certainly tailors a plan to the players he has available (see Florida), there is also a definite part in his long-term planning, it seems, for generating offensive opportunity from out of the discipline.

From 1995-96 to 1996-97, the Ottawa offense didn't roar to its full potential, but it certainly put together an encouraging start with a boost of 35 goals for (from 191 to 226). There were fluctuations along the way, but by the 4th or 5th year of his tenure they were flirting with top 5 offense in the league annually, and in 2004, when Jacques eventually parted 2004, Ottawa were the top goalscoring team in the entire NHL.

Once again, the results came from a philosophy, as evidenced by the increased and then sustained number of shots for, making sure the team had every chance of scoring at a higher rate.

SeasonGoals forShots for

Impact on Montreal

The parallel between Montreal 2008-09 and Ottawa 1995-96 is not perfect, to say the least, but there are some similarities. For one thing, Ottawa of that era moved to Jacques Martin out of a frustration with a less disciplined style that produced sporadic (and less than hoped for) results, just like our most recent Canadiens. For another, both defences can both be fairly categorised as atrocious by most standards. Both teams let up far too many shots for the calibre of goaltending they could rely on and both paid in goals against, and, to some degree, losses.

In what was a bad season for Montreal last year, the team allowed an astounding 2600 shots against. Quite a contrast with some of those numbers for Martin's Ottawa. Even if you take into account the inflation in shot totals since the lockout, there's no hiding form the fact that Montreal allowed more shots than 23 of their rivals and that most good teams see 300 or so less over a season. Surprisingly, it was an improvement on Carbonneau's system of a year before where the Habs let up 11 less shots, but in a more defensive league overall to put them 26th among their peers.

If Jacques Martin does nothing else but reduce the number of shots aimed at the Montreal end, he should succeed. If Ottawa is a relevant precedent, and the team cuts shots against by 300 or more, then Montreal could flirt with being an above average defensive team; and that's probably regardless of how Price and Halak fare.

Less goals against won't guarantee success, but they do often predict it. Specifically, a team that shoots more than they allow shots should score more than they allow. A team that scores more than they let up should (on average) produce more wins that losses. If it's about positioning yourself for wins and not losses, a cut deep into the heart of shots against is a good place to start.

From that point, if we're playoff bound, we can worry about coach Martin's other legacy when that time comes. If the regular season is negotiated with more ease than by his predecessor, I can't see him setting himself up to do any worse in the playoffs.