Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Go visit The H Does Not Stand For Habs. Clever and unpredictable. Sheer brilliance.

Well done JT, just one thing – just what do you think McGuire has to shave off? Surely no more than a Messier 3-second shave job there.

Canadiens Season Preview

Remaining Goalies And Prospects

The more astute among you will have noticed I got overexcited and missed any discussion of outgoing goalie Marc Denis – such is the impression he made on me last season. Well, NHL stats-wise it would have been a waste of time. And now I'm at the end of the line here, I haven't the energy to spend on an AHL journeyman no longer with the team. Today is my last installment of the preview and it encompasses NHL/AHL player Sanford, next in line Desjardins and the goaltending prospects.

Sanford et al

Curtis Sanford

NHL SeasonGPStartsPulledMinWLOTLGAASave %SO
08-09 (VAN)191539737802.590.9061
07-08 (VAN)16926794312.830.8980
06-07 (STL)31265149281253.180.8880

Personal save profile

  • Average save percentage at even strength

  • Made slightly more saves than expected at even strength

  • Was above average on the PK

  • Played behind a well above average defence at ES and on the PK


Stats notes
I don't know much of Sanford beyond what you see here, so this should be interesting. Here's what I think:

1) As good as his defence
Last season, Curtis put up some nice numbers – better than Price's even. But do not be fooled, that whole right side of the pie shows that he got some very nice defensive help from his teammates. The 0.910 expected save%, particularly, is a very nice starting point to be giving a goalie – it leaves little to do to crack the league top 30 list. By the same token, his stats in St. Louis were poor on a poor team – no heroics then.

2) Don't expect full starts
Last season he played in 19, but only started 15. In 3 of those 15 starts he was pulled. Similarly, the previous year, there were 7 complete games with 9 incomplete ones. That's 19 complete games in 2 years (and 16 partial ones). I wouldn't expect anything different this year, health of the current team permitting. An able back-up to be sure, but not one seen as a starter in this NHL anymore.

3) Settling in
After briefly trying to crack the NHL as starter, and then as top-2 man in St. Louis, it seems that Curtis may be settling now into that third man role where he can thrive. More occasional starts with more regular work on the farm have translated into better stats in both locales.

Topham on Sanford:

When I heard we had signed Curtis Sanford, my mind immediately went back to the pitiful St Louis Blues. The first I heard of Sanford was when he wrested the starting job form Patrick Lalime in St Louis back in 2005. That season was effectively his NHL rookie season and he put up some good numbers. But ever wanting to fit the mould of future Habs goalie, the next year when given his golden ticket, he stumbled (that'd be that 0.888 season you can see above). From that moment it seems the league has said thanks but no thanks to Curtis Sanford as starter or even backup starter.

But since then, he's also pulled his game together. 2 seasons in the NHL were spotted with fewer games but improvement. Parts of a season in the AHL were marked by absolute dominance. Consider then, when Gainey was looking for a goalie to help Cedrick Desjardins and possibly stand in for some minutes if an NHL guy went down, that Curtis Sanford was not such a daft choice.

I expect this season will be a mirror of Marc Denis' season last year, with pretty much the entirety of a season spent in Hamilton, shining for the most part, with a brief if any call-up to the Bell Centre. His experience of being part of the league winning, and always ambitious, Moose franchise should aid and abet the morale in Hamilton – a reminder that though dreams lie in the NHL, winning in the AHL while being paid hundreds thousands to do it ain't half bad. Any mentoring of Cedrick Desjardins at this point would be a big bonus, because the Habs are staring down the barrel of a gun with goalie prospects at the moment. I think over the season he will be asked to pass the torch to Desjardins, something that may spell the end to another brief veteran goaltending career in Hamilton.

Where Sanford will start 2009-10: Starting goalie in Hamilton

Where Sanford will end 2009-10: Co-starter in Hamilton

Key (NHL) stats: 5 GP, 0 GS

Potential call-up

1) Cedrick Desjardins

Just who is this Cedrick Desjardins that we are meant to be trusting with our fortunes if disaster strikes? You can be excused for not knowing the answer.

Cedrick is an undrafted youngster who has taken the road less travelled to get to where he is in the depth chart. From very very humble beginnings as a 1-game winner (20 starts) on the 11-game, Crosby-targeting, tanking specialists that were the 2002-03 Rimouski Oceanic he steadily improved as a goalie in junior. 2003-04 was OK, but it was 2004-05 and 2005-06 where he shone. In 04-05, he backstopped a Crosby led team to the Memorial Cup finals (though they lost to a stacked Knights squad). The next year, with equally impressive stats for the Q, he took Quebec (with Radulov and Esposito) to the Memorial Cup finals again – this time to win.

From there, he had a training camp invite but nothing more from the Chicago Blackhawks. And then, though the stingy Montreal media would never give Gainey credit for it, the French Canadian (NB, to be exact) goalie was scoped by the Habs organization. With Halak and Danis in the picture, Cedrick was to offer depth, and that first season he did (in Cincinnati), where once again his numbers improved. The following year, 2007-08, he was to be called up to the Bulldogs for an extended stint and performed very well (0.909 in the AHL). he'd end the season in style by starring in the Cyclones' capture of the Kelly Cup – a third championship final in four years. That brings us to last season where Desjardins was chief deputy to Marc Denis all season long. In 30 games, he once again improved his numbers (0.919 and 2.55 this time) to mark another season of progress. In the end, it was probably his strong play that sealed Denis' fate and paved the way for a Sanford/Desjardins tandem.

I note that he is a possible call up because his numbers in the AHL so far are very credible. We've seen him in camp against NHLers now too, and he fared well enough to keep that credibility. With other young goalies at the top level, it doesn't seem like Desjardins is here for the Canadiens. However, if he takes another step forward, he could well make things interesting by the trade deadline – making himself, Sanford or one of the NHLers bait for organizational improvements.

2) [Fill in blank]

If 3 goalies sustain injuries, Gainey will need to move as there is nothing looking anything like an NHL player beyond Desjardins in this system.

Loic Lacasse might have had a place here, but the 2004 draft pick, who put up some nice stats in his first stint in Hamilton showed the patience of Jaroslav Halak's agent and has committed careericide in the first degree by signing a contract with the NAHL. Oh, heady days.

The next wave

1) Robert Mayer

Though born in Czech, he represents the Swiss, and with a name like Mayer it's not hard to fathom why. The Canadiens signed Mayer during the summer of 2008 after his first season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. His 2008-09 was once again spent in new Brunswick, and while his personal stats took a leap in the right direction, the Sea Dogs he was leading were left disappointed in their quest for silverware.

It says the Canadiens assigned Mayer to Hamilton after his sojourn in Montreal for training camp, but that was only temporary. He should be the top goalie the next level down – a replacement for the departed Lacasse. Hopefully he'll get the lion's share of the work in Cincy, so he can take the next step in development and provide us with a bit of proper depth at this position.

2) Jason Missiaen

Perhaps in the future we will get a chance to witness Missiaen skating up to "The Monster" after a sweep of Toronto in the playoffs (OK, sweep of the Marlies?). The sooner the 6'3" Swede is made to look like a dwarf and not a troll, the better – then we can put that stupid nickname to bed.

As for Missiaen, there isn't really much more to say than that he is very big (6'8" by most accounts). Drafted by the Canadiens in 2008, probably on a bit of a flyer, he is still playing junior hockey this season. After taking what seemed to be backwards steps with the Petes last year, Missiaen seems to have started well this season as their new full-time starter. As with Mayer, any improvement will be welcomed. But it's hard to see him unseating Price, Halak or even Desjardins at any point in the future. Still, where there's a limb, there's a way – and he has lots of limb, his pads must make Giguere's look like toys.

3) Petteri Simila

The Canadiens scouting of goalies seems to have become a little lax, wouldn't you say? I mean, I know it's good we have two guys under the age of 25 in the NHL. And that if all goes well the goaltending position could be sealed and delivered for a decade and a half; but perhaps one criteria on top of height?

Petteri Simila is the midge of the Canadiens junior goalies, a mere 78" tall. What we do know about him is that he was drafted with the very last pick in the NHL draft (basically a free agent signing if you ask me). Someone somewhere must have caught one of the Karpat back-up's games and decided he was worth a look. Still, let's not assume too much, the scout didn't bother to mention it until the draft was basically over.

I look at Simila as a try-out really, no different than Desjardins or Mayer – the fact he was drafted being irrelevant. This season's try-out for the big man will be in the Niagara Falls area with the IceDogs. Though he'll wear the logo which enshrines Don Cherry's pitbull for the year, we can rest assured that the luminary himself won't be interfering with our prospect, since he sold the team a while back.

Simila has an uphill battle to prove himself to IceDogs brass, let alone Habs brass. The season has started with him in the back-up role. If he can wriggle into starting position and do something of note, another camp might be in his future. Then again, Canadiens prospects are so thin on the ground at his position merely being able to tie skates by next summer might be enough.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Canadiens Season Preview

NHL Goalies

For those that have been tiring at the previews over the last week (I know, defensive defencemen, yawn), this should perk you up. The goaltender preview. You know we've been hard on Price and aren't afraid to point out his blemishes. I know some of you don't like it. Should be a good mix for some discussion.

Price - Halak

Carey Price

NHL SeasonGPStartsPulledMinWLOTLGAASave %SO
08-09 (MTL)5249130362316102.830.9051
07-08 (MTL)414022413241232.560.9203

Personal save profile

  • Slightly above average save percentage at even strength

  • Made more saves than expected (based on shot quality) at even strength

  • Was among league worst at making saves on PK (worst among starters)


Stats notes
Carey had a few missteps in the second half of last season and it shows in his statistics. While even I would have bought the thoroughbred line in January, but was seriously sceptical of being told I shouldn't believe anything but in Gainey's patronising post-season talk. While I have covered Carey's season in much more depth elsewhere (Are These Thoroughbred Stats?), I'll do the highlights from the stats here today:

1) Very sound at even strength
One thing you'll notice from the special goalie pie is that Carey Price has a very good save percentage at even strength. Playing behind a defence that is letting up shots that should go in 9.5% of the time, he makes sure that only 8.6% go in. From watching his play, I can tell you this is what I like. When the play is at normal tempo, without any added complications, he covers the angles and makes more saves than an average goalie would.

2) Bad last season when shooters had time
I think the PK save percentage is quite an interesting one. While the stats sites haven't run the same expected save % numbers on these stats, I have tried to paint the picture myself. For Carey, the picture isn't good. Price was pretty much the worst goalie in the league on the PK last year. And while apologists tell us the defence let him down, that bright green segment tells us that compared to most goalies in the league, Carey was actually getting decent defence, even above average at times. My interpretation of this is that Price hasn't adapted his game to the PK yet. While at ES, his amazing positioning and movement is more than enough, on the PK it isn't. On the PP shooters enjoy more time and free positions, they can set their feet for shots and even pick corners without the pressure of defence. Goaltending against this kind of attack is typically difficult, but can be improved with quickness and reflexes. Carey's 0.803 save percentage tells us he's not up to the standard of his peers in those skills yet.

3) Defence never as good as it could have been
When you see a 0.920 save percentage on a first place team, you shouldn't then glance left and see 2.56 GAA. When a team has goalies that make more than the expected rate of saves, it seems wasteful to then turn around and allow more than the average amount of shots. Apart from the help he got on the PK (and decided not to take), Carey hasn't been as insulated as you might hope a very young goalie would be. This is not an excuse, merely an observation. I would be remiss not to also note that many do manage more with less.

Carey's career has taken in more highlights and lowlights in 2 years than many veteran goalies have had in a career. From great to merely good, we must hope he turns the trending of his progression around, because even sticking on good at this point may not be enough.

Tobalev on Price:

Carey started the year well, but injuries, All-Star festivities, the Centennial, the expectation to win and a whole bunch of other issues seemed to affect him in a very negative way. His problems (even at his best times) have always been his inability to rebound from a bad goal (or stint) and his glove hand - these two areas were a huge concern in pretty much every game he played from January onwards. I think that last winter was when we, the team and even Carey may have realised that he was no Dryden or Roy; no, for now, he was average and he'd have to work to progress. The defence surely let him down on numerous occasions (as did the offence), but at the end of the day he simply wasn’t good enough (or as good as he had been) to take us anywhere; he was one of the main reasons we almost missed the playoffs.

The one good thing heading into this year is that Carey will get much more support from his teammates on a nightly basis. I think that the general consensus is that we have a better coach, a better system and better defencemen. All of this may turn Carey’s off nights (or weeks or months) into something that we can work with. I am not too concerned with his numbers, except for one – wins. If he can find a way to let in one less goal than the other keeper and find ways to bounce back from rough goals/outings, then he may indeed be here for the long haul. I am afraid, however, that if he picks up where he left off last year then we will eventually have some choices to make. I for one am not sold on him being the centerpiece of the next two decades for this team, and he’ll have to play quite well to change this mind. That said, all I want is for us to win games and for now we know we’ll have to give that a shot with Price back there.

Gainey will make sure, if healthy, Carey plays in 50-65 games (regardless of performance), so you should expect to see 25-35 wins. I predict 2 shutouts (the defence is better after all) and slightly improved numbers; 2.60 GAA and .914 Save %.

Where Price will start 2009-10: Starting goalie

Where Price will end 2009-10: Starting goalie

Key stats: 33 W, 2.60 GAA, 0.914 save%

Jaroslav Halak

NHL SeasonGPStartsPulledMinWLOTLGAASave %SO
08-09 (MTL)343331931181412.860.9151
07-08 (MTL)6402852112.110.9341
06-07 (MTL)1616291210602.890.9062

Personal save profile

  • Above average save percentage at even strength

  • Made more saves than expected (based on shot quality) at even strength

  • Among league leaders at making saves on PK


Stats notes
Because there are only 2 goaltenders, this preview certainly does lend itself better to head-to-head comparisons. The debate is likely to once again rage and settle and rage and settle as to who to start in important games (it is Montreal). I can only start it off here by pointing out that Halak, last season was the better Canadiens goalie on the whole, but that really he was the better of two average goalies:

1) Very similar to price at ES
Although you'd never think it from watching them both play at ES, both Halak and Price are well above average. Halak's pie does look different, but a closer look at the numbers show that although he snuck into a higher quintile, raw save percentage and raw expected save percentage were very similar.

2) Excellent last season on the PK
If the two were all but the same at ES, PK is where their fortunes diverged. While Price was league worst, Halak flirted with the Backstroms and Lundqvists of the league with his 0.890 rate of efficiency. To extend my theory on Price, I believe that is because Halak has better reflexes and is better at improvising at this stage of his career – two skills that serve him well under bombardment.

3) Even worse defence than our man Price got
Better save percentages and worse GAA say that on average Halak did not enjoy even the level of mediocrity that Price did from his skaters. Here's the rub though, it shouldn't matter. Good goalies find ways to let in less goals overall, even if means they have to post gaudy 0.930+ save percentages. If Halak wants to grab a starting position here or elsewhere, he'll need to cut down goals against whatever his defenders decide to do.

2006-07 was an unexpected surprise. 2007-08 was tantalizing with numbers. It seems 2008-09 was just about the real Halak. If that's true what you get is a goalie who makes saves he shouldn't and from worse starting position than his more technically-sound rival. I'm not sure he's the best back up int he league, but another season of 0.915+ and you'd have to think he's close.

Tobalev on Halak
On the whole, Halak’s 2008-09 season looks pretty good - 18-14-1, 1 SO, 2.86 and 0.915 – but there were still some concerns. I seem to remember that when given the chance he never really took the bull by the horns. To be fair to him though he did have that one incredible stretch that was interrupted by the flu, an illness that likely cost him more starts and his team a deeper run into the playoffs. I guess what I am trying to say is that Jaro isn’t as good as Price-bashers make him out to be (he himself is only really average and has yet to perform for long stretches at a time), but he is better than some people make him out to be too (he would be a very desirable back-up options for most GMs). His season last year taught us that he is definitely good enough to play a lot of games and to squeak out wins, but also that he isn’t (at least not yet) an elite NHL goaltender; we are therefore batting 0/2 in that department.

I can’t see Jaro really going anywhere anytime soon, he should be in Montreal all year. A lot of people want him traded, but I don’t think our depth would allow for that, besides, he isn’t quite good enough that he’d get us very much in return. Therefore, he is best suited to playing in Montreal for now, behind Price. I believe that the starter job, however, could be up for grabs by as early as Christmas and I really believe that Halak has a shot at being that guy this time around. If (or maybe when?) Price falters, look for Jaro to start getting some consecutive starts. For now, however, he will play about once every three or four games. I fully expect his Save % to remain high and his GAA to go down to the 2.40-2.60 range (again, thanks to team etc.). If I had to bet I would say he features in 35-40 games and will likely play for about a .550 winning %. That should give him about 15-20 wins when you consider that he’ll be coming into some of those games as relief.

Where Halak will start 2009-10: Back-up

Where Halak will end 2009-10: On a charge again

Key stats: 16 W, 2.47 GAA, 0.915 Save%

While Halak was surely better than Price last season, he was frustrating to his supporters in not being able to prove that he will be better than Price. As Tobalev said, both have lots to learn, both are currently occupying the average territory in league goaltending ranks.

Perhaps not as controversial as I promised. I think I held back knowing that I'd done a bit of this work before, and that I wouldn't have the time or the inspiration to match it. For those who want to see that follow the link to the little read Carey Price Segment from last May.

Statistics adapted from,, Olivier

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bad Attitudes, Bad Habits

Sergei Kostitsyn Not Alone

Didn't take long for my previews to be contradicted, did it?

Sergei Kostitsyn has been demoted to the Hamilton Bulldogs. I had him on the third line making our hockey team a more difficult one to play against. It seems that is something that will wait for a bit of maturation to take place (like a good cheese...).

I should also applaud the majority of you who appear to have this 4-horse race pinned as one between Latendresse and Pacioretty, as indicated by your responses to our poll.

Now it's easy to jump to lots of conclusions here, and in fairness most are probably close. The popular take is that Sergei Kostitsyn is being demoted because he missed the team bus. The extension on that is that he was yelled at (on camera) and was the player to put the most steps wrong at camp. But what is missing from all these tales of intrigue is the fact that Sergei didn't really have a very good camp.

Why is that?

Well, it appears one reason is that Sergei will be a new pin cushion for those that miss Kovalev's "floating", Koivu's "French" and Higgins' failure to live up to their own overblown expectations. Sergei is being tarred and feathered and being kicked off the bandwagon Canadien.

Countless good riddance comments grace the message boards and comment pages today – fans willing to write off a 50-point youngster as easily as that.


Ever since his slumps of early 2009, and his subsequent public humiliation (despite being cleared by law) regarding shady associations, Sergei has been tagged a problem child. And while it certainly looks that way on the outside, with his atrocious line changes coming straight to mind, it might be a tad unfair on the young man. Unfair, because he is clearly not alone in needing an attitude adjustment.

You see, Sergei's attitude problems are overt, expressed in bursts, not often reined in. They're easy to spot, easy to bash. But if you think that we've rid our team of bad attitudes today, you are gravely mistaken.

Take this September. This was the training camp where competition for jobs meant that 4 forwards were vying for one place on a scoring line. It was the training camp where all four stumbled through the steps, did little other than the absolute minimum (at least in game situations).

This was the camp where a new depth of veterans up front meant AHLers who had been in line for a job would have to work hard to make impressions. It was a training camp where more players took steps backwards than forward.

Attitude for me doesn't stop at petulance, tantrums and sulks. Controlling those things are a minimum requirement. But as a fan, I would hope that the attitude being sought includes striving to be better, not just adequate; striving to win; and showing the willingness to work on one's failings.

In this regard, this training camp has highlighted the attitude adjustments needed from players other than Sergei as well; players like his brother Andrei, Latendresse, D'Agostini, Chipchura, Stewart, Lapierre, Gorges and even Price. A lot of young guys who are taking a lot for granted. My specific concern does lie with the battle for the 6th forward place, which was run at a canter and won by a player who missed time injured, never scored and played some good, average hockey with one assist on top-line duty.


I'm always impressed with Latendresse after he speaks, full of praise. He always seems to come across as having one of the best attitudes I've ever known in a prospect as young as him.

But when it comes down to it with Gui, it's really starting to seem like though he can talk the talk, he's not willing or perhaps able to walk the walk.

In the summer, I half-jokingly wrote him some tips on what he should be doing to step through the open door to the top two lines. From the moment he came into camp, he seemed as if he had read that. A summer in Ottawa training seemed to be paying off. But as time goes on in this camp period, what we're seeing is the same remarkable ability to let opportunity slip through the fingers as he's shown at every chance previous.

Yes he's scored goals, and he'll continue to do that. But he hasn't made his lines better on the whole. He hasn't been brave enough to actually be Holmstrom, though he likes to name drop Tomas near nightly. Is it fear? Is it anxiety? Whatever it is, Guillaume, if he really wants to help this team, has to have another think about his own approach and his career goals at this team-building exercise. It's no longer enough to keep saying he knows what to do, yet doing nothing about it. The time to procrastinate is done.


Forgive D'Agostini for missing the boat, he probably never thought he'd be trying to make it in the first place. But just as the door was open for Sergei and Guillaume, so it was for Matt. Goals might have helped, but I tell you it could have been simpler – simple as not looking like one of the lower half of forwards most of the time.

D'Agostini also needs a soul search. If he wants to make a career in the NHL, he should probably reflect on the fact that his skill is scoring and his weakness is defending. Not usually the profile of the low impact third or fourth liner.

Different players, different remedies

As someone who has coached, I know that getting players to recognise their faults, to reflect and eventually (hopefully) to change their attitudes takes an armoury of different attacks.

In Sergei's case, I think they are getting it right. From all I've seen, he is someone who can respond to action. Rather than try to handle him with the kid gloves of the past, this demotion is the kick in the back-side that tells him he's not been good enough. Sure there'll be an outward sulk, but don't be surprised if in a few weeks we're talking about a player with 34 points in 24 games who's chomping at the bit to get his next chance.

I have trouble reading the others. If Guillaume's situation weren't complicated by being the buffer against no French Canadian players in the Habs line up, would he respond to a boot too? I'm not sure he would you know. I estimate that the day after, we'd be hearing from the same philosophical Gui, fully aware of faults as always, down on the farm – no fire lit.

How then to light his fire? It's tricky, but you know this retreat might be just the thing. Perhaps a little JM one on one with Lats can bring him around to the fact that he must act on what he knows needs be done. I'll cross my fingers.

As for D'Agostini, who knows? He was never really anything but the fourth horse in the race anyway. Perhaps all he needs is a few more days to get a taste for this NHL journey before he gets demoted to the AHL again. I don't know. One can only hope that with a taste of this nice new flavour they've concocted in Montreal, Matt would fight with whatever he has to make sure he's part of it.

There, I've said my piece. Though I fully agree with the Sergei Kostitsyn demotion, I am as usual at odds with the way some media choose to take this opportunity to single out one young player, while giving others their free pass, to vilify the Belarussian because it suits their agendas.

Have a good break. Thursday's coming.

Canadiens Season Preview

Prospects At The Back

After days of putting out day after day of previews, wouldn't you know that the first time people start congratulating us is the same day we slip and miss a day. Perhaps not slip, but in not wanting to lose my hockey pool, I spent the time compiling my lists for that instead. Mind you, I still ended up with the most questionable goalies as I do every year.

Anyway, as the title of the post suggests, this is my look at the below NHL prospects on defence. As with the forwards, I had neither as much data or as much drive to do a full-blown analysis of each of these guys. So instead, it's just some thoughts possibly mixed with scouts' thoughts and random stats. In any case, the preview wouldn't be complete without something on Alex Henry, so here we go.

Potential call-ups

1) PK Subban

With Yannick Weber on the "NHLer" list, there's absolutely no doubt who the top prospect at the back is. PK Subban, junior star, Team Canada star, high draft pick, media darling has skills and personality to make it.

What's most exciting about PK is not his accomplishment with the indomitable Team Canada, nor his more than point-per-game from defence last year, but his personal skill set. Unlike some players who win, but you can't really put a finger on why. With PK it's easy – it's his skating. As a pretty pitiful hockey player myself, I know that being unable to keep up on skates puts me at an immediate disadvantage in nearly every situation on the ice. I can only imagine the other guys must be thinking the same, only in terms of advantage. Well, PK has that advantage in spades. He had it over most junior pretenders, and from what little I've seen, I'd say he'll have it in the NHL one day too. It seems that because he's practiced his skating through drills rather than simple reliance on game day that he can do things to make it look as though he was born with blades on his feet. You'd better watch:

With skill like that, PK can already offer a talent that puts him among the elite in the NHL. Oh, that hockey were only about skating and going forward. The reason PK is not up with the team today, and the reason that Yannick Weber has surpassed him at several different steps now is because of defence – you know, the position he purportedly plays? It remains the question at this time, perhaps the only question. But luckily defence is something that can be learned with some dedicated study. And though all his highlights display amazing rushes, you might have noticed the hole where brilliant, or even simple effective pass would normally fit for a Dman.

There's a definite place for Subban and his crazy feet in the NHL. The question for the Canadiens is whether there is a place for him on a team with Andrei Markov. And possibly Yannick Weber. If he shows he can be a defensive asset in Hamilton, the answer will be an unquestionable yes. If he can't, the onus will be on Gainey to find the team who needs the offense from the back and can afford to forgo him playing his position as others might.

2) Mathieu Carle

If PK has problems finding a place on the offensively laden blueline in Montreal, imagine 3rd in line Mathieu Carle.

Long-term it would take some moves to see a real place for Carle up on the Habs. Short term, however, he has a few aces to play in order to expedite his call up.

The first is his age. 22 now, he may be more mature and better able to see where team game outweighs individual game than some proteges. The second is his direct experience in Hamilton. As mentioned, it's not been an overwhelming success, but at the same time he has shown he can do a job for a successful team against pros.

Third, and I'm loathe to say it, but it's the fact he is Quebecois. I'm not saying that he'll be brought up just to make up numbers, but the company line has always been at equal value, we'll choose the local lad. Well, for the brief period before PK really gets any AHL experience of his own, Carle is holding at least that equal card, if not a slightly better one. What's more, we've seen this decision exercised already at camp with the first cuts, and there's no reason to think it won't hold until mid-winter.

3) Shawn Belle

I probably made more fuss than was necessary for Shawn Belle attending early skates, but I did think it showed a good attitude form him at least.

If you want to read about the best of Shawn Belle, I've done that bit already
(near the bottom of the piece). What has transpired since the writing of that article, however, has led to some extra conclusions. The first is that Shawn Belle is no panacea – he would be a replacement with plenty of faults, a player who would make mistakes. The second is that he has been properly assigned to Hamilton – the players ahead of him in this depth analysis are indeed better at the moment. Finally, that for all his attitude coming early, he perhaps hasn't quite grasped how his NHL dream is slipping by. His average showing at camp has been wildly surpassed by the man we put on notice (Ryan O'Byrne).

Shawn could be a call up, but really he has to do more to impress if he wants to make it stick. Hamilton is a valuable training ground for a defender like Belle, and another season like his last, on a winning team, could mean knocks on Gainey's door about a depth defenceman in a trade, if not in Montreal.

4) Andre Benoit

Andre's back with the Bulldogs after tow very successful seasons in Europe. But what stands in Andre's way is the same solid group of defenders that stand in every other offensive Dman's path.

What seems to be clear from his statistics and reports is that Benoit could step in and do the job. However, depth, salaries and midsets being what they are, it would take a lot of bodies going down, specifically from the PP rearguard for this to ever happen for Benoit. Still, he's 4th in line here because of his stellar junior record, his experience in the AHL and his clear determination to give this NHL thing another go. Don't look for him in many games, but you never know, one or two could be in the cards.

5) Alex Henry

Alex Henry, my goodness. I did have some stats on him, but not many. I can tell you that during his 2 game stint last season with the Habs he managed to do so poorly with his 10 minutes that he comes at the bottom of nearly every category we looked at in the league. So badly that one stats site I was looking at found that Mathieu Schneider's stats were being dragged through the dirt by virtue of him having worn the same number as Henry (a bit of computer confusion).

So why even mention him? Well for one thing, he's playing in Hamilton's top 6, making him call-up material. For another, he does quite well down there. While it's not time to write Henry off altogether (he is massive), it seems that his skating and awareness might be more AHL level at this point in time.

6) Michael Busto

Finally, Michael Busto – that other guy from the Higgins trade. How does 6 years in the WHL strike you? I'm not sure I've ever seen that. Sure by the time he left, he was posting good stats, but he was the 210 lb 21-year-old playing against teenagers.

His next seasons were in the ECHL, so take that for what it is. In the end, it seems that Busto was either a guy Sather wanted off the books (unlikely he micromanages that much) or that he was simply brought in to replace TJ Kemp in Hamilton and nothing more. Don't go out and buy your Busto sweater anytime soon.

Not at camp

1) Alexei Emelin

Another NHL-ready, contractually tied player in the organization. It is reported that Emelin spurned the Canadiens, though like Valentenko, you have to wonder what the team was offering this able pro.

Skill-wise, Emelin is the best immediate fit for the Canadiens. He plays sound hockey, he plays rough, he plays in that gray area of the rules. Emelin is exactly the type of player that a young goalie tandem need – someone to make opposing forwards think before entering the zone. Someone who serves notice that shots from good positions are something that shooters will have to pay for with bruises.

Anyway, this year is fait accompli, he's at Kazan. If the allegations of an out clause are true, he could replace Mara next season. If not, it'll be at least two more.

2) David Fischer

Hockey's Future says:
The club remains high on their former first rounder and the former Minnesota Mr. Hockey has slowly but surely progressed in his development.

I have to seriously question that assertion. If the club were high on Fischer, I wonder whether they'd really be leaving him in a program that clearly isn't vaulting him to a future of NHL stardom – certainly now they have their mentor/coach Guy Boucher in place on the farm.

That said, Fischer is still one for the plans. While McDonagh was the better absolute prospect, in the Canadiens scheme where Markov, Gorges, Weber and Subban figure in the future, Fischer as the 6'3" now more defensive defenceman (out of necessity) is a better organizational fit.

When he was drafted in 2006, Fischer was a tall 2006 Mr. Hockey with talent to progress offensively and defensively. As time has passed, things haven't gone quite as well as the optimists thought. Though he is still 2006 Mr. Hockey, he also now holds the inauspicious title of 2007, 2008, 2009 Mr. 4th defenceman (I now get overtaken by younger players at our school) Wisconsin. His offensive game looks ever dwindling, and he's no Ken Daneyko. It's a tale of talent analysis gone off, but not so far that he's out of the picture. A 6th defenceman out of a first round pick (with Varlamov, Berglund and Giroux right behind) isn't great, but it's better than nothing.

3) Konstantin Korneev

This guy is a forgotten prospect. I mean truly off the radar. In deciding whether I should even continue mentioning his name, I did a search and found the Habs still maintain a player page for him.

He's worth mentioning though, because though 25 is old to import a player, he's already a star in the Russian pro ranks and for the senior national team at times. It would probably take massive roster overhaul again, a transfer agreement and a few other minor miracles to ever see him in bleu, blanc, rouge, but as non-NHLers go, he ranks for us.

4) Mac Bennett

The scouting reports say good skater, good instincts and most irrelevant of all (hi Keith Gretzky and Brian Sakic) bloodlines. If that's all you read and saw you'd be pretty stoked. Mac has added some context to the reports by attending a couple of camps with the Habs now. Impressive at the development camp and again at rookie camp, initial signs are good.

The fact that Mac Bennett has suddenly appeared at #14 on the list of Canadiens prospects at Hockey's Future probably speaks more to the prospects below him than it might about him. While Mac certainly provides intrigue, the fact remains no one in the Habs organization, nor likely any of the fans writing up about him, have seen him playing real games against anyone that isn't at a US high school. For every one Sean Hill, there are ten or twenty Steve McCools, Matt Shasbys and Kishels.

What's more, this is the very easiest time to be raving about a player like Bennett. We know he had a good season because he was drafted. The question always remains with any of these prospects – will it translate into another? Will it be duplicated at a higher level? We'll see. This season he is still in a high school league, so our answer may have to wait until Michigan 2011.

5) Niklas Torp

Torp to me sounds like the Swedish Emelin. Not giant, not great offensively, but an abrasive defender who makes people work for their space. Last year was not a year of distinction for Niklas. However, as a 19-year-old defensive defenceman in a men's league, what would one really expect.

This year has started out nicely for the youngster, and he's definitely grabbed a regular spot on the Jonkoping team. Let's not get too carried away, but he does already have more points than last season after 3 games. I think it's more of an indication of increased role than any sudden offensive awakening – still a good sign there.

6) Greg Pateryn

I'll forgive you for overlooking the guy we got for Grabovski, he's pretty low down the chart. There's not much to say yet about Pateryn. He has had one season at Michigan as a part-timer and is now vying to stake a place as a 19-year-old there. As for Montreal, one can't really see him taking less time than Fischer has been, so his pro career, if it ever gets going at all, will likely be another 3 years away.

7) Joe Stejskal

Here's another in the long list of American high school defeders in the Habs system. Outstanding high school (well, of course, he was drafted after all), but lacklustre in college thus far. It says that he's had time on the top pairing, which certainly shows any offensive prowess we thought he might have had might not be as natural to him as some. Furthermore, he's playing at Dartmouth, not Boston, not Michigan. While great for his academic career, the men in green don't immediately spring to mind when thinking of future NHLers.

He's still young enough that 2 more seasons of college could turn his career around, but you won't find any of my money on that. His saving grace is that he isn't 5'10".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Canadiens Season Preview

Remaining NHL Defencemen

We must be getting close to the season now. For you today, the reserve defencemen:

Gill, Weber

Hal Gill

NHL SeasonGPGAPts+/-Hits/60BkS/60GvA/60TkA/60Gv:TkPIM
08-09 (PIT)622810+
07-08 (TOR/PIT)8132124+64.705.302.890.89-2.0068
06-07 (TOR)8261420+114.694.842.751.36-1.3991

Even-strength profile

  • Above average offense at even strength

  • Above average defence at even strength

  • Average chance production at even strength

  • Negative CORSI: -2.9


Stats notes
He's 7th on my list. I have to justify why I may have sold him short:

1) Great balance of offense and defence, but...
There's no denying it, the top half of the pie is exactly what we're after – above average O and D. The only thing was: shouldn't it have been expected? I certainly think the offensive half should have been on Pittsburgh. And looking at the D, it's better than I would have guessed for Pitts, but Gill was tempting fate by allowing more than the average number of chances against Fleury and co.

2) Possibility of bad giveaway balance
My perception of Hal Gill was always that of a slow defenceman who gave away the puck when pressured. Never mind for a minute that Andrei Markov is no star in this regard, getting near 3.0 giveaways every 60 minutes is keeping some poor company – well within the bottom 10% of Dmen in this league. Gill has flirted with that number twice in the last 3 years and last year, though improved, was still in the bottom 30-odd Dmen in this regard. A one-off is forgivable (see O'Byrne), is 3 strikes?

3) Strangely low hit numbers
Considering he's 6'7", it seems it would be difficult to keep the hit numbers as low as they are. It makes me wonder if Gill hits when players come to him, but is not so good at catching them. Either that or he's the Peter Crouch of hockey – a man whose made a career on being a giant, but possessing in reality a complement of little man skills. This was really what tipped it for O'Byrne with me. Though I don't think hits are the be all and end all that Komi does, I do think it is important not to dress 6 defencemen who shy from hard contact.

Tobalev on Gill:

Part two of the plan is the bigger and heavier Hal Gill. His size (6’7”, 250lbs.) are really the only things getting him work in this league. My memories of him are that of a pretty useless defenceman on some pretty dirty/cheap teams (save Pittsburgh). It is therefore quite surprising that he was +11 last year, but I guess we should remember that he was on the best team. The whole hockey world saw during the Pens’ playoff run what this behemoth could (and couldn’t) offer on the ice and many people saw him as a liability on that team. He was, however, used in 24 playoff games and did win a cup – those are experiences that can’t be taught.

I am glad that we are employing Gill as a #6 man as anything more would be way beyond his abilities. The upside for us is that he is big and strong and should in theory intimidate opposing forwards. He also doesn’t seem afraid to muck it up and drop them when he has to, which will also help our team. His addition should, at the very least, help us reduce chances against and will hopefully alleviate some of the fighting and hitting duties from other (smaller) players. He may chip in a few points, but as a 3rd pairing (with Mara, Spacek or Gorges) type guy all I’ll be looking for is positive play. If, for his 12-15 minutes/game, he can keep our end clear then I will start to see the value in him more and more.

Where Gill will start 2009-10: Starting lineup

Where Gill will end 2009-10: Insurance policy

Points: 2 G, 7 A, 9 Pts

Yannick Weber

NHL SeasonGPGAPts+/-Hits/60BkS/60GvA/60TkA/60Gv:TkPIM
08-09 (MTL)3011-15.241.310.000.000.002

Stats notes
I didn't bother to run all the stats on Weber – 3 games doesn't really tell us anything. And it would be foolish to try and pick trends from the regular season and playoffs as short as they were.

If I can indulge in one point of frivolity, I'd have to say that it is a good sign that the projected offensive defenceman has already got his first NHL points and his first playoff goal. Though far from confirmation, it shows the first signs of his abilities to adapt to the higher level.

Tobalev on Weber

Do we have another Swiss (Can’t) Miss on our hands? I sure hope so. If he could be half the player that Streit was/is then we are in for a good ride (until we let him walk for nothing that is)...

Yannick really surprised a lot of people last year and it all started back in September. There was a buzz about him out of camp and he turned that into a strong start on the farm. In fact, he netted 44 points in just 68 games which is quite something for a 20 year old, let alone a defenceman. His strong play and some injuries (Markov, Schneider) meant that he finally made his way to MTL in the spring. Believe it or not he only featured in 6 games (3 of which came in the playoffs), but still managed to turn some heads. His play during that time looked alright, and he scored a goal and added 2 assists. He held his own in his our end too. Weber was a nice little bonus for Habs fans who had endured a rough 3 months.

Even so, I think that there are just too many NHL-level defencemen already in Montreal for Yannick to crack the squad this year as a regular. He will certainly get a call-up or two, but there is no point having a PP specialist in the press-box as a 7th defenceman – that position has O’Byrne written all over it. Instead he should go to Hamilton and play a lot of hockey. A spot will likely open up in Montreal in the next few years as we always seem to be rotating new PP bodies onto the blue-line anyway. I would like Yannick to work on his defensive game so that it becomes NHL-ready for when we need him. Offensively, however, he just has to stay the course – I see no issues there. Weber should put up 0.75 PPG type numbers on the farm and 0.25-0.35 PPG numbers when he is in Montreal; I just can’t foresee how much time he’ll play where.

Where Weber will start 2009-10: Hamilton

Where Weber will end 2009-10: Hamilton, with a few more games of NHL experience

Points: 3 G, 3 A, 6 Pts

I have put Gill and Weber in this category of remaining NHL defencemen for now because that is where, come season's end, I think they will be. Weber, as we said, has too many NHLers in front of him this season and will probably be in Hamilton for a big part of the season. Gill on the other hand is an able NHLer, I just feel that on versatility and potential (and a whim) that O'Byrne might work out better. Nevertheless, Gill will play, and quite a lot, quite simply because many NHLers have a very hard time the bigger the body they see in front of them (see Plekanec).

Statistics adapted from,, Olivier

Friday, September 25, 2009

Part Of My Life Is Over:

Patrice Brisebois And Me

Perhaps you'll think me lazy for re-posting, perhaps not. I just thought that I couldn't do any better, not today, so I'd repost an article I had published as "999 Not Out" in the spring.

Patrice Brisebois and me have had a rocky relationship at times, but it's been a long one. He's been part of my life for more than 20 years if you count me following him in junior. He's been a part of this blog since the beginning too. And together I think we've both grown up a lot since the days he pinched and scored in the playoffs; since the days he fell and I booed. So as you do when an important era of your life passes, I reflect and relook. I hope you enjoy my "tribute" to our newly retired Canadien.

I'm not sure whether you'd call this a tribute, perhaps more of a synopsis.

I am not qualified to do a Brisebois tribute, you see, and I would only mess it up. So, instead I will tell you about my 19 years with Patrice Brisebois – with my memories, my interpretations and my feelings.

Early days

Blue chip beginnings
It must be said that Patrice Brisebois was one more in a long line of bluechip defenceman prospects to come through the Montreal Canadiens system back in 1990. That is the reason, Serge Savard and staff must be forgiven for overlooking no less than 3 superstars in Pavel Bure, Sergei fedorov and Nicklas Lidstrom to get Patrice.

In 1989, Patrice was the Canadiens dream come true: a French Canadian, goalscoring defenceman who was winning competitions. By the end of that season, he had racked up 30 goals and 109 points in 98 junior games and had competed for the Memorial Cup for the first time with the Laval Titan.

I have to admit that even I was a big fan back then, and I still have his QMJHL rookie card signed in a case somewhere, I think.

Excellent progression

The good times didn't stop at the draft for Patrice, as he would go on to play for Team Canada twice in the next two years, winning 2 gold medals – beating Jagr's Czech team and Pavel Bure's USSR no less. After the two stints for Canada, he also played in 10 NHL games as a 19-year old (which, if you remember Serge Savard's model of player development, was quite a feat). To top it off, there were two Memorial Cup finals in 2 years, the second one with him as a tournament all-star. If that's not enough to impress the socks off any scout, he raked in the CHL defenceman of the year award in 1991 as well. Just a quick run-down for those who prefer bullets:

– 2 WJC gold medals
– 3 Memorial Cup finals
– 1 CHL defenceman of the year
– 1 Memorial Cup All-Star team
– 65 goals and 258 points in 208 junior games
– 11 points at both WJCs and Memorial Cups in 13 and 14 games, respectively

This guy was the Carey Price of his age – a shoe in to be a star...

NHL debuts
Following his tour with Montreal in 1990-91, he saw a bit more replacement work in 1991-92. In all, there were 26 regular season games, and more importantly, Patrice featured in all 11 playoff games that spring for the Habs as they lost to the Bruins in round 2. As the Canadiens 6th scorer that post-season, it seemed as if he was about to leap-frog Mathieu Schneider and JJ Daigneault in the depth chart.

The next season, Patrice did make the team and had a good season. However, he did not make the immediate jump into the limelight, as Schneider and Eric Desjardins became the pair to carry the Canadiens when the going got tough. Nonetheless, Brisebois played 70 games in 1992-93, chipping in 10 goals and 21 assists. He was an integral player in the Cup run (playing in all 20 playoff games), taking his new backseat role in stride, it seemed.

The graduation

The Stanley Cup run of 1993 (in Patrice's rookie season) has been the pinnacle of his NHL achievements to date. As so many a veteran will tell you – the thought that Cups would be so hard to come by after that first one didn't cross the mind at the time. It was perhaps fitting, that Patrice was at his best though, at that time, in a system where he could use his talents without being overstretched. On a team with 4 defencemen ahead of him in playing time, a goalie that could stop seemingly anything – Patrice could play at forward from the back as he had done so well in junior.

As things started to go wrong for the Canadiens, things looked quite rosy for Patrice. He played a lot, despite some injuries. A pivotal moment in his career would come in the spring of 1995. February 9th of that year, Serge Savard made an infamous trade that sent Eric Desjardins, John Leclair and Gilbert Dionne away for Mark Recchi. April 5th, Savard would trade his other defensive stud as Mathieu Schneider and Muller were swapped for Pierre Turgeon and Vladimir Malakhov. Those trades had two impacts for Brisebois. Out Desjardins, Schneider and Haller (summer 1994) in Malakhov, Racine and other spare parts meant that Brisebois was being entrusted with a new brief as top 3 defender. He handled the brief OK for a while. But it was a lot to ask of a forward playing on D (essentially) to fill out major minutes after what happened that next December – when the man who masked so many defensive deficiencies was traded for Jocelyn Thibault, Rucinsky and Kovalenko.

Once Patrick Roy departs, the Canadiens become a bit of a mish mash for the next few years. They still had the offensive firepower with Damphousse, Turgeon, Recchi and belatedly Koivu, to carry some wins – and there were good seasons in 1996 and 1998; but their defence was buckling. Brisebois continued to contribute offensively, but began to struggle to protect a net not filled by Patrick Roy.

By 1998, after all Rejean Houle's other inane moves, Brisbois was left as the major star player from La Belle Province. This pressure brought pressure sure, but perhaps more significantly it brought ego to the year-on, year-off Brisebois.

Highlights of the rest of the decade for Brisebois included several 30+ point seasons (every other year, really) and numerous game-winning goals, despite few meaningful wins. Patrice was a plus player over this time as well, no small feat.

Of these ten years, this is all the NHLPA Legends site had to say:
"As the franchise struggled in the late 1990s, Brisebois was a constant on the defensive brigade. He set a personal high with 15 goals in 2000-01 and was an integral part of the club's playoff hopes in 2001-02."

It's a telling quote, given the site is trying to position each player in the most positive light. There's just not much to say. Not much we'd like to recall... In preparation for this piece, I also read some of the books I have on the shelf. One, Canadiens Legends, even has an entry for Brisebois. After reading it, I almost felt sorry for the guy as it showcased how the sweet ride of his career was over after year one, and has been filled with trouble ever since.

If you think about it, though, Serge Savard drafted Brisebois to fit in behind Desjardins, Schneider and other solid defenceman; and he had the best goaltender to ever play the game. Things looked solid, and a gamble on a defenceman who was much better going forward than skating backwards was a worthwhile gamble. Who knew he would be the last man standing on this defence stood in front of two projects learning to play goal?

Based on a mercurial junior career and rise to success in the big league, there was hope that Brisebois could fill in the position of top defenceman on a top team. Alas, he was never able to reach those heights. He probably should never have been asked or expected to do so.

The contract

No discussion of Brisebois' career would be complete without talk of the contract that came late in his first Montreal stint.

It was the winter of 2001, that new GM Andre Savard decided to make his mark on the Montreal Canadiens for brand new owner George Gillett. Patrice was taken aside and offered an extension on his current offer. probably surprised enough to receive any offer after his -31 season, Patrice jumped on a fully out-of-whack biggest Canadiens contract offer in history ($12 million over 3 years). At the time it was an absurd move for a defenceman that had just been given a raise to $2.5 million a year the spring before following his worst ever season. To add insult to fans' injury, he was also given a no-trade clause.

If ego was a problem before, it was getting out of control not long after. There were incidents off the ice (like urinating at the Canadiens golf tournament and nearly running over Jack Todd), but on the ice Patrice seemed to lord his money over people. Mistakes he made were met with shrugs, and mistakes from others with scolding.

Patrice played out 2002 as more of a bit-part player once Jose Theodore took over. 2002 will certainly never be remembered for defensive play and his 2 goals in the 24-game final push showed how the Canadiens had learned to live with him in the defensive zone and without his contributions up front. So when Patrice came back the next season with less than stellar play, and his customary year off in his 2-year cycle; people were starting to be a little less than impressed with the highest paid player on the team.

By this point, Patrice was being booed every game. Whether it was the booing or the years catching up with him, one thing was abundantly clear – the offensive defence star from 1991 was gone. By February, the pressure had taken its toll. Brisebois took leave for heart problems brought on by stress. No one could forget his ill-advised trip to France against doctor's orders in that time.

The final year of his no-trade clause opened with a condemnation of the general booing from Bob Gainey. It initially stopped the booing and seemed to lift a weight from Patrice's shoulders. I wouldn't say he suddenly fulfilled all the promise of 15 years earlier; but in the least he proved less of a constant distraction and managed to minimise the damage he did so the Canadiens could make the playoffs.

Those playoffs would be the last time (or so we thought) that Patrice would step on the ice for the Canadiens. In a rather anti-climactic end, Patrice was told the Canadiens would rather not pick up their option for the next season. The untradeable defenceman was gone, for a while anyway.

The Canadiens dollar
More Canadiens dollars have ended up in Patrice Brisebois' garage than probably should have. In fact, he is among the best compensated (by the Canadiens) players of all time. If estimates from 2004 are to be trusted (and I don't see why they wouldn't be), together with his $2.9 million from the past two seasons, Brisebois will have cost the Habs over $22 million for a career. Only Saku Koivu has made more.

The returns

A more recent history of the Patrice Brisebois stories is highlighted by his re-signing and re-signing again with his Canadiens. In fact, the Canadiens rescued him from outright retirement as another team had run out of patience and use for him in 2006.

It has been a nice story for the player, but I think many of us wonder whether the Canadiens exist to please the alums of the team, or indeed to win. Signed both times ahead of younger and more intriguing options, he was sold to us as a cheap 8th defenceman. Yet both times, he was given bonuses to negate any notion of value for money. And both times he has been deployed as a 5th or 6th when push came to shove.

Last season, this was met with stoicism – one season, we can bear it. This season, I can't tell you how many times I've read "1000 games, can we get it over with?", or "Can we get this retirement pushed forward?".

In fairness to the player, he has done what the coaches asked and can't be blamed for their weaknesses. He has also tried his utmost (I think) to keep his game simpler and limit the flashbacks of 1996-2004 to a minimum. One highlight was a playoff game with a timely winning goal. There have been lowlights too.

The booing

It is a very common misconception nowadays that Brisebois started getting booed after he was awarded the biggest (and most ridiculously out of whack) contract in Montreal Canadiens history. This is simply untrue. And it does nothing but attempt to gloss over the fact that people were booing Brisebois for his mistakes (presumably in hopes that a GM might trade him?) long before he made $4 million a year. The booing began before that point, for certain, in a futile effort to get incapable GMs to do something about our number one defenceman position. It was only intensified by that ridiculous contract.

In fact, in 1998-99, when awarded a whopping $1.8 million a year, he was already the second best compensated defenceman on the team. That contract was three years in length at a nice $6 million in all. If being overpaid was the source of the boos, it had its origin in that contract of 1998.

As I pointed to above, Brisebois' play and his ego were on separate courses from about 1995 (post-Roy). It could be said that he was thrust unfairly into both ice time and spotlight he couldn't handle. And perhaps it would have been something to be forgiven given a show of a little humility. No show was ever forthcoming, not back then anyway. The booing he received was as much due to the response he gave to errors (both his and others) as it was to his play.

The situation as it currently stands is completely different. Brisebois to his credit has been knocked down a few notches. Humility is now part of his vocabulary, at least some of the time. Any booing (or hand wringing at this blog, for example) is probably more frustration for Bob Gainey at having signed the veteran in place of other more attractive or forward-looking options.

Awaiting the 1000th

It was clever how Carbonneau sat Brisebois for this road trip. How clever will it be to bring him back just when O'Byrne has started to play well? He'll be back though, as sure as Carey Price will be the only one to reap the benefit of the win-you're in policy...

When he plays in Montreal, he will receive thunderous cheers. Why not? His achievement is monumental (consider this player and then consider how few players reach 1000 games – monumental doesn't even do it justice).

Many will be cheering in hope that it will be the end. However, I think we're deluded if we think that. Has he already played his last playoff game? Will he be satisfied with 1000 regular season games, when 1000 with the Canadiens is so close? (he's at 974 right now!)

If he reaches that milestone he will be the 12th player in the history of the team to do so. His company would include 9 players whose numbers are retired along with 2 whose were not:

1436 – Henri Richard
1405 – Larry Robinson
1342 – Bob Gainey
1287 – Jean Beliveau
1131 – Claude Provost
1115 – Yvan Cournoyer
1111 – Maurice Richard
1073 – Guy Carbonneau
1040 – Serge Savard
1025 – Guy Lafleur
1013 – Doug Harvey

Will I cheer Brisebois? Probably. 1000 games is nothing to sneeze at. Oh, go on, you'll cheer too. It'll be a strange feeling...

Canadiens Season Preview

Third Pairing Defence

After the questionable addition of O'Byrne to the second pairing, I think I've come back to earth with the third group. And gosh, it's nice to have some depth again back here:

Gorges – Mara

Josh Gorges

NHL SeasonGPGAPts+/-Hits/60BkS/60GvA/60TkA/60Gv:TkPIM
08-09 (MTL)8141923+123.465.922.060.92-1.1437
07-08 (MTL)62099E4.505.981.841.07-0.7732
06-07 (SJ/MTL)54134-42.534.941.360.91-0.4526

Even-strength profile

  • Near-elite offensive production at even strength

  • Average GA at even strength

  • Average chance production at even strength

  • Negative CORSI: -4.6


Stats notes
The man who reminded us that there is more to trading than shedding salary at the deadline had a good year last season. Here's why:

1) Progress
The word progress was more often than not associated with the word "stunted" last season than the words "Canadiens prospect", but Josh Gorges was the exception. From a bit part player in San Jose, and then Montreal in 2007, he has shown steady movement towards being a top 4 defenceman in he league. It shows in his offensive numbers, ice time, his lower PIMs per ice time and his +/-.

2) +12
While not technically the team high, it is really the most impressive plus/minus on the Canadiens from last season. Unlike Tanguay (+13) who missed each minute of the rough times, Gorges battled through February and still came out with this great stat. Normally I think +/- is too simplistic and not worth a second thought, but in the context of such a dismal second half, such a high +/- in Gorges case really does stand out.

3) Passing
You don't get a 2.92 GF/60 as a defenceman without having some skill. Nor do you pile up 19 assists. Last season, Gorges was given the chance to play a bigger role and he did so with aplomb. He showed us how having two defencemen who can pass is better than one. He showed us that Markov has more offense in him than we thought (when unshackled from backwards passing partners).

We all naturally expect progress to continue for ever more, and that would be nice. However, even if Gorges stalls at his 2008-09 level for the rest of his career, we have a good defenceman on our hands. It will be interesting to see how Martin's system affects him – a player who was already trying to play intelligent defence in the old regime.

Tobalev on Gorges:

Josh started last season where he had left off the year before. He was becoming the unsung hero of the defensive corps; a title long held by Francis Bouillon. His unexpected play as a 6th defenceman earned him a spot in fans’ hearts and also a spot in the team’s top-4. About midway through last season, however, the team (and fans alike) were asking too much of the kid. All of a sudden he was on the PP, he was out for more key situations and his ice-time was sky-rocketing. No longer was he the solid 14-16 minute man on the third pairing; no, now we expected a lot from our new #3. It all seemed too much for Josh to handle as his play (especially in our own end) only got worse as the season went on. He did finish the year with a career-high in points (23), but most of the other aspects of his game had gone south.

With any luck (and good coaching), Josh will be asked to be a #5 this year. The additions of Mara and Spacek should make that a reality and because of it I believe Josh will excel. He is the perfect type of player that can step in, when needed, onto a top-2 pairing, but, on a healthy team, should be playing less than 18 minutes. His offensive numbers will surely take a hit this year which is why I only expect between 10-17 points. Defensively, however, is where I expect to see Josh at his best. I would like to see a +15 season, but wouldn’t be surprised for one bit if he surpassed the +20 mark. I think that he represents the next generation of fresh-faced Habs and I am looking forward to him being a leader on this team for years to come.

Where Gorges will start 2009-10: 5th defenceman

Where Gorges will end 2009-10: 5th defenceman estraordinaire

Points: 3 G, 13 A, 16 Pts

Paul Mara

NHL SeasonGPGAPts+/-Hits/60BkS/60GvA/60TkA/60Gv:TkPIM
08-09 (NYR)7651621+25.123.580.540.42-0.1294
07-08 (NYR)6111617+
06-07 (BOS/NYR)7851823-162.504.171.150.31-0.83113

Even-strength profile

  • Average to above average offense at even strength

  • Excellent GA at even strength

  • Below average at preventing chances at even strength

  • Neutral CORSI: +0.8


Stats notes
Prior to his signing, what I knew of Paul Mara was drawn from the two seasons I had selected him in my hockey pool. The first time I was fortunate enough to take Paul, he had one of his outlying 40+ point seasons. Suffice to say, I was pleased enough to spend another pick on him, this time in 2007-08, where I was met with disappointment. Between those two experiences and his stats here, I think there's a picture to be painted of a player who's progressed from offensive prodigy to reliable-enough 5/6th guy:

1) Low turnovers
In 76 games last season, Mara committed 13 giveaways. Per 60 minutes that translates to 0.5 giveaways an hour – pretty good and good enough for 7th in the league. The heartening thing is that while last year was outstanding for Paul in that regard, he has shown a history for it. His 0.99/60 the year previous and 1.15/60 in 2006-07 would also be in the top 10-12% of the league's Dmen.

2) Little big man
Not the typical big man, by his stats, it seems that Mara has a way of staying out of the way of the puck. His blocked shots totals seem consistently quite low compared to what we've seen from the Habs. It may be a difference in coaching philosophy. It may also be that Mara is not the man to put himself in the lane (other stats show his teammates blocked a fair number when he was on the ice).

3) Loved Lundqvist
While Mara's stats look like a real pleasure compared to some of our team's own from last season, one shouldn't discount the role that Lundqvist played in making them so. Expected save % is a stat that shows what a save percentage would be if the average goalie faced the shots that each goalie faced (based on shot position and average shooting percentages from those positions). Henrik Lundqvist last season had the third lowest expected save % in the NHL last season (for goalies with more than 5 games action), the worst was his back-up. The positive for the Rangers was that Lundqvist turned that 0.890 expected rate to a 0.913 percentage in real play – the 5th best improvement in the league. So, that shiny green 2.04 GA/60 is a lot lower than you'd expect from Mara with a below average ability to prevent chances. Combine that with the fact that Lundqvist on average faced harder shots than other goalies, and you can understand why Mara owes a lot of his new contract to King Henrik.

While Mara could crash back to earth playing in front of a more average goalie, there is hope he could excel as well. His low turnovers and proven ability to pass should match well with Gorges. And the Martin system, not too much of a departure from the Renney system should help. If now he can just turn down the penalties another notch, he'll complete the transition to a guy we're happy not to notice.

Tobalev on Mara

Mara is part one of Gainey’s plan to get bigger and stronger in our own end. At 6’4” he towers over players like Schneider, Bouillon and Brisebois. His size, I believe, is the best thing going for him and is probably the reason he always seems so sought after. He did manage 21 points and a +2 rating in New York last year which aren’t bad numbers considering the circumstances. His career -95 does scare me a bit, but to be fair to him he has been on some pretty weak teams. He has proven over the last few years that he is offensively capable, but is quite content playing in a more defensive role.

Mara, at his best, can be a #3, but on this version of the Habs will be a #5. To tell you the truth as a #5 man I am quite alright with this pick-up. He is big enough and tough enough that he should be able to settle things down a little better than some of our former rearguard. His career 0.37 PPG shows that, when needed, he could probably get the job done up front too. I see Paul playing an entire season on either the 2nd or 3rd pairing; he is a decent enough skater that 18-21 minutes/game are not out of the question. I also expect about 18-24 points and a positive season in the +/- department. He won’t be a flashy player for us, but if he does exactly what we expect of him the fans should have no problems with him.

Where Mara will start 2009-10: With uncertainty

Where Mara will end 2009-10: A solid place in the top 6 every night

Points: 3 G, 16 A, 19 Pts

As a pairing

Pairing #3Effect O/D
D – Josh Gorges
  • Made most teammates better defensively
  • Made all common linemates better offensively
  • Played best overall with Andrei Markov last season
D – Paul Mara
  • Made all his common linemates teammates better defensively
  • Made most linemates better offensively
  • Played best overall with Michal Rozsival last season

Yesterday, I promised I would explain myself in this article. And clearly there does need to be explanation, since both Gorges and Mara look far better defenders on paper than O'Byrne.

As I stated yesterday, the "second pairing" was really the Hamrlik pairing – whatever their ice time ends up being. Last season Gorges and Hamrlik played together a lot, and both players came out worse for wear. repeating that experiment unnecessarily would seem silly. So that then left me with a Hamrlik pairing and a Gorges pairing to work out. Hamrlik and O'Byrne actually played well together so that info goes in, and from this profile, it seemed to me that Gorges likes a player that can handle himself and the puck on the ice. He played well with Markov, Bouillon and Schneider, but badly with Hamrlik, Komisarek and O'Byrne. Given the choices that left Mara – who we now know is not your typical big man.

The pairing is actually quite an exciting proposition for me. Given a regulated number of minutes and a clear brief, I think that Gorges and Mara could well develop into the second pairing and certainly the one Jacques would feel comfortable putting on the ice when a lead has to be held or play is tight.

Statistics adapted from,, Olivier