Hamrlik – O'Byrne
Hamrlik must have had a heck of a first half for him to end up with such respectable stats and yet to be found wearing the ring of shame from Habs fans. Those of fickle memories won't remember (or give credit) for work well done in the first 50 games though. Take this forgotten report, for example:
2. Roman Hamrlik: A
Teams can't win with just one great defenceman. There have to be options. Hamrlik is the perfect option. Like Andrei, he takes care of defence first. His calming influence on everyone, including O'Byrne, Brisebois, Bouillon and the viewers, is invaluable. When he plays well the team plays well, too – hence a good first half. The transformation of the Canadiens from playoff outsider to this could be traced to Souray for Hamrlik without too much reaching, you know.
1) Gentle giant
Perhaps it's because he came through as an offensive prodigy, but Roman Hamrlik has never been counted among the feared defencemen in the league. But as we know, being feared doesn't always equate to good defence. Roman, while being gentler than most men his size, is actually an acolyte of the Markov takeaway style over the Komisarek hit style. His 41 takeaways aren't Markov level, but they do put him in the top 10% of defencemen.
2) Sacrificed defence for offense
At least last season, it seems to me that Hamrlik sacrificed what was previously a very sound defensive contribution for a few more points. My advice to him would be to cut that out, for he's a far more valuable player to use if he can be our defensive lynchpin rather than a poor man's Markov. Keep the good passes coming, but full flight down the wing for shots? Let's curtail that where possible.
3) Too many PIMs
Last season Roman also took too many penalties for a player of his importance. Because of his strengths (takeaways, size and positioning), he is probably first choice for the PK. Well you can't kill a penalty if you're in the box. Cutting out the silly pens should help him regain his game and his stature with fans.
Things may have gone downhill, but the stats say Hamrlik slipped below our expectations of him, yes; but our expectations (based on that first half) were very high. In the end, his season was a decent one on average, and he was 2nd best at the back by a fairly clear margin.
Tobalev on Hamrlik:
There are conflicting sentiments out there amongst Habs fans. Some people really value the former #1 pick yet others see him as a waste of space and as a liability. I’ll tell you this though, at his best Roman can be an outstanding defenceman and can easily look like a #1. In his first year with the Habs, he was solid each and every game in his own end and even contributed quite nicely to the offence. Last year, however, it seemed that his play was much more unpredictable and it wasn’t unusual for him to have an off night on the nights we were racking up the Ls. All in all last year, I think, was still a good year, just maybe not great. He picked up 33 points (not bad for our third choice) and finished the year at +4.
He seemed to do well last year with Gorges, but I wouldn’t hold Martin to that pairing. I am not too concerned about who he’ll play with and even think it is conceivable that he partners anyone on the team. I am not worried about stats in Hamrlik’s case this year as all I hope for is a return to ’07-’08 form. If he can be a defensive force for 82 games then the season will be a success. I still, however, expect him to post at least 25 points (4-8 of which should be goals). If he plays the way we all know he can then his career -60 rating can only improve. In addition, don’t be surprised to see Hammer wearing a letter of some shape this year as he will likely take on quite a big leadership role now that Komi has gone.
Where Hamrlik will start 2009-10: Facing the Leafs best line of ... I'll get back to you after I've read my ECHL media guide from 2007.
Where Hamrlik will end 2009-10: With renewed faith from Canadiens fans
Points: 6 G, 20 A, 26 Pts
We all know O'Byrne had a rough year in 2008-09, but from all signs he's eager to put it behind him. ONe can't ignore all the negatives, but nor should we overlook some of the positive things:
1) Will replace Komisarek's hits
In what amounts to a single season's worth of games, the "rookie" Dman showed he wasn't afraid to throw his weight around. With more playing time, 8+ hits per 60 minutes will see him flirt with league leaders here.
2) Not completely inept offensively
We'll never see him on the PP, but O'Byrne has put up a respectable 11 assists in his first 70 NHL games. When you consider that he has been playing less with top line forwards than perhaps he has with lesser lights, it's not bad. The reason to hope here is that Martin's game will call for better passes from all defenders to forwards, and Ryan has shown glimmers of hope in that regard.
3) Giveaways not the entire problem
Sometimes giveaways stand out more than any other plays. Sometimes they become the only thing you can see in your mind's eye when you hear a player's name. I think this might be the case for Ryan. But while he's certainly flirting with the bottom of the table with his giveaways, he's still better than half the TO corps (Schenn, Van Ryn and Komisarek). Though I don't have a stat to prove it here, it was Ryan's other problem – positioning – that led to that nasty deep turquoise stain on his pie chart. Luckily, positioning is something Jacques Martin is teaching each day this fall, so Ryan, with an open mind, will benefit.
There you have it, Ryan O'Byrne, blemishes, scars and all. Of all the players previewed, I don't think I have had to suspend the belief in stats as much as I have in putting O'Byrne on the second pairing. Call it giving him a second chance. In his round-about way (trying to rescue Brisebois' reputation along the way), even Bertrand Raymond agrees with me that Ryan deserves another chance on the merry-go-round. If you can read French, then you should have look at the article on O'Byrne, it's a very good read (whatever you make think of Raymond).
Tobalev on O'Byrne
No player took a bigger step back last year than Ryan. Not even Carey Price himself was able to blow his stock as badly as this kid. It just seemed that his season went from bad to worse. The defensive blunders, own goal and lack of offence became intolerable for all of us and the coaches alike. In the end, he only saw 37 games of action in which he seemed to make no positive impact at all. It appeared, at times, that the once confident and smooth-skating giant had lost all hockey-sense – he even managed to look worse than Brisebois on multiple occasions.
Ryan must be able to see the writing on the wall this year and it certainly isn’t pretty. He is obviously no longer being looked upon as a can’t miss prospect, since Gainey went out and got two similarly sized defencemen. With minimal offensive upside, it wouldn't be surprising if Ryan didn’t see much time with Montreal this year. Injuries, though, provide his lifeline. If one or two of Gill, Mara or Hamrlik miss, it'll mean playing time and a chance for the 25 year-old to prove that he belongs at this level. I said last year that if a 6’6” guy is unwilling to play a solid, physical game then he really is just a waste of space. His game has to be hitting, possession and board-battles, otherwise we may as well call anyone up from the farm instead; at least that player might score a goal or two. Time will tell if he plays or not – he could play more than seasons past or he could play very little. When he plays in Montreal he must make it count, if not his time may be short-lived and may even be his final stint in the bleu, blanc, rouge.
Where O'Byrne will start 2009-10: In the pressbox most likely
Where O'Byrne will end 2009-10: Waving up at Hal Gill from the ice
Points: 2 G, 10 A, 12 Pts
As a pairing
As agreed at the beginning, this pairing is Hamrlik's. The decision then is who to play beside Roman. The choices: Gorges, Mara, Gill, O'Byrne, Weber or Carle.
Like me, your first thoughts here probably jumped to Josh Gorges. He's probably our 4th best defenceman with Mara, and he has played with Hamrlik before. But I tell you what, it doesn't play out for me. Here's why. Hamrlik played about equal time (300-400 minutes) with 3 different players last season: Ryan O'Byrne, Josh Gorges and Patrice Brisebois. Hamrlik was at his best defensively with O'Byrne (marks for that), even though his offense suffered. Hamrlik was at his best offensively with Gorges, but was much poorer when they were together on D, as was Josh. And, predictably, Patrice Brisebois made worse Hamrlik's averages on both offense and defence.
I then add that he played pretty badly with Markov, Bouillon, Schneider and Weber; but very well with Komisarek – and I start to see what makes Roman tick. Unlike Markov, he seems to like a big guy who hits and pushes forwards outside. Last year that meant O'Byrne and Komisarek, this year it means O'Byrne, Mara and Gill. It rules out Josh Gorges, Spacek and Markov altogether for me.
Now let me tell you why I choose O'Byrne from that group. First, though the other guys are big, they don't hit like O'Byrne (who hits twice as frequently). Gill, I excluded (though Martin probably won't) because his giveaway to takeaway ratio even in a good year for him was worse than a bad year for O'Byrne. Thirdly, O'Byrne was actually THE guy who got the best defence out of Hamrlik last year – to the tune of 2.1 GA/60 in their 365 minutes together last season. I wonder what O'Byrne's own stats might have looked like had he only played with O'Byrne and avoided his misadventures with Bouillon, Gorges and Markov.
Mara? Well, I had to consider Gorges as well. You'll hear about that tomorrow.
Statistics adapted from nhl.com, behindthenet.ca, Olivier