Thursday, June 30, 2011

The SG Line

A Solution That Could Pay Off

Yesterday I heard there was a rumour that Scott Gomez was available for teams to trade for him. If this is news, I must blast Gauthier and his team. This should have been the case from the minute they took on the salary albatross.

I understand the media's undying faith in terrible GMs, but really, I'm not hanging much hope on a Gomez trade.

Instead, I turn to more productive lines of thinking, like who could be a better winger for Gomez than Travis Moen?

A look down the free agent list for wingers that shoot first, pass later doesn't yield much. Selanne is there, but what moment of madness would have to overcome him to choose Montreal now? Jagr is lurking, but again, why would a guy on a discount offer most of his lower salary to Revenu Quebec?

In May, we had the hope of Mike Knuble, Milan Hejduk, Brooks Laich, but as with most years, the solid choices just get resigned by their own outfits.

When I look down the list I don't see much in terms of volume, but there is one goalscorer who I think would benefit from a change of scene and someone who passes first, passes more later.

That guy is Simon Gagne.

Despite the memories of far-off 40-goal seasons and the familiarity of his name in the injury reports, Simon is still only 31 years old.

The thing I like most about Gagne is that he is a goalscorer first and foremost. Once a perennial 30-goal man, he even chipped in 17 in a curtailed season that one would call below average. May not sound like much, but considering that we're trying to upgrade on Pouliot here, it's not irrelevant.

Gagne has also shown the ability to play with many different players and take on many different roles (something vital on a Jacques Martin team) and was at his most productive with solid set up man (Forsberg or Briere, take your pick).

I don't know why Tampa didn't work out for him that well, but it may simply have been a bad fit. I'm willing to bet a reduced salary on it.

Put Gagne with Gomez and you'd have the SG line, I think it would be pretty productive, don't you?

1st period, 12:28 - Simon Gagne (28) (Scott Gomez, Some Guy)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Study In Contrasts

Montreal's Draft In Context

Friday and Saturday was the first oasis in the desert of hockey fan summer. With rumours and trades and picks and news to comment on, the draft added some optimism for those of us desperately wanting next season to end so we don’t have to call the Bruins Stanly Cup Champions any longer.

The draft was interesting for Habs fans. For those most optimistic of cheerleaders, each pick was a reason to celebrate, as usual. For those with feet a little closer to the ground, the Canadiens did OK – nothing more. Everything’s hunky-dory on this particular caravan route.

But like hockey games, what your own team does on a given night (day) is really only one part of the equation. Taking 35 shots is great but not if you let up 48 in doing it. So too the draft. In isolation the players we picked all sound great (like all prospects tend to), yet when we start to look at which prospects were left aside (all also getting good reviews) and what our chief rivals did on the very same day, the picture gets a little murkier.

My study in contrasts on this day pits our Montreal Canadiens against their closest neighbours, the Ottawa Senators.

Outwardly, the teams are in different situations at the end of this season. Ottawa in full rebuild. Montreal in a holding pattern waiting to contend. Ottawa still searching for a goalie. Montreal watching as Price garners many a Vezina (and Hart) vote.

But outward appearances can be deceiving and both teams also have other similarities.

Both, for instance, have high quality farm operations feeding them players. The Hamilton Bulldogs play to win and are perennial producers of players who now reflect that attitude. The Binghampton Senators, with their mix of AHL vets and Sens hopefuls just won the Calder Cup.

Both teams most intriguing prospect has emerged in the last two seasons at the back end. PK Subban in Montreal was a pleasant surprise from the second round of a recent draft. Erik Karlsson was the Sens most consistent player of the season.

Both teams, in the light of day, have a lot of trouble scoring goals. Montreal managed to post up respectable totals through the regular campaign, but even in late winter sometimes struggled to really score when it mattered and certainly weren’t burying teams. Ottawa scored the least goals in the whole NHL this last year. Neither team can really boast a sure-fire scoring phenom in the system to correct this problem short- or long-term.

So in terms of free agent needs, the teams stand apart. Ottawa needs much to hope to contend. Montreal seeks a piece or two. But in terms of needs five years from now, apart from Carey Price, the team needs don’t look all that different (though Carey Price is not some trivial piece). Interesting then that two general managers took such contrasting approaches to dealing with what could have at the outset been the same shopping list.

First round

Montreal: Nathan Beaulieu (D)
In every preview I read, Nathan Beaulieu went before pick #17. So, if scouts are to be trusted, and I suppose they must, Montreal picked the best player available. What’s more, Nathan played in the QMJHL and has a name that will have placated at least those Nationalist fans who don’t own a computer.

My personal view is that this was a safe pick. Perhaps too safe. As you know I’m not fond of picking defencemen in the first round, not because I don’t like defencemen (I do), rather because I think it’s harder to pry a scoring forward from a rival down the road.

Beaulieu may well turn out to be very good, but because Montreal will have PK Subban and Andrei Markov, he may be a luxury item. Trade him you say. Well, how much do you get for a defenceman who can score and play the back end? A second rounder if he’s as good as Wisniewski?

Ottawa: Mika Zibanejad (F), Stefan Noesen (F), Matt Puempel (F)
In every preview I read, Zibanejad and Noesen went lower than they were picked. And I explained why I didn’t favour Puempel before. If it were one pick from these vs. Beaulieu, 6 out of 10 scouts would have to say Montreal got better value (if they were true to their assessments). But on the whole, Ottawa’s first round was made better for continuity of strategy. Although I’m sure they’d like another partner for Erik Karlsson (and David Rundblad), they identified value in getting offensive players with skill and an actual knack for scoring (not a potential knack) and picked accordingly.

Between the three players, I think the Sens will have found two NHLers. I still think Noesen was the savviest pick of the draft.

Winner: Ottawa
It would have taken a lot for Montreal to outdraft Ottawa in Round 1 of this draft. Volume wasn’t in their favour. Ottawa didn’t slip, and Montreal played too safe in my opinion for this to be anything but an Ottawa victory.

Second and third rounds

Montreal: 2 fourth round picks
Montreal traded their third rounder for two later picks. This is a great, great move. By round three teams are far apart on their assessments of the players and their own needs. Most times, one would be unlucky to just miss a player earmarked for a pick in the third round or later. Two for one is a bargain. Heads up from Gauthier.

Ottawa: Shane Prince (F), Nikita Filatov (F)
Offense, offense and more offense. Sticking to the script, Bryan Murray and his team delivered more on their mandate. Prince was 13th in OHL scoring with a jump of 58 points. A hometown 67 to boot, he was worth taking a chance on.

Filatov is different. He has issues and I can see why he would be available for a third rounder. But the Senators in their current form have nothing to lose on this trade. Their lineup last spring was an AHL team and Filatov won’t be anything but an improvement, regardless of how often he shows up for shifts. The upside of the trade being as huge as it is, it’s a win from the Senators standpoint.

Winner: Ottawa
Despite not yet drafting a single defender, Ottawa is running away from Montreal in this draft. Volume again is the main factor, but there are moves here that Montreal would have made if they could have been in the position. Gauthier did well, but like the 35 shot generating team, did he do enough in the lead up to this draft to make the most of the picks he had round 3 and up? Will we be fretting over how cheaply Filatov was when free agency lands us our eventual Pouliot replacement?

Fourth and fifth rounds

Montreal: Josiah Didier (D), Olivier Archambault (F), Magnus Nygren (D), Darren Dietz (D)
Finally a forward! Olivier Archambault is full of potential (apparently), but flags go up for veterans of two junior seasons whose profile still relies heavily on their AAA information. Other than Archambault, the picking was on message for the day for Gauthier too: “We could never have too many offensive defencemen”.

The thrill about Didier seems to be that he was ranked so low 6 months ago, that his 108 final ranking (where he was picked) was deemed a temporary stop on his way up. To me, it seems like another safe pick, one in the mold of Timmins’ safest. Didier isn’t even in college but will be, so his contract won’t be on the books and his name could easily go the way of Stejskal or Pateryn without an eyelash being batted. It seems to me like this is the way scouts like it.

I can be more positive about Nygren and Dietz. Nygren is already a playing pro. He shoots right and has clearly established himself at age 21 on a good team. He’s a safe pick in a way too, because at 21 one already knows more about him. But this kind of safe sits better with me vs. the ability to “sweep a pick under the rug” kind of safe.

Clearly the Canadiens were watching Duncan Siemens. The Dietz pick proves that. And, their homework on Siemens produced a pick. If I were a betting man, I’d put more money on Dietz to don the Habs sweater then any pick in this draft other than Beaulieu.

Ottawa: Jean-Gabriel Pageau (F), Fredrik Claesson (D)
Ottawa took a Swedish defender and a QMJHL forward too. Pageau was 16th in QMJHL scoring, but 3rd in the playoffs. The small Quebecois is also local to Ottawa (Gatineau) and represents another well-taken gamble for the Sens. Claesson is a defensive Dman (already), though a youngster and a 5-game pro. Not too worried about missing this Swede.

Winner: Draw
Ottawa scooped Montreal on Pageau and forced the much bigger Archambault gamble. For this Gauthier can be chastised, as he was a mere pick away from #96. But Montreal did better in getting Nygren, who has real credentials behind him already and did amazingly to get Dietz who I think is as good as 5th rounders get.

Sixth and seventh rounds

Montreal: Daniel Pribyl (F), Colin Sullivan (D)
Two picks and two totally different approaches.

In Pribyl, the Habs take a flyer on a raw prospect from a league and a country that is way out of favour with scouts and GMs. To me, Pribyl is a bit like Avtsin. One really can’t tell what the stats mean, but the package on paper looks great. With a sixth rounder, a team should be doing these things, so kudos to Gauthier and Timmins for surprising us all.

In Sullivan, the Habs gave their nod to scouting consensus. Sullivan was a highly-ranked, yet overlooked American. Another smoothe-skating offensive-minded D (these seem so common in the minors, where are they in the NHL?), Sullivan is another safe pick in my eyes.

I will say that Ondrej Palat was taken by the Lightning with the 208th pick. We’re talking 4th leading scorer in the QMJHL – 39 goals. I’d chalk Colin Sullivan as a massive waste for this reason alone.

Ottawa: Darren Kramer (F), Max McCormick (F), Jordan Fransco (D), Ryan Dzingel (F)
A big guy, a couple of scoring USHLers and a decent WHL defender. These are late round picks, but in Dzingel, it feels like the Senators gambled again and may come away with something. Consider that Dzingel in his second year in the USHL scored 23 goals and 67 points (one may remember a certain Habs first rounder scoring 21 goals and 63 points in the same league to rave reviews).

Winner: Montreal
Despite missing a big opportunity with the 7th round pick (Palat), the Habs still kept their tradition of making interesting and daring picks in the late rounds. By that, of course, I mean Pribyl. Of all 6 players selected by Montreal and Ottawa, he’s the only one we’d really expect to see in a prominent role. Ottawa meanwhile filled in the blanks, opting for slightly less flashy options to balance their first few rounds.

Overall draft: Montreal vs. Ottawa

Ottawa came out of Draft 2011 with a better crop than Montreal did. Part of this was due to volume and earlier picks. However, this isn’t the whole story. By sticking to a single strategy (and a sound one in my opinion) of picking for the rarest commodity – scorers – Ottawa came away from draft day with a stable of names from which a reasonable person could see two or three legitimate scorers emerging. Montreal on the other hand may have picked the third member of the new Big Three, but with what we know of contracts and current depth charts at best would only have picked up a 5th and 6th Dman as well as some trade chips.

Archambault and Pribyl were the Habs gamble to try and fill in gaps left by Maxwell, Trunev, Sergei, Grabovski and others in the offensive depth chart, but they really do pale when stacked beside Zibanejad, Noesen, Puempel, Prince, Pageau, etc.

So that’s it Habs fans. I think our team had an average draft. There was no Fischer pick or Tanguay trade to mar the face of it, but nor did the Habs make great strides to get ahead of their rivals for 2015.

There’s nothing wrong with average. And average can sure up the foundation, as it surely will. But to constantly look at everything in isolation when teams like the Senators (and others) are making real noise on draft day belies the nature of this league.

The next oasis in this desert is free agency, I hope we get a better spot to take a drink…

Friday, June 24, 2011

Philly's Mess Catches Up With Them

Richards, Carter. Gone, gone.

This good news for the Habs is ostensibly bad news for the Flyers and their fans. Richards and Carter were a big part of the Flyers success and a huge reason the team ever got close to a Stanley Cup without a goalie.

But that's where it all goes wrong isn't it?

Without a goalie.

For most teams, not having a good goalie is a problem. For Philadelphia it's a brain-devouring complex. That's why instead of applying a bit of patience and recognizing what a good thing they may have pulled from thin air in Bobrovsky, they went out and did what they always did and signed, signed, signed.

Bryzgalov is a good goalie, don't get me wrong. I like him, I like his chances in Philly. But you will note that Anaheim let him go, that Phoenix let him go, that Phoenix doesn't have any Cups.

A goalie simply can't do it all. Let me rephrase that, a goalie not named Thomas or Hasek can't do it all. A team needs to put talent at all positions and use their salary allowance wisely to do that.

Philly's real problems

A lot of articles on yesterday's trades say things like "Holmgren managed to unload Carter's long-term contract/Richards salary cap millstone".

I think these comments are way off the mark. Both players were paid in the $5 million range and both performed to the level of their salary, which in the world of guys paid that much means they were bargains.

What's more, the salary cap hasn't been going anywhere but up, even through the worst financial period in modern US/Canadian history. As the proportion that a $5 million salary takes up shrinks, the better a long-term deal for a producing player paid at that level looks.

Saying nothing about intangibles at all, I can firmly say that Richards and Carter were not the salary cap problems in Philadelphia. If anything, they were among the contracts that permitted them to spend with abandon at times.

The real problems in Philly come in at the back end.

The Pronger deal wasn't expensive at the time, but it was a gaffe to sign him long-term past his 35th birthday. This contract is central to their problem.

Timonen is another. If Price/Halak was a luxury, Pronger/Timonen was a bigger one. Both players are paid to be #1 Dmen, but the name implies there can only be one #1 Dman. The other became the most expensive second fiddle in the league.

And it didn't stop there. Rather than fill out a roster like everyone else in the league would with prospects and a couple of cheaper contracts at the back (to defend other teams' fourth lines), Holmgren put $3 million players at every hole.

The Flyers biggest cap problem was their luxury defense, which got them 7th best D in the East with 6 less GA than Florida.

Other than their $22 million defence corps, Philly also took on the dead weight contract of Kris Versteeg. In fact, they repeated their luxury buying attitude up front with a third line that included double millionaires all around.

Fix is temporary

Philly found a temporary fix for immediate cap space, but based on the Bryzgalov signing, it won't be used for prudent and conservative rebuilding. In fact, when the grossly overpaid forward comes in as the replacement for Carter/Richards, fans will most likely be wondering what these deals were for.

Habs news more encouraging

The Habs did better in the last couple of days with their signings and seem less likely to implode their plan and go schizophrenically down the garden path. While I'll always lament Gauthier for not getting in on action like Ville Leino or Andrej Meszaros, I at least admire his commitment to the plan he thought was working last spring. Holmgren on the other hand...

The Flyers moves do also serve the Habs well since this team was a chief rival and those two players were chief nemeses. Some fans will point to the danger of the rebuild for the Habs more distant future, but the contracts at the back, together with the quick trigger of Holmgren seem to provide the insurance that this team won't be a perennial problem.

I guess this whole thing just shows that making a cap mess will catch up with your team at some point. Chicago's mess cost them a lot, but they have a Cup to show for it. Philly, mere games away, just got a mess.

Beautiful Decision

Markov Locked Up 3 Years

There's not much more to say than my headline. Markov signed a three-year deal (allegedly at his previous salary).

This is great news for many reasons:

1) He's Markov: you know what we think of him
2) PK will have air to breathe, shoot like he did with less than a minute left in the season
3) $5.75 million from $64.5 million isn't that much to pay for a player of this calibre (the average player on a 23-man roster gets $2.8 million)
4) Emelin transition/staycation
5) There's no free agents to replace this guy, especially with Detroit also throwing money at the Rafalski hole

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Canadiens Draft Primer

The draft is in a few days and the Canadiens need to be ready. Not that Pierre Gauthier couldn’t do this on his own, but just in case he does use this blog as his last minute cramming site, we thought it prudent to put a little effort into a preview for him.

As you know, we already highlighted the lessons that the Canadiens and their crack team need to take from their own draft history, combined with that of their rivals. Just in case they don’t have time to read that, we’ll just post the most important message here:
Don’t, for goodness sake, take another defensive defender in the first round!

That out of the way, we can get down to the serious business of the draft. The way I look at it, there are about 5 categories of players to look at for the first round of this draft (No it isn’t C, RW, LW, …). The categories come from off the top of my head painstaking research I have done into drafting over the past decade.

The first category of possible draftees are those that we’ll call Subban substitutes. They aren’t called Subban subs because they will all be as good as Subban – what do you think I’m that good at scouting I can predict NHL readiness from watching a bit of junior? No, they are called Subban subs because the only way we’ll be drafting these players is if we trade PK Subban (or someone of his stature) to the team ahead of us in line who would otherwise take one of them.

The second group of players are aptly called NAFWOPs or Not Available for Weber or Pouliot. Trading the players fans see as expendable may get something, but not these guys. It probably wouldn’t take a Subban to move up, but for all intents and purposes, the Habs aren’t getting a sniff of these NAFWOPs either.

The third category is consensus early picks. These players are highly rated by the media who either a) just watched the Bruins win the Cup and concluded that only a team exactly like the Bruins will ever in again or b) waited until the last minute and couldn’t figure out how to integrate North American and European and Skater and Goalie lists. These are big forwards who scored a lot of goals in the CHL (the minimum cut off for a lot is slipping these days, some guys here scored 20ish). These are players that should be available when the Canadiens pick because a) the media don’t have NHL jobs and b) Brian Burke can’t make all the picks.

The fourth category is the McGuire stunners. These players don’t get mentioned for some reason or another. See category three for media excuses, add drinking while compiling the list. In my opinion, the more stunned Pierre McGuire is by the pick, the better the pick probably is. The Blubbering Blusterer is no clairvoyant.

The fifth and final category is the red flags. This category is entirely determined by me and based on that thorough research I mentioned. The players are unpickable by the Canadiens for reasons of position, over-rating or the fact they have already resorted to the strategy that all slow and non-innovative players take when in a jam – they abandon their reason for being a hockey player by becoming a defensive machine before they even get a sniff of pro hockey.

Subban subs
Not worth spending too much time on these guys really. Primarily because the caliber of prospect that must be traded to get this player is more than likely to be a better prospect on odds than the draft pick himself.
The list here consists of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landerskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Couturier, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Strome and Ryan Murphy.

If any of these players were to be available without trade, or through a cheaper trade, I’d be all for adding them to the fold. Landerskog and Strome fit the bill of what the Canadiens (or any team) could use, Couturier and Huberdeau would be organizational gems, Nugent-Hopkins and Larsson are the kind of guys you make room for, and Hamilton and Murphy are a cut above their peers from the back line (with Murphy being the one I'd go for).

Mika Zibanejad, Sven Bartschi, Joel Armia, Mark McNeill all have a lot in common. All forwards. All fit the profile of a scoring forward who may succeed at NHL level. All unlikely to be available by the time the Canadiens pick.

These are the kinds of 9-15 draft picks that make one ask why the Canadiens made the playoffs if they were only going to be stifled in the first round. They make one ask that because players of their scoring ability and general quality are gone at pick 17 if all goes according to plan.

The good news is the NHL is rife with general managers who think their secret revelation is a new and unidentified way to win it all (Thomas Hickey, #4 overall, LA). Usually these GMs win the draft picks above #14 year on year.

So let’s play the game. Let’s say one of these four players slips through the table because someone opts for that 7’ guy and someone wants to impress Pierre McGuire.

If I had my choice for the player to fall to 17, I think I’d go with Joel Armia. Sure, his work ethic is being questioned by the media who watched him play one game at a tournament with lesser players than he, but he put up 18 goals in the Finnish League at age 17 and that’s got to count for something. And, remember how the Habs lost 3 OT games to Boston with Horton and Ryder spoiling the fun. How about this quote then:
"You might have to look for him during some shifts, but then, suddenly, he scores the winner."
Goalscorers sometimes need to disappear to do their thing. I certainly wouldn't mind empty shifts if goals flowed freely.

I also think Nathan Beaulieu will be gone by all accounts by pick 17. If he fell to that point, the Canadiens would take him, but it might serve them better to trade down if that happens, even if it brings on the annual wrath of RDS.

Consensus mid-teens

Mark Scheifele
Look, I understand why mock drafts take this guy. There are a lot of lists and he’s high on most. To that I would ask why? In my opinion, he gets points for points, points for being big, points for being a center, and dare I say, points for being from the OHL.

Looking deeper though, despite claims he was on a talentless team, Scheifele still racked up way more assists than goals. 75 points is no OHL record and with the ice time he got, I consider the 22 goals a red flag. I also read that 11 of his goals came down a stretch at the end. While to some that would mean he picked it up in clutch games, one must remember there were no clutch games for Barries, so he actually picked it up in meaningless games. Not one for me.

The Hockey Writers call him the safe pick. Safe picks are for rounds 3/4 in my honest opinion...

Matt Puempel
Small in stature, one gets the idea Puempel got his points for actual play rather than the potential of a big guy.34 goals wasn’t something that turned heads in past seasons, but this season it seems high for the CHL. This worries me somewhat as 34 is closer to 20 than it is to 50. Still, from all accounts he makes his living from scoring goals, but still makes time to get assists. Like Scheifele, he played on a pretty awful team, however, and with a hip injury that raises other questions doesn’t get my nod.

Brandon Saad
Not sold on Brandon either for some reason. He's already garnering comments about his two-way game, which might not be a flag with 40 goals under his belt. With 27, it starts to sound like a bit of an excuse. That said, I could be way wrong about this guy.

Duncan Siemens, Jonas Brodin, Oscar Klefbom, Joe Morrow
I’m sure these guys are all fine fellows and even better defenders. But unless someone in the organization thinks they’d be passing up the next Lidstrom or Niedermayer, I’d advise a pass on this group of Dmen. The Habs need to keep Subban around and hopefully can revitalize Markov. These have to be their bets. Together with a commitment to Weber who has shown good promise, I don’t see the need to abandon hope on finding a scorng forward to take and ever so slightly safer bet based on consensus.

McGuire stunners

Stefan Noesen
This guy isn't on mmost lists, simply because they only go to pick #30. But in a year where so many 25-30 goal guys are in the running, it's a bit of a puzzle how a relatively big OHLer with 34 goals and a 69 point jump for the season wouldn't pip some of the former favourites. Let's just accept he rose from nowhere and some in the rankings racket like to save face more than they like to be objective.

34 goals in 68 games. 77 points. Up from 3 goals last season. Noesen comes from Dallas, so he might not be under their radar. But if he slips to the Canadiens #17, he should get consideration. At the very least the team should insinuate they are going to take him to the Big D and see if Nieuwendyk coughs anything up.

Daniel Catenacci
From all reports, Catenacci translates to speed. The most generous comparisons liken him to Mike Cammalleri because of his speed, his attitude and his stature. After a second playoffs watching Camms, I'd sign another one of him up if I could.

Alexander Khokhlachev
"The first thing that jumps out about Khokhlachev’s game is his heart."
A comment like that and 34 goals in his first OHL season, I'm certain this is a classic Russian shy-away. The Canadiens have a chance to be a bit of Russian hub with Markov, Emelin, Kostitsyn and Avtsin. Why not take advantage of the rest of the NHL's reluctance. This guy played in North America already. What more could he have done to prove he wanted to be in the NHL?

Nikita Kucherov
If you don't ever finish low enough to get a high pick, you have to take a chance to get a superstar. Kucherov represents a home run swing. The guy absolutely dominated the MHL, he smashed scoring recoreds at the recent U18 champs, he has potential to be something quite special offensively. I don't think the Canadiens have much to lose by swinging big this year, because at #17 they are already looking at guys that could only muster 20-some goals in junior anyway. If Kucherov is on the radar for this pick, it might be wise, however, to turn the pick into two and take him lower when he'll likely still be available due to his recent KHL: signing.

Tyler Biggs
I'm a bit loathe to put another American college bound kid. We've seen our fair share of these already. But Biggs is legit. He is Big, as his name suggests, and he has a knack for scoring Big goals, if not enormous numbers of them. He has to be on the list for completeness, but he wouldn't be my first choice from these.

Red flags

Boone Jenner
For me his improvement from one year to the next wasn't very impressive and it really does raise the question about how one thinks he'll suddenly become NHL 20-goal material.

Zack Phillips, Tomas Jurco
Good teams put up good amounts of goals and are populated by many high point-getters. But it's a scouts job to pick out the straw that stirs the drink. In Saint John, it seems like it was probably Huberdeau. Not to mention Simon Despres and Stanislav Galiev. I'd be wary of totals from these two forwards that may well deflate when they lose their catalysts.

Jamieson Oleksiak
He's 6'7". Let's admit not all tall guys turn out to be Chara. Some turn out to be Andy Sutton -- if you're even that lucky.

Ty Rattie
Seems like 4th fiddle on his team with some pretty crazy top end talent. Buyer beware.

Brett Ritchie
I know you can't teach size. But can one really teach a 20-goal OHL player to do it at the NHL. I know there are cases where it's been done. But have the Habs really learned nothing from Turner Stevenson, Jason Ward.

Monday, June 20, 2011

$20,000,000 Should Do It

Your news for today:

- Cap set to rise to $64 million (floor to $48 million)
- Pacioretty signs for $3.25 million over a couple of seasons
- Markov still unsigned

That together with other non-news like Gomez not traded, Moen still inexplicably employed by the Canadiens, Jagr never to sign in Montreal and Pouliot without a contract gives us the grand sum of news which is this:

The Canadiens have about $20 million to spend on 4 defenders, 5 forwards and a back-up goalie.

Now, we know that one of these defenders is Andrei Markov, and we think his contract is being negotiated now. We don't know what the delay is or has been, but it's conceivable the team and the player have been waiting to see what the salary cap will be for the future of this contract.

Knowing now that the cap is high and $6 million is now a mere 10% of the team budget, the playing field is clearer.

Knowing this ourselves, we feel that there is little reason that Andrei Markov and whatever salary it takes to get him won't fit into the team's new budgetary calculations.

For the sake of argument, let's pull $6 million-ish as his cap number. With Andrei signed, together with the top two lines as they look like they will be going forward, PK Subban and Yannick Weber, Hal Gill and Carey Price, there is also little reason to believe that any of the remaining restricted free agents would be lost against the team's own strategic desires.

A remaining $14 million is more than enough to cover off Josh Gorges, Benoit Pouiot, David Desharnais, Ryan White, Alex Picard and Tom Pyatt. This illustrious list even gives hope that there would be plenty left over should Gauthier want to re-acquaint himself with someone like Roman Hamrlik, Brent Sopel or possibly even James Wisniewski.

A rising salary cap world

Now that the Canadiens have been in a rising salary cap world for 6 years, does anyone else think it's high time they started acting like they are?

Every team that we think is under threat of being dismantled come spring (barring the stacked Blackhawks) always seems to get their reprieve by the bustling budgetary numbers from the revamped league. The Philadelphia Flyers, serial cap violators all of a sudden have all the money they need to sign Ilya Bryzgalov and keep their roster mostly intact. It almost seems like they knew that a cap determined by their budget combined with other teams would get a boost. it almost seems like they read the market and learned that caps usually go up in June.

The Canadiens are doing better. The Plekanec contract for example, looks a lot better today than it did yesterday. Ditto Cammalleri. But the recent Kostitsyn signing (at an NHL median $3.25 million a year) seems like a very conservative bet on a clearly above average player.

In this rising cap world of nice surprises and unexpected cap space, I wouldn't mind seeing the Canadiens get a bit more crafty when their annual May break comes around.

Still, I'll be more than happy at this point with a Google search that turns up news for Andrei Markov before the end of June.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hard-Learned Lessons For Draft Day

Things that I hope the Canadiens have learned about drafting over the past decade:

1) Being more mature 18 isn’t an advantage at age 23

2) Being a defensive forward in junior means a guy doesn’t have the skill to score on junior goalies. Chances you want this guy on your pro team … he’d better play some kinda special defence

3) Defensive defenders come from everywhere. No need to try and find on in the first round.

4) As much as you’d like to trade for St. Louis, Staal, Perry, Ovechkin, Crosby, Sedins, you can’t. Constantly passing on scorers likely means you could end up without any.

5) While the NCAA is nice to bury a player outside the budget, one only needs to take a look at Komisarek’s regular National team duty to know that USA isn’t pumping out the cream of the defensive crop.

6) Better to get 2 players in the top 60 than one after the first 10 pass.

7) Russia hasn’t forgotten how to play hockey just because they’ve forgotten how to sign on to IIHF transfer agreements.

8) If the NHL can’t even reconcile how to mix North American and European players from the same positions together into one list, how do you expect to judge a player’s NHL value against high school opponents in Massachusetts?

9) Organizational needs on the day won’t be organizational needs when the player ripens.

10) OHL is not a dirty word.

11) BCHL stands for Below CHL.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Canucks Video Day:

Watch Habs, Lightning

The Vancouver Canucks, the team we have entrusted to spare us from endless braying of the mindless Bruites, have been abysmal of late. It seems their goalie can't make a save and their envy-of-the-league offence can't crack the two-man crew Boston has assembled.

Before this gets too desperate and we need to call on the spirit of Kovalev to undo the black and gold yellow, some sage advice for the former Canadiens coach we all liked better anyway.

Get yourself some video of the Bruins playoff losses

The Canadiens will be more than happy to oblige, I'm sure, plus if you didn't know it's public access now, and you can probably afford the NHL Centre Ice package.

Tim Thomas must appear to be unbeatable right now, but he has weaknesses. Watch a Canadiens game (the Habs scored in every game despite lacking 6 good forwards), watch the Lightning play Tim Thomas to a pedestrian 0.916. Heck watch Toronto figure out the old man in their last three regular season meetings.

Tim Thomas thrives on first stops. First stops from lousy positions. His team ushers players to these places knowing that Tim will make the save. He's good at the rest too, but he has his dislikes:

1) Cross-ice passes

Because he flops rather than shifts across ice, he relies on percentages on cross ice rather than eyesight or other skill. The Canadiens worked the cross-ice pass to near-perfection when they figured it out, even getting a goal from the stingiest goalie in the final two minutes of a game that should have ended in regulation.

2) Low shots

Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs put Thomas's deficiencies into neon light for all to see. With the Habs low shots were rebounds. Always.

3) Patience on the PP

Thomas may be riding an astounding 0.936 for the playoffs, but he's not otherworldly when on the PK. His 0.877 there is Roberto Luongo/Corey Schneider level and behind such luminaries as Ray Emery and Brian Boucher. He's saved his team's bacon a few times, but when it's been PK time, often Boston took a loss. Still, a goal is not a given and patience can allow the team to wait for opportunities to exploit weaknesses 1) and 2).

Well this is easier said than done, isn't it? Because in order to get a cross-ice pass in, or take a good low shot, one has to first beat Chara.

But Chara has his weakness too, you know. Being punched being one of them, of course (good show Kesler).

A rational person might see 6'9" and come up with the idea that the only way to beat Chara is with someone who can match his size and physicality.

This is wrong. He is so much bigger than anything most teams can throw at him, and so conservative and efficient in movement that this actually plays into his hands.

Take the opposite approach. Go small. Small as can be. Cammalleri was the player of the first round despite Chara's protestations. Gionta gave Zdeno fits at times with hits to the knees. Who led the Lightning against Thomas in their series? St. Louis.

Obviously part of the advantage these players have on a guy like Chara is speed, and more importantly maneuverability. I am not so intimately aware of the Canucks line-up, but as long as you don't ask Higgins, find a shifty player to turn Chara inside out a few times, hit him low and bingo, the vast advantage he usually gives his team is diminished.

From there the Canucks can start to pick on judgment-sink and uber-hypocrite Andrew Ference and his band of journeymen.

I'm not saying this is a guaranteed recipe for success. But when one can't see the forest for the trees (or tree-sized skaters) then one sometimes has to be told obvious little things like these. Vancouver has been poor against the Bru9ins largely because they haven't adapted their game to reflect Bruins weakness. No time to waste in seeing that happens now.

Down the Bruins.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

When It's Good To Be Hated

According to the extensive research of one more "professional" reporter, the Canucks are the NHL's most hated team. The evidence as it stacks up (3 NHL players, if you can call Krys Barch that, and one team exec) is irrefutable enough to make the national newspaper -- but they're no tabloid, right?

The interest of the article is clear for Canadiens fans. yet again a dirty team is using the press to make their opponents at a particular time seem the villains. Boston has their lines all written out from the Canadiens series. Diving = despicable. Breaking necks = unfortunate part of the game. Of course it also helps that no one even asks them to show the discrepancies in diving between their team and the other.

So let's take the thesis that the Canucks are hated (never crossed my mind before, but let's). Is it possible that this position they are in is actually enviable?

Dave Bolland (hero) dislikes the Canucks. As he should, because they just eliminated his team. Dave Bolland plays hard hockey and talks and scores important goals. He is admired around the league. Sounds like a certain reporters description of a Canuck. Wonder if Dave Bolland had many fans on the Canucks team he eliminated last season. Of course, this reporter wasn't interested in "Blackhawks most hated" back then.

Then there's the hits. I hate the hits too. But let's not pretend this is something confined to the Canucks. The Bruins are some of the dirtiest hitters around, and don't get off the hook from me just because they claim Halpern dived and Pacioretty was acting so he could get time off to watch a movie. The Blackhawks are no angels either. Nor any NHL team. The hitting situation has to be weeded out of the game, but it won't end with Aaron Rome and Raffi Torres.

Finally the rats. Alex Burrows and Maxim Lapierre. These guys are despised across the league. Whether they are mocking, diving, declining a fight or biting, it's unanimous from the multitude of sources interviewed for this premier piece of reporting that they are viewed with disdain.

But consider for a minute that both players are two games away from winning a Stanley Cup. Consider Burrows has 9 playoff goals, 7 at even strength, 2 game winners, including a very important one in this series.

Perhaps Krys Barch, who had this to say of Max Lapierre “I don’t know if he has an ounce of man in him, I’d be embarrassed to be his father.” should reflect on his own abysmal playoff record (AHL and NHL) when he criticises a player that has been a factor for teams going to Conference final and Stanley Cup final in consecutive years.

Envy and hatred aren't far apart. And in my experience hatred wanes when indifference starts to enter the equation (see Maple Leafs, Toronto). In my opinion, to be the most hated team in the NHL, with a maximum of 4 games left till summer is probably the precise position you would want to be in.

I just can't wait until Ryan Whitney, Mike Richards and the two-faced Boston media pipe up about the Habs and PK Subban in this way.