Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Habs Picks Are In (Almost)

So there it was, the spectacle of the NHL draft lottery. RDS and TSN outdid themselves by narrowly surpassing the pointlessness of their Trade deadline Day and Free Agency day coverages.

We had to wade through quite a bit of speculation, but eventually there was some excitement.

First we pan to Bill Daly opening an envelope (what too sensitive to show the draw on camera?) and then to Brian Burke to show that the Maple leafs had not won the draft lottery (phew). From this we know that no team directly behind the Leafs were pulled either. Also, we find comfort in seeing that Burke is sticking with his angry man tie fashion.

Another envelope, another loser. This time the Isles miss the win. So that's what Garth Snow looks like...

The big moment didn't give much time for anticipation. The envelope was opened to reveal to Larry Carriere that the Habs would be picking 3rd as their position showed.

On to first, and the Oilers are revealed as the winners. The undeserving GM can't wipe the grin from his face. The sad Blue Jackets take one last loss at the final buzzer.

Picks in
What this means of course is that the Habs will be picking third overall. It will be the team's highest selection in over 30 years. Only the Rangers and Flames (no top 5 picks ever) have had fewer top fivers over that time.

Beyond the third pick, it's good to note that the Habs will be picking 3rd in every subsequent round as well. That is, all those rounds from which they have not already traded their privilege.

So that means 3rd, 33rd, 64th (round 2 has 31 picks), 94th and 154th. The team also owns the rights to Nashville's second round pick this year, thanks to Hal Gill. Essentially the team will have four picks by the time they would have had one in 2008. Five before they would have had their second last season.

This volume is important and not mentioned very often. Five players of the top 100 in a deep year can mean some quality depth added. It also gives the team a chance to mine some quality Quebecois talent (none right now in the consensus top 30, btw) without having to pay over the odds to do it (with too high a pick) or by doing it half-heartedly (O. Archambault @108).

Also very important is that 33rd pick. This pick is a first-round run-off pick and as such is very valuable. It gains more and more value as the trade continues and players that some teams have valued as their top priority fall by the wayside to home run swing picks. The value can be cashed either with one of those players, or perhaps in a bargaining move with an eager buyer on draft day. The luxury of having the other second rounder and the high 3rd and 4th rounders are good buffer for trade.

All this puts the Canadiens scouting staff in a nice position to really go after what they believe in. Furthermore, it gives a new GM some ammunition should the route of trade be considered the way forward.


The 3rd pick as it stands now looks like it could materialize into Mikhail "Grigo" Grigorenko.

But temper the optimism. The likelihood of that player falling to the third position depends very much on the two teams ahead of the Canadiens.

In the better case scenario, I think we all saw the Blue Jackets taking Yakupov, with Edmonton finally conceding they need something other than a forward and taking (sudden consensus two) Ryan Murray to fill out a team of shooters. With CBJ in second, the logic remains, but is somehow less convincing. Columbus doesn't have a young stable of good forwards in the organization like the Oilers do and can't afford to take the second best player as they cling to NHL life. While a defender might ultimately make more sense for a team who believed Wisniewski the solution to their woes, a jittery team might value the quick fix of a scorer and at last a centre for Nash.

If Grigo is gone, the Canadiens have some soul searching to do. Ryan Murray is not perhaps the player they need on the big team to complement Subban/Markov/Gorges/Emelin/Beaulieu/Tinordi. And one sees what having an expendable young defender can return (McDonagh). The decision to trade that defender should be clear before the situation unfolds so that time is not lost to hesitation.

Personally, I would trade down before picking Murray. Indeed, from what I've read, I might prefer two of the top 30 to one of the next five. I have a bad feeling about Galchenyuk and would rather hedge than take him outright at three.

Whatever happens before June, or in June, I will guarantee that it will be a more exciting time to be a Habs fan than it usually is in early summer. The potential for this kind of talent to join, the potential for movement, the reason to even watch the draft all make for a better June.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Game #82

Montreal And Staubitz Too Good For Lacklustre Leafs


Date: 07/04/2012
Opponent: Maple Leafs
Location: Montreal

Win: 4-1

Habs Goalie: Budaj (W)
Opposition Goalie: Scrivens (L)

Habs goalscorers: Plekanec, Pacioretty Cole, Staubitz
Opposition goalscorers: Phaneuf

Play of the game

Price's cowboy hat (people wear those for real?) and Staubitz's first goal of the season at the last possible moment were noteworthy, but the best play was Cole's goal. It reminded me so much of Lafleur, but also of Cole himself. Down the right side with speed and gusto went Erik who made no mistake whatsoever on the career AHL-er. The goal was his 35th of the season.

Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Max Pacioretty
Maybe it is a good thing there are no playoffs because this sure is getting boring, isn't it. Every game the same players step up, every game they do it in the same way. It makes watching, writing, and I am sure reading very repetitive. Max scored and added an assist and, therefore, ended with a very impressive 65 points. The US will enjoy his play at World's and we'll all look forward to September to see him again.

Tomas Plekanec

When the Leafs had an early 5-on-3 the last thing I expected was a goal by us. I actually thought that an early goal by Toronto would be just what we needed to ensure a loss. What I underestimated, however, was how bad Toronto's players are. Not to take away from Pleks (only the second player to score in that situation that year), but it was two mistakes in our end that led to the breakaway and then horrible goaltending that allowed the uncontrolled puck to trickle in.

Erik Cole
Erik is the player we all dreamed of getting 3 years ago (Gomez, Gionta or Cammelleri) and is way better than the player we thought we got last July (Cole). He played with passion and pride every single game this year and is the perfect player to be leading a young group. I like Gionta, but wonder if his captaincy, like the reign of the coach and gm, should come to an end this year. If so, Erik would be the obvious choice in that regard.


Josh Gorges
Josh played another solid game and ended the season as one of only two players to play all 82 games (Cole). It was a good bounce-back year after his injury last year and one can only hope that the same happens for Markov in 12-13. Gorges, along with Markov, Emelin and Subban form a good top-4, or 4 of top-5; it will be interesting to see who sticks come game #1.

PK Subban
One of the best plays by Subban was his hit on Brown. Hitting is such a small part of his game, but he is still so good at it. To me that shows just how good he is as he has so many different tools; offence, defence, skating and passion are a few more of his other skills. It was another good game from PK in what was an up and down season (although, admittedly up of late). The 22 year-old is getting better all the time and hopefully has many good years in Montreal to come. I guess, like us, he'll be watching the lottery and draft with interest.


Peter Budaj - Game Puck
Peter played well again tonight and has actually been quite good of late. In fact, in his last 7 games (the last 4 weeks) he has a save % of .931. Maybe, in the end, he has earned himself an NHL job, back here in Montreal that is. These last few weeks should give management the confidence that he can be a decent back-up, but should also serve as a warning that he should be playing more. The cupboard is bare beyond him for sure, but if Price is healthy and if Budaj gets 25 games (he got 17 this year) I think we'll still be in a good goaltending spot next year.


So, there it is. 82 games have come and gone. It is a little disappointing that we were written off in October or November by so many and that they were right. We had so many chances and reasons to turn it around all year, but things just didn't work out. Trading Cammelleri and waiting forever for Markov to come back have to rank as the highest of the reasons though. I'm not sure we should have kept Camms, but the return we got (8 points in 38 games - 3 less than Gomez in the same amount of games) was absolutely pathetic. It killed our second line 3 months ago.

Tonight was disappointing in that for once I wanted us to lose a last minute game against Toronto. My guess is that the Leafs didn't want to win, but then again they are horrible, so maybe that was indeed their best. It was fitting that our top-3 forwards scored as they (and Desharnais of course) have carried us all season long. As sad as that seems (carry us to last that is, as we have been atrocious), just imagine where we would have been without the Cole line, without 242/246 games played from that trio. Next year we can't rely on them and them alone again. Our goal this summer has to be to build a real top-line (I would love 3 players better than Cole) or at least a line as good as that one. Pleks can be one piece, but who will the other two be? A draft pick in there would be great and a new acquisition, from a trade or free-agency, seems a must.

That's it then, another long season over and another summer to enjoy other things. Thanks to all the readers and loyal Habs fans out there. There are a ton of fans who jumped ship in the Fall or Winter, but if you are reading this you didn't. The team needs real fans and that, we have enough of. Now all we need is a good GM, a good coach, a good draft pick, a few good new forwards and a whole new winning regime. Sounds like Molson is going to have a pretty busy summer if he is going to keep us happy, as for me, I am now in sit-back and watch (and likely complain, but hopefully rejoice) mode.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Game #81

Staal Gets His Breakaway, Habs Made To Take A Point


Date: 05/04/2012
Opponent: Hurricanes
Location: Carolina

Loss: 1-2 (SO)

Habs Goalie: Budaj (L)
Opposition Goalie: Ward (W)

Habs goalscorers: Geoffrion
Opposition goalscorers: LaRose, (Staal, SO)

Play of the game

The "best" play of the game tonight was a save. (If I was a cynic, I would say) one of Cam Ward's wonderful saves to stop the Canadiens from winning despite themselves. But from the perspective of the Habs fan, what a wonderful little stop that was from Chris Campoli with a lightning right leg -- something from the outdoor rink, that. Perhaps a nicer memory to leave of his career in Montreal for everyone.

Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Tomas Plekanec
We've said this before. Pleks was the best forward on the ice for the Habs. He had his feet, he had his wits, the only thing he left in Montreal were his finishing hands. Another breakaway for Plekanec this season, this one ended in another great Ward save. How many scoring chances has he had on breakaways? How many has he had not on breakaways? The story of a down cycle year with useless wingers.

Erik Cole
The next in a pretty poor bunch. Cole wasn't quite his usual insistent self, but he still garnered chances. Of all Canadiens he came closest to sealing the win with a great showdown with Cam Ward.

Blake Geoffrion
I'm not sure what management thinks of this player. Hopefully it's more than what Cunneyworth thinks. From what I've seen, he's alright. he's certainly no less talented than the rest of the bottom 8 forwards. Hos goal tonight proves two things -- he has skill hiding in there somewhere, and he has a goalscorer instinct. I don't foresee him suddenly going all Pacioretty on us, but why not groom him to replace Darche?


Chris Campoli
His best play of the year to my knowledge. On top of that, a very solid showing in this game. I think we were all a bit surprised to constantly look up to see #17 as plays were broekn down, and just as surprised to see him pinching in up front. More of this earlier in the season might have changed the ball game for a few former coaches and players. Still, as I said, it's nice for Chris to leave us on a higher note.

Andrei Markov
Not his all-time best or anything, but more glimpses of the Markov we once knew. The progress tonight was in his defensive commitment: we saw a few body checks and battles on the boards. If nothing else, this painful last month with Markov will give him the confidence to start the year right next October.


Peter Budaj - Game Puck
I can hear it. "Now you make a save?" Budaj has been placed in a tough situation. At once playing for an NHL career and holding the Canadiens chances to the lottery in his control. His saves throughout will serve him well as he searches for a new contract, and he has looked better as time wore on. I hesitate to say the Habs should resign him though, as most of these high points have come in games of little meaning. I think we all hope those will be left behind soon. In any case, he deserves the recognition tonight as he was the second best player on the ice and did his solid best.


This game ended exactly the way it should have: on a Staal penalty shot. How the refs did not call Tomas Plekanec for a vicious slash/trip on a breakaway, one will never guess. That penalty shot in regulation could have spared the Habs a point and possibly put them in better stead for an Oilers surge to 28th. But they'll get a better pick for their shootout futility (this is some comfort) -- this being their 11th loss of this type.

On the bright side, the Islanders won, the Hurricanes won (obviously), the Lightning and Toronto went to OT (Toronto coming back to win (fools)) and Edmonton and Anaheim have to split 2-3 points between them.

This all means the Canadiens 76 points put them safely in at least 28th position. Only the Oilers can change that now, thanks to Anaheim's tie break winner over us.

With one meaningless game to go, the spring cannot come quick enough. The only thing holding back the optimism of new GM, new coach, new young star is the prospect of having to watch two terrible teams with young players who can't score duke it out before tee time. I jest, of course. I still enjoy the games. But the optimism about off-ice stuff is legitimate, it's where a Habs fan can find refuge and hope at the moment.

For once, it's the draft that can't come soon enough.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Game #80

Tampa's Lack Of D Make It Hard For Habs To Lose


Date: 04/04/2012
Opponent: Lightning
Location: Montreal

Win: 5-2

Habs Goalie: Budaj (W)
Opposition Goalie: Caron (L)

Habs goalscorers: Emelin, Cole (2), Pacioretty (2)
Opposition goalscorers: Lecavalier, Gervais

Play of the game

If I have to look for the best play tonight, the best goal (despite being fairly upset with the win) it would have to be Pacioretty's second. All of the goals were good, actually, but I did like the 5th goal where Max blew past his coverage down the wing and unloaded a bullet of a wrist-shot up and over Garon's replacement (was the requirement to find someone with as close a name as possible?).

Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Max Pacioretty - Game Puck
The numbers were good tonight - 2 goals, an assist and +4. Could it be that Max isn't that keen on a top-2 pick as he is fairly happy with his status as top-2 winger on the team? I am fine with that attitude, but hope that next year he contributes more to team success and isn't simply remembered, again, for having a good year on a bad team.

Tomas Plekanec

People remember stats and don't remember when points were gotten, how they were gotten or the context in which they were collected. Therefore, I can totally understand Tom's desire to put a few more points up this week so when we look back in a few weeks, months or years we think slightly better of him than had he mailed it in. Unfortunately for him, however, I would rather we be a Cup contender within 3 years than he get an extra 3 points, but would he?

Erik Cole
Cole just can't help himself, can he? Unfortunately for the top-2 pick drive Erik is healthy and is playing at his usual level. Tonight he inched closer to 35 with 2 more goals and has two games to net one. He is all business on the ice and for that I respect him and look forward to another season with him leading the offence.


Alexei Emelin
I was happy that Emelin scored a goal tonight as he desrved some reward for his season. Is it possible that he is the most underrated and under-appreciated Hab? He has been noticed all year, but when you think of what this guy has done, as a rookie, you can't help but be excited for next year. I say, give him 3-5 more years of being labeled as underrated and then the trophies will start flowing.

Andrei Markov
It was very good to see how well the PP was doing tonight and that was thanks in no small part to the work of Markov. Tonight was his 11th game and he keeps looking better in each. I still hope he plays some more hockey this spring and has a good summer of hard, off-season work as opposed to the rehabbing he has been doing for the past couple of summers.


Peter Budaj
That pass to Lecavalier was right up there with O'Byrne's own-goal in the department of hilariously brutal plays. Aside from that play he was good even though Tampa played horribly. I am not sure if Mayer will get the start tomorrow or Budaj. It doesn't really matter, but I would say there is a good chance we'll need Mayer at some point down the road, so why not give him a taste now.


Tampa looked like the team playing to lose and we seemed to be fueled by a Bell Centre crowd that was ill-advisedly cheering them on way too much. It seemed like we couldn't help ourselves and it meant a few great chances for our top line. It even meant that Rene Bourque almost got more than one shot or stood in front of the net once in 18+ minutes. If only our team followed the lead of the bottom 3 lines we'd be gold. Now, however, it looks as though Edmonton will bag the 2nd spot and we'll have some work to do to stay in 3rd.

Tonight was a big milestone for Cole as it was his 700th game and he celebrated with two more goals; bettering his best goal mark again and getting to 59 points, 2 shy of that record. It was another milestone round here. Tonight marked the 450th game report that we at LIW have written. We haven't missed one game since we started in the Fall of 2007 with a win in Carolina. That night, the first ever goal to be documented was scored by none other than Erik Cole, it was his 300th career game (playoffs included). The only other players to play tonight and then were Markov and Plekanec; all 3 of those players made the dome tonight.

I couldn't have kept that streak alive without the help of Topham, ian vitro, my Dad (uncredited, but he has written pieces) and a naturalized Habs fan for a wife. We started reporting on games to show a different, maybe more honest side of the game. In the beginning it was all about the thrill of the winning, but, just for a brief moment we have now started to hope for the opposite. There has been a conference win, a conference final, brutal trades, sad player moves a Centennial and so much more. So, thanks to all of you who read and keep this fun and entertaining after each and every win or loss.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Gorges Recognized For Being Unrecognized (Again)

The only trophy that any Montreal Canadiens player will get this season (other than the hopelessly goaltender biased Molson Cup) has been given to Josh Gorges.

To quote HI/O: "The honour goes to a member of the team whose contributions have been under-recognized in the course of a season."

Not that I have any grudges with Josh Gorges, but this trophy is silly. All of the Canadiens are unrecognized this season, are they not? Apart from Carey Price, no one will get an award from either team or league. Diaz was the only one who was even honoured with an invitation to sub in at the All-Star game.

This trophy probably made a lot more sense when it was devised for the inaugural season of 1981-82. In the 1970s, there was plenty of Canadiens recognition to go around and the sight of a Habs player giving an acceptance speech in June was not so rare.

But nowadays, the Canadiens as a group are rarely recognized. Subban got a nod for the All-Rookie team last season. But the last trophy won by a member of the Montreal Canadiens was the King Clancy trophy in 2006-07. The last trophy for hockey related achievements was the Roger Crozier award to Cristobal Huet in 2005-06. And the last major trophy won by anyone in bleu, blanc, rouge was taken in by Jose Theodore a decade ago.

As I said, nothing against Gorges, but this season has been watchable thanks to three major contributors, only one of whom is being recognized (and that's that flawed process again). The team, or the media, or whoever, needs to adapt to the times and recognize the major contributor before bestowing the only trophy of the season to the a man who has worn the underrated tag like a badge of honour for 6 whole seasons now. Can you even be unrecognized or underrated anymore if every story about you touts you as one of the most underrated players in the world? Maybe having won the trophy for being unrecognized (the second to last trophy won by anyone on the team) should be a hint.

Recognition first for the "recognized". We'll do it here once all the games and stats are in. That's something I guess.