Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why I Trust Vanek

From the off with this blog, I feel I have been at least consistent in one thing: trusting talent.

Our very first post dealt with the rocky relationship of Habs fans and Kovalev and how not really having a true scorer for many years hurt the observer's ability to understand his movements and potential payoffs. I got in quite a few spats with other bloggers over Kovalev and had the quiet satisfaction in the impact he made in 2008 (Of course by the end of that season, each adversary knew that it would happen that way).

I have been wrong about players too. But, this has rarely been for trusting in their talent. More often, just not seeing what talent was there in front of me.

I suppose I have over the years learned a great deal about talent in sports from my own experiences. My usual predicament as a sportsman is someone with a much lower dose of natural ability, but who makes up for this with cheats like fitness and informed guessing (sometimes called anticipation by those who wish to compliment). In this position, I have always been in the position to play with those more talented than me. While there were certainly times in my youth where I thought the hard work entitled me to more, I have since learned to appreciate that a team thrives only when people play the roles they can fulfil. For team success to come my way, I need that goalscorer as much as he needs my hurried backchecking.

The 1990s were also a University for talent appreciation. Watching the Montreal Canadiens get dismantled, one could measure by increment how important each little talent that went out the door was in terms of victories.With each downgrade, came a a bigger hole for the team to try and dig out of with Dackell, Dackell and Dackell on every line.

Things changed when a certain Josef balej was traded for Alexei Kovalev. For the first time in some time, the Canadiens had acquired a goalscorer, not an alleged or potential goalscorer, but a real goalscorer. The chemistry took a while to incubate, but when the chips fell down on Game #4 of that bruins series, the Canadiens needed to look to Kovalev to help. It wasn't single handed, but by being htere he caused the stir that sent all Bruins round and round that drainpipe.

And it wasn't all rosy with Kovalev, that's for certain. But all told, he eventually left Montreal with 31 points in 33 playoff games, some Hart trophy votes, and a bigger reputation for talent .

Kovalev floundered in his final season in Montreal for a few reasons, but the biggest one must be that the team started losing. When ever that happens in this town, blame shoots out at every one. That year, he was the biggest target, but not the only one ticketed for house cleaning.

Thomas Vanek

Thomas Vanek is not Alex Kovalev. He's a different player. To me, he seems to be more the sniper than the distributor, despite his ability to string a nice pass. The way he floats into openings and takes no time on the puck sets him apart from #27.

Still, he is like Kovalev in his talent, particularly in his talent relative to his positional peers. Vanek possesses top five ability in most important categories when you think about how goals can be scored, shooting, positioning for shots, tipping, quickness of hands, etc, etc.

It seems absurd then that at the very time the Canadiens meet a goaltender that requires a premiere quality to be beaten that the discussion should revolve around how far Vanek can be removed from the scoring lines.

Look, I understand that as an all-rounder Vanek can leave a bad impression. He is not a strong back checker, he doesn't seem to have as much interest in mucking it up as many. But for all their victories in those regards in this series so far, the Canadiens are down two games to nil and 10 goals to 3. This is not the time to teach Thomas Vanek to be responsible defensively for the first time in his career. It is, however, the time to look down the lineup, assess special qualities with honesty (and not hope) and put the best foot forward.

The best foot in this case is using Thomas Vanek as the player he can be. Give him the chance to receive passes in good positions again, give him the players that are ready for his thoughtful first touches. Nothing against Tomas Plekanec, but he hasn't been at his Olympic best. And Bournival is putting in a fine effort, but he's shown he's not ready to think at a level where Thomas Vanek passes might come to him. The matches for Vanek have been shown in Desharnais (always a thinker) and Pacioretty (his equal in talents).

Give the Rangers this to think about. Give Lundqvist some shots of quality from the puck dance these three can choreograph. The playoffs are all about answering the specific circumstances that arise quickly and effectively.

The best team on average can easily lose to the more shrewdly adapted unit. The shrewd adaptation that took Vanek away form Pacioretty was to force a Bruins decision on matchups, and though they never committed fully to one or other, it loosed their backline overall (and Gallagher was finally the one to wear through Zdeno Chara completely). These Rangers are a different opponent and deserve a different approach. The fact their defence is more evenly weighted throughout does suggest a top heavy approach could force an uncomfortable question.

Tactical decisions like this must be made from a position where all strengths are considered. The way the talk is going right now, it is as if Thomas Vanek is considered no strength at all, more a weakness. I must ask what could bring this about face. Even two losses should not be enough. Now more than ever is the time for the Canadiens to be taking the positive approach to decision making. There is no more room to wait for lucky bounces or mistakes as has been the luxury of theirs recently, they must force the issue.

From my own experience, my instinct is to trust this talent and gather round it. It will surface in the right situation, a situation where each component of the working machine is doing something within their realm of ability.

Just my thoughts.

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