Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gionta Confirmed As Captain

Francois Gagnon can breathe easy, his credibility is intact. Today the Canadiens named Brian Gionta their 28th captain in franchise history.

Reads of Lions in Winter aren't alone in their good sense. But it's nice to know that as a group we stumbled upon the same choice. If only we could say the same for all organizational decisions. We can't pat ourselves on the back too long though, Hal Gill, he of 0 votes from LIW readers, gets the second 'A' after Markov.

Back in August, I said the Gionta choice was adequate:
In my personal opinion, I think you've chosen adequately. Gionta will be a good captain for now. I just don't think it's a long-term solution. It's more Shayne Corson than Saku Koivu if you get my drift.

The reason I say this is because of all the contracts on the Habs, Gionta's stands out. It is as once the an overpay, but also the most moveable of the overpays given that Gionta has demonstrated veteran leadership and quick hands. As such, I'm not sure Gionta is more than a transition captain. That transition might very well be a more than worthwhile 3 years, however.
I stand by that. While Gionta was always in consideration, I still think his contract might make him a target as he tries to put up numbers that match the salary (something which he didn't always do in NJ). That doesn't mean I think he's wrong. Just that there were other right choices around.

In any case, I think this is a great day for the Canadiens. For a franchise like the Habs to waffle for so long over this decision and to go captainless for a year was disappointing. Putting a captain in place feels right.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Battles, Cuts and Intrigue

Martin's Mind By Ice Time

In the world of new statistics we are told that we can tell a coach's mind to a certain extent by faceoff deployment. Important faceoffs are taken by important players (favoured players). The same can be extrapolated from ice time.

As camp winds down and the NHL team is left to rake in revenue for the Molsons, we can begin to view Martin's mind.


Battles

There are a few pitched battles going on under the radar as far as I can tell.

Up front, Eller just about locked up his place in the NHL with his display last night. But that was probably superfluous, as Martin seems smitten with the Dane - he's played 49:30 already, good for 4th most among forwards.

This has muddied the waters a bit in my opinion after the top 9. Here Pouliot has possibly slipped to earn his place along with Darche, Boyd, Maxwell, White and Pacioretty (Pyatt based on his enormous usage so far, along with Moen and Halpern, i judge to be safe). Pouliot should hold the edge but for his last 2 efforts. Even so, he holds good cards with Martin the dealer. Boyd has NHL cred to back him up. Darche the benefit of the doubt.

Its the challenges of White and Maxwell that stand out for me. Martin has used White sparingly, but with great effect thus far. Ryan looks to be what Moen, Darche and Boyd may not be. Maxwell is different. He's looked genuinely inspired at times at stark contrast with Pouliot. The fact he's a natural centre would be the only thing holding back his odds for me. Notice no mention of Pacioretty. Despite his points, his underuse to the tune of 21:19 over 2 games belies his starting position on the grid. He's a very dark horse for the big team this year indeed.

On D, there are battles too, but they seem less urgent with the injuries. With Carle out of the way, it's Weber, Picard and O'Byrne for the final two places in my opinion. Martin tips his hand with playing time here. Weber has played 64:09 in 3 games. Picard has played 49:56 in 2. O'Byrne, meanwhile lags at 36:39 for 2. It seems that Weber ad Picard have their noses in front, but we mustn't forget that a defense of Subban, Spacek, Weber, Picard, Hamrlik, Markov seems highly unfavourable to the goalies we have. O'Byrne hangs on therefore, and a couple of decent (don't even have to be great) efforts should see him through to starting lineup.


Cuts
The cuts from training camp represent a multi-tiered group. There are the players outside the plans, juniors like Lefebvre, Leblanc, Tinordi. There are the players who are tipped for the AHL. And then there are those that have played themselves out of positions.

The list of players sent to Hamilton includes:
G: Robert Mayer and Peter Delmas

D: Frederic St-Denis, Sebastien Bisaillon, Marc-Antoine Desnoyers, Kyle Klubertanz, Brendon Nash, Neil Petruic, David Urquhart and Mathieu Carle

F: Andrew Conboy, Olivier Fortier, Dany Masse, Aaron Palushaj, J.T. Wyman, Alexander Avtsin, Jimmy Bonneau, Ian Shultz, David Desharnais, Gabriel Dumont and Andreas Engqvist

The Bulldogs though are like the Habs, they are restricted in the positions they have to offer. Not to mention that 4 to 5 of the 16 forwards up in Montreal (likely to include Russell and Bishop among others), 1 or 2 of the Dmen and 1 more goalie will be demoted.

So far, only Champion has been released outright. He was a try-out with the Habs and now leaves for junior without a contract. Another in the rather lengthy list of potential goalies to attempt to fill the Canadiens shallow depth chart this summer.

Delmas is at Bulldogs camp now, but unless he does something reveletionary, he'll be in Wheeling or elsewhere come October. Ditto two of Urquhart, Bisaillon, Desnoyers and Petruic. Up front though the Canadiens only have 29 bodies to play 24 positions and fill 26 to 28 places. I'd wager Bonneau is the favourite to be deemed non-Bulldog material by the Habs, but who knows, Masse and Russell might be in that mix.

Of the cuts to be favourites on the Dogs, look for Desharnais, Engqvist and Palushaj who all got very long looks at the big camp (41:38, 35:18 and 33:11 in playing time, respectively). On D, that man would be Carle who saw 38:29, mostly out of necessity.


Intrigue

Intrigue might be a strong word, but there are some surprises from the camp.

First for me is the goalie deployment. On other teams we have seen complete unknowns get a skate out in goal. Not so in Montreal. Robert Mayer, the legitimate back-up for Hamilton got a half game, as did Sanford. The goalie overuse in these early games was probably made necessary by certain athletes needing more time to ready themselves. I feel it comes at a cost to the organization, which as I mentioned has no depth at the position.

Second has to be Spacek's playing time. What on earth is Martin driving at? 72:57 so far for the guy we all anticipate needing nights off to rest during the season. It's bordering on madness, playing Jaro as much as that. It's come at the expense of Ryan O'Byrne in part, but also the contenders like Carle, Klubertanz and St. Denis who played a combined hour between them. Not that I know what I'm doing as a coach, but I'd also have thought that it might be more useful to get those potential replacements into games ahead of Jarred Tinordi who at 18 has a few years of tutelage to come before bleu, blanc, rouge days.

Finally, there's Avtsin. Upon demotion, Martin said something about his injury from the summer really holding him back during camp. Apparently it held him back to the point that he couldn't even dress for the early undressings at the hands of the Bruins and Sens. The player commits in a big way to come to North America and doesn't even get a minute of ice. Fortier was injured a whole season and didn't have a chance of making the team at all and he got a skate. JT Wyamn is no NHLer and he got 2 games. Conboy has nothing more to offer than a scowl, he got two as well. We don't know inner workings. Maybe Avtsinn was injured. I suppose I hope he was/is, because it would be a shame if the Habs blew another prospect because Martin is stuck in his ways.

Monday, September 27, 2010

It's Carey Price Day

Again

Usually we do our best to set ourselves apart form the mainstream media by covering things they overlook or under-report. Not today. Today it's the midway mark of the exhibition season and few have done much of interest in camp. Today we'll toe the line with everyone else.

Today will be Carey Price Day...

After telling us to chill out, he's now telling us he won't be losing any sleep over his performance either.

Jack Todd thinks we the Habs may regret not trading Price (but only in Ottawa). In Montreal his piece on the goalie has a downgraded headline.

Someone in Toronto thinks the time has already come to give up on Carey (I was always told they were patient to a fault with losses in Toronto). These lines the most extreme:
If the organization is going to move forward and build on the momentum of their unlikely playoff run Price needs to be moved by Habs GM Pierre Gauthier immediately.

Rejean Tremblay isn't liking Price too much either and sees through his pronouncements about all that he's learned.

In Boston, they must at least be chuckling as they watch Rask. They speak some sense too:
It’s much too early to know whether the Habs made a mistake by keeping Price and trading Halak, but it’s easy to sympathize with fans who don’t think their goalie situation looks ideal.

Even people who like Price have nothing better to talk about.

Carbo is supporting his young former protege.

Martin is starting him again. Full game. Sorry Sanford.


All of this is a bit crazy. Thank goodness some cuts cam today, so fans will have something else to debate.


On where I stand on all this?

Not really sure. All I know is that I was hoping like many that the first time I saw Carey Price in action, I would suddenly see him through Gainey or Gautheir's eyes. It hasn't happened, but I'm not giving up hope just yet.

That said, I believe like many of you may that the detractors make great points, even if they aim to sensationalize and scandalize for readers. This, for me, an interesting thought from the sporadic Jack Todd:
If you thought things were going to be different with Gauthier in charge, you were wrong. It didn't take long for Bob Lite to prove that where Price is concerned, he drank the Kool-Aid.

Nothing that happens in the next few months is going to prove Gauthier right or wrong. It doesn't matter how Lars Eller plays, or how Halak fares in St. Louis.

He goes back to hyperbole after that, but essentially to say it is up to Carey to get this show together. We'd like it to be sooner (at least so we can read and talk about something else), but we'll take later if necessary.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Camp Is Slipping Away

Some Counted Out, Others Missing Their Chance

Last night, Tobalev and I were lucky enough to take in the exhibition game in Kanata from the bottom bowl. Decked in our Habs sweaters, we strolled with confidence into the Habs country home. Scotiabank Place doesn't have all the comforts of home, but traveling fans made sure to bring all the paraphernalia, chanting and booing that makes us so likeable as guests.

The game itself was an interesting enough affair. The final score as you know wasn't positive (at least not for the majority of fans in Scotiabank Place), but the game had its moments.

Once again, we approached this game in a completely different manner to a regular season or playoff game. The result was not the goal, and therefore not the most important part to report. Even the scoring summary, though it holds interest, wasn't the be all and end all.

I'll start with what I found to be positive in the game (leaving out Alfredsson, who I wish we had on our team, and other Sens assets).

Ben Maxwell
I find it hard to relate what I thought of Maxwell before. i think written off is the closest I can come to mirroring my thoughts on him. So, a couple of preseason watches later and I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised to say I was wrong about that. He's not been a full revelation, but amongst his peers (our prospects) he stands out clearly as one of the readiest. And where he was timid and mostly passive in the past, it's his initiative and ingenuity that now stands out most. His hallmark play now for me is his burst of speed through a seam with the puck. Last night, it won us possession on a few occasions and a penalty shot on another.

Yannick Weber
Don't get me wrong, he didn't have a stormer. But on second viewing this season, I thought Weber improved. He was once again a great option on the PP and though he didn't bolt down the back end, he at least didn't look worse than most of his teammates. Injuries at the back end seem more likely on this team than to forwards due to a combination of collective age and a system that asks for shot blocking every minute of the game. Knowing that there is someone behind O'Byrne that has something to offer other than cringe moments is positive.

Tomas Plekanec
The top from the veteran group and really the only vet that seems to be able to carry his play despite a rookie presence. His goal was a moment of brilliance, as he made beating the Sens D and Brian Elliott (what was the rest of the Habs made look an impossible task) look effortless. For those who overlook him as a leader, consider from the evidence that he is once again the readiest for the season to begin, reflecting what was probably a lot of hard work in the offseason.

Louis Leblanc

Tobalev and I spoke about many guys just not getting it, realizing, that is, that this represents their bast chance at cementing their place. Leblanc gets it. He won't get a place just yet as he still plays a level below the NHL skill, but his drive and at times his passing stand out as excellent.

Penalty drawing
It's probably nothing more than soft reffing and blind luck, but remember when the Habs couldn't draw a call to save their skins? In this game they drew a few. Maxwell did the best with the penalty shot, but there were a few other important instances where pens were drawn too.

First half
Until Ben Maxwell missed on a penalty shot, this game was going Montreal's way. That was 36:02 minutes that the shay last 23:58 has now eclipsed.



That's just about as much as I'd like to say about positives. On then to needs improvements. From our seats, these people and things stood out:

Bench management
Bad line changes and too many men penalties. I know its exhibition season, but this stuff is just basic. We joked the announcer should be calling "Penalty to the Montreal Canadiens, too many men on the ice... again"

Benoit Pouliot
Does he get it? We didn't think so. Last game I was very encouraged, now I'm disheartened. The score sheet papers over his game with an assist, but he was poor. He was slow all over the ice to react and exactly the opposite to what the top two lines need. He needs to improve both for the team and himself.

Travis Moen

Does it seem to anyone else like he just goes through the motions? He must be the only veteran on the team that never comes up in captain discussions and it shows on the ice. he's not invisible, but nearly every shift he played last night looked like an exercise in killing time. His job's not under threat, but setting an example to the youngsters might not go amiss. I guess I just expect more from the highest price tag grinder.

Jaroslav Spacek

Speaking of vets not helping youngsters. Look I know that it's the preseason and he'll be better with a real partner. And I know he wouldn't try half the things he did against a regular season team. But Spacek really should look to steadiness the way Moen looks to making some kind of mark. He's the veteran expert on a green corps on this night, there's no need for him to be "trying" new tricks, he's had two decades for that. Many egos could have been salvaged with a few more solid dump outs.

Jacques Martin
Again, just exhibition. Seriously, though, why dress Fortier if not to trial him? Why not give Pouliot a real chance to excel, not just see whether he can play the role of carrying a line, which you'd never ask him to do anyway? Why is Kostitsyn not with his linemates? Why the whole game for Carey? It's an uncomfortable amount of questions to ask about a vet coach. Maybe answers will become clearer to me at a later date.

Hal Gill injury?
We didn't notice Gill after the first. Turns out he played a few minutes in the second, but none in the third. Now there aren't any reports, and we didn't have the sense to watch the bench, but nearly 27 minutes for Weber? Nearly 5 on the PK for Weber? All signs point to Gill being injured. I pondered putting this in positive, but a little look at the alternatives over the past 3 exhibitions made me think again.

Carey Price
We can argue all day about the goals not being Carey's fault. I don't care to get into it. He needs to improve as well as the team.

I can identify two areas where I would advise Carey to focus his efforts:

1) Puck handling: Honestly, just stop. At the beginning of the third with the Habs down 4-2 and a chance to learn something about coming back, he came behind the net and passed right to a Senator with the net open. Most of his handling doesn't lead to clear chances. But nor does his contribution to the play justify even an occasional risk like this. Stay in the net for a while. Play it simply. It could save a lot of heartache for everyone.

2) Preparation: Coming into this season was always going to be hard, but with a lot to prove, we figured he'd worked hard and be ready. If he is, he doesn't convey it in his interviews or on the ice. He could gain a lot, I think from spending a summer training with Tomas Plekanec rather than his rodeo buddies. And before games? I'd love to see his 2nd period readiness in the first 10 minutes.

Still, it's not as negative as some would suggest. It's actually hard to tease apart how all the negatives above influence Price directly and indirectly. Doesn't help that the coach is in this column, in my opinion. But as I said the other day, all this brings his mind into sharper focus about what he needs to do to get ready for the real season. All these lessons need not be lost. What's more the lessons are given squarely to the team and coaches as well for their tough assignments on the year.


A fun night overall. A game in person really allows for a much broader view of goings on. And from where we were, we could see a lot of detail that's missed by cameras. Though I left it with the "needs improvement" section, I'm not too concerned. I still feel like half a team can't ever show me what the full team will be like. Cammalleri with Gomez instead of Palushaj is a different player, I spoke about Spacek. So, seeing as it's not all doom and gloom, I'll go back to the positive for the sake of aftertaste:

It's preseason!
Gotta be the number one positive. Nothing about this game needs to be remembered if the right people make the right decisions and adjustments.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Losing That Game Was Critical For Price, Habs

I know I said I wouldn't pay attention to the score of that game the other night. Really, I don't care much about it all. It's just that as I try to fins anything to read about the Canadiens, all the usual sources have their thoughts dammed at the goaltending position.

Before the game, I took my own advice, as I said and made sure I didn't make silly extrapolations from a single game (or half game) in which players we won't even see were playing players we may never see again. Instead of watching the scoreline, I watched Pouliot, Leblanc, Maxwell and Tinordi. I couldn't help but notice Price, but to be honest he didn't do anything to surprise or shock.

Since the game, I have been thinking about Price, the boos, the media response and his teammates. I have come to a few conclusions on the whole thing:

1) This game was going to happen sooner or later

2) Better that it happen now, sooner rather than later

3) The fans were not doing anything unusual


We've had tiring discussion after tiring discussion about Price's apprenticeship to the NHL. Price is learning, we've admitted that. Let's not forget that. He's learning to play in the NHL and that means learning that NHLers can do things junior players can't. As things go, I'd like him to get his hard lessons in at the best possible times. If he has to learn about covering angles, puckhandling and gaining back composure in one game, it's far better than learning all that over 20 games.

This season, after a layoff of quite some time from playing in NHL games, Price was always going to have to be reminded of his weaknesses. Personally, I'm happy the game happened at the earliest possible juncture. I wasn't under any illusion that a summer of training would correct all ills, so better the young goalie (and his team) bring these working points up as early as possible so that they may be on the agenda for every practice from here on. Really, it's a positive thing. How could it not be? Because players who need to improve need to have what they need to improve firmly implanted when they sat out to train. I don't think those lessons could escape anyone after this debacle.


As for the fans, there are two issues here. The first is that they overreacted to the goings on in a preseason game. Second is that we shouldn't be surprised. We fans (and I think it's fair to include us all in this to some degree and not hold to snobbery) overreact to many things surrounding the Canadiens. Dare I say, most things. This game is barely less significant than opening month and those criticising the fans of yesterday are often among the group that talk in terms of being in or out of the playoffs in November. There's degrees of our madness, but don't think we're not all mad.

Anyway, no surprise in the reaction at all for me, or I think for anyone (although they feign their shock). But apart from being blase about this, I also think the chorus of boos could have a strangely positive effect. In fact, I think it already has.

Carey Price now remembers where he is again (not a rodeo ring) and that his rewards for hard work will be paid out at games (in rapturous sound or lack thereof). The team and coaches also see that they need to work hard. For they can talk about the need to protect Carey from their pathetic breakdowns until the cows come home, but at some point we need to see improvement there too. As the hunky-dory of scrimmage game reports flatter players playing against their own squad, they also need these reminders that they're all on the hook for mistakes with these fans. The team has responded at least in voice about this, and we can only hope they respond at some point in play.

One game into a preseason is a strange time to be writing a piece about a team regrouping, or so it would seem. But if regrouping means refocusing on the things that will bring better results, then I couldn't be happier to be writing this now so that in December I may not have to.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Habs Take To Our TVs

2010-11 Season Begins

An interesting game to watch (and not watch at times). Overall it was good to see the team back in action.

I'm happy to tell you I took my own advice for this game. Score? Was there one? I tried to watch players I hadn't seen before and look for improvement in those I was familiar with. I won't give a full report by any means, but I have a few notes:

Pouliot is trying to deliver on promises
He didn't score, but I thought he tried. He was energetic and importantly he shot the puck (when he could find it). His highlight came early when he saw a seam and drove with a wicked backhand and ending on the post.

Palushaj will try all night long

Aaron tries and tries, but I fear the St. Louis scouts who let him go for lack of finishing touch may have been right. But while he may never be a top-liner, he's an instant improvement on D'Agostini as a checking player and could be a good complement over the years to guys like Pyatt.

Tinordi was a good pick

Genuine surprise of the night was Tinordi's poise. I don't think Fischer ever showed this. Tinordi looked a rookie, but a rookie with a future.

Bergeron would be a great Hab
We hear about most every other French Canadian coming to Montreal. Seldom do I hear about Bergeron. But he's a good good player and he showed his quality tonight.

Gill's game is post-season
Someone else said it. You could see it every time he was on the ice for this end to end contest. Gill thrives in tight checking games with no whistles. Exhibition season is never going to flatter his talents. He did alright, but at times creaked.

Maxwell realized
Palushaj was on everyone's tongues. That's right as he played a full game. But Ben Maxwell was more impressive at times than Palushaj, and he grew into the game. If I had written this in the first intermission, it would have been about Maxwell missing the boat. I'm pleased to say he made it in time for boarding, maybe even avoided a cut or two in the end.

Some out of depth for the moment
Not yet for Dumont, St. Denis, Weber. If the Habs played Boston 82 times, Conboy would be an asset. But they don't.


Your thoughts welcome...

Watching Preseason Games

Not very long ago, the preseason was something to be followed through the newspaper. Unless we were in actual attendance, we never knew much more than the score and what Red Fisher or Pat Hickey told us.

Times have changed a bit now and the internet has patience a thing of the past. Where once we waited until opening night to see the new edition of the Habs play hockey, we now watch youtube clips of drills on Day 0 of camp. This year, RDS will carry four preseason games in prime time TV. I know RDS has been dying for some sports action that their viewership might actually have interest in, but four games seems a lot.

Anyway, the televised season of the Montreal Canadiens begins tonight, like it or not. I'll be watching, I'm sure you will be. But while we no longer have to stretch our patience until the first game, we can still exercise a little bit of patience in other ways.

So, before game 1 of the preseason, I want to offer some advice to the most rabid among you on how to enjoy a preseason game:

1. Ignore the score
Never mind how the game or the score reflects what you thought about the team before the game, these games don't count and so don't offer a realistic yardstick with which to measure your team. If the team isn't playing to win, their competitiveness is hard to read. So forget it. Ignore the score and look for other things.

2. Look for improvement
Remember playoff Pouliot, or Lapierre's regular season? He said he's changed his ways. Let's see it. Is Pouliot avoiding the float? It's not just Pouliot, every player has flaws and all have more or less gone on record about their summer focused on improving. It's the coaches too. Look for the old bad habits and whether they're disappearing. This will tell a lot about what's to come, more than any score tonight.

3. Observe combinations
Lines, partnerships, power-play units. These are all things that the coaches have decided they want to examine. Much of the intrigue of training camp comes from observing the next generation. This is where we see who the coaches think those guys are. Eller looks good, but can he really play the PP? Weber might be a call-up down the road, can I trust him with O'Byrne? etc.

4. Enjoy the youngsters
Even with all the coverage of the Habs, chances are these few games will be the only chance you get to see most of the youngsters this season. Unless you're a Bulldogs booster (and in Hamilton) good luck catching glimpses of Robert Mayer (4th in line to the throne), Andrew Conboy or Frederic St. Denis. I enjoy watching these games for this reason. It gives opportunity to see if what we've been fed by scouts and reports measures up.

5. Watch the other team
During the season and the playoffs, it's tunnel vision for the Habs. Every Habs goal is a great Canadiens play, every goal against is a breakdown. Although we know it, it can be hard to admit that everything we see in a game comes with enormous bias. A meaningless preseason game is the perfect opportunity to step back. Maybe Price is beaten by a beautiful Bruins build up, maybe Lapierre scores because Hunwick blew his coverage and nothing else. Take a chance to see things from the other side.

6. Pick a player
Look over the starting line-up and pick out a player or two. Watch a game like a scout and not a crazed fan obsessed by results alone. When else will you get the chance?

7. Tell us what you saw
Just as the score of preseason games is irrelevant, so are the scorers, the goalies who won and lost and just about everything else you can find in a boxscore. When we come to remember what Aaron Palushaj was like in camp, or how Dumont isn't getting promoted in January, it will be handy to have some record of what we saw as a collective. We'll give some thoughts, add to them. And, as always, tell us where we're wrong.


Enjoy the game and the start of of our 86-game commitment with RDS.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Rules Video

I found this video very interesting and informative:



A good primer before the season.

Good to see the NHL finally doing something about elements of the game that add little but injury.

Monday, September 20, 2010

More Food For Thought: 2008-09 vs. 2009-10 (New Acquisitions)

More looks at how players fared from 2008-09 to 2009-10. This time, I'll share the profiles from all those players who were established NHLers but only joined the Habs last summer or afterwards.


New Acquisitions

Legend







You can find a longer explanation of the charts here.


Scott Gomez

2008-092009-10

Gomez made a transition with the Habs. From a league-leading shot taker and Corsi man, he fell into negative balance for chances while he was on the ice at ES. Strangely, this led to more GF and a better GF:GA differential at ES. I think we'd all be happier if he was on for less shots against, but can we really imagine him upping the shots for, especially if he's the one taking them?


Brian Gionta

2008-092009-10

Gionta did very similar things up front as he did in 2008-09. What shows here for him is that he was no longer on the Devils. While many a player looks a defensive specialist in New Jersey, it may be that Brian isn't that good at all at defence. After all, last season, he was among the worst at allowing shots and didn't fare too well in GA either. Still, I'll take the top tier offense with that trade any day.


Mike Cammalleri

2008-092009-10

Cammalleri too missed his old team here. While he still managed to put his line among league average on shots for and in the top tier for goals for, his chart suggests he was as guilty as anyone for allowing the goalies to be peppered night after night. Perhaps an adjustment will come (we've heard everyone  has needed a year to become accustomed to each other), but by my memory of his play, this chart doesn't seem out of whack. Once again, I'll take the top tier goals even at the expense of shots against.


Benoit Pouliot

2008-092009-10

Pouliot had a stunner, even with a slow finish. Top 20% in the league for GF and chances for at ES is great for the young forward. To top it off, he was stellar in the GA column at ES as well, though the numbers suggest that such a low shooting percentage for his opposition (or high save percentage for his goalie) was a one-off gift.


Travis Moen

2008-092009-10
Moen was a pretty poor offensive player coming in and he comes out one too. That said, he somehow managed to keep GA down at ES with his linemates, albeit with the same goaltending bonus that Pouliot benefited from.


Mathieu Darche

2008-092009-10

I've misplaced the 2008-09 data for now, so Darche is without comparators. GF:GA for Darche and you can't complain, he's a winner at ES. But he's a Hab in the shots, offering very few going forward and allowing as many as humanly possible at the back. I think stats guys would suggest that his GF:GA might be a little less rosy if he keeps up the shot dance.


Dominic Moore

2008-092009-10

No comparator for Moore either, and loads of Panthers data polluting things. Still manages the purple, dark blue bottom half, though. New colours for the Canadiens.


Jaroslav Spacek

2008-092009-10

Spacek went from being an offensive generator with great Corsi balance to a steadier defenceman with decent Corsi (all relative to the Habs standards, of course). These charts are reflective of the new role that Spacek took on. Whereas in Buffalo, he was the point man on the PP and expected to contribute at ES to the rush, his partnerships in Montreal were more often designed to be steadier. As things go, above average offense and average D is pretty good, and very underrated in Montreal.


Hal Gill

2008-092009-10

Hal Gill left Pittsburgh and it shows. The offense that used to just happen during his on-ice minutes completely evaporated. That said, he still posted a stunning GA/60 number below 2.00 with the usual Habs methodology of allowing chances.


Paul Mara

2008-092009-10

Mara nearly managed to be bottom tier in every category. I think we know now he wasn't carrying his partnership in New York when he was on for as little as 2.04 GA/60 at ES. Not back this year, I'd say that's a good decision.


Marc-Andre Bergeron

2008-092009-10

No comparator again. Bergeron's chart is still interesting. Consider this, when you describe Bergeron, did you ever say "below average offense and average D"? No you didn't. For all his bravado on the PP, I think this chart shows just how much trouble the Montreal defenders had in integrating his style into their group. The purple top corner is living proof of his ability to stifle rushes before they began.



General trend

There were a couple of general trends that came from looking at these. The first and most obvious was the shift every player seemed to have in chances against at ES. This is nothing new to us, and we all knew it happened. However, it's still striking to see in living colour. Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri went in one season from being top bets for preventing shots to allowing among the most in the league.

The second general trend is stranger. It appears that several players actually got better at preventing goals at ES. A group that included Brian Gionta, Cammalleri, Spacek and Gill. And all this with more chances allowed. Consider now they came from teams backed by Brodeur, Kiprusoff, Miller and Fleury. Shows what a year Habs goalies had, or perhaps how excellent shot concession is as a strategy?


And, because I forgot him last time...
Max Pacioretty

2008-092009-10

Not much change in the chances for and against department, but the story of Pacioretty's 2009-10 is available in full colour on the top half of these pies. Where he once muddled on offense and defence as a youngster, he went all in on D as a second year posting outstanding GA/60, with pathetic GF/60 at ES. Still think moving him from forward is daft?

Thought For The Week

Goalie Wins

If you've read this site before chances are you have at some time stumbled across a debate about goaltending proficiency. A lot of the time, the issue of goaltender wins as a statistic comes up.

Lately, it seems the prevailing attitude is that wins have nothing to do with goaltending. The argument is well made and the logic sound.

So imagine my surprise when I was (goodness knows why) listening to Robert Mayer's interview from Habs Inside/Out and they asked him about his definiton of a successful season:
Question: "What would be a good season for you, for the next year?"

Mayer (without hesitation): "A good season for me? You know what, a good season for me would be if I had more wins than losses..."
No mention of other statistics, no mention of save percentgae or even strength save percentage, or games won where he outperformed his expected save percentage based on average shot quality. No, it was wins. Wins are his primary stat for evaluating a season. More wins than losses = good. All wins = perfect.

I find that interesting. I suspect he's not alone among his bretheren.

While I completely agree that it is oversimplistic to look at wins as a main crux of an argument for goaltender proficiency, I have often also wondered at the oversimplicity of just discarding the stat altogether given its likely influence on how the goalie plays (drives his motivation).

I think I'll remember Mayer's words when I look at seasons past come June.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Goaltending Controversies in Montreal Will Die Hard

"At least the goalie controvery's done with"

I don't think it would have surprised anyone if GM Pierre Gauthier uttered those words when he traded Jaroslav Halak for Eller and long shot Ian Schultz. That day, he effectively removed the competition for the starter's role in Montreal and placed it again in the lap of Carey Price. But in the days where he failed to sign Dan Ellis and instead settled upon big man Alex Auld, he may have inadvertently opened another controversy up.

Don't for one minute think I think or wish that Alex Auld will challenge Carey Price for the starter's role. For that to happen, we'd already have to be a very miserable group. Rather, it's my belief that Auld has by no means locked up the second-string position, unless we think the Habs too cheap to pay out his one-way contract in the minor leagues.


Auld's need for rebound

Last season, Alex Auld had a very lacklustre season, indeed. Though his Rangers numbers look good if you allow them to factor in (3 games in relief only), it was his 0.894 save percentage with the Dallas Stars to go with an 80s-esque 3.00 GAA that lead me to worry. His ES save percentage was also among the league worst and so was his save percentage on the PK. It just wasn't a season to remember.

That's not to say that Auld isn't a challenger, he is (hence the battle). But his challenge rests on a return to the form he posted in Ottawa and Boston rather than that of Florida, Phoenix and Dallas.


Sanford won't go easily

Sanford can't even look to NHL numbers from last season to make a case. The healthy duo of Halak and Price made sure he was firmly entrenched in Hamilton. However, where he differs from Auld is in his success. Last season, Sanford posted numbers to put himself among AHL leaders for the second year in a row and played so well toward the end of the season that he wrested half the playoff starts away from the All-Star choice, Cedrick Desjardins. The AHL is not the NHL as we well know, but there's history to suggest that AHL success in goaltending counts for at least something.

What's more, Sanford probably has different goals this season as he spots the low hanging fruit in Montreal. with 108 NHL games already, I'd bet good money that he's eyeing more for 2010-11. And there's plenty of credibility to his claim as well. Over that span, Sanford has been a 2.74, 0.901 goalie to Alex Auld's 2.78, 0.904. His only season in a starting role with the then abysmal 2005-06 St. Louis Blues, he easily distanced himself in the race.


Factors in the decision

With fans as unforgiving as the Montrealers who want to fire the coach a mere warmup into the season, this controversy is set to boil early. As to who wins out in the end, it's hard to say. I do feel there are some factors already in play that favour Auld.


Size: The Habs have made no secret of their cunning plan to choose the bigger goalie where possible. Auld is 5" taller and will thus have bigger equipment. I think this tips things in his favour at the outset.

The decided order: Auld has been signed as the back and it shows with the salaries. In another organization (say the Hawks), this might not matter. But a decision made is a decision made in Montreal sometimes, regardless of evidence to the contrary. The order of things will be hard to overcome for Sanford.

Ottawa/Boston: In fairness, Auld turned out very good results over 66 games in Ottawa and Boston, better than anything Sanford has shown at the AHL level. The shadow of these should carry weight at least early on.


Even with all that, I think Sanford stands a chance for reasons of his own:

The system: We all know and love the Jacques Martin Canadiens as a puck concession, shot surrendering machine. It worked with halk, because for some reason he likes that. But when it comes to Auld v. Sanford, I think Sanford may have the edge. Auld's greatest successes have come when he's been more protected from shots (like in Ottawa and his early Vancouver days) and he's had some tendency to look less impressive under heavier fire (Vancouver 2005-06 and Florida). Sanford's strength is Auld's potential weakness, and he may just push him on that because we all know that shots aren't going to stop coming in...

Salary cap: Pierre Gauthier has managed to spend nearly every last penny on this team, a team that may yet need to be tweaked. $1 million vs. $550,000 may not seem much, but come March that could buy a million dollars worth of reinforcement. If Auld plays like an AHLer anyway, I wonder how long the capologists will allow it.


It's been many a year since the Canadiens entered training camp without something to discuss from the back end. You didn't really expect that to end just because Gauthier dealt Halak did you?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Food For Thought:

2008-09 vs. 2009-10 (Returning Players)

With the season around the corner, it's just about time to be talking previews. Last season, part of our previews was a graphic look at how each player stacked up compared to the rest of the league in terms of GF and GA, chances for and chances against.

A year on, I have done the same analysis for all the players that played in 2009-10, even those on other teams. I'm not sure what the colours and numbers tell us this time. They may say more about Jacques Martin than about any single player. In any case, I thought you'd all enjoy.


The players have been divvied up into four groups: returning players (those that were here before the house cleaning), new acquisitions, departed players and rookies (first analysis). I begin with returning players.

Returning players

Legend


You can find a longer explanation of the charts here.







Tomas Plekanec

2008-092009-10

Pleks had better results from a worse balance in shots. Whereas last year, he was a near neutral in chances for and against, he allowed five more shots per 60 minutes last year. As the team goes, though, this was a good result.

Other things to note are that his GF/60 at ES is a bit low for a top centre, even with the growth from the year before. Goes to show how effective Pleks is for the PP, and the PP for his points totals.


Andrei Kostitsyn

2008-092009-10

Andrei gets a bad rap. He's termed lazy, yet returns good defensive numbers. He improved immensely defensively at ES, but unfortunately like many a young player, it came at the expense of his offensive numbers. If anything, a little bit more cherry picking might be welcome for guy with the shot he does. His decline in ES scoring average was reflected in goals last season, so no surprise. No surprise either in him not bucking the shot deficit trend that went across the whole team.

Maxim Lapierre
2008-092009-10

From average offensive threat to non-existent one. The story of his season. And though he's still a good bet to be on for few goals, he declined there too. 2009-10 was a nightmare for Lapierre. This was easily forgotten by fans of the playoff run, though. Lapierre turned a corner there and probably saved his Habs skin in the process.


Sergei Kostitsyn

2008-092009-10

Can we say Mr. Consistency? Slight improvements, but largely the same results. Once again, it was solid defence despite a large shot deficit at ES. With this chart, and those of his peers, it's easy to see how Sergei gets a bit uppity about minutes.


Glen Metropolit

2008-092009-10

Metro played the same shot-surrendering game as he did in 2009 and continued to bore us with little action on the ice. If people are worried about having lost 16 goals, they needn't be concerned about ES, where Metro was among the league's worst. Defence was a strong suit again, but then again, he isn't facing great players every night either.


Georges Laraque

2008-092009-10

The Habs' gift to the rest of the league. His gun-shyness was well documented in the fights, but less well documented was how Georges was league worst at everything he did by the time he "retired". Can you imagine allowing 25 more shots an hour more than you take? Georges can and did.


Andrei Markov

2008-092009-10

Markov actually improved on his ES results by a significant margin last season (half a season can do that). Like the rest of the team, though, he tested his luck and relied on goalies both letting in more shots than they should (at the opposition end) and saving more than they should (at his end). This season might be easier to watch if Markov can find a way out of the basement in shots allowed at ES.


Roman Hamrlik

2008-092009-10

Steadiness. Unappreciated. Hamrlik had a tough finish and the memory lingers long. But on average, he had a good season (relatively speaking). He's average at GF and GA at ES as well as shots for. His flirting with average in shots against is a stand-out performance for this team last year.


Josh Gorges

2008-092009-10

The story of Josh Gorges is perhaps incomplete without the story of Hal Gill. Declines in shots for and against and GF reflect his new partner more than him. The fact he improved by a good margin in goals allowed at ES speak to the strange way that style helped the goalies to post superior numbers to the previous year. I'm not sure a gamble on allowing nearly a shot a minute at ES will turn out as well if tried again.


Ryan O'Byrne

2008-092009-10

Regression or progression? O'Byrne didn't dig his way out of the league basement in offensive awareness, but at least he was on for less goals at ES. I think the fact he was static in 3 of 4 categories was viewed as a big negative thought from the organization that desperately needs him to progress.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Kovalchuk Deal:

Still A Win For Devils

Since yesterday, I have read a half dozen articles that showcase the Kovalchuk ruling as a headache for the Devils.

Damien Cox did some wacky math in The Spin the other day:
But you could argue Kovalchuk will, when its all said and done, cost the Devils somewhere between $150 million and $200 million in salary, fines, prospects, draft picks and players
.

Today, Pat Hickey seems to echo the line that the deal is mostly negative for the Devils too.

AS usual, i feel some of the commentators have been swept along and are missing the main point. While it's true the deal has been costly this summer (a $3 million fine and a first and 3rd round draft pick), it still is hugely beneficial to the Devils.

First, we have to debunk the fact that the Devils somehow paid
with Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick for Kovalchuk. That trade (and we're not forgetting Salmela) was made for the pleasure of dressing Kovalchuk in the 2010 close to the season, nothing more. Ilya was always going to be a UFA, and if anything that's why the cost was as low as it was.


The benefit of Kovalchuk

Really though, the true benefit of this deal comes from being able to dress Kovalchuk for this season and the next 14 at the relatively cut-rate price of $6.67 million a season.

That salary for a player like Kovalchuk is a bargain by league standards at the moment. Kovalchuk hasn't scored less than 40 goals a season since his 20th birthday and has been a point-per-gamer with no supporting cast for many years. Hi salary cap mark puts him currently at the 25th highest in the league (not bad for the best goalscorer of the decade) and behind players like Thomas Vanek, Patrick Marleau and Anze Kopitar (not to mention Scott Gomez).

Now here's the best part. If the league doesn't shrink and the salary cap grows (even only to keep up with inflation) Kovalchuk's cap number will likely look better year after year as players surpass him with new contracts.

And penalties aside, there is nothing the league has done or can do to circumvent the original intent that Kovalchuk would retire whenever he wanted to, presumably long before the age of 42.

So instead of tallying Patrice Cormier and a few draft picks, tally the fact the Devils just acquired the only available superstar in the NHL and signed him to a bargain deal for his current numbers. The numbers stand to look better over the years too as salaries and caps are pushed higher or Kovalchuk retires.

There's no guaranteeing a Cup with a move like this one, but let's not paint one of the most creative deals (maybe the last creative deal) as all negative. The Devils are a better team today than they were last year with Oduya and Bergfors and their three draft picks and that's what really matters.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Good Pre-season Reading

Leafs vs. Habs, 2010-11

Stumbled across an interesting little article this afternoon. I thought you might all like to have a look.


Leafs vs. Habs: My take

Forwards: Habs

Defence: Equal
I can't agree that the Leafs have the best defence in the league on paper. Especially not when they played together last season and were not truly impressive. But Habs fans, be careful. The Canadiens defence was one of the worst in a long while for allowing chances and shots. Given that their purpose is to prevent chances and shots, I'd say they need to improve a lot.

Goaltending: Equal
I tend to agree that Giguere still has some in the tank. And with Carey still learning, matching an above average Giguere season would be a step in the right direction. Gustavsson is a wild card here, but he hasn't done enough yet to tip this balance.

Coaching: Undecided
I swing back and forth between the reviewer's view that both are incompetents on their last legs and that both must be competent enough, given their long careers.

Special teams: Habs

Pressure: Habs
Imagine 6 years without playoffs, never mind the Cup.

Cap space: Habs
I have to disagree with Five For Fighting here. Toronto doesn't appear to have any bad contracts, but they must. They are over the cap right now and the top centre on their depth chart is Tyler Bozak. Just because Burke builds up his expenses with incremental bad contracts doesn't mean he's a good cap manager. Grabovski is a bad contract, Kuleimin doesn't compare well across the league, and the minimum level play without many minimum level contracts add up each and every time. The Leafs will have more space next season, but it's likely they'll still need s top line of forwards and a number one goalie, so that money may evaporate fast.

Prospects: Undecided


Overall, I think last year's regular season gives an accurate reflection on the difference between these two teams. Montreal is still a team fighting for the playoffs, while Toronto have some fight but are still just a cut below that.

Perhaps a more relevant question to both groups of fans is whether it's worth debating the difference between these two sides when Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey and others trundle on in the East.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Canadiens Invite Rookies To Camp

Canadiens Rookie camp is just around the corner. 31 players are invited in all.

While I'm sure you'll all get your fill of PK Subban highlights and Louis Leblanc worship elsewhere, I wanted to offer a look beyond to some of the more unfamiliar names involved with this upcoming camp.

The way I see it, the camp for rookies is multi-tiered. For players of the required age who have already played for the Bulldogs and the Canadiens, this camp is a warm-up. For returning players not already ensconced in the organization's own plans, it is the chance to jump up the depth chart, and for first-timers it's both a try-out and the opportunity to learn what separates them from pros like Subban, Weber and the gang.


Canadiens and Bulldogs

Andrew Conboy, Dany Masse, Ben Maxwell, Max Pacioretty, Aaron Palushaj, Ryan White, Frederic St. Denis, PK Subban, Yannick Weber

These players have some places already sewn up. The very fact they are present at this rookie camp should mean that barring a disaster they will be at the main camp as well. Main camp is where they must shine. Underwhelm here, though, and it's a strike on the count.


The returnees

Alexander Avstin, Hunter Bishop, Gabriel Dumont, Andreas Engqvist, Olivier Fortier, Louis Leblanc, Philippe Lefebvre, Dustin Walsh, Joe Stejskal, Robert Mayer

This group contains some of the more interesting names of the whole group. Leblanc and Avtsin top many lists of course, but let's not also forget that Robert Mayer is 4th on the whole organization's depth chart (2 injuries away from NHL duty).

For me the name of the group is Olivier Fortier. He's a rare QMJHL draft pick, and a Quebecois one to boot. Not only that, he's a Team Canada U18 alum. The story recently on Fortier has been injuries. An injury cause him to miss the Canadian U20 tryouts and last season an injury cost him the entire year. He's been pegged as a two-way centre, largely because he won an award to acknowledge his all-around play in the Q, but that might slight him.

In the book I was reading on scouting, Gare Joyce went out of his way to praise the young 17-year-old in his draft year, noting his on-ice intelligence was paired with off-ice academic prowess. If hockey is to be a career for Fortier, he will have to show intelligence and perseverance, just like anyone else. Where others might have trouble, Olivier already has lots of adversity to call on. I think he'll be an interesting one to watch.


The first looks - Draftees

Brendan Gallagher, Ian Schultz (StL), Morgan Ellis, Brandon Nash, Jarred Tinordi

It will be interesting to see how these junior players will stack up. But this probably isn't the year any one of them takes the Canadiens fandom by storm.


The first looks - Free agents

Kyle Klubertanz (Djurgardens)

This guy is more interesting than the draftees to me simply because he wasn't drafted. The move to earn an NHL contract from an undrafted position impresses me a lot more than being selected in the late rounds. Klubertanz had to perform well against men in the Swedish league to get a look at this camp. Last season was a breakout for Kyle, as he was 5th in defencemen scoring in the SEL. Prior to that, however, he was a drafted player and went a bit David Fischer for the Ducks. Unlike Fischer, he never had a 6 point season, however. And, as the Canadiens will know from watching Ryan McDonagh played a big role for Wisconsin in 2007-08.


The first looks - Try-outs

Jonathan Brunelle (Drummondville, dev’t camp), Sebastien Bisaillon (Kassel), Marc-Antoine Desnoyers (Drummondville, dev’t camp), Nicolas Champion (Rouyn-Noranda), Peter Delmas (Halifax)

Call it the Voltigeurs season-opening camp. Or maybe Habs goalie search 2010. This group of players is actually the most interesting of all the groups for me.

First, there's Jonathan Brunelle who played for Drummonville last season and was eligible for the draft but went overlooked. He actually ignored Don Cherry's advice, went to the draft and heard 210+ names but not his own.


The Canadiens used one of their now infamous 8th round picks to claim another Quebecer off the floor. What they have here is anyone's guess at the moment. But at the least they have a decent-sized forward who has played on a team with most of their other French-Canadian prospects. He himself went from 7 goal, 19-point man to 23 goal, 49-point man after he turned 17. If history is any guide, he might emulate Gabriel Dumont and become a scoring star in the QMJHL at 18. It can't hurt to have him in the wings.

Desnoyers is Brunelle's teammate, and teammate of Phil Lefebvre and Gabriel Dumont. Like them, he's a former companion of Dany Masse. 5 season in the Q, there aren't many he hasn't played with. His draft year he played with Mathieu Carle on the Titan and so has been on the radar for at least a few seasons. DesnoyersVoltigeurs. A Guy Boucher player and a local talent, he's another with a bit of intrigue.

Sebastien Bisaillon is the other defenceman. He's no spring chicken and not an unknown. In fact, he was an Oilers prospect for a while and even played for the NHL club. Comparisons were made by Oilers people to Marc-Andre Bergeron, so you get the idea.

Finally, the goalies. This time it's Halifax's Peter Delmas (a former Avalanche pick) and Nicolas Champion (a small undrafted goalie). Delmas is an interesting case as he was a second-rounder only two years ago for the Avs (a team not exactly stacked between the pipes). In 2008, he was a hot commodity for a while, and ended up the 5th goalie taken in his draft. He's slipped a bit, so I think the Habs are hoping for a rebound on his part. Given the organization's depth, he may not have to rebound too high to earn a contract. Champion is the better statistical guy. But he's small and we know how that hurts a goalie's career prospects. Since his draft (undrafted), he's gone the other way improving season by season. And last year, he put up some great totals by QMJHL standards. His play after his trade from Acadie-Bathurst to the contending Rouyn-Noranda Huskies was eye-opening. He usurped the number one role at once and posted 16 wins with a healthy 0.911 SV% (which is good if you've ever seen a QMJHL defence).


NCAA Absentees
Mac Bennett, Michael Cichy, Danny Kristo, Steve Quailer, Patrick Johnson, Mark MacMillan, Scott Kishel, Greg Pateryn

This group contains some of the more ineteresting prospects, or as we like to call then now, trade bait.Kristo is one of the team's top prospects and will be missed at this camp.


Conspicuous absentees

Petteri Simila (came to dev’t camp), Joonas Nattinen (came to dev’t camp), Maxim Trunev, John Westin (came to dev’t camp)

Apart from those with legitimate roadblocks, there were a few players who either weren't invited or didn't accept to attend. All are Europeans, so have actually begun playing (camps and such). Still, if making the NHL is a goal, it must be pursued wholeheartedly. I give a pass to Westin as an 18-year-old. At the very least Nattinen and Simila visited Montreal once this off-season, even if I do feel Simila's failed Niagara experiment is the end of the road for him with the Habs. Trunev was not expected as he's under KHL contract, but as time ticks on his road to Montreal only gets harder and harder. i'm ot sure who's been advising him, but no camps and KHL contracts - that's the way to play right out of the equations.


Unsuccssful try-outs

Tanner House, Myles Harvey, Thomas Baumle, Jean-Christophe Blanchard, Riley Gill, Francois Brisebois, Joseph Quattrocchi

The last group are those that tried out at development camps but didn't get this invitation. Four (Baumle, Blanchard, Gill and Q) are goalies, giving you all some idea about the trouble Montreal is having establishing some depth at this position.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Would You Ditch Gomez For Naught?

SBNation has recently been riding the wave of news about Quebec City and Winnipeg making an NHL return. Instead of a fantasy amateur draft, James Mirtle and Gabriel Desjardins conducted a fantasy expansion draft.

An interesting concept and interesting draft (well for 20 picks or so). It was interesting for Habs fans specifically because of the players the team "lost".

The first overall selections in the draft were Colin White and Barrett Jackman, but third in the pecking order was the Habs current top-line centre, Scott Gomez. Picked 6 picks (and only 3 skaters) later was Roman Hamrlik.

(Pure fantasy of course, but a lot of what we discuss goes well into the realm of the fantastic.)

Of all the teams poached for players, the Habs were the only group to lose both a top-line centre and a top-2 defenceman. It was likely because the Habs were the only team to expose 2 players like that.

As much as I'd love to delude myself into the belief that this is because of the team's incredible depth at those positions, I fear that it's not. One only has to delve into memories of the playoffs to recall the depth of the Canadiens forwards group.

So what then?

Well, it seems our friend Robert L of Habs Eyes on the Prize left Gomez and Hamrlik unprotected for the new Nordiques and Jets to circle over. On this summary of the players left exposed for the fantasy draft, the author mentions clicking on the team sites "to take a look at the players who were protected and the debates that went on surrounding those selections."

I searched Habs Eyes on the Prize, but I couldn't find any debate, so I thought I'd post the opportunity for that here.


Expose because of salary?
With all due respect to Boyd, Darche, Perezhoghin, Picard, Henry, Auld and Sanford, I think the two players worth discussing are probably Hamrlik and Gomez.

Now I don't know what the protection rules were specifically. But from looking at Pittsburgh, I would bet there's not a cap restriction to worry about. Therefore, the salary didn't need to be shed for the sake of the rules.

It seems then that Robert, as proxy GM, treated this draft as a chance to ditch salaries he didn't like. He, if no one else, believes that losing Gomez for nothing is favourable to losing someone like say Travis Moen. And that the chance to save $5.5 million on Roman Hamrlik for a single season is better than exposing Ryan O'Byrne or Hal Gill.

I can't say I'd agree, but I wanted to put it to some of you:

Is Gomez's contract so awful that it would prompt you (imagine now that you're the GM) to jettison him given this unique expansion draft opportunity?

Hamrlik?

If this happened, how would you replace Gomez and Hamrlik in the immediate term, then next summer?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Habs Sign Jeff Halpern

Jeff Halpern, henceforth known as the right-handed Dominic Moore or the younger/taller Metropolit was the signing of the day for Pierre Gauthier.So expendable were these previous two after their respective playoff and PP success stories that they weren't offered a sniff of a contract in July.

Now it turns out Gauthier needs a player just like the aforementioned Moore or Metropolit, but instead of retaining a player with affinity for and chemistry with the current squad he must add from outside. Of course, this all relates to other signings, namely that of Carey Price. It shouldn't be seen as mere coincidence that Gauthier adds a contract a few days after completing the negotiation with his goalie. Moore and Metro are more victims of the organizations uncertainty on being able to keep Carey's price tag down as anything else.


Will Halpern play in the minor leagues?

An interesting question at this point is whether Jeff Halpern would be willing to play in Hamilton or not. I think the answer to that question one way or the other changes the optics to this signing a great deal.

If he is willing, his addition means we have a flexible option to play wherever he and others fit into the scheme of things after training camp. If Halpern is on a one-way agreement in Montreal, with ideas of playing in the NHL and NHL only, then his signing is a little bit perplexing.

The Canadiens already own 3 NHL centres in Plekanec, Gomez and Lapierre and looked poised to trust at least one of Dustin Boyd or Lars Eller with another place, if not Ben Maxwell or other prospects. If Halpern gums up the gears, it means one less place for a youngster on a team that already has veterans throughout. It seems a little like a playoff addition made 6 months early in this regard

I would only guess that Halpern won't be here to play for the Bulldogs, but what that means in real terms is that Mathieu Darche's relaunch may be short-lived and the openings that may have been there for outsiders like Maxwell and Desharnais are all but closed.

Habs Media Tells Us What They Really Think

Last week, the day that Carey Price signed his contract, there was a conference call. The media were invited to ask questions of the young netminder and Team 990 broadcast the thing live. Only in Montreal, I know.

The vast majority of the call was from a script. Same old questions and Carey's same old rehearsed answers. I tuned in on the dial, but I didn't really "tune in". A funny thing happened part way through, though - a new voice and some unexpected questions. Turns out a blogger got in on the call.

The first question he asked caught me off guard and so I didn't catch it all. It sounded largely like effusive praise. The second question, however, was the moment that made listening in worthwhile. Launy "The" Scwartz asked Price if he was working on anything specifically in the summer. Whether he was taking steps to improve his lateral movement and his glove hand (I had a chuckle at that point, bold question). It was interesting bacause for the first time on the call, Price hadn't got an answer ready-made on his tongue. He knew questions would come about Halak, about the contract, about striking and about his touring rodeo show. But someone questioning his glove hand? That was a poser.

Price sidestepped the answer, but the interest in the questions didn't end there..The mainstream media apparently took some offense to the questions. This article on AllHabs chronicles the whole thing, but here are a few choice quotes:
“I think it was embarrassing. It was a total fellatio festival. The guy is ridiculous. If he wants to talk to Price that way let him show up at an autograph signing.”
- Mike Boone

“The reporter/goalie/fan on Carey Price conf call was ridiculous. Carey u were unlucky, u have potential. Embarrassing and very sad.”
- Tony Marinaro

It also led to some general discussion on who should and who shouldn't be permitted to ask questions at these events. The general feeling I got from the AllHabs summary was that once again the mainstream guys just can't handle having keen amateurs stealing any airtime:

“A journalist around the Montreal Canadiens would come from being around the club, having a sense of what is going on in the room, and you’re able not only to hear the words that are being spoken but you’re able to interpret them a little bit and able to analyze them a little bit.”


This clearly re-sparked the debate around the blogger vs. mainstream media question in Montreal again.

AllHabs pointed out the terribly self-fulfilling definition of a journalis above. Only those allowed into the dressing room are journalists. And only those currently allowed into the room are allowed in. So, only the current gang are journalists. Never mind that others can do a good job of finiding stories from outside the room, never mind that the dressing room material is pure rehearsed garbage. The clique must stand.

In my experience, the media play friendly for a while but are quick to show their disdain when they are threatened. It's only natural of course, as they have the most to lose (their jobs). In the past the threatened mainstream has been downright nasty, and bigger blogs than this have been bullied by the crew for doing so little as linking stories.

Now I don't have to tell you why I think blogs are necessary and most times superior to mainstream material. For the subset of fans that crave to look deeper into happenings, stats, backgrounds and stories, the mainstream media just don't cut it. I started reading blogs because they took different angles and dealt with issues more interesting to fans like me. I started writing because I thought other like-minded folk would like more and different takes on the subject matter.

This story just call this whole thing to attention again. Did I want to know what Carey price felt about the media reports about him striking? Not really. Did I want to know what he'd been working on in the summer? Yes, I did.

The fact that it took a blogger to ask the question after a summer without a smidgen of news for these Habs beat reporters to write up tells a tale all itself. Sure, there were a few off-beat questions, but this is noth8ing new. The blogger still scored the gamewinner on this conference call. Some others continued to hit post after post.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Price's Contract In Context

Yesterday the final big news of the summer for Habs fans marked a turning point, from watching chatrooms and runour sites to awaiting for play and game reports.

An initial scan of reaction shows a mix. There is plenty of relief that this contract is on the books before camp. There is fretting about its details. And thee is praise as well.

Before taking this any further, I just wanted to present the contract as I see. The signing as I see it in context of the league, the league's goalies and the Canadiens organization.


$2.75 million a season

In a summer of low-ball offers to goalies, this number seems a little high.

Since the 2009-10 season started, 30 other goalies signed contracts with NHL clubs. Realistically, 9 of those goalies can be considered starters: Halak, Rinne, Hiller, Niemi, Lehtonen, Turco, Ellis and Chris Mason. I suppose we need to throw in Leighton, as Philly will be counting on him too.

Of the 8, 4 teams signed starters for under $2 million (Turco, Mason, Ellis and Leighton). 4 teams signed goalies for over $3 million (Halak, Lehtonen, Rinne and Hiller). Antti Niemi is signed for $2 million on the nose.

Based on these 2 lists, I think it's fair to say that Price fits somewhere in between the two -- putting his value between $2 million and £3 million. Seeing as that's where he landed, I don't think there should be big surprise. Given, there's always the hope that Gauthier pries a $2.1 million deal out of this, but at $2.75, the fretting is for half a million.

I've said elsewhere that the Canadiens own salary structure is absolutely pivotal in evaluating this deal. It is. Carey knows what his teammates earn and he knows what his teammates do to earn that money. When Benoit Pouliot doubled his salary, that immediately set a low that Carey could not possibly go under, more like a low +$500,000. That's the £2 million right there. Then there's all those $5 million plus players, they factor in. Finally, Andrei Kostitsyn who won a contract as an RFA at a similar age, albeit under different circumstances. His $3.25 must have loomed in negotiations.


2 year term

On his conference call, Carey Price asserted that both sides agreed early on that 2 years was the right term. Horse hockey.

If possible, I think Carey would have liked to have come out of this contract as an unrestricted free agent. I think both he and his agent seeing this trend in goaltending contracts might have been happy to tack on years with modest raises per season. If they really thought last season was a horrendous anomaly, they'd have been all for a single season to come out an RFA again in 2011 rather than 2012 with the chance at cashing in at a higher rate then.

The 2-year contract seems more to me like a Canadiens stipulation, and a sensible one at that. 2 years does two things. For one thing, it means Price is locked up past next season, a critical one for other signings that don't need to be clouded by more decisions (Markov, Gorges). For another, it gives the team a short enough term to evaluate.

If Carey does well and grows into his role, the team gets a cheap starter for 2 years and then negotiates for market value when that time comes. If he stutters and is still learning in 2 years, the Canadiens have the leverage, as Carey will be an RFA with more than 200 games.

3 other things will have happened by that time. The first is that the CBA will in all likelihood expire that summer after the NHLPA extends it this season. Second is that carey will might played another season with a young rival if Karri Ramo comes over. The third is that other key goaltenders will potentially come available for signing at that time. Golatenders like Rinne and Cory Schneider will be UFAs. Tuukka Rask and Pavaelec will be RFAs.

I believe the Canadiens are entirely above board here. They obviously expect Carey Price to succeed, else they wouldn't have shipped Halak and Desjardins. However, in opting for 2 years, they avoid an uncomfortable agreement that drags long for no fruit while building in flexibility.


Halak

Finally, Halak.

As you all know, I'd have chosen Halak. But that's irrelevant now. Gauthier and Gainey didn't choose Halak. Rather, they chose Halak's trade return, salary savings and Price over Price's trade return, Halak and his extra cost.

In so far as this deal goes, though, we should be a little bit thankful to those who signed Halak. While it may seem like an overpay to some who prefer to cast him as a one-season wonder, his $3.75 million a season came under what a lot expected given past deals like Khabibulin's, Huet's and Ward's. If one thing must have been clear to both the Canadiens and Price's camp, it was that Halak had earned the bigger payday this time around, and so a real ceiling was set.

There will be fretting, of course, if Halak succeeds and Price doesn't. But that would have happened with either trade. This is Montreal.


Overall

The good things that can come out of this are numerous. If Carey plays well and really puts his stamp on the team, we will probably boast the cheapest quality starter in the league. If he plays at his 0.912 levels, we'll be OK and won't have been hoodwinked by any stretch

In all then, not the worst case scenario at all. Not even that far from the best outcome. It's somewhere in the middle.