Friday, 4 March 2016

The Problem With The Montreal Canadiens

There haven't been many theories not explored by broadcasters and fans alike, trying to figure out what the hell happened to the Montreal Canadiens. Two years ago they were in the Eastern Conference final, and last year the semi-final. Their start to the season was so amazing it was historical and fans in Montreal were picking their best bleu blanc et rouge for the Cup parade down St. Catherine's in June. Then, like Tiger Woods' career, things fell apart. They epically fell apart.

But like most things in the world, there is always a chain of events that leads up to an epic dive down the standings. It doesn't just happen one morning over breakfast or in one game that sees Carey Price leave during the 2nd intermission. No. It doesn't work like that. This historic fall happened in the long hours of trade deadlines, through frantic and fruitless discussions at the draft table and during the summer months of negotiations and courtships. All in an effort to troll the bargain bins and get younger. However, the problem with this is twofold: bargains are usually a bargain for a reason, and youth doesn't come with experience or Stanley Cup rings.

Now, the brilliance of the Chicago Blackhawks is their payroll. They have 6 big money players and the rest are just plugs. Albeit they have some really good plugs through some excellent scouting and contracts, but every season, those plugs are changed out and the 'Hawks carry on. While Marc Bergevin is from the Chicago School of Plugs, he seems to be operating under the guise that his top 6 guys are as good as Toews, Kane, Hossa, Crawford, Keith and Seabrook. Well asides from Carey Price and maybe PK Subban, they aren't. Marc Bergevin, referred to often as "Bargain Bin" Bergevin, doesn't have a good enough core to buy a Cup in the sale bins. A reluctance to spend has cost the Montreal Canadiens dearly. Last I checked, Ovechkin makes $9.5M, Corey Perry $8.6M, Patrick Kane makes $10.5M and on the very same team is Jonathan Toews, who also makes $10.5M. When Steven Stamkos hits free agency on July 1st, he's going to be looking for something in that range. He scores a lot of goals. The Habs need someone who can score a lot of goals. He'd solve one problem.

Unfortunately, you don't find Steven Stamkos in the same place you're picking up Alex Semin and Tomas Fleishman. Two are in Wal Mart sale bins with random items like mitts, socks and headphones; the other one is in a boutique downtown folded neatly on a glossy white table with lights shining on it. But Bergevin has been unwilling to make splashes since he's taken control of things in 2012, gambling once with Vanek and swearing to never do it again after he became a healthy scratch in the playoffs. So the Habs, unwilling to spend money on a free agent, have tried to do their best Billy Beane and cleverly find goals that no one else could.

Okay yes, Bergevin did sign PK Subban to a monster contract last summer, but it seems quite obvious that Geoff Molson had to twist his arm to get it done. Meanwhile, Montreal has cleansed themselves of anything above the age of 30 or anyone that owns a Cup ring - their second big problem. The past two seasons, Montreal's roster has had over 50% turnover, seeing the likes of Gionta, Gorges, Moen, Prust and Budaj all gone. So when they handed over the torch to Max Pacioretty and things went south, he didn't have much to lean on.

Now, it's not that any one of those specific players mentioned would be great on the Habs roster right now (though anyone could be good on the Habs roster right now), but they need players like them. Grit, leadership, experience - these are things you typically don't remove but add to a team that is so close to the promised land. But rather, Montreal went bargain shopping, testing out the likes of Alex Semin, Tomas Fleishmann, Jiri Sekac and Torrey Mitchell. Alex Semin certainly hasn't been noted for his character or grit, Fleishmann scores a little bit...I guess. Sekac and Mitchell - ummm, who were they before they were Habs? And so a team that needed goals, sprinkled in some wishful contracts with attractive 'best case scenarios', and continued to bank on their star goalie. Except this season their star goalie went bust.

Jaromir Jagr publicly wanted to sign in Montreal with the asking price of $3M/season, which now looks like a bargain. Justin Williams almost signed in Montreal, having pen to paper, but he changed his mind and signed for $3.2M in Washington...the same Justin Williams that came up clutch time and time again for the Kings in the playoffs. Brian Gionta wanted to stay in Montreal, but was lured to Buffalo to wear the 'C' there. All of these departures and failed courtships have left a vacuum of experience and leadership in the Habs dressing room, and the attempts at filling these voids in the bargain bin have been fruitless on the ice and in the room. It's quite possible Max Pacioretty will become a great captain, but not having a veteran voice in the room to lean on has hurt him and his team. Looking lost on the ice, it's not only a coaching failure as much as it is a failure in leadership. Being stripped of all things veteran and experience, the Habs look like they're drowning in expectation and need a lifeboat before they go down completely.

Perhaps that lifeboat is Carey Price. But even if it is, it's still a lifeboat, while Chicago is getting around on a Cruise ship. And cruise ships aren't cheap, nor are they easy to lead. Currently, Marc Bergevin looks like he's having a tough time commanding a life boat. Granted the waters are rough, but he has only himself to blame for being in a lifeboat. If he had a better ship, ironically the waters probably wouldn't be so rough.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Feb. 26: Thoughts on NHL Trades and EE

How Do the Hawks Do It?

I think every hockey fan is wishing they had Stan Bowman as their GM. Every season around this time, the guy comes up with something brilliant. Something that fills the Blackhawks' voids perfectly and gives them that punch in the arm to become a Cup contender. Andrew Ladd is just that. Every team could use a guy like him, but once again, it's Chicago walking away with the loot. Everyone complains about the Oilers taking home the first overall pick, well it's getting tiresome watching Chicago win so many Stanley Cups with that season's hottest tradebait in tow. This is why its so much easier to keep a winning team when you have a winning team: players want to play there. Of course Chicago was at the top of Andrew Ladd's list. It's the Blackhawks, of course they're making a cup run!

Habs and Oilers Are A Match Made In Trade Heaven

It's clear the Oilers will be making big changes moving forward and quite frankly, its about time. Peter Chiarelli is not afraid to make some moves and will likely make many before the puck drops on the 16/17 season. Everyone knows what the Oilers need: defence. The have talent oozing out the eye sockets up front, but just can't seem to find any measure of success against, well, anyone.

The Habs have some good defencemen and aren't oozing anything up front. It's true, right now their blue line has been decimated by injuries, but when everyone is healthy they have a pretty solid and deep blue line that could afford to shed a man or 2 for some offence. Emelin could get you a good return, but he'd have to waive his NTC; however offering up someone like Beauleau would certainly raise Chiarelli's eyebrows. With Mark Barberio emerging, and some good young prospecsts in the system, Beauleau may be expendable for the right price.

In return, reuniting someone like Yakupov with his Junior centre in Galchenyuk could be a worthwhile low-risk maneuver, something BarginBin Bergevin is all about. Yakupov simply has not found his scoring touch with Edmonton, often being reduced to a 3rd line winger with too much 1st line flash. Coincidently the Habs have absolutely no flash. None. In addition, taking on a project like Justin Schultz could be another gamble that might work out for the Habs. Remember, Petry was a healthy scratch with the Oilers too. Yes, Schultz's play has dropped off significantly and it is entirely possible that Dallas Eakins destroyed Justin Schultz completely, but the Oilers are almost begging someone to take him, reportedly willing to take on his salary for the season...that's how bad he's been. But with the right set of players around him, Schultz could become the exciting puck-moving defenceman he was projected to be, not to mention he would fit right in with the Habs quick transitioning blue line (at least when they aren't sucking). With veterans like Markov, Petry and even Subban to support him, the Montreal Canadiens could be Justin Schultz' glass slipper.

But the theorizing isn't done yet. A guy like Ryan Nugent Hopkins could also fit nicely on the Habs roster, as would Eberle. However given that the Oilers are deep at centre, it's more likely RNH gets moved over Eberle. With the Habs shopping Lars Eller, he could be the 3rd line centre the Oilers have been needing. Eller is a Swiss Army Knife (except he's Danish) - he does everything. He can kill penalties, he can play the powerplay, he can defend 5on5 and take faceoffs, plus, when given some good linemates, Eller has definite offensive upside, just ask Galchenyuk and Gallagher. Nugent-Hopkins can give the Habs a whole different look at centre and provide Tomas Plekanek a more suitable assignment: killing penalties and stalking star players.

While this is all speculation, for two teams that are out of it, the Canadiens and the Oilers could be very interesting to watch. Both are in need of big changes.

Two Wing Tips Up For Eddy Encarnacion

A huge slow clap to Edwin Encarnacion's opening day press conference statements. Rather than following up Bautista's act with a bigger one, he took the high road and kept things confidential, assuring fans he wants to retire a Blue Jay rather than brazenly testing their love. While Bautista has bled Blue and White for a while, so has Encarnacion, he's just done it a little more quietly. Bautista does hold slightly more value in that he's a better positional player, but at 36, those days may be limited. Remember those shoulder problems? EE is a little younger and so far, looking a little more reasonable to deal with off the field. Tough decisions are ahead for Shapiro...and oh ya...Ross Atkins. Nevertheless, Edwin seems willing to negotiate and come to terms. That alone seems appealing. While we all want to see more bat flips, I'm not sure they're worth what Jose is asking.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Thoughts: Feb.25

Habs Are Tough to Figure Out

The Habs have been a collective Jekyll and Hyde this season. It could be in the middle of a game, the middle of a shift, the middle of the season, and suddenly something changes; they become this painful thing to watch, like a car accident or bad plastic surgery. It's been well documented. Starting off to the best season in franchise history and then floundering to historical proportions, the roster that is assembled and the players that show up to play each night are two different things. Jekyll and Hyde. When they Habs show up to play, like really actually play, they can play. For 53 minutes last night, they made Washington look average. Then, suddenly, Condon lets in a questionable goal and there was just enough time left for the Habs to screw things up. With the number of blown leads the Habs have, there can never be a large enough gap on the scoreboard. And so both Jekyll and Hyde made an appearance last night, as they have almost all season long. The Habs beat Tampa Bay, then squander away games against Buffalo and Columbus. It's a schizophrenia that Michel Therrien has yet to solve and likely won't. He's lost this team to Jekyll and Hyde. The fact that it's time for a new therapist is old news, but perhaps some new patients sitting on the couch isn't. Time for change in Montreal, big changes. Washington has 60% turnover from their roster in the last 2 seasons, and now they have a gem of a team. The Habs should take notice, if they didn't already last night when they almost blew a 3 goal lead in the third period.

Oilers Are In For A Needed Shakeup

Based on Peter Chiarelli's comments before the Oilers lost to the Sens and Todd McClellan's afterwards, it's clear that there are some major changes coming to Etown, which is music to Oiler fans ears. Individually, the Oilers have some great talent. Eberle's hands could steal the underwear off a Finnish ski soldier, Taylor Hall plays with reckless abandonment that is just crazy enough to be awesome and Connor McDavid, well, what can you say about him? He's amazing. But collectively, the Oilers still suck. They still sit last place in the NHL and much to the ire of hockey fans, have pretty good odds at getting the first overall pick...again. It seems obvious that things need to change in Edmonton, and it's no longer just in the offices overlooking the ice. The Oilers have a losing culture and, despite one glorious run in 2006, that culture has been in place since the mid-90s. It's not so easy to change, and to change it you need to bring in winners, not players like Benoit Pouliot or Nikita Nikitin. It's not working in Edmonton. Change needs to happen. Players need to be moved. If they get the first overall pick again, all the power to them. Why it's such a big deal that a team can suck this bad is beyond me. The Oilers were poorly managed for years, hi-lighted by MacT insisting he wouldn't trade any young talent. Well that was then and that was wrong. This new regime has been in place for a year. Let's see what they can do now that they've had a season to assess the individual and the collective. The trade deadline should see some players moved out of Edmonton, but big moves will probably happen in the maybe at the draft?

Joey Bats is Flippin' The Hundred Dollar Bills

With reports surfacing that Jose Bautista is looking for more than $150million spread out over more than 5 years, reaction was fierce. At 36, not sure the Jays want to pick up those demands. While his play has yet to decline, father time will ensure it will, and at 36, it's likely to happen sooner rather than later. Putting the spotlight on himself rather than his team on the opening day of camp, the optics of Jose's demands are bad, let alone the fact that he will not negotiate or consider a "home-town" discount. Little consideration is given to the fact that when he signed his original deal in 2010, the Jays were taking as much as a gamble on his one year of success as Bautista was benefitting from it. He could have been horrible and made out just as well. It seems baseball is getting greedier and greedier and loyalty, unless your a senior citizen like Bartolo Colon, is a thing of the past. I know it's not always about the money but "what the money says," but how much money does one person need? Yoenis Cespedes hi-lights this with his parade of cars that could get a small third world country out of debt as his daily commute to the ball diamond. I mean, c'mon!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

February 10 - Kadri is stupid

Kadri Shows His Maturity Level

I'm not sure what Kadri was thinking when he told Mark Giordano he "was dead." First off, the hit Gio laid on Kadri to prompt Kadri's threat was a beauty and very clean. Second, he should know as a child of his generation that there are cameras everywhere...particularly when he did the same thing at World Juniors many years ago. But if all of this wasn't bad enough, Kadri then made a fool of himself all night as he raced around trying to enact revenge on Giordano like a petulant, spoiled child who got bested on the playground. He tried...but he just couldn't. On one attempt, Kadri had Giordano lined up and Gio laid him flat out again like he was a tiny oompa-loompa, and yet another time, Kadri went flying in like an albatross and completely missed, bellyflopping to the ice. Way to show your maturity Kadri. Can't take a hit. Can't deliver a hit.

Broncos Celebrate With Millions 

Anyone see the Bronco's Superbowl parade? For some reason, it was one of the least publicized championship parades I've seen in a while. It seems because no one picked the Broncos to win (except for this particular lady who never bets against defence) no one wanted to continuously point out how silly they were to bet against the leagues best defence, which are now 10-2 in Superbowl games, btw. Lesson here: don't bet against defence. Ever. Over a million people in Denver were there to celebrate with the Broncos giving true meaning to the Broncos motto: "united in orange." Reality is they are united in defence - the leagues best defence in a while. 

Are the Habs Back?

With 3 wins in a row, fans are doing a double take in the Bell Centre when they see a player in bleu, blanc et rouge just to make sure it's not an imposter. Convincingly beating the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, it seems the Habs have finally got some confidence back. Only 3 points out of a playoff spot, they may have a chance if they regain their early season form. One that that is certainly helping is Ben Scrivens, who is finally making some timely saves between the pipes for the Habs. In addition to that, their leaders are coming through with some big games, namely, PK Subban, the guy everyone loves to hate. Why everyone loves to hate him, I don't know. It could be the Cam Newton effect and too much celebrating, but regardless, the guy has been bringing it lately. Not only are his stats impressive, but so is his wardrobe. One of the best dressed in the NHL by this ladies standards. 

Rebuild Begins in Toronto

With a trade that shocked the hockey world, Dion Phaneuf is in his third NHL home. The fact the Leafs traded their captain is shocking enough, but the fact they traded him to a division rival is crazy. Perhaps that's a statement on how threatening they think Dion is. Whatever the case, Dion is taking his nose and his wife to the nation's capital.