Friday, June 29, 2007

To Trade Huet?

Trade Huet? Some recent posts of fans have been looking at trading Huet as a solid strategy for the future. That's lunacy in my books – I'll tell you why.

1) Experience. Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak combine for 40 odd years between the two of them. This is Montreal, there will be 3-4 game losing streaks. They need help getting through those

2) Mentorship. Cristobal Huet is a class act. He is calm, intelligent and well spoken. Whoever our next goalie is could learn a lot from his demeanour and approach to the game. He is an excellent mentor for whoever would back him up, or who he backs up.

3) Hamilton. Keeping the winning going in Hamilton would be a good thing. Look at Buffalo and New Jersey. Those two teams benefit from farm systems that commit to winning. Winning breeds winners and that's what we want. What could be better than having the number one regular season AHL goalie (Halak) or the Calder Cup MVP goalie (Price) leading our other assets down there.

4) French language. Huet is French, he gives great, clear, intelligent interviews in French (and English). Keeping his voice in there provides good analysis of events for the RDS gang – who cover every minute of the Habs season.

5) Trade value. Huet's value has never been lower since he won that streak of games back in February 2006. Trading him would not return value. Trading Price would, his value has never been higher, and his potential probably got an upgrade too. Halak may be seen as a flash in the pan, but he did post amazing AHL numbers then translated that to the NHL. Not shabby. His value is high too (only limited by his size).

6) Depth. Beyond Halak and Price, the goalies aren't exactly mind-blowing. 3 NHL-capable goalies is depth, 2 is thin. Remember when Roy used to get injured? Not good in the post-Hayward years...

7) Finally, Huet is good. He could have won the Vezina two years ago with a few more games. He was an allstar last year.His play up to December (barring early October) was sensational – top 3 in GAA and save %. A slip in play in January/February saw his fortunes slide. I don't think the losing was all his fault.

Don't trade Huet. There's no good reason to do so in my opinion.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Changing the ethic

After reading up a bit on the Canadiens last draft, I can see where the latest picks fit in the scheme of things.

I'll be up front about it, I would have picked Esposito if I had the chance, but that was when I was overlooking the overarching theme going through the current Canadiens team.

What I believe Gainey and Timmins have been moving to do since they arrived is to build a more mature group of players. A group who have wide experiences and are adaptable thanks to both their experience and maturity. This is where drafting the Americans comes into it – in my opinion. I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but American hockey players give the best interviews. They can articulate, and thank heavens, think of original things to say. Higgins, a Yale man, is our current embodiment of a mature youngster, some of the recent picks may come and show the same qualities.

I don't think Americans have a monopoly on these qualities, not by any means. I think Chipchura for example has those qualities among our prospects. Also, players like "Gretzky, Niedermayr, Yzerman, Lemieux, Brodeur and Iginla all have (had) these same qualities. The thing with the Americans is that when you are taking a bet on them (as in the draft), their route to the NHL lends itself to building more mature players. For one thing they have to stay in school – balancing studies with hockey. Many junior players finish at high school, if they get that far.

Why maturity counts in championships is leadership. Everyone touts the big leaders, the overt and outspoken guys. This was Souray last year from what I hear. But there are also deputies. These guys are critical, they lead by example. theymay voice an opinion in a disagreement, but will be mature enough to focus their energy in the right direction (helping the team win) at game time. This would be Saku Koivu in his younger days (he's gone furthere than that now), and Higgins and Plekanec now. These guys earn respect from their play and can get through to the ones who have lost touch with the leader or coach. They help hold the team together – something vital to a championship (unless the Habs plan on winning all their games and everyone stays happy all the time...)

I also think a lot of emphasis is placed on the interview. We can all see how Esposito, Cherepanov and McDonagh play on the ice, but how they answer questions in that important interview is not information us armchair enthusiasts are privy to. I liken it to the interviews I have done in hiring. CVs can look good, even tests, but an interview can change the whole impression of a person. In a draft, the team is looking for someone that could potentially be in the fold for the long haul, so personality and perceived work ethic, etc are very important. For the Canadiens, I think they also want players to represent them well, while playing well of course.

McDonagh, Mr. Hockey Minnesota, may or may not be that mature now. I have no idea. But the Canadiens minders seem to like the maturing process that can be gained from a few years at a decent hockey playing university like Wisconsin. Same goes for Pacioretty at Michigan. Esposito would either be entrusted to the Habs, Hamilton or Patrick Roy again in Quebec. I get the feeling the Habs would like the maturing to be someone else's responsibility.

I believe the maturity of the top prospects is a big reason why the Habs seem to have soured a bit on the QMJHL. It is no longer producing the classy forwards it once did in Beliveau, Lafleur, Lafontaine and Savard. Nowadays it seems a lot of the bigger stars are brats, at least for a few years. Ribeiro was, Theodore to some extent (especially in Ribeiro's company), Lecavalier was for a long time. Even Sid the Kid has his moments, though on most nights he puts in an honourable effort to be very mature. Gems like Simon Gagne, who seems very mature, come few and far between. Hopefully Latendresse can follow that path. he already seems mature.

I do, however, believe that the Canadiens would be well served (and indeed very eager themselves) to add a French Canadian star with the maturity and qualities they are trying to encourage. Lecavalier seems to have grown up now, and would be a fine addition. I mentioned Gagne, and he would be quite an acquisition too. Briere would be fine, but as long as Koivu is here just does not fit the need. The list isn't endless, but is long enough that they might be able to grab a player who fits both the new ethic of the team and the local star ticket.

Wouldn't it be nice to just buy the league with the Quebec Aces and bring in Beliveau? The perfect fit and with Art Ross talent too. Those were the days. As we're stuck with the draft, at least it seems our guys have a plan.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

Two cities, two teams, two GMs and two players. Bob Gainey showed this week while he is a notch above many of his peers, most notably Paul Holmgren of the Flyers.

I touch much upon the obscene numbers of Kimmo Timonen’s contract, except to say I’m glad Gainey didn’t lose his mind and offer the same to Timonen, or Sheldon Souray. What I wanted to address was two signings, albeit one in principle only, of two developing front-line forwards in the NHL: Chris Higgins and Scott Hartnell.

If you don’t think they’re similar, think again. This season saw Higgins get 22 goals and 16 assists in 61 games, Hartnell also registered 22 goals but chipped in an extra assist for good measure in 3 more games (for 39 points). Higgins is 24, Hartnell is 25. They were both first round picks.

From all reports, Hartnell is a hard-working winger who a team can rely on to score his share of goals. Given he has never cracked 30 goals, I think it’s safe to say he projects as a 30-goal man if you’re optimistic. He may even have a 40 goal season in him. Higgins is similar. He has 2 seasons under his belt, with 23 and 22 goals, respectively. 30 goals is probably about his potential. Either guy could prove me wrong and go to 40 goal scorer with the right center, I think.

My issue is not with either’s talent, or potential. My issue is with the difference in their pay for this and future seasons. Higgins was signed to a sensible 3.4 million over two years. In contrast, 22-goal man Hartnell was signed to a ridiculous contract averaging more than double that of his equivalent (Higgins) at 4.2 million a year – and for 6 years on top of it all.

If Hartnell breaks out and scores 30 goals a year for the first 4 years and then 40 in his last 2, then he earns his money. If he stays true to form (although that might be hard playing with lesser players in Philly) and scores 20-25 goals a year, the Flyers might be looking to buy this one out by 2010. Higgins, on the other hand, is a better scenario. If he scores his usual 20 goals, he earns his money. If he breaks out, he’ll be rewarded – LATER.

Watching the Canadiens, it is clear that we need more than Higgins. His 20 goals are nice, but scoring was lacking this year, even with him around. What Holmgren has done is commit 10 percent of his budget for the next 6 years (though the percentage may drop if the league does well) to a player in the same mould in Hartnell. He has also set a dangerous precedent in his team. How much will he have left for Gagne, Carter (if he ever comes good), Richards, etc.? How about a goalie? I wouldn’t want to be going through the next 6 seasons with Biron (just ask Buffalo).

Gainey paid Higgins for what he has done. He has engineered room for adding more elements to a cast that was already head and shoulders above the Flyers. He has enough room to sign Souray if he wants, but won’t do it at any price just because he can.

Whether trading for early negotiations was a good idea is another debate. At the ludicrous prices they set, I think the Flyers threw away a draft pick. I don’t think we’ll see Gainey doing the same trick anytime soon.

Monday, June 18, 2007

What do the 2007/8 Canadiens need?

In looking at what we need, I think it is useful to look at what we have, what we have coming and what we don't and where we want to get to.

In my opinion, we have goaltenders to take us to the playoffs. Huet is very good, so is Halak and I think Danis is capable. Price, while obviously on the cusp of something, should be given time to mature a bit.

Our defense has been sub-par in my opinion for a very long time. We depend on the goalie too much. Markov is great. Komisarek can hit, but shouldn't be depended on to carry too much of the load yet – so keeping him with Markov is a good idea. That's 1 pairing. Beyond that there's plenty of room for improvement. We could cobble together a 3rd pairing from the guys we have now and those in Hamilton easily, but I would like some 2nd/3rd type defensemen added. Bouillon with the right player could be very effective, so could Streit. So really one big number 2 type guy (or number 1 if we're allowed to dream).

Personally, I would let Souray go. He has that shot, but he doesn't answer the need on defense. Paying him big money would mean lots of ice time. I would prefere not to witness that experiment again. If he were replaced by someone who could skate, pass and defend better than he does, I think his shot could be replaced by a forward, or possibly by a new strategy on the PP.

Our forwards look better than the defense. I like Koivu and Higgins together. I even like Ryder with them. But if it's a question of Ryder or Kovalev running on "all" cylinders, I would choose Kovalev – on the top line. Plekanec is not quite a second center (not with wingers just below the grade as well), but he could be if he found chemistry with some younger guys.

Again, personally, I think Latendresse needs some time. There will be a place for him on the PP, but I think it's second line or fourth at the moment. Kostitsyn, to me, is a more intriguing prospect. He showed determination and skill at points. If he could reproduce that form, I'd see Ryder's place in jeopardy.

3rd and 4th lines look great to me. We have lots of pieces that just fit right in there. Plekanec slides back into this position nicely. Chipchura would fit for me as a 4th line center until he learns the NHL (which I don't think would take long), at which point he's the 3rd line center for years to come. Begin and Lapierre could play together or one on each line. Lapierre showed maturity in the Hamilton run. I went from very sceptical on him to thoroughly impressed. Milroy has shown good progression, though am not sold. Could be another Ryder though. Garth Murray will never be more than he is now, but he is serviceable on the 4th line. Some Bulldogs could fit in easily here too.

The way I see it, that adds up to needing a defenseman to replace (and improve upon) Souray, and a forward for the top two lines. If we obtain a top winger, I'd like to see him or Kovalev with Koivu. If it's a center (and I hope it is), then we can keep Higgins on Koivu's wing, and play the new addition with either Kovalev or Ryder and Kostitsyn or Latendresse.

So who? Among the free agents I would pick Timonen and Forsberg. But since money is an object. I might take a downgrade on either. Possibly Hamrlik on defense. Possibly Handzus or Nylander on C.

If it's a trade, I really like Marleau for one of our wingers, then signing Nagy. On D, maybe someone like Sydor from Dallas.

Looking forward to seeing how it develops. Draft should be fun...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Koivu doing Montreal proud

Saku Koivu became the first Montreal Canadien to ever win the King Clancy Memorial trophy, which is awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution in his community.

This just shows what we all knew in Montreal. Well, that Saku Koivu is a good guy. His legacy in Montreal is already huge, the medical equipment he has been able to obtain for the General and his other charity work.

Regardless of what anyone says about his leadership on the ice or in the dressing. This is the kind of of leadership I would hope to see from a Montreal Canadiens captain. True commitment to the city and to his neighbours.

I happen to think he's a heck of a hockey player as well. His play is leadership enough for me. Let's hope the young Habs follow his shining example on the ice, and especially off it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

We can't absorb Briere

I for one will be extremely disappointed if we choose to spend 6 million a year on Daniel Briere. Even though this is the new NHL, and he has proven himself to be very well suited to the new conditions, I only have to watch how the league changes at playoff time to know how bad an idea that would be. Daniel Briere has his benefits, but taken in the context of the bulk of the players we have, I don't think he fits. I'll weight up what I think he could offer us below:

1) A French Canadian superstar.
At this point in time, I think this is imperative. The team can't afford to be dragged through the whole language war every time they lose 2 games in a row. Some members of the media are itching for a homegrown (and not Brandon Reed) star. I don’t think they’ll go away. In fact, they’ll continue to create a mess until the big star they crave is brought in. Daniel Briere is a Quebecer, and a star, but not a superstar.


2) A first line centre.
I am happy with Koivu on the first line, but he’s pulling a young Higgins and a one-dimensional Ryder all by himself. A 1b centre to get Kovalev going or take one of Higgins or Ryder off Koivu’s hands would help. Definitely desirable, if not necessary. Briere seems to fit this bill too. 95 points show that. I think he’s still a lesser player than Koivu. I haven’t seen the extra gear for the playoffs, and I don’t see 95 points if it’s 2 equal lines at the top.


3) Size.
Diminutive. Manages to look even smaller than he is.


4) Value for the cap hit.
5-6 million dollars for Koivu Mark II seems a little bit rich. Even if he continues to develop and becomes a 100-point man on the Habs. Elevates Kovalev on his off nights, and exceeds realistic best-case-scenario expectations, 6 million will prevent the team from getting the defenseman they really need.


5) A locker room leader/example
No reason to doubt Briere here. Two long playoff runs, a first place run. Has earned his way into the league.


A bit too expensive for his potential contributions to our team. A bit too small to meet the hole in our team. And, not a big enough star to carry the whole expectation on his own. Overall, I don't think Briere is what we need. It would be a shame to sign him just because he's the only one available.

I also think it would create a him or Koivu situation in the future, where we would be looking for the big/crashing centre that we should be looking for now. Koivu is cheaper for the moment, and coming off a good season. Better to keep the known quantity I think in this case.

If I were Gainey, I'd be looking into the possibility of getting Patrick Marleau. Sign Souray and trade him for Marleau. Ideally Lecavalier would be the one, but I fear he's in Tampa for a while longer...