Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Don’t Hold Your Breath for Dan Ellis

Dan Ellis’ rights, acquired as part of the Sergei Kostitsyn trade were just window dressing as far as I’m concerned. Ellis is both too good and too close to a free agent payout to accept any sub-par offer for his services, no matter what his twitter account says.

Robert L is already penciling Ellis in at $1.8 million in his ideal world. But I ask why a goalie like Ellis, who earned $2 million last season, would sign a day early to become a certain back-up at a lower salary. If he is really a man with no ambition, then perhaps we’d be better with Cedrick Desjardins. If, as I suspect, he does have aspirations, then $1.8 million won’t do it. Nor will a promise of 14 games.

Bob McKenzie agrees with my take on this (or rather I with his), and thinks Ellis has much more attractive options elsewhere. Others agree too.

To make it attractive for Ellis to miss the free agency he’s so far been determined to test, the Habs will have to make an attractive offer. Playing time is nice, but in this world attractive means $$$. Let’s assume then that Ellis and his agent are looking for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3 million. The Habs with their tax, and the pressure of a single day to trade would do well to lock him up at that price even. At $3 million, this potential acquisition looks a whole lot different.

Now I know Halak hasn’t signed yet. And I know we’ve been told that Pierre Gauthier assumes he knows the market, and that he assumes he knows what Halak will be asking for, and that he assumes he knows what he will sign for. But with a $3 million range Dan Ellis suddenly sitting on the books, this lays the non-call to Halak as an even greater nonsense from the wayward GM. If Gauthier has to make a deal to stay under the salary cap because Ellis and Price push him over, it also makes mockery of the budgetary argument for trading the better goalie in the first place.

Anyway. We all knew that was smokescreen from the minute it was proposed. That the Halak trade had less to do with cap room than it had to do with other considerations. So let’s get on with it.

Coming out of the Halak trade we all made our own assumption. The assumption, based on sound bytes from a GM, was that a good goalie was traded for prospects because the organization felt it had another good goalie, possibly even a better goalie, to throw its money and effort behind. We all thought Price is the bona fide number one goalie now.

This facet of the Halak:Price decision was panned in some quarters, but by and large lauded by the denizens of this fair site. It was lauded for the transaction of potential (one ceiling alleged to be higher than another) and most importantly for its cost-saving realism.

I need some convincing on the former theory, but I am relatively comfortable with the latter. After all, even if we assume Carey will show a consistent level of modesty to match his 3-year introductory period, he still won’t wrangle the biggest raise out of the Habs. Yet even his $2.X million could be a problem under the cap. Should Halak have been around, most commenters seemed to gravitate to the conclusion that this team could no longer afford to pay two useful goaltenders. One would assume the same thinking would logically apply to the perhaps slightly cheaper Ellis.

There's the rub. Price and Ellis together is not a league-cheapest goaltender combination, despite what optimists may dream. Two free agents holding all the cards does not generally result in fiscally responsible signings. My guess would be that the two of them together would not be a $4 million combination but closer to a $6 million one. At this point, my annoyance over the original Gauthier (Gainey) decision on back-end direction is coming to boil again. Price/Ellis wouldn’t be cheap, and though it would provide the necessary insulation against a year of growing pains ¬ I thought that luxury was too rich for the team.

Perhaps then the Ellis maneuver is more to do with an impasse with Price than it is to do with Ellis himself. Perhaps it’s not Halak or Price, but neither Halak nor Price. I think even the most embattled goalie supporters among us might agree that if that is the case, then the Habs management needs to be reined in.

So between the salary cap and pending free agency, I don’t think there are many scenarios where Dan Ellis signs a contract in the next few hours. Certainly not many where both or even one of the two camps - Halakkies and Pricites - come out happy.

Seregi Kostitsyn Traded For...


So Sergei Kostitsyn was finally traded.

If anyone thought we’d seen the end of trading down after Ribeiro was traded for Janne Niniimaa then they’d be wrong. Sergei was traded as an RFA, mind you, for the chance to sign Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd two days ahead of schedule. Consider that the Habs don’t even have room for Ellis (more on that later), and it’s the chance to sign Dustin Boyd.

But wait, if they do sign Boyd, it’s a compensatory draft pick due to Nashville.

So we’re down to Sergei Kostitsyn for nothing. Maybe we get a draft pick if Nashville manage to sign the Belarussian.

If the Habs wanted Boyd, they could have signed him first thing July 1st for the same salary and avoided having to give up a draft pick. If they wanted Ellis, they could do the same, though they might want to check back on all that talk about salary caps surrounding the last trade.

Whatever the case, it’s a downgrade in talent that was necessitated by the Canadiens inability to keep another youngster in line. Think the Habs are the only team with spoiled brats acting up at every turn? Hear of Patrick Kane? No, the Habs are only unique in their complete inabaility to contain matters and turn what may be a quiet and productive trade into nothing.

I didn’t love Sergei as a player. Nor did I subscribe to the idea that we should persist with his painful development. But trading players for nothing is a fool’s game. And our team is at it again…

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Canadiens Draft Review

Just a look at how I thought the two days went, picks, trades and all.

Trading up

The Canadiens first move of the day was to trade up in the draft order. In order to climb 5 places in the first round, the Canadiens dealt the 57th pick for the 113th pick (a 56 player drop).

The Canadiens presumably make this trade because they got itchy about the Tinordi pick – they had, after all, printed a shirt for the kid. Obviously Phoenix was not in play for Tinordi, else no trade. But were the other four teams? Buffalo’s next pick was Mark Pysyk, a biggish defender. Chicago took a forward, but took several biggish US defenders later on. Florida took Petrovic, a big Dman at #36. Washington took Kuznetzov, then Galiev.

I think it’s fair to say the Canadiens inkling about Tinordi (if other scouts rated him at all) was right. Had they waited 5 picks, they’d have risked missing out on him and wasting money on a shirt.

So from that point of view, it was the right move.

But think of it another way. Had the Canadiens not traded, had the Canadiens missed Tinordi, would the situation have been so awful?

Remember that in addition to being able to take a decent players at #27, they’d also have had a second rounder. In my dream world, that would mean they’d select a couple of scoring prospects (maybe Etem and Pulkkinen, maybe Nelson and McKegg, who knows), and it that dream world, I think we net out ever so slightly better.

Given they took quite a swing for the fences on pick #113, I can forgive the trade, though.

I’m neutral on it.

Trades they didn’t make

Hindsight is 20:20, and it’s a favourite tool of armchair commentators like myself. Hindsight at this draft tells us that several players dropped quite a bit further than expected, that quite a lot of players were available at unexpected times.

Pulkkinen, who I rate, went a mere 2 picks ahead of the Canadiens first 4th round selection. Not shifting picks around at that stage is a missed opportunity for me. Then again, I don’t have a scouting staff.

Similarly, a low volume of picks in an unclear draft only makes the gambling more intense. That 27th pick for a couple of picks might have been welcome. Or seeing who they picked anyway, trying to turn some 4th rounders into a few more 6th rounders.

Seeing as all GMs seemed to want to get to the beach, I won’t fault Montreal here too much either. Trades not made aren’t damaging.

I’m ambivalent on this.

Jarred Tinordi (Stats)

I think we all agree that you can’t teach big. But we might also agree there’s a big difference between Zdeno Chara and Andy Sutton. Big isn’t everything. But teach a big man to play with his size, well then you have a cornerstone piece.

As picks go, I don’t mind this one at all. It’s not the optimal pick, yet there are so many worse scenarios, so many worse picks. If uber-talented scorers are the rarest commodity in the league, then massive, qualified defencemen must be among the next rarest. In addition, the Canadiens took the biggest, and from what I read the best of the big defencemen available.

A good start.

Mark MacMillan (Stats)

An interesting prospect from the BCHL. Allegedly 6 feet tall and a mere 150 lbs. I’d love to see this guy in person, he must be a beanpole.

But he wasn’t picked for his stature. He was picked because as a rookie in the BCHL with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, MacMillan racked up 26 goals and 54 assists in 59 games – good enough for 9th in league scoring. In doing so, Mark also won the BCHL rookie of the year honours and a place on the very interesting North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey team.

Like all drafted players, his coach thinks he’s a special player. That doesn’t tell me much. But consider this: he turned his brother (Mitch MacMillan) from a third year BCHL 45 point scoring vet into a 61 goalscorer and league MVP. I can’t say it was all Mark, but he probably had something to do with it.

In more good news, his brother is also 6 feet tall, and at the age of 20 showed that MacMillans were able to put weight on their frame.

I like the return to the board for the Habs. Aggressive and unafraid of the critics. The pick’s a good, though not great, one.

Morgan Ellis (Stats)

Not as exciting is the 6’1” stay-at-home defenceman from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL. He describes his own first pass and checking as good, but we’ve had plenty of defenders with low self-awareness, enough to make me question his assessment.

His stature is fine, as are his points totals. Even the fact he’s from the Q is good for business. It’s just this is not a pick to get up about. He may be an NHLer, but thousands have come before like him who never made it, just as some who did made it. We’ll have to wait and see.

Overall, I think this pick was wasteful. I think a goaltender like Louis Dominique, even if he is a risk at this point, would have been better use of the resources.

Brendan Gallagher (Stats)

Another BC boy with a small frame. And once again, another BC boy with plenty of skill to like. In fact, if you want to get down to it, Gallagher is the best pick the Habs made after Tinordi. While MacMillan put on a show in the BCHL as a rookie, Gallagher did the trick in the WHL regular season, and then again in the playoffs. 41 goals in 72 games in the season says goalscorer, for certain. 11 goals and 21 points in 16 playoff tilts speaks to some clutch ability.

Obviously the downside here is size. But the Canadiens play the odds well, as Gallagher dropped because of size, not skill. Pick a big guy at 147th overall, and it means 30 scouting teams were either very wrong about him, or that he is a total late bloomer, so who’s to know.

The risk here is worthy, though it may be interesting to see which of the Bruins (Craig Cunningham) and the Habs got the better of the Vancouver “Giants” duo.

Considering all that came after, this pick was a move in the right direction for me. A winner.

John Westin (Stats)

As if to assuage those of us who call for Swedes mad for skill, Timmins and his team dug deep and picked John Westin from the MoDo system.

At three picks from the end of the draft, I have to say you can’t do much better than picking a 6’O”, 183 lbs Swede with a touch around the net.

Though his numbers are only from Sweden’s Jr ranks, they are still impressive. For MoDo J20 he managed 16 goals in 31 games, which seems like a decent total compared to his peers. But it’s his scoring at the U18 championships (3 G in 6 games) and for the Swedish U18 team overall (6 G and 10 Pts in 10 games) that truly tantalize.

This is a home run swing, make no mistake. But at this point of the draft it’s almost nonsense to think you can do anything else. What’s more, picking from the best development system in Sweden, maybe the hockey world, isn’t a bad bet in my books.

Great pick.

Friday, June 25, 2010

List Enough Players And You'll Look A Genius

Yesterday, I wrote on Jarred Tinordi as the D man the Canadiens must take if they were to take the easy route and pick on D.

I'm not thrilled about the pick, but Tinordi should be big enough and established enough to avoid the David Fischer fiasco. If he makes the league and plays a solid game with a giant frame then he's not going to be the biggest failure of this draft.

That pick may belong to the Buffalo Sabres who took the underwhelming Pysyk on the very next pick.

If you want insight into why the Habs traded to get Tinordi picked, then that Buffalo pick at #23 tells you all you need to know. They'd have had Tinordi over the already "all-round" defender they sunk their pick into.

Because of the trade, the Habs are out of action until the fourth round when they get the 113th and 117th picks. Then it's 147 and 207 and done. With Quebecers bound to be selected, there's little to get too excited about. My hopes remain with our friend Corbeil-Theriault and a couple of scorers who've dropped.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Canadiens Draft Day

Last year, the Canadiens and the draft seemed to be a much more exciting prospect.

For one thing, the Habs stunk in the playoffs, and so the inevitable look to the future became the next best thing. For another, the team had a better pick, and hence lived in the zone where good prospects sometimes linger.

This year, on top of an exciting month of sport, the Canadiens probably tired us out a bit. They had a good run, and we were largely satisfied. The team has a weak stable of picks and free agency looks to be dull. June 2010 is not the month to be looking for 1,000,000 Habs fan hits.

Even so, the draft is still important. It only comes once a year, and the results from tomorrows picks will be debated for years. If we want in on the debate, we might as well be versed on what has gone on and what might have happened had Gauthier and Timmins done it differently.

Last season, I had a change of heart with the draft. In seasons previous, I was quite fond of picking all-rounders, intelligent characters and solid bets. No more. From last year and into this I favour drafting for what is rare. Rather than fishing for smelt, I say dive for pearls. There’s no Cups for fishmongers.

As such, I stick to my new draft day plan:

1) Don't pick the player with the best chance of being an NHLer, pick the one with a chance at being a star

2) Don't even bother picking the types of players you can easily pick up by other means (i.e., OK goalies, defensive defencemen and bottom line forwards)

3) Trade the pick if the organization gets a better asset mix from the swap

This year to me presents a wonderful meeting of my new philosophy and the needs of the organization, in that the hockey world’s rarest skill (true goalscoring ability) is also the Canadiens burning need.

For this draft, I hope the Canadiens management have learned their lessons from years without a scorer (at last check, Richer started his career in the 1980s) that top end scoring can only be addressed via the draft in two ways:

1) The normal way, in which you dedicate a top pick to select a scorer
2) The Red Wings way, in which you take 6 useless prospects and then luck out with a long shot in the 7th round

Now, I know the Habs could do worse than to try and emulate the Red Wings, but frankly this has been their draft strategy for years, for little reward. I think this fact has been recognized (Louis Lebalnc last season) and should be continued into this season’s draft.

With that in mind, I give you my wish list for the first round. It is by no means my prediction for tomorrow’s pick (as I don’t presume to know that), but instead the pick I would make if it were up to me to give the final word in Pierre Gauthier’s earpiece.

I'd target a scorer. One who actually scored in droves this past season.

1. Tyler Toffoli

Tyler has some mixed reviews. For some scouts, he seems to have offensive gifts (“his hans and shot are NHL elite already) that lead to goals. For others, he gets his goals through hard work. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that he scored 37 goals and 79 points in 65 games this season.

It’s really what others say about Toffoli that impresses me the most:
“Is not very big in stature for his Ottawa team, but he makes up for that in skill and effort. He’s got 79 points in his 65 games played. He’s got an NHL release and incredible accuracy with his shot. An equal threat whether he’s dishing the puck or shooting the puck himself.”
- Director of NHL Central Scouting, E.J. McGuire
“Tyler Toffoli has great anticipation and hockey sense. His ability to make and finish plays sets him apart from most other players. This season he has developed a good two way game and is strong in his own end.”
- Ottawa 67’s head coach Chris Byrne

He certainly seems to tick the boxes for skills you can’t teach (hands, anticipation, size) and has always battled to score at the elite level wherever he has gone so far. As far as scoring at the pick 27 level, it doesn’t get much better than Toffoli (if he’s even available).

2. Teemu Pulkkinen

Mikael Granlund, the reincarnation of Saku Koivu, probably won’t fall to the 27 pick this time. His sidekick called Teemu might just though.

Pulkkinen has been in and around the top of the rankings for this draft since his 15th birthday. Back in 2007, there was time for Taylor vs. Teemu, with Tyler well in the background. But times have changed, Pulkkinen has been injured and progressed differently than expected and the NHL scouts seem to shy from Europeans following some recent debacles.

Hurting Pulkkinen’s showing is the fact he has been playing in the junior league in Finland, which is apparently (even after all these years) a complete puzzle to fit into rankings. In any case, he scored big points (20 goals and 41 points in 17 games), and played with some success for Jokerit in the men’s league. Really though the tipping point was the tournament which put his achievements into context – the recent U18s. At that tournament he outpaced his peers by an impressive margin, showing off his goalscoring and flash by putting up 10 goals and 15 points in 6 games.


Size is his question mark, but this is nothing new for precocious young scoring talent. If the Habs want to truly hit a home run one day, they’ll have to come through on a player that falls down the draft for one reason or another. Better he fall for size (see Daniel Briere) than ability.

3. Beau Bennett

Bennett to Bennett? Why not?

Beau Bennett is a BCHL prospect, so doesn’t get the full kudos he perhaps deserves for scoring 41 goals and 120 points in 56 games.

In my opinion, the BCHL deserves as much cred as the USHL where the Canadiens currently mine prospects, certainly in light of graduates like Travis Zajac and Scott Gomez.

Once again, it’s the scoring results that impress. He’s not a player who scouts say has hands despite his 19 goal output, they say it and we see it. It means that in addition to the hands and the shot, he has the predatory instincts that junior scorers can sometimes lack come big league time.


The hesitation with Bennett is that he would only be another in a long line of US college students in the Canadiens stable. Nothing wrong with that in theory, except that at some point, success may have to come with a graduation en masse. Meaning that perhaps constantly waiting out a full college education time after time won't allow for it.

4. Brock Nelson

If we have to go the full US route again, I’d avoid the next Danny Kristo (small USHL scorer) and instead opt for someone just like Brock Nelson.

After all, Brock is already big, and has proven year on year that he does nothing if not score. His high school totals over 2 seasons leave him with 84 goals and 149 points in a mere 56 games. Sure we can question the competition, but that never stopped Timmins before.


5. Greg McKegg

McKegg is another young phenom who took a few more years than Taylor Hall to round out. But it seems he may be rounding out quite nicely as a scorer again.

We’re now talking about a player who went from 8 goals, 10 assists and minus 13 to 37 goals, 48 assists and plus 18 in a single season. While he’s not big, he’s by no means small, and coming from the OHL will probably have some sense about how to play around the net.


6. Ludvig Rensfeldt

Rensfeldt is a bit of a wild card here. He put up decent numbers in Swedish Juniors, but nothing to make Pulkkinen blush. Like Teemu, he also showed well at the recent U18s.

But it seems at least to the outsider that scouting on him is patchier. Not surprising, as that is entirely consistent with the average level of NHL scouting for Europe, which consistently misses the best young prospects.

I feel the scouting may be off here. After all, I don't think Sweden is going to be shutout in NHLers after all its recent success in development. Nor do I think that players who learned to practice first and play games later will go out of style just yet. Rensfeldt at 6’3”, 192 lbs and a Swede who can no doubt at least skate a corner, he offers an intriguing swing at the fences for a team like the Habs.


Players to avoid

Am I the only one who wants a moratorium on offensive defencmen?

There's something about a big defender with offensive upside that catches the imagination of GMs on draft day. There's good reason for that as dreams of Lidstrom and Niedermayer are well founded, but as more GMs and scouts begin to think the same way, the excitement builds beyond th talent base.

In my humble opinion, all offensive defencemen you can be sure about are gone by pick 10. The offensive upside of those around by pick 27 is usually screening their defensive liabilities with smoke.

The list of these picks for the first round is long this time, but includes all the commonly projected picks like McIlraith, Jerome Gathier-Leduc, Mark Pysyk and Alex Petrovic.

Other rounds and other options

Jarred Tinordi

Look, if we have to look to D, take the biggest guy there is. Tinordi is big and probably learned a bit about mean from his Dad. Anyone who remembers Chara's first years in the league will recall that you can teach big to play D, but can't teach D to be biger.


The Quebec picks always loom over any draft. In many ways, i wish the concern didn't exist. But by the same token, it makes sense that the Canadiens foster hockey in their own backyard.

Last year, they nabbed a couple of gems with Leblanc and Dumont. This season the Q isn't spitting out much, but like Sweden is bound to produce NHLers.

In my mind, there are a few options:

Micael Bournival: Could be this year's Gabriel Dumont. Hockey's Future references a win at any cost attitude, which I certainly like.

Louis-Marc Aubry: Big and not much else for now. But perhaps he could join the team without the pressure of his name being chanted.


Regardless of what anyone thinks of Carey Price, we all admit the Canadiens depth in goal throughout the organization is a it thin as of the moment.

As such, Gautheir wll probably be using at leats one selection to choose a goalie for his stocks. If he does, I think a strong case has to be made for him to choose no one other than Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault

Corbeil-Theriault had terrible statistics, 3.83 and 0.883, but he was in an impossible situation. His team was "rebuilding" and so didn't offer the best environment for stats production. But goalies have been known to come out of situations like this well. I seem to remember the Granby Bisons getting quite a lot of goals scored against them in the 1980s, for example.

What I read about the guys impresses me.

There's his dimensions which (we all know from a mere 4" difference) mean the world to canadiens management. But not only that, he also seems to be a quick goaltenders, which I found surprising for a big goalie.

“I was so impressed with Corbeil's quickness for a big goalie. When you see him you won't believe how quick he is for a big guy (6’6”, 186 lbs). Very controlled and soft pads, no big rebounds. Corbeil has an excellent feel for the game. He's very good at controlling his rebounds."
- NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen

And then there was his performance at the combine. I was stunned to read (in Dylan McIlraith’s preview) that Mathieu had the second best VO2 of all prospects evaluated at the recent combines. Not only is this impressive for anyone, it's especially impressive considering he's an enormous guy and a goalie.

So quickly: size, attitude, quickness and fitness. We didn't know it was possible. Pick him if you can Pierre.

Pre-Draft Considerations

The NHL daft is tomorrow and the Canadiens, despite their best efforts to trade a slew of picks lately, still have some picking to do. As such, we’ll watch with mild interest as Timmins and his staff already put out to gardening leave select youngsters.

I’m looking through lists to tell you what I think. But until then, some general thoughts worth considering with regard to the draft:

Size still dazzles

I’ll admit it, you just can’t teach size. The problem in judging 18 year-olds is that you can never tell if they’ll be gentle giants or feisty midgets when faced with pro opposition (think Gionta vs. Pouliot). Yet size still dazzles a scout. But where one or two big guys will no doubt make creditable NHL careers from their selection, it seems to me many big first rounders also find “German hockey” far too quickly.

There’s a threshold between guy who has scored and goalscorer

I’m not exactly sure what it is, but there’s definitely a difference between a guy who happened to score goals in junior and a player with a true talent for it. Be wary of the 20-goal man with alleged incredible hands, as there’s more to goalscoring than hands (isn’t that right Andrei?). At a certain point though, scouting ceases to matter though. Just because a scout can’t put a finger on why a guy has scored 40 goals shouldn’t discourage people from taking a chance.

American defencemen are terribly overrated as a group

Always lining up an impressive group with size and apparent skill, the American Ds are often among the more prominent flops. It’s worth considering that big American D prospects are nothing new and that the US National team still doesn’t have a good defensive group t choose from. It may not be coincidence.

Swedish forwards underrated this year

On the opposite side of the coin, when have you known a Swedish generation to be totally bereft of know-how up front. Despite the perennial snub from the prognosticators (with the exception of the love in last year), the Swedish forwards probably deserve more respect than they get. Many, for example could do just as well as in the QMJHL if they cared for poutine over smoked herring.

Quebeckers play in a strange league

Picking Quebecois players is more difficult than pickng Western teens because they play in a league that is worlds apart from the NHL. People will always be wary of the Daigle scenario. But not to be ignored is the phenomenon that seems to be the Quebecois role player. Picking them out from the crowd, though. I’m glad I’m not charged with that task.

Everyone is compared to a successful NHLer

It must be human nature to look for the best possible scenario because there are always a lot of future Scott Stevens, Mark Recchis and Bryan Trottiers. The reality is, these comparisons have been bandied about for years on end. In fact, it might be useful to compile a database of what being the next Scott Stevens actually means for a prospect – that is, he’ll actually have a 98% chance of being the next Brent Bilodeau.

Trading up is probably a mistake

Scouting departments should take a good look in the mirror before trading up. Of course, there’s always the chance of getting caught up in the excitement of the day, but trading up means trading one gamble for another. It often means trading 2 or 3 gambles for one. Odds tell us that after pick 5-8 goes by, volume is the better strategy.

Organizational needs won’t be the same by the time the selected start playing pro

One never knows what surprises are around the corner for an organization. One year you have the Vezina, Hart goaltender of the future, a couple of years and no goalie picks later, you’re icing David Aebischer in crucial games. OK, it’s not the best example as Price and Halak were coming through, but you understand. Picking for organizational balance at a single draft is not my favourite tactic unless the cupboard is absolutely (and I mean Heino-Lindberg) bare. Instead pick the best players always and fill the cupboard the other 363 days of the year.

Central Scouting Rankings

Has anyone else ever wondered why the Central Scouting Bureau seems to be able to compile data from multiple leagues on either side of the Atlantic, but seem incapable of evaluating North American and European talent on the same list?

It seems to me there's as much variety between playing in the Czech junior league and the KHL as there is between the Czech junior league and the USHL. Maybe that's just me.

It certainly has always made the task of previewing a draft very interesting, as relative ranks often seem almost dreamt up.

I guess it creates a need for interpreters and speculators like us bloggers and Bob McKenzie, so I'll not complain any further.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Skew Of The Draft

Those of you paying attention will have noticed that the Boston Bruins today traded their own forst round draft pick (15th overall) in a bunble that was sent to Florida for Nathan Horton.

Analysis of that trade aside, let's dwell a moment on the 15th pick shall we?

Does it puzzle anyone else how Boston earns the right to the very best pick for playoff teams when Montreal garners pick #27?

Boston won the same number of regular season games as the Canadiens, yet gathered 3 more OTLs and points. Boston won a playoff round and won exactly two less playoff game than the Habs this spring. Yet there they are 12 picks ahead.

Now I understand what the draft rankings we see all over the place have done. The non-playoff teams come first in reverse order (barring a shift with due to lottery pick, which didn't happen this year). Following that, it seems to me that all the playoff teams that won either one round or none are again stratified on regular season results. Then, because the reward of losing later must be so great, the conference finalists, Stanley Cup runner up and Champion Blackhawks.

My question is this: Why factor playoff success at all if you're not going to do it properly?

As I said, the Canadiens won 9 of 19 playoff games, the Bruins 7 of 13. Sure it's an extra round. But then why don't the sabres then get a better pick than the Bruins. Surely the sometimes hapless Avalanche, a first round victim and final playoff qualifier in the West deserve a better pick than the Habs, but why not better than the Bruins?

It's a strange formula it seems, with latter winners like Boston and Pittsburgh.

For one round, this might pass. But the fact that Montreal will pick 12 places less than its rival Boston in every round is silly.

And I'm only a Habs fan. How do you tell a Buffalo Sabres fan that they'll pick 3 places after Pittsburgh in every round. Pittsburgh had more points than the sabres in the season, more wins, won an extra playoff round, had more playoff wins and earned more revenue in doing so. Not to mention the NHL has never done Buffalo any favours, but its sweetheart Pens somehow come out winners here again.

Once again, the NHL just doesn't seem to find ways to make sense.

Plekanec Too Good To Expose

Today, we received confirmation that at least some of the Canadiens management team watch the same games that we do, and even share some of the same notions about winning hockey.

Tomas Plekanec won a hefty raise by repeating his 20-odd goalscorer, 70-odd point man routine from a couple of years ago. He earned the privelege of Pierre Gauthier's phone call with an offer with his outstanding contributions throughout his tenure, the season, and particularly the Pittsburgh series.

This case draws a line in the sand between Plekanec and Jaroslav Halak for value to the team. Whereas the management figures they can do almost as well with Carey Price or someone else with adjustments to other positions, the Plekanec signing tells me they haven't seen an offensive centreman capable of playing as many roles as Pleks becoming available in the very near future.

Largely, I agree with this assessment. And, I'm glad that some other erroneous contracts didn't force this one off the books before a phone call could be made. $5 million a season is a lot for a number two centre (if reports are correct), but Plekanec himself earns this money (relative to high paid players in the NHL).

The move does however make the prospect of free agency less of a reality this summer. Looking down the list of players, this probably isn't a bad thing. That said, if a large scoring winger must be brought in, then the GM will have to get creative. Time for him to earn his money, I suppose.

Free Pizza For Everyone

As the NHL and TSN prepare for Thursday's awards cermonies and Friday's draft, the rst of the world is watching the World Cup.

I count myself in with the rest. And so, apart from being roused by the occasional trading of a team's major cog, I neglect my coverage of signings like Mathieu Darche for now.

I think it's only right. After all, for all the drama of teams shifting salary, it somehow just doesn't quite stack up to entire nations going at each other, some coming through in impressive fashion and others completely falling to pieces.

This morning was a case in point. This morning, an embattled French team took to the field in South Africa to face the home Bafana Bafana squad. I didn't need to watch the game, or the red card, or the bad loser's refusal to shake hands to embrace the feeling of this result.

South Africa 2:1 France

There's a beauty in that. Two coutries who qualified for the tournament through FIFA's own special allowances playing their way out. One group had their heads held high, one group left biting each others' heads off.

France, you see, deserved this fate. Having wrongly avoided being put to a penalty shoot-out in order to qualify courtesy of a goal made possible by Thierry Henry's offside hand to foot pass. Since that time, the Irish and those who thought FIFA took the easy way out have been hoping for the pendulum to swing back into the collective mid-riff of the French.

The momentum seemd to change early. France, a pre-tournament power if only for their star power, slipped and slogged away against an uninspired (on the day) Uruguayan side.

A loss to Mexico followed, with an effort that was questionable all around. From there, as you'd expect, flowed criticism, rifts in the squad, plenty of whining, a players strike, resignation of high ups in the French football federation, public humiliation, an injunction from President Sarkozy, more humiliation, and finally a loss to the lowest ranked team to be pulled from Pot A in this, and probably all, World Cups.

If you're Irish you call it justice. If you're just about anyone else, comedy.

Ireland come out with high groiund and pizza

Meanwhile, the Irish National football team (the other team I know to work in-fighting into match preparation - 2002: Keane, Roy) is enjoying this World Cup, perhaps more than they would have had the hand ball been flagged down by the linesman wishing to make up for his botched offside call. They'll have plenty of time now to relish the high ground.

Last week, sombreros and tequila were the order of the day in Dublin as France went up against Mexico in group match. If there was ever a day for Corona to outsell tehe black stuff on the river Liffey, it was on the evening of the French defeat that nearly sealed their fate.

Today, the Irish will be eating Pizza to their hearts' content, I imagine, as Pizza Hut is offereing free pizza following the French exit.

The results in sport don't always fall in the way that we want. Nor do they always fall on the side of fairness. But sometimes, it appears that they do.

Whatever the teams, the results. You just can't top the drama that's unfolding in South Africa. That it seems is my round-about apology for putting hockey on the backburner for a few days...

Friday, June 18, 2010

What If Those Were Price's Numbers?

26-13-5, 2.40, 0.924

9-9-0, 2.55, 0.923

56-34-7, 2.62, 0.919

Those are the numbers at issue here. Regular season, playoffs and career to date. They look pretty good. Too good apparrently for the Canadiens in their cap situation.

I can accept that argument (I don't like it), but humour me here. What if those numbers belonged to a first round draft pick from 2005 named Carey Price?

Would the Canadiens have been able to get away with trading him for a package? (I think we can all admit, it would have been an even better one)

Or, would the Canadiens have been forced to find a way to fit in his millions?

Is it worth thinking about?.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Habs Management Get Fleeced in Unnecessary Trade

So we can put an end to discussions of RFA goaltending dilemmas. Today, Pierre Gauthier traded save percentage ace Jaroslav Halak for 2 St. Louis prospects in a move more reminiscent of the Montreal Expos than anything from the more illustrious periods of Canadiens history.

No explanations have been disclosed, but one must assume there was something in the contract talks that made this move necessary. Perhaps the young goalie was asking the moon.

But as much as I like Plekanec and all the other free agents, Halak's contract should have been the first one onto the books this summer. Adjustments should have been made afterwards.

It would even make sense in terms of trading, as a young star with a contract will most often fetch more than a young star without one (witness return on this trade).

More worrying, perhaps is that the team did not get a goaltender in return (though we still have months for that) as entrusting the full starting load to Carey Price at the moment is a gamble at best.

The return

Lars Eller is a forward from Denmark who once had his touts, but whose name hasn't been heard in these parts for some time. He's already been slotted in on the Canadiens page on Hockey's Future, with the discouraging rank of "Other Notable"

Here's what the scout said on him there:
Eller has decent size, is a good skater with very good technical skills. He also works hard and is in general very well-rounded as a player. His scoring touch is pretty good, but Eller is much more noticeable as a playmaker. He has really good hockey sense and has that special ability to find openings that few other players can. A team player, he plays a good two-way game, but could still use some fine-tuning in his defensive game and play without the puck.

Eller is projected to become a two-way forward, second line, in the NHL one day.


Ian Schultz is even less exciting, and to be honest, this is the first time I've ever heard his name.

Hockey's Future has a line on him too:
Schultz gets noticed for his physical play more than for his offensive skill. Schultz could eventually become a power forward, but he may also develop into a solid grinding winger.

Not a great return. Not considering Halak's save percentage had been over 0.920 for near 8 months and his career record in the NHL suggests he might flirt with those numbers again.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Value Of Assists

As hockey statistics continue to expand, new measures and multiplication factors are thought up every day. But for all the sophistication that is emerging regarding shots, saves and the like, we are still left as fans with the albatross of the NHL scoring leaders at the heart of everything.

As you well know, the NHL scoring leaders is a blunt tool to assess a player’s worth. A simple record of who touched the puck last, second to last and third to last as pucks flew by goaltenders into the net. It does little to instruct us on who created the goals, who made the play that unlocked the D or the goalie.

As you know, we at LIW took issue with this and undertook to examine each goal the Montreal Canadiens scored over an entire season. Instead of simply assigning equal points to the last three guys who touched the puck (as scoring leaders does), we decided to evaluate each goal on its own merits, assigning points to each of the players involved (not limiting the contributors at three, but sometimes stopping short as well). We called it goals created.

The product of this analysis was very interesting, and I promise to share it with you soon in an upcoming post. But today I wanted to talk about one of the by-products of the statistical compilation that we undertook: the average value of each component part (i.e., G, A1, A2, others). In particular, I wanted to address the value of the second assist.

What is the value of an assist?

I think we've all exclaimed at one point or another the silliness of assigning the same weight to some assists as a goalscorer gets for an unassisted goal. I think we can all remember thinking that perhaps goals and assists are not worth the same amount just because the stats page tells they do, and that some goals, some assists are better than others.

As I looked at the statistics we were gathering, I was curious to see what might have been written on this topic in the past. As it turns out, there is quite a bit.

The general consensus seems to be that a second assist is worth less than a goal and less than a first assist, but to what extent is (and will remain) unclear. James Mirtle chimed in on this a few years ago. And the new stats community has been in on the discussion. But it seems the area where this has seen the most light is among those who attempt to make the NHL statistics speak to player contribution through mathematical manipulation ¬ specifically Allan Ryder of Goals Created.

Allan writes an extensive thesis on how he thinks players contribute to the results (wins) on the ice. If you’re keen you can find some of his full work here. If you want to stick to assists today, then he wrote on those for the Globe and Mail a few years back too.

After reading all the fretting over the inadequacy of the NHL scoring methods, it came a quite a surprise that statistical experts have come to one of three conclusions on this:
  1. Analysts are limited by the information in the scoring reports, and only the NHL has the ability to increase the data
  2. Second assists are worth less, so we’ll remove them altogether for a G+A1 look
  3. Second assists are worth less, but we’re not sure how much, so we’ll assign a number based on individual intuition to create a correction factor

Obviously, point one is outdated and has been completely misproven by the work of Olivier in the Habs camp and many others like him around the league. Point two is an improvement, but discounting second assists altogether might be as wrong as counting them equally in the first place. The third approach is the step in the right direction, but it stops short of illuminating anything, as it is unclear how much data and research plays a part in the divining of those numbers.

In his lengthy 2004 report on player contribution, Allan Ryder wrote:
“I know of no research on the relative value of goals versus assists. So you will just have to live with my best guess.”
I don’t pretend to have taken the definitive step in settling this age old debate, but I think what we have done is at least an interesting starting point. By looking at all the goals individually and recording situation, players and contribution score we at least raise a flag to say that perhaps 0.5 a goal and 0.25 per assist is out of whack.

Goal distribution

Historical statistics for the NHL show that typically 5% of goals are unassisted, 20% of goals have one assist and the other 75% have the full two. This means there are 1.7 assists per goal scored.

This season, the Montreal Canadiens scored a total of 256 goals.

193 of the goals had 2 assists credited (75%)
45 of the goals had 1 assist credited (18%)
18 goals were unassisted (7%)

These numbers mean there were 1.68 assists per goal this year in Montreal.

That looks just about right, considering what we should expect. I agree the sample would be better with goals from all teams included, but at least the Habs aren’t some unassisted goalscoring anomaly to waste a season worth of data collection.

Value of goals

It seems that those who suggested a goalscorer should get about 50% of credit on all NHL goals might be vindicated. A season's worth of Habs goals puts goalscoring credit at about 54%, pretty close to half.

Interesting to note, however, is that not all goals are created equally. Shorthanded goals show a trend to being more goalscorer driven (not surprising), and PP goals have the goalscorer sharing much more credit with his teammates.

All in all, the goalscoring picture is about where we might have thought with a number out of the air. So far so good.

Value of assists

This is where things get interesting. With about 46% of credit left to dole out, an equitable soul might place the first and second assists at about 23% each. The most daring of stats guessers put the ratio at 3:2
(or 0.28 and 0.18, or thereabouts).

Total numbers showing 0.33 and 0.13 put these estimates way off.

Data for ES and PP all show the same - that a first assist is a major contribution to a goal, a second assist is a minor one.

What does this mean?

If this data is indicative of the way things happen elsewhere, then as suspected, the NHL scoring leaders do not do a very good job of representing player contribution.

While we already know that goals are better than assists, we can tease that information just by looking at the scoring breakdown. But if there is a massive difference between first and second assist then scoring summaries that don't split into two sets of helpers must be severely questioned.

This we mostly knew already. Hence the rise of the player contribution systems from both Allan Ryder and Tom Awad. There are implications for these systems too. Awad for example feeds all assists into his GVT at the same value, and may have a value for goals (0.43) that underestimates the triggerman.

The last, and probably most important thing, this data tells me is that generalizing values to situation (whether it be ES, PP or SH, or 1assists, 2 assists goals) creates error. If we as fans want to get to the bottom of player contribution, then we have have work to do.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Unspoken: Philly Blew It

Every year this happens. A team wins the Cup and we go into some kind of praise-amplification cycle, the usual result of which is a conclusion that all future Cups will be won as this latest one was.

It's all fine and good as long as it remains theory, that is until you go out and overpay Rob Scuderi.

As we enjoy the interminable season finally coming to an end, I offer this thought. Perhaps Chicago might not have won the Cup had their opposition offered a credible goaltending option.

Last night was only one example, but again Leighton was shaky. Two of the goals allowed, including the OT Stanley Cup Winner, were minor league stuff.

When in recent memory can you remember a Stanley Cup finalist putting forward a serious bid with a goalie that was pulled twice, allowed 3.96 goals a game and saved less than 88% of shots. He played well in one win, but that hardly balances two of his losses in which he allowed about 25% of shots to go in.

To sum up, Michael leighton was sub-par and by letting in some of the goals he did, effectively cut the Flyers chances off at the knees.

Still, I choose not to entitle the piece with Michael Leighton's name, as this was all to be expected. Miraculaous shut out run aside, Leighton is a player with this kind of checkered history. A borderline NHLer with up and down numbers. It shouldn't have surprised anyone that his miracle streak was just that, a miracle streak.

Really Philadelphia management is to blame.

It starts as these things usually do with drafting. Since they drafted Roman Cechmanek in 2000 (their last credible goalie graduate), the Flyers have selected 15 goalies in all. All told from those 15, they have received 2 NHL games of sub 0.800 goaltending. Not pretty. The lessons they learned in the late 1990s when their last thrust into contention was on were clearly unlearned, as they constantly have goaltending further down the list than nearly everything else. Though they've sprung for two third round goalie choices in the past two seasons, prior to that their reliance on free agency meant they had little time for goalies before round 5.

Speaking of free agency, they often get distracted there too. I'm not necessarily saying that goalies can be plucked out of thin air in July, but it might be easier if the kitty isn't always already spent to find someone adequate.

Ray Emery was a great example of Philly's approach to goaltending on the cheap. Always willing to spring big money for the next bully in line, they frequently find themselves looking for the bargain basement option come September. Esche, Biron, Boucher, Emery, leighton, not exactly a crew that sends shivers down the spine of shooters.

And then there are trades. Never mind that Philly might have turned down a great bargain in December with the potential Halak deal. That bears no meaning next to the fact that they had built a team to win in the present with several excellent young and middle age stars ready to shine, yet failed to trade a single piece of their depth when Ray Emery first showed himself to be missing a step and then underwent fairly major surgery before the trade deadline.

It's fair to say that Philly's management didn't react because they never thought this possible, even with a goaltender. Fine. But making the playoffs and winning the Cup were clearly in the plans when they signed all their forwards to long-term millions and then traded the future couple of first rounders for Pronger. Philly were a team built for now, or thereabouts. So why leave playoff qualification, and ultimately playoff success in the court of a gamble like Boucher? Or Leighton?

In my mind, it's quite a big mistake. And now, quite a big opportunity missed..

Who should be more aggrieved?

I'm as happy as anyone to see Mike Richards close to tears. He must feel pretty aggrieved by management's ponderous approach to shoring the back end. Peter Laviolette too. He coached a storm to get his team as far as it did, yet being cuffed by the Leighton/Boucher options must have been hard. Finally, Chris Pronger, who still dominant might wonder how many more Cup runs he can coax out of himself.

Yet, as unhappy as those should be, could it be that Canadiens fans and perhaps Bruins fans even more so should be cursing their luck.

Coming into the Bruins game in relief, Michael Leighton was a 0.902 career goalie with no NHL playoff experience. In the 2.5 games he played vs. Boston to rescue the Flyers from 3-1, he laid down a shutout to end the series with a 0.943 save % and 1.54 GAA. Against Montreal, it was 3 more shutouts en route to a 0.950 save % and a 1.41 GAA.

Had he played as he did in the final, Boston would have likely scored 5 more goals in 2.5 games and Montreal was owed 10 more. Had he played at his career NHL rate, Boston would have expected 3 more goals and Montreal a further 7.

That's not to say both teams didn't have a part in Leighton's supremacy, or that Philly's D didn't also. Merely to say that we all knew one day Leighton wouldn't be making some of the saves he seemed to be able to make against both Bruins and Habs, and we knew we'd feel a little bit unlucky to have faced him at the one time in his career he looked a genuine starter.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Adieu Guy Boucher

This past week, the Montreal Canadiens lost their young dauphin, the rising star that is Guy Boucher. A French Canadian student of the game who has succeeded at every level so far due to his diligence and the creative new development of tactics.

He’s the coach that any team would want. Eventually.

Habs fan reaction has been predictably sour on this departure. Boucher was seen as a star signing last season, even before he went to work for the organization. Following a season of success in the AHL and of player development the likes of which we have seldom seen in three decades in Montreal, his star only seemed brighter.

My personal take on this is that the Habs did the right thing here.

First, they did the right thing for the man. Boucher now leaves the Canadiens family with nothing but cherished memories. This will always be the team that gave him his break, and now too the team that didn’t begrudge him his next one.

Second, they honour their commitment to Jacques Martin, who like his calm demeanor or not, must be given loads of credit for his revamp of the team that can suddenly compete with the big boys.

Finally, they didn’t panic. Panic would have been hiring Boucher on as head coach for fear that he may be great. Such hirings are unwise, as they take us further from the well laid plan that was so painful to instigate one short year ago. A veteran coach was needed, and probably still is, while veterans are forged from the young generation of leaders coming through.

Still reasons to denounce this move do exist. In the vein of a Leclair trade that still haunts many a fan’s dreams, there’s the what if? What if Boucher wins the Cup elsewhere? What if he wins the Jack Adams?

It’s easy to get caught up in all these what ifs, but often forgot is the other side of the coin: What if Guy Boucher takes time to adjust to the league like the vast majority of coaches who come through?

Among the reasons to take confident comfort in this move, the story of one William Scott Bowman is foremost.

Scotty Bowman entered the Canadiens organization as a star more than 50 years before Guy Boucher ever did. At his hiring in the early 1950s, Bowman was a former junior Canadien who had impressed his mentors. Early in his post-player days, Scotty was made assistant of the Junior Canadiens under the mercurial Sam Pollock. Memorial Cup finals and championships followed as he made his name within the Forum’s halls.

After stints coaching in Ottawa and Peterborough, Scotty was moved internally to the position of chief scout of amateur talent (a latter-day Trevor Timmins). In any case, the Canadiens weren’t going to let his feet get cold. When he was ready, he took full duties as coach of the Montreal Junior Canadiens ¬ the main feeder to the star-laden team in the NHL.

Then, in 1967-68, the NHL expanded its operations to include 6 more cities. Opportunities that had been sewn up by playing and coaching talent alike until then were suddenly doubled. For the Canadiens, this presented a choice. Would Scotty Bowman be shoehorned into the pro ranks alongside Toe Blake, would they put their organizational foot down and try to bar his way, or would they let the star they had nurtured fly the coop.

They chose the latter and Scotty was allowed to depart in order to become an assistant to Lynn Patrick in St. Louis. As Scotty recalls it, he decided to take a chance then too:
"Montreal was a very strong team at the time. Toe Blake was coaching. I got a chance to go to the NHL when they expanded. It's hard to turn down a chance to get into the NHL. I was coaching the Junior Canadiens who had moved back to Montreal. I got the opportunity to go to St. Louis from Lynn Patrick. He was going to be the general manager, and I coached his son Craig in junior hockey in Montreal. When he got the job with the Blues, he hired me as his assistant. I decided I really should take a chance. I was fortunate the league expanded and I got an opportunity to get to one of the expansion franchises."
His time in St. Louis was a success, after becoming head coach after mere weeks into the season, Scotty’s teams went on to reach the finals in each of his first three seasons in the NHL. No doubt Scotty learned much.

Apprenticeship completed, his old head coach and friend Sam Pollock convinced Scotty to rejoin his hometown club in 1971. The rest is history.

Guy Boucher may never match Scotty Bowman’s achievements, but his path to the NHL coaching ranks is at least somewhat similar. In both cases, the coaches had keen eyes for talent, a commitment to winning and the determination to outstretch their rival coaches. Both were also known stars of the Canadiens organizations they were part of.

In following Bowman’s path out of the Canadiens family to stretch his legs, we hope that the similarities continue ¬ there’s really nothing else to be done. In the new world of the NHL, where teams from one season rarely resemble the one three years down the line, there’s no real reason to fret over Boucher. We simply hope he can learn and thrive while keeping the candle he has for the Canadiens organization flickering until the opportunity for his return may come.

Suivant, next.

On a related note, one would think that the hiring of Guy Boucher last year will have taught the Canadiens management team a valuable lesson about installing quality personnel under the main team. I hope that in addition to holding early camps, firing scouts, signing Americans and negotiating with Plekanec that Gauthier is dedicating a substantial slab of time to scouting the next Bulldogs coach.