Monday, September 26, 2011


Someone? Anyone?

Power Rankings I
Power Rankings II
Power Rankings III
Power Rankings IV

Don't want to comment too much. hey at least I don't have to pay too much attention to the vets, because I'd rather forget. Notable exception being Josh Gorges and tonight Carey Price.

First cuts have been made and with injuries and other roster moves all the intrigue is bleeding right out of this thing. Players who made challenges either had their fates decided before the fact (Beaulieu back in junior) or didn't do quite enough (Dumont). Those who started in poll position and the front of the grid are hobbling down the home stretch just about now.




Campoli Signing

Good And Bad Omen

Today Gauthier used the money he saved all summer long to sign Chris Campoli to his biggest contract ever!

Take this for what it is. It's an OK signing with implications.

The first sign that giving a raise to a defenceman that no one else in the NHL wanted to touch is that the Habs did this out of perceived need.

There's only two ways to interpret this in my view. That Markov won't be around for a while. Or that the team is very uneasy about leaving the task of defence to guys they acquired previously (notably Weber).

The former would obviously be relatively bad news, but not unexpected. And don't quote Gauthier who said this had nothing to do with Markov. If he wouldn't lie if it was to do with Markov, he'd be a terrible GM. The latter isn't much better since Weber has shown potential, maybe as much as Chris Campoli has anyway and will again be relegated to the slow development route.

That's the pessimistic view. but I said it was a good omen too. And it is.

If Markov is injured (and we know he is), the Habs could just ride out the injury for a few months. However, in doing so they risk a slow start and a perilous finish. The good part of this signing is the action of trying to fill a hole (PP QB?). Even if Campoli isn't one's cup of tea (not sure he's mine), any signing of an NHL defender at this point is a signal the Habs are very serious about the season, not willing to waste a week, a month or two.

Whatever happens, it's not that bad. Campoli could be benched and probably even traded (even at that price). He could be valuable insurance against more injuries. he could just be variety for a 7th defender.

After an exhibition season with a lot of disarray, I'm happy to take even the smallest sign that this team wants to win this year. The bad implications was all but expected anyway, I'm taking this signing as a good sign from the management.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Time Running Down

Power Rankings I
Power Rankings II
Power Rankings III

A poor result with a poor finish. At least they started brightly and got their first lead of the season. Exhibition results are nothing to lose sleep over, especially with the AHLers playing big minutes here. But let's hope some vets turn up to the dance before October.

The positives in this game were less sensational (no pun intended). There was no showcase from Beaulieu this time around and Gallagher was giving a rest from entertaining us all. Cammalleri's goals were a good sign because he had a lot to do to make them. It would be something for the Habs if he started the season on fire.

The battles for spots drag on, however. Some have been won on past merit and decent outings (Budaj, Desharnais, Emelin), while others look to be going the same way (White, Diaz). The big spots still in play are the 8th defender and the 13th forward. Let's not forget, however that last year the Canadiens didn't carry a roster of 23 for long stretches and may do so again, so the lacklustre challenges to management may just end in that.




Saturday, September 24, 2011


Chellengers Idling Their Way to Spots

Power Rankings I
Power Rankings II

Last night the Habs pipped the Sens in a shootout (with an illegal player shooting? maybe?). Anyway, the result wasn't all that important, certainly the shootout outcome of it.

Once again it was those who didn't need to prove anything who did. vets and juniors were the ones who mostly caught the eye. If Gallagher were a tall first rounder who couldn't go to WJC, I think he'd have played his way onto the Habs by now. But those factors are still in play for him.

The other guys, the ones who would appear to have more to gain, more to lose, mostly seem to be in some sort of deep sleep (or anxious paralysis). Blunden got another chance to outshine those who have not shone so brightly and largely didn't. Trotter had a case to make and doesn't even seem halfway to making it yet. Others fared similarly. Here is the movement as I see it.




Thursday, September 22, 2011


Movers and Shakers

Power Rankings I

Last night's game against the Sabres was a better display for the Habs. They played the hockey their coach envisions for them and ended with a close loss. In the third, I thought they had the better of the play and on a different night might have tied the contest.

The story of the game, the camp really, has been the junior call-ups. last night Beaulieu showed no hesitation against NHLers and played the game like a kid who just knows he has nothing to shy away from. Gallagher extended his reputation and outshone the majority of forwards for his creativity and general quickness in the offensive zone.

I still believe these two have junior years ahead of them (one reason being their opportunity to play at the WJC), but a few more displays like this could change my mind and maybe those of the people who matter.

Besides the two exciting prospects, those actually vying for the better part of their two-way contracts had very mixed results. It's one thing to be overshadowed by a veteran player, quite another to lose limelight to a junior when these 8 days are your chance at the bit. Generally, the play went well, but one reason the result went the way it did is because many are too hesitanat to seize the day and influence the games in any real way. Their story in the power rankings below.




Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Roster Opening Power Rankings

Power Rankings II

Although I'd always advise people to keep their heads tied on for preseason results, that's not to say there's nothing to get excited about.

Just because reading game reports and inferring what might happen in the near future once teams care is not to be recommended doesn't mean the games aren't worth watching. The future of the team (or fragments of it) are there to be seen and this is fun.

Roster spots and career changing opportunities will be handed out, while for others doors will be closed (maybe for good). So for the remainder of training camp, I’m keeping my eye on the open spots and the remaining contenders by presenting to you the roster spot power rankings.

We'll start with the guys we know

Guaranteed NHL positions (in my opinion):

G (2): Carey Price, Peter Budaj
D (6): Hal Gill, Josh Gorges, Andrei Markov, Jaroslav Spacek, PK Subban, Yannick Weber
F (10): Lars Eller, Scott Gomez, Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri, Mathieu Darche, Travis Moen, Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, Brian Gionta, Andrei Kostitsyn

That’s 18 roster spots locked of a possible 23 on the NHL squad with a much more wide open field on the AHL front. There won’t be another goalie and with the way the talent is balanced, I’d wager on 8 defencemen and 13 forwards. That means there are two open places at the back and 3 at the front.

Among those vying for their place in the organization, 30 already have pro contracts. But one of the guys is Leblanc who could still go back to junior if that decision was made. The rest of those guys are in the pros, and the math says that there aren’t enough NHL and AHL spots for them.

This is why I think that certain junior eligible players with plenty left to gain from going back to junior will be sent that route.

Guaranteed non-professional play (in my opinion):

G (1): Robin Gusse (already sent back)
D (4): Nathan Beaulieu, Darren Dietz (already), Morgan Ellis, Jarred Tinordi
F (5): Olivier Archambault, Michael Bournival, Etienne Brodeur (already), Brendan Gallagher, Dustin Walsh (already)

The remaing guys are fighting it out for the spots. here's how I see their progress:




Power Rankings II

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Maybe it's too early to deliver a verdict on Brendan Shanahan as VP Discipline. But as he stepped onto the rule-making ice for his first shift, he did very little to distinguish himself from those who came before.

This looks more a waiver wire addition for the NHL change machine than a blockbuster pick up.

It started well enough in August with the re-introduction of the Research, Development and Orientation Camp. At that camp, there were all kinds of things being tested, variations on icing, equipment tweaks, powerplays that last the duration. Changes that could have made significant differences to the game.

Kudos to the new guys for looking at these things in the first place.

It's perhaps not surprising that the more radical ideas on the table are staying there, for now. The game is growing in popularity (or so the book cookers say) and there isn't really a noticeable crisis in the goalscoring department that requires radical action.

But there were certain changes that needed to be made. Foremost among them was to do whatever it takes to eliminate the unnecessary injuries that occur when players hit other players around the side of the head. The action that was thought to be firm last year left us with memories of devastating hits with summer retirements and careers in jeopardy.

So when the announcement that the NHL has changed Rule 48 (the now infamous Illegal hits to the head rule), one could be excused for being underwhelmed with the conviction.

The full explanation of the changes is here. But the gist of it is this:

1) Last year, hits to the head were penalized when they were blindside or lateral. This year, those words have been removed. All hits will be penalized. (One step ahead)

Oh wait, it's actually up to the referee. Couldn't commit that far (step back).

2) Last year, the penalty was at least severe in theory. A major penalty would be assessable. This year, they deemed that too harsh, so it's now a minor call (several steps back?)

The net change is that the penalty is lessened, but the penalizable offence is broader. However, since we know the referees that have been given the freedom of interpretation (heaven forbid they weren't for the sake of safety) we can imagine the cockamamie explanations on the way for the unpenalized hits coming up this year.

It's a very weak response to a very serious issue. A completely unnecessary part of the game could be removed with leadership and conviction and fairly simple penalties, yet the team at the top bottled it.

Now consider their similar superficial changes to the boarding rule where they changed wording (vulnerable to defenseless).

Is anyone else worried that Shanahan might not be bold enough to break the establishment? Does anyone believe he even wants to?

If the real threat of retirement before 25 for the best player to come along in years is not enough to light a fire under these guys, what is? I think we all know the horrible answer to that question.

Let's hope an outcry, or maybe just some good sense from the players themselves (pipe dream), ends this nonsense before that day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Axes To Grind

When I got back from the weekend I was almost astounded to read one of the headlines that was waiting in my Google reader:
"AK-46 had 20 goals last season, but too often fired blanks"
The positive energy of training camp, the freshness of a new season, the sudden flood of possible stories and a reporter comes up with this?

I can tell you, I didn't have to click on the link to know who had written it. The pot calling the kettle black (for Kostitsyn could probably respond about the reporters own season of stories in kind) was none other than the same guy who on hearing a report of Kostitsyn's quote in Belarus declared with immediate effect that he must go.

I wrote back then that it might do the guy some good to have a deeper look into things. But then I'd probably rather he set his priorities first on making sure to take a deeper look into ideas for stories or text to back up his inflammatory headlines before he dedicates too much time to stats crunching.

The story itself was pointless. It actually said nothing to back up the headline. Kostitsyn too often fired blanks, he said. The evidence? Didn't bother to include much -- a single sentence talking about goalless streaks for the 20 goal-man who played in 81 games (for those keeping track that means he couldn't have possibly scored in 61 games, the fact that some were back to back is hardly too surprising). The rambling piece instead re-reported news we'd heard a month before together with some re-hashed square peg quotes for the round hole premise.

I'd link the piece for you, but take my word for it, it's not really worth reading.

Besides, you're sure to read the same piece again and again from a multitude of sources by next Monday at the rate the grinding stone has been spinning.

A story missed

It's a shame too, because the blindness caused by grudge has left some real reporting by the wayside.

This morning I was surprised to see more links with the Kostitsyn name in my inbox. But this time, instead of the continuation of some bitter reporters agenda, it was a report on Andrei's brother Sergei and Ruslan Salei -- the training partner and mentor recently lost in the Yaroslavl air disaster.

Thinking about it and remembering the nonsensical questions that were asked of Andrei Kostitsyn on the day of a charity golf tournament, it today seems a shame that we don't have a reporter clued in enough to have asked the guy about the loss of a Belarussian teammate and mentor of his own. One must think that Andrei has thoughts on the matter as he like many friends of the tragically deceased players try to come to grips with the loss. What must he think of those who instead dwell on a newspaper report that they never read themselves?

Those of you that read this blog will know that it's no secret we like Kostitsyn. His skill tantalized us and we became early adopters as fans. I've often been puzzled by the dislike for the player who scores 20 goals in bunches like every 20 goalscorer must. But coming off last season, where Andrei improved his defensive play and took fewer penalties and largely took his assignments without a sulk and still looks top in many categories if you care to look into the stats, it felt like axes were being ground.

I would like to call for a better approach of reporting. I'd say put the axes away, but I don't mind strong opinions one way or the other, if I'm honest. I just feel I've had enough wasted clicks by big headlines that promise a meaty opinion and deliver lukewarm leftovers. High time to start backing up those big headlines.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Step Down Panic Stations

Yesterday a summer of building optimism came to a screeching halt. And it wasn't because the sun isn't there when the alarm goes off anymore.

Yesterday was the day we fist got corroboration that Andrei Markov is not perfectly healed.

Now, from what I've seen, every rosy scenario that places the Canadiens in a more favourable position to last season included a healthy Markov. Every scenario dismissing the loss of Hamrlik and Wisniewski because the returnees would fill the gap and more.

Now that those scenarios are showing this hole (filling with water on the knee, apparently), staunch optimists have been seen fleeing for the hills.

What I want to say to this is: be calm. All is not lost.

Last season, my good friend, who's had these ACL surgeries himself, and I spoke all the time about Andrei Markov and the sense in bringing him back for November. My position at the time was that the man healed fast, so why not. His that the healing takes time for everyone, so why rush?

He was right. The recurrence of injury in part due to the curtailed rehabilitation sessions.

Now a season on, Markov has learned his lessons. The Canadiens medical and hockey staff have learned their lessons. And we fans must too. Rushing the Russian talisman back is not a strategy that we want to toy with. Even if it means a few weeks of adjustment to pace and significant early season games lost to the lineup, a healthy Markov on return is better than a vulnerable one.

So the conservative approach is what we should be looking for. The conservative approach when we see it (such as yesterday) is something we need to celebrate with a big "phew, they won't repeat the same mistakes of the past."

I'm happy to see that our old pal Arpon Basu landed right on this philosophy in today's analysis. I'm hoping that others will come around.

That's one reason to be calm.

The other is simple arithmetic. If optimism of contention was brimming for Markov's brigade a couple of days ago, it should not suddenly be emptied to the dregs.

The task of the Montreal Canadiens for 6 months is to make sure they are among the top half of outfits on the Eastern side of the board. Contention comes later. If you have honest questions about whether the Habs will be able to make the playoffs without Markov for 20 games, 40 games or 80 games then you probably should have been asking honest questions about those thoughts on contention anyway. If you believe Markov takes the team from outsider to parade planners then you should probably also honestly ask a few questions about how much you remember Markov and what he can do for the team.

Andrei is a formidable player, the best overall package on the team by a margin at the moment. But he's one guy. He's one guy who plays 1/3 to 1/2 of the time at the best of times. Really the team will carry the load.

So step down panic stations. Optimism be tempered (it always should be) but not lost. Markov, his advisors and the Canadiens are doing this right this time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

If Gomez Were Gomez Apologist

Today, we have a "revelation" of a headline following Dave Stubbs interview with Scott Gomez:
Montreal Canadiens' Scott Gomez looking to bounce back this season
The interview, which I think is sold short by the obvious headline, is very interesting and candid. The interview got me thinking about Scott Gomez.

Thank goodness for instance that Scott Gomez doesn't count himself among those who seem to believe that Scott Gomez didn't do anything wrong last season (or rather did almost everything he could have to help the Canadiens). Those who would rely on the ever equitable waters of luck lapping once more on his shooting blade.
"Normally, Gomez would have charted a path directly home to Alaska, where he enjoys his family and the great outdoors.

Not this summer. He headed to New York and after about one week off he returned to the gym with a personal trainer."
This isn't a guarantee of change, but it's a sign that Scott took action to back up his end of year apology for his form. It's a sign that he's doing what he can (it's unlikely he'll learn to shoot like Ovechkin in this lifetime) to improve in areas of the game where he can. Perhaps he'll get more space at the end of shifts from better fitness, perhaps he'll win a few more battles for position. That in turn may be all the help he and his line needs to turn what were a lot of errant shots into dangerous chances this year.

If Gomez were an apologist for himself like so many, he'd have taken the summer off. He'd be confident in the knowledge that even lifetime 7% shooters won't shoot 4.5% forever. That guys who put up a positive Corsi number should win because they score more goals (at 5:5). He'd rely on his salary to guarantee management wouldn't demote him and his baseline skill to perform the basic duties of a centre better than all but one other available option.

No, Gomez isn't an apologist. He took his apology and did something about not having to issue another one.

The coin flip of shooting luck may well be on his side. But it's good to know he's not counting on it.

Note: I have apologised on Gomez's behalf in the past, but always believed that it was the lack of talent surrounding him that led him to his dead-ends on so many nights. I believe strongly that the option of five wingers ahead of Moen will help, but also that if he ends up playing with Moen or whoever ends up filling the "Pyatt" role again, he'll be looking for that apology speech regardless of Corsi sorting itself out or not.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Scouting, Not Denouement

I believe that I speak for a large number of fans whose main interest in these relatively unfamiliar names remains on their hockey abilities, more so than the years-long route taken to the Brossard arena this Monday.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't want to hear again about years past. I don't want to hear about how the guys feel (sorry, but it's predictably optimistic and thrilled). I want to know how they skated, passed, positioned themselves and shot.

It would be nice to get a scouting report before a life story. After a summer of manufactured stories, it would be a bit of sweet music to read about a slick deke or crisp passing play.

For the most part, the very capable observers are set back to default. The score is reported, the scorers and the story is peppered with quotes. I know that Alain Berger scored twice in a meaningless scrimmage, but most sites tell me little about the player we've been waiting months to see in a Canadiens uniform. Forget about the guys that did not score.

I know it's only been a day, and I would be the fiercest critic of anyone who wanted to read too much from 45 minutes of meaningless shinny, but it's been a really long time since we laid a path for Brutes to win a championship.

If like me you do want to know about how the guys play (all of them, not just favoured picks) then do yourself a favour and check out Dan's Daily Dose.

Dan is doing the diligence that we'd all love to do by attending the rookie camp. Not only that, he's also breaking free of the mould and delivering impressions on the players he is watching on the ice before him.

Yesterday, he didn't cover every player, but he did cover a lot more than anyone else. Moreover, where else are we going to hear that Palushaj didn't look so great or that Ian Schultz still exists.

It's a true breath of fresh air for the Habs fan who's waited a summer for skates to scratch ice and needs to look beyond coincidences to the mundane aspects of hockey like skating and skills. For the fan who wants to know and rate the chances that we'll ever hear these names again, there simply isn't a better way.

What I'm taking away

I'll begin by saying one day is far too soon to form full impressions. One scrimmage as insignificant as one NHL shift in the scheme of things. But even so, trends begin to form:

- Bournival started on the right foot. The plucky Quebecois is someone I'll keep my eye on for sure.

- If it takes baseline skill level to break through to the NHL then Gallagher might be the man. Can the Habs afford to start another small forward? Well that's another question altogether

- Berger is fascinating. Forget two goals. He is big and clearly kept up with his peers that were drafted. Let's count him in the bigger mix.

- Palushaj likely not destined for first line duty. Not to dismiss a player after a day, but let's be honest, we've seen him before and we all thought the same. If you don't stand out with lower level players, it's a rare thing to stand out with high level ones. That said, I already thought he could ably play on a fourth line, so should we care?

- Olivier Fortier injured again. The end of the road sign squarely in his rearview surely now?

- Louis Leblanc generates far too much fuss for what he is, especially on a first day of camp where he played in a diminished capacity and still got headlines

- Goalies? Anyone? Everyone realises that 3rd in line for the Canadiens crease is not really locked up right? Everyone remembers how for every season in recent memory the Canadiens relied on a goalie to take them wherever they went right? Over-the-top monikers aside, it would be nice to hear about someone, anyone that might grab a mantle.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Habs Newbies

Every year the Canadiens surprise us all with a list round about this time that includes a few names that we have not been considering or discussing.

This year, the Canadiens have invited a whopping 31 players to rookie camp. Several are former Bulldogs, others are draft picks and the rest are what I would consider to be newbies.

The chances of any of the 8 new guys overcoming preconceived rankings and very real gaps in quality to play on Bell Centre Ice during a season are slim. But even so, I thought it would be interesting to have a quick look into who these guys are:

1) Robin Gusse (G)
Robin is a young undrafted prospect of 18 years. He has made the QMJHL his home for the past few seasons. He was once the deemed starter in Chicoutimi and won "Defensive Rookie of the Year" in 2009-10, but lost his position last season to eventual first round pick Christopher Gibson. He was later traded to Rouyn-Noranda where he posted the best stats on a horrific defensive stats line (3.72 and 0.888).

He was on the national team's radar last season, being invited to the Canadian U18 training camp. He didn't make the final roster, of course. He did, however, play for Canada/Quebec at the Ivan Hlinka tournament for U17s the previous season.

Still young and obviously once highly touted, Gusse looks like he is a very worthwhile tryout. He may even win a spot on one of the farm teams in the relatively near future, which shouldn't surprise those that have been following the Canadiens goaltending depth charts.

2) Olivier Dame-Malka (D)

Invited to the earlier Canadiens development camp in June, Dame-Malka is an interesting find. He's a 21 year-old with 4 years experience in the Q. This past season, he really rocketed in production and came third overall in scoring for defencemen. 55 points over a season was good, but what certainly must have caught the eye was 9 goals and 19 points in 15 QMJHL playoff games this past season.

Those who watched the QMJHL playoffs say that he dominated the Montreal series and has a bomb from the point. At 5'10" there will be questions, 116 PIM could indicate that he can take care of himself, or just that he is always out of position defensively. We'll have to keep an eye.

3) Tony DeHart (D)

A second offensive defenceman with an invite. This guy was drafted once (125th overall by the Islanders in 2010), but is now apparently free to go his own way.

Two seasons ago he stormed the OHL with 50 points from the back end and followed it up this season with 30 points for the Oshawa generals. Like Dame-Malka he had an eye-catching stats line in the playoffs (12 points in 10 games).

Nobody seems to have that much else to say about him. So other than his size, stats and the fact that one team once thought he was worth using a draft pick on (15 months ago) is all we have to go on. Again, it's hard to see a player like this ever getting too far up the charts, but well worth a look.

4) Josh McFadden (D)

Guess what? Another offensive defenceman. Another nice stats line. This past season McFadden was third among defencemen in the OHL in scoring (after the two Ryans and ahead of Dougie Hamilton). From 4 goals and 30 points in 2009-10, he exploded for 19 goals and 72 points in 2010-11. The 6-0, 200-pound offensive defenceman improved his defensive play in the second-half of the season and led the Wolves power play to No. 1 in the OHL.

Sudbury made the playoffs and McFadden played well, but they weren't a powerhouse in the OHL. To put up those numbers on a team like that, I'm glad our scouts were paying attention, this could be interesting.

5) Jordon Southorn (D)

A local boy who used to play for Lac-St. Louis is also getting a look. His stats might look good on another day, but these first three guys really set a high standard. He's reputed to be strong and physical which is always good and has good feet. Unfortunately the killer line for a defenceman (needs to improve decision making) makes an appearance in his byline. The Bulldogs need help, however, so you never know.

6) Ben Winnett (F)

A former Leafs pick who was a scoring sensation in the BCHL in 2007. His fermentation in the NCAA hasn't gone as well as maybe it has for others, but he put up some respectable results with the Michigan Wolverines. He's played with Pacioretty and Pateryn and Bennett, so he's been there a while. He's apparently fast and beats his opponents with speed, but obviously not that much anymore. He looks like a depth forward. Perhaps a good hard-working one given his team's success while he attended Michigan.

7) Etienne Brodeur (F)

The undrafted local boy who led the QMJHL in goals scored. I treat him as this year's 8th round draft choice, though he doesn't yet have a contract. The reason he did not get drafted is predictable. He's small. but 53 goals in today's QMJHL speaks for itself and should put most qualms about size to rest. he can obviously deal with coverage and break it wide open.

In terms of exciting upside, I think this guy might be the diamond in the rough of the tryouts here. Of course, it's always important to see how a player adapts to the next jump in speed and intensity, the NHL, even the AHL is a long way from the Q.

8) Philip DeSimone (F)

Max Pacioretty's friend, former Sioux City linemate and 2011 training partner got his invite to camp and the scoop was to Max on twitter. DeSimone outscored Pacioretty in his USHL campaign, but has not kept pace since. Instead his career took him to New Hampshire (not Michigan) where NHL dreams are not as often made (Bobby Butler excepted). Still DeSimone had his number called on draft day and has dnone well enough to expect to see at least AHL time one of these days.

The downside for DeSimone with the Canadiens organzation, as I see it, is that he sees to be a playmaker. Not that I have anything against playmakers. However, the Habs have a few and probably a few more in the minors. He might have looked better with a big line of goals for UNH.

Still, he obviously has some pull with the organization through max and might extend his look through that alone. Given how exciting I thought Bobby Butler looked when I saw him play in person, I am not about to write off a UNH Wildcat right now.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Tragedy Affects All Hockey Fans

News of yesterday's tragic air disaster in the city of Yaroslavl, Russia hit hard.

A whole team's worth of players, coaches and managers claimed by the incident.

At first, one might have thought Yaroslavl was a far off place in a strange new league. But once we started to look deeper and hear the names that were claimed by the accident, it became clear to everyone that if you knew and loved hockey that someone you knew, many you admired were gone.

Brad McCrimmon was the only Canadian national, but Canadian hockey fans will be mourning the losses of players that excited and enchanted with their play in their local arenas and on their Saturday night broadcasts.

The Habs were not directly affected, but no one is spared. Many of the current Habs had former teammates and friends on that flight.

Erik Cole came up at the same time as Josef Vasicek in Carolina, they made two Cup finals together and were champions in 2006.

Plekanec and Spacek would have known him well from Czech international team duty, and they would know Karel Rachunek and Jan Marek well too.

Peter Budaj played with Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins (the two being traded for one another a few years ago) and would probably have revered Pavol Demitra as a captain, teammate and decorated countryman.

Andrei Kostitsyn lost a national team teammate in Salei, a Belarussian pioneer in the NHL.

Cammalleri played with Pavol Demitra on the west coast.

Gionta played with Rachunek in NJ.

Travis Moen too played with Salei in Anaheim.

Andrei Markov knows many of these young men from his time in Russian hockey and of course with his time spent with the national team. The same would be true of Alexei Emelin.

Bob Gainey and many of the RDS crew from the 1989 Habs will remember McCrimmon, as I do, as a fierce and worthy champion that extraordinary season.

Other connections, I'm sure I've missed. And of course most others would know these men as competitors and rivals.

And the other poor players who perished on the ill-fated flight are hockey players many of us never had a real chance to get to know before now. Some of them very young, and some of them with long distinguished careers in a parallel league and system to the ones we follow.

Such is the size of the web that connects everyone who loves ice hockey.

As commissioner Bettman said, though this was miles away from North America, it was ever so close to home on so many fronts.

Our thoughts are with all the families of the players, coaches and managers who lost their dear ones. Our thoughts are with the former teammates who try to deal with the grief and sorrow of losing so many close friends too soon.

The summer of 2011 has once again shown us how hockey and life can intersect in so many ways not always apparent to us. As the sensible and respectful JT put it:

"It comes down to the fact that hockey is entertainment. Sure, we want to win, and Canadiens fans perhaps want to win more than anyone. This summer, however, we have learned we cannot satisfy our vicarious thirst for victory through young men who are all too human. They are people, and through the miserable events of this summer, player and fan are perhaps more understanding of each other than they've ever been."

Important that we remember this as we prepare to embark on another season of thrills and spills.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ready For A Comedown?

Carey Price in 2011-12

You may all remember a time when Canadiens fans argued about the high ceiling of potential for goalies and the choices to be made in the organization.

That time has passed, but we should not forget the lessons that have been imparted on us simple fans by those who saw the future back then.

Good seasons we were told, great seasons, are not to be taken as signs of progression or as benchmarks. Rather we should be happy they occurred and get ready for the comedown.

I argued many times to the contrary in the past, but I have been humbled by witnessing the true trajectory that goalies who post a save percentage over the NHL average face. I will not be fooled into thinking this can be sustained again.

Carey posted a save percentage that we were told just last year was pretty much unsustainable. Those people were dead on about the Habs goalie who posted the unworldly 0.924? Is Carey immune to this argument? We were told that none were.

Carey played above expectation, saving more shots than would be expected based on NHL averages. This we have been told by statisticians talking on other goalies (and Gomez's opposite situation) can't continue. He's too far above and must come down.

The way I see it, as simple fans we need to just accept that a comedown is coming. We should again listen to all those voices we heard in seasons past. Can't you hear them now?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Laraque on

Hockey on the front page of CNN's website, we know something must be up.

Following the tragic loss of another player/former player before his time, the American juggernaut news corporation is turning to have a look in. As it happens, they look to the words of former Montreal Canadiens heavyweight and philosopher Georges Laraque.

I've said many things about Laraque and his place on the Montreal Canadiesn. But one thing I probably have never said enough is that I think the guy has sense, good sense. I call him a philosopher in the paragraph above not out of jest, but because every time we hear about Georges Laraque it is because of the ideas he is having, the ideas he's sharing. The man thinks things through and in many cases expresses things wonderfully.

In the shadow of recent NHL events, Georges has once again stepped to the fore and given us all a lot to think about. Take this quote for example:
"It's the night before, the day of the game, before it starts," he said. "It's the shivers that it gives you, the worry in the head and the brain. It's when you go to a movie and you can't watch it because you're thinking the next game about having to fight Derek Boogaard or someone like that. Or you don't feel well, but something happens and you have to go out there. ... It's that pressure that's nonstop that you live with."

Last night I saw former NHLer Jim Thomson say more or less the same thing on the news. It's a thought that until recently hadn't crossed my own mind, but upon hearing makes so much sense.

As Georges says, the dread of having to fight is the painful thing. More than the fighting itself.

I know it's not what Georges intended (he is sticking by the value of fighting mainly as a means to make a good living for people as himself), so I apologise to him for taking his words against his purpose. But I think there is a lot within what he expressed there, and within what Jim Thomson said last night, and within what I have heard round and about from others that shows us the way out of this situation.

It seems to me and to many others that the way fighting has gone in the NHL is wrong. Few are the honest moments of madness where Patrice Brisebois faces Wayne Gretzky, both feeling the red mist of the game's events. Instead, fighting in its more common form is that staged and even scheduled event. The Laraque vs. Belak bill, the McGrattan vs. Boogaard (both may you rest in peace).

If the dread of these staged fights is preying so heavily on the minds of the young men in the game. And, at the same time, the staged nature of the fights is turning off the amjority of the fans. Why on earth does the NHL not do something to eliminate staged fights altogether.

This is not to say that players like Belak, Laraque and others would not find employ in the league. But rather their primary function would be to play hockey, their secondary or tertiary function to protect a teammate who might get into trouble. When and if the situation arises.

Those good enough to play the game (as Georges was anyway for several years) would have their place. Hopefully their dread would not.