Showing posts with label Ryder. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ryder. Show all posts

Monday, May 06, 2013

Ottawa-Montreal Game #3:

Habs Have Trouble Scoring on Innocuous Shots, Sens Do Not


Date: 05/05/2013
Opponent: Senators
Location: Ottawa

Loss: 1-6

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Anderson (W)

Habs goalscorers: Bourque
Opposition goalscorers:Alfredsson, Pageau (3), Silfverberg, Turris

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Teams: How They All Did On DD13

As we sit here as Habs fans watching teams around us improve and bail out of a season, let's consider how each outfit did and how it might affect our team.

Trade 2013 Winners So Far

The Montreal Canadiens are still in the running for the biggest impact trade of 2013.

It wasn't the one yesterday, though if you'd told me in mid-slumber that they got that guy Drew-something from LA for picks, I might have thought otherwise. The trade that still stands is the one that brought in Michael Ryder for a second go-around with his goal every other game and 14 points in 15.

And it shouldn't surprise that a classic player for player trade be in the running for such a nod. One has to give a lot to get a lot. And Erik Cole was a lot.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Insert Headline:

The Spin and the Motive for the Erik Cole Trade

Canadiens unload Cole to the Stars.

Erik Cole has been traded to the Stars.

Erik Cole's contract traded to the Stars for UFA Michael Ryder.

Canadiens acquire Michael Ryder from Dallas.

Stars and Canadiens swap scorers.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Cole Shoulders High Expectations in Montreal

Two somewhat paranormal coincidences to report, one being my comment on Topham's Thursday post about my "dream signing" being Erik Cole; and him being signed hours later. The second is that I apparently agree with Jack Todd, for once. Eerie.

So why Erik Cole?

In my opinion, the biggest need for the Habs up front this off-season was clear: a proven top-6 winger with size. We've all talked before on many occasions about the need for a power forward, preferably a good winger to play with the albatross that is Scott Gomez. Someone who can battle in front of the net, and not have Andrew Leighton simply look over their heads if they set a screen. Someone who can score at least 20 goals a season; the more, the better. Having another RH shot among the forwards would also be a big plus, as only Gionta and Ryan White currently qualify.

Now, we knew we were fooling ourselves if we even dared think about Jaromir Jagr or Brad Richards; and wonder idly if there was ever any talk from head office to, say, the Sharks about Setoguchi or Pavelski when they were moved. The UFA pool was fairly shallow this year, so Montreal didn't have a lot of great choices. Once Philly wrapped up RFA Claude Giroux, the market consisted basically of Cole, Michael Ryder, and Jamie Langenbrunner.

Michael Ryder
We've been here before. Ryder was a Calder-nominated rookie for us back in 2003-04, scoring 25 goals and 38 assists. He had 2 straight 30-goal campaigns after the lockout, but a sub-par 2007-08 season (likely due to personal issues related to his brother) saw him benched by Carbonneau and left to free agency. He rebounded with Boston, scoring 27 goals and over 50 points again, but since has trailed off to 33 points last season and 41 this year despite around 15 minutes of ice-time. He's a proven scorer, and at 6' and 192 lbs is large for a Habs forward. Somehow I don't know that he'd welcome an offer from Montreal, nor that Montreal fans would be happy to have him back; and there's no guarantee he'll ever return to his 30-goal form. Dallas will pay him $3.5M per year for the next two seasons finding out.

Jamie Langenbrunner
The oldest of the trio at 35, Langenbrunner is a proven 2-way forward that's won two Cups (one with Dallas in 1999, and one with New Jersey in 2003). He fit in well with New Jersey's conservative style of play and Jacques Martin would probably love him for it. He's scored 20+ goals 4 times in 16 NHL seasons and twice came within 2 goals of the mark; and has 6 seasons with 50+ points. He's got good size at 6'1" and 205 lbs. Given that he's still unsigned, I'm left wondering why - he would have likely been a decent addition to many squads and his last contract was only worth $2.8M/yr. I am guessing Pierre Gauthier talked to him, but the fact he's still unsigned makes me think there's something a little fishy.

Erik Cole
At 32 years old and beginning his 10th NHL season, Cole has had his problems with injuries with an astonishing 86 games missed since the lockout. However, he's managed to clear 50 points 4 times in that span, and score 20+ three times (with another 18-goal season). However, he doesn't seem to play well with people who aren't Hurricanes: he had a pretty disastrous 27 points in 63 games with the Oilers in 2008-09 before returning to Carolina to put up 15 points in a mere 17 games. Still, he can be productive while playing tough minutes against hard opposition, and was one of only 5 players to score over 25 goals and deliver over 200 hits last season.

I reasoned that we need a big, RH winger that can hit and score. To me, Cole was the best choice. I think he's the biggest offensive threat of the three, he uses his size and at 6'2" and 205 lbs he's far from small. If he can stay healthy, and he did play 82 games last year, I don't think it's unreasonable to think he can put away another 25 goals and help Gomez pull his numbers up to reasonable levels - but I'm expecting a fair amount of line-juggling from Jacques Martin early on and the lines might not be what we're expecting. I was hoping to sign him for a little less than $4.5M for 2-3 years, but he'll be 37 at the contract's end and not exactly ancient. The reality is that we have to pay a premium to get players from the US that would rather not pay Canadian and Quebec taxes.

Maybe less like a "dream signing," and more like a realistic one. I guess I don't dream very big. But if Cole stays healthy, I think he can be the physical 25-goal scorer we could use so badly; and it least it's a dream that has a chance of coming true.

Let us know in the comments who I missed, and who you would have rather seen putting on the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge this past weekend.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Game #1-4

When You Miss That Many Chances, What Do You Expect?


Date: 21/4/2011
Opponent: Bruins
Location: Montreal

Loss: 4-5 (OT)

Habs Goalie: Price (L)
Opposition Goalie: Thomas (W)

Habs goalscorers: Sopel, Cammalleri, Kostitsyn, Subban
Opposition goalscorers: Ryder (2), Ference, Bergeron, Kelly

Play of the game

Price made an incredible save on Boychuk in the third. He was sprawled out, at at the Bruins' mercy, all they had to do was shelf the puck, but Carey out-waited him and snagged what could have been a very deflating goal. In turns out that they did tie it up and they, of course, did win it, but at the time this was crucial and, all in all, it was our nicest play on the night.

Dome hockey team

The 6 players we're playing in a no changes, do or die contest in the dome


Andrei Kostitsyn
Andrei was our second best forward all night long. He competed for the puck, took a lot of shots and had a lot of chances. I didn't see one bad play and saw a lot of good out there. I am, therefore, amazed that 5 other forwards played more than him, including Travis Moen who, I think, is lucky to even be playing at all right now. Kostitsyn needs to see more ice as he is becoming a key to this series. Oh ya, he scored a fantastic goal.

Michael Cammalleri
- Game Puck
Mike had 3 points and scored a goal, but wasn't the main contributor on any of those goals. That shows how one can get points, but not necessarily be playing their best. In his case, however, he did have a decent game beyond the points and, quite frankly, no one else stepped it up any more; although the other forwards in the dome came very close.

David Desharnais
The rookie had a great game tonight, one of his best, and was the main reason that we scored our first goal. He played well enough tonight to warrant a little more than 11 minutes. In fact, if we aren't going to get off our high-horse (Martin) and give Pouliot a chance it may be time to put Desh on the wing beside Gomez and give him 5-8 more minutes per game. A re-think of how to group forwards #6-12 wouldn't go amiss as I think we are being beat in that regard. No problems with the top 5.


PK Subban
This is bittersweet as I didn't think that PK had one of his better games. The main reason that he is in here is that I didn't really like what I saw from Sopel, Spacek, Wiz or Hammer. At least PK scored the go-ahead goal and wasn't on the ice for any goals against. I didn't, however, like his poor line-change in OT (Moen is more to blame, however) and how he was trying way too hard to be the hero on the late PP rather than trying to distribute the puck.

Hal Gill
20 minutes, +1 and not on the ice for any Bruin goals are good stats to sport. I also felt that he played a strong game and didn't make too many mistakes. If I could change one thing, however, it would be that he would take low, hard shots on net instead of going for the weak-wristers every single time.


Alex Auld
Price wasn't the reason that we lost and is the main reason that we have 2 wins in this series, but after 5 goals on 35 shots I would have to try to shake things up. We blew 1-0, 3-1, 4-3 leads and the whole team must have a look at themselves. I am sure that he will rebound and I hope that it only gets better from here. My one other hope is that the Bruins don't start going glove-side all of the time because I think that may still be an area of relative weakness for him.


We started well, but you knew that Boston wouldn't just lie down. So, more of those early chances had to go in. That is where we miss a guy like Pacioretty as I am sure he would be able to score about half of Moen's great chances. Beyond the offence, though, how about our D? Our solid, shut-down style was not on display tonight, no, instead we looked confused and made too many mistakes. It wasn't just our defencemen either, it was our whole team defence. We did play a decent game, when you look at it on a whole, and it is nice to be tied at 2 after 4, but if you break it down little, by little one would expect more of a team that was up 2-0 in games and 3-1 in goals tonight. As upsetting and disappointing as it is, however, we must forget it and start anew in Boston. What has happened has happened and it is important to focus on winning the next game, the new all-important game. We can look at whys and hows and who to blames, heck, we can even ask why Chara is allowed to fully obstruct in OT (I guess the refs have no problem with cheating affecting the outcome, so long as it is not them), but at the end of the day that won't get us anywhere. It is a frustrating game, with frustrating opponents and officials, but we all love the Habs enough to look beyond that and do what it takes to take game #5. Good luck everyone.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stanley Cup 2011, Round One

Key Bruins Players

The Bruins haven't won anything yet, except maybe the hearts and minds of the reporters who would never choose Montreal anyway.

If they are to beat Montreal, I'd expect some of these players to be key.

Nathan Horton

I wonder if Floridians trotted out the 2003 draft every time they saw Horton play. Heaven knows they could have. After all, all the same players were taken after him as Andrei Kostitsyn, but you could add 7 more.

Essentially Horton is a second fiddle, which is not what you want from a 3rd overall pick, but it suits Boston 8 years later just fine. Still, if Boston hope to dominate anything, their top line will have to be there for them. 26-goal man Horton will have to be there in his first playoff games ever after 500 inconsequential match-ups.

Tomas Kaberle

Kaberle is key for so many reasons. For one thing, he is the second defenceman on the team for a PP that will need to fire. For another thing, he represents the lot that has been thrown in for this playoffs, as a first rounder and another recent one made their way to Toronto.

Kaberle wasn't excellent since the trade from TO, but he has been excellent many times before against the Canadiens. It will be up to the Czech to take the load off Chara, who already has to carry most of the defending and Big Badness mantle. If Kaberle can't help Zdeno on the PP, neutral zone regrouping may be the least of the Bruins worries.

Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron looked like he might win me my pool this year. Ultimately, he ended up costing me in the end. One goal and a few points to close the season was poor. In fact, take away his Christmas to All-Star break flourish, and he's not outshining Gomez by as much as his numbers suggest.

And it won't be a surprise that Marchand and Recchi go down with their centre, just as they followed him in the season.

Patrice has the ability to be a playoff performer, as he's shown it in the past. But like Gomez, it won't be enough to live on reputation, a turnaround for the Bruins team will provide them the two lines they use to vaunt their depth.

Adam McQuaid

One of the potential greenhorns at the back end, he's impressed against the Canadiens with his grit and even his scoring on a couple of occasions. But that was a couple of regular season games we're talking about.

How McQuaid fares, or Kampfer, or whoever is D #6 will be critical to the Bruins, because a counterattack offense is not kind to weak links.

From what I've seen so far, I'd also mark him down as a temper risk. Playoff hockey can bring out some intense moments, and a series like Boston:Montreal is far worse in that regard. A young hothead sounds like a good idea on paper, but one can also tip a series the wrong way for his team if discipline is lost.

Michael Ryder

A player like Michael Ryder is currently keeping the highly touted Tyler Seguin (he that was nearly picked ahead of Taylor Hall for playoff/grit reasons) on the bench.

We've seen this from Julien before, when he benched Phil Kessel for being too talented as he watched his team lose to Carey Price without being able to score.

If Michael Ryder plays really well, he could be a thorn in Montreal's side. If he plays moderately well, however, he could do Montreal a big favour by staying in the lineup and costing Boston in their ultimate offensive potential. And if he plays badly too soon, he could inadvertently help his team by making the right lineup choice so much clearer.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Deal Or No Deal?

The Canadiens are a good team on the verge of being a consistently good team. Good goalie, good defensive system (as long as the players don't tire) and a decent attack spread over multiple players.

What recent injuries have reminded us once again, however, is that much of this recipe for success is finely balanced on the optimal group of players, and once a player or two is removed the structure begins to teeter.

Originally, many people would have believed that removing Markov from the lineup would cause serious damage to the base of the team. While the damage was not outwardly showing for a few games, it's clear now that damage has been done. Without Markov, the Canadiens ability to absorb the effects of injury are diminished. So much ability wrapped in a single uniform will do that. Evidence, down goes Gomez, down goes PP, down goes attacking resilience.

The Markov injury is that it is a certainty for the rest of the year. Some people see that as unfortunate, while others look to it as a window of opportunity. Indeed, the knowledge that salary added will not have to be removed with a return from injury does make things easier. Yet, this is not perhaps a situation one wishes to find themselves in. Nevertheless, the Canadiens do have the cap space (relief, actually) to add up to Markov's salary for the length of his absence. Because he is heftily reimbursed, this means that options abound.

Trade Options

If Spacek is injured for any more than 5 games or so, then it may be that the needle will be pointing to critical on Pierre Gauthier's line-up gauge, and that he has to move swiftly, with something more than a Bulldog call up to amend the course of his club.

Let's, for the sake of a bit of lively discussion, assume that this is the case. Assume that Gauthier must now be stirred to replace Markov after a month of dawdling.

This morning, to appease my curiosity, I went through NHL rosters and made a list of candidates of potentially available, as well as somewhat feasible, trade options.

I'm not sure if you've ever watched "Deal or No Deal". Hopefully not for your sakes. It's an on-air lottery where the contestants are led to believe over half an hour that they are doing something other than picking numbers out of the air. Strategy game it is not, despite what the pointless banter on the show (aimed at who exactly?) tries to lead viewers to believe.

After looking through the rosters with a critical eye, this is the position I believe Pierre Gauthier to be in. Basically, the players likely to be available to him at this time are like numbered red boxes – all available for his choosing, yet with chance of heroic outcome side by side with risk of the 1 penny return.

The potential rewards

In the player shaped boxes lie the following:

- A player who will score 20 goals for the Canadiens and complete their top 2 lines
- A defenceman who will restart the PP and do no damage to the defensive equilibrium
- A few players who will play 10 games before demotion to Hamilton
- A couple of players whose undisclosed injuries will limit ice time to a few games
- A player who can steady the defence and take some load off Hamrlik and co.
- A player who can springboard Eller to offensive contribution
- Several players who can make Gomez plumb new depths
- Multiple players who will be talked about as the worst trade ever

Anyway, you get the point. There's good options out there. But they are hidden amongst other options, all of whom look just as promising with the lid closed.

Let's play

Looking at the mystery packages around the league, I came up with the following list whereby I narrowed risk and saw greatest hope for gain. You will notice, for the sake of not obstructing a Markov deal, one year left in contract is a pretty big condition.

Michael Ryder

One year remaining on contract, possibly available for little (see Bruins cap situation), 14 goals in worst season, 30 goals in best

Alexei Ponikarovsky
One year remaining in contract, 20ish goalscorer, big

Alexei Kovalev
One year remaining in contract, definitely available (probably for very little), can shoot, history of PP proficieny

Chuck Kobasew
One year left in contract, has scored 20 goals in the past (3 times), possibly available for little

Scottie Upshall
One year left on contract, one-time prospect getting on, potential outbreak one day?

Tomas Kaberle

One year left on contract, Leafs in desperate need of draft picks

Niclas Wallin

One year left in contract, probably not in Sharks long-term plans

Kevin Bieksa
On year left in contract, Canucks cap situation and wealth of offensive D-men (maybe they want to acquire a player for another position but don't have the space?)

Trevor Daley
One year left on contract, Dallas in dire financial straits?

Other forwards: Alexander Frolov, Cory Stillman, Nikolai Zherdev, Radek Dvorak, Chris Clark, Todd White

Other defencemen: Sami Salo, Sean O'Donnell, Chris Phillips, Eric Brewer

You can only pick one box, so who will it be?

A veritable rogue's gallery, I know. There are some players there we've been glad to see the back of before. Yet of those on contracts that won't strangle the team this summer and beyond, they do stand out as having some potential reward for risk.

If Toronto or Boston would do the trades, then I think Kaberle and Ryder would probably present the nest options (A first for Kaberle? The way Gauthier behaved last June, I'm not sure it's a bad deal). Yet, the asking price may be higher, which is a risk in itself.

Beyond these, I'd probably like Gauthier to investigate with the Kings and Stars, even knowing that they may not be dealing wingers or fairly affordable competent Dmen. Again, asking price might be a stone around the neck in years to come.

Deal or No Deal is hard...

Yet, this is the game when trading from a position of relative weakness – the potential to acquire baggage is fairly high. It's a fool's game really. Just like picking numbers on red boxes. Yet it might be a game that our GM is compelled to now play.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pawning Kessel:

Habs Rivals Equalize Talent Levels

A few weeks ago I wrote with glee about the way the Bruins were playing with fire as they looked set to lose Phil Kessel. Well, it's done now, they've gone and lost him – albeit with some hefty compensation.

On the other side of the trade sit the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose GM decided that 4 months was enough time to rebuild a non-existent farm system and has given up on drafting in the first round for a few years.

Who won the trade?

Well, technically, Toronto did. They got a 22-year-old 36 goalscorer for 3 chances at landing an 18-year-old future 36 goalscorer. When you consider Toronto's actual drafting record, where promising (to be adequate) defenceman Luke Schenn stands out as a beacon of excellence, then Burke looks even more like a genius.

Ridiculing the Bruin aside, Kessel is a big fish to land for anyone. And should he continue to produce anywhere near the level he has so far for the next decade of his career, then this is a massive move for the Leafs. Even if he simply maintains his 2008-09 production for the next 5 years, this trade is a win for Burke.

I say Burke because Kessel is an asset to the new GM, while those 3 draft picks likely never would have been. If an average GM has a lifespan of 5-6 years, then Brian Burke is right to concern himself with what will be happening in that term.

Burke won, Kessel won, but did Toronto?

This question is harder to answer. The consensus opinion seems to be that the answer to this question is still up in the air and probably will be right until the end of next season when we can see how Kessel plays and how those draft picks fall in the order.

An optimist would say that Toronto landed a marquis player and someone to anchor their youthful offense for years. Someone with a more pessimistic (even realistic) slant on things may say they pulled out of the rebuilding mode very prematurely. Because nothing very positive happened until the 2008 draft, the Leafs essentially landed Schenn and Kadri along with a few college alums (who are getting far too much shine put on them from Burke, after all they’re all glorified Brock Trotters).

Yes, technically the Leafs did add young talent, but not to be missed is that teams like Pittsburgh and Washington already have better young talent, and the Islanders and Thrashers have added better talent than the Leafs. By pulling up light on the rebuild, has Burke taken a perennial 8th place battler and made another perennial 8th place battler? He certainly has risked that on Kessel’s progress.

Boston lost, but not this week

Though Toronto must be winners here, to say Boston lost this trade is disingenuous. They lost a long time ago when they priced Kessel out of their salary structure, yes. But to them Kessel had flown, so any return was welcome. To turn any return into two potentially very high first rounders and a second.

If I were a Bruins fan, (after patting myself on the back 300 times) I would be happy with my GM in so far as the trade goes. After all, Kessel was lost. He could have been lost to the Hurricanes or the Penguins, but instead Chiarelli squeezed a extra first pick out of it – and made sure the picks came from a pretty average-to-bad team (not a conference contender, even with Kessel).

The fact remains for Bruins fans, however, that their team is worse by a fair distance today than it was 4 months ago. Gone is the only innately talented goalscorer on the squad. Left is the hope that Ryder will repeat his very best, Wheeler will somehow develop and Lucic will be more than a teenager obsessed with creating a reputation for himself. It’ll be tough. The ripples of no Kessel will be felt, and the likelihood of a 30-odd game point streak happening again is slim.

Rivals are winners too

Rivals of these two teams are on balance also all winners. As mentioned, the Bruins are worse, and will have trouble repeating as they try to milk perfection from Thomas and Krejci again. Toronto are better, but being bad to begin with means they’re still well in the mix.

The biggest winners here are probably the Caps and the Penguins, who both now stand head and shoulders above their Eastern rivals in scoring and explosive potential. Teams like the Hurricanes and Devils also win as they now boast equal, if not greater talent to the Black and Gold.

Finally, teams in the Northeast will benefit from a Boston that’s more beatable and a lot easier to defend against for everyone. It should offset an extra Toronto win as a result of Kessel’s 60 games. The Habs among them, who never cared what Toronto looked like anyway (and would always allow 6 goals an outing to them), will like that Boston won’t have a player that can pick on Carey Price’s weak glove at will – perhaps a season sweep isn’t on the cards again this year.

The Mike Cammalleri effect

After famously failing to land his Toronto phenom on draft day, Brian Burke must surely have been looking to do something with his forward group on July 1 (else he's a much worse GM than even I thought). Rumours at the time led one to believe that the focus from Toronto's end would be turned towards Ontario native Mike Cammalleri.

Well we all know who won that race. But perhaps what we didn't appreciate at the time was the effect that it would have on our divisional rivals.

But Cammalleri is older you say?

Well yes he is. However, both he and Kessel are signed to 5-year contracts, not lifetime ones. Both have already shown their willingness (or drive) to change teams and neither looks like a lifelong anything. So when it comes down to it, the fact that Cammalleri might be 32 when his contract retires and Kessel 27 is pretty meaningless. Both will be playing some of their prime years with the teams as 30-goalscorers with aspirations of more.

Consider for a second that July 1 Brian Burke delivers 39-goal man Cammalleri to his team's faithful. He would have upgraded his forward corps (just as with Kessel), but for free. Burke would have retained his draft picks.

Instead, Gainey signs Cammalleri and creates the need in Toronto for Kessel (credit to those who signed Havlat, Hossa and Gaborik as well). His quick action for once on July 1, has led us to this trade where two division rivals both make significant sacrifice and take on risk. What Toronto is rejoicing over now could have been had for free two months ago. By creating the need for Kessel in Toronto, other GMs (including Gainey) also ensured that Phil’s lasting desire to depart would be met by a willing bidder – thereby ensuring Boston would be a weaker team this season.

Perhaps it wasn’t all as calculated as that. Whether it was or wasn’t, that is what has now happened. That is what we can now quietly smirk about.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beating The Bruins

Remembering What Habs Knew So Well

Last season, thanks to Montreal, the Bruins were a middling regular season club. Last year, thanks to the Canadiens, the Bruins were a first round eliminee. This year, the Bruins have another fate on their minds, and barring a collapse of Ottawaian proportions, they have already surpassed middling. But can the Habs remember a bit of the spellbinding trickery that won them 8 of 8 meetings with their most vicious rivals?

Boston has some astonishing numbers so far this year, so maybe their biggest weakness for the second half will be the law of averages. Take Blake Wheeler and David Krejci's shooting % for example (whose numbers have both started falling since I started researching this): over 20% is unsustainable for even the Ovechkins of the world. Reason says they can't go on shooting at over 20% forever. History tells us scoring streaks like theirs sometimes, but rarely last a whole season – only 2 players topped 20% last season: Mike Ribeiro (who lucked out a whole season at 25%) and Brad Boyes; the next guys were at 18%. Take their goaltenders, both have inordinately high save percentages at the moment. Are they the best tandem of all time, or have they saved their bad goals and sub .900 games for the end of the season?

A real weakness that Boston has is their comeback ability. Someone who wants to impress you will tell you that Boston has only trailed 13 times after the first period and 8 times they have come back from the deficit to win. But I also noticed that the Bruins have not once come back from a deficit at the second intermission. In 7 games (I admit that's impressive), they are 0-6-1.

It's hardly a game plan to say: let's score lots of goals and have a lead at the end of 2 (although it is genius Julien's plan). Yeah, no kidding. However, consider teams top teams like Detroit and San Jose come back after the second nearly 40% of the time. The Habs themselves have rescued 5 wins and an OTL from 14 deficits (0.357). It tells me that if you can get them down, you get get them out of their game, out of their comfort zone.

In a game strategy, I'd make sure that every battle you can win, you win. They are a team that has had things their own way and clearly don't like it when they don't. Score first, score early. Check Chara, expose the others. Take the game to them and don't let them bring it to you.

I saved this article from a week ago about a strategy for beating the Bruins. It was written after a couple of losses about a team that you would have thought from the tone was unbeatable:
"A dastardly plan that will frustrate and eventually defeat the high-powered Bruins attack, and leave their scoring machine in the shop for repairs. Granted, not every team has the talent or discipline or chutzpah to implement Operation Beat the Bruins but teams with enough scoring skills — or grit – to get a lead and a good enough goaltender could do it."

It talks sense, even if it does over-exaggerate the risks of playing in Boston.

Lessons should be easy to come by for the Habs when it comes to beating this Bruins team. Each game last year speak to the same kind of stuff at that article and the fact the Bruins don't like to be out of the driver's seat:

Game 1, we pounded them early and they laid down to take the punishment
Game 2, we did it with defence; but also scored 2 before they could show up
Game 3, we gave them a complex by trading goals for 2 periods before burying them under 25 shots and 3 straight killer goals
Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 we scored first and never gave the Bruins a sniff of victory
Game 8 was the first the Bruins made a contest of it. We toyed with them and took it in a shootout

Over these 8 games, the Bruins never led the Habs. Not for a minute. And, with the exception of Game 5 in the playoffs, the Bruins never came back from a deficit to win against us last season – that was 12 victories for us out of 13 where we took a lead.

They are the team that needs a strategy, methinks. Probably something beyond the genius tactics of a man who twice got himself shipped out from a team who would make the playoffs:
“I think for every team, every game, we talk about [scoring first] and getting an early lead and taking control of the game.”

– Claude Julien

And besides, is this year's Bruins team so different anyway?

Not on paper they aren't. Wins and stats-wise they are worlds apart. But really, let's see. Even Chuck Kobasew looked like a scorer once down there. Time and reality will make us better judges of this Boston hockey outfit.

We must acknowledge they have learned and improved somewhat – for they have beaten the Canadiens twice already, and got points in all three meetings. However, their embarrassing displays against us last season were unnatural. What's more, they are still a team with weaknesses (as per this pseudo-Bruins fan), such as unorthodox goaltending:
Another puzzling part of the picture is Boston's goaltending. Tim Thomas has a 2.08 GAA and .933 save percentage, which defy explanation. Thomas (and most Boston fans would agree) has atrocious positioning and lacks basic fundamentals. Yet, Like Dominic Hasek, he makes the save, no matter how ugly.

And average defence:
A puzzling aspect is Boston's defense, which has remained largely the same since last year. Zdeno Chara is still woefully incompetent with the puck in his own end, and Andrew Ference, Shane Hnidy, Matt Hunwick, Matt Lashoff, Mark Stuart, Dennis Wideman, and Aaron Ward round out what would otherwise be a group of very average defensemen.

Add to that injuries to players like Bergeron, Kessel, Sturm and even Lucic, and they will have to be superhuman to repeat their 62 points from the next half season. The quiet Habs can catch this team as it settles back into Bruins 2008. Let's start tonight.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Story Of A Lost Love

When We Fell Out of Love With Higgins

Do you ever regret taking something too far? Thinking that perhaps other people didn't quite understand that your gibes were merely tempered love and not simmering hatred?

Sometimes throw away comments can have this effect. I remember a few times in my life where I have said a couple of critical things about a person in passing and in the heat of the moment, that I then spent months trying to repair later. Words whether misinterpreted or not, never reflected a true opinion I held. Sometimes those words can go on to propagate negative sentiment about that person. Sometimes there's personal regret. I fear I may have done the same thing with our friend Chris Higgins...

Not really, I'm not actually having a delusion of grandeur. I merely needed an intro for this piece. I do think someone probably said something similar (I'd like to know who) because Chris Higgins, in the space of one short year (actually far less) has gone from media and fan darling to (by and large) a nearly forgotten and cast-aside man.

The Rise of Christopher Higgins
The ascendancy of Higgins is an interesting story. He was a first round pick and all, but never regarded as a sure fire prospect, even on the day he was drafted. Oh sure, we were fed all the same tripe we hear every time the Canadiens choose a player whose stats are not mind-blowingly impressive from a lesser league we can't relate to – he was to be a two-way forward and a leader (they should buy that, right?).

He spent the next year at Yale University again, in relative hockey obscurity (as far as Montrealers are concerned) and went about his business without anyone bothering him too much. Looking back, it is easy to say now that he showed great promise, and the Habs must have thought so. But the truth is we didn't know what 20 goals in the Ivy League hockey meant very much in NHL terms. After all, Yale isn't and hasn't been a massive hotbed for NHLers over the years (Jeff Hamilton anyone?).

But impressed the Canadiens brass he did. In a time when Habs prospects were more likely to be ending their careers in Europe than achieving any milestones, Higgins was an exception. He led his team in scoring, was among the top 6 scorers in his league, was a star on the US National team, MVP of the ECAC and his team and a finalist for two prestigious American hockey awards, the Herb Gallagher (top player in New England) and the Hobey Baker award (top player in US College hockey). In other words, there was more to this guy than stats.

The next year Higgins would forego the rest of his Ivy League education to sign with the Canadiens and give professional hockey a go around. As pro rookies go, he had a good season. He put up some goals and assists and even got a couple of NHL games under his belt – remembering that time now, I remember liking the fact we had a prospect that didn't play like Jason Ward. Really, though, it was the lockout season that was Higgins' breakout. This report from mid-way through the season spoke of his adapting to all the NHLers then in the league, but also gave him top-3 prospect billing with potential for first line winger (for the first time). It is worthy of note that he did turn things around later that year and scored more goals while playing a bigger role on the team. He was even selected Bulldogs Player of the Year that season.

His ascendancy entered its final stage the next year, during his rookie season in the NHL. Starting well enough, it was when he found himself thrust onto the top line with Saku Koivu and Michael Ryder to end the regular season that things really began to take off. In the final 25 games of the season, when the Canadiens were in the midst of yet another playoff push, Higgins picked up the torch and ran with it. He netted 16 goals in those final 6 weeks and built himself a huge fan base in the process. He was clutch, he was exciting, he was perfect.

Honeymoon over
The honeymoon would continue for Higgins over the entire following season and the beginning of the next. But, strangely, it all ended. When? It's hard to pinpoint. But it was certain when one of the two untouchable players became the number one chip in every fan-generated trade rumour coming out of forums in February.

The fall was not ugly, nor was it sudden. Perhaps that's how Higgins went from hero number one to peripheral in the minds of fans across the city.

The evidence of this fall, for me, is for all to see now. Last season we could not move for quotes from Higgins. We heard about what he ate in the summer, how many stretches he learned, when he saw himself becoming captain, how he would change the team. everyone wanted to know what Higgins was thinking about everything. He was the "it" boy of Fall 2007 and it showed. In contrast, we had this fall where Higgins showed up to camp with little fanfare, played the same way he always did, and then got injured.

What on earth happened?
The truth is, I have no real idea (well maybe a couple...)

As I related in my intro, there were some people during all that mega-hype of "future-captaindom" who were trying to cool things off a bit (myself included). I can only speak for myself really, but I remember on several occasions questioning whether there was a 40-goalscorer there, even when he was on 60-goal pace.

These negative comments probably had little to do with anything. But certainly, once the prophecies of another 25-30 goal season started to look more realistic some time around the end of December, it is possible fans who never harboured ill-will to Higgins before began to buy what we had been selling (i.e., reality).

I also harbour the personal theory that someone inside the team had a little sit-down with the human quote machine last season – probably some time when his mouth was much more productive than his stick. This would certainly explain why we don't hear as many Higgins quotes coming through. And I think it would probably contribute to a bit to his fall down the media darling pecking order.

Frankly though, I think there's something more. I think it probably has something to do with Chris Higgins' timing. After all, it was his once-fortuitous timing took him form rookie fourth liner to first line hero as he played a massive part in games during the final quarter of the schedule. The opposite effect was true last year, where Higgins scored 13 goals in the first 31, 11 over the next 49 and then when things were all signed sealed and delivered got 3 in the last 2 games.

Perceptions you see are a funny thing. And Montreal has always been a bit "What have you done for me lately?" with their heroes (ask Kovalev, Koivu, Huet, Lafleur even). The perception that 25-30 goals would not suffice after teasing us with 40 was palpable by the end of last season. It was also heightened by Ryder's similar problems and the appearance of four new darlings Kostitsyns, Kovalev (again) and Plekanec. The fact we won more when Higgins was scoring less and making just as important contributions to the team overall escaped most people. He was no longer the golden child, just the second line winger.

And this year has started the same way last year ended. Higgins, at the moment, apart from showing up in injury updates now and again is being largely overlooked. No one seems that concerned because we still have Kostitsyn and the wonder line from last season and the French Connection with Koivu has also applied ample distraction.

Recalibration needed
Though I certainly didn't like the media hoopla around Higgins last September, I would never have wanted his popularity to slump to this point. I feel it is my place now, then, to remind everyone what a thoroughly good player he can be, and is.

Perhaps we'll never love Higgins as fully as we did before, perhaps we still can. Perhaps Chris will never score 40 goals now, perhaps he'll pull it off. I don't think either matters. I could go on about what he's proven already, about his skating or his nous in both zones (but I think I did enough of that). What it comes down to for me really is just a few things I know about Chris that are unlikely to change:

1) In battles he never gives up, he seems to battle for a few seconds longer than his opponents – a winner of the puck

2) He cares about winning – a lot

3) He is still an absolute bargain in this league at his rate of pay

You need players with those qualities to win the Cup. You need them desperately in the playoffs. Someone who doesn't relent, who overcomes shadowing, who works out ways through the defence when the going gets tough.

And with Chris, I just have a feeling there will be a night one May, soon, where all the hopes of 40-goal seasons gone amiss will be forgotten as he jumps up and down in celebration of a seventh game OT winner.

That's the type of player we have here. He's always had that look about him.

(For those of you who read French, I should give a nod to En Route Pour La Coupe for their piece on Higgins too. In different ways, I think we're speaking the same language...)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Game #4

Habs Gift the Bruins a Single Point While Playing With Fire

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Wednesday October 15th, 2008
Opponent: Boston Bruins
Venue: Bell Centre, Montreal, QC

Team Stripes

Habs starting goalie: Carey Price (W)
Opposition starting goalie: Tim Thomas (L)

Habs goalscorers: Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Maxim Lapierre, (Alex Tanguay - SO)
Opposition goalscorers: David Krejci, Marc Savard (2)

Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

Our second goal was the result of hard work by our whole top-line and came at the perfect time. As I think back to the goal now it doesn't strike me as spectacular, but more so as necessary. It was a total team effort which was great to see as that is obviously what wins you games. Great fore-checking by Tanguay, Koivu and Latendresse put the Bruins on their heels. Great zone possession by Ryan O'Byrne allowed an otherwise dead-play to continue. The end result was a Latendresse scoring chance at the foot of the net followed by Koivu potting his first of the year in on a juicy rebound.

Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Andrei Markov
What stood out about Marky tonight was his defensive play. In the first two periods especially he was constantly breaking up Boston chances. His long reach and excellent positioning made him a near impossible obstacle for any Bruin to get around. His puck movement and offensive play were also on display tonight which was evident with his 2 assists.

Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...


Saku Koivu
I thought the skipper had a great game. So far this year I have noticed more jump and more creativity and that was best on display tonight. Seeing Ryder at one end and Tanguay at the other made me realize just how different those two players are and how much better off Saku is now. He was very good in the offensive zone as he was creating plays the same way he was last year in the playoffs. He basically controlled the offensive zone when he was on the ice.

Guillaume Latendresse
Gui can finally keep up with his linemates and he is now an exciting player to watch. He still needs a lot of work in his own end, but for the first time in his career he is no longer the worst skater in the NHL. He added a lot of power to Koivu's line and did a good job at retrieving pucks. His shot and touch around the net led to an assist tonight, but expect more goals to come from similar situations.

Alexei Kovalev
Kovalev was rewarded early in the game for his great moves and vision with his second of the year. His goal was proof that not all goals from him will be pretty, but then again, showed how soft his hands are. A lot of players would have had trouble potting the goal that he did, he once again made it look easy. I thought he skated very well tonight and was an overall offensive threat.


Andrei Markov
Komisarek did not play a good game, but thank goodness his partner did. Andrei just keeps getting better and better and it seems like no matter what trouble his teammates get him into he will find a way out. He was so calm and poised in his own end that I think Boston lost hope for a good portion of the game. Take him off the ice and it is a different story. Why do you think Carbo played him for more than 27 minutes?

Roman Hamrlik
Hammer was unfortunate to be -2 tonight. I am not going to claim that he was perfect in his own end, but he was good enough. None of the goals were his fault, although on a night where none of the other 4 blue-liners played well he is getting off easy. The thing that clinched it for me tonight was his offensive involvement. I can only hope that Roman keeps up this great play in the offensive zone because we need a second threat. At the beginning of his career he was known as a point-getter and as a PP QB, let's hope he can find his old touch.


Carey Price
Price kept us in the game in the third period when a string of stupid penalties and poor clearing attempts almost left us with 0 points. He did, however, cost us yet again with his pathetic puck-handling skills. The third goal was a bad bounce which a more experienced goalie would have read better. There is no need to exit your crease with a minute left and a one goal lead and players from both teams all around. If you do don't be surprised if the puck takes a weird hop and you have to play OT. If only he could learn when and when not to (most of the time) play the puck I think he could be quite a good all-around 'tender.

In this new section we are going to try and shed some light on certain plays or events that would otherwise go unnoticed

Our third goal (the goal that was meant to be our insurance goal) was one hell of a play. There are 2 ways to kill penalties. The first is the 'hold-on' approach. The defending team sets up in a box, ices it when they can, concedes shots and tries to get fresh legs on the ice - the Habs employ this method most of the time. The second type (and more exciting type) is when a team (or it could be a single player) acts like there is no penalty at all. The defending team chases their own clearances thus putting pressure on offensive-minded point-men. They fore-check, take shots and concede a little defence for the odd scoring chance.

Tonight Lapierre played the second style all game long and it paid off with a 1st period goal. He fore-checked hard at the half boards and won the puck off an unsuspecting defenceman. He then was instrumental in keeping the puck in and creating a chance. It culminated with a good goal, a goal that should have given us the 2 points that we ultimately had to work so hard for. Max was buzzing all night and it reminds me a lot of the way Begin used to be able to play...5 years ago.

Overall Comments

The Habs came very close to not even getting a point in their 100th home-opener. Things were looking good after 1 and not too shabby after 2. What happened, however, in the third scared me a little. We took a lot of stupid penalties (although I am not letting the striped-even-up-gang off the hook just yet) and decided to see if Boston could score 3 on us. We lost all interest in scoring with about 25 minutes left and frankly we probably deserved to lose. Yes, we are a better team than Boston and yes our players are better, but determination and drive will always tip the scales in this league. Call it complacency, call it arrogance or ignorance, but whatever you do realize that if the Habs are going anywhere this year they will have to work for it.

The first 30-35 minutes I thought were very, very good. We played an up-tempo style and didn't really allow the visiting team a chance to settle in. There were boos (unnecessary) for Chara and Ryder (???) and cheers for everything red, white and blue, but that emotion seemed to die quite suddenly at one point. The matter of the fact is though that after playing with fire we bucked up and got the win. We gave a point away tonight, but we still gained one on Boston. I was very happy that we scored 4 different types of goals (ES, PP, SH, PS) and another positive was our play in OT and the shootout. A team will never be able to dominate from start to finish and that is OK. A good team, however, will find a way to win games that they should and that is exactly what we did tonight.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Reshuffle: A Look At Recent NHL Moves

July is the time for player movement in the NHL. Just ask Tampa.

Bad teams make loads of manoeuvres to try and dig themselves out of the whole, Philly and the Rangers can't help themselves and other teams get involved when players that interest them come up. From a Canadiens point of view, things could have gone better, but let's not forget, things could have gone a whole lot worse as well.

Last week, I declared some winners and losers for moves made up to July 1. I had Phoenix , New Jersey, Chicago and Edmonton at the top of the heap. At the bottom, struggling for air, I put Atlanta, Ottawa, Nashville and LA. Well, another week and not too much has changed, the winners have not done so much damage as to fall from grace, nor have the losers done enough to dig themselves out from the bottom of the heap. It would be negligent not to tip the hat to Detroit, who once again took the best player available to bolster their champion roster and to note new loser addition, Philadelphia, whose GM is beginning to show he has absolutely no grasp on what it takes to build a team beyond moving players in and out.

Funny, though isn't it? There are only two teams in the NHL who one can truly look to and think dynasty – the Red Wings and the Devils. Both, despite not making 53 signings like Tampa, come out winners this off season. Both present the perfect example for any aspiring team to follow. New Jersey swooped in and added Holik and Rolston. Second line scoring and big centre checked off their list. Detroit, with few glaring holes, did correspondingly, very little – only moving to pick up the only scoring star with years ahead of him from the entire group. No bad signings, no changes for the sake of it.

Big stories

While looking at players in and out is interesting and fun, most teams make like for like changes and hope for the best. As such, the stories around the moves are few. This year was unique in some ways though, as free agency has offered up some very interesting stories and trends for comment:

1) Jagr signing in Russia
By far the most significant signing of the off-season was Jagr's move to Russia. Funny then that this move has been treated as a footnote in most accounts.

The reason I think it is so notable is because of the precedent it sets. Jagr is the first bona fide NHL star to sign in a different league. Forsberg and Naslund often threatened, but could never ignore the call of the greenback. Aleksey Morozov blazed a trail, but one would hardly class him among the stars of the league. Jaromir, on the other hand, was reasonably close to becoming the second leading scorer of all time, a perennial all-star and Art Ross threat and the core of his NHL team.

While Siberian winters don't meet with everyone's tastes, multi-million dollar contracts do. I think from here on, the threat of players moving to the rival Russian league is real. It is a worry for young prospects to full-fledged stars. What's more, the longer the NHL allows the festering wound of the partial IIHF agreement (without Russia) to linger, the greater this problem will likely become. It may not be within the decade, but at some point, it is reasonable to assume that the NHL and the Russian league will duke it out for players like the Premiership, la Liga and Serie A do in football.

2) Retirement decisions
Admittedly, the retirement precedent was set prior to this season. However, this free agent season is the first in memory where 3 of the top 10 catches would be considering retirement from the league.

By prolonging their indecision, Sundin, Selanne and Sakic have created a force in the market. The force is patient money. There are teams sitting on money at the moment that they are saving to spring on Sundin in particular, while making bit parters wait for their turn.

I am not 100% behind the opinion that Sundin has disrupted the whole league (like this guy), but you have to admit, the poor guys waiting to buy/rent their houses for the season (4th liners, minor leaguers and down) are being put through a stressful period. That being said, I don't think it is Sundin's fault team's are shaping their whole strategy around him. Besides, how sorry can I feel for a guy who is slightly disrupted in finding a house (while I live in a small apartment) ahead of playing hockey for a living for another year.

No, for me, the more interesting thing to come out of this has been the reaction of the GMs. Sather, rumoured to be in the running for Sundin, has gone ahead with what could be called makeshift moves, even in the wake of losing Jagr. Gillis in Vancouver has sat pat, dangerous considering who he's lost. Fletcher is trying desperately to fill cap space with anyone and anything to be sure there's no room for Sundin. And, Gainey has signed his RFAs and made minor deals. Fans may be frustrated with the patience their GM is showing (or not), but ultimately only patience will leave a team with enough space to sign Sundin. Nothing less.

In the future, players teetering on the edge of retirement could shape the free agent game significantly. Imagine for example that Sundin does sign, his team does well and even wins. In future years, the lesson to good GMs will be that waiting for the best player available is the best move there is. It could make free agency less of a one-day (laughably televised) extravaganza and more of a prolonged and patient game. From the money thrown in desperation at players like Malone and Finger, I wouldn't see it as a bad thing.

3) Questions about the salary floor
When I look at the Columbus Blue Jackets, I see a team with little or no plan. How could anyone rational explain the Commodore signing to me. How could signing a 14-goalscorer at first line money be spun positively. But you see, Columbus has their backs up against it. They have never drafted a great player (arguments could be made for Nash...) and rarely ever draft anyone good.

How can this team possibly be expected to pay $40+M to a team of players. It is an unreasonable request. Stack that next to the fact that the team has no history, no plan, no immediate hope for greatness and you can see why the Hossas of the world elude them. As such, the Blue Jackets are forced to throw money at subpar performers just to reach that lower limit.

In and of itself, this is not a problem, but consider that that Rick Nash contract has influenced money for 21 year-olds years on, and you can see the ripples a signing in an NHL backwater can make. Any reasonably intelligent agent will be toting Mike Commodore's contract status and statistics in his negotiations next spring. 20-goal men across the continent will want to see Umberger dough (hey Ryder got it!).

Besides forcing real talents to play in outposts, what can the NHL do to avoid this market force from creating imbalance of pay/talent ratios?

Remove the floor? Impossible, watch Nashville owners pile up the cash if they do...

I don't have the answer, I can only see the problem at the moment. I feel there must be a solution at some point though, otherwise this may create another catalyst for players to Europe.

And the Canadiens?

All that is very interesting. From an academic point of view. But, let's be honest, how does it affect the Habs?

I've mentioned the Sundin affair, and I think the Habs are doing the right thing in keeping some money for him should he become available, although he wouldn't be my first choice (Selanne, ahem). Basically, what's the rush to spend: there are no great players left, and the team is mostly in place. Gainey can finish the roster off in August or September if he really needs to.

The Jagr debacle has not affected the Canadiens yet, but it will be interesting to see where the deeply patriotic Kovalev ends after his contract expires. In 5 years, this could be an issue for Markov, too. I have voiced my opinion on creating a special team of scouts/negotiators to deal with Russia before, and it still stands. Even without the threat of player flight, the pickings from Russian draft years alone warrant this approach.

Like Jagr, small market disproportionate spending has not thrown a wrench into the works yet. But when Plekanec, Kostitsyn and Higgins are all up for their third contract, will they take less than Columbus' plumbers?

The Canadiens moves themselves have been middle of the road. The Tanguay trade was excellent, but ultimately they relieved Calgary of a headache, who has yet to prove he won't be one here (I actually think he'll be great, but am keeping my feet on the ground just now). The Grabovski trade was poor indeed – losing a potential scorer for a non-entity. The signings of RFAs have been outstanding, but the UFA activity has been lacklustre to depressing (where the balance shows Streit, Danis and Ryder in the red for Laraque and Denis in the black). The player math shows Tanguay has to replace Ryder at even strength and Streit on the PP, while we hope that the youngsters will step up to take even more responsibility.

Frankly, at this point, barring a Sundin/Selanne/Sakic signing, I'd almost hope Gainey would call it a day. I am with him and his staff about the quality of our young players. Andrei Kostitsyn in particular will be a real force to be reckoned with if he plays a full season at his post-December clip. At the back, the deletion of Brisebois almost makes up for the loss of Streit, simply by inducing the addition by subtraction trick (fingers crossed, that particular element of today's status quo is with us come October).

Looking down the list, is there anyone any of you would make a legitimate case for? Even after Samsonov?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Michael Ryder

The numbers

70 GP: 14 G, 17 A, 31 Pts, 30 PIM, -4, 134 Shots

Career best year – 2003-04
81 GP: 25 G, 38 A, 63 Pts, 26 PIM, +10, 215 Shots

2007-08 playoffs
4 GP: 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 2 PIM, +1, 6 Shots

Career best playoffs – 2005-06
6 GP: 2 G, 3 A, 5 Pts, 0 PIM, -4, 13 Shots

Plays of the game: 7

Game pucks: 5

Domes: 14

3 Star selections: 1 First, 1 Third

The story

Where he started the season
Another 30-goal season for Michael Ryder and another meeting with the arbitrator. It has always been obvious that the Habs brass and Ryder himself have very differing opinions about his abilities. There was something in the back of our team's management's minds that said he wasn't as good as his statistics seemed to suggest (perhaps that was also in a a lot of the fans' minds too). Michael had just scored 85 goals in his first 3 years in the league and had only missed one game during that span, yet it always seemed that he would have to fight for his spot on our top-line and this year would be no different. He would indeed start the year alongside Higgins and Koivu on another 1-year contract as our team was again unwilling to commit to him. If he performed the team (and fans) would love him, if he didn't they would likely as soon be rid of him.

The season
The season didn't start so well for Ryder as he was only able to score 3 goals in his first 32 games. Another problem was the elevated play of Kovalev, Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. All of a sudden Michael's minutes were decreasing as was his usage during key (PP and late-game situations) times. Not one known for assists – the writing was certainly on the wall – "score goals, or else". A series of line changes, scratches and benchings would ensue and eventually seemed to pay off. Michael enjoyed a 20 game stretch in which he scored 9 goals including a 2-goal and 1 assist effort in our team's greatest ever comeback (0-5 down in the 2nd, won 6-5). It looked like the slump was over and we had our best natural goalscorer back. Unfortunately, Carbo wasn't convinced as his ice-time stayed around the 12 minute mark and he was not being deployed in those key situations. He was eventually a permanent 3rd-line/press-box fixture and he ended the year with only 2 goals in his last 18 games.

He featured in 4 of our first 5 playoff games, but failed to register a goal (or an assist). By this point, Carbo had seen enough and would relegate Ryder to the press-box for the balance of the playoffs in favour of 3 other prolific goalscorers – Latendresse, Lapierre and Dandenault (0 goals in a combined 29 games). It was a shame that Ryder didn't feature in the Philly series as all we needed were goals and you'd have to think that if anyone had the potential to pot one from an unlikely angle or situation as you sometimes need in a goal drought, it would have been him.

Highlights: More imagination from Ryder this season might have meant more goals. More imagination from the highlight compilers would hve left them with more choices for songs - not sure if I prefer their choice to Riders on the Storm...

Ryder by the numbers:

Lions' links on Ryder:
One-Year Ryder
Does Eklund need Habs fans this badly?
Ryder All Over the Place
Needs And Wants

Grade: C-
I can make all the excuses in the world for why Ryder didn't play well – he lost ice-time, he was out of favour, he had worse linemates than in previous years – but, at the end of the day, he didn't get the job done. He did still score 14 goals which isn't the worst season I've ever seen (read: Samsonov 2006-07), but for a goalscorer who plays in 70 games, it is unacceptable. Ryder can play a good physical game, isn't a bad passer and is decent enough in his own end, ultimately though, he was in Montreal for one reason only: to finish.

Despite all this, I never thought, however, that Michael was given enough of a chance this year. When most players go through slumps the team looks for ways to get them going by making all sorts of changes. Unfortunately our team seemed more content to expose his weaknesses than nurture his talents, and his battle was really a lost cause. Never once did Ryder get to play with Kovalev, he was rarely used on the 1st PP unit, when we knew he was our most dangerous sniper, and I can't remember when we turned to him when all else had failed. This year was not only a bad year from Ryder's standpoint, but also from the way in which our all-knowing coaching staff handled the situation. In retrospect, the writing had been on the wall for some time with those one-year contracts, but it was nonetheless difficult to watch a player ostracised in this way.

Where we'd have him next season
What we know now is that Ryder will be playing against us a lot and making much more money than he ever would have in Montreal. Boston obviously still sees the potential in our sniper, but have in all likelihood overpaid. At $12M over 3 years, it's very hard to believe he'll be money well spent, much less a bargain. In fact, were it not for Cliff Fletcher's follies, it may have been the most outrageous signing of the summer. Boston has a history of signing the wrong players at the wrong time and haven't shown that they have a clue about what building a team is all about for the recent past – giving Ryder $4M / season is another plain example of this. Personally, I would have considered bringing Mike back at a reduced rate (possibly $1M-$2M / season), but would have never paid what Boston has. We will undoubtedly see a lot of Rydsies next year, let's just hope he goes Gilbert Dionne and not John Leclair on us.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Needs And Wants

In the build-up to the ever-disappointing watershed that is 12:00 noon on July 1st in NHL circles, I have been reading more and more rumours. More and more speculation.

Not wishing to be the one blogger to shy away from putting forth my lopsided opinion, I wanted to weigh in on the issues of Canadiens needs.

A commonly held notion is that the Canadiens will lose Brisebois, Streit, Smolinski and Ryder and therefore need to find replacements for all of these players (JT said as much in his article on the topic a couple of days ago). While this notion is not altogether wrong – obviously someone will have to play those empty positions – replacing them with outsiders may be an unnecessary leap, at least in my humble opinion.

Brisebois – signed (for some reason) as a 5th-6th defenceman, he gradually slipped to 8th on the depth chart over the season. His place as 4th Dman was due to Carbonneau's folly and had little to do with merit. Replacing him is a matter of calling Hamilton. Any number of rookies could fit at number 8 for us.

Streit – a unique commodity, it would be nice to replace him, but also virtually impossible. If we need to replace him as a forward (I don't think we do) then it is a 4th liner now that we carry Tanguay. No need to get excited about signing a 4th liner today. If we replace him as a defenceman, then we could be stuck. Anyone who will offer as much offense (Campbell) will be far too costly, anyone who fits into the 2nd pairing as the 5th best D will be challenged to get even half those totals. Ron Hainsey is the only real match here, and signing him would beg the question: "Why didn't Gainey just sign Streit?" If he is to be replaced on the PP, finding the right free agent here is difficult. You might think Sergei Fedorov or Brian Rolston, but neither is an out and out Streit replacement. My thinking is basically that Streit cannot be directly replaced, so Gainey should not trouble himself trying to fit a round peg into a Streit-shaped hole.

Smolinski – call him insurance or veteran presence or whatever, but he was hardly a third line centre. I don't think Bryan Smolinski would need to be directly replaced at all. I think Lapierre has earned his stripes and Chipchura will have learned what it takes to stick this time around.

Ryder – if we accept he had a bad season and played little part in getting the Habs to top in the East, and remember that he didn't even set foot on the ice when we were getting outscored by Philly, then a case could be made that Michael Ryder doesn't need to be replaced. I, however, would beg to differ. I think Michael Ryder (at least the one from rookie to year 3) is the player we most need to replace. A scorer with scoring on his mind.

I hear it bandied about every few minutes (or seconds these days): What Montreal really needs is a number one centre.

I think there needs to be some clarification here. Montreal does not need a number one centre in the way that Columbus, Vancouver or Atlanta do. With a bit of analysis, in fact, there could be 10 or more teams in the NHL that would be glad to have either Koivu or Plekanec as their number one pivot.

No, Montreal would really really like a "number one/two/three" centre who's bigger than Koivu – that's all.

While signing Sundin would unquestionably be an improvement for the team, it would be silly to break up Kostitsyn and Plekanec, for example, just to make him the de facto number one. Would Sundin still be the number one with Latendresse and Sergei? Would it matter?

Furthermore, how much evidence do we need that Koivu can hold his own anyway as an offensive force in tough situations?

At the end of the day, a big centre would be nice – possibly even great for the team – but I don't think it falls under the heading of need.

Apparently, we are also in dire need of a veteran back-up goalie.

Even more ludicrous than the aforementioned, any team would be thrilled to have two good young goalies. Why should we be looking for someone on the downside of their career. I laugh when I read about Toronto signing (ahem) future hall-of-famer (ahem) Cujo. We should all be...

So what is it the Canadiens need, then?

At the risk of becoming very repetitive: A scorer who can shoot. That which makes Andrei Kostitsyn the biggest priority bar none this July.

As for a new guy, what we need is Higgins with hands, Ryder with drive, Tanguay with lower propensity for sharing.

Hossa, were it not for his looming multi-year 9 million+ deal, might be worth a look. Committing that kind of money to Hossa would mean committing the future to Hossa. Something which, we should note, neither of the two previous Stanley Cup contenders from the East, and even a team who looked like they would have nothing to lose in doing so, would do. Obvious alarm bells ring. Loud as those that were buzzing through this blog at Briere time last seaosn.

Yesterday, I think I suggested Miroslav Satan as a possible option (an obvious risk). Niklas Hagman is another, as is Rolston. And Teemu Selanne continues to scream out in the way he so obviously fits the position we need to fill. These are the next tier, the possible bargains.

If it's not one of those, what Gainey needs to look for anyone who can shoot over 10% with more than 200 shots (sorry Ribeiro). Check out the guys who meet that criteria on this list, and you'll see why. Getting a big centre who passes golden chances to others will not help while Higgins is shooting for crossbars all season. A sly point-man to feed pucks around the goalmouth on the PP will add nothing if Latendresse is expected to be the one to punctuate the plays.

I hope Gainey doesn't confuse needs with wants once the frenzy begins. Needs lead to desperation and desperation contracts (see Samsonov, Sergei). Fulfilling wants creates great feeling around the team, may even allow the team to progress that much quicker, but may just not be worth mortgaging the future (contracts beyond this year) for.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Absolutes In The New NHL

A couple of days ago, I was told (via a Gazette article) that I could stop thinking about Vincent Lecavalier ever coming to Montreal.

Today, I am being told (via a Gazette article) that we should forget about courting Brian Rolston for a contract.

What will they tell me next?

It seems to me that the hockey media (including the Gazette) are having a harder time than some understanding the changes that have happened in the NHL over the past few seasons. They can't seem to wrap their minds around some of the salary cap issues some of the time.

Take Lecavalier:
Now I am not saying that it would improve our chances of ever seeing Lecalaier in Bleu, Blanc, Rouge were he to sign a 9-year deal with the Lightning, but let's be honest, don't we all know by now that a no-trade clause doesn't mean you can't be traded. A no-trade (or recently no-movement, for some reason) clause simply means that a player will be asked to approve a trade or his eventual destination, instead of having it thwarted upon him and his family.

There are precedents now from around the league where players will gladly waive their no-trade clause to move when the circumstances suit them.

It would certainly put the onus on Montreal to talk to Lecavalier and offer him something ahead of offering his GM something in return, but this is not an impossibility. Merely a little bit more work.

In the case of Rolston and other players whose rights are traded for a few hours before free agency, I feel it is almost an insult to our intelligence to suggest that the deal is done. It is almost certainly an insult to Rolston's intelligence. After all, why would he accept a deal just because his (former) GM might get a draft pick if he does.

As this business of trading for a potential draft choice becomes more commonplace, we will see more and more deals never come to fruition. Look no further than Sundin for proof of that.

So too the unsigned UFAs. Just because Ryder hasn't received an offer yet, does not mean he will be gone necessarily. Last season, Souray was not tendered an offer until after Gainey tried for Rafalski. A few days later, he could have (had he chosen to) been back in Montreal. I can see this happening with Ryder if both he and the Canadiens are jilted in the open market.

So you see, things are not as absolute as they seem in the NHL. Since we had a saying already – "If Gretzky could be traded..." – I thought we all knew this. Hardly anything about free agency is predictable, except that a few players will be grossly overpaid at the end of it (hopefully by Philly and Toronto). It is with this in mind that I would offer a short synopsis of my thoughts on tomorrow's free agency.

What (I think) the Canadiens need

Personally, I'm not restricting myself to a center here. Nor will I restrict myself by a player's stature (physical or reputation).

In my eyes, all this team needs is one more forward – one who prefers shooting to passing. Koivu is a passer, Plekanec is a passer, The Kostitsyns seem to prefer passing, strangely Kovalev does a lot of time, too. Higgins and Latendresse prefer to shoot, but it'd be nice if the preference to shoot came with a bit of whereabouts as well – someone who can shoot on target, or heaven forbid at a certain part of the net.

I think we were beaten by Philly in this area more than any other. Carter for all his unearned millions sure can pick a corner and Umberger did as well. Their shots were answered by chest-high specials from Latendresse, Begin and co. and unfinished 3-move passing plays from the passing boys.

Paradoxically, if we were another set of fans, I think we would look at Michael Ryder and call for (Gainey) to sign him. Ryder equivalents on other teams are few and far between, but realistic and fairly affordable shooters could include Selanne, Satan and Rolston. Hossa and Sundin being other obvious, yet less affordable choices. The wildcard entry in this list could be the Finn Niklas Hagman who ripped 27 goals while posting a Rick Nashesque 14 assists. He could be Koivu's long-lost outlet...

What (I think) the Canadiens don't need?

The Habs could very well improve this offseason by simply subtracting a few pieces of dead (or even broken) wood.

Lightening the roster of Brisebois would at once mean more playing time for developing (and frankly superior) defencemen and rid Carbonneau of the option to do something really stupid in the playoffs after a lot of regular season success. It would also make the burden of carrying Dandenault that much lighter.

Similarly, dispensing with Smolinski, who provided a nice veteran to look at on the roster sheet, but very rarely did so on the icesheet. Chipchura or Lapierre would benefit from that omission.

Finally, the main thing the Habs don't need in my opinion is a big multi-year contract just for the sake of it. I can't imagine malone for 7 years, for example. I hope we're not left to rue this July for Brunette 4 years, Vrbata 5 years or any of those guys I mentioned (for that matter) for more than couple to start with.

While the trend at the moment may seem to be long-term contracts. Lessons from the Canadiens own salary cap era show how prudent one- and two-year deals may create more work, but don't necessarily mean less success. Ryder detractors will be well aware of this valuable tidbit.

Who for a bargain?

Another well learned lesson is that a bargain in free agency goes a long way to improving the team and assets. Finding the biggest bargain of this year's crop is difficult.

Among the UFAs, I look down the top of the list and see a lot of overpriced older stars and overachieving contract year guys (e.g., Vrbata). Of the forwards, I don't see any phenomenal steals, but feel that Hagman would likely be had for a bargain and that Satan whose been a consistent shooter for a decade would accept less to reestablish hiimself for a year. Demitra could be looking for less nowadays, but I'd shy from another link in the never-ending passing play.

On defence, I see Redden. Potentially, Wade Redden is the absolute bargain of this unappealing crop. Sure, he had a bad second half, but who didn't in Ottawa? On the other hand, he is one year removed from being a Stanley Cup finalist. His stock has plummeted like nearby Nortel's did in Ottawa this past little while and could be a very nice piece of a 4-man all-star unit in front of Price. Get 4 D-men of that calibre and no one will be wondering about Sundin or Rolston anymore...

What will I be saying in a week?

I have no idea. Really none. If it's "Sundin could fit well in between Latendresse and Sergei...", then I'll be happy enough. Equally, if it's "Koivu finally gets a replacement for Mark Recchi..", I wouldn't complain.

My nerves are not concerned with what positive moves we might try and fail at, it's about which moves we might live to regret if Gainey gets swept along and signs someone who doesn't fir the plans.

Fingers are crossed here. Bob be sensible.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Game #2-4

Costly Penalty Puts Habs in Deep Hole

The Canadiens Game in Review

Date: Wednesday April 30th, 2008
Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers
Venue: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA

Team Stripes

Final Score: 2-4 - Loss

Habs starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak (L)
Opposition starting goalie: Martin Biron (W)

Habs goalscorers: Tomas Plekanec, Saku Koivu
Opposition goalscorers: R.J. Umberger (2), Scott Hartnell, Daniel Briere

2007/08 first
There's a first time for everything, so they say. What they didn't tell you is that every game, something happens for the first time, you just have to look harder in March...

1st Career Playoff Start for Halak
1st Time the Habs have lost 3 straight in regulation since Feb. 7-12

Play of the game
The play you're straining to see on the press catwalk monitor...

The play of the game tonight wasn't our nicest play, in fact it was our worse. I am singling this play out simply because above all others it determined the outcome of the game.

The Habs had worked their butts off all night and had finally drawn even with Philly and had all the momentum in the world. Instead of continuing the attack Carbo decides to put the 'waste of time' (neither defensive nor offensive) line out there. It didn't take long after that for something to go wrong. With the puck nowhere to be seem and a brain which apparently was even farther away Steve Begin came in and hit perennial NHL tough-man Sami Kapanen. The play led to a Power-Play, thus ending the game, potentially ending the series and, I can only hope, ending Begin's season.

Game puck
Trophies are for the end of the year, play well in the game, you get a lovely puck...

Tomas Plekanec

For a second game in a row it was our 'under-sized', 'out-matched', 'diminutive' centres providing the offence. Plekanec proved yet again tonight that skill and speed are the most valuable tools in this league. The Flyers would argue that the most valuable tools are Richards and Carter down the middle, but I don't believe that is where we are being beat. Pleks did really well in all aspects of play tonight as he and the Kostitsyn's generated a lot of quality chances.

Dome hockey team
We're going into the last minute with these 6 (and they're attached to the ice, so they're not coming off)...


Saku Koivu
- I can only wonder what Saku thinks about Begin's penalty. Saku himself took a penalty that led to a goal, but unlike Steve's it wasn't the right call. The captain had worked so hard all night, had scored the tying goal (and shown unbelievable enthusiasm) only to be left wondering why a scoring line wasn't on the ice at 2-2. Koivu extended his points streak to 6 games in these playoffs - every game in which he has played

Andrei Kostitsyn
- Once again Andrei was very dangerous with the puck. His line seemed to generate more 'edge-of-the-seat' chances tonight than any other line. He was fast and was always going hard to the net. His level of play has been exactly what we needed as it totally exposes Philly's weaknesses

Tomas Plekanec
- Tom finished this game with a + rating, a goal and a 57% face-off percentage. He was not phased one bit by the size of the opponents tonight as he simply used it against them. His speed and creativity allowed for a lot of quality chances and had it not been for Biron he would have easily had a multiple-point game


Francis Bouillon
- Bou got his first 2 assists of the playoffs tonight and continues to play well. The team, however, since his return is a dismal 2-4. I wouldn't consider that Franc's fault at all though as he is playing solid hockey. I rarely see him commit any mistakes and he continues to do a good job of blocking shots with another 3 tonight

Josh Gorges
- I am really happy that Josh and Franc are playing well, but our #5 and #6 defencemen are appearing in here way too often for my liking. The playoffs are about big players stepping up. We have seen it from some forwards, but I think it's time we see it from our D-men. I expect a lot more from Markov, Hamrlik and Komisarek and if they don't deliver this series will be over soon. Josh did, however, play a good game and should be given credit. He assisted on our first goal and led the team in blocked-shots with 4


Jaroslav Halak
- Jaro played pretty well tonight. 2 goals were on the PP and was into an empty net. He didn't steal the show by any means, but I believe he did give our team a chance to win. Thanks to Begin, though, we'll never know. I do, however, think that Carbo has to come back with Price in Game #4. We need an incredible performance if we are going to pull this series out now and that has to start at the back. I do believe that Halak right now is the better goalie, but on the other hand I think that Price has the most potential. I think our only chance to win 3 is to have Carey stand on his head, something that I don't think is doable for Jaro. Price has shown before he can be excellent or he can be average. Oddly enough he rarely has performances in between, that is Halak's domain. We need 3 excellent performances from our team and we can't afford to think about the back - Carey is my man. I am hoping that the anger he has inside of him now will fuel him rather than destroy him. It is time for him to play like the champion we know he is

Eyes on Kovalev
Did he flit and float? Someone ought to keep track...

Come on Alex. We need 4 players in particular to play the hockey of their season starting on Saturday. The other 3 are Koivu, Markov and Price. As of now only Saku is playing at that 'out-of-this-world' level, but that is not enough. Alex was OK tonight, but wasn't good enough considering the circumstance. He doesn't have to score that hi-light reel goal, he doesn't have to get any breakaways, he just simply has to be a star. If he plays like we all know he can he will give us a weapon that for the most part has gone unused in this series. Tonight I saw glimpses, but from now on I have to see the whole thing.

Kovalev's Assessment - Average

Overall Comments

We once again were the better team tonight, but not nearly as much as compared to games 2 and 3. Our chances were there, but I wouldn't say we really overwhelmed Philly. Once again the Flyers made the most of their chances and, unlike the Habs, managed to score at the exact right time. This was the fourth time in a row that we have gone down at least 0-2, yet every time we manage to mount at least a mini comeback. To me that shows how vulnerable this Philly team is, but more than anything it shows the importance of scoring first and scoring often. What I would like to see is our best offensive line-up from now on. I am sick and tired of icing 2 scoring lines, 1 checking line and 1 line that will fill 10 minutes of air-time...and take brutal penalties. All year we used offence to win games, why are we changing that now. We need goals in this series and with players like Grabovski and Ryder rotting in the press-box I am left wondering what is going on. Lapierre, Latendresse and Begin to me serve no purpose other than appeasing the minority of French-Canadians who need Quebec players in there. I am from Quebec too, and quite frankly I want to win, I don't care about where players are from. To take it one step further I am English-Canadian and I can't say that Price, Kostopoulos or Gorges' presence in the line-up means anything at all to me; I simply see them as part of a larger group that I cheer for. The fact remains that we have to score goals. I will not spend the whole summer listening to people telling me how great a goalie Martin B. is and he stole the show; maybe Brodeur, but I'm sorry Habs the Biron excuse is a weak one, you'll just have to find a way how.

Of all the penalties that have been called throughout the playoffs and even throughout the year I have yet to see one that wasn't a play which was against the rules. I must hand it to the refs as every penalty they ever call is legitimate. The problem is why do they let it go 9 times then call it the 10th without warning? One team can get away with hooking 6 times, but if it is the other team's turn to get called for something the next hook will equal 2 minutes. Teams clearly have a choice to make. They could choose to never break any rules, thus they would never be penalized (and wouldn't be competitive at all). Or, like all 30 teams have chosen to do, they can break the rules all game long and allow the refs to decide when a team will be given a PP. It is a shame that hockey has become baseball in a way with each team being handed their chances one after another. The Flyers have proven yet again in this series that no matter how dirty you play the calls will always seem to even themselves out.

The bad news is that we are down 1-3 in the series and teams rarely come back from such a deficit. The good news, however, is that we have clearly been the best team in this series and if there was ever a good opportunity to win 3 in a row it would have to be now. We have played Philly 8 times this year and have outplayed them in each of those games. Some extremely bad luck, coupled with good luck for Philly, has put us in a hole, but will this run of luck continue? We obviously can't bank on luck at this point and we can't even bank on outplaying them. We have to be the better team from start to finish of each and every game and we have to dominate them. It is easy to think that the series should be over (4-0 for us) or that we should at least be tied, but we must also be thankful that we weren't swept. What has happened until now means absolutely nothing. It is upsetting that we are down and even though we all believe we should be up there is nothing we can do about it. All we can do now is hope for one good game and take it from there. We have to win 3 games in a row, 2 of those at home. I say we start with one - come on CH.