Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quiet Frenzy

Well, it was a rough end to the season. Now that the UFA frenzy is almost upon us, it's a lot easier to be optimistic and have us all jump back on the Habwagon. Given that I managed to call Erik Cole last year, I figured I should give another stab at my dream UFA acquisition for this year. Anybody up for speculating on the roster come fall?

Start with the easy part. The Habs have entered salary arbitration with Price, which makes it sound like there might be some bad feelings between him and management. However, this is a canny strategic move that prevents other GMs pulling “gutless” moves (Brian Burke's word) and submitting offer sheets to drive up Price's salary. We have Budaj for another year at $1.15M. Given we need someone to play the 15 or so games Price doesn't start, Budaj is a good fit at a good price.

It's a bit of no-brainer that Price will be signed this year, although I'm having difficulty figuring out for how much. Somewhere near $5M would be my guess. What do you guys think?

There's a good crop of returning defencemen, with a pile of RFAs on the roster as well. The only D-man who goes into unrestricted free agency is Campoli, and I really don't expect to see him back. We have Markov ($5.75M, 2 yrs), Gorges ($3.9M, 6 yr), Weber (850k, 1 yr and then RFA), and sadly, Kaberle (an unbelievable $4.25M for another 2 years). Obviously, we'd love to get rid of him, but there isn't a GM in the league who would take him off our hands. Hopefully the new CBA will allow us to get him off from around the neck of the team, but I don't think we can hold our breaths. On the RFA scene, we have Emelin, Nash, Diaz, Subban, and St.-Denis. 

I could see possibly keeping St.-Denis and Nash for depth, but they aren't big pieces of the puzzle. In my opinion, Subban is second only in terms of Price in terms of priority for team signing. I'm also a huge fan of Emelin, and would love to have him on the CH blueline for years to come from what I've seen from him this season. Also a fan of Diaz, he's got a good sense of what's going on around him and a good shot from the point. I think it would be great to hang on to both him and Weber, both very promising young defencemen that are proven in the league, and trade one (or possibly both) down the line for some more assets up front.

Really not expecting to see much interesting happen in terms of trades or UFA signings on the defence, just hoping to sign most of a great crop of young players.

Now for the hard part. Obviously, there's some good talent up front if we can overlook the albatross that is Scott Gomez ($7.36M, 2 yrs). Again, no GM will ever take that contract off of our hands, and we can only hope that the new CBA opens up some kind of door to get rid of him. After that, we have Plekanec ($5M, 4 yrs), Gionta ($5M, 2 yrs), Cole ($4.5M, 3 yrs), Bourque ($3.33M, 4 yrs), Pacioretty ($1.625M, 1 yr then RFA), Leblanc ($1.17M, 2 yrs then RFA), and Desharnais ($850k, 1 yr). I'm pretty happy with that group, and with much of our RFA crop, which includes Eller, Geoffrion, Blunden, and Nokelainen. Our UFAs consist of Moen, Darche, and Staubitz.

Frankly, I could care less about our UFAs. They're entirely replaceable. I'm glad we've signed White, I have a soft spot for the guy. I think Geoffrion showed some promise, but may have some trouble staying on the roster. I'd like to see Eller kept around, he's got potential and may also prove to be attractive trade bait.

The Dream
Outside of our very wildest dreams, we're not going to be able to trade Gomez and Kaberle for Rick Nash. Within our grasp as UFAs are veterans like Doan, Smyth, and Ray Whitney. I'm happy with Cole and Gionta as vets, and think we need to focus on younger players that might take a couple years to peak: we simply can't assemble a cup-worthy squad for at least 2 years.

Semin is on the market, but I'm not super-excited by him. He's kinda fragile, and hasn't re-found his form of the 08-09 and 09-10 seasons. Parise is another high flier, more interesting in my opinion if we can get value for him. He's in an odd spot, as he took a 1-year contract for $6M last season as an RFA on the back of consecutive 94- and 82-point seasons, but “only” scored 69 points this season and is entering his first year of eligibility as a UFA.

Honestly, I would like to see NO big, bold, interesting moves come Sunday. The crop of UFAs seems pretty thin, but might yield a good bargain or two. PA Parenteau would be interesting: he's francophone, shoots right-handed, and scored 53 and 67 points in the last 2 seasons (also his first 2 in the NHL). Plus, he only made $1.25M last season. I mentioned Dustin Penner earlier, he could bring some much-needed size and can definitely put the puck in the net. However, he's been having trouble with that lately, and as a result may not be able to match the $4.25M of his last contract.

Who's your reality-tempered dream acquisition? Let us know in the comments.

Acknowledgements and big thanks to for numbers!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Canadiens Clean Up At Draft

It started soundly enough. Day one saw the Canadiens avoid the lure of the #3 defencemen on offer and took an offensive center instead.

Though he's already being touted as a solution to the Habs undersized centre stable, he's only an inch taller than the guys they are calling small at this draft and on the Habs. Maybe he plays big? We'll have to see if he does in the NHL.

So with Galchenyuk, the Habs at least grab a a forward. My choice would have been to ignore the sudden pessimism and take Grigorenko anyway. He's bigger and can play with speed and size. The worry justified his drop. But then the Habs could have dropped into lower position with a barometer on the situation and pulled another steal on a day they were fleecing the other GMs (Day 2).

If we say I was warm on Galchenyuk, I was downright delighted when the picks started rolling in on Saturday.

Sebastien Collberg is the kind of player I'd have touted if the Habs were picking in their traditional 14-20 spot. He is a natural goalscorer with that Swedish background. This is no Minnesota High School flash in the pan. He has shown his stripes at major international tournaments already. It's a risk like all forwards are, but a much better one than one would have expected at #33 in a weak draft.

Tim Bozon is another coup on my books. The Habs get a French-speaking, high-flying WHL scorer in the early third round. 36 goals in the WHL is rare enough, but rarer as a rookie. The WHL, being the tough league it is, gives a good sense of the potential of a scorer and I think Bozon has a chance to succeed in his quest for NHL hockey. A great find at the position he was taken.

Dalton Thrower was a high scoring WHL defenceman in a year where that was the vogue. A second rounder in the end, with his stats, he could have looked just as natural as a mid first rounder. He's labelled a small player at 5'11", but again, he is only being towered over by Matthew Dumba by an inch and a couple of points. The highly touted Pouliot outscored Dalton by 5 points and did so with an NHL first round blueline partner. Another thing to like is that Thrower already plays with Darren Dietz, a Canadiens prospect from the last go around, and one that looks to be showing enough progress to make it one day himself.

Those are the big 4. But the Habs add a little icing on the cake with their final two picks as well.

Charles Hudon was ranked as the 5th best prospect from the QMJHL for the 2012 draft by Hockey's Future and the first originating from La Belle Province. What a coup for the Canadiens to nab this guy when they did considering the factors at play. He is small, but are we honestly still writing off all small players? Good thing for Habs most GMs are stuck in that mindset. Hope they enjoy their giant 6'1" players.

Brady Vail is a stout OHLer with a good defensive game from a top franchise. A fourth round pick with those credentials is par for the course. He projects currently as a bottom six forward, but one can't ask for top liners throughout. At least this Chipchura-like resume didn't cost an 18th overall pick.

Finally, Erik Nystrom. I have asked over and over that Montreal take care of the Swedish scouting situation and it's a pick like this that shows some confidence that they are moving in the right direction. Nystrom is an off the charts player and one still in the lower ranks of Swedish hockey. But guess what? To get your true steals (Zetterberg, Datsyuk), one has to dig deeper, else the player is know by everyone and reserved for the Oilers in June. The limited info we have on this guy is that he plays offensive hockey (check), with skill (check) and speed (check). He's a bit of a shot in the dark, but with a dazzling end of year p0layoff campaign, the Habs must have seen something they liked. And without risking too much they have loaded up on more intrigue.

Overall, a good haul indeed.

By my count, 3 well-proven goalscorers, a good offensive defenceman, a homegrown prospect, an all-rounder from a good club and a big swing on something they think they spotted. This is the kind of draft that can reignite the fires of skeptics. Worked for me.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

A Red Flag Over Bergevin

We were giving Marc Bergevin the benfit of the doubt as a new GM in Montreal. We knew little about him.

His first moves seemed like good moves, yet we know little of the people he was bringing in. I did know the Habs beat Rick Dudley's Sabres about two generations ago, and his Thrashers regularly, and his Panthers, and, well you get the point.

Anyway, we wanted to be positiv, so we were. That is until the hammer fell. Michel Therrien.

There are positive things you can find to say about Therrien, sure. He did go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals with the All-Star team Penguins. But for me, there are just so many reasons that Therrien was bottom of the list of all candidates.

1) He was not a good fit in Montreal before

I know it was a different team in a different time, a different team, but there were reasons he should have done better. He coaxed an 87 point last playoff berth season from a team with Jose Theodore doing the vast majority of the work, but otherwise, he got bad results from a below average team. Furthermore, it was an era of getting to know his junior buddies, and I was glad to see the days of Patrick Travese behind me.

2) He wasn't that good in Pittsburgh

Although he was certainly present for the resurgence of the Pittsburgh Penguins, we're not sure how much he had to do with it. Look, it was bound to happen, and like Paul Bissonnette, Therrien was bound to get a goal if he stuck around in the crease (Pitt coaching job) long enough. In 2006-07, Therrien watched Crosby become the last player to crack 120 points. The next season he watched as three of the best forwards in the game waltzed the team into the final.

Now, it's obviously difficult to distill the contributions of a coach on any team. Darryl Sutter was recently a man out of ideas on the unemployment line too. But Therrien was coaching what might have been the best concentration of emerging talent we've seen in decades and he just did OK. I'm not the only one who thinks this, obviously, as Pittsburgh management thought better of leaving another Cup attempt in his hands, instead selecting a coach with all of 54 games of AHL head coaching experience as the preferred option in 2008.

3) He's a retread

So were all the candidates apparently. All "winners" elsewhere. But let's not forget losers too: Hartley coached Atlanta, Crawford coached in LA and Dallas, etc.

A retread is fin, but recognize that although someone has to win the Cup every year, it's unlikely that someone who got fired in another city has the formula we need in Montreal to deal with the ridiculous mess of politics, media and haphazard player development. If we wanted something special, it was going to have to be a new name, because no one to previously coach in the NHL not named Bowman has shown he has his head and shoulders above the rest.

Overall, I have to say this hiring is troubling. Not because I can't see the team squeaking into the playoffs and being eliminated (as usual) with Therrien. I can. But because I thought this rebuild was meant to be a step into a new direction. A sincere effort to recognize that Montreal is a special mix of elements and that if the team is to ever live up to its heritage, it must start by staffing with a very special mix of managers.

As I said, Bergevin was getting the benefit of being a possible rising star, with his buddy Mellanby. But if his judgment and the advice he's taking led him down a road that ended with Therrien being considered, interviewed and hired, the flag I see is red and it tells me that we are very much on the same course as before and any expectations of a great franchise turnaround might have to wait until the next big clean out.

I am sorry for being negative. But I truly feel this move is disappointing.

Let's be a bit positive

If I try to muster something positive from this, I must stretch. It is possible (though unlikely) that Bergevin is more calculating than we give him credit for. He is currently at the helm of a pretty mediocre group of players, and that can't be changed overnight. With the Montreal hounds the way they are, any coach might be burned by the results this team is likely to put up in the short term.

In that case, it would be a shame to burn a really hot up and comer. Instead, you'd want a sacrificial stop gap. Enter Therrien -- a coach that is competent enough to kee things at bay for a while, but one with a two year countdown.

Maybe this hiring gives Bergevin then the time he needs to cultivate his long-term partnership with that cut-above coach (yet to be found) and rebuild the team into something that resembles a contender as well.

I've stretched my imagination on this one, but that's what it's taking me to see beyond.

In all scenarios, I think Therrien will be fired and added for a second time to that long list of one to two year tenures. At least, if Bergevin turns out to be a Machiavellian genius, it won't hurt in 5 years time.