June 30, 2016

Fire Marc Bergevin

by Jacob Saltiel


When it comes to NHL trades, anything can happen because your favourite team only needs to find one bad general manager to change their fortunes. This week, Habs fans should be horrified to discover that their general manager, the sartorial Marc Bergevin, is just one of those sucker-GMs. When it comes to style, Bergevin can’t go wrong with this wardrobe, but now it appears that he can’t get anything right with his hockey team. The Lars Eller and PK Subban trades show an alarming swerve in direction for a team that’s in a short window for contending for a Stanley Cup. That window just got shorter and Canadiens fans likely won’t see another contender until there’s new management. In a week, the Canadiens went from dreaming of a Stanley Cup parade to making eyes at Toronto’s brilliant front office, that, even if their team is bad now, has a coherent plan for making it good. Who knows what the Canadiens are even trying to do anymore?

Forerunner of the Apocalypse

Eller for Shaw via Washington was a curious trade, neither good nor particularly bad, as this Scott Cullen breakdown shows. While the on-ice effects add up to a modest loss in talent for the Canadiens, the trade shows how Bergevin’s decided to go old-school thinking on his roster, valuing all-important attributes such as grit and toughness over trivial characteristics such as puck possession. Left out of his article is that Shaw is a good bottom-six winger, which the Canadiens need when they’re rolling out guys like Brian Flynn. Dumping Eller for the two second round picks was a good haul for a player that Michel Therrien has often used as if he’s a misplaced part, but using those two picks on Shaw is an over-payment when one looks at trades like the one that got Buffalo Dmitry Kulikov.

The Canadiens are contending now, and they need to use their assets to get players that do one of two things: 1) Make the team better right now or 2) start getting talented players into the organization now to take over when the core gets torn down in a few years. Shaw does not improve the team if subtracting Eller was the price. And rolling those two second round picks back to drafts in 2017 and 2018 delays the Canadiens beginning to develop that all important cheap young flesh that smart teams traffic in. The trade, then, while not awful, achieves neither of the priorities that a contending team should be pursuing. Worse, Bergevin rather aggressively extended Shaw for six years until he’ll be 31. I can’t say why such long term deals for third liners are so important, but I can’t imagine Shaw is going to suddenly turn into Claude Lemieux’s second coming.

When Disaster Strikes

Shaw’s arrival was, as it turned out, was just an appetizer in the feast of fools Bergevin was cooking up. If dumping Eller for Shaw showed Bergevin’s aggressive new inclination towards grit over skill, Subban for Weber was the main course. I can’t really add anything to the obvious criticisms that Subban is better, younger, and signed for far fewer years than Weber. You can look into good analyses here, here, and here. There is simply no good reason for making this trade for the Canadiens. The Predators just became Stanley Cup contenders while the Canadiens will be suffering from Weber’s contract starting at some point when his already measureable decline becomes obvious until 2026. If you are 10 years old and in grade school, you will be in university by the time Weber’s contract ends. If you are 20 and in university, you will probably be in a relationship and working some kind of job 9 to 5. If you are 30 and working that job, you will be 40 and have kids who will grow up cheering for other teams.

Why would the Canadiens have done this? You can mumble something about July 1st being the last chance to trade him. That’s not exactly the best reason to trade the best skater the Canadiens have had since Chris Chelios in the 1980’s. You can speculate as much as you want to about Subban’s personality and his relationships with his teammates, but good vibrations isn’t a measure of on-ice talent. Had the Canadiens gotten back a different collection of players and picks or prospects, maybe you could justify this as a hockey deal, but even then it’d be hard to have gotten comparable value for Subban.

Instead, you see Bergevin making choices that show that he and his front office co-workers have no coherent plan for improving the Canadiens. Grit, or being willing to block shots and hit people because you don’t have the puck, reveals more about a player being a masochist than a game-changer. Being a good teammate never put the puck in the net. Intangibles are great for throwing an office party but won’t fix a Canadiens team that’s falling behind some of the savvier general managers in the league.

While Bergevin was sacrificing talent for grit, creative general managers like Ken Holland were somehow turning Pavel Datsyuk’s cap crunching contract into space to sign players. Ray Shero in New Jersey turned a possible top-4 defender into Taylor Hall, a top-10 forward in the league. Steve Yzerman somehow mind-controlled Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Drouin into becoming hosts for his viral plan to storm the league for a half-decade. Bergevin’s phone must be ringing off the hook to see what else he might try and trade, which shouldn’t be a comforting thought if you’re a Canadiens fan.

Welcome to the Bottom

Dumping Subban might only be defensible if you think the Canadiens (former) core of Subban, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, and Carey Price wasn’t good enough to win it all. Swapping in Weber, who might be Mike Komisarek with a slapshot, makes that core worse. Does anyone think that Price will want to re-sign if the Canadiens are still a middling team when his contract runs out? What will the Canadiens do then? Shaw and Weber will be larding the Canadiens’ cap space for 6 and 10 years, respectively. If the Canadiens couldn’t win with Subban, they won’t win with those two. The only way they get back to contending status from here is if they tear down the core and keep their young players like Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu. If they started that tomorrow, it could still be 5 years before they make the playoffs again.

But Bergevin thinks his team can win it all, and these moves indicate that he might just keep trying to double down on his aging core. If that’s the case, then a re-build will only start when he and the rest of the front office is fired. This is unfortunate. Till this week, Bergevin had shown himself to be a patient and wise GM. The Subban deal changes that. Most of his current core was drafted by Trevor Timmins under Bob Gainey and Pierre Gauthier. Aside from a brilliant strike for Jeff Petry, Bergevin hasn’t done enough to add to the core pieces he was left with. Even if he had, trading Subban for Weber could be a fireable offence. At times like these, Geoff Molson’s best characteristic as an owner- that he stays out of his hockey operations employees’ ways- is also his worst. The sooner Molson goes looking for a new general manager, the better.



May 4, 2015

Not So Elementary, My Dear Watson – Round 2, Game 2, Canadiens-Lightning

by Jacob Saltiel

Artist rendering of Watson (at left) discussing the finer points of misconduct with Prust (at right). Credit to Sidney Paget

After that horrorshow of deserved, undeserved, and missed calls, the Canadiens are down 0-2 heading to Tampa, needing to win four out of five games to advance to the next round. Can they do it?

Narratives Against Numbers

This year’s story about the Canadiens is that they’re a bad team with an MVP goaltender. As some reporters would have it, most Canadiens skaters simply pivot in place as their opponents fly by them on their way to the net. While this was broadly speaking true in the regular season where the Canadiens were bottom third in the entire NHL in shots and shots allowed, the Canadiens are second overall in the playoffs in shots for, with 38.7 a game, and thirteenth in the playoffs in shots allowed, with 32.1  per game. Aside from that series-clinching victory against Ottawa, the Canadiens have launched a rubber tide against opposing goaltenders with little luck. Before the refereeing odyssey began last night with Prust’s double-minor for… something*, it looked like the Habs, for the second game in a row, were going to carve up Tampa’s defence. As a team, the Canadiens’ are scoring on less than 5% of their shots since the playoffs started, which is extremely low, even for a small sample size. If that evens out, you can see a lot of crooked numbers on the scoreboard for however much longer this series against Tampa continues. Bizarrely, the focus before game 2 was all about how Alex Galchenyuk needs to score, but players like Pacioretty, Subban, Gallagher, and Plekanec are also due for some red lights.

Despite also giving up a lot of shots against, this strategy should work for the Habs, since Price should be better than just about any goalie opposite. That it didn’t work last night had more to do with 8 powerplays being gifted to Tampa Bay and their clockwork PP execution than any slippage in Price’s game. The bad news for games 3, 4, and beyond is that the Lightning haven’t played well at even strength so far, having won game 1 on a play that should have been called back and game 2 on the back of a rash of powerplays. If the Lightning return to their regular season form, this series could get uglier for the Canadiens, who probably deserved to win game 1, while game 2 was a bit of an adventure in the NHL’s refereeing sliding scale.

Add it all up, and you should ignore any writer who tells you that the Canadiens are a defensive team that simply bunkers down around their goalie. Since they playoffs started, they’ve played wide-open hockey, often dominating the shotclocks. It’s a good question to ask if the Canadiens would be better off playing counter-punch hockey, but that hasn’t been their game this April and May.

Anger Mis-Management

The real source of concern for Canadiens fans after games 1, and 2, shouldn’t be Tampa Bay’s series lead, but the post-game comments by Canadiens players and Therrien suggesting they’re badly sidetracked by the referees. It’s true that linesmen missing a routine off-sides call indirectly led to game 1’s OT winner. It’s also true that game 2 is characterized by eight powerplays for the Lightning against three for the Canadiens. Game 2’s calls against the Habs fall into three categories: a) Good calls. b) Bad calls. c) NHL-Zone “Game Management”.

The first category is simple enough. The latter two require some distinction. A bad call is simply a miss by the referee. These are forgivable enough since the game happens at high-speed and so on. No problem there. NHL-Zone “Game Management” refers to penalties called to even up play or to penalties that are rarely called in the regular season or other playoff games that somehow crop up at crucial times. In round 1, the referees didn’t call much in the way of roughing penalties, allowing all kinds of nonsense after the whistles against Ottawa.

Similarly, smashing players in the crease after whistles is generally tolerated, since pretty much every team in the league does this. This is why it’s bizarre that Subban got that penalty for cross-checking Callahan at the end of the first period last night. It’s not that cross-checking isn’t a penalty, but that referees generally stick to separating players in front of the crease rather than calling anything in either direction. On the heels of Prust’s back-talk penalty- another mystery given that the replays on TVA showed Prust not engaging Watson- it looks downright suspicious. The Canadiens got two “even-up” penalties at the beginning of the 2nd to make up for the 1st period’s RefShow**, and did nothing with it. The problem of this runs deeper for the Canadiens than Game 2.

Like in Ottawa two playoffs ago, the Canadiens are letting hockey’s metaphysics bother them. Whether or not Prust is right about Watson taunting him, he shouldn’t be throwing elbow pads at the Lightning, and he definitely shouldn’t be spouting off directly to the media about an NHL ref. Therrien, too, spent his post-game 1 press conference complaining about the uncalled off-side preceding Kucherov’s overtime goal***, which is also an unnecessary distraction. The Canadiens are having a hard enough time playing the Lightning, flaming the referees after every game certainly isn’t going to help them get calls later in the series. One wonders if now would be a good time for Bergevin to make it clear that any talk about the referees should be strictly between him and the league office, rather than between players, coaches, and reporters’ microphones.

Getting to Game 6

Given that the Lightning just swept two games in Montreal, there’s not reason the Canadiens can’t return the favour if they play like they did in Game 1 and most of the Game 2’s 1st period. Aside from whatever Ref Show nonsense might arise, the Canadiens need to do their best to stay out of the box. Eric Engels tweeted that Watson won’t be involved in this series anymore, presumably since he’s been re-assigned to ask Benedict Cumberbatch stupid questions. Having the unfairly-hated David Desharnais back should help even out that scoring percentage a bit. Prust is almost certainly getting fined for that cheeky / spiteful elbow pad toss, with a possibility of a suspension for his post-game comments. Carey Price is also unlikely to get lit up two games in a row. Going back a week or so to Game 6 in Ottawa, Price showed why he’s possibly the league’s best player. The Lightning are a great offensive team, but 8 goals on a little less than 60 shots just isn’t going to continue. If the Canadiens stick to their gameplan, they’ll be back in Montreal for Game 5 tied at deuces.


*Jousting with Coburn wasn’t the original penalty that Watson called, but it’s unclear what preceded that that earned Prust his trip to the penalty box and ensuing misconduct penalty.

** Keith Law, a baseball commentator, describes unjustifiable umpire interference as “The Ump Show”. It’s a perfect slogan to describe what happens when officials impose themselves on a game with chaotic effects that drive fans, coaches, and players insane. Additionally, this article about Stephane Auger’s pseudo-retirement includes a following comment by a former ref about player-referee interaction: “He said he often warned players in subtle ways they could expect at least one marginal penalty call. But the idea was to correct bad behaviour, such as diving or the verbal abuse of the officials, rather than personal revenge.” Telling players to expect marginal calls is a bit different than saying “I’m calling the rulebook tonight”.

*** Kucherov’s first OT goal was justifiably called back, so anyone, like, for example, Pierre LeBrun, who claims that the uncalled somehow evens up the no-goal call, is just wrong.

– There will be no David Desharnais to improve the team in Tampa, since the Canadiens announced that he will not be travelling with the team. Amuse yourself by wondering how many people who blame the Canadiens for sucking with him in the lineup will blame him for the team losing without him.

– Kerry Fraser unwittingly identified what’s wrong with NHL referees in this article by pointing out that they’re only human will pick on players who criticize their colleagues. No one denies a referee’s humanity by pointing out that they shouldn’t hold grudges against specific players. Referees’ only responsibility is to applying the games’ rules, not showing Brandon Prust who’s boss. It’s true that referees can’t respond publicly to comments, but then it’s also true that no one ever finds out how or if they are disciplined for poor performances like last night’s game.
According to Renaud Lavoie’s twitter account, Brandon Prust can’t be suspended for his actions last night based on the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the player’s union.

April 18, 2015

The Satisfyingly Dissatisfying PK Subban

by Jacob Saltiel

This week, PK Subban showed again why he’s largely considered a villain when he, by some accounts, took a power saw to Mark Stone’s wrists and was then ejected from his first playoff game of the season. Senators players and management described the slash variously as a tomahawk, chop, hack, and, most incoherently, as a “baseball-style slash”.* Subban, critical to his team’s success, stormed off the ice, depriving the Canadiens of their best defender, and irritating some Habs fans and nearly all 13 Senators fans. This isn’t the first time Subban has annoyed the home crowd.

Reminder: he shoots like he’s trying to hurt the puck, skates like the Gingerbread man, and can handle a stick as easily as he does a microphone. He’s the best skater the Canadiens have had since Chris Chelios, who was to the NHL’s ’80’s and ’90’s what Subban is it’s ’10’s; a big talent with a bigger personality, who occasional dabbles in hockey’s dark arts. In short, he’s your prototypical NHL star- a seemingly contradictory co-existence of dainty finesse and brutal nastiness. What could any Canadiens fan dislike about his game?

Local drunk-driver, RDS analyst, and former Canadiens coach recently stumbled out of his motor vehicle, and criticized a cop for doing his job by saying some version of “You’re like PK Subban, have no judgement, and are stupid.” It’s fascinating that someone who played hockey for much of his life, then coached for years, and now receives pay cheques to watch hockey would criticize one of the league’s best players this way. Presumably, Tremblay wants the Canadiens to win.

If only Tremblay’s opinion were his own, there’d be no trouble. But some version of that opinion extends to some in the Canadiens’ front office, who refused to sign Subban to a long-term extension when he was first a restricted free agent, and then almost balked at Subban’s salary demands two years later before coming around to the sensible thing and cutting the damn cheque. Watching the clips above, it’s perhaps understandable why people want to modify Subban’s behavior or are skeptical that he’s as good as he looks. Subban adds a little sauce and flair to everything he does on the ice, which is bad enough in a sport where pulling a legal deke in a shootout- which is a skills competition- will have veteran players telling the media about a lack of respect.

It gets worse. Subban also demonstrates the signs and symptoms of a man possessing an ego. He jumps up and down while waiting for passes. He’s been seen on camera pointing figures at his teammates. Even when it comes to charity, he can be a downright ham. In an era where 24CH exists and fandom includes dissecting and analyzing not just the on-ice player performances, but also their off-ice routine, Subban comes off poorly. What makes him fun to watch on the ice possibly makes him unbearable off of it. Not that it matters a lick whether Subban is a good co-worker or a total boor. Nor whether his teammates can stand him or not.

Many fans want their stars to do everything possible to win. When it comes to hockey, many fans, like Bruins VP and managerial backseat driver Cam Neely, want their hockey players to be both artistically skilled and ruthlessly mean. When this player actually appears, in this case Subban, a player who dives, hacks, and bends every rule on the ice in his direction to put the puck in the other team’s net and keep it out of his own, some still complain. Like dogs chasing cars, once they catch it, they aren’t quite sure what to do with it.

Not most though. Élise Béliveau added perspective to Subban’s status as a Canadien and NHL’er. Quite simply, he’s a blast to watch. He’s so good, the Senators broke with the usual NHL routine of describing player injuries as vaguely as possible when they announced with hyper-specificity that Stone had suffered from microfractures and was “extremely questionable” to play in an attempt to get Subban suspended**. Despite only playing a game and a half, Subban has 2 assists and a goal which would have been a murder-attempt had Andrew Hammond actually blocked it with any part of his body. The play-by-play guys call was right on the money: “Struck with ferocity- he scores!” Subban is exactly what his fans want him to be, and everything opposing teams and their fans do not want to see.

Fear him because he’s good, hate him because he knows it, but be happy he plays in your colours. Tomorrow, Subban takes his show on the road, where Sens fans will have the chance to let him know how they really feel about him. But Subban’s been through this before, saying before Game 7 last year in Boston of the hostile home crowd: “It’s going to be great[.] I can’t wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building. I can’t wait to take that all away from them.” So do your worst Sens Army, and Subban will do his best.

– With credit to Arpon Basu of NHL.com, Nick Cotsonika and Greg Wyshinski of Yahoo! Sports, and everyone who uploads clips to YouTube like it’s their job.
*Kyle Turris obviously doesn’t watch much baseball, where reports indicate that batters swing the bat more often than they slash with it. It’s unclear if one can even properly attach the verb “to slash” with a “bat”, but it was a brave linguistic effort anyway.
** The NHL’s arbitrary suspension policy punishes results more than process, meaning that Subban’s slash, which happens fairly frequently in all NHL games, usually falls between a 2 minute penalty or a non-call, suddenly becomes suspension worthy because Stone got hurt. No one should hack each other at all in hockey, and Subban’s slash was stupid, to suspend for that play would have been even more absurd than the ejection.

September 7, 2014

The Montreal Canadiens Should Sign Martin Brodeur

by Jacob Saltiel
martin brodeur


According to this TSN report, possible best goaltender of all time, Martin Brodeur, would sign a contract to play for the Montreal Canadiens. While many Habs fans and commentators will immediately dismiss this article as a report on the forlorn longings of a past-it athlete, the Canadiens would be shrewd to sign Martin Brodeur.

The counterarguments to signing Brodeur are numerous and persuasive. Three are as follows:

1) The Habs already have a back-up goaltender controversy logjam, with everyone’s favourite teammate, Peter Budaj, scrapping it out for the right to ride the pine against everyone’s favourite playoff wildcard, Dustin Tokarski.

2) Martin Brodeur sucks. The Devils might have made the playoffs last year if they hadn’t split goalie starts equally between Brodeur and Corey Schneider.

3) Martin Brodeur is fat.

The Canadiens, though, shouldn’t sign Brodeur to improve their team. No, the Canadiens should sign Brodeur for one simple reason; Revenge.

For his entire career, Brodeur has talked openly about loving to play against his boyhood team, and he sure played like he loved it. Never mind that for large parts of his career, the Canadiens were as terrible as he is fat now. Brodeur came home to raucous crowds and slowly strangled the home crowd’s enthusiasm from behind his black and red wall of trapping defenders. Did he ever apologize? Did he ever suggest remorse for a .930 save percentage and 1.87 GAA against the fans that nurtured him from infancy to fun-destroying hockey royalty?

And now the old goat goes mumbling these sorts of things through his agency*:

“If the Canadiens made me an offer, it goes without saying that I would listen to what they have to offer me,” the Montreal native told QMI.

“This is Carey Price‘s team. I would definitely still want to be the No. 1 goalie, but it wouldn’t bother me to play in only 20 to 25 games during the season if I know I’ll have fun playing within a winning team.”

Oh, what? Now that the only thing he can keep out of his net is a plate of chicken wings in any type of hot sauce you can name he wants in? Like hell he’s getting 20-25 games here, and he will certainly not be playing for a winning team if he’s starting 20-25 games.

Rather, Brodeur’s role should not be starting any games, and that’s exactly how Marc Bergevin can take revenge. It’s simple, really:

1) Sign Brodeur to Contract.

2) Never play him.

3) Cater the pressbox with a buffet consisting entirely of brussel sprouts.

4) Put a video camera on him at all times in the pressbox.

5) Sell the 6 hour video of Brodeur’s greatest eye rolls and gallant ventures towards the buffet table.

Look, sure it costs a roster spot, but the Habs can afford this. It is often said that revenge is a dish best served cold. In this case, revenge is best served steamed with a dash of salt, and nothing else.

Eat up, Martin.


*Quotation from the report quoted above. Link: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=461028

May 12, 2014

Daniel Brière, Playoff Consultant

by Jacob Saltiel



Given his late career decline in skills and Coach Therrien’s reluctance to play him, Daniel Brière has rebranded himself from NHL player into NHL Playoff Consultant. He’s not exactly an assistant coach, but he’s spinning his excellent post-season reputation into a new career without having to retire. Before the website for Brière’s new gig comes up, here’s a leaked snippet of some of the boilerplate:

“With 113 playoff points in 116 playoff games, I have the experience to optimize, maximize, and synergize your playoff team’s chances of taking home the Stanley Cup.

Playoff strategy is about enabling an organization to achieve and sustain superior performance by overcoming challenges, understanding historical playoff trends and linking tangible actions to a clear strategic vision. Whether it’s pursuing the Stanley Cup, delivering upsets against heavily favoured opponents, driving efficiencies or winning series’ in fewer games, NHL teams need plans and tactics they can implement and deliver to drive successful outcomes.

My playoff experience has helped NHL franchises in different states of contention make the right decisions to allow them to take advantage of opportunities while minimizing risks. Combining world-class playoff scoring with decades of hands-on experience, I can help you:

  • Define a team-franchise vision linked to tangible actions and goals
  • Improve operational on-ice performance
  • Engage in strategic performance measurement and advanced analytics
  • Gameplan to promote your team’s assets and expose the opposition’s liabilities.

Let Brière Scoring Solutions take your NHL Franchise to the next level.”

No one wants to say that Therrien, after playing Douglas Murray and Brandon Prust in a crucial away game 5 when the other team has last change needs Brière Solutions, but hey, they’re paying the guy’s salary anyway…


(with thanks to whoever wrote the boilerplate for Corporate Consulting over at Deloitte)






May 2, 2014

Habs-Bruins Game 1, Round 2: A Man Possessed

by Jacob Saltiel



At times like these, one wonders how a Bruins fan processes a game like last night’s. Watching your team control the game for two straight periods into overtime, getting open looks on the other team’s goalie, outhitting the opposition, and all but shutting down every Canadien except PK Subban and the unguardable Rene Bourque, can you even feel bad about your team’s play? Of course not. There is one thing to be very nervous about though, and that’s Carey Price’s glorious display.

The playoffs are a tricky thing for statisticians. Jonah Keri, of Grantland.com, makes the point that once the playoffs begin in MLB, he throws away his stats, since postseason series’ are comparatively short compared to the regular season, and just a few abnormal performances in either direction by key players can skew a mediocre team to victory and a good team to defeat. So it is with NHL goaltending in particular. Many a hockey fan will dread the familiar disaster that is an opponent’s goaltender finding a groove where nothing short of a bulldozer can push the puck past him.

Distressingly for Bruins fans, Price seems to have made a deal with the devil signed in blood, making a series of preposterous stops last night. Statheads will talk about elevated PDOs and unsustainable Fenwicks, indicating that the Canadiens are definitely screwed, and they might be right. For Bruins fans, they’d better hope that those numbers regress to the mean before the end of the series. For Habs fans, they’d better hope more players than Price, Subban, Bourque, Eller, and Plekanec show up in Games 2-7.

What’s Next?

The Bruins will probably come back in game 2 with a similar gameplan. If they play the same way in game 2 as they did in game 1, they could conceivably win by several goals with the only difference being pucks bouncing differently. The Bruins, recognizing that playoff nightmare that is a goaltender possessed by the daemon Mammon, will probably adjust their gameplan slightly to start running Price’s crease, camping in his line of sight, and crossing themselves before every shift. Bob McKenzie on TSN points out how all three Bruins goals occurred when Price couldn’t see the puck. The Bruins can’t do too much about Price playing the pucks he can see, but they can try and knock him out of his comfort zone and pray he doesn’t gain the ability to swivel his head 360 degrees around his neck.

The Canadiens, on the other hand, had better be ready to defend their goaltender. While Francis Bouillon scored a goal, Therrien might consider dropping him for Jarred Tinordi (Legend). I can hear you reading this and protesting some combination of:

1) Bouillon scored!

2) He’s experienced and tries hard!

3) Don’t tinker with a winning lineup!

But 1) Bouillon probably won’t score in any hockey league for another 6 months. 2) He’s also 5″8 , old, and these are professional athletes- they all try hard or they wouldn’t be here. 3) The Canadiens might have won that game on the scoreboard, but if you think this lineup doesn’t need some tinkering with, you’re still drunk from last night.

As the Bruins start hitting more, the Canadiens will need to respond, and playing Weaver and Bouillon at the same time- no matter how tough those two are or how great a story Bouillon- leaves the Canadiens at a serious size mismatch against forwards like Carl Soderberg, Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille, Jarome Iginla, etc… etc…

Therrien also really needs to do something about his best line being Eller, Bourque, and whoever skated with them since it’s unclear if any other Habs forwards touched the puck last night. Leaving aside the question of how Bourque can be objectively mediocre for 166 games over the last 3 seasons and then become the Prairies’ answer to Alexander Ovechkin, the Canadiens can’t win too many games without better performances from other forwards.

Travis Moen returned to the lineup, replacing the more-deserving Bournival. The arguments for including Moen are similar to the arguments for including Bouillon, but Bournival is good with the puck, a heck of a lot faster, and a better passer than TraMoen. As much as toughness will be an issue for the Canadiens in their crease, they need to take back the possession game, and Bournival can help do that.

That’s a relatively minor issue compared to the struggles of the top two lines. Desharnais seems like the only member of the topline who either gets the puck or harasses the Bruins D. Despite facing harder competition, Vanek and Pacioretty need to show something, even if it’s just physical play, to distract the Bruins from hoarding the puck.

Meanwhile, there was an interesting stat on RDS showing Krejci’s 1st round points, 23, and how only 1 goal from that number came against the Canadiens, since Plekanec has consistently shut him down. If Krejci didn’t score last night, it has less to do with being shutdown by forwards than by bad puck luck and Price’s play. If Plekanec and Gallagher aren’t going to score, they’d better get that puck and make life hard for the Bruins forwards tomorrow afternoon.


The media will now shift from discussing hatred and depth to ghosts and history. Despite Price being very much a creature of flesh and blood and some substance, the story will become about haunted goalposts and goaltenders of playoffs past stifling the Bruins. While the media hires exorcists to serve as panelists on their in-game talkshows, the Bruins will bring the hate back by beating the Canadiens down if they can’t put the puck in the net. As discussed above, Therrien’s got some adjustments to make for the real live players on his roster, since trusting in ghosts isn’t exactly a 21st century coaching strategy. It’s cute to imagine a team meeting around the campfire with each player passing a flashlight around and taking turns telling stories of their favourite playoff caper against the Bruins. But that won’t cut it, especially given the rumours that Subban, for all his sound and fury, gets the heebie-jeebies from ghosts.

Look, while it’s fun watching TD Garden fans pull out their hair as the Bruins throw holy water on Price in an attempt to rid him of the demons possessing him- CHECK THOSE WATER BOTTLES, REFS!- you have to hope that the Canadiens will start passing around the locker room whatever dietary supplement Bourque’s been snacking on.


If Apple plays that iPhone 5 ad with the god-awful cover of the Pixies’ Gigantic one more time, I’m going to start vomiting uncontrollably and speaking in deviltongues. MERCY, PLEASE!

May 1, 2014

Hello Darkness My Old Friend: Canadiens v. Bruins, Playoffs Round 2

by Jacob Saltiel

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens - Game Four

Flambeau Field Returns!

If you want to read the stats and history behind the upcoming series, I recommend you click here, here, here, or here.

Why should you read this piece, then? To identify your media narratives before the puck drops- that’s why!

There’s a couple of dominant themes developing before puckdrop:

1) Depth. The pundits would have you believe that, like Wu-Tang Rapper Raekwon, this series “got deep like a N.A.V.Y. Seal”.

2) Hatred. These teams don’t like each other. How the media ever dredged up some controversy between these teams is a mystery.

Away we go then.

Too Greedily, Too Deep

The story goes that the Canadiens beat the Lightning because they had more depth, as in, they had more NHL-quality players. Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper made the unlikely decision to drop half of his blueline between game 1 and 2, partially because of injury and partially because he wanted to play as many 6″6 stiffs as possible. Meanwhile, the Tampa 4th line included Cedric Paquette, who has played all of 2 and a half weeks in his NHL career and was in the QMJHL last month, and an assorted young players including Richard Panik, Nikita Kucherov, and J.T. Brown. In goal, the Lightning were forced to start a backup who’s save percentage was 30 points lower than the starter.

As for the Habs squaring off against this plucky group of Bolts, several habitual underachievers stepped up. Rene Bourque played out of his mind for 4 straight games. Bourque played hockey with Alex Ovechkin’s stats. Lars Eller, who has tantalized on previous occasions but mostly struggled in the regular season, is currently tied for the team lead in playoff scoring with 5, when he only scored 26 all year. For reference, that’s nearly 20% of his production over 77 regular season games into 4 playoff games. Dale Weise also emerged as a serviceable 4th liner. Post-deadline trade, he’d been more “Dale Weise he on our team?” than OT hero, but no matter. Also, Mike Weaver and Francis Bouillon played bottom-pair defence minutes, and didn’t completely kill the Canadiens. If they had, it wouldn’t have been Weaver’s fault as much as Bouillon’s, though.

This deep Canadiens team will now face off against the Bruins, a team that has, since 2011, won the Stanley Cup and returned to the finals behind- get this- a deep roster. Unlike the Lightning who were running with several youngsters, the Bruins have experienced NHLers at almost every position. If not for injuries to Chris Kelly, Dennis Seidenberg, and Adam McQuaid, there’d be very few rookies or sophomores on this team. Justin Florek, who nobody’s heard of, plays wing on a 3rd line centred by the 6″3 Carl Soderberg who scored 48 points, which would have ranked 5 on the Habs. On defence, the Bruins are rotating Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski, and Corey Potter on their bottom pair, which doesn’t hurt them so much since Chara will play half the game anyway.

So, for fans expecting the Habs depth players to run rampant on the Bruins the way it did against the Lightning, it’s highly unlikely. Vanek, Pacioretty, and Desharnais need to be more effective than they were in the 1st round, but against defensive beasts Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Against the Bruins, the Canadiens will test the commentators depth theory.

It’s not that the Canadiens have no chance, but like the last regular season meeting between these teams, the games will be tight, and goals will be as hard to come by for 1st liners as for 4th liners.



Did you know that these teams don’t like each other? Well, they do. This time, they extra-double hate each other because they’re meeting in the 2nd, rather than the 1st round. Actually, these teams could meet at a Chuck-E-Cheese for a child’s birthday party and Brad Marchand might still knee cross someone in the ballpit as Lucic hacks them with a pool noodle in a different type of ballpit.

If you’re a Habs fan, it’s pretty obvious why the Habs might hate the Bruins. Barely a year goes by without some Bruins player trying to murder a Canadien in a hockey game. If that doesn’t get you pissed off, the Bruins’ inexplicable inferiority complex, where they complain that the refs are out to get them, that every team but them dives, and that every hit thrown by any opponent deserves retribution and then condemnation in the media, certainly should. I mean, between Chara, Marchand, Lucic, and the unjustifiably appreciated Shawn Thornton- who was benched for most of last year’s playoffs- the Bruins have divers and cheapshotters aplenty to choose from.

Now, the Canadiens aren’t completely innocent either. Subban is generally hated around the league because he’s insanely good, talks trash, isn’t afraid to embellish a bit, and throws the occasional massive open-ice hit. Emelin has also created his own peculiar irritating brand. Emelin’s disliked because he hits at every opportunity and he hits his opponents extremely hard. Never mind that almost all of those hits are clean and within the rules. And especially pay no attention to the fact that he cannot fight owing to a metal plate in his face. Chara, in particular, has attacked Emelin more than once for playing the damned game. That’s the NHL in 2014, though, throw a clean hit and prepare to be punched in the face. Repeatedly.

Aside from those two obvious offenders, the Canadiens are a relatively innocuous bunch. Daniel Briere bothers his opponents by hacking them behind the play and diving occasionally, while Tomas Plekanec’s defence seems to harass opponents into ill-fated trashtalking. Brandon Prust plays a tough game, but he doesn’t seem big enough to hurt anyone.

Really, this hatred thing boils down to the fact that the Canadiens have beaten the Bruins in unlikely circumstances the past couple of seasons, from wicked comebacks to games they clearly should have lost but didn’t while the Bruins resort to whining and smashing people when they can’t beat them within the rules.

Look, the reporters can report on these teams hating each other- somebody ring Pulitzer!- or they can do some real on the ground reportage to find out just how much fans will hate TSN’s commercials by the end of the playoffs. Penelope Cruz selling Nespresso with like six extra e’s? That Scottish guy selling Scott’s lawn turf? Please god just stop.

Let’s just see the puck drop so we can let the players tell the story.


July 5, 2013

Small Player, Small Deal: Briere Signs with MTL

by Jacob Saltiel

Briere Leans Against the Front Step of the Bell Centre
from wchlhockey.blogspot.com

How one interprets Briere’s arrival to the Habs depends on if one thinks it’s a big deal or if it’s a depth move. If you believe that the Habs are an aggressive off-season away from contending for the Stanley Cup, then you might be upset. If you think the Canadiens still need to wait a year or two to clear out some older players as their young players and prospects develop into productive NHLers, then this move makes sense.

If you watched the team that got smoked by Ottawa in the playoffs, then you should know which of the above scenarios is more likely. Actually, if you watched that 1st round series and think that Clarkson or Clowe is the difference between glorious victory and mediocrity, than you’re drunk, and you should leave your keys in the wheel hub and fall asleep in your car.

To the Marketplace!

On June 20th, Marc Bergevin was quoted as follows in a TSN artcle: “History shows that free agency isn’t the best tool,” he said. “Free agency to me is a tool but it’s not a way to make your team a top team. It’s overplayed. You have to be careful.”

To sign elite/star players is usually so prohibitive that even if- even if!- the first few years of the deal are productive ones, the end of their contract will almost certainly punish the team. In light of the recent Lecavalier buy-out, it’s worth checking out Sean McIndoe’s (a.k.a Down Goes Brown) Grantland column, profiling every contract of more than 8 years signed during the last CBA. Take your time, this blog post will still be here when you get back.

So, how many of those deals were good? 2? 3? Even those that sort of worked, such as Marian Hossa’s signing in Chicago, may still come back to hurt the team’s that signed them. More often, those deals were total disasters. As the Canadiens were getting Briere, other teams were preparing to throw term and dollars at players who were almost certainly not worth the commitment. Whatever list it is that has Christian Ehrhoff at the top, as the best of something, it’s concerning.

Fans will complain that Clowe ($4.85m/year, 5 years) and Clarkson ($5.25m/year, 7 years) would have added a lot to the Canadiens. Well, maybe for a couple of years they might have, but look at the length on those deals. Also, Clarkson and Clowe might be nothing more than glorified checking wingers. Great if they play on your 3rd line, maybe on your 2nd, but now they make 2nd line money as they age into their 30’s.

Clarkson won’t make the Leafs d-corps competent, and Clowe won’t generate enough offence to cover for the other Devils forwards. Bergevin, who’s worked steadily to rid the Canadiens of bad contracts (Cole, Kaberle, Gomez), is rightfully loathe to stay away from cap-clogging contracts at the moment. The core’s still young, and more importantly, the free agent crop this year doesn’t have anyone worth throwing money at.

But What About Briere?

Briere’s 2-year deal is a 35 and + contract, so it counts no matter what. He’s been in decline for the last couple of years, but he can fill the Michael Ryder role as the Canadiens wait for their young forwards to develop. Yes, Briere is not the star he was going into that monstrous contract he accepted with the Flyers, yes, he’s small, and yes he’s French. at 36, he might not be able to score 30 goals, but he can help  score goals on the powerplay, and doesn’t cost anything more than money.

Until his contract runs out or Gandalf recruits him to destroy the One Ring, he can play wing or centre up front, take faceoffs, and work on the powerplay. He won’t be relied on to be a star, and the Habs don’t owe him so much that they can’t move him if one of their forward prospects makes a charge for the NHL lineup (Leblanc? Is your NHL career alive?).

Actually, it’s possible to imagine that if he gets off to a good start and the Habs struggle in their new, Detroit-occupied division, that Bergevin can successfully trade Briere at the deadline for a 2nd round pick or a prospect. If Hal Gill and Douglas Murray can get 2nd round picks, a productive Briere can get that too. This would amount to spending money to acquire draft picks, which, if it comes to pass, is a great strategy. As Bergevin showed with the Kristo’s signing and trading, he’s keen to get as much from his pieces as he can.

This trade is a depth move. While it might have been nicer to get Clarkson or Clowe, the price tags on the players might have screwed the Habs in future years. Next year, Gionta, Markov, and Bouillon come off the cap, freeing another $12.575m in cap space. It’s not like they won’t have room to add a big name or some effective role players if they become available.

That sounds a lot better than spending money just for the sake of it.

July 4, 2013

Depth Charge, VOL. 23951756: A Christian for a Kristo

by Jacob Saltiel

“Imagine a computer, this big. It could fit in your hands.”
from blogs.thescore.com

In a sly maneuver that has nothing to do with the NHL potential of either player, Marc Bergevin traded Danny Kristo to the New York Rangers for Christian Thomas. It wasn’t so long ago that Kristo had the opportunity to become a free agent, screwing Bergevin out of an asset. How?

As Bob McKenzie reported, Kristo could have opted out of university, waited until August, and then signed for any team in the NHL, just like Justin Schultz

So what happened?

Baby, You Is the one. I Swears.

Kristo, a talented college-level player could have signed anywhere if he’d simply waited until August. He’d rebuffed the Canadiens a year earlier to stay an extra year in college and get suspended for serving beer to minors. Bergevin played the panpipes and signed him to the Canadiens despite averaging about .75 curious incidents a season with the University of North Dakota Fighting Flaming Racists Sioux. While Kristo ripped up the NCAA during his junior and senior years, the curious incidents average must have scared Bergevin enough to trade him only a few months after retaining his rights.

Even though he didn’t like the player, Bergevin worked to retain his rights, knowing he could flip the asset elsewhere. The return for the still unproven Kristo is Christian Thomas.

But Who Won the Trade?

It’s still too early to tell, since Kristo and Thomas have combined for exactly 1 NHL game between them. Having said that, the Canadiens received a prospect who was drafted 12 sports earlier and 2 years later than the one they shipped out. While Kristo’s NCAA scoring numbers seem impressive (26-26-52 in 40 games), Thomas just missed out on scoring 20 goals in the AHL (19-16-35 in 73 games), against professional players. That year of AHL experience is mildly successful for an age 21 season.

In general, junior and college-level numbers can be deceiving, since plenty of players can score against boys but eventually struggle against professionals. Take, for example, Nathan Gerbe, who just got bought out by Buffalo. By his age-23 season, Gerbe had already been playing in the NHL for a year and ripped up the AHL in the two seasons previous. As a 20 year old, he scored 63 points in 43 games, surpassing Kristo’s senior season numbers. And now he’s out of a contract. Of course, Gerbe performed better than Kristo in college, and also better than Thomas in the AHL, so his example shouldn’t be used as a strong predictor of Kristo’s or Thomas’ future development. The point is that scoring a lot at lower levels matter less than what age a player is as he emerges against his peer group.

Thomas may be smaller than Kristo, but he if he can build on his AHL numbers this coming season and validate his insane junior track record (as a 19 year old he scored 54 goals and 45 assists for 99 points), the Canadiens might have found themselves another Brendan Gallagher (who, in the same draft as Thomas, was picked 3 rounds later). That’s still hoping on potential, but that’s a good return for a player who could have simply walked away for nothing. Kristo has very little professional experience (9 AHL regular season games), some flags about his character*, and fits the mold of small and skilled that Bergevin seems to be trying to get away from (Michael McCarron is HONGRY).

Each player in the trade could turn into nothing, or each of them into stars, or each of them into average NHLers, but the only unacceptable outcome is that Kristo is another Ryan McDonagh-level heist by Glen Sather. Until that does or doesn’t happen, Habs fans should hope that young Thomas repeats Gallagher’s routine from last year. Time may tell if this trade was hasty by Bergevin, but at least he got something for Kristo.


*Which are totally overblown. Oh my good god- a university student drinking beers, serving beers to his friends, and not letting a howling tundra dissuade him from sleeping with his girlfriend? Nobody can relate to this? These issues are things that most people don’t kind of grow out of?

July 2, 2013

Fool’s Gold: The Canadiens Should Ignore Vincent Lecavalier

by Jacob Saltiel

Why the long face?
from nhlpa.com


Little more than a year since he went to work for the Canadiens, Marc Bergevin’s established that he’s one of the more patient general managers. Left with a roster of some quality young and veteran players alongside some very unfortunate contracts, Bergevin acted deliberately to give the Canadiens roster flexibility. Unlike mad scientists such as Paul Holmgren or Glen Sather, who seem to make big moves for the sake of making big moves, Bergevin’s restrained himself from making any silly deals at the trade deadline or the draft. Having just finished buying out another of Pierre Gauthier’s mistakes in Tomas Kaberle, why should Bergevin rush to meet Vincent Lecavalier’s rumoured contract demands? 4-6 years at $4-5m/year is a lot to pay for a 33 year old’s past-production.

Cap Cloggage

As of now, the Canadiens have a little more than $9m available in cap space, though they only have 10 forwards signed for next year. Barring a shocking trade, Bergevin has 8 defencemen and 2 goalies under contract, so, if he wants to use all of that space, he’ll need at least 3, and possibly 4 more forwards to fill out the 3rd and 4th lines.

Lecavalier would take up more than half of that space on his own, and the Canadiens already have 3 centres who should play offensive roles in Toms Plekanec (who just might be better than Lecavalier in this point in their respective careers), Lars Eller (who just might be developing into a better player as you read this), and David Desharnais. Acquiring Lecavalier would force the Canadiens to trade one of those 3, meaning goodbye Desharnais. Bergevin would be left trying to unload the contract he just signed Desharnais to, and after a year in which Desharnais struggled, too.

While Lecavalier’s a bargain in comparison to that $7.27m/year cap hit for the rest of recorded time he carried in Tampa Bay, $4-5m/year for 4-6 years of commitment to a player who will only decline at this point in his career is dicey for a team that’s still several players away from being a Cup contender.

Quite simply, Lecavalier isn’t worth that money to the Habs unless you strongly believe that he’ll make the difference between a parade and not in the next few years. Does Bergevin?

Repatriating a Professional Hockey Athlete

According to that Lebrun article above, the Canadiens must be serious about adding Lecavalier: “The Habs, by the way, had owner Geoff Molson, GM Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien in their meeting with the hometown boy.”

Sure, Bergevin could just be gauging the market for Lecavalier without intending to go as high as Lecavalier’s asking price, but what are they hoping to get out of him exactly?

Lecavalier posted a -6.03 CORSI last season on a weak Tampa Bay team. Notice that even Stamkos only had a 1.99 CORSI and you realize that Lecavalier’s numbers were probably being dragged down a bit by his team’s shoddy defence. All this means is that while Lecavalier’s been on the ice, the other team’s had a decent advantage in scoring opportunities. Of course, this is just one year’s example. More distressing is that the last time Lecavalier led Tampa Bay’s centres in CORSI was during the 2009-2010 season. The year after that, he was far behind Dominic Moore (!) in CORSI, with a 1.91 rating compared to Moore’s 9.25.

The discrepancy there might be that Lecavalier faced tougher competition, but since the emergence of Steven Stamkos, Lecavalier’s numbers haven’t improved as other teams began to focus on the younger star. In theory, Lecavalier should be facing softer competition and providing more scoring opportunities against the competition than he’s giving up on his own goalie.

Regardless, Lecavalier believes he still has what it takes to play against top competition, and said as much in Arpon Basu’s article on NHL.com about his free agency: “I believe in my abilities and I think I can be a top center for a team,” [Lecavalier] said. “It remains to be seen what the other teams think of me, but I have confidence in my abilities.”

The numbers above suggest otherwise. One hopes that Bergevin, along with the assumed legion of fans who lust for Lecavalier, isn’t interested in sigining Lecavalier simply because it would look cool to put him in a Habs jersey. Actually, that would be pretty cool if it was for a year or two at a reasonable cap hit, but, as indicated, Lecavalier’s looking for term and dollars.

Move Along

Given the problems associated with signing Lecavalier and the very real possibility that his days as an elite centre are over, Bergevin should pass. Considering the contract that Lecavalier reportedly wants, how much of a difference will there be between that contract and whatever David Clarkson or Ryane Clowe end up receiving? While Clarkson and Clowe have not historically been as good as Lecavalier, they both fill actual holes in the Canadiens lineup, in that they play the wing- the Canadiens need a Ryder replacement- and both of them are big and tough. Lecavalier’s big, but he’s not particularly gritty, and seems to have been struggling defensively in recent years. Additionally, both are younger, and on a contract of similar term to Lecavalier’s are much more likely to provide value for most of the years of those deals.

Lecavalier’s a declining asset, no matter how much promise he showed as an 18 year old rookie 15 years ago or how successful his career in Tampa Bay’s been. Steve Yzerman had to pay him to stay away in the hopes of improving his team. If Lecavalier won’t take more of a bargain than he’s asking for, it’s unclear why the Canadiens, or any team really, should re-do the mistake the Lightning just corrected.

Let’s see more of that patience, Bergevin.