Archive for June, 2011

June 25, 2011

The Incredi-awesome, Extra-pandemonium-flavoured Madness NHL Entry Draft of 2011

by Jacob Saltiel

Which poor soul will be a top line centre?

What follows below will be a team-by-team breakdown of each NHL team’s first round draft pick, including my estimates for the number of scoring titles each of them will win and the league-terrorizing future line combinations they will form with last year’s race of super prospects…
Actually- wait a moment. If you’re reading this site you’ve probably already lost sleep fantasizing about such things and have decided that because Team X drafted Player Y who is now on the verge of having a hall of fame career comparable to NHL Legend Z. It might be more interesting to dissect the last decade of Canadiens drafts. I’m not even going to bother with regurgitating TSNisms as if I immediately know anything more about these complete strangers than Montreal’s scouts or Bob McKenzie. Given that pro scouting is often poorly understood by pro scouts and that no sane GM would say that their pick isn’t going to turn into the next “insert vaguely comparable hall of fame player here”, let’s just discuss some of the past drafts of Pierre Gauthier and Trevor Timmins– without the unnecessary hyperbolic evaluations of the formers talent as a scouting director.

Trevor Timmins’ Draft Record: A Case Study

Bad news first:
Despite the fact that no Canadiens forward prospect from the last 10 years worth of drafts has gone on to score 30 goals or 60 points as a forward suggests to me that his reputation as a guru, disseminated mainly by the Montreal sports media, mind you, is ridiculous considering the Canadiens’ relative draft positions and the recent surge of elite talent into the league from players born between 1985-1990.

Here’s a list of the top 5 goal scoring prospects drafted by Timmins:

1. Mikhail Grabovski with 29 in 2010-2011
2. Chris Higgins with 27 in 2007-2008
3. Andrei Kostitsyn with 26 in 2007-2008
4. Guillaume Latendresse with 25 in 2009-2010
5. Punk-bitch Sergei Kostitsyn with 23 this year.

Think about that; The forward with the most goals and points scored in that period is Mikhail Grabovski with 29 goals and 58 points. He doesn’t play here. Neither does  Chris Higgins, nor Guillaume Latendresse, who split his best scoring season between Montreal and Minnesota. Andrei Kostitsyn  is the only 20+ goalscorer Timmins has drafted who still plays here.
The other four players were traded for, combined: Benoit Pouliot, Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt, Greg Pateryn, Dan Ellis, Dustin Boyd,  a 2nd round pick last summer (traded away) and future considerations. Throw in the trade of Matt D’Agostini (21 goals this season) to St. Louis for Aaron Palushaj, and you have a combination of poorly managed and overvalued assets. Considering that Higgins was drafted before Timmins’ arrival, and his track record for drafting forwards looks even worse.

For some perspective, 29 players scored at least 30 goals season, 20 of whom were drafted in the same period described above. Go back a year, and you add 6 more players from this draft period to the list of 30 goal scorers, who either slightly underachieved this year or would have definitely scored 30 if not for injury (Parise and Semin, for example). Go back another year, and 4 other drafts picks from this timeframe scored 30 who have either regressed (Setoguchi, hilariously traded the day after signing a contract extension) or whose careers have been derailed from concussions (David Booth). Of those thirty 30-goal scorers from the last three years, some of them were high-end draft picks that the Canadiens had no chance of getting, such as obvious cases such as Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin, and yet in that list there are plenty of players picked late in the first round or later rounds who have become dangerous scorers. There are probably other players too, as I’ve only gone back two years. Timmins is supposed to be a draft guru*, yet he hasn’t performed even above-average, let alone at the top of the league, in terms of drafting effective scorers.

The results of weak drafts of forwards meant that the Canadiens had to buy high through trade (Scott Gomez) or free agency (Gionta, Cammalleri) to put players in jerseys to play on the top two lines around Tomas Plekanec (drafted in 2001) and Andrei Kostitsyn. In fact, under Timmins’ amateur scouting, the Canadiens have been unable to put even grinders into the lineup from the draft, as the only 3rd or 4th liner to play forward through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs was Ryan White. Pacioretty should have been in the lineup too, but consider that out of 13+1 (considering injury) forwards on the Habs roster, exactly 3 of them have roles on the roster, and Timmins had better be a specialist in drafting goalies and defencemen if he’s to be a genius at anything draftworthy.

Not all of this is his fault because, as shown above, at least three of the decent scorers he did draft were traded away for comparatively minimal return. Consider also that he picked Ben Maxwell (traded to Atlanta, having given zero indication that he can score in the NHL thus far) one (1) spot ahead of Milan Lucic and he looks more like a drunk (closer to epically wasted, really) guy playing darts blindfolded than a Buddha with the answer to all of your fucking drafting questions. Habs fans should be terrified of him since, according to his bio, he has an MBA from Queen’s University, which means he’s probably much better at selling the idea of his draft picks to his bosses and the media through PowerPoint presentations and lots of talk of ‘value added’ and ‘+1’ despite the, uh, trifling tangible results indicating otherwise. I bet he ties a mind-blowing Windsor knot, though.

All is not lost, however…

The Almost Good News
When a generally reasonable writer such as Mike Boone uncritically repeats Pat Hickey’s flawed interpretation of Timmins’ work** for many Montreal hockey fans to view publicly, it’s because of the quantity of Habs draft picks playing in the NHL rather than the quality. Timmins has brought players into the league from late rounds in the draft and this is particularly impressive in the case of players such as Jaroslav Halak or the Younger Kostitsyn given their quality. Let’s not go crazy here and act as if Timmins has been drafting elite talent, such as Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk, though. This is still a good thing though, and it’s not Timmins fault that the general managers he’s worked for have made donations of such later round finds to other teams after blocking out roster spots for younger players by signing limited veterans. Players like this include Mark Streit (given away), Jaroslav Halak and perhaps Alexei Yemelin.

There are even a couple of excellent complementary players, such as Ryan White (grit) or Yannick Weber (powerplay- well, according to myth anyway), and include Timmins’ responsibility in signing Desharnais for free and his value seems obvious. Consider also the excellent picks of Carey Price (the players above and below him in that draft are both scrubs with French names not actually born in Quebec (Benoit Pouliot and Gilbert Brule)) and PK Subban and, likely, Pacioretty, and it seems like he’s set up the Canadiens at each position with at least one first-line/first-pairing/starting goalie for the foreseeable future. There may still be a few players in the system who might turn into good to excellent NHL players from recent drafts.
One such pick has even been traded for a seemingly quality player in Lars Eller from the Halak trade.

The Verdict
Well, the evidence from the team’s composition is clear: The Canadiens are a team built through free agency and trade, apparently by managers (Gainey- oh my god he’s glaring at me I’m terrified- and Gauthier –oh my god he’s eating vegetables I’m terrified) who are unable to get solid returns from Timmins’ picks. Subban, Price, White, Weber, Plekanec, Pacioretty and Kostitsyn represent Habs draft picks with meaningful minutes played this past season who will likely contribute next season too***.

While some of these names are attached to the Canadiens more productive players, such are the tangible results of Timmins’ work so far, which are few in number and probably makes him about average. Not terrible, despite complete misses with Kyle Chipchura and David Fischer, but not great either even if Halak made him look like a genius last year. If too-recent-to-judge picks such as Danny Kristo or Louis Leblanc turn into 1st line, 30 goal scoring players, which, given their junior production thus far, does not seem at all guaranteed, they will be the first to do so in a decade of drafting.

This is one of the frustrating things about cheering for the Canadiens. The team’s management does not seem to have a coherent strategy for building the team. The Canadiens have neither stockpiled picks nor slowly brought up those picks through the system, but have unpredictably traded away potentially talented players to make room for veteran free agents (Sorry Mathieu Carle, you’ve been playing in the minors for years without a call-up and you probably won’t be getting one this year either!) or for other teams struggling prospects. Not all of these trades have been bad, but the winners of the last 4 Stanley Cups all had at least 5 of their own recent draft picks in major roles (Boston: Bergeron, Marchand, Lucic, Krejci, Boychuk/ Chicago: Kane, Toews, Keith, Byfuglien, Seabrook/ Pittsburgh: Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Orpik/ Detroit: Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Kronwall, Filpulla) and that not all of those major players were top-5 or, in Boston’s case, even 1st round picks. None of Boston’s 5 players just named were drafted in the top 30 players, which to me indicates superiour drafting.

Hockey is a team game and no single star can make or break a season. Timmins must believe that since, barring a couple of whiffs on a specific high-fiving defenceman and goalie combo, he’s ensured that the Canadiens don’t develop any stars, just a collection of decent scorers and complementary parts.

*Maybe it’s been a spelling mistake this whole time and he’s actually a ‘draught’ guru and can tell anyone anything they need to know about the world’s 23,057 varieties of beer by type, country of origin or alcoholic %.

**Don’t even get me started about how ridiculous it is to consider using 50 games in a season or 150 games total (that’s slightly less than 2 full seasons) as an indicator of an NHL player. Keep in mind that Montreal’s own Benoit Pouliot or Florida’s Rostislav Olesz have played 183 and 349 NHL games respectively, while failing to produce more than 30 points in a season despite their having been drafted in the top 10 to do just that, and you see why Hickey might have to use a statistic that might reflect the quality of those games and whether either of those guys will have careers when their contracts run up.

***Except for Weber, who looks like a depth defenceman with the Markov and Gill signings. If Hamrlik comes back, Weber might even be traded or lost on waivers, which would be a waste of an unproven player.

June 24, 2011

Markov: The Big Tease

by Jacob Saltiel

Let’s hope Markov’s contract is more entertaining than the movie nearly pictured above, yeah?

Speculation and rumours abounded this week that Andrei Markov* would sign a 1 or 2 year extension with the Canadiens, including a ‘Count it!’ prediction from the Team 990’s Tony Marinaro before it was formally announced that he had signed for 3 years to patrol the blueline and the trainer’s office in red, white and blue and likely also black.

Before launching into all kinds of enlightening, detailed analysis backed up by advanced and powerful statistics explained lucidly, I’d first like to direct your attention to Markov’s rehabilitation workout mixtape. Nothing like some Nine Inch Nails to keep your spirits up while you’re learning to walk again in the wading pool-, am I right?

Mixtape for Make Better Borscht Knee by Andrei Markov
1. Damaged Goods – Gang of Four
2. Hurt by Johnny Cash (Cover, duh).
3. Don’t Feel Right by The Roots
4. Can I Kick It? by A Tribe Called Quest
5. Medication by Queens of the Stone Age
6. Feel Good Inc. by The Gorillaz
7. Shattered by The Rolling Stones
8. Protect Ya Neck by Wu-Tang Clan (per Pacioretty’s recommendation)
etc… etc… (It’s been a couple of seasons and offseasons, this list goes on. Trust me.)

You get the picture.

The reaction to this deal should be neither one of ‘Holy fuck yes!‘ nor ‘Good God, no- why?!’ Since evaluating how effective Markov will be after spending the better part of two seasons out of the lineup with major knee injuries is impossible. But you know all of that already, so rather than arguing what kind of Markov will or will not be in the lineup, it might be more interesting to evaluate the deal against the main consideration for any transaction post-lockout. That is, the salary cap.

The Canadiens now have what is quickly becoming a glut of dangerously paid veterans. Cammalleri, Gomez, Gionta and Markov total a shade under 24m, or about 38% of the cap when only 1 member of the team’s young core (Price, Subban, Pacioretty, and the amazing Tomas Plekanec‘s turtleneck) is signed to a deal beyond his restricted free agency years, hence the description of the veterans’ salaries as ‘dangerous’. If the Canadiens have to trade away useful complementary players or a member of the young core due to the cap ceiling, Markov’s deal will hurt the team, a team that’s been improving without him.

With Wisniewski, a potentially cheaper player who may provide about 70% of Markov’s production, now priced out, Markov’s deal comes at a significant, to put it in grade 10 economics terms, opportunity cost. Wisniewski is not as good as a healthy Markov even adjusting for the physical grit and above-average fighting skills he brings that Markov completely lacks because of the comparison between his defensive skills and the way that Markov controls the flow of the game. Even accounting for this, if the Canadiens could have signed Wisniewski for between 4 and 4.5m a season for several years, they would have gotten younger, healthier, and kept some skills on the backline that PK Subban can’t replace. When operating with a salary cap, particularly when the Canadiens have a handicap compared to most other teams in the league because of Quebec’s relatively high taxes, every penny counts, and if Markov gets hurt again it can be difficult to replace him mid-season without  costly stop-gap solutions as we saw this year when Gauthier traded away a 2nd, 4th, and 2 5th (one conditional) round picks and Ben Maxwell for 75 regular season games of Mara, Wisniewski, and Sopel, none of whom are likely to be on the team this coming season following a 1st round exit. Even if Maxwell doesn’t turn into an NHL’er, that’s a decent chunk of assets that just disappeared and the situation that produced that waste hasn’t been addressed. As our Green-Loving, Al Gore-watching friends might say: “Where’s the fucking sustainability, P-Gauts!?! Green Team!”

Maybe Markov and Subban will make the Canadiens powerplay a death sentence for undisciplined teams this year with their combination of left and right handed shooting, hard shots, passing skills and mobility. Or, maybe Martin will be talking the media into a coma about organizational depth and- I paraphrase here- ‘young players having to step up… so I can sit them the fuck down’. Regardless, this team’s success depends more on the improvement from young guys** such as Subban, Price, Pacioretty, Desharnais, Eller and Weber rather than the chunky soup that is Markov’s knee. Now, let’s see about signing that group when their agents come calling for some extra cheddar on their waffles in the coming years.

*Notice how the comedians at TSN picked the photo of Markov just as he realized his knee had turned into string cheese.

** I’d include The Interesting Case of Benoit Button here, but it appears that he’s a tribal council meeting away from getting voted off the island.