Archive for March, 2013

March 28, 2013

The Canadiens Are Horror Movie Villains: Habs 6, Bruins 5 (SO).

by Jacob Saltiel
zip1

Who invited this guy?

8 Minutes and change to go in the 3rd period and things are fine in Boston. Following their last meeting with the Habs, Claude Julien confused the Canadiens for the Quebec provincial diving team, and might have gotten David Desharnais and Alexandre Despatie mixed up.

This time, the script’s flipped. The Beantown building is rocking. The all French-name line of Seguin, Bergeron, and Marchand looking to have capped off an excellent night and stretching out that Boston lead to 5-3. Carey Price has been chased from the net, they’ve hideously outshot the other team on the way to crawling out of a 2-0 hole. To this point in the game, Boston’s let in the fewest goals in the entire NHL, and there’s only 8 minutes left. On top of that, rumours abound that Jarome Iginla is coming to Boston.

Nothing can go wrong, right?…

And then… OH MY GOD, IS THAT BRENDAN GALLAGHER’S MUSIC?!

Not a minute later the score’s moved to 5-4. Don’t cash that cheque just yet. And, wait a moment, Chara’s gone and done elbowed Colby Armstrong in the face? Why would he do that?!

But not to worry, the Canadiens’ powerplay has been useless, and sure enough they squander it.

The clock’s down to less than 2 minutes when- AARON JOHNSON PLAYS FOR THE BRUINS?! AND HE’S SHOT THE PUCK OUT OF PLAY?!

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Canadiens tie it up with a few seconds left after scrambling around and Chara tipping the puck into his own net.

Despite Emelin taking a penalty in overtime, this one only ends in misery and shame for Boston. They proceed to lose in the shootout and their goaltender basically takes a dump on himself in a blind rage leaving the ice surface while the team looks away awkwardly.

If you think it stops there, Boston fans, oh it does not. At a press conference where every insider in the game thought that Jay Feaster was about to gift Iginla to the Bruins, he instead announced that he’d traded him to the Penguins for a 1st round pick,  and two college students, one of whom can’t correctly spell that he’s a political science major on his university profile page (at YALE!), while the other is on the dean’s list studying business, which he’ll need when he’s selling consulting strategies in 3-4 years.

There goes the evening, the conference, and, well, possibly the division. Last time the Habs met the Bruins, they were ahead of them in the standings, but the Bruins had several games in hand and it seemed mostly symbolic that the Canadiens would hold on to that top spot in the Northeast division.

Thanks to last night’s loss, the Bruins have only one game in hand and are a point behind the Canadiens.

The race is on, Boston.

How do you like them apples?

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March 15, 2013

David Desharnais Signed to Presidential Term

by Jacob Saltiel
david-desharnais-4

Cheers to you, Marc Bershevin!from 25stanley.com

Bergevin made a smart, low risk move today, signing offense-producing gremlin David Desharnais to a 4-year contract extension. Though financial terms of the deal were not announced, somehow everybody but the Canadiens are reporting that it’s for $3.5 million/season. Watch out, Bergie, there’s a mole!

Pass the Dutchie to the Left-Hand Side

The Canadiens do not play the top-6/bottom-6 forwards so favoured by some teams, most famously the truculent Maple Leafs who went an entire CBA without making the playoffs. With the depth afforded the team by Gallagher, Galchenyuk, the revival (and subsequent disappearance) of Bourque, and the signing of Prust, the Canadiens play 3 solid lines that can score, but more importantly keep puck possession.

While Desharnais isn’t having quite as good a season this year as last, he’s still on pace for scoring more than 20 goals and a little less than 50 points over a full 82-game season. Desharnais’ main hockey skill is his intelligence, and from now until when he’s 31 and the deal expires, there’s no reason to expect a major decline in his numbers. In fact, his current PDO number* is the worst on the team at .974, indicating that he’s probably due for an increase in scoring so long as he keeps putting the puck on net at the same rate.  Bergevin’s indicated that for the next 4 years Desharnais will serve as Pacioretty’s caddy, which so far looks great for the Habs and horrible for every other team in the league that hates getting scored on repeatedly. Consider that P.A. Parenteau, a comparable player who is older, signed for $4m/season as a UFA, and Desharnais’ cap number looks good. Signing Desharnais at such the comparatively cheap cost of $3.5m/year will allow Bergevin to continue to fill out his top-9 forwards and maintain this much more effective model.

Caveat Emptor

Of course, caveat emptor applies, and it would be wrong not to point out Desharnais’ obvious weaknesses: defence and faceoffs. The former is somewhat mitigated by his strong puck possession skills. It doesn’t matter that he’s not a great 1-on-1 defender because he’s more likely to have the puck. The latter issue is a bigger problem. Winning 47.4% of his faceoffs, Desharnais is at best mediocre in this respect. This deficiency means that his line starts with the puck less and can hurt the powerplay particularly. This being Desharnais’ 2nd year in the league, it’s still possible that he puts in a summer’s work on his faceoffs and improves that number, but it’s a weakness in his game. This  is amplified by the fact that Canadiens centres as a whole are poor on faceoffs. Unless Eller improves his faceoff numbers, Bergevin’s next task will be to find a competent 4th line centre that can take important defensive zone faceoffs.

Moves Like Jagger

Bergevin’s made another smart move here, locking up an effective offensive player at a manageable cap number. The worst scenario that one can imagine with this contract is that Desharnais struggles or gets injured. Even if that happens, his cap hit won’t clog up the salary cap and Bergevin can probably trade him even if that happens. Additionally, after the Gainey-Gauthier administration’s bizarre and inneffective strategy of not negotiation with impending UFA’s or RFA’s until the offseason, it’s refreshing to see Bergevin get an early start on his summer homework. As for Desharnais, he doesn’t need to play out of his mind to justify his contract, and so long as produces within the 50-60 point range, this will be a bargain.

***

*The statistic that measures how lucky or unlucky a player is. For a more expansive definition, check here

March 14, 2013

Do Not Trade Eller- For Anything.

by Jacob Saltiel
LarsEller-thumbnail

Going Somewhere?
from nhlpa.com

Stars of the Evening

Last night, Lars Eller was 1st star of the evening, though that award might have gone to the energetic Subban. Subban, who never seemed to be on the bench, and who fired a torrent of shots on Robin Lehner while harassing the Ottawa forwards into impotence, is the young leader of the Canadiens’ blueline. This isn’t to say that Eller played badly. In fact, on several sequences throughout the game, Eller looked as if he were on fast-forward, dispossessing Senators players at ease, shifting about the offensive zone with ease and slithering his way into the centre of the ice for shots and passes. Judging by the attention paid to Eller by other teams’ rugged players of late, it appears that the rest of the league has noticed his irritating tendency to get the puck and rather ungraciously refuse to give it up to anyone on the other team save the goalie. None of which many Habs fans may have seen coming since Eller arrive here in the Halak trade.

Let 100 Flowers Bloom

No, the prospect management strategy for Eller in recent seasons was a dubious one at best. Imagine you like to garden. Now imagine you traded away your favourite plant (one that held the garden together in the Autumn) for another team’s unbloomed ficus. Hang on, this metaphor is going somewhere. Now, imagine you took that young ficus, then put it in a box. Then you put that box in the basement of your house on the bottom of a shelf overflowing with LP’s from the 80’s and hardware that you never quite learned how to use. Now, imagine you went out to your garden and were dismayed at the quality of your flowerbeds. So, you go back down to the basement, open the door, and then yell at the ficus in the box about how it isn’t blooming, and how the rest of the team flowerbed sucks because of it. Nevermind that your young ficus needs soil, sun, and water to grow, this ficus was a bad trade, and was never going to turn into anything. Stupid non-blooming ficus. Ruining your gardening season. It has the potential to be that ficus that every garden needs to compete in the NHL!

“You Buy That At a Coffee Shop”

Punishing flower analogies aside, Eller’s improvement this season has everything to do with his receipt of minutes and capable linemates. One of the risks of keeping Galchenyuk in Montreal was that he’d block Eller from playing his natural centre position. Early on when Eller was in the pressbox, Eller looked like he was waiting around for a trade to anywhere. Today, the Canadiens probably couldn’t trade Eller for comparable value to anyone. He’s flourishing (groan) offensively and defensively, even while he could stand to play more. On some shifts against the Senators last night, he looked fast, shifty with the puck, and a threat to turn the play around towards the Senators on many occasions.

The last time the Canadiens made the playoffs featured some quality announcing by the CBC. More famous from that series was Bob Cole’s shout of “everything is happening”, but Glenn Healey did him one better on this particular segment.
Leaving aside the blatant racism, Healey commented on Eller’s quality puck protection. As early as the beginning of the season, it looked like Eller might be a ‘sell-low’ candidate. Today, you most certainly could not get that kind of player for a draft pick or undeveloped prospect, and definitely not at a Starbucks. Let’s hope he continues his solid play.

March 8, 2013

Halfway Through the Schedule in 1st? Habs’ll take it.

by Jacob Saltiel
Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens

Hey Eastern Conference, Tell Me How My *ss Tastes
from habseyesontheprize.com

Pre-season Expectations:

– at least some improvement from their last place finish.

– more grit with the arrival of Prust, Armstrong, and Bouillon.

– explosive outbursts of rage, fury, and caustic understatement from the returning Michel Therrien.

– more juggling of the forward lines.

Since the pre-season, a quick survey of Bergevin’s GM moves includes:

– helping Gomez escape from his contract the way Joshua Jackson helped the whale over the wall (with as much pathos, hope, and relief for Habs fans as for viewers of that movie).

– making the aggressive move to include 2 rookies, Gallagher and the 18-year old Galchenyuk on the roster.

– winning a game of contract chicken with Pernell and his agent, keeping Subban signed for 2 years at a bargain.

– trading away the popular but struggling Cole for Michael Ryder and his expiring contract, somehow obtaining a 3rd draft pick from Dallas in the process.

Today, the Habs:

 are first overall in the eastern conference.

– have a top 3 offence in terms of goals scored

– have a top 3 +/- differential

– have the league leading defenceman in goals scored with 6, in PK Subban (whose done it in fewer games and fewer minutes played per game (21:10)  than his closest competition (Brian Campbell, 25:51/game and the recently injured Karlsson 27:03/game).

– are 9th in the league with 30 shots/game

– tied for 6th in the league with 27.2 shots allowed/ game.

– are grittier are and tougher to play against, led by the brilliant signing of Prust* and the rest of the grinders.

MARKET CORRECTION?

With the Bruins holding 3 games in hand on the division leading Canadiens, it’s unrealistic to expect the Habs to hang onto to that fancy rank in the standings.

Additionally, there are some troubling signs defensively for the Canadiens. Last year, they struggled because they couldn’t score goals, even if they had a relatively strong defence. This year, Price has looked occasionally shaky- especially recently when he gave up 11 goals** to the Penguins and Islanders- and the Montreal penalty kill is middle of the pack, ranked 14th in efficiency and 17th in terms of actual goals allowed.

Meanwhile, Bourque and Diaz are injured with concussions. Bourque’s solid play this year finally provided Plekanec with a reliable linemate who went to the net and opened up space. His absence means more line juggling by Therrien to try and balance the scoring behind the reliable Pacioretty-Desharnais tandem. Diaz  provided excellent service for Markov on the powerplay and didn’t seem to kill the team defensively on the 3rd pairing with Bouillon. His absence means the return of Kaberle- to Kaberle’s credit he hasn’t been a distraction given his subordinate status on the team- and now the call-up of Greg Pateryn with the injury to Weber.

Markov plays 24:31 a night, which is too much. At his age with his injury history, the possibility that he either wears down or gets injured is probable.

Keeping it Close

Those are the major concerns for the Habs. Of their 5 regulation losses this year, 2 have come against the much-improved Leafs, one of which was the opening night televised scrimmage. The other 3 were to Boston, Ottawa, and New York. Of those losses, three were 1-goal games, and the other two were regrettable blowouts. What this means is that the Canadiens keep games close, and take care of business against inferior competition. Sure, there’s been a troubling habit of blowing 3rd period leads, but this may be due to the schedule or the demands of Therrien’s tight-checking system.

In many ways, this season is similar to the Habs’ 1st overall finish in the East in 2007-2008. That year, traditional powers such as Philadelphia and Ottawa underachieved, while the conference in general was up for grabs with no dominant team. The Canadiens, solidly in the lottery the year before, improved significantly and perched atop the standings pyramid that spring. This year, the Bruins might be the best team in the conference, but other than that, there are no other elite teams. Pittsburgh’s amusingly shaky goaltending, surprisingly lacklustre Philly and New York teams, and the shockingly mediocre Southeast Division mean that the conference is up for grabs.

While the Canadiens may not finish in 1st, if they keep playing this way and keep playing Boston hard enough to make Julein cry in public, they may have one of the higher seeds in the conference at season’s end.

***

*Haters decried that Bergevin overpaid for Prust. In a very rigid sense he did, in that $2.5m/year for a grinder seems like a misprint. What people who make this argument miss, however, is that the Canadiens haven’t had anyone on their roster like Prust in… a while.

There have been energetic 3rd and 4th liners (Kostopolous, Begin), there’ve been big ones, (Moen), and scrappy ones (White), but no one with Prust’s defensive acumen, motor, and apparent fearlessness. For a team that had maybe two players who could throw their weight around last year (Moen and Emelin, White was mostly injured), the combination of Prust with Armstrong and White’s return to health gives Therrien options on the 3rd and 4th line that Martin and Carbonneau never had.

So, yes, Prust gets paid a lot for a grinder, but not much in comparison to the actual salary cap. At this point, his contract only looks bad in that one worries for Prust’s health over the next four years. Even if he doesn’t keep producing offence (an unreasonable expectation as people saw last year with Moen’s tale of two seasons), Prust makes the team better.

Replace him with Dumont or Leblanc or Blunden and the team is poorer.

**1 of the 12 scored against was an empty netter.

 

March 5, 2013

Bruins Follow a Loss By Whining. Again.

by Jacob Saltiel

 

robinsonmilbury

Bruins Fans Remember This, Right?
from popscreen.com

Let’s get something straight; the Boston Bruins have been one of the best teams in the NHL since their Stanley Cup winning season.

They’ve often been among the league leaders in defence, points, and complaining. It’s not like they have the former and completely impartial NHL head of discipline’s son on their team contributing to their curious lack of suspensions directed at Bruins players for antics from the Chara hit on Pacioretty, to brawling after games with Tampa Bay in the playoffs two seasons ago, or the assorted cheapshots, headshots, and hits from behind that litter their games.

No, according to the Boston Bruins and Claude Julien, every penalty they’ve taken has been the result of a dive.

They complain about the referees. They complain about other organizations. They blame arenas for injuries caused by their own players. At least one Bruin questioned whether Max Pacioretty was faking an injury in an attempt to get Chara suspended following the worst on-ice incident since the Bertuzzi incident.

After taking out Sami Salo’s knees and concussing him, Brad Marchand somehow argued that he was only protecting himself. Following the suspension, Peter Chiarelli complained that the Vancouver Canucks were unfairly lobbying the league to discipline Marchand. Hoho! Good one, Pete.

Speaking of Marchand, he complained to Joe McDonald of ESPN that after he declined to fight Subban, “three or four [Bruins] asked to fight him and he’s running scared from [Nathan] Horton,” Marchand said. “He’s coming after the smallest guy on the team, so it just shows what kind of character they have there.”

Yes, Marchand, because Chara and Lucic have only fought players of comparable size. Because Chara fighting Emelin (0 career NHL fights prior to Chara) is somehow a courageous act. Meanwhile, Shawn Thornton returned to the lineup following a concussion he suffered fighting en lieu of Lucic. That, of course, is entirely lost on the Bruins.

Did anyone on the Habs comment that Seguin slumped over as if he had been shot, only to return to the game? Was Seguin possibly adding a little sauce to that hit in the hopes that Emelin would go to the box? Why, if Seguin was okay the whole time, then Chara stepping in and fighting in retaliation was a tactical error!

Amusingly, Chara professed not to know why he got the instigator penalty: “I didn’t think I was getting 17, that’s why I was kind of hesitating a little bit before I dropped the gloves,” Chara said. “I was waiting for him to drop them, too, so then maybe it would be two five[-minute penalties]. But that’s something they made a decision on and I’ve got to live with that.”

Zdeno! Baby! Replays clearly show you skating the length of the ice, hitting someone behind the play, mugging him, then stopping a second, then dropping the gloves and fighting him. Sure, Emelin’s* a well-known non-combatant, but please, slug away. For your education, Z, here’s the NHL Rulebook’s definition of instigating:

“An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his
actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria:
distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing
attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation
to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous
incident in the game or season.”

The formatting makes it look like a poem, but don’t let that stop you from ticking off all of the conditions that apply. (Hint: Distance traveled, retaliation, gloves off first, and first punch thrown all apply in this case.)

When Claude Julien drones on and on about how uncorroborated incidents of diving are “about more than the night’s game”, he reveals the strategy behind such silly comments. On a night when the Bruins lost against a banged up Habs team with Peter Budaj in nets, it does his team a huge favour to carp about the refs and the acting troupe in Blue, Red, and White.

These are crocodile tears, and even if Boston may have won more fights against the Canadiens historically, the Canadiens have won more games because they, uh, play to score more goals than their opponents. As Ken Dryden wrote for Grantland last season:

“Fight is the playoffs, the Olympics, and World Cup, where fighting and head shots are rare because the stakes are so high and the distractions so consequential that there’s no place on the ice for goons. “Fight” is fighting spirit. It’s Canadian hockey at its best.”

Bruins fans can cling to their memories of lumbering goons winning inconsequential fights. They can cultivate their ludicrous belief that they only lose because the league is against them**. Hell, if they really want to, they can believe that Gregory Campbell fighting Tom Pyatt and using his wrist guard to cut him open is a valid demonstration of toughness (again, fighter vs. non-combatant, and no suspension for a clear breach of a rule) or that Lars Eller declining to fight is cowardly.

It’s their choice if they want the face of their franchise to be Mike Milbury (see photo above) or Bobby Orr.

For Habs fans, Pacioretty and Gorges nailed it when they said “It’s jealousy” and “I’m not sure if Julien even believes that”, respectively on TSN following the game.

The Bruins hold 3 games in hand and will almost certainly pass the Canadiens if they play as well as they can. For the Canadiens and their fans, enjoy the checking the standings. Dispense with the cynical moaning coming from the Bruins organization.

 ***

*Owing to facial surgeries, Emelin can’t fight.
** Stretching back to 2010-2011, the Bruins are roughly middle of the pack for times shorthanded.