Archive for July, 2013

July 5, 2013

Small Player, Small Deal: Briere Signs with MTL

by Jacob Saltiel
97002-daniel-briere

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.

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July 4, 2013

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

by Jacob Saltiel
bergevin

“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
lecavalier

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.