Archive for ‘Farming’

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?

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May 27, 2013

Shane Churla Hired, Effects to Be Felt a Decade From Now

by Jacob Saltiel
binocs

Churla in Action
from strongchurch.org

While it’s hard to know what or how deeply felt the effects of a single scout in an organization may be, no one can say that Shane Churla hasn’t had his brushes with greatness before. One can say emphatically that he’s felt greatness first hand and that it left an impression on him. Here’s footage:

And before anyone protests, Pavel Bure scored 779 points in 702 regular season games, and 70 pts in 64 playoff games. Legend!

What’d He Do?
According to this article from the Dallas Stars’ website, Churla was assigned to work with the USHL (the USA’s answer to the junior Canadian Hockey), the Alberta Junior Hockey League*, and the WCHA, or western US colleges like North Dakota or Minnesota, etc…

Now, Canadiens fans, you can call him yours. What might that mean? Churla’s began his scouting career in 2005. In the ’05 draft, the Stars picked James Neal 33rd, Matt Niskanen 28th, before trading them both away for Alex Goligoski.

In ’06, the Stars drafted Ivan Vishnevsky with their 1st round pick. Vishnevsky sucked, though he was dumped on Atlanta for the solid Kari Lehtonen. Now he plays in Russia for a team whose name is unpronounceable. The other name in that draft of any import to the stars is Richard Bachman, who after maturing in the AHL for a few years, may turn into a decent backup, though he got lit up this year.

The Stars didn’t have a 1st round pick from 2007-2008, but still picked up the brilliant Jamie Benn in the 5th round, and some other players who may yet play a regular shift in the NHL. Colton Sceviour’s (4th round, 112th overall, ’07) been productive in the AHL for the last 2 years, with 105 points in 137 games, while Philip Larsen, a smallish Danish defenceman has threatened to become a full time member of the Stars D’ for the last 2 years.

In ’09, the Stars picked in the 1st round again, taking Scott Glennie, who might suck. Glennie might be a victim of Excellent Linemate Syndrome**, as he played alongside Brayden Schenn. Schenn was picked 3 spots ahead of Glennie and has established himself at the AHL level and shows occasional flashes of becoming a productive NHL’er. Glennie has struggled to score in the AHL for the last two years, so he might be a bust.

After that, the news gets better, with massive Alex Chiasson (2nd round, 38th, ’09) showing signs of productivity following his college career. He’s 6″4, scored 6 times in 7 games in a call up this year, and also put up a respectable 35 points in the first 57 games of his AHL career. Reilly Smith, (3rd round, 69th, ’09) also played for the Stars for the first time this year after scoring 35 points in 45 games at the AHL level. He didn’t score much in his first 37 NHL games with a mere 9 points, but he may have more room to develop.

After that, it gets hard to tell how successful the Stars’ drafting has been, given that the prospects in those post-’09 drafts have had 3 years or less to develop. Jamie Oleksiak, the overgrown 1st round defender they drafted in 2011, has already played for the Stars, and others may be on the way.

That may seem a little thin, but consider also that Brendan Dillon and Jordie Benn were signed as undrafted free agents. Dillon is a Calder contender this year, while Jordie Benn looks like he’ll join his brother as a regular contributor in the major league.

What to Expect?
Of those picks mentioned above, the following played in leagues Churla was scouting: Alex Chiasson (USHL, 2008-2009),  Jamie Oleksiak (USHL, 2008-2010), Richard Bachman (USHL, 2006-2007). Churla’s role wasn’t limited to just those leagues, and it seems like he may have helped with the observation of other western prospects, including the underachieving Glennie and the overachieving Dillon. If it’s the case that Churla was also responsible for players from the BCHL and WHL, then this may be good news for the Canadiens, who haven’t done well in western North America under Trevor Timmins’ tenure. Other than Brendan Gallagher and Ryan White, few players from the west have been drafted by the Habs, and fewer have met expectations (Ryan O’Byrne and David Fischer). As the title indicates, however, it’ll be years before the fans get to see the results of Churla’s powers of observation or not.

***

* The AJHL is a Junior ‘A’ hockey league, or an alternative to Canadian Major Junior Hockey. Notable picks from this league include: Fernando Pisani, Brent Sutter, Dylan Olsen, Mason Raymond, and Matt Frattin. Hard to think it’s a major pipeline of NHL talent, then. For comparison’s sake, the BCHL (B.C’s equivalent) has produced both Kyle Turris, Jamie Benn, and Travis Zajac in recent years, with Paul Kariya also being an alumni.

**Excellent Linemate Syndrome is when two highly rated draft prospects play on the same line. As scoring totals can be so high in junior, it can occasionally be difficult to determine which of the two prospects is actually of NHL calibre. For an extreme example, Eric Chouinard played with Simon Gagne, and got drafted ahead of him by the Canadiens in 1998. That many probably haven’t heard of Chouinard speaks volumes, moreso that most NHL fans are aware of who Simon Gagne is.

April 4, 2013

A Guide to Recognizing Your Mediocre GMs: Part 1 Joe Nieuwendyk

by Jacob Saltiel
Brian+Burke+Joe+Nieuwendyk+2009+NHL+Entry+q7kqbnRh368x

“Is that tie available for a 2nd round pick and a prospect?”
from zimbio.com

(This multi-part series isn’t about the Canadiens, but as a Habs fan, you might want to know which GM’s you want Bergevin to call up on the red, white, and blue trades telephone. What follows is a detailed analysis of recent trades by rival GMs)

The Once and Future Chump

It was sad to see the Atlanta Thrashers go.

Not because it makes Tom Glavine cry silently to himself in his roomful of baseball awards or because the Thrashers were, generally speaking, a free 2 points to any team willing to ice an entire lineup against them. No, when the Thrashers moved, the the 29 other GM’s in the league lost their ideal trade partner, Don Waddell.

The halcyon days of trading overpaid veterans or just a collection of low-ceiling prospects and deceptively mediocre draft picks for talent simply by dialing the ATL area code (404) over.

Take, for example, the following transactions from the twilight of Waddell’s reign:

1) Braydon Coburn, Philly’s top-3 defenceman, actually started in Atlanta. He was traded as a prospect straight-up for 2 years of an ancient Alexei Zhitnik. This was the only year the Thrashers organization made the playoffs, and Waddell thought this might help them out.

2) For that same playoff crawl, Waddell acquired 22 games of Keith Tkachuk for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick spread out over 2 years to St Louis. Following that off-season when Tkachuk became a free agent, he promptly re-signed with the Blues for 3 more productive seasons.

Of course, after making these trades, the Thrashers were promptly swept in the 1st round.

3) Did you know that Waddell had Heatley and Hossa at one point in the organization’s history? Well, he lost both the way one loses their car keys in the wash.

Here’s a quick account of the complicated machinations that led to Patrice Cormier almost playing regularly for the Winnepeg Jets:

– Heatley traded straight-up almost 3 years of Hossa.

 -After it became clear that Hossa wouldn’t extend his contract, Waddell had to act again. Hossa was traded to Pittsburgh for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito, and a 1st round pick (29th). Yes. The Colby Armstrong most recently seen limping off the ice at Flambeau Field.

4) But wait! Both Heatley and Hossa had a particularly talented linemate, first name Ilya. Tired of the mediocrity and wanting to win, Kovalchuk justifiably refused to extend his contract too. Waddell’s long search for equal value was confounded by the poorly kept secret of Kovalchuk’s exorbitating contract demands, but what followed is a masterpiece in getting hosed by the crafty Lou Lamoriello.

Atlanta swapped 2nd round picks with Jersey as part of the trade, so the return for one of the best offensive players of this generation of NHL’ers, was Bergfors, Oduya, Cormier, and a 1st round pick. Oduya was probably the best player in that haul, and the 1st is nice, but REALLY?! A solid 3rd defenceman, maybe a grinder out of Cormier, and a 1st round pick for Kovalchuk? Encore, Don, encore!

But those days are over. Or, were…

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

It’s a good thing Nieuwendyk found work in NHL upper management. Judging by the way he gambles with young prospects, if he weren’t a GM, he’d defaulting on his mortgage and appearing on EducAlcool ads between periods of Habs games thrice weekly. To keep him on the rails, Dallas upper management also includes Mark Recchi (reputed M.D.) and Bob Gainey. If you’re a Habs fan reading this, you’ll be familiar with the latter’s work. The fascinating thing about the Dallas organization right now is the stark difference in aptitude between drafting and managing players.

Consider that the Stars have recently found players like Benn, Neal, and Eriksson outside of the 1st round. Whoever they have watching the kids is good at their job. That’s where the good news ends if your a Dallas fan, since a quick survey of Nieuwendyk’s moves shows that these players may not be around as long as you think- if they aren’t already gone.

To beat a dead horse, trading Neal and Niskanen for Goligoski established that Nieuwendyk criminally underrates his own assets. Niskanen isn’t exactly a throw-in either, and even if Goligoski scores 30-40 points a season, it’s hard to justify giving away a power forward like Neal who was just entering restricted free agency without getting back a high pick in return. It’s not just the obvious mismatch in talent that makes this trade bad, but the subtleties of the CBA’s that seem to have escaped Nieuwendyk.

Trading away Brad Richards and his expiring contract at the deadline a couple of seasons ago might have returned a similarly talented young player. Nieuwendyk didn’t do that, opting instead to gamble that his team could make the playoffs as a low seed. Of course, the Stars went on to miss the playoffs and Richards escaped to New York in a clear violation of the sports management principle that one shouldn’t build a team to finish in 8th place, but to win it all.

And, well, if you’re going to set lofty standards for your organization such as “finish just outside of the top half of the league”, you shouldn’t, y’know, miss by 2 points.

***

The negotiation with Jamie Benn compounded this perception of Nieuwendyk’s lack of comprehension of the salary cap. With Benn refusing to sign a contract coming out of his entry level deal, Nieuwendyk managed to thread the needle between keeping Benn’s salary down- $5.25m/year when the player has no leverage isn’t exactly a bargain- and buying Benn’s expensive unrestricted free agency years. In fact, Nieuwendyk signed him exactly to when he’d hit the market (2917), meaning that unless Benn’s ability falls off a cliff, he’s going to get really pricey. In the simplest terms, Nieuwendyk failed to use his leverage over Benn to any effect. One imagines Benn’s agent hanging up the phone and saying “Really?”

Two other recent moves, Ryder and a 3rd for Cole and Steve Ott and Pardy for Derek Roy were at best moving sideways, at worst silly. Ott, a grinder who scores in the mid-30’s had value to any playoff team and it’s not implausible that most playoff teams would have wanted him last off-season. The return? Impending unrestricted free agent Roy, whose last two seasons were marred by injury or mediocrity. It’s not that Roy’s a bad player, but Ott was signed for more years and, as demonstrated yesterday, the Stars were forced to trade Roy away because of their iffy playoff status and fruitless contract negotiations. A 2nd round pick and 23 year old prospect Kevin Connauton isn’t a terrible return, but that he had to make this trade so soon shows a certain aptitude for painting oneself into a corner.

Bergevin’s gem of a trade with Nieuwendyk led to the Stars taking on the last 2+ years of Cole’s contract- after Cole surely played his best hockey of that deal last year. It’s hard to imagine Ryder being worth less had Nieuwendyk simply waited for the trade deadline to move the productive forward, let alone that Bergevin sampled a 3rd round pick in the deal.

So, when Jagr was dealt to Boston for a 2nd (possibly a 1st) pick and two prospects, it was time to roll the laugh track. Not because an expiring contract on Jagr wasn’t worth the conditional pick, but because Nieuwendyk called the two players he received in return prospects. Lane MacDiermid and the aptly named Cody Payne are goons who can’t really be considered prospects since, if they develop appropriately, they might play 7 minutes a night. In a league where, any year now, staged fighting, and hence the goon role, might be disappearing.

Hold The Line

Whichever hockey team you cheer for (not you, Stars fans), pay close attention the next time the words ‘Stars’ and ‘trade’ appear on your web browser/Sportscentre newsticker. Gamblin’ Joe might have just brilliantly solved a salary cap crunch or created an unstoppable line- for a rival team in your division in your division.

Until this effect becomes too obvious, let’s hope the media keeps confusing Nieuwendyk’s talent as a player and a manger. Perhaps some of this is unfair to Joe. Perhaps there are extenuating circumstances. Perhaps an internet leak revealed to many other GM’s in the league incriminating photos of Joe involving inflatable animals, mezcal, and individuals in clown get-up not named Mrs. Nieuwendyk. After all, Tijuana isn’t that far away. Perhaps not. Perhaps his reign is characterized by poor evaluation of the value of his own players and how the salary cap works.

February 18, 2013

Plumbing the Depths, Item #31257620: Desjardins to Lightning, Tokarski to Montreal

by Jacob Saltiel
tokarski

Nice colours.
from de.wikipedia.org

Late last week, the Canadiens made a minor move, trading Cedrick Desjardins to Tampa Bay for Dustin Tokarski.

So what?

Desjardins has been a very good goalie at the AHL level, he’s 27, only 6″0, and judging by the transactions tug-of-war between Tampa Bay and Montreal over his rights, Guy Boucher has a huge crush on him. He’s got sensational numbers at the AHL level, but has very little NHL experience. Might he be good? Well, Boucher seems to get the most out of the players he has on hand, so if he’s going to show anything, Tampa Bay is the place to do it.

Dustin Tokarski is the second Lightning goaltender traded to Montreal for Desjardins in 3 years, and he can hardly be less valuable than Karri Ramo. Speaking of which, has anyone seen Karri Ramo? Does anyone know where he is?

Tokarski’s most distinguishing accomplishment is the gold medal he won at the WJC’s with Canada in 2009. Since then, he’s quietly worked in the minors, improving his game. While it’s hard to extrapolate much from his minor-league numbers, it is curious that Yzerman was keen to give up on a still youngish goalie (23 years old) in exchange for Desjardins. He’s actually played 5 more NHL games in his career than Desjardins, but those games shouldn’t make up too many lines on his CV. This might be because he’s been called up to play on defensively-neglectful Lightning teams over the past couple of years.

Tokarski, like Desjardins, is also not very big at 5″11. Given a couple of years maybe he turns into a backup for Price once Budaj leaves, but to expect more than that might be silly.

January 16, 2013

Get Back on the Bus: Galchenyuk Should Play Junior This Year

by Jacob Saltiel
galchenyuk

It’s nice here and all…
from Backhand Shelf at TheScore.com

Regardless of Galchenyuk’s performance in training camp, he should not play for the Montreal Canadiens this year. This has nothing to do with whether or not he’s talented enough to play at this level or if there’s space on the team for him.

Gaston Therrien of RDS.ca writes:

“IL Y A UNE PLACE À MONTRÉAL POUR ALEX GALCHENYUK – Maintenant, c’est à lui de la perdre. À partir du moment où la direction du Canadien a décidé de tasser Scott Gomez, on a pratiquement fait une place pour le plus récent choix de première ronde de l’organisation.”

or, in English:

“THERE’S ROOM IN MONTREAL FOR ALEX GALCHENYUK: At this point, it’s his to lose. From the moment Canadiens’ management dumped Scott Gomez, they practically created a spot on the team for the organization’s most recent 1st round pick.”

That’s all well and good, but there is the  matter of service time and free agency to consider. The only justification for keeping Galchenyuk in the lineup this year is if Bergevin seriously believes that he will make the difference between lifting the Cup and not.

How’s that? you may ask. Burning a year on Galchenyuk’s rookie contract when the team is not close to contending for a championship* is short-sighted.

But, but… He’s got great stickhandling and shooting!  Gaston Therrien reports as much in the same article:

“Galchenyuk démontre de la rapidité, un bon contrôle de rondelle et une certaine implication physique. Il ne semble pas nerveux et s’adapte assez bien à toutes sortes de situations.”

or

“Galchenyuk’s demonstrated quickness, good puck control, and a physical dimension. He doesn’t seem nervous and has adapted well enough to all sorts of situations.”

Great! Excellent! Which is exactly why the Canadiens should aim to keep control of those skills for as long as possible.

This is a shortened season, and one in which the chances of injury might be higher to a slightly compressed schedule. As G. Therrien notes: “il ne faut pas oublier que [Galchenyuk] n’a presque pas joué depuis un an” or, “it should not be forgotten that [Galchenyuk] almost missed an entire year”. Let’s say Galchenyuk sticks with the big club beyond the rookie-trial limit**, if he gets injured or struggles badly, the team will still have lost a year of control, bringing him one year closer to restricted free agency and unrestricted free agency.

Now, you may not find that significant, but then look at the Subban contract situation right now and ask yourself if it might be good to hang onto those cheap, entry-level years as long as possible. If a player succeeds in his first contract, the new CBA does nothing to limit their ability to cash in Drew Doughty-style for their second contract.

Ask yourself again if for 48 games in a madcap season if it’s worth it. If Bergevin keeps Galchenyuk on the team this year, then he has confidence in this team to win it all. Alternatively, stashing Galchenyuk in the minors, where he can continue to dominate the OHL, probably won’t hamper his development. More importantly, when the Canadiens clear Gomez and one of Kaberle or Bourque from their salary cap this summer, they’ll be able to add more talent or complementary pieces in free agency.

Depending on how the Subban negotiations finally conclude, there may not even be space in the team’s salary cap this year to accomodate Galchenyuk. Currently, the Canadiens are at 61.8/70.2 of the cap without Subban. If Subban’s next contract carries a cap hit of, say, $4m/yr, the Habs will be at 65.8/70.2. Galchenyuk’s rookie salary can vary anywhere from $1m to close to $4m, depending on how he performs. If he plays well, he might cost around $2.5m, pushing the Habs to 68.3/70.2 on the cap. This could hamstring Bergevin’s ability to make in-season trades, and more importantly pay his call-ups from Hamilton when injuries hit. Last year the Devils couldn’t dress enough players for some games because of this form of cap mismanagement. Is that really worth it?

Would you rather gamble with Galchenyuk this season, or start him on the Habs next year, potentially surrounded with more talented players in a year? With the right additions in free agency and the advancement of other prospects, the Habs might actually contend next season.

That’s the season fans should hope to see him in the red, white, and blue.

***

*Contention means winning the Stanley Cup, not making the playoffs. Getting in as an 8-seed to get trampled by the Penguins, Rangers, or anyone else from the Atlantic division should not be an organizational goal. Yes, the Kings won as an 8-seed last year, but their situation is not similar to the Canadiens.

**6 Games this year.