Posts tagged ‘Canadiens’

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.

 

Hatred

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.

 

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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.

January 14, 2013

The Thin Blue Line: Canadiens D, 2013

by Jacob Saltiel
kaberlesmap

Kaberle’s Map to His Position

Last year, the Montreal Canadiens rotated 10 different defencemen into the lineup to cover up for injuries to key players and inconsistency on the part of the replacements.

Subban and Gorges missed 1 game combined, and the irritatingly bad Kaberle played 72 games for the Canadiens, or 72 more than he should have played in the NHL last season. Emelin played 67 games as an old rookie, and Weber played 60, though he only averaged about 15 minutes a game. A combination of Gill, Campoli, Diaz, St-Denis, and Markov filled in the remaining minutes.

Although they were generally a small group of defenceman, some of whom were inexperienced (Diaz, Weber, Emelin, and St-Denis), the Canadiens still gave up the 5th fewest goals in the conference, giving up only 226 goals on the season. 226 goals allowed was better than several teams that made the playoffs, including the Panthers, Capitals, Flyers, and Senators. The Penguins allowed only 5 fewer goals than the Canadiens all year. Yes, those Penguins.

Unless Bergevin makes a big trade for, say, James Neal (unlikely- and that’s an understatement), or Galchenyuk makes the team and his fibreoptically quick and and accurate wristshot translates to the bigs immediately, it doesn’t appear as if the Canadiens are about to score many more goals. So, they’ll need to maintain that stingy defence if they want to move up the standings this year.

Looking ahead to this year, the Canadiens defence could improve, with the addition by subtraction of Campoli,who had 32 turnovers in 43 games, or a similar amount as guys who played at least 30 more games like Corvo, White, and Boychuk. The return to health of Markov (as long as it lasts), and the depth addition of Bouillon should also help.

The Top-4

If Subban can sign a contract and cut down on his turnovers and penalty minutes (discussed here), and one of Diaz, Weber, or Emelin can improve enough to play top-4 minutes competently, the defence could score a decent amount between Markov and Subban. Gorges and Emelin, meanwhile, can provide harass opposing forwards up and down the ice by either standing in their skates, like Gorges does, or knocking them clean out of their Bauers, like Emelin is apt to attempt.

The Rest

The bottom-2 defence spots could rotate between Weber and Diaz, who are roughly similar in that they are small defencemen with untapped offensive potential, and Bouillon and Kaberle.

Though I slagged Kaberle above, it’s more to do with his contract and 5-on-5 play than his contribution to the powerplay. He still scored a little more than 0.5pts a game after arriving on the Habs last year. Of course, there are other players on the team that can provide similar or improved production, and Kaberle’s total inability or avolition concerning hitting, blocking shots, and battling opposing forwards detracts from his offensive capability. If Kaberle has any value whatsoever, it’ll be in stepping up to the powerplay if and when the rare, Ming dynasty ceramics in Markov’s knees shatter unexpectedly.

Bouillon should mostly be used as a 6th or 7th defenceman and to play on the penalty kill, relieving Subban, Gorges, and Markov from minutes on that front.

Farming

Tinordi is gigantically large, can crush, and probably won’t be ready to contribute for another year. He’ll be exciting to watch if gets called up to fill in for a game or two, but it’s still only his first year as a professional and it might be early to expect a next-generation Hal Gill type of contribution from him.

Beaulieu is also a first-year professional, and while he might also be a top-4 contributor one day, it’s unlikely that he plays in the big CH unless it’s as an injury call-up.

On Paper, the Canadiens may have a top-4 that dominates possession and can provide service to the forwards, with a weak 5-through-7 spots that might struggle to step up in case of injuries. They may also get pushed around by teams with large forwards.

If everyone stays healthy and Subban signs a contract that he won’t pout over, this may not be a dominant defence in the East, but at least it will be balanced, reliable, and definitely won’t keep the team from making the playoffs. Of course, if you see Kaberle on the ice for more than 15 minutes a night, you know something indescribably hideous has happened to one or another of the Habs’ cornerstone defenders.