Posts tagged ‘PK Subban’

May 2, 2014

Habs-Bruins Game 1, Round 2: A Man Possessed

by Jacob Saltiel

call-of-duty-ghosts

 

At times like these, one wonders how a Bruins fan processes a game like last night’s. Watching your team control the game for two straight periods into overtime, getting open looks on the other team’s goalie, outhitting the opposition, and all but shutting down every Canadien except PK Subban and the unguardable Rene Bourque, can you even feel bad about your team’s play? Of course not. There is one thing to be very nervous about though, and that’s Carey Price’s glorious display.

The playoffs are a tricky thing for statisticians. Jonah Keri, of Grantland.com, makes the point that once the playoffs begin in MLB, he throws away his stats, since postseason series’ are comparatively short compared to the regular season, and just a few abnormal performances in either direction by key players can skew a mediocre team to victory and a good team to defeat. So it is with NHL goaltending in particular. Many a hockey fan will dread the familiar disaster that is an opponent’s goaltender finding a groove where nothing short of a bulldozer can push the puck past him.

Distressingly for Bruins fans, Price seems to have made a deal with the devil signed in blood, making a series of preposterous stops last night. Statheads will talk about elevated PDOs and unsustainable Fenwicks, indicating that the Canadiens are definitely screwed, and they might be right. For Bruins fans, they’d better hope that those numbers regress to the mean before the end of the series. For Habs fans, they’d better hope more players than Price, Subban, Bourque, Eller, and Plekanec show up in Games 2-7.

What’s Next?

The Bruins will probably come back in game 2 with a similar gameplan. If they play the same way in game 2 as they did in game 1, they could conceivably win by several goals with the only difference being pucks bouncing differently. The Bruins, recognizing that playoff nightmare that is a goaltender possessed by the daemon Mammon, will probably adjust their gameplan slightly to start running Price’s crease, camping in his line of sight, and crossing themselves before every shift. Bob McKenzie on TSN points out how all three Bruins goals occurred when Price couldn’t see the puck. The Bruins can’t do too much about Price playing the pucks he can see, but they can try and knock him out of his comfort zone and pray he doesn’t gain the ability to swivel his head 360 degrees around his neck.

The Canadiens, on the other hand, had better be ready to defend their goaltender. While Francis Bouillon scored a goal, Therrien might consider dropping him for Jarred Tinordi (Legend). I can hear you reading this and protesting some combination of:

1) Bouillon scored!

2) He’s experienced and tries hard!

3) Don’t tinker with a winning lineup!

But 1) Bouillon probably won’t score in any hockey league for another 6 months. 2) He’s also 5″8 , old, and these are professional athletes- they all try hard or they wouldn’t be here. 3) The Canadiens might have won that game on the scoreboard, but if you think this lineup doesn’t need some tinkering with, you’re still drunk from last night.

As the Bruins start hitting more, the Canadiens will need to respond, and playing Weaver and Bouillon at the same time- no matter how tough those two are or how great a story Bouillon- leaves the Canadiens at a serious size mismatch against forwards like Carl Soderberg, Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille, Jarome Iginla, etc… etc…

Therrien also really needs to do something about his best line being Eller, Bourque, and whoever skated with them since it’s unclear if any other Habs forwards touched the puck last night. Leaving aside the question of how Bourque can be objectively mediocre for 166 games over the last 3 seasons and then become the Prairies’ answer to Alexander Ovechkin, the Canadiens can’t win too many games without better performances from other forwards.

Travis Moen returned to the lineup, replacing the more-deserving Bournival. The arguments for including Moen are similar to the arguments for including Bouillon, but Bournival is good with the puck, a heck of a lot faster, and a better passer than TraMoen. As much as toughness will be an issue for the Canadiens in their crease, they need to take back the possession game, and Bournival can help do that.

That’s a relatively minor issue compared to the struggles of the top two lines. Desharnais seems like the only member of the topline who either gets the puck or harasses the Bruins D. Despite facing harder competition, Vanek and Pacioretty need to show something, even if it’s just physical play, to distract the Bruins from hoarding the puck.

Meanwhile, there was an interesting stat on RDS showing Krejci’s 1st round points, 23, and how only 1 goal from that number came against the Canadiens, since Plekanec has consistently shut him down. If Krejci didn’t score last night, it has less to do with being shutdown by forwards than by bad puck luck and Price’s play. If Plekanec and Gallagher aren’t going to score, they’d better get that puck and make life hard for the Bruins forwards tomorrow afternoon.

Ghosts

The media will now shift from discussing hatred and depth to ghosts and history. Despite Price being very much a creature of flesh and blood and some substance, the story will become about haunted goalposts and goaltenders of playoffs past stifling the Bruins. While the media hires exorcists to serve as panelists on their in-game talkshows, the Bruins will bring the hate back by beating the Canadiens down if they can’t put the puck in the net. As discussed above, Therrien’s got some adjustments to make for the real live players on his roster, since trusting in ghosts isn’t exactly a 21st century coaching strategy. It’s cute to imagine a team meeting around the campfire with each player passing a flashlight around and taking turns telling stories of their favourite playoff caper against the Bruins. But that won’t cut it, especially given the rumours that Subban, for all his sound and fury, gets the heebie-jeebies from ghosts.

Look, while it’s fun watching TD Garden fans pull out their hair as the Bruins throw holy water on Price in an attempt to rid him of the demons possessing him- CHECK THOSE WATER BOTTLES, REFS!- you have to hope that the Canadiens will start passing around the locker room whatever dietary supplement Bourque’s been snacking on.

BAD ADVERTIZING UPDATE: 

If Apple plays that iPhone 5 ad with the god-awful cover of the Pixies’ Gigantic one more time, I’m going to start vomiting uncontrollably and speaking in deviltongues. MERCY, PLEASE!

Advertisements
April 2, 2013

PK Subban, Future Tycoon

by Jacob Saltiel

Bob Gainey’s Stare, under his pseudonym of Jacob Saltiel, guest posted on Allhabs.net today.

Check out what he had to say about PK Subban at this link: http://www.allhabs.net/all-habs-news/p-k-subban-poised-to-break-the-bank/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook

Tags: ,
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.

January 31, 2013

This Is How You Get People To Click On Your Website: The Canadian Press and PK Subban

by Jacob Saltiel
subbanmedia

Oh hey…
from montreal.ctvnnews.ca

Yesterday an article with the title “Subban Must Accept New Rules Before Rejoining Canadiens” went up on TSN.ca.

Wow, eh? Sure sounds like the Canadiens haven’t taken an ‘all is forgiven’ approach to re-signing one of their best young players. With articles like that appearing alongside articles with titles like “No Celebrating In Habs’ Dressing Room Over Subban Signing“, you’d think that Subban ran over Bergevin’s dog or something.

The articles are attributed to The Canadian Press, but John Lu on TSN probably did the reporting, at least based on the “Moving Forward” video posted on TSN (accessible to the right of the article in the TSN video panel) where he interviewed the players.

Mixed Reactions to Mixed Reaction

Now, it’s true that the Canadian Press’ job is to create compelling stories, but it sure looks like they’re trying to manufacture a controversy where there may not be one at all. The narrative: “OH MY GOD PERNELL’S TEAMMATES HATE HIM” is much more likely to get the average hockey reader to click on their link than is “Montreal Canadiens go about their business while Subban rejoins team following lengthy contract negotiation”.

In both of the articles linked to above, the headlines don’t even correspond to the content that follows. The phrase ‘mixed reaction’ means that some people approve and some people don’t. In fact, in examining the article, it’s not so much a case of ‘mixed reactions’ as it is a case of players not wanting to discuss someone who isn’t there. As Markov said: “He’s not in the room yet, so let’s talk about it when he’s going to be in the room.” Ryan White, meanwhile, said “It’s a relief” and Lars Eller is quoted at the very bottom of the article as saying “A player of P.K.’s calibre is always welcome in the lineup.” Gorges’ comments about never having played with a player who held out before and taking a wait and see approach are non-committal, rather than explicitly disapproving. So, since no one actually said that they were unhappy to see Subban back, the phrase ‘mixed reaction’ quite simply does not apply here. The meanest thing anyone said about Subban was reported on Hockeyinsideout.com: “When someone suggested to Lars Eller that P.K. wanted to be known as The Subbanator, the Danish forward replied: “We’re going to call him Pernell.”A more accurate headline might have read “CANADIENS REFUSE TO POP BOTTLES OF VEUVE CLIQUOT AT SUBBAN CONTRACT SIGNING”. Had that been the headline, and had the Canadian Press entered the dressing room and failed to find this, this, or evidence of this happening, it would be accurate.

The Rules Are Up On the Fridge Door

The other article, about Subban accepting new rules, is silly. Considering that the Canadiens brought in a new general manager and coach in the offseason, do you know who else had to “accept new rules before re-joining the Canadiens?” If your answer was “EVERY SINGLE PLAYER, PROSPECT, AND EMPLOYEE” then your answer was correct. That’s generally what happens when any organization changes management, but The Canadian Press would have you believe that Subban is somehow different. The headline would only be meaningful if the reporter had some quotation or source indicating that Subban would get back in the lineup when he agreed to wear a full-caged helmet, or only use one skate in practices and games from now on.

The TSN article has no reference to anything of this type, only vague statements about the team’s philosophy:

“The first thing Marc Bergevin and I did was sit down with (Subban) and explain our philosophy and he understood where we’re coming from,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “It was a good, honest conversation with P.K. and we just want to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Oh, really? Therrien had a sit-down with a player who, until now, wasn’t under contract to explain his coaching philosophy? OH DON’T HIT THAT BLOGPOST BUTTON YET! In both cases, the headlines above are cynically designed to get angsty-Habs fans to click on the articles and then go Edvard Munch’s The Scream on one another.

Look, it may be the case that Subban is an awful person and worse teammate, but to print this in an official media outlet would require, uhm, facts, right? When an anonymous player on the Canadiens goes on record stating that Subban is never invited to team birthday parties, that’ll be news. Or, hey, shouldn’t there be an answer to the question “why?” in these articles somewhere? Why might his teammates and managers be so pissed at him? Is that clearly mentioned anywhere? Is it even speculated about? There must be some form of telepathic mind-reading going on that the writer isn’t at liberty to divulge. Based on the quotations gleaned from conversations with the actual players involved, very little has actually been said that supports the main arguments of the two posts.

Until these questions are answered and supported by evidence, these types of articles will remain unpersuasive and not far removed from simple mudslinging. There may still be a story worth reporting here, but the articles posted above are poor examples of what fans should be reading on the matter.

January 29, 2013

Galentine’s Day Comes Early: Subban Signs, Galchenyuk and Gallagher to Stay for the Season

by Jacob Saltiel
bergevin1

The Glasses Must Be Working
from commentjemhabille.com

Will January 28th, 2013 be another unremarkable and cold winter’s day in Montreal or will Canadiens fans remember this as the beginning of a new era? Bergevin must be thinking playoffs and Therrien must be thinking that Galchenyuk can make many more plays like the one that set up Gallagher’s first goal.

Subban’s signing at about 7:20pm concludes the lineup moves for starting this season. How this negotiation affects the next one will affect where the Habs are in 5 years.

Galchenyuk

As covered elsewhere in this blog, it remains a dubious management move to keep Galchenyuk, even with Pacioretty out. Once Pacioretty returns, Eller’s out of a lineup spot (thanks for the memory, bud).

4 games in, the only decent team the Habs have played is the Devils. This being the case, the small sample size used to determine Galchenyuk’s suitability for playing at the NHL level doesn’t even include an elite opponent. In the last 4 games, the 3rd line has been strong and supplied good minutes to a team that, with Bourque finally proving capable of lighting up an EKG if not a goal lamp and when Pacioretty was healthy, had solid lines from to bottom.

Enthusiasm for the hot start should be tempered by the quality of competition*  and many of the goals coming from the unreliable presence of the excellent Markov. If the Canadiens are outside of the playoffs 6 weeks from now and Galchenyuk is slumping or injured, Bergevin’s decisive handling of Galchenyuk will be second-guessed.

If the Canadiens make the playoffs and win a couple of rounds, then the above-mentioned caveats matter little.

Galchenyuk makes about $3.225m/year for 3 years, depending on which performance bonuses he reaches.

Gallagher

On the other hand, Gallagher fits on this team on any of the top-3 lines as a scrappy little guy who can pot some goals and irritate the other teams’ D. His style of play is needed in Montreal, as he complements Cole and Pacioretty’s relentless pursuit of the puck into the crease and behind the goalie. Not all of his goals will be as pretty as his first, but barring injury- he’s listed at only 163lbs- he should score reliably in his role as a smilier Ryan Smyth in miniature.

Gallagher makes less than a third of Galchenyuk’s money at $870,000/year for the next 3 years, and he should be full value.

Subban

It’s tempting to say ‘finally!’ but it’s only 4 games into the season and given the incompatible bargaining positions of the two sides, the effect on this season shouldn’t be overstated. Bob McKenzie on TSN’s That’s Hockey reported that Subban insisted on longterm security- as any smart player should push for- and the Canadiens were adamant that it would be a 2 year deal.

What should be said is that this is a total capitulation by Subban, who does not deserve the wrath of Habs fans. No. Once he steps back into the lineup, the Habs will have a top-4 of Markov-Emelin and Gorges-Subban, which will reduce minutes for Bouillon (yay!) and plant one of Weber or Kaberle in the pressbox more or less until someone gets injured (hooray!). The big loser in this deal isn’t Subban at all, but Weber who will almost certainly be playing anywhere but in Montreal next year with Tinordi and Beaulieu breathing down his neck.

Subban playing alongside Gorges, Bouillon, and Emelin will be an oddly short but tough defence that will give away inches of ice as easilyas the Quebec Government hikes tuition (hiyo!). Markov, now that he’s figured out the Matrix, always has the puck, so all Diaz has to do is not actively attempt to fire the puck into his own net to make this an all-around strong top-6.

Bergevin

As for Bergevin, this deal is a conditional rather than total victory.

The value in the bridge contract comes from keeping Subban’s annual cap hit low for this summer, when about $10m comes off the cap. If Subban had been extended longterm now, that big money extension would have eaten into that cap space when Bergevin could be using it to sign pending UFAs David Clarkson or Corey Perry (an optimistic target, but one he’d at least have the money for). Whether or not Subban even plays well this season, Bergevin should offer him his longterm extension in the summer. This way, the cap hit will only bump up the following offseason when Gionta and Markov come off the books. This allows Bergevin the flexibility to put money on some UFA’s brains and augment his young core for next season. Speaking of which, his only expensive RFA will be Desharnais. The following year, he’ll have to choose between extending Markov, Emelin, Diaz, and an aged Gionta, though he should still have money to play with once the rest of the salary cap chaff disappears.**

So for now, it looks good. If Bergevin doesn’t eventually get Subban signed to a longterm deal or if Subban gets a calculator-melting offer sheet two summers from now, fans might look back on January 28th with mixed emotions.

 

***

*Florida and Toronto already look like teams in the draft lottery

** All of this assumes league revenues don’t vanish in the next few years and NHL GM’s end up operating with a salary cap of 12 dollars, 50 cents, and free clothing adorned with their employer’s logo.

January 27, 2013

Northeast Division Roundup, January 19-26

by Jacob Saltiel
1297368882343_ORIGINAL

Orr Checks Scoreboard, Still Plenty of Time to Dummy Scott
from TorontoSun.com

Based on the data accumulated over the first whole week of NHL hockey this year, all kinds of persuasive data can be extrapolated about the teams in the Northeast division. Actually, that’s completely silly to suggest, so please regard this analysis as a series of general impressions and observations. Read below:

Boston Bruins

After 7 days of NHL hockey, the Bruins have yet to hurt anyone in a way that cynically manipulates the NHL rulebook. Amazing what a team can do when they don’t focus simply on bashing. They started their abbreviated season on fire, taking 3 out of 4 possible points from a strong Rangers team and smothering the Jets and Islanders. It’s early, and 2 of the teams they beat are likely bottom-feeding this year, but they’re a team with a defined identity, a relatively young core, and no obvious weak points. It’s only been a week, but one thing that can point to future troubles ahead is the 4 goals the Rangers put on Rask. They’ll need him to steal a few goals against elite teams if the Bruins are to advance in the playoffs. Even with that potential flag, Dougie Hamilton looks like he can play, which is bad news for the rest of the East.

Buffalo Sabres

Hard to gauge this team, with a narrow win over the Leafs, a victory over the Flyers fueled by Vanek running hog wild, and trading losses with the enigmatic Hurricanes. Their addition of grit over the offseason has been mixed so far. Ott’s been strong and Stafford notably and foolishly fought Hartnell, but John Scott got punked by Orr. John Scott is a dancing bear dressed up in hockey gear whose only purpose is to smash. If he can’t perform his duty against the heavies of the league, he’s a waste of a roster spot. And, besides, it’s not like he can protect wee Gerbe from the referees, can he?

Montreal Canadiens

Subban remains lost in the desert of his indecision, causing angst for everyone in the Montreal area, but Markov’s return has brought up memories of the Canadiens’ vaunted power play of a couple of years ago. There’s a lot of smoke coming out of the Montreal blogosphere about Subban being an elite two-way defenceman, and while he may yet become that, one only has to watch the Canadiens powerplay with Markov at the wheel to see the difference between someone who can and someone who cannot run a powerplay. So long as Therrien’s running Bouillon and Kaberle out there, the Canadiens can still use Subban’s top-notch defensive presence. The shortcomings of Frankie Boo and Kaberle will reveal themselves over time- even in a shortened season. Even so, a disjointed throwaway loss in Toronto and two ‘taking care of business’ wins against ragged Florida and possibly sadsack Washington, and the Habs look good for a team that finished bottom of the conference last year. Tonight, they’ll be taking on the Devils without Pacioretty, who unexpectedly came down with appendicitis and will be out for a month.

Ottawa Senators
The young Senators can score goals, but as the Tampa Bay Lightning showed, they can also end up on the wrong side of some crooked numbers on the scoreboard. While some have pointed to their goaltending as deep, Anderson is as prone to brilliance as he is to mediocrity from one night to the next. Though Bishop is touted as a strong goalie prospect, displays like the one against Tampa reveal that he still has some adjusting to do. Maybe Robin Lehner in the AHL is the longterm answer, but they’ll find out once they unload Anderson or Bishop. They’ll be exciting to watch, and if Turris turns into a point-a-game centre (4 goals and an assist through 4 games as of now), they’ll be regularly chasing other teams’ starting goalies onto the bench.

Toronto Maple Leafs
What the heck is going with this team, right? Screwing with their goalie rotation by playing the crab-like Scrivens over Reimer, starting seemingly half of their farm team and Nazem Flarning Kadri lighting it up, it’s hard to tell which way this team is going. Sources also say that Hercule Poirot is investigating the identity of one ‘Michael Kostka‘. Anyroad, this is a Leafs squad that blows into Pittsburgh and stomps out the Penguins and then gets set ablaze like so many backyard leaf fires in the fall by John Taveres and the Strong Island. Phaneuf’s attempt to combine Tavares’ face with the endboards was an interesting attempt at alchemy, but should have been rewarded with a suspension. Last night, against an elite team likely to finish in the top-half of the East’s playoff ranks, the Leafs crumbled in the 2nd half, losing 5-2 to the Rangers. While they have some young guys who can score, it looks like their team defence couldn’t keep a minifridge out of their net.

January 20, 2013

Game 1: Canadiens vs Leafs, Hockey-Like Substance Observed

by Jacob Saltiel
Carey Price,

Habs: Let’s Make a Pile! Leafs: Yay!
from Yahoo! Sports

Earlier in this blog, it was stated that if one were to watch Kaberle playing too many minutes, it was related to some injury catastrophe elsewhere on the Habs blueline. As it’s the first game and no one was injured to create this situation, Subban duly obliged with a contract holdout. While there are whispers that perhaps it is selfish or greedy of Subban to do so, it’s well within his rights to use all of his available means to secure himself the best contract he can get. Considering he risks injury in playing, why would he- or any NHL player- risk future earnings while playing on a below-market contract as a favour to an NHL team? The NHL operates in exactly this manner when it comes to renegotiating a CBA and locked out its players to achieve a similar effect.

Regardless, the team has to play on without Subban until this impasse resolves. Business, after all, is business, and based on at least this one game, business will be booming for young Subban.

On to the game:

Outside of a few flashes of NHL hockey, this game was made up of a lot of mis-timed plays, bad passing, confusion, and people at home and in the stands shouting “WHO IS MIKE KOSTKA?!”

Slightly more than 2% of the way into the season, it’s important to keep in perspective that a lot can change once the team gets a few more practices and games together. Over the next 47 games, NHL fans may, indeed, discover the identity of this Kostka phantom.

For Habs fans, the feeling that one was watching an awful lot of Kaberle is substantiated by his powerplay icetime, 6:25, and total icetime for the game, 20:05. The former figure is 40 seconds more PP time than Markov, likely because Therrien wants to use Kaberle as a PP specialist, which is fine. Or, this would be fine if Markov were still allowed to run the powerplay, but it seems like Kaberle has most of the puck while Markov floats around the perimeter looking for a backdoor play. It’s one (1) game and the team obviously needs more practice, but we need to Markov to express himself offensively.

More problematic than Kaberle’s usage, was Bouillon’s 22:20 of icetime. When Bouillon was signed, the assumption was that he would fill out the bottom-pairing, or even act as a 7th defenceman- not play top-4 minutes. He played 5 minutes more than the solid Emelin (who tried to change Kadri’s world mid-way through the 2nd) and somehow was used on the second powerplay unit. It was pointed out that, without Subban, the other options on the point for the second unit are Gorges, Diaz, Bouillon, or Emelin, and Diaz was already out there.

In other words, the powerplay will never resemble a clockwork machine of  players fiendishly swapping positions before a series of quick passes ends in a cannonshot into the back of the net until Therrien develops other options. Weber, it seems, offended someone in the head office and probably won’t be suiting up much unless 1 or 2 players above him on the depth chart are traded or get hurt.

Up front, the Habs’ top-line had trouble getting going, but showed a few shifts of last season’s ingenuity and the comically gritty line of PrustWhiteArmstrong showed something Habs fans born in the 80’s probably haven’t ever seen. Though they took a penalty right at the beginning of the game, it was refreshing to see a line that actually might scare some other teams and also to watch Prust get the better of Mike Brown. Whenever that line starts the game at the Bell Centre, the DJ should play this track, just to pump up the crowd and let the opponents know that the rumbles are coming.

Beyond that, the 2nd and 3rd lines resembled the end of a game of Jenga. Galchenyuk, while he undoubtedly has the skills to play in the NHL, hasn’t adjusted to the speed of the game, which doesn’t help his veteran linemates. Eller, who looked so good in the intra-squad game, was invisible till the 3rd period. Plekanec and Eller will have to anchor their lines and put the pressure on other teams by playing more organized hockey, which should come as they get used to Therrien’s system.

So what? The Habs lost 2-1 in a game in which all of the goals were powerplay goals. Price was solid, and that’s that for the opener. The next game is a Mechant Mardi matchup against the Florida Panthers, who pounded out the Hurricanes 5-1, and a particularly enigmatic Russian with ties to the Montreal area…

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.

January 8, 2013

Contract Negotiations, Vol IV: A Subban in the Hand…

by Jacob Saltiel
2011-NHL-All-Star-Upper-Deck-PK-Subban

“If I’m this happy signing autographs, imagine the smiles for a longterm contract extension…”

Coming out of the lockout, the first article TSN.ca posted about the Montreal Canadiens carried the following headline: “Signing Subban Top Priority for New Canadiens GM Bergevin”. With the rest of the lineup set- barring the incredible possibility of subtracting either Gomez or Kaberle from the roster- the  PK Subban negotiation is the most important item on Bergevin’s agenda before the season starts, with the negotiation also representing an opportunity to control the future of a young, dynamic defenceman with potential to improve. This will also be Bergevin’s second major roster move with respect to his core, the first one being the Pacioretty signing.

Without relying on rumours of what Subban may have asked for and what the Habs may have offered, let’s imagine the pros and cons of the negotiation from the perspectives of an NHL player agent, the GM of the Canadiens, and a fan:

AGENT’S TAKE

“Pernell is a #1 defencemen and should be paid like one. In fact, last year he played the minutes of a top-pairing D, at 24:18, putting him 18th for average ice time per game, and 14th overall for total minutes. On the worst team in the Eastern conference, he was still a +9, and scored as many points as Drew Doughty. Yes, the 7m+/year Drew Doughty. PK loves the city, the fans, and thrives in the Montreal market and is willing to sign long term. He’s a young, durable defenceman with the potential to score more points than he has, as evidenced by the fact that he was 7th in the NHL in shots from a defenceman with 205. His defence has also improved, and in his first two playoff runs he shut down elite players such as Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, and Alex Ovechkin. At the minutes he’s sure to play, we’d prefer to sign him up to a long-term contract- if he gets hurt then we’re left out in the cold. Marc, do right by the fans of Montreal and sign PK Subban for the 5 years, at 5.5M a year, which would be a steal. You won’t be sorry”

GENERAL MANAGER’S TAKE

“Firstly, I want to say that we are extremely thankful for everything that PK has done for the team on-ice, and we look forward to having stay in Montreal for his career. Having said that, PK is still a restricted free agent, and although he’s made great progress for a 2nd year player, he still had lots of potential. Before committing to a long-term contract, we’d like to take another year to gauge what that might be. Given the salary we have committed this year, we’d prefer to wait until the offseason. Markov’s contract expires and then we can use the buy-out option to free up cap space and reward PK for the excellent season we’re certain he’ll have. Sure, we finished last in the East last year, but our problem was offence, which was 13th in the East, while our defence was actually top 5 in the conference in terms of goals allowed. We’d also like to see PK work on taking fewer penalties, as he had the most penalty minutes in the league for a defenceman at 119, many of which were minor penalties, a category he led with 47- or 10 more than the next most for a defenceman. So, let’s say 3 million to play through this season and next year we can renegotiate when PK. Look, if you’re willing to use the contract of a player such as John Carlson (3.9m/yr for 6 years), then maybe we have something…”

THE FANS
“Sign him, Marc! PK can only improve and he’s our best young blueliner since Chris Chelios, a pest, defensive pillar, and powerplay scorer. He can lead our team for a decade and a half and wear the ‘C’! He produces the best highlights on the team and has the best commercials. Subban and Gorges can combine with one of Beaulieu or Tinordi to become a defensive core for the next 6+ years. In fact, Subban is the team’s most exciting player and signing him to a long-term deal now can only pay off.”

Conclusion
These three arguments about Subban’s value to the club are not contradictory, but, ultimately, the club should sign Subban now to a long-term extension that carries through his restricted free agent and first few unrestricted free agency years.

If Subban has a breakout year over the shortened season, scoring a point a game and improving defensively, he could suddenly be worth 6 million+ a season. Even if Subban remains the exact same player, he would still be worth about 4.5m a season, simply based on his icetime and the expectation that he’ll learn to take fewer penalties under Therrien’s discipline. It’s much easier to teach a dynamic player to cut down on penalties than to develop a mediocre talent into a top-pairing defenceman.

Worse, stiffing Subban on a contract now could leave him open to an offer sheet later, or eventually pave the way for Subban to leave as a free agent, something the Habs can ill-afford after squandering McDonagh’s potential through trade. The Canadiens will never have more leverage over Subban than they do now and with an aggressive contract offer similar to the one Pacioretty received, say 6 years at 4.5m/year, it would be tough for Meehan and Subban to turn down that guaranteed money.

Given the buy-outs that are likely coming this summer and the assured fandom of Montrealers, it’s a roll of the dice that you can afford. According to Jean-Francois Chaumont of La Journale de Montreal, Bergevin was quoted as saying: “Mon intention est de signer P.K. avant le camp, […] C’est mon but depuis le premier jour de mon arrivée en poste, même si ce n’est pas ­arrivé avant la fin de la dernière ­convention. In other words, “It’s my intention to sign PK before training camp. It’s been my goal since my first day on the job, even if we couldn’t get a contract signed before the last CBA expired.”

One way or the other, Subban will be under contract this season. With the right offer, this negotiation could result in controlling Subban’s foreseeable future at a relative discount.