Not that good? Not worth the big money that he’s going to get?
Not a true one defenseman?
Not the Habs best player?
Not the Habs leader on defense?
If Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos is right, and Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban is about to win the Norris trophy as the league’s best rearguard, then it’s validation on a few different levels.
Validation that Subban is not only the team’s best defenseman, but also their best player (so much for those who think Markov, capable as he is in his own right, is still the team’s leader on defense)
Validation that Marc Bergevin goofed in only awarding a two-year deal instead of opting for the long-term deal that many fans felt should have been a no-brainer.
Validation (from Bergevin’s point of view) that he provided Subban with the proper motivation to turn in an astounding season.
Validation that the silly rhetoric that the league and the surrounding media “doesn’t like Subban” due to his flamboyant, exuberant personality.
It had to be in the back of Bergevin’s mind that this could have been an outcome for Subban, and that the team would have to open up the vault in order to keep Subban happy long-term. Instead of paying Subban what most believed would have gotten him signed long-term last year (five years, 25 million dollars), he gambled that he would retain leverage in further negotiations with a short “bridge” deal. Bergevin may have used his hammer to keep the cost-controlled Subban in check, but that won’t work next time, if Bergevin is as smart as we all think and hope he is. The bridge deal was a de facto challenge to Subban: “show us what you can do and we’ll have no problem paying you”. Careful what you wish for, Marc! What became more and more obvious as the lockout-shortened season progressed is that the price to re-sign Subban was growing bigger with each passing game, to the point where “Doughty money” now seems the starting point as opposed to the end point. Subban, even as an RFA will have the luxury to name his price, and Bergevin will have little choice but to play ball.
Remember those people who said that Subban wasn’t worth Doughty money? They’ve likely changed their tune now. Those holdovers that still insist that 42 games shouldn’t grant Subban the right to back up the truck in order to collect his pay, but those people are harder to find these days and will soon be extinct.
There is a full 82-game season coming this fall, followed by what we hope will be a lengthy playoff run, and there’s no telling what may happen. Subban could continue his excellent play (smart money is on this option). He could suffer a dip in production and overall quality of play (hard to imagine), or he could get hurt and miss a large chunk of time. Bergevin can soon choose to re-open negotiations with Subban about a long-term deal that will keep him here for many years to come. Is that the smart play, financially speaking given that Subban will have a fresh trophy in his case? Or should he gamble yet again that he can gain the upper hand by waiting?
Either way, the Canadiens have a defenseman that is finally worthy of being called the league’s best. Not a top-five, or top-ten defenseman. The best defenseman. At just 23 years old, it’s a staggering thought to think that he has already risen to such a high level when most of his peers only peak in their late-20’s or even early 30’s.
If Subban is still only scratching the surface of his potential, then he will not only add more hardware to his mantle, but he will validate what he told Bob Gainey on the day he was drafted: that he would help this team win a Stanley Cup.
With 6 picks in the first 90 overall selections at this month’s entry draft in New Jersey (pick #25 in the first round, picks #34, 36 and 57 in the second round, and picks #71 and 88 in the third round), Director of Scouting Trevor Timmins and his team (overseen by General Manager Marc Bergevin) have a lot of flexibility, should they decide to do something other than simply go buck-wild at the draft board.
It should be noted up front that Bergevin is an extremely strong proponent of building through the draft, and it’s more than likely that the Canadiens brass will let Timmins do what he does best and continue to stock the cupboards with young players with strong NHL potential.
For argument’s sake, let’s pretend that Bergevin and Timmins are considering their options. Would he bundle one or more of his picks in order to move up in the draft? Would he relish the opportunity to trade down and garner even more picks? Would they leverage some of their picks in a package with current roster players to land NHL-ready talent?
As vocal as he has been about using the draft to build the Habs, it’s likely that they are open-minded enough to consider what’s behind doors A, B, or C, should the opportunities present themselves.
Door Number 1 – Movin’ on Up
Let’s forget moving up in to the top ten. Despite rumors that Colorado and Edmonton are fielding offers for the first and seventh overall picks respectively, this sort of thing is to be expected. Both are teams that have been drafting high for years now with no real results to show for it and are simply fishing for a sucker GM who will give them the moon and stars for their pick. No doubt it would take the Habs first rounder, a second rounder, a strong prospect and a young roster player to even begin the discussion with either team. Pass. Timmins could decide to pick on Columbus, who currently hold the 14th and 19th picks in the first round. They too are rumored to be shopping their picks, no doubt in an attempt to help them be a sure-bet playoff team in 2013-14. It should also be noted that all three teams have recently had major shakeups in the front office. What GM doesn’t want to make a name for himself by being a mover and shaker at the draft?
While moving up may be a difficult task, The Canadiens do have the ammo needed to make a jump to anywhere from three to ten picks ahead of where they currently sit. They would only do this if they felt that there was a player that they absolutely HAD to have. In return, they’d have to give up their first rounder, and one of their early second round picks. I have all kinds of faith in the work of Trevor Timmins, so I’d be ok with this.
Door Number 2 – Quantity over Quality
It’s no longer a secret that you need a high volume of high-round draft picks if you want to be able to build a strong feeder system (see here for the painstaking details Part one | Part two). Given how the chances of finding an NHL player drop steeply after the first top-ten selections, they fall off the face off the earth in round two. This being the case, it would not make sense to trade down to scoop up more picks. If there’s a ‘but’ to this option, it’s that the Canadiens have one of the few guys able to find treasure outside of the first round. Want proof? P.K. Subban, Brendan Gallagher, Alexei Emelin, (the departed) Michael Ryder, Gabriel Dumont, (the soon to likely be departed) Yanick Weber and Ryan White were all drafted by the Habs outside of the first round. A mixed bag to be sure, but even if the list ended with Subban, Timmins has done a spectacular job of finding big talent outside of the agreed upon “elite”.
Do I like the “trade down” option? Not really, despite Timmins’ strong record. The only thing better than Timmins with a pocket full of draft picks is Timmins with a pocket full of early round draft picks.
Door Number 3 – Horse Trading
Ah, the draft day deal, otherwise known as the armchair GM’s favorite move. I remember being at the 2009 draft in Montreal. The only time the crowd was louder than when the Habs selected Louis Leblanc that night was when Bettman stepped up to the podium to announce the consummation of a trade (it was the Pronger-to-Philly deal).
Would the Canadiens consider moving their picks to bring in NHL-ready players (by this I mean established players of any age)? I think it’s all but certain that the Canadiens will never, under this administration, trade top picks for aging players. In a year where the salary cap is about to drop, there’s virtually no chance that the Canadiens will take on salary in exchange for cost-controlled assets. I find it doubtful that they’d trade picks for players of any calibre who are even approaching UFA status. What may be plausible is trading picks for young talent on entry-level deals who are either in need of a change, or their team badly covets a player from this year’s draft.
This option still runs counter to everything that Bergevin has said and counter to everything that today’s NHL is about: cheap, talented youth. The only option among the three above that makes any sense is that moving up in the draft without costing the organization any extra assets.
What say you?
One of the pillars of success in the salary cap era has been the reliance on young stars on entry level, or “bridge” contracts. Teams with Stanley Cup aspirations use their elite young talent to produce at seasoned-veteran levels to achieve their goals:
Ok, so the Wings and Kings didn’t have many raw rookies as key contributors but we know that Detroit has been an exception to the rule for 20 years now. The Kings, however, had Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick. You could probably insert other names and you could probably test the seaworthiness of the above claim, but by and large recent Cup winners have won by leveraging a burgeoning contingent of cheap, young, high-end talent. A core of highly paid veterans do (or should do) the real heavy lifting, while complimentary pieces round out the mix.
This year the Habs got massive contributions from their growing youth core. Down the stretch, and in to a brief playoff series, the Habs best players were the blossoming Lars Eller, the as-advertised Alex Galchenyuk, Calder candidate Brendan Gallagher and Norris candidate PK Subban (the Habs real season MVP). All four players are being paid a mere pittance of what their contributions indicate they ought to be paid.
There are those Habs fans who believe that considering the 28th place overall finish from just one year ago, that simply making the playoffs this season was more than enough of a step forward and olive branch to make up for last year’s gong show. That the team managed to finish second in the conference, and first in the Northeast division was at extra hot fudge sauce with five cherries on top. All told, the playoffs were a bonus, and win or lose, whatever happened, happened. When you lump in the widely-assumed belief that the Canadiens ‘Stanley Cup window’ is not quite yet open, then this season was just a five-month glimpse in to a very bright future. The glass half-empty view is that you need to strike when opportunity presents itself, and as a second-ranked home seed, they failed. Assuming that they will be a contending team in the future is a mug’s game, despite the widely held assumption that the Habs are a team on the rise. If you’re glass-half-empty, the Canadiens overachieved, caught teams off-guard and need to treat this year’s success as an aberration more than a new benchmark. Would taking a step back make more sense for the team’s long-term future. There are those who believe that to be the case.
Whatever side of the fence you live on, you had to be pleasantly surprised by the emergence of Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, who is up for the rookie of the year. You had to be blown away at how P.K. Subban took his game to yet another level, earning himself a Norris nomination. You had to be impressed with Therrien’s rebirth as a coach, and how Bergevin brought respect, credibility and fun back to the Habs in such a short time. We also saw that the defensive pipeline in Hamilton is preparing talent for the NHL, and the fruits of those labors will show themselves in Montreal sooner rather than later.
In Montreal, the goal is always the Stanley Cup. Even if we take in to account the last 15 years where marketing led us all to believe that 8th place was good enough, fans with long enough memories remember the one true goal. If the Habs want to take advantage of what’s left of the “cheap” end of their elite youth to reach that promised land, the veterans that get paid the big bucks need to produce to expectations not only through the regular season, but in to the playoffs as well. That means that Tomas Plekanec no longer gets the “defensive responsibility” free pass. Andrei Markov has to find a way to elevate his game in the post season at least once in his career. Carey Price has to elevate his game several notches. David Desharnais has to bring more than the nothing that he brought this season. Max Pacioretty has to play like the power forward that he used to be.
If this doesn’t happen, then we’ll be right back in this same spot next year wondering what went wrong with the team.
…make it this one.
Friend and fellow blogger @Habswatch once again hits pay dirt with an insightful and data-driven (read: not skewed by lazy opinion) piece.
No player has polarized Habs fans in recent memory like Carey Price has; you either love him to itty-bitty pieces, or you want his head on a pike. His ardent supporters say that he’s young, has elite talent and a growing body of work that will only continue to impress. They say his defense is the main reason for his failings. His critics say that he’s paid among the elite, has accomplished nothing at the NHL level and has fallen woefully short of lofty expectations.
In his piece, HabsWatch doesn’t only put Price’s 2013 season in to perspective, he puts his entire career in to focus in relation and context to his peers. The results may shock you, as they did for me.
If you want the real deal on Price, then I urge you to take 10 minutes to read HabsWatch’s piece. Drink in the evidence and then share it with your friends. I promise that it is well worth your time.
So what really happened in the 2013 post-season for the Habs?
From Pacioretty, Plekanec and Price to Desharnais, Markov, Gorges and Ryder, the veterans on this team did not accomplish enough good things collectively in order to have a deep playoff run. Simple as that. No player bashing, no nailing to the cross. A lot of guys were hurt, or playing hurt and as much as they refuse to use that as an excuse, the fact is no team can sustain the losses and injuries that the Habs did to key players and hum along like nothing happened…except for the Senators. The Habs veterans were average-to-below average and that doesn’t get it done in playoff time.
Here’s what you really need to know:
Game, series, and season…over.
What may come as a relief is that the Canadiens missing ingredients are painfully obvious and I think we can expect Marc Bergevin to remove some of the redundancies on the Habs current roster and fill the voids with what he, and the rest of us believe to be the missing pieces.
With the team set up with talented youth and a General Manager who seems to have a firm grasp on the realities of the league in 2013, there’s very little doubt that Marc Bergevin has a cogent plan to continue to remake his team. Even the most passive fan has been able to identify areas where the Habs need lots of help:
Size with toughness and scoring ability on the wings: The top nine forwards include the following names from the under-six foot clan: Plekanec, Desharnais, Gallagher, and Gionta. It’s hard to imagine the Habs charging in to 2013-14 with that many smaller bodies despite “how big they play”. 5’8” does not have the reach or power and dominance of 6’3”. To ignore this is to think yourself above the laws of physics, or that they don’t apply to the Habs. Dredge up any stat you like, but when everyone has long since come to the realization that small bodies wear out faster and more often than big bodies, the road map becomes clear. Even if the impact of physical dimensions of any given player is a point of debate, what the Canadiens do need both up front and on the back end is aggression and that typically that comes in larger packages. I’m not here to say that the Habs are criminally small and weak and fragile. While the Habs loss to the Senators is not specifically due solely to size, if you take a moment to scan the defense corps of the Habs division foes for next year, it isn’t a stretch to think that adding some beef and snarl up front is unreasonable. Of course, one-dimensional thugs need not apply, and Bergevin strongly hinted at this in his post-mortem press conference. Although we can be fairly sure that Michel Therrien would love to have one of those guys in his back pocket, it appears unlikely that Bergevin will waste a roster spot on a goon.
Universally respected as he rightfully is by his teammates, coaches, opponents, the media and fans, With Gionta’s contract going in to its final year, it’s not impossible that Bergevin could move the captain at some point once he has proven to be healthy and productive again. It would be an unpopular move to trade him but forward-thinking GMs do unpopular and bold things on the road to success. Fact is, they could use a right-handed, large body to compliment Pacioretty and Rene Bourque on the wings. Gionta may be an interesting acquisition to somebody out there who needs leadership, and scoring ability.
Clarity at Center: There’s a jigsaw puzzle down the middle. Tomas Plekanec is the Habs most complete forward, and until he can be adequately replaced on the fly, and not under an assumption or hope that Eller or Galchenyuk can replace him, there’s little sense in talking about trading him. That said, Plekanec is currently the Habs best centerman and would fetch the most return on the trade market. At 31 years old, he’s not getting any younger, and Bergevin appears to be in to moving “aging assets” before they’re worthless, but trading Plekanec now is premature, lest the Habs GM invoke the “unpopular, but bold” clause. Lars Eller was on the verge of breaking out in this shortened season. 2013-14 will be labeled as, and expected to be his full coming out party, but he is not yet ready to take on all of the duties currently held by Plekanec. We know Desharnais is both one dimensional, yet secure with his new deal, so the Habs will have to work around his, umm, shortcomings. Alex Galchenyuk remains the wild card. Drafted as the team’s future frachise #1 centerman, the 19-year-old spent nearly all of his rookie season on the wing, and with good reason. Though he led the team in +/-, that is the single most misleading stat in hockey. Rely on that number at your own peril. However, he cannot be counted on defensively just yet, especially when it comes to defensive zone faceoffs. Between his and Eller’s inability to take draws reliably, the Habs have much work to do, and until they get one, or both of them both up to speed, it makes Plekanec’s presence on the team a must.
Another top-four defenseman: This is a tricky one, but needs to be addressed. Andrei Markov’s play collapsed at even-strength in 2013; anyone with a pair of eyeballs could see this. He is no longer the team’s best defenseman, but is heavily relied upon nonetheless. He was very often caught behind the play after a bad pinch, and with ravaged knees, he no longer has the speed to recover, and once he gets back in to position, he is not physical enough to knock opposing forwards off the puck. Bergevin can get on his hands and knees and pray that Markov spends the summer strengthening his knee, and that Jarred Tinordi’s imminent arrival as a regular will be enough to save him from shopping for a pricey free agent, or trading assets to shore up the defense, but that’s a risky gamble. The blueline for next season is already crowded what with Subban, Gorges, Emelin (who may not be ready until November or later), Markov, Bouillon, and Diaz all but assured spots in the top seven (Weber and Drewiske won’t be back), which means that only one place remains for a kid like Tinordi. No upgrades have been made yet aside from the natural progression that young players demonstrate, and that’s no guarantee, either. For Habs fans who treat free agent frenzy like a free-for-all, this is sobering, disappointing news. If Bergevin decides to look outside the organization to make his defense better on the top two pairings, he’ll have a tough choice to make in terms of moving Markov or Gorges. Moving Bouillon is the easy call, but doesn’t create the hole needed to upgrade the top-four.
Iron in the bottom-six forwards: As a simple one-year band aid solution, Colby Armstrong won’t be back. Travis Moen disappointed many in 2013 on the heels of signing a four-year extension and may be moved as a result. But both players brought something to the table in terms of penalty killing and character. Bergevin will need to replace those traits, to the chagrin of the fancystat propeller heads.. Michel Therrien’s (and most fans, too) face turned unhealthy shades of greenish-purple when the Leafs and Sens (among others) took turns slapping the Habs silly in lopsided losses. In that respect it is the expectation of most fans that Bergevin fetch a player or two who can throw his fists. Therrien may be a changed man in front of the cameras and microphones, but I’d bet my last dime that he, too wishes he had at least one player with the ability to bust heads on a nightly basis. The rub is that players who can carry a regular shift (i.e. actually play hockey), yet acquit themselves well when the rough stuff starts don’t grow on trees, and Bergevin will need to decide how much this is truly a priority before investing time and energy in bringing in this sort of player.
The debate will rage all summer as to whether or not the real Canadiens were the team that streaked to a 26-9 record or the team that gave up 3.9 goals per game after clinching a playoff spot. That said, and whether it’s fair or not, expectations for the 2013-14 season are going to be sky-high for the Canadiens. Bergeron and friends will have no other mandate – both internally and externally from fans to build upon what was statistically speaking the best season from the bleu-blanc-rouge in 20 years. I hope you enjoyed drafting Galchenyuk at third overall last season because it will be the last time that they select that high based on merit for quite some time – at least that’s going to be the plan. Bergevin may not be able to make ALL of this changes required THIS summer, and no doubt this will piss off Habs fans who want it all right away. This year was like a honeymoon that ended with a nightmarish trip home. Fans will no longer be so willing to accept future first round exits if they are preceded by strong regular seasons, that much is plain and simple.
Playoff game #5
It just wasn’t meant to be.
The Habs were arguably the better team in four out of the five games, despite being decimated with injuries. In the end, the Senators got far superior goaltending, defense that didn’t surrender second chances and a big helping of opportunism. Of course, poor officiating played its part, but that falls down the list of reasons why the Senators advance while the Habs go home. In short: the Senators won fair and square. As I mentioned in Tuesday’s review, Habs fans now know what Capitals and Penguins fans feel like. Most fans are now realizing this, and it’s not a great feeling.
It is certainly disheartening to have watched the Habs outplay the Senators through the majority of the series, yet only reel off one win for their efforts, but it isn’t the Sens fault or problem that the Canadiens did not capitalize on their chances. They busted their asses, but lacked the size, grit and killer instinct to succeed at playoff time. At some point coach Therrien should have to answer why he chose to give ample minutes to some players who clearly didn’t deserve it, while others who carried the team’s offense sat and watched more than they should have.
This could have, and maybe should have gone differently, but plagued with injuries themselves, the Sens were able to get in to the playoffs, against all odds. As a result they were more than battle tested when they faced off against a Habs team that had lost its way. To the Habs credit, they aren’t using injuries as an excuse, though at this point common sense says there was nothing more that they could do to stop the bleeding, nevermind get a win.
There won’t be any finger pointing today. The Habs gave what they had to give but it just wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. The first period push to save their season was effectively short-circuited by the the time Sens went up 2-0.
While fans streamed out of the Bell Center once the Sens took a 4-1 lead, they forfeited the chance to salute a team that basically jumped the shark in terms of regaining respect, and credibility league-wide after being a laughing stock for the last few years. Shame on them, spoiled, sullen ingrates that they are.
The Habs are a team with a tremendously bright future, and helmed by a strong management group the ship is in the right direction, full steam ahead. Still, it is more than disappointing to see a team that played so well through this shortened season fall apart so absolutely and completely both literally and figuratively.
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Playoff game #4
Through 40 minutes, the Habs had done everything right, resulting in a 2-0 lead. Then they took a page out of the Jacques Martin playbook and sat back to defend that lead through the third period. Predictably, it did not work out for them. Without going through the painful exercise yet again, here’s why I think the Habs lost:
All laments being said, #Habs invited disaster with just 4 shots in the 3rd, lost faceoffs, lost puck battles & odd personnel choices.
— Kyle Roussel (@kyleroussel) May 8, 2013
We can complain about the officiating all we want. By the letter of the law, the Sens’ first goal was legit. The tying goal was rife with officiating blunders from the icing call, to not calling Turris’ interference with Price.
In the end none of this matters.
The Canadiens were their own worst enemy last night when they had been their own best ally for two full periods. Now with Eller, Gionta, Prust, Pacioretty, and Price (that we know of) either playing hurt or outright injured, the Habs face a huge uphill climb.
After being the better team in three of four games in this series so far, the Canadiens certainly deserve better, but the hockey gods don’t work that way. Those of us who remember 2010 know this all too well.
Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel
Playoff game #3
Anyone want to take a shot at this one because I sure don’t. On a Sunday that felt like a hot July afternoon, it was hard to drag myself in from the great outdoors to watch the game. It didn’t take long for my instincts to be proven right.
It was not a good night for the Habs as a group or individually; as they lost badly on the scoreboard and on the fight card. What a reversal from just two nights ago. Things plunged so deep in to the depths of hell that Tomas Plekanec had to play on the blueline, depleted of its regular crew through sheer nonsense. Every now and then, the Habs embarrass themselves by getting beat on the scoreboard badly, and with the rough stuff. It has happened in Boston, against the Leafs a couple times, and now against the Sens. It is not in the Canadiens’ interests to get wrapped up in such nonsense, but sometimes frustration boils over. It always ends in a predictable result though.
Tonight the Habs just weren’t ready. Carey Price will catch his share of the blame, but this gong-show isn’t on him. It’s on everyone. The Habs played stupid all night, and the refs didn’t help matters by letting things get out of control.
The Canadiens will respond, and Therrien will make changes to his roster, tactics and strategy. Will he have the nerve to make unpopular changes or will he simply shuffle deck chairs? Either way, Tuesday’s game four is as close as it gets to a must-win. Will Pacioretty decide to stop playing on the peritmeter? Will Desharnais do anything at all? Ryder? Will Subban recover after a terrible game? Can Price play lights-out again? Can the team avoid playing stupid hockey?
Tonight was a frustrating embarrassment on multiple levels but in the end, still only counts as one loss. If the Habs realize that shenanigans are not their thing and just stick to hockey, they’ll win more often than not, so expect a team that focuses on playing desperate hockey on Tuesday. All year the Habs org has touted their character and resilience, with good reason. If it’s truly legit, this loss will roll off their back.
If not, then summer’s right on the horizon.
Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel
Playoff game #2
Less than 24 hours after a depressing 4-2 defeat, the Habs had to gather themselves and play with a sense of desperation, lest they fall behind two games to none. But for that desperation to pay off, there had to be wrongs made right. Tonight, a few members of the Habs made up for suspect play over long and short stretches:
Carey Price. Way to shed the goat horns. He stood tall, made big saves, and bailed his teammates out of jams. He played like the Price that the Habs need and expect. He now needs to keep this up, no excuses.
Ryan White. It has been a rough year for the pesky grinder. A perceived unwillingness to learn from mistakes looked to have White banned to Neverland. He gets full credit for what was probably his best game in a Habs jersey; a goal, several big hits, and stayed relevant all night with his mouth. He too will have to straddle this fine line if he wants to remain in the lineup.
Michael Ryder. He’s been absent for a while, but he only needs one chance to make an impact. He did just that, burying his one big opportunity after some fine work by Rene Bourque and David Desharnais. Given the loss of Eller, Pacioretty and Gionta, Ryder needed to step up. At least for one night, he provided badly needed goal support.
Raphael Diaz. Lesser men would have played scared tonight after being labelled as the scapegoat for Eller’s injury, but he played with conservative poise and showed his character.
Travis Moen. The maligned veteran paired nicely with White to wreak havok on the Sens all night. Moen doesn’t have to fight to be effective. He just needs to be involved by throwing his weight around and dishing out a few facewashes.
While the fab five above made up for real and/or perceived shortcomings, there remains a whole slew of players who did their thing yet again. It should bring a huge smile to Habs fans faces that most of those players are under the age of 25. Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher were once again brilliant, and PK Subban was spectacular.
It’s a brand new series, but the Habs have the wind in their sails. They have been the much better team through two games, and they have been a terrific road team all year.
You are now free to enjoy your Saturday.
Follow me on twitter: @kyleroussel