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About Kyle Roussel

Born and raised in Montreal, I have unhealthy obsessions with sports, comics Star Wars, and my wife's cooking. Follow me at twitter.com/kyleroussel

Coach Therrien’s Future

With another day to kill before the start of game one, I figure now’s as good a time as any to yak about Habs coach Michel Therrien. Some like him, many can’t stand him. For those who value “process over results”, Therrien is the bane of their existence. For the rest, Therrien’s combined 75-42-13 record during his two seasons is proof enough that he’s pushing the right buttons and getting the most out of the team.

While both camps have valid points; valuing results over process is to be ignorant of what makes the Maple Leafs so hilarious to laugh at every year. Teams that rides percentages in either shooting or save percentage (or both) are doomed. On the other hand, the NHL remains a results-driven business, and few have done better than Therrien from a wins-and-losses perspective since the last lockout ended.

The 2014-15 season will be the final season of Therrien’s current contract. His future beyond that will hinge greatly on what happens in this playoff run. If the Canadiens bow out to Tampa with a whimper, the #FireTherrien camp will expect and demand Therrien’s immediate dismissal. If they bow out in a tough, well-played series, calls for his firing will still be loud and clear, no doubt, but won’t be as adamant. Short of a trip to the Cup Finals, there isn’t much that Michel Therrien can do to satisfy his naysayers. From an organizational perspective, if the Habs meekly exit the playoffs, then being bounced easily twice in two playoff years will not bode well for Therrien. He very well may be fired – to the delight of many, but he would certainly start 2014-15 on thin ice if he managed to avoid the axe.

If the Canadiens have a decent playoff run (which I’ll loosely define as a round one win, and at minimum a long, well-played second round, and more likely a second-round series win), then the #FireTherrien crowd will be sorely disappointed. A strong playoff run will not only result in Therrien emerging unscathed, and him starting 14-15 on terra firma, it will also likely see him get a contract extension during the off-season. The always-aware-of-optics Canadiens will not want questions swirling around their head coach when camp breaks, and a coach entering his final season – especially one that irks so many in both the media and fanbase (and perhaps even in the locker room) – will automatically carry the “lame duck coach” label. No team wants that distraction, so a strong playoff showing will probably end that discussion before it even begins. Then we’ll discuss how great or retarded Marc Bergevin is, again.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Therrien’s current strategy. The Canadiens have been less exciting and have been playing with fire all season long, with short bursts of hope to a return to playing “sustainable, effective” winning hockey. From last year to this year the Habs switched playing styles, and while the bottom line has been similar, the lion’s share of credit for this year’s success can go directly to Carey Price and the duo of Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. Still, all teams ask of their head coach is to win games. That’s it, that’s all. They aren’t asked to win games under the constraint of demonstrating strong analytics (as much as we’d all like to see them). Therrien has done that, and in doing so has ticked the only box assigned to any coach. Initially I didn’t see Therrien making it to the end of his original contract, and that still may happen. The toughest road remains in front of him, but he has gone at least halfway in getting an extension for himself.

Cynics aren’t worried about the Canadiens doing well come Wednesday, and hence aren’t worried that the Habs will be toiling under Therrien for much longer. Of course, there are no guarantees no matter what happens. But the convergence of circumstances means that If you’re not a fan of Michel Therrien, this post-season puts you in a tough spot: the better the Canadiens do, the more likely it is that you’ll be stuck with him for the long haul.

So You’re Upset

Evidently it takes a snoozer of a game against a squad of AHL talent to bring me out of hibernation!

With home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs still up for grabs, I think we all expected a stronger effort than what the Canadiens put forth last night. Not an unreasonable expectation given the opposition. What is verging on unreasonable, however, is the mentality that a team that was 7-2-1 in its previous 10 games needs to be needs to be even better than that before letting the foot off the gas.

I’ve spoken a lot in the past about the need for home ice advantage if you want to win the Cup. Over the last 20 years, it’s been more or less a requirement, with only a couple of teams starting the playoffs on the road and going all the way. From that standpoint, you’d love to see the Habs lock up home ice and at least put themselves in the camp that have won the vast majority of Stanley Cups in the last 20+ years. We in Montreal have become used to the Habs wearing the underdog tag, and wearing it quite well, if only for a round or two (2010 excluded). A lot of fans actually want the Habs to start on the road in Tampa, the logic being that if they can steal a game there, the Lightning are screwed. I would suggest that those people are unaware of the importance of home ice, are blind optimists, have forgotten about 2011, or don’t consider the Stanley Cup a possibility for this team whether they have home ice or not.

Playing the second game of a back-to-back at home vs a “weak” opponent had trap game written all over it, and whether the Habs sprung the trap or simply didn’t care enough to avoid planting both feet directly in to it, they were booed lustily for most of the night by fans seemingly unaware that their team has 98 points and playing decent hockey. What have you done for me lately, indeed!

Here’s the rub: the Lightning have been hot on the Habs heels for home ice for a few games running, and if the Canadiens want home ice, they would have had to nearly run the table, going 9-2-1 in their final 12 (for a total of 102pts), assuming Tampa Bay wins its last two games (leaving them with 101pts). Only Habs fans get upset when their team doesn’t play .792 hockey down the final stretch…”Geez guys, if only you cared, you could have gone undefeated!”

I find it difficult to stress out too much over last night’s game. While it was a waste of an evening, that’s all it was. With a win over the Rangers on Saturday, the Habs will force Tampa to win both of their final games to grab home ice away from Montreal. But from the amount of anger thrown around last night over the loss, you’d think the Canadiens were limping in to the playoffs with a 2-5 record down the stretch.

Which they did in ’93.

Just saying.

So long, Raffy Diaz

Yesterday, Habs GM dealt misunderstood/misused/missthenet defenseman Raphael Diaz to the Canucks for some guy named Dale Wiese. My initial reaction was something along the lines of *headdesk*. Diaz is a useable guy who had become useless to Therrien for reasons only known to the Habs coach. Whether it was a lack of physicality or lack of scoring (he hasn’t beaten an NHL goalie in a long, long time, folks), Diaz found himself on the bench for the last 8 games.

Pretty clear that he’s not in the team’s plans especially now with Beaulieu in the mix, so Bergevin shipped him out to the West Coast, where he’s free to take Yannick Weber’s job for a second time.

Of course, the Habs can’t make a single move without generating utter madness among the fanbase, so it came as no surprise that the interwebs were lit aflame when news of the trade broke. Sure, a few people who want the Habs to get bigger approved of the trade. For the most part, however, the trade made people upset; not because of the trade itself, but because of the mindset that it represents. Bergevin during his short tenure as Habs GM has made a habit of bringing in bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defensemen. Surely more was expected, and definitely more talent is needed, so this move is an exercise in exasperation. Instead of trading Diaz for virtually nothing, people wondered, why didn’t they:

  • Actually play Diaz over Murray?
  • Get more for a guy that the advanced stats say is a good d-man?
  • Get a draft pick for him?
  • Keep him?

We can cry about Murray all we want, but the Habs like him. Why didn’t they get more for Diaz? Because he wasn’t worth much thanks to his own inability to produce. Sure he may be efficient as a D-man, but perceptions are hard to shake and Diaz is seen as an offensive guy who can help a powerplay, which he didn’t do. So long, trade value. Being benched for 8 straight games? R.I.P. trade value. Why didn’t Bergevin just take a mid-round pick rather than a useless player who will likely be in the AHL next year? That’s a good question, and all I can imagine is that the Canucks don’t want to part with assets, either. Smart thinking. Finally, why didn’t the Habs just keep him? Well…with Subban, Gorges, Emelin, Beaulieu and perhaps Markov all laying claim to top-4 slots for 2014-15, where does Diaz fit? As a UFA, it’s his chance to cash in, and unless he’s dumb, he probably has no interest in being a bottom pair guy in Montreal. Just a guess.

So while we can piss and moan until the sun goes down about Bergevin picking up yet another useless, insignificant player, we can and should take some comfort in the fact that he did not and has not moved any prized prospects or draft picks for short-term rentals to save the current season. Diaz may have been sabotaged as an asset and shipped in a trade that was totally unnecessary, but in the end, had he scored a goal against an NHL goalie in the last 2 calendar years (January 21, 2012 was the last time he scored a real goal), maybe he would have retained his value all by himself.

Dropping the Ball on Swing the Axe

In the early days of this site, I wrote often about rampant, violent head shots and dirty hits polluting the NHL. I might even go as far as to say that this plague is what gave birth to this blog, as twitter just wasn’t enough to get it all out. Since then, not much has changed. There are still multiple dirty hits on a seemingly weekly basis, and the NHL isn’t doing much about it, regardless of what they say.

This past weekend, another matchup with the Pens and Bruins led to ugly mayhem. If I were Brendan Shanahan, I’d be cracking my knuckles and getting limbered up to swing a big axe. Shawn Thornton of course, would pay dearly for this heinous assault from behind on Brooks Orpik. Thornton did this because, in his mind, he had to get Orpik for laying out Loui Eriksson with a thunderous, and possibly questionable hit. Orpik refused to fight Thornton – and why should he? Thornton is just one small step above being totally useless, and Orpik is a valuable defenseman to the Penguins. Later in the period, Thornton, refusing to take no for an answer decided to swoop in from behind on Orpik during a scrum, horse-collar him to the ice, and then pound his defenseless face. For a guy who considers himself loyal to hockey’s “unwritten code” (whatever that is), that attack on Orpik is without doubt against everything the vague, undefined code stands for.

Part of the reason for hockey’s reluctance to change is that there are plenty of wacky people who say that if Orpik had just fought Thornton from the beginning, he wouldn’t have been rendered unconscious at all. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Drop the gloves and leave the game for 5 minutes (or more) for doing something that you’re paid to do. “The code”, ladies and gentlemen! The notion that a player needs to fight if he throws his weight around is outdated at best, and outright stupidity at worst. The hockey establishment is in a constant state of worry that today’s “progressive” fan wants to turn hockey in to a “panzified” non-contact sport. The NHL and NHLPA seem to be afraid of this too, but someone needs to tell them that they are the ones who will do away with hitting since every time there’s a big hit (by “big” I am talking about those hits that are considered “hockey plays”), there’s a scrum and ensuing revenge fight. The crackdown on bare-knuckle fighting is coming to the NHL, whether the league, player’s association or fans like it or not.

In my mind, a premeditated attack at an unsuspecting player’s head, and then continuing the assault once he’s down and out carries a suspension of at least 25 games, and probably more. The excuse that Thornton lost control of his competitive emotions is utterly silly. It’s even sillier to suggest that he was trying to do his job within the confines of “the code”, which Thornton knows he violated, otherwise he wouldn’t be so apologetic. An apology, by the way, doesn’t, or shouldn’t lessen the severity of the discipline, either.

The great thing about an unwritten code is that since it’s not actually documented anywhere, anyone can put whatever they want in to it depending on what suits their agenda, and depending on which way the wind is blowing. How’s that for carte blanche? No other sport on the planet would tolerate this, and in no other sport would he play another game this season. But the NHL being what it is (i.e. meek and cowardly when it comes to player discipline), I don’t think he’ll get any more than 8-10 games. Get your “Brendan Shanahan and the NHL is a joke” tweets ready now because I’m sure whatever Shanny does just won’t suffice, unless you happen to be a Bruins fan, in which case it will be way overboard.

James Neal would also pay the piper in my NHL, to the tune of 10 games for his “accidentally on purpose” knee to the head of the pesky Brad Marchand. I don’t know if players think the whole world is stupid when they pull stunts like this (reminds me of Chara’s “I didn’t know Pacioretty was even on the ice” lie). He clearly meant to drive his knee in to Marchand’s defenseless head, and for that he should be suspended much longer than any “star” has been used to. The NHL will likely write this off as being too much in the grey zone and try to insinuate that while the knee to the head could be incidental contact, that Neal needs to be in better control of his body. In the end I expect that he’ll get no more than 5, and probably just 3 games.
If the NHL wants this stuff out of hockey, then they have to go big with the penalties. When players are forced to sit for 2 weeks (which is a lot for a star like Neal), or 2 months, they may start to get the picture, but it appears that the NHL and NHLPA don’t want that. If they took supplemental discipline seriously, then at the very least the NHL can eventually tell some governing body that they are pro-active and concerned about player safety when they get called on to the carpet for why they’ve allowed this crap to happen for so long.

Bizarro Habs

Going in to last night’s game in Washington, the first of a back-to-back set, it’s safe to say that nobody was sure what to expect. Memories of the stunning playoff upset from 2010 is probably still the first thing that comes to mind when we think of the Capitals. But that was what feels like a lifetime ago, and in the fast-paced NHL, it is a lifetime ago. Roster, coaching, and management turnover has rendered those halcyon days (hey, that’s all Habs fans have to hang their hats on for the last 20 years) buried in the past. The reality is that the Canadiens have struggled mightily against the Caps recently, going 1-5-1 since the start of the 2011-12 season. In those seven games, the Habs had been outscored 22-10, including being shutout twice. Four of their 10 goals came in their lone win, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Habs have been curb-stomped by the Caps lately.

The Canadiens are best described as an up-and-down team this season, and with backup Peter Budaj starting last night’s tilt against a Caps team featuring a renewed Alex Ovechkin, the initial knee-jerk reaction may have been to write off the game entirely and look forward to a traditional Saturday night game. Even the most off-beat uk betting sites couldn’t have predicted how last night’s game would have unfolded.

The Habs got even-strength goals from noted non-sniper Travis Moen, as well as goals from the stone-cold duo of David Desharnais and Daniel Briere, the latter’s coming on the powerplay. Taking in to account the entire roster, guessing that Josh Gorges would be the guy to pick up two assists to lead the team would have been somewhere between a longshot and a miracle. Wait, there’s more weirdness on this Freaky Friday. Despite having Ryan White and Brandon Prust in the lineup, it was PK Subban who dropped his mitts and sat for five minutes.

If you’ve watched any sport for long enough, you probably think you’ve seen it all, but as is clear from last night’s game, there’s always room for more odd-ball occurrences. What the hockey gods have planned for tonight’s game vs the Penguins is anybody’s guess, but it’s safe to say that expecting ham-fisted checking wingers and 4th line grinders to bail out the Habs against Crosby and his traveling death squad is a fool’s bet.

Then again, we do remember those 2010 playoffs, right?

Desharnais Tests Therrien’s Patience

When David Desharnais was awarded his long-term extension last season, it seemed hurried, sudden and most importantly – inexplicable. With their stalwart at center in Tomas Plekanec, an on-the-rise Lars Eller and the team’s best prospect, Alex Galchenyuk all laying claim to future center spots (unless you believe Galchenyuk’s future is on the wing), the move to lock up Desharnais made many fans – myself included – fearful that either Plekanec or Eller would be moved. Let’s be blunt – any move that sees Plekanec or Eller moved to accommodate Desharnais would be a disaster, and we wouldn’t even have to wait to see the return to make that call.

But things are never only about hockey with the Canadiens, and such was the driving force to keep Desharnais. Fully sensitive to the criticism of not having enough Francophone talent on the roster, the Canadiens made a public relations and marketing decision to re-sign Desharnais. Bergevin was certainly aware of the abundance of centermen at his disposal, so he had to know that he’d eventually have a problem on his hand. He just hoped it would be a good problem, with four productive centers. Instead he has the type of problem that keeps the codeine in the coat pocket. Just how bad is it? We don’t need to delve deep in to fancy stats to see the answer. In this case, the basic hockey card stats will do just fine: In 36 regular season games since signing his extension, Desharnais has two goals and 11 assists for 13 points. Last year’s brief playoff run doesn’t help his cause, with just one assist in five games. In the “what have you done for me lately” world of armchair GM’s, the tale gets even sadder. Through 15 games of the 2013-14 season, wee Davey has one lone assist, and has often looked lost, which is never a good look for a player thatis knocked off the puck with a light breeze.

At the time of signing his four-year, 14-million dollar extension, a lot of Habs fans (mostly Anglo) were enraged, feeling that he was overpaid, that the contract was too long, and that he only got it because of his birthplace. He was being overpaid, but not egregiously so given what he had done the season before. At 3.5 million per season, we are not even talking second line center money, so the cries of overpayment were a bit over-the-top. If a reasonable expectation of 45 points was what motivated the extension, then Bergevin could almost be excused. Knowing what we know now, Desharnais is stealing money for his level of production. I don’t think you’ll find many people who will say that his effort hasn’t been there, but 14 million dollars aren’t doled out because a guy tries hard. As one of the only offensive-minded Francophones on the team, Desharnais enjoys a special status; one that grants him a certain amount of immunity from criticism, and one that buys him bought him a boat load of patience. Or at least it did. With his awful production, Coach Michel Therrien can no longer justify Desharnais’ spot in the lineup, nor can fantasy hockey owners for that matter. With the need for balanced offense, there’s nowhere left to hide the small center. With his trade value basically reduced to ash (if he ever had any), Desharnais has put the Habs in a very tough spot. While Therrien is having a hard time protecting and justifying Desharnais’ once-safe roster spot, it’s harder for Bergevin to justify 3.5 million dollars tied up in one 4th-line player, and it’s nearly impossible to justify those dollars eating hot dogs. In short, Desharnais’ poor play has twisted the Habs up like a stale Bell Center pretzel.

Certainly Desharnais has pride and has tasted a modest level of success, so this has to embarrass and burn him in the worst way. I don’t for one second believe that he doesn’t care now that he has the protection of a contract that sets him up for the rest of his life. At this point the likely diagnosis is that Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty made him look better than he is, and without two bruising wingers, he is simply incapable of consistent offensive production.

I doubt the Habs are primed to cut ties with Desharnais permanently, both because of the “backlash” it would still produce (though any backlash now would be nothing more than disingenuous hot air from bloated gas bags) and because they are dealing from a position of absolute weakness. The solution, if one is to be found, has to come from Desharnais himself. There has to be a level of responsibility in signing a long-term contract, and coaching staff has coddled him with quality ice time and line mates. Before he’s cast away, the Canadiens will systematically take away Desharnais’ cheese – his ice time and roster spot – as a last ditch motivator before calling it quits for good. Remember the “NO Excuses” team motto? If Desharnais has any ability to control his own fate, now’s the time for him to get off the treadmill to oblivion.

There’s a lot of “I told you so” going on now about Desharnais, although there’s not much point to it considering everyone has been parroting the same line for well over a year. While the media focuses on Subban vs Therrien, the subplot is even juicier, for it tears at everything the Canadiens build themselves on nowadays. How long will the Canadiens cling to one of their marketing linchpins is anyone’s guess, but we know now for sure that the egg timer has been flipped, and Desharnais has only himself to blame.

The Story to Here

Sometimes you need a good calling out, and thanks to a few loyal readers (who I’m very grateful for), I’m back posting my blatherings on the Habs, at least for today. With a life that has become uncomfortably busy in a short time, blogging has had to take a back seat while other priorities play themselves out. In my own defense, I have not been totally absent from the interwebs. For a couple of years now I’ve been posting my thoughts with the good folks at The Montreal Bias. Today’s topic was our thoughts on Daniel Briere, if you’re interested. While I cannot commit to post-game reviews as I did last year, I will try to post a little more regularly. Thanks for your patience and readership. It would be awfully dull ’round here without you.

So, where were we? Ah yes, enjoying the Habs sneakily solid 4-2 start. The stink from the opening night bust to the Leafs is long behind us, and the Habs have only lost once since, in a place where they haven’t won since the early 2000′s. A loss in Calgary was pretty much expected, so really it’s almost as if they’ve gone undefeated, right? They’ve weathered their Western Canadian swing in grand fashion, exceeding everyone’s expectations (and maybe even their own) with 3 wins in four games after tonight’s dusting of the Jets 2.0.

Pending the results of Max Pacioretty’s injury, the season has yielded more pleasant surprises than letdowns:

Galchenyuk, Eller and Gallagher: Simply brilliant. While they haven’t played every game together, they have each picked up from last year and are to-date the Habs most potent offensive weapons up front. They are dynamic, determined, skilled and most importantly, still getting better. Gallagher is still a Calder-runner up gem, Galchenyuk has risen to the top of the 2012 draft prospects list, and Eller is making Pierre McGuire duck for cover.

Other assorted Habs thoughts through 6 games:

P.K. Subban: Just nuts. Not much else can be said about the current Norris trophy holder. He’s been utterly dominant in all facets of the game, and currently leads NHL defensemen in scoring with 8 points in 6 games. He is still prone to the poor judgement penalty from time-to-time, but at this point, he’s going to force Hockey Canada brass to not only include him on the team but give him a starring role, which Habs fans know he’ll embrace. The only question, which media that follows the team seems reluctant to ask is why he doesn’t get more time on the penalty kill. It’s as mystifying as trying to figure out the people that don’t like Subban. Seriously, what’s wrong with you people?

Carey Price: It’s been feast or famine so far. He was pretty weak in his two losses, but rock solid in his wins. If he’s actively looking to make his case for starting goalie for Canada in Sochi, he’s going about it the right way. He looks efficient, and economical in his movements, which is exactly the way he needs to play in order to have success. He has a lot to make up for after last season’s collapse, but with a new goalie coach and a new approach, Price looks to be up to the task.

The Quota: Desharnais and Briere. Just terrible. Not an ounce of production from Desharnais, literally, and just two measly assists plus an empty netter from Bergevin / Molson’s “prized off-season acquisition”. Sure it’s still early, and it’s tough to complain when the team is off to another solid start. But when the EGG (hate that nickname) kids come back to earth (and they will), the veterans who are useless unless they are offensively productive had better start doing something. When Desharnais and Briere are sharing real estate with Ryan White, Brandon Prust, Michaël Bournival and the injured George Parros on the team scoring list, you know things have not gone according to plan. Even the most cynical of Habs fans didn’t think they’d be this ineffective. Yes, Briere may have had himself a two-point night tonight, but let’s be for real here, shall we?

Tomas Plekanec: Still under appreciated. While his offensive numbers aren’t staggering and although he’s won less than half of his faceoffs, he remains the team’s undisputed, unchallenged go-to guy in tough situations. Until and unless Lars Eller can unseat Plekanec as far as tough defensive assignments and minutes go, Plekanec will continue to be an indispensable piece of the Habs puzzle.

Team scoring: It’s a drum that I’ve been beating for a couple of years now, and this season will be no different until fans come to realize it: Dominance at even strength is king, while the importance of the powerplay is vastly and grossly overstated. The Canadiens are once again showing signs of being a team that will thrive at even strength, scoring 2 goals per game at 5-on-5. That they are well over 25% on the powerplay is nothing but a cherry on the sundae.

As a group: the Habs are still in a period of transition. Last season’s 2nd place finish was not a total mirage, but the late-season malaise was a strong clue that the team isn’t quite deep enough to compete at the highest level yet. Bergevin addressed this by adding some toughness, size and depth on the defensive end. Up front, hopes will be pinned on development of youth and veterans staying healthy. Nobody knows how this will pan out, so it’s hard to make a determination on where they will finish out the season. They could just finish 5th or 6th in the conference, they could be a bubble team and they may fail to make the playoffs entirely.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the Habs win, despite the apparent serious injury to Pacioretty (keep your fingers crossed that it isn’t as bad as it looked). A shutout for Price, and another two points in the bank.

The Blue Jays Land in Montreal

Major league baseball is returning to Montreal. For a couple of days at least.

While the Blue Jays are scheduled to play some exhibition games at the Olympic Stadium next April, let’s not get ourselves confused about what this is, and what this isn’t.

What it is: The Blue Jays looking to cultivate fans in other parts of Canada, all of which is considered to be their market (don’t be surprised to see them playing preseason games in Vancouver at some point, either.)

What this isn’t: Some kind of test balloon to see if Montreal is ready for Major League Baseball’s return. A two-day trial for two meaningless games is hardly a valid sampling of a market’s viability to support a team.

Let’s not forget that we haven’t even seen the results of the market study being conducted by Warren Cromartie’s Montreal Baseball Project. If the results of that research aren’t rosy, then this is all a moot point, and you may as well give yourselves over to the Blue Jays. While they may be giving Expos fans a platform to show their colours once again, (right on cue, @ExposNation released their official position on the Jays games in Montreal) they are not in the business of propping up competing markets, so let’s not pretend that a successful turnout is automatically going to result in a green light from Selig and his cronies to bring a new team to Montreal.

Certainly massive numbers of baseball fans showing up in Expos gear is a good, if not a great thing, and I don’t mean to be negative about this, because I’m not, and I will probably attend at least one of the games. It hurts nothing and nobody to throw this two-day party next April. But while fans fill the seats at Olympic Stadium, I hope they know that they are filling Blue Jays coffers. Some in attendance will inevitably convert to Blue Jays fans, who will carry out their fanship with pilgrimages to Toronto and spend many evenings on the couch watching Sportsnet. That’s the point of this, period. Nothing else, despite what future marketing efforts might make you believe and feel. Remember, this is the same organization that blocked the airing of Red Sox and/or Yankees games on TSN 690 (then the Team 990) once the Expos left, stating that Montreal was now technically Blue Jays territory.

My hope is that Expos fans longing for a return of MLB to Montreal aren’t manipulated in to thinking that this is anything more than the Blue Jays fan outreach and cultivation program in full effect. If nothing, having images of giant swaths of Expos fans making noise in their former stomping grounds will make for good discussion, and will inevitably raise the question of whether Montreal can handle a team again. Just having the topic on the hot stove is a necessary thing.

But for those who just want to see Major League Baseball in town once again, with no strings attached, this is the party for you.

Should We Admire These Yankees?

Baseball3Another MLB season is nearing completion, and once again we’ve spent months hearing, nonstop, about the New York Yankees. If you’ve been paying attention, however, you know that the narrative, while still present has taken a turn this season. This year’s Yankees have been brutally depleted by injuries, somehow stayed in the race for a while, then fell out of it completey, and are now mounting a late charge back into playoff contention. (If you glance at the MLB website, you’ll find the Yankees right in the thick of the playoff race.) Hate them or love them, it’s hard to know what to make of these Yankees.

So what about admiring the Evil Empire? Forget, for a moment, the pinstripes on the jersey, and the iconic interlocking NY. Consider the team as an anonymous group of ballplayers, and this is what you get for this season:

  • The team, at one point or another, has had 6 former all-stars on the disabled list, some of them repeatedly. Meanwhile, a group of no-name role players (Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Austin Romine, Brent Lillibridge) and has-beens (Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner) worked together to scrape together wins and keep the team from falling off the post-season radar completely.
  • The team welcomed back a former player who departed in a trade a decade ago (Alfonso Soriano) and promptly saw him revitalized, thriving in the twilight of his career back on the stage he started on. Don’t we love this as a basic sports story?
  • With a former star player mired in the biggest controversy in sports, the team has shut out the media circus and enjoyed its best stretch of baseball this season. Is the rest of the roster to blame?
  • All-stars are slowly trickling back into the lineup, cohesively joining with the role players who functioned like a life raft from REI and making a final, gallant push for the postseason.
  • A 38-year old Japanese pitcher who many thought was done and a 26-year old Dominican up-and-comer are leading a pitching staff that includes a former Cy Young winner and the winningest postseason pitcher of all time.
  • The team is making up games with a month to go in the season in the toughest division in baseball – and boy do we love a comeback story.
    Once counted out, this bunch is now listed at Betfair with 33/1 odds of winning the World Series – which makes them a fringe playoff team, even by unbiased betting odds.

These are your 2013 New York Yankees. If you’re not a fan, you may be sick of Derek Jeter. You may want Alex Rodriguez banned from baseball for life, and he probably deserves it. And the sight of pinstripes in October might make you sick to your stomach. Lord knows that I’ve never been a Yankees fan, but if you shut out the “Evil Empire” aspect and focus on the story lines, it’s hard not to admire what the Yankees have done, and are still attempting to do this season.

Subban’s Olympic Participation

With the news that Mike Babcock will be resuming his duties as Team Canada’s Head Coach in Sochi 2014, we can flip the egg timer on when the list of players invited to camp is announced. (UPDATE: no sooner do I publish this post that Hockey Canada has released it’s invite list)

The Habs are sure to have plenty of representation this time, with Max Pacioretty, Raphael Diaz, Tomas Plekanec sure to grab roster spots with their respective teams. Add Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and Carey Price to the list of maybes.

What? No mention of Subban.

Of course he’ll be invited to camp. If the reigning Norris trophy winner doesn’t get an invite, the whole system is broken, right? The real question is whether or not he will actually make the team. Again, if the reigning Norris trophy winner doesn’t make the team, the whole system is broken, right? In Habsland, Subban has not only made the team, he is Team Canada’s go-to guy on the blue line. Is it really that simple? No, not really. Given the embarrassment of riches that Babcock has at his disposal, and given how Hockey Canada has often gone with “experience” over youth, it’s not outrageous to think that Subban gets used as a 6th-7th defenseman, or left out altogether. Of course, Subban would make my Olympic team, and would be a top-four guy in doing so. On the large European ice, I would not hesitate to use him in any situation over slower, less mobile players. Will Babcock, his staff, and Hockey Canada see things the same way? With elite defensemen like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Shea Weber, Kris Letang, Drew Doughty, and Alex Pietrangelo to choose from, who knows how the selection camp will shake out. Some people will say that with Weber, Doughty and Letang as right-handed locks, Subban’s task to make the team is already much harder. I don’t know if I believe that which side a player shoots from becomes a determining factor in making the team or not, but if the team wants to be balanced (i.e. one righty, one lefty per pair), then one of Letang, Doughty, Weber or Subban is going to be the 7th man at best, or left out at worst.

There is no great message to discern or take away from this post. Subban will be invited to camp, and I can’t see how he fails to make the team. But it is conceivable to me that the old boys club stays true to its roots and overlooks the NHL’s reigning best defenseman in the name of keeping the same group together that won in 2010. In that case, Subban simply gets two weeks of rest for the stretch run. Not a bad consolation prize for Habs fans.


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