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How to honour Saku Koivu

With today’s announcement that he’s done as a professional hockey player, we can begin to officially discuss how the Canadiens can honour Koivu’s contribution to the team, and city over the many years he played and lived in Montreal.

For now, we’ll skip the discussion on whether or not he even should be honoured; we’ll assume that he is worthy of some kind of official, long-lasting recognition from the Canadiens.

From jersey retirement (the greatest honour) to “Saku Koivu night” (the least they could do), we can and probably will discuss what the most fitting and suitable honour for him is.

My opinion has always been that as great as Koivu’s career was, jersey retirement is reserved for the best of the best of the best: Stanley Cup winners, and pillars of the franchise’s history. I don’t think Koivu is in that category. He is certainly the brightest light during the darkest time, but standards are standards and they shouldn’t be lowered.

Instead, my idea (one that has been aired on TSN690) is one that not only honours the man, but also the struggle he dealt with. Koivu’s 2001 battle with cancer sets him apart from nearly anyone else in team history. Many of us remember where we were when we heard the news of his diagnosis, and we vividly remember seeing a pale, gaunt Koivu standing behind the Habs bench when he was receiving treatment. Most of all, we remember the ovation when he returned to game action. His battle with cancer endeared him to anyone with a pulse and an ounce of compassion. The honour that I’m proposing the Habs should do for Koivu will remind us of the generosity that Koivu demonstrated during his time in Montreal, and ensure that it continues forever. What the Habs should do is take a section of seats at the Bell Center, give those seats a new name: The Saku Koivu section. The kicker: a percentage of sales from those seats are donated to the Saku Koivu foundation. This not only honours the man, and the player, but ensures that those suffering from serious illness get the help that they badly need.

I’m guessing Koivu would be on board with that.

Brodeur: Just Say No

A recent report has suggested that the legendary Martin Brodeur has interest in signing as a backup with the Habs. To push the boundaries of sanity even further, former Habs player and current RDS panelist Vincent Damphousse reports that the Habs have reached out to Brodeur.

Long live silly season!

At this stage of the off-season, and with no job, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Brodeur is now talking about signing in his home town. After all, it is standard operating procedure for all Quebec-born players to confess to “always wanting to play at home”…but only once their best years are behind them.

To completely push the cart off the rails, it seems as though a sizeable chunk of Habs land have been enchanted with this idea, completely forgetting about how lousy Brodeur has been for the last handful of seasons, and failing to recall that the Canadiens have a capable backup in Peter Budaj, and a terrific safety net in Dustin Tokarski. What upgrade does Brodeur offer the Habs? The simple answer is none.

“But Brodeur is arguably the best goalie ever, and has multiple cup wins to prove it! His experience is invaluable!” That’s the one retort that one could make that can’t be picked apart. The reality is, Brodeur’s cup-winning years are way behind him, and there’s precious little that he can teach Carey Price at this point, given Price’s own pressure-cooker maturation. The inevitable distraction that a Martin Brodeur signing would bring FAR outweighs what remains of his once amazing ability. The 2009-10 season seems to be the last of what he had to offer in terms of being reliable. Ever since then, he’s posted regular season save percentages of .903, .908, .901, and .901, for an average of  .903. That’s not NHL calibre, folks. Not even as a backup. His playoff numbers aren’t much better, posting an an average save percentage of .905 over his last four playoff years, which includes a run to the cup finals in 2012 where he posted a surprising .929 save percentage. Remove that outlier performance, and you can imagine where the numbers would be.

There is no statistical or logical justification for the Habs to dump Budaj, a very popular teammate by all media accounts, just to replace him with a player who has next to nothing left to give except for headaches. Just imagine the outcry from the lunatic fringe the first time Carey Price slips in to a funk. Imagine the volume of that outcry if it were to occur during the playoffs. If that doesn’t give you instant nausea, then you probably are at least a little bit in love with the idea that Brodeur could land in Montreal. Remember: the Habs jersey is made from the same material as the jerseys of the other 29 teams. There is no magic woven in to the bleu-blanc-rouge of the Habs. The jerseys are not sprinkled with pixie dust, nor are they bathed in the fountain of youth before making their way on to the backs of the players. Having Brodeur in a Habs jersey may make certain segments of the fanbase misty-eyed, but having Brodeur on the ice or on the bench in no way makes the Habs better.

So PK Subban is Going to Arbitration

Most of Habsland is waking up to the news that the Habs and PK Subban are going to salary arbitration.

The Habs vs PK!

Bloodshed!

Bad feelings!

OMG!

Relax.

Once we learn exactly when his hearing is, we’ll know the date by which he and the Habs will have happily come to terms on a shiny new deal (that we can all start criticizing for being too long and too expensive). In the meantime, he is protected from offer sheets, so you can stow your concerns on that, too.

Now go enjoy your summer.

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

One of the big questions for the Habs this off-season is how to solve the logjam down the middle. So let’s see if I have this right before we get started:

The Habs have 4 capable centermen (one being a potential) for their top 3 lines.

Yep, that’s called a logjam, kids.

And it’s normally a pretty good problem to have unless you let meatheads do the solving.

To review, the Habs have Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Lars Eller, and (supposedly) Alex Galchenyuk as centermen. I tag Galchenyuk with “supposedly” because although he was drafted as a centerman, and the Habs continue to say that he will be a centerman, we have yet to see him play, or even practice down the middle. Yet we’re supposed to believe that’s a change that is coming? I’ll believe it when I see it, because right now, there’s nothing *at all* to suggest that that change is imminent.

After the success of their lengthy playoff run, Habs fans are predictably getting ahead of themselves, looking to make sweeping changes for the sake of change. With guys like Desharnais and Eller having strong post-seasons, and Galchenyuk supposedly (there’s that word again) waiting in the wings, an opinion quickly gaining traction is to trade Tomas Plekanec, their best two-way center now, while he’s still relatively young and valuable.

Tomas Plekanec. uniquely capable of taking tough defensive minutes, including a critical role on the penalty kill.

Tomas Plekanec, the guy who plays in all situations.

Tomas Plekanec, the only guy you’d rely on to take a crucial defensive zone faceoff.

Sure, let’s trade him because we *think* we have able replacements.

This isn’t where the rubber meets the road. It’s where the head meets the desk. Repeatedly.

Are we excited at the idea of Desharnais – Eller – Galchenyuk down the middle? Clearly many are. Personally, I’d keep the pepto bismol close. Don’t get me wrong, each of these guys have their strengths, but it’s the weaknesses, and in the case of Galchenyuk – total inexperience – that make this proposition fraught with peril. Let’s not forget to mention that neither Eller nor Desharnais have shown anything special that indicates that Plekanec is now suddenly expendable. Small detail, I guess.

Given his wingers, many consider Desharnais the team’s top centerman. While that may be true in terms of minutes and situations given to him, we have to remember that he is not considered a top center – or else the Habs would have paid him as such. We also know that Desharnais struggles in his own zone, sometimes mightily. Heck, he struggles most everywhere without stud wingers to fetch the puck for him. This isn’t a rip-job on Desharnais, because he had a good season after a disastrous start, but rather a summary of the gaps in his game that can’t be overlooked. The “heir apparent” to Plekanec, Lars Eller, for all his size and skill, too often lacks hockey IQ, and the consistent determination needed to take on the role of second-line center. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like Eller, but he doesn’t play a strong 200-foot game often enough to simplyt be handed Plekanec’s role come the start of the 2014-15 season. Galchenyuk? Nobody questions his ability, nor his trajectory as a future star in the NHL. But the talk of moving him to center, even on the third line, when he isn’t even the second man in for faceoffs after the first guy is waved out? That’s telling. It says that the Habs aren’t ready to hand him that role (aren’t ready to even groom him) yet, or that they like him at wing permanently.

If the Canadiens do as many fans wish, and cash in on Plekanec’s value now, they leave themselves up a creek at center, definitely in the short term, and possibly in the long term. They think they’re fixing a problem by handing the torch to the kids, but in reality all their doing is tossing the kids to the wolves by putting them in roles that aren’t yet ready for. I’m not saying that the Canadiens should not, or will not ever trade Plekanec. I’m saying that they should NOT do it yet. You don’t trade away your best two-way center and cross your fingers that the kids will pick up the slack. Plekanec’s responsibilities are what allow Desharnais to shine, and what allow Eller to make many believe.

On June 13th, fans will say that they’re ok with taking a “small step back” for long term gain. That’s the drunken stupor from a successful playoff run talking. On December 21st? They’ll be singing an entirely different tune and wishing Bergevin nothing but a lump of cole for trading their best center away. Clever revisionists, Habs fans are.

Don’t trade Tomas Plekanec yet. Not without a safety net.

Thanks 2013-14 Habs

What a strange, amazing year 2013-14 was.

What started with so much promise quickly became a six-month long head-scratching festival, with the occasional dash of awesome. There were many Habs fans that didn’t understand why the Canadiens abandoned what made them so good in the lockout-shortened 2013 season in favour of a style of play that seemed to hold the team back. In the end, it all led to the what may be the ugliest 100-pt season in team history. But 100 points is 100 points. It’s not easy to reach that peak, and Michel Therrien did what he had to do to push the team there. Nitpickers, naysayers and haters would say that with different tactics, strategies, and personnel, 100 points could have easily been 110 points. Some people are very hard to please, apparently.

What followed the 82-game regular season was the most incredible, frustrating, and exhilarating playoff run the team has been on since their last cup win, 21 years ago. From sweeping the Lightning to vanquishing the evil Bruins in seven nail-biting games, to a hard-fought loss to the surprisingly amazing Rangers, Habs fans have a lot to cheer for and be proud about. Despite bowing out of the playoffs, it’s hard not to imagine that the best from this group is yet to come. Conjecture and opinions on how the team can get there is a topic for another day, but today is all about looking back on the season and appreciating what the team accomplished.

In Montreal, we like to say that it’s “Cup or nothing”. That’s bold, and it keeps the bar up where we all want it to be, but it’s also a point of view that ignores every incremental step on the way to victory. The Canadiens took some steps this year. I won’t pretend to know all of the steps required in order to be a Cup winner, but we saw this team battle adversity many times and come out on the other end with their identity, fighting spirit and most importantly, point totals intact. We saw elite players like Pacioretty, Subban and Price push their games to all-world levels. In the case of Subban and Price, we can’t ever quantify how a gold medal helps the quest for a Stanley Cup, but we can be sure that exposure to the game’s best and winning it all in the process is something that will certainly help. We saw guys like David Desharnais and Lars Eller raise their compete level to places we didn’t think they could, or would go. We saw late-season pick ups like Weise and Weaver make strong cases to stay with the team. We saw Rene Bourque make up for a season of futility (and making himself tradeable in the process?). We saw Alex Galchenyuk emerge as a difference maker.

We saw Dustin Tokarski.

We don’t have access to Bergevin’s road map, so we can’t know what he’s planning. He has a lot of personnel issues to resolve, the biggest of which is in signing PK Subban to a new contract. There will be plenty of time to talk about the free agent market (which is pathetic this year, best to avoid it if looking for big fish), and trades in order to improve the team, but for the first time in a long time, we can see the form of a contender taking shape. The core is young and talented. The farm is restocking with quality prospects that will be ready soon (or, immediately in the case of guys like Beaulieu, Tinordi, and Pateryn).

It’s safe to say that coming within 6 wins of the Stanley Cup pours cold water on those who were ready to run Therrien out of town. Those people were fully expecting a series loss to Tampa (oops). What they got instead was a giant helping of crow.

While we rolled out of bed this morning with the realization that the Habs won’t play another meaningful game until October, it’s nice to know that the plan that has been put in place is working and we should all be excited to see what’s around the corner.

Happy Landings, Bruins!

Don’t poke the bear? Why the hell not?

The Emperor is no more! Sauron has been defeated! Drago has been knocked out! Biff Tannen is wearing a truckload of manure!

For what feels like forever, the Bruins have been bullying and beating down the Habs with not just their size, but with goonery and cheap shots. Despite a bunch of regular season success against Boston, the 2009 sweep and 2011 seven-game heartbreak series still feels fresh. For a lot of guys, the physical beatings might feel fresher still. A little pay back was needed, not only for those playoff losses, but also for this type of dirty crap that has come to personify the Bruins more than the quality of their on-ice play:

On top of the joy of advancing to the conference finals, we got to do it at the expense of Boston. Their poor-sport fans, mopey, excuse-making media and sore loser skaters deserve to feel this loss, hard. It’s so sweet to know that the Bruins are being eaten up inside that they lost to the team that they’ve relentlessly tried to paint as weak, cowardly and dirty.

Eat it, Bruins. Eat it, and like it.

Lucic’s post-game petulance…fantastic. Iginla’s depression…love it. Marchand’s lack of words…fitting for a guy with a lack of goals.

As for our boys, it has been amazing to watch this team consistently up their game. THIS is what a championship team looks like. This is what a winner plays like. This is the what the best are willing and able to do to.

Michel Therrien has done a wonderful job in preparing his team for these playoffs. More than that, though, we’re seeing guys like Carey Price and P.K. Subban elevate to superstars right before our very eyes. We knew they had it in them, and many among us probably considered them as superstars. But now they’re doing it on National stage. The rest of the hockey world is taking note of these guys and they’re envious. On top of those two pillars, Pacioretty, Desharnais and Vanek woke up in the knick of time. Emelin has found his hard-hitting game. Beaulieu has plugged a major leak. Gallagher, Gorges, Weaver, Weise and Prust are providing the blood and guts. Brière is doing what he always does in the playoffs, same goes for Plekanec. Bourque is reborn. Eller has been a revelation. Anyone who thought the Habs were robbed in the Halak trade can crawl back under their rock.

There are no passengers. They’re all in.

Who knows what else this team has left to give. You’d think that given the recent history between the Rangers and Habs, that a trip to the Cup Finals is a lock. But these are the playoffs, and the Rangers are looking good. Better than good. But for today, we get to revel in a great victory against a hated rival that is going to have a long off-season of regret.

How I Hate the Bruins

Once a week I participate in The Forum, along with the rest of the good folks at The Montreal Bias. This time, we share our feelings on the evil Bruins. My thoughts are below, here are the rest. If you hate the Bruins, this is for you!

It is literally impossible to stop at one thing that is bad about the Bruins, so I present this list, which is by no means exhaustive:

  • The Neanderthal fans
  • Jack Edwards
  • Nut-spearing, low-bridging, face-punching goons and rats from a culture that values violence as much as it values goals
  • Impossibly thick, biased, pant-licking media
  • The nauseating sound of their goal horn
  • Jack Edwards
  • Rene Rancourt’s WWE-esque fist pump
  • Jack Edwards

It all blends together as a wretched melange that stinks of hot garbage and tastes like month-old acid rain that’s been festering in an over-stuffed ashtray.

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.


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