PENTICTON, BC. — Here are a few thoughts on different topics surrounding the Habs’ and the NHL over the past few weeks. We’re touching on David Desharnais, P.K. Subban, some pending UFAs, the NHL Entry Draft, Patrick Roy, fired coaches, the playoffs and more. Feel free to post your comments as they are always welcomed.
1- When Marc Bergevin gave a four-year contract to David Desharnais, many were questioning the decision, especially considering that the diminutive center was having difficulties repeating his performance from the previous season, when he combined for 60 points, good for third on the team in scoring. Desharnais is a hard worker and he hasn’t stolen anything in his life, he’s had to work hard for everything he has had. This coming season will be key in the career and future of Desharnais as no one knows better than he does that he will now have to live up to the contract his GM agreed to give him. Having said that, people need to stop thinking that he will (or should) be traded this summer. It simply won’t happen. Bergevin and Michel Therrien will give him at least one more season to redeem himself.
2- Speaking of Bergevin and his decisions, he wanted P.K. Subban to sign a bridge contract to prove what he could do. Subban held off for a long-term deal and ultimately, Bergevin got what he wanted. Opinions differ on whether or not Bergevin made the right decision or not, and there are very good points to debate either way, but it is my humble opinion that Bergevin made the right choice. Too often do we see young players getting their long-term lucrative contracts only to get a drop in production. Lightning’s defenseman Matt Carle when from a 38-40 points guy down to 22 points last year after signing a contract which will pay him $5.5M per season until 2017-18. Ask Buffalo how they feel about Tyler Myers’ contract/performance. Do you think that the Hurricanes are a bit concerned about giving Jeff Skinner a long term deal at $5.75M per season after his last season? The fact is that it gives Bergevin more time to see what Subban is all about. By the looks of things, it looks like the Norris candidate was a bargain last year and will be next year as well, when the salary cap goes down. We also know that by the time Subban’s next contract hits, Andrei Markov’s contract will have expired. It’s a gamble that Bergevin was willing to take under the circumstance and I feel like it was the right decision.
3- Much has been said and written about Carey Price’s comment about the pressure of playing in Montreal and people, media included, read too much into it. After Marc Bergevin, Habs’ legend Guy Lafleur came at the defense of Price and no one knows better that “The Flower” about pressure in Montreal. Price said out loud what everyone already knew. It became a story because reporters decided to make it one, as we are accustomed to seeing. Remember: controversy sells! Gotta love Marc Bergevin’s attempt at ridiculing the whole story when he suggested that he could go do the grocery shopping for his goaltender.
4- The Canadiens want to get bigger and tougher. Marc Bergevin talks about character but also acknowledges the need to not get pushed around so easily, to better protect the team’s smaller players. While the price will likely be steep, he definitely will (or should) be in the running for three prominent unrestricted free agents: David Clarkson, Ryane Clowe and Bryan Bickell. Failing to convince one of them to accept to sign with his team, Bergevin will have to look at trading for similar players and as he stated himself in his press conference, everyone is looking for the same type of players and in order to get something good, you have to give something good in return. As I’m not expecting Bergevin to overpay in the UFA market, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Canadiens’ GM pull the trigger on a trade which won’t be unanimous amongst the fan base, perhaps with a fan favourite being sacrificed.
5- Which brings me to my next point… Watching this year’s playoffs brings to light the importance of having centers capable of winning faceoffs. Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, are all beasts at winning draws. When I look at the projected centers in the Canadiens for next year, Ryan White was the best at 54.5 per cent on paper but in a limited number of draws playing just 26 contests and averaging 9:24 per game. Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and Lars Eller each hovered around 50 percent of their draws — Plekanec and Eller faced the toughest opposition — while Alex Galchenyuk (42.8%) lost more than he won in a year where his games at centre were rare. This tells me that one need for this team is a top-3 center who can win a majority of faceoffs. Putting a White (or Halpern) for an offensive draw isn’t the same as having a Bergeron, Toews or Datsyuk doing the same. Could a center be sacrificed in a trade? Food for thought at the very least.
6- Seeing how difficult it is to sign or trade for quality players with size shows that the best way to get them is to draft them yourself. Select your skills in the first few rounds and if you’re going to take a chance with someone in the later rounds, why not focus on players with size? You can’t teach size. A guy like Ryane Clowe was selected in the 6th round, 175th overall at the 2001 entry draft. That year, Montreal picked Mike Komisarek (7), Alexander Perezhogin (25), Duncan Milroy (37), Tomas Plekanec (71), Martti Jarventie (109) and Eric Himelfarb (171) before Clowe was selected. Of those, only Komisarek was over 6’1” and most were under 6’0” tall. I am certainly not suggesting that the Habs should pick size over talent here, but they need to make a better conscious effort to look at that aspect when evaluating talent for the draft.
7- If the NHL is serious about wanting to gain more fans, it has some work to do. Having the guarantee of no lockout for 7-8 years is a bonus, but the officiating has been the laughing stock of pro sports since the 2005 lockout. Bringing the two referees system is a disaster, as the game is faster than ever and you’re bringing it incompetent referees at a level way over their head. For some reason, it’s been even more apparent this season and this year’s playoffs are no exceptions. Can you imagine if the Chicago Blackhawks had lost game seven in overtime to the Red Wings? I wouldn’t blame the fans in Chicago for rioting! No matter how often I watch the replay, I still can’t see what Brandon Saad did to deserve his penalty when the referee decided to call a coincidental minor. Kyle Quincey was the sole culprit in this incident and when Niklas Hjalmarsson’s goal was called back, no one could believe it and for good reasons. The NHL needs to get rid of the two referee system and come up with a solution and quick.
8- This Phoenix saga is absolutely ridiculous. It makes me wonder if the Jets and the Nordiques would have ever left had Gary Bettman fought as hard to keep them there. The NHL has lost millions upon millions of dollars owning this team and they are now looking at lending $85 million to the new potential owners? It makes you wonder why he didn’t fight that hard for Atlanta or Hartford. I know a lot of people in Quebec City wondering the same thing as they are in the midst of building a new arena.
9- So Patrick Roy finally found a new home, as earlier this week, he was announced as the new head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. It came as a bit of a surprise when we discovered that he would also be vice—President of Hockey Operations for the team, as Joe Sakic’s right hand man, and that he would be involved in the decision making when it comes to trades. A pretty sweet deal I must say, but seeing that makes me realize why Marc Bergevin wasn’t interested in getting him as head coach in Montreal. The biggest shocker in this whole Roy deal is that his contract is apparently not guaranteed, which means that if he’s fired, he’s not getting paid. Still, he is in a win-win situation. With the Avalanche having the first overall pick at this year’s draft, and with the core of quality young players on the team, they are ahead of the Oilers as far as I’m concerned as a promising franchise as they have a better balance between forwards, defensemen and goaltenders. He should do well with them.
10- For the third time in a few months, we’ve seen General Managers firing their head coach in hope to save their own jobs. First, it was Lindy Ruff in Buffalo being shown the door. Then after the Canucks were eliminated by the Sharks, the writing was on the wall for Alain Vigneault. More recently, after sitting Brad Richards, John Tortorella lost his gamble and with it, his job. In all three cases, Darcy Regier, Mike Gillis and Glen Sather have tried to turn the attention away from the fact that they simply have not provided their head coach with the proper personnel, mostly for the Sabres and the Canucks. In New York, Sather’s bad habit of overpaying with ridiculous contracts and underperforming athletes keeps piling up. Bobby Holik, Michal Rozsival, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Wade Redden, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards… the list goes on.
11- It was interesting to see this year’s top three NHL prospects not only play in the Memorial Cup, but face each other in the finals. Seth Jones came into the tournament at number one by the Central Scouting Bureau but he lost that title when Nathan MacKinnon had an unbelievable tournament and a great final game. We know that all three players are very special and that they will have an impact in the NHL, perhaps as early as next year. What left a bad taste in my mouth however was when watching the Memorial Cup finals on Sportsnet, the announcers were overzealous over MacKinnon. For a reason that escapes my poor little brain, they were drooling over him with very little being said about Jones, but mostly Drouin, who finished that game with five assists himself, showing an unbelievable vision and hockey sense.
12- With my two favourite teams out of the playoffs early this year (Habs and Canucks), I’m watching the games as a hockey fan with no bias. If there’s one positive about not having too many upsets this year, it’s the fact that we will witness two outstanding conference finals. The defending Stanley Cup Champions Los Angeles Kings will be facing off against the Western Conference regular seasons top seed, the Chicago Blackhawks. Tough to call, but I’m thinking that the Hawks will come up on top in seven games. In the other conference finals, the much hated Bruins will look like teddy bears when it’s all said and done. While the games should be tight, I’m expecting the Penguins to finish this series in five games. Gutsy call I know, but the Pens are too deep at every position. This would bring the best two teams to face each other in the Stanley Cup Finals, great for any sports fan to watch.
Summer is coming, I’m riding my motorcycle everywhere, going fishing, camping, but always keeping an eye out for the NHL, with playoffs, amateur draft, free agents hunt, and anxiously keeping an eye on Marc Bergevin in hope that he surprises us all with moves that will improve his team, our team, getting them one step closer to the Glory Days. Go Habs Go!