Stick it to The Man, Sid!

On-ice officials aren't the only ones subjected to The Kid's whinging:

"Rookie NHL hockey star Sidney Crosby is sticking up for street hockey.
The 18-year-old from Cole Harbour, N.S., recently sent an e-mail to Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly asking regional council to reject a vaguely worded proposal that could see the popular pastime banned."

The article goes on:

' "It's my kids' birthright to play street hockey," Ray White said in April 2004. "They will be out there playing tonight, and if the police want to arrest me for it, then they can." '

I can see it now... "There's no way in Hell I'm gonna drop this toothpick, copper! You can have it when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands..."


Musings from Saturday

Hockey Night In Canada featured a 4-3 OT win by the Habs over the Leafs.

The game was presented as a matchup between desperate, slumping clubs. Why are the two grand old Canadian franchises struggling? Mudcrutch has part of the explanation: The Leafs and Habs have had the two toughest schedules in the league thus far. They have Ottawa to thank for that - both have faced the mighty Sens six times.


Q: Which of the following offenses is the most heinous?

- Cross-checking
- Slashing
- Interfering with the opposing goalie in his crease
- Elbowing
- Picking the puck up with your hand and deliberately throwing it over the glass
- Accidentally clearing the puck out of bounds from the defensive zone

A: Trick question! In the eyes of the NHL, they are *all* equally egregious and all are worth a two-minute minor penalty!

In this topsy-turvy, crazy new NHL, this is the single most ridiculously inept piece of legislation. Well, either that or The Trapezoid. Now all we need is The Parallelogram in front of the net, where attacking players are permitted to spend three seconds or less without the ball puck. Or maybe a Rhombus out by the blueline. If you score a goal from The Rhombus, it's worth two points.

Calling a puck-over-glass minor to put a team down 5-on-3, especially after a borderline tone-setting minor, puts a team in a very difficult situation. I mean, how can you justify giving a team a 1-0 lead over another in this situation? WTF does that have to do with the actual game of hockey?? And it seems like this has happened to the Habs an awful lot this year. But the refs have to call it - there is no room for interpretation.

The obvious solution (are you listening, Competition Committee??) is to penalize this act the same way you penalize icing - a faceoff in the defensive zone with no player changes.


Richard Zednik was a healthy scratch Saturday night. In his place, Raitis Ivanans dressed and was placed on the fourth line with Mike Ribeiro and Aaron Downey. Talk about a rose between two thorns.

What's wrong with Zed? He's on pace for his worst season in Montreal. Ever since the Kyle McLaren forearm to the schnozz, Zednik has been turning into a one trick pony: he chokes up on his stick, hunkers down and drives hard to the outside. He's had some productive seasons, but it looks like defensemen have figured him out. Is he afraid of cutting to the inside and getting Kyle-d again?

Zed got off to a poor start this season, sitting out three weeks with a groin pull suffered in the first game. Perhaps it's just the lingering effects of this injury to a player that relies a great deal on his leg strength.


The Road Trip From Hell is over. The Habs went 2-4 and still sit in a playoff spot:

1/19 @CGY L 3-2
1/21 @VAN L 6-2
1/23 @CAR L 7-3
1/25 @PHI W 5-3
1/26 @OTT L 3-0
1/28 @TOR W 4-3

The record isn't that bad, considering the strength of the opposition they faced and the absence of Andrei Markov. The problem, and source of concern for the fans, is not that they lost, but how they lost. The opener in Calgary was an acceptable performance, but three of the next four were absolute stinkers.

Coming back from the Ottawa debacle to defeat the Leafs at home restored some confidence, but - let's face it - the Leafs aren't exactly a red-hot powerhouse right now, and it still took overtime to get the two points.

Now comes an easier stretch of the schedule, with the Habs playing five of the next seven at home, mostly against softer opponents. They have to make hay from now until the Olympic break.


The afternoon games on NBC turn the usual Saturday doubleheader on CBC into a tripleheader. That's a lot of hockey if you, like me, are unwilling to shell out for anything more than the basic cable package.

Alas, it looks like we will be stuck watching the Flying Red Rangers on every NBC game. I'm tempted to say something about the NHL shafting the small markets, but Bettman and the league are probably just relieved they're on a major network at all.


I just don't understand the Koivu bashing. He is the heart of the Canadiens, he is their most complete player, he is their leading scorer, and has the best plus/minus.

Koivu has 24 points at even strength. Jan Bulis is second with 21. Kovalev has 17, Ryder has 15, Ribeiro and Zednik have 10.

Most importantly, Koivu gives a full effort every shift of every game - just like the darling of the French media, Steve Begin. However, Saku does it for 19:27 per game against the league's best checkers, often nursing a hidden injury. Begin does it for 14:27 - which is still far more than most "energy" players, perhaps explaining why his performance has diminished lately.

As the captain, Koivu does have to be held accountable when the team is underperforming. But what does that mean? Should Koivu surrender the captaincy because Theodore and Kovalev are loafing? Of course not. All he can do is lead on the ice by giving a full effort - which he does. Off the ice he can try to extract a greater effort from his teammates, but how far does that go? Isn't that what coaches are for?

On top of all of this, he is underpaid. Theodore and Kovalev will both take home more than a million more than Koivu this season. Neither have contributed as much to the Habs this season, or over their careers.

Demands that Koivu be traded are way out of line. What this team needs is more Saku Koivus, not less. If Alexei Kovalev deserves $4.5M per year (which he doesn't, but that's the corner Gainey has painted himself into), then Saku Koivu deserves more.


Random Gibberish

Some quotes culled from the mighty interweb... Eric Duhatschek wrote about the impending Ron Francis night in Raleigh, and got this quote from Rod Brind'amour:

"He was overshadowed a lot by bigger-name guys - but not better players. There's no way Messier's a better player, in my opinion, but he gets all the accolades."
No question - Ron Francis was better than Eric Messier in every way. If Brindy was talking about Mark Messier, most obvservers would have to disagree. Messier's numbers are superior. His playoff numbers are staggeringly superior. Mess gathered two Hart trophies, two Pearsons and a Conn Smythe. Francis collected three Byngs and a Selke. Stanley Cups? 6-2. The clincher would have to be Scott Stevens' hit on Francis in the '01 playoffs. If Stevens had tried that on Mess, it may well have been Stevens staggering off the ice, slack-jawed. That's not to say Francis wasn't a great player. They're both among the all-time greats, but Messier was obviously a little bit better. Francis is a surefire HOFer. He should keep his head up at the induction ceremony because Stevens will be there, too.

Darius Kasparaitis, on manners:

"I'm not going to go into the corner and say, 'Excuse me, I'm going to hit you.' That's not how we play the game."
Funny. That's how the Habs have been playing.

ESPN was foolish enough to provide the forum for Damien Cox's latest essay on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire:

"It's Quinn's job to organize the team to at least be competitive, even against superior opponents. It was Ferguson's job to drive the Leafs' bus out of the lockout in such a fashion so as to be even more competitive than was the case before the lockout. Both, based on recent results, have failed."
His ascerbic missive includes this tidbit:

"The Leafs are unique in Canada, and probably only matched in the United States by the Rangers and Red Wings, for the fact they have fans in every NHL city, and hordes of them in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa."
Hm. That's probably news to the hordes of Montreal Canadiens fans in every Canadian NHL city, including - egad! - Toronto!

Habs Well Rested for Game in T.O.

The Montreal Canadiens took a three hour nap last night in Ottawa while Cristobal Huet bravely faced the Senators all by himself. He fared alright, making 37 saves including some beauties. Unfortunately he produced very little offense as Huet lost 3-0.

You know something's screwy when the winning goaltender in a 3-0 game isn't even a consideration for one of the three stars.

"It shouldn't count," Hasek said of his fifth shutout this season and the 68th of his career.
The Habs looked like they were suffering from a collective bout with mononucleosis. The scary thing is they looked the same early on in the game against the Flyers two nights ago. Only after a couple of lucky breaks did they wake up and skate, so they could take advantage of Howie Morenz's spiritual possession of Jan Bulis for the evening. It's like their default setting is, "Lethargic and depressed because losing is a foregone conclusion. Skating makes my groin hurt anyway."

Despite the pathetic effort, Gainey was ready with excuses after the game:

"They had a power play for five or six minutes that disrupted what we were trying to accomplish," Gainey said. "In the second period, we were in the box five times for everything from clipping toe nails to whatever else they wanted to call."
Every cliché-flinging hockey junkie knows you have to keep moving your feet if you want to avoid taking penalties and/or draw penalties yourself. Judging from their interest level in the game, I would not have been surprised if I saw one or two Habs actually clipping their toenails on the bench.

Now for the showdown in Toronto. Perhaps the team took last night off to rest up for the game against the Leafs. Theo will probably get the start, if only due to Huet being fatigued after facing 67 shots in two nights. Theo has not done well against the Leafs this year (or any year, for that matter). Maybe Gainey should have thrown Theo to the wolves in Ottawa and saved Huet for the important game tomorrow night. Win or lose, the Habs better show up with a gonzo effort after that shameful display in Ottawa.


Cardiac Canadiens Bulish in Philly!

Jan Bulis has been a bright spot for the Habs ever since his arrival from Washington. He is solid defensively, has size and uses it, gives a full effort every game and, has speed speed speed. Early on, he was projected to play a scoring role - perhaps second line centre. Unfortunately, we only saw flashes of offense in Montreal and he was converted into a checking winger - a role in which he has excelled. After a superb season with Pardubice in the Czech league, I thought he might finally step up and grab a scoring role with the Habs.

Alas, it wasn't to be. Julien and now Gainey have kept Bulis on the checking line. Although his speed and anticipation gave him plenty of chances, he still seemed to lack the ability to finish in the NHL.

Last night, Bulis was told he would be scratched from the lineup to make room for the recalled Raitis Ivanans. Only when it was discovered that Sheldon Souray would be unable to play (due to a laceration that turned into a nasty infection) was Bulis reinstated.

Perhaps Gainey was planning to use Dandenault as a forward, but had to drop him back to D. Even so, I find the decision to scratch Bulis puzzling. Although he hasn't been terribly productive, why sit a player who has given the team a full effort every night and continues to do plenty of little things right? If anything, the Habs need more guys like Jan Bulis - players that make the most of their gifts every time they step on the ice. Knowing this, the decision to send him to the pressbox prompted a variety of trade rumours.

Fortunately for all involved, Bulis stepped up with a career performance and netted four goals on Chico Esche,
leading les Canadiens to a 5-3 win over the Flyers. That Bulis, who is skating personified, was the difference in this game rather than Ivanans illustrated my point below perfectly. Well, it's my point in that I copied it from Tom Benjamin.

During the TSN broadcast Chris Cuthbert pointed out the lack of icetime allotted to the game's hottest player, as did Jack Todd in today's column:

"...if Bulis plays less than 15 minutes [in Ottawa tonight], they should bring back Claude Julien."
There are several reasons for his shortage of minutes. Bulis is still playing on the checking line with Bonk and Sundstrom, and Gainey stayed true to his lines all night. Since the Habs did not take the lead until the third period and since Forsberg left the game early on, the scoring lines received the bulk of the shifts. Also, unlike his linemates, Bulis has not played on the PK in the last couple of games. If Cuthbert and Todd were to question his lack of PK time (which is queer), they would have a more valid point than their "only 12 minutes for a four-goal man" rants.

Some other notes on the game:
  • Along with Bulis, Koivu, Begin and Bouillon have set a superb example of how to play hard every game. Last night, Begin once dropped head first to block a shot. That's committed. Dumb, but committed.
  • In the next tier, Tomas Plekanec and Craig Rivet played exemplary games. Plekanec is putting a stranglehold on the #2 centre job. Also, Radek Bonk looked pretty good for a change.
  • We have been expecting too much from Mathieu Dandenault. He was a good role-player on a star-studded team. In Montreal, we might be expecting too many minutes from him.
  • J-P Cote is the most awkward skater I've seen in the tricolore since Gordie Dwyer.
  • The officiating was sickeningly inconsistent early, and nonexistent late. I'm beginning to think the NHL game is impossible to officiate competently.
  • With the Flyers blueline drastically depleted, Quispamsis, NB native Randy Jones has stepped in. He played solidly last night and collected two assists.
  • Bob Gainey has come to the same conclusion that Claude Julien did. Cristobal Huet gives this team a better chance to win than Jose Theodore. Having said that, I expect to see Theo start in Ottawa. Just what he needs to soothe his fragile psyche - the trio of Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley, well-rested and sitting at home, waiting for the Habs to arrive.


Thank Jeebus.

In an era of rinks sponsored by banks and Me, Inc. players, the naming of the Anaheim franchise after a third-rate Disney movie was the single most galling case of crass corporate cross-marketing ever seen in the NHL. When someone questioned the appropriateness of the name, Michael Eisner replied, "I'm going to keep calling them that until someone tells me I can't." As we all know now, no one ever did. Bettman was too busy counting the millions from the expansion fee to care about Disney making a Mickey Mouse mockery of his league.

Now that Mickey is out of the hockey business, we can look forward to a new name. Here's my suggestion:

The Los Angeles Mighty Mergansers Of Anaheim

Speaking of crass commercialization...


Washington Mediot has Napoleon Complex

Someone named Dave Fay wrote this article for the Washington Times. In it he makes all of the valid points about Crosby being hyped more than Ovechkin, and cites Ovechkin's superior play and numbers this year. Then he stoops to this:

"Some might consider it paranoia. Perhaps but consider this: Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, teams are not allowed to provide anything of value to players because it might be a violation of the salary cap provisions.
Crosby lives with Lemieux, the Penguins' owner. Ovechkin, meanwhile, went out and bought a house for himself, his brother and their parents a few blocks from the Capitals' new training facility."

Fine! We get it! You like Ovechkin better!

It's been said before, and I'll say it again: Ovechkin (20) is almost a full two years older than Sid (18). The kid is still developing. That he is only eight points behind the phenomenal Ovechkin is stunning.

Remember the 1997 draft? The Boston Bruins picked Joe Thornton 1st overall and Sergei Samsonov 8th. Samsonov, the more finished player at the time, won the Calder with 47 points. Thornton had 7 in 55 games. Now? Thornton has 487 points in 554 games while Samsonov has 371 in 503 games and the gap is widening. Only Bruins GM Mike O'Connell (and possibly Wang's lapdog Mike Milbury) would rather have Samsonov than Thornton.

Still unconvinced? Of course you are. That's why I'm prepared* to put a $100 wager in escrow for ten years, betting that come 2015, Sidney Crosby will have racked up more points than Alexander Ovechkin (barring major injury, of course). Any takers?

* Not really. I'd rather have $100 now than $200 in 2015. I would bet this blog, though :)

Habs Gooning It Up

After acquiring Aaron Downey off waivers,
Gainey has called up Latvian thug Raitis Ivanans for tonight's game in Philadelphia. At first glance, this doesn't appear to be in accordance with the look of the New NHL.

Montreal's strength is team skating. As
Tom Benjamin wrote many moons ago, the path to success is playing to your strengths:

"Adding one fast player to a slow team doesn't make the team fast. Adding one physical player to a team that can be pushed around physically does dick. It is better to add the fast player to the fast team and another physical player to the slow one. In the first case, I'm going to win with speed. In the second, I'm planning to win by pounding the speedsters into the ice.

When the team is unsuccessful, the focus is on the weakness. That's wrong in my view. If the plan to pound speedsters into the ice fails, I need more physical players who can do more pounding. Addressing the weakness won't make me fast enough to skate with a fast team and it makes it less likely I can pound them into submission."

From my point of view, hundreds of clicks away watching on TV, the Habs don't look like they're being outhit, outmuscled or physically intimidated anyway. Then again, Bob Gainey probably knows more about what's going on at ice level than I do. Maybe he's using the goons to scare his own players into skating harder.


Le magnifique

For his second time,
Mario is calling it a career. Reports say Lemieux is looking forward to being a stay-at-home Dad for Sidney Crosby. You now, picking him up and dropping him off at the rink, making his PBJ sandwiches for lunch, etc.


Can we have a mulligan on the Garon + 3rd round pick for Radek Bonk and Cristobal Huet deal?

Jose Theodore's performance has been a big story all year, and lately it seems to be boiling over. Read all about it at
James Mirtle's.

Theo is making $4.5M this season. He's scheduled to rake in another $11M over the next two. In his last two starts, he has a 14.29 GAA and 0.655 Sv%. He now has a 3.27 GAA and 0.888Sv% for the year. That's bad. That's
Edmonton Oilers bad.

True, the team has not played well in front of him. However, Theo is the highest paid player on the team. He needs to make all of the stops he should make, and a good fraction of the stops he shouldn't make. He has to keep the Habs in the game when things are not going well. He has to be their MVP, their leader on the ice. The Oilers have no such delusions about their netminders.

It sucks to have to bring up Theo's salary but in a capped environment you have to justify earnings with performance. Otherwise, you are hurting the team by taking up cap room that would be better spent elsewhere. Right now, given the choice between the current team with Theo, or the current team without Theo plus a $4.5M per year defenseman, I'd go with the latter.

So, what's the answer? I have no idea. It's a catch-22. To get rid of Theo, he has to play well to be attractive to other teams. But if he's playing well, why move him?


Have no fear, Habs fans!
Here comes the cavalry!

The addition of Aaron Downey is probably directly related to the recent
wristbracegate scandal. If Souray can't stand up for himself and his teammates, someone else has to. Raitis Ivanans is out of the question, as he is still looking for his teeth. I was going to suggest bringing in a tough guy but Gainey beat me to it. Yes, everyone knows the goons are going the way of the dinosaur, but something has to be done.

Think back to the 2004 playoffs. After a full season where icetime was scarce, Darren Langdon was suddenly appearing regularly on the top lines against the Bruins. He wasn't suddenly a better player, but there was no doubt that he allowed Saku Koivu et al to be bolder. Tough guys are often among the most popular guys with their teammates, and if a player like this raises the spirits of the Habs he will be worth having on the bench.


A comment from Buccigross' latest effort:

"Alexander Ovechkin's goal (you know the one) against the Phoenix Coyotes last week is, in my mind, the greatest goal in NHL history."

Boy, just like Pierre McGuire, Bucci sure is heavy on the superlatives. Greatest goal in NHL history?? Makes me wonder what else is in Bucci's mind...

It was a helluva goal, no question. One of the highlights of the year, and an awesome demonstration of coordination and determination. But I don't think it's even Ovechkin's best goal this year. Contrary to Bucci's comments, there was a substantial amount of luck involved.

There was another goal, early on in the season vs. Carolina. I can't find the video, I'm afraid. Ovechkin was attacking from the right wing and Cassels (I think?) had the puck in the middle. Cassels passed to Ovechkin, and a defenseman deflected the puck up about two feet. Ovechkin knocked the pass - it was coming hard, too - out of mid-air, corralled the puck, drove hard to the net and scored on his backhand. It was an awesome demonstration of speed, hand-eye coordination, strength and guts.

Bucci is a great writer, but statements like the above are ill-conceived, if not verifiably wrong. As if to make my point for me, later in the very same section he says:

"When was the last time you saw something original on a basketball court, something we haven't seen 100 times before?"

Uh, Sunday night?

And speaking of Pierre McGuire, Bucci has this to say:

"Mike Emrick, John Davidson and Pierre McGuire are the smartest announcing trio in all of sports."

Smartest? I dunno. To his credit, McGuire was a lot better on the Saturday NBC broadcast than he usually is on TSN. They must have sedated him.


JFJ's Insinuations

Ah, everyone's favourite topic - the Leafs.

As soon as you hear the words "vote of confidence" in an NHL market, no matter how they are used, there is a tenfold increase in the likelihood of the coach being canned. When questioned by a reporter, John Ferguson, Jr.
did not offer up the proverbial vote for coach Quinn.

This says a lot about JFJ's general managing faculties. Quinn, quite possibly the best coach in the league, has been saddled with - all at once - the collective attitudes of Jeff O'Neill, Jason Allison and Eric Lindros. With a patchwork lineup and injury troubles as bad as any club, T.O. is still competing for a playoff spot. If Quinn is at fault in any way for the current state of the Leafs, it's for his own moves as GM 2.5+ years ago. The only way he should be let go is if management is acknowledging the start of a rebuilding process (which itself is not out of the question, and might even be a good idea).

Even if some players have 'stopped listening' to him, he's still a more valuable asset to the team than those players. He's good enough for Canada's Olympic team, but not good enough for the Leafs? Fire him at your peril, JFJ.


I was looking forward to Saturday all last week. On TV: The Battle of Ontario, followed by the Habs in Vancouver. A couple of potent, fun teams hosting a couple of clubs desperately fighting for a playoff spot - clubs that happened to be the Leafs and Habs.

What a disappointment. The Habs were down by six after just fourteen minutes of 'hockey,' summoning uncomfortable memories of Pat Roy's last game for les glorieux. The Original Six squads got pasted by a combined score of 15-2. Yeesh. At least they're holding up their end of the bargain to maintain the increase in scoring...

Speaking of the Original Six, two are safe bets for the playoffs (Detroit, Rangers), two are not (Boston, Chicago), and two are right on the bubble. Just imagine the uproar if Tampa and Atlanta squeak in at the expense of the Leafs and Habs... That's something only a gold medal would ameliorate.


Tonight, the Habbies are off to visit the #1 team in the league: the Carolina Hurricanes. Contrary to everyone's preseason projections, this team blows harder than Katrina. That's a good thing when you're a hurricane.

Just like everyone else, Carolina has run into injury trouble. Cory Stillman is questionable. Having him out of the lineup should prepare the 'Canes for playoff hockey, where Stillman usually disappears. The more severe loss is on the blueline with Wesley and Ward out long-term. As the Habs know full well, a lack of depth at defense is something that can be capitalized upon.

The Canadiens have actually played OK against the top teams in the East: 7-5 vs. Ottawa, Buffalo, Philly and the Rangers. Hey, when things have been this grim you search like hell for anything positive to say.


Today's the big day! Get out there and
vote, Canada. Take your pick:

Those who campaign from the centre yet govern from the right.

Those who campaign from the centre yet govern from the extreme right (Hawks in sheeps' clothing).

The underdogs who actually have the balls to stand up to big business.

The severe underdogs who actually have the balls to stand up to big business.

Canada's next official opposition.



Puttin' on the Foil

Contrary to what I have read in several places, Sheldon Souray was not tossed out of last night's game for an eye gouging, head butting or chucking elbows instead of fists in his tilt with Darren McCarty. No, Sheldon's a good Alberta boy and doesn't stoop to those devices.

His ejection for 'intent to injure' (isn't that the point of a fight?) was due to his wearing a wrist brace, which you can see from this photo I stole from the Calgary Sun. This is the same wrist that kept Souray out of the entire '02-03 season and has troubled him since.

He rarely drops the gloves these days - because of the wrist - and tries to fight right-handed when he does. However, McCarty tied up Souray's right and forced him to switch. Was it the foreign object that did the damage? Was it McCarty's own bucket? It could have been a plain 'ol bomb from Souray - Cory Sarich knows all about Shelly's left.

The ejection led to the Habs playing with five defenseman yet again. The blueline was already paper thin because of Markov's injury. For two periods, Calgary fans were treated to a rotation of Craig Rivet, Francois Bouillon, Mathieu Dandenault, Mike Komisarek and Mark Streit. The Big Three they ain't.

I don't know why the Habs don't dress seven defensemen. D-men are more likely than forwards to get injured, and their absence hurts the team more. With the make-up of the Habs, they are also more likely to sit in the penalty box for extended periods or get tossed for instigating. With a player like Mathieu Dandenault who can play the wing, and a fourth line that doesn't get much icetime, it should be considered.


Road Trip

If you thought
this road trip was bad, just you wait...

"Tonight's game launches an arduous six-game road trip that doesn't end until Jan. 28. From Calgary, the Canadiens continue west, to Vancouver on Saturday, before flying across the continent to meet Carolina and then making their way north to Philadelphia, Ottawa and Toronto."
This collection of opponents includes five division leaders (Vancouver and Calgary are now tied with Colorado). They sport a collective record of 97-28-12 at home. Montreal's record on the road now sits at 7-10-4. Six dastardly opponents in ten days. In the words of Shaggy: Zoinks! New coaches or not, the Habs will do very well to scrape together half a dozen points over this stretch.


Ah, Andrei Markov.

First, some
good news:

"Ovechkin says San Jose's Scott Hannan and Montreal's Andrei Markov are the toughest defenders he's faced."
Now, the bad news:
"Andrei Markov... will miss three weeks with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder."


Here's an excellent article by Jack Todd on Pat Quinn and the Claude Julien situation.
"With Bob Gainey, the Canadiens finally have clout in the GM position. Now they have it behind the bench with Gainey and Guy Carbonneau. As good a man as Julien is, as thoroughly prepared as he was for the head coach's job, he never had that kind of clout, through no fault of his own."
It's a good point Todd makes. If Montreal wants to contend with Toronto for the title of Centre of the Known Hockey Universe, if they want to restore some of that lost cachet and fading mystique, it helps to have that 'clout' in the most visible positions.


The Calgary Sun did a couple of point-counterpoint articles on the "Canada's Team" debate.

Scott Fisher:
"Toronto may have borrowed Canada's Maple Leaf for its logo. But the Leafs are not Canada's Team. That prestigious title belongs to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge."

Steve MacFarlane:
"Should every other Canadian team but the Habs and Leafs be eliminated from playoff contention, fans of the others would probably support the Habs and still be outnumbered by the number of Toronto supporters."

In another example of the blog world kicking the crap out of mainstream media coverage, check out the item on Zigmund Palffy's sudden retirement by the inimitable Jes Gőlbez.

I thought Ziggy might reconsider his retirement from international play and go out with a last hurrah for his country in the upcoming Olympics. Not so much after reading that.


This has been post #100. Time flies when you're having fun.


Habs on Winning Streak

Bob Gainey: undefeated (2-0) as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens.

From most accounts (I didn't see the game), it was a solid performance despite being outshot 17-2 in the 3rd and a frightening 37-15 overall. According to
Red's recap, Markov left in the 3rd with a shoulder injury. Great. Just in time for a tough road trip.

In the two games since the coaching change, Mike Ribeiro has scored three goals. He went scoreless in the prior 17 games.
Jack Todd credits shorter shifts for the immediate turnaround.

Lollygagging for long shifts has always been Ribeiro's bugbear, and it has continued this year:

That's one misleading thing about the icetime stat. Coaches don't have direct control over players' icetime - they have direct control over their shifts. From that measure, it's pretty clear which forwards Julien trusted most. Among the forwards, Ribeiro ranks ninth in shifts/game. Thanks to his team-leading time-on-ice/shift, he is third in icetime. It's noteworthy that Alex Kovalev is #2 in coasting off the ice at the end of a shift. When you're the big-name free agent, you can get away with those sorts of things.

It might be going too far to suggest Ribs indifferent play cost Claude Julien his job, but it is clear that he was underperforming. If he tuned out Julien, how long will it be before he does the same to his new coach? Maybe it would be best to move him when his value is high.

In other news, Sportsnet's Jim Kelley suggests that
either Theo or Julien had to go. This town ain't big enough for the two of 'em.

Finally, Mike Modano offers a
ringing endorsement of Gainey/Carbo for Habs fans. I would hardly expect otherwise at the team's official website.


My Obstruction Rant

Who else is sick of power plays?

I flicked back and forth between the San Jose-Montreal and Toronto-Phoenix games last night. In Bob Gainey's coaching debut, seven of eight goals were scored on special teams. In Toronto, five of seven were PP goals.

I thought the Sharks were clearly the better team in the first 30 minutes. Then they gave up because the Habs amassed an insurmountable lead on special teams goals. To be fair, a couple of those were shorthanded markers resulting from great individual plays. However, judging from his career as a player, I doubt it was Gainey who sparked the Habs to go 4-for-5 on the PP, which really nailed the coffin for Joe Thornton's new team. Speaking of Joe Thornton, why was he being booed all night? I would have understood if it was McLaren, but it's not like Joe ever did anything to hurt the Habs (3 points, -11 in 12 playoff games vs. Mtl).

The total number of penalties doesn't reflect the effect they had on the outcome. In the third, the teams were just going through the motions and only one minor was called. The game was decided by an astonishing nine minors in the second period.

Markov (one of the named Gainey singled out as an underachiever) had a great game and he bagged four points to back up that fact. Interestingly, Markov's play this season follows the team's record - he started out with some great performances, then had an average second quarter. Perhaps this guy is underappreciated, even among hardcore Habs fans.

Oh yeah - Montreal won the game 6-2.

In T.O. the first five goals were on the PP. The game actually took a turn for the better after the first 30 minutes and the 'Yotes scrapped out a 4-3 win. On most nights, the Leafs 3-0 lead - amassed on the PP, including yet another 5-on-3 goal - would have been enough.

Gretzky will do well to escape this season without an ulcer. I don't remember ever seeing him so animated as a player.

Now, on to the rant.

Both games were a farce. They were dictated by special teams. I'm getting sick of it.

Here's the way I figured the new obstruction standard was supposed to work: The referees were supposed to call all of the little tugs, hooks, whacks, pushes and shoves. Players were so accustomed to using these tactics that this would mean a parader to the penalty box early in the season. We fans were warned to brace ourselves for this, but to wait it out because it was the only way to bring back the exciting game of days gone by. Eventually, players would adjust to the new standard, and voila - Oilers-heyday-era hockey for all!

Early this season, everything seemed to be on track. It was common to see a player lift his stick to impede the puck carrier, then realize that this was no longer allowed and return his stick to the ice where it belonged. Maybe it was just the selection of games I saw, but most games were decided five-on-five. There were many minors called, but the five-on-five hockey was definitely improving.

Then, as usual, the standard started to slip. This is strictly a qualitative judgement: the clutch-and-grab was making a comeback. A memo must have been sent out to the referees to keep up the standard. Maybe the players have gotten back into shape, maybe they're learning how to get away with stuff. The number of penalties called is still high, but the consistency has disappeared. The obstruction standard now seems to apply only to scoring situations. With some refs. Situational calls and "game over-management" is making a comeback. Make-up calls are rampant. If you see a 5-on-3, you can be sure to expect one for the other team soon enough.

So, now we are mving toward the worst of both worlds. Clutch and grab hockey that is rife with - and decided by - special teams play.

I am not saying I agree with the curmudgeons out there. I sincerely think the hockey early this year (games ~5 through 30?) was superior to the NHL hockey we were accustomed to.

I do not agree that the answer is "letting the boys play," and making fewer calls. The crackdown is not misguided, but has flaws in it's execution. If anything, they have to be more strict. No more situational (location or time of game) calls, no more even-up calls. It infuriates me to see obstruction let go in the neutral zone when it would be called in the slot. Yes, obstruction in the slot can *directly* lead to or prevent a goal. However, obstruction 150 feet away from the net can *indirectly* lead to a goal. For example, see the interference on Colaiacovo last night by Doan (I think) that led to the game-winning goal. The inconsistency has to go. It baffles players and fans. Obstruction is obstruction, no matter where it is on the ice, who commits it, or whether we are in overtime or the first minute.

If you preferred hockey from the late 90s over hockey from the early 90s, that's your prerogative. Personally, I prefer hockey where the sticks are kept on the ice and are used on the puck and for stickchecking only. If a player uses his stick on another player for any reason, it should be a penalty. Right now, this is not the case. Or it is sometimes but not others.


Bob Mackenzie says the same thing as me on coaching change. However, I take issue with his description of the Bonk - Garon trade as a "clunker." This deal also brought Huet to town.

We shoulda seen it coming

In case you were unaware, following the trend of hiring prominent former NHL players as coaches, Bob Gainey has stepped behind the bench to replace Claude Julien. Guy Carbonneau was named as an assistant for this year and expected to be handed the head coaching reins for next year. Rick Green was also relieved of his duties.

I'm as shocked as anyone, but in retrospect it should not have been such a big surprise.

All of the recent trade rumours reinforced the fact that the Habs are long on needs but short on assets. For a trade to make them better right now, they would have to sacrifice the future. Since Gillett has said they are aiming to be competitive for the 100th anniversary season in 2009, moving prospects is probably not an option.

Gainey was brought on board at the start of the last season and inherited Claude Julien as the coach. When a GM is hired, we often expect him to install his choice of coach. At the very least, when the team stumbles in this situation we expect the coach to be the first to go. Gainey was patient with his coach and was rewarded with a successful '03-04 season. Now that the team has been underperforming for a long time, Gainey has taken the opportunity to bring in "his man" for the job.

This somewhat parallels the Brisebois situation. When Gainey was hired, Brisebois' popularity was at it's nadir. Realizing he was stuck with the fragile, unpopular player, Gainey made the best of the situation by ripping those who were overly critical of Breezy. Brisebois proceeded to play relatively effectively for the season. Then Gainey unloaded the defenseman first chance he got by declining his option for this year.

So, the Montreal Canadiens now have a collection of eight Selke trophies behind the bench: Gainey has four, Carbo has three and Jarvis one. I pity the forward (Mike Ribeiro) who backchecks lazily.

Chris Higgins is my pick to be the next Habs Selke winner.


The Habs All-Drafted Team

Eric Duhatschek, on the number of outstanding former Islanders out there:

"One could convincingly argue that the best or second-best player on as many as four NHL teams is an ex-Islander — Zdeno Chara (Ottawa), Bryan McCabe Toronto), Todd Bertuzzi (Vancouver) and Roberto Luongo (Florida)."
That got me thinking - what if the Canadiens had never made a trade and lived by their draft choices alone? So I had a look at the last 20 drafts and came up with this:

Tucker - Koivu - Ryder
V. Bure - Conroy - Hossa
Leclair - Ribeiro - Asham
Higgins - Cassels - Stevenson
Ward - Plekanec - Savage

Markov - Schneider
Hill - Desjardins
Brisebois - Rivet
Komisarek - Robidas


This does not include undrafted players (can't think of any significant ones offhand) and it ignores traded draft picks, so it's not a perfect reflection of recent drafting prowess.

The wings are a glaring weakness. There is a slight improvement over the current real world Habs at centre. The defense is old but very solid, which can probably be attributed to Serge Savard's drafting. Goaltending is superb.


Terry Frei has penned this bland article on Habs owner George Gillett. I'm only pointing it out because features on the Habs are exceedingly rare at ESPN.com.


The Edmonton Sun reports that the NHL was far from groundbreaking with most of it's rule changes this year. I hadn't really thought about it before, but it's true: every single rule change (except the silly wireless fencing for goalies) has already been applied by various minor and rec leagues. Maybe next season the league will require teams to play lines of comparable skill head-to-head for fixed length 60-second shifts to ensure that players can develop at their own pace and everyone receives their fair share of icetime.


Included in today's
TSN morning email was this delightful yet disturbing piece on the history of figure skating costumes. What, exactly, does this have to do with sports?? Competitive Eating (just plain disturbing) has more to do with sport than that editorial.


Darius Kasparaitis: Barbra Streisand's long lost son??


Wasted Effort

Cristobal Huet deserved a better fate. Two goals against on 40 shots? Please take note, Mr. Theodore. Sadly, the team in front of Huet looked even more lethargic than usual. Perhaps it was the mile-high altitude.

If losing after taking a one-goal lead isn't enough of a kick in the pills, Sheldon Souray left the game due to a knee injury in the first period. Souray was carrying the puck through the neutral zone when Dan Hinote caught him with what Sheldon thought was a knee-on-knee hit. It looked innocent enough, as Souray took the time to discuss the issue with Hinote and possibly threaten him with bodily harm. No word yet on whether he'll miss any further time.

A funny but wise cat named Garfield once said, "It's amazing what one can accomplish when one doesn't know what one can't do." Apparently, someone forgot to tell Marek Svatos that you can't beat NHL defensemen one-on-one, because he performed the feat several times last night. It would have been nice if Richard Zednik had explained this fact to his countryman early in the game so the rookie wouldn't have foolishly embarrassed Hab defensemen over and over again.

I took note of the regular line combinations last night:

Higgins - Koivu - Ryder
Bulis - Bonk - Zednik
Kostitsyn - Ribeiro - Kovalev
Murray - Begin - Sundstrom

Aside from Bonk's general apathetic play and defensive gaffes, I thought his line was quite effective.

Patrice Brisebois made this comment in
this Gazette article:

"Hockey is a beautiful sport. I'm enjoying the game and I'm enjoying seeing my family happy."
And when was the last time Brisebois had fun playing the sport that has made him a millionaire? "I don't remember. I don't want to answer that question."

It is a sad state of affairs when playing hockey for millions of dollars is no fun. It says a lot about the disturbing amount of pressure placed on players in Montreal by the fans and media.


Begin vs. Breeze-by

Tonight, the Habs are in Denver to face Patrice Brisebois and his new team. Of course, the bigger story out there is the trade speculation going on, with Pierre Lacroix and Bob Nonis rumoured to be interested in Jose Theodore and Huet rumoured to be getting the start because of the Theo rumour. Then there's the rumour about Ribeiro being flanked by Kovalev because he's being showcased...

These situations make me nervous. Mistakes are made when a GM is forced to deal under duress, to trade from a position of weakness. Stock in most of the Habs' moveable assets is very low right now, and everyone knows you're supposed to buy low and sell high.

With Pierre Dagenais assigned to Hamilton, it seems have finally committed to going with some youth. Exactly which youth is unclear, though Andrei Kostitsyn and Jonathan Ferland are currently skating with the club. Many fans have been clamouring for Claude Julien to play the kids more, so this should silence them a little. In Julien's defense, none of the young guns have really stepped up and grabbed a spot like Marek Svatos, Petr Prucha or Alex Steen have.


Bob MacKenzie has pointed out that, much like us fans, many NHL GMs are learning all about the new CBA on the fly. In particular, Lou Lamoriello's off season moves have crippled the Devils by $7.1 million in cap space for this year *and* next year. I think we're going to see multi-year deals for those over age 35 go the way of the dodo (See Dave Andreychuk, right).


The thing I like about hockey blogs is the quality, depth and breadth of knowledge and opinion. For those of us with a never-ending appetite for info, the blogs really blow the mainstream media away. There are a few presences on the internet that go even further, dig deep, and produce some really interesting analyses.

At the top of the list are Iain Fyffe's Puckerings and Daryl Shilling's Hockey Project. Sadly, it appears that neither survived the lockout. However, the talented yet unfortunately named Mudcrutch seems ready to take the reins. His/her latest work is a breakdown of individual players' coincidental vs. non-coincidental penalties. It provides firm evidence that, despite his skating prowess, Mathieu Dandenault has hurt the Habs the most with his minor penalties. Great stuff.


It Wasn't Me!

Everyone knows fans of the Montreal Canadiens take a great personal stake in the team, but this is ridiculous.

I think Gainey should offer "Raphael" a contract. He is clearly willing to skate harder than Mike Ribeiro.

Jose Theodore said, "He couldn't beat me. That's the main thing." Maybe this confidence boost is just what Theo needs for a strong second half.

Mid-Season Excuses

Pat Hickey has assembled mid-season grades for the Habs. It's not pretty. The precipitous decline after such a red hot start is baffling. What changed from the start of the season to now?

There has been a rash of injuries. That can't explain a total meltdown. Zednik was missing for most of the early season tear, and lots of teams have had injury trouble without imploding. Partial explanation at best.

They were never that good to begin with. When the Habs were winning a lot of one-goal games, many said it would only be a matter of time before their good fortune would end and the team would fall back to Earth. I usually agree with these statistically-sound arguments. However, in this case I saw most of those close games and felt that Montreal often soundly outplayed their opposition, and it was the opposition who were fortunate to have lost by only a goal. Even when they started losing, I thought they still outplayed their opponent on several occasions. Let's call this another partial explanation.

This year's crackdown on obstruction is waning. I think the Habs were one of the teams that benefited most from the early zero-tolerance interpretation. The Habs are a good skating team; their weaknesses are size and physical play.

Everyone else has caught up. Every key player for the Habs spent the lockout playing high-level hockey. Perhaps all those players who didn't have finally shaken off their lockout rust and the Hab's advantage is now gone.

There - I think four partial/possible explanations add up to one big fat excuse.

HDIC, Cherry, and Crosby

January 7, 2005: 13.5 straight hours of hockey, presented by the CBC's mighty Hockey Night In Canada crew. And Don Cherry commentary was limited because he was losing his voice. What a great day.

In the afternoon game, Montreal rang up a 4-0 lead in the first period and coasted to a win over Ottawa. The timing was perfect (in the eyes of Habs fans, anyway) for this high-profile game. The Sens have been playing poorly, and their injury crisis was waxing while the DL was waning for the Habs. Ottawa columnist Chris Stevenson
describes the Habs' first goal, which was scored on a dreaded 6-on-1 break.

When Cherry got his chance to rant, he stood up for Sidney Crosby for a change. Even though Grapes has changed his tune, there are still plenty out there jumping on the kid.

A couple of points about Sid:
He's 18. He just turned 18 in August. If you're old enough, think back to when you were 18. Alexander Ovechkin is 20 - almost two full years older. Think back to when you were 20. Is there a difference between 18 and 20? There sure was for me. Ovechkin may be having the better season (he'd be my pick for the Calder right now), but it's close. Both kids are works in progress, but to declare that Ovechkin is clearly the better player is absurd. Wait a couple of years, then compare Sid's season to Ovechkin's this year. Then we'll all know what's what.

Now diving.
Some say Sid dives, and I would have to agree. In his defense, he's 18 (see above) and he wants to win more than anything. How is it we can applaud Steve Downie's diving while castigating Crosby? Incidentally, Downie is *four months older* than Crosby.

Diving is despicable, no question. But I don't think it's fair to isolate Crosby. Many, many players do it (as a Habs fan, I know
all about it). They do it because it works - the chances of a penalty being called on a play are vastly improved if the victim hits the ice. I don't see how acting like you've been pulled down is cheating any more than actually pulling someone down and acting like you didn't.

I'll discuss more about diving in a later post...


Backyard Rink

Well, here it is:

I'll try to take some photos under better light.

It's been a relatively cold winter, so it's been up and running since mid-December. I loosely followed this procedure. I used 2x8s and bolts for the frame so it's scalable. The lumber, plastic and hardware set me back about $220. The dimensions are 20'x35' which is just enough room to take a few hard strides, turn around, and repeat.

We had a nephew take his first skate ever on this rink on Boxing Day. Very rewarding.


Ken Mosdell

Three-time Cup winner Kenny Mosdell
died on Thursday at the age of 83.

Here's a nice Stanley Cup Journal piece at the HHOF website about him.

Resistance is Futile

Much like the Calgary Flames in '03-04, this National Junior team was a real throwback to Olde Tyme Canadian hockey. They were not the most talented around, but were hard-skating, hard-checking and gave a full effort every single shift. The gold medal game was a perfect demonstration that hockey is first and foremost a team sport. Now how about a Sutter behind the bench in Turin?

Guillaume Latendresse had a disappointing tournament. He refused to be assimilated by the Sutter hockey borg, and hence rode the pine. Gui's stock dropped, but Habs' Russian prospect
Alexei Emelin's skyrocketed. He led all defensemen in scoring, and played a very hard-nosed game all tournament long.


Breaking News

Draper changes locker stall.

"It was a big shuffle and we have to give Frosty (assistant equipment manager Chris Scoppetto) all the credit. He did a great job rearranging everything," said Draper.


In other news,
Canada will be facing Russia tonight in the WJHC Final. The US faces Finland for the Bronze.

Russia will get "home ice advantage," as in last change and all the other home team perks. Both teams have won all their games, but GF-GA is the tiebreaker.

A couple of oddsmakers favour Russia slightly,
but most favour Canada. That is a little surprising, since the Russians have dismantled all comers while Canada was essentially held to a tie vs. the US (it was only a win due to an empty net goal). Judging from what I have seen of both teams I would have to put my money on the Russians, I'm afraid. I would have more confidence in Team Canada if they were facing the tired Americans tonight.


This explains everything

Presenting the crest for the St. Cloud State Huskies hockey team:

AHA! That imposter playing goal for Montreal must be Bobby Goepfert!

And that must be why Mike Ribeiro looks like he's skating for a college team.

I wonder if the Canadiens could make a case for trademark infringement... They could sue St. Cloud State and use the money to lure big name UFAs.


What's On Tonight

This evening, the Canadiens will be hosting that Crosby Kid and his Penguins of Pittsburgh. The game will also be Michel Therrien's return to the Bell Centre. Despite all this intrigue, I won't be watching. World Junior Semi-finals will be on instead.

Canada, backstopped by Leafs prospect Justin Pogge,
will be facing Finland, backstopped by Leafs prospect Tuuka Rask. Canadiens prospect Carey Price might watch the game from home.

In the other game, the U.S. will be facing Russia.

The Finns might be knackered after downing the arch-rival Swedes 1-0 in OT last night. Canada should be a very safe bet to make the gold medal game. For the Finns to stand a chance, they will have to play a very safe defensive game and hope Rask can steal another game. The US-Russia match-up, on the other hand, features the two most talented teams and has the potential to be a beaut.


Here and there on the mighty internet I have seen some discussion of Canadian spectators demonstrating behaviour that is perceived as hostility to the US team. In case this becomes a story during/after the US-Russia game, I'll try to explain it pre-emptively (no pun intended). There are a couple of reasons fans might boo the US in this tournament:

1) Rooting for the underdog. Everyone loves an underdog, and this year the Americans brought the best team. Plus, Team Canada stands a better chance against the underdogs than the tournament favourites.

2) Political Animosity. You know, booing at a sporting event is a pretty harmless way to show displeasure with another nation's foreign policy. Freedom of speech and all that. The same fans who love Bobby Ryan in Owen Sound and Robbie Schremp in London might boo them in a US uniform. It's nothing personal against the players or the team, and certainly not against the American people. It's simply a political statement. If you think the rink is the wrong place to make such statements, then go ahead and lobby to eliminate national anthems from sporting events - the practice started during wartime in an effort to drum up national morale. If it's OK to push patriotism during games, it's OK to protest the same.


It seems like Team Canada's Habs prospects have followed the same curve as the big league team - a start with lots of promise, followed by a sharp nosedive. Carey Price (mentioned above) didn't even make the team. Guillaume Latendresse is in Coach Sutter's doghouse and hasn't played. The lone bright spot is Kyle Chipchura, who is fulfilling his potential of being large and solid defensively. He should be an adequate replacement for Chad Kilger someday.

With Montreal's lack of defensive depth exposed this season, Luc Bourdon sure would make a nice Hab. He's been Team Canada's best player thusfar, which is a great source of pride for the province of New Brunswick. Since Don Sweeney's retirement, the NHL has been bereft of NBers for the first time in many years. Right now, Gordie Dwyer (from my hometown!) is our best hope to crack a lineup this season. Once Bourdon makes the jump, it looks like we'll be set for awhile. But then again, I recall watching a rock-solid puck-moving defenseman from the 1996 WJHC team named Nolan Baumgartner... He was expected to be a stud blueliner and now he only has a job because of the salary cap...

Theo Rumours

Several news sources have mentioned a Jose Theodore to Colorado trade rumour. Sounds like bullspit. Both teams are struggling in goal. The obvious suggestion for the Avs is that Pierre Lacroix will do what he always does: deal for French Canadian help - in this case, Jose Theodore. However, I fail to see how trading Theo will amend the Habs' netminding troubles. Who would Montreal get in return to play goal? Aebischer? Budaj? Kolesnik? The only way this could happen is if it was a three-way and Lacroix send over a legit starting goalie.

Now, if Lacroix could offer Martin Biron via a three-way deal (and if I were Bob Gainey) I would be all ears. Of course, if Lacroix could offer Biron, why on Earth would he be fishing for Theo? Speaking of Biron, how about that chap's plight? He plugs away and performs solidly behind a bad team for years, then The Wave Of The Future arrives in the form of Ryan Miller and Biron's out of a job. Not a sniff of a start for the first ten games of the season and Marty can't say boo because the team is winning. Then New Kid gets hurt and Marty reels off a baker's dozen straight wins. Then New Kid returns and it's back to the bench where Marty can work on his Rodney Dangerfield routine.

It's not like Biron is over the hill or he hasn't proven himself. Marty is just hitting his prime at 28 and is one year younger than Theodore. From 2001 to 2004, Biron went 74-74-21 with a GAA of 2.41 and SV% of .912. Over the same period while playing behind a better team, Theo went 83-83-21 with a GAA of 2.41 and SV% of .920. Biron makes $2.1M, Theo "earns" $4.5M. If Gainey could somehow wrangle a three-way to get Biron and a depth player for Theo and then sign Biron long-term, I would be willing to approve the deal.

Daydreaming aside, if there is a trade involving the Habs and a goalie, I think it is more apt to be a solid incoming backup who can press Theo for starts and perhaps jumpstart the former MVP's game.