It's often been said that this year's edition of the Habs features an odd combination of special teams prowess and even strength ineptitude. But just how broad is the chasm? Well, not including empty net goals, they've allowed 41 more than they've scored at even strength and they've scored 26 more than they've allowed in all special teams situations. If your car tires were this far out of balance, you'd experience some seriously uneven tread wear.

But how do they compare to other teams? Let's see... NHL.com has usable team GF/GA data from the last five seasons. To compare teams, I invented a number called Powerplay IMbalance Points, or PIMPs. It's the goal differential of your special teams minus your goal differential at even strength. The more PIMPs you have, the greater your even strength suckage compared to that of your special teams.

Here are the teams having the top 20 PIMPs over the last five seasons:

The first thing you notice is that these teams, by and large, stink. It contains the 30th place team in each of the last four seasons. The only club in the top dozen with a better than .500 win/points% is your 2006-07 Montreal Canadiens, smack dab between this year's .344 Flyers (.344w%) and the powerhouse 01-02 Bluejackets (.348w%). The only team to score more PIMPs than the Habs were back-to-back editions of the Bluejackets. If they printed up t-shirts to commemorate that feat, I'd buy one.

Now here is the "bottom" 10. They are teams who perform much better at ES than on special teams:

Particularly weird is the appearance of the 05-06 and 06-07 Leafs and Sabres on both lists. The 05-06 Sabres were dominant on special teams and average at ES. This year, they're dynamite at ES and sub-par on special teams. The Leafs have flipped the other way, from being a good ST/bad ES club last season to a bad ST/good ES club this year.

In conclusion, no team in the last five seasons has performed the feat the Habs are pulling off this year. No one else has been this much worse at ES than on special teams and still finished better than .500. We Habs fans are witnessing something pretty special.

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Market Watch - One Less Fish in the Sea

Sami Salo signed a 4-yr. extension at $3.5M per. Amazingly, that is the exact amount I guestimated he would get, albeit as an extension rather than on the free market.

The number makes $4.5M over 4 or 5 years sound like a reasonable deal for Markov.


A couple of bloggers have been tracking the odds of Eastern Conference teams making the playoffs: hockeyrodent and Hockey Numbers.

Also, Behindthenet.ca now has a blog!

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Fighting Foofaraw

Although this year's fighting debate has already gone 11 rounds, Serge Savard just stepped into the ring with these comments:
"If I do the same thing (as Simon did) on the street, what do you think will happen to me? I'd be jailed."
This is an argument that has never made sense to me. If you crosschecked some poor unsuspecting schmuck in the small of the back while walking down the street, you'd be jailed. If you threw a perfectly clean hipcheck at some annoying mallrat, you'd be jailed. If you took your stick to the park and started firing 6oz vulcanized rubber discs toward a mime at speeds over 90mph, you'd be jailed. It wouldn't even matter that you were technically aiming for the fountain behind the mime and the mime just happened to be in the way.

There are things that happen in every sport that are not tolerated off the field of play. By playing the game, you're accepting some risks by implied consent.

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We will resume our regularly scheduled programming in a couple of weeks.

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Fantasy GM, part 2

The writing was on the wall once Rivet was dealt. The most probable scenario will see Gainey gun for Souray. If you're listening to what the pundits say, that will probably mean breaking the Koivu cap. Say Souray signs for $5M, which is the low end of what people are saying he'll get:

Now we're at $41.5M, leaving $3.5M to spend on two remaining spots. Those spots are the ones currently occupied by Radek Bonk and Mike Johnson, who bring down a combined total of $4.2M. This is not good.

Unless Bob Gainey has some pleasant tricks up his sleeve, we're looking at essentially the same team as we have this year. Two veterans (Rivet and Abby) are replaced by two minimum wage earners and $3.5M in cap space instead of the two most reliable forwards (Bonk & Johnson). That's not exactly a formula for success. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

So let's try something different.

First off: let Souray walk. In Hockey Pools 101 they teach you not to buy a guy after a career year. By all means, get involved in the bidding to drive up the price, but do not buy. And another thing: would you pay $5M for a 30-goal right wing PP specialist? Then why pay that much for a 30-goal PP specialist d-man? Those goals can be replaced much more inexpensively by addressing the team's needs up front.

Second: Pull a Lamoreillo and treat the Hamilton Bulldogs crowd to the Sergei Samsonov show. Admit the mistake and don't send good money after bad. The Montreal Canadiens are a profitable enough organization to afford this.

Third: As soon as July 1 rolls around send Saku to Kimmo Timonen's house with a Texas mickey of Finlandia and instructions to reminisce about their exploits while playing together on their national team. They were on the same WJC team in 93 and 94, TPS Turku in 94-95, World Cups in 96 and 04, World Championships in 99 and 03, and the Olympics in 98 and 06. There is no doubt in my mind that Timonen is a more valuable all-around player than Souray, and he will come a lot cheaper. His numbers are a little better than Markov's, but he's also a little older. A contract similar to Markov's seems reasonable. If Timonen doesn't bite, the backup plan is Sami Salo.

There! That leaves $8M in cap space for three forwards.

Now we have options. Gainey could go for strength down the middle by landing a star centre. This would be a great environment to ease kids into the lineup:

Alternatively, players like Bonk and Johnson seem to be undervalued. That makes them wise choices in the FA market. Getting them signed for small raises would allow the space to go toward some help on Koivu's wing:

Or we could try to nab the 'Next Radek Bonk,' aka Patrick Stefan. He comes with the added advantage of having an Embarrassing Youtube Discount. That would clear enough space for some serious help for Koivu:

Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

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Fantasy GM, part 1

This year's playoff drive certainly has been inspiring. I've been inspired to ponder how the team might look next season.

Here's the team's current roster when healthy:

The astute observer will note the number of names with white backgrounds not earning their keep.

The salary numbers come from nhlnumbers.com. They may not be exact, but they're close enough. Total salary is in the ballpark of $41M.

The total signed for next year is $23M. Murray and/or Lapierre are the only two signed names that stand a chance of losing their roster spots, and they would be replaced by someone with similar salary. Next year's RFAs are earning $5.4M and the UFAs are about $12.6M.

It's unlikely that any of the RFAs will disappear. They all should return, and here are some WAGs of their price tags:

$2.5M should be quite reasonable for Ryder. Tomas Holmstrom just signed a 3-yr extension at $2.25M per, and J.-P. Dumont got $2.25M over two years as a UFA. Guys with similar numbers to Higgins and Plekanec generally don't make $1.5M, but I'll peg them for the amounts shown just to be on the safe side. Perezhogin has had scant numbers this year and should be under $1M. Gorges' and Komisarek's numbers appear on the high side but salaries have a tendency to be surprisingly high year after year.

That puts us at a total of $32M with holes at C, W, #2G and two gaping ones on defence. If the salary cap is $46M next year and Gainey keeps a $1M buffer, that leaves $13M to complete the roster.

Let's start with the easy decisions. Sign Markov and use a rookie backup netminder.

Aebischer won't be back, and Gainey won't pursue a pricey #2 goalie. Halak or another cheap kid from camp will do just fine as a backup. Markov has to be re-signed. As mentioned several times before, Tomas Kaberle's deal should provide a ceiling for Markov. Philippe Boucher just signed a three year extension at $2.5M per. Nevertheless the market will not listen to reason. Markov will fetch over $4M per season with a long term deal.

That puts us at $36.5M with some difficult decisions to make in part 2.

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The Aftermath

Ah, the NHL trade deadline - a good time to reflect on impermanence.

I had an ex who was not a hockey fan, but who still watched a fair bit of it simply due to association with yours truly. Her favourite player was Ryan Smyth. Why? Because he was by far the most emotional player on the ice after Canada won in Salt Lake.

After being traded to the Islanders, the poor guy was a wreck - see the clip up at CiO. When you invest as much in your job as Ryan Smyth does, the highs are ecstatic and the lows are agonizing. The sword cuts both ways.

Defending Bob

Pierre Lebrun:

"People will say Montreal was a big loser on the day but the reality is that Canadiens GM Bob Gainey was in a pickle. He's rebuilding the team while trying to remain competitive so dealing high draft picks or prospects for a rental was out of the question. On the other hand, with his team on the bubble, he couldn't afford to deal high-scoring defenceman Sheldon Souray despite the huge return he would have fetched. The Habs can't make the playoffs without Souray, so they'll accept that when he leaves town as unrestricted free agent in July that his stay in the spring was worth it.

Besides, Gainey deserves credit for pulling a first-round draft pick and a 22-year-old defenceman in Josh Georges in exchange for a rental, Rivet, on Sunday."

I think Lebrun hit the nail on the head.

As a dedicated fan, I would have been fine with Gainey taking the long view and getting what would have been a jackpot of a return for Souray in the ultimate sellers' market. But I'm not a season ticket holder, nor am I one of the twenty-odd roster players who have committed a good chunk of their careers to this season. As long as the playoffs are within reach, Gainey couldn't sell off his star rentals no matter what the market conditions were.

On the flip side, this year's team is not a Cup contender. It would have been utterly foolish to sacrifice the future by paying the going rates for rentals. By getting a great return for a role-player and keeping his major contributors, Gainey hedged nicely.

There have been a lot of comments criticizing Gainey, saying the team needed a goalie/#2 centre/winger.

The goalie criticism is baffling. The team still has a servicable starting goalie in Aebischer, and they are deep in prospects. Giving up assets for Curtis Joseph or some other retread who is no better than Aebischer/Halak would be wasteful. What probably happened was word got out that "Gainey's looking for a goalie" after Huet went down. Pundits automatically assumed that meant he sought a big name, when he may have been targeting a depth guy like Leighton all along.

The '2nd line centre' talk was foolish too. Bryan Smolinski is no better than Tomas Plekanec, and he would have cost a 2nd round pick. Yanic Perreault is no better than Tomas Plekanec, and he would have cost even more. Zubrus might be a slight upgrade, but is a slight upgrade worth a 1st round pick and a solid prospect?

The one valid criticism might be the winger. A true star winger (preferably a LW) would have improved the Koivu line and allowed Higgins to solidify another line. By star winger I mean Smyth calibre, or Tkachuk at the very least. That kind of upgrade would have cost too much. A rental of Smyth is not worth A. Kostitsyn, David Fischer and a 1st round pick.

Playoff Implications

While Bob Gainey kept a level head, some other GMs were buying like ugly spinsters at a bachelor auction.

If the Penguins were a fun team to watch before, they'll be an absolute hoot with Big Georges in the lineup. Gary Roberts is older than dirt, but dirt is still better than what Pittsburgh was trotting out on their bottom lines. They are looking solid for the #5 spot.

It's down to Tampa and Atlanta for the SE division title. Feaster only did some minor shuffling while Waddell was in full panic mode. Tampa had been rolling before the deadline while the Thrashers addressed their biggest need (a warm body to play centre), so I'll grant them both spots.

The Islanders added a star and should be OK unless the wheels fall off. I'll concede another spot to them.

Uh oh. That leaves Montreal, Carolina, Boston, NYR and Toronto all fighting for the last spot. The Rangers have been owned by the Islanders so far, and they face them four more times. Boston sucks. They're at -50 and lucky to be doing this well. So let's count out Boston and the Rangers. That leaves Carolina and Montreal at 5 to 2 odds, and Toronto at 5 to 1 because of the Raycroft factor.

Tangent time. Why hasn't the Toronto media been universally napalming Raycroft? He's been terrible. Just like any series of coin tosses, he's had his 'hot streaks.' But .894 Sv% on the season? Yeesh. There have been 25 goalies to play 40 games this season. Among them, Raycroft is #25 in Sv%.

Unrelated Trade Deadline Stuff

There was a highly entertaining article in USA Today (via Kukla's) in which Brian Burke documents his adventures leading up to the trade deadline. Some highlights:

"If you are offended by profanity, it's difficult to make a trade in the NHL."
"I call Montreal's (GM) Bob Gainey and push him about whether he's going to move any of his defensemen. Gainey says he's unsure if he's selling. Timing is beginning to be a problem. I decide to push on this, but I don't get anywhere."
"Craig Rivet is traded to San Jose by Montreal, and I call and whine to Gainey about not calling me back and telling me he was available. He tells me that I was late to that party, and he had been talking to Doug Wilson for three weeks. Fair enough."
"I told our younger players that I wouldn't trade them and I kept my word. But I did get May. He's a great character guy with a sunny disposition."

Final Filler

- What often goes unmentioned when discussing impending UFA players as 'rentals' is the exclusive negotiation rights a team holds until July 1. That must count for something.

- There is a new table up at Behindthenet. It ranks players according to penalties drawn/taken. Compare the relative positions of Rivet and Gorges.

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