Googling PJ Stock Returns A Lot Of Stock Photos Of Pyjamas

Once upon a time, Elliotte Friedman wrote sports columns in Western's Daily Student Newspaper, the Gazette. I read them - they were the only sports columns worth reading in the Gazette. Now, fifteen years later, Friedman and I have another thing in common: rambling, disjointed blog posts, the point of which (when they have a point) is difficult to discern.

Friedman's blog, From the Pressbox, is hosted at the CBC website. His latest post, Can youth, Koivu co-exist in Montreal? suggests that Saku Koivu is being (or should be) edged out by a youth movement. It features lots of speculation about Koivu's feelings.

Here's my response, which follows the classic blogger template of a hack & slash snip job of the original article followed by my witty remarks.

"...the Canadiens signed Markov, while making a below-market offer to Sheldon Souray. They knew Souray would decline and leave as a free agent."

Keeping up appearances of trying to sign the record-setting PP point man to appease the fans, knowing full well that Souray would receive and accept a better offer elsewhere? If this is really the way it played out, then it was a brilliant move by Bob Gainey. The thing is, the reported offer of $22M over four years (Hamrlilk's contract) was a bit more per annum than the offer Souray eventually accepted from Edmonton - $27M over five years. Gainey might have been cutting it a little bit too close with his bluff. If the move had backfired, this would truly be the season from Hell. In Gainey's defense, maybe Souray made it clear that the fifth year was non-negotiable.

Anyway, signing Markov was not a deliberate move toward a younger player. It was a deliberate move toward the better player.

"The team stuck with Christopher Higgins and Tomas Plekanec during good and bad, and it’s working. Higgins, 24, is an assistant [sic] captain while Plekanec, 25, is second behind linemate Kovalev in scoring. Carbonneau is following the same process with Guillaume Latendresse and Sergei Kostitsyn, both 20, and Kyle Chipchura, who is 21."

It would be nice to be able to look at these names and see a bona fide star. We can be pretty sure that none will be the player Koivu is. Someone might, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Over at Lowetide is a recent post mentioning that the Oilers have had "only" six top six picks in their history. Over the same time period, Montreal has had three, and none of them 'earned' by being a bottom six team. There was the Wickenheiser 1st overall in 1980 (acquired in a trade), Svoboda at #5 in 1984 (again, acquired in a trade) and Carey Price at #5 in 2005 - the result of the Crosby lottery. The last time Montreal 'earned' a top 6 pick, there were only 6 teams in the league. The highest pick they've been granted since the WHA merger was the 2001 #7, Mike Komisarek. As bad as the Habs have been over the last decade, they haven't been bad enough to earn a star.

This post at IOF nicely explains the Habs' LOFT issues. Be sure to look at the chart. Star players come early in the draft. A #10 forward pick only has about a 30% chance of becoming a mere 0.5 ppg player. Montreal has not had many top 10 picks. There are diamonds in the rough (see Detroit), but I think that's almost entirely luck.

My point is that going further with this youth movement is unlikely to result in improvement. The young Habs aren't the young Penguins. No one can step into Koivu's role yet, and I have strong doubts that anyone in the system will ever be able to do Koivu's job as well as Koivu.

"What I can see is Koivu looking around and realizing his friends are gone. The faces are younger, not familiar. He feels threatened. He wonders if he’s going to be next. (Although, it should be pointed out he has a no-trade, and, as of last Friday, says he hasn’t been asked to waive it.) He sees his offensive role eroding."

Well, since I'm not privy to all of Saku's hopes and dreams, all I can see is Koivu outperforming every other forward on the team at EV. If (big if) his offensive role is eroding, it's chiefly because his defensive role is expanding due to a lack of centres capable of taking faceoffs in their own zone against the other teams' top lines.

"P.J. Stock made the point in the pre-game the other day that Koivu was being turned into a checking centre."

Jesus Murphy, I can't believe this 110% hogwash* is now polluting the commentary on HNIC. P.J. Stock made a career out of absorbing blows to the head. He now goes by P.J. because it's easier for him to spell than 'Phillip Joseph.'

Chris Higgins has been a fixture on Koivu's wing. Checking lines generally don't feature the team's best scoring winger (Higgins). Maybe nuances like that are a little too subtle for a former NHL goon to notice, so how about this: if Koivu has been used as a checking centre, then Sundin, Sakic, Datsyuk, Lecavalier, Jokinen, and Marc effing Savard have too.

I'll stop here. The fact is, at 33, Saku Koivu is still the best forward on the team (granted, this team is dressing two #6/7 defensemen as forwards so the title of 'best forward' carries less weight in Montreal than it does in, say, Detroit). The Canadiens are still on pace for a playoff spot. Just what is the point of all the criticism?

* - This is weird - I Googled "tqs 110%" to find a link to the TV programme. It came up #1. #5 was this page describing stats courses at the University of Washington. Apparently, "TQS 110... Addresses introductory statistical concepts and analysis in modern society." There it is in black and white.

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Bullet points today, because rum n' nog shortens my attention span.

o The guys are brothers, but apparently that's not enough for
nhl.com to spell their surnames identically. Kostsitsyn? Kastsitsyn? The Canadiens' page spells it a third way: Kostitsyn. There must be someone out there who can offer some consistent written translation of languages that use the cyrillic alphabet.

o Speaking of Sergei/Siarhei, there was a recent Mike Boone post at Habs I/O that said Dale Hunter believed Sergei/Siarhei was more NHL-ready than his London Knights linemates Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane. That may be. Of the three, only Kane (playing with Toews and Ruutu) has played a significant role in the NHL this season, and consensus is that it was he who drove results in London.
After working for 2+ years before earning a spot in the Canadiens' lineup, I wonder how Andrei - the older, more experienced, bigger, faster, and more skilled of the two - feels about his kid brother being airlifted onto the top line and getting more minutes?

o In the eight games since this post the Habs' EV shot differential has dropped considerably. Through 24 games, they were getting outshot 30.1 to 31.9 per 60. In the last eight games they've been outshot 24.4 to 31.5. Carbonneau's frantic line juggling is not working.

o Is Randy McKay's real first name Hugh???

o On the Mike Richards deal...

One NHL GM, who obviously wanted anonymity, said he didn't understand the point of the Richards deal.

"He's not a $6-million player next year and he still would have been a restricted free agent," said the GM. "The guy had 32 points last year. I know he's had a great eight weeks so far... but could you not have just done a three-year deal at $4 million per year and then re-address it after that? Maybe do eight or nine years at that point when you have a better handle on what the player is all about?"

Why would an NHL GM bitch about it? If it's a bad deal, it's primarily bad for the Flyers. I suppose it could be bad news if you have some comparable players approaching RFA and possible arbitration. If this contract overvalues Richards in a compensation structure with a cap and linkage, it just means someone else out there must be undervalued. A smart GM would shut up about the Flyers' dealings and exploit the undervalued segment of the player market.

o Koivu's two goals on Saturday were his first two 5-on-5 goals this season. He had one other EV goal that was scored 4-on-4. Before anyone mistakes me for Al Strachan, I'm *not* saying Koivu is underperforming. He's having a better season than last year. I could watch a video loop of him shredding Ian White down low for hours. If by some freak accident both Saku Koivu and I get invited to the same holiday party, he should stay away from the mistletoe.

o The Leafs looked bagged in that game. It seems like there have been a lot of games this year where a team will play back-to-back games, but their opponent in the second game does not. That said, how stupid is it to dress Belak in that situation? With a tired team, Maurice needed four usable lines.

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Diary of a Madman

Someone recently told me that some of my posts assume an unrealistic degree of familiarity with some rather obscure stats. This post is intended to be a bit of a primer for other Habs fans, demonstrating how I interpret some of these numbers for the Habs. If you think this is all hogwash, you're not alone. If you see something that piques your interest, I recommend reading some archives of some of the more numbers-oriented blogs listed on your right. Especially the Oilogosphere ones.

These are 5-on-5 numbers from behindthenet.ca.

The columns are Games Played, Time on Ice per 60min (that's 5-on-5 time per 60 minutes), Quality of Competition (v. v. v. important), Goals For (by all players) while on the ice, Goals Against while on the ice, and the Corsi Index. The Corsi number is like a plus/minus for shots directed at the net by your team minus those from the opposition (shots for + missed shots for + opposition blocked shots - shots against - missed shots against - blocked shots). The number shown doesn't include the blocked shots, and it's a number per 60min.

If you want to get a handle on who the important players are and who is doing a good job given their role, these numbers are valuable. 5-on-5 hockey is at least two thirds of the game. In addition to the goals scored/allowed, events at 5-on-5 determine who gets the PPs and determines whether you make it to OT/SO. PP/PK performance is certainly valuable - probably moreso on a per-minute basis - but the bulk of the game is decided 5-on-5.

If you accept that, the next important piece is who the player in on the ice with/against. Most Habs fans are aware of the team's lines and defence pairings. Less well known is how those lines are used by Carbonneau and how they are addressed by opposing coaches. The most common misconception revolves around just who is on the checking line (hint: it's 'none of the above'). The second most common misconception is the even strength effectiveness of the Kovalev/Plekanec line. Sure, they score some at 5-on-5, just not as much as they surrender. And they do it against weaker opponents than the Koivu line. And their penalty differential is worse. Anywho, the QUAL COMP column is the important piece of the above table. If you Google 'Desjardins' and 'quality of competition,' you'll find lots of interesting discussion. It's not a perfect stat, to be sure. I find that when I compare QUALCOMP to the players each Hab regularly faces according to the shift charts and Hockeyanalysis stats, they mesh very well. YMMV. Now we have an idea of the difficulty of the players' icetime, and that provides context for the GF/GA.

Finally, the Corsi column. Obviously GF/GA are the currency of wins and losses. The problem with looking strictly at goals is sample size. A few extra saves in one end of the rink and not the other can make a good player look bad, or vice versa. Shots directed at the net are a good proxy for GF/GA, and they provide a much larger sample size. It tells you which end of the ice is seeing most of the action.

So.... what can we take from these numbers?

1. Markov and Komisarek are playing against the best players in the league. If you were to look at Hamrlik's +8, compare it to Markov's -9 and conclude "Hamrlik's been playing better defensively," you'd be wrong. It's easier to shut down Kyle Wellwood's line than it is Mats Sundin's line. There are some factors besides QUALCOMP that explain the huge +/- discrepancy between these two that I'll get to in another post.

2. Koivu, Higgins, and Ryder are (or were) also playing against the best players in the league. This is a major departure from last season, or any of the last 5+ seasons for that matter. Last year the Bonk/Johnson checking line faced the top opposition. Despite this shelter, the Higgins/Koivu/Ryder line were terrible at even strength. This season the trio has actually been in the black when playing together, and they've done it facing the top lines in the league way more often than last year. This has to be taken into consideration when looking critically at their performance.

3. Trevor Linden, Joe Juneau and Radek Bonk are all veteran players who were brought to Montreal to play a checking role. I assumed Bryan Smolinski would inherit that role this season, but it looks like Carbo was having a hard time trusting him. Judging by his +8/-16, it's understandable. Again, there are other factors at work that mitigate the +/- discrepancy. Smolinski's line has still been the usual 2nd option against tough opposition, after Koivu's. His loss due to injury is a big deal.

4. Dandenault has been awful. Just awful. It's shocking that he's been given so much responsibility, being a frequent winger for Smolinski (a big factor in Smolinski's +8/-16). Dandy's been shuffled from line to line and he's getting blown away everywhere.

5. Hamrlik and Brisebois have been the second pairing, and they've done well. Hamrlik is a vast upgrade over Souray, 5-on-5.

6. Kastsitsyn/Plekanec/Kovalev have performed no better than Koivu's line, 5-on-5. And they're facing mediocre opponents. There have been some recent games where the opposing coach focused on the Kovalev line rather than the Koivu line but that's only because of the bizarre decision to put guys like Streit or Kostopoulos or Dandenaullt on Koivu's wing. For the most part, the Kovy line has been getting plum icetime and not doing as much with it as we would hope. Same as last season.

7. Mark Streit looks bad in terms of GF/GA, especially considering his 3rd pairing status. However, his +8/-17 doesn't seem to jive with his Corsi number of -1.7. Shooting luck is a huge factor here (again, I'll discuss in a later post). He's been good.

8. Surprise, Chipchura is not this team's checking line centre.

9. Kostopoulos has been getting 4th line minutes and he's one of four regular forwards with Corsi numbers on the right side of zero. Maybe it's time to give him a little more responsibility.

10. Gorges has been getting a free ride from fans/media. He's been the worst defenseman while facing the softest opposition. With nine frigging defensemen on the roster, this guy should not be playing.

Conclusions and Contradictions.

With the hindsight of 29 games this season Brisebois has been OK, but the decision to bring him to town looks like a bad one.

Immediately after the offseason FA frenzy, The team had seven defensemen: Markov, Komi, Hamrlik, Streit, Dandenault, Bouillon and Gorges, plus the guys on the farm. Up front they had lost the entire checking line of Perezhogin/Bonk/Johnson, and replaced them with Smolinski and Kostopoulos. Now, Smolinski is a versatile player but had never in his lengthy career (to my knowledge) demonstrated that he could play a role like Bonk's. Kostopoulos was a 4th liner in LA. Even if you give Gainey the benefit of the doubt with Smolinski (maybe he saw something that indicated he could be a shutdown guy), it seems clear that there were holes in the bottom six forward spots.

As the summer wore on and Bonk and Johnson remained unsigned, Gainey picked up a retreaded Patrice Brisebois for $700k. So now we're up to eight defensemen and ten forwards. Interesting. That, in a nutshell, is why we are now seeing Streit and Dandenault playing on the wings.

I just don't get it. Why sign Brisebois when Dandenault is an adequate 3rd pairing RD, and then bump Dandenault up to the wing? Why not skip the middle man and just sign a competant RW?? I would have been happy to see Bonk back - he signed for a cap hit of $1.5MM over two years in Nashville. Gainey must not have wanted to commit to that 2nd year. Tangent time: Speaking of Bonk, it looks like he was the one in the driver's seat last season - not Johnson. Bonk's doing for the Preds what he did last year for the Habs. Johnson's in St. Louis and he's been used in a similar role too but with ugly results.

So. Here we are with the top two lines playing tougher roles but coping pretty well, and a weak bottom six. They were keeping things close to even at even strength, and doing great on the PP. So what does Carbo do? He loses patience with Ryder's stagnant counting numbers and screws up the top line. And he continues to give significant icetime to Dandenault, Begin, Latendresse, Chipchura - all bottom six forwards who are getting beat up regularly. There are deeper teams than Montreal who are limiting their 4th liners to significantly less icetime. It's puzzling.

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The NHL Coach Farm Team

An interesting post is up at Eyes on the Prize. Robert L recommends that fans have patience with Coach Carbonneau.

When questions arise about the competency of Canadiens' coaching, the club's recent history of head coaches looms large. There are a couple of noteworthy observations:

- In the last decade, the team has hired four consecutive rookie head coaches.
- In the last fifteen years, every head coach has had a francophone name.

The francophone thing is simply a reality of the Montreal market. The political climate dictates that not only must a coach be fluently bilingual, but his mother tongue must be French. The fluently bilingual Pat Burns was hired back in 1988. I strongly doubt that a rookie head coach with a name like 'Pat Burns' would ever be hired nowadays. It wouldn't matter if his mother tongue was french or if he could speak like Gérard Depardieu. It's an unfortunate limitation for the organization, but c'est la vie. What are you gonna do.

The francophone requirement informs the hiring oddity noted in the first observation. In a competitive endeavour, when you hold yourself to a constraint to which your direct competition is not held, you are at a disadvantage. There just aren't as many good options available. That's why we've seen a series of coaches with zero NHL head coaching experience upon their arrival. To be sure, good coaches are out there that fit the constraint (Lemaire, Jacques Martin), but there are many more that don't. If this were the Hamilton Canadians, the string of Vigneault-Therrien-Julien-Carbonneau would not have evolved. One would have to think that a good, veteran non-francophone coach would have broken in at some point.

I'm not saying that Vigneault, Therrien, or Julien are bad coaches. Au contraire. The Canucks, Penguins and Bruins obviously think highly of them. The thing is, these guys had to cut their teeth in Montreal. They were fired from the Canadiens, presumably for a perceived lack of performance. If there was a lack of performance, how much of it could have been attributed to inexperience? It looks like these guys learned from their mistakes.

On to Carbonneau. Back in 2003 when Bob Gainey jumped back into the biz, he inherited Claude Julien as head coach. Gainey was patient and waited a season and a half before canning Julien. His record over that time was 60-46-7-10. Gainey filled in as interim coach for the remainder of the 05-06 season bringing with him Carbonneau as an assistant. Gainey stated openly that 'his man' Carbo was being groomed for the head coach position starting 06-07.

Carbonneau's qualifications at the time? He spent two seasons as an Assistant Coach behind Michel Therrien in Montreal. Then he was hired by Gainey as Assistant GM in Dallas, a title he held until Julien was fired in 2006. To summarize, he had accumulated 2.5 years of experience as an Assistant Coach at the NHL level and zero as a Head Coach anywhere prior to his Head Coaching job with the Habs.

When Claude Julien was hired, he had spent 2.5 years as Head Coach in Hamilton, plus four as coach of the QMJHL Olympiques. Therrien was a Head Coach for four seasons in the AHL and another four in the Q. Vigneault spent 7.5 years as Head Coach in the Q, and another 3.5 as an assistant with the Senators.

One of these things is not like the others. Yes, the Habs have introduced four cookierookie coaches in the last ten years. Yes, all four currently hold NHL Head Coaching jobs. Three had accumulated extensive head coach experience before their hiring. One had not. Carbonneau's pedigree makes one wonder whether he will learn from his mistakes and become a better coach.

There is evidence to suggest that Carbo's not exactly doing a bang-up job (see below). I won't get into it in this post because I have a feeling that pretty much everything I have to say in this space will, in some way, comment on Carbonneau's performance.

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You're all wrong. All of you.

Up until game #23, Michael Ryder was playing his usual role as Saku Koivu's finishing sidekick. In the three previous seasons with this gig he scored 25, 30, and 30 goals. Nothing spectacular, but reasonably good production considering his pedigree.

In the first 23 games this season, Ryder was on the ice for 303 shots directed at the net by Montreal and 242 against in 5-on-5 play (see behindthenet). That's a differential of +2.7 per game, or +7.1 per 60 minutes - the best on the team in both cases.

Ryder's been on for 9 GF and 8 GA. Not exactly Crosbyesque numbers, but try to find another Habs forward in the black. The huge thing here is the 8 GA. That is superb. It's a vast improvement over last year's performance by the first line. Unlike last year, they've frequently been doing it against the opposition's top lines. Well done, Mike. Kudos to the entire top line, up to game #23.

In 5-on-5 hockey, Ryder's been on for 17 penalties committed by Montreal and 35 committed by the opposition. Overall, Ryder has committed 4 and drawn 10 himself (see ontheforecheck).

Up to game #23, Ryder had 70 shots. He was on pace for 250, which would have been a career high.

Overall, Ryder was on pace for a typical Ryder season with one big exception. Um, make that two big exceptions. He's been much better defensively, and his shooting percentage was only 4.3% rather than his career norm of 12%.

Ryder's catastrophically rotten performance? Nothing more than a run of bad luck shooting. On March 10 Sidney Crosby had a shot% of 3.8% over his previous 20 games. If I recall correctly, very few fans called for Crosby to be waived and replaced with an AHL call-up. NHL shooters, like any string of coin tosses, will have cold streaks. It happens.

Unfortunately when it happens in Montreal the entire fan base and sports media join forces to proclaim that the player is bringing shame to the CH by playing so poorly. After all, they're The Most Knowledgeable Fans In The World (tm). Just ask them. Then something really screwed up happens: the coach starts to believe them and then acts on these idiotic assertions. Now we have Mark Streit on the 1st line. I hope you're all happy.

On the flip side, Mathieu Dandenault has escaped the fury of the fan base and media. Clearly because he's big presence, a fast skater and a stand-up guy. It sure as hell can't be due to a good performance.

His Corsi number (a measure of shots directed at the net for/against) is -21.1. That's the worst in the league if you exclude anyone under 10 games played and Eric Boulton. The next worst regular forward in Montreal is the rookie Kyle Chipchura at -9.7. Dandenault has been shuffled from line to line and he's been poison on every one of them, hemorrhaging shots against. He's committed 6 non-coincidental penalties and drawn 2. He's been on the ice for 8 GF and 15 GA, 5-on-5.

There are two mitigating factors for Dandenault: he's been facing tough opposition, and he's a defenseman playing forward. Both of these lay the blame squarely on Carbo. Dandenault should not have his current role.

Same goes for the Ryder debacle. It may sound like I'm blaming the vocal fans and media, but obviously the coach has a responsibility to look a little deeper at a player's performance. If the coach of this team falls for the same foolishness as the raving lunatics on TV and on the message boards, we're in deep trouble.

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