Craig Rivet to San Jose

To San Jose:
Craig Rivet for 20 games + 2007 playoffs
5th round pick in 2008.

To Montreal:
Josh Gorges for the next five years
1st round pick in 2007, which should land somewhere between #20 and #30 overall.

Regardless of Montreal's current position in the playoff race, you just can't be disappointed with that kind of return. This was an excellent move by Gainey. It was also quite ballsy to give up a veteran player at this point in the season, no matter what the return. This trade also tells us that Gainey will take a run at signing both Markov and Souray in the offseason.

I don't know much about Gorges. He looks like a defensive defenseman, getting ES and PK icetime in San Jose. I hope that his recent spate of healthy scratches are due to trade talks and not performance. The Sharks have an awful lot of young defensemen, and he may just have been squeezed out. I'm hoping he can step right into Rivet's role. He'll probably be paired with Dandenault.

Hockey's Future describes him as a "solid skater with adequate speed," which would make him more of a New NHL player than Rivet. This post at Shaved Ice has some... interesting scouting info.

For all the talk of veteran leadership, grit, and experience, what the Sharks really needed was a right handed shot for killing penalties. Not many teams have the Habs' wealth of defensemen with right-handed shots (Komisarek and Dandenault, plus Fischer and Carle in the pipeline).

Now for a salute to Craig Rivet - his most memorable moment (to me) in a Habs uniform:

I'm definitely pulling for the Sharks in the West for the playoffs this year.

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Where Are They Now?

Ever wonder whatever happened to Pierre Dagenais?

Well, after a failed tryout with Jokerit of the Finnish SM-liiga (hey not everyone can be a sniper of Clarke Wilm's calibre), he's become the latest scoring sensation for Innsbruck in the Austrian league. That team's top dog is another familiar name: the 40-year old Todd Elik.

I wonder if Tavis Hansen is upset about Dags stealing his icetime.


Up Front

I already talked about the Defense and Goaltending. Time to see how the forwards measure up. Sources are Behindthenet's quality of competition/quality of teammates/enhanced plus-minus stats, and this site's plentiful data.

Starting at the top:

Koivu line

For the bulk of the season, this has been Higgins/Koivu/Ryder. Latendresse filled in for Higgins for a month or two when he was out with an ankle injury.

Thanks to Montreal's magnificent power play this year, Koivu's counting numbers (16G, 29A) aren't too far off his usual pace. Unfortunately, his line has been getting absolutely killed at even strength.

Koivu was good for about 0.55 points per game at even strength from 2002 to 2006. This season he's at a 0.3 ppg clip.

Believe me - I've tried desperately to find a way to blame his struggles on his linemates, but it just doesn't wash. Here's a chart tabulating GF/GA for the Koivu/Ryder combination for the last three seasons:

In the two previous seasons under Julien and Gainey, the Koivu line has had basically the same role as it does this season. The checking line (Juneau, then Bonk) has had the tough assignments against the opponents' top lines and Koivu's line has always been the second option. From '03 to '06, Koivu/Ryder were good for 3.4 GF/60 and 2.7 GA/60 at even strength. This season they are at 2 GF/60 and 4 GA.

That's a huge swing. From +0.7 per 60 to -2.0 per 60.

So what the hell happened? It's hard to fathom how the ES numbers could drop so drastically with so little change in personnel. If anything, goaltending has been better this year. The coaching has been the same - defensive and conservative - for years. The drop off can't be blamed on being saddled with the rookie (Latendresse) while Higgins was out because their numbers were actually better over that period. Higgins has been playing hurt, but I can't see that causing a 2.7 goal per 60 swing. Ryder has always been a sub-par defensive player, but it's hard to imagine him suddenly turning his line into suck in his third NHL season.

The one difference I can think of between this season and prior seasons? Saku Koivu's eye injury.

Kovalev line

This has been less stable than Koivu's trio. Samsonov/Plekanec/Kovalev have been the most common, with Perezhogin and Latendresse occasionally filling in. Their role has been similar to that of Ribeiro's line in the past: soft opposition, few defensive zone draws, less play when trying to hold a lead.

That is why I'm not prepared to cut Samsonov and Kovalev much slack. Yes, their +/- numbers are far better than Koivu/Ryder, but they have been getting very soft icetime. Their job is to score goals on the other teams' roster filler while Bonk/Koivu try to hold the fort against the stars.

If Koivu's line has been failing at their role, the Kovalev line has been failing just as much at their own role. Samsonov and Kovalev are being asked to do exactly what they've done their whole careers - play plum shifts and rack up points. They're both way off last season's pace.

While Kovalev's struggles might be injury related, I'm willing to bet that Samsonov's season-long pout has been due to a lack of time on the first PP unit. The Habs' top unit of Koivu/Ryder/Kovalev/Markov/Souray has been either the best in the league, or damned close. Sorry, Sammy, you're not going to displace one of those guys.

Bonk line

Bonk/Johnson have been the most reliable pairing all season. This is Carbonneau's checking line and they have really been carrying the mail at ES. Perezhogin has been the most common LW, with Latendresse and lately Samsonov getting some shifts. Perogy's numbers look great, but that's solely because he was riding the coattails of Bonk/Johnson during their best run of the season.

They're the first option when the opposition's best is on the ice. For that reason, they have benefited immensely from being on the ice with Carbo's top D pairing of Markov/Komisarek. It's noteworthy that the Koivu line most often has to contend with the on-ice hijinks of Rivet/Souray at even strength, while both the Bonk and Kovalev lines both get to reap the benefits of having the Markov pairing as their most common defencemen. See the most common teammates at the behindthenet page here.

This line has been a pleasant surprise all season. Does that make Bonk a better or more valuable ES player than Saku Koivu? That's hard to answer. Intuitively, I think Koivu could do Radek Bonk's job more effectively than Bonk could do Koivu's. But the enormous drop in Koivu's play this season has shaken my confidence in him.

'4th line'

In the 'other' category fall Begin, Streit, Lapierre, Downey and Murray. There's not much to say here - these guys are not the ones deciding the games.


The problems at forward are broader and deeper than the problems on defence. Basically, everyone sucks except for the checking line. Looking subjectively at rosters across the NHL, I'd say that the Canadiens don't have a centreman in the top 20 in the league. I might even have to bump that down to top 30, given Koivu's production this season. The team doesn't have a winger in the top 50 in the league. When I watch a game, I see maybe five forwards who make me feel safe when on the ice with a lead in the final minutes: Bonk, Johnson, Koivu, Higgins and Plekanec. The rest are PP specialists, kids and 'energy' players - guys who need to be sheltered from situations like that. The forward ranks are out of balance.

The peanut on top of this turd sundae is that Bonk and Johnson - the sole bright spots up front - are going to be UFAs this summer. The rest of this motley crew is either signed or a RFA.

The lack of scoring punch is nothing new for the Montreal Canadiens. Their record in drafting forwards over the last dozen years must be among the worst in the league. Of the batch of highly touted kids from recent drafts - Perezhogin, Higgins, Kostitsyn, Grabovski - none look like they're going to suddenly turn into star forwards.

The alternative to drafting star forwards is signing them once they're UFAs. That isn't going very well, either. Big names don't want to play in Montreal, says Sheldon Souray:

"You have a lot of people who are influenced by what they read in the papers, which is a downside of playing in Montreal... It's not an easy place to play. Look at some of the free agents who have turned down the opportunity this summer to play here, for some of the reasons that everybody knows - the media hiding behind bushes, starting rumours... When hockey's a religion, people are impatient."

Yes, the reasons are plentiful: The media, the taxes, the defensive system, the language issue, the weather...

And that's why the team was stuck with Sergei Samsonov. He must have been a rash desperation signing after plans A(rnott) and B(rendan Shanahan) failed. Samsonov was likely somewhere around plan E or F. Surely, Bob Gainey saw the spots on this leopard before signing him but what else could he do? He had the cap space, the team needed a forward, and Samsonov was the best available.

The worst of the Kovalev/Samsonov deals is yet to come: This offseason, Datsyuk, Briere and Gomez become UFAs.




Ted Leonsis reveals his profound ignorance of what's going on in the NHL this season (via Kukla's):
"We now play in the toughest division in hockey with two recent Stanley Cup champs and the best scoring duos in the league, etc. yet we compete with all eastern teams for eight playoff spots."
If he'd bothered to check, he would have found that the SE is not quite the toughest division, but is rather the worst division.

If he'd bothered to dig a little deeper, he would have discovered that the SE has been the worst division in 7 out of the last 8 seasons. According to the Sagarin ratings, the only reprieve was a 4th place finish in '05-06 when Carolina singlehandedly hoisted the division out of the dumpster with their Stanley Cup run.

Here are the final Sagarin ratings for '98-99, '99-00, '00-01, '01-02, '02-03, '03-04, and '05-06.

Here's another 'quirky but sobering observation:' You obviously don't have to be very observant to become a bajillionaire.



Turtle Derby '07

Buffalo and New Jersey are in. The way Ottawa's been rolling, I'd say they're in too. That leaves Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Montreal, Toronto, NYIslanders, NYRangers and Carolina fighting it out for the remaining five spots.

At least one of (Atlanta Tampa Carolina) is in too, because someone has to win the Southeast.

Here's an overview of who has what left:

Montreal is in tough with the worst home/road breakdown and six games on back-to-back nights. The upside is a lot of games against bad teams like Boston.

According to the game by game odds for today's dolphin rankings, here's the most likely point total for each club:

These numbers don't take a back-to-back game effect into account. I didn't bother to work out the totals for Buf, NJ and Ott.

The Penguins look to be in good shape. The Thrashers have accumulated a pretty good buffer. After that, it's ridiculously tight.

See also Hockey Numbers.

Update 02/14:
And just like that... with a home loss to a bad team the Canadiens are now on pace to finish 9th.



Canadiens' Defense: Falling Down

This is where things get interesting.

There are three blueliners who have been getting a lot of ink this year: Andrei Markov, Sheldon Souray, and Craig Rivet. These are the three defensemen with the highest profiles.

For the bulk of the season, the pairs have been Markov/Komisarek, Rivet/Souray, and Bouillon/Dandenault. Before I go any further, go check out Behindthenet's advanced +/- ratings and quality of competition ratings for the Montreal defensemen. You can also take a look at this chart for a quick picture of each pair's performance.

At 5-on-5, Markov/Komisarek are plainly Carbo's top option. They play the toughest opposition and they're producing the best results. That is impressive. Number two is Bouillon/Dandenault, and they're getting the second best results. The guys facing the softest opposition are Rivet/Souray. On top of that, they're getting blown out of the water.

The elephant in the living room is that two of the big names - Souray and Rivet - are 3rd pair defensemen at even strength. In fact, they're not even very good ones. Granted, even strength isn't the whole story. Souray's PP prowess is well documented, and both players serve PK time (albeit on the second unit, which is much easier than first unit duty). But even in the new lawyer hockey NHL, 5-on-5 is still pretty important. I know that because sucking at 5-on-5 is costing the Habs a lot of points in the standings.

The arguments in favour of Craig Rivet usually start and end with the word "intangibles." Maybe he is a great leader. He definitely stands up for himself and his teammates. But without producing actual, tangible results, the intangibles mean squat.

On the bright side, Markov and Komisarek have been fantastic. They're on the ice against the big guns, they've excelled as the top PK pair, and Markov is certainly no slouch on the PP. The Canadiens' record when Markov is out of the lineup is very telling. Also telling - and quite worrisome - is Carbonneau's tendency to lean on Souray on those occasions.

Bouillon/Dandenault have been as good as could be expected. Both had to deal with injuries early in the season, but they have come around and are providing solid defense.

The #7 and #8 guys are interesting.

Janne Niinimaa got off to a horrid start. Then in a Dec. 7 match against the Islanders, he got whacked in the head with the puck. He was stitched up and finished the game. Since then, Niinimaa has been pretty solid - certainly no worse than Rivet and Souray at even strength. His awful start might scare off other teams and make him a possible bargain FA signing in the offseason. I'd be happy to see him stay for another season for $1M.

Mark Streit has been converted into a serviceable 4th line forward. With eight defensemen on the active roster, something was bound to happen. I found it extremely odd that Carbonneau would even attempt this project when he already had a capable swing man in Mathieu Dandenault. Streit has proceeded to outscore Sergei Samsonov (they both have 22 points, but Samsonov has played 745 minutes to Streit's 675).

There have been reams of mainstream articles on the subject of the impending UFA status of Markov/Rivet/Souray. There is also an entertaining sextet of blog articles at The Score on the subject. They run the gamut from thoughtful and salient to laughably insipid. I addressed the issue in November, but didn't really proffer an opinion. So here it is:

Markov - He must be re-signed. Like I said before, It's hard to imagine him getting a better contract than T. Kaberle (5 years at $4.25M). But then, the market for defensemen seems to have skyrocketed. In the interests of keeping his price down, I only hope the subtleties of his game have gone unnoticed by the rest of the GMs in the league.

Souray - It is with great ambivalence that I hope he gets his $5M contract somewhere else. He's a helluva player to watch, but his skill set and the price that his skill set will demand are not conducive to winning in a capped environment. If the Canadiens can't win with Souray earning only $2.4M, then they're certainly not going to improve by paying him $4.8M.

Rivet - If he's going to be back next year, he has to be Andreychucked. Busted down to role player minutes. Pay him $1.5M to mentor the next rookie.

With the dearth of defensemen down on the farm (O'Byrne? Cote? Archer?) and Emelin's status still up in the air, it's apparent that the Canadiens will need to sign a good, cost-effective FA in the offseason. If Souray departs, Sami Salo (earning $1.5M this season) might be a good option. His big shot would make for a smooth transition into Souray's spot on the PP. A stopper of the calibre of Scott Hannan ($2.2M) would be optimal, but his price tag will likely be too big for Gainey. Andy Sutton ($2M) was being leaned on in Atlanta until his foot injury. Vitaly Vishnevski ($1.6M) is intriguing too - he's only 26.

Goaltending in Review

Let's start with the piece that requires the least amount of discussion: Goaltending.

The numbers (see here & here) speak for themselves. Although his performance has slipped a little lately, Huet has been good. Aebischer has been adequate, and could probably replace the current starter of 10 teams in the NHL.

If there is anything to discuss on the topic of the Canadiens' goalies, it's the possibility that Aebischer might be traded for an upgrade at another position. Which is of more value to the Habs: Aebischer's contribution as a backup plus his value in the event that Huet is injured, or whatever he might fetch on the trade market? Intuitively, I think the Habs would be better off keeping him. Barring injury to someone else's starter, there doesn't appear to be much of a market for a rental goalie anyway.

With the number of goalies in the system and the impending cap crunch, it is unlikely that Aebischer will return next season. Yann Danis and Jaroslav Halak have been a solid platoon in Hamilton. the younger Halak has put up gaudier numbers. One of them should make the leap to NHL backup next year, which will save the team some precious cap space.

Up next: Defense



If I Were Bitten By A Radioactive Rink Rat...

Now that's a low-down dirty trick to get me to post something.

If I were biologically re-engineered into a real hockey player...

Team: Montreal property of course, but I'd spend most of my time down on the farm with the Fredericton Canadiens.

Uniform Number: 2

Position: Defense

Nickname: Sudsy

Dream Defense partner: My talented little brother. Or Paul Coffey.

Rounding out the PP: The only way I'll get on the ice during a PP is by stepping out of the penalty box. On my way to the bench, I'd try to stay out of the way of Gretzky, Pavel Bure, and Saku Koivu.

Job: Staying at home to mop up the 2 on 1s and 3 on 1s left by my rushing partner, clearing the crease.

Signature Move: hip check.

Strengths: Skating, angling off attackers, stick press, poke check

Weaknesses: Puckhandling, lack of offensive instincts (think Brad Marsh but less skilled), apt to disappear for long stretches of the '06-07 season :)

Injury Problems? "flu"

Equipment: Craig Ludwig shin pads, longest wood stick I can find, tin foil.

Nemesis: Any quick little bugger with a good inside-out move. Ovechkin would eat me alive.

Scandal Involvement: Can't speak French.

Who I'd face in the Stanley Cup Finals: The Quebec Nordiques.

What I'd do with the Stanley Cup after our victory: Etch swear words over the names of the Maple Leafs.

Would the media love me or hate me? No comment.