Monday, November 30, 2009

Is it possible to be a fan of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin?

This is inspired by the reaction to Ovechkin's latest high-risk hit and the dicussion I read following it at Habs Inside/Out.

They are the two most visible players in the NHL at the moment. They are also the quickest way to divide a room of hockey fans about who's the best player in the game.

Alex Ovechkin, Alexander the Great, The Great 8, whatever you call him, everyone who watches hockey knows who he is. He is billed as the most entertaining player in the NHL right now and I can't find an argument that holds another player ahead of him. He scores goals in ways that no other NHL player can imagine, let alone recreate, especially the Phoenix goal, the Montreal goal and the Rangers goal. No one else in the NHL has the natural ability Ovechkin has to find the back of the net, he is a pleasure to watch and I have enjoyed watching him ever since I really took the time to watch all the hockey games I could. Ovechkin plays with flair, he loves getting goals and everyone knows it, from at the beginning of his career when he would jump into the glass in celebration or the infamous 'Hot Stick' celebration last season, which I enjoyed because it pissed off Don Cherry.

At the moment, Ovechkin is the most intimidating sniper the NHL has seen in some time, he gives out more hits than Heatley (26), Gaborik(11), Selanne (9), Cammalleri (6) and Kovalchuk(4) combined. He uses his intimidation factor to allow him to muscle through the opposition, make opponents want to avoid his check and use his strength to crunch opponents into the boards to retrieve the puck or simply punish them. He plays a very intense, focused game that is based around taking the puck and scoring goals with it, he is very much a Rocket Richard/Pavel Bure type of player, he wants to score goals more than set up another person's goal, for him it's about the back of the net and nothing else.

Ovechkin has been accused of being a puck hog, but if you have a superstar of Ovechkin's quality on the ice, it seems insane not to let him handle the puck, he can create an opportunity where others are stymied, he can shoot like no one else in the NHL, let him have the puck and shoot, that's how he delivers his 50-goal seasons. His shootout abilities are less than that of Canadian kids Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby or his fellow countrymen Pavel Datsyuk, but at times I've also seen him do moves that would make Pavel Datsyuk proud including this one against Nashville.

Another strike against him has been the claims of diving, faking injuries in World Junior tournaments, refusal to fight and of his reckless hits. A lot of NHL players dive, Ovechkin's dives will generally get highlighted more because he is Ovechkin and his detractors want to it as a strike against him. As for faking injuries, Ovechkin's personality just doesn't seem to me as one who would fake an injury and not play, he is too much the competitor from everything I've ever seen of him. His missing out International tournaments with faked injuries seems far and away from his style, for Russian players, representing their nation is the highest honour they can achieve as hockey players. Ovechkin's only significant time missed in International Tournaments was the 2005 World Juniors, when he left the ice with a separated shoulder courtesy of up-and-coming Broad Street Bully Mike Richards, a well-known cheap shot specialist.

When it comes to fighting, I'm against it and I don't care how much of a minority I'm in on that one, I find them boring and rather sloppy affairs that are a holdover from when the NHL was really an amateur league. I applaud players who refuse to fight generally, they know the fight will gain them nothing, their ability in the game lies in other areas and not in some clumsy boxing match on skates. It's nothing to do with a 'Code', 'Honour' or 'Bravery.' From my eyes and I've spoken to my father about this, the Code was something back in the day when the NHL knew each other, back when there were six to twelve teams and you faced the same team up to 14 times a year. I'm tired of hearing Cherry toss around stuff like Honour or Bravery when it comes to NHL fights or when that crap I hear used to describe UFC fighters like George St. Pierre, who is revered for reasons beyond my understanding, I don't want to go off topic really, but I feel this needs to be said. There is no honour that is involved in a fight you can walk away from without any true repercussions and are only engaging in because it benefits you financially or salves your ego. An honourable man might risk his life defending the life of another, he does not gain honour for beating up another man because he will be paid to do so or because he wants to prove he was the better fighter.

In the NHL, one might point out O'Byrne's pummelling of Kaleta for the Pyatt hit in pre-season as standing up for one of his guys during the Montreal-Buffalo game, but to me, there's not much honour in beating up the dishonourable. Kaleta was a dirty bastard who got what was coming to him and the way the NHL is, the team needs a guy like O'Byrne to stand up for his teammates. I don't particularly like it, but I recognize that there was respect for one's teammates in situations such as this and a sense of loyalty, although I do happen to have a very prickly definition of honour that doesn't generally fit into the world of million-dollar athletes.

There is a degree of bravery involved in challenging a known pugilist like Colton Orr or George Laraque I will admit, they are feared NHL fighters but there is also false heroics. Choosing to engage in a contest you can not win gains one nothing, so what does Ovechkin really have to gain from fighting except shutting up his detractors? Shows more intelligence than anything else, it's not a good idea Ovechkin to allow himself to get beaten up by goons because he delivered a hit that the other team didn't like.

For Ovechkin's reckless hits, besides the latest example with Gleason, there are the these hits, which include the playoff knee-on-knee contact with Sergei Gonchar in the Washington-Pittsburgh series in the 2009 semi-finals. Some other examples would be the boarding of Jamie Heward, the Briere boarding or just any one of his jumping hits, you surely must remember some of them if you've ever seen Ovechkin play. I won't try and defend these hits, they are indefensible when I am in favour of a less brutal NHL game than the one I've been watching of late. Ovechkin needs to learn how to control himself and deliver safer, legal hits, the sooner the better. The league's refusal to discipline him is not likely to change anytime soon, if his knee injury from the Gleason hit sidelines him for any length of time, hopefully this might make him pause and reconsider how he plays his game, if his reckless hits are causing him to be injured and prevent him from playing.

Ovechkin clearly loves the game, the attention and the rush he gets from competing and I want him to be in the NHL for as long as he can, he is a magnificent player and a pleasure to watch. His own attitude will probably go against him more than anything else, if he can not adjust his game to keep up with the reality of his situation, that his playing style puts himself and others in danger and he needs to change, I fear his career could be cut short by half a decade or more. Nevertheless, he has breathed life into the game of hockey in Washington, making the Capitals the No. 1 team in the Washington D.C. area. Granted, their popularity is greatly enhanced by the local football, baseball and basketball teams generally being terrible. He entertains, sells the game and is the most dangerous offensive threat in the NHL. Fans love him because he scores and hits and entertains, his detractors focus on his negative attributes which he does have. What is the truth in the matter? I'm not sure, but Ovechkin remains my favourite NHL player. From my view, he is the best player in the NHL for the fact that there is no other skater in the NHL who can single handedly turn a game on it's head with their play like Ovechkin can. With a total of thirty-six skaters in each NHL game, it can be difficult for any man to make a major impact in more than a handful of games, but Ovechkin is always visible and always considered the largest threat on the ice. Team games are supposed to be about the team, but Ovechkin glosses over that fact with his play that makes it seem like everyone else is out there to simply give him a challenge, make it a little bit harder so he must do something even more spectacular to change the outcome of the game.

Note: For some reason I've either hit the number of links I can attach in a blog post or the Blogging software doesn't like me anymore, I can't attach any more YouTube Videos for Crosby so you'll have to rely solely upon my prose from now on.

Now let's consider Sidney Crosby, Sid the Kid as most of us call him, some disparagingly, some lovingly, I like him, but I'm not crazy about him either. He was the most sought-after first overall draft selection in many years, billed as "The Next One" before he'd even really hit puberty. The Next One has been a tricky phrase ever since Gretzky, who has set so many impossible NHL records that it's ridiculous to even imagine any of them being broken. I always have felt Mario Lemieux, with better health and a better Penguins team when he was first drafted might have closed the gap with Gretzky or surpassed him on a few records, but that's idle speculation from a fan's perspective. Crosby I would say models himself more like Yzerman or Gretzky, the playmaker with the scoring touch.

Many have been tagged with "The Next One", First overall picks are the most valuable resource in the NHL, considered can't-miss choices that are highly coveted, the chance to have the next NHL superstar that will lead your team to a Stanley Cup. Ovechkin was selected first overall in 2004, but Crosby. selected first overall in 2005 was the much bigger show. It was the draft following the o4-05 lockout, the Penguins had nearly been handed over to rogue billionaire Jim Balsillie, who has engaged in three battles with the NHL with the intention to bring a hockey team to Southern Ontario. The deal was reneged after Balsillie and the NHL had a disagreement about the conditions attached to the deal. The Penguins were to stay, they acquired the much sought-after first overall pick in the lottery thanks to their horrific standings in the NHL in the past couple of years. They selected Sidney Crosby. It wasn't soon after that they managed to work out the financing to build a new arena, as the Mellon Arena was close to 40 years old at that point and the team needed a new building. Crosby first became fodder for some critics around this point when there was talk that his parents would pressure him to sit out the draft and sign somewhere else, until Lemieux personally negotiated with his parents, stating he would have Crosby live with him if he were to start with the Penguins. The living arrangement has become a striking point against the Penguins captain in itself now, considering the young phenom is now in his 5th NHL season and still living with the Pittsburgh legend.

Sidney Crosby would be off to a rougher start in the NHL than his rival Ovechkin. Crosby was smaller, Ovechkin stands at 6'2" and generally weighed at least 220 pounds, although this season he's bulked up to about 235. Crosby is 5'11" and weighes 200 even and was less than that when he started in the NHL. Despite managing a 102-point season with 39 goals and 63 assists, he recieved a good deal of criticism. He whined too much, teams would target him for hits and he would take dives, gripe every time he was taken down and chirp a lot. Ovechkin would give as good as he got, Crosby far less so.

I won't deny Crosby's ability, he is perhaps the best playmaker in the game and while some might say Thornton is better, but for me Thornton goes down on the chart because he can't pull the trigger in the playoffs the way Crosby can. With Malkin in a mini-slump during the Washington-Pittsburgh series last year, Crosby would take over the scoring and keep his team in the series until Malkin got back into action later in the series. He is notable leader, having worn the C in Pittsburgh since May 31st of 2007. I don't think he's a new Yzerman and he's certainly no Messier, but he definitely has leadership attributes based upon his ability to elevate his play to inspire the team onwards. He's gotten tougher in past seasons, showing more fire and wilingness to give hits and take them, had a couple of fights including the one where after Evgeni Malkin was upended by Keith Ballard and Crosby dropped the gloves.

However I've noticed with Crosby as well that he does get into flights of aggressiveness where he'll be more active physically to no gain, get into a fight or take foolish penalties. I remember when he got into one of those streaks where he really started taking whacks at Ovechkin during a Capitals-Penguins match, they got in close, Ovechkin wrestled him close and I imagine said something like "are you nuts? This will end a lot worse for you than me comrade." It's part of his growing pains in the NHL, but it's an annoying part of the game's premiere young playmaker, I want to watch him score and set up great goals, I don't need him dropping the gloves or picking up foolish penalties because he feels the need to look tough. 'Hockey tough' I've always felt is getting up from the big check, shaking it off and getting the guy later, not a high-sticking or a hooking penalty on the guy because you took it personally or thought you were too important to get hit. However they are streaks and not a dominating measure of his play, I think he'll get over it as he gets older.

I've also found him a bit too arrogant, yes I'm talking about Sid and not Ovie on this one. His team was far too smug about their Stanley Cup run and their general success. All their 'aw shucks' crap and talk about what seemed like an impossible victory over Detroit. Impossible would have been the Carolina Hurricanes winning through perhaps, or Montreal to take it despite their injury problems and aging stars or the Colombus Blue Jackets with 1st-year captain Rick Nash and 20-year old rookie(but definitely not sophomore) sensation Steve Mason. The Penguins have enjoyed a hideous advantage in the draft because of their wretched record for most of the decade, allowing them to draft Marc-Andre Fleury (1st overall), Evgeni Malkin (2nd overall), Sidney Crosby (1st overall) and Jordan Staal (2nd overall). Crosby enjoys having Malkin as his PP partner so success is practically guaranteed on that team at times. They have a hideously stacked team in centres thanks to the draft and these players attract many of the best free agents to sign with the because they want to be part of a team where players like Malkin or Crosby will make them look great and the team will win championships. Crosby is a good leader and a great player, but he hasn't exactly managed the 1990 Oilers Cup victory like Messier did at the same time. He's got a stacked team with him and he owes a lot of success to the fact that for a long time, the Penguins were lousy so the parity of the draft lottery gave them undeserved high picks for their failures.

I'll say one thing about Crosby that I really hate, he shouldn't be allowed to grow any more playoff beards until he can do better than the Liberal Arts grad student look.

Crosby is definitely the less controversial star of course, he is more the clean-cut kid and relies upon a less reckless, more complete game that works with his skill set. Crosby has his fans and he's done well to earn them. He sells the game in Pittsburgh and the rest of the NHL, delivered a Stanley Cup to the city and is the face of the franchise there. He's earned accolades in his youth with his stellar play and will continue to be a defining star in the NHL for a very long time to come. He can change the outcome of a game at times, not as successfully as Ovechkin can but he has the ability and the talent to do so which makes him a true superstar in my mind. A brilliant player, he is good for the game and that can't be argued by anyone.

Would we in Montreal cheer for either of them if they played for Montreal? Definitely, although I suspect we'd be more in love with the constant entertainer Ovechkin than Crosby, as the Bell Centre faithful are a fickle crowd that wants the big play, the impossible goal, the fifty-goal scorer and the outspoken, entertaining players that are fun to interview. He is a natural entertainer and the city is hooked on such players. I imagine if he was one of ours, he'd get all the defenders in the city backing him up on these things because that's the nature of most fan crowds. If Crosby was here with his draft lottery crew, we'd explain away his rashes of angry play, immaturity and arrogance with "we won, you didn't" and so on.

These two will always be rivals and so will their fans, Ovechkin has more sins than Crosby, but Crosby is hardly the perfect player either. I hope they both do well in the 2010 games and if Ovechkin gets Olympic Gold for Russia, I honestly won't hate him because if Russia was the better team than so be it, Canada has more than enough talent on their roster going into the games to win and if they couldn't, that's on their heads and not his. I look forward to another Capitals-Penguins tilt in the Playoffs as that was one of the greatest playoff series of the decade, seeing the league's three best players in an all-or-nothing series.

I'm sure this has been tossed up in hundreds of other hockey blogs and numerous sports articles but I thought I'd take a shot at since the Ovechkin debate has sprung up once more. A star like Ovechkin will always be controversial and I do think he does need to change his game, but I don't think we hockey fans should delude ourselves that most of us wouldn't love to have him on our own team. The same for Crosby, while he's not my favourite star, I certainly wouldn't mind having him in Montreal.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

12 Seconds too many, Habs miss on Regulation win to lose in the shootout.

I knew the Montreal-Washington game wouldn't be pretty but I really had hope going into those last thirty seconds of regulation time.

The first period wasn't that bad, but Carey Price didn't have much of a first period really, missing out on two goals he should have stopped and I feel he would have under other circumstances. If this wasn't his eigth straight start of the season, with two sets of back-to-back games on his recent record plus his 53-save performance in Nashville. This is only his third NHL season and since his second one was the requisite sophomore slump all goalies seem to go through these days (see Steve Mason in Columbus!) it's only really his second in some ways as Carey Price, The Franchise. The first period was marred by the fact that Montreal again, doesn't have nearly enough NHL-calibre forwards to take on their opponents, kids like White, Pyatt and Pacioretty have all the heart but they haven't developed enough skills to score and handle the puck to make scoring chances happen in these games. Montreal's cardiac moments in the defensive zone led up to the goals, a weak deflection by Eric Fehr to make it 1-0 to beat Carey Price on something he should have stopped with his blocker, albeit Ryan O'Byrne wasn't that helpful on the play. Alexander Ovechkin would then notch his 18th goal of the season on a slapshot from the point, beating Price blocker side once more. Things did not look good as the period ended, Price had allowed two goals he probably should have had and while Montreal had outshot Washington 7-4, 2 of those Washington shots were on the scoreboard.

The second period saw the team come around and take the game right against the Capitals right after Price stoned Ovechkin when Ovechkin outmuscled Spacek for the puck alongside the boards and went straight in on a breakaway. I can only imagine how Jacques Martin must have felt about one of his players trying outmuscle a guy who at last count, weighed 237 pounds and was known for hitting like a battering ram when he was 20 pounds lighter. Montreal would first convert on a power-play when Washington rookie Jay Beagle was caught tripping and Jaroslav Spacek would release a slap shot from the point that would bring the game to 2-1 and help charge up the offensive drive of Montreal. There were several scoring chances that Montreal would fail to convert on later, but this owed to some brilliant netminding by Washington rookie netminder Semyon Varlamov as well. Varlamov is extremely difficult to beat down low, he always seems to find a way to get a leg pad or his stick in the way of any shot that comes low or someone attempts to force in. It was just over eight minutes later that the top line of Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Sergei Kostitsyn would create a scoring chance that allowed Plekanec to sneak a rebound from a Roman Hamrlik shot through Varlamov's 5-hole to tie the game. I should also take the time to mention that Hamrlik is continuing to impress me with each game he plays, this is his best season with Montreal yet by far. Montreal would continue to generate offence through the second, but the game stayed a tie, Montreal still held their shot advantage, 16-11 by the end of the second period.

The third period was a tightly contested game, Montreal would grab a 3rd goal when after drawing one penalty and then another on their power play, they enjoyed a 1:17 of 5-on-3 advantage, but getting too fancy and trying for a very peculiar sharp-angle shot saw the 5-on-3 end. The power play unit was not unsuccessful though, theyl managed to convert with 27 seconds left in the second penalty when they brute-forced the third goal by feeding PP specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron on the point multiple times, who let loose a series of successive shots until a Travis Moen redirection on his final shot slipped past Varlamov's glove side, giving Montreal their first lead in the game. Montreal played a strong defensive game for the rest of the third period, but Washington is a very persistent offensive force and with time winding down in the third period, Varlamov was pulled for a 6th attacker and Washington took over. Montreal lost a series of faceoffs and a mad scramble around the net saw Paul Mara caught for high-sticking on a rather bad crease-clearing attempt. With 15 seconds left on the clock, Washington had a 6-on-4 advantage, a faceoff win led to another Alex Ovechkin slapshot which Price stopped, but Eric Fehr tucked the rebound in to tie the game with 12 seconds remaining. Price wasn't good on the goal, but the penalty was what killed it, unnecessary and it prevented coverage that could have prevented Fehr from getting his hands on the puck. When a goalie's not having a good night, the defence needs to give him more help than usual, just as a goalie must step up and save his team now and then.

The overtime led to some scoring chances on either side, the 4-on-4 setup does very much favour the speed-based play of Montreal's forwards, but when half of their Top 6 is out of the lineup, it's rather worrisome since Plekanec-Cammalleri is your only truly reliable forward pair. Washington's also known for their offence but neither side got anything done, so the shootout was next.

Again, the injury situation killed Montreal on this. Of the three regular shooters they had to win their first three shootouts in Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri, only Cammalleri was available tonight. Lapierre and Plekanec were selected as second and third shooters. Cammalleri's a sniper and his shootout move was just a quick shot that Varlamov turned aside. Price stoned Tomas Fleischmann when he tried to get fancy and then it went to Lapierre. I really like Lapierre in the shootout, but he's been shaky this season and he's not up to 100% yet I find, his shot missed the net. Price beat Ovechkin when he tried a rush with a last-second shot, but he ran out of room as Price contained his shooting zone. I'm still not sure why we have Plekanec on shootouts, he's 1 for 13 now in his career and he didn't exactly do anything Datsyukian, it was a bad attempt and Montreal failed in three tries, Nicklas Backstrom for Washington didn't miss, snapping a quick shot over Price's blocker side, he was beat there three times on the night, none of them good.

Post-Game Thoughts: Montreal salvaged an OT point while playing without a number of key players, but when you think about how the night went, it's not that bad while Montreal fields so many rookies and patch-in replacements for the regular roster.

Offence: There is only one scoring line right now in truth, Plekanec, Cammalleri and Sergei Kostitsyn, they created the most offensive chances and they will continue to do so until Andrei Kostitsyn, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta return from injury. Glen Metropolit, Travis Moen and Max Pacioretty do an admirable job working as hard as they can on the 2nd line, but they're not scorers, they're grinders and Pacioretty is a rookie power forward with 60 NHL games under his belt, 6 goals and 14 assists to go with them. Lapierre's starting to pick up his game more, but he'll need to keep playing every game harder as that is how he improved last season, by working as hard as he could every game. Pyatt and White are good linemates for Max when it comes to checking line work, but they're too slow with their reactions to create effective scoring chances in NHL games, they need more time in Hamilton. Chipchura, I don't care what people say about his heart, he doesn't have the legs for the NHL, his slow speed is irritating for a youngster who doesn't possess the muscle or stick skills to be an effective NHL forward from seeing him last season and this one. J.T. Wyman is the definition of a call-up forward and showed it, Jay Leach was the definition of a plug-in replacement, a defencemen put on forward because of the injury situation.

Defence: Hamrlik and Spacek are champions for this team right now, without them it would have been a slaughterhouse with Ovechkin going into his next game with a hat trick, they continually broke up his control of the puck and offensive zone chances, shot-blocking and doing everything humanly possible to keep him from getting a scoring chance. Ryan O'Byrne, outside his mistake on the Fehr deflection goal did good things all night long, he blocked shots, broke up plays and gave out some big checks to go with his performance that including drawing the initial penalty that led to the Montreal 5-on-3 opportunity. Josh Gorges had another quiet, but productive night that saw him make very few mistakes and make a number of good moves, just the kind of guy you like to have on a team when it comes to your lower-tier defencemen. Marc-Andre Bergeron is continuing to improve in his own end, he seems to have trouble handling the puck in his own end at times but his bombardment of the net during the power play led to Montreal's 3rd goal and he did make several smart defensive plays through the night. Paul Mara's on my list though and that's not a good list to be on, he made a foolish crease-clearing move that led to the Washington power play, which led to the 3rd goal and cost Montreal the win. Price wasn't good on the rebound goal, but Mara made the situation happen at the same time so the blame has to be cast on to him as well. Mara's career as a minus player is starting to tell, I remember him failing to break up the play when Patrick Kane set up the game-winning goal when Montreal played Chicago, his screening Carey Price when Sidney Crosby scored the first goal in Wednesday's Pittsburgh game, I can't remember the specific incidents right now, but there's at least two more situations like that were Mara has forgotten to manage the basics of his position in a close game and it's led to a goal that cost Montreal.

Goaltending: Carey Price needs a rest, he's been a great goalie over the last eight games but his goals allowed tonight were not particularly good and while he made brilliant saves several times to rob Washington of goals and keep Montreal in the game, I get the feeling three games ago, this would have been a shutout for him. There's no shame in it, he played eight games in a row and as I mentioned above, four of those were a set of back-to-back performances and his 53-save game in Nashville, all goaltenders need a rest now and then. Calgary hasn't figured that out yet though, which is why I don't see Kiprusoff in Calgary leading his team to any Stanley Cup Finals while he's playing 70+ games per regular season. Jaroslav Halak is a good backup goaltender and he's more than capable of taking the next series of starts provided he plays a good game and gives Montreal the chance to win provided they score 3 goals or more a game, which is a key to victory as we can't expect our goaltenders in Montreal to post shutouts or a 1.00 GAA to the team to win off 1 or 2 goals a game. Let Halak get his feet wet and take a few games for the team if they can score enough to say they earned the wins, Price can take some time off, refocus and have that blocker side ready for the next time that tries to beat him by going to that side.

Three Canadiens Stars

- Roman Hamrlik, his blue-line work was dominant and kept Montreal in the game.
- Tomas Plekanec, he scored a goal to tie the match and helped set up a number of scoring chances that could have put the game out of Washington's reach.
- Marc-Andre Bergeron, he played his best game yet for Montreal, managing both great offence and his best defensive game yet.

Recognition of Ex-Habs tonight:

- Alex Tanguay assisted on the game-tying goal by Tampa Bay to force an Overtime the team would lose, but they gained 1 point thanks to his work.
- Guillaume Latendresse scored the game-tying goal for Minnesota in the 3rd period of the Colorado-Minnesota game, he must have figured out he might have to play hockey to keep his job there.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Season Too Long and a Sensible Solution

I've been thinking about all the back-to-back series Montreal will face on the schedule this year, so I'd like to throw out an idea about how we can make the NHL a more entertaining league to watch with a simple adjustment to the length of the NHL season.

Hockey has never been a harder sport than it is today, despite what dinosaurs like Mike Milbury and the rest of his kind might have you think. Yes they wear helmets and far better protective padding these days, but the NHL players have conditioned themselves to play with as little as 5% total body fat, replacing that with far more muscle, they skate faster than ever before with new equipment and training. The speed and strength of your NHL player is far superior to any other point in the sport's history. Therein lies your problem when the NHL schedule is 82 games long.

The human body can take a finite amount of damage, the human skeleton has a breaking point on every bone, muscles still tear no matter how much conditioning one puts themselves through. Despite various advances in sports medicine, knees are rarely restored to what they were when serious damage occurs and the brain can't be fixed no matter what they do when serious damage occurs. The game's gotten harder and tougher, the league doesn't do nearly enough to protect their players in terms of supplementary discipline for illegal hitting and while there is talk of new helmets to protect the head and rules on redesigning the padding to prevent the use of the shoulder pad as an offensive weapon, there will still be significant problems.

I won't go over the whole injury list of who hass lost who, just look up on any injury list you care to browse, like this one for example. That's just the latest course of injuries, many have returned as well in this time to their teams.

Solutions? Well besides cracking down on headshots, no more padding that is more weaponry than protection would be a good place to start. While the NHL is taking care of this, it would not harm anything to institute rules about players having to securely strap on their helmets and the visor being mandatory for all players.

I propose a solution that will cut down on the risk of injury, allow more recovery time between games and simply stated, improve the overall quality of the game. the back-to-back game is a bad development of an NHL schedule that is too long and it cuts down on what we see each night. these back-to-back incidents happen. Unless both teams are coming off a game the night before, the game more often is irritating than not for the viewers rooting for the team doing their second game in two days.

The NHL season currently stands at 82 games and we are facing a compressed schedule to accommodate the Winter Olympics. I do not really mind this on the whole, seeing the NHL's finest compete for the Gold Medal in Hockey in what will probably be one of the best contests in international hockey history looking at the talent pools for the major nations involved in the sport.

Here's one of the problems with this compressed schedule though, Montreal last year faced 8 back-to-back series, this year they are facing fifteen of them. The season could definitely have used a good reduction in the Olympic year in the interest of keeping the players healthy long enough to play for their home countries. However, I would like to see 14 games taken off the NHL schedule permanently in the simple interest of the average hockey game being more entertaining. Think about, it every team having at least one day of rest before their next hockey game, more time to prepare for their next game, less stress on the players and fewer games for them to risk injury and fewer minor injuries aggravated into major ones. Fewer players would push themselves to return too early from injury as the schedule would be more relaxed, allowing more recovery time.

One could argue these are professional athletes and should be able to handle two games in two days and they can, but if the opposing team has not had to play the previous night, there is a marked difference in performance. The other team is completely fresh with no weariness from a hard-fought win or loss the night before if they haven't played the day before and if there is no game the next day for them, they feel free to push themselves more and expend all their reserves in that third-period battle to ensure victory in a game. The team on their second game in two nights is always more weary and it always shows especially in the third period, they're not at full strength and the fresh team has an easy advantage if they are well prepared. Montreal lost to Pittsburgh 3-1 after playing Columbus the night before in an offensively powered 5-3 victory. The results were telling of how back-to-back games can affect a team. Montreal themselves could thank their victory over Columbus in part on the Jackets having played in New York the night before in a 7-4 loss, allowing them to enjoy a dominant third-period offence that recorded 3 goals.

Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec have largely paced Montreal's offence in the last stretch of games, but having come off a 5-3 victory the night before, they had endured a hard match, an overnight flight and discovered their linemate Andrei Kostitsyn was out of the lineup. They couldn't win the game though, you could see it in Mike Cammalleri towards the end of the game, he was tired and Plekanec's speed wasn't quite what it was the night before as well and against a fresh Pittsburgh Penguins tea, it wasn't enough. When you have a team which has faced two sets of back-to-back games in the last 5 days and injury troubles, it was hardly a quality product on ice compared to what could have been seen with that schedule spread out more. Had those four games been spread out over eight days instead of five, the quality would have been above what you generally watch during these contests.

Montreal would play Washington and then Detroit in two nights before playing Columbus with a two-day break in between, the schedule had not helped the quality of those games prior to the Columbus and Pittsburgh games. On that Saturday, Detroit had played the night before as well while Montreal was coming off their 3-2 win over Washington, a very hard-fought win, Detroit had lost in overtime to the Panthers. At the same time, the Capitals played in Toronto the same night as well, not having a respite from having played Montreal. Does anyone honestly believe those games would not have better than what was seen had Montreal, Detroit and Washington had a day's rest before these matches? The same goes for Montreal's game against Colombus had the Jackets had a night off first and then Montreal could have enjoyed a day's rest before playing the Penguins.

I would like to watch a good hockey game every time I sit down, quality over sheer quantity of games played would be preferential in my opinion. Does it really do anything for the game when you have a tired team play two games in two nights except probably give their second opponent a good chance at two points if they haven't played the night before? Better rested teams, more coaching time, more recovery time and just plain better hockey would result.

I doubt this will happen, the players would be loathe to see a 17% drop in their salaries as the season would be reduced this much, but I honestly believe it would be the best thing to happen to the NHL in terms of making each hockey game a better one to watch. The owners don't want to see seven fewer games played in their arenas giving them seven less chances to sell 8$ watered down beer, 6$ dollar hot dogs, 350$ authentic game-worn jerseys and fill anywhere between 16,000 to 23,000 seats and large numbers of luxury boxes. That's not even counting the television rights attached to 14 games in a league that's fought like mad to try and get any kind of television revenue when they are the No. 4 sport in the United States in popularity.

I'm against both the players and owners on this but why should that matter, the fans should have their say in what they want from the sport since they pay for it. Would it not be a better game? The star players would be injured less often and more recovery time would allow more teams to be intact on a regular basis. The home teams wouldn't come home from long road trips and have to face a top team in their conference as soon as they get off the plane, give the hometown crowd a disappointing show that they paid a lot of money to see.

This would also be a good move as it could encourage the reduction of the major junior hockey season as well, something that concerns me as well. A shorter NHL season would allow for a shorter season in the major junior leagues, as the leagues would not be expected to turn out youngsters prepared to play 70 or more games a season by having them close to 70 games in their own junior hockey seasons. A fifty-game season sounds about right to me, cuts down on the injury risk to these young kids, the majority of which will never make the NHL and have to find other things to do in their life. Think about the risks in hockey, crushed knees, brain damage, severed tendons, broken bones and other long-term ailments that can follow them around for life. It seems a bit of a steep price for playing what was supposed to be just a fun game in their youth or even just time spent chasing their dream that didn't pan out, should chasing that dream haunt them for life with a bad injury from it? Yes, they might not play as often and take longer to develop but what is the harm in that? The game could remain more of a game for the kids and that's not a terrible idea.

The AHL isn't a death sentence for those who play in it especially if they have the talent and work ethic that has scouts saying they are naturals for the NHL. It would improve the quality of the games in the AHL as more quality NHL-bound players would spend time there developing before joining their NHL clubs. You would also also receive a better on-ice product when rookies started in their NHL careers.

The NHL with the star players healthy more often, teams closer to full strength on a more regular basis, rested and ready for each game. The AHL with a better crop of talent and more entertaining games for those who see them and the Major Junior leagues being a far lesser grind on thousands of young hockey players trying to make the NHL their life.

Now what's so crazy about that? Nothing at all really, it gives the fans a better product, better health to the players and the games would be better on all levels of hockey. It will never happen of course, but would it not be a better game? I believe it would.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On the Capitals and Blackhawks

I missed the Washington game as I was watching the Montreal Bulldogs V Pittsburgh Penguins match, but I am glad to see that Ovie and Co. managed to finally get a win in the Northeast Division on their second trip through it this season.

Capitals - Sabres

Ovechkin marked the eventual game-winner with the initial tally pulling a classic Ovechkin move, using the defence as his own screen, he whipped one of his wicked wrist shots past Ryan Miller to make it 1-0. The Great 8 now has 17 goals this season in 19 games and is likely to start scoring more to keep his team going as they wait for the return of sniper Alex Semin and crease-crash specialist Mike Knuble. They need Ovechkin and after only posting 2 goals in his 3 games against the Eastern Canadian teams last week, he needs to increase his production while the team recovers from health issues among their players. Ovechkin would see himself thrown from the game later on with a match penalty after he boarded Patrick Kaleta, but as a Montreal fan and tracker of the league's dirty bastards, the SOB had it coming. Eric Fehr, a good depth player on the checking lines got the insurance marker and Semyon Varlamov posted his first shutout of the season making 25 saves. Varlamov's had some rookie troubles this season, but when he is focused, he is a dominant goaltender, you can ask the New York Rangers 2009 Playoff team about it and they'll acknowledge the fact, but in far coarser terms I'd imagine.

I do not expect Ovechkin to receive any form of discipline for his boarding hit, the league's premiere superstar's been dirtier than this in his career and the league has yet to show that superstars have to follow the same rules as the rest of the NHL's players. They should, but for the time being it sets a dangerous precedent, as players begin to experiment with who can get away with these hits and who can't.

Blackhawks - Sharks

The second match I watched all the way through was the Chicago Blackhawks - San Jose Sharks game, which seemed like a fine competition between the two top competitors in the Western Conference, San Jose looking to get a good win streak going with 2 wins in a row already, while the Blackhawks were looking to pad a 7-game winning streak.

The Chicago Blackhawks would not get an even-strength goal until 30:38 of regulation time had passed in the game tonight. Why did it take the Blackhawks so long? They were busy scoring shorthanded goals, Troy Brouwer got the first one 56 seconds into a penalty kill during the first period. Marian Hossa decided to get his debut with the Blackhawks off to a good start in the second period as well by getting a shorthanded goal. 48 seconds into Troy Brouwer's penalty, Marian Hossa snapped a quick shot off on a breakaway that beat Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. However the crisis didn't end there, Patrick Sharp scored a shorthanded marker 28 seconds later to pretty much sink the Shark's morale and eliminate any possible fear of the Shark's power play unit. That ended the Hawk's shorthanded scoring and they decided to focus on even-strength goals from this point on to make it less humilating for the Sharks it seems.

Dustin Byfuglien, the defencemen turned Power Forward got a rebound just over five minutes later to make it a 4-0 game. At that point, the Sharks had been outshot 24-6, or 4-1. The Blackhawks had a 29-11 shot advantage over two periods. Nabokov did not start in nets in the 3rd period, Thomas Greiss would step in to give the besieged netminder some relief. Patrick Sharp would make it 5-0 in the 3rd period on after the Hawks killed off a Sharks penalty, redirecting a Brent Seabrook slapshot with his stick just after 5 minutes into the third period. Marian Hossa then cashed in on a slick Brent Sopel pass exactly one minute later, giving him a 2-goal game in his first game of the season and increasing the lead to 6-0. The team's eldest player John Madden (36 years old) would convert an Andrew Ladd pass that came from Duncan Keith on a strong neutral zone rush to beat Greiss and would make the game 7-0 with 8:22 left in the 3rd period. Slopiness by Chicago would spoil Huet's shutout bid, a 5-on-3 power play by San Jose would start the scoring, after some good shot blocking by the defence and wild saves by Huet, Blake would get a goal in to prevent the shutout, but far too little, too late for the Sharks. Pavelski would make it a 7-2 game with 2:10 left in the game but at this point, it was a moral victory for a single player and nothing that could change anything.

The Blackhawks walked in and served notice, the Blackhawks were the finest team in the Western Conference and they play better than any other team in the NHL right now. No team considered a serious contender had been as thoroughly destroyed by another team until now, the Blackhawks disassembled them piece by piece tonight and skated away with an incredible victory, a mere two points behind San Jose in the standings and with three games in hand. Chicago has scored 77 goals this season and allowed only 50. Only the New Jersey Devils have allowed fewer goals and Chicago has managed 18 more goals than New Jersey having played just one more game than them. The newly formed Toews-Kane-Hossa line played together like they'd been doing it for five years, even though neither Toews or Kane had that much NHL experience combined. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook should be a defensive pair on Canada's Olympic Team, they are simply far too good to ignore.

My father and I have often joked that it is rather unsporting of the Chicago Blackhawks not to sport their opponents a 2 or 3 goal lead going into most games, this team seems almost unstoppable, better than last season's Bruins or Sharks, they are possibly the finest team I've seen in the last several years. Albeit they could use a more solid goaltending tandem than Huet and Niemi, but they have the defence and offence to make up for the lapses there to deliver a Cup this year I believe.

Tonight's shout-out to recent Ex Habs:
- Alex Tanguay assisted on a Vincent Lecavalier goal in Tampa Bay, in a 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs.
- Tom The Bomb Kostopolous scored a goal for the Carolina Hurricanes tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, in a 3-2 loss for the Hurricanes.
- Saku Koivu assisted on a Teemu Selanne goal to give the Anaheim Ducks a 3-2 win, Selanne himself is on track to have more goals scored any other Finnish player in NHL history with 591, a mere 10 behind all-time Finish scorer Jarri Kurri. Although Selanne will likely retire this season following the Olympics and will not score the necessary 171 points total to outdo his fellow countrymen in total points.
- Christobal Huet didn't have to work that hard against a San Jose team that lost all life for the most part after suffering three shorthanded goals, but he still made some good saves to keep the game from getting to the 7-4, 7-5 range it could have ended up at if he hadn't been pretty quick here and there.

Question for EA Sports and their NHL series development team:
Why the hell is Dustin Byfuglien a white guy when you see him on the ice in the game?

To Hell With Pittsburgh, They beat an AHL Team Tonight

The Montreal Bulldogs played the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight and lost 3-1, it could probably have something to do with the matchup of the Top 6 and the Defence.

Penguin's Top 6:

Sidney Crosby - 420 P in 314 GP, 25 P this season
Evgeni Malin - 325 P in 259 GP, 22 P this season
Bill Guerin - 825 P in 1209 GP, 15 P this season

Actually I'll stop right there, those three guys have more points this season so far, than the combined totals of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnis, Travis Moen, Glen Metropolit, J.T. Wyman, Kyle Chipchura, Ryan White, Tom Pyatt, Maxim Lapierre and Sergei Kostitsyn have this season, I'll even toss in the recently departed Gui Latendresse's points on to that total. Only Ryan White among the core of Wyman, Pyatt, Desharnis and Kyle Chipchura has registered points this season, he has two assists. Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri were the only high-scoring forwards left in the lot and these two were pretty much out of gas from the game against Colombus the night before, Cammalleri was clearly running on fumes by the 3rd period after all his double-shifting.

The Penguins had all their top forwards in action basically, Montreal had 2 solid Top 6 forwards who had been with them all season in Cammalleri and Plekanec. The Ad Hoc line of Metropolit, Moen and Max Pacioretty was brought together to try and fill in for the loss of Gomez, Gionta and Andrei Kostitsyn to start the match which is not exactly an equivalent replacement, no matter how hard the Triple M line works. At first, Sergei Kostitsyn served on the top line in place of his brother, his assignment changed during the game a couple of times however. Sergei had a little trouble handling his stick on some plays and reports of a twisted ankle would indicate he probably wasn't at 100%, so props to little Kostitsyn for competing anyway. His slick drop-pass to Max Pacioretty proved there is definitely a sharp player wearing No. 74 and Pacioretty's shot did not miss either, very nice bright spot on the night. Metropolit had a couple of opportunities, but he didn't quite cash in on them, however he is a career checking line guy, not Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen or Mike Knuble who live for the dirty goals and based their careers on it, he played a strong game otherwise.

The Defence:

Montreal is missing their All-Star MVP in Andrei Markov, a team that until this season, couldn't even win a 3rd of their games if Markov was out of the lineup. Hal Gill is out, not many people's favourite player, but let him play 3rd-pairing Defence and keep his minutes managed and you'll see why he's on the roster, solid positional player with great shot-blocking instinct. Jaroslav Spacek was out, the player meant to be our second-best puck-mover and had formed the shutdown pair with Hamrlik that had contained top scorers like Alex Ovechkin and kept a few games much closer than they might have been.

The finest Russian defencemen in the NHL, his likely partner had he played through the season and a shot-blocking PK man all out while the team worked with patchwork replacements, including Jay Leach, a journeyman defencemen picked off waivers from New Jersey and Marc-Andre Bergeron, who went unsigned on July 1st and was signed for 750,000$ after Markov was injured and the team's PP was anemic. His defensive zone play explains his salary compared to what Markov earns. I was pleased with Ryan O'Byrne and was heartbroken when he failed to cash in the SH goal against Fleury. Josh Gorges, Roman Hamrlik and even Bergeron himself all played solid games, but these guys were outclassed by an offence when they were missing 2 key cogs in the machine and a reliable big-body man who could've prevented Guerin from walking into the crease to poke his goal through.


Goal no. 1, Price got screwed by Mara, again. I like what Mara does sometimes, but his momentary lapses when he should have blocked a pass or been quicker to get out of the way or simply shot-block make me pretty angry at times. Goal no. 2, Price might have been able to secure that puck better, but at the same time Guerin had a free pass into the goalie crease to jam that puck in. 3rd goal not that good really but considering he's stolen the team 7 games this season I'll let it go.

The Officating: A joke, hitting from behind and tripping are not considered penalties when committed against the Montreal Canadiens. Hamrlik didn't trip that guy either, he was just clumsy, if tripping occured every time a guy's skates were tapped with a stick the entire game would be an endless series of 4-on-3 or 3-on-3 matches.

In Perspective: Montreal had a good game against a team that by all accounts, should have walked all over them and left them in a 7-1 bombing that left the team without heart or hope. They didn't though, Montreal fought hard through 60 minutes, many key players taking on many more minutes than they usually do and fighting hard for every chance they could get. The rookies simply weren't up to the level of beating NHL-level defence and goaltending, they didn't have the time they would have in lower leagues to cash in on goals and get second chances, not a knock against these hard-working kids, more a notice that they should be polishing their game in the AHL while actual NHL forwards are in their place on the big club.

Montreal has nothing to be ashamed of for the night based on what they had and the Penguins have nothing to be proud of, a couple of good bounces, a proper shot-block by Mara, Price being quicker on Gonchar and that game would have gone the other way. Had the team been boasting Andrei Kostitsyn, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, the offence would have easily cashed in on scoring opportunities the kids just weren't up to making. I won't even mention how much I think the night would have gone in Montreal's favour if Markov and Spacek were healthy.

My Three Stars for the Canadiens:
- Tomas Plekanec, he didn't seem to lack too much energy even playing back to back and his shorthanded rush nearly made the game 3-2 when helped set up O'Byrne's chance.
- Carey Price, he made a mistake on Gonchar, but it could have been 7-1 had he not been sharp on some of those point-blank shots.
- Sergei Kostitsyn, a shaky start, but some smart defensive plays later on and set up the Pacioretty goal beautifully, especially since he seemed to have tweaked his ankle during the Colombus match. He is a real top 6 forward and when brother Andrei, unofficial Captain Gionta and Scott Gomez return, Montreal can roll out a top 6 grouping against the opposition.

Bastard of the Game: Mike Rupp, checking from behind is not a penalty against a Canadiens player once again. Hopefully in the next MTL-PIT game, O'Byrne gives him what he gave Kaleta in the pre-season.

The Bio of a Serious Fan

I have, and always will be a Montrealer.

I'm 25 years old, I was born and I grew up in Montreal almost my entire life except for the ages of 1-4 in Winnipeg and 1/2 a year in Sarnia, Ontario working for Canadian National Railway. I've completed high school, nearly finished off CEGEP but left because of personal issues, I spent several months working as a Railway Conductor with Canadian National Railway, but was let go because I couldn't keep up with the demands and safety requirements of the job. I am currently planning to attend Mohawk College in Brantford, Ontario to study Law and Security Administration.

I was never the most passionate hockey fan and was a bit of late bloomer really. I was always a Habs supporter but I never really sat down to really watch the game enough aside from playoff series until the 2008 playoffs when Montreal, after having captured their division title in 15 years and their first conference title in 20 years Montreal went to face the Boston Bruins. I truly fell in love with the game of hockey then, the speed of the game, the focus the goalies presented in the face of being bombarded by the opposing players, the last-second dekes and top-shelf goals that made you jump out of your seat and scream "HELL YES!". The tempo of the game is the most exciting sport I've ever seen by far.

After a disheartening second-round exit to the Broad Street Bullies, I got RDS (something I'd never had before) for the coming season and watched over 70 Habs games the next season and went through the heartbreak as their 99th season fell into disaster, crippled by injury and a team that lacked unity. I do still have fond memories of that season regardless. When the season started, the early magic of Koivu, Tanguay and Markov was a pleasure to watch, slick crease passes and one-timers that sealed the deal very often at the start of the season. Tomas Plekanec and Alex Kovalev each getting two goals in the 3rd period to beat the New York Islanders 5-4 which I saw on Canadiens Express when I got home as I had been at work. Matt D'Agostini getting called up and going on a goal-scoring streak as he played alongside Saku Koivu, who set the kid for several quick goals that confounded the team's opponents about who the heck this D'Agostini kid was. Alex Kovalev getting the All-Star MVP award, Robert Lang spurring the Kostitsyns to play some of their most inspired hockey and his getting a hat trick against the New York Rangers. The Chris Higgins goal against the LA Kings where he manhandled a player off of him to score the goal that inspired the team to win the game. The Kovalev/Tanguay/Koivu line that finally found chemistry in the dying weeks of the season that ruthlessly terrorized several teams and got Montreal just enough points to make the 8th spot in the playoffs.

I also grew an affinity for the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2008-2009 season when I saw them play. The Capitals boast the most entertaining player in the NHL in Alex Ovechkin, the impossibly good young centre Nicklas Backstrom who beat the sophomore jinx, the second-best sniper in the NHL named Alex in Alexander Semin and the prodigious scoring prowess of Mike Green on the back end. The Blackhawks I find embrace many of the great traditions of the Montreal Canadiens, an absurdly fast offence that confuses and confounds an opposing team with how to counter it and then it's tempered with a very smart, coordinated defence that keeps the team dominant in almost every game they play. Jonathan Toews is the 21-year old captain of this team and he is a great leader, I watched him lead a group of kids to knock Canada out of the Western Conference playoffs in the first and second rounds.

Coming into the 2009-2010 season, I was as curious as anyone to what shape this team would take. I was prepared to see either Alex Kovalev or Saku Koivu depart along with others and I was ready to go Adios Amigo to Mike Komisarek, who had been an utter waste of space since Lucic beat him up and skated away with half his brain and both of his testicles. I expected Alex Tanguay to resign and the feisty Tom Kostopolous to return, I felt Chris Higgins had improved towards the end of the season playing alongside Glen Metropolit on the penalty kill and with off-season training and therapy, he could get his shoulder and shot back to where he could score 25 goals per season. Kovalev I respected for his superb stickhandling skills, but his enigmatic performances were becoming too distasteful for me to endure, if he responded to staying on while Koivu left and became the captain, I suspected he might get better with the spotlight on him, but at the same time I was more of a Koivu fan and untrusting that Kovalev would respond well enough to repeat anything like his 07-08 84-point campaign. Saku Koivu has always been one of my favourite Canadiens players, he has battled through cancer, constant destruction of everything below his waist and an eye injury but he kept playing. He didn't have the stickhandling of Kovalev or his shot, but he was a clutch player and reliable every night in the ice. Koivu feared no man, he stood up to Zdeno F***ing Chara who only stood about a foot taller than he did on more than one occasion. Although sadly, one could watch Koivu in the past several years and see him slowing down, those third periods more taxing than ever, the end of the season a grind on his aging, injury-plagued body, you couldn't kill his spirit but he was slowing down too much for a team that lived and died on firewagon hockey. I was prepared a bit to see him go but I salute him eternally for his selfless service to the team and his great work of charity to the Montreal community as a whole.

I sympathized with Robert Lang for his slashed achilles tendon and loved his 39 points in 50 games and what he did with the Kostitsyns, but a 38-year old with a tendon injury I felt was a bad gamble for Gainey to take. Mathieu Dandenault was a handy utility man, but if reports of his dissatisfaction were true, it wasn't a huge loss and he wasn't the biggest or fastest D-man on the team by a long shot. Francis Bouillon was on the good-riddance list, an angry little man with a big heart but he thought with his gut more than his head. Franky could never effectively clear the crease it seemed and on more than on occasion, I would see it coming, he would cross-check someone in the crease and his little push would help the guy he was shoving put the puck in the net, the resigned slump of Price's or Halak's shoulders was painful to watch. His passing play in the defensive zone irritated me as well, having perfected the pass that had frustrated both my father and I for years watching the Canadiens, the no-look behind the net pass that so often became a scoring chance for the other team. Mathieu Schneider, again a guy I loved for helping with what he could, but at 39 years old and a shoulder injury, I wasn't sure about him being able to help into next season and considered him a gamble more than an asset.

I was ready to pull out my hair when the Gomez trade occurred and was shocked when both Kovalev and Koivu were let go in the free agency. I thought Bob had lost it when he moved Mcdonagh and Higgins in the move that delivered one of the fattest contracts in the NHL on to Montreal's payroll. I was dubious about Cammalleri, curious if he could really have success away from Power Forward Iginla who had helped him hit his 39-goal career high last season. Gionta seemed a bit of a risk, but his past history with Gomez had me convinced in a team that was based around speed that Gionta could excel. The Spacek signing was welcome as it addressed the need for more depth in the puck-moving defencemen part of the Canadiens roster, Mara and Gill were nice bulk upgrades to a Canadiens blueline that had been lacking a certain amount of size. Moen I was pleased, he seemed an upgrade on the ever hard-working but less than gifted in the stick and fists department Tom The Bomb.

I remember at this point, the knives had come out and the malcontents were in full force. Gainey was out of touch, Gainey was destroying the team, Mcdonagh was going to be the next Paul Coffey and we gave him up, the smurf lines would be annihilated by the Truculent Maple Leafs and Broad Street Bullies. Jacques Martin had the job because he could speak French, Pierre Mcguire should be the GM (now that was a good laugher, until I realized some were serious on that). I had patience, Gainey had exchanged our forwards for faster ones in the prime of their careers rather than players with injury troubles and were more in the twilight of their NHL careers than their peaks. I was confident Carey Price could rebound and get back to his old form, I knew any blue line that featured Andrei Markov was not doomed to failure.

I harboured no fear that Brian Bigmouth Burke's Maple Leafs would finish ahead of Montreal in the standings, for all his bluster, he had taken on Mike Komisarek at about twice what he was worth for a player who at best, would have 10-point seasons and had regressed terribly in his final season with the Habs. Beauchemain concerned me but again, he was like Komisarek, and he played alongside elite defencemen who made him look better than he was. Exelby was a goon, so was Colton Orr, Toronto had given up two first-round draft picks and a 2nd-rounder for Phil Kessel, a well-known locker room troublemaker and from my perspective, he just had that look of that jerk in high school you wanted to beat the crap out of. Fine, Toronto had a Top 6 forward, they still needed five more and I was not in brown trousers mode for a Swedish goalie who had yet to suit up for a single NHL game and was being anointed the next Sawchuk based on 3 periods worth of pre-season play.

Jacques Martin, I didn't know if he was the right man for the job, but I was very hopeful when I read he had a good reputation for working with the younger players. I believed that players like the Kostitsyn Brothers, Gui Latendresse, Max Lapierre, Matt D'Agostini, Max Pacioretty, Ryan O'Byrne and Josh Gorges could all benefit from that.

I went into the season with some expectations and a good deal of hope that Gainey had built a team that could compete, to date I have generally been pleased with how the team came together, even through all the injury trouble, there are signs of hope as the team has battled adversity admirably.

I will post my after-thoughts on each game the Canadiens play, granted I see it of course and on various hockey stories as they come about if I think there is actually something worth saying, I will speak as Bob Gainey speaks, when there is something worth saying, not as Brian Burke, which is to speak into every microphone and TV camera I see, because only by seeing myself on TV do my religious beliefs confirm that I exist.