Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Habs Headlines: Latest Stories

My slow summer on the Montreal Canadiens beat continues, so here is some stuff I've missed posting here.  New articles coming soon!

Habs Headlines - August 15:

Habs Headlines - August 13:

Habs Headlines - August 11:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Teaching the "Unteachable" - Hockey Sense

My latest, looking at Alex Galchenyuk and Charles Hudon attending WJC camps this week, and a new revolutionary training technique:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Apologies for Summer Outage

Things have been busy offline for me this off-season, so apologies for lack of content the past two weeks or so.

I'm back this week and will have multiple new posts to get you all caught up and feature some interesting stuff!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2013 Cup Contenders

The Habs' organization will compete for a Cup this very season.  Here's why:

No, it's not a Stanley Cup.  But the Hamilton Bulldogs are stacked for a Calder Cup run.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Don't Forget About Lars

My most recent feature looks at how some Habs' fans have forgotten all about the potential of Lars Eller in the excitement over Alex Galchenyuk.  Check it out here:

Your Canadiens Headlines for July 9, 2012

Latest news at AllHabs, including training camp invites, Larry Robinson, Raphael Diaz, and more.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Letters from Bergevin: Dear Scott Gomez

I kicked off a new series yesterday, explaining how I would handle situations with certain people in the Habs' organization, using the form of open letters.  First one to tackle: Scott Gomez.  Find it at this link below.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Exclusive: My Interview with Alex Galchenyuk

The Canadiens third overall pick from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft is a grounded, nice, fun, and entertaining young man.  He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me over at AllHabs.  Check out my exclusive interview with Alex Galchenyuk here:

Habs Ink Armstrong, Bouillon, and Prust as Free Agency Opens

Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin was busy as NHL Free Agency opened Sunday, signing depth wingers Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust, and veteran defenseman Francis Bouillon.

My take on the moves - A Hit, a Miss, and  Hand Grenade - can be found here:

Montreal also announced the signings of goaltenders Cedrick Desjardins and forward Mike Blunden to one-year, two-way deals.  Both should start the season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, who are looking like potential contenders for the Calder Cup.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Habs Gearing up for July 1st: Preview

My final look at the upcoming free agent class, and what it means for your Montreal Canadiens, before things get a little crazy tomorrow:

Also, be sure to check out this great piece by advanced stats whiz Rob Vollman on using other metrics to identify top free agents:

Friday, June 29, 2012

Moen, Daigneault, and Development Camp

The Canadiens announced today the re-signing of winger Travis Moen to a 4-year deal, paying him $1.85M per season.  He has a No Movement Clause for the deal's first two years.  The contract is a little long, but he'll still only be 34 when it's up, so it's not problematically long, and it is a great cap hit for a third/fourth line tough, defensive forward who is great in the locker room.


The Habs also today announced the hiring of J.J. Daigneault as an Assistant Coach in Montreal to manage the team's defensemen, thus rounding out the coaching staff of four.


Finally, the second portion of the Canadiens' Development Camp - predominantly featuring the 2012 draftees - is presently going on in Brossard.

Day 1 report (from my colleague Rick):

Day 2 report (from yours truly):

Habs sign Nokelainen & Nash

Strange announcements yesterday with free agency just a few short days away.  The Canadiens opted to retain Petteri Nokelainen after not issuing him a qualifying offer, signing him for $30,000 less.  The team also re-signed prospect defenseman Brendon Nash, who missed all of last season due to injury, to a one-year two-way contract.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Habs' Top 20 Prospects - June 2012

My updated take on the Montreal Canadiens' top 20 prospects, including the new draft class:

If you missed it yesterday, the Canadiens re-signed Ryan White, who essentially accepted his qualifying offer at roughly $687,500 (one-way) for 1 year:

The Habs also announced the 14-man roster for the second part of their Development Camp, which runs Thursday through Saturday in Brossard.  I will be bringing you live coverage of some portions of the Camp on Twitter (@DailyCanadiens) and on AllHabs:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Your Canadiens Headlines for June 25, 2012

Some headlines from yesterday, including Habs' picks Collberg, Nystrom, Hudon, and Galchenyuk all on early WJC lists, and a list of players who the Habs qualified as RFAs and who they didn't:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What a Draft!

Incredibly happy with the way this weekend's draft went for the Montreal Canadiens. Hope you've been following coverage on Twitter and on!

Check out a brief summary of who the Habs picked here:

3 - Alex Galchenyuk
33 - Sebastian Collberg
51 - Dalton Thrower
64 - Tim Bozon
94 - Brady Vail
122 - Charles Hudon
154 - Erik Nystrom

I'll have more this coming week as we gear up for UFA day - the Boxing Day to the Draft's Christmas!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On Rookies & Roster Spots, and other Headlines

My latest Habs feature, looking at whether or not signing UFAs should be considered "blocking" roster spots from rookies:

And some Habs headlines:

Included in the headlines is this nifty Organizational Chart of the Montreal Canadiens Front Office / Hockey Operations to help you track all the hires and changes from this summer.  Here it is:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Top 10 Depth Forward Hab UFA Targets

Completing my series of three pieces on suggestions for Habs to improve their roster this summer, here are my picks for third/fourth line depth:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Report from Habs Development Camp, Day 4

A final report from my colleague @All_Habs, as the first Canadiens Development Camp of the summer came to a close yesterday:

Moreover, in a complicated situation, it has become apparent the Habs do have a 5th round draft pick next Saturday, after most figured they had traded it away.  So my picks for each round have been updated to reflect this.  See who I think the Canadiens should be looking at here:

The story behind the pick: The Habs have held their own pick, Anaheim's (acquired for Maxim Lapierre), and Columbus's (acquired for James Wisniewski) in this year's fifth round.  They dealt the Anaheim pick back to the Ducks for Paul Mara.  They dealt a pick to Calgary in the Mike Cammalleri trade.  They also owed the New York Islanders their own 2012 5th round pick from the trade that originally brought Wisniewski to Montreal, by meeting the conditions in the deal that the team would make the playoffs that season and Wisniewski would play in at least 50% of the team's playoff games.

So that should account for getting rid of all three Montreal picks, right?  Not so.  The team dealt its own pick to Calgary in the Cammalleri trade, retaining the Columbus selection (122nd overall).  A clause in the conditional pick owed to the Islanders indicates that if Montreal couldn't give up its own 2012 5th to the team, then the pick owed would become a 2013 4th round selection instead.  Hence, the Habs still have a fifth to use on June 23rd!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Report from Habs Development Camp, Day 3

If my report on day 2 from Montreal Canadiens Prospect Development Camp was mostly peachy, today I take a different tone:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Report from Habs Development Camp, Day 2

Here it is, my report on Habs Development Camp thus far, with my view on all players present:

Some photos included, have more and some videos to come at some point.  Will continue to Tweet thoughts live from camp tomorrow.  Follow me here: @DailyCanadiens

Report from Habs Development Camp

Here's a great recap of the short day one at Canadiens Camp from my colleage @All_Habs:

Look for more Tweets and reports from him and I (@DailyCanadiens) today all day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Your Canadiens Headlines for June 13, 2012

Sylvain Lefebvre on verge of being named new head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs, live Tweets and post reports to come from Habs Development Camp, and much more, all only at

Top 10 UFA Defensemen Targets for Habs

Continuing our look at how the Canadiens can address their three key needs this summer, today we present 10 pending unrestricted free agents on the blueline that the team may have interest in.  Check it out at

If you missed it, we previously went over 10 scoring forwards Habs may negotiate with, found here:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Your Canadiens Headlines for June 12, 2012

The Habs hold their annual draft combine today, and open a Development Camp tomorrow.  See rosters and more in today's Headlines feature at

Monday, June 11, 2012

Restocking the Cupboard #4: Beyond the First Round

Continuation of our series of Montreal Canadiens 2012 NHL Entry Draft previews, today looking at the team's selections after the third overall pick.  Check it out at here:

If you missed the previous installments, all about the third overall, see them here:
Restocking the Cupboard #1: Holding Steady - Fantastic Four
Restocking the Cupboard #2: Movin' on Down
Restocking the Cupboard #3: Up, Up, or Away

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Your Canadiens Headlines for June 10, 2012

Some interesting stories from my colleagues at

Headlines for today:

Georges Laraque attempting a return:

Looking for a fun way to watch the NHL draft?  Look no further!  Sign up for the All Habs draft party here:

Prospect specialist @SeriousFan09 weighs in on who the Habs may take in the draft:

And have your say about the Montreal hockey-covering media by voting in the 2012 All Habs Media Awards here:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Your Canadiens Headlines for June 8, 2012

My first contribution to AllHabs is up, not unlike the Your Canadiens pieces run on this site.  Check it out here for all the latest on the Habs:

I will continue to post links to all of my AllHabs work on this site, so if you enjoy reading my pieces, you can continue to come here to get all of the latest content!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Important Announcement: A Time of Transition

Just like the Montreal Canadiens, the 2012 off-season is a time of transition for Dan's Daily Dose: Your Canadiens.  It is with a great pleasure that I today announce that I am joining the team over at and that all of my new content will henceforth be published over there.

First, I'd like to thank all of the readers who have made this little venture of mine successful since it first launched just over one year ago, on June 14, 2011.  I appreciate all of your views, comments, Tweets, and e-mails that made it a phenomenal year despite the hard times as a Habs fan.  It is your feedback that kept me writing despite a busy schedule, so I hugely appreciate all those that took the time to send me a message.

It was a difficult decision to cease publishing new content on Dan's Daily Dose, but in my eyes, along with some mainstream media, AllHabs is the top source for Habs content on the web, so when this opportunity arose, I had to take it.  If you don't currently read AllHabs, please go check it out.  There is a team of knowledgeable hockey people and talented scribes over there who I hope to supplement/compliment in continuing to bring you coverage of a wide array of topics about your Montreal Canadiens.

For those that have enjoyed coming to Dan's Daily Dose, I will continue to post here whenever I publish new content, with the post being a link to the story over at AllHabs.  I may also post links here to other works at AllHabs by my new colleagues that I think you will find pertinent or entertaining.  You can continue to follow my most frequent updates via Twitter, as my account @DailyCanadiens will remain as it is with a little re-imaging.

Once again, thanks for making this a fun adventure, and I hope you follow me over to my new home.  It's an exciting day for me, and with the great people behind AllHabs, I have no doubt that you'll be in for a treat if by some chance you're only just being introduced to the site.


Dan Kramer

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Restocking the Cupboard #3: Up, Up, or Away

[This is the third of a five-part series, going live every Wednesday on http://www.YourCanadiens.Info/, previewing possible Hab selections for the 2012 Entry Draft.  See Part 1, about who the team might pick if they hold steady at #3, HERE, and Part 2, about the possibility of trading down, HERE]

Welcome to the final piece devoted specifically to Montreal's third overall selection at this year's NHL Entry Draft, now just over two weeks away.  We talked about who to take at pick #3, we looked at the possibility of trading down if the Habs don't like who is on the board there, so what's left?

From fans on Twitter and forums, to radio talk show hosts, to television personalities, much has been made about the possibility of Montreal trading up to the first overall selection to draft Nail Yakupov.  There are questions about Mikhail Grigorenko's compete level, Alex Galchenyuk's repaired knee, and Filip Forsberg's offensive output, so Yakupov by default may be the closest the draft has to a "sure thing" offensively.  If Montreal doesn't walk away from a draft where they hold a third overall selection with an impact player, fans will be quick to turn on the new front office regime, so perhaps the safest route for Marc Bergevin, Trevor Timmins, and company would be to pony up another asset or two to be able to take the consensus best player available.

What would it cost to get Edmonton to swap down to third overall, where they will still be able to take the guy widely believed to be their man in defenseman Ryan Murray?  The most commonly discussed scenario would see Montreal giving up picks 3 and 33 for the first overall pick, which is considerable when you look at who may still be on the board at 33 for the Canadiens (coincidentally, we will look at that right here in Restocking the Cupboard #4 next week).  Personally, I'd be ok with making that sacrifice to add the kind of superstar we haven't seen in Montreal in ages.  But before we dig a little deeper into this, let's look at Yakupov's game.

Tantalizing skill and plays with an edge, what's not to like?  Well, at 5'11" and 190 lbs, though not Brendan Gallagher-sized, he doesn't bring the kind of frame that many would like to see Montreal adding.  He's a winger, and likely ready to step into the big league right away, so he could fill an immediate need beside Tomas Plekanec, but doesn't address the problem this team has had for years in the need for a big offensive center, something far more difficult to address via free agency or trade than a scoring wing.

Yakupov is a strong, agile skater, able to burn defenders with shifty moves.  He has a quick release which makes him a threat on every rush and shows the ability to create time and space for himself despite his small stature.  He's basically the complete, electrifying package offensively.  Some have concerns about his play in his own end, but those that doubt Yakupov point to incongruities between his size and style, wondering if his physical play will be successful against bigger and older opposition at the pro rank, and concern that it may lead to an injury-plagued career.  Still, no one doubts he is the most talented player available on draft day.

Some have suggested that picks 3 and 33 are too much to give up for Yakupov.  That the Canadiens should offer picks 3 and 51, or 3 and a defenseman like Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz, or even a Brendon Nash.  I just don't see that as being enough for Edmonton because, while they would still get their man at 3, the Columbus Blue Jackets won't sit idly by and let another club snatch Yakupov from under their noses (ignore what those who suggest they won't take him because he's Russian say).  That means that even if swapping picks with Montreal is no skin off Edmonton's back, Columbus will bid the price of landing Yakupov up, so frankly, I don't even know if picks 3 and 33 will be sufficient to get it done.

Now where do I stand on the possibilities?  If Montreal is planning on taking Alex Galchenyuk (my preference, who by the way, led all prospects in last week's NHL Combine Anaerobic Test, a gauge for the most explosive skating) third overall, then I'd probably rather hold on to picks 3 and 33.  If Yakupov can be had for pick 3 and a toss-in like one of the defensemen I mention above - a highly unlikely scenario - then I'd be in favour of the move, as the team will still add two other solid prospects in the second round.  Even despite his size, though, at this point, I would far and away rather the team give up what it costs to nab Yakupov than use the top pick on either Forsberg or Grigorenko.

There is another topic worth mentioning, which is the idea of using the third overall selection as a trade chip to land an established or previously-drafted player.  As opposed to trading up or down, the Canadiens would altogether forego a first round selection to bring in someone they like better than the prospects available.  The most commonly mentioned name when this is discussed is that of Jonathan Huberdeau, the Saint John Sea Dogs star who was taken one year ago, also third overall, by the Florida Panthers.  Huberdeau, who could also fill the "need" for more French-speaking, home-grown talent with the Canadiens, was limited to just 37 games this season, but had a near 2.0 points-per-game average, with 72 on the year.  He brings decent size at 6'1", 171 lbs, has a good friendship with Canadiens' prospect Nathan Beaulieu, and unlike the players to be drafted in a few weeks, can play in the AHL if he isn't deemed NHL-ready in the Fall, though most believe he will be.

The problem here?  There is no reason to suggest that the Panthers would consider moving Huberdeau, who they inked to an entry-level deal last Fall, and even if they would, it is doubtful that any of the players available third overall this year would be sufficient bait to have them bite.  After making the playoffs this season, Florida will be looking to add to its roster, which a guy like Huberdeau can do, rather than delaying by taking on a less-ready youngster.  If you want Huberdeau, you're talking a name like P.K. Subban going back the other way.  Maybe Florida would consider an offer like the third overall pick AND a Lars Eller.  In my books, it just doesn't add up.

Other players talked about as potential returns for the third selection include Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf, and Jarome Iginla.  In the first two cases, it would take considerably more than the pick alone, which would be a huge gamble for Getzlaf who can become an unrestricted free agent just one year from now.  I'm not ready to sacrifice that much for a guy like Nash either, who while he could make a great addition, has production just a notch below the "superstar" type I'm hoping for.  I think any talk of Iginla is a non-starter for all, given his age and declining production.  A team very close to a championship might make such a move, but certainly not a team in Montreal's position.  In sum, I just don't see the Canadiens dealing this pick away as realistic.  They will select a top prospect in the first round.

We've now covered pretty much all possibilities for the third overall pick.  My preference remains either selecting Alex Galchenyuk, or trading up for Nail Yakupov, either of which would make me happy at night's end.  Next week, we turn our attention towards the other Montreal selections, offering suggestions and predictions for each, before our final installment - the week of the draft - will be a full 30-team Mock Draft of the first two rounds.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Canadiens Confirm Michel Therrien is New Coach

As reported during the night, the Montreal Canadiens confirmed that Michel Therrien is the club's new Head Coach.  Official announcement:

There will be a press conference at 2:30 PM today.  We'll be Tweeting live quotes, and then have the highlights up here.

I've spent considerable time discussing the negatives of a possible Therrien hiring, so here are some positives.  He's a good tactician who adapts his strategies in-game, playing whoever has been impressing on a given night by going with gut feelings.  In stark contrast to Jacques Martin, he is quite emotional, and displays his feelings behind the bench.  So while it is a first Marc Bergevin move that leaves me feeling uneasy, let's give it a chance.  And hope for top notch candidates as his Assistant Coaches.  Early discussion has Guy Carbonneau and Martin Lapointe has leading candidates to assist Therrien behind the bench, but I hope at least one person hired will come in with a longer history and established specialties.


Some takes on Therrien's hiring:

Former Montreal Canadien Terry Ryan:
"Nice [expletive] pick Habs. Who's going to be the Assistant Coach, Darth Vader?  He was ignorant then, and how do you know he has evolved now?  He would chain smoke on the team bus.  I hated playing for him more than any other coach.  I would fly home to my family at year's end crying; they had me go see a psychologiest.  But he knows hockey very well.  I hope for the sake of the Montreal Canadiens - and the New York Yankees are baseball's Montreal Canadiens - that he has learnt something."

Canadiens captain Brian Gionta:
"Therrien has an excellent reputation in the league.  I've played against his teams on numerous occasions and they're always tough to play against.  He's proven in the past, notably with Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate, that he is good at developing young players, and that looks good for our group."

Former Habs GM Andre Savard, who was one of Therrien's Assistant Coaches with the Penguins:
"Michel deserved to be back, to have another chance.  His background is as impressive or more than many coaches around the league.  I didn't hire Michel in Montreal; I was named by the President after his hiring, and I haven't spoken with him in a little while.  But if he were to call me about a possible position, I'd be happy to listen."

Pascal Dupuis, who played for Therrien with the Penguins:
"He gets the most out of his players.  Everyone describes him as a tough guy, but if you give him your best, he's ok."


General Manager Marc Bergevin says he interviewed "a lot of candidates" for the coaching position, later specifying "less than 10."  He chose Therrien - a decision that he ultimately made himself - because he has leadership, has enjoyed success at all levels, and sees himself communicating/working well with him.

Therrien himself repeated a few phrases frequently, citing that what he would most importantly look to change is the work ethic of the team.  He said it's important for fans to be able to applaud a team that is outworking its opposition every game; a team that is disciplined on and off the ice.  As a coach, he said it's important for him to be adaptable and flexible, saying he's learnt from his experiences in Montreal, Pittsburgh, and the AHL, and feels far more prepared to take this job today than when he first accepted it some 12 years ago.  Acknowledging that he didn't like the results last season, he sees potential on this team, and has as a short-term goal getting back into the playoffs.

Therrien says its important the leadership core on this team leads by example. His first call will be to captain Brian Gionta, who he understands had a frustrating season with injuries.  He likes the first line in place, the responsibility of a Tomas Plekanec, having a great young goaltender in Carey Price, and that the team will have a healthy Andrei Markov (the only player still around from Therrien's last tenure) out of the gate.  He looks forward to an exciting challenge of coaching a young P.K. Subban who he sees as full of potential (calling him a thoroughbred, the kind of guys you win with), and with good guidance, a future leader.  Lastly, in an interview after the press conference, he also named Lars Eller as a player headed in the right direction, a good sign since some were worried about his critical comments towards Eller as an analyst.

With regards to his Assistants, Therrien said he admired the work done by the guys in place (Randy Cunneyworth, Randy Ladouceur, and Pierre Groulx), but that it was only his first day and he hadn't gotten to that point yet.  He discussed a "profile" with Bergevin, and it's something they would work on in the coming days and weeks.  No names.

Perhaps most importantly was a quote by Therrien where he said that not all players need to be treated the same.  "Some need taps on the back all the time, some just once.  Some need to be taken a harder stance with."  This was another area of major concern with how he would handle his players, so at the very least, he's saying the right things for now.

Like him or not Habs fans, he's Bergevin's choice. Let's give him a chance - at least half a season before we really criticize - and hope for the best!

Top 10 Offensive Forward Hab UFA Targets

Last Friday, I pointed out three areas where I felt the Canadiens need additions this summer in order to bounce back from a very difficult season.  Today and the next two Tuesdays I will look at the UFA class, suggesting the 10 best free agents fits for each of these three weaknesses.  We start today with the need for a top 6 player up front - someone ideally with some size and scoring punch.

Before we get to the names I did include on the list below, I have to preface it with three big names I left out.  First there's Teemu Selanne, for whom it is abundantly clear the choice is just between Anaheim and retirement.  Next there's Shane Doan who may be unlikely to leave Phoenix, but even if he does, it won't be for Montreal.  I'm quite confident that his alleged linguistic slur run-in with Denis Coderre who accused him of uttering anti-Francophone sentiments towards referees will keep him out of La Belle Province.  Finally, and perhaps most debate-ably, I didn't include Alexander Semin as a candidate.  Sure, he has the frame the Habs are looking for at 6'2" and 208 lbs, and yes, even in an off-year last season, he scored 54 points in 77 games.  But his attitude off the ice just doesn't strike me as the kind of player Marc Bergevin - a guy who fully endorses a team-first strategy - would be interested in signing.  He seems like a typical Pierre Gauthier / Bob Gainey acquisition.  A Sergei Samsonov UFA signing.  I don't see Bergevin biting.

Also note that you may consider some of my proposed contract offers to be on the low end.  This is because the list as a whole doesn't really impress me, so I'd rather see Montreal strikeout in this category than overpay for a guy they'll be stuck with when other names may be available in a future off-season or via trade.

With that said, let's get on to 10 players I think Bergevin might consider in a "wish list" of sorts.

10) Brad Boyes, C - Buffalo Sabres
6'1", 195 lbs - 2011-12: 65 GP, 8 G, 15 A, 23 PTS
Age 30

Boyes had phenomenal seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09, with 43 and 33 goals respectively, but then his game mysteriously went south.  The Sabres thought a change of scenery might do him good when they dealt for him last season, but his first full year in Buffalo produced only 23 points - the lowest total of his career.  Is now the time to take a chance on a possible reclamation project?  He isn't a particularly top notch skater, nor does he always use his frame as well as he should, but he's adapted his game to be a hard-working two-way forward, and perhaps if the NHL goes back to a post-lockout obstruction and interference standard, he'll find the kind of success he once knew.

Contract offer: 1 year, $2M cap hit

9) Kristian Huselius, LW - Columbus Blue Jackets
6'1", 185 lbs - 2011-12: 2 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS
Age 33

After being limited to 39 games in 2010-11, Huselius managed only 2 games last season, so any possible suitor will have his health as a primary concern.  In those 39 games, the large and speedy winger impressively potted 14 goals, while in his last near-full season in 2009-10, he totaled 63 points to rank third on the Blue Jackets.  If - and it's a big if - he's given a clean bill of health, he could be one of the better fits on the market, likely seeking a short-term contract to prove himself which would be rather low-risk from a Habs' perspective.

Contract offer: 1 Year, $2.5M cap hit

8) Jiri Hudler, C - Detroit Red Wings
5'10", 186 lbs - 2011-12: 81 GP, 25 G, 25 A, 50 PTS
Age 28

The Red Wings have plenty of cap space available to keep any of their players they'd like, so for Hudler to leave it would likely be the player himself seeking a new challenge.  Hudler is the smallest guy on this list, but with such a limited talent pool, it would be impossible to leave a 28-year old 25-goal scorer off of it.  He lacks in strength and consistency, but has slick hands and is a countrymate of Tomas Plekanec, with the two having played on the same World Junior Championship club in 2001-02.  Like Boyes, in addition to center, Hudler is comfortable at either wing position, so perhaps a line of he, Plekanec, and Erik Cole might have potential to balance Montreal's offense aside from the Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais duo.

Contract offer: 3 years, $4M cap hit

7) David Jones, RW - Colorado Avalanche
6'2", 220 lbs - 2011-12: 72 GP, 20 G, 17 A, 37 PTS
Age 27

Jones was unable to replicate his 27 goals and 45 points of a year ago, but did manage a second consecutive 20-goal season, proving that he can score in the right situation.  He's a bit more of an off-the-radar candidate than the other names on this list, but has one of the more imposing physiques and at 27 likely still has better days ahead of him.  He can bring a physical element to the game, moves well enough for a big man, and has a quick release.  Not a textbook top 6 forward, but might not look out of place beside David Desharnais so that the Canadiens could experiment pairing Erik Cole with Tomas Plekanec.

Contract offer: 3 years, $3M cap hit

6) Ryan Smyth, LW - Edmonton Oilers
6'1", 192 lbs - 2011-12: 82 GP, 19 G, 27 A, 46 PTS
Age 36

After requesting a trade from the Kings so he could return to Edmonton (based on on-ice reasons, this certainly looks a little silly right now), one would think it was a foregone conclusion that Smyth would re-sign with the Oilers.  And yet, there is talk that even though the team could use a veteran presence around its group of promising youngsters, that they may opt to part ways from Smyth and look in a different direction.  Smyth isn't an Erik Cole; he's nearing the end of his career and after a red hot start to last season, went out with a whimper.  But he is a big body capable of putting up some points, and if he's willing to leave Alberta, like Jones, could give the Canadiens some flexibility in perhaps freeing Max Pacioretty or Erik Cole from David Desharnais's hips by providing another big option and thus giving Tomas Plekanec some better linemates.

Contract offer: 1 year, $4M cap hit

5) Olli Jokinen, C - Calgary Flames
6'3", 210 lbs - 2011-12: 82 GP, 23 G, 38 A, 61 PTS
Age 33

At 33, Jokinen's heydays with the Florida Panthers are a thing of the past.  But the Finnish forward has had a bit of a resurgence in Calgary the last two seasons, recording 54 and 61 points respectively.  He's not the #1 center the team needs and isn't particularly gritty, but he brings a 6'3", 210 lbs frame, and is capable of filling a second line role.  If the team is interested in him - and I do think they should be at the right price - it would likely mean Lars Eller shifting to the wing on a second or third line.  Eller most recently played and starred there for Team Denmark at the World Hockey Championship.

Contract offer: 2 years, $4M cap hit

4) Andrei Kostitsyn, RW - Nashville Predators
6'0", 205 lbs - 2011-12: 72 GP, 16 G, 20 A, 36 PTS
Age 27

That Kostitsyn ranks so highly on this list is a testament to the lack of talent in the free agent pool this summer, but in truth, it is his departure which - in part - creates this need in Montreal's line-up.  If people will stop holding where he was drafted against him, they would see a thick forward with one heck of a release.  He can play physical when the mood strikes him, but certainly he adds to the club's goal-scoring potential.  Does he want to come back to Montreal?  That may be a moot point, as his post-season team suspension for violating curfew may stand in too much of a contrast with Bergevin's team ahead of anyone player philosophy.  But on the ice, he would undoubtedly improve the roster, and he's still well in his prime.

Contract offer: 4 years, $3.8M cap hit

3) Jaromir Jagr, RW - Philadelphia Flyers
6'3", 240 lbs - 2011-12: 73 GP, 19 G, 35 A, 54 PTS
Age 40

One year ago, at this time, Jaromir Jagr was the #1 name on my free agent wish list, just ahead of one Erik Cole.  Jagr performed pretty well as I had expected him to, but falls two spots as another year of strain on his body doesn't help the situation, and the Habs look a little further from contention today than they did last June.  Still, if the Canadiens lack scoring and want to add a powerplay threat, then Jagr is a fit, especially considering they won't have to commit big dollars over long-term to bring him in.  His role would have to be monitored carefully, playing with Tomas Plekanec at 5-on-5, but not taking every shift on that line, swapping for a defensive forward when Pleks is out there in a more shutdown capacity.  This would keep Jagr fresher for the PP and other offensive situations, while limiting his minutes to prevent late-season fatigue that we saw notably in this year's playoffs.

Contract offer: 1 year, $4M cap hit

2) Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, RW - New York Islanders
6'0", 193 lbs - 2011-12: 80 GP, 18 G, 49 A, 67 PTS
Age 29

Parenteau gets instant consideration as a French-speaking native of Hull, Quebec, with Bergevin indicating that he sees it important to try to increase the local content on the Canadiens over time.  But he's earned being among the more interesting names in a shallow pool this summer with his late-blooming production.  He began his first complete NHL season at the late age of 27 after a successful AHL career and immediately put up 53 points when gifted with talented linemates in Long Island.  He improved to 67 points last year, and would be another flexible option who could move up and down the Montreal line-up depending on the play of Rene Bourque and Brian Gionta.

Contract offer: 3 years, $3.75M cap hit

1) Zach Parise, LW - New Jersey Devils
5'11", 185 lbs - 2011-12: 82 GP, 31 G, 38 A, 69 PTS
Age 27

Parise will undoubtedly be the most-coveted forwards this summer if he makes it to July 1st without re-signing.  The New Jersey Devils's captain currently playing in the Stanley Cup Final doesn't have the size Montreal is looking for - one of only two names on this list under six feet - but is a big-time scorer with four 30-goal seasons and one 40-goal season over the past six years.  At 27, Parise is likely looking for a long-term contract, which would mean he'd be around long enough to play with the big center Montreal hopefully picks up in the first round of this year's draft.  Until then, he can play with Tomas Plekanec and a bigger winger, allowing Brian Gionta to line up next to Lars Eller in creating three solid scoring lines.

Contract offer: 7 years, $6.75M cap hit

Canadiens to Name Michel Therrien Head Coach

During the night, Darren Dreger of TSN announced that the Montreal Canadiens are believed to be set to announce Michel Therrien as the team's new Head Coach, with an announcement to come in the next 24 to 48 hours.

The Montreal Canadiens have made their coaching decision. Its believed Michel Therrien is the man. Announcement in the next 24-48 hrs.

If you're just waking up, no, unfortunately it wasn't a bad dream.  See the piece I wrote on Marc Crawford and Therrien as the final 2 candidates earlier in the day to get my take on the issue:

Details to come.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Tale of Two Coaches

As much as I've tried not to believe the rumours, it is at this point hard to believe that Montreal isn't down to at most two candidates in their head coaching search in Michel Therrien and Marc Crawford.  Many fans have been hoping there would be some third off-the-radar candidate who would come in and steal the job away, but all three major hockey networks - TSN, RDS, and SportsNet - have been reporting the same facts for a few days now.  And the problem is that even if these weren't the only two names in the pot, with Bob Hartley in Calgary and Patrick Roy's demands allegedly being far too great, given the team's self-imposed "must speak French" rule, there aren't many other qualified candidates out there.  I've said before and maintain that I have faith in Marc Bergevin right now and will be happy to give a chance to whoever he deems the best man to execute his vision for the Montreal Canadiens, but on the day he opts for one of Therrien or Crawford, I will not be a happy sheep applauding his selection.  Here's a look at the two candidates to give you an idea of why:

Michel Therrien

Many Habs fans are quick to spit out, "been there, done that," when Therrien's name comes up.  I find that a bit of a naive approach to his candidacy; just because a guy held the job a decade ago, doesn't mean he wouldn't have learned from mistakes or be a better fit today.  The qualifications of candidates should be based on what Bergevin thinks they can do today.

At age 48, Therrien still has plenty of years in the sport left ahead of him, which is a positive for a team seeking stability.  In his playing career, he never made it beyond the AHL, though he did spend a couple of seasons in the Habs' system with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs and Sherbrooke Canadiens.  His full-time head coaching career began in 1993-94 with the QMJHL's Laval Titan, and he led the Granby Predateurs to a league championship after taking over the club in 1995-96.  Returning to the Canadiens' organization, he spent four seasons as the Head Coach of the team's AHL affiliate (two in Fredericton and two in Quebec) before replacing Alain Vigneault as Coach of the Habs some 20 games into the 2000-01 campaign.  That team would fail to qualify for the post-season, but he would lead Montreal back to the playoffs the following year, and upset the top seed Boston Bruins in the first round in six games (which included a fine to Therrien for making a throat-slitting gesture at Kyle McLaren after he nearly took Richard Zednik's head off with a dirty below, though Hab fans will forgive him for that one).  

What likely sealed his fate were clear coaching errors in the second round.  Montreal looked poised to complete a second straight upset, up 2-1 in the series against the Carolina Hurricanes and leading game 4 by a 3-0 score in the third period.  Perhaps Therrien momentarily forgot where he was, but he was a bit too vocal with referee Kerry Fraser in arguing a cross-checking call and earned himself an additional 2 minute bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.  The 'Canes took advantage to get back in the game, and found themselves down just 1 goal entering the final minute of regulation.  Current Hab Erik Cole scored to tie things up, and Therrien committed another gaff in OT with a face-off in the Montreal end.  Known as an Xs and Os coach who goes with gut feelings on who is hot on a given night, the coach sent out Bill Lindsay - a winger playing out of position in the middle - to take a defensive end faceoff in the extra frame.  Lindsay had the best FO win percentage in the game, but it was still far from a strength of his, not to mention that the team featured face-off whiz Yanic Perreault and shutdown center Joe Juneau, along with responsible veterans Doug Gilmour and Saku Koivu.  Lindsay lost the draw cleanly, and the puck came back to the point where Nic Wallin fired one home.  The Canadiens showed no life following that crushing defeat, losing in two straight blowouts.

Therrien was fired halfway through the following year with his team playing at an under .500 clip, but would rebound the following season with the AHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  He led the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to the Calder Cup Final in his first season with the team, and in his third year with the team got it off to a 21-1-3 start, leading to his replacing Ed Olcyzk as bench boss with the big club.  He would take Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007-08, but after losing to the Detroit Red Wings, would be canned 57 games into the following season with his team just above the .500 mark despite a stacked roster.  The team's disappointing start is largely blamed on Therrien since Dan Bylsma took over the club and led them to a Stanley Cup win that very same season.  

Therrien also gained a reputation throughout his career as being a coach that his own players hate, given his tactic of trying to get under their skin to motivate them to deliver their best.  A prime example was on display in this now infamous press conference:

I fully understand that people can learn from their mistakes, and coaches can evolve over time.  However, Therrien hasn't been in coaching since that 2008-09 season, instead currently serving as a scout for the Minnesota Wild, so we have no way to know what kind of attitudes or demeanour he would bring to the job.  Still, he's a candidate in part largely due to a good off-ice relationship with Bergevin, who has shown a strong propensity for hiring those he knows well  or are within his inner circle thus far.  It is important that Bergevin hires someone who is on the same page as him, and a guy he feels he can work with on a daily basis, as a team's GM and Head Coach need to be able to agree on how the players brought in should be used.  From the front office to the coaching staff, a team will only play to its highest potential if all have a unified vision.

Marc Crawford

51-year old Marc Crawford is hoping his stint as a television analyst will last only one season by getting back into the realm of coaching.  While his playing career was only moderately more successful than Therrien's - he played 176 NHL games, all with the Vancouver Canucks - Crawford brings with him 15 years experience as an NHL head coach.  His transition from playing to coaching began in the OHL where he led the Cornwall Royals for two seasons with little success, but enough to earn him a chance as Coach of the AHL's St. John Maple Leafs.  He brought the team to the Calder Cup Final in his first season there, and after second round exits the following two seasons, was named Head Coach of the Quebec Nordiques for the lockout-shortened 1994-95 campaign.

Crawford stayed with the organization when they moved to Colorado, winning the Stanley Cup in 1996, and taking the team led by Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and others back to the Conference Finals a year later.  When his star-studded Avs were knocked out in round 1 in 1998, he was relieved of his duties, re-emerging with the Vancouver Canucks midway through the following season.  

Crawford coached the Canucks for 7 seasons but never made it past the second round of the playoffs, missing them altogether three times.  The 2003-04 season - his second to last - is the one that most will criticize him for.  In an incident that few should need to be reminded of, in a February 16, 2004 game, Colorado's Steve Moore concussed Vancouver captain Markus Naslund with a hit that was missed by officials, and deemed unsuspendable by the league.  Rather than calm and re-focus his club, Crawford stoked some fires, criticizing officials and suggesting the league should offer protection for its superstars.  While the next Avs-Nucks matchup was relatively uneventful, a subsequent game got ugly.  With Vancouver trailing by a big score, Todd Bertuzzi looked to make a statement by battling Moore, who wanted no part of the larger man, already having answered the bell to a bout with tough guy Matt Cooke in the first period.  When Moore ignored the invitation to drop the gloves, Bertuzzi grabbed Moore from behind, pulled him by the jersey, and punched him to the back of the head, falling on top of him which drove his face into the ice.  

When words like "pre-meditated" get thrown around, you have to look at the Coach as not having proper control of his players, particularly given the act occurred at a time when the game's outcome was out of reach.  Some accounts of that game had Crawford chuckling while watching Bertuzzi's actions, though this is nothing but rumour (others saw Bertuzzi acted in stark contrast to Crawford's instructions).  The other problem is that this issue has not been laid to rest, with an ongoing lawsuit on Moore's part (his career was ended by the "attack") having Crawford as one of the defendants, and Bertuzzi himself even indicating that Crawford should share in the blame due to his inciting the team to, "make Moore pay the price."  This off-ice sideshow could serve as a distraction for a team, particularly in a media-frenzied city like Montreal.

But it isn't just about "the incident."  Crawford missed the playoffs the following season, and would also miss them in his next two years with Los Angeles.  Crawford drew fire from many by encouraging his General Manager with the Kings to acquire his starting netminder from Vancouver in Dan Cloutier, a goaltender that many held in rather low regard.  Dismal .415 and .433 winning percentages cost him his job with the Kings, and after a year off, he was named Coach of the Dallas Stars, where he also failed to reach the playoffs in consecutive years.  Crawford was fired in 2011 and joined the TSN panel having missed the post-season for each of his final five seasons.

Crawford is known as a tactician, being one of the pioneers of the 1-3-1 trap system.  He has a relationship with Bergevin, having served as his Coach for the final 9 games of Bergevin's career (in Vancouver) in 2003-04.  To his credit, he has watched more Montreal Canadiens and other Canadian team games this past season than most who would be considered candidates for the job, having to analyze them and breakdown many aspects for the television audience.  But is he a good fit in Montreal?  As Crawford himself said in a recent interview, "The most important thing in any job is that the general manager and coach are on the same page." If Bergevin thinks Crow is that guy for him, then he will get the job.

Of the two, I'm not a particular fan of either.  My only hope is that whichever is named brings along some experienced Assistants who may compensate for some of his areas of weakness (e.g. a Larry Robinson or Andy Murray).

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Day as Habs GM: Three Needs to Address

Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin has put together a strong front office staff.  We know that at some point, he will add to his scouting team, and of course hire a Head Coach.  But let's remember what has the biggest impact on Montreal turning around a season that saw them finish 15th in the Eastern Conference: the on-ice roster.

For all the excitement that has come with the breath of fresh air brought to the management team (and rightfully so), if some significant changes aren't made to the roster, the Habs might be doomed to find themselves in or near a draft lottery again a year from now.  What specifically does the team need to return to post-season contention?  Let's first look at what it has in place.  Here's a sample roster/depth chart, with bolded players being under contract already, italicized players being unrestricted free agents currently on the roster, and other names being restricted free agents who are likely to be re-signed.

Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Erik Cole
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec Brian Gionta
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Louis Leblanc
Mike Blunden - Ryan White - Aaron Palushaj

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov - Alexei Emelin
Tomas Kaberle - Raphael Diaz

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

Yannick Weber, Blake Geoffrion, Petteri Nokelainen

Of the players from last season who are pending UFAs, Travis Moen is the only one I see being brought back, and thus the only one I included in this line-up.  The above IS a complete team; the problem being, it's not a very good one.  You have some pieces there to build around, but you also have a lot of misfits and weaknesses, and this is even excluding Scott Gomez under the assumption that he will somehow be let go.

To me, there are three key areas to be upgraded as soon as this summer - be it a draft-day trade, July 1st, or otherwise - to provide hope to Canadiens fans that a playoff berth next spring could be a reality.  Here they are.

1) Scoring Support

The Canadiens are a team that, when watching them at some points of the season, you wonder how they will ever score another goal.  Part of this may be a coaching system, with new bench boss hopefully preaching less of a defensive shell at times, but part of it is also a lack of talent.  There is no question that both Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole should be and will be top 6 wingers on this squad.  Tomas Plekanec is also at the least a top notch 2nd line center.  That half of the top 6 appears locked in for the better.

On the other hand, will David Desharnais be able to repeat his production and performance of this season now that the secret about him is out?  At 5'7", 177 lbs, will twin towers on his wings be enough to keep him effective against top opposing shutdown d-men all season long?  Then there is a match-up issue with both Plekanec and Desharnais measuring under 6 feet, creating problems against bigger opposing centers.  Indeed, ideally Montreal would upgrade its center line by bringing in a bigger player in place of Desharnais, or perhaps even in place of Plekanec if the organization is sold on little DD's ability.  The problem is, no such player is available on this summer's free agent market, and they aren't available a dime a dozen in a trade.  And the answer is that perhaps this problem can wait to be fixed.  If Desharnais does replicate last season, then there isn't a dire need for a solution here, with a long-term answer perhaps draftable in a player like Alex Galchenyuk.

So if improving the center line may not be feasible this summer, what is?  In my books, Rene Bourque should be a third line player on a top team (if he proves worthy of being on such a team at all).  There are also some legitimate concerns about Brian Gionta's production after playing only 31 games last season, but even when healthy, he scored only 15 points, making for his lowest points-per-game average since 2003-04.  Plus he has rarely showed good chemistry with Plekanec, and for size reasons can't really play on a line with Desharnais.  While many doubt that the Canadiens would be willing to drop their captain to a "third line," his best fit might actually be flanking the bigger Lars Eller.  Thus what would be needed are some upgrades to the the wings on the 2nd line.

We won't talk about who specifically could fit this bill today, but will have two features on it next Tuesday and Wednesday, with one option being the UFA route where there are a few interesting names, and another being trading up at the draft to select Nail Yakupov, who could be ready to make an immediate impact next season.

2) Top 4 Capable D-Man

When Andrei Markov was not ready to start the season - and ultimately out for most of it - there was a huge hole on the Montreal back-end.  Alexei Emelin and Raphael Diaz did as much as one could expect for rookie blueliners pressed into regular service from the get-go, but P.K. Subban, when on his game, at least at this stage of his career, is at best a #2, and Josh Gorges would ideally be a 2nd pairing player.  With Hal Gill's age making him less-than-adequate regular season Hal Gill, and Tomas Kaberle's shell of his former self not being a solution to any real question, the error in Pierre Gauthier's plan become obvious.  The defense he assembled for last season was outright criminal, deserving of a firing on its own without getting into everything else wrong with his regime.

Now how do we fix it?  We have to assume that Markov will start the season healthy, but it is reasonable to want to have a contingency in place.  And that's without mentioning the fact that even a healthy Markov may not be the old Markov we knew.  Certainly the one that joined the team late this season wasn't, though that was to be expected.  He has a much better shot starting in September with the rest of the league.  Still, he himself admitted at year's end that his knee still wasn't the same when turning, so there is a chance he never skates quite like he once did.  If the new Markov should be, say, a #2 or 3 on most teams as opposed to a clear and away #1 defender, then it is evident Bergevin must move to upgrade his blueline.

The Canadiens have depth on the blueline, especially with Hamilton's back end being refilled with top notch prospects in the Fall.  What the team needs is to add to their top end, allowing the existing players to slide down the depth chart, rather than add padding to the bottom.  Just like big offensive centers, top pairing defenders don't come without a cost, but the free agent market does offer a little help.  While it may not be overflowing with #1s or 2s, there are enough who could at least fill a top 4 role to keep Canadiens fans interested on July 1st.  The player should be big to add size to the top 6, and able to handle his own in the defensive zone.  I'll go over my personal preferences for targets in a future Top 10 list, but you can get a head start by checking out the list of pending UFAs via CapGeek here:

The issues with adding a top-notch defender are two-fold: one being the lack of a roster spot, and the other being salary cap room.  The obvious answer is to get rid of an entirely superfluous player in Tomas Kaberle, who while his production last season wasn't awful, doesn't fill any real need on this team any longer.  He can't be trusted reliably with a 5-on-5 shift, and over $4M per season for a guy to play on a second powerplay unit doesn't make dollars or sense.  It remains to be seen if the team will be able to find a taker for him.

3) Bottom 6 Forward

The last addition should be the simplest of the three, though we could have said the same a year ago.  The Habs not so wisely were ready to hand the job to Andreas Engqvist before he had proven he could handle it, opting not to sign anyone for a fourth line role.  In fairness, they weren't expecting Ryan White to go down and miss as much time as he did, but this shows the importance of being prepared with depth.  After a failed waiver claim of the injured Blair Betts, the team had to give up its 7th round selection in this June's draft to acquire Petteri Nokelainen.  Not that a 7th round pick is a huge price to pay, but as we illustrated Tuesday, every draft selection has the potential to be valuable.

The Canadiens have a number of players who could play on the third or fourth lines, with guys like Nokelainen, Brad Staubitz, Mike Blunden, Blake Geoffrion, and Mathieu Darche who all may or may not be back next season.  None of these guys are overly impressive at their respective career stages, and while they could end up with the jobs, I'd like to see some fresh blood brought in to give the bottom six a new look.  I want size.  I want toughness.  I want an in-your-face aggressive forechecker who can erase players along the boards on every shift.  Alternatively, I want a shutdown centerman who can win face-offs.  Something different that the present group doesn't deliver.  I think Ryan White is a good fit to remain part of this group, and Lars Eller is penciled in as third line center unless he's tried in a more offensive role on the wing.  Louis Leblanc is likely to make the team out of training camp, and most probably will be a third line winger.  Travis Moen would be a good player to bring back for his physicality and off-ice leadership.  If we achieve the first objective on this list, one of Bourque or Gionta will also be a third line winger, so we're down to one open spot.

There is no shortage of potential UFAs to fill this job, but unlike a year ago, I do hope the Canadiens make a move and bring someone in.  Who they may pick up will will also be the subject of a later piece, but regardless of the player, the point remains the same: sign somebody in July when they're available for no assets.  Why reserve jobs for Blunden, Staubitz (who I'd see more as a 13th forward) or Aaron Palushaj (who is out of place in a non-scoring role)?  Bring in a guy or two and let them battle it out in training camp.  The losers can be dealt or - worst case scenario - waived to reinforce a very young Hamilton Bulldogs roster to be.

If the Habs manage to add at least one quality name for each of these three gaps, I think there will be even more to look forward to in 2012-13.  It won't be an easy summer for Bergevin, and I don't think a failure to address all three areas should disappoint fans, but they are places he should be looking to add even into the season.  As it progresses, we'll also have a better picture of when and to what extent future assets like Jarred Tinordi and Brendan Gallagher might be ready to plug some holes on the roster.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bob Hartley Announced as Flames Head Coach

The coaching candidate pool in Montreal took a blow today as the Calgary Flames announced that Bob Hartley will be the team's next Head Coach.

Hartley was considered a frontrunner for the Montreal job, though we may never know if GM Marc Bergevin opted for another candidate, or if it was Hartley who turned down the Canadiens interest to join the Flames.  Many fake Twitter insiders took an educated guess that Hartley would be Bergevin's man, announcing it as fact over the internet during the past week, which should be a lesson to many in trusting certain sources.  It seems Hockey Insider 101 has become make a pre-emptive announcement then hope it comes true so you can claim yourself an insider.  If it doesn't, just say your sources were wrong or some parameter changed.  Appears to be a great recipe for gaining followers, but not one this site or Twitter account will ever endorse.

With Hartley out of the equation (and reportedly Patrick Roy out of consideration as well), that leaves Guy Carbonneau, Michel Therrien, and Marc Crawford as the most widely-discussed Montreal coaching candidates.  Other bilingual names mentioned include Martin Raymond and Benoit Groulx, though many hope an unheralded candidate ends up winning out, unimpressed by these names.

Bob McKenzie appears to believe it's down to Therrien and Crawford for the job:

UPDATES: A few tidbits from Hartley's press conference in Calgary this afternoon.

- Yes, he had met with the Canadiens, and had several phone conversations with them.
- When Alex Tanguay was with the Habs, and the team was looking for a coach, Tanguay phoned Hartley (the two had been together in Colorado) to say that he'd appreciate if Bob came to Montreal, as he was the type of coach he needed.
- Hartley had a meeting scheduled with the Canadiens for "later this week," but phoned Marc Bergevin this morning to inform him he'd opted to take a deal with Calgary.  Bergevin was quoted as wishing Hartley good luck, indicating that while they had spoken, he wasn't ready to name a coach just yet.

So from this, we can gather that Hartley was one of Bergevin's final candidates.  It remains to be seen what he'll do now that Hartley is out of the running.

Player Spotlight: P.K. Subban

If you're a Habs fan, you love him.  If you're a fan of any other team, you think he's overrated and love to boo him every time he touches the puck in your building.  But an objective hockey fan will tell you that Montreal's P.K. Subban is one of the league's more promising young blueliners.  But you know about him on the ice.  So today, we're going to focus on a few off-ice Subban stories you may be less familiar with.

It is no surprise to anyone that P.K. can be described as a character off the ice.  It being NHL draft season, with the Central Scouting Combine taking place this whole week, a lot of attention has been placed on Subban's relationship with is brothers, given that Malcolm Subban is the top-rated North American netminder out of this year's crop.  The next Subban in line is another blueliner, Jordan, who made his debut for the Belleville Bulls (meaning that, yes, all three Subbans have played for the OHL's Bulls) last season as a spry 16-year old.  He impressively scored 20 points in 53 games a rookie, and is one many are following closely for the 2013 draft, deemed to perhaps be just as skilled as big brother P.K.  What he doesn't have is P.K.'s size, measuring in at only 5'9" and 170 lbs as of now.

P.K. and his brothers were a big part of the George Stromboulopoulos show after last night's game 1 win by the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Here's a clip of most of the Subbans segment if you missed it:

You can watch the full episode on the CBC website here:

For those not on Twitter, P.K.'s personality also shone through a little teasing he did for his followers last week.  He first posted the following:
Naturally, this had many Hab fans dreaming the announcement would be that the Restricted Free Agent has agreed to a new long-term deal with the Canadiens.  The Twitter world was abuzz, and P.K. made them wait it out for nearly 24 hours before this announcement, done in a style only fitting of Mr. Subban himself:
So yes it was Subban who officially unveiled the new Twitter account of Carey Price - or apparently C-Prizzle / Carey Cash Prizzy to his friends - to the world.  Still waiting on that contract announcement, P.K.!

For his antics, a lot of people around the web have referred to Subban as a "troll."  This led to HFBoards user Seb creating a meme, creatively warped a photo of Subban by integrating the infamous troll face drawing to create this masterpiece, side by side with the troll face for comparison:

Pretty well done!  But P.K. isn't ALL jokes and gags, so we leave you with one of his Nike AlwaysOn pieces that show the more intense side of the training-obsessed Subban that has gotten him to where he is today:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Habs Sign Nathan Beaulieu to Entry-Level Deal

The Montreal Canadiens announced today the signing of defenseman Nathan Beaulieu to a 3-year entry-level contract.  While it was a matter of time / a formality, since Beaulieu will certainly be making his pro debut in the Fall rather than returning to the QMJHL as an overager, the signing is notable as he becomes the first player given a deal by new GM Marc Bergevin.  Official release:

Beaulieu, Montreal's first round selection last June, had an up-and-down year, but one full of good experiences.  His Saint John Sea Dogs won the QMJHL championship for a second year in a row, and thus returned to the Memorial Cup, where they were unable to repeat as winners, falling in the semi-final to host Shawinigan.  Beaulieu also got to represent Team Canada at this past winter's World Junior Championship, though he spent much of his time as a powerplay specialist / 7th defenseman.

Beaulieu will join the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Fall as part of a strong in-coming class of rookie pros that includes Jarred Tinordi, Morgan Ellis, Michael Bournival, Brendan Gallagher, Patrick Holland, and Greg Pateryn, all already under contract with the team.  Fans should temper their expectations in his regard, as while he has good size, amazing skating ability, slick passing, and good offensive instincts, he still has a lot to work out in his game, notably in his own end and in maturity.  But he has time.  He'll be one of the youngest players in the AHL when the season begins at age 19, eligible to play because of his December birthday.

Congrats Nathan!  Feel free to send him your best wishes via Twitter, @n8theggr8.

Restocking the Cupboard #2: Movin' on Down

[This is the second of a five-part series, going live every Wednesday on http://www.YourCanadiens.Info/, previewing possible Hab selections for the 2012 Entry Draft.  See Part 1, about who the team might pick if they hold steady at #3, HERE]

Last week, we discussed the four possible candidates for the Canadiens' first draft choice if they are to remain at 3rd overall come June 22nd.  But as I went over, none of them are without their issues, and even at that, whichever of the four that the Columbus Blue Jackets sees as the best for them won't be available by pick three, leaving the Habs to take the best of the rest.  This year's draft has more questions than answers.  So let's say that, for all the reasons specified, Trevor Timmins, Marc Bergevin, and co aren't convinced that the players who will be available at, say, pick 6-10, project with less certainty or less potential than those available at #3.  What happens then?

Yes, the team could still keep the pick, as at 3rd, they can go with "their guy" out of a greater number of available prospects.  But it's also possible that "their guy" isn't one of Mikhail Grigorenko, Filip Forsberg, Alex Galchenyuk, or Ryan Murray.  In this case, rather than just go off the board with a lower-ranked name, the team could trade down, swapping with a club that holds a pick later in the first round in order to collect other assets (like say an additional 2nd round choice).  While there are other options (trading up or trading the pick outright), today we'll look at where the team could trade down to, and who they might fancy at that slot.

The order of the first 28 picks of the draft have been locked in, and they are as follows:
1. Edmonton Oilers
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Montreal Canadiens
4. New York Islanders
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. Minnesota Wild
8. Carolina Hurricanes
9. Winnipeg Jets
10. Tampa Bay Lightning
11. Washington Capitals (from Colorado Avalanche)
12. Buffalo Sabres
13. Dallas Stars
14. Calgary Flames
15. Ottawa Senators
16. Washington Capitals
17. San Jose Sharks
18. Chicago Blackhawks
19. Tampa Bay Lightning (from Detroit Red Wings)
20. Philadelphia Flyers
21. Buffalo Sabres (from Nashville Predators)
22. Pittsburgh Penguins
23. Florida Panthers
24. Boston Bruins
25. St. Louis Blues
26. Vancouver Canucks
27. Phoenix Coyotes
28. New York Rangers

Might the third overall choice be worth Tampa Bay's 10th and 19th?  Washington's 11th and 16th?  Buffalo's 12th and 21st?  Perhaps the Canadiens want to stay a little higher up than that, but could poach picks 6 and 36 from Anaheim or 8 and 38 from Carolina (Minnesota doesn't have its own 2nd round selection).  For this exercise, let's focus on the 6-12 range and some of the names that might interest the Habs.  The good news is, there is very likely to be a run on defensemen early on in the draft, since they make up a big part of the top rated prospect group.  So by trading down, the Canadiens should still be able to snag one of the top prospects at forward, an area where they have the far greater need.

If the team does opt for such a strategy, here's a look at five forwards and three d-men to consider with a later pick.

Radek Faksa - C - Kitchener Rangers, OHL
6'3", 202 lbs - Shoots L

Rankings: Central Scouting - 7th (North America); Future Considerations - 13th; The Hockey News - 11th

Faksa is a native of the Czech Republic who made the jump to the CHL this season after several years in Czech junior leagues.  Scoring 29 goals and 67 points in 62 games for Kitchener had him finish as runner-up to young phenom Aaron Ekblad for the Ontario League's Rookie of the Year.  In tournament play, Faksa scored 2 goals in 6 games for Team Czech Republic at this year's World Juniors (where he was the youngest player on his team) after a disappointing U18 a year ago had him pointless in 6 contests.  His production in these small-sample events dipped in the OHL playoffs as well, where he netted only 6 points in 13 games.  Those numbers may have been hurt by a head injury suffered in March, causing him to miss some playoff action, and potentially scaring a few teams that have or had interest in him who must now worry about concussions.

So what's to like?  If the Canadiens weren't drafting as high as they are, most fans would be clamouring to find a way to land Faksa.    A big and strong center, Faksa offers the kind of complete package scouts dream of: size, skill, good skating ability, and a willingness to backcheck hard.  He is built in the mold of a power forward and has success winning battles in the offensive zone, which is more his game rather than one of finesse.  His frame and reach make him difficult to contain for opposing defenders, which means as he fills out further he could become a dominating offensive presence.

Concerns about Faksa's play are relatively minor and can mostly be attributed to it being his first year in North America.  He started the season a little slow, normal for a player adjusting to a new country and league, but then picked it up, earning ice time and becoming one of Kitchener's top players.  However, later on in the year, whether it was a lack of endurance and conditioning in his own game or just struggling to deal with other teams keying on him more, he was less noticeable, which has kept him out of the top 10 in final rankings.

Definitely a top candidate for the Canadiens if they choose to move down, for the same reason the tools brought by Alex Galchenyuk and Mikhail Grigorenko make them likely picks for the team at #3.

Teuvo Teravainen - RW - Jokerit, Finland
5'11", 165 lbs - Shoots L

Rankings: Central Scouting - 2nd (Europe); Future Considerations - 8th; The Hockey News - 12th

The first thing you'll undoubtedly notice is the size issue; right away something that means Teravainen might not be an ideal choice for a team wanting to get bigger like Montreal.  But it's hard to ignore the elite level of skill and creativity Teravainen displays on ice, which makes him a dangerous threat who scored 11 goals and 18 points in 40 games in Finland's men's league this past season.  He was dominant against peers his own age, notching 12 goals and 20 points in just 11 junior league games, and adding 2 goals and 8 points in 6 games in this year's World U18.

His shiftiness with the puck is the skill that stands out the most, just as competent a scorer as he is a playmaker.  He isn't a dangler, but his vision and quick hands allow him to create room in the offensive zone.  He has quick feet, though isn't one to blow people away with his speed, which is a potential issue given that smaller players often need elite quickness to compensate for their lack of size.

This is basically what it comes down to with Teravainen: on the one hand, he has the ability to control a game, to patiently slow it down and create chances with the puck that always seems to find itself on his stick (all abilities scouts looking for in judging a player's upside), but on the other, adding strength to his frame is a real concern.  5'11" isn't "too small" for the NHL, but Teravainen is skinny, which makes battling along the boards and protecting the puck concerns for his future.  Ultimately scouts will have to determine if his huge offensive upside outweighs the concerns, and most seem to think it does, with McKeen's even ranking him in their final top five.  For these reasons, despite the team's need to get bigger, he becomes an option for the Canadiens whose biggest need is a top-flight superstar.

Brendan Gaunce - C - Belleville Bulls, OHL
6'2", 215 lbs - Shoots L

Rankings: Central Scouting - 13th (North America); Future Considerations - 18th; The Hockey News - 17th

Does Gaunce have enough upside to satisfy Hab fans in a year where the team starts off at third overall?  He did score 28 goals and 68 points in 68 games this season for Belleville, but how will that project in the long run?  These are the kind of questions scouts will have to consider if trading down for him is an option.

If Montreal were drafting 17th overall as they did a year ago, then Gaunce might be a perfect fit as a 6'2" center already possessing a thick enough frame to compete against men.  His big body lets him play a power and puck protection game, while also being an adept puck handler.  He possesses the leadership traits and intangibles that the Canadiens have historically loved to draft, and plays a good two-way game, reliable defensively, also a trademark of a Trevor Timmins pick.

While Gaunce sounds like an ideal center to build a team around, he isn't without fault.  Most notably, scouts are concerned about his skating, lacking both in top-flight speed and first-step quickness.  While he is a reasonable finisher, there are also concerns as to whether his offense will translate to the professional ranks.  Finally, while he is capable of being a physical, dominant player, there are times where the has lacked a bit of that intensity, so consistency is something he'll also need to work into his game.  This has polarized many scouts as to his future, some seeing him as a top 10 prospect from this draft class, filling out to be a top 6 power forward, while others see him as a later safe pick, projecting as a two-way third liner.  Based on this evaluation, it wouldn't be unfair to compare him to a Kyle Chipchura pre-draft, though Chipchura's development after being selected was largely derailed by injuries.  And just because Chipchura didn't pan out as Montreal had hoped, doesn't mean Gaunce will follow the same trajectory should he land with the Canadiens.

Zemgus Girgensons - C - Dubuque Fighting Saints, USHL
6'1.5", 200 lbs -
 Shoots L 
Rankings: Central Scouting - 18th (North America); Future Considerations - 19th; The Hockey News - 16th

There are a lot of similarities between Girgensons and Radek Faksa, also included on this list.  Future Considerations has Faksa 6 slots ahead of Girgensons, while McKeen's has Girgensons one spot ahead of Faksa.  Both are big European centers - Girgensons being Latvia - who came over to play hockey in North America prior to their draft year.  Girgensons has already been on this side of the ocean for three seasons, most recently playing the last two years with Dubuque of the USHL.  If you're hearing a lot about Dubuque lately, that is because there is a tie to recently hired Canadiens scout Bobby Kinsella, who served as Director of Scouting and Assistant Coach for the club for the past two years, meaning he has one of the better informed opinions of Girgensons of anyone out there.

Girgenson's 44 points in 43 games last season were a modest improvement from his 49 points in 51 contests the year prior, which has some scouts worried about his offensive upside.  He can play a physical power game, producing 2 goals at this year's World Juniors on a weak Latvian squad, and has the type of build that fast-tracks youngsters to the big league.  The question will be what role he can fill once he gets there.  While a natural center, many feel he lacks the skill set to project in that position long-term, with puck distribution not at the top of his list of skills, making some question his hockey sense.  His skating - while powerful and not a huge weakness - is also a bit of a concern, lacking a top gear.

Still, there is no doubting Girgensons's intensity and aggressiveness, which makes him a very safe prospect even if he ends up being limited to a third line role.  If Kinsella's recommendation comes in strong enough - and it likely will given that he served as Dubuque's captain this season - it is possible that the club works hard to nab Girgensons.  If it's not a trade down, maybe Girgensons's Latvian origin has him slip a little, and the club tries to trade up from pick 33 to select him late in the first round.

Sebastian Collberg - RW - Frolunda Jr. - Sweden
5'11", 175 lbs - Shoots R

Rankings: Central Scouting - 3rd (Europe); Future Considerations - 12th; The Hockey News - 14th

Like Teravainen, Collberg lacks the size Hab fans are dreaming of, but the winger packs a punch offensively.  Whereas Filip Forsberg was held to just a single assist in six World Junior Championship games this season, Collberg finished second on the squad with seven points, including four goals.  He was also dominant offensively in the World U18 tournament, where as one of Sweden's assistant captains, he scored 4 goals and 9 points in 6 games, but was also criticized for looking fatigued an umotivated at times after a long season.  Like Forsberg, Collberg spent much of the season playing against men in the Swedish Elite League, though he got very little ice time with Frolunda, held off the scoresheet in 41 games.  He spent 21 games with the team's junior club, registering 9 goals and 17 points in that span.

As a player, Collberg's quick and accurate release is probably his best attribute.  He's a great skater, and despite his size, doesn't shy away from traffic areas on the ice.  His defensive game is quite well-rounded with a solid work ethic making him a tough back checker, typical of many players coming out of Sweden and Finland the last several years.  Still, the lack of strength on his frame is concerning, limiting his effectiveness against bigger defenders, so it's something he'll need to work on if he is to produce at the North American professional level.  A final concern is his development if he remains in Sweden, as Frolunda can be tough on its younger players.  In addition to a lack of ice time, playing on a fourth unit, Collberg's game became one of puck retrieval, chip, and chase, limiting him from using his strengths in the attacking zone.

His style has drawn comparisons to the likes of Phil Kessel and Jeff Skinner, but if the Canadiens do decide that trading down for Collberg is what they're after, they might be wise to get him to join a CHL club for next year to continue his progression.  He may be on Trevor Timmins's radar, as when talking about top prospects for the upcoming draft, rather than single out Forsberg, Timmins alluded to, "the Swedes."

Mathew Dumba - D - Red Deer Rebels, WHL
5'11.5", 180 lbs - Shoots R
Rankings: Central Scouting - 11th (North America); Future Considerations - 10th; The Hockey News - 5th

The first of three blueliners on the list, Dumba is the smallest, which has undoubtedly hurt his pre-draft rankings.  However, he plays a lot bigger than the size he's listed at, which is both a compliment and a concern, causing some to fear for his longevity in the big league and his ability to handle his own in a men's league if his style doesn't translate against larger opponents.  His rankings are a little all over the place, with both McKeen's and The Hockey News having him as the #2 defenseman in the draft after Ryan Murray, while Future Considerations has four blueliners ahead of him.

So other than being a more physical player than he was built to be, what makes Dumba a top prospect?  He's got a well-rounded game, with vision that allows for great breakout passes, a heavy shot, and soft hands that help him make quick plays.  He possesses good leadership skills, rebounding after taking an early cut from Team Canada WJC camp very hard by captaining the country's World U18 team and producing a phenomenal 5 goals and 12 points in just 7 games to lead the club by a fair margin.  In Red Deer, he more than doubled his production from a year ago, scoring 57 points in 69 games to rank sixth among WHL rearguards.

Other than size, the only other real concern about Dumba is his consistency, as he can go through spells where he is less involved physically, and is caught watching the play, or being reactive rather than using the hockey intelligence he is blessed with.  But he is blessed with talent, and the rest (other than size) will mostly be worked out through coaching and maturity, so if Montreal wants to add a dynamic player - the kind who might have as good or better a career than anyone available at pick 3 - while picking up an additional selection, Dumba could be on their list.  He just might be my favourite d-man in the draft due to the exciting game he plays.  And as I've said before, I don't believe that the other top 10 blueliners are all that far behind Murray.

Griffin Reinhart - D - Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL
6'4", 205 lbs - Shoots L
: Central Scouting - 10th (North America); Future Considerations - 7th; The Hockey News - 8th

Reinhart is a consensus top 10 selection in the coming draft, blessed with the body that would make a guy like Dumba a contender for first overall this year.  Reinhart has hockey bloodlines - his father Paul is a former NHL d-man - which we know Trevor Timmins enjoys, and got added experience this year as his Edmonton Oil Kings won the WHL title and most recently competed in the Memorial Cup.

Reinhart may have the frame, but he doesn't play a physical, punishing game.  He is a two-way blueliner, less flashy than Dumba, having scored 12 goals and 36 points in 58 games this season, but makes up for what he lacks in toughness by playing a positionally sound coverage game in his own end.  He is strong, and even dropped the gloves on three occasions this season, but many would like to see him use his size to throw hits on a more regular basis rather than just relying on his long reach.  His skating is unique, often the case with young players who are adapting to their bodies, and while it shouldn't hold him back significantly, is an area he can strive to improve.

Perhaps the biggest positive with regards to Reinhart is that he improved significantly as the season went on. Players at this age are still developing as athletes, and it is a scout's job to project where they may be years in the future, thus to see a good learning curve is encouraging for what that future may hold.  As he gets increasingly comfortable in his role as a top pairing blueliner over time, we may see some of that toughness creep into his game with more consistency, which could make him an addition to a stacked Montreal back end some years from now.

Jacob Trouba - D - USNTDP, USHL
6'2", 195 lbs - Shoots R

Rankings: Central Scouting - 9th (North America); Future Considerations - 6th; The Hockey News - 9th

Future Considerations likes Trouba ahead of Reinhart, while both The Hockey News and McKeen's have him a little behind.  A little smaller than Reinhart, Trouba also plays an all-around two-way game.  However, where Reinhart can shy away from physical play and needs to work on his skating, both are core elements to Trouba's game.  Between his size, quickness, and toughness, he is difficult to beat in his own end, but he also possessed a hard point shot, which allowed him to score 18 points in 22 USHL games with the U18 team this season.  He was so good, in fact, that he made the American team for the World Juniors, contributing 2 assists in 6 games, and was later named an assistant captain for the World U18 squad, where he added a goal and 3 points in 6 more contests.

There is little at fault in Trouba's game, which the Canadiens might like when the players at the top of the draft all come with warning labels.  Critics sometimes worry about his puck-handling, which has many questioning whether his offensive skills can translate to the next level, but if he won't be a puck-rusher, his shot should mean it won't handicap him too badly.  He is a true competitor, but there are still some questions about consistency, though it is hard to gauge a player off such a small sample size with the US National Team Development Program.  He is expected to continue his development with either the University of Michigan or the Kitchener Rangers.

Now, if on draft day, prior to pick #3, we hear Gary Bettman utter those highly anticipated words, "We have a trade to announce," you have an idea of who it might be that the Canadiens are really looking to select.  Of this list, given the organization's needs, I'd be happy adding a Faksa or Girgensons.

However, truth be told, I'm not particularly in favour of the trade down option this year, even with a draft full of uncertainties and the need to bolster a thin prospect pool in Montreal.  It hopefully won't be often that the Canadiens get to speak so early on in an entry draft, and this gives them the opportunity to add a superstar-calibre player.  Sure, I'd be open to listening to offers for the pick, particularly if somehow Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk both go in the two spots before the Canadiens.  But in the end, I'd say draft your Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko and then hope for the best; all of the above players will make fine NHL'ers, but that's not the need.  Come June, a new star must be born to rise Hab fans out of their seats once again.

Next week, we'll look at the possibilities of trading up to nab Nail Yakupov with the first overall selection, or potentially trading the third overall pick away altogether.  The week following, we'll look at possible candidates for all of the rest of Montreal's picks in the draft.