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.