24 Cups weighs in

Steve Kerley –  our undercover agent in Leafland, code name “24 Cups” – checks in with some thoughts on the makeover.

Be forewarned: He is not a happy man.

Wow, what an unreal 48 hours.  You can say what you want about Bob Gainey, but he certainly isn’t sitting in his rocking chair anymore.  Unfortunately, he fell out of it and landed on his rear-end .  Sadly, the negative consequences of his poor judgement will be felt for years to come in terms of our beloved  Habs.  Here are some quick thoughts on the carnage of the past few days.

- many posters are busy working on line combinations and cap calculations.  I’m not sure that is the best way to analyze what has happened over the past few days.  It might be beneficial to look back to see what circumstance brought Gainey to this point in time.  It has been six years since Gainey has taken over the team.  Back in 2003, there were three main problems with the Canadiens.  The franchise was weak at centre, was devoid of  players with size and grit, and suffered from a lack of scoring.  Gainey needed to move quickly and decisively to rectify these problems.  His failure to do (on the first two points) impacted on his five year plan and left the Habs in limbo when it came to the playoffs of the past few years.
- fast forward to last week.  There have been many improvements in the team but we still needed a front line centre as well as some size and grit, especially on defense.  The addition of three players would have gone a long way to help improve the team’s overall chances.  This factor, as well as the retention of some core Hab UFAs, could have complimented the continuing development of our young players.  One or two bold strokes were all that was required to retool the team for a Cup run in a few years. Sadly, there was no master plan and Gainey was forced to build a patch quilt team with the cap space that he had.  The results were as follows.
- Gainey trades for Scott Gomez.  This deal has been universally panned by everyone in the hockey world.  We have taken on a massive contract for a 2nd line centre and lost the best prospect in our system.  As well, a decent forward entering his prime years was let go. Chris Higgins had a bad year in ’08 but certainly would have prospered under coach Martin.  The worst part of the deal is that it didn’t address any of our major needs.  You also have to wonder why Lou Lamoriello and Glen Sather passed on Gomez as he was entering his best years.
- Gainey eats up long term cap space by signing Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri.  These players along with Gomez now become the face of the franchise in terms of offense.  Gionta hasn’t done much the past few years but should bounce back with Gomez.  I can live with Cammalleri but all of these guys lack size and 1st line stature (as a unit).  This trio would be a great 2nd line on a Cup winning team.  Alas, they are our answer to the big units of Pittsburgh, Washington, and Philadelphia.  We are now a team of smurfs.
- Gainey repeats his Roman Hamrlik mistake by signing Jaroslav Spacek for three years at just under 4M a year. Both Spacek and Hal Gill are now in their second tour of duty as UFAs who can help out a struggling team.   That’s pushing the envelope a bit too much as far as I’m concerned. Once is enough for guys this age.  Spacek lacks size and is injury prone.  In 2010, he and Hamrlik will be pushing 37 years of age as they pull down a collective 9.5M a year.  That’s a lot of coin for two guys who can’t play in your top pairing.  Hal Gill isn’t that bad a signing, considering that we’re behind the eight ball.    He also makes reasonable money.  He can’t skate and he is unable to stop the guys who can, but makes up for it with his wing span and experience.  He also is decent on the PK.
- the panic signing of these two begs the question – what happened to the youth movement on defense?  We lost Komo for the same money that most posters on HIO were willing to pay him.  There has to be more to this situation than meets the eye.  Either Gainey totally mismanaged the signing or Komo just hit the road for an extra 500K a year.  Regardless, I’m left feeling empty and let down.   Secondly, what do these signings of over the hill vets mean to the development of Yannik Weber and Ryan O’Byrne?  The numbers dictate that O’Byrne will be in the press box and Weber will be getting very little PP time.  Or worse, be up on the wing for half of the year.  I would also mention that Ryan  McDonagh would be ready to take on a significant role with the team in two years but that’s a moot point now.
- I really could care less if the Habs had of signed Alex Kovalev, Robert Lang, or Mathieu Schneider.  All those players would have been stop gap measures while the team matured for a Cup run somewhere down the road.  But what about Alex Tanguay?  Did Gainey just bring him here for one year to help try and win a Cup?  Is there something we don’t know about this player?  Can he be any better or worse than Gionta?  Makes you wonder, for sure.  Saku Koivu?  His contract and role on the team should have been worked out last September.  He could have taken on an “Yzerman like” roster spot as he matured into his late 30′s.  Once again, you would have to be on the inside to know the real truth of the matter.  Still, it’s sad to see him go.
- it certainly appears that Gainey’s plan to let all these contracts expire at the same time has backfired.  He wanted to pick and choose who he would sign and use that uncertainty  as a form of motivation but all it has led to is the loss of the players he wanted to keep and the subsequent settling for the secondary signings from the UFA pool.  Even worse,  is the fact that six years later we have few building blocks in place that are so important to building a Cup contender.  Right now, only Andrei Markov fits that bill, although some would include Carey Price, but only by default.  In a way, this may be Gainey’s biggest blunder of all.
- another major concern that I have is the number of 1st round draft picks that Gainey has discarded.  I count five going back to the 2001 draft – Alexander Perezhogin, Komo, Higgins, Tanguay (2008), and McDonagh.  It might be six if Kyle Chipchura can’t cut it in training camp.  Where is the logic in all of this?  To be fair, all teams lose some of their picks, but why do that and then be forced to go out and acquire other team’s players?
- you also have to wonder where the leadership is going to come from on this new edition of the Canadiens.  Who becomes captain or even alternates?  Sam Pollock always said that your team should be made up of thirds – an experienced group of veterans, a dynamic group of players in their prime years, and another third that is filled with eager youngsters who are trying to impress and make their mark with the team.  I’m not sure you can apply that philosophy to this new edition of the Habs.

Well, what’s done is done and there’s no going back.  We still have some young players on the team that should improve this year and a few good prospects in the system.  No need to list the names.  Our new acquisitions will certainly score some goals and help us win some regular season games.  But when it’s all said and done, we will still be facing the same problems that we did six years ago.  There certainly isn’t enough here to compete with the powerhouse teams in our conference.  I’ve been here since 1959, so I will continue to patiently support my team as I always have, as I hang onto the hope that our young kids will exceed all our expectations and help turn this situation around.                                                                            


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24 Cups weighs in

Our friend Steve Kerley, who kindly supplied scouting reports and asute analyses all through the season, weighs in look at the final weighs in with a look at the final.

I really don’t care who wins the Cup once the Habs are out but I would
imagine that most hockey fans are picking the Wings to win it all this
year.  I still feel it will be a close series and the Pens just might
win it due to the following factors:


- Pittsburgh had a deer in the headlights start to last year’s final.  They were star struck during the first two games and were down 2-0 before they could catch their breath.  In fact, they were shutout 4-0 and 3-0 in Detroit.  Gaining a split on the road this year will be a great start for them.  Motivation and valuable experience should come into play.


- The Pens need to  nullify Detroit’s home ice advantage.  This may already have been accomplished seeing that Detroit has some key injuries and the NHL has scheduled back-to-back games this weekend.  Both teams will also play 4 games in 6 nights and 5 games in 8 nights to start the series.  Not a good omen for a team with some age and health issues.


- Mike Babcock is a superior coach who also has a wealth of experience.  Yet Pittsburgh was able to take the series to six games under Therrien.  Dan Bylsma has little experience (just six years removed from playing in the NHL) but he does have the Pens believing in themselves (and his style of play) as they have gone  supernova (30-8-4 including playoffs) since he has taken over.  He doesn’t have to outcoach Babcock – just holding his own should suffice.


- Geno Malkin was either hurt or missing in action in last year’s final so he should be primed for a comeback this year.  Detroit has some great forwards but they have none who compare to Malkin and Sidney Crosby – two of the top three players in the game.  This isn’t going to be the same as shutting down people such as Rick Nash and Patrick Kane.  As well, Pittsburgh’s strength down the middle is superior to any team in the NHL (except in the face-off circle where Detroit holds the edge).  The fact that Jordan Staal was able to nullify his brother should be a warning  to the Wings.


- Pittsburgh lost quite a few depth players from last year such as Jarrko Ruutu, Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque, and Adam Hall.  Ray Shero not only replaced those players ( with Chris Kunitz, Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams) but he also improved the team’s overall speed in the process.  This is a key improvement over last year.  The team still has grit and hitting ability but can also play the transition game.  There certainly is no replacing Marion Hossa’s contribution from last year, but Guerin and Kunitz more than make up for Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora.  It’s imperative that Guerin and Kunitz don’t blow a tire in the final.


- I would expect the series to be fast-paced and skill-oriented, but the Pens also have the players who can dole out the hits.  Brooks Orpik, Cooke, Tyler Kennedy, and Staal should open up some ice for Crosby and Malkin.  Detroit’s two greatest strengths are their puck possession and the transition game (which starts from their defense).  Both Pen stars are young and well rested so I would be double shifting them as much as possible. They have been averaging 21 minutes a game so it might help to try and increase that by another 3 or 4 minutes.   Crosby and Malkin need to have the puck as much as possible throughout the series.  And once they have it, they need to up their shot totals instead of passing off too much to lesser lights.


- Special teams usually play a big role in the playoffs although I really don’t expect a lot of penalties.  Detroit’s PK (14th/73.7%) has been shaky throughout the playoffs while Pittsburgh (5th/83.6%) only allowed one goal on twelve chances by Carolina.  To win the series, Pittsburgh’s PP (7th/19%) will have to stay on a par with Detroit’s (3rd/26%) .  The Wings have two solid units while the Pens basically rely on Crosby, Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, Kunitz, and Guerin. Detroit also excels at 5-on-5 play, so the PP becomes even more important for the Pens.


- Detroit’s defense is much better than Pittsburgh’s, but Bylsma has been using a seven-man rotation and the results have been better than expected.  Gonchar and Letang run the PP and are in charge of puck movement.  Orpik leads the hit parade while Rob Scuderi (much improved) is the shutdown guy.  Mark Eaton is unheralded but is coming up big for the Pens. Hal Gill is a pylon but comes with a great wing span which is especially helpful on the PK.  Makes the box  that much bigger.  Philippe Boucher has lots of experience and doesn’t have to carry a heavy load which adds to his value.  To break even here against the Wings would be a huge bonus.


- Finally, it goes without saying, that Marc-André Fleury will have to outshine Chris Osgood.  That won’t be easy seeing that Osgood seems to have found his groove at the most opportune time of the year.  Detroit is better around the (offensive) net than Pittsburgh and Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen add a dimension that most teams don’t have.  The Wings also tend to out-shoot their opposition.  That certainly doesn’t bode well for Fleury yet he seems to make the big save when his team needs it the most.  If he can play like he did in Game 5 of last year’s final, then it just might mean that the Detroit gets it’s wings clipped.


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