Keep Calm and Carey On
The latest news in the thrill-a-minute NHL labour negotiations, announced via Twitter by agent Allan Walsh, is that the NHLPA may seek to invalidate the owner’s lockout efforts in the province of Quebec. Without getting into the nitty-gritty legalese, Quebec labour law dictates that an employer cannot enact a lockout if it’s employees do not have certified union representation. Given that the NHLPA is not officially recognized by Quebec’s provincial labour board, the door remains theoretically open for a court ruling that could force Geoffrey Molson to unlock his doors and allow Eric Cole et al to return to work. (Editor’s note: The Quebec Labour Board has since rejected the NHLPA’s claim but you’re fucked in the head if you think we’re going to re-write the intro to a 10,000 word column).
Besides providing Marc Bergevin with a potentially tasty negotiating carrot, the breaking news also spawned yet another incomparable conversation between the always-entertaining Greg Wyshynski and Jeff Marek. In the same spirit as the myriad hypothetical dispersal drafts that emerged after the potential contraction of the Phoenix Coyotes was announced, Messrs’ Wyshynski and Marek proceeded to have an abbreviated discussion on which Habs players would be selected in a fantasy draft where the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge were the NHL’s only-team-standing.
GIVEN that we are not above ‘borrowing’ other people’s concepts and GIVEN that there is shit-all to talk about in the middle of a lockout, we present to you the first annual Habs dispersal draft. The rules:
A – This is a two-team dispersal draft, conducted in snake fashion. Rather than a pure fantasy draft, the purpose of this exercise is to select the players who would serve as the best building-blocks for a team’s short-, medium-, and long-term futures. Team O’Neill has won the coin-flip and will select first.
B – Disregard salaries. The draft is merely meant to assess each player’s on-ice value and potential – even soul-sucking, salary cap-destroying incubi like Rene Bourque and Tomas Kaberle can provide hypothetical value.
C – Disregard position. Since the interest of this dispersal draft is to more-or-less rank players rather than build fantasy teams, no importance is placed on whether or not Team O’Neill or Team Vanasse have enough goalies, d-men or forwards to ice a real squad. While a goalie is obviously important for building a real team on the ice, there’s no point in valuing Peter Budaj over a top-six forward simply because one team has yet to pick a goalie.
Without further ado, the First Annual Habs Dispersal Draft:
1 – With the first pick in the dispersal draft, I select Carey Price. The easiest choice on the board, Price is a 6’3, 220lb, 25-year old franchise cornerstone who combines the size of Pekka Rinne with the athleticism of Jose Theodore and the technical proficiency of Martin Brodeur. A franchise goalie is the most elusive piece of the championship equation (ask Philly fans) and locking-up a blue chip talent like Price would allow any team to remain competitive for the next decade. Ignore the haters – Price is a former World Junior Championship and Calder Cup MVP who has been selected to three All-Star games in four NHL seasons and reached 100 career wins faster than all but six netminders in league history. The brief post-lockout era where you could win a Stanley Cup with the likes of a Chris Osgood or an Antti Niemi is over – nowadays you need a franchise cornerstone on par with Tim Thomas or Jonathan Quick to raise the Cup. Price has at least one Quick-esque Cup run in him.
2 – To quote Clay Davis: Sheeeeeeeeeeet. Tough one. This is one of those drafts where the first overall is pretty much a consensus pick, but things immediately get tough at the two spot. Price was a gimmee. Except maybe for those fans still wishing we’d dealt our 25-year-old, three-time All-Star netminder (I’ll admit, only two of them completely merited) and kept the St. Louis’ Blues co-starting goalie. But I don’t talk to those people anymore.
Allow me to concede that 12 months ago I would have used the second pick to grab PK Subban. No doubt. With his Game 7 dying-minutes powerplay equalizer against the eventual Cup champs still echoing through my brain, Subban had me frothing at the mouth to see what he’d do next.
While my PK enthusiasm hasn’t exactly cooled, I find it difficult to come up with an argument that has me taking that 23-year-old over the team’s other highly-touted 23-year-old. The way I see it, Subban is still waiting to have his breakout season, Max Pacioretty just had his. In fact, I might even argue that 2010-2011 was the actual breakout for Patches.
If you recall, prior to an unfortunate incident in which a Bell Centre stanchion leapt out at poor young Max – despite Zdeno Chara doing all he could to pull Max out of the way (that’s how it went down right?) – Patches had become Montreal’s hottest goal scorer. In 37 games with the big club that season, MaxPac lit the lamp 14 times; a rate of 0.378 goals-per-game. During the season-that-shall-not-be-named, Patches scored 33 goals in 79 games, for an average of 0.417 goals per game. To save you doing the math, over the course of 82 games, that’s a difference of just 3 goals. And, for the sake of argument, Max was getting hotter before his season ended extremely violently and abruptly.
The point is, since finding his NHL groove somewhere after joining the NHL squad for good in 2010-2011, Pacioretty has been scoring a lot of goals, consistently. He’s mildly streaky, but not Mike Cammalleri streaky. More like regular old prolific goal scorer streaky. And because of all he has already been through, we kind of forget that the 2012 Masterton Trophy winner is only 23.
I’m with Bergevin when it comes to order of importance if I’m building an NHL team: first you lock-down Pacioretty, then you get PK.
So, yeah, with the second pick, Team Vanasse takes Max Pacioretty.
3 – Nearly 1,000 words and we’re only two picks in! That’s what I’m talking about! Although it also pains me not to select Pernell Karl Subban, with the third pick in the 2012 Habs Dispersal Draft, Team O’Neill selects the same player who went third overall in this past June’s entry draft, Alex Galchenyuk. Sure there’s a chance Galchenyuk turns into the next Nikita Filitov or Patrick Stefan, but if stays healthy there’s a much better chance that the 6’1 centre morphs into a point-per-game playmaker. Names ranging from Marian Hossa to Jason Spezza to Bobby Ryan have been thrown around as NHL; Todd Cordell of The Hockey Guys writes that
Galchenyuk is smart, big, talented, and he can skate. He is good in all aspects of the game and there really isn’t much he isn’t capable of doing. Given his size, smarts and skill he projects to be a very good first line center in the NHL for a long, long time.
The National Post’s Michael Traikos, meanwhile, argues that Galchenyuk has:
…the skill and playmaking ability of a Russian (he played youth hockey in Moscow), but is equally comfortable playing the North American power game (he has represented the U.S. team in international events).
Injury-concerns aside, Galchenyuk appears to be the real deal. Smart, slick, and mobile, any team would be happy to build around the skilled two-way forward.
4 – Since he was referenced in the last two picks and I would qualify him as my favourite player on the team, with the fourth pick Team Vanasse selects PK Subban.
And then Team Vanasse shops him around immediately because he is such a distraction in the locker room.
The “trade Subban” and “the Habs are looking to trade Subban” shenanigans are the worst. They remind me of the Halak v. Price days wherein, if you’re not on the same side of the discussion as me, I’m want to slap your face because you is living in a world of wrong.
It could be argued, even considering the three young stalwarts selected ahead of The Subb (will that catch on? Do I even want it to?), that PK has the highest ceiling of any player in the organization right now.
The accolades heaped upon this young “controversial” bluelining gem are never in short supply. His dissenters are equally plentiful, though it has been oft times argued on this very site that a good number of us believe there may be some racial reasons lining those arguments.
Sure, you can measure what Subban brings to the ice statistically. And even that reaps positive results. He notched 14 goals and added 24 helpers in his rookie campaign with a very rookie like -8 in the old +/- column.
In his supposed “sophomore slump” campaign last year, Subban registered just 2 less points (36 via 7 goals and 29 assists) but swung his +/- a full 17 points in the positive direction to finish the season with a +9, good for fourth on the team and second only to Gorgeous Gorges amongst blueliners.
While I would never argue that 2 less points is progress, sophomore struggles are – for some reason – very real and quite discountable. Plus, the significant upswing in +/- would more than suggest Subban upped his defensive game in the interest of becoming a better all around player, even though it may have cost him somewhat offensively. And that all came with him having to step-up and become Montreal’s main man on the blue line! For a kid who takes the majority of his hockey-play-based criticism for his defensive play, I’d say he put up a pretty positive season 2. On an absolute shit team.
Oh yeah, it should also be mentioned that despite the reputation Subban has been assigned for being an irresponsible player out there, he actually cut down his PIMs last year (by just 5 minutes in 4 more games, but still).
But we all know its PK’s intangibles that possibly render his ceiling highest in the organization. No one else brings the joy of the game to the table like PK. No one else seems to play as hard as PK. No one is more engaging than PK. No one has more character than PK. No one is as potentially explosive as PK. No one has more superstar potential than PK. No one is as likeable to his fans as PK. No one is as hated by his competition as PK.
To that last point I ask: when is it bad to have an agitator; someone that can really cause the opposition to lose their cool when it matters? Not some professional diver like Maxime Lapierre, but a real shit disturber who can also produce. I’m thinking of a few Boston Bruins who will go unmentioned here. Or Scotty Hartnall.
If a handsome wizard came along and told me one, and only one, current member of the Canadiens will someday wind-up in the Hall of Fame, and if I wanted to not be turned into a newt, I had to guess correctly which player that was: I’m picking PK.
(But part of me would think I should have picked Carey)
5 – Price, Patches, Galy and PK were a lock to go 1 – 4 in some order. While the franchise building-block type players are now off of the board, there are still plenty of talented veterans on the Habs roster to choose form. With that in mind, Team O’Neill selects Eric Cole. It’s amazing to think that, just over a year ago, the main question surrounding Eric Cole was whether he had the mental make-up to thrive in a high-pressure market like Montreal. After signing a four-year, $18 million contract (give Pierre Gauthier credit where credit is due), Cole responded with a career-high 35-goal campaign and immediately emerged as a Mike Cammalleri-type fan favourite who thrived under the bright lights of the Bell Centre. Even if Cole never duplicates that high-water mark, he is a legitimate top-6 forward who you can pencil in for 25-plus goals every season. Even though he’s a notch below the All-Star level, big (6’2, 205), tough, smart, high-character snipers like Cole are hardly a dime-a-dozen. Cole is the type of player who was born to lift the Stanley Cup above his head while sporting a few nasty scars and a grizzled playoff beard.
6 – I know a lot of thought went into picking the top 5 Habs, but that being said, I’m of the suspicion that through it all we would have picked the same 5 guys in the same order (though I may have taken PK ahead of Galchenyuk, maybe…). Now that we are out of the top 5, things get tougher and less consensual. That’s right, things are no longer consensual!
This was the first real tough pick I’ve had to make, since I got to avoid the PK vs. Gally inner debate.
But I’ve made my choice. With the sixth pick, I select Josh Gorges.
Gorgeous is young, the heir-apparent to the Gionta captaincy and a real gamer. He’s tough as nails on the ice – see 2011-2012 blocked shots stats – and a real leader off it. His acquisition is considered the feather in the cap of the Gainey-era, and with good reason.
What Gorges does is somewhat difficult to quantify, but anyone watching him with any regularity understands that he’s a difference maker. The Habs are certainly not in Cup contending mode at the moment (well, at the moment, no one is, since the NHL has locked-out the players), but if Bergevin can somehow turn this team into a contender, than a guy like Gorges is a real necessity and potential game changer during a long playoff run.
Montreal is definitely not there at the moment, but if I’m building a team designed to contend for Stanley, I want the Gorgeous One.
7 – Time for a dirty little secret: I’ve never been the world’s biggest Tomas Plekanec fan. Though certainly a valuable, top-6 forward, the Czech centre has never captured my imagination the way more dynamic (though less reliable) Habs like Alex Kovalev or Mike Cammalleri have.
The mere fact, however, that Plekanec remains undervalued even by some Habs die-hards is indicative of how admittedly underrated he is. More appreciated than beloved, Pleks is like a patient hitter who does all the small things like work the pitcher and get on base, but rarely wows you with a tape-measure home run or a head-first slide into third.
If you watch Plekanec on a night-by-night basis, however, you do begin to admire his remarkable consistency, his puck awareness, his hockey-smarts, his underrated toughness and his commitment to two-way play. Pleks is the type of player who will happily go unnoticed by dolts like me until he blocks a key shot on the penalty-kill or chips in a beauty backhander in the third period of a tied game. Welcome to Team O’Neill Mr. Plekanec – I’m sorry I haven’t been more appreciative all of these years.
8 – As an undersized individual, it impresses me immensely that anyone my height could possibly play in the NHL. And yet Brian Gionta does it, and does it pretty well. His 5’7”-ness made me a big fan of the current Canadiens’ captain from the moment he signed with Montreal. The declaration that his favourite band was Pearl Jam proved to me that he and I are buddies.
So I could parade out his always consistent stats. I could point to his obvious leadership abilities. I could discuss the Stanley Cup ring he wears. But I don’t think picking Brian Gionta 8th overall in our Habs draft needs any explanation at all. Part of me feels it might even be too low.
Besides, I just want him on my non-existent team so I don’t feel so tiny partying in the team’s make believe dressing room while we celebrate our imaginary Stanley Cup victory by blaring Yellow Ledbetter. I said, I know what I waited not a boxer or the bag!
9 – My internal debate over who I should take with the 9th overall pick revolves around which young building-block I think provides the most long-term value: Lars Eller or Louis Leblanc? Both players are young, talented, unproven and potentially burdened by unrealistic expectations. Eller, of course, arrived as the main incoming piece in the Jaroslav Halak deal; while some fans bemoaned the fact that the Habs didn’t receive more compensation for the playoff-hero/flash in the pan, scouts praised the former first round pick’s vision, hands, and playmaking ability. In two full-seasons with the Habs, Eller has steadily improved while showing flashes of brilliance. While he was arguably hamstrung by being called-up to the show before he was truly ready, his memorable four goal performance last January was a sign of things to come and he is a leading candidate to be the Habs next breakout player.
Leblanc, meanwhile, has largely managed to silence the critics who though the Habs had reached for a Quebec-born francophone when they selected him in the first-round of the 2009 draft. Following promising stints in the NCAA, QMJHL and AHL, Leblanc hardly looked out of his element in his first stint with the Habs, scoring five goals and five assists 42 games. A two-way goal-scorer with top-notch speed, underrated grit, and good hockey-smarts, Leblanc projects as a top-six forward in the David Perron model.
Ultimately you can’t go wrong with either pick, even if Montreal management, fans, and media have a tendency to overrate their up-and-comers. My gut, however, tells me that most GMs around the league would take Eller at gunpoint if given the choice. I agree – with the 9th pick, Team O’Neill selects Lars Eller.
10 – Overlooked due to his size throughout his hockey career, I think it might be fair to assess Sean and I have done the same to David Desharnais. The 26-year-old centre has faced doubters at every level of his career, all the while putting up impressive statistics time and time again. Despite QMJHL success, the “five-foot-seven” (I call bullshit and say 5’5”) Desharnais went undrafted. Impressing enough as an undrafted Canadiens camp invitee, DD was assigned to the ECHL where he posted a phenomenal 106 points in just 68 regular season games to lead the league in scoring, then added 33 more points in 22 playoff games as his Cincinnati Cyclones won the Kelly Cup and the little man was named the league’s rookie of the year and MVP.
He spent the next season and half with the Bulldogs in the AHL where he led the team in scoring in 2009-2010 (70 points in 68 games, plus 23 points in 19 playoff games). He was having another terrific season in Hamilton when the Canadiens called him up for a second time. He would score 8 goals and add 22 assists in 43 games with the Habs in 2010-2011. Enough to earn him a two-year deal with the big club.
And then came 2011-2012 in which he centered a line that saw two members of the Canadiens set career bests in the goals department. I know it was Pacioretty’s first full NHL season, but it certainly wasn’t Erik Cole’s. On the other hand, the centre he used to play with was some Staal kid in Carolina. For his own cause, Desharnais scored 16 goals and contributed 44 apples in his first full NHL season. His 60 points left him as the 3rd leading point getter on the team, just 1 one back of Pacioretty.
Though I doubt he’s the next Martin St. Louis (if I thought he was I would have taken him considerably higher obviously), I’m going to guess he has a solid NHL career, because he just seems to overcome the size-based question marks every time.
11 – Thanks Zach – your love of diminutive French-Canadians has spared me from having to take sides in the great Eller vs. Leblanc debate. With the 11th pick, Team O’Neill selects Louis Leblanc for all of the reasons mentioned above.
12 – My family lineage dictates I love diminutive French-Canadians. It was the tiny coureur de bois whats eventually made me. But if Desharnais had been drafted and was larger than 5’9” while putting up the exact same numbers at every other level of his career, we’d all be going out of our skulls about the next French-Canadian star in Montreal.
Anyways, on to my next pick. For this one, I’ll take Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen for $500, Alex.
Andrei Markov. There was a time when a mock Habs draft might have seen Markov go first over all. Now the poor kneeless bastard can’t even crack the top 10 for a team on which he was once the only legitimate all star.
I guess three mostly missed seasons and 14 knee operations will do that to a guy.
Here’s my thinking on this one: I’m trying to not overrate our prospects that have yet to spend a second in the NHL, I like what Emelin does, but not quite enough to completely discount my faith in Markov bouncing back TO SOME DEGREE quite yet.
So, I’m either picking Markov too high or too low on this list, but there’s no way to know yet. The way I see it, I’ll take him in this safe middle ground, where both the Markov champions and his naysayers will think I’m an idiot.
13 – You’re an idiot. With the 13th overall pick in the Habs dispersal draft, Team O’Neill selects Mike Cammalleri. Damn it all – seeing how we traded our top-sniper for fifty-cents-on-the-dollar, I’ll go with Jarred Tinordi. With Galchenyuk, Eller, Leblanc, and now Tinordi in the fold, I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes overrate Habs prospects (I remember being legitimately excited about the pending Kyle Chipchura “era”). But my theory on team-building is that I would almost always rather go with an unproven commodity who has the potential to be something special over a veteran who’s just another guy. Will Tinordi ever reach the level that Markov reached during his apex? Probably not – but the 6’7 (!!!!!), 212lb blueliner could/should be a top-three stud who’s size, reach, and grit suggests an intriguing combination of Mike Komisarek and Hal Gill.
14 – I couldn’t take Tinordi ahead of Markov. 6’7” is just too big for me.
15 – Given that a towering American is the polar opposite of a diminutive French-Canadian, I suppose Tinordi was never really in the mix for Team Vanasse. Don’t think for a second, however, that I don’t see what you’re doing Zach; you’re just testing to see if I’m really petty enough to not select Rene Bourque even though he’s probably the most talented player left in our virtual green room. I sure as hell am – my fake team can’t tolerate a player who only gives a shit once every three games. With the 15th pick, Team O’Neill selects Brandan Prust; not a dazzling talent to be sure, but any guy who blocks shots, drops the gloves, plays tough, and can chip in the odd goal has a spot on my team.
16 – I knew at some point I would be the one taking Rene Bourque. Since we agreed that contracts don’t matter and we are now 16 picks into this thing: I will take a guy who has recently put together a pair of 27-goal seasons. I’m not delighted about it. But I think it makes sense. I mean, one of us has to take him eventually.
17 – The pickins’ start to get mighty thin at this point of the virtual draft, which underscores that the Habs lack of depth may be their biggest weakness heading into the next season. While I am intrigued by both Nathan Beaulieu and Blake Geoffrion (I think Beaulieu has the better career), I am going to reach for Colby Armstrong who I believe might have a bounce-back season with the Habs. Armstrong was hilariously miscast in Toronto but, if healthy, he’s a smart grinder with tons of experience and a nose for the net.
18 – How could you take Colby Armstrong before Travis Moen? The guy does everything 40% decently! Prior to his injury last season – killing the Habs chances of making the playoffs in my opinion (people will get that that’s a joke right?) – the man was on fire! Like Denzel Washington in that movie: The Preacher’s Wife. Anyways, any educated person would have taken one of the aforementioned prospects here. But I’m sticking with Stanley Cup winner and Saskatchewan legend Travis Soft Hands Moen.
19 – I’m a little surprised you didn’t take Moen 2nd overall. It’s funny how, over the course of one decent season, we’ve both gone from regarding Moen as an utterly expendable journeyman to a valuable bottom-six grinder. In any case Moen seems to have regained a little bit of the mojo that made him so vital to Anaheim’s Stanley Cup run in ’07. Nice pick. Again, the logical choice here would either be Beaulieu or Geoffreion but, having already gone heavy on the prospects, I’ll instead select a man who has already 98 NHL games under his belt; Yannick Weber. I was less than impressed with Weber early in his career, thinking that he was mostly a fringe 7th defenceman/13th forward type who had just enough skills to hover around the margins of an NHL roster but not enough talent to carve out a permanent role. Weber improved by leaps and bounds last season though and appears to be firmly entrenched in Montreal’s plans going forward. Weber is certainly on the small size but there is something to be said for someone who is both athletic and intelligent enough to play multiple positions – a Mathieu Dandenault type career isn’t out of the question for the Swiss defenceman.
20 – We’ve both conceded that prospects should be picked, but that’s less fun than ranking the guys currently on the roster… and since we finish with this 20th pick, seeing which roster guys don’t make the Habs’ top 20 ranking according to us (sort of) is more fun. Which leaves me with: Francis Bouillon, Petteri Nokelainen, Tomas Kaberle, Scott Gomez, Raphael Diaz, Peter Budaj and Ryan White. The saddest thing about that list is two of those guys are among the Habs highest paid individuals. That’s how you finish in dead fucking last in the East boys and girls.
So this is going to take some talk-it-out thinking like contestants on Who Wants to be a Millionaire used to do. I wish this actually lead to me describing my whole slumdog life as I go over each player and make my choice, but this thing is already long enough. No need to write a screenplay here. Here’s who I give no consideration to: Nokelainen, Diaz and Budaj. It’s kind of unfair to Budaj since you could make the argument that he is one of the top 60 players of his position on earth. You certainly couldn’t make that argument for any of the other guys. But he’s a backup goalie. Life’s tough when you’re a puckstopper.
Gomez and Kaberle are both former all-stars and both have hoisted Lord Stanley (though I’ve made the argument that Kaberle might be the least deserving Cup winner ever). Historically I’ve said that Gomez, if he were paid like a third line centre, would be a guy with some upside. And I still think that’s the case. I’ve heard arguments for what Kaberle brings to the table as well, but I just don’t feel the guy. A legitimate statistical examination of things would probably have Kaberle – and possibly even Gomez – both make the top 20. But I’m not gonna do it because it makes me feel good to leave them off.
So it is between Francis Bouillon and Ryan White: both grinders who bring a certain something with them, kind of the opposite of Gomez and Kaberle, who appear to possess (or had possessed) some real easy-to-see talent, but not that je ne sais quoi. I think Franky B has always been underrated and I liked Bergevin bringing him back into the fold. That being said, I’ll forget he is on the team at least seven or eight times if the 2012-2013 season actually ever happens. I won’t, however, forget that Ryan White is on the team because what White does is more memorable, even if it isn’t all that talent packed. And so, with the final pick of the draft I take Ryan White.
 ‘Potentially Tasty Negotiating Carrot’ is the name of my next band – Sean