Thursday, March 6th, 2008

How Do You Like Your Chances Now, Saku?

This Ottawa Citizen piece reminds us how Saku Koivu caused some controversy in the off-season by saying that the Habs weren't ready to contend; wonder how he's feeling now? The author says the Canadiens have all the right pieces to make a run - providing their untested goaltending holds up. If Price falters, he adds, Bob Gainey will get roasted (the French press already have the oven warmed up).

Habs Grit Their Teeth Over Officiating

Preparing to face the Coyotes tonight in Phoenix, the Canadiens had a day off before running through some drills with the coaches yesterday. Guy Carbonneau speaks to Pat Hickey here, discussing, among other things, his decision to go back to Carey Price in net after a bad game, and the team's frustration with the refereeing in San Jose the other night. Carey Price was literally bowled over by Patrick Marleau before one of San Jose's goals, and there were numerous phantom calls to go with a large number of missed calls. (All of which would be bearable if referees actually looked like this.)

It was indeed a badly-run game, but not unusually so, it must be said. The officiating in the NHL has been terrible since the beginning of the so-called "crackdown" on obstruction. It's not the focus on eliminating interference that's a problem; indeed, as most will admit, the automatic calls on hooking and holding have opened up the game, and the players have been much freer to strut their stuff, making it a more entertaining, more skill-based game. No, the "crackdown" has been a success in terms of eliminating the ugly stuff that used to clot the lanes, but it's had the unfortunate side effects of distracting officials from other fouls, while also making them less likely to call them.

Most of the refs in the NHL are still fairly old-school, and their philosophy is that they, the refs, "shouldn't affect the outcome" of the game. Now, obviously, a referee who avoids calling something, for whatever reason, is very clearly still "affecting" its outcome, but they don't see it that way. It is precisely that attitude that led to the constant hooking and holding that dominated the game from the mid-nineties until the recent past, and it is precisely that attitude that is to blame for the difficulty the NHL has had in trying to eliminate interference from the game.

Having been compelled - with the threat of demotion - to call even the slightest hint of a hook, the NHL refs have compensated by being more reluctant to call other types of penalties (checking from behind, double minors) if they think it's a borderline foul. Hence the growing irritation around the league from coaches, GMs, and players when referees blow calls.


Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Dodging Bullets

When the trade deadline went by, many of us were a little disappointed that Bob Gainey and the Canadiens didn't pick up a big-name player to round out their attack. Never mind that most of us know, rationally, that with the third-best offense and one of the best records in the league, the Habs weren't really in the biggest need of a Marian Hossa: psychologically, we all just want the boost of seeing a star player in a Habs uniform. It's been too long.

We go through the same thing every summer during the free agent period: we hope against hope that Uncle Bob will bring home a shiny, new fifty-goal scorer for us to admire, but it just never seems to happen. And we sulk. But why? Do we want a good team, or a flashy roster? Both, I guess. But maybe we need to remember how dicey the free-agent thing is. Remember last summer? Most of the signings last year have been disappointments, including:
  • Bill Guerin, Islanders, 2 years/9 million, 37 points.
  • Paul Kariya, Predators, 3 years/18 million, 52 points
  • Jason Blake, Leafs, 5 years/20 million, 12 goals, 40 points
  • Ryan Smyth, Avalanche, 5 years/31.5 million, 45 games, 33 points
  • Kimmo Timonen, Flyers, 6 years/39 million, 36 points, -3
  • Scott Gomez, Rangers, 7 years/51 million, 14 goals
  • Daniel Briere, Flyers, 8 years/52 million, 57 points, -23
  • Chris Drury, Rangers, 5 years/35.25 million, 48 points, -5
  • Sheldon Souray, Edmonton, 5 years/27 million, 26 games, 3 goals
The production of most of these guys is just embarrassing in relation to what their agents extorted from GM's around the league. Think back to how badly the fans and media wanted Briere to sign in Montreal: now imagine being saddled with that contract! We should all be thanking Uncle Bob for not biting on that one, not to mention for his decision to walk away from Sheldon "Payday" Souray, who was still welcome on the Habs at a handsome salary despite his chronic shoulder problems, better known to Gainey and the Habs than to anyone else. But because of his greed, he's spent this season freezing in Edmonton, a stranger amongst his teammates, waiting alone for his shoulder to heal and being regarded as a bust by fans who have no connection to him. I can't say I have any sympathy.