Rabid Habs

Toasting Success

Habs' Carey Price

Allow me to take this opportunity to extend a sincere congratulations to the Montreal Canadiens on reaching the regular season pinnacle, first place overall. Look, before we continue, let’s clarify a few things. No, I’m not drunk, although I might be guilty of having indulged, excessively, at the game last night. No, I don’t wear rose coloured glasses and yes, I do see the deficiencies on this team. None of that however should take away from the achievements, the milestones, this team has reached since Marc Bergevin inherited control. A first place regular season finish. An appearance in the Eastern Conference finals, where the Habs pushed the Rangers to six games despite missing franchise goaltender Carey Price. And now, a first overall standing with less than 20 games remaining. Sure, it’s true, they don’t hoist regular season banners at the Bell Centre, but nonetheless, it’s progression and deserving of acknowledgment.

The waters are muddied. On one hand, the organization has grown leaps and bounds in less than 3 years, elevating expectations to heights that might never be realized. Only one, yes one, team will be awarded the Stanley Cup. If the measurement of a team’s success depends exclusively on hoisting the Cup, then 29 teams will have failed. Great teams, in many fans’ estimations the Rangers, Lightning, Ducks, Kings, Blackhawks, Islanders, etc included, will have failed in their ultimate goal. For many Habs fans, anything short of a Stanley Cup will be a failure, a missed opportunity. While, on the other hand, some fans are perfectly satisfied with results thus far. I won’t offer an attempt at breaking the tie, but will remind Habs fans that things in Montreal are as good as anywhere in the league.

The contrast in different opinions was highlighted at the trade deadline. While some fans believed¬† the retention of top picks and prospects, while landing three potentially impactful players were deft moves, the most recent example of Bergevin waving his magic wand. After all, the market appeared to favour the buyers, who could freely set their price. Others however viewed the deadline as a colossal failure, as Bergevin failed to acquire a top line winger to compliment Pacioretty. Sure, we all had our list, but talent comes at a price. Once New York pushed their chips on the table in a move to land Yandle, their opponents were provided an opportunity to call or fold. Having been immersed in the casino business for many years, I’ve seen, first hand, fortunes change on this single decision. Believing that we are more than a single move away, in addition to wanting to sustain success, I prefer the decision to hedge the bet – not lay down the hand, but also avoid going all in.

In the matter of Devante Smith-Pelly and Jiri Sekac, it is entirely impossible to evaluate the long term outcome of this deal, however that has not stopped Habs fans from trying. After a strong showing in Columbus, I thought DSP was largely ineffective until he found his stride during the second period against the Kings. He has since helped to restore a physical element, best utilized in the postseason and a quality unrealized within the existing 23 man roster. How DSP ultimately fits on this team is yet to be known. However, I see value that was not immediately apparent, at least to this casual fan. Again, I am very hesitant to grade this move today, but lost in the discussion is the fact that Bergevin used a bargaining chip that he signed as a free agent, who cost nothing more than the contract and roster spot within the organization. Added to a list that includes Mike Condon, Nick Sorkin and Daniel Carr, this asset growth has helped to both establish depth at the minor league level and improve the NHL roster.

The debate regarding the utilization of personnel is one that has torn a divide within the Canadiens fanbase. Who should play on the first line with Max, where Beaulieu should line up on defence, how many games Tokarski should start and who should centre the four lines are all extremely polarizing subjects, unlikely to extract a clear consensus. Woven into this discussion are supporting statistics, which are manipulated to suit the author’s premise. No better example might exist than the tweet released last night by player agent Allan Walsh, highlighting the number of points PA Parenteau has amassed over the past four seasons. In my humble opinion, this is a classic case of data manipulation. In framing the tweet to include PAP’s success over the last four season’s, Walsh has conveniently masked his client’s recent deficiencies. Scott Gomez would have surely paid to have such creative administration and support during his tenure in Montreal. In professional sports it’s all about what have you done lately. Do you think it matters to Arizona that Mike Smith was an Olympian last year? His play this year is a primary reason for the Coyotes struggles. In 2013 Tampa Bay and Nashville drafted inside the top four. Now they are among the best teams in hockey. All this is to say that teams and players’ performance can alter, significantly, in a year, let alone four years. Returning to PA Parenteau, he has scored three goals at even strength this season, one of which was into an empty net. He last scored in November and has 15 points in 41 games. Sure, I won’t dismiss that it is possible that he joins Max on the top line and scores 50 goals, but it seems like a stretch to me. Of course, none of this matters to Habs fans, who love nothing more than to absolve one player, while glorifying another.

Lastly, the most polarizing element within this organization – Coach Therrien. On one hand the team continues to build a very impressive record under Therrien’s guidance. No, the style doesn’t lend itself to offence, but it limited TB to one goal last night, an overtime market scored off a deflection. Undoubtably much of this success starts and finishes with Carey Price, but a team must first learn to walk before it runs. Sound defence will be an asset going further. Using a golf analogy, it stands to reason that a player hitting every green in regulation has a much better chance of making birdies then does the player who relies on sand saves and chipping from off the green. The same theory holds true in hockey. The team who has control of the puck, who has more shots and who spends more time in their opponent’s zone greatly enchanted their overall chances of success. That said, there is something to the quality vs quantity argument, as evidenced in college football. Now, teams are utilizing quick strike offences. Ball control and ground attacks have been replaced by air offences producing completion rates at or above 65%. It’s not uncommon to see teams winning, with regularity, despite losing the time of possession and while giving up significant yardage. All this is to say that sports is evolving and hockey is no exception. Add to this the fact that the NHL goaltender is the most pivotal position in sports and I’m left confused as to why the Canadiens have zero chance of winning as postseason round, a suggestion batted back and forth among hockey fans. The honest truth is that I have no idea how this season will ultimately unfold. However, I have also watched enough sports to know that evaluating any team based on a small sample size is dangerous. Even the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs were excellent, over 10 games, earlier this season. The same can be said of Dallas, Ottawa, Carolina and Columbus, teams unlikely to qualify for the postseason. Yes, the team is challenged to score goals right now, but that does not mean that fortunes won’t turn. If I was a betting man I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that a team which includes the likes of Pacioretty, Plekanec, Markov, Subban, Gallagher and Galchenyuk among others finds a way to score when it matters most – the playoffs. In closing, keep in mind, even a blue chip stock doesn’t ascend on a straight line. There are peaks and valleys in sports, stocks and life in general.

So, I toast the Canadiens. Here’s to the present and more importantly the future.

Go Habs Go!

I invite your feedback and welcome comments @LWOScjcasselman.

One Comment

  1. Marc

    March 11, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    You should just thank CAREY PRICE he’s the reason they are were they are PERIOD