Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Habs Notebook

Sometimes things are going on in Habsville that aren't worth a blog on their own, but are still worth a passing thought. Today the hodgepodge includes:

-Playoffs versus tank. I don't know about you, but this balancing on the ledge between post-season and the abyss is nervewracking. One minute nothing matters except making the playoffs because any playoffs is better than none. I think finishing outside the top-ten draft picks really won't make a difference in the quality of the team's pick anyway, so better go for whatever playoffs we can get. The next minute I realize the team is currently sixth-worst in the league by actual point percentage and the draft lottery is tantalizingly within reach. Landing in that lottery could mean acquiring a player who, when added to the team's current assets as early as next season, could make the difference between being a decent team and a competitive one. It could mean no more bubble for a few seasons. What's a Habs fan to root for? Temporary joy in playoff hockey, or long-term joy in adding a real franchise corner stone to the roster?

-Christopher Higgins. Remember when Higgins was such a prized first-round asset that Gainey would never consider trading him? A year and a half ago, I heard Gainey himself say Higgins was a shining example of the kind of player the Habs were really proud of having developed as a cornerstone of young leadership for the future. In the meantime, I was among the many Canadiens fans who found it incredibly frustrating to see Higgins muff countless great setups from Saku Koivu. I also thought he'd finally found his niche as a really good third-line speedy forechecker at the end of last season. Now it seems Higgins' stock has dropped drastically. Traded away twice in just over six months and about to become an unrestricted free agent, his numbers are less than impressive. Thirty-seven points in his last hundred and twelve games between two teams isn't anywhere close to the twenty-plus goals a year he put up in his first three NHL seasons. He's not exactly lining himself up for a great payday. On the other hand, the Canadiens need a third-line upgrade desperately. They need players who can forecheck hard, kill penalties and skate well among their bottom-six players. Higgins didn't work out in Montreal because he was expected to produce like a top-six forward. I'm now wondering if getting dumped twice in the last year might have jolted him out of whatever issues are preventing him from performing on the ice? Because if he's worried enough about the future of his hockey career to want to get back to hard work, maybe it's worth giving him another chance. The Habs drafted him, he claims he liked Montreal when he was there and he grew up cheering for the team. He can probably be had for a pretty low price this summer, and he offers the speed and tenacity on the third line the Habs really need. He can also jump up onto a top line in a pinch, which is something the team doesn't have now. I'd do it, if only to redeem a former first-rounder.

-Goalie equipment. The NHL is bringing in new rules about the size of goalie equipment next season. Now, rather than having general set parameters, equipment will be tailored to the size of the goalie. This change could make a big difference to some goaltenders who rely on oversized equipment to help them have an extra inch or two advantage over the shooter. Until we see how goalies perform next year, though, we won't know who's affected by the gear adjustment and who's not. That's another reason why Gainey should try to re-sign both Price and Halak for another contract. They might not suffer with smaller equipment, but they might. There's no sense in trading one of them before we find out how they both perform in the "new" world of goalie gear.

-Long shifts. I heard Ken Dryden on CBC Radio's "The Current" today. He and the host were talking about the prevalence of head shots in the NHL now, compared to when he played. He had an interesting theory. He believes part of the reason for the number of all injuries, not just head injuries, is shorter shifts. He says in his day, players would be out on the ice for a minute or more at a time, so they'd pace themselves. Now they're out there for thirty or forty seconds, so they're sprinting at top speed the whole time. The increased speed in the game because of the sprinting has turned players into missiles in a way much different than was the case thirty years ago. I thought his idea has some merit. It's food for thought, at the least.

-The snitch. So, Carey Price didn't deny that he and Andrei Markov might have had a verbal confrontation in the room immediately after the loss to St.Louis two weeks ago. His primary concern, however, wasn't hurt feelings, but rather that someone on the team spilled the conversation to an outside source. Considering Tony Marinaro was the one who gleefully announced the news of the "incident" and he has a publicly acknowledged friendship with Georges Laraque, I'm thinking there's a good chance Laraque was the snitch in this case. I think his departure from the team was connected to this incident too. I think either Gainey let Laraque go and he, in his anger, told team secrets to his buddy who then reported them. Or alternatively, Laraque was indiscreet with his friend, Gainey got wind of it and turfed him. If there's one thing I can't see Bob Gainey standing for, it's disloyalty. Laraque seems the most likely culprit to me. Any other ideas?


David said...

I'm glad you brought up long shifts. (And maybe I've not had enough coffee yet this morning, but didn't you mean to say "part of the reason for the number of all injuries... is *shorter* shifts?)" I've been thinking about Dryden's theory since I first read it a year or two ago.

The impact is not just injuries. Short shifts benefit the defence, who can use the energy to relentlessly attack and forecheck the offensive players, instead of, as you mention, pacing themselves and having to *think* about how to defend. Being a puck carrier on a shorter shift doesn't have much of an advantage. You can't get any flow going. How many times have we watched a guy break out of his zone, only to fire the puck down the ice and head off for a line change? I still remember thinking, when this first started happening in the 80s, "what are they *doing*???" With more time, offensively gifted players could use their vision and creativity to make the kind of plays we rarely see anymore.

I'd love to see the NHL limit the number of shift changes during a game. It would leave the coaches with no choice but to leave players out longer. Probably never happen though.

J.T. said...

@David: Right you are. I'm the one who didn't have *any* coffee. :) Fixed now. And, I completely agree with you that offence is actually stifled by shorter shifts. Especially, as is the case with the Habs, if a team starts off losing a faceoff or chasing a dump-in. By the time players get the puck back, their shift is over and they're dumping it in and heading for the bench. It does, however, give a lot of opportunity to guys who are just headhunting off the bench at top speed. I'm with you. I'd love to see a limit on shifts. I think if the NHL wants more offence, that's one reasonable way to go about it.

Anonymous said...

I would bring Higgins back for a reduced price. We need someone who can fill out the 3rd and 4th lines. I was thinking the same thing JT!!

dusty said...

Wouldn't consider Higgins for any price. Once you get a divorce getting remarried should never be an option.

Have been feeling sorry for myself for being a Habs fan but have to give thanks I'm not a Flames fan! What with sour faced Brett and his retarded brother running (ruining) the show, how must those poor fans and players in Calgary be feeling right about now?

Anonymous said...

JT, if there would be a first female Habs GM...I would like it to be you.

Please consider.

pfhabs said...

1. creatively 'tank' it and start rebuild from 7th floor executive suite to ice level

2. Higgins can be an elite 3rd line winger, PK specialist and as you say spot duty on 1st or 2nd line

3, sign both goalies and when their value is more evident then you can consider a trade and be more effective at it

4. the Markov-Price 'discovery' is much-ado-about squat...regardless of who was the 'snitch' this was/is/and forever will be a daily occurence in sports

5. oh yeah just in case I wasn't clear creatively 'tank' it and start rebuild from 7th floor executive suite to ice level

Mr Trivia said...

Higgins was a great guy with good potential... and a lot of confidence issues. Being traded from another team close to his heart probably was about as welcome as a kick in the teeth... but i have to agree with you. Higgins 2.0 might be worth a million buck, 1-year contract. Having his original team give him another shot might be that confidence boost Higgy needs.

I'd take him over Dagger. A line of Moen, Higgins, Lapierre? Or Higgins, SK74, and Lapierre?

It'd definitely be interesting.

Anonymous said...

J.T. like Harper apparently does not like criticism. Thanks for not posting my comments. Those who live in glass houses?

J.T. said...

@anon(the last one, just above): Your comments don't make sense in regard to my post, which is which is why they weren't posted. You accuse me of hypocrisy in regard to speculating Laraque is the snitch who told about the Markov/Price incident and compare my blog to Marinaro's show. There are several important differences. Number one, this is a blog, not journalism. You say Marinaro is the same thing...I beg to differ. He's on the radio, claiming "sources" close to the team for his material, which implies he's in the know and is reporting rather than passing opinion. Second, I made it clear I'm merely guessing Laraque is the snitch. Marinaro says things as though they're fact. Third, if you can't tell the difference between idle speculation in a personal blog and a public radio host announcing he's got an inside scoop with anonymous sources, you need to reevaluate your perception of "Media."

As for your accusation that I've got hate on for Laraque, I won't deny I didn't like him as a Canadien. He came to Montreal with chronic injuries and signed to do a job he could no longer do, either physically or mentally. That was cheating, as far as I'm concerned, and I'm glad he's gone from the team. It has nothing to do with him as a person...I don't know him. But I didn't like his play.

There. I didn't post your comments because I thought it was too tiresome to respond to them. Now I've gone and done it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Valid points, on reflection my accusations of hypocrisy were unduly harsh. My apologies J.T.