Sunday, May 2, 2010

Happy Happenstance

We Habs fans spend a lot of time regretting things. If only they'd taken Parise, Richards, Getzlaf or Carter instead of Andrei Kostitsyn in the 2003 draft. If only they'd traded Souray and Streit at the deadline for some picks or prospects. If only they'd gotten something decent for Ribeiro. You get the picture. Sometimes, and this is a novel idea for a lot of us, we'd be well-served to flip the lucky coin and look at the other side of it. Some of the most important players on the Habs roster are there because of pure chance.

As I watched the big win yesterday over the Pens, I thought about how lucky the Canadiens are to have found Jaro Halak kicking around in the ninth round of his draft. Then I remembered a story I heard about how *really* lucky they were that he was still around in the ninth round at all. The Habs took notice of Halak at the 2003 world under-18 championships, where he stoned Russia's Ovechkin and Malkin to lead his Slovak team to a shocking silver medal. The Canadiens weren't the only team that debated spending a draft pick on the kid, however. The Minnesota Wild's European scout saw that tournament too, as well as some of Halak's work in league play, and was pushing for his team to pick the goalie in the sixth round. Another official in the organization, however, was pushing for a big Czech goalie who'd also looked impressive in his junior league. The two argued back and forth as the clock ticked down, and finally, GM Doug Risebrough put an end to it by deciding, "We'll take the big one." Whew. By pure luck Halak got passed over by the only other team that was seriously interested in drafting him, just because he's small.

Halak and the Habs had a more well-documented close call earlier this year. Flyers goalie Ray Emery got hurt just as Philly was trying to establish a firm hold on a playoff spot. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren put feelers out around the league to see if he could pick up a promising goalie for cheap to backfill for Emery. He got a bite from Habs' GM, Bob Gainey. There are lots of stories out there about what Gainey asked for in return for Halak, ranging from Jeff Carter to a second-round draft pick. Whatever it really was, Holmgren decided the cost wasn't worth it for the Flyers and Halak remained a Hab. Whew, again.

Tomas Plekanec is another guy who's still a Canadien because of a quirky twist of fate, and a little bit of luck. Back in 2004, when Bob Gainey needed some scoring punch and the Rangers' Glen Sather needed to get rid of enigmatic Alex Kovalev, the two GMs agreed on a trade. Kovalev would go to Montreal for a top Canadiens prospect and a second-round pick. Gainey and Sather couldn't agree on the prospect though, so Gainey gave Sather a list of three guys from which to pick. They were Alexander Perezhogin, Jozef Balej...and Tomas Plekanec. Fortunately for the Habs, Balej was the Bulldogs' leading scorer at the time and Sather decided to take the guy with the better offensive potential. Of course, in hindsight, we can be grateful for that choice. Balej put up five points for the Rangers before getting traded to Vancouver and then moving on to play in Europe, and Perezhogin has played in Russia for the last three years. Plekanec has become a top-line centre with a couple of seventy-point seasons to his credit.

We fans ducked another bullet in regard to Plekanec when the reported deal of him and a few other Habs assets to Tampa Bay for Vincent Lecavalier last year fell through. Lecavalier also had seventy points this year, but his horrible contract and the addition of the other assets the Canadiens would have given up to get him would have made him less valuable to the team long-term than Plekanec has turned out to be. Whew!

There was a similar choice of assets in the Josh Gorges trade, except this time, it was Gainey's turn to pick. He and Sharks GM Doug Wilson agreed on a first-round pick and a young defenceman in return for Craig Rivet. Wilson offered Gainey a choice of Gorges, Brad Staubitz or Rob Davison. The story goes that although Staubitz and Davison were much bigger defencemen than Gorges, and Davison had more NHL experinece, Gainey picked Gorges because of his character. Gorges had captained the Kelowna Rockets to the Memorial Cup, but wasn't drafted to the NHL. He nevertheless worked his way into a contract with the Sharks, and that's what Gainey liked about him. Lucky thing for Habs fans that Gainey's a pretty good judge of character.

The Habs are lucky in Andrei Markov too. A sixth-round draft pick in 1998, Markov was a centre when he was chosen by the Canadiens. He wasn't getting a whole lot of ice time as a centreman, though, so his coaches talked to him about switching to defence to help fill a need on his team and give him more minutes. Markov didn't really want to make the change, according to some stories, but the coaches encouraged him to try it. By 2000, he was recognized as one of the best young defencemen in Russia and the rest is now a very happy bit of Habs history. It's scary to imagine what might have happened if Markov had decided to stick with the centre position and never tried defence. Whew!

I don't know about you, but sometimes it's good to reflect on some of the lucky breaks the Habs have had over the years. Every once in a while, the little decisions work out to have some pretty big benefits. It's good to remember that when we're tempted to bemoan the 2003 draft or the trades that were or weren't made to our satisfaction. Sometimes, chance actually works out in our favour.


pfhabs said...


-you make some excellent points but a good management group cannot just rely on serendipity to help their cause. vision in terms of implications 2, 3 years down the road of moves made or not made , knowledge of pro and amateur players, having keen eyes for talent and hard work must come into it somewhere.

-I still find it difficult to understand how

1. CH staff could not assess that the bad ankle on Niniimma hadn't really healed

2. why Brian Wilde who covers the CH for CTV Montreal knew from his Edmonton contacts that George Laraque no longer felt compelled to defend his teammates against everyone and that his skating skills had diminished. CH staff seemed unaware or discounted it...that move cost Komisarek his shoulder against Lucic, cost Kostitsyn a concussion against Sauer with no CH comeback and all the players became smaller against the Bruins last year in the playoffs

3. how could Gauthier make the evaluation that Beauchemin's back had not healed but now he is playing 24+ mins for the laffs

4. why the CH parted company with Koivu in favour of Gomez. Koivu scored 52 points this year for $3.2 million and Gomez scored 59 points for $7.35 million. their stats have been essentially the same for the last 7 seasons. the $4.1 extra cap expenditure will show its ugly face this summer in trying to sign Plekanec, the goalies, Moore and other RFAs

-there are other examples but it would seem to me that those decisions and others like them were more easily made than deciding to take one 18 year old over another or whether to keep a UFA or trade him before the deadline

-btw, it is common knowledge that many scouting services had Kostitsyn rated ahead of Getlaz, Carter and a couple of others who have subsequently proved that they can bring their talents to the table on a much more consistent basis than Andrei seems to want to display his

-just saying fate plays a role but other criteria are also very important and I worry going forward how the goalie situation will be played this summer. I like them both and would keep both as long as possible to maximize payback when you need to trade one of them. there are other important decisions to be made lets hope they make the right ones

Anonymous said...

Ohhhhhh.....been reading a few Pens blogs, these guys are starting to sweat with the comments. Not sure we can pull this all the way to the next round but it's nice to see some cocky folk starting to get nervous....Halak it a lot!

DB said...

The Halak story might help explain the Wild's poor draft record. It's not that they took another goalie over Halak with their 6th round pick; it's that they passed over Halak with their 7th and 8th round picks.

Most teams talk about picking the best available player. Presumably Halak and the other goalie were tied when the Wild made their 6th round pick, but when the 7th and 8th rounds came around other players were ranked higher than Halak. This makes no sense to me.

All teams have a certain amount of good and bad luck. How much we'll never know, but it seems that teams with good management seem to have more "good luck" than teams with bad management.

V said...

I like your article JT. Pays credence to the luck inherent in talent management.

I mean, virtually anyone can predict that drafting Sydney Crosby first is a good move but after that it gets dicey very quickly.

Hell, most Habs critics didn't predict this years team could even make the playoffs so when they predict doom and gloom for next year or beyond for individual players, it completely lacks credibility.

MC said...

What if Kovalev had not hesitated on the offer Gainey made him in the off-season? And when Gainey decided to offer the Kovalev money to Gionta instead, what if Lou Lamourello had not told Gionta to take the offer from Montreal because it was the right thing for his family? Whew!

Jeff said...

No no and NO.

JT I like your blog and your passion for the Habs, but the Timmins Kosty f-uckup was MAJOR. M A J O R.

It may go down as one of the worst Habs drafting errors ever, given who else was still available.

Did they interview Kosty? Did they check out his obvious stupidity and lack of motivation? No, clearly not.

Smart players are the best players. Do you think Getz is a dummy? Parise? Carter? I don't bloody think so.

Every team lucks out with throw ins, late drafts, and non drafted tryouts.

But you must NOT f-uckup on top ten picks, ever. Interview them, understand them. Don’t take a guy top ten on a chance, ever. BE SURE.

The Kosty error by Timmins may seriously have cost us a cup, now. I'm not joking.

Can you inagine this squad minus Kosty, and plus Getz, Parise....?

That draft breaks my heart. It killed us, and I'll never forgive Timmins for it.



pfhabs said...

"Hell, most Habs critics didn't predict this years team could even make the playoffs so when they predict doom and gloom for next year or beyond for individual players, it completely lacks credibility."

-what is most amusing of some of the sanctimous head in the sand fans is they believe that many critics were completely off base by saying the CH would miss the playoffs

-perhaps those ostrichs need to be reminded that the CH backed into the playoffs in the last few minutes of the last game by holding the MIGHTY maple laffs to a tie and losing in overtime...the margin of making or not making the playoffs this year was the thinness of margins available; i.e., an overtime loser point in the only pro sports league that gives points for losing

-the team is a bubble team that would either miss or make it by a few and to suggest those that said they were definitely out lack credibility is beyond hyperbole and an indication of a lack of understanding of NHL hockey


not only did they interview him, Dr Mulder examined him for the alledged epilepsy problem which was determined to be controllable by drugs..the final decision to chose Andrei K was made by Andre Savard the GM at the I suggest you get your facts straight then you can 'hate' the right guy

as for top 10 mistakes AK isn't the only one made by the Canadiens nor anyone else is the league so I guess our Cup count should be nearer 30 if you include Denis Savard instead of Wickenheiser or Gagne instead of Chouinard and many more ? you'll need to be pissed at a lot of CH GMs

-into the present the team is performing beyond all expectations and the guys on the ice need be applauded. in reality they not accomplished anything beyond a first round victory over an opponent who completely disrepected them and paid the ultimate price for underestimating their opponent---humiliating defeat

Paul B. said...


What about Napier over Mike Bossy ? Or Lindsay Vallis, Brad Brown, Brent Bilodeau, Turner Stevenson, Jason Ward or Terry Ryan

Anonymous said...


Fair enough, thanks for the corrections. And I really should not call any player stupid. Better to say he seems to lack motivation...apologies to AK for that.

That draft still bugs my ass though, especially as with better luck we'd be enjoying a very good player from it right now, and possibly have a good chance at the cup...