Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Yes! Hockey Information!

Finally! The Montreal Canadiens, the kings of openness and transparency in information distribution have decided to hire someone to study coaching trends and figure out what systems other teams are using. Now the coaches will know for sure that the Flyers depend on Carcillo and Richards to crash the net and torment the goalie, and they'll be certain that the leafs will try to hurt people when they're losing. This is a dream job. It's a professional fan with a title and a dental plan. And Ken Morin, late of the ECHL's Bakersville Condors, is the lucky winner of that position. Hockey Information Coordinator. Nice work, if you can get it!

Morin isn't the only guy joining the Habs staff. Gauthier has brought in five new scouts as well, to replace the guys he turfed a couple of months ago. That's great to see, if only because the more eyes looking at prospects, the better. I only wish we knew more about what makes these guys better than the old guys. Sure, Serge Boisvert was a happy inmate of "Alcatraz" back in 1986 and his name's on the Cup despite his mostly minor-league career. But I'd like to know what credentials he has to scout the Q...arguably the most important region to many Montreal fans...for the Habs.

And sure, Ryan Jankowski has been around for the acquisition of some of the Islanders good young talent, but how hard was that, when the Isles have had so many can't-miss draft positions in recent years? I like the idea of getting Christer Rockstrom, who had a sharp eye for the Wings, to scout Europe. The Canadiens had been seriously lax in that region.

Still, unless we take the time to really search out the backgrounds of these guys, we don't know a lot about them. I think the scouts are possibly the most important employees in the organization. If they don't find the talent, the GM's got nothing to barter and the coaches have nothing to develop into a team. A great scout can turn a low-round draft pick into a steal and a first-rounder into a home run. So when the Habs announce they've hired scouts, I want them to announce it like a movie studio announces its next big-budget picture.

I want to hear that Christer Rockstrom was instrumental in turning a Detroit Red Wings third-round pick into perennial all-star and Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. I want a list of Islanders players Jankowski found that weren't top-five no-brainers. Sell it to us, Habs! Give us five new reasons to hope this bunch will find better talent than the other guys did, so the GM won't have to trade for prospects to top up a shallow organizational talent pool.

The Canadiens are where they are right now partially because of bad drafting. A failure to pick the right guys means the team has to go out and buy them instead. Just imagine, for example, if, in any one of the last seven or eight years, the Habs had picked a real NHL centreman. There've been lots of them available when Montreal has drafted. If the Canadiens had filled that long-standing organizational need for free with a draft pick, the Gomez trade wouldn't have happened and the team wouldn't now be saddled with that contract. (Disclaimer for those who'll jump to defend Gomez: He's a good player, but the contract hurts.) Just one successful first-round choice of a centre...let's say Carter in 2003...would mean the team would be bigger down the middle, not in a cap crunch and still in possession of Ryan McDonagh's rights. Higgins might have been traded anyway, but it would have been for another piece the team needed instead of Gomez. One draft good pick...and I'm not even talking about a superstar, just a good, solid player...would have drastically improved the team we see on the ice now.

So, if these guys can get the Habs drafting better, they're going to be really important hires and I want to know all about them. Hey! Maybe I should write to the new Hockey Information Coordinator. He'd have all the answers, right?


James said...

Here's a good start, regarding Jankowski:


Read what you will out of that draft list... The first rounds were pretty much all top15 picks so that might fall in the no-brainer category (though we've seen tons of examples where even the no-brainers are muffed by a team).
Highlights on this list for me include: Blake Kessel, Travis Hamonic and Kiril Petrov.
Personally I think it's a great hire - the guy has a lot of experience and is not afraid to take risks with late-round picks (as stated by the guy who wrote the blog entry).

The other Habs hire, I've never heard of them so I can't help...

V said...

JT - unrelated to your article (unless I can shoe-horn this in as hockey information!!) is the following quote from the new coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs... "These guys are Montreal Canadiens as much as they are Hamilton Bulldogs, so you're not doing the organization a service by just teaching them your own philosophies."

I found this to be a pretty interesting quote. Given the different philosophy (and resulting system) Boucher is said to have employed and it's variance from the one the Canadiens use (whether you think they have one or not) I wonder if his leaving was a lot less problematic for management as it was for the fans.

Hard to believe management would not have wanted to keep him given his results - but Cunneyworth's comment is dead on. Preparing players to play a system dramatically different than the one they will be expected to use in the NHL does not make a lot of sense.

DB said...

Focusing on the players a team misses in the draft is a sure way to drive yourself crazy and come to incorrect conclusions about how well a team has drafted.

Habs fans seem particularly cursed with this affliction. Many focus on the Fischer and AK46 picks while ignoring the Halak and Subban picks. Some lament that MaxPac was picked over David Perron. Now Perron is a decent player who has the potential to become a good player, but so far he has only shown that he is a 45 to 50 point a season player.

I think part of the problem is that many fans have unrealistic expectations about the draft. Some seem to feel that every first round pick should make the NHL and that if one doesn't it means the scouts are incompetent. This simply isn't the case.

A review of the 2000 to 2006 drafts shows that 80% of the top ten picks, 64% of picks 11 to 20, 57% of picks 21 to 30, and 24% of second round picks go on to become NHL regulars.

So have The Habs really been that bad at drafting players or is just another case of the grass looking greener on the other side of the fence?

J.T. said...

@DB: Of course, not every first-round pick is going to be an NHL star. But, if you look around at the really good teams, they all have at least one of their own first-rounders playing a very important role on their teams. The Canadiens don't. Carey Price may be one of those guys for Montreal, but he isn't yet. There's still an outside chance Andrei Kostitsyn can be a real go-to offensive player.

All I know is when I watched the playoffs, I saw Backstrom, Ovechkin, Varlamov, Schultz, Green, Fehr, Semin, Fleury, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Orpik, Richards, Carter, Gagne and Giroux all filling important roles on the teams that drafted them. Sure, some of the picks like Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin were no-brainers, gained by tanking. But the point is, those teams were good because they developed their own talent and used their trading assets and free agent money to build around that talent. The Canadiens don't have that first-round success to build on. Not even close. There's still hope for Pacioretty, and as I mentioned, Price and Kostitsyn. But none of them were a factor in the playoffs, or really, through most of last season. All the Habs important positions (with the exception of Markov and Halak who were great steals in the late rounds) have been filled through trade or free agency...both very expensive propositions that come with the limitations of subracting assets or excess cap space.

It's great to steal a fine player after the first round, and not every first-rounder pans out, but the fact remains the best chance of a getting a homerun player is in the first. A team needs to make good use of those picks at least some of the time if it's going to build successfully.

I'm not focussing on the AK or Fischer picks at all. Look at the last ten years of Habs first-round drafting and it's a discouraging sight. McDonagh, Fischer, Chipchura, Higgins, Komisarek, Hossa and Perezhogin are no longer with the organization. Kostitsyn, Price and Pacioretty are maybes to reach their potential, but haven't yet. Tinordi and Leblanc are in college and likely to stay there for at least another year. Not a current star among them. They're trying really hard to make Price be worth the pick they spent on him, but if we're honest with ourselves, that's still up in the air at this point.

I'm not focussing on the players the Habs have missed, really. I used the Carter example because the team has had the same organizational need for twenty years now and it's never been addressed. How long are we hearing about the need for a big, talented centre? My point is, if the Habs had actually dealt with that need through the draft, they'd be a lot better off right now.

DB said...

JT - I happen to agree with you that the best way to build a team is through the draft and that clearly the Habs have not hit a home run with a first round pick in a long while (their last first round hall of famer was Gainey). It's also true that some other teams have done a better job in finding impact players with picks made after the Habs selected.

However, that does not mean the Habs drafting record is poor. They've done a better job than most teams in the number of solid NHLers that they've drafted.

The point of my last post was that too many Habs fans focus on the mistakes in the draft like Fischer (not necessarily you) and consider the good picks like Halak as just luck.

The stats show that mistakes should be expected. The real issue is how many are made and does the team learn from them.

Anonymous said...

DB and JT are both right. Fan criticism of Habs' drafting is often lacking in context and perspective. That being said, the Gainey rebuild yielded exactly ONE bona-fide top-6 forward (Pleks)(although it did yield two top-4 defencemen, Streit and Komi, neither of which remain with us). This basic weakness in player drafting/development is the primary reason why Bob had to go on the 2009 spending spree and commit to all those expensive contracts that fans now whine about. Now we've entered a second phase of trying to accumulate/develop youth, which we can hopefully integrate as we move along. But JT is absolutely right that the Habs' cap problems originate in drafting/player development.