Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Aftermath: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Forrest Gump's mama wasn't wrong when she told her boy stupid is as stupid does. If she had felt the need to illustrate that statement, she could have shown him the latter half of the first period of last night's Habs vs.Flyers game. As has become typical when these two teams meet, play started out fairly evenly, until the Canadiens took three stupid penalties in succession, gave up two goals on a couple of 5-on-3s and gave up the ghost shortly after.

The pattern is clear. The explanation for it isn't. The easy answer is the Flyers are just simply a better team. They have three lines of scoring depth and a dirty, hardworking fourth line. They have two solid defensive veterans in Pronger and Timonen and a couple of young blueline studs in Coburn and Carle. Their goalie's rarely threatened because the forwards have the puck all the time, so all he has to do is be decent, which he is.

That's the easy answer. Rarely, however, is anything as simple as the easy answer. The Canadiens, after all, shut out that same Flyers team in their first meeting of the season. The Canucks, too, are probably a better team than the Habs overall, but they got the same result. In both cases, the Canadiens prevailed because they worked like dogs. Everybody skated, everybody tried. They got great goaltending, they scored powerplay goals and they scored first. That's the formula the Canadiens need to follow if they're going to win against better teams.

What we saw last night was the Habs succumbing to laziness; Kryptonite to a game plan that requires outworking the other team. The simplest, and probably most effective, way to tell which team is skating harder is to look at who gets to loose pucks first. Last night, most of the time, it was the team wearing eye-scalding orange. That meant the Canadiens were trying to catch up and take the puck off a team that's very good at holding onto it. Those lazy, stupid penalties were the result of all that skating from behind. Going down two PP goals was pretty much game over for the Canadiens.

It's tempting to get frustrated after a game like that because it seems to underline the Habs' weaknesses and prove they're not a contender for the Cup. While we know they can beat the Flyers, we also know it's not likely the Canadiens would prevail in a best-of-seven series unless they can consistently outskate, outwork and outgoal them. So while we may be frustrated, we can hope Pierre Gauthier sees a game like this as a measuring stick as he tries to address some of his team's needs.

The comparison between the Habs and the Flyers is most glaring at the centre position. Jeff Carter is big, strong, crashes the net and scores a lot of goals. Mike Richards is tough, strong and crashes the net. Daniel Briere is crafty and fast and is well able to score. In comparison, Tomas Plekanec matches up well with Briere. After that, the Habs are weak. Lars Eller is a big boy, and he showed some jam against the Flyers. He's just a kid, though, and needs seasoning before he's playing a bigger role on offence. David Desharnais is gritty and goes to the net, but he's small. Scott Gomez is expensive and too often a liability.

Looking at that comparison, it's clear Gomez has to go. His ill-advised penalties cost the Habs in the playoffs last year and continue to do so. His production is dropping as well. He put up fewer than sixty points in the last two seasons, and is on pace for less than fifty this year. A team in a cap world simply cannot have more than seven-million dollars worth of salary tied up in a single player who puts up only fifty points.

The chief argument in Gomez' favour is that he's one of the few Canadiens who can take the puck through the neutral zone at speed. The problem is, when he gets where he's going, he does nothing with it. It happens so often that you have to wonder what's the point? Look at him next to Jeff Carter: Carter's younger, bigger and is on pace for 35 goals. Right there you see one of the major differences between Montreal and Philly. The Canadiens need a centreman who can score goals and really lead the first line. Plekanec is a great two-way man, but his split focus means his offence probably isn't as potent as it could be. There are rumours Gauthier is after Jason Arnott, but that's a temporary fix and possibly not even a fix at all. Brad Richards will be UFA this summer, but chances are good the Stars will re-sign him because there's no better centre coming onto the market. Louis Leblanc might be a guy who can compete against teams like the Flyers, but he's likely two or three years away in his development. It's possible to send an offer to an RFA centre like T.J.Oshie or Brandon Dubinsky. That, however would open the Habs to relaliatory offers on guys like Max Pacioretty and Benoit Pouliot.

The weakness at centre must be addressed, and if it can't happen through free agency, reasonable trade or from within the organization, then Gauthier must get rid of Gomez and bolster the centres he's got with better wingers instead. He'll need Gomez' cap money to do that. Either way, Gomez is not bringing enough to the team for what he costs, and must go if the Canadiens are to improve right now.

The other potential reality we might have to accept is that this edition of the team was never meant to win a Cup. We have to consider that Bob Gainey brought in the free agents he did two years ago in order to keep the team respectably competitive as it waits for the players who are the real hope of the future to develop. Subban, Pacioretty and Price are all players who could be a big part of a contender in the next five years. Josh Gorges and Tomas Plekanec will be valuable veterans. Pouliot, Weber and Eller are young enough to develop into important pieces of the puzzle. Then there are the unknowns; the guys who will make the difference between more "almost" years and real contending seasons: Leblanc, Danny Kristo, Aaron Palushaj, Jarred Tinordi. If those guys come through, along with whomever the team picks this year and next, the Habs will be better ready to meet teams like the Flyers.

In the meantime, the Habs are what they are: a better-than-average team with a depleted defence and weakness up the middle. If Gauthier can find a way to address that weakness on the top line by using Gomez' money to strengthen the forward corps, the Canadiens might compete sooner rather than later. If he doesn't, the team won't improve until the new wave of players arrives. That means we'll have to put up with games against good teams, when our guys aren't outworking their opponents. When that happens, we'll get outcomes like last night's, because, as Mrs.Gump said, stupid is as stupid does. And taking it easy against a team like Philly is pretty stupid.


Pierre pas pierre said...

first of all, congratulations on your splendid work covering the Habs.
Now, to real matters: while I 100% agree with you, we must realize that Gomez is more or less untradeable. At this point, I would be willing to trade him for nothing and spend his salary elsewhere in July, but nobody wants him.
So what then: Should we try to send Gomez down? Buy him out? And what will be the effect of such a gesture on the rest of the group?
In a recent paper, Eric Engels analyzed why he think the Habs can't afford to keep both Markov (assuming he is healthy) and The Wiz. I can't imagine how bad it would be if we were to let one of those guys go while we pay 7M$ for a 50 pts center. It would be pure disaster. With Gomez's salary we can probably afford The Wiz (let's say 4M$) plus a 3M$ winger!
The Gomez move is looking more and more like a terrible mistake that will haunt this team for years to come.

dwgs said...

Was about to comment but Pierre already done said it. Maybe Garth Snow would be interested in Gomez?

MC said...

Agreed on Gomez. In fact DD looks ready to take his place this year as he is getting better and more confident every game. The obvious problem is not many teams can afford to take on $22M in cap hit over the next three years. The only way I think Gomez could move is to a team like Pheonix who are trying to save money and get to the cap floor instead of the ceiling. You would only have to pay Gomez $17.5M ( cash owed to him) in the next three years, as long as you can take the $22M cap hit. Phoenix actual expenses could be $4.5M below the floor over the three years. We might even get something decent in return.

Anonymous said...

A lot of us said way back on July 1 two years back. The Gomez deal was one of the worst in the history of the Habs and would handcuff this team for years. How BG could make this deal in a salary cap world is beyond me! Everyone knew what Gomez was!

Everyone calls Burke an idiot for the Kessel deal. And in hindsight it is awful. But at least Burke was taking a chance on an unknown outcome, hoping the picks would be from a playoff team. Bob has no such excuse.

Anonymous said...

Very astute post. You hit all the main points. Gomez isnt producing any where near his cap hit and probably never will.

People can say this was a bad deal but it's entirely possible that this team was never meant to challenge but merely to compete. Price and Subban are two pretty solid building blocks to shape a team around. Nobody expected both to be this good this early.

Now the problem is that with Markov and a big, physical defenceman coming on board this team could challenge IF they could get better at center. The problem obviously is Gomez and his contract. It's a drag.

The Louis Leblanc idea is iffy but guys that play well in the WJC tend to make the NHL within two years. So barring a Chipchurian fall he has a good chance.

Dealing Gomez will require us to give up a 1st rounder and possibly a top prospect for very little in return other than cap space. Which brings me to something I never thought I would float. Gomez, Kristo and a 1st for Iginla. Crazy...I know... but maybe doable. Two prospects and an anchor for Iginla and his contract but Calgary is years away from contending.


Anonymous said...

The Habs have to finish off the season as best they can with what they have. In the off season the defense is where most of the work will have to take place. Markov is a big question mark but if he comes out of surgery successfully he'll be a big help. With a healthy Gorges, the Habs will be one third the way there. Subban is a definite star in the making and Gill is a possible seventh man. That leaves Hamrlik who will move on, the Wiz who has to go no matter what (he's useless) and Spacek who needs to be traded or sent to Hamilton for the last year of his contract.

Getting some real NHL defensive help will cost major money but with Hammer leaving all the Habs need to do is pull a Redden and send Gomez to Hamilton never to return. This may seem harsh but he's not just a waste of cap space, he's pulling the team down. In the business world (the Habs are in the sports business after all), this is not acceptable and he has to pay the price for his poor play. He's made a fortune over his career and unless he is willing and capable of stepping up and playing hard, smart hockey at the level of at least a 4-5 million dollar player he has to go. If I was the GM, I would tell him the reality of his situation and set the ground rules for his staying in the league. If he's capable of playing better he has to do it. If he isn't he has to go. It's up to him as it should be.

I would like to see Habs management take a known weakness and address it the way some other teams seem to do. The Flyers needed an upgrade on defense after the loss in the finals and Holmgren got it done right away. And his dealings with Nashville were a work of art. Hint: Shea Weber is an RFA unlikeley to want to sign long term in Nashville. Maybe something can be arranged?

With Gomez gone and a hard working Desharnais playing in his place next season the search for the illusive big scoring center will have to continue but a younger more physical defense will go a long way to help getting more wins and moving towards being a contender.

Great insights JT love you site.

Anonymous said...

It's funny but I don't agree with all the bashing of Gomez. I actually think he's a good NHL hockey player that has speed and great passing abilities.
Of course he is making too much money. And he should somehow be able to shoot more goals, I don't understand why he can't put it in the net more often. If his salary was 4-5 millions per year would it be better for everybody?
The difference here is maybe 2 millions for what he may be really worth in my humble opinion. It is not as extreme as saying take him out and you have 7 millions more. If you take him out of the lineup you can't replace him with a plywood.
The Habs are too small up front and it doesn't help to create space. With Mac Pac, Gomez numbers have gone up. Gionta, Plek, Gomez & Cammalleri are good players but not all together!! You need to mix it up. Those guys, especially because they are so small, should play with bigger linemates to compensate.
I also agree that it is hard to trade Gomez but if it can be done, it would be great. In the meantime, I really don't think he's that bad and it's a big plus to see the transition game from our zone to the next.

At least one that doesn't bash on Gomez eh? So now, where is my medication?

Anonymous said...

Gomez is untradeable, and I don't think he's "Redden" bad to be sent to the minors. The sooner hab fans accept that, the less they will suffer. What I hope is that Martin shrinks Gomez' ice time ala Drury, and give Desharnais a chance. What the Habs need is a good vet scoring winger with size to play with Pacs and DD, and hope that Andrei gets back to form.

Habimus-Maximus said...

I also disagree with all the Gomez bashing. Although, I would love if he was more productive points wise, his puck skills and speed cannot be replaced by anyone one our team. Nobody has been able to bring the puck up the ice and settle in the other teams zone on a constant basis. No one. Everyone is obsessed with his salary which was signed 4 years ago by Sather. B*tch about his stupid penalties if you want, his teammates should take care of that. He's a 5 million player who was given an 8 million contract.

Anonymous said...

I also disagree with all the Gomez bashing. It's his salary you all hate. He's a 5 mill player with and 8 mill salary. He should be a point per game player, but we play a very defensive style. His puck skill is un-matched on this team by anyone. he's fast and defensively responsible. There are other 7-8 mill players who contribute less in this must absorb them with the rest of the team. Darche + Gomez equals 8.5 mill or 4.75 each. Not so bad now.....

Anonymous said...

Gomez is playing like a 1-2 million dollar player. Krejci, Bergeron and Plekanec are 4-5 million dollar players. If Gomez was as good as those three that would be alright but he's not. He is definitely Reddenesk.

Anonymous said...

Gomez is defensively responsible. He has a team leading -9!

Darche and DD with far less playing time have contributed far more offensively than Gomez. If playing time was based on merit Gomez would be sitting in the press box. I can only guess his playing time is politically based rather than merit based. Management can't look bad on both the Gomez deal and Eller deal.

Anonymous said...

His puck skill is unmatched by anyone on the team. What team are you watching?

Nobody has been able to carry the puck and settle in the offensive zone. I think you mean the corner before either losing it or passing it back to no body in particular.

Gomez has skill and potential, he's just not performing and that is a serious problem. Each year he gets worse and his point production is going down to unacceptable levels. He will have to stay for the rest of this year but has to go before this team can improve. Bite the bullet and do it before next season. Scotty will live like a king in Hamilton. He may even regain his scoring touch. Boyd has 14 goals in 17 games. Maybe Scotty can get 20 again, who knows?