Friday, December 30, 2011

Asset Management

When this NHL season began, it was with a sense of hope. The Canadiens had taken the Bruins to OT in Game Seven of their playoff series just a few months previous. It could have been them making the Finals...maybe even winning the Cup...instead of their archrivals. Most promising of all, they managed to do it without the services of Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges or Max Pacioretty. One could just imagine how the presence of those guys could have held the Bruins to one fewer goal, or pushed that precious goal behind Tim Thomas instead. When Pierre Gauthier re-signed Markov, presumably with the understanding he'd be ready to play the majority of the season, then added much-needed power and size in Erik Cole, we had every reason to believe the team would be better than the one that pushed the Bruins to the brink last season.

Then the games began. Right from the beginning, there was something wrong with the team. Of course, it turned out Markov wasn't ready to start the season; far from it, and his erstwhile replacement, Roman Hamrlik, was in Washington. The injuries continued to pile up during the first few weeks of the season and there was something off with the players who remained in the lineup. They were working hard, but somehow not working together. Their effort, complicated by the inexperience of so many players, often seemed to be misdirected.

The losses accumulated as quickly as the injuries, and they started preying on the players' minds. The team became fragile mentally. Having blown so many third-period leads, they began to change their game in the third period and played with the fear of blowing another. Naturally, as they stiffened up and fell back into a defensive shell, their opponents sensed opportunity and seized it. The Canadiens problems began to snowball as one loss fed the next. Management didn't help matters by bringing in inadequate solutions like Tomas Kaberle, or firing coaches Perry Pearn and Jacques Martin. It helped even less when Geoff Molson effectively gelded new bench boss Randy Cunneyworth by saying the permanent coach would be required to speak French. Add to that his blithe assessment that the team, as constructed, could possibly be a competitive threat, and there seemed little hope for change from that quarter.

Now, after the latest blown lead to fellow bottom-feeder Tampa Bay, the Habs hopes for the post-season are as distant as Molson's statements from reality. This team will not make the playoffs, short of a semi-miraculous run in the second half of the season. Even then, the chances of making them in a favourable post-season position or of winning a round or two, aren't great. A squeak into eighth place and hope for another colossal playoff upset offer the best outcome a fan might expect at this point. What's more likely with a great roll right now is a finish between 8th and 10th and a crappy, mid-round draft pick...the kind Trevor Timmins blows with unfortunate regularity.

The fear we must face as helpless fans who are watching our beloved team founder, is that Gauthier will try to save his own ass by pulling out all the stops to get the Habs into the playoffs. The likelihood of his coming up short with this plan and ending up in ninth place (while probably losing his job anyway) won't deter him from doing it anyway. The essential problem with this is that it will result in poor asset management of the type we've seen in recent years, when Sheldon Souray wasn't moved at the deadline as Bob Gainey vainly hoped keeping him would give the team a push upward. Of course, it didn't work, Souray walked and the Canadiens missed a chance to pick up a valuable first-round pick for him. There are other examples, too numerous to detail outside a novel.

Now, Gauthier has to look...really look...at the team he's got on the ice. He's got to make a list of players he expects to be part of this team in two years, and he's got to be ready to move the remaining people for parts that will help the team advance. He's got to ask difficult questions, like whether Michael Cammalleri's sub-par regular-season performances can continue to be overlooked because of his playoff goal scoring? If his poor play is a reason why the team misses the playoffs, then the answer to that is "no." A six-million dollar player who only performs in the post-season is useless if he can't help the team get there to begin with. If that's the case, then a playoff-bound team might offer a high return for what he can offer it on a Cup run. In that situation, Gauthier has to be willing to move Cammalleri in February.

Ditto for Hal Gill. Teams know he's a playoff beast on the PK and in the shot-blocking department. If he can bring a second or third-round pick, when he probably won't be back next year anyway, then Gauthier needs to move him. Tomas Kaberle should be gone as well, if there's a return to be had. Scott Gomez goes without saying. Travis Moen too, if there's a team needing a workhorse penalty-kill guy for the playoffs.

Essentially, there's a youth core the Habs can build on. Lars Eller, Louis Leblanc, Carey Price, P.K.Subban, Alexei Emelin, Raphael Diaz, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty are a good start. Veterans like Tomas Plekanec, Josh Gorges and Erik Cole who are earning their money and still performing can contribute for the next few years. Other players are extraneous and must be exchanged for parts that can add to that core, whether that be draft picks or promising prospects. Realistically, there's no player outside the core that can bring a truly game-saving return, so Gauthier (or his replacement should he be fired before the deadline) must try to get something helpful for them. Something that will add to the core and help build a competitive team.

To accomplish this, the GM needs to have a plan. In the last several years, there hasn't been one. Bob Gainey had an idea of the type of team he'd like to build, but seemed to be derailed by the immaturity of some key players and the ennui of others. The complete blowing-up of that team three years ago appeared to be the result of frustration and anger on his part. Therefore, even though it's pretty widely accepted that a competitive team in the cap era must be built through the draft and good player development, Gainey went old-school and tried to buy a team through overpriced free agency. He lucked out in that the guys he brought in were of good character and got along with each other well. He failed to realize, however, how quickly their on-ice performances would deteriorate and how their inflated salaries would make it difficult for the team to move them if necessary.

That's got to be fixed now. The Canadiens need a GM with balls enough to move the players who have value but won't be with the team long-term. It needs to happen this year, at the deadline or before, because the Montreal Canadiens will have little choice but to be sellers this season. They've got to sell, to buy themselves a future.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice post, I agree overall. But one nitpick: I think you are being harsh with Trevor Timmons. After all, under his tenure, the Habs have drafted Carey Price, PK Subban, Max Pacioretty, Ryan McDonaugh, the Kostitsyn brothers, Ryan White, Alexei Emelin, Maxim Lapierre, Chris Higgins, Matt D'Agostini, Danny Kristo, Brendan Gallagher, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Guillaume Latendresse, Jaroslav Halak, Ryan O'Bryrne, Ribeiro, Ryder, Grabovski and countless others. Yes, there were mistakes, like David Ficsher and Kyle Chipchurra. By and large, Timmons has drafted some pretty damn good players. The fact that a lot of these players and being good on other teams speaks to your point about poor asset management more than it does poor drafting. When the Habs re structure, I hope they keep Timmins

Anonymous said...

My biggest fear isn't Gauthier making moves to try and save his job, though I do worry about that; it's that Gauthier's moves have been in response to Geoff Molson panicking.

Gauthier's long history in hockey does not indicate a man who panics easily so why would he panic now?

It could be the pressure of hockey mad Montreal has gotten to him or it could be that Molson panicked because he needs the playoff revenue to service the huge debt load he took on to buy the Habs.

If Gauthier panicked then a new GM is needed. If Molson panicked then what we've seen the last few months will be the new normal for the Habs. What a scary thought to start the new year with.

DB

PS - JT thanks for making this the best Habs blog out there.

J.T. said...

@anon #1: The problem with Timmins isn't that he fails to pick NHL-calibre players. His problem is he consistently picks middle-of-the-road NHL players. When's the last home run he hit? Look at the Flyers as a comparison. They also tend to pick mid-to-late first round, and they got Giroux, Richards, Carter, etc. They got legit assets they could translate into other legit assets if they didn't work out. The Habs got middle-of-the-road players like Kostitsyn, Lapierre, Latendresse, etc. who can only be traded for less than their value. There were opportunities for Timmins to bring in great players from his draft position, but his first-round scouting has consistently been off. You cite his busts in Chipchura and Fischer, but you neglect to point out his outright misses, in picking Kostitsyn instead of Carter, Richards, Perry, Getzlaf, Parise, etc. Or picking Pacioretty instead of Perron. There were better picks out there, but our guys didn't find them.

@DB: Thanks. That means a lot, because it's been really, really tough to keep the blog going this year, for many reasons. I appreciate your readership and your feedback.

Anonymous said...

Hey JT: I would cite Carey Price and PK Subban as home run picks. Possibly McDonaugh, too. Further, I would much rather have Max Pac than Perron. Bigger, more physical, more of what the Habs need. Re: the 2003 draft. True, there were better picks than Andrei Kostitsyn that were available. But if you read the latest piece in RDS about Andre Savard, it was clear he wanted Jeff Carter but that Bob Gainey, the new incoming GM, wanted Kostitsyn. Finally, @anon 2: I agree with your assessment. I fear Geoff Molson is a little over leveraged and needs the playoff revenue. His panicky press release a week ago sheds a little light on his demeanor.

Anvilcloud said...

You sound down in your comments, JT. I always read you with great interest and seldom disagree very much. The next ten games should seal whether we are dealers or not. I actually think RC is having a positive impact although we're not yet seeing results in terms of games won. I think there's a slight chance this could still happen.

Harry said...

Thanks again for a year of great blogs.I personally would be very bummed out if you stopped,I can imagine how hard it must be to keep going.
Things can't really get much worse,can they ??
Hope you have a great 2012......

dwgs said...

Just wanted to chime in and say that while I don't comment often, I read and value everything you write JT. In my opinion you have the best analysis and writing of any of the habs blogs.
Happy New Year.

Hadulf said...

Adding to the core of 'young' players, I'd still keep Gionta in the mix as the Captain. He seems to be the right guy for the job (I'm not in the room etc, of course, it is only my impression). Allthough, he'd need to get on the 3rd line and probably change his game a bit.

Also, as dwgs wrote, I too am a long time reader and appreciate what you do J.T. Keep it up! ;)

Anonymous said...

This habs blog is the most insightful, witty and intelligent out there. I hope it will survive the passing of 2011. Keep up the good work!

JF said...

J.T. - My biggest concern about the Habs right now is not what Pierre Gauthier will do, but what Geoff Molson will do. The fact that he allowed Gauthier to fire Jacques Martin when he did - just before the start of a long, tough road trip, when the new coach would have almost no time to work with the players - suggests that he doesn't know a lot about hockey. His statement when Cunneyworth was hired, which I thought was both gutless and classless, suggests he's poorly equipped to handle public relations. Habs fans have to hope that he will go to the right people for advice about moving forward; that if he is not ready yet to fire Gauthier, he will at least see that his hands are tied so he can't do any more damage; that he will not let Bob Gainey have any part in a rebuild; and that he or his advisors will do a bit of thinking outside the box rather than simply turning to former GMs like the two Savards. The Habs need a new vision and a new philosophy. If they can find the right people, the rebuild could actually be exciting and promising; if they simply recycle something that didn't work all that well in the first place, it could be another road to nowhere.

Discouraging as the situation is at the moment, I hope you keep your blog going. More than ever when things get tough, Habs fans need intelligent analysis, insight, and humour.

Ian said...

Leigh Anne, another (unfortunately) inciteful post. I know how hard it is to keep doing this. I have a personal blog that started out well and has kind of fallen to the side, as I don't seem to be able to find the time or will to keep updating it on a regular basis.

You are easily my favorite read, and I read MANY in my thirst for Habs' news and opinions. It is a tough year to try and enjoy anything about the fortunes of the Habs. Sickening, actually.

I am a senior, not some teenaged fan whose emotions could be subject to unreasonable swings. I am dying inside with what is going on. I too had such great hope at the start of the year.

Last year the buzz was about how close this team was. I don't see any of that this year. We are in disarray.

With a few exceptions, the leaders are continuing to underachieve. When you have 5-6-7 million dollar contracts not being earned, you have some significant problems.

Firing an assistant coach, then the head coach, has not changed the on-ice performance. And we know we can't fire all the players.

I can't believe we can actually miss the playoffs this year. On paper, that should not be in the realm of possibility. Unfortunately, I am just now getting my head out of my butt and realizing it is a very real possibility. I still hold out some hope, but it is faint now.

To even think we might need to have a fire sale at the trade deadline sickens me.

My son-in-law and I scored SUPERB Habs tickets for the March 23 home game against Ottawa. We're pumped up to be flying down for the game, but also wondering what we are going to see when we are there. We'll have our Habs sweaters and jackets on, to be sure, but it would be nice to have this ship turned around. It just won't be the same if we are already out of the playoff push.

I'm sad at the state of affairs today.

I hope you find it in you to keep the blog going. It is the best around.

Anonymous said...

Good post, and some good comments (especially the ones about Molson, who has shown early signs of becoming this century's version of Harold Ballard). I think, JT, you're a bit uncharitable to the core Gainey acquired in 2009. First of all, the team character he assembled wasn't a matter of luck but of calculation. Secondly, while Gomez is obviously a disaster, the rest have delivered *except* for this season; it might be a mistake to evaluate a player based on their worst three-month stretch. I think all Habs fans can agree that we should be sellers, but there's a difference between a total rebuild and some tactical tweaking. Because this team is much better than it has shown this season, the latter is what's called for.

Anonymous said...

JT: I have maintained this attitude for a while. They have to decide if they want to be a middling team for an indefinite period of time or strive for greatness. The habs should be shooting for the latter.

This means moving parts like Souray and Koivu if it will bring something substantial in return . The fact is even though they lost out to the Bruins there was no indication they could win the cup. They blocked a lot of shots and got a little lucky( admittedly every team needs it to get through that grind) and played some decent team hockey at key times.

But if they made some tough decisions like moving some of the guys i mentioned they would probably be impactful at this time or be just ready to matriculate to the big club. And if they kept a Hamrlik over Spacek for instance and another guy like Dominic Moor they might be better off than they are. Some key personnel decisions have been made to say the least Nowadays they need to be able to roll 4 lines and far too often they shorten the bench.

Great job, really enjoy visiting the site for your writing and humor and insight. All the best in the New Year.

Mark

dusty said...

I hope that you continue your blog and that the many reasons that make it difficult for you disappear in the new year. I look forward to sharing thoughts with you and your loyal readers regarding our beloved Habs even as the sink into oblivion.

Asset management is such a great topic as it brings out the GM in all of us. I think it's the most fun because we all have a picture in our minds of a team that we would like to create.

I agree with most of your ideas except for dumping Moen at the trade deadline. I'm sure he would like to get off the sinking ship but I would keep him. In fact, I think a successful team needs a guy like Moen and a couple more like him. Carcillo, Asham, Kanopka and Powe were swooped up in the summer and caused a few tears to flow from my eyes when Montreal didn't get any of them.

Also keeping DD is not a good idea for me. He's a great story but for me he represents much of what is wrong with the Habs.

Happy New Year everyone.

Jim said...

Leigh Anne, Heartily agree with your opinion that Timmins etal have systematically missed NHL ready players on draft day save maybe two!

But this points directly at the scouting input, or lack thereof ! The Habs have less scouts on the payroll than Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, Boston...........

Most of the present day draft successes now playing in Montreal were resulting from the input of Andre Savard!

Gauthier has been an abject failure as Chief scout/ Pro-scout and should be held far more responsible for Gomez, Cammalleri and the rest. Gainey is pilloried over moves he made but the input of Gauthier into all of those deals is often ignored!

Garbage in Garbage out!

Anonymous said...

I guess you could argue that Gainey actually brought a plan, the plan is working (9 college players, 3 players on the Can Jnrs, two others playing) and 8 core players on the team as you ID'ed. What didn't work is a capworld long term signing of potential UFA's by teams. Locking up the great kids before they get to the market. So the plan is amended to make do.

In a world where Gill outscores Gomez over the last 365 days that isn't satisfactory. The kneejerk firing of Martin speaks only of the frustration felt by the organization. Why? IMHO the team achieved despite Martin. Carbo was let go because he wasted young players and blamed kids for his failings. He won't be back.

The team took the first two from Boston in the playoffs and were leading the third before folding and only winning 1 of five. With Markov and Pac and Gorges they should have been past the Bruins, into another year of upsetting frontrunners. But they didn't have Markov, Pac or Gorges. So it never happened. JM's teams don't ever achieve things with him, they do it despite him.

I know you think the world of Pleks but the guy is a second or third line center who has proven he can not carry the load big time. Look around. Two unschooled kids, DD and Eller, look better at first and neither is one either. Gomez, the man of mystery, is either in the biggest funk of NHL history, or so spoiled by money he no longer cares.

A generation of Canadiens fans have never seen this team achieve anything. Impatience is to be expected. Remember the Cory years? Remember anyone talking back being shipped out with Roy (Keane then Brashear). I don't want to go back to that. Geez the best goalie in the league, the best clutch Captain, and the best tough guy all gone over Cory and Tremblay.

Throwing RC under the wheels was a panic move. That is bothersome. Throwing a GM out the same way will mean bringing in an unknown with a new plan. Whee! I'd rather stick with the current plan and get a coach who can motivate players, not one whose teams show glimpses of greatness only to collapse when he sticks his hands in.

Unfortunately St Louis signed Hitch awhile ago. I have no idea what is left that can save this mess other than RC and the team itself.

In other words: I think they have the horses to pull the Canadiens wagon they are just missing a stud on the PP and a first center.

DT said...

Fragile mentally... I've heard that before. Just before Carbo got fired, the team had the same problem. But that was a different Canadiens team, with a different bunch of guys, save a few, before Gainey blew up that team. Enter the new team, the free agent signings (a rare thing at that point in time, to have players sign with Montreal). These new players were character players, with a fresh new start, and so the lab experiment began. Fast forward to 2011 and it's deja vu all over again. Fragile mentally.

So, what's going on in Montreal? Is this some kind of middle of the pack team syndrome that makes them fragile over time? Is it the pressure of playing in Montreal with the fan base? I think back to something Cole said recently about playing against Mtl as a Hurricaine at the Bell Centre, which went something like this: we knew if the fans got down on them, they'll be vulnerable and feel more pressure. Hmmm. Are we, as fans, adding to the problem?

I look around and I see the Winnipeg Jets fans are doing a better job of supporting their bottom dwelling team these days than we are in Mtl and maybe it's time we, the fans, be a little more accountable and start the new year truly supporting this team because we all know they need it. Whenever you're feeling fragile mentally, there's nothing like support to help you through the tough times.

Love your blog JT! Your intelligent analysis helps support this fan. Thanks! Please keep it going!

DKerr said...

JT,

I don't have issues with the drafting (Chipchura had a serious injury after his draft if I remember correctly), more so with the loss of picks in trades where we don't bring enough back. Giving up a second for Moore was fine, if we retained him. Giving up a good draft pick for a rental doesn't help long term. Maybe your house cleaning above will give us a positive return of draft picks.

I agree with Anvilcloud in that the next 10 games will decide our team's fate. With a few teams dominating the East, there seems to be disarray underneath them, which has allowed us to not be buried yet.

All in all, I would tend to cut PG some slack. I think he his improving the club incrementally and could be guilty like many in thinking this team could have done more based upon the 7 game series with Boston. Look at our top 3 goal scorers (Cole, Max and AK46); all bigs. It is as if the mentality is shifting and we haven't completed the overhaul (Eller fits that, DD not so much). Lets give RC time to do something with the team.

Anonymous said...

Dusty,

What hockey games have you been following? Get rid of DD and keep Moen?