Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Flavour of the week

Did you just love Max Pacioretty in that pre-season game against Detroit? I did. He was fast, aggressive, smart and did everything right on both his regulation-time goal and his shootout beauty. He made a really good case for himself in his effort to prove he deserves an NHL job. It'll be hard to cut hard that he might actually push a regular out of the lineup and steal a spot with the big team. Most likely though, the decision, hard as it is, will be the same one Bob Gainey made last year when Sergei Kostitsyn had a stellar camp and still started the year in Hamilton.

Because when it comes down to it, Pacioretty is nineteen years old with one college season and a pro training camp separating him from his US high school team. There's no doubt he's got tons of natural ability, and that he'll be a good NHL player whenever he gets his shot. But there's not a player of that age or background who can't learn something and refine his game with a stint in the minors, and with a teaching coach like the Bulldogs' Don Lever. As good as he looks right now, Pacioretty has the potential to be even better, which might not be realized if he's thrust into an NHL role right now. The coaching staff has to decide if it's in the best interests of Pacioretty to launch his first rigorous pro season under the bright lights and high expectations of Montreal. Sergei Kostitsyn did well after his call up last season, but he had an older brother on the team who could act as mentor and friend. Carey Price, on the other hand, experienced deep valleys in morale and had to learn on the fly how to take care of himself physically. Which speaks to the theory that just because a player's skills are ready for the NHL, the player himself may not be as prepared for that reality.

I think it's great to be positive about Max Pac's future with the Habs, and look forward to the contributions he will make to the team's success. But fans need to be a little more patient and not leap on the "play him now" bandwagon...lambasting the coaches if they choose to send him to Hamilton. Remember how everyone loved Guillaume Latendresse as an eighteen-year-old, after his first camp when he hit everything in sight? Remember the outcry when he was sent back to junior, only to come back with another great camp as a nineteen-year-old? Yet, when he made the team and the path of his development became rockier, the same fans who demanded to see him promoted were ready to trade him for ice shavings. Same thing with Greg Stewart. He had one great game last season, and now he's everyone's choice for the fourth line, ahead of Kostopoulos, Lapierre and Begin. I wonder how many ordinary games on Stewart's part it would take before fans are ready to discard him in favour of the next unproven rookie?

It's easy to understand in a way. The kids are the living embodiment of potential and hope. They still have the possibility to be or do anything, and they haven't yet proven they can't. So it's tempting to look at them as better than the players whose experience has exposed their human and hockey weaknesses. And rest assured, they all have them.

The other problem with promoting Pacioretty right now though, is determining where he'll play. He's too good to be limited to fourth-line minutes and a banging, checking role. Yet who of Higgins, Koivu, Latendresse, the Kostitsyns, Tanguay, Plekanec, Kovalev and Lang will move to make way for him? The easy answer is Latendresse, but that's too easy. You can bet the team isn't going to give up on the local boy who's worked really hard to improve on his decent first two seasons, and who's just 21 himself. Really, unless someone seriously plays himself out of a spot, and I mean Samsonov or Ryder-like, or there's a top-nine winger hurt, there just isn't room for Max Pac.

Matters are further complicated by Kyle Chipchura, who was drafted to be the team's shut-down centre and is developing nicely toward that, with some fine games...even if not as spectacular as Pacioretty... in pre-season as well. Considering the fact that his role would fit the fourth line and his NHL experience to date probably puts him a little closer to a full-time job, he's mounting a strong challenge for a big-league spot as well. And with 23 NHLers on staff already, the team would have to cut someone just to get Chipchura onto the fourth line. Finding two regulars who are expendable enough to make room for Pacioretty and Chipchura is much tougher.

As I mentioned before, this is the consequence of having a very good team and a very good development system. There will always be too many players for too few jobs. That means management will have to make some difficult choices about cutting good players. In Pacioretty's case, it's not so tough when you look at the big picture. He's very young and his chance will come when several spots open up next season. In the meantime, he can learn the pro ropes in Hamilton and be ready when he's called, whether for a couple of injury-relief games, or to replace someone who fails to perform. We fans should just be glad he's a Hab, and look forward to his (hopefully) long career in Canadiens' colours...when the time is right.


Silver in 16 said...

You haven't lost your edge, JT, and I'm happy to visit, especially with our 100th season approaching. I like your comments about Max -- too often we read knee-jerk demands from rabid fans living in the here-and-now times of instant gratification. It's easy to overlook the amount of time required to build a Cup-winner, so, your sober reflection is valued.

I have a couple observations. From last night, I thought I was watching an end of the season game for a playoff spot. Wow. The intensity. I'm in Edmonton and switching over to the Edmonton-Calgary game was a decided anti-climax.

Given that intensity, I'll harken back (hopefully foreshadowing) to 1975 and Montreal's exhibition game with the Broadstreet Bullies. You probably know of the game -- when they challenged the thuggery tactics of Schultz/Kelly and co. and beat the stuffing out of them -- which set the stage for the Stanley Cup final, where I recall Jim Roberts' prediction in Game 1: "Four games". Will we look back to last night's game next spring? You could see that both teams wanted the victory...and the right team won.

On a slightly more mundane note, I'm gratified to see that we have a #13 after all -- not the "big bald Swede", but M. Tanguay. I look forward to seeing him fill that jersey.

J.T. said...

Silver, I completely agree. Both teams last night looked like they had something more on the line than pre-season bragging rights. You have to hand it to the Habs for being so hungry, but also to the Wings for not resting on their laurels. An interesting side note: I spoke to a pretty rabid Wings' fan today who commented, "That game was much faster than the Wings normally play." Which makes me wonder if it's possible the Habs could out-skate them if need be. I replied, "Oh, really? That's the way the Habs skate ALL the time!"

pierre said...

On an absolute scale, according to your friend :) Burk in Anahein, who is familiar with the WC teams and the Wings... the CH he thought was the fastest team his team had played against last season.

I agree that the game against Detroit a couple nights ago was an intense affair and that we looked particularly fast.... quite faster than we looked in our game last night against Boston ( who trapped us pretty well ) or last year against Detroit ( who had us disoriented while playing their A game with their key players ).

I think teams will be a little faster every year but for now we still have the edge and I believe it to be the crucial aspect upon which our team's basic system is designed around.

Personally I hope that Pacioretti will start in Hamilton because the situation for our talented players over there is ideal this season....

Max-Maxwell- D'Agostini
Carle Weber

Yound talented players playing lots of minutes together is what they need to refine their techniques and futher progress their developpement.

Unknown said...

Listening to some of the CKAC morons yesterday and also watching 110% and La Zone, I was thinking back to that June day in 2007, when Pacioretty was chosen with San Jose's second choice.

By that time, I had already decided to trust Timmins and Gainey. So, when they picked Pacioretty over David Perron, I might have been a little disappointed but I had all the faith in the world in the Canadiens recruiting staff.

So when I now hear all these pseudo experts chanting the merits of Max Pac and DEMANDING that he is not sent to Hamilton, I remember how vocals most of them were, about the decisions that were made that famous June day when Exposito and Perron were ignored by Timmins. It was un thinkable that the Canadiens not pick in their own backyard and how they were showing a lack of respect for the people of Quebec.

I'm as Nationalist (if not more) than any of those morons but I have FAITH....