Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Numbers Game

I'm not good at math. I'm not exactly bad at it either. I just have to work hard to figure out the answers, and then I'm never quite sure I'm right. But I thought there was something wrong with the equation I kept hearing all summer, and I'm starting to think my mediocre math is making sense now. Every story about the retooled Habs carried the same stat: eleven players departing the team, replaced by seven newcomers. Hmmm, I thought. Eleven take away seven leaves four. Four slots without a returning player or comparable NHL replacement. 11-7=x, where x is a rookie call-up who's either not good enough for the NHL or not ready to play there but there's nobody better to take his place.

Max Pacioretty isn't ready. There are some doubts about what kind of contribution Matt D'Agostini can make as a regular. Sergei Kostitsyn is in limbo. Greg Stewart isn't good enough for the NHL, and the jury's still out on Kyle Chipchura. I won't mention the defence because it would have been pretty good with Markov and O'Byrne. Yannick Weber is doing his best, but...well...a little more time in Hamilton wouldn't hurt him.

All summer we've been comparing the outgoing players with the newcomers in the top roles. Is Gomez an upgrade on Koivu, we asked? How does Gionta compare to Kovalev? Or Cammalleri to Tanguay? Who'd take Robert Lang's role? What we didn't think about that much was the supporting cast. We should've been asking whether Stewart was better than Dandenault as a fourth-liner. Or whether Pacioretty is ready to be an upgrade on, or even as good as, Chris Higgins. Or if Max Lapierre is really a better third-line centre than Lang.

The answers to the questions we should have been asking are the ones we're starting to get an inkling about now. It turns out Gomez is okay as a replacement for Koivu. Gionta has more heart than Kovalev ever dreamed of having, as well as an ability to put the puck in the net. Cammalleri is a good replacement for Tanguay. But the assumptions we made about the team's supporting cast, i.e. its being good enough to endure wholesale change without incident, may have been a little too ambitious.

We saw in the Calgary game how the first lines matched up pretty well. It was the fourth lines that didn't compare, and when you're facing a good team with a reliable fourth line, and when you don't have one yourself, you're going to lose games.

The Habs are still missing a solid winger for the second line after Higgins' departure. The defence is effectively crippled. You can look at those problems and say the D will improve in a few months when the injured guys come back, and there's lots of time for a kid like D'Agostini or Pacioretty to pick it up, or for the prodigal Kostitsyn to return to the second line. But there's little to be optimistic about on the fourth line. Stewart's not good enough and if Laraque had a skating contest with a block of cement he'd be hard-pressed to win. That line cost the team a hard-fought game in Calgary; the kind of effort you hate to see get wasted because of useless bottom-tier players. The Tom Kostopoulos' (Kostopouli?) and Mathieu Dandenaults of the world might not win you many games, but they're able to fulfill a basic fourth-line role very well, and won't cost you games either. I don't think they were part of the problem in Montreal last year, and their dismissal along with everyone else who was shown the door last summer might have been a little bit premature.

The focus this year has been on the departure of last season's top players. Won't it be ironic if the difference is a shortage of skill in the supporting cast? I can't even begin to calculate that.


Anonymous said...

I like your blogs so much-I totally agree about losing some of the supporting cast. TK was a real loss and so was Dandy.Laraque is totally useless and a waste of not only money but a spot in the lineup. Stewart is not even as good as the long haired guy at camp.I really liked Lang and it was wrong to let him go-just wrong. I still can't even talk about Saku being cut loose !!


DB said...

How do you replace 11 players with 7 and still have a full roster? It's pretty straight forward. Two players had to be let go because the Habs ended last year with 25 players when you include injured players like Lang and Markov. The other two were replaced by Chips and Pacs who ended last year in the minors.

As far as the 4th line personnel goes the only change from the end of last year is that Dandy has been replaced by Chips (In terms of playing time Laraque has taken Dandy's minutes and Chips has taken Laraque's press box time).

The concerns raised over Stewart, Laraque, Dags, Pacs and others are real. What to do about it if performances don't improve isn't so simple.

Only Pacs can be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. Dags, Stewart and Chips are cheap (all make about $500 K) and any replacements would need to make a similar salary because of the Hab's cap situation. Stewart is the most likely to clear waivers in my view. He could be replaced by Pyatt when he is healthy.

I've never been a Laraque fan. I find he is more interested in media attention than hockey as well as being slow. Maybe he should pitch a reality show to CBC - the 24 hour rink race. He would challenge Gill to see who could do the most laps in 24 hours. The over/under would be one lap.

Howard said...

One of the departures I never understood was that of Steve Begin who is currently tearing it up with the hated Bruins (3 assists). I don't know if it was a clash with Cabonneau which caused him to be traded but I would challenge anyone to give a 4th line better than Begin, Dandenault and Metropolit. Won't lose you a lot of games!

pfhabs said...


-great post. I'll comment on the most seminal point

"their dismissal along with everyone else who was shown the door last summer might have been a little bit premature."

-uummmmm. can it be that CH Nation is twigging to another Inconvenient Truth which is the Canadiens---the outgoing guys for various nefarious reasons weren't any good. the new guys collectively are less than the old guys that were turfed

-the common thread---the guy that made all the moves

-sometimes 1+1=2 no matter how great a former Captain was as a player. blind trust works nowhere

-very very sad !

-to those that said that Markov could be replaced by;

1. the kids proving themselves
2. the vets playing more
3. any combination of the above

you can have a bogey on those thoughts. the loss of Markov is very very significant and puts the playoffs in jeopardy

Ted said...

I watched a good part of the game last night and like every
Hab fan was disappointed. But please, we are playing .500 hockey on the road at the start of the season with 7 new players and on the road for approximately 15 days.

We were stung last night. Last year they went bowling, this year they did wind sprints. I'm pretty sure the wind sprints will be remembered. The bowling wasn't televised.

Last year I remember 1 game in which I thought wow this team can play and that was against Detroit.
I'm willing to sit back and see whether this year I get at least two games in which I once again believe.

Anonymous said...

Everything you said is dead on. But I don't think anybody (outside of MTL) taught they would compete for the league tittle this year, no?

A (re)building process takes time. Maybe next year with one or two signatures and Pax one year older (I don't believe in D'Ag at all).