Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Think Tank

Photo courtesy of Josie Gold.

Picture, if you will, two Habs fans. One is the patient fan. He faithfully watches all the games, pays half a week's salary to go to the Bell Centre when he gets a chance and proudly wears his vintage Saku Koivu sweater during the playoffs. The patient fan tries to see logic in the coach's and general manager's decisions. He explains losses as unfortunate encounters with hot goalies or getting jobbed by the refs. He believes there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the Habs that a nice five-game winning streak can't fix.

The other fan is the angry fan. He's this close to cancelling his subscription to RDS, he regards ticket prices on Stub Hub with horror and is ashamed to wear his Guy Lafleur sweater in public. The angry fan thinks Pierre Gauthier should be fired for failing to address the team's pressing needs, and Jacques Martin is mentally deficient for not recognizing a forward on the point during the PP isn't working. He believes the Habs as constructed and managed just can't score, and they take a lot of minor penalties because they're stuck with a system that doesn't play to their strengths. He sees a long, disappointing season, probably culminating in a playoff miss, unless dramatic changes happen immediately.

The patient fan and the angry fan are so diametrically opposed in their basic philosophies, they rarely cross paths outside internet message boards. When the two worlds collide these days, however, they're like two sumo wrestlers grappling for purchase on black ice. The slippery ground in this case is the "tank" debate.

The patient fan takes the anti-tank argument. The basic points of debate include: a)these are the Montreal Canadiens, and the proud fanbase won't accept being a league bottom-feeder, b)missing the playoffs is too costly for the owners, c)players sign in places where they're going to have success and a tank season undermines that selling option, even for homegrown UFAs like Carey Price, and, d)tanking doesn't guarantee anything because you still have to draft and develop the right player(s), see Atlanta/Winnipeg as Exhibit A

The angry fan wants to tank the season, and preferably the sooner the better. He says a)the Montreal Canadiens have been mediocre for nearly 20 years, are on the verge of becoming irrelevant when discussion of modern success arises and can only break out of the middle-of-the-road rut by drafting a real superstar, b)missing the playoffs will be a wakeup call for the owners who'll then turf Gauthier, Martin, Bob Gainey and all their relatives and friends, c)free agents are not the way to build the core of a team and the Canadiens need to unload some of the ones they've previously signed at the trade deadline in order to facilitate the tanking process, and, d)tanking a year doesn't mean long-term failure because one great draft pick can make a huge difference, see Philadelphia as Exhibit A.

That, in some version, is pretty much how the debate proceeds. What neither side really says, though, is that the debate is in danger of becoming moot. With their latest two-game losing slide, the Habs bandwagon risks branching off the mainstream highway and taking a one-way turnoff to Tanksville, PQ, population 21,273. In short, the Canadiens may be tanking all by themselves, without any help at all from the debaters.

It's not that they're not trying. They are. These are professional hockey players, several of them Stanley Cup winners. They're proud and they're skilled enough to have reached this level and won before. As a collective, though, something's missing. Whether it's a lack of bench leadership with the departure of Kirk Muller, a lack of on-ice cohesion, particularly during the PP, with the loss of Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski or just plain bad luck with injuries and weird scheduling, there's something wrong with the Canadiens. Maybe it's just as simple as playing in a league in which a poor start can put you permanently behind the eight-ball for the season. Parity's a bitch, especially when you've been drafting in the middle of the pack for years and really haven't upgraded the big team very much in the last three seasons.

It feels terribly disloyal, but even the most patient of fans, when faced with an inevitable tank, can't help thinking about the sure-thing, rock-star junior players just waiting to be plucked out of the NHL lottery. Imagining slick winger Nail Yakupov in the starting lineup makes even the most ardent playoff-lover think how much better a chance the Habs would have in the post-season with that kind of scoring talent in the lineup.

In the same way, even the most angry fan, when he knows the season could really be lost, feels the regret of missing out while other teams go for the Cup. He finds it hard to admit it, but cyncism takes a back seat to hope when the post-season begins, as long as his team is in it. And even the angriest fan knows that there are no guarantees with those tempting prospects. Yakupov could be the next Kovalchuk or the next Patrik Stefan. One doesn't know how a change of league or an injury could influence the way that kid will turn out as a pro.

In the end, nobody really wants a tank season. The irony is the fans who swear they do and those who vow they don't come together only when tanking becomes a certainty. Looking at the distinct possibility of a lost season now, tankers and anti-tankers can agree a top draft pick might make a difference next year, but the price is very, very high. If tanking happens despite the team's best efforts there's little we can do about it, but the team really needs to take whatever drastic measures it must to prevent it.


Woodvid said...

Re: Yakupov; have to admit, I was already watching this in October:

Kyle Roussel said...

If by drastic measure you mean replace the coach and GM, then that's cool. If you mean drastic measure as in trading prospects and high picks for life preservers, then I'm 100% against that. If Martin and Gauthier are to hang around, then I think we ought to let nature take its course.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, when the internet was just a byte, a guy called Stan "Steamer" Smyl played for Vancouver. Now you have to know that Vancouver at that time was somewhere between suck and sell in the standings. They had some good players, and some rabid fans, but they could never get it together. Sort of a leadership thing I suppose. Yeah...I know, nothing much changes.

Anyway Steamer would come out after all those losses, blown leads, and outright no shows to face the music. He would mention how they had not played to their potential, how they knew they could do better, how the other goalie had stood on his head (which should make it as easy to score as when he is playing unconscious or is in a zone, however...) and how they just needed the bounces to string some wins together. It got old but the fans ate it up. Stan was way popular.

The Canuks never did achieve anything except a riot last year. In the UK you riot and the judge throws your sorry rioting butt into gaol (that is gaol not goal) almost as fast as they can march you in. In Canada they think about it for a few years then you appear and get a stern warning. Sometimes only an agent appears and gets the warning for you. But it is stern none the less. Anyway the Canuks never amounted to anything.

Watching the Habs you have to realize they are not going to amount to anything. They have the talent but no one is driving. There are no Crosby's that will leave it all out there. No guys who demand effort and thought and have the creds to shame peers into achievement. Dumb ass penalties, give aways, coasting to the bench, turnovers, what is to say?

These guys get along, and I bet most like each other. The opponent is the media and fanbase. The game is PR. Who is accountable? Really. We all understand that Gomez is just riding the bank but we still believe him when he says he will be an 80 point and a plus player. That 84 Chev he wants to sell you is probably good for another million klicks to, just keep her topped up with that discount oil in the trunk.

Fans are fans. We don't see the blemishes. Because Price is very good we think Subban is very good and Gorges is very good and Campoli (who most of the league and we never heard of before he was a last minute signing but injured as soon as the insurance kicked in) is very good and Emelin who never played here is very good and...well it goes on. By the by, because I can't resist, your hero played like a little girl again...wait sorry...they hit a couple posts which when you're losing must be inside the mesh and over the goal line from the hoopla. When you're winning no one notices posts. Weird or what?

Tank? Not likely. They do not need to tank. They make money. The center and team are an investment within a depressed market. Those assets return more on investment than bonds, stocks, futures. There is no need for the team to get a higher pick, a franchise player then the 31, 61, etc best players for a couple years. The center is full. So they pay washed up never were's to handle the spotlight stuff, hype what they have as the second coming, and the sweaters sell off the rack.

Thanks for allowing the vent. I wish the Habs put as much effort into thinking about their game as you do. I despair that soon I will become fed up with them.

HardHabits said...

I disagree about two things. 1st, I am not an angry fan. I am possibly only miffed at Habs fans for not seeing the light but my tanking determination comes as much from my gut as my head. I have rationalized ths well beyond being just an emotional response.

2nd, it is this idea that whatever drastic measure must be taken to avoid tanking. This is what has been killing the Habs since 1994. It's been the same spinning of the wheels for years lost in the wilderness. Look at the record. Top 5 teams win the Cup with the anomloy being top 10. The Habs have one top 10 finish in that span.

At one point the Habs have to accept that middling finishes with middling picks is not going to work unless your team has Scotty Bowman and Hakan Anderson on board and is extremely lucky.

The Habs IMO need to rebuild for te next 3 years via te draft, even if it means missing the play-offs because the alternative is unacceptable. Starting the play-offs on the road and watching other teams hoist the Cup while our players are playing golf.

dusty said...

Admiring Josie's picture, I found myself looking for '26' somewhere on the car. It so reminds me of poor Josh Gorges under one of the wingers that clobber him several times each game. By the way, I loved the physical presence that Emelin brought last night. His hip check got all the raves but before that he stepped in and flattened some Oiler in the crease after the whistle. How I miss seeing that.

I am definitely an angry fan and wouldn't wear my Henri Richard sweater in public. That tells you how old I am. And I believe that the Habs are irrelevant in modern hockey discussions. Only Montrealers still consider the Canadiens a model franchise. Today they are a model for failure not to be emulated as Lou Lamorillo once did in building the Devils.

Tanking is not an option but the team might be bad enough to get into lottery position on their own. I think the next three games will tell us all we need to know for the rest of the season.

Phoenix is a solid well coached hard working team. I wouldn't give the Habs much chance in that one. Nashville is on the verge of being a contender and I give the Habs no real chance without a ton of lucky bounces and a Price shut out. Buffalo, we all know about Lindy's guys and Miller will surely be his usual self for that one.

J.T. said...

@Kyle: I would NEVER advocate dumping picks and prospects for a desperation bid for a playoff berth. Firing the management is fine with me.

Pierre said...

Hi all,
while I am against planned tanking, I think that when a situation arises that puts you in a bad spot in the standings (injuries, bad luck, awful coaching, astrologic disturbances or whatever it is), the duty of the genral manager is to take that opportunity to tank and run with it. We are in a great spot: this team is nowhere near as bad as the record indicates, yet with only a few minor moves (trading Gill and Spacek and NOT firing JM), we could be destined for the first overall (but Columbus will be hard to beat), and be back contending in 2 years.
You never go out looking for the tank, but when it comes to you, you have to embrace it.

the Maritimer said...

I'm not angry (maybe a bit) and my patience for this squad ran out long ago. I'm a fan who has become ambivalent about what the Canadiens do or don't do anymore. All they do now is erect monuments and gather memoribilia of their past. That's basically all the Canadiens have now; their history and really nice jerseys.

I don't know what Gauthier will do if they are in too deep a hole to climb out of but I suspect it will be....nothing. They will trot out all the usual excuses and cliches and carry on business as usual.

moeman said...

Another great read.

Only quibble is the use of 'he'. There's gotta be some sHE(s) Habs fans out there as the female kind takes up over 50% of the 7Billion of us.

Raj said...

As always, JT, very well thought out and expressed. I'm not angry. I'm not going to burn my Frank Mahovlich jersey or go root for another team. But I'm no longer patient, either. I'm tired of hearing the Habs outplayed the other team, but lost. I'm tired also of other teams having that extra swagger around us because they think that, just like some of us men thought of particular girls when we were young and foolish, we're "easy." I'm tired of being that girl that's considered "easy." It's bad for the self-esteem. That, I think, is the crux of the matter. The Habs don't have self-esteem, they don't act like they're an elite team -- or that they will ever have a right to be. They seem to be desperately happy when they win and painfully abashed when they lose -- because, you see, they didn't think they would win in the first place. A creditable showing is a win. That's what I'm tired of. As much as I think Brian Burke is a blowhard, he has tried to get the Leafs to have self-esteem, i.e., "truculence."

What is the solution? As much as I hate to say it, perhaps we do need to tank. But we need to tank very thoughtfully. Tanking "thoughtfully" requires abandoning the status quo -- meaning coach, GM, vets -- and drafting well. Fortunately, we do draft well. Our Achilles heel has been keeping the talent we draft (we've given up several players for essentially nothing in return) and instilling a sense of pride in them. Heck, we seem to have trouble maintaining the pride even in our vets. I wonder how long ti will be before Subban, Price and Eller become disillusioned. Cole is trying his heart out every game ut how long will that last?

I wouldn't mind doing what Pittsburgh or Edmonton did. I could get really excited about having several first and second rounders in the team instead of having a 5th rounder be our next big hope, even if he is Brenda Gallagher. Tanking "thoughtfully" means we need the best coach and GM available for the kids we draft and I don't care if the only language they speak is Mandarin Chinese. We can't allow ourselves to be hamstrung by the French language requirement. Most fans care about winning more than the language issue and just want to be assured we really put ourselves one day in a position where we can compete game in and game out. The francophone media won't like it but will come around when the team starts winning.

Count me in among the tankers - as long as we end up with an M1A1 Abrams in the end.

patience is a virtue said...

As the name says, I am one of the patient ones. I find the collective hysteria and anger entertaining actually.

The Habs have lost numerous close games this very young season against (currently) playoff ranked teams - Oilers, Rangers, Sabres, Cats, Laffs + the Colorado loss. They could have easily won any or all of those games and have 16-22 points right now.

That's not an excuse, it's a fact born out by shot, scoring chance, puck possession, CORSI, and blah blah blah totals, and your own two eyes if you watched the games. It's evidence that everyone should chill out and let the team play.

They have the best Habs offense since the early-1990s, excellent goal tending and a young defensive corp that is improving by the game. They have tons leadership (despite what's said above) numerous players who leave it all on the ice - esp come playoff time.

Yes, be patient, watch, and enjoy what will no doubt be a winning season and a decent, perhaps excellent, playoff run.

teh BaruCH said...

What sticks with me is a shot of the bench just before they went into overtime in game 7 last playoffs, Gomehzzz yucking it up with PFK on the bench. I doubt anybody on the Prunes bench was that 'loose'. What riles me as a patient fan (I will never be a tanker, just look at our first draft picks for the last 15 years...) is the meh attitude a lot of the players, especially veteran forwards seems to have as the game gets long... Ah I missed that pass, meh! Oh I didn't quite negate the icing, meh! Ah there they go on another shorthanded rush, meh! Oops I was out of position again >shrugs< dumn ol' me! The veterans, and I especially mean Gionta, Cammelleri, Kostitsyn and Gohomezzz often just don't seem to give a fuck whether we win or lose that particular game. They don't seem to recognize that fans do care whether we win every game, each game is like the end of the world to us, we expect them to give their all. That being said, it is early in the season, and the vets seem to know how to ramp up for the playoffs, assuming we get there. We had a truly meh season both last year and the year before, but made somewhat of a good playoff run with these same meh vets.

But the team is not doing itself any favours making us endure 82 games of spotty play. We, the few vestigial discriminating fans (take a look around the bell centre) who might have even seen Ken Dryden play, when the Habs 'didn't like to lose' so much they went they only did 46 times in 4 years were spoiled by those Habs...there is no solace and no ersatz.

teh BaruCH said...

there's also no grammar, evidently... meh!

Kyle Roussel said...

@Patience - I agree that the young D are getting better by the game, and that there's tons of leadership and character.

But you could not be more WRONG to say that they've had the best offense that they've had since the early 90's. That may be true on paper since the names are nice. But the reality is this: in 2009-10 they had 217 goals for; 2nd lowest of any eastern conference playoff team, and 4th lowest overall in the conference. The popular retort is that they then went to the ECF. Nice. But we know how they got there and it had little to do with a stellar offense. The following season they had 216 goals for; the LOWEST of any eastern conference team and again the 4th lowest in the conference overall. That means that only non-playoff teams were actually worse. The popular retorts then become "took the champs to game 7" and "injuries". Nonsense, and for apologists.

Currently the Canadiens sit at 35 goals for. They are nearly last in the east, and only the Isles and Devils have scored less. They've been trending in the WRONG direction since Martin took over.

The fact is that the Habs are getting WORSE offensively, not better. Injuries are not an excuse, and they rarely are. Good teams adapt while mediocre (to bad) ones just get sucked away with the undertow.

Steve said...

You set a great table JT. I can see this team winning the cup. Remember last year, and this team is better on paper, and if Makrov comes back, and someone teaches Eller how to reach the top shelf from one foot. Its very doable.

I also see more mediocrity a second round loss or not even making the playoffs. But in the end I have to go with last year, and we are close and play out this hand.

dusty said...

As far as offense is concerned the Habs are among the worst in the league. You are bang on with your comments JT. Max and AK46 are doing their job but Gionta is on course for a sub 20 goal season as is Cammalleri and Gomez , well he's got dead aim on 0. So much for Gainey's rebuild of the offense and leadership.

35 goals in 14 games is not good but what's really pathetic is in 8 of those the Habs have scored 2 or less (58%) and 1 or less in 6 (43%). When scoring 3 or more they are 3-3.

I don't know the amount of second chances the Habs get but I would imagine they are among the lowest in that category as well.

On a side note, I was watching the TB Flyer game and, aside from the disgust at the Lightning 1-3-1 style of play, I was struck by how good Moore and MAB are. MAB scored the equalizer and Moore made the play to win it in OT. Too bad the Habs couldn't have gotten them in Montreal. Oh, wait they did have them didn't they. Thanks PG.

patience is a virtue said...

@Kyle and dusty - statistically speaking, and based on the output from the past two seasons, you are right. I am going with my gut here. And based on the fact that we have shown in a few of our wins, and a couple of our loses, that this team can score 4-5 goals no problemo.

Further to that, Eller, DD, and Max Pac are all a year older and wiser, and so is PK even if his numbers aren't showing it yet.

+ Eric Cole, who is starting to show his worth.

Most importantly: + Andrei Markov, who I hope will be back soon. To stay.

All that put together with a sniper, mighty might, one of the best passers and shooters in the league (AK), and one of the most consistent, if somewhat low-end #1 centres in the game...

= three offensive lines the likes of which we have not seen in 15+ years.

I call 240+ goals this season.

Anonymous said...

Ok, first HABD don't TANK the season. But who has to be TANKED is the coach. Count chocula as I like to call him is doing a science experiment with Plecks on the PP in a new poistion that being a point man. Which makes me cring every time I see it and its not working. Pleks is too much of a team player to say anything but he is not in his comfort zone.

Why is Eric Cole ass seeing more bench then it should! Get the man on the ice so he is doing what he was brought in to do score!

Also this coach and his system don't belong with this type of team. They need a coach who will implement a run and gun type offence, this sit back and wait "system" is from pre-lock out days and now with the new NHL were offence and Goals are a crucial objective, the Coach and his system could just make the HABS TANK.

So HABS mangment do something now or ruin your chance to bring in more free agents as HABS Town will be call STAY AWAY TOWN..........