Monday, April 2, 2012

The Saviour

As Good Friday approaches, marking a time of contemplation in the Christian calendar, perhaps it's appropriate to spend some time this week thinking about saviours. With the Canadiens' OT loss to Washingon on Saturday and the Oilers' win over Anaheim a day later, the Habs sit in 29th place in the league. Technically, with both Montreal and Edmonton having played 79 games, they're tied with 73 points apiece, but the Habs get the edge in futility by virtue of having a total of only 29 wins, compared to the Oilers' 32. All that math aside, the bottom line is the Habs are currently the second-best losers in the league, which, if they maintain that position, gives them an 18.8% chance of winning the draft lottery.

This position is making a lot of fans excited in a season in which there's little else to celebrate. It's so easy to imagine the Canadiens winning the draft lottery and picking first overall for the first time since they took Doug Wickenheiser over Denis Savard in 1980. It's tempting to think of Nail Yakupov on Tomas Plekanec's wing, giving the beleaguered centre a real sniping winger at last. With the current top line as constituted and a Yakupov/Plekanec/Gionta line backing it up, one of the biggest problems facing the Canadiens would be instantly solved. The excitement should come with a bit of caution, though.

Yakupov is the clear-cut top player in this year's draft. He's put up 1.59 points per game in his two seasons of junior hockey in Sarnia. He's of fairly average size, at 5'11" and 190lbs, but there's no reason why he should not be able to make a serious run at cracking the NHL lineup of whichever team claims him in June. He'll likely follow in the footsteps of other sure-thing number-one picks before him.

John Tavares, for example, joined the Islanders at 18. In his first season, he put up a very respectable 54 points, and has improved every season since. In that first year, however, he didn't exactly pick the Isles up and carry them to respectability. Steven Stamkos is undeniably a superstar now, but in his first season in Tampa at 18 years of age, he managed only 46 points. The highly-touted winner of the Taylor/Tyler sweepstakes of a couple of seasons ago made the Oilers out of camp, but has since dealt with several injuries and has a season high of 53 points in 61 games. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has shown he belongs in the NHl as a teenager, but he's also had a problem with injuries.

The point is, these kids are good...really good. Scouting these days has evolved significantly from the days in which good junior numbers and a turn-your-head-and-cough physical could make you a number-one pick. These kids are evaluated physically, mentally and emotionally. They're watched every night and their games dissected by countless educated eyes. They're subject to combines and intense interviews. Accidents don't happen with the number-one guy as often as they used to. There's not one for the last ten years who's been a total bust.

So...this year's guy will be a good NHL player, most likely. Will he be a guy who can single-handedly turn a franchise around? That's a bigger question. Based on the stats of the players who've been chosen first in the last several years, it might be possible, but probably not in the first year of his pro existence. The problem with Habs fans, however, is they want results NOW. That's been the problem with the franchise for years. People want winning, and they want it NOW. They're not willing to wait for something to develop. If the Canadiens win the lottery and pick Yakupov,he's got a pretty good chance of avoiding the vultures by putting up some pretty decent points. What if it's not Yakupov, though? What if the Habs select someone good, but not yet great? If it's Grigorenko or Galchenyuk, does the team turn those centres into wingers? Or does it turn Plekanec into a wing on some kid centre's line? IF, indeed, those kids can even qualify to make the NHL regular roster? So many questions, and so few answers.

The only thing that seems apparent is that there's very little chance the kid the Canadiens draft in June, whether he be taken at second or fourth, will immediately change the outlook of the team. He'll help...eventually...but he won't be the saviour. So fans need to temper their expectations of a first or second or third-overall pick and realize it's just part of the process. It's possible things might not be much better on the scoreboard or in the standings next year, but the overall picture is positive. It just might not be in focus right now. As we think about saviours, it might be wise to keep it to religion. In hockey, resurrection could take longer than three days.


Kyle Roussel said...

This all makes a ton of sense, and I think most pragmatic and reasonable Habs fans realize this. But I dare say that there is a majority that expects whoever the Habs draft with their first selection to stride in and put up big numbers as of next October. I have no idea how a kid in Montreal is supposed to handle that kind of pressure & expectation.

One thing is for sure: I would not want to be the next GM. I'm assuming that the Habs will not win the lottery and will not have a shot at Yakupov, leaving Grigorenko and Galchenyuk as the top 2 choices for centermen....if the Habs want to draft for that position. One (Grigorenko) has had his work ethic questioned, the other has been plagued by serious knee issues this year. Pick the wrong one, and your first pick as GM is a bad one - in a year where you held the hammer for the team's first top 3 pick in 30 years. Not a good start.

Steve said...

I would hope most will not expect an 18 year old to show anything but promise. Even Guy Lafluer took a couple of years to start really contributing. I agree with Kyle if we do not get Nail the second pick is fraught with danger. I wonder if all the sniping at Grigorenko is not intended to move him down the list, where the scout doing the sniping will pick him immediately. Hopefully even if he is not with the Habs, Patrick can give us a fair read on his potential. Of course the best is we win the lottery and then its an easy choice.

Anonymous said...

Given that the Habs management knew they were potentially a lottery team since the new year I would hope they were preparing for a top 5 pick. Given that Grigorenko and Galchenyuk play for the Quebec Remparts and the Sarnia Sting, respectively, I would also hope that the Habs scouts know both intimately. If you can’t recruit out of your own back yard there is something terribly wrong. Remember, we are talking about Timmins here and not the new GM. Unless the new GM goes off the board this draft is totally on Timmins.

I would like to believe that Timmins has learned from him mistakes. He has polluted the NHL with a lot of his draft picks over the past few years.

As for asking who is going to play on Plek’s wings? I’d ask who is going to center Gallagher?


Lori said...

I agree with Kyle. The fans with a brain are not expecting the 2013 cup. We're just hoping for a real prospect we can watch develop.

Landing Nail would be great, and him on the left side of Pleks is a dream. The guy deserves a goal scorer for a change. The only problem I see on that line is Gionta. The guy is aging and small, and that would be a pretty small second line.

I would try and trade Gionta for either a top 6 forward or a 4 or 5 RF d-man. Failing that, I would seriously consider putting him on the third line with Eller and Bourque, and bring in a big RFA for the second line with Pleks and Nail.

The discussion is likely moot since we are likely going 2 or 3 and picking one of the Gs. If we do that, we let them develop in Hamilton until Pleks' contract is up.

And whatever happens, Pleks needs some wingers, and I don't see Gionta as the guy unless we can find a big skilled guy for the left wing.

Howard said...

If the coach is Roy I would go with Gregorenko. At least Saintt Patrick has been able to push the right buttons until now.

Anonymous said...

Dumba or Falak.