Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Why We Still Should Love Pleky

If you've read my blog in the past, you'll know I have only had two Habs players I considered my "favourites" in a particular era. In my early years as a fan, I adored the young Patrick Roy. I loved his skills, his attitude (the Wink!) and his willingness to drop 'em in a goalie fight whenever the spirit moved him. His trade put my relationship with the Canadiens on hold for nearly five years.

For the last decade-plus, my favourite has been Tomas Plekanec. I love his two-way game, and his brutal honesty. And, most of all, I respect the way he always did whatever the coaches asked of him without complaint, even if it meant his own stats suffered in the process.

Now, however, my boy is old. Last season he was on the road to being a hockey senior citizen, but now he's there. With the encroachment of age, his offensive-zone play has dropped off and the vultures are circling. Angry, disillusioned fans are looking for someone to blame for the disaster this season has been, and they want Pleky dumped for a pick at the deadline. While it's within the realm of common sense to trade a player in his declining years if the return is decent, it doesn't make sense to dump a guy who's given everything to the franchise for peanuts over nearly a thousand NHL games just...because.

With that in mind, and remembering what an unexpectedly solid career this third-rounder has had in Montreal, there are still reasons why we should love Pleky.

1.  The time he scored a 5-on-3 shorty against the leafs. I had actually never witnessed a shorty with two men down before, so this was extra cool. It was also an added bonus that Phaneuf was on the ice when he got the breakaway. How can you not love the guy?!

2. One of the all-time greatest Pleky moments was in the 2010 playoffs, when he scored the OT winner in Game One against the Caps. After honestly saying the Washington goalie tandem wasn't the best in the league, Jose Theodore mocked him, pretending he'd never heard of him and then calling him "Jagr." It was SO sweet to watch him own Theodore on the winning goal, it's become a classic Plekanec moment.

3. One of Plekanec's trademarks is his unselfish play. If a teammate has two goals, he'll always look for that guy for the hat trick. If another player has the better look, Pleky will give up his own chance to score and give it to his teammate. He's team-first and always has been..

4. Pleky actually has an underrated shot. He's scored some important, unexpected goals over the years because of his sneakily-quick shot.

5. While his shot is good, his passing is Plekanec's real offensive weapon. In his prime, he could thread a needle with black thread in the dark at midnight.

6. Over the years, Plekanec has spent about two-and-a-half minutes penalty killing per game. This often meant his offensive production slowed down as the wear-and-tear of the heavy workload wore on him later in the season. The problem has always been, the Habs have had nobody who's better at it, so Pleky gave away some of his scoring in order to be a more well-rounded player, for the good of the team.

7. He's probably the only guy in the world, other than the Dos Equis dude who can rock the turtleneck

8. Over the years, my favourite moments of any game have been Tomas Plekanec breakaways. The anticipation that allowed him to intercept an opponent's pass or receive one in the clear, then the head-down, all-out turbo speed up ice was always so exciting.

9. I believe you have to love Plekanec just because Brad Marchand hates him. Any player that little meathead despises is good enough for me.

10. It's very special that, after a dozen years in the NHL, Plekanec has always been a Hab. It's extremely rare in these days of early free agency and deadline trade deals that a player stays with a single team for a career, so it's a little bit remarkable when it happens. Pleky is less than forty games away from achieving that landmark as a Canadien, and it's reflective of the value he's had to this team for such a long time.

So, there you go. Even though he's old and doesn't score much anymore, Tomas Plekanec has earned our respect and praise. If he's traded next month, let it be for a real return. Otherwise, let him retire as a Canadien as a sign of the honour he's earned as an excellent Hab. We shouldn't forget all he's done just because his boss didn't build a better team.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Taking the Pulse

On September 4, 1943, Wing Commander J.F.Young at the RCAF base in Gander, Newfoundland, took a B-24 Liberator bomber up as part of an experiment in airplane noise levels. It was meant to be a routine flight, but local people, to their horror, watched the big bomber make a slow turn, then plummet directly down into Gander Lake. Divers attempted to salvage the wreck, but found the plane resting on a ledge balanced between shallow and deeper water. During the course of the operation, the plane slipped off the ledge and sank to the bottom of the lake where it lay out of range of recovery. It's been sitting there for almost 75 years.

Well, Habs fans, your team is on the ledge.

They can't score goals, aren't great at preventing them and are likely going to finish in the draft lottery. From there, they will probably pick a player with talent whom they'll either rush to the NHL before he's ready or bequeath to the Sylvain Lefebvre development program, which has produced one playoff round at the AHL level in five years (they were swept) and looks unlikely to make the post season this year. On the current NHL roster, the only Canadiens draft picks who spent time under Lefebvre are Charles Hudon, Jacob de la Rose and Brendan Gallagher. They have 40 points between them this year...the majority of those from Gallagher who only played 36 games in the "development" league back in 2012.

This is a bad hockey team with very little hope for a quick turnaround in the future. It's not the worst group the Habs have iced since their last Cup in 1993, but it may be the most demoralising. Once upon a time, fans remembered what it felt like to win, and so did the players. Even if they lost, they still tried hard. Now they look lost, disorganized and completely hopeless. A large number of fans who buy jerseys and tickets have never seen a championship team in Montreal. Even the formerly die-hard, willing-to-live-in-the-past fans have had enough and are sending their chilly message of unacceptability at the Bell Centre. It won't be long before the silence comes not from disapproving fans, but from empty seats.

With the current state of affairs being what it is, I thought it would be interesting to gauge the mood of long-time fans. To that end, here's a little quiz:

1. You think Carey Price's contract is:
a) Appropriate. He's the only one on the team who's earning his money.
b) Too much for too long. His deal is as bad as Luongo's in Vancouver.
c) Ridiculous. He should have been traded for assets before he signed the extension.
d) Brilliant. It's all part of Marc Bergevin's plan to burn the Habs to ashes, only to have them rise, phoenix-like from the ashes to glory.

2. The current defence-corps is:
a) Decent. They've had some injuries, but the regular top six are competent and not to blame for the current mess.
b) Better than last year. Bergevin said so.
c) Hopeless. They're more likely to lead a conga line at Mardi Gras than impede an oncoming forward.
d) Missing the General. We hope you're enjoying your millions of available cap space, Bergevin.

3. The captain should be:
a) Traded. He's one of the few movable assets with a decent contract for another year and a chance to bring a useful return.
b) Given another chance. He's one of the best goal scorers in the league since the lockout, and the Canadiens can't afford to give up offence.
c) Demoted from the captaincy. He's not temperamentally suited to the position because he's too hard on himself when he struggles.
d) Made to be the marshal of Montreal's "We Used to Have Pride" parade. Follows the old Stanley Cup route, but in January. At night.

4. The Drouin-for-Sergachev trade was:
a) Great. The team had to give to get, and badly needed offence.
b) Good for cultural appeal. The Canadiens must have a French-Canadian star, even if he's not yet living up to expectations.
c) Dreadful. Sergachev, an 19-year-old D is putting up more points and playing a much better all-around game than the Great Hope and will continue to be the better player for many years.
d) Just another brick in the wall. More evidence of Bergevin blinded to all else by the sheer number of colours in his suit closet.

5. Should the Habs end up with a lottery pick, they should:
a) Take the best possible player, regardless of position. There are so many holes on the team, everything is needed.
b) Deliberately choose the best centre available. The position has been an Achilles heel for so many years, it's got to be a priority in a rebuild.
c) Pick Minnesota's Mr. Hockey. Just because it's been a while.
d) Give it back. This team no longer deserves to spoil good young players.

6. The team is having such trouble scoring because of:
a) The system. Claude Julien's defence-first system is too similar to his predecessor's, and built for a stronger, more mobile group.
b) The lack of talent. Nobody in the forward positions is capable of hitting the water from a boat in a good year. Don't even ask about the D.
c) NHL regulations. Carey Price is not allowed to skate past the red line.
d) Fidelity. Scoring outside the home would make them unfaithful.

7. The song that most makes you think of the Habs this year is:
a) Kelly Clarkson's "Beautiful Disaster."
b) Def Leppard's "Armageddon It."
c) The Who's "So Sad About Us."
d) Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It."

8. If Geoff Molson decides to part ways with Marc Bergevin, the Habs should:
a) Hire Patrick Roy. At least the press conferences would be interesting.
b) Hire the fans. A reality show-like contest to choose a management committee could be a source of untapped revenue.
c) Bring back Serge Savard. Maybe there's a little savvy left in the last GM to bring a Cup to Montreal. Plus, he'd be available for ceremonies dwelling on the team's past.
d) Hire the best possible candidate. The team can't afford the niceties of choosing a language preference for this position.

9. If you were offered seats in the red for fifty bucks, you would:
a) Go. What the hell; you've followed the team for this long.
b) Go and boo. Fifty bucks is cheap for a chance to let this team know how it's made you feel.
c) Pass. You'd rather use the money for underpants and deodorant.
d) Laugh uproariously. For $22, you can see the Lightning play real hockey. In Florida.

10. At this point, your feelings about being a Habs fan are best described as:
a) Defiant. No matter how bad they are, you will watch because they're your team.
b) Bitter. They had good players over the years, but management has failed them.
c) Sad. You're glad Jean Beliveau can't see this.
d) Indifferent. This team has been useless for so long now, you realize you haven't seen a game in a month because you've been busy playing classic Nintendo.

I'm interested to see how you're feeling, fans. Especially because right now, the Canadiens are balancing on a ledge between shallow water and seventy-five years in the unreachable depths.