Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Kudos To The Best New Habs Blogs On The Block

Every once in awhile, I happen across a Habs blog that is so great, that I just want to grab a megaphone and shout it out to the world.

By great, I mean distinct, insightful, perceptive, attuned, and humourous.

This one partical blog has me dripping that overweight, hormoanal 12 year old tuba player you dreaded in band class all those years ago.

Last season, these adjectives above honoured a site named "Theory Of Ice", that everyone with a insight for hockey thinking surely knows about by now. If you don't, then shame on you!

This seasons honouree, and leading by laps, is simply called "Four Habs Fans" - and it's a crackup.

"FHF" as they are becoming known, consists of 4 diehard habitants fanatics who do not have their tongues tied. They speak their minds, guts, and souls on everything Canadiens - and the season has yet to start. The fun at this site is just beginning.

These FHF, oddly enough, are all lawyers!

It's quite a concept - not only can they argue their case, they can all consume one and remain coherent while blogging.

Should I ever commit homicide with a hockey stick, they are on my speed dial.

One does not have to scroll down their site very far, to get the gist of their shared perspectives. It's quite a treat!

FHF is updated daily (in this, the off season!) and even makes non-news items entertaining. The contributors are all steeped in a historical perspective, but have eyes wide open to today's happening.

They have regular features titled "The Morning Skate", "Brushes With Habness", and "Je Me Souviens", which are as self explanatory as they are unpredictable.

A recent piece greatly ticked off a slew of Rangers fans, in a "10 Things I Hate About...." post.

Yeah, I hear ya!

Can't wait till they brutalize the Leafs....and will they be able to withhold themselves to 10!

In the sites first 43 days of existance, FHF set a Habs blogging record by posting 100 entries. On second thought, I'll hire someone else to represent me at my trial!

When it comes to the 2007-08 season, I'm more excited to read their musings than I am to write mine.

Begin: Habs Are A Greatly Improved Team

(Robert L Note: Transcribed from Le Journal De Montreal, August 29, 2007.)

Canadiens forward Steve Begin doesn't give a damn about the pessimist predictions of publications such as THN, who suggest the Habs will finish a distant 13th in their conference.

"No big deal, all it can do is motivate us for the upcoming season", said the rugged winger, after working out on ice at the Rosemere Arena in company of some fellow NHLer's.

Begin then caught the press gathering off guard when he suggested that the Canadiens would be a greatly improved squad in 2007-08.

"It is true that the loss of Sheldon Souray will hurt us in some ways", he admitted. "We'll miss that booming point shot on the powerplay, but we'll just adapt to scoring goals another way with a man advantage. We'll just have to adjust our tactics, and approach the powerplay differently."

"Roman Hamrlik is more stable defensively than Sheldon was, and he brings a rugged game", Begin added. "Having played against him, I can testify that he is big and solid on his skates. He's an excellent defenseman."

Begin believes that fans must also not underestimate the worth of newly aquired centerman Bryan Smolinski.

"We aquired a very good veteran capable of posting decent numbers offensively", he pointed out. "He's excellent defensively as well as being an ace on faceoffs."

Begin also mentioned that Patrice Brisebois' experience will be beneficial but did not touch on newcomer Tom Kostopoulos.

"People forget we were playoff bound last season, were it not for injuries and the viscious flu bug that enabled the two skids we suffered in January and Febuary", Begin recalled.

"We made mistakes and lost games under odd circumstances", he continued, "I sincerely believe we are an improved team".

"I know that it is in my nature to be an optimist, but with all our younger players progressing, we are going to make the playoffs. That is the main goal to set before the season starts."

Begin felt the rumblings from captain Saku Kovu's quote in Montreal papers last week regarding the team leaders notion that the Habs were a playoff team, in fact, but not yet a Stanley Cup contender. In Begin's opinion, Koivu was simply being honest and realistic.

If the Canadiens are in fact an improved team, as Begin states, then the same can be said of the Rangers, Flyers, Bruins, Panthers, and Capitals.

"It's impossible to speak of the teams Stanley Cup hopes when no one can perceive what the team will look like after the March trade deadline", Begin cautioned.

"Remember that Mike Ribeiro seemed to be in the midst of his best training camp last September, when he suddenly found himself in Dallas. Things change fast."

"Who knows if the Canadiens won't get their mits on an impact player at the trade deadline. You just can't predict anything that is going to happen by Febuary."

Begin doesn't need to make his point further.

Harper And Brisebois Were Equal Boo Targets

As a Canadiens fans who started watching games at age 7 in 1969, I'm not certain that I am fully qualified to offer a parallel between defenseman Terry Harper and Patrice Brisebois, other than the fact that both went underappreciated at times during their era's.

Few players epitomized the Montreal Canadiens work ethic and sense of personal sacrifice better than Terry Harper in the 1960's. Conversely, no player received less respect from the Forum fans, who have been overrated as hockey connoisseurs at times.

The story concerning Harper below, is one of but two highlights I recall him from. The other is of him basically breaking the end glass with his face as he was crushed into the boards in a game against Detroit.

I recall Harper as a sturdy stay at home type of defender, whose game was simplicity personified. Brisebois was in a sense, the opposite of Harper, in that he was surely more talented and capable of a bigger game. Oddly, Brisebois was at his best when he kept things simple, often earning the heat of the fans when he found trouble in taking on too much.

Hindsight may well suggest that Harper was in fact underrated while Brisebois could be both overrated, and under appreciated.

Character is a word currently being brought into the Brisebois equation, in regards to his return to the Canadiens. I'm not too certain I can subscribe to that notion. In the + / - column of character traits and flaws, Brisebois still has a ways to go to find the positive scale in my eyes.

The story below can be found on pages 223-225 in Chris Goyens and Allan Turowetz' classic read "Lions In Winter".

It testifies to Harper's abundance of character and resolution, and is one of about five highlights from the 1971 playoffs that are etched in my mind, clear as the day they happened.

Not only is the story a perceptive one - it's a hoot, as well.

Mssr's Goyens and Turowetz can take it from here.

Harper, a Regina native, was twelve years old when he was severely burned in an accident. For a while it was uncertain he would ever walk again, but with a quiet sense of self confidence combined with hard work, Terry built himself up and became a stalwart defender for his hometown Regina Pats.

He arrived in Montreal late in the 1962-63 season and went on to play ten seasons for the Canadiens. A 6' 2", 195 pound defenseman, he was the antithesis of everything the Montreal fans had come to expect from the flashier side of the sport.

Harper once scored as many as four goals in one season and even won a fight, a penalty box affair with Bob Pulford very early in his career. However J.C. Tremblay or John Ferguson he wasn't when it came to offensive prowess or intimidation.

The Boston Bruins Derek Sanderson perhaps said it best in his autobiography, "I've Got To Be Me": "Harper can't fight worth a damn but he's got a lot of guts and keeps coming back, although he usually gets the hell beat of him".

Another thing Sanderson could have said, but didn't, was that his Bruins could never beat the Canadiens when it counted because of players like Harper.

During the 1960's, when he was at his peak, Bobby Hull was asked about the defensemen who were toughest on him, at a time when Hull was shredding defenses every night.

"Terry Harper", he said, "plays me as well or better than any defenseman in the league. I can never seem to get around him."

One thing the so-called knowledgable fans overlooked in their merciless treatment of Harper was his skating ability. He was gawky, all angles, elbows and knees. But the forwards on his team who went against him in practice knew one thing: you couldn't get around him. Skating backwards, he put his flashier defensivemates to shame. Add to that ability a reach that could flick a puck off an attacker's blade from a seemingly impossibly long distance, and it is little wonder that Frank Selke and Sam Pollock ignored the braying of the red seat cognosenti for a decade.


Just inside the blueline, Harper slid off yet another bodycheck and carried the puck behind the Chicago net. As he skated directly behind the cage, two Black Hawks smashed into him simultaneously. Falling, he still had enough leverage to pass the puck out in front of the net where John Ferguson was all alone in front of Tony Esposito . Ferguson made no mistake, and the Canadiens were on their way to a 4-2 win (and an eventual Cup).

A teammate, who prefers to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, summed it up best: "That was the best 'fuck you' play I've ever seen in hockey. It was all some of the players could do not to give the crowd the finger".

Harper disentangled himself from the two Chicago players and rose to the rare, for him, sound of a standing ovation as all of his teammates on the ice converged around him, rather than Ferguson the scorer.

In the stands, fans were cheering wildly, if not looking out the corners of their eye in semi-accusation at all of their confreres who had had the temerity to boo such a wonderful hockey player.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Kovalev Makes A Fan's Dreams Come True

(Robert L. Note: If you were wondering just what Alex Kovalev was up to last week in Grande-Riviere, here is the full story from Sovetsky Sports. Of course, you may have heard about his little motorcycle scrape up, but it is this story that should have made headlines. The Sovetsky piece has a very incoherant translation. In the name of good English, I have archived the piece here, rewriting it in the third person, keeping pictures and all. Thanks to JT for the tip!)

Any longtime regular reader of this site would know that I am hardly Alex Kovalev's number one fan.

This post concerns the fan who is Kovalev's biggest fan.

In the past, I have often qualified Kovalev as enigmatic. That has always been the most generous positive term I could use to describe the player who I saw as both maddingly talented and glassly disconnected from his surroundings and perceptions.

I assume that I am not alone in saying that he is a difficult player to assess and a hard person to get a good read on. Habs fans have seen Kovalev both floor the accelerator and jam the clutch pedal in his three years as a Montreal Canadien.

While most players actions speak louder than their words, Kovalev has in the past, shown the opposite of this notion. Over this past season, number 27's words have been headlines while his game in 2006-07 rarely screamed as loud. Two published rants in Sovetsky Sport had Kovalev criticizing the Canadiens and each one greatly diminished the public's opinion of him.

This offseason, some Habs fans wished to see Kovalev playing out his own private Siberia as a bought out player toiling overseas. Diehard Canadiens fans squirmed while both GM Gainey and coach Carbonneau bent over hindwards to grip the Kovalev connundrum and make nice with their disgruntled star.

The expectations for Kovalev in 2007-08, hence, were grim. A clean slate would do him well.

Always an interesting personality off the ice, on the whole Kovalev is perceived as moody and misunderstood. With his image in need of a bold PR stroke, comes this story by Genadi Boguslavski (I'm not making it up!) from Russian Hockey Digest. It could be just the boost his image needs.

It is the story of one fan's love for Kovalev, and what the player did to reward her dedication.

It's not often one sees a player go to such lengths to fullfill a fans dreams. Reading it has upped Kovalev esteem in my eyes - his slate is cleaner. One hopes his on ice focus will be as dedicated.

"Quebec, This Is Delta 144"

By Genadi Boguslavski, Sovetsky Sport, August 21, 2007.

In March of 2007, Sovetsky Sport published an article how Alexei Kovalev invited his fan Jocelle Cauvier, a girl from the small northern Quebec town of Grande-Riviere, to an NHL game in Montreal. The trip was a highlight of the girl and her family’s lives. Before the family left Montreal, Cauvier invited Kovalev to come over to her place in Grande-Riviere and Alexei accepted the invitation!

Morning. Montreal. Airport workers are taking Kovalev's Cessna 414 to the runway.

"My Cessna was built in 1971", Kovalev says, "For more than half of its lifetime this plane flew in Europe, and then, was transported via Iceland and Greenland to the US. I bought it for $250,000."It takes Kovalev and crew extra time to search for information about the airport in Grande-Riviere.

"It is very important to know where you are flying to", Alexei explains. "If an airport is small, a pilot should know if runway is long enough and in what conditions it is. Besides, just in case, it is good to know where is closest airport located for emergency landing." Before taking off, Kovalev makes an inspection with a mechanic, tunes up devices, and only after everything checks out are they ready to fly. As soon as the plane is up in the air, Boguslavski enters the cabin and sits down in empty second pilot’s seat next to Alexei.

Kovalev is communicating with on land dispatchers. First, they are in Montreal’s zone, later they spoke with the Quebec airport controllers.

"Quebec, this is 144 Delta", Kovalev says. "Raising altitude up to 6000 feet."

"144 Delta, got it, opening a direction", comes the reply. The dispatcher dictates numbers and letters, indicating the quandrants. Pilot Kovalev enters them into the GPS database. On a small dark monitor, a pink line immediately highlights the direction from Montreal all the way to a small airport in Grande-Riviere.

During a flight, it is crucial not to be shy to ask the dispatcher if something is not clear. It is his responsibility to patiently explain the situation as many times as needed. Everybody understands how this is important while you are in the sky. The dispatcher clears open a direction, and from this moment on, you are on his radar. As soon as the flight is over, the plan closes. If for some reason you do not reply to him, dispatcher must raise alert. The dispatcher also warns about weather changes during a flight.

Excitingly, Kovalev keeps tells how comfortable it is to fly on a plane.

"It gives a feeling of incomparable freedom. Sit down at pilot’s seat, spin propellers, and you are alone with the sky". Finally, the plane reaches its altitude. A beautiful northern landscape is laid below the plane. To the right all the way across the horizon is the Atlantic Ocean. On the left there are small lakes and woods, that reminds Boguslavski of a disheveled haircut of a man who woke up at five in the morning.

It begins to rain.

"Time to turn on windshield wipers", Kovalev is kidding!

Landing in Grande-Riviere, QS

The Aerodrome’s runway is now ahead. Alexei flies over it, verifying that everything is OK. At this moment the pilot notices a large crowd of people below, waiting to greet them. Everyone is waving their hands and Kovalev responds by shaking the Cessna’s wings before he makes another lap and then lands.

Kovalev exits the plane, and is greeted with exhuberant applause worthy of the first astronaut returning from orbit. The gathered crowd is thrilled. All of Jocelle Cauvier’s family is wearing Kovalev’s jerseys - Ak Bars, Montreal, Pittsburgh.

Alexei Kovalev & small town fans

The mayor of Grande-Riviere, Romuel Boutin greets Alexei, shakes his hand, and attaches a badge on Kovalev’s shirt, announcing Kovalev as an honorable citizen of town. Alexei spends much time signing autographs standing right there on the runway. People are squeezing, elbowing each other trying to take pictures with Montreal’s star. Some kids are climbing over the plane, pulling Boguslavski's sleeve to ask if Alex is going to give them rides.

The rain speeds up Kovalev’s impromtu autograph session and everyone heads inside the airport where Alexei signs a book for honorable guests.

They are given a rental car, and they proceed to Jocelle’s home.

Without even knowing directions to Cauvelle's home, it is not hard to spot with the Russian flag fluttering on the roof. Boguslavski remarks that he is surprised not to see the red, white and blue of the Canadiens waving in the wind, considering that they are in the far north of province Quebec. They ask where the flag came from.

"I went to Montreal especially to get one", Jocelle says. "I bought it in one store that sells Russian souvenirs."

Surprises continue inside the house where Kovalev’s fan has decorated one of the rooms into AK-27 museum. Boguslavski has visited an exposition in Kovalev’s father’s home in Togliatti, and a museum that Mikhail Ovechkin has created for Alexander. This display in Grande-Riviere is impressive!

There are photographs, pucks, jerseys, and articles from Sovetsky Sport. There is even the Russian national anthem’s words and accords are hanging on the wall!

Does Jocelle really sing it every morning at six?

Alexei Kovalev in his fan made museum

"After Sovetsky Sport published the article about my meeting with Kovalev in Montreal and gave my email address, I keep receiving tons of messages from Russia", Cauvier says emotionally. "Fans from all over Russia are communicating with me. They even send me Sovetsky Sport’s editions. Also, I read the newspaper on the internet using an electronic translator. I don’t speak Russian yet, but I'm taking lessons with a teacher." "I would learn Russian only because Alex speaks it."

Kovalev enters the fan shrine, startling everyone with a loud whistle. Noticing, that Jocelle’s collection is missing Lada’s jersey, Alexei promises to bring one over next time.

Numerous relatives are in the house, and everyone would like to take a picture with Kovalev.

"It's unbelievable that you are in Grande-Riviere. We can’t believe it!", says one relation.

Boguslavski says that if Canadians weren't so polite, they would definitely pinch Alexei to confirm this is not a dream!

Lunch at Cauvier's place

Accompanied by Cauvier’s family, everyone heads down to the pier where they will soon make their way out to the ocean to watch the blue whales. This is a seasonal ritual for the locals and tourists make a pilgrimage each August to view the sight of the giant mammals.

The vessel "Zodiac" takes the crew 30 kilometers out from the coast. The trip is not for nervous people as the Atlantic is a little stormy. In their orange suits, every looks like American astronauts and it reminds the writer of Bruce Willis in "Armageddon".

Jumping from wave to wave and poured over with salt water, the crew passes the famous Perce Rock on the way out to the ocean. After we reaching their destination, everybody peers into the distance until the typical fountain spray of the whales appears above the water. The Zodiac speeds out in the direction of the sprays.

Right in front of the boat, the mighty body of a whale loudly sweeps across. Everybody is shouting and again waiting for fountain to spray. The expedition continues for a few more hours and everyone returns to the pier by evening time.

Later that night everyone gathers at the Cauvier home once again. More well - wishers stop by before Kovalev and Boguslavski head back to the Aerodrome. Despite the darkness, Grande-Riviere’s residents are still lining up for Kovalev photographs and autographs. The pair remark how unbelievable it is that there are so many Kovalev’s fans in one small Canadian town?

Before the plane takes off, Alexei invites Jocelle and her family to return to Montreal in the upcoming season and he promises to visit Grande-Riviere again next summer.

The Cessna takes off and the crowd gathered at the Aerodome wave goodbye.

In the air, Kovalev is talking, still caught up in the day's events.

"You know, every time 20 thousand people come to the Bell Center for the Canadiens games. But what I saw today is incredible. Indeed, this is the kind of people whom we’re playing hockey for!"

A proud beaming smile crossed Kovalev's face.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Will Reebok Destroy The Habs Jersey Too?

Should I be having a heart attack?

I saw this photochop design on a Habs fan blog, adverstising it as the new Habs Reebok jersey design.

I wanted to retch!

I'm fairly certain - please correct me if I'm wrong - but didn't the Canadiens organization state that the Habs duds would remain unchanged except for the material?

I imagine that the Habs rendered jersey above would likely cause rioting all down St. Catherine street.

I'd prefer a riot be brought on by a Stanley Cup win, personally.

I'm somewhat reassured that the Original Six jerseys won't be drastically altered, after peeks at the Rangers, Bruins, and Red Wings maintaining classic looks. Not sure that Reebok would risk a collective hurl from the hockey hotbeds over these gambles in fashion statement.

I can handle the Senators looking like fairies. No problem there. Deface the Canucks jerseys all they want - 37 years later, fans in Vancouver still can't agree on one particular look. Fudge up the Sabres duds again - who cares?

Just don't bugger with the greatest jersey in all of sports!

Heck, I might even land on common ground with a Leafer on this one. Can you say sacriledge?

I'll be frank, downright, and straight to the point: All these new Reebok NHL streamlined jerseys are butt ugly!

Every single new design looks like a skirt. With thinning vertical lines and armpit shading colors, the entire hockey jersey look has gone to hell.

Why in the world does anyone at the NHL level feel the league needs these puke inducing, girly looking makeovers? They're a joke!

Vintage Flyers, R.I.P.

These tight fitting atrocities fit to the form of the players, making them look more muscular. I don't believe that it is worth sacrificing the games sacred emblems, designs and logo's for these vertical streamed disasters. Hockey jerseys are the most treasured jersey in sport. This is not some baseball shirt or flabby basketball muscleshirt the NHL is tampering with, it is the most unique and beautiful paraphernalia in all of sport.

Doesn't anyone get that tradition is important to hockey fans. Buffalo's new Sabreslug pyjama tops don't look any better when Buffalo's winning. They still look out of place. Numbers on the front, for Christsakes! Hockey fans, the game's die hards that are the sports foundation, will be reviled.

The design includes stretchable panels under the arms and will move most jersey designs into a more vertical format. Yuck!

The "tough" looking fairy Senators look.

The Reebok claim of improvement is that the jerseys will make the players faster. Right! They suggest that because these pyjama's are water resistant, players will weight less during the course of a game. Of course we all know that if a player is 1.7% lighter, he'll simply fly now, right?

It can't provide a competitive edge - all players will be wearing them - except they'll look like shit!

Brett Hull spoke out on them over the initial unveiling at last year's All - Star game."I think the new sweaters are completely ugly, and I don’t think they should be allowed," he said of the advent of the new jerseys, suggesting it was "One of the reason I quit!"

I can picture the business of throwback and vintage jerseys booming soon after the introduction of these elastic tragedies. Hopefully they go the way of the dreaded Cooperalls, those all-in-one pants combo's worn by the Flyers and Whalers in the early 1980's. Hopefully, they follow the glow puck into the land of forgettable disasters.

The legendary Canadian book, "The Hockey Sweater", by Roch Carrier, has won literary prizes and cultural awards for capturing the iconic stature that is a hockey sweater.

These new duds are duds! They will never inspire any such devotion.

With the Reebok look, the hockey jersey look is dead.

It seems that the league prefers to cater to the fleeting fan, who thinks angled stripes and vertical bars are just cool.

My prediction is that fans in hockey strongholds will fill arena's with boos. Or continue to fill them less and less. It ought to be an unqualified disaster that won't last more than a season.

Fans should boo them when they see them hanging from the racks in sporting goods stores. When the clerk tells you they are water resistant - piss on them!

I'm getting royally riled that equipement manufactures have gone overboard on the notion they can affect and improve the game. They've sold players on skates and sticks, but are now using this scheme to schmooze the common consumer into ixnaying the game's classic look and slip into these silk socks with arms.

Year in and year out, for some time now, various manufacturers of different pieces of hockey equipement swear up and down that their product will improve the game of hockey and impact players on ice performances.

Now we have this Reebok claim that lighter jerseys, with tighter fitting fabrics, will now make a player skate faster.

Maybe they should have invented skates that makes a player so fast, the jerseys blow dry.

What next, somebody inventing a more accurate puck?

Why do we continue to swallow these overblown pretensions?

Anybody knowing how testing works, surely knows that test results are about as random and dependable as a slanted survey.

My biggest gripe has always been with the one-piece, snap at random, graphite sticks that players en masse have converted to in the last decade. While players love their lightness, their isn't a single statistic that proves to me that the majority of players are shooting pucks any harder with them.

Take last season's All-Star game skills competitions for a random testing ground. Since the rise in popularity of these graphite sticks who can actually attest to having increased power? Zdeno Chara won the hardest shot competition with his reinforced one-piece, netting him a speed of 100.4 mph. Ten years ago, Al McInnis registered the exact same result with a wooden stick.

So, where's the progress? They shatter more cleanly?

Skate technologies have vastly improved the hockey boot, making them firmer and better fitting. While the more comfortable boots translate into better skating because of feel, it can hardly be claimed that it makes a skater any faster. A new blade technology, such as the CT Edge Design, claims to improve speed with a smoother glide and less dig.

I always thought the harder you dig, the better the push. The stronger the push off, the stronger the glide. Something's amiss here.

Muscles, training and practice, tend to have more profound effects on a player. Testing is a rather dubious and iffy science as it doesn't consider the role that physical improvement plays into results.

With all the supposed advances, isn't it odd to note that in the speed skating competitions at the last decade of All-Star games skills contests, that only three players have had better times than Andy McDonald's 14.03 this past year - yet it is often assumed that today's skaters are much better than years ago. Perhaps Reebok can spin that the players were just wetter years ago.

Skate sharps are a peculiar taste among players, with every player having a prefered technique on demand to team trainers. Many will do it themselves they are so finicky. Give them new blades with slighter flares and they will be filing them whatever way they choose just as they always have.

Does the less dig technology apply to all weights of players, or only the lighter ones?

Will the "no sweat-less-wind-resistant" jersey also make the slow players 8% faster?

There are so many variables in any type of testing, that making large claims can seem dubious, almost misleadingly dishonest.

I never buy into a sales pitch based on on claims. I trust time tested results.

Now where did I put that patent for the velvet cushioned jockstrap? It says here that players wearing them tend to block 53% more shots and have better looking offspring! Women will love them for different reasons!

But don't trust me!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Fork In The Road To Montreal

By Elliot Olshansky,, August 23, 2007

(Robert L Note: A very interesting piece on two future pillars of the Habs defense. Definitely worth archiving for later reference.)

When the Montreal Canadiens drafted Ryan McDonagh with the 12th pick of the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Canadiens director of player recruitment and development Trevor Timmins told the assembled media that Minnesota's 2006-07 "Mr. Hockey" winner could see time alongside another Minnesota "Mr. Hockey" once both reach the pros: Minnesota rearguard David Fischer, the Canadiens' first-round pick in 2006.

Of course, as Timmins hastens to point out, he's not a coach, and he wasn't envisioning any particular chemistry between the two blueliners.

"That's all up to the coaching staff at the time," Timmins said. "I just think they're two players who are going to play in our top four down the road. I'm not looking at anything like matching one up with the other. That's totally up to the coaching staff."

Kevin Patrick, however, is a coach. More specifically, he's an assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin, where McDonagh will be a freshman this season, and having seen plenty of both McDonagh and Fischer, it's not hard for him to understand the possible pairing.

"They're two prospects with a lot of talent," Patrick said. "A good physical presence as far as their ability to move on the ice, good size, and I think their games will complement each other.

They're both guys that like to be involved and are responsible defensively. I think they both complement each other well that way. Ryan being a left shot, and David being a right shot, some teams like to make sure they have right and left shots together so they don't have guys playing the offside."

Neither McDonagh nor Fischer particularly minds the talk of a potential pairing. The two displayed a good rapport off the ice at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., a friendship developed while moving in many of the same circles growing up just outside the Twin Cities.

"My junior year and his senior year [of high school], in the fall, we played in the Midwest Elite League together," said McDonagh. "We were actually D partners in the end-of-year tournament together. That's when we first got accustomed to each other's style of play."

Of course, that's all well and good in 2007, but when January 2008 rolls around, the past in high school and the future in Montreal go out the window. Once McDonagh puts on the Cardinal and White of the Badgers, Fischer will have a much different opinion, as his once and future teammate will stand on the opposite side of one of the fiercest rivalries in college hockey, and in all of college sports.

"We'll be seeing Ryan in a few months," Fischer said with a smile. "Hopefully, he'll be laying down on the ice, and I'll be standing over him and laughing at him."

If Fischer wants the Gophers to stand tall and laugh against the Badgers and the rest of the WCHA this season, he's going to need to stand tall individually as well. Between the graduation of Mike Vannelli and the early departures of Alex Goligoski and Erik Johnson, the Gophers lost a total of 102 points from the blueline, to say nothing of the defection to major junior by Jim O'Brien, who was projected to move to defense in 2007-08.

"Lot of big shoes to fill," Fischer said, "not only for me, but for the rest of our defensive corps.

We only lost one or two forwards, so we've got a great core nucleus coming back, but everybody's going to be questioning our D corps. So it's going to be up to me and Pelts [Derek Peltier] and [Brian] Schack and R.J. [Anderson], and obviously [Cade] Fairchild and [Kevin] Wehrs and the other guys we've got coming in. We've got to be there for our squad."

Still, as a first-round draft pick with high expectations down the load, Fischer can expect much of the burden to fall on him.

McDonagh, meanwhile, arrives at Wisconsin with high expectations, one of three Badgers drafted in the first round in June. The Badgers also have holes to fill on defense with the graduation of Jeff Likens and the pro signing of Joe Piskula, and like any first-round pick, McDonagh will feel the pressure to perform early.

"I'm going to be in a new group of players," McDonagh said, "trying to fit in there and continue to play my style and help the team win as much as possible. That's the most important thing: trying to help the team get to the national tournament and succeeding there."

The two defensemen's individual aspirations will first come into conflict in January, when the Gophers travel to Madison, and then again in February, when the Badgers come to Mariucci Arena.

"It's a healthy rivalry," Fischer said. "Each team has a lot of respect for the other, and it's always a blast when the two squads get together."

It's not hard to imagine that rivalry helping to deepen the bond between the two defensemen when they do eventually begin their pro careers.

"I think anytime you have a rivalry like the Border Battle," Patrick said, "you've got heated battles that are going to go down to the last play of the game, late in the game, most times. It's going to be heated, it's going to be at times for championship. While they're playing against each other, those games are going to be a great training ground for experiences at the next level."

But those concerns are further off. For the time being, the feelings will be as cold as the winter weather in Madison and Minneapolis.

"It's a couple of years down the line," Fischer said, "so for the next year or two here, it's going to be a bitter war to the end."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kovalev Scraped Up In Motorcycle Spill

(Robert L Note: Translated from Radio-Canada. Certain cynical types might suggest the Grande-Riviere mayor is doing his part to help out the Habs. Kovalev seems okay, but the Harley later complained of vertigo. Perhaps Kovy envisioned Darcy Tucker's face on the house's front porch. Let the bad jokes fly!)

Canadiens winger Alex Kovalev was involved in a motorcycle accident Saturday afternoon in Grande Riviere in the Gaspesie region.

The Russian forward was driving a Harley Davidson belonging to the mayor of Grande Riviere, Romuald Boutin, when he inexplicably lost control of the vehicle, which was badly damaged.

Kovalev had flown to the region in his personal plane to visit Jocelle Cauvier, a member of his fan club. The woman is a big fan of Kovalev and has an inspiring collection of his jerseys, including the Russian National team sweater.

The mayor had taken the oportunity to meet Kovalev and have him sign the town's guestbook. Afterwards Kovalev noticed that Boutin had a magnificent looking Harley and asked if he could take a spin on it.

According to the mayor, Kovalev travelled the distance of five house lengths before losing control of the Harley on the gravel at the road's edge. He scooted up the front boulevard of one house before slamming into the front porch.

"He has offered to pay for repairs to the bike, or even purchase a new one for me. We'll be talking again Tuesday night. I believe this incident has allowed us to become close friends. We're almost like brothers. If he does get me a new one, I'm going to keep the old handlebars and baptise the engine the "Kovalev", said Boutin.

Boutin, who played senior league hockey some 30 years back even suggested the possibility of Kovalev and himself participating in a hockey game.

Nowhere in the story does it say whether Kovalev is licenced to drive motorcycles. Rest assured though, Kovalev will be at training camp - he suffered only minor scrapes in the spill.

Remembering Sam


From the Globe and Mail, Monday August 20, 2007

(Robert L Note: I've reprinted this Duhatschek article to archive it - it is so interesting! Simply linking to pieces from online newspapers is tricky. Often the link disappears after a month, and you can only gain access it through subscription. I didn't want this to happen here.)

The year was 1971. Sam Pollock, the legendary Montreal Canadiens general manager/horse trader, had already manoeuvred his way into the top pick in the National Hockey League's amateur draft, giving him the opportunity to select Guy Lafleur, a future Hall of Famer.

But he wanted more.

"The two best juniors by a mile that year were Lafleur and Marcel Dionne," recalled Scotty Bowman, one of the many Pollock protégés who went on to have fabulously successful NHL careers. "The night before the draft, we met for three hours and Sam grilled everybody in the room - Al MacNeil, Ronnie Caron, Claude Ruel and a couple of scouts - What should they do with Lafleur and Dionne?

"Then he excused himself and made a call to Ned Harkness, in Detroit, to propose a trade. The Canadiens had just won the Stanley Cup in '71 and Sam offered Detroit Phil Myre, plus either Terry Harper or J. C. Tremblay and something else, to get the second pick. And Detroit was going to do it, because they were going to get three players who could help them.

"I remember Sam came back in the room and said, 'If I make this deal, could it be another [Jean] Béliveau and [Bernie] Geoffrion for 10 years?' But nobody would stand up and say yes, so he didn't make the deal - because that's how Sam worked. If there were five people in the room, he would never do anything until he talked all five people into doing what he wanted to do.

"But that's how Sam operated. If there were two great players in the draft, he wouldn't be satisfied with saying, 'I'm getting Lafleur, to hell with Dionne.' He wanted them both."

Mr. Pollock left an unmatched legacy as an NHL wheeler-dealer. In 14 years as the Canadiens' general manager, he was at the helm for nine Stanley Cups. But, as Mr. Bowman pointed out, Mr. Pollock joined the Canadiens organization in 1947 and spent 17 years working behind the scenes in player development before getting promoted to GM - counted this way, he had his fingerprints on a total of 15 Stanley Cups in a 31-year span.

"The best way I can say it is, when all the rest of us were standing at the corner, waiting for the light to change, Sam was already three blocks down the street," said Frank Selke Jr., whose father gave Mr. Pollock his first job in the Canadiens organization.

Mr. Pollock, known as Sad Sam because of his dour visage, forged his reputation as a result of the many out-and-out thefts he completed. But the seeds of his success were sewn much earlier, when he joined the organization at 19 as an assistant coach with the 1945-46 Junior Canadiens.

He was hired largely because of his teenaged success managing a softball team made up mostly of Canadiens players, some of whom were 10 years older than him. Mr. Selke's father was impressed with the way Mr. Pollock handled people, even at that age.

Mr. Pollock would eventually succeed the senior Mr. Selke as Canadiens GM, and was later chairman of the Toronto Blue Jays between 1995 and 2000. His love for and knowledge of baseball was as great as his love of hockey, according to the younger Mr. Selke.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, if Sam was a 10½ in hockey, he was an 11 in baseball," he said. "... Sam would talk about baseball far more than he would talk about hockey. He'd say, 'I don't want to talk about hockey because then you'll know what I'm thinking and I don't want people to know what I'm thinking.' "

Mr. Pollock was intensely private. He would watch the Canadiens play from Section 66 in the old Forum - the highest part of the building.

He took over from Mr. Selke in 1964, three years before an ambitious expansion doubled the NHL from six teams to 12. Because Mr. Pollock sat in on board of governors meetings as an alternate, he understood the ins and outs of the process far better than his peers - a primary reason why the Canadiens flourished in the first decade after expansion.

Long-time NHL general manager Cliff Fletcher, who got his start in the Montreal organization under Mr. Pollock, called him "one of the architects of expansion" and said the Canadiens' success in the 1970s "was the result of Sam doing a better job than the other five general managers at the time when expansion came around, and parlaying fringe-line assets into futures."

His most memorable deal came on May 20, 1970, when he traded a pair of future NHL journeymen, Ernie Hicke and Chris Oddliefson, to the Oakland Seals for François Lacombe and the rights to Oakland's first pick in the 1971 draft, which he used to get Mr. Lafleur.

"It was the steal of steals," said former Canadiens player and coach Al MacNeil, who was the playing coach for Montreal's minor-league affiliate in Houston, where Mr. Hicke played. "Ernie was a tough, hard-working journeyman left-winger, but he wasn't going to be a star in the NHL."

It was also the year that Mr. Pollock traded a personal favourite, Ralph Backstrom, to the Los Angeles Kings, bolstering their chances of finishing ahead of Oakland and guaranteeing the top pick to Montreal. (Mr. Bowman, however, said Mr. Pollock always insisted that part of the story was fiction.)

Mr. Bowman first met Mr. Pollock in 1947, as a 14-year-old in his first year of midget hockey in Verdun. The Canadiens decided to put a second midget team in the small Quebec community and Mr. Pollock asked Mr. Bowman to switch sides.

"Sam said if I wanted to play for the midget Canadiens, I'd get a pair of pants, a pair of gloves and a pass to the Forum," Mr. Bowman said. "So it was a pretty easy decision to make."

He played in the organization until an eye injury prematurely ended his career. Mr. Pollock offered him his first full-time coaching job in 1956, when Mr. Bowman was working for a paint company and moonlighting as a Junior B coach on the side.

"Sam asked me, 'How much money do you make at the paint company?' I said, 'It's not bad, I'm making $3,800 a year.' He said, 'Well, this job pays $4,200.' He added about a 10-per-cent raise. I've always thought, 'I should have told him I made $4,800.' But I didn't care what they paid me. I just wanted to get my first job.

"He was a shrewd businessman. Even in the sixties and seventies, he believed the best player on the team had to make the most money and the second best should be paid the second most. It's really hard to do, and even in that era, it wasn't easy."

Mr. Pollock also relied on a vast network of trusted lieutenants sprinkled across professional leagues around North America, helping him make numerous trades that proved embarrassingly one-sided in Montreal's favour. Mr. MacNeil recalled a lesser-known example from 1969, when he was still working in Houston.

"We used to play Fort Worth all the time and they had Peter Mahovlich, who belonged to Detroit," said Mr. MacNeil. "He was one guy who really impressed both me and Ronnie Caron and we'd badger Sam and say, 'You've really got to keep an eye on this guy.' That year, Detroit called him up but didn't play him much, so the next spring, we ended up trading Doug Piper and Gary Monahan for Peter Mahovlich - who was a superstar for the next seven years with the Canadiens [and helped them win four Stanley Cups in that span]."

Mr. Bowman recalled an occasion when both he and Mr. Fletcher, who were handling the Canadiens' junior operations in 1963, had to confess to Mr. Pollock about an oversight they'd made relating to a then-unknown defenceman named Serge Savard.

That summer, the Canadiens had decided to drop the teenaged Mr. Savard from their protected list, but no one remembered to call him to deliver the bad news. September rolled around and Mr. Savard showed up at his boarding house in Montreal and called Mr. Fletcher at the Forum, looking for book money and room and board.

"Cliff came running to me and said, 'Remember that guy Savard? He's back in Montreal.' And we looked at each other and said, 'Well, Cliff, we got to go in and see Sam and tell him the truth.' So we both went in and said, 'Sam, we've got a real problem with Savard.' Right away, Sam jumped in and said, 'He's not here, is he?' We said, 'That's the problem, he is here.'

"And Sam said, 'Oh no, he wasn't on the list, you've got to send him home.' But we kind of liked Serge, so Cliff said, 'Sam, can we give him a chance until Christmas?' because Cliff knew some other guys in the league needed players and one was Doug Harvey's brother, Alf. Anyway, Sam said 'Okay, but only until Christmas, and if he's not cutting it by then, he's got to go home.'

"To make a long story short, by Christmas, Savard was playing great and had made the Junior Canadiens. But we were so afraid to tell Sam what happened. Of course, Savard's a Hall of Famer now. Sometimes, you've got to be lucky too."

Mr. Bowman left the Canadiens in 1966 to join the expansion St. Louis Blues, but returned after Montreal won the 1971 Stanley Cup, with Mr. MacNeil behind the bench. He stayed for eight seasons, winning five of his record nine Stanley Cups as a coach in that span.

"Sam had some very strange rules," Mr. Bowman said. "We weren't supposed to leave the Forum after practice until we stopped by his office. I would say 75 per cent of the time, his secretary would come out and say, 'Sam said go on, he doesn't need to see you today.' But he just wanted to know what was going on. He didn't watch many of the practices because he was so busy and he didn't go to a lot of the road games because he didn't like to travel, so we had to call him after every single game."

Mr. Pollock's keen interest in the business side of the operation led to what seemed like a premature departure from the game in 1978, at 53. The Canadiens were in the midst of another streak of four consecutive Stanley Cups, but he bowed out to join Carena Bancorp Holdings, part of the financial empire controlled by Canadiens owners Peter and Edward Bronfman, who were in the process of selling the team.

More than a dozen players from the Pollock era went on to become coaches and general managers in the NHL, including Mr. Bowman, Mr. Fletcher, Mr. MacNeil, Mr. Gainey, Jacques Lemaire, Doug Risebrough, Réjean Houle and others. Ken Dryden eventually became president of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"The measure of Sam Pollock is he won nine Stanley Cups in 14 years," Mr. MacNeil said. "You can't even begin to fathom how difficult that is. What happens in any successful organization is that a cynicism creeps into the dressing room. Indifference can build up and you've got to guard against that if you want to be competitive year after year.

"For Montreal to keep winning on a continuous basis, that was the same as the New York Yankees in baseball. It was all because of Sam Pollock's driving force. There was a sombre quality to him at times, but he was a good person - his word was solid. He was an original - and you'll not see his like again."

Where Canadiens History Changed Course

The recent passing of the Canadiens legendary General Manager Sam Pollock has revived looks into his accomplishments over his 14 years at the helm of the Habs from 1964 to 1978. The achievements of 9 Stanley Cups by Pollock during that time will be forever unparalled in hockey.
What I found extremely curious about Pollock's resume, is what happened to his team after he retired in 1978.

Blame it on changing era's, the return on players leaving the Canadiens fold trickled from a flow to a slow drip. Without Trader Sam running the show, the assets slowly dried up, and the Canadiens went from great teams, to simply a very good regular season team, and finally after the 1993 Cup, middle of the pack also-rans.

Towards the end of the Canadiens four Cup run in 1978, when GM Pollock retired, coach Scotty Bowman assumed he was in line for the GM's position. Pollock considered Bowman, but instead decided upon a businessman with little to no hockey managing experience in Irving Grundman.

Bowman, upset at not being handed the job, fled to Buffalo where he would assume both duties.

Pollock had stated at the time that he chose not to go with Bowman, as the coach would have dismantled the dynasty piece by piece in an attempt to turn over the aging lineup.

In retrospect, it might have been the most logical move. Incoming GM Grundman held onto many players years beyond their prime, and as you will see, the returns greatly explain the Canadiens downfall.

In fairness to Grundman and his scouting staff, luck was never on their side. While the organization drafted quality players such as Chris Chelios and Guy Carbonneau between 1980 and 1983, two other draft choices impacted the organization greatly.

Doug Wickenheiser, a can't miss prospect chosen first overall in 1980 was a complete bust.

Grundman managed to get the Hartford Whalers first choice in the 1984 draft for Pierre Larouche, all in hopes of landing budding superstar Mario Lemieux. Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Penguins finished last overall and not the Whalers, whose 5th overall pick rendered the Canadiens one Petr Svoboda.

Had the Magnificent Mario become Canadiens property, Grundman would have been hailed as a genius in the Pollock mold instead of a bumbling former bowling alley manager ill suited to run the Habs.

Grundman did as Bowman wouldn't have, and held on to the dynasty team a year or two too long. This is where the Canadiens history changed course.I've chosen a group of 27 players who participated in 5 Cups wins between 1973 and 1979 to illustrate what happened to the Habs dynasty. The lack of talent continuity is obviously apparent as diminishing returns prevented the Canadiens from maintaining previous heights. Although they managed 2 more Stanley Cups (1986, 1993) in the interim since, the depth has never been replaced.

The group of 27 players, divides itself a first group of 13 and a second one of 14.

The first group are players that the Canadiens received no dividend or returns from, as they all retired due to different scenarios. While some were simply destined to retire as career long Canadiens, other reasons played into it as well.

Jacques Lemaire
Jacques Laperriere
Mario Tremblay
Bob Gainey
Serge Savard
Frank Mahovlich
Pierre Mondou
Rejean Houle
Bill Nyrop
Henri Richard
Marc Tardiff
Ken Dryden
Guy Lafleur

13 players, including 9 Hall of Famers with no return value to the team.Richard, Laperriere, Savard, and Gainey retired due to their age.Cournoyer, Tremblay, Houle, and Mondou retired due to injury.Mahovlich and Tardiff went on to the WHA.Dryden, Lemaire, and Nyrop retired with much hockey left in them.Guy Lafleur was forced to retire as the Canadiens would not exercise his wish for a trade.Tardiff returned to the NHL with Quebec Nordiques.Lafleur, Savard and Nyrop made brief returns to the NHL with other teams.

The second group of 14 includes players the Canadiens were able to get some return on, however small they were. Eight players descending from that group were members of Cup teams in 1986 and 1993.

It is interesting to note that backup goaltender Michel "Bunny" Larocque, two trades later, parlayed into Patrick Roy by sheer great luck. The return on Roy, as you will see detailed below, was unfortunately equally dismal.

Larry Robinson (FA Los Angeles)
Steve Shutt ( for future considerations to Los Angeles, reaquired by Montreal at the same price)
Guy Lapointe ( for St.Louis' 2nd rd pick, 1983 - Sergio Momesso)
Michel Larocque ( to Toronto for Robert Picard )
Doug Risebrough ( to Calgary for 2nd and 3rd rd picks '83,'84 - Todd Francis, Grahame Bonar)
Doug Jarvis ( with Englom, Langway, and Laughlin to Washington for Ryan Walter, Rick Green)
Brian Engblom ( with Jarvis, Langway, and Laughlin to Washington for Ryan Walter, Rick Green)
Rod Langway ( with Englom, Jarvis, and Laughlin to Washington for Ryan Walter, Rick Green)
Pete Mahovlich ( with Peter Lee to Pittsburgh for Pierre Larouche, Peter Marsh)Pierre Larouche ( to Hartford for 1st rd pick '84 - Petr Svoboda)
Yvon Lambert ( claimed by Buffalo in '81 waiver draft)
Rick Chartraw ( to Los Angeles for 2nd rd pick '83 - Claude Lemieux )
Mark Napier ( to Minnesota with Keith Acton for Bobby Smith)
Pierre Bouchard ( claimed on waivers by Washingston)

The second group of 14 produced only the 7 player assets listed below, who were in the organization from 1983-85. Six of them were on the '86 Cup winner, if you add in Patrick Roy, who had just been drafted in 1984. The final piece falling into the lineup was Brisebois, who would be on the '93 Cup winner.

Sergio Momesso ( to St. Louis with Vincent Riendeau for Jocelyn Lemieux and 2nd rd pick '89 - Patrice Brisebois)
Robert Picard ( to Winnipeg for 3rd rd pick '84 - Patrick Roy )
Ryan Walter ( FA Vancouver)
Rick Green ( to Detroit for Brad Layzell)
Petr Svoboda ( to Buffalo for Kevin Haller)
Claude Lemieux ( to New Jersey for Sylvain Turgeon)
Bobby Smith ( to Minnesota for 4th rd pick '92 - Louis Bernard

From the 7 assets above, only Roy, Brisebois, and Haller are descendant players from the '70's dynasty that won the Cup in 1993.

Jocelyn Lemieux ( to Chicago for 3rd rd pick '90 - Charles Poulin)
Patrice Brisebois (FA Colorado)
Patrick Roy ( with Mike Keane to Colorado for Jocelyn Thibeault, Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinski)
Kevin Haller ( to Philadelphia for Yves Racine)
Sylvain Turgeon ( claimed by Ottawa in expansion draft)

After the trading of Roy in 1995, the returns dimished at an even thinner rate. The 3 players received for Roy were turned over for a total of 12 players in 8 seasons.

No assets remain from the descendants of the Roy deal.

Jocelyn Thibeault ( with Dave Manson and Brad Brown to Chicago for Jeff Hackett, Eric Weinrich, Alain Nasreddine, Chris Dyment)
Andrei Kovalenko ( to Edmonton for Scott Thornton)
Martin Rucinski ( with Benoit Brunet to Dallas for Donald Audette, Shaun Van Allen)Yves Racine ( waivers San Jose)
Jeff Hackett ( to San Jose for Niklas Sundstrom)
Eric Weinrich ( to Boston for Patrick Traverse)
Alain Nasreddine ( to Edmonton with Igor Ulanov for Christian Laflamme, Mathieu Descoteaux)
Scott Thornton ( to Dallas for Juha Lind)
Donald Audette ( FA Florida)
Shaun Van Allen ( FA Ottawa)
Patrick Traverse (FA Dallas)
Niklas Sundstrom ( FA Overseas)
Juha Lind ( FA Overseas )
Christian Laflamme ( FA St.Louis)

As a result of the Roy deal, two successive goaltenders stopped pucks for the Canadiens, Jocelyn Thibeault, and then Jeff Hackett. While Hackett was traded away due to the emergence of Jose Theodore, Thibault is presently the backup goalie with the Sabres.

Added to the original 27 players, are 9 more were packaged in trades to aquire future assets. The nine include Lee, Acton, Laughlin, Riendeau, Keane, Manson, Brown, Brunet and Ulanov for a total of 36 players dealt away. For these 36 assets, the Canadiens aquired 34 bodies in return, 7 of which never player for the team.

Only Thibeault, Thornton, Rucinski, Nasreddine and Brisebois, remain active NHL'ers.

By 2002-03, all trickle downs from the 1970's had dried up as the Canadiens become playoff spectators.

Grundman's successor Serge Savard maintained a standard of excellence from 1984 to his firing in 1995.

Rejean Houle, a puppet GM of Habs president Ron Corey, sunk the ship beginning with the trading of Roy in 1995.

Since then, GM's Andre Savard and current man in charge Bob Gainey have replenished the Canadiens stock of players, and after a decade of bumbling, the Habs finally look to have a brighter future.

As of 2007, the Canadiens have no trickle down assets from the dynasty of the 1970's. All in all, a sad return on a glorious period.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Souray - Bittersweet And Bitter Fingers

(This post is dedicated to Habs fans such as myself, and Dave Stubbs included, who I assume are still perplexed as to why Souray is an Oiler.)

Sheldon Souray was my favorite Montreal Canadien. He will continue to be a player I will cheer for regardless of jersey colors, for now at least.

My respect for Souray went beyond his game. He is a team first guy in all senses of the word. He's overcome left field adversities with class, composure and dedication in his career. He is what the french press in Montreal like to call "Un Des Vrais!"

I'll miss him greatly.

I have to admit, I was pretty devastated, but not altogether surprised, when Souray failed to resign with the Montreal Canadiens this past off season.

Free agency often exposes the core of a players true soul being. It's often a one-time, career year based opportunity that players and agents alike do not want to mess up.

There are two bottom lines that come into play - dollars and happiness.

Chris Phillips of the Ottawa Senators gained fan respect league wide for being able to differentiate love over gold. In signing for less than his market value to remain a Senator, he made the ultimate team statement and committment, and enabled his team to move forward with him part of it, rather than look to greener pastures.

Some players like home runs to land in the upper deck, others are happy just to clear the fence.
Watching the Habs and Souray negotiate, from the outside, I kept waiting to see which of the two parties would allow a little water in their wine, enabling a deal to get done.

I saw this happening in one of two ways.

Souray, knowing the team had stood by him through the thick and thin of injuries, a brutal and very public marital mess, and some questions regarding his overall game, would say something akin to, "It's the Canadiens patience and belief in me that allowed me to develop into the player I've become. They've stood by me. This is home, and accepting a little less money doesn't faze me. I'm happy to be coming back."

Habs GM Bob Gainey, on the other hand, might have pursued Souray more relentlessly, while recognizing the players pride at becoming who he is. Unknown to us fans, he may or may not have said, "Sheldon, all through this process, you have never stopped being a team guy. We believe we have supported you well. You've never demanded a trade, while continuing to put out for us. We recognize your committment, and we are prepared to compensate you for all that you are by making you a priority for us. Let's talk!"

Hindsight is always a 20/20 proposition. Gainey would have had Souray in the fold had he not been sold on having to tend to Andrei Markov's contract first. He underestimated Souray's pride.

Unthinkable, considering the player wore his heart on his sleeve.

Gainey could have opted to settle Markov's contract, only to announce it later, while continuing on to negotiate with Souray. Instead, Gainey lowballed the player, and misread the demand for him on the open marketplace. GM's usually have a pulse on how the remainder of the league evaluates certain talents, and Gainey banked on his knowledge that no other team was likely to be willing to renumerate Souray better than the Habs in light of his defensive misgivings.

It was a gamble that almost paid off for Gainey, had it not been for one desperate GM in Kevin Lowe, needing to save face after being shunned and ridiculed. Many teams passed on Souray, while the Canadiens offers were fair - nothing more, nothing less.

The lesson might well be to beware of renegade GM's, of which the NHL has more and more of.
I'm disappointed in both Souray and Gainey, for not letting a little water seep into the wine in order to get a deal done.

In Dave Stubbs excellent column published today, Souray suggests that his negotiation with the Habs took on a different route than the one he saw playing out. While he suggests no ill feelings remain towards the Canadiens organization, it's hard not to see little pinkies pointing to Souray's disappointment with Gainey and the team during negotiations.

Souray sounds happy to be an Edmonton Oiler, but the veiled blame and disguised settling of scores first, points to an undercurrent of bitterness, though Souray attempts to spin it otherwise.

When Souray signed the Oilers deal, he hinted that the Habs had made a late 11th hour offer. He doesn't revisit the quote in the Stubbs piece.

The whirlwind experience of free agency likely has Souray wondering, "How the hell did I end up here?"

No one including Souray himself, likely saw Edmonton as a probable destination when this process began. It was, hence, a renegade GM to Souray's rescue. Kevin Lowe and Sheldon Souray both saved face with this deal. The question remains as to whether their off ice harmony begets on ice success.

For now, I can't help but think that both Souray and Gainey blew this one - together. I place the emphasis on the player, who has an agent and the benefit of choice, in this most uncompromising of times.

Comments that begin with, "We never heard back from the team" are seldom responded with "We called often and were greeted with deaf ears".

Both parties wanted and needed each other. Neither would admit it, with dollars compromising needs. It's a shame.

More than any other player leaving the Habs, the Souray defection cuts a little deeper than most. It doesn't sting any less with the revalations from the Stubbs article. The "It's Business" quote from Souray makes me roll my eyes skyward.

My answer is, if you want happiness, make your heart your business! If making no one else happy but yourself - good luck!

Drowning my sorrows in music, a longstanding foolproof fallout shelter for myself, has always given me perspective. With the Habs being one of the great loves of my life, I realize that there ain't no one broken hearted love song at the ready to provide cure and solace. So, I look towards understanding.

Rocker Bruce Springteen opened his 2002 disc, "The Rising" with a song called "Lonesome Day". The 9/11 inspired disc dealt with sadness and loss, with a little misguided retribution thrown in to bring it down to a basic emotional human scale. The uptempo "rise above it all" nature of the lyric and music offers more questions than answers, while butting heads with the relationship mysteries of life.

Oddly, it was the song ringing in my ears, between the car CD player and the home, when I came inside to discover the news that Sheldon had become an Oiler.

The lyric begins with an unfolding mystery:

"Baby, once I thought I knew
Everything I needed to know about you
Your sweet whispers, your tender touch
But I didn't really know that much
Joke's on me, but I'm gonna be okay
As long as I can get throught
This lonesome day"

The third verse kind of summed up how I felt in the instant Sheldon signed with the Oilers:

"Better ask questions before you shoot,
Deceit and betrayal's a bitter fruit,
It's hard to swallow come time to pay,
The taste on your tongue don't easily slip away.
Let kingdom come,
I'm gonna find my way,
Through this lonesome day."

While it's been mentioned the verse is an analogy for procreational abstinance, misplaced in song, Springsteen likely intended it as representing a lack of U.S. government forethought when it comes time to drop bombs.

Either way, it captures pretty well how I felt on the lonesome day Souray signed in Edmonton.

The bottom line is, much of what happens in life, is beyond our control. We still must learn, through survival instincts, to deal with it, regardless. Hockey players and fans alike.

Most Habs fans have moved on already, placing Souray in the "I've heard all those spins before" category. Money talk will do that to heart strings - just like it does in the worst of divorce cases. Hockey fans aren't at all unlike a spurned love interest. Regrets come later.

Nowhere in Souray's quotes does the player mention what he did to bridge the gap during negotiations. Players and agents and GM's are all compromised in the free agency process.
Playing a hand often leads to exposing costly needs. Emotions come as an afterthought - hence the Stubbs article and Souray's need to plead his case upon being questioned.

Both Souray and Gainey put up fronts they could not back down from once initiated in this dealing. Much was on the line in this scenario - reputations were at stake.

Gainey will not comment. He will let his actions speak.

We fans, are caught in the middle.

I go to great lengths to remove myself from this connundrum, but fail miserably.

I still wish Souray was a Hab.

What agitates me most, is that I get the feeling that Sheldon, while pointing sublte but yet bitter fingers, wishes he was still a Montreal Canadien also.

Listening to "Lonesome Day" over and over, there is still no resolve.

Sheldon, it's never too late to come home again!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hamrlik Burning With Anticipation

Transcibed from Le Journal De Montreal, August 17, 2007.

The Canadiens most important off season aquisition is burning with anticipation, anxious to start a new season in Montreal.

Hamrlik is presently on holiday in Zlin, in his natice Czeche Republic. He'll head to Montreal in a few days to begin preparations for the upcoming training camp.

Hamrlik signed with the Canadiens July 3, bagging a four year, $22 million dollar deal.

"I'm anxious to live this new experience", said Hamrlik, "the Canadiens are a young team, but they have solid veterans like Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, and Bryan Smolinski. I feel the team now had all the required elements to make the playoffs. It is truly special, playing hockey in Canada, where the sport holds such importance."

Upon being asked, Hamrlik took his time to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of his new team.

"The team has talent and can defend itself with a collective and consistant effort", said the 33 year old defenseman. I am convinced that all players were left with a bitter taste after having come so close to making the playoffs. After missing out, they will most certainly wish to make amends."

"One thing is for sure, I will be doing everything possible to help the team have a better season."
When asked with whom he expected to be paired with defensively, Hamrlik seemed caught offguard.

"I can't say yet how Guy Carbonneau plans on making use of me, but I'll do all that he asks of me. I just hope that I get to play alot."

"I know that I can give the team a good push, whether it be during the powerplay, or while penalty killing. Whether it is myself or Andrei Markov, the Canadiens won't be powerless from the point with a man advantage."

Hamrlik, who will begin his 15th season this fall, is expewrienced enough to understand that the expectations in his reagard are high.

"I can play with the same efficiency as I did with Calgary, or anywhere else I've played. I'm a fast skating defenseman with lots of experience."

"In Calgary, I was asked to concentrate mainly on the more defensive aspects, but I believe the Canadiens are looking for me to contribute in more offensive ways."

Hamrlik is not unfamiliar with the demands of the hockey mad Montreal populace.

"Montreal is an extraordinary hockey city", he pointed out, "the fans of the Habs are studied and smart. It is very motivating for a hockey player in such conditions. I believe I will greatly appreciate this experience."

Hamlik was the first overall choice of the Tampa Bay Lightening in 1992. His first game with the Canadiens will be his 1000th career game. He are his career stats, courtesy of Hockey Database.