Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lafleur Deems Koivu A Montreal Burnout Case

Robert L Note: If you thought Guy Lafleur's "four fourth lines" quote about the Canadiens from two weeks ago was inflammatory, his December 16th column in Le Journal De Montreal about Saku Koivu needing a change of scenery is outright journalistic dynamite.

This column really snuck under the radar, as it was published on Sunday, after the Canadiens had won a pair of games and seemed to see a light at the end of the tunnel of an elongated losing streak. That Koivu scored 2 goals while Lafleur was likely writing this is perversely ironic. Read on.

Here is the translation.

Could Bob Gainey have a surprise Christmas gift for us in the coming days? That is the question many are asking while the Canadiens pick their collective snots sliding down in the standings while offering uninspired performances at the Bell Centre.

For certain, Habs fans would welcome with open arms a trade that is badly needed by the team. Rumours have been persistant that Saku Koivu, and of course Michael Ryder, are soon destined to pursue their career paths elsewhere. Scenarios abound that players such as Patrick Marleau and Steve Bernier of the San Jose Sharks may be involved in such a mega deal.

Until the contrary is proven, all this remains speculation too good to be true. In the best interest of the Canadiens players involved, I hope such a transaction takes place, but i have learned with experience not to confuse my dreams for reality.

I recognize that Koivu has done everything for the Canadiens throughout his career. He has worked hard and given to the best of of his capabilities to the team, but it just might be time he needs a change of scenery. For a few weeks now, he seems lost on the ice and has been having all kinds of troubles scoring and offering solid shifts.

Contrary to the opinions of others, I do not believe that he is finished player. Perhaps he is just being dragged down by a lack of interest and nonchalance has overtaken his game.

He hardly seems to be enjoying himself during games and his effort shows a certain complacency. Before our eyes, we are witnessing a captain who'se been beaten down, and is no longer able to help the team as he should be able to.

It might only be a perception on my part, but it often happens that a player needs a change of scenery to rejuvenate his desire.

I have long stated that the Candiens have been wrong in attempting to build a team around Koivu. I didn't make up my mind yesterday. When Rejean Houle was GM of the Canadiens, I assured him that Koivu was not a franchise player and that we could not build the core of the team around him.

At the time, Koivu was often injured and was missing a large majority of games. Hence, as I did then, I still do not believe he has the neccessary tools to carry a team on his shoulders.

Despite all the respect I have for Koivu, and the compassion that his trials and health problems inspire, I believe his time is done in Montreal. Unfortunately, Stanley Cups aren't won with compassion. In all regards, and for the betterment of the team, changes need to be made. There's little meat left on the bones - time for new bones.

The same principle's apply to Michael Ryder. It's all well and good to sit him out in the press box if the team is dissatisfied with his performances, but there is a risk to negating an important cog in the teams makeup. Ryder is hardly a grinder type, and it is imperitive the a decision is made in his case: play him until he breaks loose or trade him. If it has been decided that he should sit, it surely means that there is no place for him on the team.

The Canadiens management absolutely have to move on these issues, but the truth is that it can't get any worse than it is now. When all but a few players are helping the team progress, while the remainder are going in reverse, it all adds up to a backwards destiny.

I'm not sure what the Canadiens would get in return for Koivu and Ryder, but I know one thing: better act now while they still have enough market value to offer some return. Even though the Bell Centre is packed nightly, and that attendance figures are of little worry to the owner, it is no reason to not make changes.

Changing the face of the team could breathe life into the team and enable it to rise above itself. It might just force the players to roll up their sleeves and search for that sadly lacking work ethic gone astray. Only then would we know which kind of team we have.

As it stands now, who can assure me with certainty which direction this team is going in?


Jeff said...

Lafleur makes good points here and well some moot points here as well.

It is obvious Ryder has played himself off of the top line.

Ryder for whatever reason has been shadowed and has little success getting off his great shot. He almost scored against the leafs but wouldnt a sniper hit the corner instead of the goalie. I see no harm playing him on the third line, at least then there is some possibility he will find his game.

Again yes he is not a grinder but then Dandenault, Chipchura and Ryder is a good line. To stay on that line he would have to outplay Latendresse and it seems that mostly Latendresse is more effective on that line than Ryder but it creates competition for that spot and maybe by switching the two we can see who best deserves the spot. Like has been commented on CJAD Carbs has done well to sub players in and out of the lineup.

Gainey really seems to be slow on making decisions but I suppose he does not want to rush his youth. Sergei Kostitsyn is here to stay in my opinion, he is that good!

Sending down O'Byrne too I think would be a mistake, it seems the defense is better with another big body even as he makes mistakes and learns the game up here.

As for Koivu, the habs have not been able to consistently supply him with quality line mates. How Sergei on that line makes it effective I am not sure cause well Sergei does not have size but man does he have hockey sense and boy can he dance and gets back to his zone already like a veteran. He sits in the danger zones where if the vets on the line actually passed him the puck he would probably score. I guess the line works because again Sergei knows where and when to dump the puck so Higgins can get to it. The line with the new rookie should do well the remainder of the season as long as Higgins has his superior jump in skating it will be no problem.

If Koivu is playing with elite players then he would really shine and to say he is not a franchise player is rediculous but he does need some help. Sundin scores about 5 percent more points than Koivu and well is simply one of the best centers to ever play the game. Koivu is almost as good as Sundin so that must say something about Koivu. Again Sundin can be double shifted whereas Koivu can not.

If Koivu was traded where would the leadership come from?

I do agree that Koivu has looked unhappy and beaten lately as the team was losing, he was not producing, and sure the pressure of playing in the hot seat of Montreal was getting to him.

Much like many I was excited at the non rumor of Marleau coming to town because man this team looked like a bunch of bums.

Then a few roster moves and Lapierre playing excellent in his role in my opinion the team is winning again. They out and out dominated both Toronto and the Flyers, I couldnt believe it!

I wouldnt play Smolinski or Brisebois another game this year unless injuries take their toll and they are the only bodies left or where we could lose a youngster from call up waivers.

Anyways, congrats to Max Pacoretti and P K Subban in making the World Juniors!

Robert L said...

Damn, that is one helluva good comment post, Jeff. I couldn't find a single thought in it to disagree with one iota. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Like you, I believe the recent insurgance of team youth will pave the way to keeping the club on the right track.

Ditto for your points on Smolinski, Brisebois, and the Ryder versus Latendresse angle.

About all this Marleau nonsense, I don't see why anyone believes him to be a solution. He's also another great player who has failed to take his team over the top. Why would he have more success on a seemingly less solid team.

Marleau's aquisition would pose more questions than it would bring sound answers and solutions, in my regard.

Again, much thanks for adding greatly to this post.

Anonymous said...

Not that this trade necessarily has any evidence, but would I trade a small 33yo centre for a 28yo centre that has had a better season that the 33yo while on the second line? Yep.

Saku has been the heart and soul of this team for the last decade, and I respect the guy as much as the next fan. But he's not going to be around when the young players approach their expected potential, whereas Marleau would be in his prime. Further, Marleau's upside is much better than Koivu's, who will be experiencing a slide in his game soon.

I'd love to hope that in 2 years the Habs would have Lecav., but realistically, you can't build a team on 'what ifs'. If the Marleau rumour has any truth to it, I'd pull the trigger. The team will be better off. Koivu will flourish for awhile as a second line player to Thornton, and give him a realistic shot at the Cup Marleau will give us some size in centre and hopefully a line of Marleau with Higgins and Lats will play bigger against the opponents top line, while leaving some space for the Pleks, Kovy, and Kosty line.

Robert L said...

Anon - You present a good case. I don't think anyone believes the Canadiens are winning it all this year or next, and I don't see Koivu signing another deal with Montreal.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Rob - thought I signed in - it's Sam L. (BrownJesus).

Anonymous said...

M. Lafleur knows what he's talking about, and ruffles a few feathers. So what. I think he's speaking out this year because he sees the pattern, and the potential. This team has potential, but the established pattern can ruin that.

Sorry but Saks isn't the goto guy, and Dandenault, for all his enthusiasm, creates more problems than he solves. Mr Ryder played himself out of a job, and a couple others need to move along as well.

Some players, no matter what the game, hate to lose anytime, anyway, anywhere. Others accept that you win some and you lose some. Which would you rather have on your team? Warriors or philosophers?

Guy made his choice. What a guy.

Robert L said...

You gotta love Guy for not holding back. On the flipside, he never tempers his arguments with a hint of today's new realities. That would explain why he shows frustration where others show patience. Barring some unforeseen "Lecavalier" type deal to improve the team overnight, the Canadiens must settle for steady progression.

A player such as Koivu, who displays a solid work ethic, makes for a respected leader. What he is and what we need him to be differ. No, he cannot singlehandledly carry a team, but he can lead it until the supporting cast overtakes him and a stronger leader emerges.

Koivu suits the warrior type to a point, but then drops off.

To move forward, theteam is being built brick by brick. It takes more time and vision than someone who simply suggests "Get rid of these guys, and go get such and such". If it were as simple as that, all 30 teams would preach it.

Teams must work internally to improve and teach what it has. Dreaming about what it hasn't got is even more akin to philosophizing.

The realities began with seeing what we have and dealing with making it better.

Lafleur is too tempermental for that logic. That and it doesn't sell papers!

Rustyguts257 said...

Lafleur was right in his assessment to Houle, Koivu was not a franchise player but then they have been very few franchise players in the league history. Championship teams are built around players like Beliveau, Lafleur, Gretzky, Lemieux, and Crosby but it can also be said that championship teams can be built with players like Trottier, Arnott, and Richards. Koivu is not a first line centre but his leadership abilities should not be overlooked or under-rated. Look at H Richard,Y Cournoyer and G Carboneau during their captaincies, they were not leading the team in scoring but contributed solid leadership. Sometimes the ‘Star’ is not a leader and vice versa – remember even though Lafleur was undoubtedly the star in his years with the Canadiens he was not the captain.
That said, there needs to be strength down centre. Koivu and Plekanec are second and third liners so there is a real need for a first line centre. There are none in the farm system so assets need to be assessed to enable a trade. The goaltending is solid now, but Huet will be a free agent 1 July 2008. Centre is not solid but adequate in second and third liners such as Koivu, Plekanec, Chipchura and Lapierre. The wings again are not top flight yet but show promise in talent and numbers. The defence cannot be described as flashy but could be described as balanced and deep. As well, we are well stocked in utility players. In my opinion, while no roster players could really be classed as untouchable, there are those who have intrinsic worth to the organisation through their potential such as the Kostitsyns, Higgins, Chipchura, Komasarek, O’Bryne or current value Kovalev and Koivu. However, any combination of Ryder, Plekanec, Dandenault, Kostopoulos, Smolinski, Bouillon and Begin could be moved now without upsetting the current team balance. Huet could be moved at the final trade deadline but as a potential UFA his market value is limited to another UFA or possibly even mid round draft picks. Prospects such as Halak, Danis, Locke, Ferlund, Milroy and even Fisher could also be included in trade considerations. There is also the situation to be assessed. Is this a Stanley Cup year? No, not really. So any trade must make sense for the long run not a short fix – no UFA for prospects type trade. If I were GM, I would look at weathering the storm and try to move Ryder plus one roster player and one to two prospects for a player capable of being a first line centre possibly Jeff Carter. Also, if a Huet for Marion Hossa opportunity came up I would jump at it and try to sign Hossa for next year. Looking ahead, as GM I would put an offer in for Ovechkin as a RFA – draft picks are potential whereas Ovechkin is the real deal – a franchise player!