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Bergevin and The Habs Set to Trade

Four weeks until the trade deadline, the All-Star break is over and NHL teams return to business for the long and exhausting stretch of the season where teams will fight for a playoffs’ spot, joust for position and/or players will be playing for a job next season. You will have buyers, you will have sellers, and you will have a bunch of teams sitting on the fence waiting for the right deal to come about. And that’s where you’ll find Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin, working the phone, hoping to continue the great work he’s been doing since last summer.

As it stands today, you have six teams out of the playoffs’ race in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit, Florida and the Rangers who are all expected be sellers. In the West, only Los Angeles and Chicago seem to be out of luck as it will take fewer points to make the playoffs in that conference, making for more teams being in a battle to get into the playoffs.

In the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning are in a league of their own and it would be wise for them not to tinker too much with a roster that’s clicking in all cylinders. But if you’re a playoffs’ team in the East, you will certainly be considering loading up as you know that you’ll have to go through the Bolts in order to reach the Stanley Cup finals.

In the West, the race is much tighter, although the Calgary Flames seem to be the top of the crop. However, the Jets, the Predators, the Wild, the Sharks and the Golden Knights all feel like they have a shot at reaching the finals and for that reason, all of those teams can be expected to be buyers.

Salary Cap Crunch

We all know that we live in a salary cap era and that teams cannot exceed the cap of $79.5 million set by the league. What’s not as well known by fans is the fact that teams cannot carry more than 50 professional contracts at any given time. As it stands today, 12 teams have a projected cap space of less than $3 million.

TEAMSCONTRACTSPROJECTED CAP SPACE
Edmonton Oilers48/50$51,371
Anaheim Ducks48/50$62,101
Pittsburgh Penguins45/50$116,525
Washington Capitals48/50$263,512
*Los Angeles Kings 46/50$972,701
Dallas Stars45/50$1,035,619
San Jose Sharks45/50$1,454,274
St. Louis Blues 46/50$1,547,408
Tampa Bay Lightning49/50$1,710,387
Calgary Flames 45/50$1,779,075
*New York Rangers 46/50$1,822,046
Minnesota Wild48/50$2,301,495

*Teams not in the playoffs or in a playoffs’ race.

While not all of those teams have to make trades, those who want to will likely also want to – or need to – shed salary in order to make it happen. And that’s where it’s getting interesting…

In come the Habs

Earlier today, the Canadiens placed defenseman Michal Moravcik on waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract to allow him to return to the Czech Republic. With this move, Marc Bergevin has his team in a perfect position to wheel and deal if the right offer comes about.

In addition to having only 43 contracts, the Canadiens have a projected $9.7 million of cap space so not only can they take money, but they can take contracts too. This has Bergevin in an ideal position to make trades like the one he consumed with the Winnipeg Jets when he received Joel Armia as a reward for taking on Steve Mason‘s contract. Keep an eye on Bergevin as this flexibility is what teams will be looking for when having to shed salary and/or contracts. Few teams are in as good of a position and that’s what makes me believe that we will see some shuffle in Montreal by February 25th at the latest. We’ve already touched on a potential deal with the Oilers, but so many more teams might be tempted to turn to Bergevin for help… so keep your fingers’ crossed Habs’ fans. Exciting times ahead. Go Habs Go!

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Habs Are Neither Buyers or Sellers

Ah this time of the NHL season. It’s like Christmas for hockey fans. Some teams are sellers, wanting to stock up on picks and prospects, while others are considered buyers, trying to improve their team for the immediate future in hope of either make a run at the elusive Stanley Cup or at the very least, earn a playoffs spot and a couple of home games for the owners to cut their losses or fill their pockets. Either way, fans and media members alike are anxious to see what their local team will do.

With five weeks to go to the February 25th trade deadline, teams are justleling and the race is tight in many places. The Atlantic division sees the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens within a point of each other, battling for 2nd and 3rd in the division, and/or for a Wild Card spot at the very least. The Buffalo Sabres are four points from a playoffs spot too, but they have been trending the wrong way as of late.

The Metropolitan division has four teams within two points, with the Tavares-less New York Islanders overtaking the Columbus Blue Jackets and Stanley Cup champions Washington Capitals to lead the division, while the Pittsburgh Penguins (58 points) occupy the last Wild Card spot, two points back.

In the weaker Western Conference, you can dream of the playoffs if you find yourself around the .500 mark. You have Colorado, Dallas and Vancouver with 50 points, with Minnesota, Edmonton and Anaheim a single point back, while Arizona (46) and St. Louis (45) are still mathematically in the race. Only three of those teams will make the playoffs.

Habs neither buyers or sellers

If you pay attention to what Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin is saying, it is very unlikely that he will be pursuing short-term help. This means that he will not be a buyer. And why would he be? His team is one of the youngest in the league and it has performed beyond what most people thought they would this season.

“I’m always going to be listening to options, but the goal is to build for the future. Just to give up assets for the short-term, I’m not going to do it. It would have to be very appealing. If there are young players available, assets have to go. I get that. But, I don’t think I’ll be in the rental business.”

“Based on what I saw in Vancouver [at the WJC], the future of the Canadiens is very bright. I’m not going to start mortgaging the future. I know what’s coming with the World Juniors, who they’re going to be asking for, and I’m not moving these kids. It’s going to be a short conversation, I think… If we drafted these kids, it’s because we believe they have some potential. That came to the forefront in Vancouver with our prospects that really stepped up their games.”

~ Marc Bergevin (January 7, 2019)

Only Kenny Agostino, Jordie Benn and Antti Niemi are pending UFAs at the end of the season. With the Canadiens in a playoffs’ spot, don’t expect any of them to be traded as they are, in fact, some very good “rentals”.

If Bergevin makes a move, it will have to be a hockey trade, one that makes sense not only for now, but for the future. The Canadiens have just over $9 million of cap space available so it is not out of the realm of possibilities that teams might come knocking with offers like the one with the Winnipeg Jets, which saw them unload a contract in Steve Mason, bringing in Joel Armia into the Habs’ fold as a reward for doing so.

Joel Armia

The Canadiens’ biggest need right now still is a suitable partner for Shea Weber, someone who can eat up 25 quality minutes a game against the opposition’s top lines. Victor Mete is doing fairly well but if they want to be taken more seriously, they need an improvement at that position. While Alexander Romanov has made huge strides, he is likely a few years from having the necessary impact to play such a role. A while back, I had created a list of 24 potential target for Bergevin and while the list likely has changed somewhat, some names on that list would still be pretty good options.

It is also very much possible that Bergevin sits there and doesn’t do anything. If that happens, he will be criticised by some but rest assured, this would not be a bad move at all. The future is bright, very bright in Montreal and in spite of what some want you to believe, Bergevin knows what he’s doing. Go Habs Go!

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Habs and Playoffs: 5 Missing Ingredients

The second half of the NHL season is when you separate the boys from the men. That’s when teams start building an identity and momentum. That’s when key players are able to bring their game up to the next level in order to help their team make a legitimate push for a playoffs’ spot. If the eye test is any indicator, it is becoming more and more obvious that the Montreal Canadiens are closer to boys than they are to men.

Let’s not be fooled by their record on their last road trip, separated by a turkey Christmas dinner here. The game the Canadiens most deserved to win was the one in Tampa Bay, which they ironically lost. That was the last good team effort. They have not been playing well for quite some time and their inconsistency, while to be expected with such a young team, is ultimately slowly catching up to them. While teams could get away with playing 20-30 minutes a game earlier on in the season, it’s no longer the case when teams are getting down to business.

Aside from their lack of experience, there are five (5) key areas which are clearly hurting this team, keeping them from being able to take the next step. In no particular order, they are:

The Powerplay

Everything has been said about the Habs’ lackluster powerplay. Many, myself included, thought that things would improve once Shea Weber would be back at the point but it hasn’t been the case. While he did score a few goals early on, teams have adjusted and are taking away the Canadiens’ biggest threat. In the last 10-12 games or so, Weber has had very few opportunities to shoot the puck as teams know that they can afford to cheat towards him, since the Canadiens are lacking imagination down low on the powerplay.

More than just Weber, it’s poor decision-making and execution that’s making the Canadiens their own worst enemy. Instead of creating passing lanes, the Douin, Domi, Tatar, Kotkaniemi and company are making the low percentage passes which get intercepted or deflected. And when they finally find a passing lane, the pass is off, in the skates or on the wrong side for a quality one-timer. There are also way too many “no-look” passes. Sitting dead last in the NHL with a 12.8% success rate, it is inexcusable to see them that low with the skills that they have.

Faceoffs

Hockey is pretty basic game. When coaching, I always told my players that you either have the puck or you are chasing it. You spend a lot less energy when having the puck and controlling the play than having to spin and turn trying to retrieve it. The number one and easiest way to get that puck is to win your faceoffs. While the Canadiens have found some guys who can play centre, they cannot win faceoffs, which means that just about every time the puck is dropped, they’re the ones chasing, trying to regain control. Only the Washington Capitals have a worst faceoffs percentage than the Habs in the NHL.

Left defense

While Victor Mete has improved since coming back from a short stay with the Laval Rocket, others have plummeted. Mike Reilly has lost the poise and confidence he displayed earlier on this season. David Schlemko and Karl Alzner are closer to AHL caliber than NHL. Jordie Benn has played much, much better as off late but he is more efficient on the right side. He and Brett Kulak form a pretty decent third pairing.

Marc Bergevin has done an excellent job finding quality centre prospects and getting Max Domi proves to be an excellent move. Where he has failed so far as a GM is by being unable or unwilling to pay the price to get someone worthy of playing on the top pairing alongside Shea Weber. Someone who can skate, pass the puck, and play 25-27 minutes a game. Maybe one day Mete will be able to do that. Maybe one day Alexander Romanov will be the guy. But if you want to make the playoffs, you need someone now… or yesterday! While things have changed since, we explored 24 potential options recently on this blog.

Lack of top-end skills

Tampa Bay has Point, Stamkos and Kucherov. Colorado has MacKinnon and Rantanen. Calgary has Gaudreau and Monahan. Winnipeg has Scheifele and Wheeler. Toronto has Tavares, Matthews and Marner. Boston has Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak. Pittsburgh has Crosby, Malkin and Kessel. Buffalo has Eichel and Skinner. Heck, even if things aren’t rosy in Edmonton, they have McDavid and Draisaitl.

The Drouin/Domi duo is not enough.

The lack of top-end, game breaking ability is hurting the Canadiens. Yes, they score goals. But when the game is on the line, when you need a goal to tie or win a game, they don’t have that huge threat that other teams have. This, in the end, is costly for the Canadiens. With scoring by committee, you can’t send that ‘committee’ on the ice all at once when you need that elusive goal.

Too little grit

As the going gets tougher, the Habs’ lack of size and grit at key positions is starting to surface. With the exception of Weber and Nicolas Deslauriers, the grittiest players on the team are small for the most part. They don’t come any grittier than Brendan Gallagher but he won’t instate the fear of God into anyone. Byron, Domi and Shaw the same.

Too many of the Canadiens’ top players are shying away from physical contact and the dirty areas, particularly Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar and we’ve seen many examples lately, against bigger teams. And the games aren’t going to get any easier. Jesperi Kotkaniemi hasn’t filled in yet and he spends more time on his knees than on his skates, or so it seems. It will come, but he’s not there yet.

Conclusion

In conclusion, those are the reasons why the Canadiens are unlikely to make the playoffs when the dust settles. The team has taken huge strides since June 2018 but there is a lot of work to do still, before being considered a threat in the Eastern Conference. While my early prediction was that they would sneak into the playoffs, I have to admit that it is becoming less and less likely as the season progresses. This doesn’t mean that we should start asking for heads to roll, folks. The team is heading in the right direction. But we will need to give Bergevin and his team a little bit more time to address the points mentioned above. Go Habs Go!

Making Every Day Valentine’s Day

Cupid. Hallmark cards. Jewelry. Flowers. Chocolate. Lingerie. Fancy dinner in a restaurant. Even wedding engagements. After Christmas, Valentine’s Day is the holiday where the most money is being spent. But why is that? Since when do people need to spend money to tell someone that they love them? Why do people need a “reminder day” to prove their love to someone? Because it’s commercialized, that’s why. That’s how they portrait it on television, with their commercials, in stores and at the Malls, all over the place.Heck, some pizza places even make heart-shaped pizza!

As some people don’t like Christmas, many don’t like Valentine’s Day. For the most part, it’s for the same reason: they don’t like the fact that those holidays have become to commercialized and have lost their true meanings. Others don’t like Valentine’s Day because… they are not in a couples’ relationship. And if you ask me, that’s not fair.

For those reasons, some people are downplaying the holiday by pretending – and claiming out loud – that Valentine’s Day is like every other day. By doing so, they feel like it takes the power away from the “commercial pressure” of having to buy something for our loved one, spending money when they’re still trying to pay off the Christmas bills. While there are benefits to what they are trying to accomplish, it’s a self-preservation excuse that they are using, something that the human brain is programed to do.

But really, why is Valentine’s Day thought to be just for couples? Who decided that? If St. Valentine was about loving one another, shouldn’t it be just a reminder to tell the people you care about that you love them? Why couldn’t it be an expanded holiday, allowing for your Valentine(s) to be your mother, father, brother, sister, children, grand-parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, close friends?…

Now here’s an idea, similar in many ways to that way of thinking but with a major twist:

“Instead of making Valentine’s Day be like every other day, why not make every other day be like Valentine’s Day?”

Wait, what?!? Think about it for a second. The people who want Valentine’s Day to be like every other day are saying that they should be able to tell the one they love that they do, any other day. That is true, but why not celebrate that love on February 14th as well? Instead, making every other day be like Valentine’s Day means that you celebrate and show your love for one another every day. See the difference? It’s subtle, but the end result is substantial at the same time.

You see, I come from the old school, where men don’t show their feelings. I was raised in thinking that “They know that I love them, at least they should know” and “I wouldn’t be doing this or that if I didn’t love them“. Saying the words “I love you” is uncomfortable, almost a sign of weakness. Not that you don’t love them, you just say it with actions, not so much in words. That was until something happened in my life that made me realise how wrong this way of thinking is.

So dear readers, tell the people that you love exactly how you feel about them and do it every day, not only on Valentine’s Day. Remember that while a bouquet of flowers or telling someone that you love them is nice, it means nothing if your day to day actions don’t support your words. Actions do speak louder than words. Hold your partner’s hand. Hug your parents, your kids. Make dinner for your friends. Invite your elderly parents for a Sunday brunch. Go for a walk, a drive together. Buy them flowers in January, or any other non-holiday date and time. But mostly, look them in the eyes and tell them, show them that you care, that you love them.

You see, the people that you love may leave this world before Valentine’s Day, and you may never have a chance to tell them how you feel. So celebrate this beautiful holiday each and every day. This way, you don’t need to buy anything. You simply are sharing the gift of love each and every day.

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NHL 32 Teams Revamp

With the announcement that the National Hockey will finally welcome Seattle into its folds – a much overdue addition – the league will finally have two balanced Conferences with 16 teams in each one. The Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association won the Cup in 1917, beating the National Hockey Association’s Montreal Canadiens. The NHL was founded later that year. Time will tell if the ownership group will chose to build on the City’s hockey history or not but either way, it will generate excitement in the Pacific Northwest.

And with the expansion, what better time for the NHL to revamp and balance its schedule to make the league more equitable for everyone? Since the arrival of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the odds of making the playoffs have been higher in the West than in the East, with one fewer team not making it to the Stanley Cup rounds. It’s also very difficult to balance a schedule with an uneven number of teams, let’s admit.

Regular Season

While I’m sure some NHL executives would go along with that plan, many others would be totally against it… for revenue purposes, but here is what I would personally love to see. So regardless of the naysayers, hear me out on this one.

First thing’s first: get rid of the divisions. Back in the days when you had 4-5 teams per division, there might have been some benefit of having divisions, in order to create some rivalries. But with eight teams per division, it’s not the case so much. Rivalries in today’s NHL are built in the playoffs. So you go with two Conferences, no divisions. So far so good?

Each team would play two (2) games against each team of the other Conference. One at home, one away, as they are currently doing. This allows for fans to get the opportunity to see each and every team in the league at least once. So two games against 16 teams would result in 32 games played.

On the current 82 games schedule format, this would leave 50 games to play within your own conference… but for any given team, there are 15 other teams in their Conference. It takes no mathematician to figure out that you 50 doesn’t divide equally by 15 so by keeping the number of games as it stands, it would create some complications.

If the NHL wanted teams to play 4 (4) games against each conference rivals (2 home, 2 away) it would total 60 games (4×15). Add the 32 against the other Conference and you have a 92 games schedule. That’s not going to happen. The season is already too long and the NHLPA would never go for that… and rightfully so.

Now if they play three (3) games against each team in their own Conference, it represents 45 games (3×15). Add the 32 extra-Conference games and you would have a 77 games schedule. Ideally, this a more feasible solution and it would allow room to squeeze in the World Cup and the Olympics, each one every alternating 4 years. This means that every two years, there would be an international tournament within the NHL season. The only imperfection is that teams would be playing two home games and one away, and vice-versa, against any given team within their Conference.

But wait… a 77 games schedule? That’s five games (82-77=5) where owners are losing revenue. They’re definitely not going to go for that, right? So in order to satisfy that revenue loss by the owners, what if we were to cut their biggest expense? What if we clawed back the players’ salaries and the salary cap by six percent (6%), which is the equivalent of 5 games over 82?

Playoffs

The NHL season is long and grueling. Why not make it mean something – or at least more than what it means under the current format – by rewarding the players for their hard work? The best teams in the regular season should have a clearly defined advantage and mostly, not be penalized for being in a tougher division! The playoffs’ format as it stands today makes no sense to both NHL teams and their fans. The playoffs should be sorted by Conference and the higher you finish in the standings, the weaker your opponent should be (on paper) based on the regular season.

Eastern Standings Feb.7/19

Not accounting for travel, the ideal format would be to ignore Conferences and go with the old 1 vs 16, 2 vs 15, 3 vs 14, etc, and allowing for a chance to see an Edmonton vs Calgary, Los Angeles vs Anaheim, Philadelphia vs Pittsburgh, Montreal vs Toronto Stanley Cup finals. But due to unfair travel time and costs, that’s not going to pass with neither the Board of Governors or the NHLPA. So the next best thing to do is to go with the overall Conference standings. First place in the Conference faces the eight place team, 2nd vs 7th, 3rd vs 6th, 4th vs 5th. For subsequent rounds, reseed the teams based on the regular season.

Shutout the shootout

Can we please finally get rid of this shootout gimmick?!? It should have never been there to start with. You don’t see the NFL decide games with quarterbacks throwing footballs through hoops, MLB with a homerun competition or the NBA with free throws. If teams are tied after 60 minutes, play five minutes at 4 on 4. If they are still tied, then play five minutes at 3 on 3. If still tied after 70 minutes, it’s a well deserved tie game by both teams.

I did some research in the BCHL a couple of years ago and over a period of six years, only 2% of all games ended in a tie game. I have attended games ending in a tie and with this format of OT, everyone was happy, including the fans. The OT is spectacular and extremely entertaining and that, even if you had the most boring first 60 minutes. Assuming the same ratio, this would mean 25 games in the NHL would result in a tie on an 82-game season.

Last but not least, lose the loser point. Winning team gets two (2) points, whether it’s in regulation or overtime. The losing team gets nothing, they have lost game! No room for consolation prize here, it’s professional sports. Now if teams are still tied after the second OT, the game ends in a tie and each team gets one (1) well deserved point.

The league has made some good choices, but some pretty bad ones too in recent years when it comes to the tradition of hockey, with the Instigator rule change being the biggest mistake. It’s time to give the game back to the fans, give them what THEY want. Afterall, we know that Gary Bettman will lockout the players again soon, as he’s done every time.