A Case for More Grit

Grit

Summer months for hockey fans can be long at times, especially after free agents are mostly signed and before rookie camps kick in around the NHL. Habs’ fans and media were able to satisfy their cravings recently during the 2016 Michel Therrien Golf Invitational where several players made an appearance, including new comers Andrew Shaw and Shea Weber.

The Canadiens’ head coach Michel Therrien, unpopular with many in the fan base, took the opportunity to provide reporters and fans with some fresh quotes which they could use to put him down. The best example of that being when he openly stated that the team wanted to get tougher than last year.

What is Grit?

Webster defines grit as firmness of mind or spirit, unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger. Synonyms of grit include: courage, bravery, pluck, mettle, backbone, spirit, strength of character, strength of will, moral fibre, steel, nerve, fortitude, toughness, hardiness, resolve, resolution, determination, tenacity, perseverance, endurance; informal guts, spunk.

In hockey terms, grit is the willingness to do whatever it takes to help your team win, even if you know it’s going to hurt. Whether it’s standing in front of the net getting pounded by massive defensemen at the risk of getting hit by 100 mph shots, taking a hit to make a play, dropping the gloves to defend a teammate or sacrificing your body with bodychecks or blocked shots. Grit is as much a mental state as it is physical and because it cannot be measured statistically, some fans refuse to acknowledge its benefits to a hockey team… but that’s their mistake.

On last year’s squad, the pure definition of grit was none other than 5-foot 9-inches Brendan Gallagher and when he got injured, the team collapsed, particularly offensively. He is considered the spark-plug of the team as the coach puts him on a struggling line to give it a jump start and in most cases, it works. His work and dedication, his grit is contagious and makes others put in a better effort.

A grittier team

When Marc Bergevin traded fan-favourite P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, not only did he get the better player (at this time), but he did it for multiple reasons. Weber rarely turns to puck over and Subban is amongst the league leaders in that department every year, showing that he keeps the puck too long on his stick trying to make plays that are not always there. Weber is also a much more disciplined player as Subban is also amongst the league leaders in minor penalties. But mostly, Weber is a grittier player. At 6-foot 4-inches and 236 pounds, he plays a very physical game and he is an intimidating force at the blue line. He is not afraid to drop the gloves either to protect himself and his teammates. He brings respect and a certain fear in opponents because he can and will hurt you!

Shaw and Weber do bring more grit to a team that desperately needed some depth in that department. They also bring leadership, another underestimated and downplayed value by analytics’ fans as it’s another key factor that cannot be measured statistically.

Having said all of that, I have a hard time with them saying that the team needs to be grittier and yet, it looks more and more like they will be keeping two guys who have regularly disappeared when the going gets though in David Desharnais and Tomas Plekanec

Still need scoring

The biggest mistake that some fans are making is taking Therrien’s word for the need for grit for him saying that it was their only need. He did not say that but those who like pouncing on every opportunity to put the coach down are using that quote to do just that. It’s not only unfair, but also ill intent. Bergevin and Therrien both know that the team needs to find a way to score more goals and they both acknowledged that since the end of last season.

The addition of a motivated Alexander Radulov, also described by Sergei Fedorov as a guy who will do anything for his team, should help Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and Gallagher in the scoring aspect of the game, but there is still a glaring need for another top-6 forward who can put the puck in the net for the upcoming season. I personally think that a guy like Rick Nash, who is rumoured to be shopped by the New York Rangers, would be a perfect addition but as we know that Marc Bergevin won’t overpay in a trade, he may want to see what youngsters Sven Adrighetto, Nikita Scherbak, Charles HudonArtturi Lehkonen and Martin Reway have to offer at this stage in their career before addressing that need. Eventually, some of those prospects will be ready to take the next step to the NHL.

In the meantime, enjoy the following videos of Shaw and Weber, showing the added grit to a team in need.

 

Who Will Gamble on Stamkos?

Stamkos

Not so long ago, the potential of seeing Steven Stamkos hitting the free agents’ market was making a lot of teams and general managers drool over the possibility of having the opportunity to get a shot at convincing him to agree to a contract with them. After all, how often does a 27 year-old, at the prime of his career, becomes free to sign with whomever he wants? How many natural goals’ scorers, in recent history, have become available as unrestricted free agents, particularly at such a young age?

Well it seems like you can thank the salary cap, at least in part, for making Stamkos available and putting the Tampa Bay Lighting in a tough position. While there is no doubt that Steve Yzerman still wants to re-sign his team captain, he may not have the choice but to either trade him at the draft, or let him walk on July first. If that happens, he will be leaving a huge void on that team and that, even if they did rather well in his absence, particularly in the playoffs.

Damaged goods?

Not so long ago, several teams were rumoured to have interest in Stamkos, with the Toronto Maple Leafs as one of the favourite destinations. The New York Rangers were rumoured to be willing to trade Rick Nash in order to free up enough cap space to allow the team to make a move for the Lightning’s captain. At that time, we have even looked at odds for the Habs to sign Stamkos.

Since then though, things have changed. No, the Lightning did not re-sign their star player… yet. However, Stamkos has since missed a considerable amount of time due to a blood clot near his right collarbone, and he had have surgery in hope to resolve the issue. It turns out that Stamkos was diagnosed with the same condition as Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and in the medical field, it is believed to be “fixable and temporary”.

Unlike Kimmo Timonen and Pascal Dupuis, both now retired due to different types of blood clots, Stamkos made a return during the playoffs in a failed attempt to prevent his team’s elimination. That being said, the problem is that blood thinners still are a component of the treatment, at least for the first three or four months. He SHOULD be fine after that and doctors believe that the blood clot issue has been fixed. All agree that the biggest challenge or question mark in the case of Stamkos will be due to the fact that there are a lot of moving part where the surgery occurred and no one knows for sure how it will have affected the sharp shooter.

Teams interested in Stamkos will definitely be doing their own homework, as well as they will be contacting insurance companies to find out if his new contract can be insured. Imagine an owner agreeing to pay Stamkos an average of $11 million per season for seven years, and Stamkos’ problems re-occur… with an insurance clause leaving that owner having to pay that contract without his services! More than cap implication, few owners can sustain non only paying him while he’s out, but spending up to the equivalent of Stamkos’ contract to get more players to fill the void hockey-wise.

Steven-Stamkos-et-P.K.-Subban
Could P.K. Subban convince Steven Stamkos to sign with the Canadiens?

Potential gamblers

While, as mentioned before, several factors will play into the decision of offering a contract to Stamkos, including owners’ approval and medical opinions, there are a couple of teams who could easily afford to take a flyer on him. Of course, the New York Rangers who paid Wade Redden $6.5 million to play in the minors, are more than capable to pay even if Stamkos was forced to put an end to a season. New York must, however, clear up a lot of cap space to make that happen.

Another team which can do so is the Toronto Maple Leafs and unlike the Rangers, they already have plenty of cap space available to lure the Toronto native. Having the first overall pick at this upcoming draft and Mike Babcock as head coach might be enough to convince Stamkos that the Leafs could be a very desirable location for him to continue his career.

Like many other teams prior to Stamkos’ blood clot issue, the Canadiens will have to rely heavily on medical advise in order to decide if they will or not be key players in convincing Stamkos to come and play in La Belle Province. Also, while the Molson family is quite well off, they did not make their fortune by taking $77 million risks and only THEY know if it’s a risk that they are willing or able to take.

Either way, we should find out within the next two to three weeks… unless Stamkos takes his time before making a decision. Like most fans and members of the media, I am hoping that it doesn’t drag on for weeks this summer.