Thursday, July 12, 2007

What? Did I Miss Something?

E drags herself out of her hellish, hockey-free cave of Having to Write About Other Things and, still somewhat woozy from lack of sleep, offers the following assorted comments on the state of the Habs, ex-Habs, might-have-been Habs, and various other free-agency detrius.

· Raise your hand, honk your horn, applaud, or otherwise indicate if you still think Andrei Markov got overpaid. No one? Yeah, I thought not. Before we even start talking about UFA Day activities, renewed props and obeisance to Gainey for that signing.

· So I suppose if, last month, the question was whether or not Souray deserved Markov-type money, the question is now whether Hamrlik deserved Souray-type money. Because that’s what he got- the exact contract that Gainey offered Souray. People are saying it’s an overpayment, and perhaps it is. Certainly it is a lot of money, particularly in comparison to the pay distribution on the Habs roster last season. I don’t know Hamrlik, and I intend to reserve judgment on his value until I’ve seen him play, but I will say this: it’s a lot of money, but it’s possible that he will be worth it. If he can make good breakout passes, if he can be a solid plus player, if he can be steady, smart, and responsible in his own end, if he can do time on the power-play with Markov, and if over the four years of his contract he can be a good influence on the many young defensemen the Habs will be looking to bring up in that time, than he will be worth it. Is he a replacement for Souray? Nope, of course not, but Souray is such a peculiar creature that there was never any question of replacing him- only of hoping that his empty space could be filled by someone with good qualities of his own.

· If Hamrlik is an overpay, it’s an overpay that had to be made one way or another- defense was a hole that the Habs had to fill, and it was a very expensive summer to go shopping. Give Gainey a gold star for effort, but there’s no question that he didn’t get everything he wanted. Ironically, though, his failed pursuit of Briere and Smyth made me realize how badly the Canadiens need a GM like him. Habistanis seem to have very high expectations for UFA Day. Maybe all fans are like that, but in Habs fans it is particularly unbecoming because we have absolutely no good reason for such expectancy. Have the Habs ever landed a high-profile free agent who worked out well, barring resignings of our own players? Not that I’ve ever heard of, but please do correct me if I’m forgetting someone. Certainly it hasn’t happened in a while. Repeat after me, Habistanis: FREE AGENCY WILL NOT SOLVE ALL OUR PROBLEMS. For any number of reasons which have been much-discussed throughout the media in the past weeks, Montreal is not an attractive place for players with a wide range of teams to choose from. It’s very sad, I know. In a just universe, talented players would want to play in the cities where hockey is most beloved, irregardless of money. The passion of the fans and the honor of playing in places where the game means something would be reward enough. But the universe is unfair, and apparently a lot of hockey players are as sensitive, delicate, selfish, and cowardly off the ice as they are tough, durable, self-sacrificing and brave on it. It’s a paradox, but it’s the way of the world right now and no amount of frenetic fantasizing will change it. It’s the answer to that age-old question: what frightens professional hockey players? Quebec taxes, Le Journal de Montreal, a room of 21,000-some people booing every bad turnover, and the prospect of having to center Alex Kovalev. The point is, if this team is going to go anywhere, it’s going to have to do it the hard way: smart drafting and the careful development and conservation of whatever assets it can get its teeth into during their vulnerable youth. So thank fucking God for Gainey and his dull, plodding, single-minded plans, because if we had flashy GM who made the kind of big deals that would entertain us, our farm system would be depleted, Higgins and Plekanec would be in the Western Conference already, our roster would be crowded with miserable ex-‘stars’ whining about the awful, awful pressure, and we still wouldn’t get any UFAs.

· If there’s one thing that worries me, it’s not the lack of big signings from the UFA market, it’s that all of Gainey’s RFA signings were two-year deals. Higgins, Plekanec, and Komisarek all got nice, well-deserved raises, but are only signed through the 2008-2009 season. If Gainey’s ideal deadline for his rebuilding plan wasn’t already the centennial season, it sure as hell starts looking like a deadline now. In fact, it almost seems to lock it in, because if those players improve as hoped through those contracts, they’ll be even more expensive and attractive to other teams come their next free agency. We might have a problem keeping them all, unless our luck with ‘loyalty’ changes. Some people are already starting to speak of them, along with a few others, as the ‘new core’ of the Habs. It’s probably an over-ambitious christening, but it also reflects an uncomfortable reality. The Habs have changed significantly over the past season and lost much of their veteran leadership, and so more of the responsibility for the team’s success or failure has fallen on the younger players, perhaps sooner than anticipated. The real question mark in the coming season will not be who can Gainey sign or trade for, it’ll be how good the youth really are and how quickly they can develop. Right now, with the signings made, this UFA season seems like pretty much a lateral move in terms of on-paper roster quality- what remains to be seen is what they can do beyond what’s already on paper.

· I like Daniel Briere, I really do. Obviously his offensive instincts are tremendous, and I think he’s tougher than a lot of people give him credit for. He reminds me of one of those little porcelain figurines of bug-eyed, pale children that old ladies like to collect, if said figurine was inhabited by an angry fanged demon with a thick, subtle vicious streak and a desperate need to prove itself via hockey. How could you not love that? However, I am very, very relieved that the Habs bid for him failed. Unlike some of the other UFAs, his amazing-ness is of comparatively recent vintage, and I’m not convinced it’s necessarily replicable in any context, with any team. It seemed quite probable that, compared to Buffalo, he’d have found the Gainey/Carbonneau hockey ethic stifling, seen his production drop, and become displeased. And a discontented Briere in Montreal, locked into a very expensive, very long contract- I shudder at the prospect. It’s all speculation, I know, but it’s not like that hasn’t happened to other small, speedy, stylish, UFA forwards who were supposed to take on the burden of improving the Habs’ scoring… Anyway, so glad that Philly fans now have the ‘fun’ of trying to decide if that contract is brilliant or idiotic. Enjoy.

· People of Edmonton! I send you the Rainbow of Habistan! After nearly two weeks of totally made-up rumors featuring just about every NHL team in turn- Ducks! Wait, no, Sharks! Rangers! Devils? Uh… Lightning?- Souray-jaan finally makes up his mind, indulges his flare for the dramatic and sells his soul to the team voted Most in Need of Something to Cheer Them Up. Is it weird that I’m happy about this? Ecstatic, in fact. Thrilled. Overjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly happy that he’s left the Habs, for verily his slap shot gave me consolation and comfort through many an abysmal game this past season. But once it became abundantly clear that he wasn’t coming back, no way no how, my only real hope was that I wouldn’t have to watch poor Huet face down those freakin’ shots through the coming year. And now, ahamdulillah, he is safely ensconced in a distant division. Treat him well, Oily Folk, he’s a good teammate, a tough player, and at the very least will make your man-advantages considerably more advantageous. May his moments of defensive panic be few and far between, and may medical science rapidly develop increasingly effective replacement arm-parts over the next five years. Good luck and Godspeed, habibi.

· In combination with Bonk going to Nashville, it’s like the Habs didn’t have UFAs this summer so much as they had an assortment of Band-Aids for troubled teams. So why hasn’t anyone taken Johnson yet? Why does nobody want this guy? He’s a sensible, efficient, surprisingly durable defensive winger who’s got to be a bargain by the standards of other free agents out there. After all, he was a +6 for the Habs last year, which is insanely good for the 06-07 Canadiens. According to the Theory of Ice Official Habs Plus-Minus Compensation Conversion™, that should translate to approximately +135 on any remotely sane team.

· If I have learned one thing in the past weeks, it is that the rules of the CBA and the various customs and conventions surrounding it are so ludicrously complex that I will probably have to go get some variety of advanced business degree before understanding them. Until then, I’m going to continue with my previous policy of treating it like a fickle deity which appears intermittently through the year in the form of a crowd of middle-aged men in very nice suits, and via their intercession bashes hockey fans repeatedly on the heads with large rocks. Metaphorically. And like most hockey fans, I will continue making it regular offerings of money in the form of tickets and merchandise purchased, in the vain hope that this will lead to less brutal, or at least less frequent, beatings.

E slithers back into the pit from whence she came, as usual promising to post more frequently in the future. Really, she means it this time.

[P.S. Teebz- I will get around to your meme shortly.]


kazmojo said...

Once again, E, you manage to wrap one event -- in this case, the UFA frenzy -- up in its totality. But let me feed upon a few odds and ends:

- "if we had flashy GM who made the kind of big deals that would entertain us" then that would make us the NY Rangers. Pre-lockout, Glen Sather grabbed about every piece of overpriced talent in the league, but couldn't get them to work together. With the increased cap, I wonder if he's back to his old tricks. You can have a team that oozes skill from each and every line combination, but if you don't have those hockey intangibles, you just don't go very far. Just ask Doug Wilson.

- The youngsters may have only signed for a couple of years because they realize the same thing you do. I'd be willing to bet Gainey offered more years, but they didn't want it. I wouldn't want to be locked into a multi-year contract just when my talents are about to blossom. It's a bit of a risk, should major injury strike (God forbid). But it's probably a good risk to take, insurance plans being what they are. In a couple of years, their production is up, and they get to partake of the UFA insanity that one assumes will only continue.

Of course, this might all be part of my near-blind faith in Bob. Aside from the crazy offer to Souray (I love him, but he wasn't worth that kind of $), in my mind all the right moves were made this summer. And that's a lot for me to swallow, as I was sure Rafalski was the dude we needed on the blue line. Hamrlik looks like he'll fill the void much better.

Teebz said...

Grest post, E. Very solid analysis of the signings and non-signings the Habs made.

While I fear that Hamrlik will be one of those players who fails to live up to any positive expectation, he is reliable and can help a younger offensive defenseman by being reliable in his own end. However, he is a significant downgrade from Souray on the powerplay.

And no rush on the meme, E. Do it at your leisure. :o)