Monday, December 05, 2011

Swift Judgments

You want concision? Oh, you’ll get concision.

I had a most interesting and informative discussion with Berkshire from EOTP today about quarter-season player evaluations. He’s working on a massive, detailed review of every player, because EOTP is a high-class site and that’s how they roll (will insert a link in this sentence as soon as it’s up). But down here in the internet trailer park that is the blogspot community, we like our player evaluations quick, rough, and dirty. Also, alphabetized.

Cammalleri: The disadvantage of the alphabet is that sometimes it forces one to start from a less than ideal beginning, because there’s not a lot needs saying about Cammalleri so far. I would like to see his production improve a little, but it isn't bad enough to be grounds for either disappointment or concern.

Cole: Is a lot like Cammalleri, but with more luck and easier opposition. Along with Pacioretty and Desharnais he’s moderately (and honestly) overperforming his ice time, and although I have a congenital aversion to UFA signings, I will concede that he was a good one.

Darche: Fourth line is what fourth line is and expectations must be adjusted accordingly, but nevertheless it’s reasonable to ask if the team could get more out of the soft, soft minutes he plays, were they played by… well, someone else. In a perfect world, Darche (or the man in Darche’s role) would be able to take some of the D-zone faceoffs off Gionta/Cammalleri, and thus indirectly help the collective offense.

Desharnais: Every time some commentator references the fact that the Canadiens are a small team, I feel a tiny surge of pride, because that says to me that they’re not susceptible to the occasionally-homoerotic fetishization of ‘BIG’ that plagues certain segments of the NHL elite. This guy is performing as well as Cole at one-fifth the cap hit- a trick I would very much like to see if Gauthier can repeat.

Diaz: It’s often been noted that the Canadiens are the gateway for a lot of Quebecois players/coaches/managers coming into the NHL; what gets less attention is that they’re a bit of a gateway for Swiss players as well. I like the principle behind the recruitment of Diaz, and the transition from the Swiss A-League straight to the NHL has to be one of the hardest leaps for a hockey player to make in a year, especially coming to a team with depleted D; considering all that, he’s holding up pretty well.

Eller: He’s looking better and I think he’s improving but over the season-to-date the boy has been a time-sink. Not as bad as Weber, though, and he gets the young-player-development exception, so we’ll give him till the half-season at least before we say anything cruel.

Gill: Looks, sounds, smells, feels, and probably tastes like a stay-at-home defenseman, and I have a long and depressing track record of misjudging stay-at-home defensemen (I have a Canadiens T-shirt that says ‘Komisarek’ on the back, which I cannot stand to wear any longer for the shame that comes upon me when I see it, but I keep it always as a reminder to myself of the fallibility of my opinions). So where Gill is concerned I’m just gonna say that I like his penalty-killing and I like the fact that he’s played more than two seasons in the NHL, and then I’m just going to shut my big mouth before I say something stupid.

Gionta: There is a Chinese phrase, 苦力, translated literally as ‘bitter labor’, which refers to the difficult, tedious, and unrewarding manual work necessary for any large project to be completed, and also accurately describes what Gionta has to do for the Canadiens. He’s taking the second-most defensive zone draws and facing the toughest opposition and has an ugly .894 on-ice save percentage behind him, and yeah, he doesn’t look half as golden as Plekanec, but he’ll look a helluva lot better if Martin ever stops treating him like a checking forward.

Gorges: The Rivet trade was the first big trade of my tenure as a fan, and I remember distinctly everyone in Montreal treating this dude like Ann Veal when he came in, but that was then and this is now and were it not for Gorges and Subban this team would be so far out of a playoff spot the fans would be demanding that the Canadiens tank for draft picks rather than fire Martin. (N.B.: It is very difficult to think of a cutesy alliterative phrase for deliberate failure which uses the name ‘Yakupov’.)

Moen: The Canadiens have had some terrible luck so far, with injuries and PP%, but Moen has been so lucky it’s almost gauche. One of the things keeping the Habs out of the toilet so far, insha’allah he sustains the unsustainable a little longer, until the other parts come around.

Nokelainen: I have this fantasy of one day finding three hockey players who can play fourth line minutes at fourth line prices and not get killed doing it. Until I find those players, though- or until the Habs find them, more accurately- there’s going to be a Nokelainen on the roster, sadly.

Pacioretty: Let us now sing the praises of Max Pacioretty, who we will indeed refer to affectionately as Patches, for despite that unfortunate incident with Letang and the shoulder he is still most beloved among serving Canadiens. All we can ever ask from our players is that they perform well enough to reimburse the team’s investment in them, but Patches pays it back with interest and dividends and a Christmas bonus.

Plekanec: He’s starting 60% of his shifts against top opposition in the defensive zone and he still leads the team in goals. The underlying possession numbers are not quite as rosy as the results, but the guy looks terrific and at this point I see no reason to argue with success.

Price: Is a very talented goaltender and we are very thankful that we have him.

Subban: Proving time and again that it is possible to be a remarkably mature, competent defenseman while still playing with the attitude of a fourteen-year-old.

Weber: This kid is one of the weakest links on the team right now; he eats up good time at evens and produces very little for it either on the scoreboard or on behindthenet. The fact that he is one of the very few Candiens to have connected repeatedly on the team’s famously shitty power play has bought him some goodwill, but he’s very much a work-in-progress and much depends on where that progress is when the season ends.

One paragraph of narrative: The Canadiens are a good team, but they're also struggling. The injuries on D, ahamdulillah, aren’t showing too badly on defense but they echo through the depth chart in other ways, most notably in the use of oughtta-be ‘first line’ forwards (Gionta/Plekanec/parts of Cammelleri) in defensive roles. The team could benefit from some better defensive-forward depth (glaring at you, Mathieu Darche), but given the injuries it may be short-sighted to pursue that too aggressively on the open market until we see what the team looks like when the wounded return. Moreover, two of the poorest skaters (Eller/Weber) are ongoing development projects. They’re still in the process of becoming the players they will eventually be, and if one isn’t going to have some patience with that process then one best get out of the business of growing young players altogether. You know that cliché about good teams playing through injury? This is what a good team playing through injury and getting killed on power play S% looks like. They’ll get better (results) when they get better (health).

[N.B.: You may have noticed that this list does not seem so very complete. Where, you ask, is Andrei Kostitsyn? Where is Aaron Palushaj? And how could you possibly leave off Louis Leblanc? Fear not, they may appear in later evaluations, but The Theory has a strict policy against committing to any assessment of a player until they’ve appeared in at least twenty games in a season. It is another indication of the Canadiens injury troubles that the list of players who meet that standard is so short.]

[N.B. again: I invite and encourage, nay, dare people to argue with me on this, particularly people with some kind of evidence. Either I'm going to learn something or you will, and isn't that what all of this is for?]


Doogie2K said...

Fail for Nail

Unknown said...

I've always enjoyed Hal Gill. Sure he's not going to light it up time and time again, but what people tend to forget about two years ago when Halak was stopping everything thrown at him was that Hal Gill was completely shutting down the best players on Washington and Pittsburg, and when you look at the players on those teams, it's no small feat.

It also helps that his cap hit is only 2,250,000 which is really easy to swallow even though he's UFA next year.

E said...

doogie- okay, that's obvious. i was so fixated on alliteration i forgot the possibilities of rhyme...

jonathan- i'm planning to rewatch that quarterfinals series against washington two years back, because everyone is still talking about it and i'd like to check the collective memory against reality. i'll pay extra attention to gill, although i still struggle with noticing the things that players make not happen.

Stephan Cooper said...

I disagree with your take on Eller. Martin has focused on getting good wingers for Desharnais (scoring line) and Plekanec (shutdown line) which has usually left Eller to carry the dregs. Whenever the team has been healthy enough to give him Kostitsyn he's done fairly well offensively.

Otherwise his strong defence shows up on his scoring chance for/against which is in the black despite some harsh circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Re Gorges: Who?

Doughboy said...

two bits from a 'saw him good' guy:

1) By eye, before donning a Canadians jersey, Gill was the bane of many a top-flight forward. Can't find it now, but remember reading an article purporting that Gill consistently gave Jagr fits (as reported, purportedly, by Jagr's teammates).

2) Price is money. Sufficient, certainly.

Stephan Cooper said...

I don't think I've ever seen such a gap between what a player does well and what he doesn't in Gill.

He's absolutely genius at defending the high scoring chances areas of the ice, which is the most important skill a defenseman can have and marginally NHL to ECHL level at everything else.

E said...

stephan #1- i see your point, and i agree that perhaps i should give him more credit for staying a shade to the positive. i will say that i don't think his circumstances have been all that harsh, comparative to the team as a whole, and i think he might be getting a bit of a halo effect in the chances/production column from moen's improbable success. but i'll give it more thought and maybe even a post to itself.

anon.- the correct answer is "him?"

doughboy- yeah, i know, gill's value has been attested to by many others. i just recognize that, if they're wrong, i'm not really the person to say so.

stephan #2- out of curiosity, to your eyes, who else in the nhl is the best analog to his skill set? this is something i need to learn more about and i'd probably benefit from a broader base of video to look at.

Stephan Cooper said...

Gill is such an odd duck that its hard to think of immediate comparables. Most other huge defensemen are either goons or hitting specialists with a smattering of elite players (Chara, Myers).

Sutton and Aulie sometimes play like lesser verisons of Gill in the huge guy defends the slot kind of way but no one else does his unique way of closing off entire shooting lanes by lying down.

For extremely good penalty kill defenders that aren't great overall defensemen you could look at Garrison and Weaver in Florida, or Klesa in Phoenix, Zanon in Minesota, Mitchell in LA. Although your familiar with Josh Gorges who is everything a good penalty kill defensemen needs to be (even if a bit undersized for the role).