...you've been missing out. Here's one from a loyal reader (and one of my best friends, BTW) that I thought was too insightful not to have on the main blog:
Watching the game last night, before the wheels fell off, I was thinking to myself that I couldn't help but be jealous of the team that Flames fans have to root for. I don't watch that many Flames games but they strike me as a group of guys that will do anything for each other and for the team.
I commented to my wife that the Flames are almost like an NHL version of a Team Canada World Juniors team.I was reminded of my thought while I read today's entry so I looked up their roster (http://www.nhlnumbers.com/overview.php?team=CGY&season=0809). I was absolutely blown away by what I saw.
Take a look at the flags and you see a team made up almost entirely of Canadians. There are four Americans on the team, however one of those is Andre Roy who was born in New York but raised in the Montreal area. The team has a single European player on its regular roster - goalie Mikka Kiprusoff.
Let’s do the math here. On a 22 player roster that's 18 Canadians, three Americans and a Finn. I’ve always believed that having a lot of Europeans on a hockey team is a bad thing. Before you get carried away with your PC madness, let me qualify that statement.
I think we all can agree that hockey is unique, at least in major North American sports, in the sense that a team is much more than simply the sum of its parts. In football, basketball and especially baseball you can “buy” a championship-contending team by simply getting an all-star-calibre player to fill each position. Every attempt to do so in hockey has failed miserably (see Rangers, New York and Maple Leafs, Toronto – pre-lockout).
So how does one foster the intangible qualities required to make a hockey team successful? Properly answering that question would take more time and space than I’m willing to put into it, but let me say this. Starting with a group of guys that largely have the same cultural background and social values is going to help a lot.
Although it’s undoubtedly over-generalizing, I’d split the vast majority of NHL players into three broad categories: North Americans, Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians. Each of these hockey “regions” is associated with a certain traditional style of play. The North American style is simple, hardnosed, fast paced hockey. Russians are known for their flashy, offensively creative game. Scandinavians have traditionally played a technically sound and often innovative style.
Calgary has a style. It is one that was consciously chosen by the GM. That GM hired a coach that believes in using the same style. The GM also evaluated the players he inherited, kept the ones that fit into his system and ditched the ones that didn’t work out (i.e. Alex Tanguay).
Does that mean Calgary can’t ever have any Europeans? Of course not. But it would have to be the right European. Saku, as an example, would fit right in. In fact he’d probably score 100 points playing with Jarome Iginla. How long do you think Alex Kovalev, on the other hand, would last on the Flames? This despite the fact that he and Keenan have a Cup-winning history together? In all likelihood we’d never have the chance to find out because Sutter would see that despite his indisputable talent, Kovy just wouldn’t fit in so he wouldn’t pick him up regardless of the cost (in players or dollars).
The problem with the Habs, as I see it, is that they don’t have a definable identity this season. Last season they played an overall Eastern European style, playing a relatively wide-open game, scoring jaw-dropping goals and relying on special teams to make a difference. In the offseason they added some size and toughness, which I thought at the time was a good thing. On top of that since the beginning of the season two young North Americans from the minors have become an important part of their top-nine forwards. Finally, they’ve placed more focus on defensive play, as can be demonstrated by their 0FC defensive strategy. But do any of those changes really compliment the style that was successful for them?
Furthermore, last season’s Habs were a dark horse team that wasn’t expected to be successful. This season they were picked by many pundits to finish first in the East and make a run for the cup. Of the three geographical styles I described above, the Eastern European style is without a doubt the worst suited to deal with the kind of pushback you’ll get from NHL teams that are coming into games ready to play an “elite” opponent.
So, what is the Style of the 100th Anniversary Montreal Canadiens? What is their identity? I don’t know. What’s worse, I don’t think anyone on the team knows either.
At this point I say they go run & gun and hope for the best.
MY TWO CENTS
The only argument against what Sliver is saying, and it's a big one, is the Detroit Red Wings. However, the makeup of the Red Wings is largely from his "Scandinavian" group of styles, so it does jive with his argument that it's a good idea to build a team where the majority of players share the same cultural history.
Food for thought, and interesting ones at that. I've always wondered what the Habs social scene is like on the road, because I somehow don't see Andrei Kostitsyn and Tom Kostopoulos hanging out much.