Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Was the Golden Boy listening?

Seeing Travis Moen playing alongside Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta for much of Saturday night's loss in Edmonton was surprising, but within a game, and so early in the season, you couldn't blame Jacques Martin for trying to think outside the box a little.

But Tuesday, Moen was back on that line at practice, and my initial reaction was that this is not the mandate he was brought here to fill. Moen's greatest offensive season in the NHL was 21 points in 82 games with Anaheim in 2006-07, the same year they won the Cup. Even in junior, his best output was only 27 points.

But Martin's reasoning for the move Tuesday was actually a little glimpse into the possible hidden motivation behind it, at least in my eyes. Martin said Moen will be useful because of his willingness to go to the front of the net and create traffic, which will be an important factor in improving the team's even strength scoring.


Isn't there a young player on the Canadiens with size and infinitely better hands than Moen who could have been called on to fill that role? Isn't there a young player who continuously talks about his need to go to the front of the net, yet never does? Isn't there a young player who openly lobbied for a top-six role on the team on the very first day of training camp, but then was passed over after showing little to justify such a promotion?

I wonder if Guillaume Latendresse was watching Martin's press conference, and since he most likely wasn't, hopefully he gets the message Martin is not-so-subtly sending him.

This is a job that was there for the taking for Latendresse, yet he lost it in camp to Max Pacioretty, and when he didn't work out Martin opted for a bruiser with no hands.

Latendresse has topped Moen's career high in points in each of his three NHL seasons, and no one will argue that Moen is the more offensively gifted player. But there are two areas of Moen's game where he excels: work and desire.

If rewarding those traits with a first line role isn't a message to Latendresse, I don't know what is. And if Latendresse doesn't get that message, it's entirely possible he never will. I remember clearly last pre-season when Latendresse spoke glowingly of the Red Wings' Tomas Holmstrom and how he would be a perfect player to pattern his own game after. It never happened. While Latendresse sometimes like setting up shop in front of the net, he never stays there very long, preferring to drift up to the slot or to the side of the net to be in a better position to shoot.

That is not very Holmstrom-like. In fact, it's not even very Moen-like, which is why Latendresse sees himself pigeon-holed into a third line role. It's something that will not change until he not only realizes what it is that's expected of him, but until he actually starts delivering on those expectations.

Meanwhile, Tuesday curiously saw the emergence of a controversy surrounding Georges Laraque's appearance in a racy Internet ad for some alcoholic energy drink. I understand the ad is not exactly something that would make Gloria Steinham proud, but it's not as if it's the first time women have been objectified in a commercial for an alcoholic beverage.

That doesn't make it OK, but there is a pattern established here, and to attack Laraque for perpetuating that pattern is not entirely fair. It is even less fair when some of the admonishment comes from the NHL itself, a league that thrives on beer sponsorship dollars, yet has a provision in its collective bargaining agreement that forbids players from endorsing that beer. Is that not the ultimate in hypocrisy?

In case you're one of the only people in the hockey universe not to have seen the ad yet, here it is:

Finally, it was Shawn Belle that was called up from Hamilton on Tuesday to replace Yannick Weber and not Marc-André Bergeron. I understand Bergeron needs to get into game shape and that Weber was a bit of a disaster out west, but considering the Habs power play woes, would it not have been worth a little look to see what P.K. Subban can do? Just asking.


TK said...

I think Shawn Belle deserves a call up. Granted, Belle is no offensive specialist by any means. But he has been patiently working hard in the AHL since last season, and his game is built around simplicity. From what I've seen of him in Hamilton, he doesn't try to do too much, and I think that may help his transition to the NHL.

Subban will be great one day, but not this year. I really don't want the organization to rush this one. I think at least one full year in the AHL will be perfect for his development- maybe two years even.

As for Belle, here's hoping the habs have a late bloomer on their hands.

Anvilcloud said...

I have been a Lats supporter of sorts, but I also wonder if he'll ever get really it. I mean what's so hard about going to the front of the net? While I understand that it's not a picnic there, it doesn't seem like a terribly difficult concept: skate to the front of the net and fight for space.

About Weber: at some point we have to understand that virtually no one is ready when they come up. Regardless of how they have done in the A, there will still be a learning curve. I have no idea if Weber is ready or not, but even if and when he is there will still be a curve to navigate. Are we the stupidest team in the league for developing players? We seem to vacillate between rushing some and grinding the life out of others by keeping them down there for too long.

I'm not sleeping and therefore am testy tonight. :)

pmk said...

lats is chad kilger part 2

Anonymous said...

benching kostitsyn and putting moen on the top line sound eerily familiar. not loving it.


Sliver24 said...

I feel like this is the fourth or fifth time you've posted the sane blog entry about Latendresse.

Even if he's as dumb as a post he would have gotten the message by now if he was ever going to.

I think it's time we accept the fact that he'll likely spend his career as a very good third-liner that periodically fills in on the top six.

As for Weber, I'm with Anvilcloud. Like I posted here last week, I think for him to succeed he needs a stable partner and a reasonable timeline (eight or ten games).

Playing him in two games and then sending him down is a great way to kill his confidence.

MathMan said...

The problem with turning Lats into Tomas Holmstrom is this: he actually can shoot it from the slot and score. His game is different from Tomas Holmstrom's, and I'm not sure trying to change it will make him into a better player.

I think trying to turn him into a pure screener/rebounder might be doing him a disservice. He has to do it, frequently, sure, but he has the strength and shot to fight for position in the slot, too, and score from there. He also has pretty good vision and passing skills, though they've been talked about less and less over the years as he was subjected to the go-to-the-net leitmotiv.

The thing that people sometimes don't realize about Lats is that he has been an highly effective goal-scorer at evens ever since his sophomore season, one of the best on the Habs, in fact. This goes by absolute totals as well as rate statistics. He must be doing *something* right, even if his detractors won't deign to admit it. By forcing him to radically alter his game 5-on-5, you really do run the risk of reducing his effectiveness, so it must be done with care.

At any rate, I think Moen on the first line is more a matter of even-strength matchups than sending hidden messages to young players. Gomez's line is rightly going to face the toughest opposition game in and game out, and Moen is reliable in that role. I don't think they're expected to rack up points like a classic first line. The Plekanec line, OTOH, is expected to rack up points against the softer bits of the opposing roster; Pleky and Kost were strong scorers at evens in 07-08, and so was Cammalleri even though he has traditionally been more of a PP specialist. The third-line is meant to be a grinding 5-on-5 line, and having Lats on there might have less to do with what Lats can or cannot do in the top six than it does with the idea that the line would be offensively crippled without him.

I'm sure Martin is well aware that Lats is the superior offensive player to Moen as he puts him on the second power play wave (which actually is a bit surprisingly since if there's one thing Lats has never done well, it's produce on the PP).

In closing... I'm not pleased at all that Lats and Lapierre are treated as if they're joined at the hip since they don't have a future together in the long term. The handling of Latendresse is puzzling to me, but that may be because I view him as one of the team's more effective 5-on-5 scorers (based on past production) and others seem to base their opinions of him on subjective examination that doesn't consider statistical factors.

Dik Irvin said...

I have accepted the fact the Lats will be an eternal 3rd liner, a pretty good one albeit. We need to see some top picks develop into something, time's a wasting, tick, tock...
Now the whole city can really see why Gainey opted for Markov over Souray, Streit, Rivet et all in years past. I would've kept Weber here for at least 10 games, regardless, nhl experience is priceless, confidence is sacred. Didn't we go thru those motions last year with Obyrne? Why not Weber?

Sliver24 said...

Another thing about Latendresse: He's the hardest hitter on the team, bar none. I hate the fact that he stops finishing his checks when he's playing on a big line.

DAS Concepts said...

Mr. Basu,

I have one suggestion for you. Go research how many rookies with no NHL experience have played a regular shift with Detroit. You'll find that the Red Wings consistently produce good and great NHL talent through their farm system. They do not make blockbuster deals, although they do sign top free agents from time to time (because good players want to win). What they do is develop their young players though Junior and especially in Grand Rapids. When they call up guys (recently) like Justin Addelkader, Darren Helm, Ville Leino, Valtteri Filppula etc. etc. they are all ready to play in the NHL. They don't need much on the job training such as the long line of Habs players who have had to do it in the NHL. Just look at Latendresse, Sergei, Max Pac, Carey Price and the list goes on. Don't suggest we do the same to one of our potentially brightest prospects in PK. Think before you Blog. I generally like what you write. In some cases (like this) I REALLY don't.

subdoxastic said...


A genuinely enjoyable read.


After reading this post and the comments regarding it and I had an argument with myself. The following is the result.

BEGINNING: Is it possible that Latendresse is both : "a third liner," and that "he is an effective goal scorer at even strength" (as the, stats, I'm told, suggest)?

Trying to reconcile these two camps means acknowledging both aspects of measurement.

Those who flippantly denigrate Latendresse's contribution to the team are refusing to acknowledge the production his play has generated for the team.But equally at fault are those who would ignore qualitative observations.

We must acknowledge both viewpoints help to inform our (hypothetical) opinion on a player's tactical worth to the team. I say hypothetical because we are not in control of the experiment and, as such, do not have to contend with the level of nuance expected of professional coaches in a professional league. I have to think that means when looking at a coach's line-up it has to be accorded a little respect. As has already been noted, Martin does have him on the 2nd wave of the Power Play.

I realize this argument will do little to entice itself to the quantitative camp, while the "third liner” camp may be slightly mollified. Despite this, I am willing to contend that we have a third line player with good goal production at even strength.

Anticipating that this will not be enough for the more extreme of either camp, I propose that further discussion be postponed until we consult the data that shows Latendresse's goal production at even strength with different combinations of line-mates and the quality of opposition he faced-- both this season and last.

The article was well written and the comments were insightful and well though out. Minus more stats or a different experience of Latendresse's play, I'm comfortable in my understanding of Latendresse's performance so far. He's failed to impress at the elite level, but has fared very well (particularly this past season) in producing points at a rate commensurate with his current role.

This may change. I for one would love for Latendresse to start changing things tonight at the home opener.