Saturday, May 30, 2009

Time to gloat

Hey everyone, I've been out of the loop for the last little while, but I have a good excuse. My lovely wife Karine gave birth to our second daughter on May 21, and let's just say that took precedent over the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But now that we're at the finals, I can't help but gloat just a smidgen over having picked the two finalists at the beginning of the playoffs. Things like this rarely happen to me, so I have to revel in it when they do.

So, having already picked the Penguins to beat the Red Wings in six games, my work is done.

Seriously though, I do believe the Pens will win for several reasons, but the biggest one is the Red Wings injury situation and the fact that Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are at the top of their games. One of them is almost constantly on the ice for Pittsburgh, making line matchups nearly impossible for Mike Babcock because he can't have Nicklas Lidstrom on the ice for 45 minutes a night.

I like Marc-Andre Fleury in goal over Chris Osgood, even though Osgood is proving once again that he's one of the top money goalies of all time (look up the numbers before you laugh).

Having come so close without winning last year, and with the added incentive of jamming a Stanley Cup victory down Marian Hossa's throat, I think the Penguins will come out on top of a tough series.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Let the Price rumour mill begin

The NHL Conference finals are only one game in, and already the rumours of Carey Price being shipped out of Montreal are starting to swirl in ridiculous proportions.

First, the mere suggestion the Canucks might trade Roberto Luongo rather than lose him to free agency a year from now led people to the natural assumption that a double homecoming would be in order, with Price headed back to his birthplace in exchange for the St-Leonard native.

That was just a little bit silly, but not completely outside the realm of possibility.

But now, we're getting into some real science fiction with Philadelphia's Camden Courrier-Post "reporting" Friday that the Flyers will pitch a far-fetched offer for Price and the negotiating rights to Mike Komisarek that would include Daniel Brière or Joffrey Lupul plus one of James Van Riemsdyk, Luca Sbisa or a 2009 first round draft pick (Philly drafts 21st overall).

First and foremost, as long as Bob Gainey is GM of the Habs I don't think he'll be trading away his "thoroughbred" goalie of the future, not after essentially tanking the season in order to get him some more experience, and not after telling that lovely story of how Darryl Sydor was booed out of L.A. and the Dallas Stars were the beneficiaries of it.

Second of all, even if Gainey were to consider dumping Price at the ripe age of 21, would this be a deal he would be even remotely interested in? One with an underachieving centre that counts $6.5 million on the cap for another six seasons, a contract Brière accepted instead of one offered by Gainey himself? One without a No. 1 goalie coming in return? One involving an Eastern Conference rival that the Habs risk facing in the playoffs? One that doesn't address the Canadiens need for a big top-line centre?

It's beyond ridiculous, and I think it's only the start of what should be a steady stream of equally ridiculous Habs rumours between now and the draft. So consider this a Public Service Announcement: Nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen with this team until the ownership issue is settled, because that will determine what happens to Gainey, which in turn will determine who will be hired as head coach.

Until the first of those dominoes falls, any rumour you hear or read is complete fiction.

What isn't complete fiction, however, is Hall of Fame journalist Bertrand Raymond's column over at the other day where he debunks the notion that Alex Tanguay would not play for Bob Hartley as coach.

When Tanguay's agent Bob Sauvé came out and said his client wants to see who will be the coach before deciding if he will re-sign with the Habs - just days after the client himself said he'd welcome a call from Gainey any time - speculation began that Tanguay would not want to be re-united with his former Avalanche coach Hartley.

Hartley told Raymond that he and Tanguay recently had lunch together and that they are on fine terms, but it should be noted that Tanguay had the best year of his career in terms of points per game the year after Hartley was fired as Avs coach.

Meanwhile, Sports Junior magazine is reporting that Drummondville Voltigeurs head coach Guy Boucher will officially be named the new coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs at the conclusion of the Memorial Cup, which is great news for Habs fans because it will bring a talented, young, homegrown coach into the system. Boucher can spend three or four years being groomed in Hamilton for the head job in Montreal, or he could fall flat on his face and be fired within a year.

Either way, at least the Canadiens won't lose him to another team because that was a distinct possibility with the job he did not only with the Voltigeurs, but also with Team Canada at the world juniors. For those who forgot, Boucher received pretty widespread praise for crafting the lethal Canadian power play, particularly the innovative use of P.K. Subban in the high slot that created major headaches for Canadian opponents. As coach of the Bulldogs, Boucher would once again have Subban as a weapon, unless of course the Subbanator can bully his way on to the Canadiens next season.

Friday, May 15, 2009

On to the Conference Finals

I batted .500 in my second round predictions, with the Bruins and Roberto Luongo letting me down. But at least the two teams I got right are the two I picked to make the Stanley Cup final, which makes my third round predictions a little easier to make. Here goes:

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6)
The Hurricanes proved they were for real by ousting the Bruins, despite blowing a 3-1 series lead and being pushed to a seventh game. The Penguins weren't able to contain Alex Ovechkin in the second round and I don't see them being able to do it to Eric Staal, who won't have Zdeno Chara to contend with on every shift anymore. But the Penguins have firepower to burn and I believe they should be able to get to Cam Ward by bombarding him with pucks. As great as Ward was against the Bruins, he only faced 28.4 shots per game and gave up 17 goals, a save percentage of .915. That's pretty good, but far from dominant. I think the Pens will be far more dangerous offensively than that, and that should be the difference in what promises to be a fast-skating, entertaining series.

Pick: Penguins in 6

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (4)
After getting their top three superstars facing off in the same series in round two, the NHL now gets a match-up of two Original Six franchises in markets with nationwide appeal in the U.S. If either of these teams faces the Penguins in the Stanley Cup final, the league might actually get some decent ratings, assuming the series is on network TV, of course (NBC will broadcast Games 1 and 2 of the Cup final, Versus will have Games 3 and 4 while NBC will do the rest, if necessary. The stupidity of that would be best discussed another day). Anyhow, I haven't been giving the 'Hawks much credit thus far because of their youth, and I'm going to continue that trend here. The Wings are too battle-tested, too familiar with this stage and too talented to lose this series. The 'Hawks have opened my eyes with the way they handled a pretty good Canucks team, but this is the Red Wings we're talking about here, a team with 44 Cup rings on the roster. The Blackhawks have three.

Pick: Red Wings in 6

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another "American" owner?

After Renaud Lavoie of RDS reported Tuesday of Graeme Roustan's interest in purchasing the Habs, Eric Engels of is reporting today that Roustan has a standing offer to purchase the club and the Bell Centre which is going through the approval process right now. In fact, Roustan's name has been floating about for a few weeks now, but it appears to be picking up some steam.
It was interesting to note how RDS headlined its story as "an American" being interested in buying the Canadiens, considering Roustan was born in Sherbrooke and holds a Canadian passport. Maybe it's because Roustan's name doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well in French as Savard or Péladeau.

In any case, I'm personally not sure if Roustan is ahead of Serge Savard's group or the Quebecor bid of Pierre-Karl Péladeau, but seeing as I don't know a whole lot about him I thought I'd check out what he's about. Alex Kovalev will be happy to learn he's a fellow pilot.
I've pasted his bio from the Roustan Capital web site below (note the sentence I have taken the liberty of emphasizing by putting it in bold):
W. Graeme Roustan leads all mergers and acquisitions, recapitalizations, project finance and restructurings for his wholly owned entity, Roustan Capital in the United States. Mr. Roustan also has significant experience in cross-border investments in Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia and continues to search out merger and acquisition opportunities that are a good fit in related entities for his portfolio.
Mr. Roustan was born in Sherbrooke Quebec Canada in 1960 and grew up in Montreal where he played hockey from the age of three. In 1988, Mr. Roustan won a visa in the Department of Justice lottery program and immigrated to the United States in 1988. In 1989, Mr. Roustan was hired on in the San Jose California office of a Wall Street firm while co-founding "Pro Hockey San Jose", a grass roots organization formed to lobby the NHL to locate an expansion franchise in the Bay Area and another group to purchase the franchise. Since that time, Mr. Roustan has placed millions of dollars for clients acting as a private investment banker and for his own portfolio of companies primarily in the arena industry. Mr. Roustan has significant business interests in the United States, Canada, the European Union, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Mr. Roustan is a Florida resident and a dual citizen holding passports from Canada and the United States. In 2005, Mr. Roustan accomplished a life-long dream and became a private pilot. Mr. Roustan purchased a new Cirrus SR22-GTS aircraft and christened it "IVY" after his mother. Mr. Roustan now pilots his Cirrus within North America.
In 1992, Mr. Roustan established Hockey for the Homeless, a 501(c)3 Not For Profit which has produced tournaments and a celebrity hockey game as fundraisers with proceeds going to other entities like Habitat for Humanity. Presently, Roustan Capital provides information technology support free of charge to Equikids to further enable that 501(c)3 Not For Profit, to raise funds for its disabled children therapeutic program in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.
In 2008, Mr. Roustan, along with Kohlberg & Company, acquired Bauer Hockey from Nike Bauer Hockey Inc. Mr. Roustan currently holds the position of Chairman.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On second thought...

...maybe Larry Robinson doesn't need that kind of a headache.

Kudos goes out to colleague Dave Stubbs over at The Gazette for calling RDS on that report of Robinson's interest in the Habs head coaching gig.

Though Robinson is never quoted as saying flat out that he wouldn't want the job, he appears to be pretty reticent to become the head coach here, and who can really blame him?

I think Robinson would be a strong candidate for the job just because he would instill a defence-first style of play that might make life easier for Carey Price in the coming years. But, honestly, it's been nearly four years since Robinson's been the head man behind an NHL bench, and it's probably not the best idea to make a comeback like that in Montreal for someone who originally left the coaching ranks because of stress New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Marc Crawford has confirmed his interest in the job in this interview with blogger Raphaël Gendron-Martin, going to great lengths to stress the presence of Francophones in his life like his mother (a Duval from Chicoutimi, he says) and wife (Franco-Ontarian from Cornwall).

Crawford's track record as a coach is a bit stronger than Robinson's, but he never really accomplished a whole lot coaching teams that didn't have Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic, winning only one playoff round in six full seasons in Vancouver and missing the playoffs twice in that span despite banking on one of the top lines in hockey. It goes without saying that Crawford never made the playoffs in his two seasons in Los Angeles.

That's where Crawford and Robinson cross paths, because they both coached elite teams to the Stanley Cup yet struggled to coach the Kings. And I don't think anyone should really be blamed for that.

But the question is whether or not either Robinson or Crawford could take whatever this Habs team looks like in the fall and turn it into a winner.

Crawford appears to believe the Habs still have a good, young core to build around and sees a bright future for the club, but what else is he supposed to say when he clearly wants that head coaching gig? Robinson, on the other hand, appears to be more willing to discuss an assistant's job, and having someone like him to help the defence is exactly what the Habs lacked this season (among other things).

So maybe the solution is to bring in Crawford as head coach and Robinson as his assistant? Maybe the two of them combined could become the equivalent of one elite head coach. While we're at it, why not also hire François Allaire away from the Ducks as goalie coach and completely rebuild the coaching staff?

It could be exactly what this team needs.

UPDATE: I missed this little nugget of news over the weekend, but apparently Patrick Roy would be willing to listen if the Habs came calling. He told ESPN's Pierre LeBrun as much after meeting with his former agent and Colorado Avalanche president Pierre Lacroix in Denver. Roy as head coach in Montreal, wow. I thought Guy Carbonneau was a good quote, but I have a feeling Roy would easily top him.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Would Carbo work for Bob again? That is the question

Visiting with Guy A. Lepage on Tout le monde en parle is one thing. In fact, it's almost a must, and more than expected.

But Leafs Lunch? Really, Guy?

When Guy Carbonneau agreed to an interview Tuesday with Darren Dreger and Bill Watters on AM 640 in Toronto, it became clear that his campaign to find a job elsewhere in the NHL is in full swing. Off the Record with Michael Landsberg can't be too much further down Carbonneau's agent's list.

Having watched/listened to both interviews, I must say it is one of the few times that Carbonneau said pretty much the exact same thing in English as he did in French. And in the case of both interviews, it wasn't a whole lot.

I mean, Carbonneau answered all the questions that were asked of him, but the ones we really wanted the answers to were the ones he lacked the information to answer. Power to him for not going with his gut feeling and saying he at least suspected that the order for his firing came from the owner's office, and not the general manager's.

I was pretty surprised that he stuck with his original answer from Tout le monde en parle by re-stating that he would be open to a return with the Canadiens. Now, Lepage framed his question by saying that if Bob Gainey wasn't there and the ownership was changed and a few bad apples were removed, then would he consider it. But Lepage didn't have the benefit of knowing that Carbonneau would actually say yes. In fact, he had to assume he would say no, so he must have added those conditions to coax a yes out of him.

Also, in front of a live audience, on a show watched by legions of Quebecers, it was only natural for Carbonneau to say yes. There couldn't have been a more crowd-pleasing answer, and let me assure you after two years of attending his press conferences every day, this man aims to please.

But today, sitting in the comfort of his own home with the perception of anonymity that comes with speaking on radio, and also reaching an audience that couldn't care less whether he came back to coach the Canadiens or not, Carbonneau didn't budge. That means the answer must have some degree of sincerity to it. The only problem I have is that Dreger didn't remove those conditions Lepage used when asking the question, and I'd be interested to know if Carbonneau would come back to coach under Gainey again.

Let's just say that Gainey was indeed told to fire Carbonneau specifically by George Gillett because he saw potential playoff revenue slipping away with each passing loss. If Gillett sells his interest in the team, would that be enough for Carbonneau to consider coming back to work for a man who supposedly betrayed him, who reportedly told him two weeks before firing him that he himself would step down before putting his friend out on the street?

"We had a good relationship, a trust. But I understand the business of hockey," Carbonneau told Dreger and Watters when asked if he and Gainey were close friends. "I didn't expect to be immune from anything, just not that early. Sometimes you have to go through tough times to find out who you are and what you have in front of you. But I didn't expect the first time we faced adversity I was going to get fired."

I don't think Gainey expected it either, which is why I don't feel it's such an implausible scenario to have Gainey reach out to his friend to take his old job back. That's assuming, of course, that Gainey would survive the impending ownership change, one that looks more and more like a foregone conclusion these days.

If that scenario were to come to pass, I'd be very interested to know how long it will take the same people who were chanting his name at the Bell Centre to start booing Carbonneau. I'd say the over/under on that one is about a month.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Canadiens win something!

Well, not yet, but at least Alex Kovalev has been nominated for an award, though it has absolutely nothing to do with what he accomplished on the ice this season.

The NHL announced today that Kovalev is one of the three nominees for the NHL Foundation Player Award, which is awarded to a player "in recognition of his commitment and service to charities in his community."

Kovalev is up against Rick Nash and Dustin Brown, with the winner being announced at the NHL's misguided awards show to be held in Las Vegas on June 18. This at least means that one member of the organization will be present at the awards.

I don't want to belittle the significance of this nomination, as it is recognition of the quiet off-ice work Kovalev does without ever really spouting off about it, unless it's warranted. When asked about his off-ice work in the community at the Habs post-mortem, Kovalev said he prefers that stuff remain quiet and that he be evaluated based on his performance on the ice. I thought it was a pretty genuine answer. Say what you will about the guy on the ice, no one can argue that he's not a caring member of the Montreal community.

Here's the little bio on Kovalev's charitable work provided by the NHL:

"Alex Kovalev has devoted a significant part of his life to helping children in need, both locally and abroad. He created the Kovalev and Friends Foundation for Children which supports the transfer of medical knowledge by having doctors travel to Kovalev’s homeland – Russia – to perform surgeries and teach skills to local surgeons. The Foundation also benefits children in Quebec with heart conditions through summer camps and other initiatives.

"Each season he hosts more than 300 sick and underprivileged children at Canadiens home games in the “Kovy’s Kids Suite” at the Bell Centre, providing them with food, gifts, autographed tuques, games, arts and crafts and visits from alumni and the team mascot. This past season, he raised $12,000 to support the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation by autographing tuques which he helped design and that were sold at a Canadiens home game.

"In March 2008, he released his hockey tips and training methods DVD, donating 100% of the proceeds - $120,000 to date – to the Gift of Life Foundation, an organization whose mission is providing life-saving, open-heart surgeries to children. His first annual golf tournament held in the Montreal region in August 2008 raised $160,000 for his newly created foundation. Kovalev was awarded the 2008 Jean Beliveau Trophy as the Canadiens player who best exemplifies leadership qualities in the community and remitted the $25,000 donation to the Kovalev and Friends for Foundation for Children.

"He continually lends his support to the charitable efforts of the Montreal Canadiens -- including the annual golf tournament, hospital visits, blood drives, festivities with children and meet and greets."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Robinson an ideal candidate

If RDS is to be believed and Larry Robinson is indeed interested in the Montreal Canadiens head coaching gig, then I don't understand what the problem is.

As ideal a candidate Guy Carbonneau was to serve as head coach in Montreal, Robinson is even more so because he's actually been a head coach before. And not only has he been a head coach, but he's been a winning one as well (actually, his career coaching record is 209-217-69-6, but that included four years as coach of a pretty bad Los Angeles Kings team).

Robinson is currently employed as a "special assignment coach" for the New Jersey Devils, which looks like it's the best job in hockey. Pat Burns also has the same title, which allows him to live in Tampa and scout Lightning games at his leisure. The Devils also have Scott Stevens, Jacques Lapperière and Chris Terreri who serve the same function, whatever that function is.

I'm pretty surprised to see RDS reporting that Robinson would be interested in the Habs job because, if memory serves me correctly, he had to leave the coaching ranks because of health issues that were related to the day-to-day stress of the job. If he was stressed coaching in New Jersey, I can't imagine how he would react to the maelstrom of Montreal.

But if he's up for it, Robinson fits all the necessary criteria to serve as Habs coach. He speaks pretty decent French, which was rusty when he was in town for his jersey retirement, but still passable. And it would very likely improve with time just as Bob Gainey's has since he was hired.
Otherwise, his temperament, passion for winning and reputation as both a player and coach make Robinson perfect for the job, assuming he actually wants it. But until I hear Robinson say it himself, and not simply "selon ce que RDS a appris," I still have some doubts that's in fact the case.

I was also extremely pleased to read that the Canadiens have approached Guy Boucher to take over the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Drummondville Voltigeurs head coach has weaved a magical season and coaxed performances out of Yannick Riendeau and Dany Massé that earned the two of them contracts with the Boston Bruins and the Habs, respectively.

Boucher was a guy I was thinking would be a strong candidate for the Montreal job, only to avoid giving it by default to Bob Hartley or Marc Crawford. But in an ideal world, an apprenticeship in the AHL would be perfect for Boucher while he waits for the ideal moment to move to Montreal.

In the meantime, who better to handle the Canadiens job than Larry Robinson?