Saturday, 5 October 2013

Almost Like They Listen, Or I Know Stuff #1

Good evening hockey fans. May I divert your gaze to a blog I did at the end of the '11-'12 season? The reason I get straight to the crux of the matter is I don't want to do another blog with ten bullet points. I can now do a shorter one based on the ten previous gripes. Yay. So, if you haven't read the linked text, here's the basics, based on each bullet point from the previous season, factoring in the post-season and summer decision making.

1) Ditch the "Bilingual coach" nonsense.

We didn't. We hired and ex-coach, and I wasn't happy. In fact almost all of the staff we hired were bilingual. But the coach was one I thought presided over an utter shower of shite when he was here before, and I was prepared to give him a shot after my initial disappointment. And he did not let me down.

2) Let the skilled forwards be skilled forwards.

It wasn't always there, but it was a great start. Prinicipally, the emergence of Lars Eller as an offensive threat, the proof that Alex Galchenyuk was (at least initially) a good first pick, and Brendan Gallagher demonstrating he is a direct replacement for Captain Brian Gionta by playing like our "C" did in his prime and being nominated for the Calder Trophy. For the first time in a long time the Habs could roll two scoring lines without looking desperate. We even welcomed Michael Ryder home, let him play his way, and he served us proud.

3) Have some defensemen who look like they could get served in a bar.

PK Subban won the Norris Trophy. He was, as far as I was concerned in 11-12 the only healthy NHL defenseman we had apart from Gorges. Yet we have ended the season with PK as the agreed elite NHL d-man. Gorges was solid. Markov practically came back from the dead. Diaz matured, and we added Davis Drewiske and Doug Murray for the sort of solid, dependable depth we need. My wish for last season was for Jarred Tinordi to get a shot at cracking the line-up, and he did not disappoint. All looks well on the Habs blueline, and the farm doesn't look too shabby either.

4) A General Manager prepared to take risks.

Holy shit! Drafting Alex Galchenyuk, an American recovering from a serious knee op? I don't think you can get a lot bolder than that. Unless you want to insert a 5'9" Giontalike into the line-up. Who then becomes the aforementioned Calder candidate playing alongside that 1st round pick. Marc Bergevin has taken the bull by the horns from the farm up, and openly admitted he uses the Chicago Blackhawks as an example of "how to do it right". I trust the guy. I didn't think I would, but I do.

5) Media acceptance that it's the 21st century...

Oh well, you can't have everything. Montreal is still Montreal...

6) Nail down Staubitz, and for gods' sake sign someone vicious.

Okay, we haven't got Staubitz, but we have signed someone better: George Parros, an undisputed heavyweight and arguably the best enforcer in the NHL these last 5 years. During the season, much of the "bouncer" work was left to the brilliant signing Brandon Prust, who is skilled enough to chip in offensively. We just weren't bullied like we have been for quite some time, and with the drafting of Michael McCarron and Connor Crisp in the spring, we're starting to look a little bit Bruins. And like it or not: that's a good thing.

7) Decidng what to do with Patrick Roy.

Meh. Back with the Avs. I'm quite happy with the Habs front office right now. All they have to do for me, the city, and the worldwide fanbase is improve on last season, and the previous six points all head in that direction.

8) Take the Old Yellers out back and shoot them.

I named Gott Slowmez: he's gone. Matthew Douche: he's gone. Brain (sic) Gionta: he's proved to be the leader the kids need, rather than the must-score must-assist guy he only is in EA NHL-world. Oh, and there was that other guy. The defenseman. Used to be a Laff. Tom something. Tom Cabinet? Something like that. Well, he's gone. Job done.

9) Take a bloody good look at recent Stanley Cup winners.

Done. By a GM with the inside track on a proven formula. And though things in all sports are prone to change, they don't change that much.

10) Not giving me a post-season with 10 bullet-points to rip the team on.

And they didn't. Result. Move along now...

So, to 2014:

I have no real expectations for the season other than an improvement on the last. What the team achieved, from ownership down, was 5-star, and although the end of the season and the brief playoff experience had the press raising their eyebrows and pointing a horrified finger at Carey Price as usual, I consider it a remarkable turnaround; a success.

So, beyond game 2:

You may have guessed now this is a blog I've "held fire" on posting. I really wanted to see how game one went. I didn't think it would go well, to be honest. Playing the Leafs in the first game of the season is always going to be more of a media circus than a true test of either team. Passion and rivalry on display is one thing, but a "game one" situation I think is always a bit like thrashing a car engine first thing on a freezing winter morning. It might be good to hear it's going, but you're not quite sure what damage is really being done.

George Parros got knocked out fighting Colton Orr. By George Parros. No one saw that coming, least of all George!

But losing didn't bother me that much, because one of the things that was quite positive in the press was how we could, technically, roll three scoring lines. The big "?" was apparently putting the youth movement of Galchenyuk-Eller-Gallagher together. Well after game one it seems to be a good decision.

There were obvious questions about defense, but when you look around the league's scorelines I think it's safe to say that the teams that showed good defense didn't really show much in the way of good offense. The fact remains it's really really early for all 29 NHL teams and the Calgary Flames.

I think this might be the tightest season in years, and I'm absolutely certain the Habs have a top 16 team, but the fact remains there are 27 other clubs chasing and studying the Blackhawks franchise. Dammit.