Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Price for Price

Carey Price is unquestionably one of the best goaltenders in the world right now.  He's a Vezina and Hart Trophy winner. He led Canada to Olympic gold. He was a high first-round draft pick and a world junior gold medalist. The man is the real deal; a legit superstar.

The only prize of significance Price has yet to win is the Stanley Cup. And one can argue he never will as long as he's in Montreal. General manager Marc Bergevin has had five years to take advantage of Price's prime and build a championship calibre team around him. Most would agree he's failed to do that. The Habs are not the Penguins or Blackhawks. That's why now is the right time to trade Price.

The Canadiens have been trying to improve at the centre position for years now, but due to poor first-round drafting and suspect development of its prospects, the club has stagnated. A big reason for that is a chronic lack of tradeable assets. When you draft mediocre players it's tough to move them for players of greater value. You can't trade draft picks when you need them desperately yourself. And, when the roster is full of underperformers, it means potential trade partners want more than the diminutive winger who hasn't scored in twelve games with whom you're willing to part.

To really gain, you have to give, and the Canadiens have little to give that would bring a significant return. The one enticing piece they could offer right now is Price. Even though he struggled for a lengthy period this season and has missed serious time with injuries in the last couple of years, his reputation as one of the best money goalies in the league persists. Teams close to a Cup, but missing that security in net, would be potential trade partners and the return would be high.

There is a compelling case to move Price now. First of all, as a butterfly-style goalie with a history of joint injuries, his body's warranty is not unlimited. Turning thirty this summer, he may have two years or five of healthy play ahead of him. He may also end up with a debilitating injury in training camp next fall. He's not infallible and if he's hurt long-term, he's no good to the Canadiens and his return in a trade will drop precipitously.

The second issue the Canadiens will have with Price is his next contract. He's got one year left with a cap hit of 6.5-million dollars, which, when you consider his role on the team and his contributions to it, is extremely reasonable. However, after next year, he'll be looking for lifetime security. He doesn't know, any more than we do, how long his body will hold up. At 31, a five or six-year deal will take him into his declining years even if he remains healthy. So, he'll likely be looking for the kind of money most teams' best players make. That's not unfair, but Bergevin has to be careful about ending up in a Luongo trap.

Back in 2010, the Canucks signed Luongo to a twelve-year, 64-million dollar contract. At the same time, a young Corey Schneider was proving himself as an up-and-coming star. The Canucks would have loved to move Luongo to save the cap space and make room for Schneider, but the former's contract made him untradeable. In the end, Schneider got traded because he needed to play to fulfill his potential. Later when the collective bargaining agreement allowed salary retention, Luongo went to Florida and the Canucks ended up with neither of their star goalies; replacing them with an aging Ryan Miller and three out of the last four years with no playoffs.

The Canadiens now are in a situation in which the goalie is the undisputed best player on the team. That means he has the most value. Watching the team in this playoff, in which one or two goals against are enough to lose a game, it's proof Price needs to go in exchange for a variety of pieces that will improve the team. After all, teams have won the Cup with decent, not star, goalies. But they've rarely won with ONLY a goalie.

So, what's fair value for Price? Any team trading for him must, at the very least, offer its first-round pick. Then, considering the Habs dearth of useful prospects, there must be two solid prospect offers. One on forward and one on defence. A third-or-fourth line NHLer wouldn't be out of the equation either.

Any way you look at it, Price's time of usefulness is coming to an end. A smart GM would realize that a team's best player can't be its goalie without other players to back him up. On the other hand, you CAN have a solid team with a merely decent goalie. If Bergevin can come to the logical conclusion, Price will move and the return for him will be the foundation of the next Cup.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Price of Getting Shellacked

Michel Therrien has done many dumb things in his NHL coaching career. Questionable overuse of mediocre players like David Desharnais, a failure to make tactical adjustments other than rearranging his line combinations and over-reliance on slowing veterans are chief among them. None of those obvious shortcomings have imperiled his position with his boss, Marc Bergevin.

In another city, with another GM (see Pittsburgh, 2009), Therrien likely would have been replaced after a season like last year's. In Montreal, under Bergevin, however, Therrien has the enviable safety net of the best goalie in the world saving the team from disaster on a regular basis, and thereby glossing over the coach's failures. It's fair to say, based on the Habs record with and without him, Price is Therrien's ticket to job security.

During the 10-0 dismantling of the Habs by the Columbus Blue Jackets, though, Therrien might have finally made a fatal error. Leaving Al Montoya in net for all ten Jackets goals humiliated the veteran goalie who obviously wasn't having a good night. While it's understandable for Therrien to want to give Price the night off and protect him from risking injury in what had become a meaningless game, Price had other ideas.

As the score mounted and became more and more embarrassing, Price got up half-way into the second period and went to the tunnel to stretch. And stretch. Nobody told him to do so, but, like everyone else watching Montoya's embarrassment, Price assumed Therrien would show mercy and replace the guy. Price, the real leader of the Canadiens, was frustrated and upset by the way things were going on the ice and he wanted to get in there to help stop the bleeding. When that didn't happen; when the coach left his goaltending partner to serve out the whole mortifying sixty minutes without relief, Price could not have been happy.

Whenever a team takes the kind of nosedive last year's Habs did, we say the coach has "lost the room," but Therrien managed to survive that because he had the "Price was injured" excuse to protect him. Now, with Price healthy and playing at the top of his game, Therrien has a bigger concern. When he threw Montoya under the bus, he risked losing Price's support. And if he loses Price, he really has lost the room.

Max Pacioretty may wear the "C," but Carey Price is this team's captain. While it's not in his nature to quit just because he dislikes the coach, his opinion will influence his teammates. After that embarrassment in Columbus, he can't be thinking happy thoughts about Therrien. And that may be the dumbest thing Therrien has ever done.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Not Not the Habs Coach

The Scene: Marc Bergevin's office, June 1, 2016. Michel Therrien enters and takes a seat.

Therrien: Hi Marc. Thanks for the new golf gloves. I guess we'll give 'em a good workout with all the hockey we're not playing this summer, eh? Heh heh.

Bergevin (gritting teeth): Yeah. About that, Mike...

Therrien (grinning vapidly): Listen, before you say anything, I know things could have been better this year. But Pricer was hurt and then with everything else...well, you can't replace a player like that.

Bergevin (softening): I know Carey's loss hurt the team...

Therrien: Oh, yeah. Of course. But I was talking about when Davey hurt his foot. I mean, you just can't take him out and expect the offence to work. What was I supposed to do? Play Chucky at centre?!

Bergevin: Yeah. Anyway...I asked you here today because I wanted to tell you some great news.

Therrien: What is it?! Let me guess! You're trading P.K.?! No! Eller! Those guys bug me so much...

Bergevin (looking guiltily around): No! No, of course not. I'm not trading those guys. They're part of our core. No, it's about you, Mike.

Therrien: I know my rights! I have two more years at full pay, and you pinky swore you wouldn't do this! I've still got those pictures, you know!

Bergevin: No, no, you're not getting it! I'm not firing you. I'm giving you a promotion!

Therrien: Oh. Well, that's more like it. But, I like coaching. I get to wear my good ties and look smart on TV.

Bergevin: I know you do. But this is so much better. You, Mike, are going from coach to...figurehead!

Therrien: Hey! That's not a promotion. I'm not that dumb!

Bergevin: I know that! Just listen. When the Vikings conquered half of Europe, they ruled the seas and struck fear into the hearts of opponents. Leading the way were the fierce, terrifying figureheads of their ships. People saw them and just threw down their swords. Now, isn't that something to be proud of?

Therrien: I guess. But...

Bergevin: I'm not done. Think about the Queen of England. Or the Emperor of Japan. They're rich, famous, honoured. But you know what? They're also figureheads. Now, who wouldn't want to be in that company?

Therrien (showing a little more enthusiasm): Okaaaay.

Bergevin: It's like this, Mike. A lot of people hate you. And I know that hurts your feelings deeply. I want to take the burden of making hard decisions like who to put on the PP and when to take your time out off your shoulders. You've been around too long and have done too much to have those kinds of grunt problems on your plate.

Therrien: Well, it's true I could use some support, for sure.

Bergevin: That's the spirit! And the best part is, you can still wear your nice ties and talk to the media in French. You just won't have to do all that boring game prep and period-to-period adjustment stuff.

Therrien: Weeelll...if I still get to be on TV, I guess that's okay. But who's going to do all the boring stuff?

Bergevin: I know it's going to be super hard to find anyone as good at it as you are, but leave it with me and I'll find someone. I'm sure there's got to be a guy out there somewhere who doesn't mind being a lowly coach.

Therrin (rising to leave): Thanks, Marc. You've totally made my day. I can't wait to tell the family I'm going to be the Habs new figurehead.

Bergevin: Hey! Not just any figurehead. You're the first one in the history of this proud franchise. I wouldn't have given it to just anyone!

Therrien: Awww! Buddy! See ya on the golf course!

Therrien leaves. After a beat, Bergevin hits a number on his phone.

Bergevin: Okay, Kirky. It's all set. The newser is at 2:00 tomorrow. We're going to call you an "associate," but you know the deal right?

Kirk Muller: Yep. See ya in the playoffs!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Cult of Personality

When my youngest child was a pre-schooler, she was extremely energetic. All. The. Time. You'd wake up, bleary-eyed early on Sunday morning and she'd be standing there beside your bed with her fork in her hand asking chirpily, "Can you make me waffles?" Followed shortly by, "Let's go on a family outing!" Or  "I want to make my own kite. I have some string!" Ignoring her was not an option because her sheer will made her something of a force of nature. She wasn't rude or angry; just persistent and enthusiastic. She was a pint-sized tornado in a jar, and the jar was my house.

A child like that can be a wonderful gift.  It can also be exhausting. On one hand, you'll go places and do things you never imagined you would at the start of the day, and that joy can be infectious. On the other, sometimes you're just not in the mood. At those times, you just wish there was a pause button or a volume control you could press to get five minutes of peace. It's an impossible wish, though, so you learn to adapt your life and your family to embrace the little whirlwind because you love her. 

When that whirlwind leaves the family and becomes an adult in a workplace, not everybody embraces him or her. Without the love and acceptance of long, tolerant acquaintance, that in-your-face, joyful person quickly becomes annoying. Constant energy, rather than positively charging others, can become obnoxious when it intrudes on their mood. I think of this when I contemplate the P.K.Subban trade.

From a hockey perspective, I'm not sure the Canadiens got the best of the bargain. Subban is younger than Shea Weber, which, in an increasingly young league, should have been a bargaining chip for youth in return.  Subban's game is built on speed and agility which are two valuable elements at a time when speed and agility make you hard to defend and can win you a Cup. Weber is about toughness, solid positioning and a heavy shot. Those are valuable assets too, but weather differently than Subban's gifts. Both players add something to a team. Only the passage of games will determine whether the addition of Weber weighs heavier in the asset column for the Canadiens than the subtraction of Subban lightens it.

In terms of money management, Subban carries a higher cap hit for a shorter time, which is appropriate for a younger player with a Norris Trophy to his credit. Weber's $7.85-million cap hit is cheaper than Subban's in the now, and his six-million actual salary over the last four years of his deal, without an accompanying no-movement clause makes him tradeable if he's no longer in the Canadiens' plans. Essentially, money-wise, assuming both players work out the length of their contracts, the trade's a wash.

Much of the outrage surrounding the trade comes from perceptions that, over time and with repetition,  became unshakable truths. Subban was one of the players whom, if you'd asked any fan to name the Canadiens' untouchable core, would be immediately mentioned. He was meant to be a pillar during this "window" for winning the Cup. There's also the perception that management didn't appreciate him or really like him that much. And there's a perception that his race or his attention to his personal brand contributed to those feelings.

Of course, had he remained with the Canadiens, Subban would have still been one of the players around which the team is anchored. However, replacing him with Weber doesn't mean the team is adrift. It just means there's a different anchor. In the anger over the loss of Subban, people are missing the truth that Weber is an elite player as well.

In regard to management's dislike of Subban, I think there's truth in that, but I don't believe it had anything to do with race or activity outside the team. For fans, who only saw Subban's antics through carefully released video vignettes, he was a one-of-a-kind character. His big heart was on display when he dressed up as a security guard to surprise underprivileged kids. His million-watt smile lit up every crushed velvet suit and fedora he wore. He was a breath of fresh air that blew through a stagnant, cliche NHL like the first open window of spring. However, for those who spent all their time practicing and playing with him, attending meetings and travelling with him...working with him...I suspect Subban came across less like a bracing breeze and more like a tornado in a jar.

Sometimes, when my youngest child is bored or tired or not getting the attention she requires, she cranks it up a notch. She pokes her brother and sister just to get a reaction. They poke back and there's squabbling and cries of "Can you just SHUT UP?!" I can't deny, on those days, when she's finally in bed and quiet, the atmosphere in the house changes to something approaching serenity. Although we love her dearly and she adds something special to our home, it's occasionally a relief when she's turned off.

I imagine what it must be like when you work with someone so high-energy, for years at a time. At first it's funny. Then it's a bit irritating. Then, with repetition, it goes from outright annoying to unbearable. I can see how moving that person to another location, just for a change in atmosphere might be possible. I don't know if Subban's approach to life contributed to a deterioration of his relationship with the Canadiens, but I can understand it if it did.

Marc Bergevin has decided to change the direction and tone of his team by replacing Subban with Weber. It's a message to the league that the Canadiens will be bigger, stronger and tougher. They'll also be slower, more conservative and less flashy. They'll be better suited to playing the style Michel Therrien likes. Whether that style is out of step with the direction in which NHL competition is heading is up for debate. Likewise, whether the Canadiens will regret keeping the conservative coach rather than the exciting player will be analysed to death in the coming months and years.

One thing is sure: if Shea Weber helps bring a Stanley Cup to Montreal, nobody will care about his analytics performance or his foot speed. And few will give much thought to whatever P.K.Subban is singing at the karaoke bar in Nashville. Right now, Bergevin's trying to build a winning team and his decision to send the high-energy, passionate kid on a permanent time-out must be evaluated by the gimlet eye of hindsight.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How the Coach Stole Playoffs

Every Hab down in Habsville liked playoffs a lot...

But the coach, who was just north of tubby, Did NOT!

The coach hated playoffs! The whole playoff season!

Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.

It could be, perhaps, that his suits were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all,

May have been that his brain was two sizes too small.

Whatever the reason, his brain or his suit,

He stood there at playoff time, Habs chances moot.

Staring out from his bench with a sour, grumpy frown,

As the banners above spoke of teams of renown.

He knew every Habs fan was there at the wickets,

Standing ready to purchase next season's tickets.

"And they're buying their jerseys!" he snarled with a sneer,

"Next month is playoffs! And they want us here!"

Then he growled, with his short fingers nervously drumming,

"I MUST find some way to stop playoffs from coming!"

For in April, he knew, all the Habs girls and boys,

Would wake bright and early; dust off their Habs toys!

And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise!

Noise! Noise! Noise!

That's one thing he hated! The NOISE!


Then all fans, young and old, would throng into the Bell.

And they'd yell! And they'd yell! And they'd YELL!


They would yell at Ovechkin, and at Bergeron too.

Which the coach loved as much as a stone in his shoe!

And THEN they'd do something he liked least of all!

Every Habs fan in Habsville, the tall and the small,

Would stand close together, with rafters a-ringing.

They'd stand side by side. And the fans would start singing!

They'd sing! And they'd sing! And they'd SING!


And the more the coach thought of this fan playoff sing,

The more the coach thought, "I must stop this whole thing!"

"Why, for four long, long years I've put up with it now!"

"I MUST stop this playoff from coming! But HOW?"

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!


"I know just what to do!" The coach laughed in his throat.

And he drew up a powerplay, starting to gloat.

And he chuckled, and clucked, "What a great sneaky trick!"

"I'll use Davey to start to be sure it won't click!"

"All I need is a scapegoat..." The coach looked around.

But really terrible players didn't abound

Did that stop the old coach? No! The coach simply said,

"If I can't find a scapegoat, I'll make one instead!"

So he called his dog, Lars, who responded with dread.

"If you make a mistake, then it's all on your head."

THEN he loaded some scrubs and some old tired hacks,

On a ramshackle special team,  leaning on Max.

Then the coach said, "'Ard! 'Ard" And the team started down,

From the top of the heap to the shame of the town.

The fans' outlooks were dark. Quiet fear filled the air.

As the GM was dreaming sweet dreams without care.

And the coach kept on filling round holes with the square.

"Don't you second-guess me," the old vacant coach hissed,

And his face turned bright red as he shook his fat fist.

Then they slid down the standings, past Caps and the Rangers.

But no one in management recognized dangers.

He got stuck only once, for a moment or two.

Then he set up his team to take less than their due.

Where the Stanley Cup banners all hung in a row.

"This goalie," he grinned, "is the first thing to go!"

Then he played Price too soon, with a smile most unpleasant,

'Til he went down for good thanks to the old peasant.

Pop guns on offence! Defence that's all thumbs!

No forecheck! No backcheck! They all played like bums!

They lost more and more games. Then the coach, very nimbly,

Defended his methods in French, although dimly!

Then he revamped the lineup from  greatest to least.

And he managed to plummet to low in the East.

Bergie cleaned out that roster, no more Weise or Flash.

Fans bemoaned the unpalatable plate of Habs-hash!

When the coach said "Be happy! I'll play all the kids now,"

And still Chucky played less time than DD somehow.

As the coach kept on making the same old mistakes,

The Habs bandwagon kept on downhill without brakes.

With Desharnais out and Chuck still on the wing

(For no one could replace the old coach's offspring,)

Somehow the young guy started scoring nice points,

Proving he who's the best isn't who coach anoints.

And fans stared at the coach and said, "Therrien, why,”

"Why are you wrecking our playoff chance? WHY?"

But, you know, that old coach was so oily and slick,

He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!

"Why, my dear loyal fans," the incompetent lied,

"There's a gap on this team, see there on the right side."

"And our goalie is out; he's our best hope for wins."

"And there's P.K., who's guilty of multiple sins."

And his lies fooled the press. Then he smirked and stepped back,

And had high octane beer before hitting the rack.

The fans went to sleep with no hope of a Cup,

While the coach cashed his paycheck, living it up.

The last thing he took was the torch's bright fire!

With lots of excuses and whines,  the old liar.

In the room he left nothing but hooks and some wire.

And the one speck of hope that he left in the Bell,

Was that this season's sounding the coach's death-knell.

Then the GM did something no one expected

Announcing, from his view, the coach was protected.

It was quarter past deadline... most Habs still were Habs.

While fans wished for the coaching staff laid out on slabs.

They packed up the season, the hoping and dreaming

The fun and the laughter, the cheers and the screaming.

Seven floors up the Bell,  where the managers live,

They all knew that the team just had no more to give.

"PoohPooh to the fans!" coach was gleefully humming.

"They're finding out now that no playoffs are coming!"

"They're just waking up! I know just what they'll do!"

"Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,

Then the fans down in Habsville will all cry BooHoo!"

"That's a noise," grinned the coach, "That I simply MUST hear!"

So he paused. And the coach put his hand to his ear.

And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.

It started in low. Then it started to grow.

But the sound wasn't sad! Why, this sound sounded angry!

It couldn't be so! But it WAS angry! ANGRY!

He stared down at Habsville! The coach popped his eyes!

Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every fan down in Habsville, the tall and the small,

Was chanting! Without any playoffs at all!

He HADN'T stopped playoffs from coming! SO LAME!

Somehow or other, fans yelled just the same!

And the coach, with his cheap shoes ice-cold in the snow,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?"

"They chant without Davey! They chant without Price!"

"They chant without anything decent on ice."

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.

Then the coach thought of something he hadn't before!

"Maybe playoffs," he thought, "are not what it's about."

"And maybe the true fans don't have any doubt!"

And what happened then? Habsville they say,

That the coach misjudged fans for the last time that day!

In one minute he thought he was liked after all,

So he whizzed to the Bell; he was standing so tall,

He vowed to keep coaching in all kinds of weathers!

And the fans met him there with hot tar and feathers.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Maledictus Anno

The ancient Romans had a term for "horrible year." An "annus horribilus" is a year that isn't just bad...we're not talking people forgetting your birthday or breaking a's a spectacular disappointment in every way. It's how Queen Elizabeth II defined 1992. That year, two of her children got very publicly divorced, her heir, the Prince of Wales got separated after his wife's tell-all book mortified the family and his own embarrassing conversations with his mistress went public, the Royal Family was forced to pay income tax and Windsor Castle burned. That's an annus horribilius. 

The Montreal Canadiens had an annus horribilus in 2012. Andre Markov got hurt in the first game of the season and was out for months. Max Pacioretty was suspended for a hit on Kris Letang, which affected the former's mindset toward physical play long afterwards. The power play was in the basement, so the team traded for Tomas Kaberle who'd later have to be bought out. GM Pierre Gauthier fired coach Jacques Martin and appointed Randy Cunneyworth, whose inability to speak French sparked protests from the most disgruntled purists, as interim. Mike Cammalleri was traded in the middle of a game. The team was eliminated from the playoffs in March and then owner Geoff Molson fired Gauthier. The only silver lining in that horrible year was the opportunity to draft third overall. The team chose Alex Galchenyuk that June.

This season has been another torturous year for fans and, very likely, for the players who just want to win. This time, though, it feels like more than an annus horribilus. No, this year is a maledictus anno. A cursed year. If 2012 was a collection of unfortunate events, 2016 is the year in which everything the team touches turns to garbage. It's really almost unbelievable.

It started right from training camp. GM Marc Bergevin needed size and scoring up front, so he traded for Zach Kassian and signed Alexander Semin. Kassian promptly ended up embroiled in scandal after his early-morning companion crashed his truck into a tree, injuring the player who then ended up in the league's substance abuse program. Semin lit it up in training camp, but when the season started he regressed to the mean of his most recent years in the league and stopped scoring. He was waived and released. The off-season was instantly a bust.

Then the injuries hit. Carey Price, the heart and soul of the team and its best player, first went down at the end of October. He re-injured himself after a brief return and has only been seen since while wincing in pain as he tried to skate. Brendan Gallagher who plays every shift as though it's his last, missed six weeks after breaking his fingers blocking a shot. Ten days after Gallagher's injury, the team's plunge to the cellar began. Coach Michel Therrien, rather than simply replacing Gallagher on the hot line with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty, decided to mix up all the lines and in the process broke any chemistry there had been in the early part of the season.

When the steep decline began in early December, Therrien blamed "puck luck." As in, the Canadiens didn't have any. While it's a cheap excuse on the surface, it has to be admitted there was a grain of truth in it in this case. The team consistently outshot opponents in the early part of the decline, but couldn't put a puck in the other net to save their lives. Sometimes they'd meet a goalie who stood on his head. Other times, they'd hit four posts in a game, all of which bounced out. They missed breakaways and deflected pucks into their own net. A defenceman misfired on a clearing attempt and it ended up directly on the stick of the sniper in front of his net on more than one occasion. Every mistake seemed to end up as a goal against, while their greatest efforts failed to produce results. Eventually, they lost confidence and started thinking too much about every play, which we know in hockey is the kiss of death. The losses piled up.

Pacioretty, the new captain who had in September talked about how he was honoured to follow in the tradition of the great Jean Beliveau, lost his temper and swore in a very un-Beliveau way about the team's performance in a post-game scrum. It wasn't his finest moment, but might have been redeemed if he'd stepped up with passion and a few goals. He didn't. He has 15 points in the 34 games since the slide began on December 3. Eleven of those points came only after Brendan Gallagher returned from injury. When the team looked to the captain to lead it through adversity, Pacioretty put up four points in 13 games.

On December 19th, all-time great Canadiens player and Hall-of-Famer Dickie Moore died, casting a pall over long-time fans who remembered him helping wreathe the franchise in glory. Modern Bell Centre fans accorded his memory 49 seconds of silence.

In mid-January, Galchenyuk and Devante Smith-Pelly were called on the carpet in Bergevin's office to explain why a gathering at Galchenyuk's place resulted in an early morning incident with police in attendance and an alleged domestic assault by his girlfriend. The press, looking for something other than another loss to talk about, exploded.

P.K. Subban, always a lightning rod for criticism, appeared on video in a profanity-laden pump-up speech in early January. A few days later, he ranted and swore in a post-game media scrum about the fact he's not paid to score goals. For a guy who makes nine-million dollars a year, that statement was more than a little controversial.

In the midst of all the drama, other players went down to injury and young players like Charles Hudon and Sven Andrighetto got called up, only to be relegated to fourth-line minutes and demoted again, even when they performed well. The coaching staff took heat for poor personnel decisions and a system, including a moribund PP, that clearly fails without Price to support it. They allowed former first-round pick Jarred Tinordi to languish in the press box for 30-plus games. In response, Bergevin publicly defended the coaches, saying they won't be going anywhere this year. He dumped Tinordi instead, in a go-nowhere trade that brought goon John Scott in return. The move shamed the franchise because it appeared Bergevin co-operated with the NHL brass in taking Scott just to keep him out of the All-Star game, which spectacularly backfired. Since that decision and the open support of his coaching staff, the on-ice product has only gotten worse.

As the season winds down, Therrien has called out Subban for a loss against the Avalanche. Subban fell down late in the third and the Avs scored the winning goal on a blown 3-on-3 right after. The coach's ill-thought-out comments turned the spotlight once again on the Habs for negative reasons. Of all the players who could have been targeted for failure; David Desharnais with 133 minutes of PP ice time and five points to show for it, Dale Weise, playing in the top-six for most of the year with 25 points in 55 games, Therrien chose to admonish his best player.

All of those things might stem from bad luck or frustration at losing or the logical result of missing the team's backbone for the majority of the year. There are signs, though, that the awfulness of this season is more than just those normal problems. This may, in fact, be cosmic.

For example, just when it seems the year is a write-off and some players can be jettisoned before the deadline in exchange for picks or prospects, two possible guys who could be moved in Desharnais and Tom Gilbert get hurt and can't be traded. Desharnais, in particular, has been one of the most durable Canadiens up until now, missing only four games since the 2012-13 season.

Last weekend, the Canadiens held their annual open practice for fans, at which they tossed souvenirs into the most supportive crowd they've seen since October. A puck thrown by Subban accidentally hit a month-old baby in the head.  It's the second time a Subban-launched puck hit a kid in the crowd. That's not bad luck. That's the universe kicking you in the ass while you're down.

Even the Habs PR team is cursed. They stupidly allowed fan tweets to appear in the team's official Twitter timeline, completely opening themselves to abuse by trolls and haters. Naturally, they were caught out, mortified and forced to apologize.

This season has lurched from one disaster to another in a way that's hard to match without an evil eye trained on the team. Worst of all, just when it seems the Canadiens will drop low enough to snag a great lottery draft pick, they suddenly string together three wins to sabotage their own tank. It's obvious, by now, that they won't make the playoffs. And it appears they'll acquire just enough points to scuttle the draft lottery as well.

It may be a coincidence, or it may not, depending on what you believe about hockey gods and Forum ghosts, that the hallowed old rink that saw so much of the Canadiens legend born, closed twenty years ago this spring. Whatever mystique the team had back then, that made other teams believe the Habs were always a threat because of their charmed existence seems long gone since they moved from the Forum.

Whether bad luck, leaf fans with voodoo dolls or angry ghosts, something is wrong here. This isn't just an annus horribilus. This is a full-blown maledictus anno. This is the kind of thing a team might take a long, long time from which to recover.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Michel Therrien is a stupid man.

That is the only conclusion one can draw after his post-loss comments on Wednesday. To watch a team lose its twenty-third game in the last thirty-two, then decide the latest defeat was the fault of the team's only All-Star was dumb. To then decide it would be a good idea to bench him when the team desperately needed a goal, then call him out publicly and blame him for the loss was the work of an imbecile.

P.K.Subban can be frustrating to watch. Any Habs fan who regularly sees him play has, at some point, yelled for him to just shoot, dammit! However, it's safe to say there have been many, many more times when his brilliant outlet pass led to an important goal or his fantastic skating helped him move the puck out of trouble. With Subban, you know there will be thrills and sometimes, he'll make a mistake. To say he, above anyone else, cost his team the game is pure garbage.

Subban is on the ice nearly half the game and is his team's leading scorer. Ninety-five percent of the time, the play he makes is the right one. In Wednesday's game, the guy fell down. He didn't make a dumb pass like most of his blueline colleagues are wont to do. He didn't take a stupid penalty. He just fell down. When he dropped out of the play, there were still three Canadiens facing three Colorado players. They failed to cover Jarome Iginla when he scored the go-ahead goal. Yet, Therrien didn't mention any of them.

This wasn't a one-off for the coach, either. Right from the start of his tenure, he announced his intention to make Subban a better player and a better person. Yes, the guy who gave ten million bucks to a children's hospital had to learn class and generosity from Michel Therrien, who is not exactly known for his contributions to the community. Therrien has benched Subban for making mistakes and at one time, refused to play him at the ends of games, demonstrating a lack of trust in him. This coach kept his best defenceman off the penalty kill for an entire season. He wouldn't answer when asked whether Subban deserved to make the Olympic team. He banned Subban's "low-five" win celebration with Carey Price. He scratched him for two games after his holdout four years ago because "he had to learn the system." It's safe to say Therrien doesn't like Subban.

At this point though, Therrien's treatment of Subban is ridiculous. The player is fun-loving, kind, generous, talented and classy. He's not perfect, but neither is David Desharnais, who can do no wrong in Therrien's eyes. He's a crappy coach and a petty man who's treating one of the best hockey players around like a mistake-prone rookie. The fact that Subban hasn't punched him out literally or verbally demonstrates the class and patience of the player.

That Marc Bergevin has promised Therrien's job is safe raises questions about the competence of the GM as well. If he can't see that a rotten coach calling out an All-Star for a simple mistake is laughable, well, perhaps he's dumb too. But not as dumb as Therrien, because the coach is a truly stupid man.