3 Q’s from The Checking Line
The following was written Friday, Nov. 5 after the Habs played the Sabres and is the full version of the piece I wrote for The Checking Line. Watch my Twitter for the link to tonight’s live pregame panel, which includes George Prax and Iain Carnegie of The Checking Line, as well as Rosalyn Roy and myself, who will be guest panelists. It all starts tonight at 6:30 ET, one hour before the Habs host the Canucks.
I know I don’t get on here very often these days and most likely don’t deserve the invitation I have received but it doesn’t change the fact I am extremely honoured to have been asked by bloggers George Prax and Iain Carnegie of The Checking Line to be a guest on the first-ever, um, whatever this is.
The request is to answer – to the best of my ability – three seemingly burning questions regarding the Montreal Canadiéns and to then participate in a live, game-day blog this coming Tuesday before the club takes on the Vancouver Canucks.
The questions, derived from the minds of the show’s hosts, are based on hot topics from the local media and the team’s fans. Before I get into the questions, I must make a point.
How bizarre has the first baker’s dozen-ish games been for this team and its following?
At the conclusion of Friday night’s games, the Habs are one point out of first place in the entire NHL and I guarantee you can’t think of one aspect of their game worthy of being labeled spectacular. The only thing even getting honourable mention so far is their penalty kill, which shatters the meaning of importance considering how many jackass two-minute trips to the slammer this club takes.
In contrast, this team is but one point from the top of the NHL heap and I guarantee every single one of you who follows them can think of at least two absolute crises. Arguably the league’s best power play over the last five years is now statistically the worst (and the numbers are atrocious), while no fan can even see a capital ‘G’ without birthing an ulcer over the Rochester Rocket and his overpriced Alaskan fishing buddy.
Even more hilarious, the once hot No. 1 line has cooled, the grossly-anticipated return of Andrei Markov has only proved how important training camp is, and the best three players on the team right now make a combined $37 an hour, yet literally every human being that even cares is still convinced Jacques Martin is the worst coach in the Milky Way.
Even Carey Price, who has been excellent to those with a brain, isn’t sporting off-the-charts statistics. Yet somehow, with all of this bad and so little good, the team remains just that one point from the top.
The point to all of this is, with 69-ish games left in the season and the team finding ways to win hockey games regardless of who gets the job done, you’d think there would be just a tad less panic. But that’s not how things are done in the world of Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
Anyhoo, on to the questions.
1) Is there space for Jaroslav Spacek? What do you do with him, knowing that his salary can’t come off the books and you’re stuck with it until the end of next season?
Of course there’s space for the Space Cadet. I call his space the press box. He can call it whatever the hell he wants. As far as this season is concerned, who gives a rat’s ass how much money he makes? They are within the salary cap, he’s already here and the club has six perfectly capable defencemen that could play before the deep-voiced creep from the Czech Republic.
It’s a no-brainer to play Alexandre Picard ahead of him and I’d even elect an opportunity to Ryan O’Byrne ahead of him at this point, though the Irishman’s supporters ought to cease their delusional claims that Martin wrecked him, as O’B was suckin’ it up before our little pear-shaped bench boss arrived last year.
All that being said, Spacek is another example of a player nowhere near as bad as the conglomerate of over-reactive fans makes them out to be. He has no doubt played himself off the roster for right now, but has a pretty decent NHL career and resume to suggest another chance should someone else play themselves into the proverbial doghouse.
Get this part clear right now. Not even Mike Milbury would trade for Spacek right now so expect an awfully corrosive reaction to any person wanting to discuss this avenue with any length. He’s so untradeable, it’s a wonder Eklund hasn’t rumoured him to half the league yet.
But I digress.
Spacho is a Hab, at least for now, so get what you can out of him. I also maintain as Markov gets his sea legs back, whoever plays with the Roman Hammerhead will see less and less ice time, which will likely improve the pairing’s stat sheet.
2) Why is the second line struggling so much, after a fair amount of success last season? At this point, what do you do in order to ice two lines that can actually score?
Ok, now I’m really going to look like a Martin advocate – which I am not, regardless of my sporadic defence of his nuthouse decisions – but that bugger stole my answer to the second part of this question with his pregame lineup. Putting in Andrei Kostitsyn, a big-arse body who can dangle, hit and score is precisely what a speed combo like G & G needs, and giving Eller a shot with Cammalleri and Plekanec – even though Plek’s flu messed it all up – was what I’d like to call, ‘about GD time.’
If Travis Moen and Tom Pyatt are worthy of multiple-game opportunities in the top-six then the glazed Danish should get a turn. And considering the newly dubbed PhD line of Darche, Halpern and Pouliot is apparently going to carry the team from now on, it turns out Marin has jack squat to lose with a little Eller experiment.
As for why the two aforementioned G’s can’t seem to score, pick a cliché. They’re trying too hard, they’re trying to do too much, they’re gripping their sticks too tight, they’re being too fancy, it’s all in their heads, and so on and so on.
Unfortunately, clichés can’t become clichés without commonplace and what is happening to these two high-priced forwards has happened to thousands of players before them. If it’s me, the Kostitsyn move is my last before splitting the G’s up. I know they built success together and all that but there is no need to stay married to the something forever, especially if the hanky-panky goes flat.
The team has no choice but to wait them out, however, as one is the captain and the other the highest paid player. To think lengthy demotions or, as I even read Friday night, a trip certain fans need to replace their passion with a logical thought from time to time. Take some solace in the fact the club is compiling much-needed points while $12.5M in salary plays like Betty White.
Someone get them an effin’ Snickers bar.
3) Call up one player right now from Hamilton. Who does he replace, and where does he fit into the line-up and why?
Again with a disclaimer to start. I wouldn’t call anyone up right now if we must get right down to it. Assuming I’m in the position for a moment, I have chosen this group for the start of the season and I’ve done so with reason. When I look back at the things we all talked to death about during the summer and throughout training camp, I see most of our questions were answered with positives and only the aspects we were relatively assured of are we now seeing as club issues.
And so, when I’m 8-4-1 and leading my division, do I send down someone after only 13 games I was positive would play well, in lieu of a player toting zero guarantee upon arrival? Or do I send down someone I was weary about, like a Darche, when they are clearly major reasons for our early success?
My obvious answers to those questions lead me to choose no one.
If I have to, there are only three avenues I would explore right now. No. 1, Tom Pyatt, whose speed and effort I love, has to be my first odd man out if a gun is pressed against my temple. He’s been asked to play numerous different roles in a short period, which have more than likely helped his inconsistent play, but nonetheless, it HAS been inconsistent.
Secondly I choose Dustin Boyd, though I think he’s the exact same poison (to steal a line from @nasty45) as most of the players I would call up to fill a bottom-seven spot. Again, I like a lot of what Boyd can bring but he’s not even recognizable out there much, which means he’s not making an impact. A kid from the minors with the standard firecracker up his butt would likely be more impactful, at least for a few games.
The last, and most controversial I’m sure, is young Lars Eller. BUT, this move only happens after a significant trial run on a stable top-six line. I traded quite a player to get this kid and it’s because his potential is just ridiculous, but the only reason I have him is to put up points.
I don’t give a crap whether he can anchor the third line, this season or any other. So if he’s not ready to play on the top-six in Montreal yet then he should be playing on the top-six in Hamilton.
But, as everyone knows, there’s only one way to find out.
As for who I’d call up? If Eller goes down, it’s a guarantee I replace him with the red-hot David Desharnais. If either of the other two are my choice, then I bring up Ryan White, whose firecracker potentially has the biggest bang, which would be great alongside Lapierre and Moen.
PS and for the record — in the wake of comments made by Max Pacioretty this week, the 21-year-old dummy has a LONG tenure in southern Ontario ahead of him where he can learn the concept of how radio is broadcast to the public.