It Ends With Fox

Digging out all that stuff buried in my brain

My Shrine

I must have looked at the clock every 15 seconds.

“C’mon, hurry up, it’s time to go.”

In the background there was some distant noise from the Professor at the centre of the class. Don’t ask me who it was or the topic.

“C’mon, hurry up, it’s time to go.”

I can’t imagine how much I must have been fidgeting. One knee bobbing up and down like my ankle was glued to a spring

“That’s it, I can’t take it, I gotta get out of here.”

And that’s what I did at the next class break. Hightailed it outta there, with Usian Bolt-like speed.

It was March 11th, 1996 and I was doing my MBA in London, Ontario, the day they closed the Montreal Forum. I needed to catch a plane at any cost. I had a game to catch that night and there was no way I was missing it.

I would be lying if I said I remember every detail because I don’t. At the office these days if someone starts a conversation with “Do you happen to remember..” I usually cut them off with a quick “No.” But I do have some vivid memories. I remember going to the Ritz and meeting up with friends to go to the game. When they put Roger Doucet on video to sing the National Anthem, I was euphoric. It just made perfect sense. I don’t recall much of the game – it was an afterthought on this night – but I do know that with the Habs winning 4-1, former Habs captain Guy Carbonneau had an opportunity to score the last goal at the Forum. Late in the 3rd period, Habs up 4-1, and Carbo is stoned by Jocelyn Thibault’s pad. I think outside of Guy LaFleur’s return to the Forum with the Rangers, it’s the only time I rooted for a a visiting player to score. Instead, we are stuck with Andrei Kovalenko as the last goal scorer at the Fabled Montreal Forum. I don’t have a metaphor or simile to describe that injustice.

The post game activities were the highlight of the night and up to the usual standard the Canadiens have established when it comes to ceremonies. The highlights were the Rocket ovation and “Carbo” surprising the crowd in a Habs jersey to take the Torch. I was a big Carbo fan. It was the “game of games” just because of the ceremony and I’m glad I paid a “ticket entrepreneur” to make sure I was in the building. I still have my ticket stub from the night.

Thing is, I’m not unique. For many, if not all, of those in attendance that night, it’s likely one of their fondest memories. As for me? As a typical boy growing up in Montreal, hockey and the Habs meant everything. Going out had to wait until the game was over. Girls? Not important. Even if one would have thrown themselves at me, which sadly didn’t ever happen, I likely would have stepped over them. I may have politely said “Excuse me, I got a Habs game to watch” or “Sorry, I’m off to the rink.” And while this seems boring, its really all I knew at the time and I loved it. The crazy thing? While no one was as extreme as me, who could be, I had friends who were almost as fanatical. Springtime meant playoff time and we all hunkered down together for each game. The memories are still strong. And that is what made the night of March 11, 1996 that much more special. The Habs, to my wife’s chagrin, are part of my DNA and at the centre of the Habs are all those years they played at the Forum.

It’s hard to believe that its been twenty years since they closed My Shrine. It’s hard to believe I am twenty years older despite what the mirror and my body keep trying to tell me. See, I still have the same passion for the Habs as that young adult that flew home 20 years ago to catch that special night. And while so much has happened since then, in some ways, it still feels like last night, and always will.

 

The (H)abyss

If anyone told me during the first period of that game at MSG in late November that by Groundhog Day the Habs would be on the outside of the Playoff Race looking in, I would have laughed so hard that I likely would have ruptured my spleen. At that point, the Habs looked like serious Cup Contenders. Scoring tons of goals, playing well at both ends of the ice, getting stellar goaltending and also going 5-2-2 without Carey Price. Plus, all those new-fangled analytical stats were excellent. To me, most importantly, they passed the “eye” test because everything I saw on the ice was so positive. The Habs were back on top.

Given the events since that moment, it’s not hard to agree that this team needs change but a complete overhaul? I disagree. There are flaws – perhaps none as deep as those between the their ears – but this team is not flawed. When things go bad for so long – it’s almost impossible to right the ship. This team played well for a long stretch after the 2nd Price injury yet managed to keep losing in regulation which compounded the problem. They couldn’t even garner any “loser” points.  The advanced stats backed this up well into January, they were indeed playing well but with a PDO around 95, they had horrendous puck luck. Games against the Caps and Kings are prime examples. Eventually it had to change, the bad luck, horrible shooting and bad breaks would start going their way. But it didn’t – and as this progressed and the losses built up despite playing well, it was inevitable that their play would eventually suffer. The speed and instinctive plays got replaced with hesitation and a lack of confidence. The hole kept getting deeper and deeper until finally we are seeing a team that is so deep in the abyss that it likely can’t get out. And lately – specifically the games starting with the Blue Jackets – we can see that mentally this team is checking out, waiting for the other shoe to drop each game and when it does, it’s as difficult to overcome as it is to climb Everest.

These are not the real Canadiens. The real Canadiens have number 31 between the pipes just like the “real” Penguins include Sid the Kid taking the opening faceoff. Outside of the period in December where he was overworked due to a lack of confidence in Dustin Tokarski, Mike Condon has filled in admirably for the reigning MVP. But Price brings so much to the game that goes beyond the saves he makes. There is his rebound control and puck handling that saves the team from extra time in the defensive zone and additional goals against. And maybe most importantly, he provides his teammates with the confidence to take risks and not worry about making mistakes.

With all this in mind, here are some suggestions at re-tooling for next season.

I wasn’t happy to see him hired but Therrien 2.0 is a much better release than the previous version. I think I have finally been able to move on from his tirade against Carolina that cost the team a bench minor penalty that was the turning point in that playoff series in 2002. However, Therrien 2.0 has failed this year to adjust as the situation evolved. As the Coach, it is his responsibility to manage the situation to prevent this collapse. His player usage is suspect and his repeated pattern of falling back into comfortable patterns is a concern. It is a sign of someone who isn’t able to find the solution. I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors – I am not privy to that – but from an outside perspective, this team needs a new coach this summer, and possibly a new coaching staff (outside of goaltending coach Waite). They need someone that implements a system based on this team’s speed and mobility on the blue line with re-configured lines. It might not be fair to switch the coach given that it is likely his MVP goalie will only play 12 games this season but I can’t see how Therrien 2.0 is back next season.

As we look at the mix of players for 2016-17, let’s assume that this year’s first round back won’t be ready for the NHL next season.

  1. If surgery is necessary for Price, the time is now. The Habs need to make sure that he is completely recovered for next season
  2. Trade upcoming UFA’s Tom Gilbert & Tomas Fleischmann for draft picks by the deadline. I’d look to retain Dale Weise and Paul Byron for the bottom six
  3. Don’t re-sign Ben Scrivens this summer
  4. Trade David Desharnais for anything other than a player coming back and when that fails, buy him out this summer.
  5. Target 1 top 6 winger UFA. As of today, Kyle Okposo would be my #1 target. Steven Stamkos doesn’t fit into the financial structure of this team. I’d look at Mikkel Boedker as Plan B.
  6. I’d revisit the Drouin situation even though I don’t believe it can be done. Certain assets are off the table. The Habs draft picks in round 1 and round 2 this year, any ‘A’ level prospects (Scherbak, McCarron, Juulsen) and, of course, Galchenyuk are non-starters. Would Minnesota’s 2nd round pick and Andrighetto be enough? I doubt it with Yzerman but I wouldn’t be giving up too much for someone that isn’t a guarantee.
  7. Commit to Alex Galchenyuk as the #1 centre. He was drafted for this role, it’s time it happens.
  8. Commit to Nathan Beaulieu on the top pairing with PK
  9. Play Markov on the 3rd pairing D but keep him on the #1 PP with PK

If these suggestions are achieved then the Habs could enter next season with the following lineup.

Pacioretty-Galchenyuk-Okposo

Drouin-Plekanec-Gallagher

Carr-Eller-Weise

Byron-Mitchell-Flynn

Also on Roster: Smith-Pelley, De La Rose

Beaulieu-Subban

Emelin-Petry

Markov-Barberio

Also on Roster: Pateryn

Price

Condon

Assuming this can realistically happen, which is not a given, do we feel that with the right system and coach that even this squad can compete for a Cup next season?

Jay

Despite the rarity that I blog, usually when I start, it comes to me fairly quickly from Title to the last period. This time is different. Things changed on January 3rd, 2016 and I find it a struggle to process what happened and how to transcribe it into words. I lost a close friend on that day, and while we all knew that his day likely would come earlier than ours given his lifelong illness, I still have trouble processing it. I’ll admit it, I am in denial.

Jonathan Jay Sokoloff, or simply Jay, was more than just a friend. He was a hero, an inspiration and someone that taught lessons not only by his choice of words but by his actions. If the social media, hip kids could find YOLO in a dictionary, they would find a picture of Jay. Once you meet Jay, you will never forget him. Everyone remembers him. That is fact, not fiction.

On a winter’s evening likely 10-15 years ago, we were in Stratford on one of our many trips to see Blue Rodeo. We had time before the show when Jay chatted up the waitress enough for us to learn that lead singer Jim Cuddy was in fact dining in the same restaurant. A few of us went over to Jim, Jay included of course, and when asked if he knew any of us since we had been to many concerts, Jim looked at each of us and said “No” until he came to Jay, to which he exclaimed “You, I know.” Jay was, and still is, unforgettable.

When it comes to humour, Jay ranks up there as one of the funniest with just a dynamite sense of humour. He could make you laugh for an eternity. I recall when he came to visit a bunch of us at UWO about 20 years ago. We all went out for dinner and Jay was such a riot that he made a roommate of mine laugh so hard, he fell off his chair. Or at least that is how I remember it.

Jay, more than anyone I know, had the right to complain about his situation but I don’t recall a single complaint uttered by the man. I likely complained more by 6:00 am this morning than he did in a lifetime. He would have all these challenges and carry on. Amazing. And he didn’t let his illness deter him. I could call Jay from 500 KM’s away about an event and he would be at my door 6 hours later. He was simply that kind of person.

Hopefully one of his heroes, Tim Raines, will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later today but it is going to be hard not being able to discuss it with him. The Habs are in a massive funk and I can’t dissect every detail with him. My wife would sit and listen to Jay and I on the phone as we played fan, coach and GM all at once. I think she found it amusing and slightly deranged, which, actually, it was.

I have been on Facebook more than normal since the 3rd, I’ll admit it. I have been reading as many comments as possible – more like tributes in some cases – and looking at any pictures posted. It’s been a bit of a therapeutic process for me as reality is starting to sink in and replace the denial. I feel really lucky to know Jay and for being allowed to be considered a friend. Goodbye, and I miss you.

 

 

 

 

 

Montreal Canadiens 2014-15: Quick Recap and What’s Next

And now the counter turns to 22. 22 years since the Habs hoisted the Stanley Cup. Every year, on June 9th, I remind myself what I was doing on that day in 1993. As time has passed, either I have matured or I have gotten used to a season ending without a Stanley Cup. It still isn’t easy but I don’t dwell on it like I used to. Sadly, I have gotten good, too good, at moving onto the hope of next season.

But, let’s face it, that hope of next season over all those years hasn’t really been anything more than a false hope. This season, that hope is completely opposite. It’s real, very real. As an outsider, this appears to be a close knit, tight group. It’s important because dysfunctional teams aren’t cohesive enough to win championships. It’s clear to me – and if it is clear to me then it is clear to our grade A GM Mr. Bergevin – what needs to be done to get to the next level.

I decided to do a positional review as opposed to a strength and weakness review figuring that positional review covers that.

Goaltending

Price

Tokarski

Condon

Fucale

Limited words needed in this section. With Price, the Habs have the best goalie in the world just entering his prime. Barring something unfortunate, he is the goalie for the next decade. The backup just needs to be someone who can step into a game cold at the NHL level at a cheap price. It’s Tokarski today, maybe Condon tomorrow, it doesn’t matter.

The interesting piece here is Fucale – a big game goalie who is stuck behind the best goalie in the world. This is one of, if not, the most tradable asset on the team. He will be ready to get playing time before Price will be close to calling it quits or even declining. He is not the heir apparent to Price, that person is yet to be drafted

Defence

Markov-Subban

Emelin-Petry

Beaulieu-Gilbert

Gonchar-Pateryn

Weaver

Tinordi

Not going to include other names in the minors – I’m thinking short term. I think it is safe to say that Gonchar and Weaver are not returning. To me, Greg Pateryn showed enough that he is ready for an 82 game season. Skates well enough, loves to hit, plays a simple game and has an ok first pass. By no means a perfect player but doesn’t he sound like the ideal bottom pairing d-man?

The first big decision is to figure out how to re-sign Petry. This is a must. Petry skates like the wind, makes good choices and just knows how to play defence. I think his offence will grow too. It’s no surprise that in Game #6, Tampa’s first goal came when he missed a shift. If he costs $5.5 million – while not ideal – I am still all in. Markov’s minutes need to be reduced and his salary will come off the books in a few years. The Cap should grow again as well. I can’t think of the defence without Petry. And if money needs to be saved, then time to trade Gilbert and have Pateryn on the bottom pairing.

The second big decision is Tinordi because if he doesn’t fit in the long term, now is the time to trade him. Along with Fucale, the two of them can form the foundation of a large deal for a top 6 forward, the biggest need on this team. I haven’t seen enough of Tinordi to make the call, to be honest, and I do know that you can’t teach natural skill or size, but just seems like a good time to move him and go all in.

Beaulieu-Subban

Markov-Petry

Emelin-Pateryn

Cheap 7th d-man

 

Forwards

Pacioretty-Plekanec-Gallagher

Galchenyuk-Desharnais-Parenteau

Prust-Eller-Weise

De La Rose-Mitchell-Smith Pelley

Malhotra

Flynn

Thomas

Hudon

Andrighetto

McCarron

Scherbak

The most popular blueprint to build a championship team – one I agree with – is to build from the goalie out. Get the goalie, build the blueline and be strong in the middle. It’s time to move Galchenyuk to Centre. He needs to carry the puck with speed, in constant motion and we will see his skill. On the wing, he is too stationary for his skill set. It’s time, he doesn’t need to be sheltered anymore. Add him to Plekanec, a still serviceable 2 way centre and Eller, the current 3rd line centre who is a puck possession monster and you have the foundation up the middle. As Plekanec ages, he switches spots with Eller. Does this start at the beginning, middle or end of next season, who knows, that will be determined on the ice. I liked the addition of Mitchell to the team but not at $1.9 Million. If he can come back on a cap friendly deal he is perfect for now as the #4 centre. Flynn provides depth as a cheap RFA and Malhotra did his job spreading his faceoff skills to others on the team.

The next question is about Desharnais, a useful player with skill but you can’t build a team around him as a number 1 centre. A bit of a one dimensional offensive player who loves to pass – and I wonder why since he seems to have a good shot – though Craig Janney made a career of it. Defensively, he is not a strong player and is a liability in the defensive end. The question really is there a spot on this team for him at LW or is he a player to move? He contract is ok but if the return is better, then he may be a person to move but can his offense be replaced?

Another question is Parenteau. While I feel everyone is movable for the right price – even Carey, in theory if the return were gigantic (yeah, right) – I feel that his play at the end of playoffs won me over a little bit and I expect him to have a better offensive year next year

McCarron and Scherbak are going to be bonafilde NHLers but I just am not sure about 2015-16. But they are players that should excite us as soon as the following year. There is some depth on the Bulldogs but no one I see being ready to make the leap to the NHL.

Pacioretty-Galchenyuk-????

???-Plekanec- Gallagher

De La Rose-Eller-Parenteau

Prust-Mitchell-Weise

Smith Pelley

Flynn

This is a team in the right direction but the GM has work to do this summer and I know he will address the issues this team faces. The window is opening; this team is ready to compete for the Stanley Cup which, as the poster says in my garage – since my wife wouldn’t allow it in the bedroom – is “The Ultimate Goal”

Take Nothing For Granted

As a childhood friend of mine was getting buried yesterday out west, I spent last night with some old friends from back home. We talked about all parts of our lives, our childhood, our families, our jobs, our passions and told stories. Since last Thursday, I have spent lots of time thinking about those years growing up in Montreal, more than probably the number of times in the previous decade. I have some real great memories – and while I knew back then how lucky I was – I think these last few days have made me realize more how lucky I really was. I’m not going to quote Lou Gehrig here but it really applies to my youth. And while it still applies today, there is something deep to the core about those days growing up back in Montreal. It developed me – all the positive and negative traits I possess – and it developed lifelong friendships that exist today – no matter that I left Montreal and no matter that I have friends from Boston to the Jersey Shore to Florida in the south and Vancouver or Seattle in the West.  There is a bond that when we see each other, we pick up where we left off.

The community I grew up in Montreal was tight in all aspects. We all lived close to each other and bonded together. Both at a parent and child level. As a minority in Montreal, be it because we were Anglophone or because of religion, or anything else for that matter, we stuck together. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts. I just don’t know if what we had back then exists still today but I sure hope so.

I know that as days pass, everything will revert back to my adult “norm” but I don’t want to take anything for granted so to name just a few among many…Shu, Graifer, Dickens, Spook, Sherm, Cape, Ronny, Slaw, JJ, Adam, Frankie, Elliot, all the K’s and of course, Judd…love you all.

The Old Hood

About a week ago I started a blog – my first blog in over a year – and I was reflecting a little on life as I approach 45. But, after a paragraph or two, I just bailed on it, not sure why but I did. Maybe the creative juices just slow down as one approaches 45. It just didn’t feel right. Or perhaps it was too soon to write it.

Sadly, not long after bailing on that blog, I found out a childhood friend died in a tragic accident. I have to admit I’m still quite shook up by it. It’s not that I had seen or been in contact with my friend recently – cause that’s not true. And it doesn’t make me feel any more mortal that this happened because I am quite aware of my mortality. It’s just that I still can’t believe he is gone. We played hockey together – lots of hockey – went to elementary school together and played our local game of chase with his house as the home base. He was a part of my community group of friends, and we all grew up together. He was tough on the exterior but gentle on the inside. He had your back.

I can’t imagine what his family, his son, his relatives and those that are his current circle are going through dealing with this. As someone who was lucky enough to spend time with him as a child,  I have some wonderful childhood memories with him.  I feel really fortunate to have had that time with him.

For you old friend, one more time….Dahan, Dahan, Dahan…

I’m Back Baby

It’s nice to be able to quote George Costanza every now and then….

It’s been years since I posted, or blogged, or randomly wrote incoherent words. Whatever your fancy but according to a blog posted by my far away friend, Loren Shuster, blogging is one of 30 positive habits to have. So, here is to starting up a somewhat routine blogging journey. You’d think I’d have a lot to say after all this time, and I do, but one thing I don’t have is time. So, most of the time, the amount I write will be what I can squeeze in a short time period. It’s like the teenager cramming into Lee Jeans…I’m going to try to get everything into my posts and hope that I get everything in that needs to be!

So, what’s happened since my last post? Well, a couple of kids, a limit to the amount of energy and exercise to be done and many early mornings. Yet, it’s the best thing that can happen. I feel like I’m pledging a frat, it’s hard, sometimes it hurts, but I just want more time with them. “Yessir, I’ll have another….” SMASH! It’s 5 am, time to get up. “Yessir, I’ll have another….” CRASH! It’s the 50th time I’m flipping you over son to dunk the basketball, don’t you have any sympathy for my back? Or my old age?

Anyway…one last thing, last night we were reading a hockey book (I forget the name, it was about the Kings and Leafs, like really…it certainly wasn’t “The Sweater”), and Matthew points to a picture of Wendel Clark and says that it looks like Daddy. Ok, well, for one, I rather go outside in January naked then in a Leafs jersey, but I’m still confused by the comparison. Here is hoping that the years haven’t made me a pale western boy. Serenity Now!