As the National Hockey League Trade Deadline approaches, the eyes of the hockey world once again fixate upon the general managers of the league’s 30 teams. “Will this guy be traded?” “Will that guy re-sign?” “Will he accept a rental deal?” These are the questions fans and commentators alike have begun churning out, given the flurry of activity in the past couple of weeks, most notably Seth Jones and Ryan Johansen swapping cities, and Luke Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier going to the Kings.
Inevitably, GMs will be dichotomously divided into the categories of “geniuses” and “idiots”, the breakdown of which shall occupy everyone’s time until the Playoffs actually begin.
But should we really be so hard on general managers? Would you REALLY want their job? Okay, yes, they make a lot of money and have – ideally – significant control over a National Hockey League team, entities worth hundreds of millions – if not billions – of dollars. It’s not near as simple as it looks, though; I argue that GMs are truly a unique breed.
Last season, I signed up for a Fantasy Hockey league with a group of my friends. Pick a bunch of players and track them through the season, all in an effort to beat everyone else in various statistical categories. Simple, right?
At the draft auction, I spent my biggest chunk of change on Henrik Lundqvist. Perennial Vezina candidate, good team – albeit not possession-wise (seriously, check out the Rangers’ possession numbers for the past 2 years), very durable… I should be set in goal, right? Well, a puck to the throat changed that. And then my backup, Steve Mason – who has very quietly been posting some real solid numbers the past couple of years in Philadelphia – went down, as well. Gahhh. What to do?! Do I look at the Free Agent pool? Do I make a deal? Do I bring my goalie coach out of retirement?
I ended up trading for Brian Elliott, who had a rough end to the season, ultimately ceding the starter’s role to Jake Allen. I was so desperate for a goalie though, I was willing to give up Patric Hörnqvist and Kris Letang. Now, in hindsight, that was, obviously, an awful deal. But hey, the pressure to win was on, and I did what I thought was best. I had a need, and I addressed it. Granted, it blew up in my face. Didn’t I do what a good GM is supposed to do, though?
“Yeah, but fantasy sports aren’t real sports”, you’re probably saying to yourself. “You’re an idiot!” might come to mind, as well. And you’d be right, on both counts. But how is Marc Bergevin, for example, feeling right about now? The one-time division-leading Canadiens are plummeting in the standings, having lost all-world Carey Price to injury a couple of months back. They can’t score and they can’t keep the puck out of their net to the same degree: not a recipe for success. Should they make a move for a goalie? Well, you’re not going to find a goalie anywhere near the calibre of Carey Price (sorry, Ben Scrivens) for an affordable price, and a trade for a top-tier ‘tender would likely eliminate a strength to address a weakness. Maybe the Canadiens’ skaters weren’t quite as good as projected, so perhaps some more offence is in order. But what would you need to give up for that? Or, as Montréal fans have been screaming about for years, maybe the coaching style is the problem. But do you really want to change horses in the middle of the stream? Especially when you are still – barely – in Playoff contention?
Beyond the explicit statistics and team performance, there are innumerable less-obvious, yet critically important, things to consider – most of which are mercifully absent from Fantasy Hockey.
"Will I have a job next season if I don’t make this trade?"
"Will I have a job next season if I do?"
"Why is the other GM willing to do this?"
"Will the player we agree to come here?"
"What’s his personal situation like?"
"Will he re-sign with us next season?"
"Will he fit in nicely in the dressing room?"
"Can we use him properly?
"How will this affect the team in the coming years?"
"What will my legacy be?"
Every year, some general managers cave in to their worst instincts, at the Trade Deadline or otherwise. Remember when the Thrashers traded away young stud Braydon Coburn for greybeard Alexei Zhitnik?
That said, GMs have to feel comfortable walking into their dressing room, looking each player in the eye and saying, “I’ve done all I possibly can to help you”.
They have to be comfortable at a podium, telling the media that, “Yeah, we have a real chance this year!”
They have to be comfortable telling ownership, “I’ve given us the best chance to win”.
They have to be comfortable with going home to their families and friends, who have no doubt been inundated with opinions galore.
And they have to be comfortable looking themselves in the mirror and saying, “I’ve done the best job possible”.
That’s one hell of a tough job. Are we really right to criticise?
Well, yes. We are the fans who invest the time, energy and money to keep our teams going. Just be thankful you don’t have their job.
Buckle up, folks; February 29th is coming faster than you think.
The modern hockey world is home to countless analysts and pundits who peddle their knowledge and influence to fans of our fair game. Others – myself included – comment on hockey happenings from an unofficial, non-expert position, providing – hopefully – additional insights to compliment those emanating from official channels. However, even in this endlessly connected world with innumerable critics and constant analysis, there is one element of the game that neither fans, nor bloggers, nor experts have ever really been able to figure out: goaltending.
Think about it: outside of the top five or ten goaltenders in the league, can anyone really claim to know which goalies will be successful in a given year? What on Earth happened to Vezina finalists Ilya Bryzgalov and Niklas Backstrom? Why don’t durable stalwarts Roberto Luongo and Marc-André Fleury get the credit they deserve? And can someone please explain the remarkable resurgence of Devan Dubnyk?
People tend to judge goalies based on the ‘tenders they played with and or grew up watching. I remember specifically two instances during my (House League) career that illustrate this point: I had a parent of another kid on my team tell me that I needed to “stand up more” so that I could “be ready for high shots” – nevermind how most goals go in the lower half of the net, he grew up watching Johnny Bower, dammit! Another year, I had a coach at the tryouts pushing down on my shoulders to see how close I could come to a full split because, of course, groin flexibility is the most important criteria for judging a 11 year-old’s goaltending ability – someone clearly needed to take away his Dominik Hašek tapes.
Analysts, be they former professional goaltenders, players or otherwise, are generally no better. Nearly every goal is followed by some explanation of how the goaltender should have, somehow, had that puck. How about giving credit to the shooter for hitting their spot? Or blaming the team for a defensive breakdown? Even when the goaltender does stop the puck, commentary often takes the tone of, “and the shooter just couldn’t get the puck up over the pad”, totally dismissing a fine bit of goaltending. Obviously, analysts they have a requirement to project their admittedly extensive knowledge and experience. Thus, they are quick to explain everything in simple, black and white terms. “He goes down too early”. “He cheats on plays”. “He needs to come out and challenge”. And you know what? That commentary might well be fair enough if modern goalies were constantly turning around to dig pucks out of their net. But, judging by the fact we have had the NHL’s “lack” of goal-scoring shoved down our throats, lo these many years, that is clearly not the case. In my view, the constant criticism and deconstruction NHL goaltenders are subjected to is, for the most part, unwarranted.
Every profession has people who are successful. Each person who becomes successful does so in their own unique way. Therefore, perhaps analysts who are former goaltenders have a bias towards the sort of style they themselves employed, and perhaps those who are former players have a bias towards the sort of style they witnessed their teammates playing. Therefore, the second a goal goes in on a goaltender who is not playing a style of which they approve, many analysts pounce. That said, as mentioned before, goaltending is complicated to analyse and predict, so is it really right to blame those tasked with critiquing goaltenders to sticking to what they know? The same can be said for the fans; fans are accustomed to watching goal be tended in very specific ways – is it really fair to blame them for being apprehensive about an unorthodox style? After all, who among us doesn’t get a bit clenched watching James Reimer or Jonathan Quick between the pipes?
As a Greater Toronto resident, I am more than familiar with how this phenomenon can extend even to goalie coaches. Take François Allaire, for example. He is undoubtedly a smart and talented individual, having won Stanley Cups in 1986 and 1993 (mentoring Montréal’s Patrick Roy, who won the Conn Smythe trophy on each occasion), and adding a third in 2007 tutoring Anaheim’s Jean-Sébastien Giguère (whom he also coached to a Conn Smythe win in 2003, despite the Mighty Ducks losing in the Final). However, his insistence on strict adherence to a conservative, Butterfly-dominated style of goaltending, despite meshing well with the builds and skillsets of Roy and Giguère, severely handicapped the careers of Leafs Vesa Toskala, Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer during his tenure in Toronto (2009-12). These three goalies had established themselves as lively, athletic puckstoppers, and so a switch to this much more conservative brand of goaltending was, ultimately, disastrous. Toskala has long since retired, and Gustavsson and Reimer have only recently begun to show flashes of their former brilliance.
With any other facet of hockey – any other industry, for that matter, people ask “if”, not “how”. Can you imagine if a goal-scorer was criticised for scoring too many bang-in goals? Or if a Centre was criticised for winning too many faceoffs with his feet? No? Exactly. And yet Dominik Hašek, with 6 Vezina Trophies to his name, is often deemed to have been “lucky”. Henrik Lundqvist, Olympic Gold Medal and Vezina Trophy notwithstanding, is chastised for playing too far back in his net. Corey Crawford, with 2 Stanley Cups to his name, is still considered a second-tier starter with a weak glove hand.
My point is this: leave goalies alone. They have a tough enough job already. Nobody really understands goaltending, not even goalies. It just sort of…is. The job description is pretty simple: prevent the puck from entering the net. However, there are infinite ways to execute said task, and we all need to become comfortable with that fact. Perhaps not all roads lead to Rome, but it is very rare that a goalie and or said goalie’s style of play is solely responsible for a team’s struggles. Barring that situation, let them be.
All illustrations by Andrew M. Greenstein, The unofficial NHL Uniform Database
…except the Winter Classic one. That one is an image from the Canadiens’ website.
Having watched the Canadiens play the Bruins outdoors on New Year’s Day, and seeing as how I did the Boston Bruins last week, I thought it only fitting to write up Montréal’s team kit to complete the Winter Classic experience.
The basic Home and Away kits for the Canadiens (see below – and above, for that matter) are, quite simply, as good as they get in the National Hockey League. For years, I struggled to pick between the Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks for the superior team uniform. However, this past summer, the Canadiens’ decision to replace the standard, V-Neck jersey collar with one of the lace-up variety – not to mention their gallicisation of the NHL shield – pushed it firmly into the top spot, for my money. Lace-up collars, especially for teams with as storied a past as the Canadiens, just make everything better. Take note, Chi-Town.
Yes, the colours and their combination are simple and not uncommon. And yes, the general design has been consistent for so long that it was pretty much predestined to become a classic anyway. However, two elements that really boost this uniform to legendary status are its logo and its striping. The logo is the famous elongated “C”, which is braced from within by an “H”, signifying Le Club de Hockey Canadien. And it looks brilliant. The striping is very unusual for a hockey sweater: on the Home jersey, a chunky thin-thick-thin combination wraps around the chest – unique among the current crop of NHL sweaters – with corresponding sleeve and sock accompaniments. A nice two-colour trim piece on the tail rounds out one of the most familiar jerseys in sports. And it looks brilliant. For the Road jersey, the two-colour tail striping carries over from the Home, with socks to match. Red cuffs and shoulder yokes fill in the perimeter of the Away jersey, rounding out another simple, recognisable creation. And it looks brilliant. My only real quibbles are with the separation between the numbers and their outlines on the Road jerseys, the lack of outlining on the player names, and the miniscule lettering for the captains. However, these are but petty trivialities.
With the exception of a couple of tweaks to the logo, font and positioning of various elements, the Canadiens’ uniforms have remained largely the same since their first season in the National Hockey League, 1917-18. However, between 1909 and 1917, the Canadiens went through several uniform iterations. In 2008-09 (see left, below) and 2009-10 (see right, below), Montréal paid homage to some of these designs for the celebrations of their centennial year, along with, at the top left, the short-lived, yet sharp-looking, mid-1940s redesign of their white jerseys.
For a team that spent the first years of its existence searching for an identity – at least visually, it is admirable that the Canadiens have managed to stay consistent – and consistently brilliant – with their uniforms. Thus, the final, and perhaps most significant, element of their phenomenal kit is its longevity. The Canadiens’ uniforms have been as consistent and comforting as Tomas Plekanec’s turtleneck.
The 2016 Winter Classic edition (see below) does not stray too far from the script. I love the vintage collar, bringing things back to the days when hockey sweaters were just that, woolen sweaters. The font is a little goofy and the sleeve numbers were clearly positioned by someone in need of an optometrist, but neither of these things prove disastrous to the product as a whole.
The base harkens back to the aforementioned mid-1940s redesign of the white jerseys – which were really just the reverse of the reds from the time period (both are shown below), with slightly paler blue and red colouring.
The central, white logo is straight off of the jerseys from the next image, which were worn from 1922 until 1924 – the first year the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup.
The sleeve striping of the Winter Classic jersey frames the Canadiens’ 1924-25 logo – sans the “Champions” label, which was designed to reflect their Stanley Cup Championship the season previous.
Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your perspective, the Habs elected not to bring back their brown pants for the occasion.
The Montréal Canadiens have the best goaltender in the world, in Carey Price. P.K. Subban is one of the best defencemen in the world. The Bell Centre is the largest hockey arena, by capacity, in the world. The Canadiens have the most Stanley Cup Championships of any team in the world. You can now slot them in as having the best jerseys, too. If there was a high school for sports franchises, the Habs would be the one who is super-smart AND super-attractive AND plays on all of the sports teams AND speaks 6 languages AND is Class President and Valedictorian, all while playing the guitar.
And they wonder why everybody hates them.