Saturday, 13 October 2012

Labour Day

Just under a year ago, I started blogging about the Habs because it's a passion of mine. I have been told over the years by many who are smarter than me that I am not only opinionated but that I have a unique perspective on Hockey, and I should put my views and opinions out there in a public forum for others to see and comment on. 

Over the past few months, I have seen my readership grow, I have seen phenomenal guests come to join my blog - and today is no exception. I am very grateful for all the support I have received. I have also been very fortunate not to receive much backlash - however I am always open to opinions that differ from mine.

I have often described myself as a passionate Hockey fan - who happens to follow the Montreal Canadiens, and I have patterned "The Breakdown" on that philosophy. 

Because this blog is a passion for me, I can pick and choose when to write and what topics I would like to cover. I do not cover players personal lives. If I have an issue with a player it will be with their play on the ice. 

One such topic that I do not wish to cover is the CBA. The National Hockey League and it's Players association are currently embroiled in their third labour dispute of the past 18 years. Whatever side of the fence you fall on, the owners or the players, the end result is we the fans are without hockey. Many part time employees of teams are without work. Many local businesses that rely on hockey games as part of their business model are suffering.

If you want to read up to the minute detailings of how negotiations are going towards a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are many fantastic resources available to you on the world wide web. 

Recently I sat down with some fantastic hockey minds to discuss the CBA Negotiations, what it can mean for the game and what effect it can have on certain markets. Some of these names will be familiar to regular readers of "The Breakdown", and some are brand new.

I expect this to be the one and only time "The Breakdown" will touch on the CBA. I Hope you will all bear through the lack of coverage on the site.

Joining our Panel today are a host of NHL Journalists. 

Abe Hefter comes to us from Montreal's CJAD 800 radio. Abe covers the Montreal Canadiens, and hosts "The Locker room" on weekends from 6-7pm. 

James Murphy covers the Boston Bruins for ESPN Boston. He has been covering the Bruins for more than 10 years.

Aaron Portzline covers the Columbus Blue Jackets for the Columbus Dispatch newspaper.

Ben Raby is a former Montrealer who now covers the Washington Capitals for and Comcast Sports.

Matthew Ross is the host of "Game Points" on TSN 690 radio in Montreal. His views on sports can be heard Sundays 6 - 8pm and Tuesdays 9pm - 12am.

Charlie Saunier is the senior writer at, a website focusing on the Nashville Predators.

1. Do you believe the 2012-2013 NHL season will start on time?

Ben Raby: Maybe on EA Sports... where the legitimacy of proclaiming 'if it's in the game, it's in the game' may be brought into question. But no, there will not be any NHL regular-season hockey on Oct. 11.

Matthew Ross:  No, the sides appear to be too far apart on fundamental issues. The owners clearly favour the strategy of letting the players twist in the wind a little.

Charlie Saunier : Sadly no, I do not think there is a chance of starting on time.

Abe Hefter: No. From the beginning of this "bargaining process" I never believed it would start on time, and I don't think you can assume that we'll have hockey by January. 

Aaron Portzline: Call me crazy. Call me an optimist. I think it's very possible.

James Murphy: I don't think the season will start on time and in fact I think there is a very real possibility and wouldn't be surprised if we lose another season and maybe more. 

Aaron Portzline: I wasn't  surprised to see a lockout begin on September 15th, but that doesn't mean the regular-season will be altered. I don't believe they're that far apart in pursuit of a new deal. Looks worse on paper than it truly is.

James Murphy: This lockout isn't about all the small market teams or philosophical differences and just revenue sharing. We are and we will find out even more so soon this is part two of 2004-05 where the players want revenge and the owners want to bury the players again. Start watching the AHL, junior hockey or even playing NHL 13 for your fix because you'll need one!

2. To many fans the current Labour strife looks like a millionaires vs billionaires fight - is that really all it is?

James Murphy: As I said earlier - emphatically Yes!

Matthew Ross: Basically. How else can fans look at it, really? 

Charlie Saunier : On the outside, this is how it appears. If it's different on the inside, then both sides have done a terrible job at explaining their case.

Abe Hefter: I think hockey fans just want hockey. I beleive they have lockout fatigue and are tired of hearing the spin being spun by both sides. They don't care and that's bad for the game of hockey.

Aaron Portzline: Well, sure, but that's also oversimplifying it. Neither side wants to give up money, but they also don't want to give up whatever "gains" they made in the last CBA ordeal. Nor do they want to give up more ground, as many players feel they gave up too much last night. These are powerful groups of people, led by men (Fehr, Bettman) whose job it is to get as much as possible. This is politics + sports, which can equal 'ugly.'

Ben Raby: Millionaires vs billionaires is a big part of it, but that makes it sound like this is only about dollars and cents. While the focus of the CBA is mostly related to dollars and cents, this is also a case of employees standing up to their employers. Decisions will made that could shape lifestyles (length of contracts and health issues) and working conditions (travel schedules and realignment) and as employees, these 'millionaires' are still at the mercy of their employers regardless of being in a higher tax bracket than the typical 40-hour a week cubicle worker.

3. It seems to me that NHL owners believe that if there is another lockout it will not hurt the game of Hockey.

I believe their logic is that while no one will be making money, small market - or struggling franchises will actually be in better shape by not having to spend money in a multitude of areas. Based on what happened after the lockout in 2004, the NHL owners have every reason to believe that fans in rich healthy markets, while annoyed, will come back to the game no matter what and that fans in the small or struggling markets likely won't even realize that hockey is gone for awhile.

Do you think this logic is sound?   How do you feel a potential lockout will affect your local team?

Aaron Portzline: Unfortunately, it's not just sound logic, it's been proven to be true. 

James Murphy: You're dead on Ian and unfortunately because the players can't seem to get by the revenge factor and realize this, they are dead in the water (or shall we say frozen water!) already.

Matthew Ross: I agree and have said it on the air.

Charlie Saunier : I am sad to say, but yes the owners have solid footing here.

Aaron Portzline: The NHL was a $1.8B industry before the 2004-05 lockout took place. Now it's a $3.3B industry. The fans have come back in droves. Certainly the last CBA -- with the salary cap, the promise to lower ticket prices (never realized in most places), and the idea that parity had arrived -- struck a chord with the people. This CBA might not have such a warm and fuzzy feel to it, so it's difficult to say if a long holdout would be treated the same way at its end. 

Abe Hefter: Fans in struggling markets are still fans. I don't beleive a lockout somehow "helps" the cause of the struggling franchise. The NHL is off the grid. That can't be good for the game, regardless of the market, and no matter how the fans react when the lockout is over.

James Murphy: The players will never win this battle and if they truly care about the game it is time to put pride and money aside and get the best possible deal they can get ASAP! The owners are completely wrong and greedy but they hold the leverage and always will.  

Matthew Ross: The lockout won't hurt anyone, the Habs included.

Ben Raby: Listening to a DC sports station the other day, a reference was made to the Nationals clinching the city's first major playoff berth since the NBA's Wizards in 2008. There were mentions of the NFL's Redskins and DC United of MLS both making the playoffs in 2007. There was not a single mention of the NHL's Capitals. I'll assume it was a simple brain fart, but this was a two-person dialogue that went on for a few minutes. If there is no NHL hockey for an extended period of time, sports fans in major cities have plenty of alternatives and the NHL could fall further into the background.

Abe Hefter: This is clearly my gut speaking, but I think fans are apathetic to it all. The owners and the players better wake up to the fact that it would seem the fans could care less about the "plight" of both sides in this dispute.

Aaron Portzline: Not sure it would be as catastrophic to the Blue Jackets as many assume. Fans are already incredibly disillusioned and frustrated with the state of the franchise, and they don't hold much hope for an immediate change. Better to take a CBA break now than if they were finally putting together a good run of seasons.

Charlie Saunier :  While the Preds have made a huge effort to get the building full from game 1 through the Playoffs, it is still a hard sell in this area in Oct & Nov with so many other options competing for the same dollars. The Titans (NFL) still dominate the media coverage & get most of the casual sports fans. College Football takes quite a bit of attention as well. If the lockout is limited to these calender months, I believe the casual fans will come immediately back to the Preds. If extended, there may start to become frustration, especially among the long term fans & season ticket holders.

Ben Raby: The Capitals have a sellout streak dating to 2008. If there is an extended NHL lockout, I can see the streak coming to an end once the game returns. Some markets are perhaps lockout proof... I'm not so sure that Washington is one of them.


4. If the NHL were to lockout an entire season or more again how do you feel things will change?

Aaron Portzline: Not sure entirely what you mean. Some fans would drift away, but many of them -- like last time -- would drift right back again. Hockey fans are the best fans in sports. But they gotta have their fix.

Matthew Ross:  Things won't change. Unless fans show they won't come back or start to cancel season tickets en masse, it won't change.

Charlie Saunier : There will be great frustration. The Preds have had a great run on and off the ice over the last two years and missing an entire season would stall that momentum. 

Ben Raby: I believe attendance and interest will take a hit, similar to the aftermath of the 1994 baseball strike. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I think more than a few fans would be slower to return to the game than maybe they were in 2005-06.

James Murphy: I don't think much will change. The fans will come back and the players will play. But the one thing I see changing or rather reverting back to a few years ago is that the NHL will once again lose the interest in it's two biggest markets New York and Los Angeles again. Those markets have been revitalized with the Kings' cup run and the Rangers' playoff run and offseason additions. That will hurt the league for sure!

Abe Hefter:  The owners will find another spiffy slogan to splash onto the ice: reminiscent of "Thank you fans" at the end of the '04-'05 work stoppage. (Pardon my cynicism)

5. After the 2004 lockout, the NHL came back stronger than ever, why do you think that is? How will things be the same or different this time?

Charlie Saunier : Parity has become the standard in American professional sports leagues and I think the average fan was able to get more into the NHL once everyone was perceived to have a chance to win.

Ben Raby: The NHL came back strong in 2005 (not sure about 'stronger than ever') because it was such a mess before the 2004 work stoppage. The League was stale, scoring was way down (no 50-goal or 100-point scorers) teams with long histories like the Blackhawks, Penguins and even the Canadiens couldn't fill their buildings and struggled just to make the playoffs... There just wasn't a whole lot for the NHL to sell to its fans.

James Murphy: Completely agree with Ben here. There may be less buzz this time around but the game will be fine in end.

Abe Hefter: Ultimately, fans were starved for NHL hockey. They embraced the game and the changes that were made to the game; changes made in an effort to usher in a new era and a new-look NHL, like the implementation of the shoot-out.  

Ben Raby: When the game returned, there were new rules to create scoring (no two-line pass, more obstuction calls and as a result more power plays) and buzz (shootout, no more ties, etc...)... There were also fresh faces (Crosby, Ovechkin, etc...), and eventually there was the Winter Classic.

James Murphy: The game will continue to be fine until fans actually take a stance. They should be ones seeking revenge not the players.   

Matthew Ross: One word: shootouts. The rule change piqued people's interests and held them. Scoring was up as well and it was more exciting. 

Abe Hefter: Which I hate by the way. It's nothing more than a beauty contest and a terrible way to decide a hockey game.

Ben Raby: If the NHL is out for an extended period of time, I don't see them returning with the same buzz and excitement as they did in 2005-06. The game has been great for years, and the league is in danger of losing that momentum.

Charlie Saunier : I believe things will be the same as long as this lockout doesn't cost more than a quarter of the season in games lost. If this lockout lasts an entire season, I believe it will be different because fans will be less willing to forgive a 2nd time & slower to return which will stall the momentum the league has gained since the 1st lockout. 

Ben Raby: In 2004, there was no momentum to lose. The game needed an excuse to re-evaluate itself. 

6. As with every collective bargaining agreement in every sport, there are not only economic issues being dealt with. There are issues of player safety and possible rule changes that get discussed as well. What are some changes in those areas that you would like to see?

Charlie Saunier : As with every collective bargaining agreement in every sport, there are not only economic issues being dealt with. There are issues of player safety and possible rule changes that get discussed as well. 

Abe Hefter: Player safety is obviously a key issue. But, fundamentally, I would like to see the NHL "leave the game alone" and stop trying to force-feed fans "solutions" as to how to make the game "better" (like the shootout). 

James Murphy: How about players show their solidarity on the ice and not try to kill each other to make highlights? 

Matthew Ross: Above all else, I want the Mark Messier-recommended helmet instituted. A thicker helmet that could help to reduce concussions.  

Charlie Saunier : I would just like to see clear definitions of the recently added head shot rules & consistent discipline for offenders. I know the NHL tried hard last year & made good efforts, but there was too much confusion among the players and fans on this. 

Abe Hefter:  Too many believe that the barometer of success in a game is the number of goals scored. (The more, the merrier). If that's the case, and I don't agree, why not just replace the puck with a marble and make the nets a foot wider? That'll result in more goals!!!

Aaron Portzline: I'd like to see the goalie trapezoid removed from behind the net. I'd like to reward goaltenders for being athletic and able to play the puck.

Ben Raby: I agree with Aaron on the removal of the trapezoid.

James Murphy: Get rid of the trapezoid rule and save defensemen! 

Matthew Ross:  Also, products like being instituted, to help people's awareness of their surroundings, would also help to reduce injuries.

Ben Raby: Agree with all the comments regarding health. NHL should take note of the former NFL players who are now suing their league for failing to properly address health issues in the past. Icing needs to change. Not necessarily hybrid icing, but maybe the implementation of the 'Bowman' or 'Ringette' line which was tried at last year's research and development camp in Toronto.


6. For those who are unaware, what is Inelligym?

Matthew Ross: IntelliGym is cognitive training software that looks like a video game. It was developed for Israeli fighter pilots and adapted for hockey in conjunction with USA Hockey. It makes players more aware of their surroundings on the ice, reducing concussions and increasing offensive play. 

For more from Abe Hefter, follow him on twitter: @hefteronthehabs
For more from James Murphy, follow him on twitter: @Murphyslaw74
For more from Aaron Portzline, follow him on twitter: @Aportzline
For more from Ben Raby, follow him on twitter: @BenRaby31
For more from Matthew Ross, follow him on twitter: @TSNMatthew
For more from Charlie Saunier, follow him on twitter: @CrazyCharlie615

Monday, 17 September 2012

What gives, Gary Bettman? - By Teemu Selanne

Early this morning, long time NHL star Teemu Selanne posted a blog posting, in Finnish, discussing the current labour strife. 

With a huge assist from the combined might of Google translate, the Bing Translator and my own comprehending of the English language, I offer up a translation of Selanne's blog post below.

If you can understand Finnish, please feel free to check out the original posting courtesy of

What gives, Gary Bettman? - By Teemu Selanne

Hello again everyone! This blog posting will have a lot of information to digest from me as I am amongst my own. The summer went well and everything has been fine in my preparations for the new season. I have to admit that aside from the disappointing at the start of the lockout, everything is great. I think now would be a good time to properly discuss this. 

I still remember a very beautiful summer's day, it was July 22nd 2005. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was getting ready to announce that the year-long lockout was over. He and the league brass were excited by how dazzling the NHL's future would be when the owners finally got what they wanted. Mr. Bettman was right! The NHL's business has grown since the lock-out from 2.3 billion to 3.3 billion, that is, almost a billion dollars, or 40 percent. Just so, you saw right! I'm talking about billion!
The new salary cap evened out the sports-team level differences. The NHL is smoother and more interesting than ever, the product works and the fans like it. The clubs are paying their players more than ever to play. Everything should be fine. What's wrong with this plan then? Can ice hockey really afford to be without playing again? Damage caused by the last lockout has just been repaired. Most of the fans that the league lost have approximately been recovered. However, television giant ESPN, which has rejected ice hockey and replaced it with Texas hold'em poker, is still the biggest source of lost revenue.
There are 30 teams reportedly 22 or more have a winning result. Some teams aren't showing financial results, that the rich clubs would like would share part of their profits to these weakly to clubs. The message from the rich teams to the struggling ones is a harsh one: not a chance! If you do not know how to do business, or you're wrong in the city, it is not our problem. 

Commissioner Gary Bettman has this great idea: Let's take money from the players and give it to these poor clubs. No way around it, each belongs to "own people" in this circus. The NHL complains that the players get too big a piece of the pot (57%) of the total business. After all, the clubs face the financial risks that the players will not have. That's true, but the NHL forgets that we players also face risks. Every day when we put the skates on we take the calculated risk that one check can end a career or one skate cut could end our lives. The average NHL player's career lasts about four years. Is to me unreasonable "to accept" what's he doing? NHL is a clear market value of a player, the clubs and the NHL have developed. They know every player's value and pay accordingly.
The NHL has warned the clubs about offering lengthy Front-loaded contracts. After all, the clubs don't need to offer them if they do not want to. A perfect example of this is the Minnesota owner Craig Leipold, who is also a member of the NHL's board of Governors. He signs two-player deal with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. A couple of 13 years at more than $ 100 million contracts (per player) and then tells the hockey world about how excited the entire Minnesota franchise is with fresh purchases. The next day, he puts on his Board of Governors jacket, and goes to the other side of the table and tells the same hockey world how incomprehensible these new long-term contracts are. Come on! Noone forced the teams to pay such sums, and add in the 13 years of absurd contracts. It is their decision! How do the NHL clubs still not know that  any of mega long-term deal have not been working? You also have to remember that it has a contractual dispute with 57 per cent share of the players was their offer, which we had to accept. And now, it is not enough!
Gary Bettman has been the NHL's boss for almost 20 years. He was hired by the NHL Board of Governors to bring the in salary cap, and so he did. There has been a work stoppage twice during his reign. Now it is the third! He is certainly the NHL's most hated person. It's time for the fans of every team to speak their minds. Fans need to know!
Gary Bettman earns more than eight million dollars a year. Would Mr. Bettman be willing to give up their salary and give part of it to these "poor" teams? Hmm ... interesting question.
In the same breath, we need it known that players association boss Donald Fehr announced when the negotiations began, he did not want his own salary before this "war" is over. Among the players reaction was admirable. Mr. Bettman should try to negotiate bringing hockey back to the big TV companies, such as ESPN. It probably could use the extra money for these "poor" clubs.
In any case, winners in this dispute are unlikely to be found. In particular, on behalf of the fans I'm really sorry. They do not really deserve this, and you have to remember, however, that the end of the day this ship of joy, more or less pay just fans. It does not help other than to hope that this lockout will not last long, and reach back to enjoy the NHL hockey. The world's finest sport does not deserve this! Disappointed vainly awaiting better news. Good hockey now through in many leagues some about to start or have started already!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

HABS TOWN: "He’s in a tough spot with some of the terrible deals he inherited"

Conor McKenna was recently voted in an informal poll to have the best Twitter feed of any TSN 990 radio personality. While not one of the names or faces that are marketed the most, Conor's acerbic wit makes him a popular person amongst listeners of the station.

Conor is the host of the Habs' post-game show on TSN 990 and has been for years, prior to that he got his start at the station working on a daily Habs' report. His association both personally and professionally with the team goes back many years for someone of his age.

Like many in the media, Conor got his first introduction to the Montreal Canadiens as a fan and that transition from fan to professional is one of the things that makes him an integral part of the Montreal Canadiens Experience for many. Today, Conor pays a visit to HABS-TOWN to talk about his relationship with the Habs.


What got you into hockey, more specifically the Habs?
I'm from Montreal. When I was a kid it was easy to admire Patrick Roy and guys like Kirk Muller, Vincent Damphousse, Mike Keane, Eric Desjardins and others. It's easy to admire a team that wins a Stanley Cup in the dramatic fashion the Habs did it in '93. I was ten years old when that happened and was already obsessed with the sport. Hockey was a part of life every day. When there was ice, I'd be playing in various leagues or at the outdoor rinks in Westmount and NDG. When there was none, I'd be playing ball hockey or roller hockey.

Do you remember your first Habs game?
My first Habs game was May 4th, 1993. My dad took me to game 2 of the Conference Semi-Finals. Montreal won the game 4-3 in OT, the same score they'd win every game in that series by. The Forum was a very different place than the Bell Centre. The standing room fans, the smoke and the people, many of whom were dressed up for the occasion (people don't really do that anymore). One aspect of the game that's been lost in the move to the Bell Centre is the on-ice sound. You could hear every stride, shot and hit at the Forum. That is, unless the crowd got going. When that happened, you couldn't hear yourself think. It was a far less gimmick-oriented crowd than the one we have now although I do love the Bell Centre. It's just different. 

Do you have a favorite Habs player ever?
Patrick Roy is my favorite Hab. I didn't get to see the greats of the past but I saw Roy. I saw him carry the team to a Cup. I've watched older games and obviously am aware of the greats, who are too many to name, but never having seen their greatness firsthand it's hard to claim them as favorites. More recently, I've had a lot of appreciation for the way Andrei Markov controlled a game when he was at his best. If he can find that game again, the Canadiens will be a vastly improved team this year. One of the things I've seen a lot of while covering the team is jersey retirements and Roy's was one of the most special.    

Where do you like to watch games?
I love watching games at the Bell Centre but honestly, I’ve seen so many there that I sometimes really just want to grab some beers and sit on a couch with my buddies and take it in. Also love watching at a pub like Hurley's or Ye Olde with friends. It’s funny how much you miss doing that once you stop.

Do you have any pre-game rituals or in game superstitions?
Absolutely zero. I am not the least bit superstitious.  

Do you find a difference in the media in-game experience at Bell Centre vs sitting in the seats?
It’s completely different. For starters, you have to pay for your hot dogs when in the seats. The media gallery also gives more of a bird’s eye view, which is nice, but completely different than the game experience of sitting in the reds or anywhere else for that matter. The electricity in the building does remain whether you’re there as a fan or a member of the media. 

Do you find it difficult to be fan at this point? Or is it easy to turn the "fan" off and on when appropriate?
It’s not hard for me to avoid fandom. There are people in the press who get excited and wear their emotions on their sleeves but I was told right off the bat, by the likes of Andie Bennett, Mitch Melnick and PJ Stock that you never cheer in the pressbox. Never. Once you flip that switch, it’s hard to turn it back on.

What's the best game you ever went to? what do you remember about it?
My favorite live experience was May 10, 2010 game 6 of the Eastern Conference semi-final with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins at the Bell Centre. A friend of mine wanted me to go with him, convinced that I was his “good luck charm” and the key to a Habs win. I called Rod Francis and got the night off (don’t think it was too hard to find someone to fill in for me). We sat about halfway up section 112, right across from the Habs bench, an unbelievable vantage point.
Fans remember this game well, Mike Cammalleri scored the first two Montreal goals and earned a standing ovation that lasted an entire TV timeout. Goosebumps. Jaroslav Halak put together what may have been his greatest performance, but the moment of the night was right before the 3rd period was set to start, with the score 3-2 for Montreal, Jean Beliveau emerged from the Habs tunnel to take up his customary seat behind the bench but stopped as he passed Glen Metropolit to offer some words of encouragement, clearly pretty pumped up himself. I’m not sure what he said, but the moment was captured by CBC cameras and made it into their incredible montage that closed out the playoffs that year. My seats gave me and my buddy the perfect vantage point for that spine-tingling moment. Maxim Lapierre later scored that ridiculous goal after exposing Alex Goligoski along the boards and sent the crowd into hysterics. As far as a sporting event experience goes, it would be hard to top those seats and that game. 

You're a noted fan of Game of Thrones, do you think that being named the Captain, Coach or GM of the Habs is like sitting on the Iron Throne?
I’m more a fan of the series of books than the TV show but I will say that being coach of the Habs isn’t completely unlike sitting the Iron Throne in the sense that people don’t tend to do it for very long, you have to be highborn (read: Francophone) to do it, and there are people constantly sniping at you and ready to seize on the slightest slip-up or mistake that you make. Unfortunately for the coach, he can’t mount people’s heads on spikes every time they piss him off. If he could, me and several of my colleagues would likely be a bit shorter. 

What do you think of the hiring of Marc Bergevin and his moves so far?
He’s done a good job. He’s in a tough spot with some of the terrible deals he inherited but I like the job he’s done so far. He’s identified core players and signed them to deals that appear to be fair to both sides. Hard to say how the hire of Michel Therrien will work out, but his track record with younger players is outstanding. The future already looks a lot better with Bergevin at the helm if only because he’s had the sense to surround himself with intelligent hockey people and seems to be willing to listen to them. My expectations for this season are not high. It will  take some time for this team to become a real contender but based on this year’s draft and the strength of next year’s draft class, I think the team will contend in the next three or four years. 

What do you think is coming in the immediate future for Scott Gomez?
It seems we’ll have to wait until a new CBA is reached before we know what will happen with him. I’ve long said that I won’t be shocked if he’s there when and if training camp opens.

To me there are 4 question mark contracts for the Habs: Andrei Markov, Scott Gomez, Rene Bourque  and Tomas Kaberle. All four had to perform to a certain level to earn their given contracts at some point in their career. None of them reached those standards last season.
Do you believe in all four cases it's a lost cause, or can any of them be viable NHL players?
For me, Kaberle and Gomez are lost.

In the case of Markov, I truly he believe he will have a bounce-back season. He's been in Montreal for the entire off-season for the first time in his career and should be in great shape for the season. Obviously if he re-aggravates the injury all bets are off. 

For Bourque I'm not optimistic but the fact is that he's still only 30 and not too far removed from being a successful NHL player. Maybe Michel Therrien can light a fire under the guy and get some production out of him. He has all the tools needed to be successful at this level. I'm not holding my breath here, but stranger things have happened.  

Will the the 2012-2013 NHL season start on time?
I will remain the optimist and say yes. The clock isn’t just ticking for them, I’ve got postgame shows I want to host! 

For more from Conor Mckenna, follow him on Twitter @McKennaConor 
Tune in to "Melnick in the afternoon" on TSN 990am for the rest of the week as Conor fills in for Mitch.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

HABS-TOWN: "I'm no longer a fan of the Montreal Canadiens"

Many of you, like me, may remember Ben Raby from his time in Montreal. He worked at the Team 990 (now TSN 990) for four years with the likes of Mitch Melnick and PJ Stock. He left for Washington D.C. shortly after completing a Master's degree at Syracuse University. He still makes occasional appearances on TSN 990, most recently this week with Conor McKenna on "Melnick in the afternoon".

Ben Raby is a man of many hats in the sport world. I've had the pleasure of knowing him for the better part of a decade. He was a pretty good ball hockey player, has knowledge on a multitude of sports and my own mother confused a picture of him as me - so he must be a pretty good looking guy.

While Ben has moved on to another locale, he is still a Montrealer born and bred, the Habs were an important part of his growing up, and to me that makes him an interesting member of HABS-TOWN.

Many readers may remember you from your time at the Team 990 (now TSN 990) here in Montreal, were you always into sports, or was reporting your first love? 
I think my goal of becoming a sports reporter began when I was still a fetus. It was something I was always interested in as a kid and the interest only grew as I went through high school and university.

Somewhere (hopefully far away) are cassettes and video tapes of simulated sports shows I made from my bedroom when I was between six and ten years old. I also used to put together sports magazines and newspapers with my own writings during that time.  Those are now stored away in boxes and likely won’t be seen again for a very long time… but they were fun to sift through when I last saw them in 2007.
I was just a sports media junkie from a very young age- watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays and the NFL on Sundays and calling Mitch Garber’s CIQC radio show on Sunday nights as nine-year-old with a high voice.

On a serious note, I also had a role model for a career in media with my uncle Jason Moscovitz having worked as a political reporter on the CBC for 29 years. He remains a mentor of mine and an honest reviewer of my work.

For those who don't know what are you up to these days?
I left Montreal in 2007 to pursue a Masters Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University. The degree from an American university offered me the opportunity to work in the U.S. and I’ve done so since 2009 in Washington, D.C.

I wear a few different hats in D.C. working as both a broadcaster and writer. I’ve covered the Washington Capitals for the last three years and am part of the broadcast team on the radio side where I host the pregame, postgame and intermission shows. I also cover the Caps as a correspondent for and with Comcast Sportsnet in DC and with a few different local radio stations.

When there are no conflicts with the Capitals, I work on the radio broadcasts for the American University and George Washington University’s Men’s Basketball teams and starting with this upcoming season, I’ll also be part of the radio broadcast team for the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

During the hockey and basketball offseason, I work as a sports anchor with WTOP Radio in DC covering all local teams including the Washington Nationals and Redskins. 

Does that make it difficult to still be a Habs fan? 
It may sound sacrilege to say I’m no longer a fan of the Montreal Canadiens but I’m in a different situation living in a different city and covering another NHL team for a living.

When Montreal kids go on to play in the NHL, they may have a soft spot for the Canadiens and look forward to the games against Montreal but their priority is always the team they play for and their upcoming opponents. That’s the way I have viewed things while I’ve been covering the Caps.

If for example, the Caps have an upcoming game against Florida and the Panthers are on the NHL Package in my apartment, but the Habs are also on TV that night, chances are good that I’ll be watching the Florida game in preparation for our broadcast. I really don’t even think twice about it.

There has also been a lot of turnover since I last called Montreal home and followed the Canadiens regularly. I think Andrei Markov and now Francis Bouillon are the only remaining players that were regulars with the team when I last lived in Montreal in 2007. I’ve never really had any allegiance to the current group of players.

That said- the soft spot for the franchise and the history is always there. Just don’t expect me to worry too much when the team hits a rough patch in their schedule next season.
What got you into hockey, more specifically the Habs?
I’m not sure if there was any one specific thing that got me into hockey and the Canadiens. It was probably just a combination of watching Hockey Night in Canada and going to games at the Montreal Forum with my father.

I also enjoyed collecting the old Panini stickers and hockey cards as a kid and when I was five or six years old, my grandfather got me the complete set of Canadiens player figurines from Provigo- a set that I still have today… somewhere.

Do you remember your first Habs game?
I don’t remember when exactly I saw my first Canadiens game, but it had to have been sometime in the late 1980s when I was four or five years old.

Apparently I was confused when the game started because there was no play-by-play announcer like all those games I had watched on TV. I’ve been told that I then took it upon myself to do the play-by-play from my seat, causing those around us to wonder what the heck this kid was doing. Guess it was a sign of things to come.

My father introduced me to the Montreal Forum when I was a little guy. I also remember my cousin Ben Raby taking me to see Wayne Gretzky and the L.A. Kings when I was five or six. 

Do you really have a cousin with the exact same name as you?
Yes. Yes I do. He's a doctor.
Do you have a favorite Habs player ever?
Russ Courtnall was among my favorite players when I was still a little guy. He was a goal scorer with plenty of speed- was just fun to watch. I used to always request jersey #6 in my house leagues because it’s the number that Courtnall wore in Montreal.

Shortly after he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Brian Bellows, I got a custom made Stars sweater with his #26 on the back (they didn’t exactly have those hanging on the racks in Montreal).
I also liked Chris Chelios which was more a result of his being my older sister’s favorite player. Wearing a Chelios jersey at the Bell Centre in the early 2000s always garnered plenty of reactions. 

More recently Saku Koivu was another favorite of mine and his name is one of the few that I still look for in the box-scores. He was a gamer in Montreal. Captained the team during the worst decade in franchise history and he put up with so much nonsense in the media. I’ll always remember his comeback in 2002 and his going up against Boston’s Joe Thornton in the 2002 and 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I was actually at the game in Dec. 1996 against the Chicago Blackhawks when Koivu suffered a serious knee injury. He was the NHL’s leading scorer at the time with 38 points in 30 games, but after the injury he never produced points at that rate again.

Is it easy to turn the "fan" off and on when appropriate? 
I don’t think it’s too difficult to turn the “fan” off when appropriate. Selfishly speaking, you usually want to see the teams you cover do well because it’s usually good for business (more people tuning in or reading your coverage), but that doesn’t mean you need to cheer in the press box or forget that you have a job to do.

When you deal with the players you cover regularly you develop a relationship that differs from a fan-athlete relationship. It’s a professional relationship that may also allow for a casual conversation when time permits, but I’ll put it this way- reporters can’t talk to players the way fans may talk about the team on a call-in radio show.

The best example I can give of tossing away the fanhood is when you’re working on deadline. When writing a story on a tight deadline the last thing a reporter needs is an overtime finish or a crazy late-game comeback. In those situations, regardless of whether “your” team is leading, sometimes you just want the game to end quickly regardless of who comes out on top. It makes life as a reporter a whole lot easier.

What's the best hockey game you attended? what do you remember about it?
Some of the best hockey games I attended were the first few times the Colorado Avalanche visited the Molson Centre in the late 1990s. At the time the Avalanche were one of the best teams in the NHL, they were still only a couple of years removed from Quebec City (brining out plenty of Nordiques jerseys to the arena), and their goalie Patrick Roy had a little bit of history in Montreal. The atmosphere at those games was always special.

I’ll also always remember attending the final game at the Montreal Forum on March 11, 1996. The Canadiens beat the Dallas Stars 4-1 and the postgame ceremonies included an eight minute standing ovation for Maurice Richard.

A couple non-hockey questions, you moved to DC right around the same time as the Expos, now you work for the team, does that make it that much easier to be a Nationals fan, or do you still feel the pain of the Expos loss? 
The Expos were my favorite team growing up so I’ll always have a soft spot for the team’s history in Montreal and the memories of seeing some great players at Olympic Stadium (say what you want, but I maintain that it had to have been one of the most under-rated fan experiences in all of baseball).

That said, this is my fifth summer in D.C., and having covered the Nationals in some capacity since 2008, I have gotten to know the folks who work with the club, I have followed the growth of the team and I have seen them evolve into a pennant contender. It’s been a great ride which should only get better.

I do acknowledge the unique situation I’m in. I understand that most Expos fans don’t care about the Nationals, just as most Washington baseball fans don’t care about what the franchise did while in Montreal. 
The Nationals themselves (perhaps under orders from MLB) do a very good job of acknowledging the Expos past. Any time a franchise record is broken for example, you’ll often hear a reference to a Montreal Expo. Whenever the Nats begin a home stand, the press notes will always include the club’s all time record (dating back to 1969) versus the upcoming opponents.

I would say that in each game broadcast, there are least three or four references to the Expos. On the TV side, former Expos outfielder FP Santangelo is the color analyst, so many of his anecdotes or references come from his time with Montreal.

It was also special in 2010 when the Nats honored Andre Dawson and Gary Carter by including them on the team’s ring of honor at Nationals Park. The Nats wore the tri-colored Expos hats during batting practice that day and the players then had to sign the hats for charitable auction purposes.

Adam Dunn, Ian Desmond (third-round pick by Montreal in 2004) and Drew Storen (an Expos batboy in the late 1990s in St. Louis) weren’t happy about having to give up the hats and apparently went out and bought their own Expos hats after the fact.

The point is- the Expos actually have a bigger presence in D.C. then some may realize. 

Before I let you go, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you - have you gotten around to seeing The Godfather or Goodfellas yet?

I have in fact gotten around to seeing the Godfather and Good Fellas, and the latter is actually among my all-time favorite movies. 

The origin to this question dates back to 2006 when I was working with Mitch Melnick and it was discovered in an on-air conversation that I have seen very few must-see movies.
I think I was given a list of ten classics that I was instructed to watch… I only wound up watching four of them- Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather and Good Fellas- but I’m forever grateful that they were brought to my attention.

I still have never seen the Wizard of Oz. 

For more from Ben Raby, follow him on twitter: @BenRaby31
or read his articles at CSN

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Welcome (back) to Montreal: Francis Bouillon

Earlier this month we started looking at new Habs GM Marc Bergevin's work on Canada day 2012. We discussed free-agent prize Brandon Prust.

Bergevin also brought in Colby Armstrong, and brought back Francis Bouillon. There are many commonalities among the three players - the main being that they are hard workers who will bleed for the logo on their jersey. In the case of Bouillon and Armstrong however, they also have familiarity with Head Coach Michel Therrien.

Bringing Armstrong and Bouillon in to the Habs dressing room cements that the new relationship being forged between Head Coach and General Manager is one built on strong communication - both in the Press Box and in the dressing room.

The history between Bouillon and Therrien is long and strong. They first worked together in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. From 1992-1995 Therrien coached the rugged defenseman for 3 seasons with the Laval Titan before both moved to the Granby Predateurs for the 1995/1996 season. Therrien coached that Granby Predateurs team to it's first Memorial Cup victory in 25 years. As Captain of the team, Bouillon was the first player to parade around the Memorial Cup.

When Michel Therrien took over as Head Coach of the Canadiens (the first time) in November 2000, he was instrumental in getting Bouillon his first taste of NHL action. Bouillon played 74 games that season. 

In a 2005 interview with the Montral Gazette's Stu Cowan, Therrien (then coaching the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) said that his one big regret in leaving Montreal was "that I was not able to coach Francis Bouillon (more) when I was there.”

Bouillon is a hard working defensive defenseman. Last season with Nashville, he threw 103 hits in 66 games. Bouillon will always give you everything he has. "It was the biggest disappointment of my career to leave the Canadiens. It happened a little weirdly, but I do not blame anyone today and I'm looking towards the future" Bouillon told RDS after news of his signing broke. He received a 1 year, $1.5 million dollar contract from the Habs. 

When asked about reuniting with Michel Therrien, Bouillon was very candid, "Michel and I've had some great moments together during my career. I was very happy with his re-hiring by the Canadiens and I am very excited to return to his team."

"It's going to be team first," he said. "He's going to give a lot to the guys who work their ass off. He doesn't like the lazy guys or the guys who think they have good skill and they don't have to work. He like the rough game, and if you don't play rough or don't show up and want to win, he's going to play somebody else."

"He's pretty intense in everything he does....he wants to win," Bouillon added. "He was my pick (for Habs coach). He's got the character, and I think right now what they need to bring that team back on the right track  is  a coach who has character and who's going to put all the boys together and believe in his team."

The last time Bouillon played in Montreal was during the playoffs of the disastrous Centennial Season. Bouillon came back early from injury, didn't look great, and wasn't re-signed in the off-season.

Unless something has changed since he was last in Montreal, I see Bouillon as a capable bottom pairing defenseman. Probably a 6/7 on most teams, who may play more minutes with Montreal (if he's healthy) due to his work ethic and familiarity with the coach.

Admittedly, I have only seen Bouillon play a few games since leaving Montreal in 2009 so I reached out to some people who have seen much of "Le Pettite Geurrier" during his time in Nashville.

Amanda DiPaolo is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Political Science at Middle Tennessee State University - but her true passion lies in Hockey. DiPaolo runs Inside - a Nashville Predators blog, similar to the Breakdown. Inside Smashville is a great resource for reading Amanada's take on all things Predators.

In speaking with Amanda, I discovered that like the coach Amanda has a history with "The Cube" (as he was affectionately known in Nashville). "Since (Bouillon) spent most of his time in Montreal, I doubt there is anything that fans in Montreal don't know... and of course since coming to Nashville already a seasoned veteran, I don't think his style evolved any."

"I used to live in Fredericton, New Brunswick and so I've been familiar with Bouillon from his American Hockey League days!"

DiPaolo also spoke fondly of Bouillon's hard work, team play and leadership. "As fans in Montreal must know, Bouillon is not only an excellent defensive defenseman who is tough on the ice, but he is a real team player off the ice. During Nashville's recent playoff run, defenseman Kevin Klein started a trend in the locker room. He cut his hair into a mohawk. Other players followed suit, including former Habs Hal Gill and Bouillon. But the veteran defenseman who has recently rejoined the Canadiens took it one step further, Bouillon's young boys also started sporting mohawks in support of their dad."

Charlie Saunier hosts the Prednecknation  Radio show on and has been covering the Nashville Predators for various outlets for over a decade. I went a little more in depth with Charlie on Bouillon starting with his health.

"Francis Bouillon recovered nicely from the injury he had when he first joined the Preds & stayed healthy over his tenure in Nashville, except for a concussion that cost him the end of the 2010-2011 season. While out during that stretch, he was missed quite a bit."

Bouillon, like in Montreal, was never a flashy player just a blue collar worker who "he answered the bell nightly and gave it his all every shift."

I asked Saunier if anything stuck out in particular about Bouillon during his tenure in Music city. "He never took a minute of his ice time for granted. He played so much bigger than his size and was willing to play the "Predator" way as Head Coach Barrt Trotz loves to say. He hit, fought, and chipped in on offense when he could. His defense was solid and made it very easy for his partners to take more offensive risks."

"He never dominated the stat sheet or made headlines, but was solid every time he came over the boards."

Saunier expanded that much like in Montreal Bouillion was noticed for what he brings to the table.
"You would hear a good bit of chatter about him throughout the stands. The Predator way is a huge thing here and when Bouillon bought in right away, it was easy to recognize and appreciate."

Hard worker. Willing to fight for teammates. Perfect team guy. Sounds like a good fit.

Saunier was puzzled as well why Nashville General Manager David Poile made no attempt to keep Bouillon - a popular figure in Nashville with the team. "This is an odd one for sure. Bouillon was a solid 2nd pair D-man and very affordable at this point in his career. With his level of experience, it was expected he would be brought back, but that was not to be and no word has been given by GM Poile as to why a contract was not offered. In my opinion, it was a depth issue on the prospect side of the ledger. Roman Josi had a great rookie campaign and is expected to make a run at the 1st pair with Shea Weber this season. Ryan Ellis is also expected to make the roster this season and could be a 3rd pair guy with Hal Gill and a Power Play specialist. Jon Blum spent much of last year in the AHL, but is expected to be back with Preds this year and if he's back to his form of 2 seasons ago, he will fill that 2nd D-pair slot with Kevin Klein. I know GM Poile has wanted these prospects to take over and it seems as if they will have the chance this training camp. Even with Ryan Suter leaving, the D-corps is still quite stocked."

Francis Bouillon typifies a depth defenseman. He'll put his hard hat and working boots on before every shift of every game and dig in for a long night's work. He's the type of gritty player Michel Therrien loves to have, he's the kind of guy teammates love, and he's the kind of guy who will bleed for the  logo in the front, not the name on the back.

Welcome back to Montreal Francis Bouillon.

For more from Stu Cowan, read him in the Montreal Gazette and follow him on Twitter @StuCowan1

For more from Amanda DiPaolo, read her on Inside and follow her on Twitter @adpreds

For more from Charlie Saunier tune in to the Prednecknation Radio show  and follow him on Twitter @crazycharlie615