Monday, 9 December 2013

Douglas Murray eats his Chili

A few weeks ago, Arik Parnass of "Habs Eyes on the prize"  wrote an article asking if Douglas Murray was the worst defenseman in the National Hockey League. At the time of the article, Murray had only played a few games and the fan base was very hard on him. The article delves deep into "fancystats" to point to some of Murray's strengths and weaknesses.

On August 22nd, Habs GM Marc Bergevin announced the signing of the native of Bromma, Sweden. When discussing his signing of the man some call Crankshaft, Bergevin called Murray "an experienced defenseman with good size". He went on say that the seasoned veteran would "bring a physical dimension to our team." On Mitch Melnick's TSN 690 show, NBC Hockey analyst Pierre McGuire noted that Douglas Murray was strong at clearing the net, being a physical presence and adept on the penalty kill.

If we accept that Douglas Murray was brought in to Montreal to fill specific needs, it's fair to assess his signing in the context of filling that role. With Healthy bodies coming back, Murray has been splitting time with Francis Bouillon as a sixth/seventh defenseman - which to me, is exactly the right fit for him.

The Canadiens have played 31 games this season and have gone to the Penalty kill 103 Times. They have given up 14 goals for a PK% of 86.4%.

Douglas Murray has played 15 games for the Habs in which the team has taken 43 penalties. They have been scored upon a measly 3 times during those contests, a penalty killing success rate of 93% - a full 6.6% higher than the season average.How does that stack up against the success rate when Murray does not play? Glad you asked.

In 16 games that the Canadiens have played without Doug Murray, they have taken 60 Penalties and given up 11 goals. A success rate 0f 81.7%, which is 4.7% lower than the season average, but a staggering 11.3% lower than the success rate than when Murray plays.

As far as being a physical presence, Murray has thrown 39 hits this season - an average of 2.6 hits per game. In the 15 games that he has played, the team has thrown a total of 300 hits, of which Murray accounts for 13%. In the 16 games without Murray, the team has thrown 285 total hits. That's 20 hits per game with Murray versus 17.8 hits per game without Murray. The difference of 2.2 hits per game effectively being effectively what Murray adds.

Building a hockey team is often termed a chemistry experiment, when the Douglas Murray element is added to the Canadies mix, their record this season is 10 wins, 3 losses and 2 shootout losses or 22 of a possible 30 points. With Murray outside of the lineup 9 wins, 6 losses and 1 shootout loss or 19 of a possible 32 points.

It can be argued that the addition of Douglas Murray makes the Canadiens only marginally better than they are without him in the lineup, but every margin adds up and it's hard to argue that the team is better off with him out of the lineup.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Lars Eller - The Great Dane

Think back. Early on in the 2013 lockout-shortened season, Lars Eller got off to a slow start. There were even rumors beginning  to swirl that the Montreal Canadiens were looking to trade the young Dane. At that time I began putting together an article to disprove the notion that the Habs would contemplate such a move.

Life got in the way, I never finished up the article. Some details changed, David Desharnais signed a long term contract with the Canadiens and Lars Eller started to look dominant en route to the playoffs and his eventual meeting with Eric Gryba. 

As it becomes more and more evident just how important the 24-year old Dane is to the future of the Montreal Canadiens, I felt it was time to revisit the article I was putting together. I started looking over my old research. I started editing What I had already started to piece together. What we're left with is a profile on an emerging future NHL star.

Since early last season, Michel Therrien has had a plan for Lars Eller. Eller is being groomed.  At the start last season, Eller spent time on both special team units while playing fourth line minutes at even strength.I was and remain convinced that Coach Michel Therrien's plan was to virtually "build the player from scratch". Lars Eller is being groomed into the role of Thomas Plekanec 2.0. 

I can see a day in the near future, say 1-2 seasons from now where Plekanec' burdens are lessened. Where he is eased in to a 3rd line role at Center.A shutdown role playing 15 minutes with Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuck as the top two centres. That scenario would turn an older Plek into a Carbo/Gainey type -  ELITE shutdown Centre - While putting size and skill in the Top 6 at C.

This Montreal Canadiens brass led by Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin is building these players for tomorrow, not for today. Long term vision. wrote a great piece on this months ago. "Time. Patience. Faith". That's what Bergevin is working with and Michel Therrin is HIS Coach. They have a plan. Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada once told TSN 690's Mitch Melnick that when Bergevin first took the job he was getting calls from other General Managers about Eller. Bergevin would say he needed time to evaluate. 

I am certain, it didn't take long for both the Coach the GM to complete their evaluating, they've seen what other GM's saw and they now have their plan in place. 

David Desharnais signed a long term deal last season. Two years ago he had a phenomenal season, and recently he seems to have regained that form. After long stretches of aimlessness from him, I believe he is being given every opportunity to earn a place for next season, either with the Canadiens or with another team. I don't believe he is in the teams long term plans. I do believe Lars Eller is.

On June 17th 2012, The Globe and Mail's Sean Gordon wrote a long piece spotlighting then General Manager Pierre Gauthier's acquisition of Lars Eller; 

"If Gauthier's more than willing to take his lumps, it's partly because he isn't playing on the same chessboard as the team's fervent supporters; the trade provides something close to a mission statement.

"We're looking into the future … in the big picture of things, going forward, we feel very comfortable with having done this," Gauthier said.

He will be criticized for getting a relatively paltry return of two prospects for the 25-year-old Halak, whose legend was cemented with fans during the postseason.

But 21-year-old centre Lars Eller, the 13th pick in the 2007 draft, and rough-hewn Calgary Hitmen winger Ian Schultz (the 20-year-old brother of the Washington Capitals' Jeff) fit Gauthier's vision.

Indeed, Blues GM Doug Armstrong said he tried to steer Gauthier away from Eller, who had two goals in seven NHL games last season and scored 18 goals and 39 assists in 70 AHL games, but that the Habs wouldn't relent.

"It's not like we viewed [Eller]as expendable," Armstrong said. "It may be difficult for some of the fans in Montreal, but once they see him play, they'll understand."

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Dane projects as a second-line centre, and both the Blues and Canadiens view him as NHL ready for this fall.

Citing the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, Gauthier said the new paradigm involves piling up cheap, young talent that allows you to add higher-priced pieces later on. It explains why he didn't insist on a current roster player in the bidding (sources suggest four teams were involved).

As it is, the Canadiens acquired two players for roughly what Halak cost last season - probably the best they could hope for in a year where there is a rich vein of free-agent goaltending.

"That's the type of maneuvering we have to do with this new cap system," Gauthier said. "And to acquire good young players who will play for you under their entry-level contracts, that becomes very important. You look at players and how good they're going to get. You can get established players, but you can also get them in unrestricted free agency on July 1."

Fans of the former General Manager are few and far between here in Montreal and while Ian Schultz seems to be an NHL bust, Lars Eller was always the center-piece of the deal for Gauthier. This is a deal that had his fingerprints all over it. Whatever we think of Gauthier, his deals involving emerging NHL talent have all seemed to work out for the Canadiens.

Patrick Holland, Michael Bournival, Greg Pateryn and Lars Eller are all young players that the Canadiens acquired under Gauthier's watch. All four are projected to be NHLer's. Gauthier as General Manager acquired three of them - two of whom are currently on the roster. For all his failings as GM, this is one area where the man deserves to be praised. 

In Gordon's piece, Pierre Gauthier cited the Chicago Blackhawks model which is interesting to note, not just because Gauthier now works in Chicago, but the Canadiens current General Manager came from the Blackhawks system, making Eller likely a player that fits his vision. 

Looking further back to 2007, Bill Meltzer of HockeyBuzz profiled Eller leading into the NHL entry draft in a May 6th piece. His piece, almost the entirety of which I am reprinting here shows you just how high the ceiling could be for Eller;

"Among the 2007 draft prospects, Eller is arguably the most intriguing. The Dane has shot up the rankings to the point that he's become a fashionable "sleeper" first round candidate whom many say has the upside to someday outshine many of the top ten picks.

Over the last few weeks, I've talked to as many people as possible to get a sense of how far Eller has risen. Two scouts were kind enough to respond so far. In the upcoming weeks, I have arranged to speak with Eller's Frölunda head coach Jens Gustavsson and, hopefully, to several other NHL scouts to whom I've reached out. I've also poured over as many English and Swedish scouting reports on him that I've been able to find.

I have yet to see Eller play first-hand, so I can't offer any personal observations. Because Eller is Danish, he plays at the Division I level at the World Championships. And because he's been playing at the Swedish junior level for Frölunda, rather than Elitserien, no clips from his games are readily available.

However, veteran hockey people who know a lot more than I do have been raving about Eller. I thought I'd share their commentary and excerpts from the scouting reports.

Eastern Conference NHL amateur scout (via e-mail):

"Eller has come on as much as any player in this draft. Last year you could see the skill level but he was undersized even for a junior player. This year he's grown and added strength. In terms of skill, he is a plus skater and shooter and an excellent playmaker. He's a kid with a lot of upside."

Independent scout (via telephone):

Would you say Eller is the best kept secret in the draft?
"No, because Eller isn't a secret anymore. He's on a lot of team's radar screen."

Do you see him going in the first round?
"I don't see why he shouldn't. There's kind of a cat-and-mouse game that I think could go on with him, where teams are going to try to feel out how long they can wait and maybe grab another player or two they like before they take him. But more and more I think someone's going to blink pretty early on him and take him."

Could it be a situation-- like Forsberg in 1991 -- where he goes in the top 10 even though he's projected by Central Scouting and others anywhere from mid-to-late first round or the second?
"Well, you never want to put that kind of expection on a kid. Top 10? That might be a little high, but not much. If some team has the [guts] to do something like that, though, this might be the year."

How would you rate his skill level?
"He has no real weaknesses to his game. Skating- top notch. Stickhandling-top notch. Passing-- top notch. Plus he's a mature, two-way player. He's filling out his frame, so size isn't really a concern any more. He isn't afraid to get hit. If there's a flaw, it's that he's sometimes a little too unselfish and passes up open shots."

I've heard some people compare him to Henrik Zetterberg when Zetterberg was a teenager. Is that a fair comparison player, in terms of raw skill level?
"That's a real high standard to meet-- that's setting the bar really high, I think. You know that Detroit was able to draft Zetterberg in the seventh round (210th overall in 1999). There were size questions about Zetterberg back then and he didn't really come into the limelight until after he was drafted. I don't think it's fair to expect Eller to do what Zetterberg did. What I will say is he has the skill level to a be a special player if he continues improving at the same rate."

So if Eller clearly has that kind of upside, why is he still not a top 10 prospect-- or even a top 30 according to some sources? In a year where there are question marks about pretty much everyone, why isn't he in the mix?
"I'd say it's two things. He's from Denmark, so even though he plays in a very good junior program in Sweden, scouts couldn't get to look at him in the (elite level) of the WJC and Under-18s. The highest competition he's faced was in the Swedish junior playoffs."

Okay, but Kyle Turris was pretty much in the same boat. And that hasn't really held him back.
"No, it hasn't. You're right. But Turris has shown he can play for [Team] Canada and he's been accepted to a proven college hockey program at Wisconsin. But there are guys who don't feel comfortable pushing the Danish kid up until they actually see him at a higher level on a regular basis. There isn't the track record to go on."

What was the second reason why he's down a little bit in the rankings from what his skill level is supposed to be?
"In some ways it helps him and in some ways maybe it hurts him a little that he's surrounded by so many skilled players [on Frölunda]. It helps him because there's been scouts at a lot of his games. But it hurts him because maybe he wouldn't be as effective when other teams focus on stopping him. There's guess-work in projecting that, because the quality of defense and goaltending below the Elite league-- and same thing for the Division I tournament -- isn't always the best.

"Next year, Denmark will be in the WJC and he should be there. He should also be a rookie in the Swedish Elites by that point. He'll already be drafted by then, but we'll get to see how far he's come along. "

What's a best-case and worst-case scenario for him at the NHL level? Could he potentially not make it at all?
Unless it's a [Sidney] Crosby or [Alexander] Ovechkin level player, anyone could fall a little short. He could get hurt. He could stop developing. He could have trouble adjusting to the next level. But I think he doesn't have any real weaknesses to hold him back. I think he'll be an NHL player and could be a very good one." 

There's more to find in Meltzer's Eller Profile on and I encourage you to check it out.

Time. Patience. Faith.

If this recent streak the Habs are on has show us anything, it's that these three things are things fans need to have. The Coach has it - Listen to his speech before the Columbus game on 24CH recently. The GM has it - look at how his moves worked out. Now we need to have it to.

The Habs are on their path, let's follow them on it and enjoy the ride. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

UPDATED: How does the NEW Hockey Television landscape affect me?

A very quick round-up of my understanding of the new National Hockey rights deal here in Canada and how it will affect your Montreal Canadiens viewing habits.

As a part of the new National TV deal, Sportsnet/CBC have rights exclusively to games played on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. This would mean that TSN (for the regional channel only) would be able to pick up games not scheduled on those nights. However, as Sportsnet/CBC would be the national rights holders, they will have some affect on the scheduling. Expect to see more Sunday night Hab games in the future.

As Rogers will be taking over control of Hockey Night in Canada, Expect to see the Habs on the CBC every Saturday night (with the Leafs appearing on all four Sportsnet channels). Between CBC/Sportsnet, expect to find (approximately) 40 regular season games. Based on the current regional deal, another 30 or so would still be on TSN's regional Habs feed. Making for approximately 70 games being available on English television.

As far as French Language, it is much more straightforward. RDS is losing only it's National rights as well, which means 22 Canadiens games will now air on TVA/TVA Sports. The other 60 or so games will  likely still air on RDS, however they would be blacked out outside of Quebec. As is the case with the TSN regional Habs feed, RDS' regional coverage deal also expires following this season, however it is expected they will bid heavily to retain those rights. This is a developing story.

The reason that RDS currently airs all Habs games nationally (and the reason that future blackouts on Sportsnets Sens/Oilers/Leafs/Flames games will be lifted) is because they are also the national broadcaster. With them no longer being the National broadcaster the games are likely to be blacked out outside of Quebec.

Radio deals currently in place will not be affected at all by this deal.

To Summarize, beginning next season:

English - 40 regular season and all playoff Habs games NATIONALLY on CBC/Sportsnet/City TV (Deal runs through the 2025-2026 NHL Season)
            -42 regular season Habs games REGIONALLY on Sportsnet East (3 games will be on City Montreal - Deal runs through 2016-2017 season)

French - 22 regular season, and all playoff Habs games NATIONALLY on TVA/TVA Sports (Deal runs through the 2025-2026 NHL Season)
            - 60 Regular season, and all pre-season Habs games regionally on RDS (Deal runs through the 2025-2026 NHL Season)

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

"I would have loved to have stayed in Montreal" - A visit with Mike Commodore

Perhaps it was destiny that a player with the nickname ``Commie`` would end up playing hockey in Russia`s Kontinental Hockey League.

Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta`s Mike Commodore is a name and face that is very familiar to hockey fans. In close to 500 NHL games, the big rugged red head has put up 106 points and 683 Penalty minutes. 

Commodore became a household name when he grew out his red locks and beard in two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals. As a relative newcomer to the National Hockey League in 2003-2004 (he had a short stint with the New Jersey Devils previously) Commodore would help the Calgary Flames head to an eventual loss to Tampa Bay in the championship round.

The 2004-2005 NHL Lockout saw Commodore head back to Lowell of the American Hockey League before being traded to Carolina in the off-season. In a great personal Triumph, Mike Commodore would not only make a return trip to the Cup finals, but this time he would become a Stanley Cup champion.

Eventually, he would end up in Columbus where he would play some of his best hockey forming a number one shut down pair with Jan Hejda. Columbus Dispatch beat writer Aaron Portzline: ``Commodore was a really good player in his first year with the Blue Jackets. Big, physical player who was loud enough and bold enough to spark a moribund dressing room.`

Then Scott Arniel happened. Arniel clashed with several players in the dressing room and seemed to target Commodore from the start. You could tell from the start that it wasn't going to end well.

I've been surprised the last two seasons that Commodore can't get a job in the NHL. Pretty good player.``

Last season during the lockout, Hab-fans may have noticed Commodore patrolling the blue line for the Bulldogs in Hamilton and even at an intra-squad scrimmage at the Bell Centre. He didn`t stick with the Habs, and is now plying his trade with Admiral Vladivostock of the KHL.

I recently had a very lengthy chat with Mike Commodore all about his career, his time in Hamilton, Coach Sylvain Lefebvre, the KHL, the Stanley Cup and everything in between.  

Growing up in Fort Saskatchewan, just outside of Edmonton, is it safe to say you were a fan of the Edmonton Oilers growing up?
To be honest I was actually a Calgary Flames fan growing up. I have always been the type that cheers for the underdog, and when I was growing up in the 80's the Oilers were I found myself cheering for the Flames.

I'm surprised to hear you were a flames fan growing up, did you have a favourite player?
No. I really didn't have a favorite player. I just liked the Flames.
It must have been great being a young kid watching the Oilers dynasty of the 80's from such close proximity, do you have any vivid memories about it?
Yes the Oilers were most definitely dominant in the 80's for sure....but I was pretty young to remember any specific moments. 

The 2 moments that I do remember from growing up regarding the Oilers; I remember my dad taking me to an all-star game there, I think it was an all-star game anyways...sure seemed like it. 

And like everyone in Alberta and maybe hockey in general I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Gretzky was traded to LA.
How did you first fall in love with the game of hockey?
To be honest I don't really remember exactly when I fell in love with hockey. I always just really enjoyed competing and playing sports. Almost any sport. Athletics was always something I was pretty decent at. Because of where I grew up, if you liked to play sports it was hockey in the winters, and I chose baseball in the summers. That was how I spent my childhood and teens.

Were you always a defenceman? Did you try to emulate anyone in particular?
Yes I was always a defenceman. Looking back I wish I would have played some forward as a might have helped my skating. I didn't really try to emulate anyone but I did like Adam Foote as a player.

Do you remember the first time you went to see an NHL game?
I think I remember my first was definitely an Oilers game, but I can't remember any details other then I know my dad took me. 

What was it like being traded from New Jersey to your childhood team the Calgary Flames?
haha...the trade to Calgary was perfect! 

I love the city of Calgary, I still spend most of my summers in Calgary. And I really can't say enough good things about the Calgary Flames and how they treated me. I am very grateful to the Calgary Flames. Although I didn't play many games in Calgary, I was with the organization a little over 2 years, and it was really the turning point in my career. 

You reached the Stanley Cup Finals shortly after being called up by the Flames, what do you remember about that?

haha, by the time I reached the Finals in 2004 with Calgary I was so excited and having so much fun I wasn't sure it was real! 

Throughout your playing career, and even beforehand, you've been known to grow out your hair, and then shave it for charity - particularly the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer research, is there a reason this particular charity strikes a chord for you? 
I shaved my head a couple times for charity. The Jimmy V foundation was in 2006. 

I shaved it for the Jimmy V foundation first off because it's an excellent charity, and secondly I wanted to keep it local in Carolina so Jimmy V was a perfect fit. 

If it wasn't always the Jimmy V fund, which other charities did the money raised go to?

The time I shaved my head while I was with the Flames the money went to cancer research and it was through my mom's high school. 

It was one of those things where lets say the science teacher says "Hey if you kids raise $100 I will shave my head". So after we beat Vancouver in the first round my mom asked me if I would like to be a part of it once the playoffs were over so I said yes. 

With your notoriety for your Hair and Bathrobes, have you ever thought about your own line of Men's hygiene products? Seems to have worked out for a certain "Violent Gentleman".
haha, Yes George Parros is a good man, a very smart man, and I see his line is doing well. haha, I am not sure how well my own line of hygiene products would don't see too many red head models selling anything these days. Or ever.

Red head could work. I envision an affro'd, bathrobe clad redhead advertising for shaving products in a whimsical style similar to the old spice ads.  Maybe throw in a borscht reference or two for fun!

You ended up being vindicated by winning the Stanley Cup the very next season, but how hard was it not being able to come back with Calgary after coming so close? There must have been some sense of "unfinished business"
Yes when I first got traded to Carolina I was disappointed. Like I said I really liked Calgary and I thought we would have a good team. So it was tough for a couple days....until I realized that there probably wouldn't have been any space for me in Calgary and getting traded to Carolina was the best thing for me. 
I can't recall who said it, but following your Stanley Cup win in 2006, it was said that your opening round victory against Montreal was the most difficult series you had. Do you think that statement is accurate? 
That's a tough question to answer. Was it tough? Yes it was. Montreal won the first 2 games in Carolina. So we were going to Montreal down 2-0...not promising. But then we responded and won 4 straight games. But it's really tough for me to rank the toughest. It took us 7 games to beat Buffalo in the conference finals and 7 games to beat the Oilers to win the Cup. So I will be diplomatic and say those 3 series were all equally very tough! haha. 

Which do you think affected the outcome of that series more - the emergence of Cam Ward or the injury to Saku Koivu? Had Koivu not been injured, and/or had Cam Ward not stepped in (for the ill Martin Gerber) to start game 3, does the result remain the same? 
haha...another tough question. 

Honestly all I can say is this....we had a REALLY good team that year. For the entire year. After we got down 2-0 to Montreal I think as a team the feeling was "We are way too good and had too good of a year to go out like this"....and then we turned it on. But in saying that....Cam standing on his head sure helped. haha. 
Going into the Stanley Cup final in 2006, what if anything did you draw on from your experiences with Calgary in 2004?
I did draw on my 2004 final for sure...but at the same time it was 2 completely different scenarios for me. In Calgary in the finals I was playing very minimal minutes...and in Carolina I was playing 20 minutes a night. What I did draw from the Calgary finals was that I knew I had been there I knew what to expect both on the ice and off. And I do remember waking up the morning of game 7 in Carolina and thinking "I lost 1 game 7 in Calgary...I am not going to let that happen again". Lucky for me it worked out.
Was the Final in 2006 a different animal as a result of having played with the same teammates all season long as opposed to being a late season call-up? If so, how? 
Yes it was 2 completely different roles for me. 

In 2004 I spent the first half the year playing for Lowell Lock Monsters (Calgary's AHL team) got called up right before the all star break...blew my shoulder out in my second or third game...missed 2 months, then came back and played the last couple regular season games in Calgary, and then playoffs. 

In Calgary I was more of a depth guy that caught a break due to injuries in the playoffs and I got my chance. 

In Carolina I was there all year...and played significantly more....but you know what, both were very rewarding experiences. I cherish both.
Do you think winning the cup in '06 gave you a greater sense of accomplishment because you came so close two years prior? Or, were they completely unrelated? 
Yes I think I did get a greater sense of accomplishment in 2006 because of 2004. 

In 2004 we came so close. Like REALLY close...and just fell a little short. When it was over it was a tough pill to swallow. You never know...lots of guys never get a chance to play in the Cup finals...I never know if it will happen again. So when it happened the very next NHL season that was special. 

For fans outside of the market, particularly those in Canada who know nothing about the city, what can you tell us about Columbus? The team, the fans, the city itself. 
In my opinion Columbus is a kind of a hidden gem. I loved it there. Its a really good city. Although the way things turned out with the Blue Jackets, the reason and terms I left on still pisses me off, I can't blame the city of the fans. The fans there are fantastic. My first year there when we made the playoffs the fans were AWESOME.  Great rink too. I can think of a couple NHL teams who could use that model of arena and area when building a new rink.

2008-2009 was a very good season for you personally on the ice, and you helped the Blue Jackets to their first (and to date only) playoff appearance, is that a point of pride for you? 
2008-2009 was a good year for the Blue Jackets and for me. Yes we got swept in the first round by Detroit, but overall the year was a smashing success for the Blue Jackets. And yes I am proud of that season. Its really too bad we couldn't build off of it. 

For me personally it was my best regular season as a professional. Statistically my second year in Carolina was better...but overall 2008-2009 was my best year. 

Unfortunately everything was downhill after that and nobody remembers how I played my first year there. All anyone brings up is the negative. Like I said earlier, it still really pisses me off how things ended up between me and the Blue Jackets.

What was the buzz like around the team during that season/playoff run? 
That year I would say things were pretty normal until the end of January. 

People need to understand how Columbus works. First off Ohio State Football is #1 and always will be. The Blue Jackets could run off 4 consecutive Stanley cups like the Islanders back in the day and Ohio State football will still be king. And I am definitely not saying that like its a bad thing. It isn't at all. 

So up until the end of January (the end of Buckeye football season) normalcy for the Blue Jackets was weekday games with average crowds, weekend crowds packed. Or close to it. Once January hit that year we were doing ok but not great....but then we went on a tear in January...I think we went 14-2 or something like that. After that the rink was jammed every night and people were excited because they knew we had a good team. 

People were really excited for the playoffs....unfortunately it was a short run. We came out in the first period against Detroit in Detroit on fire. We were all over them. It could have easily been 3-0. Unfortunately for us...Osgood made some huge saves and after that Detroit took over.  
You mentioned that it still irks you how things ended in Columbus, how DID things end over there?
Here is how it went down in Columbus. 

Scott Arniel came into Columbus as a first time NHL head coach, and he came in there loaded with jealousy and arrogance. His mindset was "now I am an NHL coach and I am going to get even for any shortcomings in my playing career". 

Scott Arniel played pro hockey a long time at the NHL and AHL level. Scott Arniel didn't think he was paid enough for the time he put in. He didn't like guys that weren't married. Because in his words "I wish you guys had a wife and kids when you came to the NHL so you know how much they cost". He actually said that in a meeting. So needless to say if you were single with no kids (which I was and am) and you were making good money (I was the highest paid defenseman in the organization) you were in trouble. Big trouble.  

I broke my thumb the first game of the year in a fight....missed 6 weeks. Came back and was playing some of the best hockey of my stats for that year finished at 20 games played, 2 game winning goals, 3 assists, 44 pims, and -8. 

I was playing against top lines...the only stat that doesn't look good is the plus minus. Pitt beat us 9-1 one night and I was -4. Other then that 1 game my plus minus was just like everyone elses on the team. Anyways...I was playing well....then he scratched me 10 games in a row. Refused to meet with me. Wouldn't play me. The team was getting spanked left and right while I was being scratched...still wouldn't play me. 

2 reasons.....he was jealous that I was single and making good cash...and secondly he is extremely arrogant and wanted more power in the organization. By scratching me who looks bad? Well first off I do. And secondly the GM looks terrible cause he is the one that signed me to be the highest paid defenseman on the team. So what ends up happening? I want a trade so Arniel kicks me off the team, I get bought out - and no matter what the reason is a buyout is a black mark against you. And its been downhill from that point forward.

I know it sounds kinda crazy....but I put a lot of time into this and those are the reasons. If I was playing like shit I would say so. I was a pretty good player in Columbus. My first year was great, my second year I played the whole year with groin problems, and the third year arrogant jealous Scott Arniel got hired and that's the end of the story. 

The next season he tried the same tactics with Derrick Brassard, another single guy making good money, but fortunately for Derrick - Arniel got canned before he could finish him off. 

Look at Scott Arniel's coaching record. Its awful. And he had good players.

During last season's NHL lockout, you had a chance to play with some of the Montreal Canadiens prospects. What can you tell us about them? Is there anyone who stood out on the ice that maybe Habs fans have yet to see up in the show? 
I am glad I decided to play in Hamilton. And thankful for the opportunity. I had a good time there and it was definitely worth it for me. 

As far as prospects...god we were SO young. The youngest team in the AHL I believe. Its hard for me to pick out guys at this moment, I think a few of them have played a few games in Montreal this season. But since I am a defenseman I will just give you a couple defenseman that I think have a chance to excel at the NHL level. I really liked Tinordi, Beaulieu and Pateryn. Its no secret that they are good players though. I think everyone in Montreal knows that. 

Anyone who follows your Twitter account can see that you have a bit of a relationship with Brendan Gallagher. One would assume it started in Hamilton, do you keep an eye on him, or the team in general?
I like Gallagher, I met him in Hamilton. I like him a lot as a person and a player. Yes I do follow the Canadiens...but not so much the wins and losses, I like following the guys I played with in Hamilton last year. I check box scores once a day I would say. Vladivostok is 19 hours ahead of needless to say I am not watching any games. 

The Canadiens clearly have a lot of defensemen in the system, do you feel you were given a fair shot to make the team out of training camp last season? Would you have liked to stay?
The Montreal Canadiens treated me very well. I have no complaints.  Obviously I would have loved to have stayed in Montreal but that wasn't going to happen. 

Look with the lockout last year I don't even consider that a training camp. We had four practices and one inter-squad game. The team had seven d-men on 1-way contracts and that was before Subban signed. So 8 d-men on 1 ways. There was no space for me. Even if I played like Larry Robinson in that inter-squad game they wouldn't have kept me! 
An often listed criticism against the Habs is that they are too small, and not tough enough. Toughness and size are two attributes that you bring in abundance, do you feel you could address those needs for the Habs one day down the road?
Could I address those needs if that's what Montreal is looking for? Yes I could. But I have a long ways to go before I even think about that. I have been buried by 2 coaches in the last couple years, and my battle is to prove that I can still play. 

I am playing in the KHL, my focus is to play as well as I can here and see what happens.

How did you like playing for Sylvain Lefebvre in Hamilton? How did he compare to some of the other Coaches you've had to play for?
I liked Sylvain Levebvre. I think he's a good person and will be a good coach at the NHL level someday if that's what he wants to do. But he was a rookie head coach. So I think he has somethings to learn, which is normal for a rookie in any profession. There are some things that I would have done differently for sure.
Do you have a favourite Coach (head or assistant) that you've played for? Why?
There are a bunch of Head coaches that I really liked and thought were good. Dean Blais, Larry Robinson, Daryl Sutter, Peter Laviolette, Ken Hitchcock come to mind. But if I had to pick 1 favorite head coach I will pick Tom Rowe. Tom Rowe was my assistant coach in Lowell in 03/04, and the Head Coach in Lowell in the lockout year 04/05. I really can't say enough about what he did for my career. He was a tough, no bullshit guy, but if you worked hard for him he had your back no matter what. He turned my career around. Thank you Tom.  

Think he'll make a good NHL head coach one day?
Yes I think Tom would make a great NHL head coach if that's what he wants to do.

How are you liking the KHL?
I am enjoying the KHL. Its a very good league with very good players. It is also very different from what I am used to. But that being said it should be different. This is a completely different country and way of life. I came over here with an open mind looking to play some hockey and find some life experiences. I haven't been disappointed.

It is clearly a different brand of hockey, are there things you like better about the game in Russia that you feel the NHL could learn from, and/or vice versa?
It is very different. Other then the basics of shooting, passing and skating it is completely different. 

To answer your question...without a doubt I think the NHL should adopt the point system the KHL uses. 3pts for a regulation win, 2pts for overtime win or shootout win, 1 point for overtime or shootout loss. I personally believe it is significantly better. A team should be rewarded for winning in regulation. And the 3 point win really makes things interesting in the standings...even if your team is near the bottom in the standings...they can make up points fast with regulation wins. Also I don't think winning a game in a shootout should be worth the same as winning a game in regulation. To me the KHL system makes more sense. 

The 1 thing that really sticks out for me that the KHL could adopt is a little more of a NHL way of coaching. More teaching and systems taught in the KHL would be great for the teams and the players. Like I said its just different here. Here the attitude is "the players are professionals, they should know how to play". Well I have been a pro for 14 years and I know I could still use some learning. 

It's funny that you mention the KHL needing to adopt more of the NHL approach to coaching, with more systems. Younger players loathe systems, especially the creative guys. 

The stereotype we often hear about players coming from Russia is that they are more skilled/creative/less structured, do you think that's a product of their development?

Does the lesser emphasis on structure allow them to be more creative in honing their skills?
That's a very good question. And I guess the answer has to be yes to both those questions. But it would be really nice if you could introduce just a little bit of structure here. I mean I think you can still be creative and be responsible defensively. Pavel Datsyuk figured it out. 

If you happen to win the Gagarin Cup this season, would it be a new source of pride to be the only player to have won both the Gagarin and Stanley Cups?
Would I really be the only person to do that? If so that's cool. I like winning and have enjoyed my share of it. If I could add a Gagarin Cup to my resume I would be very proud. This is a really good league.

If another player has already won both cups, I couldn't find a note of it anywhere, so I believe you'd be the first.

At the end of the day, no matter how many teams a player has played for they always identify strongly with one above all else. Who would that team be for you, and why?
The Carolina Hurricanes. I won a Stanley Cup in Carolina. I played more NHL games there then I did for any other team. The 2 and a half years I spent there I played well. Its a shame I didn't get the opportunity to play there longer. A lot longer. 

It sounds to me like you still feel like there's some unfinished business in both Carolina and Columbus, is that fair? If you had the opportunity to finish that business it only one, which would it be and why?
I don't know about unfinished business....we won in just would have been nice for me if instead of trading me they would have signed me long term. 

And in Columbus that whole situation is sad. I really liked it there and I worked my ass off there, I was good in the community. I enjoyed some success but was kicked out and bought out by an unsuccessful, arrogant, jealous first year head coach halfway through my contract. Now as a result I am remembered as being a huge bust in Columbus. 

I hate complaining and everyone has their "I got screwed" story....but honestly its a joke how I was treated in Columbus by Scott Arniel. I don't think I deserved that. 

Have you ever actually seen a Commodore 64? (I owned an Amiga when I was a kid - it was an offshoot of the Commodore, it was a fun computer with a great Indiana Jones game!)
hahaha....I have seen a Commodore 64, a long time ago. Check them out on twitter though....Commodore 64 computers are making a comeback!

Maybe you should be the new Commodore 64 spokesman. Have you got one?
Don't have one but you are right I should get one. 

Thanks very much for taking the time, wishing you all the best in the KHL this season on your way to a Gagarin Cup and looking forward to seeing your new line of bathrobes in the NHL again one day!

For more from Mike Commodore, follow him on Twitter: @commie22

Friday, 8 November 2013

HABS-TOWN: "Bournival is raising a lot of eyebrows this season"

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've likely got at least passing knowledge of Chantal Desjardins. The affable girl from small town Winnipeg who made it all the way to big time Montreal to become a hit with local Media. 

Since arriving in Montreal in 2006, Chantal has been everywhere! She has worked on CHOM, CJAD and Virgin radio in various capacities. She's emceed many events. She's run for charity, she's dabbled in stand up comedy and most recently she's been seen on CTV Montreal Television hosting sports and entertainment segments.

Chantal holds a communications degree from the University of Winnipeg and a Creative Communications diploma from Red River college. Early on in her career she appeared as a guest on morning shows for Q94FM and BOBFM in Winnipeg before moving to Montreal permanently. 

Chantal has proven quick on her feet over her many years in Radio dealing with the likes of Aaron Rand, PJ stock and "Bad Pete" Marier. Not only has she held her own with some of their quick wit, but she has improved the quality of their broadcasts. Mike Cohen of the Suburban lauded her "amazing" chemistry with Aaron Rand, a trend that has followed her at all of her career stops. 

A constant running in thread throughout her career has been sports - particularly Hockey. From her earliest days in Winnipeg, to her current post at CTV, Chantal has been the Sports Girl, a title she's glad to hold as her love of the game an passion for talking about is is evident. Chantal is a huge part of HABS-TOWN and if you weren't quite sure why or how, this is the place for you.

What first got you interested in the game of hockey?
When I was five I wanted to be a ballerina, but it took exactly one dance class to realize that I had about as much grace as Elaine from Seinfeld and my mom decided that boys hockey might be better suited to my skill set. I’ve played hockey ever since and I still can’t dance.  

Is it safe to bet, that growing up in Winnipeg the JETS were your first hockey love?
I loved the Jets as a kid. When I was nine years old, my best friend had season tickets right behind the Jets’ bench. 

I should clarify - She became my best friend when I found out she had season tickets behind the Jets bench. Anyways, I swear that whole season, Tie Domi would wink at me every time he returned to the bench. Either that or he just had a weird eye twitch from fighting so much. Either way, that’s how Tie Domi became my favorite player (even now that he’s on those lame commercials selling long distance plans) and the Jets became my team.

Did your allegiances change to the Habs only when you moved to Montreal?
The Jets left for Phoenix back in 1996. I swear the whole city went into a depression. For years after a new petition would pop up every few months trying to bring the team back. It would get hundreds of thousands of signatures…and then nothing. So when I moved to Montreal 6 years ago, the Jets, and my winking Tie Domi, were so far removed from my memory that it was pretty easy to switch teams. And when I started covering the team for CJAD800, I got so wrapped up in the story lines that I found myself cheering for the Habs whenever the two teams would play each other.

How do you feel about the latest JETS incarnation?
I think Winnipeg getting the Jets back  is an amazing accomplishment for the city. The Bell Centre atmosphere is electric, but from what I hear, the MTS Centre in the 'Peg is definitely comparable. Now if Claude Noel can just keep his players more focused on hockey and less on tweeting pictures of themselves in Vegas surrounded by stacks of dolla bills...they'll be fine.  

Do you remember your first Habs game?
My first ever live Habs game was in 2007 after I moved from Winnipeg. It was an October game and the Bruins were in town, and the Bell Centre was electric.  They Habs totally dominated, I think they won 6-1, and the crowd went crazy every time the Canadiens found the back of Boston’s net. It was amazing.

Do you have a favorite Habs player ever?
I don’t really have a favorite player these days. Working in sports, you’re supposed to stay neutral, but if I had to choose one, it would probably be Saku Koivu. I love a good story of overcoming adversity, and his story is one of the best. I also had the chance to interview him a few times, and he was always so genuine. Sometimes that’s hard to find when you’re dealing with athletes making millions of dollars.

Where do you like to watch games? 
I get distracted easily, so if I really want to focus on the details, I need to watch the games alone on my couch. But of course, there’s nothing like watching a game from the Bell Centre. Watching from the press box is okay, but you’re so high up that the players sort of look like ants and since you’re supposed to be “working”, you can’t have a beer up there. The best is when you’ve scored tickets down in the Reds, $12 beer in hand…good times.

When you're not working, do you watch games for fun? If so do you prefer to watch with guys? with girls? why?
I do watch games when I’m not working, partly so that I can be in the loop the next day when I am working, and partly because I love hockey. I usually have a group of friends that will watch it at their place or at a pub. It’s usually guys who are die-hard hockey fans, but I have a few girlfriends who enjoy it too.

Do you have any pre-game rituals or in game superstitions? 
Ha, no I’m not that crazy. Maybe if I was on the team. You think I have a shot?

Maybe you do have a shot at the team, crazier things have happened. Matt Darche was 33 before he signed with the Habs, and he'd only played 101 NHL games before that over 10+ pro seasons. Of course there's always the Manon Rheaume comparable too, and even the Habs have called in Kim St-Pierre to practice with them before. As Randy Teiman likes to often say....."You never know"

Do you still play hockey regularly? You MUST have some pre-game rituals for you own games...
I play beer league hockey with the guys. A lot of them end up talking about their good ol' Junior days...back before they'd get an injury just from tying up their skates. It's still a lot of fun though, even if no one is going pro anytime soon. I don't really have any pregame rituals though... 

Many people may recall you spent a year working with a former Hab - PJ Stock. What was that like? 
It was loud. I worked with Pete Marier, and PJ Stock…both loud personalities. Put them in a room together, and it was basically like babysitting two kids. Two really fun, really talented kids.

Did you and PJ spend lots of off-air time talking hockey? 
Not really. Sports was just one part of the morning show on CHOM, so we spent a lot of time trying to think of different elements we could bring to the show. Like the one time a guy called into the morning show and said they’d gotten a ticket for playing street hockey with his kid. So PJ called up a few buddies and organized a huge charity street hockey tournament for the next day. It attracted hundreds of people and raised a bit of money for charity. He really used his “celebrity” status to help out when he could. 

Lots of people think PJ's a "HAB-HATER" and really a Bruin at heart, what do you think?
I think PJ just likes to stir the pot. He would say the pro-Bruins comments, which would rile up Pete Marier (and most of our listeners). I’m not sure if he even always bought into what he was saying, but it made for great radio.

When PJ was working on Team 990, I felt the same way as a listener, he's just trying to rile people up. It's shtick. I think he enjoy being the heel. (to borrow a wrestling term)


What are your expectations for the 2013-2014 edition of the Montreal Canadiens? 
I think having Therrien and Bergevin are exactly what the Habs have needed to rebuild a winning franchise. There are a lot of injuries right now, so if they can stay healthy, this could be the year. (Now I really sound like a Habs fan…)

For the moment Jarred Tinordi and Michael Bournival are with the Canadiens, do you expect them to last the season here, why or why not? What are your expectations for them?
Whereas Galchenyuk and Gallagher were great surprises last year, Bournival is raising a lot of eyebrows this season. He really seems to be holding his own as a rookie, and he’s making those around him better too. I hope he stays up for the year.

For more from Chantal Desjardins, follow her on Twitter @Chantalonair or check her out on the web at