We’re two weeks past the opening of the free agency window. Yet to come the salary arbitration cases most of which will be settled early, including those of P.K. Subban and Lars Eller. Beyond that, the next serious rostger changes are unlikely to come until training camp in mid September.
SEKAC TRAINING CAMP MAY SOLVE HABS RIGHT WING DILEMNA
By all appearances Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin feels he has a good chance of solving that second or third line right wing vacancy with the signing of of Jiří Sekáč to that two year entry-level contract. Sekáč is a left shot who played right wing for the now-defunct Prague Lions of the KHL last year. He’s a fascinating story. Taken 18th overall in the CHL import draft in 2009 by Peterborough after leading the Czech under 18 league with 87 points in 46 games,the Petes had immediate buyers remorse when they found he was terrible skater and released him after only eight games. He found his way to Youngstown Ohio n the USHL where he played two years and obviously got some pretty good coaching because in 2011 his skating and his overall game had improved to the point where he was good enough go back to Europe and eventually wind up in the KHL as the leading goal scorer and second leading point getter on the Prague team that lost to Magnitigorsk in this spring’s seven game league championship final. Czech newspapers say there were eight teams bidding for his services. He chose the Canadiens after a pretty solid sales pitch from Marc Bergevin. His only contact with Tomas Plekanec, who also comes from Kladno, was as a teammate last summer in an in-line hockey league.
This video may erase any doubts about his skating. From this year’s World Championship at Minsk.
By the way, in the Czech Republic Jiří Sekáč is pronounced YEAR-ZAY SAY-KAHTCH. Knowing the way things get corrupted over here (with the exception of Canadians public address announcer Michel Lacroix), I think we can be guaranteed it will come out something much different by September. Wonder if the Canadiens will put all of the accents on his sweater name the way they did for Daniel Brière last season.
For years the AHL, for better or worse, has acted as a proving ground for some of the more radical of professional hockey rule changes.
Recently, for the better we have had tag-up offsides and no-touch icing debut in that league. For the worse the AHL gave us the shootout and the goaltender trapezoid among other things.
This seems to me to be on the “better” side of the ledger. Starting this season the AHL will institute a seven minute overtime period. It will be 4-on-4 until the first whistle after the three minute mark and then it will go to 3 vs. 3. We’ll still get a shootout if it remains tied, but seems to me anything the reduces the prevalence of shootouts can only be a good thing.
The AHL can easily do things like this. Rule changes are made by their executive board which includes NHL assistant general managers and AHL general managers with no official input from the players. If the NHL were to think the new overtime rule had merit, they would have to clear it with their players association.
SPEAKING OF SHOOTOUTS
At the end of the regular season, much was made of the fact the Canadiens recorded what used to be a benchmark 100 point season. It’s only the second time they have reached the century mark since they won their last Stanley Cup 21 years ago but neither occasion stands up to close scrutiny. The win over the Rangers in the final game of the season gave the Habs an even 100 points. But that total was assisted by that NHL absurdity called the “loser point” which gifts a bonus point to teams that lose in overtime or a shootout.
Most international sports that resort to overtime and shootouts use a standard three point system. A team that wins in regulation takes all three points and the loser goes home with none. Win in overtime or in the shootout it’s 2 points with the loser getting the other one. That kind of logic seems to annually escape the NHL.
For the record, last season 21 Canadiens games were tied at the end of regulation time. (The Canadiens were 7-5 in overtime and 6-3 in shootouts). If we were to translate their season to the pre-2005 days when regular season games could still end in a tie, the Habs record would have been a very ordinary 33-28-21 for 87 points.
CHANGING TIMES AHEAD FOR HAMILTON BULLDOGS
The Hamilton Bulldogs were an offensive disaster last season. Their goalscoring ranked 29th in the 30 team AHL and that kept them out of the AHL playoffs for the third straight year. Their top goalscorer was Gabriel Dumont with only 19 followed by Mike Blunden 18 and Sven Andrighetto with 17. Only seven forwards scored in double figures and four of them, Blunden, Nick Tarnasky, Louis Leblanc and team captain Martin St. Pierre have moved on to other teams with the Canadiens blessing.
Clearly the most talented of the returning group is Sven Andrighetto. As a rookie last year he showed an explosiveness that may put him in the Canadiens lineup sometime during the coming season. Second on the list among returnees is Christian Thomas who came to Hamilton via the Danny Kristo trade. Thomas’ year was a near writeoff because of injuries that started in training camp with a sports hernia. Patrick Holland also shows signs of an NHL future. Dumont seems to be one of those players that will bounce between third and fourth line at the NHL level.
Help appears to be on the way however. Entering the professional ranks along with Sekáč will be draft choices Charles Hudon, Jacob de la Rose, Connor Crisp and maybe Tim Bozon if he’s fully recovered from his health problems. Additionally, in the off-season the Canadiens signed undrafted forward Daniel Carr who was the leading scorer for the NCAA champion Union College Dutchman plus veteran T.J. Hensick who has produced a point a game during his seven-year AHL career. The last time the Bulldogs had this level of incoming talent up front was four years ago when they could brag of Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. Co-incidentally, it was the last time the Bulldogs were in the Calder Cup playoffs.
While the Bulldogs couldn’t score goals, their defense and goaltending kept them in many of their games last season.. Either Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu or Greg Pateryn will start the season with the Canadiens. The other two will be back in Hamilton and behind them is a deep group that includes draft choices Darren Dietz, Morgan Ellis, rookies Dalton Thrower and Mac Bennett plus another free agent college grad David Makowski out of Denver University.
Goaltending should be fine. We don’t know how the Dustin Tokarski situation will settle out, but behind him the Bulldogs signed signed AHL veteran Joey MacDonald and there also is the promising Mike Condon who will come up to Hamilton after a solid rookie season in the ECHL.
They’re young. They won’t be great early but, on paper at least, by season’s end Hamilton looks like a team that has enough to make the Calder Cup playoffs.