It is a sad time right now. People are going crazy being in isolation, trying to avoid spreading the Coronavirus. Everywhere on the news, on a daily basis, we are inundated with sad, even morbid information about this deadly and widely spread disease and we just can’t get away from it. For some odd reason, the NHL is the only winter league to have yet to cancel its season. Is it legitimate or wishful thinking on their part? Well considering that they expect COVID-19 to peak in around mid-May, allow me to question the motive behind it. You see, players will need a full out training camp after this and the meaning of “peak” means that it will still be strong thereafter. And even if they played the playoffs in July, this would affect the players for next season too. Gary Bettman needs to bite the bullet and do the right thing by calling it a season, as the NHL did back in 1919 during the Spanish Influenza.
In hockey news however, some sports shows are still going on and that, in spite of little to no new material to write or talk about. On Sportsnet 590 Hockey Central (at the 27 minutes mark), Brian Burke openly spoke about the Montreal Canadiens in a very interesting interview. He shared his expertise on several topics, ranging from what he feels went wrong for the Habs last season, to the Sebastian Aho offersheet, and several other topics in between. It’s interesting as we all know that Burke has tons of experience at many levels in the NHL, and with all due respect, his expertise is worth a lot more than armchair GMs like myself or others like me. Why? Because unlike us, he know the ins and outs, the how to of how things work internally. If you recall, he had come to Marc Bergevin‘s defense in the past, so how does he feel about his work today?
On what went wrong
Burke was categoric about this past season, about what went wrong, and he cannot pinpoint a single element, but rather a list of elements that contributed to the team’s lack of success. To sum it up in a couple of words would be: not enough.
Using a song analogy: Trucking by Grateful Dead for what a long, strange trip it’s been. To me, there’s not enough top-end forwards, there’s not enough secondary scoring, there’s not enough size, there’s not enough goaltending, there’s not enough special teams, there wasn’t enough health… just not enough. Not only to not be elite but to make the playoffs.
Now is there a lot to like? Yes. There are guys that I thought had really good years. I’m a big (Max) Domi fan, I don’t know if they’ll be able to sign him or not. I thought (Joel) Armia really came through for them. Some nice surprises, some nice pieces, but not enough. Just not enough.
I was going through it last night trying to think what’s the problem here? Because you want to be concise and say it’s this, like there’s not enough skills, just not enough.
To me, you lost four times to Detroit. That right there puts you back in the hunt if you win those four games. The two eight-game losing streak. These are not posted stamps on a postcard that’s going anywhere fast. These are posted stamps on a postcard that will be in the “not delivered” pile.
Their home record is not good enough. There’s all kinds of symptoms here. It wouldn’t take a doctor long to inspect them and say it’s not good. 23rd on the powerplay? They’ve got enough high-end pieces that they should have a good powerplay. 19th in PK? I mean these are signs that say your team isn’t competitive. So not enough, not enough, not enough.
On what to do next
I think you need to split the picks [at the next Draft]. You trade a couple of picks for veteran guys and you use the other ones. The other thing about Marc Bergevin is taking a lot of heat but you look at his record on trades, he’s like a savant. Like if you break his trades down one by one, it’s been unbelievable how he’s kicked asses on some of the GMs he’s traded with. So he definitely deserves to stay and sort this out. I love the draft picks pile up, they have a pile of draft picks, and I think he can fix this.
Let’s say they stop the first eight game losing streak to five games and win the next three, and do the same thing on the second streak, they’re a playoffs’ team. It’s a 12 points differential right there. If you throw in two wins against Detroit, now they’re in the playoffs by four points. So they’re not that far out of it. That’s the beauty of the modern system, they’re not that far out of it. And I think he’s the right guy to fix it.
But again, you want to make some spiffy remarks, you want to come on and say here’s what’s wrong with the Montreal Canadiens. It’s this guy, or that guy, and I’m going though it last night and it’s multiple symptoms of trauma here.
Questioned about if the Habs should have drafted Brady Tkachuk instead of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Burke preaches patience before jumping to conclusions.
I think Kotkaniemi is going to be a good player. I think he’s going to work out fine. I like that pick. I think (Nick) Suzuki’s got a chance because he can play centre and wing. He’s got a chance to be a very useful player too. But every team’s got players waiting in the wing.
Beware. Look at Leon Draisaitl’s path to the NHL. Look at the Sedins. I mean Draisaitl had to go back to Prince Albert and play some in the American league. He didn’t step right in. These are not abnormal setbacks. It’s not like Kotkaniemi is the only guy who had to do this. This is a common path and I do think he’s gonna come out of it. I like his skills, I like his compete level. I’m not going to say he’s going to be a Sedin or a Draisaitl but my point is he had to go to Laval isn’t fatal to a kid. In fact, with the minutes he was getting, he’s probably way better off in Laval. Now we gotta see how he handles the adversity.
On Carey Price
What does Burke have to say about Carey Price?
I’m a fan. I don’t know him that well but he sure seems like a good kid too. And he’s a hunter so I like guys that hunt. To me, I don’t think there’s much you can do but be patient with him because I don’t think he’s tradable at that salary and I still believe in him. He had a tough November last year and again this year and then he bounced back but I think you gotta ride it out.
On Aho’s offersheet
Fans and some media members have been very critical of Bergevin and his “effort” to sign Sebastian Aho to an offersheet last summer. Some felt it was a publicity stunt. Burke thinks otherwise.
About the Aho offer sheet, I can tell you exactly what happened here. The owner had conveyed to Donny Waddell that they’re not going to do any big signing bonus deal, we’re not going to do this, we’re not going to do that. Based on Waddell told Bergy, Bergevin and the agent structured this with all of the elements the owner said he wouldn’t do. It was actually done to the penny. The cheapest number that Montreal honestly thought that they could sign him for and not get matched, based on direct representations from the owner to the GM. They thought they were doing it very cleverly. It was actually some very smart GM’ing and it backfired because the owner changed his mind, which was the right thing to do.
Many are asking for the Canadiens to hire a team President who has more experience than Geoff Molson. I personally feel like those people are underestimating Molson but that’s beside the point. The fact is that no one has more qualification than Burke, who has occupied a wide range of positions within the NHL’s front office, as GM and team President as well, as well as at the international level with Team USA. So what do these people have to say about Burke’s credential and the fact that he supports Bergevin (and Molson for keeping him by the same token)? It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I guess it’s similar to those who claim that Price isn’t a top-notch goaltender in the league when players, those who face him, say otherwise, right? Go Habs Go!