Random thoughts on a rainy Friday:
THOSE HURTIN’ HABS
Anyone who uses injuries as an excuse for the Montreal Canadiens poor performance during the playoffs was looking at that series through red, white and blue colored glasses. The Canadiens were playing the Ottawa Senators, for Pete’s sake. Remember them? They’re the team that wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs because of long-term injuries to their three best players.
Injuries were not what did the Canadiens in. A lack of depth to make up for those injuries was a much bigger factor. The Senators, on the other hand, used their injuries as an opportunity to give a whole host of young prospects a chance to play at the NHL level and a whole other group a chance to have a more prominent role in the American League. And they responded brilliantly.
The absences of Lars Eller and Alexei Emelin didn’t help the Canadiens at all. But everyone in the league is affected by injuries at this time of the year and if you don’t have adequate replacements, that is your failing as an organization.
The Canadiens lost in the first round primarily because they got little more than a shred of reliable goaltending and because they are too small as a group to seriously compete at the NHL level. The goaltending? Well, good luck figuring that one out because with the exception of a couple of teams in this league, everyone is basically crossing their fingers from year to year, hoping their goaltending doesn’t let them down. Which is a long-winded way of saying I wouldn’t be surprised if Carey Price bounces back and has a Vezina Trophy-winning year next season, nor would I be surprised if his save percentage is .891. It would be wonderful to have security and certainty in goal, but that’s a luxury almost nobody has anymore.
As far as getting bigger and more difficult to play against, that has to be GM Marc Bergevin’s No. 1 priority over the summer. The Canadiens have plenty of skill and the compete level is fine, but they showed down the stretch and in the playoffs that they’re not durable enough as a group. You can probably expect the Canadiens to use their remaining compliance buyout on defenseman Tomas Kaberle, which will free up $4.25 million in cap space.
When Montreal looks back on this year, it will be able to take pride in a team that restored competitiveness and pride just a year after finishing as the third-worst team in the league. But it’ll also see there is still a lot of work to be done before this team becomes a perennial contender.
JONATHAN TOEWS AND VOTING TRANSPARENCY
So, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks is not a finalist for the Hart Trophy this season. Instead, one of three players from the Eastern Conference – Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and John Tavares – will claim the award.
This will once again provide fodder to believe there is a bias toward Eastern Conference players in voting done by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. But it has been proved time and again over the years that the eastern bias argument is a complete myth. In reality, the PHWA has widened the pool of voters significantly, expressly to prevent such a thing from happening.
Does that mean those who vote always, always get it right? Probably not, seeing as Toews should have been a finalist this year. But to attribute it to any sort of eastern bias is simply nonsense. My respected colleague, Adam Proteau, has suggested that there be mandatory transparency when it comes to making voting results public.
I know the PHWA has never discouraged writers from making the results of their votes public and while I’m not necessarily against transparency, I’m not sure it’s necessary. If a writer wants to make his votes public, great. If not, that’s fine too. This is not some secret society like the Hall of Fame, which has strict rules against members of its selection committee discussing anything about players who were and were not voted into the Hall of Fame.
CHECKING IN ON CHECKING
The decision to ban bodychecking in hockey at the peewee level in Alberta has, predictably, drawn equal amounts of praise and derision. There seems to be an almost even split between those who feel hitting for 11- and 12-year-old players creates too much risk for injury, particularly given the size difference in the players, and those who think hitting is an essential element of the game and can be safer if players are taught properly how to give and receive a hit.
I must admit, I’m completely torn on this one. I can honestly appreciate and understand both sides of the issue. Which is why I think, in the spirit of being Canadian, there is a compromise here. Why not ban bodychecking at all age levels of hockey with the exception of the elite AAA level? For the most part, these are the players who are tracking to be groomed for high level careers, so it’s probably in their best interests to learn how to respect their opponents when it comes to hitting and how to protect themselves when it comes to receiving a hit.
Even the vast majority of those players will not move past minor hockey, but at least it will provide those whose skills are highest to foster them in a pro-style system. Those who don’t want anything to do with body contact can still play competitive hockey at a lower level.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.