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07-26-2012, 11:07 AM
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The case for a 1-year surgical tank for the Habs

One of the most common arguments on these boards is whether the Habs should strive for 8th place by any means necessary or do a proper rebuild/evaluation/tank/transition/development year(s). In this thread I will make the case that 2012-2013 season is an excellent opportunity for a 1-year surgical tank (thus a 2 year tank if you add 2011-2012). I argue that this year is a better year than other years to tank, and do so from several arguments. I accumulate and expand on several arguments that have been presented throughout the boards.

I preface the following by saying that for me there is only one question that matters: How can the Habs build a championship team?


1) Habs are a bad team, and are extremely unlikely to make the playoffs next year.

Last year, the Habs finished 15th in the conference, though some legitimately argue we were really ~12th placed on goals differential and bad luck in the shootouts. However, last year we had Cammmalleri, AK46, and Gill. Cammalleri has been replaced by the inferior Bourque. AK46 has been replaced by Brandon Prust, gving us more physicality but less goal scoring. Gill has been replaced by Bouillon, and is thus a step down. We're a lesser team.

2011-2012 was a year in which we ended 15th in spite of several things going extremely well for the Habs.
- We had the best PK in the league.
- Cole and Pacioretty had career seasons.
- Price was consistent.
- 3 of our 4 division rivals, Buffalo, Ottawa, and Toronto, were very weak. We could get points by beating up on the division.

If you had told the average fan a year ago we'd benefit from these 4 "random" effects, which were not expected at the start of the year, then the average fan would have predicted a top-6 or top-4 conference finish for the Habs. Nobody was counting on a career season from Cole last year. Nobody was expecting the best PK in the league. If you had told fans how weak the division would be, they would have said Montreal (and not Ottawa) would accumulate a better conference standing than it deserved by beating up on the division. However, in spite of these 4 major things going right, we ended 15th. We would have done worse in a more typical year, and thus I don't expect improvement.

Therefore, we are extremely unlikely to make 8th place. It's a remote possibility.

2) Losing now is better than losing 3 years from now.
A losing 2012-2013 season would yield development and draft picks that would complement that of the 2011-2012 season (Galchenyuk and Colberg). We would have a cohort of talented youngsters in about 3 years that would grow up together and wish to win together. You know what's better than Galchenyuk as a 1st line center? Galchenyuk as a 2nd line center behind Nathan McKinnon.

Moreover, 2012-2013 may represent the best Hamilton Bulldogs team since I've heard of the Hamilton Bulldogs. Pateryn, Beaulieu, Tinordi, Holland, Gallagher, Quailer, Bournival, hopefully Leblanc and Palushaj... wow I'm stoked. This team isn't going to win us a cup this year. However, it's very good. It can be the youth corps of a team that wins the cup in 2015. Once you add Galchenyuk, Colberg, and whoever we draft next year, it looks like the veteran core of a team that competes for the cup every year in the period 2015-2020.

3) 2013 is one of the deepest drafts in NHL history.
This fact is well documented. This doesn't necessarily mean we want to draft 4th overall rather than 12th. However, it does mean we should accumulate as many picks as we can in the first two rounds. We already have 4, and the second rounders from Calgary and Nashville (and Montreal's) might be of the highest quality. You know what's better than having a player of Colberg's quality in your system? Having 4 such players.

What the Habs could do would be to give privileged minutes to Gomez, Bourque, and Kaberle. They're not the best players, so padding their stats will come at the expense of the team as a whole. However, if we pad their stats they become tradeable. A lot of clueless fans have written that Kaberle is untradeable, but the inferior Zidlicky warranted a 2nd and 3rd at the deadline this year. I say pad their stats (at a cost to the team) and trade them for top-60 picks at the deadline this year. This gives us better draft picks, and it liberates cap space.

4) 2013 may become one of the best free agents year in history.
This point is less certain than the other points, but it is still of some value and worth being aware of.

The following players may become UFAs: Iginla, Elias, Perry, Getzlaf, Hainsey, Lupul, Morrow, Regehr, Horton, Zajac, Clowe, Scuderi, Filppula.

There's a few of those players I'd like on the Habs. Your list may be different than mine.

If we can unload our cap space this year, we may be in a position to cash in next summer, and the true upsurge will begin. Our youth will be one year older, better, there will no longer be a need to tank as we'll have the best farm system in the NHL, etc.

5) The worst teams of 2012 are improving.
If one scans the worst teams of 2012, one expects the following teams to improve:
- Minnesota has improved enough that I don't expect them to compete for a lottery pick.
- Edmonton is a young team and just picked up Nail Yakupov, whom we can expect to score 45-50 points.
- Carolina played well after their disastrous start, and they picked up the excellent Jordan Staal.
- Toronto is a young team that one would expect to improve. They also traded Luke Schenn for JVR.

Thus, the bottom 10 got stronger. Given that we got worse, this should solidify our position in the bottom 5.

6) Our core is only almost good enough.

The current core of the team is Price, Subban, Plekanec, Pacioretty, Markov, Gorges, Cole, Desharnais. That core is not good enough to win championships. It is inferior to the cores of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, and Vancouver -- nobody of sound mind can disagree with that. However, it's not ridiculously far off. Add in Beaulieu, Galchenyuk, and Tinordi, get experience for Eller, Desharnais, and Emelin, rock the 2013 UFA class, and suddenly the core becomes elite.

7) The 8th place model doesn't work.
When I say "8th place model", I don't mean building a world class team like the Kings and then collapsing into 8th place due to bad luck. I mean building a team that has the talent, ability, and overall mediocrity of a bubble team and hoping that "anything can happen in the playoffs". I list two examples of the 8th place model: Columbus and Buffalo.

A good example of the 8th place model are he Columbus Blue Jackets. They made the playoffs a few years ago and were excited. Last year they mortgaged their farm system for Jeff Carter, they signed Wisniewski and Prospal. The result? A total comprehensive collapse. They should have gone for a proper, patient rebuild.

The Buffalo Sabres are the blueprint of the 8th place model. They have a great coach, and are a bubble team every single year. They have a decent core: Ryan Miller, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Robin Regehr, Tomas Vanek, Tyler Myers, and now Cody Hodgson and Mikhail Grigorenko, the same quality as the Habs. In other words, they are what the Habs might look like with a great coach and fewer injuries: A bubble team year in and year out. The Buffalo Sabres model outlines the ugly reality of the 8th place strategy: even if you have great coaching and some excellent core players, you're still not competing for the cup. You need several excellent players. And you need depth.

And that's all for now.

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