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Monday, August 10, 2015

Hockey: Why the Utah Grizzlies?

Everyone who knows me has learned that I love hockey. My enthusiasm for it bursts out at odd moments, and once I start talking about it, I have a hard time stopping. I have literally stood in the freezing cold of a wintry Toronto afternoon for an hour because a friend and I couldn't stop talking about hockey.

5-4 OT win, February 2014
Another thing people learn about me fairly quickly if we talk about hockey is that I'm a Utah Grizzlies fan. This often leads to even more confusion and curiosity than my being a Habs fan - probably due to their greater obscurity and geographical distance. So why am I a fan of an ECHL team that is based in Utah and comes east about once a year, usually no further north than Florida?

It's kind of a long story.

Enter my dear, dear friends, the aforementioned Jasmine, and the mutual friend we generally call Penny (or Noodle. But that's a long and entirely unrelated story). At some point around 2009, Jasmine and Penny were doing their level best to get our whole friend group into hockey. About this same time, Penny started photographing for her local team, the Utah Grizzlies.

If you look at Penny's website, you rapidly see that she is a first rate photographer and artist. What is not as instantly obvious is that she is a master storyteller. She could probably make watching paint dry sound like something everyone should do because she would make it interesting. Anyway, she turned this considerable storytelling prowess to stories about hockey and the players she was starting to work with. I was hooked. What can I do. I really am a sucker for stories, and Penny's are always among the best.

At this point I knew nothing about hockey other than it was a sport played on ice, and that there were skates and pucks and that you scored if you got your puck into your opponent's net. I knew the NHL existed, and I had a hazy memory of seeing the name "Mighty Ducks" in the Sports section of the New York Times from the days when my brother and I were devoted baseball fans, but that was about it.

From the fifty odd players who suited up for the Grizzlies at various times in that 2009-10 season, I remember maybe eight, but I was really new to the whole thing. My first favourite hockey player ever, defenceman Brock Wilson, played on the Grizzlies for two years, and was unfailingly kind. Penny sent me several videos of him saying hi and thanks for cheering for the team, and brief as they were, they meant the world to me (the team photo that he and the others signed is probably to this day one of my favourite hockey related possessions). It was an amazing experience, and one that hasn't got less amazing with time.

I remember the 2010-11 team a lot better, and got much more attached to them as a group. In addition to Brock there were Chris Donovan and Brett Parnham, Tuzzolino, Nyren, Engelage, Armstrong and the rest.

I had no TV, and even if I had, obviously games from Utah weren't going to be televised in Boston, so I listened to every game on the radio - still with almost no idea what a game really looked like. However, through the amazing commentary of Adrian Denny and Tim Montemayor and Penny's stories and photos, it came alive for me. Wilson elected to play in England after that, and so I had my first experience of losing a favourite player. The curse of following an ECHL team is that the turnover is quick. Guys get called up, or go to Europe, or retire, and you have to learn to love a rather different team every year. I've been pretty lucky with my favourites in that regard.

Junior year of college sucked on so many levels. Basically it felt as though everything that could go wrong did go wrong in my personal life, in one long, unrelenting stream. But I needed something to pour my heart and soul into that would distract me and, as that amazing quote says, give me something to root for when rooting for myself seemed totally impossible.


Enter Danick Paquette. Though he played a mere nine games with the Grizzlies that season before being traded, his presence was a bit like a bolt of lightning out of a blue sky: quick, violent (he racked up 64 penalty minutes in nine games!!!!), brief, and above all, memorable. Which was good because he wouldn't be back for a whole year. That's not to say that the rest of the team wasn't exciting to follow, because they were, and I'd been paying attention long enough to know who the "core" players were, and to have a much clearer idea of what was going on in the games.

That whole year I basically did schoolwork, watched Doctor Who, listened to hockey, and survived. It's hard for me to put into words exactly what hockey meant for me that season, but that quote basically sums it up. Hockey was something of a lifeline, and it was easier to handle everything else when I could look forward to a hockey game - even if they lost, since there was always another game after that that they could (and often did) win.

Penny was among a small and stalwart group of friends that also helped me through that year, both with her constant support and with her hockey stories. And, unlike my experience so far as a fan of the Habs, my connection with the Grizzlies as a fan was (and is), through her, much more personal. I was able to express to my favourite players, almost directly, how much the team meant to me, and that meant a lot to me that year especially.

Everything seems to come back to Eller & the Habs with me
The 2012-13 season was a great one for me as a fan of hockey but not yet of the NHL. The lockout (of which I was blissfully unaware) drove players like Trevor Lewis (of the LA Kings) to the ECHL. There were also a number of ties between that team and the Habs, though, again, at the time I was completely oblivious to them. Riley Armstrong is the brother of former Hab Colby Armstrong, and in an interesting twist of fate, Ian Schultz had, a few years earlier, been traded to the Habs for Jaroslav Halak... together with Lars Eller.

By that time I was a senior in college, back on even footing from an emotional perspective, and unbelievably busy with the (entirely insane) amount of work I had gotten myself into. However, I still managed to follow the Grizzlies. Since I could only listen to the games, they were a lot less distracting than they might have been had I been able to watch them, since I could listen while I worked (the amount of translating I did while listening to hockey games is astonishing to think about).

There was something special about the 2013-14 Utah Grizzlies. Maybe it was the new coach,  Tim Branham, or the presence of so many Anaheim Ducks prospects, whatever it was, it was electric. And that's not just some dreamy-eyed fan's perspective. They were the best team to play on Grizzlies ice in fourteen years. When I think of "my team" I think of this one. This was the team that I knew front to back, knew what positions everyone played, knew what their numbers were, remembered the names of the whole team - loved the whole team. It was that season that I also started watching NHL games, and therefore finally understood exactly what was going on. It was also the year that Paquette returned to the Grizzlies. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that there was never a dull moment with him around.

Paquette lead the team in penalty minutes by a country mile, and was forever getting into scraps, but he combined those mean fists with a scoring touch that saw him end the season second on the team in goals and points with 23 of the former and 49 of the later. He was a fan favourite (and my favourite) almost instantly. The Grizzlies were 17 and 3 when he scored. Quick, gritty and able to score, Paquette embodied what the 2013-14 Utah Grizzlies were to me. Vinny (Scarsella) and Val (David Vallorani), Aubin and Pelech were always scoring as well, and the team had a pair of excellent goalies in Aaron Dell and Igor Bobkov. Between them they were named Goalie of the Month for three months running - a franchise record.



Great shot, crazy uniform.
On a sillier note, they had some of the best special occasion jerseys, their Halloween themed skeleton jersey was even sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame where it was displayed for a while. Have I mentioned that the Grizzlies are really awesome?




2013-14 was a hard year for me again, and again this team, on the other side of the country, was the nearly constant bright spot in it. Penny was, at this point incredibly busy, photographing for several teams, olympic trials, and horse races, as well as taking care of her family and dealing with health issues, but she still had time to tell me about this crazy thing that happened at a game, or show me that hilarious photo that was so bad she couldn't use it for anything. She also still got my favourite players to say hello via video. She sent me posters, beautiful black and white prints of portraits she'd done of Bobkov and Paquette, a calendar, and even a whole set of the team's hockey cards that she got permission to take especially for me.

She even got my two favourite players, Paquette and Galiardi, to get in the photo booth that was present at an event and take a whole series of hilarious photos just for me - a fan living all the way on the other side of the country who they'd never seen. She's amazing like that, and so are the guys on the Grizzlies.

And it isn't just the guys on the ice. At the end of the regular season, I wrote an email to Adrien Denny, expressing my thanks for his work in bringing these beloved Grizzlies to fans like me who couldn't be at the games, I wrote without expecting a reply - after all, it was about to be the playoffs, and in addition to being the voice of the Grizzlies, he headed up, what seemed to me, most of the fan oriented media, blog, email, you name it. He did write back and it wasn't just a few words of formal thanks, it was a proper, even lengthy, reply.

The Rocket, present in spirit.
I wish I could say that magic season ended in the story book way all magical seasons should, with the Grizzlies marching their way to the Kelly Cup in triumph, but it didn't. The Grizzlies got the one team who'd had their number all year in the first round of the playoffs. Then Mathieu Aubin (coincidentally a former Habs draft pick) got badly hurt, and there was a hole on the bench where he should have been. There was also an actual hole in the Maverik Center ice which forced the game to be finished the next day at the nearby olympic arena. Then Laurent Brossoit and the Bakersfield Condors broke Grizzlies fans hearts on their way to an appearance in the Conference Finals.

But Aubin was back last year, and so were quite a number of my favourites - Paquette, Scarsella, Boe and Bobkov. I was a lot more occupied with school - moving to Toronto, doing my Masters - but though I wasn't able to listen to every game, I kept a wary eye on my twitter feed, where the Grizzlies' twitter, and that of beat writer David Vito Winkworth kept everyone updated whenever they were playing. I also started paying much closer attention to the affiliated AHL team (at that time, the Norfolk Admirals, now the San Diego Gulls) and the Anaheim Ducks, because quite a handful of former Grizzlies now play for the Gulls, and hopefully will one day earn spots on the Ducks roster as well.

The Grizzlies of the 2014-15 season seemed like the walking wounded - between captain Channing Boe and his assistants (Paquette and Gwidt) alone, they missed 95 games, and they weren't the only ones hurt for huge stretches of the season. Despite that, they made the playoffs, going to the second round for the first time since 2008, and dominating their former previous season boogyman the Bakersfield Condors, going 9-4 against them during the year. Because if nothing else, this team always has heart.

This year all of my favourite players are gone, Paquette to the Missouri Mavericks, Scarsella traded mid season last year to the Condors, and Bobkov to Admiral Vladivostok of the KHL. But Aubin, Gwidt and Armstrong (remember him?) are all back. Moreover, after two excellent seasons, I have every reason to believe that Branham is going to ice a roster of exciting and talented guys who, come October, I can love and cheer for. Because, after all, that is the nature of an ECHL team - always changing, but always loved.

And that, my friends, is why I am a Grizzlies fan.

N.B. Happy birthday, dearest Noodle. Stay awesome, and thank you for the Grizzlies. This is for you.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Adventures of a Broke Blogger

So I have a faithful planner that I really liked from grad school, but since it was an academic planner, it ran out in August. I'm also a bit broke right now, so as much as I wanted a shiny new planner (I'm such a sucker for those), it wasn't really an option. However, I am a chronic notebook hoarder, and I had a rather embarrassing amount of those about, so I decided to make one. 

I started with a regular old brown Moleskine (I say "regular old", but I love them because the paper is so great to write on), and once I get some stuff out of boxes in the basement, I'm going to put one of my photos from England on the cover. Knowing me, I'll probably end up doodling all over the back cover too at some point...                                                                
The notebook is obviously too small for an entire year, but it's exactly the right length for August to December, so that worked out perfectly once I figured out how to lay it out. That took me some time... I'm really not good at coming up with things like layouts... (though I found some inspiration on the ever reliable Pintrest, and in the features I liked best from planners past).

I put full-month calendars at the front, and I must say that I'm rather pleased with how they turned out:


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I might have gone a bit overboard with October...it's sort of my favourite month... I just can't help it. All the leaves changing colours, and the crisp, cold air, and just how bright the sun is and how blue the sky. I love it.



Went a little more low key for November, mostly because there was simply no room anywhere, and because I run out of patience fairly quickly. (Most of the planner is still actually a work in progress beyond the actual bare bones, I've only really decorated August, but I'm sure I'll get there eventually.) But then, I also think the simplicity of the writing is fitting for an elegant month. I've always thought of November as an elegant month. I really couldn't tell you why. Either way, I think it turned out alright in the end!
The day-by-day planner part is pretty standard. In order to fit all the way until the end of the year, I had to do three days per page, rather like the old Moleskine planner I had all through undergrad.

Of course, since I'm putting whatever I want in it, I've added stuff like the countdown until opening night of the NHL season between the Habs and Leafs... Unfortunately, some of the pages also got smudged because I forgot to wipe off my ruler. Oops. Things to do differently if I ever do this again!




Perhaps my favourite part to do, however is (and will be, when I finish the others) are the pages at the beginning of each month. I haven't done designs like that in a while, and had forgotten how fun (and easy) they are. However, I'm probably going to have at least one page of Celtic knots run wild. Because this is me we're talking about. I'm fairly sure at least... November will be like that.


Naturally, I'm also putting in things like the Habs game schedule (or in this case, the preseason schedule). And that's pretty much it! I'll probably update this post later with the actually finished product, since hopefully, it'll look nice. 



That's it for today! Hopefully next week I won't have a headache when I go to write my blog post, and can come up with something a little more exciting! 









Monday, July 27, 2015

Hockey: Adventures into Contracts

I've been a hockey fan for quite a while, but I've really only been a serious fan of an NHL team for slightly over a year. Last summer's project was to learn the basics of advanced stats. This summer's project? Contracts. There's a lot to them and, in this salary cap era, they're an integral part of any team's existence. I'm also very nearly clueless about them once you get past a vague sense as to what makes a contract good.

The Players

It all started out, as anything hockey-related does for me, with the Habs. This season the Habs had a number of contracts to extend, of most interest to me in terms of learning about contracts were Christian Thomas, Jarred Tinordi, Michael Bournival, and Brian Flynn (all Restricted Free Agents). I was also most anxious to find out whether or not the Habs were going to re-sign promising Swedish defenceman Magnus Nygren.

Tinordi, Thomas and Bournival were eventually signed to two-way contracts, Beaulieu and Flynn to one-way 2 year contracts at $1M and $950,000 respectively. (Galchenyuk and Nygren were both given qualifying offers, though as of the time of writing, neither have re-signed. Please get on that, oh best-est of GMs.)

My Questions

  • What is the difference between one and two-way contracts?
  • How much salary can you "bury" in the AHL?
  • Who has to be sent through waivers to play in the AHL?
  • What the heck is going on with Magnus Nygren?

The Resources

Andrew Berkshire, who until very recently, was the managing editor of one of the best Habs websites on the internet, was a huge help to me in my quest to find these answers. Through him, I was introduced to quite a number of people who provided extremely helpful summaries or websites on the information I wanted.

For anyone interested, these are the sites I found most helpful:


Beyond those, there are of course, the ever helpful and amazing sites which have stepped into the void left by Cap Geek: Hockey's CapGeneral Fanager, and Cap Friendly among others.

What I Discovered

It turns out that the differences between two-way and one-way contracts are a lot simpler than I thought and have nothing to do with waiver eligibility. Two-way contracts simply mean that in the NHL the player will receive X amount, while in the AHL he'll get Y (which is less). For example, Bournival will receive $600,000 a year if he plays in the NHL, while he'll only be paid $125,000 in the AHL. 

A one-way contract means that the player will receive X amount of money regardless of where he plays. (So if Beaulieu gets the yo-yo treatment this year, it won't have anything to do with managing the cap, as I suspect it largely did last year, since regardless of where he plays he'll get $1 million a year.)

It also turns out that the exact salary you can completely bury in the AHL is $950,000. It could prove awfully convenient that Flynn's contract is exactly that much.

Waiver eligibility is a bit more complicated, and is decided by age signed/years from signing and games played at the NHL level (whichever is reached first), as is shown in this handy chart from the reddit feed on contracts.


Flynn (26, 3 years from signing), Bournival, Thomas, and Tinordi (all 23 and 4 years from signing) would have to be sent through waivers (and potentially lost for nothing) to play in the AHL. So chances are we won't see as much yo-yoing going on with these guys as we have in the past.

As to Magnus Nygren, he got a qualifying offer, so his rights still belong to the Canadiens, but he's already signed with F√§rjestad so I'm not 100% sure what that all means in the long run. (If anyone wants to clarify, please feel free to do so!)

So there you have it. All the things I have learned so far this summer about NHL contracts. I hope you found it interesting and/or informative. Also if I've made a mistake anywhere please do point it out to me. I'm still learning, and have a terrible head for numbers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hockey: Farewell Lionheart

If you asked me who my favourite Habs players are, it would take me a few names to get to Brandon Prust, but he easily makes top five: steady, dependable, ever present. He has always had a special place in my heart.

You see, I became a Habs fan in large part because my friend Jasmine told me stories about the team a few years back. Some of the stories she told me were about Subban's sizzle, Pacioretty's miraculous ability to heal, the Gallys' antics, the brick wall that is Carey Price, but the best ones were always about the lionhearted Brandon Prust. Had a bad day? Here's a story about this hockey player who looks out for our rookies. School getting you down? How about the time when this guy on the Habs went to war for his teammates. Family drama? Look at one of the veterans on our team yelling and laughing and celebrating harder than anyone because one of the kids scored their first goal.

Oh by the way, he has fantastic style, a mane of hair and a lethal pair of fists.

Now, I'm a medievalist. I have my BA and MA in Medieval Studies. Heroes and warriors are in my soul. Several friends and I used to joke that hockey is where the knights in armour went, so is it really any wonder that Jasmine's stories about a fighter with a heart of gold and a fair lady were the ones that caught my imagination and made me pay more attention?

Furthermore, Brandon Prust is a lot more than that as I eventually discovered, when my interest in hockey grew and deepened. Sadly, the mane is no more, but he's a defensive powerhouse with a pair of wheels to match those fists. He's a fighter who can score. He'll be there for his team even when he's got busted ribs and a busted shoulder, and when he's healthy? He's one of the guys you can watch go over the boards in the last seconds of a one goal game in your own zone, when the other team's pulled their goalie, and not feel like hiding behind the couch. I've seen it happen.

Maybe I'm biased, and maybe I've not seen a whole lot of fights in my short time as a hockey fan, but I don't know where I've seen another fighter like Prust. What he gives up to other guys in hight and weight and sheer brute force, he makes up for with patience and skill (and the aforementioned lethal pair of fists).

I could write whole series' worth of articles about the statistical evidence of Prust's value to the team, or the heart and soul and hilarity we've been privileged to witness in 24CH episodes, duels, get-to-know-the-team videos and elsewhere. (I will never be over "You've got to f****ing squeak squeak" or the endless sniping back and forth with anyone (especially younger teammates) foolish enough - or lucky enough - to engage on twitter, and who's gonna call people bug-eyed walruses now?) It'd take me a while to exhaust the subject. But it can also be summed up thusly: he clearly meant a lot to the team, and he meant a lot to me.

It's been a few weeks now since Brandon Prust was traded for Zach Kassian, and I finally have had some time to sit down and think about it. I can't exactly say I was shocked, but I thought we'd have one more year to say good bye. Now I'm in quiet mourning. I hope he does really well in Vancouver, but he's always going to be a Hab for me.

Good bye Pigeon Leader. Good bye Lionheart. You will be sorely missed.


Hockey: In Defence of PA Parenteau

Originally posted on my Tumblr in response to a post arguing that Parenteau was terrible and not worth his contract.

"uhhhhhhh for the amount he does and the salary he has he is not worth it. You do realize that if a player is being overpaid that isn’t a good thing…right?"
He missed a lot of games due to injuries, and stupid and inexplicable decisions by Therrien. He also suffered from utterly strange deployment, being frequently lower in the lineup than the likes of DSP and Weise (which meant he sometimes played with Eller, which makes it really hard to score, see any Eller piece ever written by myself or people at EOTP).
Saying Parenteau is over-paid based purely on his offensive output when he was under-utilized and strangely deployed is lazy, and quite frankly, wrong. He doesn’t need to go, he needs to be properly used. As the original poster said, the Habs were quantifiably better with him on the ice, and he should never have been a healthy scratch.
The Habs should definitely keep him.

Hockey: In Defence of Lars Eller

Posted originally on my Tumblr in October 2014.

The season is six games old and the Habs are a beautiful league leading 5-1. Pacioretty, Desharnais and Gallagher are buzzing, as are Galchenyuk, Plekanec and Parenteau. Malhotra is wowing the world with his skills as a phenomenal 4th liner, and Lars Eller is getting the Plekanec treatment, deployed largely in the defensive zone with meh wingers. People are already criticising his lack of offensive production and his seven goals against. I've heard that he needs to make more of an effort, that he looks terrible, and needs to step up his game. 
This is ridiculous. 
Despite being buried in the defensive zone, Eller's Corsi For was 42% in all situations, he personally had two shots on goal, was ROBBED of a goal, and had an assist. He was also part of the play that lead to the second Habs goal. (Yes he was on the ice for two goals against, the first one for sure was not a result of any play Eller could have controlled. I don't remember the second goal well enough to comment on it right now.)
Against Boston, Eller's CF was 50% (in all situations), and he started 33% of his shifts in the offensive zone. While he did not get an assist, he was part of the play that netted Sekac's first goal of the season.
Against the Flyers, in all situations his CF was 54% and he started a very cushy 75% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Only one of the game's 3  goals were scored with him on the ice, and he was absolutely ROBBED of one goal, possibly even two.
Against Toronto, his zone starts were the team low at 22% in all situations, his CF was at 50%, and he was only on the ice for ONE of the three goals scored against the Habs. As I ranted to a friend of mine, Desharnais was sheltered like a delicate flower in a storm (78% of his shifts started in the offensive zone!) and Eller wasn't -- in fact he was thrown head first into it. 
Additionally, before this Avs/Habs game, Eller was an absolute MONSTER in face off wins (54% against Toronto, 71% against Washington, 64% against the Flyers, 42% the awful game against Tampa, and 58% against Boston.) Against the Avs he was a miserable 29%, but he only TOOK nine face offs as opposed to nearly twice that amount on the previous nights (and on those nights, I remember looking at the percentages a few times and thinking oh wow... Eller's doing TERRIBLY, but then by the end of the game it had balanced out, so I'm fairly willing to bet if he'd taken more draws the numbers would have ended up looking much more like the numbers from previous games). 
In short, by and large, Eller's been buried in the defensive zone with an invisible winger who is criminally incapable of hitting the net, or sometimes of being in the right place at all, and a brand new NHLer. Like large portions of last year, his line seems to be made up of the rejects from the top six (though six games in, Sekac and Eller are showing signs of chemistry). He's been robbed of multiple goals, and had a few scored against when he was on the ice which were in no way his fault, and he trails only the big guns; Pacioretty, Gallagher, Plekanec, Subban and Parenteau in shots. Furthermore, his possession stats are amazing.
The Habs are using Eller like they used Plekanec in the past, and people are wondering why he's not scoring. (Meanwhile, Plekanec, with this year's equivalent of the EGG Line wingers is scoring quite nicely with fairly comfortable zone starts. Funny what happens when you give talented centres offensively talented wingers...) Of the TWENTY goals scored against the Habs in these six games, Eller was only on the ice for seven of them (and all but blameless in at least three). His +/- only looks so bad because his line hasn't been scoring. 
Against the Flyers and against the Avs, it took players physically hauling Eller down in front of the net and taking penalties to stop him from scoring on amazing plays. On the second Subban goal, an Avs player felt the need to stick his arm around Eller and completely block him out from any chance at taking a pass. He has the potential to be lethal, and teams know it. 
But to me, the most telling sign of Eller's value to the Habs, and their faith in him, is what happened in the last thirty seconds of the 3-2 Avs game. Roy had pulled his goalie for an extra attacker, and Therrien responded by icing his defensive guns to batten down the hatches, win the face offs and hold on to the lead. He deployed Eller, Malhotra and Prust. Malhotra, presumably to win the defensive zone face off, Eller to take the face off, should Malhotra get thrown out, and all three to be capable of holding off the Avalanche that was sure to follow. They did just that. 
The goals will come, and in the meantime, Lars Eller, like Plekanec before him, is performing a thankless and herculean task, and doing pretty damn well.