Hockey: My Hockey Adventures Part I: The Preseason

N.B. Large portions of this post are lifted directly from my journal. I meant to post this a long time ago, but never quite got around to typing it up.


Penny of the thousand stories used to tell me how she loved working at rinks – or simply being at rinks. She waxed poetic about the smell of the ice and the sound of skates. I didn’t disbelieve her, but it seemed a little crazy. I mean, I couldn’t very well disbelieve her when I can honestly say I love the way a stable full of horses smells. I just didn’t really get it.


I have since spent quite a few summer Sunday evenings sitting in a rink, soaking in the cold and the smell of the ice at Steph’s ringette practices, listening to the sounds of blades, and sticks and, in this case, rings on the ice, and I understood a bit better.

IMG_20150926_154311Then this September, through a pretty incredible series of events, I had the chance to go see a preseason game with
Steph at the Bell Centre. Habs vs Hawks, sitting way up in the rafters. It was amazing.

Well, the game part of it kind of sucked, because the Habs played pretty terribly, but the rest of the experience, that part was amazing. As I said, we were way up in the sky, almost level with the press gallery, but while we were really far away from the ice, it gave us a great view of the plays as they unfolded (or didn’t unfold…as the case might be…).

Also, no amount of hearing how great the Bell Centre is quite prepares one for the sounds of “Fix You” booming over the dark arena, or for when the horn goes off and the crowd erupts. Thanks Zach Kassian. If he did nothing else, he at least ensured that I got to witness a Habs goal at my first game.

It was also pretty special to hear the crowd (thin as it was) come alive for Francis Bouillon when he came out to be acknowledged at the start of the game.

Unfortunately for me, there was no Eller, and no Pacioretty, no Subban, or Christian Thomas, but it was still great. There’ll be other opportunities to see them.


The crowd came alive again when Gabriel Dumont dropped the gloves in defence of his teammate, Ryan Johnston, and again when Jeremy Gregoire dropped the gloves after a terrible hit on Dumont. It was pretty scary.

Other than that, it was a great way to finally understand why people were so grumpy about the way the Habs were playing at the time.

IMG_20150925_190211889_HDRIt’s one thing to hear how the Habs had been a perimeter team and know that they had trouble exiting the defensive zone, and another to actually see Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Jeff Petry struggle to get past what was essentially the Blackhawk’s AHL team. It was also pretty amazing to get to see Carey Price play, and all the others, even if they were mostly tiny numbers on the ice.

But even at that distance, Plekanec’s stride and Gallagher’s goalie adventures were easily identifiable, as were Emelin’s…defensive…um…adventures of a totally different kind. He’d been looking pretty good all game, not great, but  certainly not bad, and then…well…adventures. Frustrating when he essentially was (and is) keeping Jarred Tinordi or Mark Barberio out of a spot.

Nathan Beaulieu looked fantastic, singlehandedly bailing out several veterans, and Brett Lernout looked surprisingly solid for a baby defenceman (it’s also so strange that Beaulieu’s the one taking rookies under his wing when last year, that was basically him).

Regardless of the results, it was hockey at the Bell Centre, and I got to see it.


Hockey: Raise the Torch

For reasons largely unknown, Lars Eller is my favourite Hab, but I have a lot of reasons why Max Pacioretty is an extremely close second, and it has a lot to do with how and when I became a Habs fan.

In the spring of 2011, I was a sophomore at a tiny liberal arts college just outside Boston, and more importantly for this story, I was a fairly new hockey fan.

I’m a lover of stories, and I was lured into hockey through the stories told by two of my friends: one the photographer for the ECHL Utah Grizzlies, and the other a Montrealer. Both were huge Montreal Canadiens fans.

Compared to many people, I haven’t been a serious Habs fan very long. In fact, compared to a lot of people, I haven’t been a hockey fan very long. I missed out on Saku Koivu, Patrick Roy and Teemu Selanne, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. I only know Jaromir Jagr as an elder-statesman, and Martin Brodeur as a really bad goalie.

Brian Gionta was “my captain” because he happened to be the captain of the team I fell in love with, not because I felt strongly one way or the other about him specifically. But it’s different with the current core because these are the guys I “grew up” watching.

My friend swears she told me stories about Lars Eller and Max Pacioretty when they were rookies, but I don’t remember that she did because at the time they were just two more unfamiliar names among twenty one others (though I do remember her frustration when Halak took the starting position from Price and the drama that ensued).

However, I was enough of a Habs fan that, like every other Habs fan, I will always remember that fateful night at the Bell Centre when the Boston Bruins were in town.

I didn’t see Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty until years later, but I sure heard about it. I’m from New York City, and I’m a Yankees fan, so hating Boston teams is in my blood, but even if it hadn’t been, I would have hated the Bruins after that.

I remember hearing that Pacioretty said he didn’t want the hit to define him or his career, and that he wanted to come back better than ever, but after that I didn’t follow too closely. I was pleased if I heard the Habs had won, or casually disappointed if they lost, but I wasn’t particularly attached.

That all changed when the Habs drafted Alex Galchenyuk in the summer of 2012, and my friend began a second, much more vigorous campaign to make me a proper Habs fan. Thankfully, it was much more successful.

I heard stories about Subban’s sizzle, Pacioretty’s, by then well established and miraculous ability to heal, the antics of the Gallys (Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk), the brick wall that is Carey Price, and so many stories about Brandon Prust. I was completely doomed.

By the time I started following the Habs for real, Pacioretty was establishing himself as an elite goal-scorer, and had been named to Team USA for the Sochi Olympics. He’d already proved that the hit didn’t define his career, and that he was a better player, and despite the 39 goals he scored in 2013-14, he wasn’t even remotely finished.
The watchword for the next season was “transition”, and it was a time of transition for me as well as for the Habs. In the summer, the Canadiens let Gionta walk, traded Josh Gorges, and made it clear that they expected Pacioretty and Subban to earn the captaincy of a younger team. I moved to Toronto for my masters, and realized I loved writing about hockey.

Then Ken Dryden literally passed the torch to Carey Price to start the year, and I got to witness my first full season as a Habs fan.

And what a season it was: 50 wins; 110 points, Price breaking records left, right, and centre, and cleaning up at the awards show; Subban being nominated for another Norris; Pacioretty putting up 67 points, and elevating his level of play even further by becoming an elite all-around player.

Regardless of the other issues the Habs had, they were never because Subban, Price and Pacioretty hadn’t stepped up.

The loss of Jean Béliveau served as a more symbolic and significant passing of the torch to a new generation, and clearly had just as profound effect on the Habs as it did on Habs fans. The effect was most noticeable on Pacioretty and Subban, who have both made it clear that they are striving to follow in his footsteps as hockey players, and more importantly, as people, to ensure that Béliveau’s legacy will continue through their actions on and off the ice.

At the beginning of last year, I could have seen either Pacioretty or Subban becoming captain. By the time this training camp rolled around, I was fairly sure it would go to Pacioretty. Just as Bergevin said about Jarred Tinordi last year with Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu making the NHL, Subban did absolutely nothing to lose the captaincy. He continued to grow and mature as a leader, and proved that he could be the captain of this or any other NHL team, and they’d be incredibly lucky to have him. Pacioretty was simply on a different level. Every interview he’s given and everything he’s done in the past two years shows just how far he’s come, and how much he now understands what it means to be a leader on this team.

As for me, I finished my masters, moved to Montreal, and, as cheesy as it sounds, achieved one by writing about the Canadiens.

And as for Max Pacioretty, he raised the torch in the 2015 home opener as the twenty-ninth captain of our Montreal Canadiens, and I’m willing to bet he’s still not remotely finished.

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Originally published over at EOTP (in a more polished version).

Hockey: Some Exciting News!

I haven’t had internet for the past few days, and I’m terrible and didn’t queue a post in anticipation. However, I have some super exciting news!

I have been a huge fan and long time reader of the Montreal Canadiens’ fan website Habs Eyes on the Prize and it’s been a dream of mine to write for them for a similarly long period of time. Then they announced that they were looking for new columnists and such, and of course I had to apply. I didn’t expect to get a spot because there were so many applicants, and because there were bound to be so many really excellent writers applying, but I figured at least it couldn’t hurt.

And then this happened:

So I’m now a hockey writer for my favourite website that’s not actually the Canadiens website.

Because it’s me, my first article was on Lars Eller, as is tradition. I also wrote a season preview for Nathan Beaulieu.

I definitely sat there in shock when I first found out that I got a spot, and though I’ve now written two pieces for them, it still hasn’t completely sunk in.

Anyway, that’s what’s happened to me recently!

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 Färjestad 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.

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.