For the sake of the rivalry, Montreal, learn from our past


There’s something weird about rivalries. On one side of the room, you have a foe that you just can’t stand. Nothing about them is likable. You want nothing more than to see them fail. But at the same time, you strangely want that blood on your hands. It doesn’t feel right when others do the job for you. It feels worse when they’re doing it to themselves.

So that’s why I’m calling you today, Marc Bergevin. We need to save you from yourself, so we can get back to the business of hatred.

A source told Sportsnet that Matt Pfeffer, who was hired as an analytics consultant at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, made an impassioned and elaborate presentation to management to dissuade them from following through on this trade.

Ignoring Pfeffer’s advice only served to reinforce the notion that Bergevin was following different criteria in his evaluation of both players, said the source, who also suggested Pfeffer’s vehemence on the matter might have ultimately cost him the job (he was told on Wednesday that his contract won’t be renewed). The Canadiens would not comment on why they aren’t renewing his contract, but they did say that they are looking into other analytics solutions.

This tidbit of information, just kinda snuck in there by Eric Engels as a proverbial bullet point in an article asking further questions about the unmitigated disaster that was the PK Subban trade makes you wonder about an already concerning organization just a little bit more.

To the knowledge of the public, Pfeffer is the one of the first “internet-known” analytics hires to part ways with his NHL team and certainly the first to be let go because of a known disagreement. Now, he’s also one of the younger players in the data game, and while I presume he’s intelligent enough to not let early-twenties immaturity get the best of him while pleading his case, I also suppose there’s a chance that the debates escalated quickly.

But that would be a wild assumption. Right now, what we’ve got is that somebody who has worked for many different organizations at an early stage of his career, armed with the power of present employment, tried to present the obvious-to-most case of PK Subban’s on-ice merits to his bosses, and that the team was so certain that he was so wrong that he wasn’t worth keeping anymore. Now they want somebody else.

I don’t think there’s a somebody else out there that has ever looked at a box score, let alone a spreadsheet, that will come in with a different perspective that isn’t going to be a yes man. If you just want somebody to agree with you, at least do the world some good and hire a homeless person to get them off the street.

The Habs are in the denial stage. They’re in a situation where, like many teams before them, they believe that they’ve assembled a team that can compete at a moment’s notice. They see their failures not as a matter of incompetence on their part, but as a problem that goes beyond hockey. If somebody points out their flaws, they roll their eyes.

Take their coach, for example. Michel Therrien gets year after year of grace for getting his team into a relatively good spot in the regular season and bombing in the playoffs. Sure, it’s unfair to rip on a team for losing a series, where anything can happen. Hell, the Habs were benefactors of that just a few years ago when Jaroslav Halak dragged them into the conference finals. Even further back, their last two Stanley Cups mostly came from the fact that Patrick Roy decided that being one of the greatest ever wasn’t good enough.

Hey, on the subject of goalies, that their impact on a run works the other way as well. The Habs have had some good runs stifled by Carey Price getting hurt. Their crash to nearly join us at the bottom last year came from his disappearance for a year. Sometimes things happen. But if your system and odds of going on a run rely entirely on an oft-injured netminder who is typically elite one year and somewhere around average in the next, are you running a hockey team, or a group of 20 men running around a roulette wheel?

We’ve been there before. James Reimer and early Jonathan Bernier made decent teams with awful systems look great. They were worse before, and they’ve been worse since. It’s a mirage.

This is still a coach trying to employ a dump and chase system with a roster of skilled forwards. This is still a coach who gives drags like David Desharnais and Alexei Emelin minutes and insists that they stay part of the long-term core. This is a coach who doesn’t see what he has in Alex Galchenyuk, and, apparently, didn’t see too much in Subban, who was far and away his best skater.

Marc, you’re going to try to feed Michel players that will fit his mindset. Don’t. The Leafs did that with Randy Carlyle. They’re still trying to clean up the damage and many of the players they let go have been solid elsewhere. You’ve basically screwed yourself into a decade of a less-mobile minute-eating defenceman who only wants the puck when he can immediately get rid of it, but while every paper cut matters, that doesn’t mean you have to keep adding more. Build for you, build modern, build without him, and tender the papers as soon as you have an excuse to (which, given that Price will probably start slow after 11 months off, will likely be in the first few weeks).

And for the love of Gretzky, stop with the “culture” bullshit. We get it, you worked for the Blackhawks for a couple of years. But you’ve been gone as long as you’re there now, so while I don’t think that the “intangible factor” is totally useless in today’s game, you probably don’t know what’s working for that team anymore in that regard.

What we do know works for that team is amassing a core of highly skilled players and constantly swapping out the support pieces, who are drafted intelligently, developed with purpose, and set free the second they require too much money. They aren’t winning because Jonathan Toews is boring in post game interviews. They’re winning because they, for the most part, know when to set something replaceable free.

We learned that in Toronto when we wondered why Kris Versteeg and David Bolland didn’t magically turn our team into theirs. You should have known that from watching the aftermath of, well, every June/July trade they’ve made since you’ve been gone. You picked up Andrew Shaw anyway. Of all people that you picked, you picked the one that not even Hawks fans could be happy with, as a result of his frequent tantrums, and you know, the whole slur thing.

Meanwhile, you’re rolling the dice huge on your biggest free agent signing. Alexander Radulov is a great player. One of the best in the world, and for the past few years, he’s basically been the final boss of European Hockey. He scores, he passes, he slashes, he yells at refs. He’s either going to dominate in the NHL or be the man who broke curfew to party with a player who had trouble in your city already and once slashed his coach in the face on the bench.

It’s a one-year contract, so it’s a worthy gamble. But it’s also not one that you pull when trying to sell your fans on the idea of moving their most beloved player for cultural and philosophical reasons, especially then those reasons are that the player is too outgoing and doesn’t get as upset as he should after losses.

Trust us, as a team that (somewhat, but not quite as wrongly) ran their star out of town last year for being not outgoing enough and being too frustrated after losing, what you in Subban was good culture. That doesn’t mean you have to keep him, but don’t try to sell it to your fanbase as being bad when your solution is to get an older and worse player to replace him and two players known to be jerks as the supplemental talent to get you over the edge.

Look, what I’m basically getting to is this. We’ve seen some shit here in this city. We know that hoping that the goalie will fix your problems is bad. We know that 1970’s coaching should stay in the 1970’s. We’re starting to get a better grasp of which players deserve the attention and which ones deserve the supplements. We’ve looked to outgoingness and positivity as good character traits as long as they’re matched with hard work. We’ve stopped building our management hierarchy around yes-men and created a group that debates constructively.

The Leafs still have a long way to go, but they’re using a modern model that most successful clubs share with them. The team looks to be in better long term shape, the players seem to be happier for it, the staff and ownership seem to be happier for it, and the fans seem to be happier for it. I understand that you’re at the stage of your tenure where your plan has to work or your head gets chopped off, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, your last ditch effort has it’s odds greatly weighted on heartbreak and your long-term prospects might be best suited towards showing that you can survive in 2016.

Despite a few deadweights, the team still has a lot of pieces now of various ages. Trevor Timmins still has a pretty good grasp of how to draft talent, as evidenced by how many players on the roster are home grown. It’s not like it’s an empty cupboard; it’s just very disorganized.

Besides, more than anything, we want your team to be good again. Not great, but good. Rivalries are only fun if neither of the two sides are miserable. Otherwise, it’s either bad hockey or a beating. Otherwise, we’re going to have to spend a few years pretending to care enough about the Panthers to be angry, and nobody really wants that.

  • CMpuck

    I’ll take great joy in Montreal failing, they’re fanbase is always particularly obnoxious when their team makes the playoffs whereas I find most Leaf fans cynics, even during the Cujo/Belfour years most hated half the roster and thought the Leafs dark horses.

    As for the article? Analtyics is a church of thought, so a GM not listening to his analytics consultant shouldn’t be a surprise or the end of the world. PK is a better player but Montreal wasn’t winning with PK rushing the puck everytime he touched it (what was it? He made 600 more plays than Shea). Shea plays better within the structure Therrien wants so they made the trade. Not saying it was a good one but it’s not the disaster it’s played up to be.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Come on. Let the Habs wallow. They had their 70s. Now they can have a quarter century of self-inflicted misery. Will I miss a good Leafs-Habs game? Sure. But I want absolute, unmitigated, undiluted, total Leaf hegemony for the next 15 years.

  • silentbob

    I don’t competely disagree with the article, but there is one big difference between the Habs now and the Leafs 2-3-4 years ago – Carey Price.

    Price is every bit the franchise talent that Crosby, Toews, Tavares, Kopitar etc… are. Before drafting Matthews the Leafs hadn’t had a player that good since Sundin (even then, was Sundin a carry ateam type of player his last couple years….?). The Leafs were desperately and sadly grasping at any straw they could (Kessel, Phaneuf, Bernier, Gustavsson etc…) to avoid admitting they had to blow the team up and start over again. The Leafs had to trade Kessl and Phaneuf and co. to start over.

    The Habs have a player in his prime they can build the team around, and in Galchenyuk they may have a legit #1 NHL center. They certainly made a mistake with Subban, but this is a team that needs a re-tool not a rebuild. The Leafs, since around 2004, needs a full on rebuild.

  • CMpuck

    You’re speaking way too soon bud. This would make sense if the Leafs actually accomplished something with their ‘super-turbo-analytics-department’ but they didn’t accomplish anything other than drafting first (i.e. being the worst team in the league). Perhaps you should have shelved this piece until reality started to get in tune with it.

    I hate the Habs as much as the next guy but they just got bigger and meaner and added 3 very solid players that will ensure they’re no longer a team of small players that are constantly getting stapled to the boards like flies and having their goalie run. It wasn’t Subban alone that had the Habs destroying the league early in the season play this year or the year previous. Habs think they’re close and some Cup-winning veteran presence on the team is not a bad idea at all.

    Rivalry should imply sne measure of respect and there is none here for a team that has shown a lot more than our sorry bunch over the last few years (50 and counting). The problem with the Habs and Leafs rivalry is not that the Habs are done because they fired a basement blogger kid but that the Leafs haven’t been able to keep up. I’m pretty sure the Habs will again be competing in the playoffs come spring and the Leafs will again be drafting high.

  • Capt.Jay

    I will take great pride in their failure if it happens. I experienced unrelenting decades of trash talking from their fans. If they turn out to be terrible they will get no sympathy from me. Reap what you sew.

  • Gary Empey

    Re- “impassioned and elaborate presentation”

    Pfeffer himself said today that statement is completely wrong. A meeting between Canadiens management and the analyst did not take place. All he did was submit two analytic reports for review.

  • Jeremy Ian

    This is article is premature, we haven’t seen the Habs play yet with this so called disaster on their hands and we won’t know what the Leafs will be until 2-3 years from now. Also curious… “They’re (Leafs from Carlyle era) still trying to clean up the damage and many of the players they let go have been solid elsewhere” Who exactly are we talking about? Grabovski and Kulemin? lol

    • Pierre

      With Price, a good defense and Radulov this is a top-10 in the league.

      This team has a very respectable offense.
      Besides Markov (37) and Plekanec (33), core of the team is between 22 and 31 years old.
      Older players who were with the team in 2012-13 are gone.

      Could go for the Cup in the next two years.

      They also have Sergachev, Scherback and Lehkonen in the pipeline.
      Three years after he was drafted, Lehkonen now looks like a mid first round pick. Best scorer in SHL PO.

      We will see soon enough.

      After 2011-12 where they finished 28th, they came back and finished 4th in the league.

      • Jeremy Ian

        That was a sharp turnaround from 2011-12. But you really think the Habs are positioned to make a run at the Cup for two years?

        Look at Tampa Bay, Florida, Washington, and Pittsburgh. Really, the Habs can get through that firewall of well-built teams?

        You aren’t worried about being caught as a middling-level team for years to come, and one injury (Price) away from being out of the playoffs?

        • silentbob

          Given that their best/franchise player is a goalie……possibly.

          In 86 and 93 the Habs were not among the best rosters in the NHL, but both years they had the best goalie in the league (world?) who just shut the door in the playoffs and was better then other teams start forwards and D-men.

          Price is that good – and the Habs are a good enough team that if Price catches fire and only allows 1 goal per game or something crazy, they could challenge for a cup.

  • Pierre

    Between 2012-12 and 2014-15 Habs have been 4th, 10th, 2nd in the league
    They also went to ECF where Price was injured.
    So much for denial.

    About Pfeffer, he wrote reports (did not even met with management) and was on a one year contract.
    Management said they will replace him and are committed to use analytics.

    Things change pretty fast in NHL.
    In 2014-15, SJS and LAK missed the PO and Pens barely made it.

    Talking about Price, Weber will protect him.
    Back in 2014, TBL lost in four games in first round because Bishop was injured.
    Following year, same team went to SCF.
    Same year, Price was injured in ECF and our run for the cup ended.

    As for comparing Leaf organization to the Habs, you should refrain a bit. For now future looks good.
    How many PO rounds in the last 10 years?

    Every Stanley Cup winner in the last 10 years were built after 5-10 years of tanking.
    We do not have that luxury in Montreal.

    • CMpuck

      You will once Price exits his prime in 3-4 seasons and your team built around elite goaltending bottoms out. Or even better, when he takes his act elsewhere in two years when he realizes that if he played behind a real team he would probably already have a ring.

      What has all of Les Habitants so sure that Therrien is a cup-worthy coach? He’s inflexible, doesn’t adapt, and doesn’t do well with the skill level needed to win at the highest level (laughable that after watching Shaw get worked by the Blues’ depth players and seeing Weber get humiliated by the Sharks that that’s who they targeted) so Bergevin has effectively made the team worse to make the coach happy.

      Last time the Leafs did that, it set them back half a decade from respectability. But shame on you for wasting the prime of the best Canadian goaltender since Brodeur.

  • Pierre

    This is the most ridiculous article I have read to date. I was a Subban fan but we need to let this thing go. Some people live and die analytics… which don’t get me wrong has it’s benefits and uses… but Berv is a smart hockey guy and there is a reason why he is the GM and not some kid who thinks he is good with numbers.

    It seems that a lot of these articles are always missing one point which is MB didn’t just ship out his best skater for no reason. There WERE issues in the dressing room with Subban and some numbers on a paper are not going to tell you that. This is why he is no longer in Montreal. Again I loved Subban great entertainer, fun to watch, great with the community but in the end it is a team game and since there were problems he had to go.

    Also, how can you say that this is such a disaster trade… that made me laugh out loud. Shea Weber is a great defensemen! There is a reason why Shea Weber is on team Canada and PK is riding the pine. It is because Shea Weber is a better defensemen… and ya you can give me the age thing and contract terms and how he may be declining but just keep that to yourself because you don’t have a crystal ball.

    You leafs fans are funny and you want a good competitive rivalry and talk as though the habs are a terrible team and are on the decline. All of a sudden you got a 1st overall and your a changed team. Maybe this article should have been saved for a couple of years in the future when your growing pains are over and your out of the basement.