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

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:14 am by Matthviews


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.