Faceoff is a regular feature featuring All Habs writers going head-to-head sharing their opinions on a variety of issues. This week, Chantal and Steve discuss whether the lockout was worth it, whether the NHL and its teams are doing enough for the fans, the Gomez saga, the Galchenyuk training camp hype and the Subban signing, or lack there of.
Do they agree? Do you agree with Chantal or Steve? Read, enjoy and don’t forget to leave your comments.
ST. LAMBERT, QC — Can you smell the hockey in the air? It smells bacon-y fresh! Mmm Mmm. With the lockout now officially over and behind us, those of us who write about NHL hockey can finally go back to writing about… NHL hockey. It’s a refreshing change because the only NHL hockey coverage that could be provided for the past 116 days was, “X side made an offer, Y side made a counter-offer, both sides don’t plan to meet until next week”. Riveting.
Now that NHL hockey is back, training camps have begun, hockey discussions are a-plenty, and those who were barking “boycott” high and loud are now surfing the NHL’s website contemplating their offer for an entire season of NHL Gamecenter LIVE for $50. That’ll show ‘em.
It didn’t take very long for Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens to make headlines now that hockey operations have resumed and we will discuss some of these items in this faceoff, but before we do, Chantal and I would like to catapult one final axe into this lockout of a topic before we officially turn the page.
1. Was the lockout worth it?
Steve: It’s still much too early to really answer this question but it’s interesting to speculate with the regular season set to begin in just a little less than a week. I will say this though, there is a possibility that what many have qualified as “the dumbest lockout in sports history” might just end up being the smartest thing (in this case, probably involuntarily) to happen to the NHL.
Look at it like this, the NHL did not cease to operate for four months, the NHL simply put aside their hockey operations in order to put together a soap-opera which managed to keep people’s attention all that time. Even when people were speaking negatively about the NHL, they were speaking about the NHL and the NHL therefore had their attention. Win for the NHL.
With the lockout now over, teams are seeing record crowds for their training camps and the NHL’s $50 deal for NHL GameCentre LIVE and NHL Centre Ice sure appear to be grabbing a lot of attention. As with any marketing deal, the pick-up rate on these services will increase and many people will renew their service next season. Win for the NHL.
Here’s a thought which couldn’t better summarize how I feel about everything that just happened. Imagine someone who has a tremendous craving for Belgian chocolate. Take away that Belgian chocolate and replace it with, let’s say, corner-store cheap crappy chocolate. Now this person might not enjoy the crappy chocolate, but without any Belgian chocolate around, there’s just no better alternative. Now deprive that person of all chocolate for four months. I’ll bet you anything that after four months, that cheap crappy chocolate will taste just as good as Belgian chocolate.
Moral of the story? Even if the NHL puts on a crappy display between now and the end of the regular season, they have deprived their fans so much that they’ll love what they see no matter what. Win for the NHL.
Worth it? Worth is maybe not the right word, but for now, they sure don’t appear as if they will suffer over it.
Chantal: You make good points, but when I think “Was it worth it?”, my mind immediately goes to the CBA. There has been much discussion about who “won” in this agreement, and although we won’t really know for a few years, at first glance, I don’t think this lockout was worth it.
Many small market teams were promised things they’re not getting in this new deal. Players managed to retain most of their contract rights and even won the battle on contract terms and variance, the hill Bill Daly is dead on somewhere. The league did manage to get the revenue sharing to 50/50, but the PA was expecting that, and some owners can’t be too happy about the transition payments, a.k.a make whole, either. On top of it all, players bonified their pension plan and got a few perks, like their private hotel rooms on the road if they’re off their entry contracts. I make it sound as if players got the better deal, but in reality, I believe they just didn’t lose as much as I was expecting. HRR was the main issue here.
A work stoppage of this magnitude is never worth it. It infuriates the fans, it damages the brand, it’s a black eye to the game, and yet they’ll keep doing it, because they come out practically unscathed.
And with this, I say farewell to the lockout, I won’t miss you.. See you in eight years!
2. Are Habs doing enough for fans?
Chantal: The NHL’s public relations department is taking a cue from its executives and assuming hockey fans are morons. Let me explain.
No “Thank You Fans” painted on every NHL rink this time. Which is fine, because we’ve been there, done that. Instead, they’ve launched a campaign called “Hockey is Back”, which will be sprayed on the ice in every building. I find this wording extremely arrogant. NHL is not the game. I don’t know about you, but I watched plenty of hockey during the lockout. Good job, good effort, NHL.
Every team has announced plans to spoil fans in the last few days. Anaheim Ducks fans will be get Selane shirts, Pittsburgh Penguins fans will get lots of free food at the games, 200 Tampa Bay Lightning fans got season tickets for $200, Florida Panthers fans can attend games for $7, with free parking to boot, and LA Kings fans will receive miniature Stanley Cups and other treats. You get the gist.
This is where being in a hockey starved market has its downfalls. Habs fans will get a chance to attend two practice sessions at the Bell Center (you pay for parking), while enjoying a free hot dog. When the puck officially drops on January 19 against the Leafs, they expect you to be in your overpriced seat, enjoying a nice, refreshing overpriced beer.
I follow a lot of Habs fans on Twitter, from everywhere in the world. To quote a Habs fan from Australia who tweeted me: “What’s in this for me? :(” Unless they can make it to the Bell Center this week, there’s indeed nothing in this for them. The Montreal Canadiens have global reach, and although I realize the logistics involved in trying to please everyone are next to insurmountable, Habs need to recognize that revenue doesn’t stop at the gates.
I might still be a little bitter.
Steve: If I were to put my fan hat on, I would probably agree with you in the sense that as a fan who has been deprived of hockey for four months, the only real gift I received from the Canadiens was the opportunity to get a free hot-dog at a practice which I didn’t attend.
In order to respond to this point however, I have to put my business hat on.
In the case of the NHL, the situation for them is a little different. There actually is something that’s in it for them by giving some perks to the fans, and we saw this with their Game Centre/Centre Ice offer. By promoting their service at a discount, they can increase their subscriber base and will probably retain a good portion of these customers beyond this season. How often has your cell phone service provider offered you a free month of X service? It happens all the time, a very common business practice.
In the case of the “Hockey is Back” slogan, I don’t really care. It would look really tacky if it were to say “National Hockey League Hockey is Back” so I’m good with the shortened version.
If we look at small market teams struggling to get fans into the stands, there is also something in it for them. By giving free jerseys and shirts, these teams hope to gain loyal fans, increase regular attendance, and in the end, what all business aim to do, make money.
If we look at the Canadiens however, their situation is different. The Canadiens don’t have a Center Ice package to promote to fans. The Canadiens don’t need to spend time and money on increasing regular attendance, games have been sold out at the Bell Centre since forever.
Geoff Molson dished out a lot of money to buy back the Canadiens and he’s lost a lot more revenue during this lockout than the average owner. If he doesn’t see a return on investment for giving perks to the fans, there’s no business sense in doing so.
Are Habs fans victims of their market? Yes, they are, but they’ve created it and you know what, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
3. Aurevoir, Gomez!
Chantal: When Marc Bergevin announced on Saturday that he had asked Scott Gomez to stay home until the end of the season, an explosion of silly string and confetti occured on my Twitter and Facebook timelines. I only stated that Scott had received a lot of deserved criticism over his time here, as well as some very unfair criticism, and I wish him all the best.
Given circumstances, I understand why this had to be done. I also understand that without the option of an amnesty buyout, or an accelerated buyout compliance, he’s in the starting line-up on Saturday night. I still believe he was one of the Habs best to carry the puck from one end of the rink to the other. Of course, he always used the same route; skate back into his zone in a loop, head out, enter the zone on the wing, and, euh.. wait for a teammate and or lose the puck. But he was good at it.
The best news out of all this is that he won’t have to answer questions every day about maybe being bought out. Ditto for Michel Therrien. Ditto for Marc Bergevin. What the GM did here, besides take a financial decision, is remove a gigantic media circus from his team. For that, even Scott Gomez has to be thankful.
I’ve defended him many times in the past, for being a good player that carried the burden of a bad contract, but unfortunately for Gomez, no matter how you look at his statistics and try to defend him, the fact is that a top-line forward who carries a $7M+ contract will attract criticism for not producing offensively. It simply comes with the territory.
Being in Montreal of all places, the league-wide known most terrible contract in hockey had simply made his time here. It was time to move on and I feel that Bergevin took the decision that was in the best interest of his team both short and long-term.
By removing a piece that he already knows won’t be part of the puzzle next season, Bergevin is demonstrating he’s ready to make those tough decisions that are sometimes needed, rather than live with a burden that was left by a predecessor.
4. Here comes Alex Galchenyuk.
Steve: I’ve probably written about three or four times on Alex Galchenyuk and how Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens should at least allow him to demonstrate his abilities at training camp before deciding on the faith of his season.
Many of us have argued time and time again on what the best path for Galchenyuk would be, whether that would be to finish his season in Sarnia with the Sting, or make the immediate jump to the NHL and play with the Canadiens. In the end, we can only guess and whether they decide on one or the other, we’ll never truly know whether it was the best path in the end.
That being said, more and more, I’m starting to believe that this might be the perfect opportunity for the Canadiens to bring up a young stud like Galchenyuk. Follow me on this thought for a minute, and I had this discussion with @kyleroussel a couple of weeks back.
I feel that pressure can be eliminated from the equation off the bat. Finishing the season in Sarnia wouldn’t make him feel any less pressure next season if that were the course they were to decide on. Don’t forget, training camp for next season starts in only nine months, roughly.
The argument that the Canadiens might not employ him at center is also an invalid argument. Most people know by now that Galchenyuk has been playing wing all season in Sarnia (due to his teammate’s inability to play wing), so finishing the season in Sarnia wouldn’t give him any more opportunities to play center.
I also don’t believe in the argument that he would be better served with a full training camp. The kid has just played a half-season and won a gold medal at the WJC. What more of a training camp do you want?
The only negative I can see is the risk of him playing too much hockey this season. He’s already played approximately 42 games this season, and a 48 game calendar would bring him up to 90 games, then possible playoffs. That being said, if they properly manage his utilization, I don’t think it should be a problem.
The Canadiens finished in last place last season. Even if expectations are always high in Montreal, in a situation where it seems improbable that the team can do as bad as last season, it just seems to me, more and more, that this is the perfect state for him to begin his career in Montreal.
First, I’m happy he’s been invited to camp and given a chance to show off his awesomeness. I agree he should get his five-game tryout. I still think he should go back to Sarnia, unless they plan on using him very, very, intelligently.
As you point out, this 48-game calendar would take him to 90 on the season. And this shortened NHL season will be intense, with three or four games a week, every week, plus travel. That’s not a schedule Galchenyuk is used to.
I would like him to at least be able to transition to center. Take a few faceoffs every now and then. Go up against top lines. Get power play time. All the while managing his minutes, being forgiving of his mistakes, and put him in a situation where he would be mentored and supervised off the ice. It’s a jungle in the Mecca.
At this point I only hope Habs brass make the best decision for him, his development, his future, and not just get sucked into the hype and keep him here for marketing reasons and for fans to have something to ouhh and awww about.
It’s in Alex’s hands now.
5. Should fans be worried that P.K. hasn’t signed yet?
Steve: There’s different ways to look at this. I’m not worried about the fact that he hasn’t signed yet, because I’m confident that a deal will be worked out. What’s starting to have me a little concerned is how much of an affect this will have on the relationship between P.K. and his teammates.
Time and time again, even recently out of the mouth of team captain Brian Gionta, we’ve seen players speak of P.K. in a tone that leaves you thinking Subban isn’t everybody’s best friend on the team.
Maybe too much is made of this and it doesn’t have much of an effect on the team, but I like to think that it plays into the dressing room atmosphere and the point I’m trying to get at is that I don’t feel P.K.’s doing all that much to get into his teammates’s good graces.
Rather than find himself a hockey league in order to maintain a certain level of game shape during the lockout, Subban decided to spend much of it showcasing his face on TV. We know how much he loves the camera.
Now that the lockout is over, it would appear that Subban is holding out for money, and even though these types of situations happen all the time, in the context of a shortened season with a shortened training camp, the end result is that Subban isn’t there, he isn’t practicing, he isn’t getting his timing back with his teammates, nothing.
The lockout’s over, P.K., game on.
Chantal: Should fans be worried? No. This has been a tough negotiation since the beginning, way before that lockout thingy happened. Both parties have admitted to this, and both have said they want to get it done.
Reports of Subban holding out for money bother me. Everyone needs to remember he is represented by Don Meehan, a veteran agent with 40 years of business under his belt, a true shark. Is P.K. holding out for more money, or is Don advising him to? Big difference.
Until recently, I always figured the disagreement was over term, not bucks. GM Marc Bergevin has referenced this “team structure” he’s trying to implement and did so again in a press conference last week, explaining that whatever the new CBA held, his structure wouldn’t change. The man has a plan, that includes Subban, and will do his best to stick to it. And that’s fine by me.
As for Subban’s extra curricular lockout activities, I don’t really mind. I never got his “Joel” Twitter thing, but if he wants to analyse hockey games on tv, so be it. As for his teammate’s comments, one can read whatever they want into them. I’m not bothered by any of this, it’s just noise. PK has been training hard and staying in shape through it all.
What does worry me just a little bit, is that Habs and P.K.’s agent haven’t talked in two days. With such a tight schedule, this might indicate more than anything just how much each camp is adamant on getting their way.
When the lockout ended, Subban was asked on Sportsnet what he was most looking forward to. He rubbed his hands together and replied: “My first paycheck!”
Get ‘er done, boys.
Faceoff: Chantal vs. Steve
All Habs Faceoff: World Juniors, Markov, Goalie Depth, Twitter