The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Radio Silence

All 7 readers of this fine blogging institution are well aware at this point that I have barely contributed anything in quite some time. Of course, some of that is due to my consistently busy schedule…but, that hasn’t changed from last year when I was blogging at a much more frequent rate. What has changed, however, is my level of apathy towards the main subjects that I have tackled here – the Montreal Canadiens and Arsenal (with the SF Giants a distant third). Let me tackle them in order from “angriest at” to “pretty OK with, actually”.

The Giants are, top to bottom, arguably the most incompetently-run franchise pound-for-pound in all of sports. Sure, they aren’t nearly as bad as the Pirates or Royals or the other usual suspects (Stephen Baldwin’d!). I believe that is what makes me more annoyed, though. If I were a Pirates or Royals fan, I’d be much more philosophical about their fortunes given that whole “being penniless” thing. Now, I’m just going to cover ground here that Only Baseball Matters already has (and done so much more thoroughly)…but it’s the wanton and willful mismanagement from the GM position on down that has turned whatever part of me was still into baseball off entirely.

Unlike other sad-sack franchises, the Giants have not been afraid to spend money. However, while intelligent teams give it their all to sign a quality player like Matt Holliday or Roy Halladay (or at least get declining-but-still-good veterans on the cheap), we’re backing up dump trucks full of money to past-it retreads like Edgar Renteria and Freddy Sanchez. I don’t have to bring up the Barry Zito contract or the Joe Nathan trade, do I?

It’s the same shit every season, going back to the Bonds years. Either we’re wasting the prime of the best hitter in the history of the game (if Brian Sabean killed off my already-flatlining baseball fandom, the hysteria and witch-huntery surrounding PEDs has exhumed the corpse and ritually burned it in the manner of a Viking funeral) with a collection of stiffs on the mound, or we’re wasting one of the most dominant rotations in baseball with a pop-gun offense and a shaky closer. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, OVER.

I don’t know what the shit this guy has to do to get fired…and their recent climb back up to mediocrity has probably bought him another 5 years to operate. Great. By the time someone finally slays the beast, Timmy Lincecum will be in fucking pinstripes. It’s enough to swear me off the sport forever.

Speaking of mismanagement, the Canadiens haven’t been much better. However, I’m not quite as upset (with the Giants I’m a mushroom cloud-laying motherfucker, motherfucker – I’m the Goddamn Guns of the Navarrone…with the Habs, I’m more a race car in the red) with the bleu, blanc et rouge because it isn’t as much willful stupidity as it is a complete and utter lack of a plan with regards to putting together a coherent roster. I understand the idea behind developing your own talent, but doesn’t there have to be a plan in mind for it? Whatever you want to say about Arsene Wenger’s youth policy (and while I probably have too much patience for it at times, and I do wish he’d blend in some more top-quality experience), you have to admit that he at least has a specific end-goal in mind in terms of what the team-sheet will look like in 2012 and beyond). With the Canadiens, there are so many unanswered questions. What does Matt D’Agostini do, anyway? Is Max Pacioretty supposed to be a power forward? An energy line guy?

I could go on and on, but the point is that when you take the entirety of the roster and view it from 30,000 feet, there’s no story there. With the Penguins, you know what you’re going to get – a slightly-soft team that will concede goals, but is designed to ride their goaltender long enough for Crosby, Malkin et al to score more goals than you do. On the other hand, the New Jersey Devils are built to prevent goals through smart defensive play and the individual brilliance of Marty Brodeur, and they’ll wait in the reeds and pounce the second you make a mistake. Again, it’s a coherent and obvious team structure with a consistent goal in mind every night.

So, what the fuck are the Canadiens supposed to be? A run-and-gun team? You can’t be that when THERE’S NO ONE WHO CAN FUCKING SCORE. A defense-and-special teams outfit? Can’t be that when NO ONE OTHER THAN MARKOV CAN FUCKING PLAY DEFENSE. What you have is a team with a great power play and a shockingly-decent penalty kill that hopes that Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak can make the 30 or 40 or 50 stops necessary (often with no help) to give the Canadiens enough time to fluke a goal or somehow get to the shootout. This is a gameplan expected to consistently win in a league that has more parity now than in any point of its history? Long gone are the days when you could get 4 definite wins each season over the Isles and Panthers and whatever other teams sucked that season. Don’t look now, but I WOULD FUCKING TRADE ROSTERS WITH THE ISLANDERS RIGHT NOW. Has it really come to this?

Last night, the Canadiens put up an absolutely disgraceful display in a 6-2 loss to the Rangers. Look, I know even the best teams will lose 25 games or so in a season. I know even the Devils or Red Wings or Penguins will lay a stink bomb every now and then. But, very rarely do you see those teams go out to a 2-0 lead and then cravenly fucking capitulate the first time something goes wrong. It’s unprofessional and it’s fucking gutless. I mean, even the Rangers have a coherent game plan – maybe they’re not as good at it as the Devils, but they are built to reduce the opponent’s chances through defense and Henrik Lundqvist long enough for Marian Gaborik (or veeeeeeeery occasionally someone else) to get on the board. Like I said, they have their own problems (secondary scoring and at least one more top-four defenseman would be at the top of their wish list if Glen Sather were anywhere in the time zone of competent), but the point is that they are hardly an offensive juggernaut, and no team this side of the Columbus Blue Jackets should ever concede six goals to these guys. But, here we are, having this conversation. I swear, I was inches away from EVERY FUCKING BLOOD VESSEL IN MY FUCKING BRAIN bursting at once watching that steaming pile of horseshit last night.

I wish I could say that the new coach this season, Jacques Martin, would be capable of changing the mindset and the system. I wish I could say that getting on the Fire Bob Gainey train and reaching its destination would seriously change anything. After we won the Cup in 1993, something changed to a large extent. It’s like we went from being a top-level organization to becoming the Buffalo Sabres, and I don’t understand why. Some of it was the weak Canadian dollar and the inability to attract top free agents. But, Minnesota can’t do that either and they seem to be doing OK. Others will point to the media fishbowl that is Montreal, but that didn’t stop the Canadiens before. The residency drafting rules were gone by the 1980s, but we still took it down in 1986 and were the losing finalists in 1989. Whatever the reason, we became a selling club – and once Eric Desjardins and John LeClair and Patrick Roy all left, I would argue that not one absolute top-level superstar has won the fabled CH since then.

Until that changes, we’re going to be the same “limp to 7th or 8th and get skullfucked in the first round 90% of the time” outfit we’ve been since Kelly Hrudey was forlornly wondering how yet another shot found its way through his Los Angeles Freeway-sized five-hole. The same problems are going to crop up on defense (failure to rotate properly, getting caught pinching, letting people blow by with only a token resistance, etc) because the makeup of the men on the blueline has always been the same. Be they the better versions (Markov, Gorges, Souray, Streit), the horrifically overrated (Hamrlik) or the just plain bad (Gill, Bergeron), we have never had more than one or two people around per season who were actual defensive-minded defensemen (and when we do, it’s guys like Jaroslav Spacek who have other flaws, such as being alive when Lord Stanley first commissioned his namesake trophy).

As for the pop-gun offense (hey, that sounds familiar – Price/Halak = Lincecum/Cain?), it all comes down to the fact that there hasn’t been any top-10 forwards on this team since, goddamn, since before my memory anyway. Back when the Habs were last holding the Cup aloft, they had a coherent plan…keep it tight long enough with defense (Desjardins/Schneider, y’all) and goaltending (St. Patrick) long enough for the other team to make mistakes. HEY, IT SEEMS LIKE A COMMON FUCKING THREAD AMONG TEAMS WHO FUCKING WIN THINGS, AMIRITE? I know the days of Lafleur and Shutt are long gone (never mind the days of Rocket Richard), but without an Ovechkin or a Crosby or Lecavalier or someone of similar ability, you can’t be a run-and-gun team because it’s too fucking easy to shut down one scoring line (like, oh, just throwing it out there…Cammalleri-Gionta-Pouliot) with the top defensive pair and/or checking line and assume that AHL-level chancers like Pacioretty and D’Agostini won’t beat you.

So, what we have is a team built to not play lockdown defense but also not built for speed or for scoring ability. They’re definitely not built for size, and they’re not built to reduce scoring chances. In short, you have an army of midget forwards not strong enough to maintain puck possession in the offensive zone, not quick enough to counter-attack effectively and not prolific enough to cash in what chances they do get…all in front of a reed-thin defense that isn’t strong enough to prevent scoring chances, not puck-proficient enough to spring the aforementioned midget forwards on counter-attacks, and not possessed of the minerals to physically punish opposing forwards or block shots themselves. Meanwhile, you have two kid goaltenders behind all this mess who are learning on the job (you don’t need a Six Sigma Black Belt to know that on-the-job training is the worst way to learn anything) and expected to perform miracles nightly when no one is there to block shots or clear rebounds, or EVEN TO PREVENT FUCKING SHORTHANDED FUCKING BREAKAWAYS.

Does that about fucking sum it up?

Keeping that in mind, things with Arsenal really aren’t that bad. As I already mentioned, Arsene’s insistence on not bringing in competent and experienced cover for the center back and center forward positions is maddening. But, a 2-0 win at home against Bolton (which would of course mirror Saturday’s result in the return fixture) will see them go top of the league in a season that has had some unquestionably frustrating results. At the end of the day, it’s hard to argue with that.

Sure, some of that has to do with this being a wacky season (Chelsea losing to Wigan, United losing to Burnley, Liverpool losing to everyone), but you can only make do with what is in front of you. And, I can’t help feeling that we’re in decent shape with the team getting several points (Everton away) and wins (Bolton away) in instances where they likely would have lost in the last few seasons. There have been other signs of life – Diaby has recovered from his nightmare start to have been consistently good over the last 9-10 games, Song has matured into the dominant ball-winning bulldog that only Wenger believed he could be, Vermaelen has been the buy of the season, etc.

That said, I want to take pains to say that on the other hand, I agree with 90-95% of what Brendan has said in this space about the team. The constant injuries have to be called into question, the Denilson flop the other week was amazingly gutless (I held my counsel on that until I heard anything about the extent of the injury – but with him in line to play on Wednesday, you have to put the “gutless” option back on the table), some of the results earlier this season were unforgivable, and of course WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, ALMUNIA?  Given the slapstick comedy provided by the other top sides at other points this season, at the very worst this should be a two-horse race between us and Chelsea, with us about 6 points or so ahead already. The fact that we’re not is, at the end of the day, down to Wenger and a few others (like, oh, that Diaby headed own-goal for example).

However, I remain slightly confident in our ability to win trophies this season. The landscape of the FA Cup is clearing out nicely for us (it’s just us and Chelsea left among sides with a real name tag, and I promise you that they don’t give half a shit about it this season), and it’s all up for grabs in the league. Sure, we’re two hideous losses or so away from that not being the case, but at present we’re right there. As for the Champions’ League, if that absolute fucking shower of a Liverpool squad can win it twice in recent memory, anyone can.

So, that’s where I’m at. Any questions?

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January 18, 2010 - Posted by | Montreal Canadiens, The Arsenal

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