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Week 6 in One Word: Obvious

obvious /ˈäbvēəs/ easily perceived or understood; clear, self-evident, or apparent. Similar: clear, plain to see, evident, apparent, striking, noticeable, perceivable, unmistakable predictable and lacking in subtlety.

Week 6 for the Montreal Canadiens featured three games. On Tuesday, the Habs put out a decent effort in Manhattan, but still lost 3-2 to the Rangers. The Penguins were in Montreal on Thursday, but it was the home team that didn’t show up in a 6-0 loss. Then on Saturday the Nashville Predators were visiting but didn’t show up and the Habs won 6-3.

Here is how I saw things shake down.

Some things became obvious in the player development category this week.

On Tuesday the Habs waived Adam Brooks and he was claimed by Vegas, ending an unremarkable tenure. After appearing in just five games for Montreal, Brooks had served his function. A week earlier Ryan Poehling had been recalled and was playing well. It became obvious that Brooks was a placeholder, and that Poehling was the valued asset.

Cayden Primeau was recalled from Laval following Jake Allen’s injury. Before the week was out, it became obvious that the Samuel Montembeault waiver claim had been a short-term measure before the arse fell out of her. Montembeault was a placeholder back-up for Allen while Primeau could develop. On Sunday Primeau was sent back to Laval. With Allen out, both kids get their looks, but Primeau is still the valued asset.

The purpose of Cole Caufield’s visit to Laval is a little less obvious. Was he demoted to work on some bits or to regain confidence? I attended the game against the Marlies and my focus was on Caufield. He had an impressive opening shift, an excellent final five minutes, a decent overtime, and a nice goal in the shootout. There were a solid fifty minutes of average hockey, and his body language screamed a lot of things that don’t sound like confidence. Next day he was called up.

I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s not like recall decisions reveal an obvious line of thinking. It’s hard to say why Belzile would see ice in eight games while Ylonen could really benefit from a measuring stick game or two. Harder still to imagine what Pezzetta is doing in Montreal when they have Vejdemo as an option.

The mystery was solved on Saturday. Obviously, you don’t need 12 NHL-caliber forwards when you have a gaggle of bottom-pair defencemen. On Saturday night, Ducharme iced seven D and 11 forwards so that Mattias Norlinder could get a few games before being returned to Sweden.

The good news is that thinning the forward group meant better wingers for Ryan Poehling as the lines needed some in-game juggling, and the result was two goals for the young centre. Poehling is not going to give you multi-point games every night, but he’s surely not giving you any as long as he’s playing between guys like Pezzetta and Belzile. That much is obvious.

Captain Obvious is not the coach of the Montreal Canadiens.

Occasionally someone feels a need to respond to my Twitter posts with something like, “I suppose you think you know better than the professional hockey guys.” I mean, I appreciate the opportunity to hit the mute button. But seriously, it’s not about me. How do you explain that a professional coach can sometimes be completely oblivious to details that every analyst, pundit and fan is talking about?

How is it not obvious to Ducharme that Christian Dvorak needs to play with a puck carrier to be effective? How long would he have languished if Drouin had not returned from injury? That scouting report is older than dirt. You might question adding a centreman who lacks puck carrying skills, but that trait should have been obvious in the pro scouting report. It’s a little late to try and make him something he isn’t.

You’d think it would be obvious to Ducharme that if a guy has scored a million goals from one specific spot on the power play, you might want to roll with it. But you can never have too many snipers in the bumper. Like seriously, there are VHS recordings of Hoffman and Caufield doing what they do from where they do it.

I’m no stickler for playing guys on their strong sides, and the Habs have a lot of right shots. But how many games has Dom rolled out two forward lines of right shots and a line of left shots? It’s a touch bizarre when those trios have done nothing to confirm any wisdom in it. It seems a little obvious that you don’t play a guy on his weak wing just for the fun of it.

The line between obvious and oblivious is not really that fine.

Marc Bergevin participated in some interviews this past weekend, including with Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic and TSN, and Eric Engels of Sportsnet. A brief look into Bergevin’s thinking was a revelation.

According to Bergevin, his entire role in with the Chicago Blackhawks during the time of the sexual abuse scandal could be distilled to this – he watched players at several levels and reported back on their progress and readiness for the NHL. According to Bergevin, the Director of Player Personnel was a note taker. It may be obvious to some that this description was a strategy to distance himself from the Chicago stench. But what if it isn’t?

It would be extremely disturbing if Bergevin knew about Kyle Beach’s victimization and did nothing. On the other hand, it’s disturbing – not equally disturbing on any scale, but disturbing nonetheless – that the current GM of the Montreal Canadiens believes the role of the Director of Player Personnel is note taking. I mean, is there any actual “directing” going on where players are concerned?

It makes one wonder about the state of player development during the Bergevin tenure in Montreal.

Bergevin seems a little oblivious to how his off-season decision-making may have impacted the team.

LeBrun asked Bergevin “what it was like to go from the highs of the playoffs to what’s transpired since.” Bergevin referenced the short turnaround and the loss of key players, but ultimately said he didn’t understand the giant drop-off in performance. He said it’s the GM’s job to understand and find answers, but that the situation is hard to comprehend. Then he said two things of note.

“I didn’t see the energy from the beginning of camp.”

“We didn’t get engaged from Day 1 of camp.”

Is it so hard to comprehend?

Key players were lost to free agency. Others were unavailable due to injury. The listed captain is reportedly retired and scouting out west. The GM took a giant gamble on their star goalie during the expansion draft. The GM is holding out on his contract. Isn’t that enough to kill your training camp mojo?

Oh, but we’re missing something. What about the draft?

I know that many hockey players are not especially focused on social issues, but isn’t it obvious that some of them would feel the same way about that first round selection that many of us do? Isn’t it obvious that some of their partners would be as offended by the selection as many of us were?

Most were stunned with the first-round selection. But very little was ever said about how the players would feel. Those guys worked their asses off to create more positivity and good will around this team than has existed for years. Bergevin completely killed it with 30 seconds at a microphone.

Isn’t it obvious that at least some players might feel some resentment about that?

Things that should be obvious about the rest of this season appear not to be so for Bergevin.

Engels asked questions that revolved around the plan for the Canadiens in what looks like a lost season. These included references to improving a draft position and building through the draft, developing young players and giving them opportunities based on the current standings, messaging from coaches, and other nuances.

There is one thing that became obvious. Bergevin has no intentions of tanking. That comes as no surprise – of course he can never say the season is probably lost, and when that is certain he intends to tank like it’s his job. He talked about players having pride and they would always play to win, a sentiment that sounds like it came from someone who has missed the first quarter of the season.

I think Bergevin is projecting his pride onto the players. I don’t think we’ll ever see him strategically tank because he has too much pride to acknowledge it really didn’t work. At the 2018 trade deadline, a strategic tank was 100% indicated. Bergevin made five trades, one of which was to acquire a depth defenceman. The only other deal of significance was trading Tomas Plekanec, a pending free agent that re-signed in the off-season.

Recently the calls to fire Bergevin have been loud and many, and some of those have been rooted in his appropriateness to manage the trade deadline if he is not returning next season. Bergevin was non-committal about next season, obviously. Some feel his savvy with trades is enough to let him handle the trade deadline. If that were the only variable I would agree.

If Bergevin stays for the trade deadline, it is obvious to me that we will see a repeat of 2018 and that’s not good enough.

The weeks and months leading up to this deadline are important. There are obvious pieces that absolutely must be moved for value, regardless of how much Bergevin loves them. A couple of additional creative moves could set this team up nicely for a quick reboot.

But in Bergevin’s world a strategic tank is managing like a GM who wants to lose games and, according to him, that would be insane.

You know what insanity is? Doing the same things over and over again – with the same guys over and over again – and expecting a different result. Isn’t it obvious?

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