All Habs Mailbag: Roy, Markov, MacKinnon, Draft Rules, Lockout, Bulldogs


By Robert Rice, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

TORONTO, ON — The All Habs Mailbag is as popular as ever! This is the place to send in your questions about all things Montreal Canadiens.

Then check every Thursday to read the answers to the most popular or poignant questions about the Habs. Keep in mind that we will discuss the entire Canadiens organization so questions about prospects and roster players are equally welcome!

Submissions can be mailed directly to [email protected]

Three Guidelines for Submissions:

  • This is not for hate mail or complaints. If you have an issue with what you read on these pages, this is not the place to bring it up. The mailbag is for questions about the Montreal Canadiens organization and the NHL.
  • As long-time readers of All Habs know, we do not publish rumours.  Therefore I will not engage in discussion of the validity of rumours — frankly I consider them a waste of time anyway.  For every rumour that was close to accurate, there have been about a thousand duds.
  • Nothing of essay-length please. There will be other people who will have questions and it is a bit unfair if I have to dedicate the Mailbag to answering one very large question or someone who’s asking five questions at once.
So, let’s open the All Habs mailbag!



What are your thoughts on Nathan MacKinnon? Is he the real deal? Is he the most likely player, other than Crosby, to hit some of Gretzky’s records?

To start with, Sidney Crosby doesn’t have a shot at Wayne Gretzky’s records and realistically, nobody ever will. In my view, the brand of hockey in the 1980’s can never be replicated due to the advancement of goaltending and defence, not to mention a 30-team league and a cap-era that prevents more teams like the 80’s Edmonton Oilers or 70’s Montreal Canadiens from exisitong. To put this all in perspective, in his first seven seasons, Gretzky had 1337 points and Crosby has 609 after his first seven. The era of hockey has changed and it’s time to label the untouchable records as being that, untouchable.

If I were to discuss how Crosby and MacKinnon are similar, I would say they are from Nova Scotia, play/played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and frankly, that’s about it. Crosby won the QMJHL scoring titles by a margin of 18 and then 52 points as a 16 and 17-year-old.  MacKinnon finished 17th in QMJHL scoring last year, 46 points out of the  lead and is eighth at present in league scoring this season. MacKinnon has many great tools, but he does appear to be a truly generational talent.  While MacKinnon could certainly have an explosive season, we should remember that players like Crosby are termed generational because they are the best of their generation of hockey and these players only come around once a decade, or even less often than that.


In your opinion, is Patrick Roy a future NHL coach? Would his passion and intensity help or hurt the Habs? Would he be better with young team?

I’ve discussed the candidacy of Patrick Roy before and in my view, he’s not ready to just walk from the major junior bench to the NHL bench. The pace of the games is very different as is the skill level and the personnel. A major junior coach has more power simply due to the fact that he can almost always outlast a player and the players in question have no real power — they’re unproven prospects hoping to be drafted. In the NHL, a team’s veterans and key players tend to outlast coaches in what is a very transitory league for bench bosses, leaving them much less in the terms of total authority and influence. If Roy were to take on an AHL head coach position to prepare for working in the NHL, I would applaud that as the right move, as he can adjust his strategies to working in pro-hockey and working with pro-players.



If the NHL season is cancelled, how is next draft format determined: is it decided by Bettman only or NHL Board of Governors (50 per cent or 75 per cent votes)? Is the NHLPA involved?

From my information, it would be a decision by a majority of the NHL Board of Governors to determine the criteria for generating a draft format in that event. The likely case would be a replication of the 2005 rules, where they established a weighted lottery system, favouring teams that had missed the playoffs in the previous three seasons. The second part of this draft to make things more even was much like in many Fantasy Leagues where the draft “snakes” and the team picking first overall would than pick last in the next round of the draft.



What does the NHL’s proposal contain?

It’s a very long document, so I will go over what I believe are the key factors

–    The NHL has offered a 50-50 split of what is termed as Hockey-Related Revenue, but the NHLPA is dubious about some of the language in the offered split that suggests the NHL is trying to cheat on that.

–    The elimination of the allowance for teams to bury a bad contract in the AHL, like the New York Rangers Wade Redden’s $6.5M per year deal, dictating that said deal will still count on New York’s salary cap. They also go further here, dictating that if say New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk were to be traded later on and he were to choose retirement at age 38, the remainder of his contracted years, which go until he is 42 would count against their salary cap space until he was 42. This was the most surprising part of the NHL proposal in my view, as it essentially bolts every escape hole known for a team to drop a bad contract.

–    The new contract and free agency limits. Rookie contracts now only go two years, and salary arbitration is pushed until a player’s fifth professional season. Player contracts can also now go no longer than five years. Players must now play eight seasons or play until age 28 to gain unrestricted free agency rights. This seems to be a push to eliminate the much-criticized ‘second contracts’ that see rookies go from under $1M in salary to $6M + in the case of stars and superstars. Their ability to leverage for more money is limited by the extended wait for salary arbitration and free agency and how at present offer sheets are as rare as a Scott Gomez goal.  However in this case, I would add that these players likely deserve this compensation at this stage of their careers, the vast majority of these stars will always have most, if not all of their best production seasons in the first half of their careers.

–    The issue of current contracts being paid out. While the NHL has said there will be no rollbacks of current deals in place, the proposed reduction of the share of Hockey-Related Revenue from 57 percent to 50 percent means the balance of those contracts has to come from somewhere as 50 percent of NHL revenue is not projected to be enough to pay out the current deals next season. What has put the NHLPA off about this is that the proposal suggests taking away money from players contributions to escrow*, essentially using the player’s money to pay out the player’s contract in some kind of twisted Ponzi scheme, rather than have owners paying out for the deals they signed with their players.

* Escrow in the NHL is where the NHLPA agrees to cede a percentage of their salary to be banked, in case the revenue of the league does not grow as expected, a share of that money is calculated to be ceded to the NHL teams to balance out the disparity of the revenue split between the players and owners. If NHL revenues go over targets, the players get back all of their escrow payments, plus a bonus.



Who will be the top 12 forwards by mid/end season in Hamilton? What will happen to three forwards who didn’t play especially Joonas Nättinen?

If I had to rattle it off, by no order of preference and figuring on an extending lockout I believe it looks something like this:

Louis Leblanc, Aaron Palushaj, Blake Geoffrion, Brendan Gallagher, Michaël Bournival, Gabriel Dumont, Patrick Holland, Joonas Nättinen, Steve Quailer, Mike Blunden, Zach Stortini and one of Alain Berger, Stefan Chaput or Alex Avtsin.

For Alain Berger and Alexander Avtsin, I would imagine they just aren’t very high with the coach right now due to pre-season performance but they may get rotated in later. This is also a very new Hamilton team and Sylvain Lefebvre is getting to know his roster so he may be tinkering throughout the season or these two players may surprise. As per Joonas Nättinen, reports have it that he came down with the flu, but I believe he is expected to draw back into the lineup this weekend.



If Markov stays in Russia and doesn’t fulfill his Habs contract can he play internationally, or even in the KHL?

I’m not sure how this story of Andrei Markov staying in Russia started but let me just kill it right here, and with a certain amount of pleasure. The story that ‘broke’ yesterday was from a quote taken entirely out of context, in which Markov was asked if he would stay in the KHL if the lockout persisted, to which he said yes, meaning he’d stay there this season if the NHL season was cancelled by the lockout. Also, it is a ludicrous consideration when you examine Markov’s situation. First, Markov is essentially earning no money from playing in the KHL right now, his KHL team is simply paying his insurance premiums while he skates with them to get ice time in and be prepared for an NHL season. Next, for Markov to stay in Russia he would also be walking away from 11.5M in guaranteed cash over the next two years, an amount of money he would not be able to make in the KHL either. Finally, Markov would also not be allowed to play as he would be in breach of his NHL contract. International play I believe is also forbidden for players who essentially break contract like this.