Claude Giroux, Raffi Torres and more



MONTREAL - Ouch. This hurts. That pain you’re feeling in the lower quadrant of your sacro-dorleac, where the isthmus derriereum meets the gluteus bumnium?

Yup. That’s because you’re feeling the draft. The 2006 draft, that is – when an 18-year-old right-winger who played his junior hockey in Gatineau in the good old QMJHL (not, in other words, an obscure winger for the Irkutsk Eagles) was the 22nd choice in the first round – by the Philadelphia Flyers.

It was the year after the Canadiens picked up Carey Price with the fifth pick in the first round and the Habs might have been building something. But they couldn’t shake their fondness with big American defencemen: the Canadiens, with the 20th pick, took the regrettable David Fisher, leaving Claude Giroux for the Flyers.

Mind you, Derick Brassard, Kyle Okposo, Peter Mueller, James Sheppard, Michael Frolik, Jonathan Bernier, Bryan Little, Jiri Tlusty, Michael Grabner, Riku Helenius, Ty Wishart, Trevor Lewis, Chris Stewart, Mark Mitera and Bob Sanguinetti were also taken before Giroux, along with top picks Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel, so it’s not like the Canadiens were the only team to blow it.

It just hurts a little more, knowing that Giroux was so near – and yet so far. Especially after watching him help wrap up the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday in a first-round series that had more sub-plots than a Russian novel.

You’ve heard so often that Sidney Crosby is the world’s best player that it has become an article of faith. Repeat it often enough and it’s true, right? And Crosby should never have been the target of that sleazy Cowardly Lion cover from the Philadelphia Daily News.

But after watching all six games of one of the most entertaining hockey series we’ve seen in a long while (Sunday’s routine 4-1 Philadelphia victory excepted) we would have to say that Giroux right now is a better player than Crosby. Make that Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, because Giroux outplayed both the Pittsburgh stars.

But in Sunday’s game, matched head-to-head with Crosby, Giroux ground his rival into the ice. Marc-André Fleury’s shoddy goaltending had a lot to do with it, but the key was Giroux vs. Crosby, and Giroux won this won by a TKO. Malkin had a better day than Crosby and scored Pittsburgh’s goal – but Giroux still outplayed them both.

Giroux got things going by knocking Crosby down before scoring an unassisted goal on his first shift, and he never let up. He finished the day a plus-2, to Crosby’s minus-3. Giroux had a goal and two assists to Crosby’s nada and nada. Giroux was not only the most dangerous offensive force on the ice, he was also the best checking forward and the best penalty-killer: Giroux had nearly twice as much ice time on the penalty kill than he had on the power play.

Six goals and eight assists in six games? Right now, Giroux is the man. Yes, maybe Crosby is a little rusty after his concussion nightmare – but right now, the world’s best player is the guy the Canadiens missed in 2006 – not the one they never got a crack at in 2005.

The Canadiens get another crack at it this June. Let’s hope the best player in the draft isn’t the guy who goes 22nd overall.

Better late than never: Yes, Brendan Shanahan finally got it right when he suspended Raffi Torres for 25 games for his hit on Marian Hossa. But that suspension might never have been necessary had Shanahan done the right thing and lowered the boom on Shea Weber right at the beginning of the playoffs.

Weber should have had five games for trying to drive Henrik Zetterberg’s head through the glass, whether Zetterberg was injured or not. Shanahan needs to focus more on the what is done and less on who is responsible for the hit and whether the victim is injured. Weber’s action was just as dangerous as what Torres did – but he got off because he wasn’t successful in hurting the guy.

Beyond issuing a warning to the rest of the league, suspending Weber would have had a huge impact on that Nashville-Detroit series. Instead, the Red Wings are gone, the Predators are going on, and Weber got away with one of the dirtiest acts in the playoffs so far.

It’s easy to make an example out of a meathead like Torres, a multiple offender who was too dim to figure out that given the scope of the outcry over the runaway violence since the beginning of the playoffs, the NHL needed a scapegoat.

So Torres is the scapegoat. Deservedly so – but we can’t escape the feeling that Gary Bettman and the NHL board of governors have learned from the example of Dana White and the UFC: it might be dumb, it might be lacking in grace and long on nothing but mindless violence – but it sells.

And the Torres suspension still doesn’t explain why the NHL’s referees – the first responders, in the emergency sense – so consistently miss some of the worst plays, booting it upstairs to the overloaded Shanahan. A five-minute major and a game misconduct has an immediate impact. That’s a language even troglodytes like Torres understand: pull a dirty hit and you’re gone. Now, not next week.

Goodonya, Frankie: The thought of looking at those ugly Predators uniforms is enough to make us feel a little queasy. But something good came of the Preds win: Francis Bouillon gets another playoff series.

You need both hands to name all the players treated shabbily by the Canadiens under the Bob Gainey-Pierre Gauthier regime, but Bouillon was near the top.

The last time I saw Bouillon was in the summer of 2009, when he was at the gym, working out and still rehabbing a groin injury he had suffered in the spring while still with the Canadiens. After the injury, the Habs pressured him to play. Bouillon did – and aggravated the injury.

The result that summer? No contract offer from the Habs, even though he had given himself up for the team. Nashville brought him in on a tryout late in camp, Bouillon made the team – and now he’s into the second round of the playoffs while the Canadiens play golf.

The race that should not have been run: Yes, Sebastian Vettel won the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.

But this one should never have got off the start line. Bernie Ecclestone never met a tyrant he doesn’t love, but Bahrain is a situation Formula One should have avoided. It was dangerous, the track was a horror-show, the whole sorry mess should have been avoided. Ecclestone is just fortunate the F1 circus escaped Bahrain without someone getting killed.

Then again, if the protesters had blown up the media centre, Ecclestone would probably be dancing this morning.

Hold the presses! From Jordan Staal, before Game 5 of the Flyers-Pens series: “We’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”

Heroes: Claude Giroux, Braden Holtby, Troy Brouwer, Craig Anderson, Jonathon Quick, Cory Schneider, Jordan Staal, Andy MacDonald, Francis Bouillon, José Theodore, Ryan McDonagh, Nik Lidstrom, Jaromir Jagr, Danny Brière, Steve Nash, &&&& last but not least, Phlip Humber, for reminding us that it’s baseball season.

Zeros: Gary Bettman, Raffi Torres, Shea Weber, Brendan Shanahan, Brian Burke, Don Cherry, Bernie Ecclestone, Jeffrey Loria, David Samson, Claude Brochu, Tiger Woods, Didier Drogba, Lindsey Vonn, Marc Zanetti, Ted Nugent, Tim Thomas &&&& last but not least, Pierre “The Ghost” Gauthier.

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