84 years of Glory + 16 years of misery = Habs Centennial

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I'm all for celebrating major events in sports. I'm all for ceremonies in hockey. And I'm all for the celebration of the Centennial season of the Montreal Canadiens. But I don't think I'm the only Habs fan that will be glad when tonight's ceremony, as well as tonight's game, is over, and everyone can move on.

Centennial seasons aren't something that are celebrated very often in sports. Beyond certain baseball teams in the US, and soccer teams in Europe, the Montreal Canadiens are amongst the oldest teams in pro sports. And if you factor in the fact that the Canadiens have never changed cities or names (they've certainly changed jerseys a lot, but I digress..), their Centennial season becomes more impressive. Finally, when you factor in all the team and player records they've set and continue to hold, all the Stanley Cups they've won and all the Hall of famers that wore the red, white and blue, it's a truly remarkable feat, worthy of a multi-season celebration.

The only problem is that it has distracted from the main goal of an organization such as the Canadiens; to play hockey, to win hockey games, and most importantly, to win championships. Considering this team's history of winning, and the attention surrounding them throughout this past year and a half, the Canadiens Centennial season is not only impressive in terms of the fact that they are even in their 100th season, but totally embarrasing for the fact that as a professional sports organization, they've failed at almost every turn over the last year.

Squeezing into the playoffs last year only to be swept by their most hated rivals, the Boston Bruins, last year. Sitting in 12th place on the night of their centennial game, and in danger of dropping much lower. A GM that has so little confidence in the same players that he himself signed to the team, or re-signed, or even drafted, he had to force most of these players out of the organization through free agency and replace them. And not to mention all the controversy (I don't think I have to get into that any further).

One hell of a year for any team to have, yet alone one celebrating their centennial season, don't you think? And the embarrassments continue when you factor in individual games, horrendous, forgetable performances (we're up to two just this week, maybe as high as 14 or 15 on the season now).

I can't even begin to fathom how some of the Habs legends that are still with us are feeling today. Are they feeling pride, for being associated to this organization? They must be proud of all their accomplishments, don't get me wrong, but when they see the team that this organization ices game-in and game-out, well, let's just say it's a far cry from the powerhouse teams that the Drydens, the Beliveaus, the Lafleurs, the Savards, and all the greats were appart of in the past. All the teams that won all these stanley cups, they did it in style, and they made it look easy.

And now, 16 years since the last Stanley Cup this team won, this is the team we have. Some overpaid forwards, a lot of overaged defensemen, and some rookies that wouldn't even crap the Habs farm team when they were dominating.

And that's not to disrespect the players that have been performing well for the Canadiens. There's only so much you can ask of players who clearly aren't as good as they've been made out to be. This is obviously an organizational issue. From drafting, to developing, to pro scouting, to management, to coaching, there are some major flaws with how this team runs its hockey operations. It's almost like they've all fallen into a routine. Trevor Timmins knows that when he suggests a player to be drafted, Bob Gainey might not take his advice, or the player won't be developed properly, so he stops trying as hard. Bob Gainey knows that no matter who he brings in, the pressures are going to be too tough on him, so he sits back and doesn't work as hard to make the team better. The coaches don't work as hard because they know the players will only listen to what they want to hear.

And it goes on and on until it translates directly to the players on the ice.

It sounds harsh, it may even sound unfair, especially on a day of celebration, such as today. But this team has given me no reason to cheer for them in 16 years. Sure, there may have been some very thick smokescreens -- a season where they won the conference... an 85 point performance from Alex Kovalev two years ago... a come from behind 6-5 victory over the Rangers when they were down 5 to nothing... -- but overall, what my prerogative to continue following this team, other than devoted passion that I've built over the years?

They keep failing us, yet we keep coming back. And as a result, the organization, in terms of hockey, is at a standstill, with no motivation to move forward, to build a new culture of success, a new win streak, new records. The team is satisfied with the status quo. Satisfied with making their profits, cashing their paychecks, and scathing by with such smokescreens as mentioned above. People forget that when the Habs won the conference, they bombed in the playoffs. They forget that when Kovalev scored 85 points, he did it in one half a season where the other half he was up to his old tricks. They forget that they even went down by 5 goals to the Rangers in the first place.

As Habs fans, we can only hope that this culture of mediocrity that has permeated its way through the pores and veins of this organization will come to an end now that the team, once again, has owners that care about the team, that care about this community, this city, this province.

Unfortunately, it came a couple of years too late to save them from the embarrassment that they face tonight.

While they could very well prove me wrong, everything has been set up tonight perfectly for the Habs to be embarrassed:

- A long ceremony? Check. The Habs never do well when there's a jersey retirement or celebration, and tonight's is slated to be longer than all of the celebrations of the Centennial combined (ok, that might be an exaggeration but it's slated to run over 2 hours long).

- A difficult opponent? Check. The Boston Bruins used to be a laughing stock in this city. At one point in the very recent future the Habs were on a 13 or 14 game regular season win streak against he Bruins, and never faced any adversity in beating them. But lately, that's been a far cry from the truth. It all culminated in a sweep of the Habs in the first round of last year's playoffs. If that wasn't enough, now they get a chance to embarrass them on one of the most important night in the organization's very long history.

- Lots of watchful eyes? Check. One of the major knocks on this city, this team, is the pressure it faces from the media and the fans. I may not be helping the situation here, but it's true. Tonight, the pressure's on, and there are a lot of players here that are more likely to buckle under the pressure than not.

Tonight has the potential to be a fiasco. From the bottom of my heart, I truly hope they can prove me wrong. But I have to admit that I'm not very enthusiastic about it (as you could probably tell).

Still, as a loyal Habs fan, I will certianly be watching today, and praying to God they don't get embarrassed.

And if they do?

I'm not Geoff Molson, I don't know how he thinks, but I don't see how he can sit back and accept three embarrassing losses on the week he buys the team, on the week of the Habs 100th birthday. If tonight's loss is as embarrassing as I'm expecting, I would certainly be close to my computer on Saturday.

No stats today. No links. No line-up notes, no team analysis for the Bruins or the Habs. There are two goals tonight for the Habs.

1) Don't get embarrassed.
2) If you can accomplish that, win.

See you all on the Champlain bridge tonight,

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
www.twitter.com/thecheckingline

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