Habs and Leafs Entire Final Week in Surprisingly Similar Positions
George Prax on Sun, 2012-04-01 21:42
Next Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs will face off in the final match of the season at the Bell Centre. It's an annual tradition that these two teams open and close their seasons against each other, and usually, the game has some sort of playoff implications, either for positioning or even clinching. We all remember the years where one team or the other played spoiler in that final game, and it always made the affair a little special.
But this year, this match is a little different. Both the Habs and the Leafs will enter the game eliminated from playoff contention. In fact, they might even both be competing for a lottery pick when the puck drops on Saturday night. The Leafs will be finishing their eighth straight year without any playoffs, but the Montreal Canadiens and their fans, this is a situation that they're a little less used to.
Sure, the last fifteen years haven't exactly been super successful for the Habs, but this will be the first time in five years that the team hasn't made the playoffs, the third time in the last decade. We've seen the Habs win the Eastern conference in that span and even make the conference finals, so this is kind of a new monster to tackle for people in Montreal. Next Saturday night will definitely be interesting, if for completely different reasons than what we've become used to in recent years.
This might come off as a little insincere, but try and trust me when I say that I actually think I feel the pain of the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans. As a Habs fan, and after the season that we've endured here in Montreal, I think I'm starting to understand what it's like to be a post-lockout Leafs fan. Sure, the Canadiens made the playoffs in most of the last eight seasons, unlike Toronto, but it definitely doesn't feel good to bottom out, no matter how often you do it.
The writing for the Canadiens here at The Checking Line may have suffered over the course of the season, but that's because interest as a whole has been difficult to maintain. If you root for a team that simply isn't living up to expectations, it gets harder and harder to write about them. It's not even a matter of finding it difficult to stay positive, I have no problem ripping into this organization when I need to, but lately I've been finding myself apathetic about the Canadiens. And it seems as if the players on the team have been feeling the same thing. I've also been getting that feeling from a team that plays a few hours down the Trans Canada highway.
When the Habs starting bombing earlier this season, the players, coaches, even the (now former) GM (in his occasional appearances in public) seemed to have this look of despair on their face. It should have been clear as day to anyone following this team since December that the Canadiens didn't have a chance at the playoffs. From there, a team can either play as if they have nothing to lose, or they can simply give up. We've seen a little bit of both from the Habs, depending on the player.
What we've seen of the Leafs this season, however, has been a little different. The Leafs were at the top of the pack for most of the year. It was only around February that they started to drop the ball. It wouldn't be long after that before Toronto would find themselves eliminated from the playoffs, and now they find themselves in pretty much the same spot at the Habs. But in terms of the bigger picture, the two situations these teams find themselves in couldn't be any further apart.
While most of us here in Montreal are pretty upset about the way this season has transpired, as I mentioned, we got used to it pretty early on. And from my perspective at least, I don't expect this team to be terrible for an extended period of time. We've seen a lot of good from individual players, and the team will have a clean slate heading into 2012-13. New management team, new coaching staff, new players and prospects, a new high draft pick. A new hope, if you will.
But isn't that exactly what Leafs fans have been saying for half a decade? First, it was a new GM, then it was some high value prospects or acquisitions. This year, everything was seemingly falling into place and it looked like the team was finally on their way back to their former glory. What happened is anyone's guess, because no one has a proper explanation. Earlier this week, CTV reporter Lance Brown took it upon himself to find answers to the questions everyone's asking from the sources themselves. The result was unintentionally hilarious, but also surprisingly poignant:
It's almost impossible to pinpoint why and where things went wrong in Leafland this year. Which is why the players look mostly baffled and embarrassed by Brown's questions. It wasn't the questions themselves, but the situation they find themselves in. Brown and Leafs fans everywhere have every reason to be angry, and every reason to search for an explanation, but it's not surprising that the Leafs simply don't have one. Brown has every right to ask Phaneuf about his leadership, or Kessel about his poor play. His approach is unique, of course, but what more would you expect from a city that hasn't seen hockey past the first week of April for nearly a decade?
People in Montreal should count themselves lucky. The answer to our problems is pretty clear, and the steps have been taken to remedy it with the firing of the GM and the hiring of Serge Savard to try and start whatever rebuild they have planned. There are pieces in place on this team that give us hope for the (near) future, and others on their way out of junior and collegiate systems. I would go as far as to say that I wouldn't expect the Canadiens to be a bad hockey team for much longer. Maybe not next season, but by 2013, this team should be back in shape.
Then again, isn't that the same thing that Leafs fans have been saying for years?
I guess the point of this, other than sharing a frankly hilarious "report" on the Leafs thanks to CTV, was to say that while, as a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, I'm glad that things aren't as bad as they are in Toronto, where fans, players and management types alike simply don't know what to say about their team anymore, this season has definitely been a little eye-opening. It probably wouldn't be too difficult to find a report such as the one above concerning the Canadiens, but things could definitely be much worse. If the Canadiens had to fail this year, at least they did it right.
Saturday night's game will close the book on a season both of these teams would rather forget. The bigger question, however, will be what both they both open heading into next October, when all of this sympathy will once again be out the window. Time will tell, but whether you love or hate either of these teams, it's unfortunate to see both of them in the gutter as the season comes to a close.