Habs Weekend of Fun: Much Bigger Fish to Fry
DISCLAIMER:Today's blog will be fairly angry and ranty. Reader beware.
So, Big Georges Laraque is gone. Sent home packing. Basically told to grab his SH*T get the F*CK out (pardon my French). He will get paid nearly $600,000 to sit hope before being paid another cool million (two thirds of the remainder of his contract) over the next two years to simply go away.
I can't say I'm surprised that he's gone. I can't even say that I'm surprised at the way Bob Gainey handled the situation, basically kicking Laraque off the team, throwing dirt on his own mistakes and blaming Laraque for them, and scapegoating him for other problems with the team (if you remember, he did the same with 11 unrestricted free agents this past June/July).
But the way it was handled, from an outsider's perspective, was completely an utterly classless. Say what you want, agree or disagree with me, but there was no reason to treat Laraque in such a matter. Forget for a second what he and his family have gone through this past week with the devastation in Haiti, to me, that's not even the issue. Forget his uselessness as a player, his total ineffectiveness and his injury-prone status. We all accept those things as truths and accept and even embrace the pure fact that Laraque is off the team.
Despite these things, I truly believe Laraque lived and breathed the spirit of what it meant to be a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Always active in the community, always wanting to play more and better himself as a player, and always passionate about the game of hockey and about the team, I truly believe that he wasn't the kind of player who was just happy to cash his check and sit in the pressbox for most of the season.
He always wanted to be more than just a guy who fought in staged fights. He obviously didn't have the ability to be anything more, other than the one anomaly of a season he had in Edmonton, where he managed to somehow score 12 goals. He didn't even have the ability to be someone who scared opposing teams, or be the enforcer this team truly lacks. But for Gainey to come out and essentially call Laraque a locker room cancer seems completely unjustified.
Could Laraque, who receives limited ice time and plays limited game, really expect to receive much more? Could he really be that self-involved that he thought his role on this team would ever be greater than a 4th line plug-in?
Sure, he can say that he didn't receive enough ice time, and frankly, maybe he didn't. Maybe he would have been more effective if he played a couple more minutes a game, if he wasn't benched in most of the last couple of periods of games. But you can't blame him for simply wanting to play more, and about stating that publicly, as he did a little while ago.
That being said, how could REALLY be a locker room cancer? How could he be such a big distraction for the team that he was costing us games? Because, whether Gainey explicitly said that or not, that's what he was implying. Otherwise, why just tell a player to go home with more than 30 games left in the season? The move just reeks as unnecessary and really unfitting of the organization that has been built around tradition and class.
It's almost as if Gainey was blaming Laraque for being signed by the Canadiens in the first place. Many will call him selfish for asking for a big, long term contract with a no movement clause. But how can you blame him, a career enforcer, for asking for a big payout once in his career? His only chance to cash out? Few blame Scott Gomez for his ridiculous contract, accepting the fact that it was Glenn Sather who drew up the papers and made the offer, not him. Why is Laraque's situation any different?
Sure, Laraque took Gainey to the cleaners in the summer of 2008, but that's no one's fault but Big Bob's.
Now, here we are, a year and a half later, and Bob decides that he doesn't want Laraque anymore (even though most of us knew we didn't want him anymore after his first 5 or 6 games as a half in 2008-09), so he tells him to go away. Distracting everyone from the failure of signing him to the contract in the first place, and distracting everyone from the mess that's been going on in the Bell Centre since October.
The point isn't whether this team can deal without Georges Laraque; they obviously can. To a degree, it's not even whether or not he was treated properly. In the end, he'll get his money and move on, and he'll probably even find another job in the NHL at the league minimum next year.
The point I'm trying to make here is that Laraque isn't the problem. Whatever headcase he may be, whatever might be said about how he is in the room, I have a nagging hunch that there are much bigger, much deeper rooted problems in the Canadiens organization, but Gainey has obviously used this situation has a deflection from the other problems that plague this team, both on and off the ice.
On the ice, this team has not competed for a full 60 minutes in a single game this entire season. That certainly can't be Laraque's fault, since he usually only plays for 5 of those minutes.
On the ice, the Canadiens can't score goals. Beyond a handful of players contributing to the scoresheet on a fairly regular basis (Cammalleri, of course, Pouliot, Gionta...), this team isn't producing the goals it should. Is that Laraque's fault? He scored his first goal as a Canadien last week but was never asked to contribute offensively. Is it his fault for employing a defensively minded system on a team full of offensively gifted players? I think we all know the answer to that.
On and off the ice, this team has no identity. They have leaders, but no captain. They have an offensively minded group of forwards, but a defensively minded coach. They have few prospects that define what this team is going forward, and they have no direction. None of these things are Georges Laraque's problem.
And that's just the beginning of the mess that has been the Montreal Canadiens over the last few seasons.
Yet, out of all the solutions Gainey could come up with, firing Georges Laraque was his best move? Gainey is the one who got the team into this mess, and wih every move he makes, all he does is deflect off the troubles that he started.
Next thing you know, he's going to blame Scott Gomez for having a big contract and Gionta and Cammalleri for signing big long term contracts.
As a die-hard Habs fan, I hate to say this, but 30 games away from the end of the regular season, I sincerely hope that the Canadiens aren't sitting in one of those 8 playoffs seeds. Because that's the only way that things are going to change. It's the only way the Molsons will take action, and it's the only way that the Canadiens will finally end up with a general manager that has the gusto of making the means that will finally restore this team to the glory it never should have misplaced in the first place.
Think about that as the Canadiens prepare to face off against the Devils and Rangers, in what should be two cringe-worthy games for Habs fans.
No stats today, you all know what they're going to say. Plekanec and Cammalleri lead most of the categories, and the Canadiens need to score more goals, while keeping less out of their own net. Can they do it? It's doubtful, with the Devils being one of the best teams in the east, and the rangers sitting pretty in 6th place.
If the Canadiens stand any chance of working their way out of their funk and out of 11th place, they're going to need to come out of this weekend with AT LEAST 3 out of 4 points, but that's obviously easier said than done.
Nevertheless, BGL or no BGL, the Canadiens will have to look forward to facing the Devils tonight in New Jersey, before coming home to face the Rangers tomorrow night, and everyone better be on the same page, or it's going to be a fiasco.
(watch them dominate and win both games, like they did in the Centennial game, which I predicted to be a fiasco)
ON A SLIGHTLY MORE SERIOUS NOTE...
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jean Beliveau and his family today. Le Gros Bill suffered a stroke late Wednesday night, and while he is said to be in stable condition with no immediate danger to his life, it really puts things into perspective. Beliveau is arguably the greatest Montreal Canadien in the organization's 100 year history. TCL and the many Canadiens fans who visit the site wish Beliveau a speedy recovery!