The 2018 Montreal Canadiens

 

This is a stray from the usual book reviews. However, recent events have compelled me to write about our Montreal Canadiens.

I have been a faithful fan since the days of Guy Lafleur but this nonsense that has been propagating since June 10, 1993 has got to stop. I choose Les Glorieux as my team for so many reasons. First, they played with speed and skill (notice I’m using the past tense). Fast exciting hockey was the name of the game. It was pretty to watch and was certainly effective. Anybody could be a thug out on the ice, but to play with skill and determination was a thing of beauty. Now there have been examples of the thug mentality being a winning modus operandi (1975 Flyers, 2007 Ducks & 2011 Bruins) but who wouldn’t rather see a tic-tac-toe passing play resulting in a goal as a opposed to a series of scare tactics coupled with incompetent refereeing bring about a Herculean task to even ‘compete’.

Secondly, I grew up in Southern Ontario and was subjected to the incompetent Toronto Maple Leafs. The 1980s best Canadian soap opera was the Toronto Maple Leafs. Starring Harold Ballard and a cast of thousands (not the least of whom was Gord Stellick, who seems to be reveling in the trials and tribulations of the Habs these days). The Leafs were irrelevant, a joke really, how could one ever cheer for such a bumbling collection of ineptitude. Now that story has shifted cities, travelling east on the 401 to La Belle Province.

Finally, there was the history and romance of Les Glorieux. A team created for the people and woven into the fabric of society with a cast of characters participating in great stories and great Stanley Cup victories. Any hockey fan knows about the storied history of the franchise. Fans of the Habs celebrate this history. Others are jealous of it. At times like this the daggers of the non-fans come out. Without question they are out in full force.

So where did it all go wrong? I’ll likely simplify things here but I’ll take a shot. The loss of territorial rights to players was the first part of the demise. The production line of Quebecois talent propelled to the Habs to great heights. Imagine if Gilbert Perrault, Marcel Dionne, Mike Bossy, Ray Bourque, Mario Lemieux etc. were to have played for the Habs? There would be 30+ Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters. Realistically though, the territorial clause was neither sustainable nor good for the league.

The league was watered down in the 1970s with expansion in 1967 and the formation of the WHA. The Habs were playing against weakened opposition. That’s not to say that the team of the late 1970s was not great but a perfect storm was created to allow them to rise to the top. Succession planning in the late 70s was also to blame. Hockey was becoming a business as demonstrated by the appointment of Irving Grundman as GM. Sam Pollock and the Canadiens brass should have planned better for his exit. Whether that was to put Scotty Bowman in charge or not is to be debated but there should have been a real plan put into place.

Through the 1980s Les Canadiens were just another team. They certainly won more than they lost. Good drafting and a certain amount of luck attributed to their 1986 Cup victory. Their goaltender that year was pretty good; he rode an incredible hot streak behind a team that was organized and opportunistic. His magic seven years later would produce the most unlikely Cup victory in the history of the NHL. Still occupying the fable Forum and regaling in the past, 1993 was a mirage. For those 2 months of the playoffs it was amazing. I watched every single minute except for the 2nd period of game 3 versus the Sabres. I was with them all the way. There was a sense that everything was going to turn out in their favour. It was so exciting! In many ways though, I knew, even at the time that while this was special it was an outlier. I enjoyed that time immensely, knowing that it might not come again…

This is where it really went wrong. Jacques Demers never should have been fired (at least at that time) and certainly Serge Savard should have been given more time to right the ship in the mid-1990s. December 1995 and the Patrick Roy incident was completely avoidable. We all know this story and it has been analyzed and dissected to death.

One often overlooked part of the demise of Les Canadiens, was the move from the Forum. The Molson Centre was a better building and allowed the team to complete on an economic level. As fans we were told that it was a move that had to be made. We understood the reasons, even though we might necessarily not agree. The fortress of the Forum (and the history) was no longer. The Habs, one could argue have never really made their new digs truly a home; it’s not a fortress but rather a cashbox.

The team of the late 1990s was brutal. When Juha Lind is the great ‘hope’ then things are bad. I lost faith but still watched at least on Saturday nights. Since the turn of the century, there have been ups and downs. I really thought that the arrival of Bob Gainey would have been the start of a revival. In many ways it was and it culminated with the Conference Final run of 2010. Gainey had a proven track record with Dallas coupled with his universal respect and calm cool demeanor, big things were supposed to happen. It looked good for a while. The drafting of Carey Price was good but there have been some dubious draft day decisions (Perezoghin, Kostitsyn, Komisarek). Imagine if they had won the draft lottery and got Sidney Crosby? But I digress. Other poor decisions include the firing of Guy Carbonneau, the hiring of Jacques Martin and the succession of Pierre Gauthier. Shall I continue? It’s easy at this stage to comment and pass judgement.

Currently there are 4 factors that doom Les Canadiens,

  1. the salary cap
  2. taxes
  3. the media
  4. language issue.

The salary cap prevents this franchise from flexing its financial clout for player salaries. To be scrutinized by the media on a daily basis coupled with the high taxes and living in a city that does business in French having to pay a premium in salaries is necessary. The salary cap prevents this from happening. This is a severe disadvantage. One thing I don’t understand is why the Habs don’t spend that extra money on scouting and development. They should have the best scouting and backroom staff than any team in the NHL. A focus should be on the QMJHL; look for talent in your own backyard.

The media scrutiny that is thrust upon this team is enormous. Frankly it is almost suffocating. This fan base is demanding and simply eats up any tidbit of info about their heroes. It’s great when things are going well but when it’s not, YIKES!

I’m far from an expert on the language issue. However, when the majority of your fanbase speak a certain language your head coach better be able to speak some of said language. As always the best person should be selected and the language component is an important criteria.

This year has been a comedy of errors. I expected better from Geoff Molson. This organization is known for its class but they have not been demonstrating as such as of late. In today’s NHL, the Habs are just another team. They can’t win at the rate that they used to. However, standing by their principles and act with dignity. I know it’s a business and that sometimes the stakeholders have to act ruthlessly but only in certain circumstances. Firing Perry Pearn 90 minutes before game time doesn’t appear to follow these principles, nor does the trading of Mike Cammalleri half way through a game. I’m not suggesting that either of these moves should not have been done. It’s just the manner in which they were done that leaves me as a fan of the Habs feeling betrayed and embarrassed. As fans, we don’t know half of what happens behind closed doors. We can only judge what we see take place in the public eye. Right now things don’t look good. The media, specifically the Toronto based Sportsnet and TSN, is loving how the Habs are self-destructing. Many I think are still jealous of the success of the past.

So where do we go from here? First of all get back to the principles that make the Montreal Canadiens, namely acting with class and dignity. I tend to think that Molson needs to replace the lame duck GM and the puppet-master (Gainey) before the rebuild begins. Though I must say the return on Cammalleri was very good. Bourque, a 2nd round pick, a prospect and cap relief is an excellent return for a $6 million man who wouldn’t take a hit or go to an optional practice (that speaks volumes). Maybe give them a bit more rope?

Managing assets before the trade deadline is key. Travis Moen is a valuable asset who likely won’t resign with the Habs. He should be traded while his value is high. Draft picks and prospects should be goal when dealing him. Ryan White is a built in replacement for Moen.

I would sign Andrei Kostitsyn for a number around $3 million. He’s been excellent this year and appears to have some chemistry with Lars Eller. I worry though about Kostitsyn playing for a contract. So it’s the price that would be the determining factor. Hal Gill who apparently is great in the room should be sent to a team that needs help with the penalty kill. A 2nd round draft choice is not an unrealistic return. Scott Gomez will be bought out, I am convinced.

The core group of Price, Pacioretty, Subban, Plekanec, Cole, Gorges, Cole, Eller supplemented by Emelin, Diaz is a good base to start a rebuild. However, there are some questions.

  • Is David Desharnais a legitimate 2nd liner?
  • Can Budaj relieve Price reliably on occasion?
  • Will Markov ever play again?

What the answers are isn't nearly as important as obtaining them in order to move forward.

Anyone beyond the core players like Darche, Nokkelainen and Campoli are just guys… whatever can be got in return for them would be a bonus.

The pipeline of talent looks good. Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu look like they could be legitimate NHL defencemen. Morgan Ellis may even pan out. Up front, Louis Leblanc has proven he can play in the NHL and will just get better with time. Michael Bournival is a promising prospect (a decent return for the lug that is Ryan O’Byrne) as is the little dynamo Brendan Gallagher.

In the big picture, things are encouraging. However, sacrificing the future in attempt to get into the playoffs this year is not a step in the right direction. The example of the Flyers a few years ago, when they were brutal one year and contenders the next is one the Habs should follow. Getting younger, bigger, faster and more importantly smarter is the goal.

I’ll be interested in seeing how the rest of the season plays out. This situation has been being brewing for many, many years. I’m willing to be only so patient. However, 25 years of mediocrity is enough.

2018 is my deadline as a fan of Les Glorieux but until then, Go Habs Go!

Comments

George Prax's picture

Nice read. I think you hit a lot of the nails on the head about what's wrong with this team. I'm not confident about your 2018 deadline though. I'm not even confident they're going to fire Gauthier anymore. But it's nice to believe.