Let’s all take a deep breath, or twenty.
Do the the Habs stink? You bet they do. Tough to admit, especially when they are “only 3 points out of a playoff spot” but you are what your record says you are, so yes – right now, the Habs stink. How did they get to this damp and sullen place so quickly? In this blogger’s view, two solid years of poor strategic coaching, coupled with non-existent tactical coaching, questionable development of youth and inept managerial moves have crippled this team. Ownership has a good amount of stink on it as well for placing blind faith in a team that was hired to keep corrupted and brainwashed masses content.
The team was never retooled properly following the collapse and subsequent mass exodus of 2009. Jacques Martin was brought in to breathe new life in to the team, as well as to bring a level of professionalism behind the bench that had been missing for years. Surely he had a hand in selecting the players that they eventually traded for, and signed during that summer’s free agency period. Why on God’s green earth they opted for small, offensive-minded players, we will never know. Sure, they’re loveable, respectable, classy guys, which makes trying to be objective about them much more difficult, but their contributions – or lack thereof speak for themselves. The style of play that was promised by Jacques Martin was never delivered – not even close. Instead, he enforced the exact opposite style of play that would have maxed out the players’ talents. What’s the French translation for ‘appeasement’? The ruse worked for a while…or did it? I think we can all agree that goaltending saved not just the team’s bacon, but the entire barn. Whether Carey Price since the start of last year, or Halak two seasons ago, the trip to the Conference Finals was enchanting, but it was a fairy tale. An anomaly. The road taken was unsustainable. When a game plan calls for a goaltender to stop 40-50 shots per night, and asks defensemen to block almost as many, with the desired end result being a 2-1 victory, it’s only a matter of time before the trap door that you voluntarily stood on top of opens wide. Sidney Crosby’s bewilderment at the conclusion of game 7 spoke for nearly everyone, much of Habsland included.
Last year the team had its ups and downs, eventually bowing out in the first round to the Bruins in seven games. Many saw that as some sort of accomplishment, considering the “injuries”. Yawn. News flash! there are no moral victories in the playoffs. None. There never were, and there never will be. Talk of “tomorrow’s another day” is for the regular season. The playoffs, on the other hand are merciless and not for the faint of heart. Any talk otherwise stems from apologists, exonerators and excuse makers. Pass me the barf bag. The cracks in the foundation were deep and visible, but covered up with Carey Price’s excellence. That Carey Price is even in a Habs sweater is a stroke of luck.
Fast forward to this season, and the slow slide to oblivion accelerated to avalanche speed, and not even Price’s continued fine play could stop it. Jacques Martin quickly lost the pulse of his team, which is not surprising given how he stamped out any semblance of energy and passion – what was left to measure when you don’t communicate with your players? He soon ran out of places to hide, kids to throw under the bus and people to blame other than himself by the time the axe fell. Last Saturday ended what was an infernally long tenure that really wasn’t that long at all; it just felt that way, which is a damning testament to the type of stodgy, stale, flaccid hockey that Jacques Martin had installed. It was, and still is boring, which speaks to the damage that he has done, and that Randy Cunneyworth has been tasked with fixing. Nothing is worse than failing, sleep-inducing hockey, especially when you’re one of the priciest tickets in the league. Nothing. Near the end, Jacques Martin said that it was less about entertaining the fans. Way to keep up with the times, Coach.
Now, as Randy Cunneyworth struggles to pump out the water, he seems as powerless as a nine volt battery trying to power a nuclear submarine. It isn’t his fault; he’s been set up for failure by ownership and management, and the jackals in the French media have already begun gnawing at the carcass before it has even flatlined. Dead man walking.
The result is a team in disarray, or at least the semblance of disarray. There are still some good players on this team: Cole, Pacioretty, Gionta, Plekanec, Cammalleri and Kostitsyn are all eminently capable of 25 goals each, but only one or two of those guys will hit that number…three would be stretching it. As the team spirals to 12th place and poised to sink even lower, fans are predictably calling for a tank & rebuild in the same vein as Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington, and other teams that reaped all-star talent at the draft table by being appallingly bad for many years.
As tempting as it may be to dream of a lottery draft pick, it’s not needed for this iteration of the team. Serious tweaking? Absolutely. Blowing it up? Stop it. While this season is on the verge of being lost, (if it wasn’t lost in October) there is plenty of hope for 2012-13, provided Geoff Molson gets his priorities straight and stares down those that insist that they have a say in running the team.
Re-signing Price, Subban and Gorges are no-brainer decisions. Bringing back Andrei Kostitsyn isn’t quite a no-brainer, but it’s damn close. Unless he can fetch a king’s ransom in return, he should be retained, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t trust Gauthier to fetch that kingly ransom. Thanks to Gauthier’s panic moves designed to save his, and Jacques Martin’s job (bonjour to those who said that a healthy Campoli and Kaberle would fix all that ails the team), he has saddled the team with some contracts that are suffocating the Habs, and will continue to do so until they’re off the books. That being the case, whoever has the title of General Manager in the summer – because it won’t be Pierre Gauthier – should focus on moving Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Kaberle at all costs. Freeing up that kind of scratch and replacing it with the right pieces and coupled with the proper Coaching, will set it back on course in a hurry.
There’s no need to flush out everyone over the age of 27. No need to be voluntary doormats for years to come. No need to waste some of Carey Price’s best years. As long as pillars like Price, Subban, Pacioretty, Plekanec, Cole, Eller, Gorges and Gionta are around, there is plenty to play for, and it’s all the more reason to get things right without waving the white flag of failure.The only capitulations that should be made, if the team can’t pull out of this tailspin absolutely and immediately (meaning tonight vs Winnipeg, and no more consolation loser points), is to trade pending UFAs (except Gorges and Kostitsyn) for assets. That’s it.
The recipe, as challenging as it may be to implement, is really quite simple:
1- Get the organizational priorities straight. Winning? Or pandering & political appeasement?
2- Hire the best General Manager money can buy, language be damned.
3- Let him get the best Coach, and ask him to pretty please with a cherry on top become competent in French as quickly as possible.
4- Sign or trade for players that match the new Coach’s style and fill the team’s gaps.
5- Enjoy hockey again.
Now, if only Geoff Molson can summon the courage to stomp out the filthy agenda-driven rats in the Francophone media and political arena who have infested and warped the views of Habs fans all over Quebec, things might get moving in the right direction. These clowns have once again made the Canadiens a laughing stock, not only in hockey circles, but in global news. It’s not because “outsiders don’t understand”. It’s because it’s farcical that a segment of Quebecers carry the sense of entitlement that allows them to believe that they control the team. The legacy of the Canadiens hangs from the rafters of the Bell Center, and it was built by French AND English. The legacy doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s a sport. You want to make a statement about your culture and language? Do it through other channels and stay out of the hockey rink. People and organizations trying to shape the Canadiens to reflect their narrow-minded, pig-headed views have no place in the business of sport.
The ball is in your court, Mr. Molson.