It’s nearly time to separate the wheat from the chaff. The NHL playoffs are around the corner and in what is normally a hopeful time for Habs fans, this season, there’s nothing. Nada. Zippo. Nothing to do but root against the Bruins, laugh at the Leafs as they cruise past 3000 days since their last playoff game, and take a long summertime nap. But around here, hockey never sleeps and we’re already asking if it’s October yet; the assumption being that there is confidence in this team’s ability to regroup, reload and reorient itself in hopes of a playoff appearance…or better next year.
Is it foolish to think that this team can rebound so quickly? The Flyers did it a couple years ago, and the Senators did it this year, after being terrible last season. The pieces are already in place for the Canadiens to be a competitive team on the ice, so why can’t the bleu-blanc-rouge rebound next year? Well, look up….look waaaaay up! It’s behind the bench and in the front office where the deep, dark questions lie. What becomes of Randy Cunneyworth? How long will it take for Geoff Molson to punt Pierre Gauthier to the curb once game 82 ends? In my view, before any changes on the roster take place, the coaching and management group needs to be rectified, and they need to be rectified without the restraints of politics and sociology attached to them. If the focus is on anything other than hiring the best people for the job, then the Canadiens are in for more mediocrity. And fans, who have become adept at telling themselves whatever they have to in order to maintain sanity (to no avail!) will be left hoping for things that never come true.
It will be up to Geoff Molson, his next General Manager, and his next coach to ensure that this team breaks free from the shackles of mediocrity that have rendered the Canadiens an afterthought in the NHL. The Habs used to be a model franchise, and used to have clout among the ranks of players and league executives. Those days are long gone, and if they are to be restored, it has to come from years of excellence on the ice, not from winning the “league’s most profitable team” award (though the Habs aren’t tops in this regard, either).
If you’re like me, you’re hoping that Geoff Molson has already begun targeting potential candidates for the soon-to-be vacant General Manager position. You’re also hoping that names like Patrick Roy and Bob Hartley are kept far away from the team. While many would be doing cartwheels to have an ex-legend behind the bench, we should be cautious. Certainly a boost of emotion after the sleep-inducing ways of Jacques Martin would be welcome behind the bench, and Patrick Roy could deliver that. But his greatest asset is also his weakest link. His volatile nature would consume the team and he would be the leading story every day. That’s not what “team” is about. In a city like Montreal, it’s a match set to a pool of kerosene.
Before we cast our collective gaze to the prospect pool, and to the list of free agents, we need to acknowledge that it is all for naught if the right suit-wearing men are not in place to steer the ship. Period.
The Habs will finally (hopefully?) be selecting in the top 3 at the amateur draft in June, so fans can hope that Trevor Timmins will wave his magic wand and pick the large, skilled centerman that the team has so desperately needed for so many years. Many have already zeroed in on Quebec Remparts standout Mikhail Grigorenko as the best bet, but even a teen fresh out of junior should not be parachuted in to the Canadiens’ franchise-saviour role so quickly. That’s a recipe for failure and the Canadiens cannot afford to see this draft pick go to waste.
We can hope that Markov remains healthy throughout the summer, and that he returns to form next fall. Together with P.K. Subban, the Canadiens will have 2 healthy, legitimate top-flight defensemen capable of playing 22 or more minutes per night. Buffered with the likes of future captain Josh Gorges, Alexei Yemelin, and hopefully a free agent addition such as Brad Stuart, the back end should be solid, if not spectacular.
It will be interesting to see what any given sportsbook review will think of the cellar-dwelling Canadiens when the preseason bets start rolling in. Will they give the Canadiens’ talented roster a pass for this abysmal season, or will they come down hard on them for this disaster and cast them as long underdogs yet again? It shouldn’t matter, as in past years the Canadiens have thrived as underdogs while choking like dogs when expected to succeed. That’s a cultural thing that must change, and usually takes time to accomplish. But with the right “win at all costs” attitude, at least you’ve given yourself a shot.