Sunday, January 17, 2010

Montreal has fallen and it shall not rise as Before...

There, I damn well said it and we should all admit it. The dynasties are gone, they are never coming back and this city needs to embrace a few facts that you might not want to know.

The Flying Frenchmen Are Gone

Quebec hockey talent is terrible right now, I'm sorry to say it but it is. The last French Canadian superstar player to be taken in the draft was Vincent Lecavalier and currently, injuries and other issues seem to have knocked at what was once a fifty-goal scoring star player to a much more mortal man. The only NHL-calibre talent Quebec seems to be able to turn out right now is goaltending and that's not bad, since Quebec is providing basically all the goaltending for this year's Olympic hockey team. But no Guy Lafleur is on the horizon, no Mario Lemieux, no Rocket Richard nor a Jean Beliveau is talked about as being the next indomitable French Canadian Superstar, in an age where such individuals are singled out far younger than before they are draft-eligible. The top French Canadian skater on this year's Central Scouting report for the 2010 draft? Jerome Gauthier-Leduc of the QMJHL, at No. 70 and that's just for North American Skaters. The age where as few as three 'Flying Frenchmen' could take Montreal to a Cup is long gone. Even when the team does get assess to a capable French Canadian talent, they seem unable to deal with the pressure or expectations that are thrust upon them, or are built up with such impossible expectations all they can do is fail and be run out of town for poor performance.

I don't think I'll see another Lafleur or Lemieux in my lifetime and I just turned 26, youth hockey is in crisis in Canada with rising equipment costs, faltering arenas, very expensive registration fees for anything that isn't Timbits hockey and a development track that demands 365-day commitment from the age of 9 or even younger. Quebec's struggled for a while already so I doubt they'll be the first to get better all of a sudden, the days of cheap youth hockey, backyard rinks being the training ground are long gone and Quebec can't seem to catch up.

So the first part of the dream is gone, no French Canadian superstars to lead the team and league in scoring and terrorize the NHL, or so it seems for now anyway. That could change in the future of course, but I doubt we'd get access to such talent. The Montreal fish bowl is unattractive to many stars, even the French Canadians which is what's up next.

This Town Drives Away Talent

Montreal, because of the fishbowl environment can attract two kinds of players, the ones that want a lot of money or the gigantic ego cases and those two groups can overlap, rather harsh but that's about the size of it. We're looking for the players who love to play to a big crowd or will take the extra money we'll offer in exchange for living in the NHL's largest fishbowl, or smallest depending upon how you look at it. These kinds of players are tricky acquisitions because their egos may get bruised if they arrive and are not immediately successful, then are scorned for not doing so and it affects their play. The big-money players, they can arrive and find 'this isn't what I signed on for, the money's good but these fans are nuts!' and there's another crisis for you. The team can't attract a lot of players because the city is incredibly unforgiving and is too much in love with the team's history and can't accept the facts of the present.

Simply put, Montreal fans have made Montreal an unpopular destination of players who see this city as somewhere to go and be fitted for the goat horns after one bad game. There's also the hometown favouritism that makes things worse. French Canadian players despite not even being half as skilled as some of the free agents or players acquired in trades, get preferential treatment despite bad seasons or playing far worse than the player who is taking the blame for the team's losses. Montreal repulses free agents quite well because of this, they want to be stars but they also don't want to be villains for when they are struggling with their play.

We Kill Goalies

Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden are the worse things to ever happen to all future goalies for Montreal. It was bad enough really for kids like Carey Price or Jose Theodore to have to live up to Ken Dryden. Dryden, who had a rich college hockey experience, came in to the Canadiens with 6 games experience and helped take the 1971 Canadiens (who compared to today's Canadiens, were far stronger than anything the team's had in over two decades) to a Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. That was a one-time thing one could argue, a young goalie who came out of nowhere and gave the team that extra element they needed to win a Stanley Cup. Then came Patrick Roy and he ruined it for every goalie who was drafted by Montreal, forever after. He was better than Dryden, perhaps the best goalie in NHL history but that's a debate that I feel should be separated by eras of hockey and not just an all-time argument. He won the Conn Smythe at 20, the youngest to ever win the prestigious Playoff MVP award and was credited for taking the team to the Cup, as the 86 Habs, despite having key veterans like Gainey and Robinson and emerging talents like Chelios and Carbonneau, that Cup was in a large part, his. Then Roy had to put on probably the greatest Playoff goaltending performance in history in 1993, the team won what many called an undeserved Cup that only came off of his work. Two Conn Smythe trophies and he got Montreal their 23rd and 24th Stanley Cups carrying the team on his back, the first at age 20.

Dryden and Roy are what Price has to live up to now as do all young goalie prospects, the two goalies who came in as kids the same age or younger than Price and won Stanley Cups, but with teams far better than any Price has ever played with, the 1971 and 1986 Habs were far superior teams comparatively to anything Montreal has fielded in a long time. Jose Theodore won the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2002, but the city got to him and he never turned his play back around, he left Montreal and we kept looking for a new young saviour. Now it's all on Price and he can't take the pressure of having to lift a middle-of-the-pack NHL team to the Stanley Cup and I don't blame him. He shouldn't have to be this good, this young because this city just happened to host two of the greatest goaltending legends the NHL ever saw. Price could be a great goalie, but this town may ruin him forever before he gets the chance, because of no patience. Then you factor in the ghost of Jacques Plante to boot, toss in Durnan, Vezina, Hainsworth, Worseley and so on and it has become an impossible expectation, you must be the best goalie in the NHL or you are worthless you little punk, why did we waste a draft pick on you? Get out of our city, your back up is so much better than you are and you're just ruining his career by taking away his starts.

The NHL Ruins Kids and we help them do it

The NHL is a big-money operation. NHL players are entertainers and are paid a portion of the multi-billion dollar revenue the NHL collects from us, the fans who support it. Even the kids and least talented players will get about 500,000 dollars a year for their services. If you've grown up in a regular family, you're now earning in one year more than what your parents might have earned in 10. You're rich, you're a rock star in Montreal because you play for the Montreal Canadiens, you can go wherever you like, do as you like and if you think being rich doesn't change people, I've got a lovely bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

The money is there for these kids, who don't have a good grasp of how to handle it and they're not used to the attention. Some of them excel, they play the game well and get the adulation and there is no problem. But a lot of these kids are new to a very hard, demanding level of hockey and they have trouble coping. Now they're upset, rich and want to get their minds off of their troubles, now think about where that might lead in a party city like Montreal. I'm not saying they all start visiting prostitutes, take drugs and drink to excess, but those cases do come up in Montreal and it's a problem because of the accessibility of Sin City, Canada. Don't forget this city is never nice to the kids if they have prolonged problems, sensationalist media stories about the Kostitsyn brothers being involved with gangsters ring a bell?

Going from paying to play hockey, to getting middle-class incomes on their rookie two-contracts to getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to play hockey is a massive transformation that occurs in handful of years and while I think the Canadiens have to update their policy for handling these young players, this city will still ensnare a number of these young millionaires because of the problems this kind of wealth can create. And if they handle the money responsibility but have a bad season, well then we'll boo them right off the ice and asking for a trade because they can't handle playing in front of a crowd that is hopelessly waiting for a Dynasty team that will never appear.

The Fans Get Worse Every Year

I sometimes am ashamed to call myself a Montreal Canadiens fan and this is why. The US National Anthem has been booed in the Bell Centre, why? The team is booed before the game even starts sometimes. Does anyone think this enhances the reputation of the Montreal Canadiens? Does such a display make it look like a better team with great fans? Or does it make us seem a hostile, angry mob that is obsessed with reliving a legendary era of greatness that will never come again? I know, the team must be held accountable, but how about we try to encourage the team before the puck drops and not make them think we hate their guts for having a few losses?

It's a horrendous display of what should be the greatest city in the world to play hockey, we're obsessed with a past that we never stop talking about and lording over other fans, when the team hasn't really been a power since the 1980s and hasn't been the league's best team since the 1970s. Nobody likes it, we've become too smug about it and because we are so obsessed with it, we have impossible expectations for the new generation of Canadiens, even though the past is long dead and we can't accept it.

I Don't Like This Any More Than You Do

Just thought I'd share that last bit, I don't love the state of the Canadiens compared to their glorious past but times have changed and we have to adjust our expectations. It's a new NHL, what made the Canadiens great in the past is not there any more and times have to change if we want a better future. I don't think Gainey should be fired for where the team is nor Price burned in effigy for not being a star at such a young age, he obviously needs maturing but after all the complaints we've had about players let go that became stars elsewhere, do we really need to see it happening all over again with Price? This is a different age of the NHL and we've got to deal with it. Enjoy the team in victory, take good losses in stride and bad losses with humility when possible but above all, don't make this city worse than it is already. Make it better, don't boo your team before the game has started or be ready to run a goalie out of town if he's not having a good year, don't expect young men to be NHL legends at 20 and tell people to shut the hell up when they boo the US National Anthem. We should be setting the standard for class and behaviour among NHL fans, if the Canadiens organization can always behave with class when honouring the past, we should at least try and behave with class in the present.

School, moving and life have conspired to prevent me from blogging regularly, but I had to get this out after a night of reading extremely negative remarks about the Habs 4-2 loss to the Senators and reports about the crowd's behaviour before the game even started.