Ok, before you all start
thinking I’ve lost it, or lost all credibility with you, dear readers, let me
assure you that I don’t mean the Habs will win the Cup this year, or even next,
for that matter. Let me also make it clear
that I’m not talking about a 35 year plan either, which seems to be the
approach the Maple Leafs are taking towards the Holy Grail of hockey. So what time frame am I talking about then
? Well, in the interest of remaining
bold (or optimistic), here it is:
THE MONTREAL CANADIENS WILL WIN THE STANLEY CUP BY THE
Now, let’s get to the method
to my madness. Montreal is without
question, the most storied organization in the NHL. What the Yankees are to baseball, the Canadiens are to
hockey. Before the internet &
satellite made the NHL accessible to virtually anyone on the planet, the most
recognized hockey team counted on such Hall of Famers as Maurice “the Rocket”
Richard, Guy Lafleur, Jean Béliveau, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante and more than
two dozen other All-Stars. They have
won a record 23 Stanley Cups since breaking in the NHL in 1917. From 1971 to 1994 (24 years), they managed
to appear in the post-season every year. The
all-time Playoff record of 387-225-8 speaks for itself. In 1960, they would win their 5th
Stanley Cup title in as many years, a feat no other team has ever been able to
accomplish. Let’s face it, this is one
team that is deep-rooted in tradition.
Today, the Habs aren’t even predicted to make the playoffs. So how can the picture be so rosy in my eyes
a mere 7 years from now ? Simple.
Tradition. Somehow, management in Montreal got away
from what has made this organization so successful in the past – tradition, or
the passing thereof. A quick trip to
the locker room serves as a reminder of this.
Up above all stalls hangs a sign.
A quote from John McCrae‘s poem Flander’s Field: “ To you, from failing
hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high ” . Years ago, players passed on this proverbial
torch to each other, with each passing generation. Maurice Richard to Jean Beliveau, Beliveau to Guy Lafleur & Larry
Robinson, Robinson to Guy Carbonneau
& Patrick Roy, and Roy to… Colorado ?
Somewhere in the mid-90’s, the chain was severed. The only member of the current Montreal
Canadiens team that has won a Stanley Cup with the team, has also been public
enemy #1 in Montreal – Patrice “Broken Wood” Brisebois. It’s hard to preach tradition to your
teammates when you’re booed before the opening face-off, during the warm-up. Enter Bob Gainey.
Or Jesus Christ himself, for
he is the man who has been entrusted to save the franchise. So far, so good. Gainey
brings a lot to the Canadiens; experience, leadership, and knowledge on how to
build a championship team (he was the architect of the 1999 Stanley Cup winning
Dallas Stars). Most importantly, he
brings tradition, or brings tradition back to Montreal. He has already changed a few things since
his arrival this summer as GM # 15, including a strict dress code ( jackets
& ties are now mandatory when representing the team ). I still remember going to the Montreal Forum as a young boy, and
waiting around for autographs after the game by the garage on Atwater avenue
(this is back when players didn’t have the luxury of parking their cars inside
the facility where they played, so they actually had to meet fans after the
game). I remember how great all the
players looked, all decked out in their suits and trench coats. Thinking back, it did add an air of
respectability, and with a respectable guy like Gainey in charge, the Canadiens
will in turn, be respected.
Gainey made sure that was
clear, calling out the Brisebois boo-birds in Montreal after an exhibition game
this year. “We don’t need fans like
that. We don’t want fans like
that. They are cowards in my book”. The result ? A three-year streak was ended that night, as Brisebois not only
has yet to have been booed this season, but was greeted with a standing ovation
in the home opener ! Another Gainey
rule is the ban of cell phones in the dressing rooms & during travel. A rule enforced so strictly, that when
Canadiens owner George Gillette Jr was talking on his phone a hallway of
the Bell Centre, he was tapped on the shoulder by Gainey & reminded that if
management & ownership don’t follow the rules, how can the players be
expected to ? He has also reinstated a “team”
feeling, by forcing the media to travel separately from the team (the media
traveled on the same planes and busses as the team before). The players now have time not only to bond,
but to have their privacy to prepare for games. In brief, Gainey has been getting rid of all the
distractions. The result ?
The Canadiens have been off
to a great start so far, even without their captain Saku Koivu in the lineup. As of this writing, they are 6-5-0-0, good for
6th overall in the Eastern Conference.
Jose Theodore seems to have rediscovered his Hart Trophy ways, and the
team is buying into Claude Julien’s defense-first system. It’s still too early to tell if they will
see the post-season, but I wouldn’t bet against it. It takes time to build a champion, but one thing’s for sure, the
Habs are on the way. One sign summed it
all in the Bell Centre the other night:
“In Gainey We Trust”.