Brendan Kelly’s What the Puck: Habs fans have every right to be angry
I am a Habs fan. Really. But I am not a fan of the team’s current management.
This was the week that a big chunk of the Canadiens fan base revolted. They said the team was dead to them. That they were going to stop watching. That they were going to cheer for the Nashville Predators.
And, of course, the all-knowing sports pundits, the hockey establishment, frowned on these disgruntled fans. The hockey authorities said that clearly all of these people upset by the P.K. Subban trade were not REAL hockey fans. They didn’t understand The Game. This was a good hockey trade, proclaimed the experts. I heard from sources close to the Habs that the way management looked at it was that they traded a boy for a man.
Maybe. Maybe Shea Weber is more man than my main man P.K. We’ll see. I’d flip the question and wonder why Nashville was so eager to ship Weber north. Clearly Preds GM David Poile is rolling the dice that Weber’s lack of legs in the late stages of the playoffs wasn’t just a one-time-only thing, that maybe he’s heading back down the other side of the mountain, while The Subbanator is just set to hit his peak years racing to the top of the cliff.
That’s up for debate.
What isn’t is the fact that I am a Habs fan and have every right to say I don’t like general manager Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien. I’ve had enough of people telling me to shut up and get with the program.
I watch at least part of almost all 82 games every season and it’s perfectly reasonable for me to say I’ve had enough of looking at the kindly ol’ coach glaring at his players, the officials and the fans every night at the hockey rink. And even the many Montrealers who hardly watch hockey are just as entitled to say they’re seriously bummed out that this refreshingly charismatic chap named Subban is being shipped out of town.
Sticking to just hockey for the moment, I firmly believe that Bergevin and Therrien are taking us on the road to nowhere. What has Bergevin done in the four years since he was hired to bring us closer to the Cup? Get Jeff Petry? That’s the best you can do to defend your GM?
He certainly didn’t make the team stronger by signing career under-achiever David Desharnais to a too-rich four-year $14-million contract in 2013. Nor did he take the Habs in the right direction by signing career playoff under-achiever Tomas Plekanec to a too-rich two-year $12-million contract extension in 2015. He basically made the two players almost untradeable.
Nor did Bergevin impress anyone by sitting on his hands in the foxhole this past season as his team went through maybe the most spectacular collapse in the history of the National Hockey League. Then to help a team that desperately needs forwards that score he went and traded one very good defenceman for another very good defenceman. Brilliant.
As for Therrien, let’s stick with one easy-to-understand case study. He puts his best buddy wee Davey out on the ice at every occasion this past season, including on the first wave of most every power play, even though Desharnais was scoring at a Gomez-like pace. Meanwhile a genuine scoring star, Alex Galchenyuk, sat steaming on the bench. Insanity.
But this is about much more than hockey. The Montreal Canadiens are a sacred trust. They’re part of the fabric of Quebec society. The closest comparison is heroic Glaswegian soccer club Celtic. That team was created to help Glasgow’s impoverished Irish community in the late 19th century and the Montreal Canadiens was founded two decades later to create a team that could reflect Montreal’s francophone population.
It’s not just a business, something that, sadly, Habs president Geoff Molson seems to have forgotten. No one reflected that community spirit better than Subban, a Jamaican-Canadian from Toronto who moved to Montreal and embraced his adopted city with incredible enthusiasm.
He was exciting, innovative, unpredictable, just like our city. But these are not qualities embraced by our Montreal Canadiens, that most conservative of hockey clubs. We also liked the fact that we had one of the few NHL stars who came from a visible-minority community. That meant something.
I heard a guy from the Tyndale St-Georges community centre in Little Burgundy talking on TSN 690 about how the black kids there were so unhappy that they’d lost this guy who was a symbol for them of hope, of the notion that you don’t have to be white to play for the most storied franchise in hockey.
I don’t think race played a role in the decision to dump Subban but it’s sad that he’s gone and we’re still here, stuck in a Quebec media world that’s still astonishingly white.
So yeah we have every right to be angry with our team. If they were winning Cups or even competing for Cups, you’d have a better argument to insist I toe the party line and drink the Habs media-relations Kool-Aid. But the team isn’t anywhere near that level and if you think they are then you didn’t watch much of the just-finished playoffs. We’re not an elite team. We’re a middling team with a great goalie (who is injury-prone).
It’s been 23 years folks. That’s bringing us up to Leafs-like ineptitude. You might be happy with that record but I’m not. The fact is we haven’t competed consistently since Serge Savard was given the boot in 1995.
So yeah some of us are a little exasperated. But hey now that we’ve solved the P.K. problem, everything will be just fine right?