Youppi! at Olympic Stadium, making good on a bet the Canadiens made with Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, in a photo posted to Twitter on Sunday.
Photograph by: Montreal Canadiens
At some point during this coming season, the Canadiens will lose three or four games in a row, or six out of seven. They will go on one of those long road trips, there will be a couple of key injuries and a game when they’re out of it early and lose 6-1.
And the caterwauling will start. Why did Marc Bergevin sign Michel Therrien to a contract extension? Fire the bum. While you’re at it, fire Bergevin, too. Why did he trade for (fill in the blank)? Why did he sign (fill in the blank)?
And why didn’t he bring back Thomas Vanek?
It’s the nature of the beast. In the town with 3 million coaches, you’re doing it all wrong unless you win a Stanley Cup — and if you do, you won it the wrong way.
The collective memory goes back about as far as last night’s game. If you won it, we’ll let you coach until Thursday. If you lost, the lynch mob is calling for your neck.
If there’s an upside to the relentless fan pressure in this city, it’s that coaches, players and team executives are motivated to do their best. It’s part of the reason Montreal has won 10 Stanley Cups since the Maple Leafs staged their last parade in Toronto.
But even now, after the best playoff run since 1993, Therrien is arguably the least popular winning coach since Pat Burns, who was dubbed Plate Burns by the French media even as his team was charging to the 1989 Stanley Cup final against the Calgary Flames.
It’s the Montreal disease, that love-you-win-or-tie syndrome. Fans of the Canadiens never see the other team on the ice. There is only one team out there, so how could they possibly be losing to that nondescript bunch of flea-bitten beer-league clowns in the blue shirts?
The morning after the Canadiens slipped out of the playoffs, I was bombarded with emails calling their performance “disgraceful” and worse. A team that had surely overachieved in sweeping Tampa Bay and giving Boston the boot had embarrassed the uniform by failing to play like the 1970s dynasty.
Whoa. No one today plays like the ’70s Habs. That’s because it’s a 30-team league with a hard salary cap. You can’t stockpile Hall of Famers the way Sam Pollock did. You can’t fleece half-bright GMs who aren’t doing their homework, because Mike Milbury is no longer on Long Island.
It used to be there were three or four teams with a legitimate chance at a Stanley Cup every season. Now there are as many as a dozen. Never have there been so many good teams. Not great teams, perhaps, but extremely tough outfits: Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim, St. Louis, Colorado, Boston, Pittsburgh, the Rangers, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Detroit and Montreal, with a half-dozen others looking to kick in the door.
Success in this league is defined in a different way. No one is going to win six Cups in a decade. Today, a dynasty is a team that has a shot every year for a decade and perhaps wins it two or three times in that time frame: The Blackhawks, in other words.
But if not for a couple of tantalizing events five years ago, this Canadiens team could now be closing in on the Blackhawks. It was that close.
First, the series against the Rangers brought into focus the full dimensions of the blunder that was made when Ryan McDonagh was sent to New York as part of the Scott Gomez deal. But that was only part of it: One of the most effective Rangers in the series was Chris Kreider — and it wasn’t simply because he bowled over Carey Price.
Kreider is a tough, 6-foot-3, 230-pound flyer, a power forward with speed. He is, in every way, the kind of player the Canadiens have needed since a week before forever. And they had him in their sights at the 2009 NHL entry draft — or at least, according to some reports, head scout Trevor Timmins did.
Whether it was bowing to public pressure to draft a high-profile player from Quebec or simple bad judgment, GM Bob Gainey chose Louis Leblanc over Kreider. This when every team in the league is looking to get bigger and the smart ones are looking to get bigger and faster.
Leblanc went to Montreal in the first round with the 17th overall pick, Kreider to the Rangers with the 18th. It appears now that Leblanc will never make it in the NHL and that if he does, it won’t be with the Canadiens.
Meanwhile, it’s clear that had McDonagh and Kreider been wearing the CH in the Eastern Conference final, the result would have been different — had the Rangers even made it that far without them. McDonagh was the best player in the series and Kreider was a force throughout.
To point out how different this Canadiens team might look with McDonagh and Kreider isn’t a knock on Gainey: When you acquire Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty on your watch, you’ve done pretty well.
But the fact those two players were wearing the wrong uniform from the Montreal perspective illustrates a basic truth about the NHL in the 21st century: You need almost everything to break the right way to succeed. If the Canadiens had not wasted a first-round pick on Leblanc, if Gainey had not soured on McDonagh, Bergevin’s team would already be where he’s trying to take it.
Building a franchise takes hard work, thorough scouting, careful scrutiny — and a whole lot of luck.
And for those who still think the performance against the Rangers was a disgrace, remember what reader John Jepson mentioned to me Sunday: “You forgot to mention we lasted 48 days and 17 games longer than the miserable Maple Leafs!”
Heroes: The 2013-2014 Montreal Canadiens and Eugenie Bouchard.
Zeros: Claude Brochu, David Samson and Jeffrey Loria.
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