Lafleur blames Carbonneau, Gainey for Kovalev fiasco


Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur is never one to pull his punches. The wonderful thing about the most exciting player of his generation is that he calls things precisely as he sees them.


MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur is never one to pull his punches. The wonderful thing about the most exciting player of his generation is that he calls things precisely as he sees them.

Not always with the metered voice of forethought. Not always with a political correctness to observe the fact he’s a paid ambassador of the club.

On Wednesday, from his Montreal-area restaurant, Lafleur considered the Canadiens’ recent plight and general manager Bob Gainey’s remarkable two-game (at least) banning of Alex Kovalev.

• “If I were in (Alex Kovalev’s) skates, I’d have played my last game for the Canadiens. No player with his talent would accept being humiliated like that. . . . I don’t know what Gainey is trying to prove in front of everybody.”

• “If you’re paying guys $4 million, $5 million a year, give them the tools to make sure they’ll produce. You just can’t switch lines and try things every night and hope something will come out of it.”

• “I don’t think this club has a team spirit. They don’t play for each other. They’re not playing as a team and they’re not ready to sacrifice themselves to win.”

• “Hockey is not complicated, but they’re complicating the game. They might say, too many games, they’re tired. Forget it . . . they travel first class. We waited hours and hours in airports. (Expletive), they were talking about Denver, 5,000 feet above sea level, being tough for the players. Hey, that’s (expletive).”

And then the Flower opened a large vein.

“I was very surprised,” he said of the Kovalev situation. “I really thought Bob would sit down with him and try to find out the problem, what’s going wrong, what he has in his mind.

“But not to tell him to rest for two games. I don’t think it’s a natural thing to do. You want to get the best out of your best player, and that’s not the way you’re going to do it.

“You’re talking about a guy who has a lot of talent. To get the best out of him, let him know you need his effort.”

Of course, Lafleur isn’t privy to what goes on behind the Canadiens’ closed doors. None of us are. But you’ll never find him unwilling to discuss the facts as he understands them to be.

Kovalev, he said, should have been left on a line with centre Tomas Plekanec and winger Andrei Kostitsyn, one of the NHL’s premier trios last season, and not bounced among linemates.

“When you have a line that had that kind of success, leave them together no matter what happens,” Lafleur said. “They might go through bad times like we did when I played with Jacques Lemaire and Steve Shutt and Pete Mahovlich. But (coach) Scotty Bowman didn’t switch the damn lines around to try other things.

“(Coach Guy Carbonneau) is operating like he has four (equal) lines, they play 1-2-3-4 every night. You just can’t do it. Even if the fourth line was the best one night — they have to play to give the others a chance to relax, but your best players, let them play 25, 28 minutes a game if they can.

“(Carbonneau) won’t change his style. He should have done that before Christmas, even from the beginning of the season. Give your best players the ice time they need to play well, to get their confidence back, to prove to the organization what they can do.”

Lafleur is puzzled that gritty forwards like Steve Begin and Mathieu Dandenault have been healthy scratches for a combined 26 games, citing the contribution of plumbers on the 1970s Canadiens that would chip in with key goals and “slap the scorers in the back of the head and say, ‘Let’s go.’

He adds that he’ll be surprised if the Canadiens make the playoffs, which would “be very sad . . . catastrophic for everybody. They have everything behind them — fans, the organization, the 100th anniversary. All they have to do is play as a team and be ready to pay the price to win.

“If you work, you’ll have chances. If you don’t, you won’t. You have to pay the price. That’s easy to understand.”

Injuries? They’re no excuse.

“They’re part of the game,” Lafleur said. “One year you have none, the next year, a lot. Plenty of teams go through the same thing.”

Having nearly a dozen roster players eligible for unrestricted free agency come July “is not normal,” he said, “and I don’t give a (expletive) who they are.

“These guys are laughing their way to the bank. It doesn’t matter if they have a (crappy) season, because they know they’ll get the same money someplace else or even more. They don’t care.”

Lafleur said his restaurant is weathering a slow winter, but he believes things soon will pick up. And he sees this bright side.

“Here, at least I have a real team,” he said, laughing, his meaning thinly veiled. “We have our ups and downs, but at least everyone comes to work every day. And we have fun.”

Montreal Gazette
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