When any true sports fan thinks of dynasties, of teams that dominated their sport, of teams that were so far ahead of the pack that it became laughable and then tries to think of the most dominant of all time, only one comes to mind. The Montreal Canadiens.
During the 20th century they had 24 Stanley Cup victories. No one else was even close to that number. Over 60 Hall of Fame inductees were at least associated with the Habs at one point in their career. This includes Patrick Roy, Maurice Richard, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and the list goes on and on but these are things that we already know. The question and purpose of this article, however, is how mediocrity took over during the last 25 years? How have the people of Montréal allowed this great organization become the laughingstock of the NHL?
Back in 1986, The Habs won the Stanley Cup thanks to the miraculous play of King Patrick Roy and they did it again in 1993 (thank you Patrick once again) but in between those 2 wins and since them the deals and drafting have been awful.
In 1995 they traded Patrick Roy and Mike Keane, two proven winning veterans, for 3 of the most inconsistent players the franchise has ever seen in Martin Rucinsky, Andrei Kovalenko and Jocelyn Thibault. Best of all, the trade can be directly blamed on hiring head coach Mario Tremblay that year. He had a long running feud with Roy (the front office chose to ignore this and hired him anyway) and it all came to a nice little explosion one night against Detroit.
Patrick was in net on December 2nd 1995 against The Red Wings and he was not having his best game. It happens to all of us. Now, when a goalie is struggling, the unwritten rule is that the coach should replace him if he lets in about 3 or 4 goals in a short period of time. Mario Tremblay however decided that 9 goals was enough before pulling Roy. Clearly he was trying to embarrass the egotistical Roy (who had every right to be a cocky SOB) but instead Roy got so infuriated that he demanded a trade on the spot and avoided a stare-down with Tremblay. The rest is history as Roy won the cup that year with the Colorado Avalanche.
That was the biggest example of this implosion but there were many more. What about a few years earlier? Trading a young and very talented Chris Chelios, a hometown favourite, for a past-his-prime Denis Savard. Then in 1996 trading away Pierre Turgeon with Rory Fitzpatrick and Craig Conroy for Murray Baron, Shane Corson and a 5th round draft pick. That one, even though less talked about, was almost as backwards and confusing as the Roy deal. Turgeon was one of the best passers of his generation and seemed a great fit as captain of this storied franchise.
The list of ‘what were they thinkings’ continues sadly . How about Mike Ribeiro, a young player with lots of potential for career disappointment Janne Niinimma? Scott Gomez, a player that showed nothing but decline since his first season with Devils and who has one of the worst contracts ever (unless you have money and just want to throw it away) for young prospect Ryan McDonagh. You combine these trades with the history of horrible drafting by skipping players like Adam Graves, Lidstrom, Federov, Tkachuk, Renberg, Palffy, Ozolinsh, Iginla, Marion Hossa, Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Claude Giroux (to name a few) and you start to wonder ‘is this sabotage? Or is the universe against The Habs?’.
The truth is that The Habs are being held back by their own legacy. By focusing all these years on hiring coaches that NEEDED to speak French or bringing players mainly because they were francophone have hurt the team more than anything. Who needed Patrick Poulin in the 90’s? Joe Juneau…really? Mario Tremblay? Firing coaches like Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien and Claude Julien who all went on to have a very good success with their clubs. None of it makes sense even to this day.
This year will be the final straw. They will more than likely finish last in the Eastern Conference. Which, believe me, is a good thing. They need to rebuild. Take the 2 to 5 year approach. Fire the GM and the scouts. Send Gomez to the minors or release him and take the hit against the cap. Unload players like Campoli and even Subban, whose poor attitude has been a major distraction since his very first game. Keep Carey Price; he is THAT good and he can be THAT goalie. Josh Georges is a future captain of this franchise. He has shown great composure and a natural ease towards leadership. Max Pacioretty continues to look like an all-star first liner with every game. Prospects like Eller, Leblanc and Tinordi might be a good start but The Habs need to keep drafting wisely and exercise patience in growing these young kids. Help all those players by signing others that make sense at the right price. For the good of the NHL and for this city, do whatever it takes to relight the fire that used to burn at the core of this city. Make people proud again of the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge!