Montreal Canadiens gave it their best shot at the playoffs

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, March 18, 2009

No matter how you say it — Les Canadiens, Les Glorieux, Le Bleu Blanc et Rouge or the Habs — the Montreal Canadiens are unmatched in hockey for history and success. Twenty-four Stanley Cups in 99 years is not only amazing, it’s ridiculous and no franchise will ever catch them.

Had I wrote this piece between the September afternoon I thought of it and two months ago, that wouldn’t have been the last positive thing I said. I would have gone on to talk about the great Habs of all time, the up-and-comers and the phenomenal job the organization has done putting together a spectacular centennial celebration.

Boy can things change.

It was Jan. 24 and the continent’s eyes were on Montreal. A three-day event focused around the Canadiens. It was all-star weekend, or what I now dub; the weekend the Habs jumped the shark.

Since then, the team, who sat second in the East at the break, has gone a mediocre, if not awful, 9-12-2. For some teams — cough, cough… the Leafs — that’s a pretty respectable mark. However, when you’re the defending conference regular-season champions, the first hockey team to turn 100 and from a city containing people who burn city property when you anger them, that record is called a tailspin.

Even when the Habs have actually won, they’ve looked terrible doing it. It’s one thing to be outshot 50-20 versus San Jose but when the league-worst New York Islanders skate your team into the ground on home ice, something needs to be done.

Of course, something could have been done at the trade deadline but once they added a half-speed, 39-year-old Mathieu Schneider and a fourth-line centre, who gives you seven solid minutes a game in Glenn Metropolit, why make another move?

Habs GM Bob Gainey said, during a press conference on March 4, he wants the group he put together to prove him right and that’s why he didn’t make a deadline deal. But what I heard was ‘I tried to trade everyone of these lazy underachievers but every GM in the league had a stroke from laughter when I attempted to get real talent in return.’

Of course there are many possible reasons why every single player seems subdued. It hasn’t exactly been a banner year away from the rink.

The team’s best player and biggest baby, Alex Kovalev, was spending too much time worrying about the “the kids on his team he can’t control” and zero time actually exuding effort. Gainey had to send him to the corner for a two-game timeout to think about what he had done, which didn’t help the club finish off a disastrous road trip.

Kovalev might have had a point about the kids. While he was at home trying to forget how to be brutal, a story broke naming a handful of Habs linked to an organized crime syndicate. It turned out to be less than first thought but it looks like the Kostitsyn brothers’ parents left something out of the “don’t take candy from strangers” lesson. I believe you’re not supposed to take cars and hookers from a criminal either.

Kovalev seems to be at least back to caring a little and is producing on the score sheet, anyone under police investigation has looked completely lost and the team continues to lose. Gainey’s response to this debacle was like most GM’s who feel the pressure. He fired the head coach.

What has this last act of desperation brought his troubled team? One lousy overtime win over the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers. Wow, break out the champagne.

No offence Habs, fans but take it from someone who actually believed the club had a chance to win on its centennial; there is no turning this around. No amount of desperate attempts will change that.

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