That’s it. Habs only.
It’s funny. Ever since I started this blog, whenever I think about sitting down to discuss the Montreal Canadiens, a sense of guilt arrives reminding me my goal is to be a sports writer and not a Habs blogger.
Of course this emotion seems to forget my dream job would be to live in Montreal, travel with the team and write about them every single game until my fingers fall off, but my logical side – the one with the inferiority complex – says I might want to keep some other options in mind.
I’m not saying I don’t like writing about other sports or their teams, in fact it’s the complete opposite. It’s just that, while I can certainly hold my own in a conversation about any North American major sport – except NASCAR, unless you count belittling its hillbilly fans into tears with three-syllable words as ‘holding my own’ – I know more about the Montreal Canadiens than any other team on earth.
And because of that, I have more opinions about them than any other sport, which is why I so often think of something to blog about.
But I realized something last night while basking in game-six glory. Right now, hockey is on the minds of almost every sports fan I know and seeing as how sports fans I know make up a pretty large percentage of my readership, I could probably get away with a little puck prattle. And seeing as how – for at least another day and a half – the Habs are one of just seven or less clubs remaining, I might actually avoid a metaphorical stoning if I chat Les Glorieux a tad more often than normal.
And so, with all that being said, I have decided variety is for men with middle-aged crises and as long as the Habs are alive, this blog will be about them as often as I please.
Day 1 – Often overlooked
If you’re a big enough Habs fan you know Mike Cammalleri was on Bob Gainey’s radar long before Dopey Darryl let him walk out of Cowtown last season without so much as a single offer sheet.
There are two reasons why I won’t spend the next 500 words talking about the gaffe Sutter made last June. No. 1, I already blogged a ways back about Calgary’s insistence on spending every non-Iggy nickel on their blueline and how well that is likely to work in today’s NHL. And No. 2, I already told a friend on Facebook tonight we have to officially stop mentioning Cammalleri and Calgary in the same sentence because he’s already been a Hab longer than he was ever a Flame and it’s time to start discussing his future and not his unfortunate past.
But even without dragging Calgary’s name through a red mile of mud, I can still make my point. And that is, quite simply, Mike Cammalleri is the most overlooked player in the league.
OK, so that statement clearly came without doing a thorough scan of every roster and also during a period when the winger is leading the playoffs in goals, but I stand by it nonetheless.
After scoring 39 goals last season, he signed with the Habs and spent an entire summer answering the same question. Can you put up those numbers without Jarome? Never mind his 26 goals in ’06 during his first full season with the Kings or his 34 goals and 80 points two years later with the same club.
Then once the season started, after already being forgotten for the Team Canada Olympic camp in August, Cammy began to put the puck in the net, keeping firmly in the top-10 goal scorers heading up to the roster announcement in December. Yet all the while, his name was never mentioned even once as a candidate to make the Olympic team.
Should he have been in Vancouver? Nope, probably not. As hard as it is, I don’t let my inner fan cloud my talent judgment and I know he didn’t belong there this time. But even Carrie Underwood’s Mike Fisher was mentioned as a candidate.
Mike GD Fisher.
I wonder how fast Brian Murray would soil himself if he knew he could trade Fisher for Cammy straight up?
Anyway, it wouldn’t have made a difference had Cammalleri somehow made that team anyway, as he hurt his knee before the break and likely couldn’t have played Team Canada table hockey at the time. And then, when he finally did come back with about a dozen games left, he was understandably behind his usual game shape and struggled – as did his teammates – right up to that disgusting shootout loss to the Leaves, which the Habs sheepishly parlayed into the eighth seed they still enjoy today.
But the second this post season started, Cammalleri took off and started scoring all kinds of goals, almost all of which have led to huge victories for his club. He outplayed and outscored Alex Ovechkin. He’s outplayed and WAY outscored Cindy Crosby so far. And he sits atop the entire NHL in playoff goals scored, with 11 in just 13 games.
He’s the only of MANY free agents brought in by former GM – and renewed icon – Bob Gainey who wasn’t stacked with a resume of playoff experience. And yet, while that group of proven winners has certainly done their fair share thus far, Cammalleri’s performance surpasses them all.
And that brings me to my biggest observation of overlooking.
Since the moment coach Jacques Martin announced the Habs’ decision to not name a new captain in the wake of Saku Koivu’s departure, the debate among the Club du Hockey’s faithful fans has been nonstop over who should be the next leader of this great organization.
Andrei Markov was obviously an early candidate, as he’s probably the team’s best player, was the only remaining member of the former captainship and was well-known to fans in a time when no one knew who any of these guys were. But Markov is nicknamed the Dark Knight for a reason. He comes out of the shadows to make great plays, before slipping back behind the scenes and he doesn’t need the spotlight to be extremely effective – a lamp the captain can’t avoid. That and he doesn’t speak either English or French and I hear the Russian papers in Montreal have a significantly lower circulation.
Scott Gomez, his grotesque contract and his Don Rickles sense of humour was also given some love from fans, many of whom figured the coveted letter would at least match the expectations $7.5-million puts on him.
But the man to receive the most votes on the season was the Rochester Rocket Brian Gionta. As literally the smallest guy in the NHL, Gio and his oversized heart fills the void Koivu left almost to perfection and the fan base instantly – and understandably – fell for him.
But in all of the discussions I have seen, led and been thrown out of this season, not one time did I hear someone make an argument for Cammalleri to be the next captain. Without insulting any of the other formidable candidates, how the flying F is that possible?
Not only is he their most productive scorer and a talkative guy in the dressing room, but he freakin’ loves playing in Montreal. Like LOVES it there.
He wanted to play in Montreal because of the atmosphere and pressure that come with it and he has relished in both every step of the way. He gives the best and most honest interviews I’ve ever seen from a player and he’s ALWAYS nice to the media, even complimenting questions from time to time.
He’s not afraid to light a fire under his teammates, going after guys in practice on two separate occasions, and gives 110 per cent at all times without ever allowing a single sentence of credit to be sent his way.
He’s classy beyond words on the ice and keeps his goal celebrations so quiet he almost looks bored with his own awesomeness. In fact, all he ever does after he scores is turn and thank the man who passed him the puck.
Oh and right now he’s the main reason not wearing goal pads why the hockey world is still watching one of the most exciting playoff runs anyone could imagine.
I’m not necessarily trying to start the Cammy for Captain campaign and if the eventual decision has fan-favourite Brian Gionta take over that role, you won’t see a complaint from this writer.
But it would sure be nice to see Cammy on the ballot for once.