I hear the cries everywhere calling for a dramatic retooling of the Montreal Canadiens. Apparently the Habs need more size. Apparently the team requires more experience on defense. Apparently the fourth line would not even cut it at the AHL level. Apparently the hiring of a francophone coach remains the key to the eventual turnaround of Nos Glorieux. Apparently Pierre Gauthier is not qualified to hold on to his GM position any longer…each step he makes putting le bleu/blanc/rouge in further peril.
Everyone has a theory to which they are most entitled and the frustration of the fan-base, now reaching a fever-pitch, is calling for some major changes to the team. Certainly the warning signs should not be ignored but this does not imply that the dark omens need to be acted upon immediately. I am by no means suggesting that management do nothing when the time comes, but i am proposing an alternate point- of-view: this team is by no means as bad as its record. Sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference 7 points out of a playoff position is no great accomplishment and i recognize that. Perhaps, though, there is reason to believe that the bad luck of the first half of the season will give way to better tidings in 2012. Maybe, just maybe, these Habs do have what it takes to keep us on the edge of our seats well beyond April.
I am going to take a very unpopular stance by defending the actions of Bob Gainey who decided that the underperforming team of the past, the one led by Saku Koivu, needed a new identity. The team beyond the free agent frenzy of 2009 was barely recognizable to the fans at the start of the next season. This was indeed a necessary shift and while risks were taken, it would have been even riskier to stay on the same path as before knowing full well that the results would not change. Who knew what the smurfs would bring but it could be no worse than what had come before.
I do not feel for one second that this version of the team has reached the same low-lying plateau as that attained by the 208-2009 roster in the pre-Gainey era. This more recent edition of the franchise, the team that Bob Gainey built, has indeed achieved significant results. This team should not be blown up/obliterated. We seem to be turning on a group that has had tangible post-season success the last two years running. How can we ignore that the current team is very similar in composition to the one that brought us to the Eastern Conference Final in 2010? We should also not ignore the fact that it was admitted by the eventual Stanley Cup winning Bruins that it was indeed our Montreal Canadiens who presented the biggest challenge to them in their quest. Not much has changed since those winning days…in fact, once ousted from the playoff race in Game 7 against Boston last year it was widely expressed by many, many members of the media, both local and otherwise that fans of the Montreal Canadiens had every reason to be optimistic. Again, i ask, what has changed since then?!
Certainly the team’s losing record does not help but rather than discount the potential for success and dismantle what is ostensibly a proven winner, we should reflect first on what else can be done to right the ship. I do not purport to have the answer or to know what the X factor may be, but i do insist that there is an X factor involved because like it or not, this team does have a lot of talent. Mike Cammalleri scored 38 goals in his first season with the Habs and dominated in the playoffs and yet fans are calling for his head. Plekanec struggled two seasons ago. Gauthier surprised with a rich, new contract for him. He returned the favour with a career season but now everyone wants him gone. Have you seen Andrei Kostitsyn when he is having a great night?! Do you really want to part with that asset, or worse yet: do you really want another team to have him? Eric Cole has been a wonderful addition and proves this nightly. Lars Eller has the makings of an eventual superstar. PK Suban, love him or hate him is going to dominate in this league for years to come. Carey Price, despite allowing an occasional weak goal like any other goaltender does is an elite netminder and will be coveted by many teams.
Instead, i ask: what turned the Boston Bruins around after their horrific start this season? Did they blow up their team and retool? No. Did they fire the coach? No. Did they fire the GM? No. BUT, something DID happen and we should not be blind to the fact that this too can happen to a team that is merely halfway through the season. I substantiate my point with two other examples, namely the New Jersey Devils who went on an absolute tear during the latter half of the 2010-2011 season and the Calgary Flames who did the same albeit to a lesser extent. Again, no major shakeups, no dramatic changes (ok the Flames did fire Darryl Sutter but Jay Fesater did not revamp his lineup when he ascended the throne in Calgary).
I wish that i had the answer, an alternative to radical changes for i truly love this organization as much as anyone else out there. It is my hope, however, that we stop with the narrow, shallow “what have you done for me lately” approach and recognize that this team can play with the best on any given night.