With the acquisition of Andrej Meszaros, Sean O’Donnell and Nikolai Zherdev by the Philadelphia Flyers the writing was on the wall that NHL veteran Simon Gagne’s days were numbered as part of the Flyers organization.
As word circulated that Gagne could be had via trade, fans everywhere began to dream of his return back home to Quebec.
Simply put, Gagne possess’ all the attributes that the Canadiens require:
He is a top 6 forward on any team in the NHL. He is big at 6’1, 200lbs. He is a leader and has experience at both the NHL and International level. He has had success pretty much every year he has played and most importantly, he is a francophone.
Yes, I said it.
We need a French superstar on this team!
Before I continue let me just say that I know. I am sure you are just as fed up of hearing it. This debate has been argued on a near constant basis since I was child, almost to the point that my ears bleed.
The francophone media waging some sort of personal agenda and the anglophone media counterattacking and feeding off the French with the supposed higher moral ground.
Trust me I have heard every argument in the book for both sides and most of the time all I think is, "Give me a break and get over it!"
Does it matter whether a person is from Quebec or the rest of Canada or Finland or Timbuktu?
Unfortunately, for many, the answer is yes.
As a general rule, Quebecers are not hockey fans but rather fans of the Montreal Canadiens. In a country where the majority crave anything hockey, Quebec evolves around anything bleu-blanc-rouge.
Walk through the streets, walk through any shopping complex or simply look at the cars driving through the province and what do you see? Habs, Habs, Habs.
Not only is Quebec a distinct society but we are a province that is almost culturally defined by Le Club de Hockey Canadien.
Even as August approaches, much of the water cooler banter continues to circle around what is or is not happening with our beloved Habs.
Yet despite this obsession and love for all things Habs what you do not see is a francophone superstar to whom the average francophone can look up to.
Maurice Richard, Georges Vezinas, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, Guy Lafleur, Henri Richard, Yvon Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Patrick Roy, Maxime Lapierre.
Hmmm...does something here seem out of place ?
When you combine a winning tradition of dominant francophone players with a management team who repeatedly encourages fans that a superstar francophone is on the way, yet ultimately fails acquire said player, it leads to discontent.
So when a player of Gagne’s ability who has all the attributes that this team requires and craves is made available—and when that player is ultimately had for a No. 6 defenseman and a 4th round pick—you do it.
Will his acquisition ensure Stanley Cup success? No, it won't.
Will his acquisition sell more tickets? No, they're already sold out.
You can even argue that Gagne is injury prone, that we need to give the kids a chance, that his $5.25 million contract puts us over the cap or that Gagne didn’t or wouldn’t waive his NTC to come to Montreal.
There are those who’ll say that he is on the downside of a career and would ultimately only fail under the pressure of playing in front of family and friends.
None of these points matter.
Pierre Boivin and his management team have re-built a brand in this province and have rejuvenated an organization that was in darkness for many years.
The Bell Center is completely sold out and when I last called there was a 3 year waiting list for tickets. Habs merchandise can be seen across the province and you generally cannot walk more than 2 blocks in this city without seeing a Habs sweater.
The fans have responded and they have all done their parts. In return they ask for one simple thing. Bring us a French Superstar!
The stars were aligned and that player was available.
He had an expiring contract coming from a team who could not fit him in their salary structure. He could have been picked up for little more than a fringe player and a late round pick.
He was a perfect fit for either our first or second line and for the fans alike but now he is a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning instead of the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge.
Willey was the shinning light among the wicked growing up as the lone Habs fan in Toronto. Pray to Holy Ghosts of the old forum and all shall be answered I was told, and just like that my family was transferred back to Montreal and away from the damned. Olé Olé Olé.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010