Thursday, December 22, 2011

Montreal Canadiens in Chaos, Need Leadership at the Top

As I sit looking out the window at the ice covered winter scene, I am reminded of the Montreal Canadiens.

The washed out, grey sky and the glistening frozen-tundra-look of the trees is akin to the frozen wasteland the Canadiens have become. And just like the weather that announces snow over the next day or so, the immediate future looks decidedly frosty for the Habs.

I can honestly say that, in the 35-plus years of watching this team, I have never seen the organization in more turmoil.

Sure they've had their share of drama like when Patrick Roy was traded, the Mike Milbury-like Rejean Houle years and even the Bob Gainey rebuild of 2009.

But none provoked as much angst and frustration from the Habs fanbase as their current situation.

Politics not sport

So this morning, as I read about a protest of the Canadiens being organized by the Quebec and Montreal French Movements, and I hear politicians getting up on their soapboxes to slay the evil anglo demon known as Randy Cunneyworth, I can't help but feel sick to my stomach.

This is not hockey. This is not the Montreal Canadiens. This is politics, pure and simple.

It's an opportunity for some in the media to advance their personal agendas. It's an opportunity for politicians to jump on a bandwagon in order to gain votes and trumpet a dead and dying cause.

But more importantly, it's an opportunity for the strong xenophobic current that lies dormant in Quebec culture to rear it's ugly head.

Maybe it's just fear, as my colleague, Louis Moustakas wrote (en Français).

Whatever it is, I won't get into the details of the language debate. Enough people have already hashed and rehashed them. But I will say that as a born and raised Montreal Allophone who used to be married to a French-Canadian woman, I truly understand both sides of the debate.

And my one wish would be that there was a little more moderation on both sides. If each took one step toward the other, perhaps a reasonable understanding could be reached.

For those who say that it should be the best coach, no matter what, and that language has no bearing on anything, I ask, do you have no knowledge of Quebec history?

Do you not understand the roots of this team and the repression French-Canadians used to suffer in this province?

And for those who say it must be a French or French-speaking coach, no matter what. That winning is secondary to protecting the French language, I say, do you not want another Stanley Cup in Montreal? Would you not be happy with a championship team, regardless of who is running the ship?

I would also ask why do we have to be stuck in the past? Why do a people need to be stuck in the mentality of a movement whose roots took ground 60 years ago?

It is not better to move forward towards the future rather than living in the past?

But I'm not here to discuss this current sports battle turned politics. I am here to show how when a team is falling apart, as the Canadiens certainly are, the vultures come out in full force.

And that is exactly what is happening right now.

We've heard the refrain "winning cures all" this week and, when it comes to the Habs, that has never been more true.

And I'm not talking about short term winning, since this year looks like a write-off, but winning on a perennial basis. Becoming a Stanley Cup contender again. Having an on-ice product that is both entertaining and successful.

Those are the key ingredients that have been missing from this team since they last won the Cup in 1993.

It starts at the top

If you haven't yet read Bertrand Raymond's brilliant piece about Gauthier and the current language problem, do yourself a favour and check it out.

Sorry my anglo readers, it's in French. :-)

In short, Raymond explains how the seeds for the Canadiens current mess were sown when then Habs President, Ronald Corey, fired GM Serge Savard and brought in Rejean Houle.

He says that the organization has had poor drafting, terrible trades and a coaching carrousel since then.

Hard to argue with any of that and Mr. Raymond basically nails the descent of this once proud organization. He also discusses the shortcomings of Bob Gainey and his successor, Pierre Gauthier, and goes on to talk about how Gauthier is finished in Montreal.

And I tend to agree.

When Gainey took over this organization, he was a ray of light. He was the man who was supposed to shepard the Habs back to glory and out of the dark times of the 90s.

Instead, since he took over in 2003, the Canadiens are perennially one of the highest spending but lowest achieving teams in the league. Moreover, Gainey and Gauthier have shown that they simply do not know how to manage a team in the salary cap world.

They run the team like it's still 1994.

With long term, high paying contracts to Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, in addition to rich extensions to Andrei Markov—who for all we know will never play again—and now Tomas Kaberle, the Habs are a team who will continue to be up against the cap for the forseeable future.

And the kicker? Most of these are second-tier players being forced into top-tier roles and being paid accordingly.

What an absolute mess.

To me, there is no doubt in my mind that Gauthier will be let go by or before the end of the season.

Heck, if Habs owner, Geoff Molson, is smart he's probably already looking for his replacement.

Who he ultimately hires for the job will determine whether this team will get back on track or remain a rudderless ship.

Taking a step back, this year, in order to take two or three steps forward in the future is not a bad thing. It's the "we must make the playoffs at all costs" mentality that has kept the Canadiens in a one step forward, one step back dance for the last 15 years.

Here's hoping Molson brings in someone who understands the modern game, is creative, innovative and knows how to build a winner. Anything short of that will unfortunately bring more of the same.

As Hockey Inside/Out's Mike Boone pointed out in his post-game piece, the Habs need 60 points in their remaining 47 games to end the season with 93, and make the playoffs.

That's 30 wins out of 47 or a 63.8 winning percentage from here to the end of the season.

Can you say early tee-time?

Kamal is a freelance writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on and featured columnist on Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on TSN Radio 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 9 - 10 AM. Listen live at

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(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


I'm a Habs fan through and through that will not change,it is so much so I will not change the channel even when I know there no chance of a win. Monday night against Boston all I could see was the Habs running around in their end chasing the puck, last night in Chicago the Habs again running around in their end chasing the puck. You get the point its like the opposition has the puck on a string, and all the breaks seem to go towards the opposition. Last night for example the puck went in off of poor PK and then 21 seconds later off Campolli's stick and goes fluttering into our net. And speaking of PK he stood up like a man saying he made some bad or soft plays both Monday and Wednesday he is more of a man than a lot of theses so called experienced players on the Canadiens. And finally regarding the politicians in Quebec its not French, its not English its wins no wins no fun, start winning and all this hoopla about language will go the way of the doh doh bird!!!


I was talking about a lost season back in October and was laughed at for it. Seems many more agree now. The only reason why the season isn't completely DOA is because of the loser point and rampant mediocrity.

The only way that the Habs get back to respectability is to hire the best. Period. French can be learned over time, if the cannibals in the press would only let him have the time to learn it.


I've been dying at work with so much to do but I seriously cannot take this anymore. I have a huge venting coming. I used to defend gauthier but I am just so spent right now.

I have a hard time even tuning in for games now.

Even with a new GM, the rebuilding process will take 5-8 years. To most people, this is an eternity. But it has to be done. If Gainey did this back when he took reins, the Habs would be ready to contend about now but we were delusioned and now it is back to square one. I agree with the philosophy of building the by the draft. When you can draft from 1-5 overall for 3-4 years, this team will be stocked with first tier talent. I know that this strategy is not guaranteed for success but at least you do not over pay for the Habs, paying top tier salary to second tier players locked in for long term contracts. Let's hope that the new GM is in favor of rebuilding thru the draft.

@Charles: Yep, good on P.K. for doing the mea culpa. The thing we have to remember is that the Canadiens aren't actually as bad as they seem.

You never are when you're losing...or never as good as you seem when winning.

Everyone is walking around, shoulders slumped, looking and acting dejected. I've never seen a team so badly in need of a win. Or a bowling session...maybe they can ask Carbo to hook them up!

@Kyle: Not surprisingly, you and I have been on the same page for the last few seasons. I remember both of us talking about the mirage that was the Halak-lead ECF appearance.

I also remember both of us talking about the Habs slim chances of making the playoffs in October.

Ironically, the Habs would STILL be in 12th place overall without the loser point and only one out of the playoffs. My gawd is there a lot of mediocrity in this league.

Way to spread the produce thin, Bettman!

@Bryan: Ya, it's definitely pretty disheartening following this team right now. I think what makes it hardest is that, with 47 games to play, you already know they have little chance of making the playoffs.

That is going to make the rest of the season VERY painful to watch. That and the lame duck GM who will be presiding over trade deadline day. Man do I ever hope Molson is smart enough not to let the outgoing GM run that show!

@Anon: We have to remember just how bad and disorganized this organization was when Gainey took over. Zero organizational standards.

I truly believe that, as much as Gainey and Gauthier caused the current mess, Gainey did a lot to bring back some internal standards.

I just think that he is the man to get the Habs back into some semblance of respectability...but not the guy who can make them a winner.

He is clearly out of touch and so is Gauthier. The sooner they are pushed aside the sooner the new GM can start building a winner.

Great piece, Kamal!

Maybe it went unnoticed with all the brouhaha... Martin Leclerc, formerly of the and now associated with the French and SRC has written an excellent but refreshing piece about the future en français:

It does start with "les jeunes".

@Lyse: Thanks for stopping by! I'll check out the link...I've read as much as I could about this topic but missed this piece...

born and raised in a french neibhourhood in montreal i understand the language issue and i know where their coming from , but never stop believing no matter what they will figure it out its Montreal

Where now? We have a mandate to not hire the best coach or GM but rather the best from those who can speak french.

We have ridiculous contracts that are going to be hard to move and we have key free agents on the horizon with little or no money to re-sign them.

Life is good

Can someone please tell me how benching basically 2 rookies sends a message to your team? I think it is obvious where there is a huge lack of commitment and benching Cammalleri would have sent a message to the players that despite being an Interim coach this is still Cunneyworth's team.

Message failed again because of an organization afraid to show any balls.

For once can somebody please just show some leadership???

@Bryan: I don't necessarily have a problem with Subban and Eller being benched but I DO have a problem with the veterans getting off scott-free.

That was the big problem with the JM days...he NEVER did anything to put the veterans out of sorts.

Cammalleri looks absolutely horrible out there.

He is unbelievably soft and looks completely disinterested. If Cunneyworth does things differently from Martin, which still remains to be seen, he'll start benching some of the vets...starting with Cammalleri.

I was listening to Francois Gagnon this morning on TSN 990 who was with Therrien when the news came out about the benching of Subban and Eller.

He says that benching a rookie has almost no effect because this is more or less expected. He says that the most effective tactic is to play your rookie but don't give him the premier ice (i.e Power Play).

And did you see the Cammalleri quote in the Hickey article. Man this guy has nerve.

@Kamal: I agree. Cammy does not look like he wants to play for the Habs at all. He is probably mad at himself for choosing to come here instead of TO when he had the chance. Guess what…..I don’t feel sorry for him because he is self centered, egotistical hockey players that have no pride wearing the bleu, blanc, et rouge. I play floor hockey with a bunch of over forty guys that put more effort.

IMO is he only a 2nd line sniper at best. He has zero puck handling skills, no size to battle in the corner, no speed to get away from defenders. He is very one dimensional player that all teams have figured out.

@Bryan: That makes sense. Therrien actually recounted an interesting story about Sidney Crosby during his first year. He said with players that good, you don't want to give them too much too soon.

i.e. PP, PK, even strength. He said with Crosby, he spoke to him and they came up with a plan...that plan was even strength and PP. In his first year, Crosby barely played the PK.

In year 2, however, he came to Therrien and said he was ready to start learning that too.

The idea was that you give the player one or two areas to focus on and learn, don't overwhelm them.

Anyone seen how much icetime, PK and PP Subban is getting?

Didn't see the Cammaller quote. What did he say? Got a link?

Nice blog Kamal! It sums up pretty much what I think of the whole situation!

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