Is it too early to panic?

Posted: December 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

brendan-gallagher

Longtime readers will be surprised to hear this from me – the Nabob of Negativity, the Dark Voice of Doom – but yes it is too early to panic.

Yes our beloved Canadiens have lost four of the last five, they’ve lost two in a row, ruined our last weekened by dropping two straight to the lowly Sabres, and are 4-5-1 in their last ten. None of this is very good. And in the first period of Friday’s night Blackhawks Canadiens bout, they looked like a team with that kind of record playing against one of the league’s powerhouses.

The Habs outshot the Hawks 14-12 in the first third but Chicago was clearly the dominant team, playing a way more confident, structured game than the Canadiens. As my pal Rob Naylor put it, first period was the men playing the boys.

Let’s just say that for this year’s Habs, the first period is not their time of day. Marc Antoine Godin in La Presse notes that the Blackhawks lead the League in first-period goals, with 30, while Montreal have the worst first-period goal total in the League, with a totally pathetic 8 goals. Think about that for a second. Montreal has played 28 games and they’ve only scored 8 goals in the first period all season. That’s not worrisome. It’s psychotic.

But I am not in panic mode because Les Boys showed real character fighting their way back from that 2-0 lead. First our personal hero Brendan Gallagher snapped one past whoever that goalie was we’ve never heard of in the Chicago net – I know, I know, it was the anti-star Antti Raanta – then Sergei ‘Old Man’ Gonchar scored his first goal as a Hab – and his first since the early ’90s – on a slapper and P.K. ‘No Norris This Year’ Subban briefly transformed himself into his old superstar self and scored a beauty, just ripping it past the Antti-Man with a Howitzer of a blast. All of a sudden it was 3-2. Have to give big-time credit here to Carey Price as well, who was just brilliant in the second period, almost Halak-like for heaven’s sake.

That was character stuff. All heart. Blah blah blah. Then they threw it all away in heartbreaking fashion, sort of like Elvis in Vegas in the early ’70s. A bogus call on No Norris Subban led to a Captain Serious goal and then Brandon Saad sucked the air out of our city with the winning goal with 27 seconds to go.

So yeah tough night. But I’m not panicking. I’m just a little depressed. But I’ll get over it. Right? Pour me another pint.

 

Sergei Gonchar.

Sergei Gonchar.

What the hell! Guy leaves town and all hell breaks loose. I have been in St. John’s for less than 48 hours and already my Montreal Canadiens have dumped two players. I can only imagine what is going to happen to the team between now and my arrival back in Montreal Saturday.

Who’s set to walk the plank next? Can Prusty survive my George St. vacation? Will Gally be able to hold on to his Habs sweater until I crawl out of O’Reillys in the wee hours of Saturday morning to make it to the airport?

Clearly Marc Bergevin was convinced that he had to wait til I was distracted by the many fine products of the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company – Eric’s Cream Ale for the Kilkenny fans, Honey Brown for the Newcastle boosters and British IPA for the IPA crowd – to make these moves.

Big mistake pal. They have wifi at the Hava Java café on Water St. – where I’m sitting sipping herbal tea right now (eds. note: Are you okay? shall we call for medical/psychiatric aid?) and so if anything Top Shelf, sidelined by this mental fall, has been re-invigorated by my trip to The Rock.

To re-cap. René Bourque on the bus with the Hamilton Bulldogs. A good thing. Now Travis Moen is shipped to the Dallas Stars in return for 86-year-old Sergei Gonchar. (This just in – Pop Montreal honcho Dan Seligman tells me the Russian D-man is a spright youthful 40.)

Well first-off I am as happy to see Moen out the door as I was Bourque. Neither big guy was adding anything to the equation at this point and if you ask me, Moen had been pretty ineffective ever since he signed that too-sweet deal.

But Gonchar? Is this a good thing? Like everyone, I used to really like this guy but he’s way past his due date, no? And it’s a lot of dough. $5 million, apparently, a big price increase from Moen’s $1.8 million. The up-side is that Gonchar’s contract ends this season whereas that ridiculous Moen deal goes on for another season.

And Montreal has the money. They just need to sell a few more of those over-priced beers at the Bell Centre. So I guess it’s mostly good for Les Boys. Though Habs Eye on the Prize does make one good observation – if this interferes with the development of Jarred Tinordi and/or Nathan Beaulieu, then it’s most definitely not a good deal for the Habs.

So generally positive, but jury’s out on this one.

On that note, I need to figure out where to watch Tuesday’s Habs-Jets bout. Christian’s on George St. or the Rose & Thistle on Water St.?

Good riddance to René Bourque

Posted: November 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

Well in the immortal words of my favourite group – The Ramones, of course! – ‘Glad to see you go go go, you’re gone’.

René Bourque appears to be gone – and this is a good thing. The Canadiens put the big winger on waivers, no one picked him up (I mean who would?), and now he’s set to be sent down to the Hamilton Bulldogs. So first off, kudos to Marc Bergevin for taking the initiative re getting rid of this chunk of dead wood. That’s what we like about the smartest-dresser in the NHL – he can actually take action, unlike our old pals in the firm of Gainey & Gauthier who couldn’t make a decisive move if their lives depended on it. Well I guess they sometimes did, usually to disastrous results (hello Scott Gomez!).

But clearly Bourque’s time had run out in Montreal. Zero goals and two assists this season simply isn’t good enough. And basically he’s been a bust here ever since he came over from Calgary in the Cammalleri trade. Yeah he was a hero in last season’s playoffs but that was in retrospect a fluke and/or simply an offshoot of him meeting Ginette Reno.

Any hoo, Bergevin looks good today for dumping him but you have to think he would’ve looked even better if he’d struck when the iron was hot and unloaded Bourque in a trade right after the playoffs (as one of my pals suggested at the time).

The other disturbing thing here – I am forced to agree with Don Cherry who said that Bourque is a floater. Last but not least, this news allows us to think back once again to that wack-job Cammalleri-Bourque trade. Remember? When our fave wacky GM Pierre Gauthier traded Cammie half way through a game in Boston, sending the Hab over to the team’s hotel in the middle of a game. Classy eh? That was one of the low points of one of the low-point regimes in the history of the Habs.

So if you ever feel bad about Bergevin, just think of how low we sunk with Gauthier and knock off the grumbling.

 

Hockey is our culture

Posted: November 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

You know it is.

I was part of a neat discussion in Mary Anne Poutanen’s Canadian Studies class at McGill Monday, talking about hockey and Canadian culture alongside historian Michel Vigneault and McGill Martlets’ head coach Peter Smith. Vigneault kicked things off with lots of detail about the early days of hockey in Montreal, long before the Habs, and then Smith followed up by chatting about the changing landscape of hockey in our country, noting that hockey enrollment for men keeps dipping while it’s up for women.

“Back in the day, hockey was played by everybody,” said Smith. “It was an inexpensive sport to play. You’d play on outdoor rinks. Play on the street. The sport of hockey now is an expensive sport to play. I think that’s changed things a great deal…and that’s made for cultural differences in our country.”

Me I was on my favourite hobby horse, yakking about the intersection of hockey and culture. Here’s some of what I said:

If you’re in Montreal, even if you’re not a hockey fan, you can see how hockey is such a big part of the culture. You can’t escape it. The Canadiens are the most storied franchise in the National Hockey League, they’ve won more Cups than anyone. But the great teams are in the past. They haven’t been that kind of great team for a long, long time. I grew up here in the ’70s when they used to have that line – ‘The parade will follow the usual route’. Because they’d have a parade, if not every year, then every year or two.

Now the teams are not nearly as good but in my view the team is more popular than ever. People are more into the Canadiens now than they were when it was a much better team. So you have to wonder how that happened. It cuts across all cultural, social lines. People, if they’re from somewhere else, their top sport is likely soccer but they get into hockey when they get here. I know the team is very aware of that. I think it probably started in the George Gillett years when he owned the Habs. He’s an American who comes in here, doesn’t have a hockey history at all. He’s a guy who used to own the Harlem Globetrotters. So he’s a marketing guy. They really brilliantly marketed this team and it wasn’t a very good team.

Then I talked about the documentary on the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens that I co-wrote with my old pal Roddy McManus, The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years – 100 Stars. We talked to hockey players of course in the doc but we also talked to cultural figures – everyone from Viggo Mortensen to Roy Dupuis to Sam Roberts – about the cultural importance of the Canadiens. I recounted the great story Sam told me that was his real-life version of The Hockey Sweaters. How, as a kid, his parents – who’re from South Africa – bought him a Bruins sweater to play in the local rink in the West Island , having no idea just how much this was beyond a bad idea.

That’s worse than the original Roch Carrier story. A Bruins jersey is even more of an act of treason than a Leafs sweater. The Leafs aren’t our real rivals. That’s a Hockey Night in Canada invention. Our real enemy is the Bruins.

In the documentary, we talked about how the history of the Habs is wrapped up in the culture and history of Quebec. Look at the whole question of the renaming of the Champlain Bridge, changing it to the Maurice Richard Bridge. Clearly The Rocket was much more than just a hockey player. It’s now pretty well the common wisdom that the roots of the Quiet Revolution of the ’60s were sowed at the Rocket Richard Riot. Folks ici were angry with a hockey league run by anglos that had suspended their franco superstar.

So in Quebec culture, people’s relationship to the team are tangled up in all kinds of things that have nothing to do with hockey. Of course it’s different now because the team doesn’t have that franco Quebec make-up. Now you have a team that hasn’t had a large number of francophone players really since that last Cup-winning team in ’93. Though it is interesting to note that Marc Bergevin, who is very conscious of his own franco roots, has hired as many francophones as possible as coaches.

So it’s clear there is a cultural aspect to hockey and our love of the game.

Next installment – hockey, culture and English Canada. (Or why I have always had issues with Hockey Night in Canada.)

PK1

The P.K. Subban naysayers are remarkably quiet on this beautiful Sunday morning after Our Man took control of that game Saturday night against Patrick Roy’s Colorado Avalanche, once again underlining my oft-mentioned point that No. 76 is quite simply the most exciting player to wear a Habs jersey since a chap named Guy Lafleur all those years ago.

As soon as he signed the most lucrative contract in the history of the Canadiens this summer, there were no shortage of people, including the usual ill-informed Toronto-based media types, ready to say Marc Bergevin and the Habs overpaid for the flashy defenseman. But they’re hiding under their desks at the CBC – or is it Rogers? – Broadcast Centre in the Big Smoke right now.

I mean did you see the P.K. Show Saturday night? Wow. He scored two goals en route to the Canadiens’s dramatic 3-2 victory over the Avs. His first goal was business-as-usual for Pernell Karl, the equivalent of a federal bureaucrat shuffling some papers on his desk on a sleepy Friday afternoon.

He slammed a Howitzer of a slap-shot that rocketed by minor-league Avs netminder Calvin Pickard, who, until then, had looked stunning. Yeah Pickard was looking pretty swell until he got up-close-and-personal with a patented P.K. clacker!

But that was nothing compared to the second Subbanator goal. He jumped out of the penalty box and went flying after the puck with the kind of speed usually reserved for Marvel Comics super-heroes, out-hustling Avs D-man Tyson Barrie, who ended up sliding into the side of the net like a Keystone Cops bad guy. That allowed Subban to circle the back of the net and come back out front, to suddenly find himself alone in front of Pickard, to everyone’s surprise, including Subban’s. Then came THE MOVE.

If you don’t believe me, I submit my evidence your honour in the video below.

Then he’s picked as the first star – and yes P.K. is quite right, it could’ve just as easily been Carey Price, who had his first phenomenal game of the season – and TVA Sports’ Renaud Lavoie does this live interview with him broadcast to the entire Bell Centre and Subban ends it by saying: ‘Merci beaucoup….et bonne nuit’. In one phrase, he spoke more French publicly than Saku did in all those years as captain, but I digress.

The point is the guy’s a phenom on and off the ice, the kind of dream player a team waits decades to get their hands on, which leads to the $72 million question: How is it that the Canadiens came within nanoseconds of potentially effing up the entire P.K. file? How is that Bergevin’s boss had to give him a panicked phone call at the eleventh hour, as the arbitrator was set to make her ruling, to order him to sign P.K.? How did that happen?

Philippe Cantin was on 98.5 this morning and he was saying that Subban is finally able to play with the creative freedom he needs because of the huge contract and Cantin is so right. Michel Therrien would probably love to still be able to bench P.K. on many a night but he can’t sit 72 million bucks on the pine.

Which brings me back to my main mantra – ‘Let P.K. be P.K.!’

Tomas Plekanec.

Tomas Plekanec.

Well, well, well….less than a week into the hockey season and the Canadiens have won three straight, on the road no less. Tomas Plekanec is playing like Sid the Kid with four goals in three games, both Carey Price and Dustin Tokarksi have looked better than solid, and the new wave of Habs look ready to take charge.

So should you be reserving your deck-chair for the late-June parade on Ste. Catherine St. right now? Ummmm maybe not. Look I don’t want to rain on your parade – pun intended – but it is the first week of the season. Normally this is the week for the Leafs to shine – not this year! – and we’ve always laughed at teams who celebrate great victories in October. With reason. October is an important month for baseball wins. In hockey, it means next to nothing.

So get a grip. We’re Montreal Canadiens fans. We understand the game better than fans in any other North American city and we all know that all that counts is what happens come the Real Season. Alors on se calme mes amis.

That said, there’s much reason to be optimistic about this gang. First and most importantly, this is the year that the New Wave has finally come to the fore. There’s no old guys – no Giontas, no Gorges – to distract us. This is the team of Subban, Price, and Patch. They’re the leaders of the youth movement and as Martin McGuire said the other day on Bazzo.tv, if Les Boys finally win that long-awaited 25th Cup, it’ll be with those three crammed into the driver’s seat fighting over who takes the wheel.

Look at Subban. Now he’s got the big contract, he can F up – like he did on that goal in Washington – and the kindly ol’ coach isn’t allowed to ground him anymore (though you just know Therrien would love to). And that’s gonna make him a better player. He is gonna mess up but he’s also gonna to take games – and playoff series (remember that little bout with the Bruins in the spring?) – and grab them by the throat and win them.

Then there’s the matter of Turtleneck Man and his new wing-man Alex Galchenyuk. Plek has four goals already and looks positively energized by the arrival of Chucky by his side. They also looked amazing with P.A. Parenteau on the other wing late in that improbable comeback against the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night, so don’t be surprised if those three stay together.

That inspirational win Saturday was what these new-look Habs are all about. They go into the third down three-zip, having looked downright awful in the first two periods, outshot 27-18. Then they turn it on. Andrei Markov ignited the comeback, the man who is single-handedly going to spark a major revival of the turtleneck potted another one and then Galchenyuk tied it by tipping in a shot from Plekanec.

Then O.T. – Galchenyuk coming so close to solving it on a breakway – and a shoot-out, won by M. Parenteau.

So yeah much to be excited about. But let’s not start sniffing any Cups just yet.

Dustin Tokarksi.

Dustin Tokarksi.

By all accounts, Peter Budaj is genuinely one of the good guys. Everyone loves him, in the room, as they say in the hockey biz, and amongst the media hordes. But running a hockey team isn’t just about rewarding niceness. It’s ultimately about winning and there’s no doubt that the Montreal Canadiens are a better team with Dustin Tokarski as Carey Price’s back-up than with Budaj in that position.

So that’s why Budaj and minor-league forward Patrick Holland are headed to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for forward Eric Tangradi (eds. note: Who dat?).

As soon as Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien made the call in the conference final last spring to go with Tokarski when Price was hurt by that maniac Kreider, Budaj was officially a lame duck. Imagine. You toil all year sitting on the bench watching Price play and then when opportunity knocks, management says – ‘Keep warming the bench cos we’re going with a kid who’s played like two games for us.’ This is not a vote of confidence. And apparently Budaj, normally an easy-going chap, was just livid. And you can understand why.

The other factor is that Tokarski would’ve had to pass waivers to be sent down to the Hamilton Bulldogs and it’s almost certain another team would’ve picked him up. Instead the Habs now have a quality back-up who can keep Pricey on his toes and I think this is a good thing for Carey now. Back in the Halak days, Price didn’t like the competition but he’s come a long way since and I think he’s secure enough now not to worry.

And you have a pretty amazing back-up goalie. If they had anything going on in that Rangers series, it was thanks to Tokarski’s heroics. So all good. (I promise my next post will be much less kind to les Canadiens!)

Oh longtime readers will note that i didn’t make one Halak-Price joke.