Unlike Bernard Landry, I think my old friend Daniel Weinstock often has interesting things to say and he was right on the money with his question on Facebook after Thursday’s win against the sad-sack Buffalo Sabres clinched The Good Guys a playoff spot. Daniel wondered aloud when was the last time Les Boys clinched a playoff berth so early.
Excellent question. Montreal nabbed that playoff spot with eight games left to play. In recent years, the Habs have all-too-often gone right down to the wire, to that last game, invariably against the Leafs, to decide whether or not there will be any post-season action.
Now they’re in the post-season two weeks before that fun begins – and that my friends is the surest sign yet that the Marc Bergevin era has truly begun. This is great great news for Habs fans. The start of the Bergevin era also signals something else – the end of the Gainey era.
You may say – ‘Hey didn’t Bob Gainey quit a couple of years ago?’ And yes he did “officially” resign as GM on Feb. 8, 2010 – a out-of-nowhere decision that stunned the city’s hockey world and has never been properly explained by anyone since. But he didn’t really quit that day. He stayed on with the team as an “adviser” right up to the end of last season and was often seen in the Habs loge, hanging with Habs senior management. At the same time, his right-hand-man, Pierre ‘Mr. Personality’ Gauthier was “officially” running the show – or rather, running the team into the ground. Was Gainey still involved? Oh yeah. Was that a good thing? Oh no.
Anyhoo, back to this playoffs-berth thing. The Habs always used to get in on the last day – or not. The Gainey era – 2003 to 2012 – was all about striving for mediocrity. The goal was (hopefully) to get into the playoffs. Remember that year when right at start of season, Saku Koivu went off script, at the golf tournament I think, and said the team wasn’t a contender for the Cup that year. He was just speaking the truth. That was the Gainey philosophy – let’s be happy just being mediocre.
That’s not Bergevin’s way of thinking. He wants to build a Cup contender and that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s not working to make it through one round of the playoffs. You know he wants to win it all. And that’s how organizations work – the top guy’s ideas filter down and have an impact on how everyone works.
We’ve all worked in places with mediocre bosses. If there’s no fight in the bosses, there’ll be no fight amongst us workers toiling on the shop floor. This season, for the first time in ages, there’s been a notion of accountability with the team.
It started on the first day of training camp when, 15 minutes after Les Boys hit the ice, Bergevin assembled the media wretches to tell them he’d sent Scott Gomez home. Gomer had been pulling the team down for a couple of seasons and under the tired old management, the reaction had been to force the coaching staff to play him more in a futile effort to prove that Gainey had made a good trade by taking Gomez off Glen Sather’s hands. In one foul swoop, Bergevin solved one of the team’s biggest problems.
Then Bergevin hired a coach, Michel Therrien, who has a simple philosophy. You do the work, you get rewarded. You don’t, you get punished. Lars Eller is sucking? He gets benched. Eller comes back and plays a solid game? He gets more ice-time. Thomas Kaberle is as effective as a novice kid on the blue-line? He sits – for the entire season.
The Gainey/Gauthier Habs was a deeply neurotic hockey club – some might even say psychotic. The players didn’t know what to do. They were getting conflicting messages from their bosses. When you see Gomez out on the power play even though he hasn’t scored since the Internet was invented, you feel demoralized.
But Bergevin gave the team some radical therapy. I can’t resist the Ramones shout-out – he gave them Shock Treatment. Bergevin and Therrien made it crystal-clear with everyone in the organization – it’s only about one thing, winning hockey games. It’s not about making mediocre managers look good. It’s not about personal vendettas. It’s about the team.
And if you don’t buy into it, you can go hang out with Pat Hickey in the press box. That’s what therapy is all about – making you feel better about yourself, getting rid of needless internal conflicts. Look at the post-game interviews, these guys love playing for the Habs this year.
And they go to the wall for each other. You want to try to put Brendan Gallagher’s head through the glass? Hey I’m gonna punch your lights out! (Eds. note: Did Don Cherry just sneak in and start writing this post?) I don’t like fighting but until the league out-laws it, you have to do what the other teams do. And once again, in the G&G era, teams routinely came in and ran over Carey Price because they knew this neurotic Habs squad wouldn’t raise a finger to defend their most important player.
Those days are over. The neurosis is in remission. So bring on those playoffs right now pal!