Excuses, but no apology

Posted: April 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

marcbergevin

I’ve told you that story about how Marc Bergevin gave me The Stare. I was at an Evenko press conference and I asked him a question he didn’t like and he just positively glared at me. It was one of my highlights of my year as a journalist.

M. Bergevin doesn’t like questions that are even a little critical. At last year’s season-ending press conference, he got angry with La Presse’s Philippe Cantin for daring to suggest that something might be wrong in HabsLand.

So here we are after this snake-bitten season and the three men in suits running the Montreal Canadiens are firing on all cylinders, coming up with every excuse in the world for the team’s epic collapse. The central excuse at Monday’s festival of excuses was, of course, the season-ending injury to Carey Price. Lame. From the team whose motto is ‘no excuses’.

Marc Antoine Godin in La Presse this morning notes that the Canadiens went .390 after Price went down and if you think that’s normal, you’re not thinking. Normal teams don’t collapse like a house of cards when they lose their goalie. Sure they do less well but they don’t give up. But there was zero analysis from the Habs brass as to what happened. And no one was held accountable.

Remember when Bergevin popped out of the foxhole mid-season to guarantee Michel Therrien a pay-cheque through to the end of the season? At the time, MB said – ‘It’s on me’. So what does that mean? How did he take responsibility for this massive fail? Did Bergevin give his salary back to Geoff Molson? Did he offer to resign? Did he apologize?

No he did none of the above. He said it’s hard to make big trades in today’s NHL. I loved listening to Pierre McGuire on TSN 690 run through all the big trades that happened in the past few years and conclude by saying that smart GMs make major moves. Ouch!

And why didn’t the spiffily-dressed GM find a real goalie to replace Price? No one was available that was an upgrade on what the Habs had, claims Bergevin. Really? At no point during the season? Would it not be worth a draft pick to get into the playoffs? I know, it’s a risky move and Bergevin doesn’t like risky moves.

There was no discussion Monday of the mistakes Bergevin made – Kassian, Semin, Brière, Parenteau, and those various spare parts whose names I can’t remember.

It was all about how great the Habs did a year earlier. Now there’s two things about that argument. One is that on many night during that prior season, the Canadiens looked positively pathetic and they only won cos Carey pulled off a few miracles. Secondly, they sucked it out in the playoffs. Price was just ordinary – remember that? – and we had trouble beating a sad-sack Ottawa team and simply couldn’t buy a goal against Tampa Bay. All the problems of this year were already there last year – it was just the issues were swept under the rug by Price’s God-like play.

So keep those excuses coming. Mitch Melnick said he was disappointed that Geoff Molson didn’t apologize for the season and my old pal Mitch was right on the money. The fans deserve an apology. This is our team. Great teams – Glasgow Celtic, the Red Sox, Barcelona – belong to the people. And you treat us with contempt at your own risk.

  • Brendan Kelly

One of the best ways to judge a company’s management team is by judging how they behave in a crisis situation. By any measure, this is a crisis of a year for the Montreal Canadiens and I’m not going out on much of a limb today to suggest that Habs’ management has failed miserably in trying to deal with this crisis.

Yes losing Carey Price for most of a season is going to hurt big time but how have Geoff Molson, Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien attempted to grapple with this huge dilemma? One obvious solution would’ve been to try to get another starting goalie. They didn’t do that. Okay maybe no one was available or the price was too high.

But the problem isn’t just Price. It’s the lack of scoring. What did they do about that? Nada. Bergevin says you can’t make big trades in today’s NHL. I would amend that to – Marc Bergevin, YOU can’t make big trades in today’s NHL. So he decided not to trade for scoring talent.

Okay how about the guys you have. Throughout the monster slump, one of the forwards who shows spark more nights than most is Alex Galchenyuk. Yet he continues to play second fiddle to David Desharnais, a guy who has – how do I put this politely – slumped during the slump. That’s bad management, on the part of Therrien mostly.

Which brings us to the biggest mistake of this snake-bitten season – Bergevin’s famous ‘it’s on me’ moment. He said he would not be firing Therrien under any circumstances. I get it. He wanted to show he supported the team but with 20/20 hindsight, it was a mistake. Therrien’s a bad coach who’s making a mediocre team worse.

I’m not even saying ‘fire Therrien today’. It doesn’t matter now. The season is over. But my real fear is Bergevin will show the same macho stubbornness he showed in those last negotiations with Subban – they went to arbitration for heaven’s sake! – and keep Therrien just to show the fans who’s boss.

And ‘it’s on me’. Give me an effin break. The guy has a contract for several more years, so it’s not on him. If he had real cojones and really cared, he’d walk in Molson’s office today – or at the end of the season – and say – ‘If you want, fire me and I’ll rip up my contract and walk away.’

I was at an Evenko press conference a few months back, that’s the infamous one when Bergevin gave me ‘The Stare’, and the Habs’ all-controlling P.R. staff told the journalists there would be no questions about the Habs that day. And I spoke to a number of hockey reporters who were furious, noting that Bergevin gives them almost no access.

I thought of that last night when the camera panned to show us Bergevin in the luxury box upstairs with his new bushy woodsman hairdo and I thought – I literally haven’t seen this guy on TV for months. He should be out there day-in and day-out taking the heat. That’s the least he can do.

Instead he sends out his henchman Therrien who is….again I’ll try to be polite…..not the greatest of men. Like Wednesday night after the Habs somehow found a way to lose an entirely winnable game. They played a good game and lost, in part because Subban fell on a play with a couple of minutes left in the third, leading to the Avalanche scoring the winning goal. So Therrien benched him for the final two minutes. Read that again. He benched the team’s leading point-getter in the two minutes they had left to tie the game. Brilliant. Way to go Michel.

Then he used the post-game press conference to lay the blame for the loss entirely at the feet of Subban, at a time when the media is already revving up with all kinds of blame-Subban chatter. Nice. You’re a big man Michel.

Meanwhile probably the biggest culprit on that last goal was captain Max Pacioretty who was standing in front of goalie Ben Scrivens just watching the river flow, as Dylan might’ve put it. The same Pacioretty who has, as far as I recall, never been singled out during this horrific season by Therrien, in spite of the fact that he’s Minus-13 and has shown a quite astonishing lack of leadership both on and off the ice during this crisis.

I was chatting yesterday with an 81-year-old guy, a francophone, salt-of-the-earth type, and unsurprisingly, the subject of the Habs came up and he told me how outraged he was that the owners had increased ticket prices this season. He may have also mentioned the price tag on those watery beers at the rink. He felt betrayed and you know he’s not alone. That’s a dangerous thing and it’s something I’d take very seriously if I was part of that ownership group.

Bergevin and Therrien have treated the team’s fans with contempt throughout this season and the fans have every right to get right back at those guys with the same contempt. That’s not a state of affairs I’d be willing to live with if I was Bergevin and Therrien’s boss.

But is anyone mad as hell on the seventh floor of the Bell Centre? There is certainly no sign of that. No they’re just gearing up for another sold-out game at the Bell Centre Friday.

  • Brendan Kelly

Angst in the Habs Nation

Posted: February 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

marcbergevin

I could tell you I told you so. Actually I will. I told you so.

Longtime readers – eds. note: Masochists? – know that I have been wondering for quite some time now if Marc Bergevin wasn’t all style and no substance and well now the Habs Nation has caught up with me on that one.

Bergevin had spent the better part of the past two years trying to convince us that the Canadiens were an elite team – and most bought it. Hey we went to the conference finals two years ago right? Went two rounds last playoff.

But it was an illusion. And that was clear last spring. All the problems the Canadiens are having now were there in that playoff “run”. The times got tough and Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec went into hiding. Andrei Markov showed he’s simply no longer able to skate with NHL opponents. Short version – they couldn’t score goals. Sound familiar?

And Bergevin looked at the problem and went out and snared Alex Semin. Trouble was there was a good reason no other team wanted Semin – because he’s washed up. That’s the third straight scorer Bergevin has reached out to pick up who’s turned out to be a dud – following on Brière and Parenteau.

So P.K. Subban’s right, as he tells Stu Cowan in the Saturday Gazette. Fans have every right to be upset.

“It’s a lot of money to come watch this hockey team play….it’s not cheap,” Subban tells Cowan.

Indeed. The Canadiens raised prices significantly at the start of this snake-bitten season – they went up 24-percent in the blues, 20-percent in the greys, 10-percent in the whites, and just three-percent in the reds. (All these figures courtesy of a Cowan column from last August.) Nice! Hit the cheap tickets hardest, hitting the people who can least afford it hardest.

According to Forbes, the Canadiens are the second most valuable team in hockey, behind the New York Rangers. The Rangers are worth $1.2 billion. The Habs are now worth 1.18 billion, up 18-percent from a year earlier, and way up from the $575 million owner Geoff Molson and his consortium paid in 2009.

It just proves what the few critics out there have been saying. The Habs are a brilliantly-run business. The management group has increased the value of the team by over $500 million in five years. That’s a blockbuster result. There’s only one small problem. They don’t have a good hockey department. I know, it’s a detail.

And as long as they keep making that kind of money, don’t hold your breath waiting for them to bring in a hockey people that can compete with the Chicago Blackhawks of this world. Sadly it’s a Maple Leafs-like dilemma. Nice condo towers eh?

  • Brendan Kelly

Therrien must go

Posted: January 21, 2016 in Uncategorized
Michel Therrien

Michel Therrien driving to practice during training camp. From the pilot for the series 24CH. Photo courtesy of RDS.

Time waits for no one and it’s most certainly not waiting for Michel Therrien.

It’s time for Geoff Molson to step in because clearly Marc Bergevin doesn’t have the stuff to cut off his old pal Therrien. Time is up. He’s past his due date. He’s gotta be tossed overboard for the good of the team and the franchise.

The Canadiens are now officially out of the playoffs, sitting ugly (not pretty) in 10th place in the East – and that’s after a 9-and-0 start to the season. The Hab-nots are 4-16-1 in their last 21 games and are averaging less than two goals a game in that stretch.

The motto of this team is ‘no excuses’ but excuses are all that Therrien has been making for several weeks now. His prime excuse is, of course, the absence of Carey Price and yeah it hurts to lose your No. 1 goalie, especially when he just happens to be the best goalie in the world. But it’s still an excuse. I’m sorry but Ivy League rookie Mike Condon has done a heroic job.

The problem isn’t goaltending. It’s the rest of the team. The veterans have stopped played and it’s not much of a stretch from there to suggest they’ve given up on the coach. It’s all so reminiscent of what happened in Pittsburgh just before Therrien was fired there.

And what is Therrien doing to try to stop the bleeding? Playing the veterans til they drop and treating the young guys like crap. That’s the Therrien formula and it’s both unfair and inefficient. He plays Andrei Markov absurd minutes every game and every game we watch as the elderly D-man messes up. He even puts the Old Man out in a must-win 3-on-3 OT in St. Louis and watches as Markov single-handedly loses the game for us.

Then he attacks the fans for booing Markov. He has a point. The fans should be booing Therrien. Then there’s the whole Desharnais versus Galchenyuk thing. The kindly ol’ coach consistently gives wee Davey more minutes than Chucky even though DD has half the talent of Galchenyuk.

How do I really feel? He’s not a good coach, period. Is he the only problem? No. Stu Cowan is right. Bergevin deserves much of the blame. He’s signed four straight dud would-be scorers in Brière, Parenteau, Semin and Kassian and somehow the media has let him off the hook until now.

But Bergevin is not getting fired now. And yes there aren’t a million good French-speaking coaches out there to replace Mr. Personality but it doesn’t matter. You need to do something now before the playoffs are out of reach.

And there is one fellow who speaks the language of Lafleur who you might think of calling. He actually played with The Flower. His name is Larry Robinson. You’re welcome Marc. If you need his number, drop me a line.

  • Brendan Kelly

marcbergevin

I’ve been grumbling for a while – hey that’s what I do in this space – that maybe the shine is coming off Marc Bergevin. Now the Habs Nation has caught up with me.

For a while now, I’ve thought the Canadiens general manager has been pulling a kind of magic act for the Montreal media and the club’s fans. Up until now he’s been the Teflon Man in large part because he’s great at deflecting criticism with a quick quip, a joke, even an angry jab. ‘You want a big trade?’, he practically shouted at the ink-stained wretches at the end of last season. ‘I made one today…..on PlayStation.’

Well as someone recently said on Twitter that joke is coming back to haunt him. Blockbuster trades can be made, as the Seth Jones Ryan Johansen headline-grabber reminded us. It’s just that Bergevin doesn’t seem able to make them.

Which brings us to John Scott. Really? The Habs finally traded first-round pick Jarred Tinordi on Friday afternnon, to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for the washed-up goon and minor-league D-man Victor Bartley. So there goes another first-round Habs pick. As Guillaume Lefrançois pointed out in La Presse, that is five straight first-round picks that turned to dust for the team. The list of shame includes David Fischer from the 2006 draft, Ryan McDonagh from 2007 (thanks Bob Gainey!), ’08 then had no first-round pick and so their first pick was the great Danny Kristo, and in ’09, the Habs brain-trust snared Louis ‘Apparently I Am Not Guy Lafleur’ Leblanc.

True none of that is Bergevin’s doing but still. So how has the GM made this a better team? He has been great at picking up spare parts for the third and fourth lines – Weise, Fleischmann, Mitchell, Byron – and probably his best move was signing Jeff Petry. But this is a team that is not progressing and he seems unable to do anything about that.

As Stu Cowan points out this morning, the lads are 5-14 since Dec. 1, without even an OT or shootout loss, and are averaging less than two goals per game in that run. Fact is the inability to score goals dates back to last season. They were ejected from the playoffs in the second round because they couldn’t score. Do you remember how few goals they scored against Tampa and Ottawa? They managed to beat the Sens while scoring only 12 goals in a six-game series.

But Bergevin has been totally unable to find any scoring. His solution? A washed-up player, Alex Semin, that every other GM knew was a has-been. His solution the previous seasons? Brière and Parenteau. Which brings us to his other tragic flaw – he’s giving free reign to a coach who has no idea how to generate goals.

The power play has been broken for two years but Bergevin and Therrien just sit there and stare at it. What the hell is up with that?

Bergvin needs to shake things up. In fact he needed to shake things up last year. To do something radical. Last season would’ve been an ideal time to package Plek and Markov and get some value on these guys before everyone saw that they’re past-due-dates are coming real soon.

He needs to do something. Instead he does the act – hey I’m the cool stylish guy who struts around and makes the classic cracks to the journos.

Well that’s not enough any more. This morning the Habs are in that final Wild Card spot with a bunch of teams clawing at them from very close behind.

  • Brendan Kelly

Why we love Brendan Gallagher

Posted: January 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

brendan-gallagher

I’ve found one more reason to like Brendan Gallagher. I know, I know, I’m not alone here on this one. Gally has been a fan favourite for a couple of years for the very good reason that he’s the only Canadien who delivers the proverbial 110-percent night-in and night-out. Everyone else – from Patch to Subban to Plek – have good and bad games. Not Brendan Gallagher.

He’s always out in full force, working in his office just inches from the opposing goalie, driving him and his defensemen nuts. I mean did you see our good pal Zdeno Chara losing his mind Friday during the Winter Classic, hitting, pushing, cross-checking Gallagher?

And of course Habs fans love BG even more today given that he appeared to completely galvanize the previously moribund Canadiens with his return for the much-anticipated Bruins-Habs outdoor match-up in Foxborough, Mass. He had an goal and an assist in Montreal’s 5-1 pummeling of the hapless Bruins but more importantly the entire Habs team had more jump than we’ve seen since……well since Gallagher broke two fingers in his left hand blocking a Howitzer of a blast from Johnny Boychuk in a Bell Centre game against the New York Islanders Nov. 22.

The jury is in. The team’s real leader is this five-foot/nine-inch right-winger who’s only 23 years old and in just his fourth NHL season. Did you see Max Pacioretty in Foxborough? He was playing with the kind of intensity he never once showed in the six weeks that Gallagher was sidelined and the team was in a horrific tailspin, living through the worst December in the teams history.

Gallagher came back and from the first shift, began doing what he does best. He plants himself right in front of the other net and makes life a misery for everyone around him. And as always, they can punch him, they can kick him, but he’ll always come out with that you-know-what-eating grin and he always has the last laugh.

In the post-game interview, he said they all felt like kids at the candy-store taking part in this new NHL tradition but fact is that Gallagher looks like a kid running loose at the candy store every night that he laces up for the Habs. He looks like he’s having the time of his life and that enthusiasm is infectious.

Oh yeah so here’s the one more reason I love Gally. My cousin Tim mentioned yesterday that Gallagher is a Donegal name and turns out it is. It comes from the old Irish name Ó Gallchobhair and its roots are in County Donegal in the north of Ireland, where it is the most common surname. It means “foreign helper”, apparently originating from one of the first Gallaghers helping out some visiting Vikings.

I’m happy about all this because my mother’s family, the McGinleys, also hail from Donegal. She was born and raised in Glasgow but summered in Donegal with her relatives throughout her childhood. And what does McGinley mean? I’m glad you asked. Son of the fair-haired valourous one. I know, perfect.

  • Brendan Kelly

Habs fans are crazy

Posted: December 26, 2015 in Uncategorized
Alred E. Neuman

Alfred E. Neuman, Habs fan.

Really. Here are the Canadiens mired in their worst slump in 15 years. They’ve lost five in a row, they’re 1-9-0 in their last ten, and they can’t buy a goal if their lives depended on it.

And all the fans can keep repeating is – don’t worry, it’s just because Carey Price is sidelined, once the What-Me-Worry-Kid is back, we’ll be fine. I was sitting on the bench of our pick-up hockey game the other day and a guy was telling me how it was all about how Mike Condon simply wasn’t good enough.

Now I agree that Condo isn’t Price – and Tokarski is mostly just terrible – but the reality is that you don’t win many games in this league scoring one goal a game. Pat Hickey points out this morning that Les Boys have only 19 goals in their last 12 games, an average of 1.58 goals per game. Even worse, during that run, Alex Galchenyuk, Paul Byron and Daniel Carr lead the team with three goals each. (An aside: Montreal’s biggest problem in the last playoffs was they couldn’t score goals.)

That, my friend, is simply unacceptable. In other words, the leaders are doing nothing. Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, P.K. Subban, and David Desharnais are not scoring and if your big guys are not scoring, you’re not winning games. So in fact, the losing streak has nothing to do with Price’s absence. (Another aside: Patch and Plek went into hiding in the last playoffs as well.)

So what’s going on? That’s where the pundits are notably silent. What’s wrong with the team? Cos there is something very rotten here. Has the coach lost the room? People scoff at that one and maybe it’s not true. Fact is we just don’t know what’s going on in that dressing room. I’ve never been a Therrien fan. I’ve always believed he’s the kind of coach who can only bring you so far and there is a sense that he’s hit his past-due-date with his monosyllabic angry old-school approach.

But okay, let’s say it’s not the kindly ol’ coach. Then you explain why when the going got tough, the over-paid team “leaders” went into hiding. If you’re in a scoring drought, your top scorer should step up but as has always been the case in Patch’s career, he has not come through in the clutch. Subban has usually been the clutch guy but you can’t really expect a D-man to solve your scoring issues.

Of course losing Brendan Gallagher is a huge factor and the good news is he’ll be back any day now. But it’s just not normal that the entire team falls apart when one winger goes down, especially given that Gallagher – much as I love the guy – is not a superstar.

Fact is that Gallagher’s absence just underlines that Montreal’s forward lines are built on one shaky foundation. They don’t have a real number-one line. Plek is not a number-one centre but hey why should that surprise us. The Canadiens have spent two decades without a bona fide No. 1 centreman, just part of the strange world of the modern-day Habs.

Again the rose-coloured-glasses crew continue to say everything’s hunky-dory  but it’s time for a wake-up call. The Canadiens are now fourth in the conference with 43 points. The Devils are ninth with 39 points. Your math might not be great but think for a second. A couple more losses and we’ll switch places with New Jersey.

So yeah things are mighty dire. Me, personally I think it’s partly the coach and partly the lack of  character in the leadership group. And the reality is that they are not going to fire Therrien while Price is injured so he’s likely gonna be sticking around for the rest of the season.

So maybe it’s time for Captain Max to step up. Just a thought. Oh and I’m taking my nickname for Price and will now use it for the team’s fans. They’re the What-Me-Worry crew.

  • Brendan Kelly