The once-great Montreal Canadiens have been a mediocre franchise since the mid-1990s, and without improvements in the front office and behind the bench, will remain so for a long time.

Regular followers of this site know I’m a Montreal Canadiens fan, have been since 1971, when they upset the Bobby Orr-led Boston Bruins and Bobby Hull-led Chicago Blackhawks to win what to this day is referred to as their “miracle” Stanley Cup championship.

In my lifetime, the Canadiens have won half of their 24 Stanley Cup titles. I’ve watched them win eight. Considering how many hockey fans are still waiting for their favorite teams to win one Cup in their lifetimes, I feel more than lucky.

I enjoyed watching those championship runs, and have the memories and the video footage of what it was like when the Canadiens were the class of the NHL.

Thank goodness I’ve got those, because everything I’ve witnessed since the Canadiens won their last championship in 1993 indicates I won’t see them win another one in my lifetime.

Over-reaction? Perhaps, but when one considers the length of time between championships for the Boston Bruins (39 years), Chicago Blackhawks (49 years), Detroit Red Wings (42 years) and New York Rangers (54 years), plus the ongoing droughts of the Toronto Maple Leafs (45 years), Philadelphia Flyers (37 years), New York Islanders (29 years), Calgary Flames (23 years), and Edmonton Oilers (22 years) , it’s not far-fetched.

I could go into detail over the mistakes made by Canadiens management which brought this team to it current level of inferiority, but noted Canadian sportswriter Gare Joyce (author of the best hockey book of 2011: “The Devil and Bobby Hull”) spares me the effort with his recent piece “Decline of the Habs Empire”.

Canadiens fans understand how our favorite team reached this point. Rehashing the past to assess blame or to pinpoint the moment where it all went wrong is a pointless exercise. What matters now is the direction of this franchise for the future.

We all have our suggestions for making this team better. Clean house in the front office, scour the NHL and other professional leagues for the best available general manager, scouting and coaching prospects, and hire the best of that bunch, regardless of bilingual ability.

Do a better job of drafting talent, putting more emphasis on players with size and skills. Do a better job of drafting in their own backyard. Do a better job acquiring talent via trades and free agency.

We make it sound so simple. It always is for armchair general managers. Still, the suggestions are valid.

The indisputable fact is change for the better begins at the top, and that rests with team owner Geoff Molson.

Money isn’t a stumbling block for Molson, as the Habs – despite their mediocrity in recent years – are among the NHL’s cash cows, frequently listed among the NHL’s richest franchises.

He can’t use that as an excuse for why the Canadiens cannot improve in the future. To be fair, the Canadiens have in recent years spent up to the cap ceiling. The problem is, much of that money was poorly invested.

It’s up to Molson and his advisors to beat the bushes and find the best people to turn this team back into the class organization it once was.

Top quality management, scouting and coaching were the reasons behind the Habs domination from the mid-1940s to the end of the 1970s, and why they remained among the NHL’s elite teams from 1980 to 1993.

They haven’t had that since the mid-1990s.

True, for a few years in the last decade, that appeared to change when Bob Gainey was general manager, culminating in the Canadiens topping the Eastern Conference standings in 2008, creating the illusion the Habs were finally out of the wilderness and on track to become a dominant franchise again.

But it all fell quickly apart, leading to trades and free agent signings that were more knee-jerk than rational.

The decisions this season by current GM Pierre Gauthier indicate that trend hasn’t changed.

It’s speculated Gauthier will be fired at season’s end if the Canadiens should miss the playoffs.  Interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth will likely follow, considered a lame duck due to the tepid support he received from his bosses when the media-driven firestorm over his linguistic abilities flared soon after his promotion.

When a team puts more onus on the primary language spoken by its management and head coaches, rather than on bringing in the best people for those roles, regardless of their bilingual ability, it is fishing for help in a shallow pond, severely limiting their options.

For most Canadiens fans, French, English or otherwise, the only thing that matters is winning. Language is a mere sideshow, which had nothing to do with the Canadiens past greatness.

2013 will make it twenty years since the Canadiens won their last Stanley Cup. Two decades. A generation of Canadiens fans born in 1989 have no memories of that last championship, and must content themselves with the dusty 24 Cup banners and the video memories of the glory years.

The Canadiens last superstar was Patrick Roy, and he was driven out of town in 1995. The last time a Canadiens player (Stephane Richer) scored 50 goals was in 1990. The last Canadien to win a scoring title was Guy Lafleur in 1978. The last Canadien defenseman to win the Norris trophy was Chris Chelios in 1989.

Once upon a time, Canadiens fans were upset with their team if they didn’t win the Stanley Cup. Then, they became upset if they failed to at least advance beyond the second round. Now, just making the playoffs is cause to rejoice. The club’s decline has been such that the once-demanding fan base has lowered its expectations.

Until ownership properly addresses their organizational issues, the Canadiens will be doomed for many more years of mediocrity.

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13 Responses to No End in Sight for Habs Decline.

  1. Maybe I’m wrong, but haven’t the Habs been quite small in recent years?

    That just doesn’t fly (pardon) in the NHL nowadays.

  2. No1DuckFan says:

    Lyle, I really feel sorry for your Habs and I as a Ducks fan know what it is like to be managed by Pierre Gauthier…he single-handedly destroyed my Mighty Ducks team back in 1998-2002 to rubble and especially with poor draft choices (Alexei Smirnov, Stanislav Chistov, etc.) and has stocked the team with smallish players who just only cared to play a perimeter game because they were afraid to crack their fingernails. As soon as Bryan Murray took over as GM, he literally had to fix his mess (of course, drafting Getzlaf and Perry in 2003 was HUGE) and set the foundation of what became the 2007 Stanley Cup Champion Ducks for Brian Burke.

    I don’t think it is your owner that is at fault at this point, it is Gauthier…he really doesn’t have a clue how to build a championship team and is known to be very abrasive to people working under him. Sooner he and his cronies are chased out of town, the better your Habs will be.

  3. chaas says:

    Reading this while watching the Habs smoke the Rangers, and now I’m pretty miserable.

  4. steve edwards says:

    Lyle,

    You are quite correct logically when you suggest that the team go for the best no matter language spoken. However the reality in Montreal is that if the gm and coach are not fluently bilingual, they have no chance to be hired. That’s the reality of the market in Montreal. The team is not only a sports team, but a symbol and source of pride for the province of Quebec. If you don’t understand this reality, you can’t understand the true dynamics of the situation with the Canadiens. Maybe sad (speaking as a died in the wool Habs fan) but the unfortunate truth. And yes it will prevent the franchise from being as successful as it should and could be!

  5. Rafa says:

    Great article…I was one of the lucky ones to see the Habs win their last cup…unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll see them win another cup in the next 10 years (maybe even more) I’m sorry to say this but the Habs have to stop living in the past (i.e. hiring ex players, ex coaches, ex GM’s to their front office) they need “young blood”. The leadership of any team starts with it’s front office and this year the Habs are lacking in all departments.

  6. claysbar says:

    At this point, Cunnyworth and Gauthier should do a pinky swear, refuse to speak anything but pig-latin to the press and moon the SOB’s on their way outta town. Getting irate because a coach cannot speak the language, it’s not like he’s trying to fix your I-Phone!!!

  7. HABS_FTW says:

    I think if people keep comparing today’s Habs with yesterdays Habs, you are always going to be disappointed. I could go on about parity in the league, it’s not Canada’s game anymore, blah blah blah.

    Point is, times have changed. We aren’t winning the cup every year.. nobody is now. However, last I looked, we were still the last Canadian team in the league to win the cup, and did make it to the final 4 a couple years back. Took the cup champs to game 7 OT last year as well. Heck, we’ve done pretty good of making the playoffs since the lockout.

    Now, of course I would like to have the Habs in a better position this year, as well I think things could have been handled better this year from PGs point of view. I just choose not to compare this year to the Habs of yesterday, and I think it’s futile for others to do the same. Apples and oranges …

  8. Pierre says:

    Well Lyle,
    I usually appreciate your judgement on hockey matters, but I think on this one you are missing the point. I mostly agree with the comments (above) of Steve Edwards. What has made that franchise great was that intimate connection between the team, local players, and their fans. All those cups you are referring to came when the team had a healthy quantity of local talent. Historically, the insistance on its French character has not hurt that franchise, quite the opposite. You would be on more solid ground to say that the nonchalance about it in recent years might have been a factor in their non-success. I will go there…

    On the whole it is felt that the Habs have a special responsibility make sure that local talent (be it playing or coaching get to the next level). For instance, I am sure it will not escape you that all of the current coaches that came out of Quebec were first hired by Montreal (Jacques Martin was a bit of an exception but he started with the Nordiques, didn’t he?). Given the intense connection between the team and its fan base, bilingualism is simply a must for the front office staff, and is expected from some of its players. In the same manner, it would surely be inconceivable for the Leafs to hire a French only (or Russian only) coach.

    This being said, Cunneyworth is certainly not to be blamed to have been caught in this position, management is. Best of luck to him in the mean time…

  9. Hogie says:

    Hab fans are probably the most passionate about their team in hockey, but that carries a curse as well as being a blessing. Every move is highly scrutinized and the media and fans are extremely unforgiving. You are your own worst enemies. You drive out your players because of the intense media spotlight, the unreasonable expectations you place, and you scare away potential free agents because of this. You have to pay a premium compared to other teams to attract players because of this.

    Who knows, a couple really bad seasons might be what the doctor ordered in order for this franchise and fan base to get some perspective.

  10. habsfan29 says:

    you have to wonder, if the fact that the Habs are one of the most profitable organizations, makes the front office just a little content….seems like the Leafs were somewhat stuck in that position for a while, and now maybe the Habs are too…just happy to be seeing the dollar signs..

  11. Dark Phoenix says:

    The irony is, if you used search and replace to replace “Habs” with “Leafs”, you’d have most of a great article about the last 40 years of Leafs history. Although it seems bad now, trust me, it gets worse; when the next generation of fans wonder why you still cheer for a team that hasn’t won in a lifetime. All the other Original 6 franchise fans know this pain.

  12. Alex says:

    I am a Canucks and Habs fan. My Sister is in School in Montreal and I just here how passionate they are.
    Every time Montreal loses a home game, I feel bad for the fans paying ridiculous prices to see their team play like garbage.

    I was telling myself yesterday that this team is far from a powerhouse. They have overpaid, small veterans (Gomez, Gionta) and losing Hamrlik and Wisniewski has left Subban to do all the work when Markov is gone. Trading Cammi is the most bonehead move in Franchise history..

    This team only has a star in Price, a rising star in Subban, but other than that, they have no exciting, big name prospects in the system. All their fans can hope for in the coming years is a 6th seed at best, because teams like Philly, Boston, Ottawa, Toronto, Pitt, and NY are younger, faster, and stronger.

    Pierre Gauthier should take all the blame.

  13. Alex says:

    I am a Canucks and Habs fan. My Sister is in School in Montreal and I just here how passionate they are.
    Every time Montreal loses a home game, I feel bad for the fans paying ridiculous prices to see their team play like garbage.

    I was telling myself yesterday that this team is far from a powerhouse. They have overpaid, small veterans (Gomez, Gionta) and losing Hamrlik and Wisniewski has left Subban to do all the work when Markov is gone. Trading Cammi is the most bonehead move in Franchise history..

    This team only has a star in Price, a rising star in Subban, but other than that, they have no exciting, big name prospects in the system. All their fans can hope for in the coming years is a 6th seed at best, because teams like Philly, Boston, Ottawa, Toronto, Pitt, and NY are younger, faster, and stronger.

    Pierre Gauthier should take all the blame!

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