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.