Once upon a time in beautiful Montreal, Quebec, there was a professional hockey team that united citizens. Cheering for the Canadiens de Montreal encouraged people from all walks of life to collectively come together for a common love that allowed for differences to be cast aside.
Whether you hosted your friends and family at home or grabbed a cold one with your buddies at your favorite bar, taking in a Habs game was about so much more than just the sport. Were you so lucky to score tickets to attend a match at the Forum or the Bell Centre, you were the envy of the town. If you witnessed the glorious 1970s dynasty franchise that won six Stanley Cup championships in 10 years and 24 overall in its rich history, your standards for the organization are higher than the sky itself. Being a fan up until 1993 meant one thing and one thing alone: it wasn’t a matter of “if” you were going to attend the Cup parade, but a matter of “where” you were planning on standing or sitting.
Unfortunately for younger generations such as my own, those glory days are gone, and the division between Habs fans is worse than I could’ve ever imagined. Still, I believe there is one common thread that could cause devotees to reunite once again.
The Montreal Canadiens are a bad team, period. The on-ice product is boring with occasional flashes of entertaining, and one quick look at the franchise’s prospect cupboard leaves everyone in wonderment:
“When will this team be great again? What happened to our childhood team that used to take us on emotional roller-coaster rides? Will we ever again look forward to watching a game after a long day of work? Will we bother clearing our schedules on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights as we habitually did for years with the hopes of watching players who are proud of wearing the crest on their chest?”
Gone are the days where reminding everyone that the pedigree of a once-noble franchise can be used as a viable marketing tactic. The passing of the Torch has become a thing of the past, as we witnessed when the team did away with that custom at the start of the 2017-2018 regular season schedule. Deep down, the powers that be must have known that they cannot keep lying to their loyal fans about what this franchise has truly become. They can no longer failingly create a smokescreen in an attempt to generate interest on the part of those who once counted down the minutes until the puck dropped for the first time that year.
Losing Fan Favorites
Some would argue the lack of interest began when their childhood idol Patrick Roy was unceremoniously traded away to the Colorado Avalanche in 1995 for essentially nothing. I was only eight years old and didn’t care too much. I was not heavily invested in the team at that age.
Fast forward to 21 years later.
I made very little of the P.K. Subban trade when it first occurred in the summer of 2016, yet was blown away at how many people publicly denounced this team. I was shocked at how trading a single player caused so many fans to be in an uproar– from the casual to the fanatics, and even analysts who swear by advanced statistics. A longtime season ticket holder took out a full-page ad in the Montreal Gazette newspaper to express his “anger, disappointment, and embarrassment…” with the organization. I understand now how people felt when Roy left, and count me amongst those who believe the Subban trade– regardless of the return– was a bad one.
Still, general manager Marc Bergevin managed to sign Alexander Radulov who instantly became a fan favorite only to leave a year later (reportedly) due to poor negotiation tactics by Bergevin. Long-serving veteran Andrei Markov was shown the door after almost 17 years of honorable service– again, for nothing– and that rubbed fans the wrong way.
Those same fans and numerous members of the media are clamoring for a “big” trade– something to shake up the core of this team and change its seemingly doomed fate. Year after year, this is the same crap that we all keep hearing, and nothing ever gets done.
Understand this: one single trade will never be sufficient in fixing what’s wrong with this weak roster. That “big trade” opportunity went out the window two years ago when the Habs opted to keep Carey Price around when he could’ve fetched at least three or perhaps four key pieces for the future of this franchise…
What’s Wrong With the Habs
There are too many things wrong with the team for me to list. They can’t score, the defense is slow and lacks talent, the prospects rarely ever pan out, and the organization offered an eight-year, $84-million contract to a goaltender who has consistently been injured since 2013. Overall, from the front to the back-end, this team has tons of holes.
For those begging management to trade Price, please note that you are exactly two years too late. His value was at its highest after he won four trophies in the NHL and took home the Canadian Male Athlete of the Year award, along with having a very easily absorbed $6.5-million annual average salary. No intelligent hockey mind would take on Price’s contract whether some of his salary is retained or not because it would only be a matter of time before he misses games due to injuries (or a plethora of countless other rumours; have your pick).
Moreover, ticket, concession, and memorabilia prices continue to rise at astronomical and unbelievable rates– season ticket holders were insulted by the 28% increase in 2016 after missing the playoffs and being charged a ticket printing fee of $150 per seat in 2017– while the entertainment value of this hockey club plummets faster than support for Donald Trump.
Come Together, Habs Fans
So what, then, can bring Canadiens fans together again? There is a trend that seems to put people on the same page.
For instance, fans are starting to think that trading Price is realistic when the very thought was deemed blasphemous for years.
Additionally, less people are buying tickets and attending games at the Bell Centre.
Unfortunately for the economy, this also means that less consumers are going out to bars or restaurants like they once did, and I am hard-pressed to find Canadiens flags on cars when not too long ago, they were nearly impossible to get one’s hands on.
Moreover and most importantly, I’ve noticed that the term “rebuild” is being thrown around more than ever. For as long as I can remember, there’s been a belief that this would never work because of the fans in Montreal; that this simply would not “fly” with diehards.
Now, it looks like those who have been talking about a rebuild for years are finally having their voices heard and many are starting to adhere to this thought.
This isn’t to say that rebuilding is a guaranteed way of ensuring that five or six years after the fact, NHL franchises are necessarily considered Stanley Cup contenders. Teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, and the Vancouver Canucks have had varying degrees of success after “tanking” and attempting to stockpile high draft picks, as per Rory Boylen’s Sportsnet article. (NOTE: not all of the aforementioned teams are listed in Boylen’s article.)
However, when was the last time the Canadiens actually went through the gruelling process of consistently finishing at or near the bottom of the league’s standings for a few years while collecting top-five or top-ten draft picks? As far as my research is concerned, this is a phenomenon that has yet to occur and I truly believe that I am not alone in hoping the organization does what’s right and blows this team up.
In my opinion, this is the only realistic solution to turning this once-proud franchise around and ensure that it yet again becomes the dynasty that once upon a time, brought Montrealers together.