Once again, Murphy’s Law is about to set out on another voyage up north to what is slowly becoming my second home, Montreal. Looking forward to seeing my wonderful friends there, sleeping in the comfy confines of Hotel Montreal, and visiting my favorite haunts like Hurley’s Irish Pub and Brutopia Brew Pub on Crescent Street.
Speaking of Montreal and, more specifically, the Canadiens, I am suddenly public enemy No. 1 there, and my approval ratings are approaching those of George W. Bush’s presidency. Comes with the job, I guess, but man, I am taking a beating up there. The maelstrom of criticism stems from an interview I did earlier this summer where I said that the Habs, a once-storied franchise, have become a “laughingstock” during the last year because of the colossal collapse they had in 2008-09 and the questionable offseason they have had thus far. As we all know, Montreal went from first place in the Eastern Conference in 2007-08 with a trip to the second round of the playoffs, to an eighth-place finish and a sweep at the hands of their archrival Bruins, a team they had dominated the season before.
But things didn’t just go bad on the ice. They arguably were even worse off the ice. The story of the team being up for sale broke. Players were linked to mobsters but cleared of any wrongdoing. Goaltender Carey Price’s social life was under scrutiny. And basically, anything that could go wrong seemed to happen to what has to be considered one of professional sports’ most successful franchises in what was supposed to be a celebration of their 100th anniversary.
Head coach Guy Carbonneau was eventually fired and replaced by general manager Bob Gainey, but Gainey couldn’t pull his team out of its downward spiral, and his moves became scrutinized. But in comparison to previous seasons, Gainey did not wait to answer his critics and has been very active in the offseason. He first hired a new head coach in Jacques Martin and then went out and acquired forward Scott Gomez. He then signed unrestricted free agent forwards Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri and Travis Moen and defensemen Jaroslav Spacek, Paul Mara and Hal Gill.
In the process, the Canadiens waved goodbye to some character guys in captain Saku Koivu, forward Tom Kostopoulos and defenseman Mike Komisarek. They also bid adieu to the controversial Alex Kovalev.
Knowing that I spend a lot of time in Montreal and am familiar with some of the players, many NHL scouts and executives have on numerous occasions questioned me on what I thought the Habs were trying to do and how a team that seemed to be on the right track could collapse and become a “laughingstock.” So for all of those out there, including some media folks who asked how I could be so “harsh” and “insult” an organization like the Canadiens that way, it stemmed from all that’s happened with the Habs over the past year, and I still agree with that assessment.
Sure, the jury is out on how these offseason moves will pan out in 2009-10, but the team never addressed one of its biggest needs up front: size. And with the amount of money Gainey had to spend, that seemed like an attainable task. There are rumors that Gainey is not done dealing and could be on the verge of a deal with Dallas that would send defenseman Roman Hamrlik packing.
There have also been numerous reports linking the Sharks and Habs in possible trade talks. Sharks GM Doug Wilson has said his team needed a face-lift and has yet to really give it one, but the names of forwards Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff keep popping up. How about Joe Thornton as a Hab? That would really spice up what is already a great rivalry with Boston.
Regardless of what Gainey does before the season starts, there really are no positive spins to put on the Habs’ 2008-09 season, and I stand by my comments that, in many circles, they have become a laughingstock due to all their on- and off-ice turmoil. For those who know me and have read and listened to me, I have defended Montreal and praised them when I see fit. My friends will tell you how I still stand by Price and believe, whether it’s in Montreal or elsewhere, he will be a success. (Now watch the bashing that statement takes from Bruins fans below.) But the bottom line is that the Canadiens fell apart over last season, and to deny that or to blame it on outside influences as soon-to-be former owner George Gillett did here is simply absurd.
Trust me, should the Bruins have a Montreal-like collapse this season — as Conor McKenna, my friend and colleague from The Team 990, has pointed out is very possible — I will question and criticize them just as much. Should the Red Wings or Penguins do the same, then that will be pointed out, too. This has nothing to do with being from Boston, but it's just an objective reporter calling it as he sees it.
To be continued. On the road again and wouldn’t mind being on the road with these fellows.