Aug 12, 2000
August is already here, as a Montrealer there has not been much to be proud of this summer in sports (except for the Als) as the Expos are definitely out of any pennant (or wild card) race they had a chance for and are almost out of town. That brings us to the eternal Habs. In fact one of the biggest events, sporting or otherwise, to happen in Montreal over the past year was the passing of the legendary Maurice "Rocket" Richard.
Ahh the Habs. What would Montreal, the province of Québec, or even all of French Canada be without them? They are hockey's equivalent of the New York Yankees, the Boston Celtics and Manchester United. They are hockey in Canada (hence the Canadiens) and French-speaking Canadians have always felt a special bond with this team.
What has made this team special historically is that it brought together this Francophone pride together with English talent and grit. Just think of the names like Howie Morenz, Frank and Peter Mahovolich, Dickie Moore, John Ferguson, Ken Dryden, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson, and Bob Gainey.
All this beautiful history brings us to the current edition of the Habs, sure they still have the mix of French and English with names like Alain Vigneault, Patrice Brisebois and Benoit Brunet (in fact they even brought back former captain Guy Carbonneau as assistant GM) and others like Jeff Hackett, Eric Weinrich and Brian Savage. In fact they have even gone international recently with guys like Saku Koivu and Martin Rucinsky. This is all fine, dandy, beautiful and definitely politically correct. But putting a winning hockey team on the ice in the year 2000 has nothing to do with that, it has to do with getting the best possible players on the ice you can within your budget.
Earlier I compared the Canadiens to the Yankees, Celtics and Manchester United, that is true historically but not anymore. The Yankees have won 3 of the last 4 World Series (and are a serious contender this season), the Celtics should be making the playoffs but have been badly managed in recent years and Manchester United was purchased recently for 1 billion dollars American. Meanwhile, the Canadiens are financially the equivalent, and hence talent equivalent, of the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres (except Florida and Buffalo are lucky enough to have mega super stars in Pavel Bure and Dominik Hasek).
This means the Habs will be relegated to be "aiming for a playoff spot" again next season. In this city that just doesn't cut it, people want and expect the Canadiens to contend for the Stanley cup every year. Obviously those are not legitimate expectations because no team in any sport can contend year in year out, not even the Yankees, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys or Los Angeles Lakers. The real problem though lies in the fact that teams like the Canadiens who have an average or low pay scale (compared to their league) will never be true contenders. Of course you will have the odd surprise like this past years New Jersey Devils who won the Cup instead of higher salaried Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings or Dallas Stars. But that is the exception (and it's not as if the Devils have a LOW salary structure they have high priced guys like Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Jason Arnott). These middle-of-the-road teams will always be middle of the road. Hockey is now just like the other major north American team sport where you have 5-6 teams that can buy any player at any price (and they do), about 20 or so teams which are middle-of-the-roaders and the final 5-6 that bring up the rear are either "re-building" or in hockey's case - expansion teams.
What all this means is that next season we can already predict that among teams like the New York Rangers, Flyers, Stars, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs and Red Wings will be contenders (there might be some who do not because of different things such as injuries, bad team chemistry or anything else like we saw with last year's Rangers) and of course some middle-of-the-road team(s) will surprise (the Sabres from 2 years ago, this past season's Devils and Washington Capitals), but all in all we pretty much know what the next 82-game regular season and 90 days of playoffs will result in.
In the mean time all us CH fans can do is hope for less injuries and that our beloved Habs be the upset team of the...millennium.
Hey maybe the Expos will catch up to the Mets and be the NL wild card ;)
To our delight here at hockeyfights.net, this article has been re-released on hockeyrage.com.
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