In 1993 the Montreal Canadians sat atop the hockey world as NHL champions for the 24th time after the beat Wayne Gretzky and his Los Angeles Kings in five games.
At the time they were the most storied franchise in sports holding more titles than any other franchise and a history that is only comparable with The New York Yankees in terms of legendary.
19 years later the Habs have gone from powerful to a punch line.
They’ve watched the Yankees win five titles reaching 27 total, and when I mean watch they have literally been in the backseat or on the side of the road watching them pass by.
It started with the infamous Patrick Roy trade to the Colorado Avalanche, which birthed a mini dynasty in Denver, and has since morphed into a smorgasbord of futility that has been rarely viewed in French-Canadia.
They’ve missed the playoffs 6 times in the last 19 years, in the previous 80 years they had missed the playoffs 7 times…7!!
They’ve had one trip to the conference finals, one division title, eight different coaches and not a lick of consistency behind the bench or on the ice.
The city that was home to some of the games greatest goal scorers and game breakers like Maurice Richard and Guy Lafluer hasn’t had any punch in their lineup since the late 70′s or so it would seem. Their last scoring champ was Lafluer in 1978, the last winner of the Norris trophy was Chris Chelios in 1989, last MVP was Jose Theodore in 2001. More on goalies later.
They’ve gone from great names who came through in great situations to relying on Scott Gomez to do their heavy lifting (ask the Rangers about how that goes).
What happened? When did the Yankees of hockey become the New York Mets? The Habs have gone from kings to jesters. The team that was feared by feared by many in the league are very close to becoming a doormat.
They used to own the Boston Bruins, their primary rival, they’ve lost two straight playoff series to them including a 2-0 lead last year. The Maple Leafs, who were in the same position last year are battling for a playoff spot and could appear in next years Winter Classic. The Red Wings have overtaken them as the standard for excellence in the NHL. It doesn’t make any sense.
Lets go back to the Roy departure for a bit. Roy was the face of the Habs after his remarkable burst onto the scene as a 20 year-old wunderkind who lead the Habs to a win in the 1986 Stanley cup over the Calgary Flames. His Conn Smythe performance earned him a place in Canadiens lore and he carried it with him into the 90′s which included another masterful performance in the team’s last Stanley Cup win in 1993 over The Los Angeles Kings.
Then 2 years later during an 11-1 beatdown in Montreal at the hands of the Red Wings, Roy was pulled after giving up nine goals on 26 shots. Stormed off of the bench and as he walked by Habs president Pat Jablonski he said “It’s my last game in Montreal.”
Four days later he was in Denver to begin a great run with the Colorado Avalanche and the Habs haven’t recovered since.
Ever since Roy’s departure not only have the Habs struggles on the ice but in net as well.
The franchise that brought us legends like Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and Roy hasn’t come close to producing another great in net since Roy’s departure.
The fans in Montreal have been treated to the likes of Mathieu Garon, Cristobal Huet, Stephane Fiset and Jocelyn Thibault.
And yes I know Jose Theodore did win a Hart Trophy and a Vezina but Theodore was more fizzle than sizzle, hence why he lost his job to Huet.
Recently Montreal has been trying to sell itself on Carey Price who has had more ups and downs than any young goalie should ever have. His career has mirrored the luck of the Canadiens as of late, some games he looks like a Vezina candidate, others he looks like a career backup.
You can’t solely place the blame on Price, especially this season. Without him in net Montreal has only won 2 of it’s 17 games. His offense boasts only 3 ten goal scorers and is ranked in the bottom half of the NHL.
It’s been an abysmal wreck and it’s led to Montreal’s last place standing in the Northeast division even after two straight playoff appearances where it looked like Montreal was on it’s way back to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Who’s to blame? The organization? The players? The high expectations of the fans?
Recently Mike Cammelleri lashed out at his Habs teammates for developing “a losing mentality”… he was rewarded by being traded to the Calgary Flames and was browbeaten in a French newspaper who’s headline read “One Less Loser.”
In Cammy’s defense what should he have said? He’s a leader, if you’re not playing well you deserve to be called out for it. What does it say about an organization when it trades a guy for giving an honest and truthful opinion about how his team is playing?
The Habs can’t be coddled like little boys, they are grown men that are wilting under the expectations the come with putting on that red, white and blue sweater. The organization can’t try to hide it or punish people for saying it, it’s right there for everyone to see.
Is this what it’s come to in Montreal? Greatness to mediocrity? The Canadiens are drowning in it and are in desperate need of a raft.
This team needs an identity, a face, a proper direction to be lead in because they’ve been going in circles for nearly 20 years.
The organization that at one time could say that they were on par with the New York Yankees is now lagging behind.
Can they recover? Can they ever find a coach that can withstand the pressure associated with the organization? What’s next for the Montreal Canadiens?
They better have some answers and soon. You can only wallow in mediocrity so long before everyone stops caring and then you become a team of losers.