Oh boy, did the Greeks ever know what they were talking about when they came up with "hubris!" Merriam-Webster defines the term as "exaggerated pride or self-confidence." What the definition doesn't say, though, is that in traditional Greek tragedy hubris always leads to conflict and punishment. Is that the Habs this year or what?
They started the season with such great hopes...remember that? It seems so far away now. But all the pundits were calling for the Canadiens to represent the East in the Stanley Cup finals. And why not? They were coming off a great season last year: first in the conference, 104 points, the league-leading PP and a charmed season on the injury front. They lost to the Flyers in the playoffs because they couldn't score and because Carey Price was a sieve. No matter though...Bob Gainey went out and acquired Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang to boost the offence and Price's problems were supposed to be behind him after he had a good long summer rest and worked hard to lose thirty pounds of fat some bad habits had allowed to build up. Gainey also hired Georges Laraque to address the common perception that the team isn't tough enough. All in all, we were positive going into the year for the first time in recent memory.
This was a team that was building on a great year and had added some really good players to make it better. Then the hubris kicked in. We all thought the pundits were right, and the Habs were a lock for the Finals this year. We watched the team's quick start with supreme confidence and great pride, even though some niggling signs of coming troubles were foreshadowed in the team's winning games even though the players only seemed to show up for a period or so. Sure, we thought, they're just getting their groove going and they'll roll through the league this season. As we know, though, hubris comes with punishment.
Then the injuries started. Koivu, Komisarek, Tanguay, Higgins, Latendresse, Price, Laraque, Dandenault, Bouillon and Lang all suffered serious injuries that cost them dozens of games out of the lineup. Still though, the team managed to struggle on and keep winning through the first wave of injuries. But, hubris also comes with conflict.
So we saw players accused of unspecified, but irresponsible off-ice behaviour and of caring more about the next party than the next game. We saw veterans like Mathieu Dandenault and Steve Begin, who bleed for the team, complain about their roles. We saw players connected to bad people in very specified and irresponsible ways. We saw Begin shipped out of town and Carbonneau fired. Conflict there has been, without a doubt. As the Greeks used to say, "Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make proud."
The upside of all of this is that in the tragedies, even though hubris comes with a fall from grace, the heroes recognize their flaws and we see catharsis. They become purged of the pride that lead to their downfall and face Fate as diminished, but purified people. (If they live.)
I have a strange, and completely unjustified idea that the Habs have been disabused of any notion that they're entitled to anything or that they're better than anyone else. I haven't had much hope the team is going to win even a game at a time since Christmas. So, maybe it's the smell of spring in the air, or the longer evenings, but it's starting to feel like playoff weather. And I can't stop hoping the worst is over and the team will make the post-season, improving as it goes. It can't actually get worse (right?) and all the injuries, save Lang and whatever Komisarek is hiding, are better. Bob Gainey knows hockey, and he'll get them on track system-wise. The goalies are playing better and the special teams are doing pretty well. There are positives, and even the Ranger game was better than the game before.
Maybe the heroes we saw in the fall thought too much of themselves, and we thought too much of them in turn. Maybe now they know they're not meant to be the champions they expected to be. Perhaps they understand there's dirt and grit and sweat before there's glory. Who needs tragic heroes anyway? I always liked the underdog better.
So, go Habs go. I don't know how long my new-found optimism will last, but I do hope the team will at least follow the example of its own Greek hero and work as hard as Kostopoulos. If they do that, my optimism will be justified and the lesson of hubris will have been learned...by them and by us.