Now that our captain has departed for sunnier, distant climes, the rest of us (and Mathieu Dandenault) remain standing here, staring blankly around in the rubble of what was once our hockey team. Emerging from the dust cloud are a whole bunch of new guys for whom we're supposed to be cheering in a couple of months. Right now, the shock from the explosion is too deep to even contemplate embracing the newcomers. But as reality starts to settle in for us, our first question has to be, "what kind of team has Bob Gainey installed in place of the one we used to love?" Closely followed by "who are these guys, anyway?"
The good thing about this is there's no answer to that question right now. No learned pundit can say whether the Habs will be a first-place or a last-place team with any credibility because nobody has a clue. I think it's good that whatever this new team turns out to be, it will develop its identity without any outside expectations. Expectations undoubtedly played some part in last year's complete collapse.
Looking at the collection of new guys, however, we can start to make some educated guesses about what we might see. Those who've complained in the past that the Habs had no identity will now be able to stop. If you can say Cammalleri, Gomez, Gionta, Plekanec, the Kostitsyns, Lapierre, Stewart and Metropolit have anything in common, it's that they're fast. Really, really fast. The big complaint about this group is that there're not a whole lot of bruisers among them. But it's becoming obvious that Gainey's vision for the team is one of a fast, skilled group that relies more on quickness and brains than brawn. So, the team has an identity. We may not like it, but there is one.
Leadership is the next question. With Andrei Markov standing as the longest-serving Hab and the team's best player, he'd be a natural choice for captain if it weren't for his quiet nature. Maybe a chance to step forward and be a leader will be good for him. Maybe he doesn't want the challenge. Either way, the leadership question will be resolved with Markov. If he wants to be captain, I think he will. If not, I expect there will be a leadership-by-committee approach with three assistant captains instead. In the end, I think we'll see the three "A" solution, at least until Christmas. Considering the uncertainty about all the changes within the team, I think sharing the leadership role is the best thing for the new players. It's like lying on a bed of nails. Lie on one nail and it pierces your skin. Lie on a whole bunch of them and the weight distrbution minimizes the pain. I think in giving responsibility for the team to several players, the resulting pressure will be significantly reduced.
I hope as the shock lessens, we will learn to like...even love...the new Habs. The drama this summer is really unfair to them because they're coming in for a new start and the first thing they'll have to do is answer a whole bunch of questions about how they're going to replace the guys who have left. That's why I'm going to ignore the predictions and the expectations and the questions and the contracts. I'm going to look at the arrival of the new Habs as the beginning of a new era and find something to like about each of them. They've done their part by agreeing to play their best for our team. Now we have to do ours by welcoming them without comparisons and reservations.
They're coming to rebuild on the site where our team used to stand. It's not going to be easy, with the memories of the recently fallen hovering at the Bell Centre. But the least we can do is give them a chance.