While we're all wondering about how the new Habs will look in the coming season, and if they'll live up to their new salaries and expectations, we already have an answer to one of the questions we were asking ourselves this time last year. Remember back then? Bob Gainey announced he'd signed Georges Laraque for 1.5 million for three years. We were wondering how having the NHL's heavyweight champion in the lineup would help our team repeat as conference champs.
I remember it. Habs fans were shouting from the rooftops, "You won't beat up on us anymore, NHL." Steve Begin was grinning, talking about how the whole team would feel two inches taller with Big Georges on their side. Laraque was supposed to be the toughness the team had seemed to lack in its playoff exit at the hands of the Flyers two months before. I also remember thinking I didn't like the pricetag for Laraque's "services" and I didn't think the team needed a full-fledged goon. I thought it needed a team-toughness approach, and Guy Carbonneau agreed. But Gainey bought Laraque and we know what happened after that.
Laraque was hurt for most of the year, and when he did play, he was a terrible disappointment. He was slow, ineffective and worst of all, he wouldn't fight the people he needed to fight...because they said "no thanks" to his polite requests to rumble. Now Gainey's up against the cap and there's not a lot of room to manouver. When you look at ways to improve the team, you have to think Laraque's got to go.
Big Georges is, without doubt, big and strong. He can fight like a pitbull when he wants to do so. But he's also a flake. Don't get me wrong, he's a nice flake. Salt of the earth. But he's got these ideas in his head about honour among goons that just don't work in the role he's expected to play.
A couple of months ago I had an email exchange with Laraque, about the seal hunt. As we know, the big guy has decided to go veggie, and that's great as a personal lifestyle choice. However, PETA pounced on his decision to change the way he eats and used him to promote its own agenda. They wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, austensibly from Laraque, and had him sign it. Needless to say, it contained some ridiculous propaganda and it made me really angry. I've heard PETA and the other groups who make money by villifying sealers propogate many lies over the years, but for some reason, when they used the celebrity of an ill-informed hockey player to promote their cause, it got to me. So, I emailed Laraque and told him the truth. I told him about the federal monitoring of the hunt and the uses of the seal carcass, including as heart replacement valves in humans and in the nutrition of third-world children. I told him about the overabundance of seals and their destruction of the fish populations, and about the vet-approved methods of killing the animals as humanely as possible. Laraque was very receptive, and polite. But his question to me was, "Would God want us to eat animals?"
I found his logic in this issue very similar to his logic about The Code by which he fights. He has it in his head that he can't fight anyone who's not also a goon, because it wouldn't be fair. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. The cheap shot guys win the day. It's those guys who inspire fear among the opposition because players know they don't play fair and are willing to hurt. They don't fear Laraque and his Code because they can just say no and everything will be fine.
So, the Canadiens are now paying a guy a million and a half bucks a year to be slow on a team of speedsters, to be polite in a job that requires rudeness, and to be offensively petrified on a team that feeds off skill.
The conclusion is Big Georges has to go. The Canadiens can't afford a buyout in case there's a cap drop next year. It's not likely anyone wants to trade for his contract. So, Gainey needs to waive Laraque. If no one claims him, he'll have to toil in Hamilton, which is about the level he should be playing at anyhow. Laraque, while he might have had skill outside fighting to be an NHL player once, has it no longer.
I hope this is resolved by the time the season starts.