As the Habs' fortunes spiral ever lower this season, I think we're being a little too hard on the players. They're not gods. They're not even superheroes. The time has come for us to take a moment and think about the fact that these are just young men trying to earn a living like everybody else.
These guys play hockey...one of the roughest pro sports on the plant...at the highest level. That means they have to spend an hour of their lives on the ice nearly every single day, six months of the year. Then they probably have to spend another hour in the gym to make sure their bodies remain in tip-top shape. That's two entire hours of physical exertion just about every single day. Add another hour for physical therapy if they've got an injury, and they're at risk of pushing lunch back. That's not healthy when you're talking about a job that requires regular sustenence in order to remain in peak condition. Adding to their burden are the obligatory team-mandated public appearances, which often interfere with their afternoon naps. There's also the serious risk of carpal tunnel syndrome and/or bordom from the repetitive signing of autographs.
So, considering the physical stress NHL players must endure, it's unconscionable that just because they didn't have their best night in Nashville they should lose their precious, necessary day off. How can Jacques Martin expect his players to perform when he's forcing them to practice on a day when they had planned to sleep in? Not to mention making them skate hard for a full eight minutes at the end of practice. Eight minutes! Is he trying to kill them? Thank heavens they got today off instead, or who knows what we could expect to see from them against Carolina. Nothing good, you can be sure.
Look at poor, young, exhausted Guillaume Latendresse as an example of how physically demanding an NHL job can be. The guy is so wrung out, he was probably secretly glad to be scratched from the Nashville game. Unfortunately for him, when Brian Gionta went down with an injury just before puck-drop, Latendresse had to be rooted up from his well-deserved sleep back at the hotel. To add insult to injury, he was then expected to suit up and play a full 7:54 of hockey while still groggy. Who can blame him if he didn't register in the boxscore? You wouldn't perform well either, if people expected you to interrupt your after-supper nap for a shift at work.
People point to the money the players make as justification for unrealistic expectations. But it's just money. It can't buy extra talent or energy. Think about it. Would you be able to perform better at your job if you made seven figures instead of five? Would you be more dedicated or feel like you needed to work harder to earn all that dirty old money? I mean, come on! That's the coach's job. He's the guy who's supposed to push the right buttons and motivate the players to want to earn the millions. If he can't do his job, we can't blame the players for sucking. It's not their fault nobody's prodding them to play better.
Then you have to look at the pressure they face. Careers are short in hockey. The players have to make sure they set themselves up for life in just a few years. It's unrealistic to expect a man, probably almost forty when he retires from hockey, to go out and get a soft job like regular people after he's been used to the hard life of pro sports.
So it's time we fans think a little bit about that hard life. The hours of training every week. The stress of first class travel. The buckets of dirty old money and the pressure that comes with it. And as we think about that, we should have a little more compassion for the players. We need to stop expecting them to perform at the top of their game when sometimes they don't even get the day off when they were promised they would. We have to remember they're constantly dealing with the near-harrassment of pretty women wanting to bed them and business people insisting on giving them free stuff. Then there's the embarrassment of having to answer some very personal questions posed by the voracious media every single day. Questions like why they keep losing and why they can't score goals or keep the puck out of their net. They just can't escape the scrutiny that comes with being an elite athlete, so we need to give them a break.
After all, we're the ones who'll lose out if we're not kinder to the players. If the fans' displeasure becomes too stressful, they might start dogging it during games. They'll tune out the coach and stop playing his system. Then they'll start quitting on the goalies during games and losing more than they win. And we wouldn't want that to happen.