Monday, August 30, 2010

Starting Over

A friend of mine has been a Canadiens fan for thirty years. He grew up with the great '70s dynasty on Hockey Night In Canada every Saturday evening. Now, his boys are fans too, with posters of their heroes on the bedroom wall and dreams of being those guys when they shoot countless orange balls until the street lights come on. Last week, my friend ordered a St.Louis Blues sweater with Jaroslav Halak's name on the back. When I asked him about it, he said "They finally lost me."

I think there hasn't been as polarizing an issue among Habs fans as the Halak versus Carey Price debate, at least not in recent memory. In comparison, the Kovy vs. Koivu leadership argument, the "Gainey good/Gainey bad" discussion and the lamenting over the 2003 draft are mere quibbles. We may have to look back to the Patrick Roy trade to find an issue about which Habs fans were quite so emotional.

I confess, I don't really understand why this has happened. Nobody was going nuts about whether Lapierre or Latendresse was the better player to the point of personal insult, even though people had opinions on the subject. Even though Lats got traded, nobody went off the deep end about how the team will regret it forever and how Lats will lead the Wild to the Cup...just you watch! Sure, people expressed disappointment in or appreciation of the trade, but it didn't divide Habs fandom down the middle like Moses parting the Red Sea. I know only one goalie can play at a time, and fans of one think their guy could have done better than the other in every loss, but the depth of passion around the two netminders is astonishing.

Today, Halak's agent, Allan Walsh, announced Jaro's plan to sign autographs in Montreal on Saturday, and donate the proceeds to a children's hospital. This has apparently caused some Price fans to suspect it's a PR stunt arranged by Walsh to embarrass the Canadiens. Then there are the ones who won't speak Halak's name anymore; the ones who say he's "the enemy" because he's no longer a Canadien. Lots of people who were "converted" and raving about Halak's heroics in the playoffs now dismiss him and say his efforts weren't really THAT important to the post-season run. On the other side, there are the Halak fans who say Price hasn't signed yet because he's trying to stiff the team for an oversized, undeserved raise since he's got the team over a goaltending barrel. Others are mocking Price's rodeo passtime and painting him as a lackadaisical cowboy, more interested in country music than hockey. The nasty comments are completely out of whack for a fanbase that was lucky enough to have two good, young goalies that most other teams' fans would have been thrilled to have.

With the new season approaching, though, it's time for all Canadiens fans to start over. I know hockey fanatics thrive on the "what ifs" and "if onlys" years after a trade is made, but for the good of our team and our mental health, all of us have to look forward.

This is how I'm looking at it: I really thought Halak was the goalie who gave my team the best chance to win, and I thought his competitive spirit was something special. I was hoping the team would hold onto both him and Price for another year because I thought it was too early to pick one or the other for the long term. However, Pierre Gauthier decided to trade Halak away. I didn't like the trade and I think Halak will have a really good NHL career. BUT, I'm a Habs fan, so whether I agree with the trade or not, Carey Price, when he signs, will be my team's goalie and I will cheer for him with all my heart. If he has a bad year, it's bad for the Canadiens and anybody who hopes he'll suck just to vindicate their opposition to the trade or support for Halak isn't a Habs fan. I'll always have the greatest respect and appreciation for what Halak did in the playoffs, but I'll now be cheering for Lars Eller and Carey Price to fulfill their promise.

When Price leads the team out on the ice at the ACC on October 7, there will be a ton of Canadiens supporters in the crowd. If they're really fans, they'll cheer themselves hoarse for him and the rest of his teammates just because they're the Montreal Canadiens, and they're playing on enemy ice. When the home-opener comes around on October 13, I hope the Bell Centre crowd will cheer Price on, even if they bought Halak sweaters during the playoffs. The kid, and the rest of the team, need support and patience. They're not going to win every game, and they're not going to get a shutout in every win.

The bottom line is, we fans have no say about what managers do or why they do it. Our job is to support all the players wearing our team's sweater. Price may have his struggles again this season, but it won't be any easier for him if fans start booing him after every mistake. We have to remember that, whatever we thought of Halak or the trade, it's in the best interest of our team to support the goalie we've got left. As long as he's a Canadien, he's on our side and we should be on his. It's a new year and a new beginning.

Of course, all that being said, we're fans and fans like to study stats, compare players and propose imaginary trades. We also like to criticize. While I think there's certainly room for that...after all, in the heat of a game, if Price gives up a stinker we're not all going to say "That's okay, Pricey. You'll get 'em next time." We're going to complain about his five-hole or his giveaways or his losing sight of the puck AGAIN. That's okay, but we need to be a little bit forgiving and let it go afterwards.

Like it or not, Price is the goalie our team's got now. He deserves a clean start, no matter what's happened before. Fans need to be willing to give him that much. Otherwise, I hear there's a good deal going on St.Louis Blues sweaters.


Jessica and Stephan said...

Well said, and it needed to be said! :) Good job as always, JT

dishonest john said...

Good points, shades of Brisebois. Price will make mistakes but as you said booing him won't help him play better. Does you friend also have a Koivu Anaheim jersey, a Kovalev Ottawa sweater, and really making a statement a Lafleur NYR/Nordique jersey? It is tough when our heroes leave our favourite team and that certainly happens more than it used to but someone said you cheer for the logo on the front not the name on the back.

Anonymous said...

Good one J.T. This is a chance for Halak to make some money, and he has earned that chance. Even as we mutter about it can you imagine what is going through his head? He has Ty Conklin to split the duties, but Ty is coming up on UFA and probably his last decent contract. Jake Allen is coming up as well, and he was pretty darn good in the WJC and Q.

I too think you should be a fan of the team, not of the player. A certain segment of fandom won't let it go though. They wouldn't let it go on Brisbois, they wouldn't let it go on Riberio, or Huet, or...well you fill in the name. They boo for the sake of booing. They boo Lecavalier, they boo Crosby, they boo Ovy, simply because they are good players. What on earth does that say about the person doing the booing?

All this negative talk over the summer is really depressing. Not about the team, it will be great as usual. What is depressing is being associated with a fan community that continually rolls back to the same subject poked open by a few malcontents. I swear someone could tell them Crosby and Ovy had been traded to the team for draft picks and they would scream for Gauthier's head on a pike because Huet was available but had to go to Europe.

AndyF said...

Halak was great for us. He made the team gel in front of him. Price did not.

The trade was a terrible one for the Habs, who are now more exposed than they were.

Being a Habs fan does not preclude commenting on a terrible trade when it happens. This will not make the team better.

Anonymous said...

Well I was upset when Latendresse was traded and I was sure the habs would regret it. I'm also depressed that Halak is gone, ditto Perezhogin, Desjardin, and MacDonagh (not unhappy to have Gomez, but why go easy on Sather?). I'm also annoyed by all the draft picks traded for rentals.

But I am seriously, seriously relieved Subban is still there, and very eager to see Markov on the first pairing and Subban on the second.

I also vividly remember checking the Calder Cup stats during Price's run (shots 40-8 against, but the dogs are up 2-0, typical night) and I think there is a good possibility that he will have a better season at 24 then Halak did, assuming he ever gets over his injury.

Anonymous said...

Part of the reason this issue is so polarizing is that strong arguments can be made either way, which is another way of saying that there was not a bad choice here for management; trading either goalie makes the team better. Although I was a huge Halak fan, you have to respect management for trading Halak when his perceived value was highest, getting a top prospect. The downside is that Price is yet unproven in the NHL and unlikely to stay long term, but most would agree there is huge potential there. I find it ironic that although this trade gets the most criticism, resolving the goalie situation was the easiest move of the summer. The real question is whether or not the 3rd and 4th lines are good enough and whether or not the second line can score. I wish the Habs had too many goal scorers and had to trade one. That would be a good problem.

Anonymous said...

For better or worse this is now Price's team. We couldnt keep both goalies and Plekanec. We traded the one that would ruin our cap situation and kept the high potential.

The problem with trading Price would have been the Joe Thornton, Roberto Luongo scenario.

Do you want to be the GM that traded away a franchise player? Halak is a quality #1 goalie. He is never going to be a "franchise" player. Price might still become that franchise player.

In the world of the GM it is better to have your franchise wannabe fail and wash out than to have traded them away and have them succeed.

Gauthier would have been pilloried in the media and run out of town if he traded away Price only to see Price fulfill his promise. Better to get a good player or two for Halak and hope to hell that Price comes into his own.

Price is more than capable of playing up to the #1 role. Mgmt and the coaches obviously felt he was ready. Eller is a top, top prospect. This guy is considered to be in the same class as PK Subban. This is no bum. As long as Price plays average hockey we are a better team with Eller in the lineup.

V said...

Good post JT.

Expectations have shifted for these two... Jaro finds himself stepping into a situation where he is expected to be the man out of the gate. No more shy, hardworking understudy who steals the lead role. He deserves his new status as a 'go to guy' and I hope he can pull it off, but it's a whole new world for him. St. Louis expects him to be very good and a slow start might be very hard on his confidence.

Price is in a different situation. Expectations are lower for him than they have been at any other time in his Habs career. As long as he is not the reason the team is losing, he will be OK - at least until December. I suspect the team has made it clear to him that his start is less important to them than his finish and he will be given the chance to build momentum.

Paul B. said...

I was born and raised just a few blocks from the Forum and have been a fan since 1956. Even though I have not been at the Forum or Bell Center often, (I have been to Royals and Juniors games much more often) I believe that non-Montrealers have a wrong impression of what's going on when spectators boo at the Bell Center.

With the possible exception of Brisebois and goalers, people will boo what they consider a lack of efforts from a player. I'm sure that McPhee, Skrudland, Carbonneau, Nilan and a bunch of others were never booed even if their talent was nowhere near BĂ©liveau, Cournoyer, Lafleur and other very talented players .

As for goalers, I believe that in most cases the booing is intended towards the coach. When people paying an astronomic price to witness games are not happy with the team in general or with management, they will often boo and it may look that one player might be the target.

As for Brisebois, he was possibly the most overpaid and overated player in the history of the franchise and people resented that. He was also targeted by a minority of racist English speaking fans who used him as a venting outlet for their growing frustration with the team and with life in general in a French speaking environnement.

J.T. said...

@Paul B: Maybe *some* fans have a higher purpose behind their booing (although I think a chilly silence or walking out altogether would get the message about a lack of effort across even better). I think most fans, especially in this age of internet immaturity, do it because it's the easy thing to do when they don't like what they see. Mad the team is losing? Boo the goalie. Give him a round of mocking applause on an easy save. Montreal fans did it to Plante, Dryden and Roy, so it's nothing new to see a goalie take the heat for a loss. Every one of those goalies wrote or talked about how it felt to be treated that way, and I think if it happens to Price again this year, it's not going to help him at all.

Anonymous said...

Great post JT. I was around when the Habs traded Harvey and Plante so seeing Halak go doesn't mean much to me. I, like you, felt more confident in the Habs when Halak was starting, but Price is every bit as good and will do very well if only the fans embrace him. Why they don't is beyond me. The Habs are my team and I still get goose bumps seeing that sweater no matter who is wearing it. I might buy a Blues jersey for 10 bucks but probably not.

Paul B. said...

@J.T.: About 25 years ago, the Habs were not doing great and the fans were not happy. On a Saturday night, they were beaten real bad (something like 7-1) and the fans were really mad.

The next day, there was an old timers game at the Forum and Serge Savard (by then the GM) was in uniform. When he was introduced, he was booed like maybe no one else had ever been or has been booed since.

While I agree this was brutal, rude, classless and everything else you might add, it was a rare chance for the fans to show their disappointment. So, they booed. I, contend that behind boos, there is often an ulterior motive.

While I have never booed a Hab player (I have always thought the ticket prices were ridiculously high, so I seldom went) I can certainly understand the occasional booing.

If owners, GM's and coaches gave the fans a chance to boo them on certain occasions, perhaps the players would hear less booing....

I sincerely hope the Montreal fans will give Price a chance to demonstrate his talent and his presumed new found attitude and maturity.

BTW, this was Savard's last presence on the ice until the 4th of December 2009. I'm sure you remember that one.