Friday, September 3, 2010

A Course of Action

There's a lot to look forward to in the new hockey season, especially now that the Carey Price Two Step has wrapped up, to the satisfaction of all but a few disgruntled fanatics who think he's desperately overpaid. With that settled, the new question up for debate is who will be the next captain? The consensus is that it will almost certainly be one of Markov, Cammalleri, Gionta or Gorges, with Gionta probably in the lead and Gorges a sentimental favourite. Regardless of which man Jacques Martin chooses to wear the "C," however, that man needs to have a plan. He's not only got to take the team under his leadership, but he's got to get a handle on the outside forces that affect the Canadiens as well.

Everybody knows the general obsession with the Habs has led to a level of media exposure and public two languages...very few pro hockey players experience. That's what makes the captain's role in Montreal different from that in any other NHL city. In Montreal, the captain of the Canadiens is a celebrity with a great deal of responsibility.

That's why whoever gets appointed captain needs to be very direct and firm in his dealing with the media. The first thing he needs to do is be very forthright about the language issue. As ridiculous as many people regard making an issue of the language a hockey player speaks, there's an element among Montreal fans and media that will constantly harp on the fact that the new captain doesn't speak French. And, unless the captain is Maxim Lapierre, that will inevitably be the case. So, the new captain can't politely sidestep the issue like Saku Koivu did. He needs to come right out, before he's even asked about it, and tell people he either has already learned or plans to soon learn enough French to make himself understood, as a sign of respect. It would be even better, though, if he hired himself a translator until he's ready to speak French himself. Bring in an eager student from McGill or Concordia and pay him or her $30 an hour to stand beside the captain after practices and games and translate for the French media. That would eliminate the French issue right from the start.

The second thing that needs to be addressed is the media dissection of the team in the form of rumours or innuendo. It's not the captain's place to address damaging media stories about teammates' outside behaviour unless he knows for a fact they're false. But he can certainly make it clear that falsehood and rumour-mongering won't be tolerated by the players. The ideal thing for him to do would be to serve notice immediately by holding a press conference and announcing that any reporter who makes up anything to hurt the team would be persona non grata in the dressing room. The captain can't prevent the team's PR people from allowing the press in, but he can influence who he'll talk to and who he'll advise his teammates to talk to. In fact, he can even take it a step further. If the media is riding, say, Carey Price, in a way the captain feels is unfair, he can tell the offending reporters that Price will no longer be speaking to them. They'll have to go through the captain instead.

It would be a nice stamp of ownership of the captaincy for the new guy to do something of his own for the community as well. The players may contribute to big charities on their own, and they're obliged to take part in certain team-arranged events. It would be a fine gesture, though, if the captain were to be the head of a small, local effort supported by just his teammates. Maybe something like sponsoring a minor hockey team at whose practices the captain shows up to offer tips once in a while. It would be a way to get a little more personal with the community.

It's also important for the new captain to make sure his teammates know he's got their backs first. He'll be appointed by management, and in that kind of situation there has to be at least some level of wondering in the room about whether he's the team's guy or the coach's guy. The captain needs to be there for his teammates first, and he needs to let them know it right away.

A new captain could certainly earn himself some points and some valuable tips by calling up Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey and inviting them to lunch...a sort of captain's round table. Those guys know better than anyone how to succeed as a captain in Montreal and it could only be a good thing to talk to them about it.

None of those ideas are difficult or all that time-consuming to implement, but they're the kinds of things the new captain should be willing to try. The year without anybody wearing the "C" has effectively laid to rest the ghost of Saku Koivu for most fans. It's no longer a crime for someone to be the captain, as it would have seemed last year. Now that there will certainly be a captain, he needs to put his own stamp on the position and take control. If the Canadiens are going to be serious about winning, they need to have a no-BS captain who's willing to speak his mind in public as well as behind the dressing room door.

It's exciting to not only look forward to a new captain, but to see how he develops his own identity in that role as well. Whoever it is, let's hope he's got a plan.


Anonymous said...

"It would be even better, though, if he hired himself a translator until he's ready to speak French himself. Bring in an eager student from McGill or Concordia and pay him or her $30 an hour to stand beside the captain after practices and games and translate for the French media. That would eliminate the French issue right from the start."

It happens to everybody J.T., so don't worry, but you're way off on this one.

The C would in fact need an interpreter with balls of bilingually cast steel, one French the get the picture.

It's simply asking for way too much certain trouble, particularly from a student. Speaking of which, my trans. prof buddy tells me they are currently (and collectively) the worst bunch he's ever known. No solid basic knowledge of EITHER language, let alone translation skills.

Perhaps I'm a touch sensitive because I am myself a translator. Your basic idea is a good one, but you've underestimated the required skills. Tout particulièrement dans l'aquarium aux requins médiatiques qu'est Mtl.

Love to read you.

Denis Pelletier

Cathie_AK27 said...

I,personally don't think it's the captain's duty to put media types in their place when it comes to off ice issues.The organization has to stick up for all players wearing the Habs jersey and playing hard for the organization and the fans.The PR people/GM/President have to come out and protect their players EQUALLY.Not choose to defend Brisebois or Pricey and let others continue to be media mockery like the Kostitsyn brothers.

moeman said...

Great read J.T., all pertinent and valid points.

My guess is it will be Josh, he'll do well with his Français and he'll be a quiet, respected leader à la Gainey.

Anonymous said...

Am continually amazed by your in depth posts, much appreciated. As far as the french question goes I think every Hab captain should make an effort to speak french for himself, the one shortcoming (inexcusable to me) of Koivu. The idea of an interpreter seems silly since all the media understand english and speaking french is a respect issue not one of communication. Gainey won great respect for his effort not his ability to clarify anything in french.

Putting the media in their place is a job for management and not a player whose job is hard enough on the ice without having to war with irresponsible comments by the press.

My vote for captain would be Cammalleri and my second choice would be Gorges. Gionta will probably get it and would be a good choice seeing there is no real standout.

V said...

JT, another good article. Thanks.

In your article you talk about the ghost of Saku Koivu being laid to rest with one year passing since his departure. I wonder if that was the reason they did not select a captain last year... give it a year partly out of respect for Saku and partly because anyone stepping into the role would have been faced with the comparison to Saku - pretty big shoes to fill particularly under the circumstances of his leaving.