The Canadiens have a blessed past. They have offered a stage to some of the greatest players the game of hockey has ever known. Rocket Richard lit a flame of passion in the hearts of those who roared to their feet when he powered his way over the opposing blueline. Jean Beliveau embodied the class for which the organization became known. Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden and the rest of the '70s dynasty composed probably the greatest team ever assembled.
For Habs fans of a certain age, though, the only real true-blue, home-grown, Canadiens superstar we ever knew was a gawky, quirky goaltender. Patrick Roy probably gets slightly too much credit for the wonderful Cup runs in 1986 and 1993. Although in the cold light of retrospect, we know he didn't do it all by himself, he was the one with the breathtaking OT performance in Game Three against the Rangers. He was the one with the lightning glove. He was the one with The Wink. In the end, his leaving polarized fans of that generation like nothing else could have done. Half of those who had loved him blamed the team and poor management. The other half saw their love distilled into hatred for a player they say quit on his team. What they really meant was they hated him for breaking their hearts. His departure is still a poorly-healed wound for those who pinpoint that moment as the beginning of the end of the Canadiens as a true contender.
Every once in a while, Roy's past as a Canadien and his leaving of the team bubble to the surface of Habs gossip again. Five years ago it was because of his induction into the Hall of Fame. Then it was his number retirement and participation in the Habs Centennial ceremonies. Now it's because his name is one of the more prominent mentioned as a potential coach of the Canadiens.
As always, when Roy's name comes up, fans are divided. Some firmly believe he's the passionate, take-no-prisoners coach the Canadiens need. And where better to find such a coach than within the team's legion of French-speaking superstars? Others are of the equally-entrenched opinion that Roy's sometimes egotistical, high-handed and mercurial behaviour would create more controversy than he or the team can handle.
When it comes down to it, though, both those opinions are just opinions. Nobody knows how Patrick Roy would do as an NHL coach because he's never been one before. His only experience as coach has been of the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts. There, his record has been decent, if not spectacular. As a mid-season replacement in the 2005-06 season with host Quebec, he coached the team to the Memorial Cup championship. Since then, his teams have made the playoffs every year, but have never made the Cup finals since. In the years since his win, Roy's temper has made headlines more than once. He was investigated for assault in 2007 after an off-ice incident reportedly involving an exchange of punches with an opposing team owner. In 2008, there was the now-infamous attack of an opponent by Roy's player and son, goaltender Jonathan, which many observers claimed was ordered by Roy himself.
His record in Quebec as a coach is also complicated because he's got total control there. He's owner and GM as well as coach, so if he wants a particular player or wants to manipulate the draft, he's got the power to do so. Likewise, if a player crosses him, he can dismiss that player. Then there's the matter of the guys he coaches. These are starry-eyed kids not yet twenty years old. Their dreams depend on pleasing their coach, and they're inclinded to do whatever he demands without question.
There's no doubt, other coaches have prospered in the NHL after apprenticing only in junior hockey. In Roy's case, however, one wonders how his "I'm in charge" setup in the Q would translate in his communications with millionaire professionals. Roy's passion for winning, in this case, could as easily be his undoing as it could be his best asset. Remember Roy's former captain, Guy Carbonneau, for instance. Few players hated losing more than Carbo, and when faced with players who just didn't seem to burn with the same fire, he more often than not looked lost and confused about how to get through to them. He just expected players to want it as much as he did, and when they didn't, he had no answers.
Roy might turn out to be a good NHL coach. He's said he'd listen if the Canadiens came calling, just as he'd listen if Colorado asked him again. It might actually be a great thing if he served some time working for another team before trying his hand in Montreal. Once installed behind the Habs' bench, his every comment would be dissected and, with the jackal-like tendency of some members of the media who would wait for him to fail, one can imagine the potential fireworks.
Canadiens fans of a certain age who still love what Patrick Roy did for our team would secretly love for him to take over, shake up the team and inspire the players to accept nothing less than winning. We imagine how he might support a great goalie like Carey Price and help him develop. Those of us who were devastated when he left Montreal after that horrible game in 1995 view his candidacy with more than a grain of caution. He loves to win, but can we trust him not to blow up and ruin everything? It's a big step, and maybe Montreal's not the right place for him to take it. At least not yet.