Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sense and Sensibility

Guy Lafleur might have been one of the biggest stars who ever wore the blue-blanc-rouge, but he hasn't always been the world's most verbally prudent ambassador for the Montreal Canadiens. Witness back in 2008, when he publicly mocked the team for having "four fourth lines." Or in 2009, when he ripped both former teammate Bob Gainey for mishandling Alex Kovalev, and Guy Carbonneau for failing to distribute ice time properly. Or, again in 2009, when he announced it was time for long-time captain Saku Koivu to leave Montreal. No, Lafleur's shoot-from-the-lip style hasn't always endeared him to modern fans, or, likely, to team management.

The thing with Lafleur is, when a hockey player does what he did on the ice for this particular team, he ascends from mere mortal to godlike status. Even trouble with the law or a reputation for partying to excess can never really tarnish the status such a player enjoys. With that status comes respect. When he speaks, people listen. In the past, Lafleur has chosen to use that power to jab at his former team and stir the pot of controversy that constantly bubbles just below the surface of hockey in Montreal.

This week, however, he chose to put himself out there on the issue of Randy Cunneyworth, in a surprisingly sensible and positive way. Cunneyworth has been gelded by his own team's management at least twice, all over his inability to speak French. Some members of the media and the gaggle of nationalist fans who will demonstrate against the anglo coach at the Bell Centre today were delighted to see the team hang Cunneyworth out to dry. Lafleur, interestingly, took the opposite view.

He told the Vancouver Sun that winning games should trump whatever language the coach speaks.

"Times change," he said. "It's not the same anymore. I know it's important to the French people in Quebec, but, in the end, they only need a winning team. That's it. When I played, Bob Berry was our coach and didn't speak much French. Scotty Bowman didn't speak to us in French when he was coaching. We won games, we won Stanley Cups and everybody was happy."

He went on to add, "If I was hiring the coach, I would try to get the best guy out there for the job, to make sure the team got to the playoffs and had a chance at the Stanley Cup."

He also criticized the constant demand for the coach to hold press conferences, after every game and every practice. The media, he believes, should speak one-on-one to the players and coaches and leave it at that. His point of view puts him in a familiar place: directly at odds with what the GM and ownership of the team are doing. In this case, though, he's got the backing of the majority of fans...merry band of Bell Centre protesters notwithstanding...who think the same thing. Fans want a winning team. They want a Cup, and that's it. Not one real Canadiens fan would say, "Oh, no thanks. I'd rather have a bilingual coach than a championship." These things become important only when the team is losing.

So, although he so often sticks his foot in it, in this case, Lafleur is speaking for the majority. And this time, he's right.

21 comments:

Christopher said...

It's about time someone stood up for Cunneyworth. I'm so glad it was the Flower that chose to do so.

moeman said...

Love the Flower, especially in this instance. Merci J.T.

juce said...

la fleur des yogurts was right on the money, hope people smarten up.
Go Habs Go!

Anonymous said...

About time the Flower used some common sense. No doubt he weighed in on a lot of issues without considering the ramifications and because some clown just threw a mike in front of his face. Talk about self importance !!!

The guy was/is an ambassador and never chose to be politically correct. But on one hand why cant he speak his mind? I would see him on RDS from time to time and I was a little perplexed that he was criticizing Gainey so heavily...

What is equally curious is a wonder why Serge Savard had to weigh in and support the sovereingtists cause. Probably because he is a 'Sep'!!!

Le Flying Frenchman said...

The whole "we can either win, or be french" argument is getting a bit boring. Probably the only silly thing Dryden wrote in his book. Remind me who was on the team in '93? And the two coaches in last year's finals? There is absolutely no reason the habs could not allow for a larger place for "le fait français" AND win. The problem seems to be that a lot of people don't care or don't understand that this is more than a hockey team. Sad, really, when it's just a matter of reading up a little on the history of Quebec.
And pretending that people arguing this are "not real fans" is just plain bs. I'll challenge any body to a "fan off", whatever the hell that could be.

G said...

If Bunny Laroque had written a book would his words have been quoted as gospel? Dryden got in and got out and was a big part of several memorable events so that makes him profound? Lafleur is more apt to freely voice what a player feels about these things. Dryden more apt to write what a citizen should feel. Laroque, well...qui sais?

This afternoon I may begin a campaign to have the Cirque du Soleil change it's name to "Nevada's Own Rope Act" so to more accurately reflect it's importance as a cultural emblem of the entire state. I don't care where the artists hail from, or where the props master was trained, but they should draw heavily from the Vegas casino area. I do feel that the lighting director should be American.

That makes about as much sense as the language of the Canadiens coach which should be the working language of the league. The players and the team need to work in the language of their business. Now the GM? That is the dividing line. The GM should be able to sound like a Bostonian to folks in Boston, a New Yorker to folks in New York, and of couse an *hole to folks in Toronto. Because he speaks for the Company. PG is doing a fine job so far;-}

Most Canadians who I have spoken to and who hail from perhaps one of the most beautiful and bountiful provinces in our country are just sick and tired of a small group with an agenda telling the world what they "believe" and what they "want" and what they "demand". I have therefore been forced to an uncomfortable conclusion. People are just people. They want justice, a voice, and a fair shake. If they go to a sports event they want to see exciting play and hope their team wins. If they went to a political rally and a sports event broke out they would be somewhat angry.

I am also able to point out that if "most" people are like that then that leaves the others in a minority position, regardless of language, culture, race, or any other artificial divider they can come up with to point out how hard done by they are. Left outside majority society they campaign to change society. They demand special rules, that laws be enacted, and since most people are too busy to form an opinion, they offer a one sided ready made opinion for adoption.

I would listen to anything Guy Lafleur says, think about anything Dryden writes, and ignore the Bertrand Raymonds of this monde until they write about their agenda which they can certainly argue. The pretense that they are writing or talking about a sport should be dropped. They are writing and airing their perceived grievances. I suppose the good people of Morocco will write in 20 years of how they were in servitude to Quebec overlords because Bombardier built a plant in their country and they weren't given a fair shake to build it first. Right now though they are just happy it puts bread on the tables.

If Guy says FIMO (Forget It Move On) then I suggest that is the best course of action.

Pisano said...

People who feel sorry for Cunneyworth are misdirecting their sensitivities. Cunneyworth is proving he is a great coach. He will be coaching next season in the NHL.

People should feel sorry for les Canadiens. Their narrow-mindedness will, once again, cost them if they allow Cunneyworth to move on.

Hiring Roy as coach because he is 'elan' is ridiculous...

Le Flying Frenchman said...

The cirque du soleil analogy is really really apt because Guy Laliberté is to Nevada what Maurice Richard is to Quebec: one of the most important figures in the history of Nevadan (?) identity. It was his perceived standing up to Californians (?) that gave the people of Nevada a sense of their self-worth and gave them the push they needed to become truly self governing. Yeah...Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. If you don't understand what identity is and what it means, I kinda feel sorry for you.
And if you think that having the people around you agree with you means you are part of the majority...
How about we go see what an actual poll says?

http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/sports/nouvelles/archives/2011/12/20111219-214835.html

It says that 69% percent of habs fans, franco and anglo, think like "the minority". Funny how numbers work, huh...
My guess is that anglos who actually live in Quebec have a better understanding of this issue. And that the longer they've lived there, or the more history they've studied, the more they agree with "the minority".

You guys don't have a leg to stand on. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why you are so obsessed with this. A lot of us prefer to move on and watch hockey and hope the issue will fade away.

You're geographically removed and if you were in this province you would see that it's not as big as you make it to be. Writing about it keeps it alive. Your compulsion to make this front page news shows me that you are well trained in journalism and that you passed with flying colours in "Sensationalism 101".

Number31 said...

And with Guy Lafleur watching, our little Brendan Gallagher had 3 goals, 4 assists :)

I really hope the team recognizes what they have here. To lose him all because he can't respond to the same question twice in two languages would be silly. Hockey is what matters. I don't want to see him leading Buffalo next year while the Habs get lost in the shadow of Roy's ego...

V said...

JT, you repeat a common media perspective that management has 'gelded' RC. I don't buy that for a second.

I am aware of what has been said by Molson, PG, etc. and don't see a big problem. They are just trying to manage the very situation that has given RC this opportunity to prove himself - they are running necessary cover. Too bad they have to do that, but it's just the nature of the beast in Montreal under these circumstances.

And I think the way the players appear to have responded to RC prove that he has not been 'gelded' at all. On intelligent blogs like this one, can we drop that mis-conception?

J.T. said...

@V: You're giving me a lot of grief these days, with your passive aggressive comments about this being an intelligent blog, although often wrong-minded.

As I've told you before, I write what I see, and what I saw in Gauthier's comments, and those of Molson, was a misguided attempt by management to appease the small-minded, yet vocal few who have an issue with Cunneyworth's linguistics. A lesser group of players than the Canadiens would take that as a sign that the coach is only marking time and management doesn't support him. In essence, gelding him in terms of effective decision making.

Look. I know that you're a proud Quebecois and feel passionately about the team as a cultural and societal icon. But, in this case, team management went a bit far in apologizing for hiring Cunneyworth.

MC said...

@ Le Flying Frenchman. I lived in Quebec for three years. I can speak French enough to get by. How are the Habs "more than a hockey team"? The implication is that the Canadiens are a cultural institution of Quebec. Are they owned by the Government? No. Are they owned by the people like the Green Bay Packers? No. Was there any interest in Quebec to own them when Gillette bought the team? No. Do the Habs have any legal obligation toward Quebec culture? No. Are the players Quebecois? No, not since 1970. Are the Montreal Canadiens a business? Yes!!! If the Habs are selling themselves as a "cultural icon", it is to make money, that's it. It may still be good business to appeal to its francophone fan base, but it has to do so without alienating the 45% of Montrealers who are not francophone. Stop buying into the marketing; the Habs have no interest in preserving francophone culture unless they can make money at it. Ask the old Winnipeg Jets or the Quebec Nordiques how much the league cares about the "cultural importance" of a team when making business decisions. If Mr. Molson decides that keeping RC is worth more than sucking up to his francophone customers, RC will stay, I guarantee you that. It will be a business decision.

And the really silly thing in all of this is that even if the coach speaks french, it does not make the team more culturally significant because the players will NEVER be from Quebec again under the existing rules. There are approximately 50-60 Quebec-born players in the league. Only 10-15 of those could be considered stars, and they are coveted by the other 29 teams. Even when they become free agents, they don't WANT to come back to the Habs, probably because of crap like this, or they see how players like Brisebois were treated. Montreal could do a better job of scouting in Quebec, but they will never be the flying frenchmen again. This outrage is 40 years too late.

Woodvid said...

@ Flying Frenchman: It's simple mathematics. The smaller the pool of people to choose from, the less likely it is you'll find the best in the world. It is still *possible* to win the cup with a francophone coach -- your example proves that -- but your odds are better if you just go out and get the best damned candidate you can get.

If Quebeckers feel that strongly about it, that is their right. But they'll need to accept the fact that it reduces the odds of winning cups. Again, it's simple statistics, and you don't have to like it, but there it is.

I repeat: If the majority feels it is worth sacrificing degrees of excellence for the sake of having a French-speaking coach, that is their right, and it brings to mind the old expression: "Be careful what you wish for."

DanielleJam said...

JT, I think you're taking V's comments too personally. I didn't read his comment as being passive-aggressive in the least. I think he sincerely meant what he said when he posed the question.

I too don't think they gelded RC. What I saw developing was a business organization taking precautionary measures to ensure that this coach thing doesn't get out of hand. I think they wanted to avoid a much bigger protest, if one were to happen. I'm not sure that I agree with all of PG and Molson's moves up to now, but I do think that they get far more than their share of unfair criticism directed at them.

As far as Lafleur goes, he's one francophone that is at odds with involving language and coaches. I'm sure there are many, many more like him. Conversely, I also know quite a few anglophones that believe we should have a bilingual coach.

In the end, all the drama (from whichever end you view it) will die down. As Anon said, let's play hockey.

G said...

These comments are interesting. JT spurs a great debate. For LFf I wonder where Cirque would be today if Guy Laliberte had insisted on hiring the best local guy instead of Franco Dragone? All to say every coin has two sides. It is often our inability to see the flipside that divides us.

DanielleJam said...

Do you know what I find interesting? Player interviews conducted by Dave Stubbs for The Montreal Gazette are either English-Canadian or American.

If francophone fans are being accused of making the sport political, can't we say the same about reporters? I hear so many complaints about RDS and L'Anti Chambre coddling the French players, what can we say about the anglo journalists? Players like Mathieu Darche and David Desharnais can speak English. Why isn't Stubbs interviewing them? Am I wrong? Did I miss an article in the Gazette?

Anonymous said...

@DanielleJan, why would you want to interview Darche and Desharnais? Yes the later has had a good season, but wouldn't you want to hear from top players(Price, Eller, Cole, etc)?. I am a born french Canadian, but I am not going to sip on my coffee reading about Darche or Deharnais just because they are french. Beleive me, the day that Deharnais or Darche has a 3 goal game, or fight in a practice, or get a suspension, Stubbs will interview them. For now, the frenchies on the Habs a plane boring...

DanielleJam said...

@Anon: you don't sound French-Canadian. Look, Darche is not doing great right now but he has had some sparks in the last few years, he's a nice guy, a local guy and an article on him would be well-deserved. I'm sure many would read it. Desharnais has played exceptionally well and the English media is not big on tooting his horn.

I don't think I need to explain all this, the proof is in the papers (or more like what we don't see in the papers). Have you seen any of Stubb's player video of French players? None. It's all obvious.

V said...

JT. Just got back to see your response to my comment... wasn't trying to give you a hard time and sorry my comments are coming across as passive-aggressive. Not my intent at all.

Just for the record, I'm from Nova Scotia.

dusty said...

Lafleur is no ambassador. An ambassador's job is to put lipstick on the pig and make it look good despite the reality of the situation. All of Guy's comments that you highlight in your opening paragraph were honest and painfully accurate. The King has no clothes.

After watching the Habs be totally dominated by the Blues, nothing has changed. The Habs are still made up of third and fourth liners and ice time is still a problem. I like Cunneyworth getting a chance to coach but going with three lines against a big team that rolls four lines is dumb. If a coach has Kaberle, Campoli and Gill suited up and scratches his largest center (listed 4 lbs heavier than Eller) he must be questioned over his decision making. And playing Gionta, Cammalleri and Plekanec together is a non starter for me.

Looking ahead, the game against the leafs looks like the straw that could break PG's back. The leafs should pound the Habs (they're playing with confidence and swagger right now) and hopefully Molson will fire our crappy GM shortly thereafter.

The Cirque du Soleil comments are lame. The language bullshit has to be put to bed.