Friday, January 13, 2012
If you're a theatre buff, this Canadiens season has had it all. It started out as a suspense piece. The team had looked pretty decent against the Bruins in the playoffs last year and were expected to get Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Max Pacioretty back from injury, as well as add Erik Cole for this season. Even though there were lots of questions, from whether Carey Price would be able to duplicate last year's stellar effort to how well Cole would fit into the lineup, hope abounded. Fans held their collective breath, waiting for the answers.
The play quickly became a drama, as Markov's long-awaited return was both delayed and shrouded in mystery. The team got off to its worst start since it nearly folded in the '40s, and Pierre Gauthier, in a bizarre and ludicrous attempt to right the ship, fired assistant coach Perry Pearn ninety minutes before a game.
Drama morphed into comedy as we watched chance after chance hit posts or miss the net, while the Habs' opponents were benefitting from every bounce and soft goal allowed. It was almost comical to watch a perfect 2-on-1 pass bounce over the stick of the receiver...again. Or yet another green rookie score his first NHL goal against Carey Price. A third period Habs lead was like like slapstick, blown as surely as a clown getting a pie in the face. It was hard to believe things could keep going like that.
They did, however, and comedy became tragedy. The injuries continued to pile up and so did the losses. Teammates fought in practice, the coach got fired before morning skate and the new coach got virtually fired before he started, for failing to speak the right language. Morale hadn't been this low since the team backed into the playoffs by virtue of other teams' losses in 2009 and got swept in the first round by the Bruins. That horrible Centennial season and playoff humiliation triggered the Bob Gainey housecleaning that brought in the batch of undersized, expensive free agents that, until last night, dominated the lineup.
Michael Cammalleri's departure seems to indicate the team recognizes the lack of size has been problematic. It also signals the transition of this theatrical season from tragedy to farce. Many fans, myself included, thought the year had become bad enough to consider moving high-priced underachievers like Cammalleri for a real rebuild of picks and prospects. The operative word there is "consider." Gauthier may be saying Cammalleri's recent strong words about his teammates' losing mentality had nothing to do with the timing of the trade, but it looks suspicious. Add to that the bizarrely unorthodox move of pulling Cammalleri out of the game in the second intermission to tell him he was dealt, but not where, and it gets weirder. When you throw in Bob McKenzie's claim that other GMs say they didn't know Cammalleri was available and would have been interested, and you've got yet another chapter in the tragic play this season has become.
Nothing against Rene Bourque, but four years of his inconsistency is a long time, regardless of his comparatively low cap hit. And he doesn't look thrilled about moving to Montreal. Watching the Bourque press conference after he learned of the trade, it's hard to tell if he wants to puke or cry. Or both. It would have been nice if Gauthier had been willing to shop around a bit more; maybe stop smoking whatever herbal hallucinagen he prefers, and accept that the Canadiens need a first-round pick more than they need another inconsistent, mid-range forward with a long-term contract. There's always a hope and the wish that Bourque will use his nice size to ramp up the level of physical play in the Canadiens' lineup, and bring 30 goals along with it. As they say, however, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. And the Canadiens are certainly beggars at this point.
For those who'll throw back something like, "you wouldn't like this deal if the return was Crosby," that's not the case. There was nothing wrong with trading Cammalleri, who's just not been consistently dangerous (to the other team) in a Canadiens uniform, great 2010 playoff notwithstanding. There was certainly something wrong in Gauthier's not casting a wider net for a deal. And there's probably something wrong in the team's apparent lack of a plan. Is this to be a rebuild with youth via picks and prospects? Or is it to be a shuffling of veteran parts for other veterans who might scrape the team into eighth and an early elimination? Worst thought of all, does management seriously think the team can contend as it is, with a just few minor tweaks? Stay tuned for the mystery part of our programme.
The curtain dropped on the first act of this season two games ago. Act Two has been straight out of Vaudeville. The ending is anybody's guess.
Posted by J.T. at 9:14 AM