Has there been a darker time to be a Habs fan? The team is looking like it will claim the highest draft pick it's had since Sam Pollock raked in top-three picks on purpose. The games are the same toothache-inducing pattern of dump-and-chase-but-don't-quite-get-there-first futility every single night. The lame-duck GM is firing people and trading others in a manner bizarre enough to have impartial observers noting how odd it is, all in an effort to save his own job. Good players sit on the bench or stand in the net with tormented eyes while their bad teammates continue to grease the skids to the basement. And now, Jean Beliveau, one of the pillars of the Canadiens' history is seriously ill.
Mr.Beliveau himself is, of course, the epitome of class. That seems such a trite word, almost meaningless in its overuse, until you consider the stately gentleman with a gracious nod and smile for every person who greets him. When you realize he personally replies to every piece of mail he receives and has done for sixty years, and when you remember he could have been Governor General of Canada if he were a little less humble, "class" begins to make sense again. He's a lovely person who has managed, through good sense, empathy and excellent manners, to rarely have set a foot wrong in his decades-long public life.
Beyond what he is as a man, however, Jean Beliveau is also an institution. Through his brilliant playing career, his captaincy of the Canadiens in a glorious era and his presence in the community, Beliveau lent the sheen of success, dignity and respect to the organization he represented. What he earned as a person, he generously has shared with the Canadiens, so if he stood for the Habs, then the Habs must be successful, dignified and respectful. In a word, classy.
It's perhaps emblematic of this dark hour in Canadiens history then, that the person who best represents what the Canadiens used to be is suffering a dark hour of his own. Mr.Beliveau's illness brings home the stark realization that he is the finest remaining evidence of the Canadiens historic success. Without him, the Habs are nothing but another basement-dwelling, poorly-managed NHL team. They're nothing but a business, with success becoming smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. Jean Beliveau's absence from his usual seat behind the Canadiens bench is symbolic of the hockey gods' desertion of this team.
For those who know Jean Beliveau personally, this is a very difficult time as they wait to see how the stroke that has brought him low will affect his long-term health. For those who only know him as the man who stands as a link between the Montreal Canadiens we see on the ice today and the ones who made the organization something special, his illness makes an already-difficult year even sadder.
While our team stumbles along through what's become a valley of gloom, we need Jean Beliveau more than ever. We, and the Canadiens, aren't ready to be without him.