Dear Geoff (can I call you Geoff?),
I have loved the team you own for a very long time now. I've loved it for more years than I lived before knowing it. My first sports hero was Patrick Roy, and my first sense of the vicarious thrill of fandom was courtesy of the 1986 Stanley Cup champions. However, since the Canadiens last won the Cup in 1993, things have gone horribly wrong for this great franchise.
I'm not sure what started it. Perhaps it was trading the team's last Hall of Fame player in a fit of anger, or leaving behind the Ghosts of the Forum. Maybe it was the hard economic times in the early part of the century that necessitated the purging of expensive salaries and the talent they attracted. Or maybe it was just the harsh reality of mediocre management getting taken to the woodshed in a league full of cutthroat winners. Whatever the cause, the Canadiens lost their identity.
Last season was the basement floor, both emotionally and in the standings. Something was obviously very wrong within the culture of the team as determined by those in upper management, and the on-ice product reflected that in its dispiriting last-place finish. For the first time in many years, I couldn't watch the ends of games. Sometimes it was hard to even watch their beginnings.
After the season mercifully came to an end, I didn't even care about the looming months without hockey. I honestly expected yet another endless five-year rebuild, considering the paucity of stars in the prospect pool and the number of expensive locked-in contracts on the NHL roster. As it turns out, I underestimated the willingness of a team owner, who is also a devoted hockey fan, to strip the organization down to its bones.
You could have sat there, cashing cheques, knowing the seats in your rink would be full for hockey games no matter how well or how badly the team performed. Some people might have turned away from a poor team, but just as many more would still show up for the hype and the spectacle. You could have let Pierre Gauthier continue along the secretive, alienating path he walked for six years. You could have watched Scott Gomez smirk his way through another season and kept the money you had to pay him to go away.
Instead, you went out and found the best possible person to renew the team's reputation for class and smarts. In Marc Bergevin, you hired someone who knows the game from the inside and who understands the intangible elements of success that go much deeper than just the physical talent available. Even more importantly, you knew enough to stand back and let him do his work. As a fan yourself, I'm sure the temptation to weigh in on hockey matters must have tickled the back of your mind sometimes. You resisted being a butt-in owner and trusted the judgement of the people you hired to make the right decisions.
So far, the turnaround has been more rapid than anyone could have expected. The people who work for you are making sure the Montreal Canadiens are a fun, exciting team again. They're proud of wearing the CH again. They may not win every game, and they may not go very far in these playoffs, but they are once again giving us hope that we'll see a 25th Stanley Cup in Montreal before we die. Right now, that hope is the best thing you could give to fans who were pretty darn depressed about what had happened to the team.
I want to say thanks for bringing in the right people and giving them room to work. And, thanks for loving this team as much as I do.
Go, Habs, Go!