In the aftermath of George Parros' fight and subsequent concussion on Tuesday night, the outcome of the game itself became something of a secondary story line. Thank goodness it did, because not only did the Habs lose yet another game to the leafs, but they did it after yet another over-the-top session of wallowing in their past glory.
The torch was appropriate when the Forum closed in 1996, marking the end of an era and the passing to a new one with a Cup win still in recent memory. It was appropriate during the ill-fated Centennial celebrations, which were supposed to pay tribute to all the great players who made the organization one of the most successful in sports. It's no longer appropriate.
When a team has done exactly nothing of note in more than twenty years, the ties to the past begin to fray. Where once a culture of winning existed, in which young players learned the game from the champions who came before, there's now a culture of poor drafting, bad management and ill-conceived free-agent signings. Marc Bergevin and his crew might be turning things around, but it doesn't happen overnight and there's only so much you can hide in the soft glow of the torch.
In the meantime, trotting out the greats of the past to hand the torch off to a group that's nowhere near contending for a Cup only serves to underline the difference between then and now. You can only sell the glorious, if dusty, past for so long before people stop buying it. The Habs are rapidly reaching that point. When the team released its top-ten game DVD box set during the Centennial, it was pretty telling that the only game in the last twenty years to make it to the list was a regular-season comeback against the Rangers, with Michael Ryder the star of the night.
To top it all off, if the torch itself isn't a cynical enough gimmick by the Habs marketing team, handing it off to Daniel Briere, of all people, was just a ridiculous attempt to kiss the butts of fans who've wanted a hometown hero for a long time. The Rocket once passed the metaphorical torch to Beliveau, who passed it to Lafleur. Having Lafleur pass the literal torch, nearly thirty years after he left the Habs, to an aging, declining, mercenary, bought-out free agent who deigned to sign in Montreal because the money was right this time around, was silly. Not only that, but passing it to a guy who'd just signed and had never proven himself as a Montreal Canadien in any way was insulting to the team's captain and to the Norris-winning defenceman who received no individual acknowledgement at all.
So if the torch, as overplayed and trite as it has become, is supposed to carry some symbolic meaning of the team's intention to stride off into the future, building on the foundation laid by those who came before, what does the way that ceremony played out mean to a guy like P.K.Subban? The guy has only managed to bring the team its first significant individual honour in 11 years, but he's still left standing on the sidelines to watch the newly-anointed St.Daniel of Montreal made much of at the first home game of the year. That's not striding into the future, Habs. That's grasping for the straws of past glory, while the future is ignored on the off chance that he'll get too big a head and consider himself above the team.
It's time to put the torch away. It shouldn't be seen again until the modern Habs; guys like Subban and Pacioretty and Price and Eller and Galchenyuk have done their part to add to the team's legacy. And, if there's a guy who's a legitimate star in their midst, even if he's from Toronto, of Caribbean heritage and doesn't speak French, perhaps it's time for the team to recognize that's where future glory lies. It's time for the Subbans of the world to carry the Canadiens forward and the Brieres to take a back seat until they've proven they deserve to be honoured in Montreal.