Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Un-Dead

When a hockey team is nearly a hundred years old, and has played thousands of games, it's tough to find something it hasn't done before. Well, the Habs have done it. Down 5-0 to the Wretched Rangers and looking to be swept in the season series, they came back. Boy, did they come back!

The game to me is a series of freeze-framed images. Michael Ryder's laser-accurate shot on his first goal. Tomas Plekanec winning draw after draw when it really counted. Alex Kovalev falling over backwards from the kick of his shot on the tying goal. Andrei Markov morphing into Bobby Orr and seeming to be everywhere at once. Cristobal Huet stoning the Rangers in the shootout and leaping into Mike Komisarek's arms. The smiles on every single player's face as they filed into the dressing room. I still can't believe it really happened.

But now, in the harsh light of day, as we bask in the glow of a team united, we have to wonder how long it will last. Bob Gainey is in Florida as the season barrels toward the trade deadline on Tuesday. The pundits say he's the busiest GM at the meetings, and that the Habs are the Canadian team most likely to make a deal. There's talk of Higgins for Hossa, and Ryder and a pick for Tanguay. Gainey himself has admitted wanting to add an "A" player. An "impact" player.

That sounds good in theory. And, placing the euphoria of last night's comeback at arm's length and assuming the cold eye of analysis, it even makes sense on paper. There *are* ingredients the Habs still lack, which common sense says need to be acquired if the team is to seriously contend for the Cup. Things like a big winger for Koivu, a shut-down centre and maybe one more top-four defenceman with an edge and some playof experience. Possibly a bit of sandpaper and size.

But there's one thing the Habs have that even some of the greater teams in terms of pure talent don't. They have real chemistry. The reason that comeback worked is because every player on the team went to the wall for his mates. They supported each other and fought for each other. And that cohesion is rare and precious. Sure, Gainey might add Hossa or Tanguay, but he risks losing something more than a Higgins or Ryder in the process. Adding and subtracting players at this point, when the team has become one unit in spirit and in execution, is as great a risk as it is to hope the new player fulfills expectations.

Cristobal Huet and Michael Ryder...two of the often-mentioned names in trade scuttlebutt...played crucial roles in that team resurrection last night. It may have still worked without them. And it may not have. The problem it creates for Bob Gainey is now his decisions have become much more difficult. The temptation is for him to continue with his plans to improve the team for a playoff run. But now it's become clear the consequences of giving into temptation may be much more serious than originally thought.

If chemistry is the cost of doing business, it might be time for Gainey to close the shop.


NailaJ said...

I totally agree. I don't care how much of a big shot the big name impact player is. Just because he's great doesn't mean he's great for the Habs.
Chemistry has always been a really important factor for me in hockey teams, and I think it might even be THE most important factor.
You can put the most talented guys in a blender and press start, but what they end up producing could end up being a very unappetizing smoothie... Not a Stanley Cup.

And apparently, I'm hungry.

Jay in PA said...

I've always said that making a trade is like doing surgery on a team. The end result might be a healthier organism overall, but the act is traumatic and the recovery process is long and uncertain.

Maybe we don't make a trade and just rely on the guys we have to step it up for the playoffs. Maybe chemistry, the seventh man, and the Forum ghosts might be enough. We're overachieving as it is--who knows what our capacity for overachievement might be?

TommyB said...

Another well thought out and well written observation.

I agree you can't go to the local mall and purchase chemistry in a bottle. This makes Gainey's decisions tougher than they already were. As fans, we have witnessed an incredible display of such chemistry over the last week, and as fans, we don't want to see that interrupted.

But what have we really witnessed? Was it the insurgence of something that will last and last? At least until late May? Or was it a blip on the radar, a glimpse of what we are in store for in the foreseeable future? That is what Gainey has to determine. I don't envy his position, but I am extremely confident that he will make the wise choices. As fans, we may be a little bit unwilling to swallow whatever medicine Dr. Bob brings. However, Bob Gainey is also a big fan of the Montreal Canadiens. The difference is he can look at the situation with a little less emotion, and a little more nerve. After all, if things end up going to Hell in a handbasket...he alone, will have to answer to the fans, the media, and his bosses.

The Teacher said...

I agree. There is no reason to make a trade for a name player and give up assets when we are far ahead of where we expected to be. We do have promising youth in the pipeline and as everyone agrees, it would upset the chemistry we have brewed.

The summertime is where we can focus on getting this "A" player, or early next year. Now it is just an overpriced market