Saturday, August 8, 2009

The 260-Pound Elephant In the Room

While we're all wondering about how the new Habs will look in the coming season, and if they'll live up to their new salaries and expectations, we already have an answer to one of the questions we were asking ourselves this time last year. Remember back then? Bob Gainey announced he'd signed Georges Laraque for 1.5 million for three years. We were wondering how having the NHL's heavyweight champion in the lineup would help our team repeat as conference champs.

I remember it. Habs fans were shouting from the rooftops, "You won't beat up on us anymore, NHL." Steve Begin was grinning, talking about how the whole team would feel two inches taller with Big Georges on their side. Laraque was supposed to be the toughness the team had seemed to lack in its playoff exit at the hands of the Flyers two months before. I also remember thinking I didn't like the pricetag for Laraque's "services" and I didn't think the team needed a full-fledged goon. I thought it needed a team-toughness approach, and Guy Carbonneau agreed. But Gainey bought Laraque and we know what happened after that.

Laraque was hurt for most of the year, and when he did play, he was a terrible disappointment. He was slow, ineffective and worst of all, he wouldn't fight the people he needed to fight...because they said "no thanks" to his polite requests to rumble. Now Gainey's up against the cap and there's not a lot of room to manouver. When you look at ways to improve the team, you have to think Laraque's got to go.

Big Georges is, without doubt, big and strong. He can fight like a pitbull when he wants to do so. But he's also a flake. Don't get me wrong, he's a nice flake. Salt of the earth. But he's got these ideas in his head about honour among goons that just don't work in the role he's expected to play.

A couple of months ago I had an email exchange with Laraque, about the seal hunt. As we know, the big guy has decided to go veggie, and that's great as a personal lifestyle choice. However, PETA pounced on his decision to change the way he eats and used him to promote its own agenda. They wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, austensibly from Laraque, and had him sign it. Needless to say, it contained some ridiculous propaganda and it made me really angry. I've heard PETA and the other groups who make money by villifying sealers propogate many lies over the years, but for some reason, when they used the celebrity of an ill-informed hockey player to promote their cause, it got to me. So, I emailed Laraque and told him the truth. I told him about the federal monitoring of the hunt and the uses of the seal carcass, including as heart replacement valves in humans and in the nutrition of third-world children. I told him about the overabundance of seals and their destruction of the fish populations, and about the vet-approved methods of killing the animals as humanely as possible. Laraque was very receptive, and polite. But his question to me was, "Would God want us to eat animals?"

I found his logic in this issue very similar to his logic about The Code by which he fights. He has it in his head that he can't fight anyone who's not also a goon, because it wouldn't be fair. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. The cheap shot guys win the day. It's those guys who inspire fear among the opposition because players know they don't play fair and are willing to hurt. They don't fear Laraque and his Code because they can just say no and everything will be fine.

So, the Canadiens are now paying a guy a million and a half bucks a year to be slow on a team of speedsters, to be polite in a job that requires rudeness, and to be offensively petrified on a team that feeds off skill.

The conclusion is Big Georges has to go. The Canadiens can't afford a buyout in case there's a cap drop next year. It's not likely anyone wants to trade for his contract. So, Gainey needs to waive Laraque. If no one claims him, he'll have to toil in Hamilton, which is about the level he should be playing at anyhow. Laraque, while he might have had skill outside fighting to be an NHL player once, has it no longer.

I hope this is resolved by the time the season starts.


Darren Bifford said...

Agreed, agreed, J.T. Big G.L Did absolutely nothing for us last year. I don't think he even got an assist.

Ted said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this and I tend to agree with you. I'm not convinced that the so called "code" is real and isn't just a way for Georges to avoid fighting altogether. His reporting to camp unable to play for me was a bigger issue and will play itself out once again with Hossa this year. Regrettably, the CBA is missing a crucial clause which would stipulate that if a team signs a free agent and the magnitude of injury is not revealed during the negotiation process, the player should not be paid until such time as they can report to the team healthy and ready to play.

DB said...

Based on what J. Martin did with Wade Belak in Florida, Georges better adopt a new code of punch first and ask later or he could very well end up on waivers.

A few weeks ago Belak and Shawn Thornton were on OTR and Belak claimed Thornton was the reason he is now with Nashville. The Bruins were beating Florida 5 to 1 and Belak was sent out to "even-the score". Thornton refused to fight despite Belak following the enforcers pre-engagement chechlist as specified in section 7.2 of "The Code". Belak was benched for the rest of the game and Martin put him on waivers right after the game because he did not go after Thornton.

saskhab said...

BGL will get a chance if he's healthy out of training camp, which I've heard isn't likely to be the case. If the team does well without him and doesn't suffer any serious injury runs, they might as well put him in the AHL for the year and try and move him near the end of the year if he can prove he can stay healthy. I legitimately think Alex Henry will be given a look if BGL is injured... he can easily play that role on the 4th line and sub in D in a pinch.

However, with guys like Moen and Stewart around him, if BGL can't get a guy to fight him there will be other options to do so. It may surprise people to hear this, but BGL fought at a slightly higher rate last year than he had the previous season in Pittsburgh.

geezer said...

JT, I did not know that BGL stupidly signed a letter from that terrorist organization PETA. I just lost whatever is left of my respect for him. I don't think that anyone should pay somebody 1.5M to be nice. Code be damned, I want his ass out of Montreal.

(PETA = People Eating Tasty Animals).

Unknown said...

Trade him to Edmonton for prospect(s)! They love him over there.

Andrew said...

J.T., your stance on the seal hunt is your own - everyone has an opinion (just like something else...). However, check your facts when stating that seals are devastating groundfish stocks. Scientists are unsure of what is causing the rise in the seal population while at the same time the groundfish stocks are declining. Seals eat cod, etc, but they also eat fish that prey on cod, and that cod prey on. It's a complex mechanism - and a predicted seal population crash hasn't happened because scientists don't fully understand it. Either way, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans admit (on their website) that the seal hunt is NOT for conservation purposes but is a commercial hunt. Regarding BGL, yes - you could and should be frustrated with his game. I wish he would go berserk and smack Lucic or someone else silly. But that's on the ice - it's not the real world. Sealing (or eating meat) is the real world, so you should really separate his on-ice and his off-ice code. Are you really going to vilify a guy because he wants to kill *fewer* living beings? That sounds like a model we should all try to follow.

Yves said...

Man.. I was smiling reading that. Thanks for posting!

I was disappointed last season for sure.

That job does take rudeness. For sure. You can't have guys taking liberties with your team mates and let them kindly decline roughing them up.

That's why I like Travis Moen. He'll go after you with NO hesitation and take you on whoever you are.

I'm not sure if he'll be moved. If he's around he'll get his shot and Martin won't be shy about giving people their roles.

Maybe Martin will enforce a new rule or code... "don't ask, don't tell"... just punch.

Number31 said...

That's OK, Stewie's here! (And Moen, and Henry... I love BGL, but I was so disappointed in him... I mean, he doesn't need to punch anyone if he doesn't want to, but at least check them with all 250lbs of your mass, dude!)

And thank you for pointing out the reality of our seal hunt. I get pissed off too at the ill-informed on this matter, so basically right now I'm glaring at the entire European Union right now... And PETA of all people, who kill more animals themselves...

On another matter, God gave me incisors and said "let there be steak". (But you're welcome to eat whatever you want).

J.T. said...

@Andrew: Of course, everyone has an opinion on an issue like the seal hunt, which is why I hesitated before using it as an example of Laraque's kind of logic. That's all it was meant to be illustration. We were talking about the realities and misconceptions of the hunt, against which he'd taken a very public and misinformed stance, and he decided to approach it from a spiritual, rather than factual, angle. Which seemed to me to be very similar to his stance on fighting and his Code.

As for the fish populations, scientists may not be sure what's causing the decline of fish stocks while seal numbers thrive, but fishermen will tell you they see seals gutting fish for the livers and leaving the carcasses, by the thousands. And while the hunt is no doubt a commercial venture, it does serve as a check on seal populations in the absence of other predators. In any case, the seal hunt was NOT the point of this piece, as I mentioned. It was just an illustration. I have no problem with Laraque's relgious beliefs, or his lifestyle choices. The point was his logic and how it affects his game.

Mr. Mills said...

J.T. : Love your blog and I appreciate your objective discussion of Laraque and his position on the team. It seems that ever since Laraque made the big mistake of telling people he was vegan, every post I've read about him has somehow related his dietary habits to a lack of spirit, manliness etc.

While you did obliquely mention his convictions regarding animals via his contribution to P.E.T.A.'s efforts to stop the seal hunt, you did not then turn to calling him a homosexual or communist, just ignorant and wrong.

Progress, I guess.