Saturday, March 12, 2011


Earlier this week, I was chatting with a fan of another team and she made the caustic comment that the only reason people are freaking out about Max Pacioretty's injury is because he plays for the Canadiens. She meant that the Habs enjoy some kind of underhanded favouritism in the NHL, and their fans are hysterical and overreact. Obviously I don't agree with her reasoning, but I think what she said is true.

I think if Chara had hit a Columbus Blue Jacket or a Florida Panther like that, we would still have experienced the sickening feeling in the pits of our stomachs. We'd still be furious with the league when Chara got no suspension, and we'd still be horrified that the life and health of a promising young player were so close to being ended. That would be it, though. We wouldn't be as outraged in such great numbers if it weren't one of our own.

The thing is, Canadiens fans are passionate, numerous and powerful. There's a rabid appetite for everything Habs, so if there's a player caught talking to an alleged mobster, it's front-page news. If the Canadiens lose three in a row, millions of people are tearing their hair out. If they win, there are an equal number of millions walking with a lighter step. Walk into any opposition arena and, if the Habs are winning, you'll hear fans there singing Ole. That doesn't happen for other teams. Canadiens fans have rallied and rioted for their Habs before. They've mourned, celebrated, hoped and worried together for a hundred years, all for the sake of the team that owns their hearts.

Habs fans are everywhere. They're MPs, corporate CEOs, politicians, lawyers and doctors. They're people who have the power to make decisions and force changes. Hurt a Hab, and the wrath of important people will be aroused. There's no coincidence that two of the corporate sponsors, Via Rail and Air Canada, who have warned the NHL to clean up its act or lose their support, are based in Quebec. The Quebec police are looking into the incident, which probably wouldn't happen elsewhere, and there's suspicion that Canada's federal minister of sport, Gary Lunn, may be a Habs fan too.

The Canadiens themselves are one of the flagship franchises of the NHL. They're the league's oldest and most successful team, and even if they're no longer the powerhouse of the '70s, they're the most recognizable team in hockey and one of the wealthiest. Pierre Gauthier and Geoff Molson carry some weight in the boardroom.

Sometimes, the intense spotlight on the Canadiens is an inconvenience. Every scuffle in practice is analysed and debated to death. Players can't go out for groceries without allowing an extra 20 minutes for autographs, and if they have too much to drink on their summer holidays, the pictures make it around the internet like wildfire. In a case like this, though, that power might be harnessed for good.

Pacioretty's injury has already drawn more attention from people with the power to influence change than Sidney Crosby's has. If that horrible hit had to happen to anyone, only the fact that it was to a Canadien might keep it in the public eye long enough to make a difference to league policy.

So, my friend was right. The Chara hit is only creating such a huge public furor because it happened to a Hab. For the sake of the players, the fans who love the game and the future of the NHL, though, the Canadiens notoriety might be the only thing that works to force the rule makers to finally wake up.


V said...

JT... your best post ever. And that is saying something.

This is an (another) opportunity for the Habs to show leadership in a league historically berift of it. I hope the Molson's can pull together the support of enough other reasonable owner's/gm's to make some positive changes before it's too late. Someone's life likely depends on it.

It feels good to reflect on the power of the Habs community and to think we are members in it. Thanks for the remider. It reminds me we Habs fans should always endeavour to carry ourselves in a way that honours the responsibility inherent in that membership.

Brian said...

I think in this case Sam Pollack was spot on, i.e. what is good for the Montreal Canadiens is good for the NHL.

Number31 said...

I don't understand why people are so pissy about that... Is it not to the benefit of the game that we're absolutely mad and not going to stand for it? If the Habs and us fans can make a difference and change the stupidity going on in the League would it not benefit their teams and the well-being of their players? Honestly, I think the crapstorm that happened between the Islanders/Pens was discussed MORE here in Montreal than anywhere else. (An incident in which I wished Tangradi would have charged Gillies for assault, but I guess he too doesn't want to shake the apple cart).

Kyle Roussel said...

There have been some maddening comments made in the aftermath of this hit.

I said the very same thing on twitter on Friday (that Habs fans are numerous enough, loud enough and passionate enough to make a significant push for change) only to have it labeled as "Habs arrogance".

"Where were Habs fans when _____ was hurt?" Is what I get a lot of. The more appropriate question is where were those teams own fans? The NHL has rolled the dice that this wouldn't happen to a Hab IN Montreal. Now it has, and we won't let it go until its fixed.

So yeah, were pissed that its happened to one of our own. Instead of groaning about it, hockey fans everywhere that want change will never have a bigger opportunity to add their voice to such a large group.

Or am I still being arrogant?

Anonymous said...

I suspect a good number of fans want their teams to win. A Boston fan would rightly see a 20 game suspension to Chara as aiding the competition, the Habs. The fan view is normal. If Pleks were facing a 20 game suspension we would likely be upset. Give Boston credit though, most fans and writers deplored the Chara hit. (Most also did not want to see a suspension - although 25% or so did.)

There is also the typical NHL ref thinking about penalties displaying itself at the NHL level. The "I don't want to influence the game" thinking that evens up penalties if a team is trailing and you called a couple against them.

That is where it goes wrong. You can't have 720 versions of what is a foul and what is not a penalty. Sydney Crosby, the best player in the world right now, has been out for two months. The result of blatant fouls. Will he come back the same?

The Board appoints the NHL HQ to run the day to day business of the league. This is the day to day business of the league. The President is busy flipping off sponsors, players, and fans. The Board seems to condone that except for two owners. Admittedly some owners are simply trying to get out from under the wheel the day to day guidance has placed them under (read sunbelt losses). Even MLSE is up for sale today. As an investment the majority owners can see the writing on the wall, even if Mr. Bettman can not.

The fans of the team Canadiens are many as you suggest. Perhaps some have decided to walk away from the NHL "concept" of the game.

Finally I want to see the team win but I want to see the team win against Crosby, or Savard, against the best, not a riddled lineup destroyed by the NHL lawyers version of competition.

Leadership is needed within the NHL. The Board is paying for that leadership, not receiving it, and to paraphrase an oft quoted and seldom appreciated public spokesperson "The Board represents the owners and they are a great Brand as am I. If they decide to clean house that's their prerogative."

Bet on them not doing a thing. A leopard does not change it's spots and will when times are rough, eat it's young.

moeman said...

Go Habs Go!

DB said...

Attacking the messenger, as Don Cherry did last night, or questioning peoples motives, as the other team's fan did, are classic tools used to avoid discussing issues.

I've found when you push people who use these tactics to actually address the issue they become flustered and often fly into a Charlie Sheen like rant. That ends the discussion and makes them look like an idiot.

You want the NHL rule makers to finally wake-up, but what do you want them to do when they wake-up?

I see two areas that need to be addressed: discipline and player safety.

Discipline issues include should players police themselves, what to do about the cheapshot artists who get a lot of minor stick infractions, trash talking, the suspension system (I think Colin Campbell us the only one who understnads his decisions), and head shots.

Player safety requires an ongoing commitment. The NHL needs experts who can evaluate and set standards for equipment and rink safety. They should have a experts who investigate and determine the cause of all serious injuries. They need to change the culture from safety being an ad hoc issue to safety being part of the everyday routine.

dusty said...

Cherry shows a montage of stanchion hits over the years thus proving it's OK. That logic proves police brutality, torture and any other evil that goes unpunished is fine with him. And then he blames the Hab's rink and ownership. This should be the last straw for the Canadian people to demand that the CBC fire Cherry and his moron sidekick. The picture of him in wearing that Madhatter hat should be enough proof that he's gone of the deep end.

V said...

Good post DB... the rant you predict is exactly what happended to Cherry.

You are absolutely right about safety becoming part of the everday routine - part of the corporate ethic actually. These arguments about safety ruining productivity or performance had been going on for years in multiple industries, i.e. mining, construction, etc. But many companies in those industries have made safety a way of life with little detrimental impact on their business.

With a bit of vision and leadership, the NHL could do the same thing. They have been perceived to be weak and slow on the issue of saftey and if someone dies as a result, it will be the end of their business as they currently know it.

Tash-Hicks said...

I really don't thikn that people should be looking at thsi from a "fan" point of view, which most seem to. We need to look at Pacioretty's injury as another wake up call to the league that these hits are illegal for a reason. If there aren't any ramifications for these "accidents" then there will continue to be players who will push the envelope. Even as a die hard Hawk's fan my heart broke watching that game.

Woodvid said...

Remember the 1976 quote from Serge Savard, after the Stanley Cup win over the Flyers? "This is not only a victory for the Canadiens; it is a victory for hockey. I hope that this era of intimidation and violence that is hurting our national sport is coming to an end. Young people have seen that a team can play electrifying, fascinating hockey while still behaving like gentlemen."

We thought we'd won the battle and the war. Turns out we only won the battle. I think in the end, we lost the war. :-(

I hope beyond hope that something changes in the coming weeks, but I don't see Molson and Gauthier being able to win over Bettman, the other owners, and all the Cherry-loving pundits.

Woodvid said...

Postscript: You know it's bad when Mike Milbury is becoming the voice of reason:

V said...

Regarding Milbury, it sure is easy to question his motives for this sudden reversal on everything he has been saying for the past few years.

But hell, he does have influence and it's good to see him coming to his senses. Can't fault that.

Anonymous said...

I like what Kyle Roussel has to say the most. He's 100% correct.