Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Roy-al Flush

The Canadiens have a blessed past. They have offered a stage to some of the greatest players the game of hockey has ever known. Rocket Richard lit a flame of passion in the hearts of those who roared to their feet when he powered his way over the opposing blueline. Jean Beliveau embodied the class for which the organization became known. Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden and the rest of the '70s dynasty composed probably the greatest team ever assembled.

For Habs fans of a certain age, though, the only real true-blue, home-grown, Canadiens superstar we ever knew was a gawky, quirky goaltender. Patrick Roy probably gets slightly too much credit for the wonderful Cup runs in 1986 and 1993. Although in the cold light of retrospect, we know he didn't do it all by himself, he was the one with the breathtaking OT performance in Game Three against the Rangers. He was the one with the lightning glove. He was the one with The Wink. In the end, his leaving polarized fans of that generation like nothing else could have done. Half of those who had loved him blamed the team and poor management. The other half saw their love distilled into hatred for a player they say quit on his team. What they really meant was they hated him for breaking their hearts. His departure is still a poorly-healed wound for those who pinpoint that moment as the beginning of the end of the Canadiens as a true contender.

Every once in a while, Roy's past as a Canadien and his leaving of the team bubble to the surface of Habs gossip again. Five years ago it was because of his induction into the Hall of Fame. Then it was his number retirement and participation in the Habs Centennial ceremonies. Now it's because his name is one of the more prominent mentioned as a potential coach of the Canadiens.

As always, when Roy's name comes up, fans are divided. Some firmly believe he's the passionate, take-no-prisoners coach the Canadiens need. And where better to find such a coach than within the team's legion of French-speaking superstars? Others are of the equally-entrenched opinion that Roy's sometimes egotistical, high-handed and mercurial behaviour would create more controversy than he or the team can handle.

When it comes down to it, though, both those opinions are just opinions. Nobody knows how Patrick Roy would do as an NHL coach because he's never been one before. His only experience as coach has been of the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts. There, his record has been decent, if not spectacular. As a mid-season replacement in the 2005-06 season with host Quebec, he coached the team to the Memorial Cup championship. Since then, his teams have made the playoffs every year, but have never made the Cup finals since. In the years since his win, Roy's temper has made headlines more than once. He was investigated for assault in 2007 after an off-ice incident reportedly involving an exchange of punches with an opposing team owner. In 2008, there was the now-infamous attack of an opponent by Roy's player and son, goaltender Jonathan, which many observers claimed was ordered by Roy himself.

His record in Quebec as a coach is also complicated because he's got total control there. He's owner and GM as well as coach, so if he wants a particular player or wants to manipulate the draft, he's got the power to do so. Likewise, if a player crosses him, he can dismiss that player. Then there's the matter of the guys he coaches. These are starry-eyed kids not yet twenty years old. Their dreams depend on pleasing their coach, and they're inclinded to do whatever he demands without question.

There's no doubt, other coaches have prospered in the NHL after apprenticing only in junior hockey. In Roy's case, however, one wonders how his "I'm in charge" setup in the Q would translate in his communications with millionaire professionals. Roy's passion for winning, in this case, could as easily be his undoing as it could be his best asset. Remember Roy's former captain, Guy Carbonneau, for instance. Few players hated losing more than Carbo, and when faced with players who just didn't seem to burn with the same fire, he more often than not looked lost and confused about how to get through to them. He just expected players to want it as much as he did, and when they didn't, he had no answers.

Roy might turn out to be a good NHL coach. He's said he'd listen if the Canadiens came calling, just as he'd listen if Colorado asked him again. It might actually be a great thing if he served some time working for another team before trying his hand in Montreal. Once installed behind the Habs' bench, his every comment would be dissected and, with the jackal-like tendency of some members of the media who would wait for him to fail, one can imagine the potential fireworks.

Canadiens fans of a certain age who still love what Patrick Roy did for our team would secretly love for him to take over, shake up the team and inspire the players to accept nothing less than winning. We imagine how he might support a great goalie like Carey Price and help him develop. Those of us who were devastated when he left Montreal after that horrible game in 1995 view his candidacy with more than a grain of caution. He loves to win, but can we trust him not to blow up and ruin everything? It's a big step, and maybe Montreal's not the right place for him to take it. At least not yet.


punkster said...

Balanced view and well presented. You work better when the emotions are dialed down just a tad. Not a criticism, just an observation.

punkster said...

Not exactly what either side of this discussion wants to hear but a balanced view.

Raj said...


I've been on record as opposing the appointment of Patrick Roy as coach because of what I've heard about:

a) his emotional volatility
b) his undeniable desire to win being transformed into incidents like having his players (even his own son) administer cheap shots to opponents and inciting fights (or worse) with them

If these are true (and I don't know if they are, I'm just repeating what I hear in the media), that would disqualify him in my eyes. I don't think poor sportsmanship of that nature ought to be countenanced. If they're not, well, why not? I know some feel he "quit" on the Habs when he demanded to be traded. I don't think a quitter wins 2 Stanley Cups on another team -- I don't hold that against him. I think he was treated poorly by an insecure coach and an equally insecure GM. There are certainly worse choices for coach.

But even more so than a new coach, as you expressed in your second most recent post, I think we need a different GM. The GM sets the tone for the franchise. I agree with you I don't like the tone our current on is setting.

MC said...

If the Habs are serious about Roy, they should give him the Bulldogs first. There is a big difference between coaching amateur boys and coaching professional men. Montreal is not a place to be making rookie errors in coaching. Damien Cox wrote a good article on how rare it is to have success coming from Junior http://www.thestar.com/iphone/sports/hockey/nhl/article/1093990--cox-dale-hunter-faces-enormous-hurdles-in-washington

A year or two Hamilton will allow him to make some mistakes without the spot light. He will only get one shot in Montreal, so the Habs need to set him up for success.

Anonymous said...

Wholeheartedly agree. I loved Roy as a player. And goalies do make great coaches (they spend a lot of time watching the game). But no way is Roy ready for this. Compare him to say....RANDY CUNNEYWORTH, who has EIGHT YEARS experience coaching actual pro players in the AHL, players that he was given by a General Manager, unlike Roy, who has the clout and the rings to convince to the best Junior players to join his team. And Mr. Cunneyworth won coach of the year honors in the Buffalo system, and last year did very well with the Bulldogs despite losing his two best players to the big club. Oh, and he's also been an assistant coach at the NHL level. Now THOSE are bonafide credentials!

Bottom line: I think everyone needs to give Randy Cunneyworth a chance to actually coach this team, and practice with this team, before assuming he is the wrong fit. I for one, like the changes I have seen and hope to see more.

Keep it up, JT!


Anonymous said...

I know he wants to win but he has no control of his emotions and would not be a good coach in Montreal,yet. He may prove to be a great coach but he has to pay his dues in the AHL first and then as an assistant in the NHL, somewhere else and then MAYBE ..
To be (just ) a coach in his eyes may not be enough,he may not want a GM telling him what to do because he is used to being the boss.
Let's hope the Habs don't make any sudden decisions in regards to Roy !

soperman said...

As a goalie I loved Patrick Roy almost as much as I loved Ken Dryden. But as a person he doesn't impress me in the least.

Roy's ego won't let him coach the Habs. He could not survive in an enrvironment where he did not have absolute control.

You certainly got it right about the two divergent opinions about Patrick Roy.

Ted Nolan once told his players (Moncton Wildcats) something like ~ Some guys are great players, some guys are jerks and some guys are both. ~ in response to Roy tearing a 16 year-old goalie a new one in the local paper. Most adults employed by Q teams show a little bit of respect to the young men trying to become professional hockey players, Patrick Roy does not.

dusty said...

This is a great followup to "Classless". What NHL franchise (other than maybe the Islanders), would consider a former player with no professional coaching experience for the job of head coach? And his main qualification? He speaks french.

JT, as usual, your post is exquisite covering all sides of the debate. I would only take issue with one point. When you say he might ruin everything, I think it's too late for that. The horse is already out of the barn. This is the perfect time to see what Roy can do. If things get worse we get the first overall pick. If things improve we have a coach all fans can love. It's win, win right? At least he isn't boring.

Personally I would like to see Cunneyworth finish the season and do well so that he can move on to a sane organization. He seems to be a nice person and knows hockey. But if he must go now, I vote for Roy. The timing is perfect.

One last comment. I disagree with the first comment that you are better when you dial down your emotions. Your emotions are large part of what brings me back day after day. Don't change a thing. Also, the comment seems more than a little sexist.

Anonymous said...

Hey, what's the worst that could happen with Roy pacing behind the bench? A tanked season? ... Oh, wait...

Anonymous said...

Actual quote from Lars Eller tonight: "I really enjoy playing for Randy," Eller said. "He's very close to the players, you can always go and talk to him and he'll talk to you about things. You never bad asking him a question because you know he wants to make you a better player."

Still think Cunneyworth is a bad coach?

And while we are at it, how about a little credit to Pierre Gauthier, for reaching for Eller - a player no one ever heard of, but who is now the toast of the town?


Woodvid said...

Anon: I don't think JT ever said RC is a bad coach; what she has said is that Gauthier/Molson threw him under the bus and in this circumstance has almost no chance of staying on, regardless of his ability.

Anonymous said...

@ Woodvid: My comment wasn't directed so much at JT, but you are right that I should have been more clear with what I wanted to say: A TON of readers and fans (and bloggers) are down on Cunneyworth because of his bad start. And I don't think that is fair, because it's only been 7 or 8 games now. In addition, no one is giving Cunneyworth any chance of succeeding beyond this season because of the comments made by Molson and Gauthier regarding bilingualism. And again, I would say, give Cunneyworth a chance to prove his worth. The Habs are playing better with him IMO, the players seem to like him, and he has been vocal about learning French by the end of this year. The man doesn't ask for self-pity, he is out to prove himself, and I like his attitude. I also think as time wears on, a growing number of fans will recognize his value. Bottom line: I think the chances of Cuneyworth (and yes, Gauthier) returning next year are better than we think.

I guess that's what I really meant to say. No harm intended. Thanks again JT, for providing this forum.