Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wilted Flower

Guy Lafleur is at it again. Unsatisfied with his status as hockey legend and Quebec hero, the former Canadiens star periodically enjoys expressing his opinion of the current incarnation of his old team. Quite often, the opinion is negative and hurtful. In 2008, he talked about the team being composed of "four fourth lines." In 2009, he said long-time captain Saku Koivu should have been traded years ago and should just go away to Minnesota to play with his brother. In 2012, he slammed the idea of the Habs hiring Patrick Roy as coach because he's too volatile. Now he's ridiculing Max Pacioretty and Tomas Vanek, claiming they're not ready to 'pay the price' to win in the playoffs and the team should let them go. All this, of course, is coming from an official Canadiens ambassador.

Nobody is denying Lafleur's right to speak his mind, and, as a team legend, his opinion carries weight and attracts comment. He's often lauded for his fearlessness in sharing his thoughts so freely. Where he's wrong, however, is in failing to recognizing the responsibility that comes with influence. When Lafleur says Vanek and Pacioretty failed to rise to the occasion in the post-season, it's not just the public hearing that. Inevitably, those players will hear it too. And, unless Lafleur actually talked to them and understands where they were coming from, he's being reckless with their reputations.

Pacioretty is 25 years old and is just emerging from his first real playoff experience with 11 points in 17 games including two series-winning goals. He's a streaky player, as are most goal scorers. He's also a career Canadien coming into his own as a go-to winger, on a very cap-friendly long-term deal. He took 55 shots in the playoffs, with an unfortunate 9.1% shooting percentage. He was involved, even if the goals weren't going in. This is a guy who is dedicated to training his body and giving back to the city in which he plays. While he may have some issues with confidence, it's all part of his development.

Vanek is 30, and has had the misfortune of playing for some terrible teams through his career. Still, in his previous 36 playoff games, he scored 20 points. His post-season this year was statistically better, with 10 points in 17 games. Even so, there's no comparison with his regular-season stats, which put him at 0.83 points per game, versus his 0.59 PPG in the post-season. In terms of his involvement for the Canadiens, he had 28 shots, with a strong 18% shooting percentage. One can't help but think if he'd taken more shots, he could have made more of a difference. He admitted as much himself after the team had been eliminated. He's also said all along he plans to hit the open market for the best contract he can get this summer.

These are two different players, at two different points in their careers, with two very different motivations. For Lafleur to lump the two of them together shows his lack of subtlety and understanding. A more thoughtful critic might remember that in his own first real playoff run of 17 games, he contributed only 8 points. He might think about how he felt when people complained about his lack of expected production in the early years, and how they said he might be a first-overall bust. Then, maybe, he'd consider what it would have been like for him if team icons like Jean Beliveau had chosen to dump on him in the press, and perhaps feel a bit of gratitude that he didn't have to deal with that.

Thomas Vanek likely won't be in Montreal very long after July 1, and Lafleur's comments probably won't affect the big pay day he's looking for. Max Pacioretty will be at Habs training camp in September, and he'll be asked about Lafleur's opinion of him. He'll think about how he recovered from a devastating injury as a Canadien, and how he always pushed himself to get better and get back in the lineup to help his team. He'll remember having a breakout year and almost cracking the forty-goal barrier, he'll consider the money he left on the table when he signed his contract, and he'll think about the work he's done every year to improve mentally and physically. While he's staring blankly over the field of microphones in his face and telling the media he can't help what other people think, and that he was doing the best he could in the playoffs, he'll probably be wondering too. He'll wonder why a guy who had such a great, honourable career would throw a fellow player under the bus like that.

Guy Lafleur had nothing to gain by making those comments, save a bit of a media furour and his name topping the sports news again. In his callous disregard for the fact that Pacioretty and Vanek are now in the position in which he once found himself...real people playing a tough game in the public eye...he did himself no favours. Nor is he helping the all-too-brief careers of players who could only be hurt by the things he said. It was thoughtless and those players deserve better from one of their own.


Harry said...

Hi JT,I always was a BIG Lafleur fan but this is as you say not a smart thing to say.It doesn't really matter what he says about Vanek,he will be gone and he is not really a Hab,BUT Max is and he almost gave his career for the Habs (see Chara hit).Time to back off Guy and mind your own business..

Thanks for the blog..

Unknown said...

I completely disagree. V and P didn't show up. Everyone knows that. V is leaving and is not interested in playing for the jersey. He's interested in winning and he said so himself. Well guess what, for someone who's interested in playing for a team that will win, where was he? As for P, he's one of the big guys our team, or city and our fans so desperately want to acquire and he didn't perform. Our little guys like Desharnais and Gally did, however.

Guy Lafleur can say what he wants. And I'm happy he did. I'm extra happy that this criticism can from a hockey legend. If this is too painful for P to hear, if this hurts his ego than is he the player we want on our team? Yes, it's his first playoff series, but look at Gally. His first as well. Look at PK when he played his first series. A rock star.

Ian said...

Loved watching Guy play in his day. Now, time to shut up, Guy, and don't undo the admiration and esteem we hold you in.

Brian said...

Max would have a better chance at being Guy on the 75-79 team than Guy would have had being Max this year. Enough said!

Steve said...

It was a very stupid thing for Guy to say. Maybe lots of truth there but in no way helpful to the Montreal Canadians. Rumours and writings abound about Max being on the sensitive side. This kind of broadside probably really hurt him.
As for Vanek, who knows what was going on. He struggled, but once again Guy's comments are not going to help recruit him or other star FA in the future.

However Guy did try and soften the blows. I hope in the future Guy heaps on the praise and leaves the negatives to lesser lights.

VJS said...

I would choose Lafleur's opinions over any blogger's. He has been there and excelled. He lived life large and he was willing to pay the price (ask Milbury). When you are in the HOF, you can voice your opinion without regard for petty minds. As an employee of the organization, he has access that no blogger would ever have. I applaud him for speaking his mind. I hope that MB listens. If Pacioretty goes crying to his mommy because it is too hard so play in Montreal, too bad. Evander Kane, Huberdeau, Drouin or Yakupov would huge upgrades. Btw, when MP gets hit he is not taking one for the team, he is demonstrating a lack of hockey IQ.