Monday, May 11, 2020

Head Down, Stay Down

I love hockey. I love the speed, excitement, fun and brilliance of the game.

I love the Canadiens and all their storied history and hopeful future. But right now, I don't want hockey back.

I don't want a weird empty-seat arena with no involvement from fans, or a staged, odd Stanley Cup playoff featuring quarantined players cobbled together by league officials to keep the money coming in.

It's not worth it. South Korea, generally recognized as the best example of effectively suppressing COVID-19 in the world, decided to gently rescind some of its isolation restrictions, and yesterday reported 85 new cases in Seoul. In North America, where meat-packing plants and seniors' homes are incubators for the virus, there's no way to avoid an escalation of disease and death by returning to business as usual anytime soon.


I am not a good flyer, so several years ago, while watching "Sully," I was petrified by the flight attendants shouting for passengers to "Brace, brace, brace! Head down, stay down" as the plane plunged toward the Hudson River below.

That's kind of the way it feels about wishing pro sports back right now. We're not safe from this virus. We're not even aware of everything it can do to the human body. Right now, we've hit a flock of diseased geese and we're plunging toward the river as health officials warn us to brace for impact.

In that environment, players who have no alternative than to be within close proximity to each other while sneezing, spitting and otherwise sharing droplets, would be at serious risk of passing the virus around. Even if they stayed in hotels to avoid infecting their families, nobody really knows the long-term effects on high-level athletes. Early research says it can damage the circulatory system and narrow the arteries. And we know it can open the immune system to other infections. There's also early evidence of long-term loss of lung capacity that could take years to repair.

For young men whose livelihoods depend on good health and superior physical ability, returning to play now seems like a dangerous and unnecessary risk to take.


We know players want to play. Even the Canadiens, who had zero chance of making the playoffs this year, refused to lie down and give up. But you know what? Nobody's getting what they want as this pandemic continues.

Our kids don't get to graduate from high school or have a prom like everyone else had. Our mothers didn't get to see their grandchildren on Mother's Day. Those of us who are working from home feel isolated and disconnected from our co-workers and the energy we share when we work together. Birthday parties, funerals, weddings, holidays, anniversaries, church services...everything that we do to mark the passing of milestones and the ceremony we need to acknowledge our life-changing moments are not happening. And no, Zoom is not the same.

So, in light of the unknown and serious consequences of contracting this virus, in an environment when everything else in life has changed, upset over missing a few pro hockey games seems a bit frivolous.

I want to see Nick Suzuki develop into the dynamo he'll be in a year or so. I'd love to watch Brendan Gallagher drive the net with that big shit-eating grin. But I want them and their teammates and all the athletes for whom we love to cheer to stay alive. I want them to be healthy and not risk damaging their hearts and lungs because the NHL decided it's okay to finish the season this year.

It's not okay. It's scary and dangerous and although the league has in the past ignored evidence proving brain injury is a serious problem in the game, it has a chance now to protect the players it employs.

They have kids and parents and a life outside hockey, so for all their sakes, I hope they put their heads down and keep them down until this thing lands safely on the other side.

Anyway, it's much more fun watching the Habs win the Cup in re-runs than it is to watch them play a dozen meaningless games over the rest of this season while putting their very lives at risk. Sometimes it's better when you know the movie has a happy ending.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Deal or No Deal?

The Canadiens are going to make the playoffs.

I don't believe that, but the players think they have a chance if they play their hearts out and get a bit of luck along the way. The important thing is, the veterans are holding to that belief.

For a team that purports to be dedicated to developing a winner from within, that's a very important teaching tool. The core of young players like Jonathan Drouin, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, Cale Fleury, Max Domi and Victor Mete and those who will be following them to the Show soon, need to know how to believe.

That's why it's important for Marc Bergevin to avoid moving players like Tomas Tatar at the trade deadline next month.

Unless he intends to do a proper, thorough rebuild and attempt to trade big-salaried veterans like Carey Price and Shea Weber, there's not really a point in trading for picks that may or may not pan out eventually and giving up players who are producing and helping the current youth group grow.

The Canadiens draft record isn't so stellar that they can count on converting second and third-round picks to lineup regulars in the next three years. So becoming caught up in a cycle of trading for picks, then trading those fledgling players for more picks in an eternal void of success doesn't make sense.

It's better for the youth to develop with leadership and hope for a year or two before dumping players for picks.

After all, how many examples have we seen of young players arriving, filled with hope and expectation, only to be mishandled, underdeveloped or traded away? And all the other examples of trading for picks, only to trade those picks on for another player who'll, in turn, be traded away?

The Canadiens have to do something different if they hope to develop this group well enough to actually open a Cup window. Right now, if they learn to believe in themselves, that's enough.

So, no deal. The Canadiens are likely not going to make the playoffs, but if they get healthy and pull together, that belief could make all the difference.