What is the impact of local players on the Canadiens?

A never ending topic, a discussion coming back to the table periodically, is the one about the number of players from Quebec with the Canadiens as when they won Stanley Cups, the Quebecois contingent was always strong and many were important contributors. Last year, the Canadiens started the season with 3 local products in their ranks: Maxim Lapierre, Mathieu Darche and Alexandre Picard. We know the story with Lapierre and thankfully, David Desharnais saved the day although he only played 12 minutes per game on average. The year before, the Habs started the season with Guillaume Latendresse, Georges Laraque and Maxim Lapierre. Some fans did everything in their power to chase Latendresse and Laraque out of town and we know what happened. We can be “thankful” for Markov’s injury as that’s when Marc-André Bergeron was offered a contract, and the late call-up of Darche.

But why is this happening? Some “influent” people (and I put it in quotation marks as a decision maker is part of it, Jacques Martin) are meeting at a summit on hockey to discuss the topic. It is a fact that the QMJHL doesn’t seem to be competitive at the Memorial Cup, that there are less and less players from the “Q” being drafted for a few years now and that’s an issue that Gilles Courteau doesn’t take lightly, in collaboration with Hockey Quebec. It is also true that there are fewer and fewer Quebecois in the NHL but the teams who have them seem to appreciate being able to count on them. Whether it’s Luongo, Burrows, Brodeur, Gagné, Brière, Pominville, Bergeron (Patrice), Vermette, Robidas, Ribeiro, Bouchard, Bouillon, Lombardi, Vlasic, Demers, Perron, Lecavalier, St-Louis, Veilleux, Beauchemin, Bélanger, Stastny, Dupuis, Talbot, Letang or Fleury, we’re talking about players contributing to their team’s success!

But why this phenomena?

Is it due to the economy? Is it because kids now days have so many other choices of sports? The economy and the choices are similar in other provinces, and those provinces don’t seem to suffer as much looking at Team Canada Junior’s success, and the number of players drafted from the WHL and OHL. Unfortunately, some prefer crying discrimination, choosing to blame others instead of facing the problem by looking in the mirror.

I have my theory… For several years now, seeing Canada lose ground at the international level, Hockey Canada searched for answers and reasons. Seeing the level of skills in Europe, they looked in the mirror and realized that not enough time was spent at developing skills and too much time allocated for games. They also recognized that in order to develop those players, coaches have to be qualified. That’s when they implemented the Program of Excellence, which Wayne Gretzky (amongst others) was part of. If someone wants to coach minor hockey in Canada, they need to take some extensive coaching clinics and the suggested ratio practice/game is now 4 practices for every game played!

Someone told me a few years back that Hockey Quebec didn’t want to follow suit and preferred keeping the status quo without Hockey Canada’s help. We’re seeing them today scramble to catch up, looking for solutions, by creating summits like the one they’re having now. Except that this time, it is great to see that the president of Hockey Canada, Bob Nicholson, is part of it. Let’s just hope that Hockey Quebec will listen very carefully to what Mr. Nicholson has to say this time around… about twenty years later! Sometimes, one can learn just as much relying on others’ experience instead of waiting to experience it themselves, while being just as efficient and mostly, learning quicker.

How can the Canadiens help?

Even living in British-Columbia some 4,000 kilometers away, I can recognize the importance and even the need to have players from Quebec playing for the Montreal Canadiens.

You see, Montreal is different than any other NHL city if only from the fact of the language spoken. Yes, many in Quebec (especially in Montreal) are bilingual but a vast majority in the rest of the province, including children, don’t understand English. They do want to be able to not only understand, but relate to the players, to have some sort of connection with them, with the team.

It is just as important when looking at marketing, as all 82 Habs’ games are televised on RDS (French station, French commercials for French speaking people), as well as for corporate boxes at the Bell Centre when the majority of the investors are French and do business in Quebec, in French, not counting the publicity sold by the organization in and out of the rink.

As for the attachment, it’s nothing new as if we go back in history, going all the way back to the conception of the Montreal Canadiens, to the root of the team, it was created in the mind set of creating a rivalry, having a team of French players, playing against the English, the Maroons.

Later on, Maurice Richard was not only a great player but foremost, he was the idol of a nation, Quebec, a symbol standing tall against the English, an ordinary guy from home, a neighbour who was the best in a sport that we loved, playing for the Montreal Canadiens! And it was a similar feeling towards Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur after him.

I remember about 40 years ago when I started playing hockey and growing up through the minor hockey systems in Quebec, I had the privilege of being able to associate myself, to relate to players like Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Guy Lafleur, Yvon Lambert and Mario Tremblay amongst others, players who gave me the hope of a dream… If you were to ask the younger ones, they would tell you that they lived similar situations by looking up to Patrick Roy, Guy Carbonneau, Claude Lemieux, Stéphane Richer, Vincent Damphousse, Pierre Turgeon and Eric Desjardins… If those players from my neighbourhood, who speak my language, can make it big, why can’t I dream of doing the same, was I thinking to myself?

You see, it’s more than admiring hockey players. But as young boys playing hockey (or liking the sport) and as a Habs’ fan, it was a motivation, an example that young boys from Quebec can succeed, achieve their dream of one day, wearing the red, white and blue and have their turn at being idolized, admired by young hockey players as they did themselves.

And the support

Having said that, with everything that has happened in recent years, it is evident that one needs a particular personality to succeed in Montreal as in today’s NHL, they fill your pockets with money at the very beginning of your career, you are recognized everywhere in town, puck-bunnies and all, and everything that comes with what I call “vedettaria”, an illness which swells the head of its victims, giving them the impression that they’re bigger than what they really are. It looks like the only cure is to send them to another city by trading them, which has for effect to take down the swelling and bring back the work ethics that saw them get the success that brought them to the NHL to start with. According to some, Guillaume Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre are the most recent ones to have suffered from it but we find other similar cases over the years, guys like Mike Ribeiro, Jose Theodore and Pierre Dagenais amongst others…

Having said that, while we can point fingers to players from Quebec, it seems like every young player coming to play in Montreal is subject to it. We saw guys like Higgins, the Kostitsyn brothers, Pacioretty and Price falling to it, with some recovering on time it seems. That’s why it’s crucial to find great veterans to mentor those young players, to teach them the ropes, what to avoid and teach them how to become true professionals on and off the ice. And to look at some current veterans including Hal Gill, the Canadiens seem to have learned their lesson.

I will conclude by saying that in spite of what some may think, it is very important to have local players (from Quebec) on the Montreal Canadiens’ roster but even more important is the selection of those players as well of how they are supported. You need to have a certain quality, a define personality to succeed in Montreal and it’s even more true when it comes to local players.

En français: Mais pourquoi des Québécois avec le Canadien?

NHL discipline: Possible solution

Since the beginning of time, when hockey started becoming a competitive sport, there have been infractions. That’s how the rules evolved, based on events happening on the ice, in ways to try to improve on the quality of the spectacle. Some of those infractions were deemed “over-the-top” and that’s when suspensions started to be handed out.

Over the years, the NHL has been plagued with what seemed like unfair calls, and it became even more evident to fans when it came to suspensions. Sure that bias played a role in the fans’ claims, but some calls left many people scratching their heads. Who has not heard or read about the suspension handed to the Rocket Richard, leading to the well documented riot?

With technology being what it is now, every action by a player towards another is being examined, scrutinized, not only by the media but by fans as well. Videos pop on Youtube almost as quickly as instant replays, or so it seems. Debates amongst friends and foes follow suit in an attempt to determine if the action deserves a suspension or not.

For too long now, the NHL has relied on a single man to decide on the severity of a players’ action, and if he should or not be suspended, as well as how long this suspension should be. This has been controversial dating back as far as I can remember and it’s certainly no different today.

Back in 2007, New York Islanders’ player Chris Simon stomped on Jarko Ruutu and was handed what was back then the longest suspension in league history: 30 games. A year later, Chris Pronger who was then playing for the Anaheim Ducks, stomped on Ryan Kesler’s leg, a gesture reminding everyone of Simon’s incident. But wait: The NHL suspended Pronger for… 8 games! Yet, both players had a history of suspension.

Another example (and I know this will rub some people the wrong way) is the recent incident when Zdeno Chara pushed Max Pacioretty’s head into the stanchion at the Bell Centre on a late hit. Chara received a 5 minutes penalty for interference and a game misconduct. The league judged that Chara’s action deserved no suspension. Yet, in the playoffs against Vancouver, Canucks’ defenseman Aaron Rome caught Nathan Horton with his head down and clocked him, again a hit that was slightly late. Rome also received a 5 minutes penalty for interference and a game misconduct. In a ruling that caught many off guard, the NHL suspended Rome for the rest of the playoffs!

But what if, in order to bring some true justice, the NHL and the NHLPA were to be pro-active? What if they implemented a different concept in time for the next CBA? What if, instead of putting everything on one man’s shoulders, they chose to form a committee instead? Here’s what I would like to see happen, aside from getting rid of the instigator rule as we know it, as it’s a whole different topic all together.

In my recommendation, the NHL would elect one representative to be part of this committee. The NHLPA would also nominate a delegate. I would then suggest adding one more member, neutral, and I would suggest a former NHL referee. This way, short of having fans make the decisions, every aspect of the game would be represented, giving a more transparent look to the whole process. If they can’t come to an agreement, they proceed to a vote.

But wait, I’ll go further. A player should have the right to appeal the decision. The appeal should come at a cost, both in dollars and games missed while the amounts are to be determined. You would have on the one end the decision rendered by the committee, and on the other end a proposal from the player and his agent. Both sides would plead their case to the arbitrator who would then have to decide which of the two is more reasonable. The dollars collected from the player would go towards paying the arbitrator.

Is this a perfect system? Likely not. But it is, in my humble opinion, a much better system than what’s in place right now as it’s simply not working.

En français: Discipline LNH: Une solution possible