Into the fire: Five Habs hot topics

Just a few games into the 2011-2012 campaign and we are not lacking topics of discussion when it comes to the Montreal Canadiens. True that the team’s on-ice performance isn’t helping any, but the drama through the media and fan forums has everyone questioning everything so far in this very early season. Here are five of the hottest topics so far:

Andrei Markov

News came out that Habs’ defenseman Andrei Markov will stay in Florida for a third consecutive week. Rumours are circulating on the internet to the effect that the Canadiens’ management is not happy with the whole situation as they apparently had received confirmation from the medical staff that Markov was close to a return at 100%. This is a major setback for the organization that not only risked over $17 million on the Russian defenseman over a three year period, but gambled that he could return to form as well. As we know, Markov was skating on his own and GM Pierre Gauthier had announced that if Markov wasn’t ready for day one, he wouldn’t be missing much time in October. It will be interesting to see how things unfold in the next few weeks, but I’m thinking that if the rumours are true, there might be some high end lawyers looking into an out in this contract.

Scott Gomez

The overpaid center made no excuses at the end of last season when, in front of cameras and teammates, he acknowledged that had he played better, the Habs would still be in the playoffs. It was documented that he worked harder than he ever had this summer and showed some good things in pre-season. Unfortunately, he was not having the start of the season he was hoping for before injuring his shoulder (or upper body as they say) against the Penguins on Thursday. I don’t doubt that Gomez wants to have a good season but the fact remains that following a 36 points season, fans, teammates and management were entitled to seeing an improvement. Gomez is the story of a desperate GM who offered him too much money, and of another GM who made a mistake by trading for him. Can’t blame the guy for signing the contract in front of him and the expectations shouldn’t be based on that contract. That being said, people are entitled to comparing his performances to his past production and that’s where the problem sits right now.

P.K. Subban

After a great first season last year, the sophomore jinx seems to be pointing its ugly nose at one of the fan favourites in Montreal. Subban has all the tools to succeed but in order to have success, he must find a way to channel his high energy by learning to make better decisions on the ice. While the tendency is to try to take the team on your back when things start going wrong, that’s actually when he needs to keep things simple and reel it back a notch or two. Go back to basics PK, for the good of the team, as we know that it’s not a lack of skills or a lack of will, but rather over-exuberance that gets you off your game.

Jacques Martin

While not happy with the hiring, I was willing to give the runner a chance. In spite of the smoke screen of a 2nd round exit from the playoffs two years ago, riding the coat tail of a hot goaltender, I’m very disappointed. This team has too much speed and creativity to be sitting back with 5 players in front of their own net. The Subban, Weber and Diaz need to be able to do like the defensemen in Vancouver and join the rush to better support the offense. Also, in spite of what he may believe, the players would greatly appreciate some muscle in the line-up to better protect them. Many say that Muller was the one the players respected. I buy that. As much as I love Bob Gainey, he made two mistakes: yes, he traded for Gomez but the worst of all is the hiring of Martin.

Geoff Molson

He has stated himself having an anonymous Twitter account, following his players and members of the media. That’s cool for an owner and President of the most decorated franchise in the NHL. But Mr. Molson is also a hockey fan and while he’s done a good job staying away from the day to day hockey decisions so far, something tells me that if Pierre Gauthier and his coaching staff can’t right the ship soon, the owner’s patience will be put to the test. We know the Molson family’s relationship with Serge Savard and when Savard spoke against the current management in a recent episode of L’Antichambre on RDS, one would think that Geoff Molson was listening and might even share some of the Senator’s concerns.

Now here’s my real concern: this situation isn’t without reminding me of 1995. We’ll remember that the Habs were having a poor start to the season and after 5 consecutive losses, Ronald Corey fired Serge Savard and Jacques Demers to replace them with Rejean Houle and Mario Tremblay. We know the rest… In my humble opinion, Gauthier has attempted to create some job security for himself and his buddy Martin by letting Julien Brisebois and Guy Boucher go to Tampa Bay, then Kirk Muller to the Blackhawks’ organization. Still, changes need to occur at the very least behind the bench as this team could do so much better.

En français: Dans le feu: Cinq sujets chauds sur le Canadien

The truth hurts: Don Cherry tells it like he sees it!

Who in the NHL hockey world doesn’t know Don “Grapes” Cherry by now? The 77 year old former player and former NHL coach has been telling his side of things on thousands of hockey related topics on Hockey Night in Canada since the early 80’s. Controversial and well known for his loud suits and even louder mouth, he’s not afraid to speak his mind even if he knows that he’ll ruffle some feathers.

In his most recent Coach’s Corner on CBC this past Thursday, Cherry went on a rant against Brendan Shanahan for his severe suspensions, saying that by doing so, he will take hitting out of hockey as that he’s giving the players excuses not to hit. Further, he blasted those, including the media, who took advantage on the fact that 3 enforcers passed away this summer to run an anti-fighting campaign. He pushed the issue further again by calling former fighters Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson “pukes” and “hypocrites” for, according to Cherry, implying that their substance and alcohol abuse on the fact that they were fighters. To his credit, Cherry did do some research on past suicide.

See for yourself:

Nilan, on his Twitter, requested a public apology from Cherry. Grapes’ response on Sportsnet radio? Tough luck. He did however say that he shouldn’t have called them “pukes” on TV, but remained firm on his stance that the only reason why they made such a good living is because of the fact that there were fights in the NHL and pointed out that those 3 are trying to prevent others to do the same. Here’s the audio and video:

Cherry’s clarification on Sportsnet

I will say this: While not a big fan of Cherry, I am 100% behind him on this whole story. The media knows that he’s right. The people he pointed the finger at also know it.

In my last blog, I actually question Shanahan when he chose to not suspend Ryan Malone and wondered if the players do know exactly what his message actually is. I do agree that the hits will be fewer and further between because when in doubt, players won’t want to risk a suspension that will see them lose thousands of dollars.

As for fighting, Grapes hit the nail right smash on the head! When talking on Sportsnet, he and Nick Kypreos made reference to the fastest growing sport in the world, the MMA. I strongly suggest you listen to that part of the conversation as they make such good points that the opponents don’t want to talk about it! Cherry is right! The media is jumping on a bandwagon campaign and report what’s on THEIR personal agenda! Think about it… why so many current and former NHL’ers are pro-fighting and why don’t their comments publicized?

Fact remains that fighting is part of NHL hockey and while the sport has evolved, some people are trying too hard to control everything off the ice by making stupid rules (instigator) and implementing longer suspensions, and now the talk about eliminating fighting. But what they’re truly doing instead is creating some major collateral damage by putting more weapons in the hands of cheap shot artists who don’t need to answer to anyone about their actions. Then they’ll try to come with even more stupid rules and the wheels on the bus go round and round…

I don’t like where the NHL is heading and truthfully, I don’t know what we can do to stop them. But one thing is certain: it starts at the leadership level and Bettman doesn’t know enough about the game itself to do anything about it.

En français: La vérité choque: Don Cherry le dit comme il le voit!