Montreal? Why Not? Habs Struggling to Attract UFAs

Benjamin Franklin once said that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. But if you ask anyone who has been the General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens, they will tell you that there’s a third one: many NHL players want nothing to do with playing in Montreal.

Since taking over the job in the summer of 2012, Marc Bergevin has had the unfortunate reality thrown in his face in a few occasions. Every summer, reputable hockey insiders report that Bergevin is in on pending Unrestricted Free Agent yet, it seems like they all sign elsewhere. Just last summer, the Canadiens’ GM had tons of money to throw at pending UFA John Tavares but the former Islanders’ captain didn’t even want to grant Montreal a meeting. If that’s not enough to discourage a GM, I don’t know what is. But in spite of the setbacks, Bergevin keeps plugging away at it. Eventually, one will say yes, right? Right?

Again this past summer, insiders said that Bergevin and the Canadiens were one of the final four teams being considered by the highly coveted centre Matt Duchene and we know what happened: he signed with the Nashville Predators. Bergevin had to resort to signing Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet, a topic which he discussed recently with Marc Denis on RDS.

But why would that be? We’re talking about the NHL’s oldest and most decorated franchise in history. No less than 24 times have captains of the Canadiens lifted the Stanley Cup over their head at the end of the playoffs. And yet in the annual players’ poll done by the NHLPA, the Bell Centre is always amongst the top as a place where players love to play and on quality of ice. Well folks, there are several factors it seems.

TAXES

Here’s what is probably one of the biggest factors: Taxes. In order to compensate for the taxe aspect of the contract, the team often is having to overpay to get players to listen and even then, it’s no guarantee. Yet, they have the same salary cap, creating an uneven playing field.

Alexander Radulov chose the money.

For example, Alexander Radulov was offered the exact same contract by Bergevin and the Canadiens, hoping that the controversial Russian player would acknowledge that the previous year, they gave him a chance to get back to the NHL… to no avail. Based on the calculator on Capfriendly.com, the Habs would have had to pay Radulov around $8 million instead of the $6.25 million Dallas is paying him, in order for him to take home the same amount. That’s almost $2 million that the team couldn’t spend on other players and for what? Just to compensate for taxes! Yes, there are ways for players to write off some expenses but the same can be said in any other NHL City.

Until the NHL decides to have some sort of equalizer, it will stay the same. According to hockey experts and analysts, this is one of the major contributing factors as to why no Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Habs did it in 1993.

WEATHER

How often have we heard players in Florida or in California saying that they love being able to get to the rink in shorts and t-shirts, or go to the beach after practice? You’re not going to do that in Montreal during hockey season! As a matter of fact, getting around in Montreal is a challenge in any season, but winters are particularly troublesome. Of the Canadian Cities, even Vancouver is better in that aspect than Montreal.

FISHBOWL EFFECT

While there are many media outlets in all Canadian Cities, Montreal is known as having the most. There are often more media members at a Habs’ practice than there are in many other Cities’ games. While the sheer number can represent a problem for some UFAs, it’s the dramatization and constant negativity that draws the most attention with the players. The Réjean Tremblay, Michel Villeneuve and Brendan Kelly‘s of this world are the TMZ of Montreal and players do take notes.

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Who doesn’t remember when Carey Price‘s wife, Angela, having to deny rampant rumours about her relationship with her husband, and taking onto Instagram to stop the stupid speculations? We touched on this very blog on other examples, which prompted yours truly to depict some of them as Les MisérHABS… Don’t think for a second that when a wife’s player comes out publicly like Angela had to do, it has no effect on players. It certainly does. If they don’t have to deal with those issues elsewhere, they’ll go there instead or at least, it will be an important factor.

And then, there’s the fans… self-proclaimed the most knowledgeable fans in the NHL, Habs’ fans can be relentless to say the least. As an example, just look at the constant bashing Bergevin receives from those who are still hot that he had the audacity to trade away P.K. Subban. Many won’t even acknowledge that Shea Weber is a better player, and certainly better in the dressing room as well. Players notice that as well folks. That’s not knowledge, it’s stubbornness, borderline harassment. For some, it’s more important to try saving face than admit that they were wrong, a terrible quality for people claiming to be fans of THE TEAM.

LACK OF PRIVACY

In Montreal, it’s a fact that players can’t go anywhere without being recognized. As fans, we tend to think that it comes with the territory but players in that situation may find it cool to start, it doesn’t take long before they think otherwise. They can’t take their kids anywhere, they can’t go to the restaurant, movies or any other “normal” activity without having a crowd around them asking for autographs.

Who here doesn’t remember when back in May 2013, Bergevin gave struggling Carey Price his full support after the team’s elimination at the hands of the Ottawa Senators in the first round? The Canadiens’ goaltender was quoted saying that the pressure was getting to him. He said he would no longer even go to a grocery store to avoid grilling from fans over his performances and that he sometimes felt like a “hobbit in a hole.” To which the Habs’ GM jokingly responded: “Maybe I can do his groceries for him.”

LANGUAGE

And here we go… sensitive topic as always, the language issue in Montreal resurfaces from time to time and this is one of them. A constant but delicate topic, whether it’s for the choice of a coach or GM, the so-called lack of QMJHL players selected by the Habs at the Draft, the language the team captain speaks… Who amongst you have already forgotten the outrage over Randy Cunneyworth‘s appointment as interim coach, replacing Jacques Martin, back in 2011?

Whether we agree with it or not, protests like the one shown above make their turn around the league and NHL players watch that, shake their head and they become contributors in their decision to come play in Montreal or pick a different destination once they reach free agency.

Many players have a wife and kids and when a player becomes a UFA, he is consulting with his spouse and wants to do what’s right for the family. The kids’ education is very important and giving them the option to the best school (in English) is a factor. Granted, some of their beliefs are misconceptions but to them, it’s legitimate. The issue is that often, players won’t take the time to listen to Bergevin and the team, giving them a chance to answer their concerns. That’s a fact, a reality that exists, regardless of if WE think it’s important or not, if it’s legitimate or not. It is to them and ultimately, THEY are the ones making the decision.

SOLUTION

Some of the above-mentioned factors are more prominent than others and as we know, some are simply misconceptions. But there is no denying that it takes a special type of character to play in Montreal. If one tends to succumb to pressure, they will rapidly sink in a Habs’ uniform while others thrive under that same pressure.

It seems like the only way to convince players that Montreal isn’t as bad of a place to play hockey as some seem to think, the Canadiens have to trade for them to give them a taste. Jeff Petry, after being acquired at the trade deadline in 2015, has signed a six-year contract extension with the team and he seems to truly enjoy playing in Montreal. Perhaps paying a bigger price at trade deadline to give those key players a taste, would be the way to go? I mean look at what Max Domi has to say about the Habs, their fans and the atmosphere of playing in the biggest pressure-cooker in the NHL:

Which leads me to the final point: the narrative of “it’s the GM’s job to convince free agents to come to Montreal”. There are very few narratives being more far fetched than that. It’s an attempt at simplifying a very complex situation, one that most fans can read right through. It’s mostly being used by people who have an agenda, an axe to grind against the GM, and who will use any means in their arsenal to put him down, to prove their point. They likely don’t even know how ridiculous such statements can be. But we know who they are, right Habs’ fans?

Enjoy the rookie camp, the golf tournament, the main camp and the pre-season games folks as for the first time in a very long time, the Canadiens and their fans have a lot to be excited about. Go Habs Go!

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Santa Habs Naughty List

This is the season where kids everywhere are hoping for presents, even making their list and sending them to the North Pole for Santa to take into consideration. While most children do get presents, some have been just too nasty and naughty to get anything but… coal. As Santa Habs is reviewing the list from smaller and bigger kids, we have been asked to help Santa by providing him some feedback on who, in spite of their demanding ways, don’t deserve presents, and supporting our justification with the reasons why. Without further ado, let’s have a look at those who will likely be receiving coal this coming Christmas.

Brendan Kelly (The Gazette)

When showbizz is your bread and butter and you try to play sports writer, you tend to take your “skills” from the likes of TMZ and that’s just what Mr. Kelly does. Just about every tweet, every article that he writes has for sole purpose criticizing and putting down the Montreal Canadiens organization and/or the team General Manager Marc Bergevin. Why you might ask? Because they dared trading his favourite player over two years ago. Silly I know, but that’s what happened. There’s nothing wrong with showing displeasure in an action but when one can’t even admit the good things this organization has done since then, it makes you wonder “What the Puck” is wrong with this individual. No presents for you, Brendan Kelly!

Alex Galchenyuk’s father 

Alex Galchenyuk is filled with mad skills but for whatever reasons, he just couldn’t put it all together in Montreal. Some like blaming the organization, primarily former coach Michel Therrien, for playing him on the wing instead of at centre but that theory flew out the window a long time ago when a second experienced coach, a Stanley Cup winner nonetheless, Claude Julien, also decided that centre wasn’t for him. After he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi (what a trade!), they thought that they had a centre in their hands… until they too moved him to the wing. But that’s not all on the player. We found out that his father had too much to do with his son’s development (or lack of thereof) as Chucky was texting with him in between period during NHL games! Dad had too much negative influence on his son and ultimately, it’s his son who’s paying the price! No presents for you, Mr. Galchenyuk!

Alexander Radulov 

Uncle Scrooge McDuck Radulov

“I love Montreal, I love the fans”, was Alexander Radulov claiming… until he was presented a contract in January but he chose to inform Bergevin that he wanted to test the UFA market in July. Then, he wanted well north of $7 million per season to continue his love of the Canadiens, which the Habs weren’t willing to pay (and rightfully so). The Canadiens were offering him the same contract that Radulov accepted from the Dallas Stars (5 years, around $31 million). So while Radulov loved Montreal, he forgot who gave him his chance to make a comeback in the NHL and he clearly loved money even more as you see, Dallas doesn’t have state tax. Shame on those who distort that story by blaming the organization. Radulov didn’t want to be hated and that’s why he lied about this whole story. He didn’t want to be seen as the Uncle Scrooge McDuck that he is. No presents for you, Mr. Radulov! 

Max Pacioretty and Allan Walsh

When you ask to be traded when you’re the team captain, after the organization supported you in your dispute with P.K. Subban, and then you deny it, it speaks of your character (or lack of thereof). When you change agents like you change underwear, it says even more. Yes, you signed at rebate in your last contract but you didn’t have a gun to your head and no, it’s not to the organization to “make it up” for you. Particularly not when you pout and put a half-ass effort out there, scoring 17 goals in a season. The Captain is supposed to be the last one jumping ship, not the one asking to get off first. Fans have no doubt that you and your crooked agent have asked for a trade. You got your money in Vegas. Enjoy. We, in Montreal, certainly enjoy Tomas Tatar, and will enjoy Nick Suzuki and whomever we will draft in the second round from that trade. No presents for you, Max Pacioretty and Allan Walsh

Marc Bergevin Haters

Yes you, who went on the warpath against Bergevin after he selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi, pretending that you knew more than the professionals hired to do that job, shame on you! Yes you, who took the same path by dissing Max Domi after the Canadiens traded for him, shipping Galchenyuk to the desert, you are no better (some being the same people). Isn’t it great when your ignorance and lack of hockey knowledge is thrown back in your face by seeing it posted everywhere? There’s a lesson to learn here: take a deep breath and do the reasonable thing… wait and see how it pans out before jumping off the Jacques-Cartier bridge! No presents for you, self-proclaimed knowledgeable hockey fans!

NHL Referees

The officiating in this league is absolutely brutal and it has been since they decided to go the the two-referees system. It is so painful for all fans around the league, not just for Habs’ fans, that every single game, someone is complaining. Enough with the incompetence as it’s time for the league to recognize their mistake and revert back to a different system instead of having incompetent people making key decision on the game. Also, linesmen, fans don’t play $200 per ticket to see you put on a show by randomly chasing players from the faceoffs’ circle. DROP THE PUCK! No presents for you, stripes!x

Now to all of those who form the vast majority of Habs’ fans, media members and people around the NHL, may Santa Habs bring you what you deserve: health, love and success in what you do. We’ll all be chanting together: Go Habs Go!