When the Habs were losing to the Blue Jackets in last night's game, my friend turned to me and said something that I'd been thinking, and something i expect everybody clear across Canada had been thinking as well.
It's the same old story.
And this wasn't just a statement about how the Canadiens always seem to come out flat against bottom dwellers and conversely play our best against better teams. No this was much more than that, it was an all-encompassing declaration: we, the Habs, (and yes, Habs fans are indeed a part of the team) have been perpetually stuck in neutral since 1993.
Bold statement you say?
Not really. When you put aside the many excuses for our failed attempts to regain our early 90's cup glory (bad drafting, bad trades, bad players, bad coaching, bad luck), it all ends up being just that, excuses, and simply put, not good enough. After a loss the other day, Martin alluded to the fact that he's barely ever had Markov in the lineup since his coaching debut. I'm sure some reporters at that particular press conference probably felt for the guy, but my first thought was "did Dan Bylsma ever whine about not having Crosby in the lineup"? I highly doubt it. Habs fans across the country are beginning to get tired of the excuses. Scratch that: they are tired, exhausted even.
Whether it was the Houle administration, where we frittered away star players in ridiculous trades and crippled our future with horrible drafting; the Savard administration, where we had no talent and were saved only by miraculous goaltending; or the Gainey/Gauthier administration, where we've had the most talent in years, but seemingly the wrong coach/system to harness it; it all comes back to the same thing: failure.
The big question then is: why has nothing much changed in almost 20 years? Many will waffle on this particular question, humming and hawing about how there is no clear answer, that there are too many intangibles, yadda, yadda, yaddda. I disagree. The answer is quite simple:
It's the same old story.
Too simple you might ask? Unfortunately no, it really is as simple as that. Since winning the cup in '93, the Montreal Canadiens have made no bold moves, no radical changes in philosophy, no substantial attempt to turn a perpetual also-ran into an annual contender. In 1995, they traded away their best player, Patrick Roy. 10 years later, they drafted their now best player, Carey Price. Basically, they fixed a mistake. in 2011, they acquired free agent Erik Cole. This was the first time in recent memory that the organization made an off-season acquisition that was desperately needed. Yes, you heard me. First time. Since the mid-nineties, fans have been clamoring for a big, top 6 center or a dominating power forward. 15 years later we got one. 15 years...
And it's not like they haven't had their opportunities to turn the ship around. Just 2 1/2 years ago, Bob Gainey had a truckload of cash lying around to spend on free agents, players that now make up the framework of our current team. But instead of addressing those obvious needs, (big center and winger), we ended up with slightly better versions of the players we let go, just a bit smaller. It was the beginning of what supposed to be a promising new era. Instead it was just...
The same old story.
There is no clear solution to our problems, but I think a pretty good place to start is with the management team. After all, it's a lot easier to change that than it is to completely change a team's personnel. And heck, we've already done that. We did change the team around, with basically the same management staff. Maybe its a sign that all the marquee players we've brought in (Cammalieri, Gomez, Gionta, Spacek) have regressed since arriving. Maybe, just maybe, they aren't the problem, just like the previous batch of stars (Kovalev, Koivu, Higgins, Ryder, Ribeiro) may not have been the problem either.
In my opinion, we've witnessed almost 2 decades worth of tinkering, and nothing else. GM's and managers have come and gone, with the same big talk about reclaiming past glories, but those statements were clearly empty promises. In truth, nobody has really ever come in here and taken the bull by the horns. It's sad to say, but the organization simply lacks balls, or a willingness to say "we've failed, time to try something else." Maybe the reason for that is because the team, no matter how much it fails to win trophies or impress it's fanbase in some way, is, and always will be, safely in the black.
So why would you make drastic changes if you're making millions? Because, just like any profitable business, disaster might creep up on you if you remain complacent. If there was one word to describe the Montreal Canadiens it would be just that: complacency. Slowly but surely, fans are beginning to tire of this inactivity, this unwillingness to adapt with the times. Simply put, people are getting apathetic. Will we make the playoffs? Probably. Does anyone really care? Yes, but then also, to a certain extent, not really. Because for the last god-knows-how-many-years we've seen this team be up and down during the season, battle for a playoff spot down the stretch, and then make a quick exit in the playoffs.
So now it's early December, we're struggling but hanging around, and fans are clamoring for a trade or a firing or something.
It's the same old story.