Why have the Montreal Canadians failed to maximize the potential of their most gifted players for years?
This is a question I am always asking myself.
In the 80s, I was too young and dumb to fully understand why Guy Lafleur decided to hang up his skates on November 26, 1984.
I remember asking my dad why the Flower, as we called him, decided to retire so suddenly. His answer was blunt. He said it in his French Canadian/Haitian accent: he is done, he doesn’t have it anymore.
You can’t blame my dad for his opinion at the time. Guy Lafleur was having a miserable season,only scoring two goals and three assists after 19 games, failing to realize that the real culprit of hisstruggles was Jacques Lemaire‘s defensive system. His ice-time had been reduced and he was asked to play a more defense-oriented game.
We cannot blame Jacques Lemaire though.
At that moment, The Habs finally got past the second round of the playoffs after years of getting bounced out of the playoffs early. This had happened four straight years in a row, despite having some great regular seasons. Jacques Lemaire had something to do with it.
But his system, known as the TRAP, was a bad fit for a free-spirited, creative player like Guy Lafleur. The system was made for more disciplined and defensive, responsible players like another Guy…
If you have followed The Habs for the past three decades, you’ll know either one of these twoscenarios happened frequently:
A homegrown talent struggling to perform constantly with The Habs only to flourish with another team. I’m thinking of John LeClair and if The Habs are not careful this time around, Alex Galchenyuk will be the latest example.
Speaking of John LeClair, I remember years ago when Randy Tieman, the longtime sportscaster on the Montreal scene was sharing a conversation he had with John Leclair on his radio show, TEAM690 (Now TSN690).
LeClair said the difference in playing for The Habs versus the Flyers was his main focus, which was to backcheck and make sure he did not miss his defensive assignments.
As soon as he joined the Flyers, they inserted him immediately, along with Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg. They were told to: Be yourself, go in front of the net and be big and strong, go in front of the net and wreak havoc.
The rest is history. John LeClair reached his immense potential by producing three straight 50 goal seasons, plus two straight 40 goal seasonsduring the dead puck era. When you hear his name, you immediately think of the Legion of Doom. Not the famous Wrestling tag-team of course, but one of the most famous lines in the history of hockey, the Line of Lindros-Leclair-Renberg.
With a desperate need for offense, The Montreal Canadiens made a big trade to acquire an extremely talented player, hoping to fix the team’s problem scoring goals; only for that same player to be criticized by the media for a lack of production and to be marginalized by the organization because of the player deficiencies in the defensive part of the game.
Remember Pierre Turgeon?
He came as a number one centre from the New York Islanders when he was acquired in return for Kirk Muller.
He finished his stay with the Habs on the the third line, not even playing centre. He basically got the Galchenyuk treatment, even before Alex Galchenyuk. We must thank Mario Tremblay with a pinch of sarcasm.
Similarly, this past summer, the Habs sacrificed their best prospect, Mikhail Sergachev, to acquire the playmaking winger named Jonathan Drouin, who for some reason is now the team’s number one centre, hoping to boost the team’s offensive output.
For now, it seems the experiment failed miserably this season. I somewhat disagreed with the trade at the time. But, it would be criminal to put all the blame on the shoulders of Jonathan Drouin.
Max Pacioretty did criticize Julien’s system a couple times in front of the media in an attempt to explain the team’s failure to generate much offense.
A lot of fans and members of the media are clamoring for a major rebuild of the team after this season. I don’t disagree with that sentiment.
But, what The Habs really need is a culture change. A culture that will allow players like Jonathan Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk to become an offensive force.
A culture that will embrace players like P.K. Subban instead chasing him out of Montreal for reasons that have nothing to do with hockey.
A culture that will seek greatness at all costs.
It’s time to bring back the spirit of the Flying Frenchman.
A spirit that left the Montreal Canadiens when the organization gave Guy Lafleur no choice but to quit the sport he loved way too prematurely.
Your Educated Fool!
Written by Donald Demosthenes