In Summer, the sun will shine. In the Fall, leaves will turn colours and will eventually cover the ground. In winter in Canada, in Quebec, snow will fall and will allow us to enjoy winter sports… as we will be swearing each time we have to shovel. In Spring, trees and flowers will blossom and everything that spent months dormant will awaken. Those are certainties of the seasons living in every province in Canada, including Quebec. But in that province, there’s one more perennial that keep coming out each and every year and it happens at the NHL Draft or shortly after: the francophone debate about the Montreal Canadiens.
This year, due to COVID-19, it came months later but unfortunately, it came. Most people roll their eyes when it comes about, even diehard francophones living in this unique province, in our beautiful country. But there are some who will continue having the same circular conversation, throw the same old critiques towards the Montreal Canadiens for not drafting enough “local talent”. For the most part, their research is incomplete or there isn’t even any research aside from the numbers of Quebecois selected by the only NHL franchise in the province. No context. No numbers selected across the NHL.
I am working on a piece that will open your eyes on the truth, the reality. This should bring a clearer, more complete picture of this so-called phenomenon. It will point the finger where it should be pointed. But that’s for later this winter when my research is done. It is rather extensive so I’m sure that you, readers, will appreciate.
While I’ve moved to British Columbia from Sherbrooke back in 1992, I still have strong roots in my native province. I understand the importance of the language in Quebec and the effect the Montreal Canadiens have on young hockey players in that province. While waiting for the result of my research, here are a few examples of just that:
- What is the impact of local players on the Canadiens? (2011)
- Beyond Politics is a Habs’ Reality (2016)
- The Habs and The Quebecois Syndrome (2018)
- Serge Savard Needs a Reality Check (2019)
- French Speaking Coaches: An In-Depth Look (2020)
Having lived through it for decades now, one thing that jumped to my mind is the variety of people discussing the issues during draft time. I probably could have divided it further but I counted four distinct and very different types of people fuelling the language debate with the Habs.
1- The butt-hurt
You know these people. They’re the ones who, for one reason or another, have a beef against the organisation. It has nothing to do with the number of French Canadians on the Habs. Their motive is personal in nature. It is mostly or even strictly due to the fact that they have been put in their place by the organisation at one point or another in their career. Or they have been denied something. That is the case with Réjean Tremblay, to whom the Canadiens refused to give the right to use the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge for his series “Lance et Compte” (He Shoots He Scores). He had to “settle” for the Nordiques’ colours instead. Ever since, he’s been on a rampage against the team and will find, or even invent stories with the sole purpose of tarnishing the organisation.
Others like Richard Labbé and Phillip Cantin, have been publicly humiliated and put in their place during press conferences or other events. José Théodore has been hot against the Habs for drafting Carey Price while “le beau Théo” was in his prime in Montreal. And he eventually got traded, ripped away from his throne, to make room for a bigger-better goaltender in Price.
All of them seem to have one purpose: revenge. The butt-hurt sometimes can cross over to the next category too.
2- The sensationalists
We’re talking about reporters who need to create controversy to be (somewhat) relevant, to have a tribune and… a job. They’re not good enough reporters or media outlets to earn their share of the market the traditional way. In French, they have been given the nickname of journaleux instead of journalist. They are so easy to spot too! For a typical example, you just have to tune into TVA Sports. The Jici Lajoie, Michel Bergeron and company are experts at sensationalism. In English, a few staff at TSN 690 like Tony Marinaro find themselves needing controversy to sell. Brendan Kelly is perhaps the best example of that category, someone who writes about show business, thrown into a hockey column with very, very limited knowledge of the game, or so it seems from the material published.
How these guys get a platform to spew their nonsense is beyond me. But guess what? They have their following. On Twitter, we call them “Subbanistas“. You know, those people who have hated Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin‘s gut for daring trading their beloved P.K. Subban? Those proclaiming back then that Preds’ GM David Poile should be nominated for GM of the year because of that trade? They’re even hotter against Bergevin since clearly, not only did he win that trade, but robbed Nashville in the process. Now it’s not all about THE trade when referring to Subbanistas.
The term has been extended to those who never (or rarely) have anything positive to say about the organisation. Today, they claim “liking” Bergevin because “he’s doing what they wanted him to do all along”. Self-gratifying people.
3- The politically driven
Ah we know these people. They follow the Habs very little if at all, but they are there when given a platform to speak about language. Many are separatists (not all separatists are in this category, careful now) who are following an agenda. Many hate the rest of Canada or those who speak the language of Shakespeare instead of Molière. You know? They were the one on the streets of Montreal back in December 2011 when the Canadiens dared giving the interim coaching job to Randy Cunneyworth, who didn’t speak French, after firing Jacques Martin. They are the reason why just recently, Marc Bergevin felt like he needed to apologize when putting Kirk Muller in place after Claude Julien had his cardiac episode in the playoffs.
4- The real journalists
Thank God for these people! When you encounter them, when you read or listen to them, they feel like a breath of fresh air. They are professional. They report the facts. When criticizing, they backup their argument with facts and numbers. Mostly though, they have no agenda. You see, these people don’t need sensationalism to be recognised. They have earned their listenership, readership and viewership through good ethical journalism.
They have the talent, the notoriety and the track record to support their work and it shows. In press conferences, you recognise them by their pertinent and intelligent questions. They understand hockey and stay away from the Echo Vedette and TMZ type reporting. I don’t like trying to name them because I know that I will miss some. But just to give you an idea, here are a few of them: Mathias Brunet, Marc-Antoine Godin, Jean-François Chaumont, Guillaume Lefrançois, Chantal Machabée, Luc Gélinas, John Lu, Eric Engels… I bet you can tell the difference in respect alone when mentioning these people, right?
The next time this topic comes about – because you know it will at the next NHL Draft – take a step back and try noticing who are the most vocal people about it. You will be able to put them in one of the four categories above-mentioned. Most likely in the first three as those in the fourth one won’t make an issue of it. Do yourself (and everyone else) a favour and focus on that last category. It will be better for your sanity and you should have a clearer picture of the situation. Just beware of the people in the other three categories. They’re trying to get a rise out of you for their own reasons, their own benefit, which have nothing to do with the Draft itself. Or at least they’re not bringing context into it as they know they don’t have a leg to stand on. Don’t be like them. Go Habs Go!