The topic of language and the Montreal Canadiens is one that will never go away. Come to think of it, the franchise was created to have Frenchmen rival with the then mostly English Montreal Maroons, way back in 1909. For the longest time, the Canadiens had first dib at Quebec-born players, making easier drafting local talent. Further, then GM Sam Pollock was a master at being creative in getting local talent like Guy Lafleur. Ownership even went as far as buying a league to ensure getting the sole rights of Jean Béliveau. It’s not so easy today, with soon-to-be 32 teams and no such first dib. But fans and media? They don’t understand that. Further, they too often treat their local talent like garbage.
We all know the annual outrage about the number of French Canadian players drafted (or not) by the Habs. We’ve spoken about it numerous times in the past, as have every other media sources and bloggers. Most times, it’s overblown. Sometimes, it’s legitimate. But every time, it’s either premature or in hindsight. Regardless, it’s a group of fans who feel like the team isn’t making enough effort to draft in their own backyard. They feel like there aren’t enough local players on the Canadiens.
The language debate is always a hot topic, an emotional one at that. Who can’t remember the outrage, the protest in the streets when the organisation fired Jacques Martin in mid-season? They gave assistant-coach Randy Cunneyworth the reigns as Interim coach for the rest of the season. While it was only temporary, fans (and unrelated language police) took on to the streets to protest the Habs’ decision.
So in essence, fans complain at the draft for the team not selecting enough Québécois. They also protest when the coach doesn’t speak French. So far, it’s all equal. They want people who can “talk to them”. They understand that Montreal is in a unique market which requires a different approach. Debatable, but it’s a point that can be defended.
What cannot be defended is the way fans and media outlets too often treat local talent when they have it. I could be wrong but it sure seems like when they do have French Canadian players, they treat them like floor mats and walk all over them, drag them through the mud.
Guy Carbonneau… twice
Who here is old enough to remember the way Guy Carbonneau was chased from Montreal by fans and media? Carbo was so frustrated with the media after the Canadiens’ elimination back in 1994 that he flipped to bird to a Journal de Montréal photographer on a golf course. The picture was front page the next day, without context of course. He did that after vehemently defending his friend Patrick Roy who, if you recall, had his appendix removed. People claimed that it contributed to the Habs’ elimination at the hands of the Bruins that Spring. He was traded soon after to St. Louis.
A few years later, Carbo was named head coach of the Habs and was once again chased out of town and chastised by the Montreal media and fans alike. How’s that for treating a Stanley Cup winning, Hall of Famer who took pride in wearing the captaincy of the team? A local talent alright.
A few more
Who remembers when Patrice Brisebois, due to none of his actions off-ice, was being booed every time he touched the puck in his own rink? Then General Manager Bob Gainey had to step up in the media and defend his defenseman publicly. How pathetic is that?
“We don’t need those people, we don’t want those people, they’re jealous people, yellow people,” Gainey said of the fans who booed Brisebois. “I think they’re a bunch of gutless bastards, to be honest. Our message to them is to stay away,” Gainey said. “We don’t need you.”
How many of you can recall the treatment reserved to Mike Ribeiro, Pierre Dagenais and José Théodore back when all three were wearing the red, white and blue? Of course, fans were behind Theo when he won his awards, but that sure didn’t last long. The organisation had drafted Carey Price, likely seeing the writing on the wall with the way fans and medias were coming up with stories about the three amigos.
You are too young to remember those? Okay, how about David Desharnais, a player who has never been drafted and who was asked to play the number one centre role, since the Canadiens didn’t have such luxury? They had Tomas Plekanec too, but the fans’ ire was always directed at the diminutive centre, who helped Max Pacioretty become the scorer that he was. He was a local talent who never made more than $3.5 million a season!
Fans and media of today are no better folks. For no fault of his own, Jonathan Drouin is now the target of some members of the media and a group of disgruntled fans. He didn’t ask to be traded to the Habs. He certainly didn’t tell them who to give in return. Yet, many don’t like him because “the Canadiens gave too much for him”.
Think about it for a minute. Is that a reason to dislike a player? Wait… how many didn’t like Shea Weber because he got traded for P.K. Subban? But back on topic, does Drouin go out in the bars and drink his face off? Unless you think that coming to the defense of his friend Max Domi by claiming that you can’t find 72-points players at every corner, is a crime… has he ever said or done something controversial?
Bipolarity or Hypocrisy?
So you want French Canadian players but when you have them on the team, you treat them like dirt. So make up your mind. You want them or you don’t. If there was just one or two examples, we could believe that it’s a “one-off”, or an exception. But when it’s as constant as it’s been, who do you think you’re fooling?
So my message to some of the Montreal media and some fans is this: Stop pretending that you want more local talent if you’re the first to put them down. Stop complaining that local talent often doesn’t want to play in Montreal if that’s how you’re behaving. I, for one, can’t blame them. Just stop and think of your action, and stop being such hypocrites. It’s hard enough to draft local talent due to the rule changes, the higher number of teams drafting and the lower number of prospects produced by the QMJHL and Hockey Quebec. Don’t make it harder to acquire some local talent via free agency and trades. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Go Habs Go!