Rabid Habs

Are We There Yet?

Habs celly

The informal, unsolicited back seat observation would inevitably break the silence during extended car trips, “Are we there yet?” The question, framed in an inpatient whine, would ultimately push my father to lash out. It wasn’t enough that he had to be mindful of the pitfalls, fatigue and distractions associated with highway driving, but he must also listen to our young voices convey the frustration specific to the duration of our voyage. My brother and I were backseat tyrants, much in the same way that sports fans become an impatient, aggressive lot as their respective sport’s season comes to a close. Although the season is officially winding down, the end remains a month away, which, ironically, provides ample time for second guessing, finger pointing and name calling. Some fans are better at second guessing than others, but, as a group, few rival the folks following the Montreal Canadiens. I have often said that a little knowledge can be dangerous. Well, in the case of the Habs, or more specifically their fans, the list of online coaches and general managers number in the tens of thousands. As the team struggles to score goals, an issue prevalent throughout the season, but magnified since the New Year theories have emerged encompassing all possible scenarios. In more extreme cases fans point to coach Therrien sabotaging the offence, insisting that the group forgo all scoring opportunities in sake of defensive play. Others cast their eye upon the moves made by general manager Marc Bergevin, identifying the failure to land a perennial 40 goal scorer, with size, skill and speed as the primary reason why the team has struggled to score goals. In all cases, someone is to blame. After all, there is simply no chance that this could solely be a rough patch?

There are so many moving parts to a hockey team, successful or otherwise. Challenging, motivating and otherwise pushing a 23 man roster to extract peak performance during all 82 games would not be an easy mandate to execute. Yet, those are the expectations. After all, the fact that the organization finished dead last in the Eastern Conference 3 short years ago is now nothing more than a fleeting memory. The unlikely success associated with an appearance in the Eastern Conference finals has helped to push expectations to lofty heights. Despite building a record that has the Habs entrenched within the top third of all teams in hockey, Canadiens fans are disappointed. Losses to lottery bound Arizona, Buffalo and Edmonton helped to rile up the diehards, but it has been the more recent struggles that have folks on edge. Like everyone else, I would love to see the team score more goals without compromising defence, but is that realistic? Yes, I believe so, but only to an extent. Sure, we would like to enjoy our cake while eating it to, but the current composition of players does not lend itself to instant success. The components are in place for long term success, sustainable due in large parts to effective drafting, asset management and player development. But, none of this helps light the lamp today. And, as any diehard fan would tell you, it’s all about the moment; the here and now. So, you play the hand that you are dealt. Every Habs fan has a copy of their desired lineup either scribbled out on paper, saved to their phone or stored on their personal computer. I am no different. I mean honestly, does no one else see the potential with Galchenyuk at centre, flanked by Pacioretty and Gallagher? Failing this, might we consider reintroducing the EGG line, with Eller centering Gally and Chucky? And, don’t get me started on defence… Beaulieu needs to play 20:00 minutes each night, while Gonchar could use a seat in the press box or perhaps more fittingly on a cruise ship floating off into the warmth of a Caribbean sunset. Now I am worked up… I can’t breathe… Feeling panicked… Help!

Friends, the time has come to take a deep breath. I will save you all the circle of control versus the circle of influence speech, but seriously, let’s shift this thing back into third gear. I have had the pleasure of meeting many knowledgeable hockey fans, great people who have forgotten more about the game than I might ever hope to know. One of the takeaways following these interactions is not so much their knowledge, but it’s their patience and understanding. These individuals have been there and done that. They have seen teams rise and fall over the course of a season and have learned not to become emotionally invested. The time to hit peak performance is not March 14. The team has swept through 10 game segments looking like the next great dynasty in the making while they have also tripped and fallen through over 10 games leading one to believe that Connor McDavid might not be such a bad thing. In my humble opinion, none of this will matter when the puck drops to start the postseason. Sure, it might be argued that a team with great fundamentals who has played the right way all season stands a better chance of winning the Stanley Cup, but is that the barometer? If so, 29 teams will have their season ended in disappointment. Worth noting is that these challenges are not specific to Montreal alone. Looking around the league the lowly Leafs, Senators Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars have enjoyed great records over 10 game stretchers, while the likes of Washington, Detroit, the Rangers, Canadiens and Kings have struggled within a 10 game window. Some might point to underlying issues, including puck possession and advanced analytics which also suggest that the Canadiens are more likely to join this season’s Colorado as next year’s big flop. It could happen. One could never completely dismiss the notion, however, more likely, the team finds traction and starts winning hockey games. More surprising to some, I also believe that they will score goals. A team comprised of players including Pacioretty, Gallagher, Plekanec, Desharnais, Eller, Galchenyuk, Subban, Markov and Parenteau won’t stay dry forever. There is simply too much talent.

In closing, as other’s are selling their shares in Canadiens stock, I am buying. The extension of this slide should help to restore the underdog label. Better yet, it might also mean starting a postseason round on the road. Although I might be in the minority, if healthy, I like a Carey Price led team to upset anyone in a 7 game series. “Are we there yet;” no not quite yet. But, the end of the regular season is just around the corner and with it will come a new found hope as the team prepares to start another journey into the spring. In the interim, enjoy the games, as best you can.

I welcome your feedback and invite you to connect with me @LWOScjcasselman to discuss all things Canadiens.