Sports What the Puck: Canadiens complacent when it comes to local talent
Canadiens Notebook: Whirlwind season continues for Dominique Ducharme
The last two months have been a whirlwind for Dominique Ducharme. Overnight, he went from being a relatively unknown assistant coach to head coach of the Canadiens — arguably the most high-profile job in Quebec. Ducharme didn’t even get a full practice with the team in his new position after Claude Julien was fired on Feb. 24 when the Canadiens had a 9-5-4 record. That was a travel day for the Canadiens as they flew from Ottawa to Winnipeg to play the Jets the following night after losing 5-4 to the Senators in a shootout the night before. The Canadiens lost 6-3 to the Jets in Ducharme’s debut as interim head coach.
François Legault is right. Geoff Molson and Marc Bergevin should make more of an effort to recruit.
But it’s wrong to think this is a language debate. It isn’t. It’s about trying to get as many local players as possible whether they speak French, English or Mandarin. It’s about one of the most important cultural forces in Quebec remembering its roots in la belle province.
Stu Cowan: Perry's versatility and leadership pure gold for Canadiens
Where would the Canadiens be this season without Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson? Consider that Toffoli (25) and Anderson (17) were the team’s two leading goal-scorers heading into Friday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, accounting for 31 per cent of the Canadiens’ goals this season. Where would the Canadiens be without Jake Allen? Allen has become the Canadiens’ No. 1 goalie because of injuries to Carey Price, who is sidelined with a concussion after suffering a lower-body injury earlier in the season. Allen got the start Friday night, making it 12 of the last 14 games he has played. Allen has given the Canadiens a chance to win in every game with a 2.
But sadly, Geoff Molson’s Canadiens have lost those ties to the community. And the biggest reason that’s happened is because the Habs have no local competition. We the Als and whatever that soccer team is calling itself this week, but let’s be brutally honest: This is a one-team town and that team is the Canadiens.
Heck, it’s a one-team province. It’s looks less and less likely that the Quebec Nordiques will be back any time soon and that’s too bad because le retour des Nords would provide a nice little electric shock to the executives in the comfy confines of mahogany row at the Bell Centre.
Suddenly, they’d have to compete for fans’ loyalty in terms of icing a contender — a novel concept for the Habs in the 21st century — and they’d also have to try harder to get the best local players. They don’t appear serious about either of those things.
Hickey on hockey: Push for more homegrown Habs butts up against reality
When the Canadiens played the Edmonton Oilers Monday, it marked the first time in the team’s 115-year history that it went into battle without a Quebec player in the lineup. It was front-page news in the Journal de Montréal and it didn’t take long before the politicians jumped in to suggest the Canadiens weren’t doing enough to honour the Flying Frenchmen tradition which, ironically, was the nickname English Montreal sports writers coined to describe three Franco-Ontarians — Jack Laviolette, Didier Pitre and Newsy Lalonde. “Yes, there should be more Quebec players,” said Quebec Premier François Legault. “When we look in the NHL, there are many.
The topic became a hot-button issue when the Canadiens didn’t have a Quebec player in the lineup in their game Monday against the Edmonton Oilers. The team’s two francophone players, Phillip Danault (concussion) and Jonathan Drouin (personal issues) were out.
A chap who knows this issue inside out is Canadiens legend. On the phone Friday from his home in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Savard said he can’t understand why Molson and Bergevin ignore players from Quebec. And when the Hall of Fame defenceman, former Habs captain and the last Canadiens general manager to win a Cup talks, we listen.
Savard talked about how he had four full-time scouts tracking Quebec players when he was GM.
Stu Cowan: Canadiens' lineup for Game 1 vs. Leafs doesn't make sense
The Canadiens will be counting on experience over youth — big time — to start their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Head coach Dominique Ducharme confirmed after practice Tuesday in Brossard that forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Cole Caufield, along with defenceman Alexander Romanov — three faces of the future for the franchise — will all be spectators when the puck drops for Game 1 Thursday night in Toronto (7:30 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). The Canadiens’ lineup will include a pair of 36-year-old forwards in Corey Perry and Eric Staal, along with 29-year-old defenceman Jon Merrill, who will take Romanov’s spot.
“We didn’t want to miss anything, and it paid off,” said Savard. “We won the Cup in ’86 and I had over 12 players from the (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) and the same thing in ’93.”
Savard said other teams used to play less attention players from Quebec, which is how he was able to draft Claude Lemieux in the second round of the 1983 NHL draft, Stéphane Richer in the second round in 1984 and Patrick Roy in the third round, also in ’84. Savard underlines in the recent biography, Serge Savard: Forever Canadien, that the organization was focused on Quebec players during the ’80s because they were in a ferocious fight for fans with the Nordiques.
“In my day, I had the Quebec Nordiques in my backyard and I wanted to make sure the Montreal Canadiens would still be the team of the province of Quebec,” Savard said Friday. “So we worked harder to not lose any good talent that was coming from our backyard.”
I mentioned to Savard that when he was playing for the Canadiens during the ’70s, the players had a much stronger connection to the community. You’d see them in the bars, on the streets and at local events. Players from elsewhere in Canada, such as Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey, made the effort to learn French, unlike such recent captains as Saku Koivu and Shea Weber.
Canadiens Notebook: Offence could be a big problem (again) for Habs
Scoring goals has been a problem with the Canadiens for a long time. The last time the Canadiens had a player finish in the top 10 in NHL scoring was the 1985-86 season when Mats Naslund finished eighth with 43-67-110 totals. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup that year. The Toronto Maple Leafs had two players finish in the top 10 in NHL scoring this season. Mitch Marner finished fourth with 20-47-67 totals and Auston Matthews was fifth with 41-25-66 totals. Tyler Toffoli led the Canadiens in scoring with 28-16-44 totals, ranking 48th in the NHL. The Maple Leafs ranked sixth in the NHL in offence this season, scoring an average of 3.
“I remember that we were about 15 players in my time who spent the whole summer in Montreal,” said Savard. “We had to answer questions. Now after the last loss, they’re all gone. When I took over in 1983 (as GM), that’s exactly what I said — I want those local guys to feel the same way we all did. They’d ask us, ‘What happened? How come you lost?’ Every year when we got beat, we’d have a miserable summer. That’s one big plus about having local players. Local doesn’t mean they have to be French-Canadian. Sergio Momesso was a local guy. He wasn’t French-Canadian. In our day, the bachelors were in Nuns’ Island and the married guys were on the West Island. And some on the South Shore, like (Jean) Béliveau, J.C. Tremblay and myself.”
Now, most of the Habs live near the practice facility in Brossard and there’s little evidence they know much about the team’s home city.
And why not learn a few words in the language of Tremblay, so you can at least do the one-minute on-ice chat with RDS’s Marc Denis after you win the first-star award? To be closer to the community is to show respect for that community.
Canadiens Game Day: Erik Gustafsson replaces Brett Kulak for Game 5 .
Head coach Dominique Ducharme will make one change to his lineup with the Canadiens facing elimination in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Maple Leafs Thursday night in Toronto (7 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). Defenceman Erik Gustafsson, who has been a healthy scratch since the start of the playoff series, will replace Brett Kulak and join Jon Merrill on the third pairing. Gustafsson and Merrill were both acquired by GM Marc Bergevin before the NHL trade deadline. Defenceman Alexander Romanov will be a healthy scratch for the fifth straight game.