Friday, February 27, 2009

Every Local Boy's Dream

To Ask To Be Traded From The Montreal Canadiens

Three players line up to ask for trades this week.

Curiously, they are all from La Belle Province. Curiously, they are all products of the QMJHL. Curiously they all once said it was their dream to be part of the Montreal Canadiens.

First came the sucking limpet that is BGL. We've had his nauseating tale a few too many times. He's not good enough to play in this league - he should be happy he's paid to play hockey.

Next (probably first in reality) was Steve Begin. His wish was granted, and he was traded to the Dallas Stars to be with former teammate Mike Ribeiro. Finally, the news that Mathieu (no discernible patience) Dandenault has asked for the same.

What's going on guys?

Steve Begin
The Steve Begin trade does not look good on the surface. I thought Begin was still someone that served a purpose on this team. An injury and he's in – that's how close. A message needs to be sent to Lapierre, Steve's in. He had value to us.

By all accounts, Steve did not make a nuisance (or a fool) of himself by requesting a trade publicly or only to the media. The reports I read said he asked Gainey politely to keep the possibility open. That presumably gave Gainey the flexibility to only make the trade if he felt it was bettering or at worst neutral to the Canadiens.

As I said, I don't immediately see it. Gainey has traded depth up front for depth at the back, which may be very useful given age, trends and current play. But it will take a bit of convincing for Janik to be as versatile and useful as Begin. I only hope that Bob Gainey had something up his sleeve here like he did in the Garon and Rivet trades. No Memorial Cup captaincies to speak of though, so maybe his time in Tampa revealed something I didn't see. Montreal does like USA development programme defenders, though.

Mathieu Dandenault
This one's nothing new. I commented on the very same thing at around this time last year. It is puzzling mind you, since Dandenault has been playing and playing alright. Still, his place in the lineup is tenuous, and somewhat undeserved. Maybe he sees the writing on the wall as he is surpassed by yet another generation of rookies.

For, me Mat's problem is his delusions of grandeur. Whenever he sits out we hear how he could be helping other teams – even though we barely notice what he does for us. I said it before, but it bears repeating:
"The teams that Mathieu could help by playing everyday are numerous and all have one thing in common: they are going nowhere. Not many teams with one or two pieces to fill for the cup run are looking for a really fast forward turned defenseman turned forward who can't really score. Players who can't score come cheaper than Dandy, that's for sure."

General management
All three of these players have made things a bit sticky for the general manager. All three did so by thinking of themselves first and the team second.

When I was chatting with Tobalev over the Begin trade, he said something very apt. He said (and I embellish):
"Players have to realise they are being paid to be a part of this team, this organisation. They are not paid to play on the first line, fourth line, any predesignated number of minutes. The team's goal is to win, and they take home their massive paychecks to help the team in whatever way those in charge see fit."

These three players seem to have forgotten that. Kovalev forgot that and was nearly trampled by the hysterics. He had to be reminded of his duties. Yesterday, I saluted Brisebois for not being as big of a selfish baby as Laraque. And I should also like to give a nod to captain Koivu, who over the tenth most productive career in Canadiens history has never shirked his duties on PK or to bring along yet another fresh winger.

Where we praised Bob Gainey for his handling of Alexei Kovalev last week, I think this will be as big a test of his management abilities. He cannot allow players to think he will bow to their selfish demands just so they can get ice time.

Hence, the Begin trade is a bit worrying. In the same way, so was the Cristobal Huet trade – which was generously remembered for giving a good guy a good chance to make as much free agent booty as he could muster. Unless Bob Gainey's five-year plan included making the most money for Begin, Dandenault and Laraque, I would hope he now focuses on winning the championship instead of making sure everyone likes him around the league.

Local boys
I started the article discussing the origins of the disgruntled three. I wonder how much that plays into things.

One thing I do know is this: RDS and it's sister RIS put an incredible strain on the Canadiens players by submitting them to 24-hour demands for quotes and stories. As they go, they much prefer to address and discuss players in the langue of Moliere not Milton. And that meant the Canadiens had 8 roster players, a coach and a GM. Tanguay is private, Latendresse is injured and 5 of the remaining 6 are on the very bubble of this team. You have to admit, it's a big burden for the every other game fourth liners to bear – to be the interviewees every single day of the year.

The Canadiens are complicit in this game too. As the picture above shows, they put Begin and Dandenault into situations where the biggest stars of the team step. The Canadiens website spends more than it's allotment on this group of players, too.

The constant attention and all the profiles game after game only serve to unfairly build these poor guys up to expectations they could never possibly fulfill. Tell me where else would they speak to Steve Begin after a win where Kovalev came back? Where else would the media worry about the feelings of the enforcer who sat out for games where there would have been nothing for him to do anyway?

All of this is only my musing on the subject. However, I can't help but think that it plays a part in the three recent demands: "If I'm not going to play anyway, maybe I can go somewhere to relax while I collect my millions".

For me it does cut to the heart of a problem with this team for some time now. That is the dichotomy between the big French language media machine geared up for the sole purpose of covering this team; and, on the other side the small and unimportant role of the local boys on the team.

With Maxim Lapierre and Latendresse being one of a few truly solid contributor that has come from a decade of bones thrown to young QMJHLers, I can only really see a few ways out (the draft not being one, anymore):

– RDS backs off their all-out coverage a bit
– The Canadiens win the championship, or
– Gainey brings in a star that can satisfy their thus far insatiable demand

You tell me which is more achievable...

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