Monday, January 24, 2011

The Fear Of Precedence

Sometimes life and fan life collide.

Last week, ended for me on Friday with a rebuff of a new idea I had brought forward. Saturday ended a week of hockey in a similar way. The common theme was establishment of precedence and the pervasive fear that surrounds it.

It wasn’t the first time I have had a proposal rebuffed for the danger of the precedent it could set. Sometimes, no matter how perfect the fit, an idea just has to die for this reason. Similarly, I thought, the ideas that were floating around in the build-up to Saku Koivu’s first game back in Montreal.

Leading up to that game, there were many suggestions that the team might do something special to honour a special player in the history of the Canadiens. I was actually quite giddy in the buildup, as I anticipated something fitting from the organization that used to have a knack for gauging these events just right.

Instead, what the Canadiens offered was a video montage of a few seconds. More than that, it only showed the April 2002 ovation and none of his other moments in Montreal. It was a sad-sack effort considering what they’ve been able to pull off in the past. Luckily for the Canadiens brass, the fans still remember how to show a bit of class and picked up the mantle by giving a proper ovation anyway and then clogging the popularity contest lines with Koivu votes. As if to complete their complete fumble, the organization (who incidentally does claim they have the right to review 3 star choices and adjust) decided they’d stick to their idiotic policy of naming the OT goalscorer the first star. This despite the fact that the goal was:
a) Scored in a shootout
b) Ignored the actual stars of the game (well this rule does)
c) Went completely against the fans wishes for a special honour bestowed on Saku

And what for?

For precedence.

Worried perhaps that the honouring a returning player for another team would set a dangerous precedent in a time when the number of such players is high. Worried perhaps that all future captains will need to have some sort of ceremonious return. Worried that perhaps their 3 star system won’t be respected if contravened for this special case.

Hogwash. It’s total pig swill. None of these concerns are founded. The organization needed to recognize what a special case that Koivu was. 15 years from draft to departure with this team. Most of 13 years as the face of the franchise and the best player on the ice from game to game. 10 full years as the captain.

This game, this return, will likely be the last opportunity that the Canadiens have for a very long time to honour such a player. The bigger league, salary cap and all have changed the landscape. Teams aren’t always going to be able to hold their top players when they need leverage to rebuild. Teams will have trouble giving progressive raises without intervention from the lower free agency limits. And that’s to say nothing of the ten year captaincy. Or the player that Koivu was.

The team tripped up big time here. They didn’t need to do much other than nod to the significance of the event. They couldn’t even manage that small ask. This was a too-many-men-on-the-ice-type penalty for the management.

On that note, I’ll segue into another similar discussion: what to do on Koivu’s retirement.

Those of you who’ve commented on our banner, and read our praise for the player know that this blog is not far from camping with those who would call for a sweater retirement for the captain of a decade. And this discussion is a discussion of precedence if there ever was one. There are precedents to be followed and precedents that could be set.

On following precedents. Koivu doesn’t come close to meeting the precedents that have been set in terms of trophies, Cups, or even statistics for any of those occupying the rafters. On these precedents alone, it’s a non-starter. But hockey is not baseball. Statisticians in hockey will tell you this. It cannot be measured by some algorithm for greatness. Hockey is a game that is imperfectly measured by statistics kept by the league. My case for Koivu would include us using our collective memories to recall the games where he led and played well without a single point for the gamelog. There were many games like this.
What’s more, these honours bestowed were not based on statistics alone, were they? The great honour was weighed in many ways. And so it should, in due time, with Koivu.

On the precedents it will set. I say precedents be damned. Exceptions are the prerogative of this organization in making these decisions. They are the prerogative of the fans who ask for the recognition. If the sweater retirement is to be discussed, that doesn’t mean that a door is opened to every player who ever scored 600 points, or every player that had long tenure. Koivu is Koivu is Koivu. He was and is special. The ovations showed that. And that’s all that needs to be said.

So don’t fear precedents. Yes Koivu now has more domes this season than Tom Pyatt. There’s nothing to fear in that.

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