Thursday, January 06, 2011

Habs in the Noughties

Ten Low Points

As noted in the last post on this vein, January first this year marked the first day of the second decade of the millennium. Last time, we gave you some Habs High Points, this time I share with you what I thought were ten low points.

A decade that began inauspiciously enough with a roster that on a cold January day once sported Aaron Asham, Craig Darby, Chad Kilger, Eric Landry, Juha Lind, Gino Odjick and Patrick Poulin had its fair share of lows.

Here are the worst ten for me:

10. Bernie Geoffrion's passing
It wasn't anyone's fault. But although Bernie Geoffrion died knowing his #5 was to be retired by his team, he never got to see it happen - to experience again how much the city appreciated him. It was a terribly sad thing.

9. Expansion
Most of the expansion took place prior to 2001, but its effects were still felt into the pre-lockout years. The timing of expansion couldn't have been worse for the Habs. They had their worst management team in decades, scouts who weren't on the ball with player assessments (if you think it's bad now, spare a thought for your 2001 self). The Habs had been on the rebuild through a draft and had accumulated a small stable of good, if not great players. Guess who doesn't get protected in expansion drafts?

8. Not calling Larry Robinson
This one was totally avoidable. Last December at the Centennial game, Robinson feeling the nostalgia was told he'd be getting a call for later in the year re: possible ways to work together. No call. No call to a member of the all-time team, a valued alum. I don't care if there were no positions for the next 25 years, there's no excuse for not making this call. This, together with my estimation that a defenceman to coach our young defencemen might be a tonic to some ills down the road, and it still feels like a real low.

7. Randy McKay signing
In direct contrast with the Cammalleri signing is the McKay signing of 2002. It wasn't a big year for free agency, but Philippe Boucher might have looked nice. The Habs at he time dressed this up like it was big, as they were desperate that it would be. Doing nothing at all that July 4th would have led to better results.

6. Playoffs 2009
The 100th season in operation ended much like the first, and much like the early years of the Noughties - without a playoff win to speak of. It was especially disappointing considering it was the fifth year of Gainey's plan, and a year after winning the conference and challenging well enough in the playoffs. More important than the sweeping itself was the repercussions of the sweep, as those four losses became four nails in the career coffins of Koivu, Kovalev, KOmisarek, Tanguay and others. Regardless of what came later, the way those players were treated leading up to July 1 was a low point for a franchise that likes to think of itself as the embodiment of class.

5. The grooming of Mike Ribeiro
The mishandling of Mike Ribeiro began early. The Habs knew they had an egomaniac on their hands, and one that liked to party. What better way to bring him along than to play him in 19 games at the age of 19, boosting his idea of himself and burning a year of his contract in the process. The next season, he played a mere 2 games and was then on prolonged probation until he finally stopped being relegated to Quebec/Hamilton at age 23 in 2003. His grooming to that point was typical of the Canadiens approach with pure offensive players - play them with Aaron Asham and Jason Dawe. That's to say, he wasn't given much freedom. A breakout season in 2003-04 was seen as good news, but was the straw which broke the camel's back in terms of his later entitlement and corresponding work ethic. Traded for another tram's garbage, he has gone on to 5 consecutive good seasons as an offensive player. A true shame that the team could find neither the time for him on the ice, or the time for him off the ice, as he is exactly what this team craves in their Quebec recruitment program.

4. Therrien carry-on
A coach hired in the time-honoured tradition of simply looking at the QMJHL standings and nothing else, Therrien didn't have a very good time of it with the Habs. His low moment came during what had been his high moment. Following the 2002 knockout of the Bruins (courtesy, Koivu, Gilmour, Zednik, Theo), the Habs were rolling along nicely. The Habs had battled with the Hurricanes in three games to earn a 2-1 series lead. They were winning in Game 4 and looking to bury the Canes with a 3-0 going into the third. Quintal took a simple cross-checking penalty, Therrien's temper came out of check. Two-man penalty, Carolina goal, momentum shift, game slipped away, Canadiens lose in 6.

3. Brisebois contract extension, December 2001
At the time, the extension was going to make Brisebois the highest paid Montreal Canadien in all of history. Of course, he'd just had his -31 season and wasn't exactly able to hide his warts as much as previously. The contract made him untradeable even without the clause that said it in writing. It was a decision that hampered a rebuild from happening prior to the lockout.

2. Cristobal Huet trade
Probably the worst justification for any move the franchise has made since trading Patrick Roy. Huet, fresh off a hot start, an All-Star appearance, and a tiny wobble in February was traded so that Carey Price could be handed the reins without fear of losing them. We didn't even need retrospect to know this was a recipe for disaster. Starting Carey Price looks like a move of genius for a while, but then having a back-up the coach and GM are so reluctant to use they leave Carey to be dismantled by the Flyers shows why Huet should have been retained. Not even the return on the trade justifies the move. And now, with retrospect, nor does the experience Price gained.

1. The year with no hockey
There's not much to say. it was unfortunate and unnecessary. Nothing bottoms below this one. It remains the black eye of the decade for all teams (and players).

And again for those interested:
Blogs were less prevalent in 2001, this one wasn't conceived, i can assure you. But I did find one amateur account of the beginning of the decade. It's fun read.

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