Habs Choices: When Politics Enters the Mix

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By Joce, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Aside from the media circus following the team at all time, dissecting and analysing his every moves (or non-movements), there is at least one more reason why the job of General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens is one of the most difficult ones in the entire NHL, perhaps in pro-sports: politics.

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PENTICTON, BC. — Nowhere else in the National Hockey League must a general manager be conscious of the language spoken by players, coaches and take that into consideration when making a decision. It goes without saying that it complicates things greatly when trying to put together the best team possible in order to give the fans what they want: a winning team.

Pardon the generalization here, but there is a huge disparity between which side of the fence one sits on as to the importance of having French Canadian players on the Canadiens and it’s mostly based on mother tongue. It seems like a majority of francophones want to have more local products while a majority of the anglophone population thinks that it shouldn’t matter. I encourage you to visit or revisit a piece that I wrote for All Habs on the Impact of Local Players on the Canadiens.

I’m not going to debate who’s right and who’s wrong in this article, the point being that there are two sides of thinking on this issue and mostly, that Geoff Molson and Marc Bergevin are on the same page on this topic: they want more local products.

This brings us to David Desharnais. While he has performed better in Florida, so has Lars Eller, another good young player who is doing exactly what Michel Therrien asked of him, which is to play with more intensity.

The Canadiens’ situation is a difficult one. Eller is not a fourth line center and in order to reach his maximum potential, he must play on the top three lines. When Nokelainen comes back, he and Ryan White are more suited for a fourth line role. But unless injuries, who will he dislodge? Tomas Plekanec has returned to his form from two years ago. When the Habs’ brass chose to keep rookie Alex Galchenyuk, they wanted to provide him with quality ice time and line mates which would help him develop and succeed. That leaves Desharnais.

On any other team, the diminutive center would be the odd man out but this is not any other team. In vowing to bring more local talent, in wanting to balance politics and sound hockey decisions, the choice is not as easy as some would like it to be. Right or wrong, the language being spoken is a factor, an important one. And guess what? Desharnais was a key contributor to last year’s top line and no, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty didn’t “carry” him along. He was instrumental in the success of that line, the glue that kept them productive with great vision and even better passing abilities.

NOW WHAT?

People need to start listening carefully to what Bergevin is saying even if it goes against their own personal beliefs. When first hired, he had stated that he wanted more scouts, especially in the province of Quebec as the Canadiens cannot afford to pass on local products. One of the first things he did once his off-ice personnel was in place was to appoint Donald Audette in the QMJHL to help Serge Boisvert.

Another major area of concerns to him was the lack of depth in goal in the organization. So with his first trade as the Habs’ GM, he pulled the trigger on a swap of minor league goaltenders, sending Edmundston, New Brunswick native Cédrick Desjardins to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for a younger goalie prospect in Dustin Tokarski.

With the likes of Avalanche standout Ryan O’Reilly and Blue Jackets’ Derick Brassard rumoured to be on the market, with the Islanders’ disgruntled Suisse native Nino Neiderreiter stuck in the minors, and with the rumoured interest in Eller, will Bergevin be bold enough to keep Desharnais and trade the main guy the organization got in the Jaroslav Halak trade? Or is he working on something else which, even if Desharnais found himself traded, would bring another more prominent local product?

I fully understand the political aspect of hockey in Montreal, and I even agree with it in most cases. Having said that, I’ve also predicted a breakthrough season for young Eller this year and he seems to have responded well to coach Therrien’s challenge. He truly reminds me of a bigger, stronger Tomas Plekanec before he had his breakthrough season. And please, please folks, stop with the conspiracy theory that Therrien doesn’t like Eller — these opinions are based on comments made Therrien while working as a commentator on RDS’ l’Antichambre. It is not true that Therrien dislikes Eller. He felt that Eller could give more, be more intense and that’s exactly what he’s asked this season. Therrien has since been on record saying that he loves Eller’s play and to prove it, he has rewarded him with some power-play and penalty-killing time.

The bottom line is that if Eller is the odd-man out, it won’t be because Therrien didn’t like him. It will be for two major reasons:

  1. He has a better trade value than Desharnais, therefore fetch a higher return in a trade.
  2. Catering to Montreal’s unique market.

We can have a fit, kick, bite, scream and throw stuff at the wall all we want.  It’s a reality which won’t go away regardless of fans’ beliefs and strong opinions — Bergevin understands that. Here’s hoping that like the man who helped Molson select him, he can bring the Stanley Cup back to the City, to the Province, while managing the media and the fans, and while walking that fine political line.

En français: Canadiens: Lorsque la politique s’en mêle

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J.D. Lagrange
J.D. is a Senior writer for All Habs as well as Associate-Editor for the French version Le Magazine All Habs, while one of three Administrators of the fan forum Les Fantômes du Forum. He has created the handle Habsterix as a fictional character for the sole purpose of the internet. It is based on the cartoon Asterix of Gaule and his magic potion is his passion for the Montreal Canadiens. How old is he? His close friends will tell you that he’s so old, his back goes out more than he does! He was born when Béliveau lifted the Cup and remembers the days when seeing the Habs winning was not a wish, it was an expectation. For him, writing is a hobby, not a profession. Having moved to beautiful British Columbia in 1992 from his home town of Sherbrooke, Quebec, he started writing mostly in French to keep up his grammar, until non-bilingual BC friends pushed him into starting his own English Blog. His wife will say that he can be stubborn, but she will be the first to recognise that he has great sense of humour. He is always happy to share with you readers his point of views on different topics, and while it is expected that people won’t always agree, respect of opinions and of others is his mission statement. || J.D. est Rédacteur-Adjoint sur Le Magazine All Habs et il est un Rédacteur Principal sur le site anglophone All Habs, tout en étant un des trois Administrateurs du forum de discussion Les Fantômes du Forum. Il a créé le pseudonyme Habstérix comme caractère fictif pour l’internet. Celui-ci est basé sur Astérix de Gaule et sa potion magique est sa passion pour les Canadiens de Montréal. Lorsqu’il est né, Jean Béliveau soulevait la Coupe Stanley et il se rappelle des jours où gagner n’était pas un espoir, mais une attente. Pour lui, écrire est un passe-temps, pas une profession. Ayant déménagé dans la superbe Colombie-Britannique en 1992 en provenance de sa ville natale de Sherbrooke, Québec, il a commencé à écrire en français pour garder sa grammaire, jusqu’à ce que ses amis anglophones ne réussissent à le convaincre d’avoir son blog en anglais. Son épouse vous dira qu’il est têtu, mais elle sera la première à reconnaître son grand sens de l’humour. Il est toujours fier de partager avec vous, lecteurs et lectrices, ses points de vue sur différents sujets, et quoi que les gens ne s’entendent pas toujours sur ceux-ci, le respect des opinions et des autres est son énoncé de mission.

9 COMMENTS

  1. With both players being young, contributing, and with potential to become star players at some point, in some stage of their respective careers with whomever they play for, my question is why are we talking of unloading either? Cannot the multi-talented Eller learn to play either left or right? Can Desharnais become a Mats Naslund (Martin St. Louis, Marc Savard,etc) type player with the skill, longevity, etc to stay? Why are you guys not talking about the dead weight likes of Kaberle? White? Armstrong? I fully realize the contract weight of these 2 (out of three – White being the bait of trade in my book) but is it not better to part ways with Armstrong at least to free up Cap space to try and keep these two on board? (Kaberle just maybe being the ‘addition’ of a defence injury ridden team trying to make ‘that’ move) I believe in my hockey driven mind that to part with Desharnais or Eller at this point of their careers will come back to bite the Habs in the ass as some, if not, as MANY have in the past twenty years. I’d even go so far as to gamble on Gorges (and I love Gorges – with the d-men down below – than two potential star players, remember the ages of Gionta, Cole, Armstong, Moen, and Kaberle before you trade your stock! Great teams have to pay$ at some point! This team is always close with Price. We’re getting some great d-men in front. Don’t give away blue chip stock.
    Scott

  2. I’d say move desharnais to the wing and keep eller as the third line center since he’s a bigger two way player

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