With the impending CBA signing and ratification teasingly just out of reach, perhaps this is an interesting time to consider how the Habs will lead themselves into a new era. More specifically, since the team turnover might be considerable, and even if there isn’t, there’s an opportunity here for management to look at the team dynamic and determine whether or not Captain Courageous is the right man to continue leading the team on the ice.
Sacrilege, you say? Perhaps.
However consider that during Saku Koivu’s reign as bearer of the mystical “C” there have been more internal uprisings than a downtown Baghdad police barracks. An exaggeration, perhaps, but there have been fights worthy of Celebrity Boxing, missed press appointments leaving fans bewildered and, perhaps worst of all, rumours of teen-style cliques amongst the players.
Of course there’s no reason to jump to conclusions and certainly blame cannot lie squarely with Koivu, but the quantity and quality of incidents over the last couple of years should bear some examination by the Powers That Be before the next campaign kicks off.
There’s little doubt that, on the ice, Koivu is the consummate leader. If there are harder working players than Koivu I’d love to meet them. When the team needs a lift, he takes the responsibility on his shoulders and does whatever needed to accomplish the task. From a big hit to making a spectacular play, he’s one of the elite few in hockey who can raise his game over his head and hoist the team to his shoulders. In fact a seasoned viewer would probably add that he makes those he plays with into better players.
There’s also little doubt that he’s one of the most inspirational players – if not athletes – because of his battle and victory over the other big “C” cancer. His arrival on the ice upon his return was the biggest highlight for most young Hab fans and ranked up with the best Stanley Cups with the elder fans. Since that day he’s been placed, and rightly so, upon a pedestal from which he’ll never be knocked.
But the question remains for the reality of today’s Montreal Canadiens: is he the right man to lead?
Perhaps the logical first step, if management feels he’s up to the task, would be to send Rivet packing. It would remove his best friend and would force him closer to the rest of the team. Instead of spending all his free time around Rivet on road trips, Koivu would instead have time to associate with the rest of the team. While they’re at it, Koivu’s road roommate should probably be one of either Mike Ribeiro or Jose Theodore. Usually when you’re forced to work with someone, especially when you’re a leader, you do what needs to be done to make relationships work.
The cliques, as they stand now, at least from the point of observer, can’t possibly help the club, and when your captain is the leader of one side and your best player and top point getter are the top of the other side, well that’s just a recipe for trouble. When you’re in Montreal and the press and fans are in your face and know more than they probably should (and what they don’t know they infer from what they see, or, in the case of the media, what they think they see) you need to show a unified front.
As to his missed appointment with the media (after his bust-up with the certain young gun last name Ribeiro), one could probably be safe in assuming it was a one-off because of the altercation and no real concern in and of itself.
This leads us into the other big problem: fights. There are two trains of thought. The first is that it’s irresponsible for him, as captain, to be pulling stunts like that ever – or for letting things get out of hand between two teammates. The other is that, as a fiery person, his actions actually serve as a motivator to both the other player involved and to the team and these incidents only serve to inspire more fiery play. The problem with the latter is that the media will always blow things out of proportion – especially in Montreal where the media blows everything hockey-related so far out of proportion you’d think the world must twist and turn to the tune of Les Glorieux.
From an observer’s point of view, this seems to be a fractious bunch rather than a unified team and this writer, though being a staunch Koivu supporter, has to wonder whether the same resolute stubbornness that helped him defeat cancer might not be a dividing element in the locker room.
There remains another question here: what happens if management does remove the “C” and give it to someone else? What are the ramifications of such an audacious move upon the team itself, not to mention the fans – many of whom feel Koivu should not only be captain for his career but should also have his jersey hung in the rafters for his remarkable comeback from disease as well as his inspired play on the ice.
And of course there’s the reaction from the player himself. Does he draw a line with his stubborn skates and leave the city which has adored him so much and which he loves as well because of the slight or will he stay and publicly state that it was his decision to hand on the captaincy so he can concentrate on playing? What would we, as fans, think if he popped in a 100 point season in the newer, more open NHL while playing for a rival club?
It’s a potentially dangerous situation surrounding Koivu if management takes the time to consider his captaincy, as it probably should. Of course, with Gainey at the helm, perhaps a few lessons in leading are all that are needed to turn a team who could only pull together when Koivu came back from cancer into a team that stands together under his revamped, and retrained, captaincy. If anyone can do it, it’s Bob Gainey.
And really, in Montreal, that’s what we want to see. Captain Courageous leading the Bleu Blanc Rouge down Ste. Catherine’s, Stanley Cup proudly held in his upraised arms. Fingers crossed it all gets sorted in time to plan the parade route next spring.