In a recent article posted at Habs World entitled “Ils ne viennent et ne viendront pas”, writer Louis Garon makes some excellent points as to why french speaking free agents are turned off from coming to Montreal.
Garon states that factors such as the media and the inherant pressure of playing in a city where hockey is religion tend to be negatives when it comes to french speaking players choosing destinations to further their careers. There is no discussion in the article on whether free agents other than french speaking ones have similar issues. Using the fervor surrounding the non signing of Daniel Briere, and the questions stirred in the aftermath, Garon points that no player would want to parachute themselves into an environment where every detail of their game is scrutinized by a competitive and frenzied media.
Balancing out Garon’s point, is the mention that the players often view Montreal as a middling team and not one ready to aspire to the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, not much is made of this aspect in the piece. Garon is always a studied read, and his posts make solid points and statements, but I can only meet him half way on this one.
Titling the piece (in translation) “They Have Not Come, Nor Will They Be Coming” in regards to free agents is somewhat short sighted, inconclusive, and selective. I believe there are also external factors that prevent players from signing on Montreal’s dotted line and they are varied and different as the players who pass on the team. The media is but one small consideration among many other reasons as to why players are slipping through the Canadiens grip. To blame one thing in particular, is unfair to the truth.
For one player, it might be the high taxes, for another it might be language or school issues that they are not informed upon. Sometimes it is pure player compatability. Team chemistry fit could play into it as well.
If one uses Briere as a yardstick, there could be many reasons why he changed course at the last second and headed to Philadelphia. One could be friends already playing for the Flyers. Another could be the front loaded contract offered him. Perhaps the thought of being the Habs focal point made him queasy. Given the media tendencies, that could be the notion that tipped the scales in his case.
For certain, the media can be hard to bare for some players, but if a players needs to question his own character in asking himself whether he can withstand the pressure and hoopla of Montreal, I already don’t want him on my team. In my mind I saw Briere as the second coming (going) of Pierre Turgeon to Montreal. A player who, in a year’s time, would ask out after being unable to cope.
It takes a player of strong character to come to Montreal, before it is a contender, and battle to build something of sustenance. Briere wasn’t that guy. Notice how Bryan Smolinski, Roman Hamrlik, and Tom Kostopoulos all signed without blinking. You’re thinking they’re not in Briere’s calibre, right? Perhaps Briere is not in their ballpark balls wise either! It take guts to play in Montreal. It takes a player who has the mind to separate the nonsense from what he has left on the ice after games. It takes a player who’s sure of himself.
A player such as Guillaume Latendresse has shown, at 19 years old no less, that he has the cranium and gonads to survive the pressure. Others are not made up of the same things. There are pro’s and con’s to playing in Montreal, just like any other city. I don’t question what transpired for a guy to choose Philly over the Habs. I wonder why Kariya signs in St. Louis and Jovanovski in Phoenix – those are head scratchers, my friends.
For a player wanting an extreme hockey experience – what better place than Montreal?
One thing that hurt the Habs more than any french media meddling was the Samsonov fiasco of one year ago. The Canadiens refusal to coddle the spoiled and testically challenged Russian might have left some players with a bitter taste on their tongues from imagining themselves in that position.
But that can also be a good thing – If you don’t have it you can’t bring it, I say! Do Briere and Samsonov have similar playing traits. No, not a chance, right?
In the past few years, as the Canadiens have become a stronger team, a parallel number of inquiries have spoken with Montreal at free agent time. Each season the names get more and more interesting. As the team gets better, an improved quality of player, proportionate to Montreal chances, will begin knocking at the door. Players seeking to win Stanley Cups will want to be along for the ride, it’s only natural. Possibly even french speaking players even! If the Canadiens have the cap room at the time, and are seemingly a player or two away, things will heat up their early July days.
It’s the old motto – If you build it, they will come! Now if we happen to land a pair of french speaking superstars one July in the not too distant future, does that mean the perception of the french media eating their own has simply vanished and become a non – factor? I doubt it. It will mean that winners are ready for us and we for them.
Now build it!