For almost every hockey game ever played, competitive or non competitive, indoor or outdoor, on skates or off skates the goal of the players, however many of them are playing is to win. Winning is what defines every sport on this planet. It is what separates those who are remembered and those who are forgotten. Recall the Stanley Cup Champions from the last 6 or so seasons. Now recall the teams who lost in the Conference finals or even those who lost in the Cup final. A little bit more difficult isn’t it? While winning isn’t everything in hockey it is a very large part of every team’s seasonal goal. Teams who win a lot of games during the season become heroes. Coaches have their jobs secured by a solid number of wins and GM’s are praised as geniuses. On the other hand, if a team is not able to win as many games as the fan base expected things can get very ugly. The coach will be criticized for a system that isn’t working or isn’t effective in the new NHL. GM’s will see their every move criticized and fans will want to see every player on the team traded, not matter what significance they played on the team the year before. In fact in many cases fans will cheer to have their team lose instead of win to get an opportunity to draft a potential NHL superstar.
Sadly, this was the sort of season the Montreal Canadiens had in 2011-2012. The coach, Jacques Martin, was fired. After much scrutiny GM Pierre Gauthier was relieved of his position as well. As for the players, Mike Cammalleri was a hero for the Canadiens in each of their two most recent playoff campaigns. However, after comments he made in the media about his team this season he was dealt to the Calgary Flames, a move that was scrutinized by fans and the media alike. Go figure. The number of wins the Canadiens managed this season? Only 31 in 82 games. The thought is if they had won the approximately 8 more games that it would have taken to have placed the Canadiens in a playoff position it may have all turned out differently.
Depending upon when those wins came it is possible that Jacques Martin never would have been fired, although chances are he still may have been. Pierre Gauthier would probably still be the GM of this team and wouldn’t have been met with even half the criticisms he received this season. Finally, there is a good chance Cammalleri never would have referred to the team as losers and would still be on the team. He would probably still be a fan favourite. With those eight wins the Canadiens would be gearing up for the next game of their series against the heavily favoured New York Rangers. One thing is for certain, none of the backlash that the team or the organization received this season would never have happened. The difference between just 8 wins is huge and that is winning is so important in this sport.
But when teams like the Canadiens do lose those 8 games (or however many games these teams are out of the playoffs) one question rises above the rest: how does the team turn into a winner? Not just a winner, but a team who can win it all. This is the question this article series will visit in depth over the next few weeks. How can the Montreal Canadiens turn themselves into a team that represents the reputation of their name? It isn’t a simple question, if it was the problem would already have been solved and these articles would never be written. However, this question will be answered to the best of my abilities and hopefully, in the end, we will get an answer that is both realistic, reasonable and satisfying. This series will include 7 articles: how not to build a hockey team in the modern NHL, 4 case studies on the Bruins, Blackhawks, Penguins (don’t tell Brian Burke) and Red Wings and how they built their teams into champions and a conclusion. A couple of bonus articles may possibly be published as well. Here is a look at the series plan:
-Introduction (Week of April 16-22)
-How not the build a hockey team in the modern NHL(Week of April 23-29)
-Case Study: Detroit Red Wings (First week of May)
-Case Study: Pittsburgh Penguins (Week of May 7-13)
-Case Study: Chicago Blackhawks (Week of May 14-20)
-Case Study: Boston Bruins (Week of May 21-May 27)
-Conclusion: How it applies to the Canadiens (First week of June)