There has been much speculation with regard to what went wrong with the 2008-09 Montreal Canadiens in what was supposed to be their celebratory season.
The critics have dissected everything from poor management to inadequate goaltending, but have failed to offer a significant reason explaining why this highly-touted team went into a freefall somewhere near the All-Star break and ended up holding on to eighth place by its fingernails come season's end.
So what was it that went wrong exactly?
Was it that Guy Carbonneau, a grinder in his day, was given the job of coaching a team dominated by floaters?
Was it that expectations built around a group of overachievers last season proved to be too much for those same overachievers to meet in such an important season as the Canadiens' one-hundredth?
Was it that injuries to key players proved to be too much to overcome in the long run?
Was it that the off-ice circus which surrounded this team throughout the second half of this season was more of a distraction than it was thought to have been?
Or was it that Carey Price was not yet up to the task of performing in the pressure cooker that is Montreal?
To one degree or another, all of these factors affected the Canadiens’ performance in their centennial season. But ultimately, it was something far more critical that determined their inevitable fate.
In examining successful playoff teams of the past there is one constant that stands out above all else—a solid team system that every player buys into and commits to one-hundred percent.
The 2008-09 Canadiens, on the other hand, didn’t have it. And it became clear that they didn’t have it when the team stopped playing for Guy Carbonneau near mid-season.
When so many analysts were busy dissecting Bob Gainey’s lack of activity at the trade deadline, the team’s anemic powerplay, its inability to put in a full sixty-minute effort night in and night out, or the bipolar play of Carey Price, many had seemingly overlooked the fact that this team lacked the crucial ingredient required to have a realistic shot at a storybook ending to this season—focus.
And while the arguments that the Canadiens lacked size, a star centerman, a solid defenseman and a veteran goaltender were certainly valid ones, what they lacked above all was a solid team system and a great communicator behind the bench.
And if this major shortfall is not addressed during the coming offseason, then I fear that the once-powerful Canadiens will remain a team out of focus for at least another season.