Montreal Canadiens: Time to Let Them Rebuild Once and For All

Sebastien TremblayCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2009

20 Nov 1999: Brian Savage #49of the Montreal Canadiens lays hurt on the ice with a fractured vertabrae during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staple Center in Los Angeles, California. The Canadiens defeated the Kings 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Kellie Landis  /Allsport

Something has been bothering me for a few years now, and I don’t care that we’re not even ten games into the season…I’m pressing the panic button.


My panic button. The button I’ve hoped management would press a long time ago. Let me explain.


Once in a while, I stop thinking rationally about hockey and think "what if." Speculation is dangerous, but in this case, there is reason to believe it would work.


"What if the Montreal Canadiens allowed the team to crumble like Pittsburgh or Chicago in the late 1990s and early 2000s and rebuild like many other teams are doing; what kind of team would we have now?"


That’s a question a lot of experts have pondered and the usual answer is "they’d probably be in a better position now, but the fans would not have allowed it."


They’re right.


Of course, fans do not control what management does, but when you work in one of the biggest hockey markets in the world, they can certainly generate a lot of pressure and through complaints, media, journalism, and even manifestations, they can cost management its jobs. Montreal and Toronto fans and media unfortunately have that "power" over what management do. They "demand" success at any cost.


Montreal has had a dreadfully average team for far too long, hanging in the middle of the standings since the mid-90s. What happened two years ago, finishing first in the East, was indeed an aberration.


So, over the years, to please fans and make the playoffs, management would use prospects and draft picks in trades to patch up holes with aging veterans or role players, thus wasting many years in the middle of the pack. Plus, drafting in the '90s was a pain and Montreal was consistently horrible at it.


Since Halloween is coming up, allow me to refresh your memories on how horrible the drafting was.


The first-round picks from 1990 to 2000 are Turner Stevenson, Brent Bilodeau, David Wilkie, Saku Koivu, Brad Brown, Terry Ryan, Matt Higgins, Jason Ward, Eric Chouinard, Ron Hainsey, and Marcel Hossa.


Very nice group, wouldn’t you say? Impressed?


Now I don’t need to tell you who they missed. It can be easily verified by looking at draft selections the past 10 years. But let me just say, Martin Brodeur and Jarome Iginla are on that list.


And who were the quick fixes? Donald Audette, Joe Juneau, Trevor Linden, Yannick Perreault, Karl Dykhuis, Eric Weinrich, Doug Gilmour, Shaun Van Allen, Sergei Berezin, and Jim Dowd, to mention only a few. Quite the all-star group, huh?


Instead of letting the team go down and get high draft picks that could’ve helped rebuild the franchise and make it stronger, they picked up those quick fixes to appease fans, media, and try desperately to make the playoffs through the back door.


Frankly, I’m more than tired of seeing the Canadiens struggle and hang around the middle of the pack. For the price of the damn tickets, they could at least try to offer a proper show.


Now where I’m going with this? Well, as an avid Montreal Canadiens fan, I want the club to be good and do well. But I’m also very aware of the benefits of high draft picks and high-end prospects. Does Montreal have any? I’m not so sure.


Tell me, are there any top 10 NHL prospects in Montreal’s talent pool? No. Top 15? No. Top 20? No. Top 30? Max Pacioretty was thought to be a great power forward (which is why he was picked over the obvious favorite, David Perron), is ranked 43rd in the league, and is Montreal’s best prospect according to Hockey’s Future. There are more players in front of him than teams in the NHL.


Montreal, as it is, don’t have many prospects to make them the envy of the league. The talent pool is full and apparently deep, but for some obscure reason, there have been no prospects in the last 10 years taking control of the team as there should have been. So where is that depth?


Wouldn’t you be excited about having prospects that makes the Habs the envy of the entire league? How about an Evgeni Malkin? A Steven Stamkos? Drew Doughty? Patrick Kane? Jonathan Toews?


Anyone who tells me they wouldn't be excited is a big fat liar or is dumb enough to think you can do fine through trades and veterans signingsjust look at Toronto, there lies the proof this system doesn’t work.


So here is the million dollar question: Are Montreal Canadiens fans ready to finally accept a losing team for a few years, in the hopes of making a complete rebuild that would help the team gain new talentthatwould help the team for years to come?


There are many, many examples around the league of that theory, Pittsburgh and Chicago being the best. Both franchises had to endure a few years at the bottom of the standings, but look at the benefits now!


Isn’t it time the Habs gain back their former glory? The question might not be "are we ready to accept it?," but "is it necessary?"

As for me, I’ve actually been hoping for a complete breakdown, because frankly, there’s just no way the Canadiens fans will desert the team if it does bad. The Bell Centre will be full whatever happens. Hockey is in our blood. And with examples and proof that the rebuilding through drafting system works…why the hell won't they do it?!


Let me ask you, what is Montreal’s identity as a team right now? Can anyone tell me what the Habs are trying to put out there? Who are the poster boys for the team? Gomez and Cammalleri? Don’t make me laugh. If they could be the face of a franchise, they’d already be in that position by now. But they’re not.


Personally, I’d be glad to see the Habs crumble for a few years. Imagine the benefits of having maybe three or four top-five picks. Look around the league; I’d say 25 out of 30 teams have their fresh, young, talented players to build around. Where is ours?


Drafting and prospects are my specialty. I’ve been following the drafts for the last 10 years, at least. I’m still trying to find a single prospect worthy of that tag. Is it Louis Leblanc? Doubtful. Is it Pacioretty? There should be signs already but there are none. Is it Carey Price? Do you really believe we have Patrick Roy/Martin Brodeur talent there? If so, how come the team still lingers around the middle of the standings?


Having 11 free agents at the end of last season, on a badly slumping team with no direction, Bob Gainey missed the perfect opportunity to trade, clear out, and rebuild. Instead, he wasted a lot of cap space on what I consider quick fixes…again. Gosh, I hoped that Gainey would get a freakin' clue and decide to go for it and rebuild. But he decided to try and protect his job and future first; the team’s future comes second.


This situation reminds me too much of the Canadiens of the 1990s, where management would patch up holes with veterans or role players. Gionta, Cammalleri, Spacek, Gill and Mara are players that you can fit into an already-working system with better line mates, which we don’t have. Gomez is a quick fix to replace the departure of Koivu, who was pressured by media and fans to leave town, but the former’s not quite better, just younger.


I’m afraid Gainey just set back the team another 10 years by refusing to admit it’s time for the Habs to go down for the count, only to come back stronger in a few years.

Are the fans going to hold it against him? Some will, those who don’t understand the process. But not if fans are aware of the plan and the benefits of patience. With examples all over the league and young superstars coming out of every draft, a few years in the ditch is the best thing for a Habs resurrection.


Now you’re all free to fire at me for saying this and some of you will try to rip my head off through the comments, but I don’t think anyone can deny it’s time to do something drastic for once.


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