One hundred years ago this Friday, a twenty four year old industrialist, J Ambrose O'Brien, was turned down in his attempt to get a team into the Canadian Hockey Association. Outside the room in the old Windsor hotel, where the meetings were taking place, he met Jimmy Gardner. Jimmy, the manager of the Montreal Wanderers hockey team, was another spurned CHA suitor.
The two men got together and decided to form their own league, the NHA, or National Hockey Association. Ambrose bought the Renfrew Creamery Kings to play in the league. He owned the Cobalt Silver Kings and the Haileybury Comets and they became NHA teams as well. At the behest of Gardner he also started up a fourth team to be a rival for Gardner’s Wanderers.
The team Ambrose started was to be a french canadian rival for the Anglophone Montreal Wanderers. He recruited french canadian hockey players and called them Le Club de Hockey Canadien. So the Montreal Canadiens were born.
At the time many Francophone Quebecers referred to themselves as les habitants or settlers. The nickname became synonymous with the new team and has stuck to this day.
The Montreal Canadiens are currently the longest continuously operating professional ice hockey team in the world. They are the only current NHL franchise that predates the founding of the NHL.
This December 4, the CBC, has deigned to broadcast the game being played on the anniversary of that birth, across Canada. It's good Ambrose and Jimmy didn't meet on the fifth of December because you know in that case the CBC would still be showing us the Leafs game on Saturday night.
While the Canadiens are ready to celebrate a long and illustrious past, the present seems dim. They last won a cup in 1993 behind the goaltending of Patrick Roy. Since that time, sixteen long years, they have gone 4-9 in playoff series, never making it beyond the second round. Les Habitants have missed the playoffs six times in those 15 seasons.
The current team is on a miserable four game losing streak that has included pathetic efforts versus division opponents Toronto and Buffalo. They've won twelve games the standings tell you. A closer look reveals that four of those wins came through shoot-outs and four in overtime.
Les Habitants, the oldest, winningest hockey team ever, have managed four regulation time victories this year, in 28 games. This translates into 12 actual wins in an NHL season.
The last time Montreal had fewer then twelve wins in a season was 1939-40. The first year of World War II the habs managed 10 wins albeit in a 48 game season. Twelve regulation wins in an 82 game schedule could qualify this team as the worst Montreal Canadiens team ever.
They've suffered through a lot of injuries, especially to Andrei Markov and Brian Gionta but so has everyone else. It's a tough league. Injuries or not you still have to win.
The Canadiens have just given up on a couple recent high draft picks. Their second round pick (45th overall) in the 2005 entry draft was swapped to Minnesota for Benoit Pouliot. Kyle Chipchura the first round pick (18th overall) from the 2004 entry draft was once touted as the definitive power forward.
He's since been downgraded to checker and finally was dumped on Anaheim for a fourth round pick. American high-schooler Ryan McDonagh their first round pick (12th overall) in 2007, was a throw in for Scott Gomez.
There are some prospects left in the organization. PK Subban still projects as a reasonable offensive defenseman. Ben Maxwell is projected as a second line center or perhaps a checker with some offensive upside. Max Pacioretty appears to have made the team and is a reasonable power forward who may consistently score 20 some day.
Unfortunately there are no transformative talents in the organization. Carey Price might be that guy but I don't know how entertaining it'll be watching him stop sixty shots a night, if he's it.
The Montreal Canadiens need a huge young talent influx. They have some bricks to work with. Carey Price may hopefully be one of those bricks. They've locked up Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta until 2013 for a frightening 18.375 million dollars a year. It's done so they have to live with that.
That at least provides some leadership and veteran stability. It would probably be a good plan to get Andrei Markov signed up as well. Tomas Plekanec is having a great year but might end up being too expensive for Montreal to sign.
Veteran checkers like Glen Metropolit and Travis Moen are contributing. Maxim Lapierre is fine. Any improvement in this team though is going to have to come from good (hopefully great) young players. The Canadiens cupboard where they keep the “great” young players may be bare.
This means the Habs need to draft higher and draft better. The current team despite their actual horrible record has managed to stay only three points out of a playoff spot. More importantly they are currently tied with Florida and Edmonton as the fifth worst team in the league.
These Montreal Canadiens will probably be hard pressed to finish lower then Carolina, but they could easily sink past Toronto and Anaheim and end up with the second lottery pick. This would give them an 18.8 percent chance of getting the first pick overall. A poor finish this year would serve them infinitely better then their usual futile struggle to finish eighth or ninth.
The Montreal Canadiens in this historical 100th season need to go in the tank to have a chance to compete for a cup again in the near future. Losing to the Boston Bruins tonight should be a good way to get started.
This just might be a goal that this Montreal Canadiens team can manage to attain.