Skating On Thin Ice

The Montreal Canadiens were 19-4-3 through the first 26 games three days earlier star goaltender Carey Price went down injured with what was supposed to be a “week or two” lower body injury.  Since then the Canadiens have gone 8-23-1, Price hasn’t come back, the team traded for All-Star Game MVP John Scott just days prior to his coming out party only to bury him in minor league affiliate St. John’s and now Coach Michel Therrien is openly flaming star defenseman P.K. Subban in the press.

Is there something going on with the bleu blanc et rouge?

From first glance it looks to me like the Canadiens are reeling with the loss of Price.  If the New York Rangers lost Henrik Lundqvist I believe they’d struggle just like the Canadiens.  You can throw in NHL quality backups and hope for the best, but there’s too much parity in the NHL these days that once you lose an elite goaltender that you rely on to push your team over the edge you might as well pack it in.  Especially if you don’t have goal scorers that teams like the Chicago Blackhawks do.

Let’s also keep in mind the fish bowl that this team plays in.  Ask Jocelyn Thibault.  Don’t know Jocelyn Thibault?  Thibault was part of the Patrick Roy trade between the Colorado Avalanche and the Canadiens that sent Roy and Mike Keane to the Avalance for Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko.  Thibault was a young 20 year old when he was thrust into the shadow of Saint Patrick on the Montreal Forum stage. He was put in net to try to replicate what a man 10 years his senior had done for this hockey loving community.

Oh, did I mention Thibault was also French Canadian?  Thibault grew up in Montreal and played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was called by Canadiens General Manager Rejean Houle “one of the most brilliant young goaltenders in the league?”

Gee.  Pressure?  A 20 year old kid going home to one of the most storied franchises of all time, most Stanley Cups in NHL history (22), one of the oldest North American professional sports franchises in history, over 50 people associated with the club were in the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s his hometown club, and now the General Manager of this club says that he is the key to this deal and one of the most brilliant young goaltenders in the league.  That’s not much presure

Then there’s the list of goaltenders that’s played at the club, let’s see: Patrick Roy, Tony Esposito, Ken Dryden, Gump Worsley, Jacques Plante, Roy Worters, Bill Durnan, George Hainsworth and Georges Vezina!  That’s just the Hall of Fame goaltenders.

But hell, Thibault came over to the Canadiens and through 40 games after being traded he posted a 23-13-3 record with a 2.83 Goals Allowed Average and a .913 Save Percentage.  For a 20 year old playing in the shadow of ghosts, that’s not too bad.

But it was never enough.  Even playing on crappy teams, Thibault always did his best but he got the blame.  Eventually getting traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1998, Thibault would move on.  I can only imagine his growth as a goaltender was scared by his experiences in Montreal.  Unfortunately the ghosts were the same ones that Ken Dryden spoke of in his book “The Game.”  Dryden experienced the pain too.  The must win now mentality.  The mentality that if you don’t win you are going to get shipped out.  There’s no room for any sort of growth.

I hate to see something like that happen.  I think the Canadiens could do well bringing up John Scott and playing him to bring some excitement to the club.  Or even trading him to let him play somewhere in the NHL.  He deserves a shot somewhere.

But the way that they are treating P.K. Subban is the way they treated Thibault.  A solid club servant, who did what was asked of him, gave to the club and hell Subban is there for the community, but now he’s being questioned for his decisions on the ice?  This man gives everything that he has on the ice.

I have to wonder if the long line of Cups are getting in the way of what a franchise should truly be about.  It’s not always about winning.  It should be about people too.  It should be about understanding that you are going to have crap years.  But the players are giving what they have.  I’ve written about coaching changes before, but with Montreal losing an elite goaltender and now you want to criticize your star defenseman?  Someone should fire the coach.  Obviously he has some issues.  Sure he’s feeling the heat too.  But that’s unacceptable.

I feel bad for Subban and Scott and hope that neither of them has their careers ruined like Thibault did.  Here’s hoping.

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Dear John

I wasn’t prepared to watch the entire NHL All Star Game, only because 3 on 3 seemed like such a foolish idea.  Who came up with the idea to throw the stars of all 32 teams on the ice 6 at a time?  That’s how we make it more exciting?  That’s not how I get excited.

First of all, I’m not a fan of the shootout wins and losses.  I’m ok with a game ending in a tie.  I’m one of those soccer guys who believes that a game can end in a tie and still be exciting.  Why does a game have to end with a winner?  Why?  Cause that’s the American way and the NHL is now marketed toward an American fanbase.  No longer is the NHL geared toward where the game started.  Now it looks to expand in the money areas in the United States.  At the start of the All Star Game, no Canadian team was going to make the playoffs.

Second, yes sure there would be less players on the ice creating more space for playmakers but it also meant that there would be more reason to play defense.  Think about it.  When these guys play in the regular season they are trying not to lose.  Plus goal scoring is down and there’s no reason to think that 3 on 3 in an NHL ASG would solve that.

What would solve that problem would end up being a human interest story.  That’s exactly what the All Star Game is supposed to be about.  It’s supposed to be about the players.  It’s supposed to be about seeing the players you want to see.

Meanwhile, Ovi and Toews pull out.  The two players who are a. the most exciting goal scorer and b. the best playoff player.  Gee, thanks I can’t wait.  I realize that the city hosting the game can fill rosters, but many times it gets ridiculous.  This year, Roman Josi shouldn’t have made it to the ASG.  But I get it.  Make the host city happy.

What made the ASG exciting was the John Scott story.  A lifelong tough guy, Scott has made his living doing the job that many others couldn’t.  Unfortunately he’s taken crap from people ranging from Jeremy Roenick to Mike Milbury for being voted into the NHL ASG.  But Scott is no dummy.  A graduate of Michigan Tech with an engineering degree, Scott does the dirty work so that the finesse players can make goals.  What started as a joke ended with Scott talking about the experience on Derek Jeter’s Player’s Tribune.

Scott didn’t disappoint.  It was incredible to see him score two goals and be celebrated by his teammates as his team won the 3 on 3 competition.  Named as MVP by the fans, Scott was lifted off the ice by his team after the final whistle.  It was an amazing experience for Scott, whose playing career has now taken him to St. John’s Newfoundland.  Until now, not many knew the path Scott had taken to get to the NHL or what he had done once he had gotten to the League.  In fact, many people view players like Scott as just “goons” or enforcers who have no talent, but they are much more than that.

Scott is like those before him, Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, Bob Probert and Rick Rypien who did the job but never got the credit.  He’s an example of what it takes for the 700 players to be in the NHL, how much talent they must have to be in the league no matter whether it’s a top line guy or the forth line winger.  Even one plays a role and a winning team is full of players accepting their positions within the organization.

Unfortunately the position Scott plays also has a history of players dying early.  Boogaard, Belak and Rypien are examples of those taken way too early.  Scott seems to understand that hockey is just a game, just a way of life.  Unfortunately these guys had a problem that wasn’t seen or wasn’t addressed by doctors.  I’m sorry for the losses that the families and friends of these young men.  The depression that they suffered was missed by someone somewhere.  I’m not blaming anyone.  It’s easy to miss these things.  Maybe they never even talked about it.  Maybe they never even gave any indication that there was a problem.  But once they did, maybe it was too late.

It’s a terrible tragedy and while we celebrate John Scott we should never forget the losses that we have suffered from depression in hockey.  It’s real and it’s serious.  Don’t ever walk away, let someone talk, because it could be what saves someone’s life.  It could be the difference between a Derek Boogaard and a John Scott.