Disappearing Hockey Heroes

Soon either Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby, Geno Malkin, Phil Kessel and company or Nashville led by P.K. Subban et al will find their way to a Stanley Cup.

When they win they know they will skate around the ice and hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup drowning in accolades and praise.  Many thinking back to junior hockey or the hard work in the minors that took them to the peak of greatness.  For some, this is the hardest trophy in sports to win-beyond maybe the World Cup.

After the celebration in the locker room with champagne and showers of beer, they’ll relax for a while knowing they’ve brought that trophy home with them for one day.  They can show it off to their hometown for 24 hours or take it to a party or anywhere they want-as long as they don’t lose or destroy it.

But the other perk of winning the prize is eternal recognition in the form of a square on the side of the Cup.  Each year another team gets put on the ring that goes around it forever displaying those that worked so hard to bring home the championship.

You may not know that Lord Stanley’s Cup is almost 125 years old.  It was first given out in 1893 in the form of the bowl you see on top of the trophy now.  As the years progressed and the NHL was formed they needed more room and added the bottom or the base that it currently sits on.  In pictures the rings with the engraved names can be seen along that base.  

125 years is a long time to keep a running record of who has won and at some point time catches up.  After this year, the ring from 1953 to 1965 will have to come off to make room for the next batch of champions.  Included in those years are Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and a host of other Hall of Fame players.  Imagine the talents during those years that many of us never got to see.

I think about the famous picture of 11-year-old Wayne Gretzky meeting the late Gordie Howe when “Mr Hockey” visited the young player’s hometown.  Who would have guessed that those two would change so much about the game?  Eventually we will have to take “The Great One”‘s name off the Cup to make room too.

I can’t imagine what the future will be like in hockey, there’s the Matthews, Marner, and McDavid future.  But who else is out there that we don’t know about?  Will there ever be another iconic photo like those two legends of the game?

The last time I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, my daughter and I went into the Esso Great Hall where the Cup is displayed.  She wandered right off to the shiny trophy on its magical perch.  I immediately made my way to the vault where the rings are held.  Not the winner’s rings but the rings that had been taken off the Cup to make room for more Champions.  I wondered about those men that had been engraved there and what they went through.  The struggles and the pain to win this elusive Cup.  It’s been said that once you win you are winner forever because your name is engraved on the side.  But tell that to those men who will find themselves tucked away in a vault on 30 Yonge Street in Toronto.  One day Wayne Gretzky will find himself there too.

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P.K. Subban’s Departure Is Proof The Montreal Canadiens Are Living In The Past

To say that P.K. Subban was run out of Montreal might be unfair.  That would imply that everyone in bleu, blanc et rouge was placing him on an Air Canada flight to Nashville from Montreal’s Trudeau Airport.  I’m sure, however that Subban wasn’t surprised by the trade on June 29, 2016 that sent him to Nashville for the Predator’s defenseman and captain Shea Weber.  On July 1, 2016 the Montreal Canadien’s Norris Trophy winning defenseman would have had his no trade clause kick in on the remaining  6 years of his contract at $10 million US dollars a season.

Leading up to the National Hockey League entry draft, rumors swirled that Canadien’s General Manager Marc Bergevin was looking to trade Subban because either he “didn’t fit in with the rest of the club” or because of his contract.  Bergevin denied these reports but it seemed clear that something was going on.  Last season there was talk that he wasn’t in tune with some of the other veteran leadership, Subban wore the A on his sweater and Captain Max Pacioretty was thought to be one of main proponents of his dismissal.

Head Coach Michel Therrien was known to rip into Subban during this past season, especially after one loss to the Colorado Avalanche when the creative skater attempted to make a play in the Avalanche zone and lost an edge while possessing the puck.  The Avalanche took the puck the length of the ice and scored the goal that would go on to win the game.  Therrien would go on to throw Subban under the bus the team rode to the Pepsi Center on, “ an individual play that cost us the game tonight.”  Never mind that the Canadiens offense last year ranked 16 in goals for in the entire league even with offensively gifted Subban in the lineup.

I’m sure that Subban could clearly read the writing on the wall when Bergevin did not stand up to Therrien or back the Canadiens star player.  Subban was playing his game, the one that the Canadiens had signed him to play.  He was aggressive on the puck, maybe sometimes to a fault, he was boisterous, but that’s P.K., he was creative, he had flair and most of all, he gave 100 percent on the ice.  At the end of the 82 game season when the Canadiens finished 38-38-6 and missed the playoffs without firing Therrien, Subban had to know that he was going to be on his way out.  The two of them could not exist under the same roof.

It was a reminder of the Patrick Roy situation in 1995 when he fought with head coach Mario Tremblay. Canadiens management decided then as well that Roy was the one who had to leave shipping him off to the Colorado Avalanche, the previous Quebec Nordiques.  How ironic is it that Therrien blew up at P.K.’s play in Colorado?  It all comes full circle I suppose, especially considering that trade brought Montreal one of my favorite hockey players of all-time goalie Jocelyn Thibault.  As the history books have shown us, the long list of goalies that followed in Roy’s crease were never able to replicate Roy’s success as he went on to win a Cup with Colorado.

Subban to his credit, had adopted Montreal as his new hometown.  He donated $10 million dollars to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, a figure that the Children’s Hospital called the “biggest philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history.”  The star athlete set up a fund known as P.K.’s Helping Hand that works with the Montreal Children’s Hospital and helps parents pay bills when their child gets sick. Subban was also seen many times in restaurants around town and posed with fans for pictures and stopped for autographs.  The mood after the trade was described by one person on Twitter in three words: “Torches and pitchforks.”

The Montreal Canadiens are an Original Six team with so much history and mystique.  I know when I took a tour of the Centre Bell, or Centre Molson when I went, the team was so proud of where it had come from.  The legends that you see in the locker room up on the walls from Plante to Bouchard to Savard to Roy and in between.  They even ask you if you know what the “H” stands for in the middle of the “C” in their logo.  (Do you know by the way?)

The NHL awards trophies that are named for Hall of Fame players from the Canadiens.  The “Rocket” Richard Trophy, the Vezina Trophy and the Hart Trophy are all named for men who were Canadiens.  The Canadiens fill the Hockey Hall of Fame with plaques, busts and memorabilia.  There’s no doubt that this is one of the greatest clubs in NHL history.  Not to mention the 24 Stanley Cups.

What the Canadiens have to realize however is the last Cup came on June 9, 1993 and the world is a different place – hockey is a different place.  As much as we can celebrate the past and cherish those men that built the franchise, we can’t let them haunt the building.  Subban’s departure is another example of running a star out just because they may not always “fit the mold.”  Subban isn’t like the rest of the players and that’s okay, not every championship team is built like those old Montreal Canadien teams.  You need guys like P.K.  You need guys like Patrick Roy.  Unfortunately the Montreal Canadiens still haven’t learned the lessons, they still hear the whispers of Richard and Bouchard and Plante.  When the time comes and they realize it, it’s going to be too late.  It may already be too late.

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.