Patrick Roy's latest escapades into new found realms of stupidity and arrogance have re - ignited a debate over whether or not his jersey deserves to be hung ceremoniously from the high heavens of the Bell Centre.
It had been assumed that the Canadiens are preparing to honour one more player next season, in the midst of celebrating the team's 100th anniversary, and that Roy was the favoured candidate for such an evening.
His latest shenanigans notwithstanding, Roy had excellent years with the Canadiens as the backbone of a pair of Stanley Cups, and has all the hockey career qualifications that make him worthy of consideration.
The problem with Roy in many eyes, is not who he was on the ice, but the person he is off the ice when he opens his mouth.
In short, Roy's actions, in the opinions of many, often overqualify him to be an asshole.
You can weight being one of the fiercest competitors the game has known against acts of beligerence and ignorance, you can measure the Stanley Cup rings in his ears against his lack of humility and general lack of self awareness, you can pile the records and achievements next to his selfishness and disrespectful nature.
In doing so, you would likely conclude that the career does shine brighter than the man, but you might be no further ahead in deciding whether or not he should be the next player honoured by the Habs with the retirement of his number.
Truthfully, the question of it has nagged me for quite some time, and I've never honestly been able to get off the fence.
I mean, I still love the goalie that he was and what he did for the team between 1986 and 1995, but I still can't stand that I feel he's an embarassment to the Canadiens when incidents such as what went on this past weekend occurs.
In seeing what he did with his son Jonathan in the midst of a not all that uncommon brawl in the Quebec junior league, purely gave me the sense that he had somehow nailed another spike into his own coffin of public opinion when it comes to enshrining #33.
On Monday, I read Boone's take on it, and agreed with several notions contained therein. The "retire 9-1-1 instead" quote was hilarious, if not terribly unfortunate and sad. Again yesterday morning, two of my own fellow bloggers, two of the best I might add, weighed in on the subject themselves.
Between Boone's harsh backhand of the whole idea, and J.T. and T.C. Deneault's "hockey achievements first" stance, I believe I have finally come a conclusion on where I sit with it.
And it is an uneasy barbed wire fence.
The crux of the argument has always been the circumstances of Roy's departure from Montreal that has taken on a "did he jump or was he pushed" extremity.
Of course, in the whole incident that needs not be recapped, there was no one cool head that prevailed to help keep Roy in a Habs jersey. No one disputes that it was Roy who said "I have played my last game for Montreal Canadiens" in the heat of the moment. No one denies either, that neither president Ronald Corey or coach Mario Tremblay, had a clue of what they were getting into in the long term.
Perhaps the whole mess would have been avoided had Serge Savard and Jacques Demers not been canned by Corey five losses into that same season.
After the 1994-95 season, one which was shortened by a players strike, Canadiens GM Savard was in the midst of trying to shake up the team when he was let go. After the team had missed the playoffs in 1995, Savard decided the team was rotting from the core and was preparing a blockbuster deal with the Colorado Avalanche that would return Stephane Fiset, Adam Deadmarsh, and Owen Nolan to the Habs for Patrick Roy and another player, likely Mike Keane.
Why would he want to trade Roy, you wonder, two seasons removed from the glorious Stanley Cup win of 1993?
Several theories abound, but it is most often assumed from statements by Savard and other players that Roy's comportment in the dressing room was not appreciated. The goalie was not getting along with much of the team, especially it's defenseman, and it was felt that Roy's presence was beginning to take up too much space and divide up sides. There was also the concern that he was beyond blame for losses in his coach's eyes, as Demers practically revered Roy to no end. All of it added up to a team that was being ripped apart by these issues.
Savard was about to move in and solve it when he was cancelled.
Demers successor Mario Tremblay came to the team with these issues at a head, and proceeded to duel it out with Roy like a pair of roosters in a cage.
Apparently the coach's first statement to Roy addressed the current issues when he said, "I'll do the coaching, you stop the pucks."
It didn't ease the bad blood that had long brewed between the two, with Tremblay getting the head start a season sooner as he worked in the same media that was privy to Roy growing egotistical behavior.
Roy, has always been all about winning at any cost. It is what endeared him to a hockey mad city, and also what caused the very public divorce. Roy's battling nature it seems, didn't stop at getting his way against opponants on other teams.
Today, many opinions are held that Roy quit on the Canadiens that night. Some say contrarily that the Canadiens quit on Roy. These opinions are mostly based on Roy's famous statement to Corey upon crossing his path behind the bench. It was a soap opera scene about a power struggle where both sides lost. Those images have stuck with fans for going on 13 years now.
Perhaps they are still too fresh in many folks memories for them to consider retiring his number in the near future.
The image that always stuck with me was not the Corey scene, but the mock saluting of the crowd by Roy when puck after puck beat him that night against Detroit. The fans that night, had quit on Roy - their right as fans. Roy, judging by his performance and gestures, quit on the team's fans at that moment as well.
I'm certain that he wasn't thinking that he owed them anything when he spoke to Corey.
For myself, the way Roy acted that evening was beyond disrespectful. I recall watching those moments, never once squarely blaming the goalie for the score. It is a team game afterall. In retrospect, those scenes simply reinforce the notion that Roy felt he was bigger than the team. It was an unacceptible display of arrogance and superiority in defiance.
I've heard the opinion that raising him to the rafters at this time would vindicate who he was, rather than honour the career he offered. I don't disagree with that take.
In Boone's article, the first one I read, he compares Roy with the players whose numbers currently hang from above. For him, it is not as simple as measuring one career against another, it is about the men behind the logo. Boone cuts the mustard this way:
"Look, admission to sports Halls of Fame should be based purely on achievement. You put up the numbers, you're in. Retired numbers are different. The roof of the Bell Centre is a Hall of the Hallowed. Every name up there wore his Canadiens' number with pride and distinction.....They were great athletes – and they were great human beings."
I understand what he's getting at. I'll go one further and put it like this: The greatness of the player should be equalled by the human inside. They are, afterall, hung there to become examples.
Now most human beings, hockey players included, aren't always so saintly. You have your Jean Beliveau's, you have your Claude Lemieux's.
The terms on which Roy parted, still divide. T.C. Deneault's account makes light of the fact that many of the players already so honoured departed through difficult circumstances. He writes:
"Sadly, sometimes the relationship between a team and its legends can come to a frustrating end. Some fans tend to gloss over it but legends such as Plante, Doug Harvey, Bernie Geoffrion, Guy Lafleur, Serge Savard, and Larry Robinson all left the Habs under acrimonious terms. Even the team's greatest star; Maurice Richard was estranged from the organization for a few decades....The players whose names hover on the banners that overhang the Bell Centre are there not because they were great men, but because they were the greatest players in the history of the Montreal Canadiens."
He's quite on the ball in pointing out that human flaw in itself should not separate one from the honour, but it goes deeper than that. There were never any controversies surrounding the actual number retirement of the players he mentions. And it didn't hurt that they were in fact, for the most part, great men and leaders of men.
Rocket's number nine was sent heavenly prior to his disagreement with the team in regards to the duties of his dressed up corporate position. Maurice Richard left an ambassador's job because he felt more worthy. By that time, his number had already been raised.
Doug Harvey was sent packing when he attempted to form a player's union to protect his brotherhood. His trade from the Habs ruined his life after hockey, as he descended into sad alcoholism. His story rips at your heart. His number went up while his health went down. It might have been the happiest day of his life.
Jacques Plante may just have been as neurotic as a goalie can be, and it drove Toe Blake and Frank Selke to extremes. Plante surely never wanted to leave the Canadiens. He had two brutal years as a Ranger before packing it in, then coming back later for another decade of great play.
The Boomer was hopeful of a coaching position within the Canadiens organization upon retirement. When he did not get the promotion he felt he had coming, he took a player / coach job with the Rangers. The Canadiens waited way too long to give him his day. The Boomer likely clung to his last breath thankful it was finally a done deal.
Savard retired because he was unhappy with his icetime towards the end of his career with the Canadiens. He was also being booed mercilessly by fans. He unretired half a season later when he was allowed out of his final contract season to sign with the Winnipeg Jets. Savard retired a second time, just over 12 months later, to return to Montreal as the team's GM. There was never any acrimony between Savard and the Canadiesn at that time. There may have lingered some after his canning by Corey, but he was thankfully gone when it came time to consider Savard's number retirement.
Lafleur also retired over a lack of icetime and faith by the Habs organization. It was extremely difficult for Guy to fit in with Jacques Lemaire's defensive system and his pride told him it could no longer work out. Savard, then GM, felt his head would hit an axe if he traded the legend. He refused Lafleur's demand, and the the player's exit from the ice to a position of ambassadeur was prepared. Lafleur was as ill suited for it as the Rocket was. By the time Lafleur slammed the office door behind him, his number was already alongside those of the Richards, Morenz and Beliveau.
Larry Robinson took his services to the L.A. Kings when Savard refused to fairly negotiate with him. All Robinson wanted for salary was his previous year's renumeration, plus the inclusive payment deferment which Savard essentially removed as a anti - negotiation ploy. Robinson felt he deserved as much for all his years. There was some verbal jousting between the one time defensive partners when Savard made mention of a possible jersey retirement for Robinson, before uncategorically taking such a statement of the table and claiming that Robinson had demanded it.
Now, none of these seven legends wanted to terminate their relationship with the Canadiens, it was forced upon them through the differing scenarios read above.
Roy's case, is completely different. He left Montreal in his prime, as seen, in the middle of a hockey game.
For J.T., retiring Roy's number is a slam dunk as well. She lists his achievements as the prime reason and makes a great point about what he meant to the Habs in the era and generation he played in. It is succinctly reminisced about in this way:
"When the debate about whether Patrick Roy should have his number retired arises, as it has once again since his son Jonathan's attack of another player, I get a picture in my head. It's of a 20-year-old, skinny, sweaty kid...still beardless...holding the Stanley Cup over his head, his cap of floppy hair and his red sweater soaked through as he screams his triumph. The look on his face is almost savage, but his eyes are filled with stars. Shortly after that picture was taken, he accepted the 1986 Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player....There are other pictures, but that one is the most dominant, and, as far as I'm concerned, it's the one that decides the debate."
She may be mixing her sentiment too richly into fact and opinion. J.T. then underlines what Roy meant to the public, when he was revered and referred to as Saint Patrick:
"Those two wins gave new generations of Canadiens' fans a kind of link with the team's great past. Through the tinted looking glass of victory, they could glimpse what their fathers and grandfathers meant when they talked about the glory days and the greatness of the team. Through the play of Patrick Roy, they got a feeling for what it must have been like to cheer for the great French Canadian players of the past, and the ones who became legends even while they played."
I understand this wholly, but Vincent Damphousse, Kirk Muller, Carbonneau, Desjardins, Schneider and Dipietro all elicited the same feelings from in me 1993, regardless of language or heritage.
She then claims that, "The team owes Patrick Roy for carrying the torch in the darkest of times for the franchise. It owes him for being the French Canadian hero so many fans needed, and which so many local players are still unwilling to be. It owes him for bringing flair and drama to a team that needs flair and drama to lift itself above the ordinary. The team must pay the debt it owes by retiring his number."
Now I don't exactly get the concept of owing a player anything, I prefer to suggest they earn their merits unequivocally. J.T. defends the case by adding that, "To deny him the honour because of the way he left the team is both revisionist and unfair. So is the claim that he "quit on the team." You can say Patrick Roy was controversial. That he was passionate. That he was pigheaded. Even thoughtless and impatient. But one thing you can't say with validity is that he was a quitter."
Of course there is always two ways to look at things, and I am respectful of that notion. But J.T. does use a little revisionism of her own when she writes, "Should Doug Harvey have been denied the honour because he drank? Or Jacques Plante because he often refused to play games due to hypochondrial illness? Or Guy Lafleur because he sulked into retirement and slammed the team in print afterwards?"
Again, Harvey's drinking heavily came as a result, in many opinions, from his disconnection from the Canadiens organization, Plante being considered a hypochondriac is a matter of opinion and not diagnosis, and Lafleur had good reasons to sulk, he had years of game left in him and he in fact didn't slam the team in print until after his number was raised.
I'll go far as to say that anyone thinking that Roy did not quit on the team doesn't get the simple essense of the statement "I just played my last game for the Montreal Canadiens".
History backs his quote, Roy had had enough!
The fact does remain though, that Roy is undisputably one of the greatest goaltenders of all time. He was significant in a pair of Stanley Cups for the Habs at a time when it got a whole lot tougher to win them.
There are several players down through the years who sweat and bled for the Habs and whose jerseys are still not so honoured that I'd place well ahead of Roy in terms of who should be considered for the honour of jersey retirements next.
Toe Blake - two time Cup champ, 8 more as a coach and whose number is raised to the back of Tom Kostopoulos is a more pressing retirement than Roy's in my mind. Throw in the Hart trophies, scoring championships, all star team appearances, and there's a slam dunk that's passed everyone by.
Elmer Lach, another multi Cup champ, two time scoring champion and linemate along with Blake on Rocket Richard's devastating trio in the 1950's. His number hangs without his name, but on the jersey of Henri Richard. Elmer, I might be mistaken, is the oldest living Habs player today and another logical candidate for a jersey raising.
Bill Durnan and George Vezina before him, were both the greatest and most dominant goalies of their time. Their #1 should have been long gone by time Jacques Plante was given it. They've got accolades that make Roy's shrink, and had it not been for their excellence at crucial times in Canadiens history, the team may have gone on to a very different fate.
Vezina held the team up in the Habs first seasons, and brought them from a brutal sqaud to a contender that outlasted other Montreal franchises of the day. He played 325 consecutive games for Montreal. What killed him was what broke the streak. He deserves a grander tribute from Montrealers than having an arena - the one in Chicoutimi where Roy's latest slips took place - named after him.
Durnan helped revive the team, as a 27 year old rookie in 1943. The game's only ever ambidextrous goalie propped up a sorry Habs squad, with the help of the Punch line, and led them to a pair of Stanley Cups in the next four season. He played all of seven years, but won the Vezina Trophy in six of them. Some consider Durnan the greatest goalie they ever saw play.
Newsy Lalonde and Aurel Joliat came before and Howie Morenz. Neither were quite as spectacular, but both were extremely efficient in their time. Lalonde played, captained and coached the team all at once at times, carrying the team quite often and was a big part of the team's first Stanley Cup. He scored 124 goals for them in 99 career games in over 10 season. Newsy was a tough competitior on and off the ice, and truly the original flying frenchman.
Joliat came to the Habs, traded for Lalonde in 1922 and asumed the number 4 Newsy wore. Morenz joined two seasons later and the pair went on to win three Stanley Cups with the Canadiens. Joliat and Morenz spent over a decade neck and neck as the Habs two top scorers and continued the flying frenchman trend, although Joliat was actually of Swiss decent. Joliat would spend 16 seasons and over 700 games as a Montreal Canadien. Three number 4's should hang from the Bell rafters in their honour.
Ryan O'Byrne currently wears Emile "Butch" Bouchard's number 3. The players may actually be similar defenseman. Butch played 17 seasons for the Canadiens winning 4 Stanley Cups. He was the backbone of a feared backline, and captained the Habs for 8 seasons, one of the longest tenures in team history.
Of course, all of these players accomplishments shouldn't shrink Roy's achievements, but it ought to place them in a righter perspective historically.
Within the context of jersey retirements on a 100 year anniversary, I find it would be a greater shame to overlook these deserving legends than to pass over Patrick Roy for few more seasons.
Perhaps when Roy has more respect for the game and it's fans, considering him for such an honour will not be as controversial.
For the time being, I don't consider next season to yet be the proper time in Habs history for his day to come. It ought to one day, and it will.
In T.C Deneaut's rally behind Roy, he opens with this fact: " Time heals all wounds. Well, whoever wrote that never met some fans of the Montreal Canadiens."
Honouring a player's achievements and career should never be done with only partial approval. It should be a unanimous agreement, from management to fans - without a shred of controversy. If there still exists a debate over Roy today - whatever the individual reasons - then that says that now is not time. If the Canadiens wish to continue doing things in a classy manner, they'd be smart to wait this one out a bit.
Some wounds take longer to heal than others. Roy in his competitive thirst seems to absent mindedly open those old wounds and keep them fresh. Time will hopefully change that one day, and the perceptions of Roy along with.
I'll be happy when that day comes.