Why Three French Speaking Players On The Canadiens Isn't Enough

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I enjoy jumping into a language qcontroversy concerning the Habs about as much as I like dipping my toe into an acid pool.

I cringe at seeing these types of controversies and distractions concerning the team, and that is why I felt compelled to put all this down.

For the record, I am of course fluently billingual, with no pros or antis either way when it comes to who speaks what. I've always been all for the Canadiens dressing the best possible lineup regardless of tongue.

I have also always been well aware that the club in the market it serves must represent the fanbase with what is often termed the "french element", players who can converse with media and fans alike in their language.

Above all else, I am interested most in sound logic. Equally, I am completely against the often inflammatory french press when it comes to the french element question. Quite often, the nonsense goes way overboard, loses reason and lacks logic.

Since last season, the Canadiens have parted ways with Steve Begin, Patrice Brisebois, Francis Bouilllon, Mathieu Dandenault and Alex Tanguay. In each case, anyone with a sound mind wil agree that each parting had too do with a hockey question. Perhaps in Tanguay's case, renumeration came into play.

The sweeping changes to the culture of the team (and I mean that in a dressing room sense, not language one) have left the club with only three french speaking players on the roster. The number increases to four should Yannick Weber make the cut.

The three reamaining players are Maxim Lapierre, Guillaume Latendresse and Georges Laraque, and all three can expect of busy winter of microphones shoved in their faces, carefully watching every utterance.

Laraque for his part, may or may not factor in much, as it is highly unlikely that even if he is healthy all season, that he dresses for more than 55 games. He's also been a bit difficult with media of late, asking that questions be put to him before answering. Additionally, he's also not the player that will be sought out for a provocative hockey quote.

Can you picture Laraque weighing in with such dandies as, "Our penalty kill has to be better" or "We need a better all around effort and this team needs to start putting the puck in the net?"

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My apprehensions are that the weight of the french media's needs will fall squarely on the young shoulders of Lapierre and Latendresse, the latter of which is now the veteran french speaking player on the team.

As players with only two and three seasons respectively under their belts, it is hoped that their focus is applied in full to what they are accomplishing on the ice. The scrum around their stalls upon their better games will not be an issue, but how will it play out after repeated sub par performances?

The last thing these players need, and the team itself, is having their heads already in the post game presser, sorting through reasoning with a game still on the line. It could be motivational in the hands of an assured veteran, and disastrous to someone younger.

The lack of an increase french precense, especially a veteran one, could conceivably become a burden to the only two available french Habs, and younger heads at that. I fear that's a bit of a volatile scenario, one that will be exploited sooner or later.

Another apprehension of mine is the pressure the situation imposes on the non french speaking players on the team. Not only could it evolve into a predictable press mess, it places undue pressure on them in having to answer to things in a disproportionate amount.

When losses arrive, and more pointed questions follow, the insuficient answers offered could breed resentment. Unilingual fans might not get the sense of it, but the questions asked by french media to french players are of a more particular and sometimes provocative nature. The absense, or rather the disappearance of such topical questions will most definitely irk the french crews, who will be simplifying the queries to dullified bathwater, and then translating them back to readers and listeners. Print wise, it is a smaller concern, but television wise, it dilutes the content by having it all repeated back.

The scenario is bound to breed a certain contempt, especially when teams with french player arrive in town - Tampa with all of Lecavalier, St. Louis and now Tanguay come to mind. Viewers will be consistently reminded of who is elsewhere and not on the Canadiens.

You don't think this can get ridiculous at times?

Last season, with seven or eight french players dressed for the Canadiens, I listened through one rant (RSS? CKAC?) after a game against the Islanders in which the commentators deplored the fact that Bruno Gervais was not a Hab. Gervais, at best a fourth D-man on Long Island, would be a Bulldog at best in the Habs scheme of things, yet this nut raved about him, going so far as to suggest he'd belong in the Canadiens' top pairing!

So what can the Habs do about this?

There's the old worn motto that in evaluating talent deemed to be equal, that the Canadiens always opt for the french element. It's a sweet spin, and perhaps only true about 75% of the time. Francois Beauchemin, this past summer comes to mind. maybe the Habs should have placed a slightly higher value on him, but who's to say when such talks aren't privy to all us wannabe flies on the wall.

Can the Habs be accused of somewhat neglecting or ignoring the so called french element?

The Canadiens are often accused of this, but it's practically a surface sentiment. No other NHL club hires french speaking coaches. Montreal is the french coach's proving ground, before moving onto other NHL cities. Presently the Habs bench is quite french, and so is Hamilton's.

The Habs might not draft all the french speaking stars fans and media would wish for, but they make a concerted attempt to. This past summer they certainly didn't ignore calls for Louis Leblanc, their first pick, and in later rounds grabbed Gabriel Dumont from Drummondville. Two years ago, there was a rumble because they had passed up on Angelo Esposito after interviewing the kid three times. So far, time has given the Habs reason on that one.

When opportunities present themselves, the Canadiens have been known to sign junior free agents such as David Desharnais and Philippe Lefebvre, showing the press that they do actually keep an eye on the backyard.

Bob Gainey, has been both criticized and lauded in the french press in regards to the questions brought fourth. As perhaps the most successful unilingual to hit the city and learn the local language, he's earned a measure of respect among the french press. In the past, he has swung for the fence with Daniel Briere, and has taken three swings at Vincent Lecavalier. Today, it would have been nice had he connected, not that missing out was his fault entirely.

What often remedies the whole deal, is a wicked good and winning team. It's as though the whole spiel gets distracted by entertainment for a spell.

The simple truth is, the french element question does not go away, and isn't about to anytime soon.

For the disproportionate ratio of french to english speaking Habs currently looking at this about-to-be-sprung trap, it is hoped that a french talent or two becomes available in the not too distant future.

It might just lessen the load.

Yes, and that load too!

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