It's over. The Montreal Canadiens management, led by CEO/President Geoff Molson and General Manager Pierre Gauthier, has long since abandoned logic and have decided to go about actively making this season a losing one. The levels of crazy that have come to the surface this season has been impressive: firing assistant and head coaches on game days, acquiring bad contracts to make up for defensive depth issues, hiring a seemingly incompetent rookie interim coach in a move offensive to a large section of the fanbase, and then trading a top line forward mid-game just a day after he publicly criticized the team's strategy and 'losing attitude'.
This was all after a start to the season that was very promising in every measure that we know predicts future success, despite some obvious weaknesses caused by injury. Gauthier likes to tell us how often we've played with an incomplete deck of cards this year, with only a handful of games icing a team that was over the salary floor despite the team spending to the cap. That's an issue of bad luck but also falls on him: he actively invested significant money in some players with major injury concerns, namely Andrei Markov, but also Jaroslav Spacek.
The only logical take one can make on Gauthier's last five weeks is that he's embraced losing for this season.
Randy Cunneyworth took over from Jacques Martin and immediately benched the team's top defenceman and a promising young centre, started playing replacement level fourth liners like Mathieu Darche, Petteri Nokelainen and Mike Blunden at the expense of proven top line talent like Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec. The team is using Lars Eller, who was benched for a game, as the top line centre currently, a move that can only be seen as beneficial for his development and not for the team's chances of winning.
In other words, this team has decided to not try and win games anymore. They're doing so in a spectucularly callous manner, too, embarassing players and coaches on their way out the door. Say what you will about Jacques Martin's defensive system, but he consistently put players in roles that best suited the team's chances of winning hockey games. With him out of the picture, that has changed. The focus is on letting players like Lars Eller, Alexei Emelin, and Raphael Diaz prove themselves against tougher competition at the expense of veterans and leaders like Plekanec and Hal Gill. There's definitely some promise in those players, but this is not what a team does when it is trying to gain points for a playoff push.
When Jacques Martin was fired, the Canadiens had just lost their first game of December in regulation. They were struggling in a lot of areas, but Martin's tactics were keeping the team close. They were also within a couple of points of a playoff spot: one good week could've seen them in 8th place. With Martin gone, it's a struggle to even stay close. You want evidence of this? Before the Martin firing, the team had lost by three or more goals only once (a 4-1 loss to Anaheim), and had beaten teams by that margin four times (Jets, Flyers, Rangers, Hurricanes). Under Cunneyworth, the team has won by 3 or more goals twice (Senators, Jets), which is pretty good... but they've lost by that margin three times (Blackhawks, Jets, Blues).
In the last 11 games of the Martin regime the Canadiens were 4-3-4, getting terrible results beyond the 60 minute mark (1-4) but at least still staying close despite a myriad of injuries. Under Cunneyworth, they are 3-8-0. They've scored 2.55 goals per game, literally the exact same clip they were scoring under Martin in that stretch (and I'm not counting the shootout goal vs. Carolina in there). The offense has become less consistent, and therefore less productive as a whole to the cause of winning.
In the end, those are just the complaints about strategy. At the core for me is the fact that as a fan, I have no interest in watching a team deliberately set out to lose hockey games. And make no mistake about it, that is the team's goal for the remainder of the season. When Cammalleri spoke of the team playing with a 'losing mentality' and it not being surpising that they were losing as a result, he might as well have been talking about the organization from the top down. The desire to win in 2011-12 died quite a while ago, the lure of a top draft pick this season seems to be the driving motive.
I will say this: it does not look like a full scale rebuild at this point. If that were the case, I think the team would have to put Carey Price on the trading block to the highest bidder. Gauthier has acquired players like Kaberle and now Rene Bourque who had longer term deals than the players he moved out. Still, I can't support this attitude. I can't cheer on my team to lose. I'm not going to hold out for the occasional flourish of victory like the Winnipeg game last week. My objective as a fan is for a winning season. If the people in the organization don't want that, then I don't see the point in my continued support.
It's one thing when the team makes the effort to win but comes up short. It's another thing altogether when the team deliberately makes moves to handicap the team's ability to win as it has done this year. It's a losing attitude being passed down by a bunch of losers. It's shameful and does a large disservice to the current players and fans of this team. I'm not even going to get into how shameful it must be for players, owners, coaches and managers of the team's past.
I'll be back onboard as an emotional fan when the team displays a commitment to winning. If you want to call me some kind of bandwagon fan, go ahead, I don't care. I'm still open for communicating with fans about the team, I'll submit some blog postings as I have, but my interest in the games themselves are going to be virtually non-existent. There is no point to it if the goal isn't winning. I'm not contractually obligated to play out the season with professionalism like the players, and it seems incredibly stupid to do so since the coaches and managers of this team don't seem to have that same requirement. And you definitely won't find me berating players like Cammalleri for wanting to get out of this situation. Cammalleri might frustrate with his ups and downs as a scorer, but his competitive spirit is exactly the kind of push we should demand out of all our players.
I wish Bourque well in his Canadiens career, but I'm not 'excited' to see his debut. I recognize the uniform and the players out there, but I don't recognize the team. All I see are a purposely assmebled collective of losers actively making it harder on themselves to win hockey games. Nothing says that more than pulling a well regarded goal scorer from a 1-0 hockey game in the third period against your biggest rival because 24 hours ago, he spoke critically of the team. It's disgusting, stupid, petty, insulting, and cowardly. Way to prove every word of Mike Cammalleri's, even Francois Gagnon's mis-translated version, correct.