Lecavalier, As Anticipapted As Beliveau And Lafleur
I certainly wasn't around in 1951, when the Canadiens began annual negotiations with budding Quebec Aces superstar Jean Beliveau to sign him to a NHL contact. It was a deal three years in the making that finely brought Le Gros Bill to the Habs at the start of the 1953-54 season after a pair of tryout teasers earlier in the decade. Canadiens manager Frank Selke constantly dealt with the Beliveau question, and the extremes to which he went to acquire Beliveau's signature on a contract are still mythologized in Canadiens' lore.
I do recall quite vividly the anticipation built up prior to the 1971 drafting of Guy Lafleur. I was all of eight years old when I was priveleged to witness this special player as an opponant in a game against my hometown Cornwall Royals. By game's end, I was a Lafleur fan, cheering him on, going crazy in the end knowing he would one day be a Montreal Canadiens. The city of Montreal was so nuts for Guy in the day, that when he and his father Rejean lost their way to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel on a draft day that summer, a Montreal policeman was at the ready, quickly recognizing the star, and allowing a nifty police escort throught the downtown street to deliver Lafleur to his date with destiny.
Both Lafleur and Beliveau are immortalized with statues of their likenesses in the Bell Centre Centennial plaza.
For several seasons now, and with a whole lot less certainty, Vincent Lecavalier's arrival in Montreal has been in some ways, just as anticipated as the precedents set with the Beliveau and Lafleur. But, despite Lecavalier playing Beliveau in a movie on the life of Maurice Rocket Richard, he has never been destined to wear the CH.
The anticipation was mainly due to Lecavalier beeing such a perfect fit for the Canadiens organization, the city, and the team's fans.
It has been three days of frenzied talk in Habitant circles since the story broke that Lecavalier is on the outs with the Lightning organization. It is clear that the star has never been closer to becoming a Montreal Canadiens player.
At this very moment, it could be what Lecavalier is thinking about. It is also a case that sits all over the desk of Canadiens manager Bob Gainey, consuming his existence much in the same manner as Beliveau did with Selke some 55 years ago.
Each day, and seemingly by the hour, a new layer in this whole situation peels away, seeming to make this dream more of a reality. The procedure of events that are presently unfolding that are captured and reported via media madness aren't the half of story we are currently hearing about. All kinds of things are surely going on behind the scenes.
What really throws me for a loop, is how much all of this is being discussed out in the open. When you can actually watch an interview with Lecavalier himself, openly discussing the events of the last few days, and commenting on his disappointments and the possibility that he could end up in Montreal, you pinch yourself wondering if it is all a bit surreal.
It's almost a comedy to picture sports journalists from the city, tripping over themselves for scoops on the latest crumbs of detail. Seeing RDS commentator Renaud Lavoie interview the subject in a San Jose lobby was a real trip. Hearing and seeing Lecavalier discuss coming to Montreal, even trippier!
With all the attention paid to this, the speculation being tossed about, and the discussion it has created, the Lecavalier questions for Habs GM Bob Gainey are becoming a keg of dymanite to which he is sitting on the blasting handle. Regardless of how it turns, this issue is bound to become a defining moment in Gainey's term as Habs GM. The only thing that can prevent it, would be Lecavalier staying put in Tampa, and that is seeming less and less likely by the day. All that save the Gainey of at this time, would be a Stanley Cup.
Should the Canadiens win it this year or next, with Lecavalier on board or not, Gainey's reputation will be secured for good. Should the Canadiens bring in the big centerman, and never get closer to winning it all that they are now, Gainey will be judged as having failed. It won't appease perceptions that he tried. Should Gainey not land Lecavalier or the Cup in the coming seasons, it will then get brutal. And it is accentuated by the hype of a celebratory 100th season.
In any decision he makes, Gainey is running a risk. If he folds him arms, backs off, and stays put - that is a risk as well. Gainey is not often associated with having a gambling nature, but that might be not knowing the man very well.
Twice before, in very recent memory, Gainey has come close to landing his catch. At the trade deadline last season, he had all but bagged a deal for impending free agent Marian Hossa, when the Penguins made a last minute offer that usurped the Canadiens' bid. He smartly wasn't willing to add to the ransom. When Pittsburgh lost out on Hossa over the summer, after having him help the club make the Cup finals, factions blaming Gainey for failing evaporated.
Two summer's back, the Canadiens held out a delicious and superior offer to Daniel Briere that he came very close to accepting. Much controversy ensued when Briere stated he felt the Flyers were a superior club and it was learned that he took slightly less cash to play in the city of brotherly love. A further admission in parts that he had made certain demands as to his role on the Canadiens removed all the wrath headed Gainey's way for the time being.
Faced with the prospect of lining up Lecavalier, Gainey has no room for error. Erring on the side of caution would only yield the status quo, and after this season, that will no longer be acceptable. In Montreal there is but one goal, and if you need to wonder what that is, you're on the wrong blogsite. The city is impatient for its next Stanley, having endured its longest draught. Gainey was not brought on board with a mandate to make the Canadiens better, he was signed on to return them to a ritual a springtime strolls down St. Catherine St. with a big silver mug in tow.
A good sized fraction of the Canadiens fanbase that currently fill the Bell Centre are young enough to have only faint memories of Cups in 1986 and 1993. Such fans are thrilled that the Canadiens are finally back in the mix after impersonating the Toronto Maple Leafs for a dozen seasons. They are quite pleased that their Habs have a legitimate shot at going all the way, and many are unsure if this current team needs to be tinkered with. Some outright fear the impact that bringing in Lecavalier would have on the strength of the club, and are afraid that it would take a step backwards in acquiring Lecavalier.
The Canadiens in my lifetime, have never won a Cup without a player on the team who assumed it was his rightful purpose and destiny to go out and get it. Patrick Roy made his sole purpose, and he was a saviour no one saw coming. Guy Lafleur was a weapon so devastating in his prime, that even when his contribution didn't hit the scoresheet, he was such a distracting proposition for opponants that he consumed all their focus and energy in trying to nullify him. Henri Richard won so often, that he likely felt insulted when he didn't win. Ditto for his big brother, who after being tossed from the party of 1955, made sure he never lost it again.
Jean Beliveau, a player Lecavalier most resembles in every facet from off ice demeanor to one ice reincarnation, made it his duty to be everything he needed to be for the team to win. He assumed it's leadership, led by example, dosed every situation with the right reaction of calm or fire, and made himself the wagon that propulsed and pulled the group towards their destination.
The Canadiens need another player like that, who knows how it is done, and can show the way. Currently, only two players on Montreal have Cup rings - Brisebois from 1993, and Kovalev from 1994. Both players were NHL pups back then, hardly charged with the mandate of leading the way back then.
Lecavalier could change the entire psyche of the Canadiens. Required tools are in his composition.
On the Tampa Bay club of 2004 that won the Stanley Cup, Lecavalier was not its captain. Over the season, he had warred with coach John Tortorella over the finer points of his game. He could be the heart and soul of the club when his play elevated to a higher intensity, and his coach constantly prodded him to bring it. Lecavalier needed to find an edge he'd never quite fully displayed to that point, and by season's end he found and was almost unstoppable. He has been that same player ever since.
The cast of the Lightning that season almost reads now as a who's who of hockey castaways. Frederik Modin, Ruslan Fedotenko, Cory Stillman, Pavel Kubina, Darryl Sydor, Nikolai Khabibulin, and a slew of castaway journeyman were led by the likes of Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards to the Holy Grail of hockey.
In the final series against Calgary - probably the most exciting Cup final in a decade - Lecavalier often made the difference in crucial games. He wanted to win badly, even dropping the gloves against Jarome Iginla to make his point. As the series reached it's conclusion, Lecavalier raised his intensity several notches, and brought his team to victory.
Looking back on the composition of that team, one player only remains at the peak of his powers. I often wonder how it came that they could win it all with that crew, but I recall the games fairly well enough to pinpoint Lecavalier's contributions.
Now I'm left to wonder what he could do with the team that would surround him should he join the Canadiens.
Bob Gainey is not wondering about this.
I mentioned earlier about behind the scenes goings on surely unravelling as we are waiting somewhat unaware as to what is going down. There have been two subtle things that have come to light to suggest that Gainey is real close, practically waiting for the 11 headed Tampa ownership to make up their minds.
You can certainly guess that Gainey would have gotten a personal assurance from Lecavalier that if he were in fact able to acquire him that he would happily come to Montreal, heart and head intact. One can make that assumption because if he had not received such, he speak out and kill the current distraction this is to the team.
A second point was alluded to by him at his mid - season press conference. When asked about the rumblings on the Lecavalier front, Gainey spieled a familiar refrain about being interested in any player capable of making the team better, while sounding a cautious note about his zipped lips and what he would need to do for the benefit of players mentioned in the rumours.
If something weren't brewing, he'd have said so then and there, fanbase and Montreal media be damned.
Guy Carbonneau was tossed similar questions concerning a potential arrival of Lecavalier and the effect of such on the team until it happens. Carbonneau said all the right things, but his face - which can at times be just as Poker as Gainey's - said more. The wrinkles of a held back grin couldn't disguised the accompanying twinkle in his eyes.
You could sense it, even the coach is anticipating Lecavalier's arrival, or at the very least, is caught up in imagining what it would be like to coach him.
Destiny did unfold for Beliveau and Lafleur once upon a dream, long ago.
With Lecavalier, it has been learned, holding the keys to his own destiny to some extent, it could all happen all over again.
Right down to the springtime parade!