Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Canadiens have exhausted all of their lustre in the market

Picture it. The year is 2037. It's opening night at the Bell Centre for the Montreal Canadiens. Always the franchise of pomp and circumstance, the Habs trot out legends from the past. Only, these are legends only in name.

Long gone are the days of Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson dropping the puck at centre ice. Ditto for Serge Savard and Yvan Cournoyer. Unfortunately, at this point, the legends consist of an aging Vincent Damphousse and a still spry Patrice Brisebois, a couple of the holdovers from the last time the club won the cup in 1993. 

While it's hard to imagine the franchise not winning another championship over the next 21 years, it's a very real possibility. 

There is only so much mileage you can get out of past history and former glory. At a certain point, a sports team must continue to succeed or risk being considered just another also-ran. Who knows, by the time we hit 2037, maybe the Blue Jackets or Coyotes will have more recent cup wins than the Canadiens. Dare I say possibly even the Maple Leafs? 

You might ask what the danger of not winning is to the Canadiens, citing television revenues, ticket sales and a fan base across the world as key indicators that they have staying power as a top tier franchise. 

The rebuttal is actually quite simple. The Canadiens are not impervious to viable competition and apathy. 

It's true. There are threats to the Montreal Canadiens on the horizon - and they're not just Steven Stamkos or Alexander Ovechkin. 

While it may not be today or tomorrow, or even next year, the Montreal Canadiens will have to fight hard to fend off challengers to their fan base.

Quebec City is desperate for an NHL team. They might not ever get one again. But, what if the league and other owners aren't just using the provincial capital as leverage with weak U.S. hockey markets? What if les Nordiques ACTUALLY come back - and soon?

How do you think that will impact the Canadiens? Don't underestimate this potential threat to Habs Empire, as Annakin Slayd likes to say.  

Think about it. An upstart new team with new uniforms. An underdog story trying to erase past failings and take on the big bad Canadiens? You don't think this fledgling franchise will attract its overwhelming share of curious, nostalgic and even disgruntled fans? We know what Geoff Molson says publicly about an NHL return to Quebec City. But how do you think he really feels? 

Next, while it may never happen, the Expos could return in the future. And then what? If the team is back, it means that they will have secured a viable downtown stadium. With the baseball goodwill absolutely seeping out of Montreal's seams over the last couple of years, there's bound to be an incredible amount of support for a new team here. 

So, where does that leave the Canadiens? It leaves them with a return to the early 80's, when both the Expos and Nordiques were hot, and the Habs weren't, as evidenced by their attendance figures during that period at the Montreal Forum. 

While it used to be wonderful to relive the exploits of the Canadiens from 50 years ago, without new exploits to be equally as proud of, those older accomplishments have simply become a crutch. And that's where we are today. 

The Montreal Canadiens are a classy organization that honours their past winning ways in impressive fashion. Yet they don't seem to have the fire and hunger and steely determination both on or off the ice to ensure that they don't slip further into NHL mediocrity. 

Marc Bergevin began his tenure as GM of the Canadiens will the benefit of the doubt and a ton of goodwill. That has evolved into fans and the media looking at him as though he is the stubborn captain who's willing to go down with the ship that he built. 

At a certain point, you have to take a hard look at a roster and compare it to those that are perennial contenders, and ask yourself what you're missing. The Blackhawks and the Kings come to mind as franchises that get it. Seeing as the Canadiens do not resemble those organizations in any way, other than having poached a few of their personnel over the years, you would think that they would be more open and proactive about changing the makeup of their team. 

Championship teams have championship performers. Is Plekanec that guy? Is Desharnais that guy? Is Markov that guy at this stage in his career? 

If it's title or bust, the Canadiens haven't just busted, they've declared Chapter 11. 

So a message to the Montreal Canadiens organization:

Don't take this fan base and market for granted. There may come a day when your usual pomp and circumstance is on display in front of a less than full and receptive crowd. Don't let it get to that point. Show Habs faithful that there's a plan and vision and ability to execute it - both on and off the ice. 

The alternative? Having to treat Benoit Brunet and his 1993 Stanley Cup Championship with the same marketability as Dickie Moore.

Matthew Ross is a TSN 690 Radio Host. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewWords