Back in the 14th century when William Langland wrote the poem “Piers Plowman” where he stated that patience was a virtue, he certainly wasn’t thinking about how fitting this would become to the Montreal Canadiens of the 21st century, whose fan base was spoiled by 24 Stanley Cup banners. A fan base which, prior to the current drought, had never gone this long without seeing its favourite team lift the prized trophy and which may have lost touch with the reality of pro sports.
PENTICTON, B.C. — This cannot be more evident than the past few days. Pumped by the hopes which come from seeing new management in place, new scouting and new coaching staff, fans were deprived from their favourite game for four long months by a lockout for which they couldn’t care less about. Forced to over-analyze minor-pro players and prospects and with very little variety to satisfy their hunger of NHL hockey, fans have rapidly lost patience with it all. In spite of empty promises to boycott, fans are back in full force, especially in Montreal where hockey is their life. Some media have already started making waves with controversial articles, as seen in the Louis Leblanc story by a local radio station and if history proves correct, there will be more to come.
As the news of Scott Gomez being sent home collecting his full paycheque and P.K. Subban’s contract negotiations make headlines on the first day of training camp, fans are hanging on every word, every syllable from GM Marc Bergevin, head coach Michel Therrien and from any player willing to speak to the media on whatever topic. Those words aren’t yet digested when fans jump to conclusions to the point where it is left to wonder if the coach won’t be fired before the puck is first dropped on January 19th. Passionate fans, yes, but reasonable, perhaps not so much.
In response to a plea that I had made on my twitter account to be patient and give management, coaching staff and players a 25-game window before being too critical and second guessing them, I received some interesting responses. While most were in support of doing just that, a few feel like it is their right to act whichever way they want to, no matter the circumstance or the timing. As we live in a free world and the Canadiens have some pretty passionate fans, they are absolutely correct… but is being so prematurely critical not a bit over-dramatic?
You see, Marc Bergevin inherited of a team which finished 28th in the entire NHL last year, and he has said all along that when a team finishes that low, no one should feel comfortable about their spot on the team. Head coach Michel Therrien has said all along that he will try, during this shortened training camp, to institute a more aggressive style of play than what we’ve seen in the past, while bringing back accountability to the team and individual players’ performance. Media and fans have had their first encounter of just that when they noticed a large note in the dressing room, which reads: No Excuses.
But folks, as much as we would like a quick fix, as desperate as we are to see the Habs lift the Stanley Cup, such changes in philosophy, maybe even in player personnel won’t take place overnight. In spite of themselves, fans will have to arm themselves with patience, learn to control their emotions and think rationally. Even with the best management, you will find issues, situations, circumstances where decisions will be contrary to yours and that’s totally normal. However, fans need to remember that the new hockey brass has not had the chance to prove if they are right or wrong.
For example, I’ve read by more than one very smart person, that Bulldogs’ head coach isn’t doing a good job. That’s an assessment. But I’ve also read that he isn’t smart, or that he has no system in place. Those are emotional statements which, as we know too well, are not true. Lefebvre is a very smart man and any coach at that level has a system. Heck, I coach peewee hockey and I have a system. Fans may not agree with it and that’s their opinion which they’re entitled to, but why push it to that point? It only makes statements that much less credible.
To keep with the same example, is Lefebvre making all of the decisions that I would like him to make? Maybe, maybe not. It doesn’t change the fact that in spite of the free shots he’s taking, he is one of the best up and coming young coaches out there and he’s learning as he goes. I can guarantee one thing: if the fans criticizing were to make the decisions, there would be some just like them crucifying them in the public place. Yet, those “wanna-be-coaches” would think that they’re right, correct?
The bottom line is that we, as fans, owe it to the organization to show a little bit of patience. This doesn’t mean that we should not have expectations. It means that fans should think before they talk, before they write. Fans should allow this new management time. They should give them the rope that they need to do their job, to attempt turning this franchise around. See what they did with that rope halfway through the season or better yet, next summer after the buyouts and free agency.
Although I do know that it is far from easy, this is a plea to have the virtue of patience. If you must be critical, at least be reasonable about it. But try cheering your team, support the new management, whether it’s through its success or lack of there of… at the very least for this season. Hockey is back, why not enjoying it? A little positive attitude goes a long way. Go Habs Go!
En français: La patience est une vertue