Ken Dryden Weighs in On Language Issue that Plagues Habs

Ken Dryden recent
Ken Dryden (Photograph taken by Luke Orlando)

“It’s always a story in Montreal. It’s a fact of life. Language enriches the city, and language at times is a challenge. And so how do you deal with it? And it was an issue in the 1970s when I was playing as well. What is sometimes not put into perspective, is that the experience of journalists or that the experience of a public in terms of language conflict, may not be the same as it is with players. And so the filter through which a journalist may see something and understand something may not be how a player does. Usually it’s once a year-once every two years there’ll be a flare-up that way and I think that will probably continue. Language matters, and language matters a lot to a team that is as important to its community as the Canadiens are.”  -Ken Dryden

Although the Habs legend feels pretty strongly about this language issue (being unique and unavoidable in Montreal Canadiens land) I do think he’s onto something that most people tend to ignore. The players who dawn the CH are most probably indifferent to what language their head coach can or cannot speak. So while some fans might like to think that Alex Galchenyuk cares about the french language, let me assure you that he could not possibly care any less.

Now before you point to the unsuccessful experiment that was Randy Cunneyworth (Cunneyworth replaced Jacques Martin as the team’s interim) in 2011-12, consider a winning hockey team with a unilingual Anglophone behind the Habs bench. Obviously this coach would have to receive a serious chance (not like the one Cunneyworth received about over 3 years ago).

Randy Cunneyworth
Randy Cunneyworth had a rough ride in Montreal (Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE)

Could success trump politics? Moreover, does a top-flight coach increase a team’s chances for high levels of success even if the on-ice product might not be ready for prime time just yet?

Even though these questions are thought provoking, and pertinent to Montreal’s current political structure, I would like to note that this post is not part of a #FireTherrien campaign. In fact, from my point of view, fans of the Montreal Canadiens have no valid reason to be pushing for a dismissal of the team’s current bench boss. Just yet anyway. (Personally, I like to evaluate people based upon their results, and so far, Therrien’s results have been acceptable from my perspective).

In my opinion, like most Anglophone’s who have not experienced a Stanley Cup championship in their lifetime, I would accept a winning head coach with open arms whether he spoke Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, or Russian. I’d even accept a winning head coach if he didn’t speak at all. Simply put, a certain sector of the Montreal media has no material  on this topic if their hockey is winning. By extension, perceived deficiencies of any hockey team are easy to ignore when a team is successful on the ice.

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On the premise that winning will always appease fans, players, management, media, and everyone in between, I am of the belief that the Montreal Canadiens do not “need” a French voice behind their bench, or for press conferences. However, if the team is going to be a perennial 8th place hockey team, Habs management better not do anything to piss off its fans, and media.

You’ve read my take. What do you think? Can an English-speaking head coach work in Montreal if he could transform the Habs into a contender for years to come?

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6 thoughts on “Ken Dryden Weighs in On Language Issue that Plagues Habs”

  1. (Again with all due respect) – I think your assessment is far from accurate. It’s SO EASY to look back and say we could have taken this guy or that guy. Every single team in the league can do that and they’d look like fools! And despite obviously not panning out, Andrei Kostitsyn is just as skilled if not more skilled than every player from his draft year (skill was not the issue – he may have been selected earlier if not for medical concerns)!

    It’s not Timmins’ job to develop players….his job is to evaluate talent….something that he’s very good at. Moreover, he doesn’t decide who the Habs ultimately select. Do you think it was his decision to select Carey Price 5th overall in 2005? Doubtful.

    Simply put: if Timmins was let go tomorrow morning, he’d be with another NHL organization by lunch-time! He’s among the best in the business. However, if you wanna blame pro-player development (of the past few years), you certainly have a case!

    PS: I realize that Timmins wasn’t with the Habs when Markov & Plekance were selected…just through them in because I thought we were talking about the Habs drafting in general.

  2. David

    Timmins did not draft Plekanec or Markov. Teams are built specifically around the players selected in the first 2 rounds, except for Detroit which has remained competitive despite finishing in the top 10 consistently. Anybody who talks about uncovering “gems” in later rounds is an apologist for guessers. In your hockey pool, would you select Kesler before Stamkos? You give the other teams several opportunities to grab a coveted player who you believe may turn out to be a solid performer.
    This is where Timmins has failed dismally. He kicked off his career with Kostitsyn over Carter, Brown, Seabrook; Urquhart before Bergeron. Then we had Chipchura. Then Fischer ahead of Giroux. Price was great, Subban, very good and McDonagh is a solid top 4 defenceman, but Pacioretty is still not a better pick than Perron – check the stats, which is part of the story. Galchenyuk is going to be a star but McCarron will get Timmins fired. Of the 17 first and second round selections he made in his first 10 years, Price, Subban and Galchenyuk will be top tier players (and McDonagh, maybe). If I had fared so badly in my job I would have been fired.

  3. The Habs do not have a lot of French players and are the other Canadian teams doing any better with their coaches when they can pick one with any language? The answer is a lot of star players cannot handle the pressure in hockey markets like Montreal and Toronto. Furthermore the tax issues in Quebec are a factor as well

  4. With all due respect, your claim about how the Habs “drafting has sucked” could not be further from the truth. There are 28 other teams who can say they missed out on those guys. On the current team: Price, Subban, Pacioretty, Plekanec, Markov etc (there are others)….have all been HOME RUN selections (Beaulieu & Tinordi soon to be hopefully)! In the past, failed draft picks with elite levels of talent are not a reflection on TT. This failure directly reflects the team’s inability (in the past) to DEVELOP these guys, or perhaps it was the mis-managements of these guys (Ryan McDonagh for example).

    Thanks for reading, and i’m glad it provoked a reaction!

  5. David

    The language question is primarily the whipping-boy of the media – on both sides of the debate. Dryden, as a scholar and an former member of the Habs during their most recent “Jours de Gloire”, has a perspective that very few others can claim. “Language matters, and language matters a lot to a team that is as important to its community as the Canadiens are.” Anyone who does not understand this statement could never understand the issue as it affects the Canadiens. Anyone who is ignorant of Canadian history could never understand the issues around one of the most successful sports franchises in North America.
    From my perspective, the fans want a competitive team that plays an open, exciting, style of hockey – they want finesse and creativity AND they also want a winning team – period. From past history, fans in Montreal equate those characteristics to home-grown products. Language takes second place. Robinson, Gainey, Shutt, Dryden, Smith, Green, Muller, Koivu, Naslund etc etc were not Francophones, but when they donned the uniform they appealed to hockey fans across the country.
    Nowadays, to put it bluntly, the team has sucked because the drafting has sucked. Timmins has been an abject failure and fans are fed up of his approach – picking US born players in disproportionate numbers, his antics on draft day, missing out on players like Giroux, Perron, Bergeron, Vlasic, Demers Savard etc. And when we look at the minor league team the future is not encouraging.

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