The Next Step

Dismembered and shorn from its foundations, the Montreal Canadiens set about remodelling the most historic franchise in the sport last summer after falling from grace during a season-long centennial celebration turned fiasco.

The decision to dismantle a roster that the fan base had otherwise been led to believe was being built into a winner, a 5 year-plan promise if you will, was something of a shock to the Habs faithful. Yet it was a decision that had to be made. One dictated out of necessity, more mechanical and forced than choice.

As a result, the storied franchise of 100 seasons set about its greatest face-lift ever. The roster turnover of 13 players was an NHL first and something that drastically altered the face, future and direction of the Montreal Canadiens.

In other words, Canadiens general manager at the time, Bob Gainey, took a roster that many believed had the ability to compete, perhaps even as a contender, and flipped it on its head. Transforming the team into what was, for better or worse, an expansion franchise.

Unfamiliar with such drastic changes, the fan base took time to adjust, yet it did not take long to appreciate the new dynamic and chemistry quietly being formed within the new lineup. Despite the shock, the criticisms and quips came quickly, yet for a fan base known for jumping on its own, they were relatively patient with the new brood.

With all the new names, numbers and talent on the Bell Centre ice, so too came a new group of coaches(Jacques Martin, Perry Pearn, Randy Cunneyworth, Randy Ladouceur), management(Pierre Gauthier, Larry Carriere, Patrick Boivin) and owners(The Molsons). A group with a new approach, one that yielded positive results and serious financial dividends by the time all was said and done last June.

It has been a fast and furious turnaround from that disappointing season of 2008-09. The heart-break from that year  washed away by the tremendously successful post-season run last spring by Montreal’s new Canadiens has left the faithful yearning for more.

But where do they go from here?

Despite the departure of 2010 playoff hero, Jaroslav Halak, and grinders, Dominic Moore and Glen Metropolit, the Canadiens expect to be an ever better team this season.

Young additions in the form of Lars Eller(via Halak trade) and Dustin Boyd further add to the changes of the summer of 2009, yet increase the overall talent and energy level of the remodelled Habs.

With the goal of building on the remaining core of leaders(Markov, Gorges, Hamrlik and Plekanec), the new core of leaders(Gionta, Gomez, Gill, Spacek and Cammalleri), and an entire new generation of talent(Subban, Leblanc, Tinordi, Kristo, Avtsin and more…), this next season will prove to be a key step in the development of this new team.

The expectations created thanks to their run to the Eastern Conference Finals will loom over the team throughout the regular season, yet should be tempered by the hope of a healthier campaign. Although the Canadiens found themselves in the Final Four last spring, memories of their 20th overall finish in the regular season still linger.

As for the about-face that the franchise has made, it is something of a revelation. Never before has a franchise seen itself torn from the mantle in the manner with which the Habs were, yet in a day and age predicated on instant satiation, it’s remarkable to note how fast the franchise has bounced back.

With all of the new components in place, there is a renewed hope in Montreal.

The lessons learned during that bleak, albeit brief period of Canadiens history should serve as daily reminders to new players, management and ownership to remain vigilant as they will never be afforded a lapse in front of a fan base that is on constant watch. While the 7th man monitors and scrutinizes each and every detail available about this edition of their team, the players and coaches must remain focused and go about their business.

It’s a new season and this team of wolves that disguised themselves as sheep last spring have been exposed for who they are. With their cover blown, they must now live up to their reputation.

Immediate history aside, health is, and always will be, a recurring factor in any teams hopes for success, and despite the expansion-like makeup of their roster last season, the Habs are well-aware of how injuries can play an integral role in the outcome of a regular season.

With a healthier season, there is little doubt that this team is capable of much better regular season results.

Beyond the wildcard otherwise known as health, the fact remains that the Canadiens set the bar relatively low in terms of the regular season performance(20th overall in 2009). With a healthier lineup and more talent in place for 2010, the Habs should prove to be a much better squad.

With the pre-season upon us, there is no more time to wait. These sophomores must initiate and execute their plans from the onset and must never look back.

There is no room for excuses and apologies as fans eagerly await their first Stanley Cup in 17 years.

Steven Hindle

Steven Hindle

Steven Hindle

Steven Hindle

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