Sunday, May 04, 2008

Canadiens Took Big Steps In 2007-08

Upset. Bitter. Disillusioned. Stunned.

These words pretty much sum up the gamut of emotions I am feeling at the moment.

And it's damn hard to write all of this with the wound open fresh.

I have loved every minute of being a Canadiens fan this season. Though I am not happy with how this playoff has ended, I am as proud as I have been all season that the Montreal Canadiens have restored themselves among the better NHL teams. They made greater leaps than anyone imagined this season, and brought us fans an exciting brand of hockey along the way. The 2007-08 season has been a thrill ride.

I don't want to dwell much on Saturday's game or this particular series to any length. I'm not sure that time will allow me to have a better perspective or a deeper understanding or appreciation of what took place during five games. I have the same aftertaste that was left after the Carolina series in 2006.

I don't feel the better team won.

I don't even feel as though the team that played best won.

I feel that the luckier of two teams won. The most opportune team won.

I'm not sure if I can give the Flyers credit for the accomplishment of upsetting the Habs, yet there is nothing that they have done to deserve removal of merit.

All I can say is that I have rarely seen a team capable of taking advantage of every break with such tenacity.

There are many good players on the Flyers that I have a newfound appreciation for, such as Richards, Timonen, and of course Umberger, who simply was a Habs killer in this round.

Martin Biron is the luckiest goaltender alive. There were just too many goalposts hit behind him, muffled open net chances by Montreal, and shots fired wide when he was out of position for me to buy into him as the reason the Canadiens summer is starting sooner than expected.

I'll never be sold on Daniel Briere either. A constant perimeter player, he's good, but nothing exceptional. Hardly worth the king's ransom he's being paid. There's a half dozen Habs I wouldn't trade for him even up. He would have never lasted in Montreal beyond a year or two. The expections that would have been impossible for him to meet would have turned him into Pierre "Pack My Bags" Turgeon as soon as the going got rough.

But enough about the frigging Flyers.

That pretty well covers why I am feeling upset, bitter, and stunned.

What is most disillusioning is the way hockey is officiated in 2008. I'm not going to run through a litany of blown calls - I'd be typing until sunup just to scratch the surface.

Hockey officials likely have the toughest job in all of sports. The game is too fast to be called the way it is presently. Too much is missed, misjudged, bumbled, and misrepresented.

During the lockout, fans were told that many issues had been addressed. I see no reflection of that whatsoever in the way the game is called. Hockey is light speed and officiating is neanderthal. The way things are set up, the team that commits the most subtle fouls that they can get away with is rewarded most.

It's a pity that it is this way, because it prevents the game from growing, both on and off the ice.

I know many casual fans who enjoy the sport who are turned off by an almost blatant inconsistency that often ruins the game. The NHL has often said that it wants to reward the faster, more skilled players. I don't see any evidence of that at all.

Now that I have gotten all that I've been holding back for some time, off my chest, it is time to look upon the reason why this site is here and why you are reading it.

Think back to how you felt about the Montreal Canadiens on opening night last October.

Now look at how far they have gone this season and much they have raised our hopes and dreams.

They made us totally silly with delight along the way.

No one expected this in October.

In the course of those seven elapsed months and 82 regular season games, the Canadiens constantly forced their fans, and the rest of the NHL, to consistently re-evaluate the team. As they climbed the echelons of the Eastern Conference and landed at the top, the Drive For 25 was launched full steam, filling up bandwagons bumper to bumper across the country.

They lit a fuse of enthusiams that captivated many, from the fanatic to the simply curious.

As the season wore on, the expectations went from a post season participation to a shot at the Stanley Cup final, and maybe, just maybe, a sip from mug number 25.

I was not entirely convinced that the Canadiens had the team to pull all this off, but we have all witnessed crazier things come playoff time.

In reassessing the team at the term of 82 games, I honestly felt that reaching the third round was this team's best destiny.

I still believe that is how far they could have gone at best.

It is not a failure that it didn't go farther, but it will be seen that way on radio, television and in print.

While there is value in such analysis, the truth lies closer inside the true fans hearts. What you have seen and felt this season, is no mere illusion. Do not let disappointment warp what you know is concrete.

This was but one year in the evolution of building what will be a great team not very far into the future. It will be stronger next season for certain.

Think about all that has gone right this year.

For starters, not only did Alex Kovalev rebound from a miserable year, he had several voices touting him as an MVP. Late in the season, with Saku Koivu absent, he wore the "C" for a stretch of games. That would have made fans wretch last season. Kovalev put up his second highest career totals and played more passionately than anyone has seen him do before. As I said to someone just a few days back, this season Alex Kovalev became a Montreal Canadien.

We lost our most exciting player from last season, Sheldon Souray, and the team didn't even bat an eyelash. The powerplay Souray once quarterbacked actually improved.

Tomas Plekanec developed into a top line center and is rounding out into a complete player that can be used in many game situations.

Saku Koivu looked to be on the decline, but the playoffs showed he is still the Habs fiercest competitor.

Andrei Markov signed the biggest contract in Canadiens history during the off season, and no one was ever heard complaining that he wasn't earning it. He was obviously slowed in the playoffs by an injury which we will surely hear about in coming days.

His partner Mike Komisarek was likely not playing at 100% either but this season made the jump from a player of great promise into a veteran leader who will continue to improve.

Carey Price was almost everything he was billed as. He was given the team to lead and fared well as the Canadiens rode his strong play during the final month of the year. The likeable youngster will suffer the wrath of some very harsh critics in coming days. The hype for Price was insane, and anything short of a Stanley Cup would have been seen a failure. Through a busy 16 months and close to 100 games of hockey, he must be one pooped out young man. Some of the strangest goals ever found their way by him this spring. Many will now question the trading away of Cristobal Huet more incisively than before. That's hindsight. Price has a lot to take with him from his first NHL season, and only good things can come from it.

In front of Price, there are a talented bunch of kids just getting their feet wet in the NHL, starting with the Kostitsyn brothers. You can just see that this pair oozes potential. I believe they will become ridiculously good in a couple of years.

Next season, all these elements and others will be a whole season smarter and more experienced. The team has gained greatly in so many areas and the bitterness of this playoff disappointment will translate itself into character and conviction by next year.

The 2007-08 season has been a wild ride.

There will be opinions that the Canadiens first overachieved before falling back to earth.

Some will flatly suggest that the Habs were not this good to start with.

You will also probably hear more than a few folks who think they underachieved, or got overconfident, or even choked in the end.

I believe that what occured with the Canadiens all season long, and in the end, is exactly what should have played out.

This is a young group coming together and still being built. They ended up where they have, because this is what they were in sum. As fans, our evaluations of the team were all over the place - built from hopes, dreams, and in Montreal - past templates.

Today, there are only six teams left playing hockey. Last season, on the aftremath of their final game, sixteen teams for left.

What happened in the Philadelphia series was not accidental. Teams that often make great leaps in one season usually hit a plateau.

The Pittsburgh Penguins made great strides last season before going as far as they could.

This season they are better armed.

That should be Montreal in 2008-09.




















For now, as the curtain draws on this most exciting of years, I will be taking a little vacation from working on the site. I am beginning a new job Monday and that will be retaining my focus for a bit. I'll have some time to watch my other preferred original six team that wears red go for the big silver mug. After a little breath, I'll get back on here and cover the summer's events that concern the Habs leading up to next season. I doubt I'll feel like doing another post mortem on the team anytime soon. I have certain projects in mind for this site for next season and I will be working on those until October.

I'd like to take this time to thank you readers for tuning in in great numbers this season. It's been a pleasure writing for you all and exchanging comments with some of you. Eyes On The Prize hit 33,000 readers in April - overwhelmed is the only word I feel. Many of you had some very kind words and thoughts to send my way during the season and I'm always pretty freaked out to hear about what this space means to people. It's a warm place you all put me in.

When October grows near, the "Habs For Breakfast" links will return. I hope that during the summer, you will all continue tuning into the great Canadiens blogs that I've made a habit of linking to almost daily.

There are some incredible writers sharing insightful thoughts on the Canadiens out there. I think of them as my six pack for all things Habs. They are: Lions In Winter, Theory Of Ice, Four Habs Fans, The H Does Not Stand For Habs, Dennis Kane's Excellent Montreal Canadiens Blog, and the two who allow me to reach many more of you, Habs Inside Out and Habs World. keep checking them out. I know I will be.

Have a great summer.

Cheers

Robert L
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20 comments:

Anonymous said...

As always Robert, your isight and emotion do you and the rest of us proud! Thank you for the fantastic effort that you have consistantly made. I hope the new job provides you with an opportunity to continue your work here.
I would hope in the next few weeks that you'll have a chance to outline the potential moves that will invariably come with summer for our beloved Habs.

I'll look in periodically.

Your far away friend...

...Lee Hayes

Robert L said...

Thanks Lee, I was already thinking about who won't be back next year and stuff, LOL. I'll be getting at it when I've settled this year into my head.

The new job jives well with blogging...3 x 12 hour shifts, four days off!

I appreciate your kind words...see you at the next Summit!

Anvilcloud said...

Well done! You've earned a break ... but I hope and think that there will be a few more posts here and there at critical times.

MUSICMAN said...

Robert,

A good reflection on a disappointing end to a promising season and playoffs. All of your comments were well put, and I share your opinion. We are supporting a young team that can only grow, and this experience can only make them better. The future looks bright.

I have been a faithful reader all season after stumbling across your blog, but haven't commented until now. Your blog is entertaining and your dedication and passion for the bleu, blanc, eh rouge should be commended. Keep up the good work!

Congratulations on the new job, I also work 12 hour shifts. It will take some to to adjust but in the end I don't think I could ever go back to an eight hour five day work week.

Enjoy your brief vacation from Eyes On The Prize and rest those weary fingers to get ready for next season.

Robert L said...

Thanks, Anvil....and you're right, I probably won't be able to help myself. These wheels continuously spin.

Robert L said...

Musicman.....I have a feeling I might know you some. You've presented me a mystery as I have recently worked in emergency dispatch as well, and also do some song writing and recording. Hmmm!

Thanks for your kind words about my site. My little "vacation" just might mean just periodic slacking off. This site won't get too cold.

Chuck said...

Congrats to the Habs on a thrilling season, and thanks to you, Robert, for sharing your thoughts on it. Thanks also for the many well-written side articles that have tought me much about the history of my favourite team. It's made for hours upon hours of teriffic reading.

Enjoy the off-season (is there really an off-season if you're a Hab fan?) and the best of luck with your new job.

I'll be sure to check in regularly an I look forward to your thoughts on the upcoming season. Hopefully we'll have an opportunity to talk Habs in person real soon!

Once again, thank you.
Chuck

CheGordito said...

Robert,

I'm also sad about the Canadiens being out. Although I believed that they could mount a 7-game comeback, the three fluke losses made me feel that another loss was likely - someone somewhere has sold their soul for this series victory. I think one reason I am not totally devastated is that I went back at some point this year and re-read your early-season and last-season writing pointing out where the team had to grow. I agreed with your earlier statements that next year was the big one for this team, but hoped this year was as well.

I signed on this site today to relate a personal story:

The last year has been a long one for me, finishing a certain project that I thought would never get done, leaving a city I was never comfortable in and moving to a new one with a period of unemployment, stopgap jobs and Montreal in the middle. Watching this team and the players grow from their uncertain beginning to beautiful and fluid hockey later in the season has been a positive counterweight to the ups and downs of the rest of my life.
Over the last couple of weeks I've started at a new job, and I let that take my mind off the Habs because I remember the depression that has followed other losses.
I am in a fortunate position now to be starting something new and exciting as this uplifting story pauses for a few months.

And it is just a pause. I look forward to your insightful and witty writing as the team story progresses!

Robert L said...

Chuck, thanks for the good wishes and kind thoughts.

It is sad that this dream season is over so abruptly...I'm still in a kind of suspended disbelief here.

It won't be much of an off season for me. I will still be writing almost everyday about the Habs, I just won't be posting any of it until October or later. You could probably read between the lines.

When I write about the team's history, it is fans such as you, who have an appreciation for it, that come to mind. You'll be a happy reader at the end of my work!

Thanks for being a regular, my friend, we'll see each other at Summit 2.

Robert L said...

Chegordito, it sounds a lot like parts of my life!

I'm proud that you've been able to draw positiveness from this site, and the Habs that have translated into better things for you.

That I think is the service that hockey/entertainment/distractions perform in the grander scheme of life.

Thanks much for your interest in this site through all those changes in your life.

Perhaps you and I and this team we cheer for are all onto better days ahead.

Take care and stay tuned!

Cheers.

Lorenzo said...

Great Site you've got.

You didn't mention a great blog I enjoy from the left coast:

http://denniskanemontrealcanadiens.wordpress.com/category/montreal-canadiens/

Written by a local writer, he's really good, funny, and insightful.

Robert L said...

Thanks Lorenzo, and you're right - Dennis's great blog belongs in the same breath as the one's I mentioned. I came upon Mr. Kane's fine work late in the season and pointed many readers there in the course of the last month. I'll work in a correction that includes it pronto. Must have been my six pack terminology that's well ingrained in my brain that caused the slip.

Thanks for the slap upside the head!

Anonymous said...

Probably one of the sanest, and most accurate, wrapups for this past season that I have read today. You have a talent Robert, fuelled by your passion for hockey in general and the Habs in particular. Your talent is a gift to your readers....thanks!

TommyB

Robert L said...

TommyB - I thank you for that!

I have always sought balance in my perspectives and allowed readers to judge merits on all things Habs based on fact and truth rather than opinion.

Much of what I read in so many places suffers from a lack of looking at the big picture. Coaches and GM's do not make rash assessments and I look to try to see things in that light. I often try to perceive how things are seen through those eyes, before attempting to translate it all to readers.

However, when I feel strongly about something that goes against the grain, I do not hesitate to follow my instincts. I've had little to grumble about this season, other than Brisebois, Ryder, and a handful of carbonneau moves and non moves.

I'm proud that readers note and appreciate this view here. It's the only manner in which I can proceed knowing this site and this team seems to have such a wise and intelligent following.

Thanks so much Tommy for being in here all season. This team is building up to something greater, and it means so much more to me knowing that I am sharing my efforts here with friends.

Keep that car shiny, man, you might be throwing a big CH on there in another year!

Ian Scott Shackleton said...

Thank you for a great read this season. I look forward to your insight when you return.

Robert L said...

Thank you. I will be posting some, just not as regular as I had been. The site should see three or four new postings a week. I appreaciate the kind words and interest,

Anonymous said...

Great, great blog! Enjoyed the game synopsis and especially enjoyed the stories about Rogie Vachon, etc. Excellent.

I was born/raised in Toronto and that's where my loyalty lies....but I found myself cheering for the Habs all season long. I love the potential this club has: Kostitsyns, Higgins, Streit and the remarkable Carey Price.

I thought the kid handled himself well in what must have been a pressure-cooker similar to that here in Toronto. Some bad breaks and really inconsistent calls by the refs and the season is over.

At least the Habs have a bright future and something to look forward to. Les Leafs? Bah.....40+ years and waiting...

Price should be very proud of his accomplishments this season. I hope most fans think the same and don't blow this out of proportion. Even the great Gretzky didn't lead the Oilers to the promised land the first time out. Price is only 20 YEARS OLD!!! Montreal will be a force for many years. Can't say the same for the Leafs.

Oh well! thanks for the fun and enjoy your summer.

-Johnny Leaf

Anvilcloud said...

I'm back and wondering what you think of my take on the series.

In the last game and since then, I began to form the opinion that the difference in the series was a matter of defense and little else. Our guys always seems to lack time and space to make good offensive plays. Hence there were many hurried shots into the goalposts and the pads. Although the other guys controlled the play less, they seemed to have the time and space to make good plays and take good shots when the opportunities presented themselves. We always seemed hurried, but they didn't seem to be.

I am wondering if you think I am near the mark or way off and if this view might be blog fodder for you (which you may not want lol).

Robert L said...

I think you are correct in that the Habs were hampered by the Flyers keeping four players tight to their net. Montreal was always hurried to shoot as the Philly defenders were always within a step of them.

I can't, for the life of me, put my finger on one simple aspect, other than goaltending that says the Flyers should have won this series. Goals that beat Price were some of the strangest I've seen in a long time, all grouped into one series round.

Pucks hit the Habs goalposts and went in. Five times as many hit behind Biron and stayed out. Philly being given the gifts of 2 goal leads in three straight games brought out the worst in the Canadiens play at times.

I think the Habs should have gone into Game 4 with the idea of winning 1-0 in OT - just shut the Flyers right down and let them make fatal mistakes for a change.

But as coaches often state, it is hard to alter a team's complexion 90 games into the year. It's like changing horses when up to your neck in water.

As for blog fodder, my mind is almost mush, thinking about how it all got away from them. I don't think I could offer readers much cohesiveness unless I focused on one simple aspect that was absent from big picture thinking.

That's not my way, unfortunately.

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