Daily Hab-it: Distracting from a big win
By Arpon Basu
Published Saturday, January 22, 2011 1:24AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:11AM EDT
How do you like the Canadiens trouncing the Senators 7-1 in Ottawa, and that being the third most significant news of the day surrounding the team?
The most important actually had little to do with the players on the team, but rather the organization as Saku Koivu stepped on Montreal soil for the first time since being allowed to leave as a free agent 18 months ago.
The press conference at the Bell Centre this afternoon was about as emotional as I've ever seen Koivu, and I've been privileged to cover some pretty emotional moments for him.
I put a lot of thought into my NHL.com piece on him, but here are a few things he said that didn't make the final cut for that story.
First of all, he was able to talk about his actual departure, and how he felt coming out of his exit meeting in May of 2009 that the Canadiens were probably going to go in another direction. Two days before the opening of the free agent period, Bob Gainey confirmed it to him with a phone call to Finland.
That was one day before the trade for Scott Gomez was announced.
"I think the way they handled it was first class," Koivu said, adding that he too was seeking something new for both him and his family.
People have rejoiced in comparing Koivu's performance with the Ducks against Gomez's numbers in Montreal, and then throwing that pesky salary into the equation to make it clear that Koivu would have been a better option.
But that, in my mind, is missing the point of that summer.
Gainey wanted a complete break from the culture of the team, and while he offered Alex Kovalev and Mike Komisarek contracts, bringing Koivu back wouldn't have allowed him to achieve that goal.
Koivu's presence loomed large in that room, and people like Hal Gill may not have felt as comfortable taking a strong leadership role with him still around. Same goes for Brian Gionta, or even holdovers Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov.
Considering what the Canadiens did in the playoffs last season, it's hard to argue with the logic.
Speaking of that playoff run, Koivu was asked whether or not it was difficult to watch considering he never went as far in his 13 years with the team.
"Once they reached the Conference Finals, I was thinking if they win again they'll make the finals in the first year I wasn't there. That can't happen!" he said with a laugh. "So I wanted them to win, but at the same time, it was like, let's see what happens."
That reaction proved to me that the burden of not having led the Canadiens to the ultimate victory weighs very heavily on Koivu. He said as much when he recounted that his only regret over his time in Montreal was the team's lack of playoff success, but what else would you expect him to say? To hear his reaction to last season's run was far more telling to me than anything else.
A final point on Koivu was his comparison between playing in Montreal and Anaheim, where he said he can "go to the beach and no one knows who you are and you don't have to talk about why you missed an open net the night before."
But it was a question from Amanda Stein of the Team 990 that gave Koivu the most pause, and that was what he has learned about himself in Anaheim that he may not have learned had he stayed in Montreal.
"If you ask my wife, if you ask my family, they feel I'm letting myself enjoy life more," he said after some thought. "I'm more relaxed, I let my emotions show more. The gap between the public figure and the husband or father is not as wide as it was here in Montreal."
That too was a very telling moment, especially when combined with an earlier comment Koivu made that Montreal was a great place to play when you're winning, but that "it wears on you" when you're not.
I'm not sure how many people understand how much pressure members of the team feel when an entire city lives and dies based on what they do on the ice. Hell, I don't even know. Few people in sports can relate.
Perhaps Koivu's apparent personality change away from Montreal will give people a greater appreciation for the players they have, and their ability to perform under trying, all-encompassing circumstances.
Business purge continues
As most of the reporters who cover the Canadiens were either writing about Koivu or preparing for the bloodbath to come in Ottawa, the team released a statement that Ray Lalonde was no longer the vice president of marketing and sales effective immediately.
Geoff Molson will be taking over the job, with Lalonde staying on as an adviser until Feb. 25, and a new position of Chief Operating Officer will be filled eventually.
This follows the announcement that Molson will be taking over for Pierre Boivin at the end of the season.
While some believed Molson would purge the hockey operations department once he got his feet wet, it's the department that has actually performed above expectations that is being wiped clean.
Under Boivin and Lalonde, the Canadiens have successfully managed to maintain and even intensify a fan base accustomed to success through the most unsuccessful period of the club's history. Those two men made George Gillett a ton of money, and no one could really criticize their job performance over the past few years in that area.
I'm pretty surprised by the move, but it is a clear signal that Molson will be a hands-on owner, and that's his right considering how much he and his brothers and their minority partners paid for the franchise.
Lalonde was apparently a difficult man to work for, but he was in charge of the team's centennial and all those classy pre-game ceremonies we've been spoiled with over the past few years. Funnily, I would imagine he'll be in charge of one last one Saturday night, because I would have to think the Canadiens will do something to acknowledge Koivu's return.