Habs, businesses excited at return of NHL as some fans threaten to boycott
Published Sunday, January 6, 2013 12:10PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 7, 2013 6:56PM EST
P.K. Subban makes a beautiful rush! Carey Price makes a brilliant stop! Scott Gomez scores another goal!
Habs' fans will be hearing some (although perhaps not all) of these descriptions soon, assuming the tentative deal to end the lockout gets ratified by players and owners.
Many Montreal Canadiens’ players are now busy arranging their returns to Montreal for a short training camp that could start anytime between Wednesday to Saturday for a shortened 48-game season that would start around January 19.
Members of the Habs took to the ice to practice Monday morning, getting ready mentally and physically to get back in the game.
“Every team's in that same situation. It's just something that we have to do. We're all professionals, we all kept ourselves in shape. Everybody will be dealing with the same thing,” said captain Brian Gionta.
The dispute may have left some fans feeling left in the cold, and Habs forward Max Pacioretty said players know they have to make amends.
“We're trying to reach out as much as possible and show them that we appreciate the support we have from them and we hope to put a show on for them this year,” he said Monday.
“(We’re) obviously extremely sorry for everything that went on and the whole time we've appreciated everything that they've given to us and that they do for us. We look forward to (having) you back,” he said.
Fan Andre Petrov said he couldn’t wait to see a puck drop at the Bell Centre again.
“It's been a long wait and I guess we're all ready to embrace the Canadiens once again, that's for sure,” said Petrov.
That said, many fans say they plan to prove a point and will boycott at least some NHL games.
Nearly 22,000 people have joined a protest movement on Facebook called Just Drop It, pledging to boycott the first ten games of the season.
“There's the NHL and the NHLPA and they're arguing over our money, and that's not cool if you don't even acknowledge us or take care of us. They should have done this in the summer. They should have got it done before the season started,” said Steve Chase, founder of Just Drop It.
Despite being an L.A. resident now, Chase is a former Montrealer and hardcore Habs fan, and said most of the people who joined his movement are also from Montreal.
Habs fan Francois Nantel said he’s also considering a boycott.
““I'm a huge football fan, so I think I'm going to boycott hockey until football's over and then afterwards we'll see,” he said.
Players show excitement through Tweets
Despite fan reticence, several Canadiens expressed elation at getting back on NHL ice through short statements on Twitter.
“I just want to say thanks to all the fans who have supported us thru this and been waiting patiently... You guys are the best,” wrote veteran rearguard Josh Gorges, who has been in Montreal.
Max Pacioretty expressed similar sentiments.
“Great day and great start to the new year. Hoping for a great season now for our team,” he wrote.
“Congrats!!!! Back to worrrrrk! Lmaoooo playing ball hockey in the house front foyer is over!” wrote P.K. Subban.
Newcomer Brandon Prust, who is looking forward to playing his first game as a Hab, also expressed excitement.
“Is anybody ready for some hockey? Man this is gonna be good,” he wrote.
Lars Eller, who has been playing in Europe, took time to type out some words of glee.
“Haven't been this excited in a long time. Can't wait to hit the ice in the Bell Center.”
Downtown entrepreneurs rejoice
People whose livelihoods rely on the hockey trade also expressed joy, as many bars, restaurants and shops in Montreal's downtown Golden Square Mile rely on business brought by those attending home games.
Stuart Ashton, General Manager of McLean’s Pub a popular pre-and-post game destination on Peel, had resigned himself to a 30 per cent drop in business for this month and next, mirroring the drop during the last labour stoppage.
“As a publican, it is great news; as a fan I am over the moon. I just hope that the NHL and the NHLPA do not forget the toll both fans and businesses paid during this lockout,” he told CTV Montreal.
Arun Srivastava, who runs a gift shop in Old Montreal full of Canadiens jerseys, said sales had declined significantly since the beginning of the lockout.
“We depend on the hockey industry during the winter when there are not many tourists,” he said.
A report released last month by Moneris, a company that processes credit card transactions, revealed that total spending near NHL arenas in Canada had declined by more than 11 per cent on match days.
Reaction was mixed among people on Montreal streets Sunday. Many were happy with the news, but others less so.
Natalie Ricard, a Trois-Rivieres resident visiting Montreal, said that the lockout gave her more hours with her husband and their son. “Now I'll be alone again, watching movies in another room,” she said.
What fans can expect
Canadiens’ fans might be less than ecstatic about the return of a team that came in dead last in the Eastern Conference last season, with a disappointing record of 31-35, complete with 16 overtime losses
But one possible reason to get excited is third-overall draft choice Alex Galchenyuk, 18.
The Canadiens’ new forward has racked up an impressive 27 goals and 34 assists in 33 games for the Sarnia Sting this season and was among the scoring leaders for the world champion U.S.A. Junior team.
Mathieu Darche and Chris Campoli, both of whom participated in the negotiations for the NHLPA, are gone to free agency as the team opted not to re-sign either.
Forwards Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust are newcomers, as is defenceman Francis Bouillon, who returns after three seasons in Nashville.
Armstrong, a 30-year-old Saskatoon native, had only 3 points in 29 games playing right wing for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season but once scored 22 goals in a 40 point season for the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008-09.
Prust, 28, from London Ontario, is a rugged left winger who scored 17 points with 156 penalty minutes for the New York Rangers last season. The Ranger fan favourite supported the You Can Play campaign, which fights homophobia in sports.
Bouillon, 37, played 481 games for the Canadiens between 2000 and 2009. The tank-like 5’8” defenceman has helped support an arena in the east end of Montreal that now bears his name.
The new agreement makes it unlikely that the Canadiens will drop underperforming Scott Gomez’s $7.3 million salary. Some had also hoped the team would buy-out veteran defenceman’s Tomas Kaberle’s $4.25 million contract as well.
The Habs now have 23 players under contract for a total of $ 63.9 million and undoubtedly some of the cap space money will be used to ink still-unsigned P.K. Subban.
The salary cap is $70.2 million for 2013 but will be reduced to $ 64.3 million in 2013-14.
Defencemen Subban, Josh Gorges and Bouillon stayed at home during the labour dispute, while Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin played in the KHL, Kaberle played in the Czech Republic and Rafael Diaz and Yannick Weber played in Switzerland.
As for the forwards, Lars Eller played in Finland, David Desharnais in Switzerland and Tomas Plekanec in the Czech Republic.
GM Marc Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien, both hired after the 2011-12 season, will finally officially begin their new jobs. Neither was available for interview Sunday.
One of their big decisions will be to determine whether Galchenyuk is ready to make the jump to the NHL.
The Habs are all healthy except for Finnish forward Petteri Nokelainen, whose exact condition remains unclear, while Plekanec is recovering from a minor rib injury suffered last week.
-With a file from The Canadian Press