Habs Fever: Every decision matters
Daniel Briere's contract is two years long and worth $8 million. He's played 39 games and is -4 this season. The Devils are on the hook for just one year with Jaromir Jagr, a contract worth $2 million. He's +20 in 53 games this season. (Photo illustration, CTV Montreal. Original photos, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press).
Published Monday, January 27, 2014 5:14PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 28, 2014 7:11AM EST
You will always suffer after a bad hockey decision. You may suffer only in the Stanley Cup Finals if you’re lucky, because your other players are good enough. You may suffer in the first round of the playoffs because a lot of other things go right. If you’re already on fragile footing, your bad hockey decision may hit you earlier than you ever thought possible. But I guarantee you this: every decision you make matters.
I love Daniel Briere. I always loved Daniel Briere. What a great hockey player! What a clutch playoff performer! When a goal was needed late in the game or in overtime, there was Daniel Briere. This little pip-squeak who everyone said wouldn’t even make the NHL, never mind excel in it, scored the big goal all the time it seemed to propel his team. Daniel Briere sure looked good in a Philadelphia Flyers uniform. There sure was a lot of sadness when he didn’t choose Montreal a long time ago. Heck, he even mentioned he took less money to play in the City of Brotherly Love, instead of the city of his brothers. That really stung.
But the Briere the Habs just acquired was clearly not the one that I loved, not the one Marc Bergevin loved, and not the one the Habs should have signed with all of their free agent money.
You see, the Montreal Canadiens have a virus they can’t seem to shake. They love their local heroes to a point so severe that it clouds their judgment. This virus just won’t stop killing the good that could have been.
I am all for the signing of local heroes. Everybody does it. There’s nothing more exciting than when the local hero excels. It just feels good. You can’t shake that joy of one of your own making it on the world stage. To cheer the local hero and have him succeed hits the human heart so strongly. When Canada excels at the Olympics, I cry. I actually cry. I love Canada. I love my local hero. I can’t help myself when I am proud of that Canadian flag going up after a gold medal has been won, and I sing that anthem from my couch like that Canadian can actually hear me.
When I worked in Edmonton, I remember that we would always start our sports show with something that the local hero had done if we could find that moment, and we would overflow with pride when someone in our neighborhood shone. There is no shame in this. It is this way all over the world. We fight with pride to protect our own. This is the way it has always been and it will not change. And you know what, I am here to tell you that I believe it is a good thing. It is a good thing to sign the local hero.
People try to frame this local hero question in Montreal around language. This is not a language question. It looks like it is because the local hero is often French, and why wouldn’t he be French? It’s a French province. We communicate in French here, mostly. However, this is not about an accent mark. It’s about local heroes. Exactly like it is in Edmonton, and Toronto, and Kuala Lumpur. You will not find a single city in this entire world that does not favour its own. This is a tradition passed down through centuries not with shame, but with pride. Don’t expect anything different here in Montreal. Expect that we will rightfully favour local heroes as it is done in all of the world’s cities and you will lose a lot of needless anger for decisions you frame as language.
However, with that said, there is an important distinction that keeps getting lost. You cannot chase the local hero. He has to want to be here. He has to favour his home, not want to shun it. He has to be proud of the CH not take less money to be somewhere else. He has to be as talented too. The Habs organization cannot change this basic fact no matter how hard they try. The local hero has to be as good as the other guy. You cannot win a Stanley Cup making a decision to get the poorer player. Cups are won with the best players.
I know for a fact that the Montreal Canadiens made a decision between Daniel Briere and Jaromir Jagr. In the last two seasons before this year, Briere suffered a decline in output by half. He was a point a game player and for two straight seasons he fell to a half a point per game player. Conversely, Jagr made it to the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs playing the powerplay, logging lots of ice, numbering many assists while stymied to score, and generally being a force for a team in the finals.
I can say with supreme confidence that I did not like the Briere signing when it was announced and I suffered the indignity of a lot of hate from the Twitterazzi because I knew Jagr wanted to play in Montreal and asked them outright for that opportunity. I can say with supreme confidence that I knew right from the start that the Habs chased the local hero, and then it became all too obvious to everyone why he was brought here when he got the torch on opening night from Guy Lafleur. The captain gets the torch always, and if you want to break tradition, then give it to the Norris Trophy winner or the Molson Cup winning goalie. That it was Briere who got the torch said everything about the chase Geoff Molson no doubt was a part of, as he chose to build the brand instead of the product.
Every. Decision. Matters.
And in this decision, the team once again chased the local hero without considering the logic of their decision. You can’t be blind to facts. You can’t let the Jagrs go for the Brieres. You can’t chase the local hero when the local hero is reduced in production by 50 percent and the non-local hero is in the finals. The point totals bear it out this year. Jagr is a plus-20. He is a point-producing machine. He should be wearing the CH. It was his first choice.
Was Bergevin even the right choice? I thought so. He had an outstanding year in his first year, but he has made nothing but poor roster decisions since then. Bergevin announced to everyone that the Habs were too easy to play against after the Ottawa series and they had to get bigger to compete, so he got little Daniel Briere to play right wing. Illogical, since that’s Briere’s least favourite forward position, he’s a natural centre and, of course, the obvious, he’s not big.
Was Michel Therrien the right man for the job? He took the team from 15th to 2nd place in his first season, but this year, he isn’t coaching the same way. His team doesn’t score anymore when they were 4th in the league in goals last season and now they’re 24th. Partly, this is the fault of Bergevin’s weakened roster that Therrien is asked to excel with, again. You’re only as good as your players really. You can argue that Pittsburgh is on top of the East because Dan Bylsma is an awesome coach. I am probably going to fall on the side of the argument that the Pens are first because Crosby and Malkin are both top-5 players in the world. Players win games, but coaches and GMs who are the local heroes may make mistakes if they don’t have the talent or experience of their peers. Bergevin never had been a GM before. How could we have an expectation he wasn’t going to make rookie mistakes? Of course, he would, and here we are.
I don’t think the Montreal Canadiens are ever going to win the Stanley Cup again if they can’t stop themselves from chasing the local hero. The blueprint must be: Geoff Molson and the board must make player, coach, and GM decisions to get the best man and hope he is local, but do not desperately chase the local man when he is inferior. I feel quite confident in saying when the Detroit Red Wings were winning Stanley Cups that they never once said we have to get this kid from Michigan. So what if he’s not nearly as good as the kid we like, we better get the kid from Michigan.
Go ahead and love the local hero. I do. We all do. Just don’t chase him desperately when he doesn’t want to play here, or he doesn’t have any game left, because at the end of the day, every decision matters. It is so obvious yet gets forgotten, but how can you expect to beat 29 others teams for the holy grail when they are taking the best player available and you are not? Common sense isn’t all that common sometimes.
One day, it’s going to happen – there will be a parade marching down Ste. Catherine St. and millions will be on the sidewalks for Montreal’s greatest day since 1993. And on that glorious day, I promise you this... they’ll all be heroes.
Daniel Briere vs. Jaromir Jagr
2-year, $8 million contract 1-year, $2 million contract
39 games 53 games
7 goals 16 goals
7 assists 28 assists
14 points 44 points
Minus 4 Plus 20