Montreal needs new memories
The most extended celebration in the history of sports ends on Friday with a two-and-a-half-hour pregame salute and then an actual hockey match, although given the interminable nature of the Canadiens' 100th anniversary, Montreal's storied team and its opponent, the Boston Bruins, should deviate from the schedule and just reenact the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia.
(I'm guessing that you don't get Thirty Year's War humor anywhere else on the Internet.)
Anyway, this December 4th marks 100 years to the day since the Canadiens, the most significant team in the history of hockey and the most self-important team this side of the New York Yankees, began play. Their origins pre-date the formation of the NHL by some eight years. This probably comes as a surprise to you.
Like unfortunate Florida Panthers goalie
During the celebration, the Canadiens retired one sweater (
I also think I saw
As part of the never-ending special occasion, the Canadiens changed uniforms more often than Secretary of State Clinton changes pantsuits. According to the team's archivist -- to the best of our knowledge, the Minnesota Wild and the Canadiens are the only two NHL teams that have had archivists on the payroll -- Montreal has worn six different jerseys from the past 100 years, other than the basic, and classic, bleu-blanc-rouge.
In various games the Canadiens have dressed as skating barber poles (the hideous 1912-13 sweaters), impersonated rogue Christmas trees (the red jersey, green pants from 1910-11) and channeled their inner Quebec Nordiques (the 1909-10 iteration that was bleu and blanc). Coincidentally, you can find replicas of all of them on sale at the Canadiens boutiques.
And buying them is a lot easier than getting a seat to a game. If the ongoing 100th anniversary party has worn on some of the locals, the Canadiens remain a tough ticket in hard economic times. They continue to sell out every seat -- 21,273 -- in the NHL's largest arena.
If Gainey had as good a 15 months as vice-president of marketing
Behind the smoke and mirrors and tributes, this is the flip side of the team that has spent much of the past 15 months playing as if it had a lampshade on its head. Along with the six sweaters and four statues, the Canadiens had 10 free agents go unsigned last summer after four straight playoff losses to the Bruins. Prior to the Tuesday game against Toronto, Montreal stood 12th in the Eastern Conference with 12 wins in 26 games; only four of those victories had come in the regulation 60 minutes.
Maybe it is still unfair to judge a squad that is one-third through the season. In a wholesale re-jigging of Canada's Team -- more popular than the Maple Leafs, a new poll revealed this week -- the Canadiens are still sniffing around for an identity under new coach
(Of the wave of Montreal free agents that walked, no player is exactly ripping up the league.
But Montrealers' willingness to embrace the centennial -- at least until addendum of the 2009-10 season - is instructive. The immersion in the 24 Stanley Cups and players who made this franchise (and indeed the sport) great are also signs that fans subconsciously don't have much faith in the near and mid-term future.
There has been no Stanley Cup parade -- "along the usual route," as the press releases from former Mayor
If you can't anticipate the next Cup, why not blow the dust off some icons, recreate some frocks from a century ago and honor the Stanley Cups you do have?
But December 4 should also be about bringing closure to the Canadiens' Century. (Of course, there is a gala dinner the following night to support the team's charitable foundation and there are still two appearances in vintage jerseys on the calendar. You couldn't expect the franchise to go cold turkey.)
As much as the past 15 months have been a grand exercise in reflected glory, in engraving the CH on the soul of a new generation of hockey fans, it also has been an inconvenient reminder of how little the organization has accomplished in the past 15-plus years.
The ashtrays are full. The drinks are empty. It's four in the morning, metaphorically, and time for someone to shoo out the lingering guests and shut the lights.
Starting next week, the Canadiens have to be utterly committed to creating new memories, not rehashing old ones.