Tag Archives: Scotty Bowman

Max Mentionings

All the way home I listened to speculation on TSN 690 about the possibility of Max Pacioretty getting traded, with the question being, for whom?

Or is it just idle gossip on a slow news day in Montreal, aside from all the ice and snow.

I don’t want Max traded. Streaky or not, he’s a big power forward who can find the back of the net.

How many others on our team can we say the same of? And how many are out there who are similar?

What, we’re going to get even smaller? If Marc Bergevin trades Max for a little guy, I’m moving to Tibet to find the true meaning of life.

Okay, I can be swayed. I’ll take either David Backes or Alex Pietrangelo for Max.

There was also talk that he and Michel Therrien don’t see eye to eye. Twenty guys on those ’70s Habs teams didn’t see eye to eye with Scotty Bowman either.

There’s probably a thousand examples. It’s part of nature. Working for the man.

Again, I don’t want Max traded.

And congratulations to him and his wife Katia for their new baby boy, Lorenzo. May Lorenzo grow up in Montreal. At least during the winter.

 

The Habs Let Orr Slip Away

Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and Guy Lapointe were the Canadiens’ Big Three defencemen in the 1970s. Three of the best, all on one team.

Then imagine having Bobby Orr in the mix. The Big Four.

With those four taking care of the blueline, with Ken Dryden in goal, and with Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, Yvan Cournoyer and the gang up front, it just wouldn’t have been fair.

Orr as part of the powerhouse Habs of the ’70s. It boggles the mind. And it could have happened.

Stephen Brunt, in his 2006 book “Searching for Bobby Orr” writes about that historic first sighting of Orr, when Wren Blair and other Bruins brain trust went to a bantam tournament in Gananoque, Ontario in 1961 to have a look at a couple of players, and soon forgot about the two they’d come to see because a little 12-year old blond-haired kid from Parry Sound was skating rings around everybody.

It’s magical hockey lore, one of the game’s great stories, forever to be told. Until global warming melts the rinks permanently.

But Blair and his gang weren’t the only NHL people in the Gananoque rink that day. Scotty Bowman, the Montreal Canadiens young head scout for eastern North America, was sent by Sam Pollock to Gananoque to have a look at not only the two players everyone else was watching, Doug Higgins and Rick Eaton, but to also check out a kid named Orr that the Canadiens had gotten wind of through an old friend of Frank J. Selke.

Bowman watched the little kid, wearing number 2 for Parry Sound, and was impressed. “He was dominating,” Bowman says in Brunt’s book. “But he was very small – much smaller than all of the other guys. He could really skate and fly around. I’d never seen a guy that good at that young age.”

Soon after, Bowman visited the Orr home in Parry Sound, but it was mostly just a social call. The Habs had nothing to offer, they weren’t in the practice of handing out signing bonuses then, and they wouldn’t commit to a kid still in grade school. And as soon as Scotty learned that Doug and Arva Orr had no intentions of Bobby leaving home, Scotty left it at that.

When Bobby got a little older and was more prepared to join the Junior Canadiens in Montreal, then maybe they could continue their chat. Just not at that time. He was too young.

Wren Blair of the Bruins didn’t give up, though. He diligently courted the Orr’s and finally got the papers signed. Orr joined the Oshawa Generals and not the Junior Canadiens, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Just think how it might have turned out. He might not have damaged his knees. Put him in a Canadiens uniform, and Montreal certainly wouldn’t have missed the playoffs in ’69-’70, which they did because although they were tied with New York for the fourth and final playoff spot, they had scored two less goals.

With Orr wearing the CH they would’ve been off to the races and might not have stopped until the 1980s were in full swing. But he wouldn’t have worn number 4. A big fellow named Beliveau owned it when Orr was breaking in.

Is it crazy to think that maybe it could’ve been ten straight Stanley Cups for the Habs in the 1970s with a healthy Bobby Orr in the lineup? Maybe it’s not so farfetched. But instead, those bastard Bruins got him and that was that. And anyway, the last thing I want to do is sound greedy.

But if only Scotty Bowman had made more trips to Parry Sound. Like Wren Blair did.

And thanks to Don in Texas for sending me Stephen Brunt’s book as a gift. It was a great read for sure.

Bobby Orr

 

 

 

 

Gun Shy About Size

Take your mind back, back to the summer of 2009, when Bob Gainey ruined our team?

June and July of that year were when Montreal traded for Scott Gomez and brought in UFA’s Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri. I was excited at the time, mainly because the Canadiens needed fresh blood, and I’ve been an optimistic bugger for pretty well every move the Habs have ever made, beginning when I was a kid. I’m always so hopeful, and maybe because I’m a Libra, I come up with all kinds of positives.

I thought fire-wagon hockey was back. I figured it would be a lightning-fast team of new Henri Richards and Ralph Backstroms, swirling around the ice and causing many a headache for lumbering forwards and defencemen of other teams. I was so hopeful

Did these three, who were immediately coined “The Smurfs,” improve the team a great deal? Hah! Montreal, in the blink of an eye, got smaller, became the laughing stock of the league, were mentioned everywhere by everyone as too small (I got so sick of that), and got pushed around in the playoffs like a grade one kid playing with grade fivers. We can only thank Jaroslav Halak for that beautiful run in the 2010 post-season against Washington and Pittsburgh.

We know how Gomez has turned out and I don’t want to get into it now. I’ve just eaten. Gionta and Cammalleri had their moments, Cammalleri shone at times, especially in those Caps and Pens games when he was a gunner-extraordinaire, and Gionta, although talented, is way too small at 5’7′ and his best days are behind him. Even more unfortunately, his best days were with New Jersey, not Montreal.

I hated that Montreal had gotten so small almost overnight. I cringed when I saw teams like Boston manhandle them. I knew that to win a Stanley Cup, it helps to be big and strong.

I say all this because I’m feeling bad. In the 1970s and 80s, I was one of Bob Gainey’s biggest fans. I loved his work ethic, his strong skating, his quiet and intelligent demeanor, his leadership, his penalty killing, his goals, his huge role in all those Montreal Stanley Cups. Never in a million years would I think I’d be joking about him, calling him down, and almost ridiculing him for what I think was basically destroying the team instead of improving it.

But I find myself doing these very things now. What was he thinking? Not just taking on the sinful Gomez contract, but making the team so small in almost one fell swoop. He played against tough Bruins squads, and the Broad St. Bullies. He knew muscle is usually needed to succeed. He learned under people like Scotty Bowman and Sam Pollock, who envisioned the proper mix of muscle and skill. But he turned the club into a laughing stock, Pierre Gauthier coming in turned the county fair into a circus, and Montreal every year remains the favourite team for predictors, along with the Leafs, to not make the playoffs.

Hopefully the black cloud is beginning to move away, everyone has woken up, and the team is now being gradually corrected under Marc Bergevin and the other new leadership boys. I know that whenever I hear that someone small, like Brendan Gallagher, is on the cusp of making the team, my heart sinks a little. Gainey has made me gun shy for the little guys, and I know I’m not right.

I admired Gainey so much as a player, and when he became management, I remember, when others were beginning to question him, my stock answer would be, “In Bob we trust.” And I did trust him. I trusted him as a player and from what I heard from him in interviews, and I saw no other reason not to when he took the reins. So I guess it comes down to two questions. What was he thinking? And what was I thinking?

New Kid On The Block

The Canadiens have hired former player Gerard Gallant as assistant coach Gallant Joins Habs, and another piece falls into place. Whether or not it’s a good piece remains to be seen.

But it’s another in an important line of change, a restructuring of vast proportions. New GM, new assistant GM, new director of player personnel, new coach, new assistant coach, hopefully a new stick boy. With more to come. Pretty soon we won’t recognize anybody. Is Gomez gone yet?

The hiring of Michel Therrien as head coach seems to be the one area where folks are blowing their tops. The majority hate the idea. A guy I work with said to me the other day that surely I can’t be happy with Therrien coming back, that he’s an incompetent hothead. 66% of voters at the Hockey Inside/Out poll said it was a terrible move. Marc Bergevin, who hired Therrien, has been slammed as a guy we first liked and respected and were thrilled to have, and now we see he’s a bum. I don’t think like this though. I’m waiting at least four games before I bitch about anybody.

Of course, if the Canadiens look great and jump out of the gate when the season kicks off, things will be fine and there will be an urgent need to find someone else to kick in the gonads. But if the team falters and slumps, that’s not thunder you hear, it’s a chorus of 66% of poll voters yelling “I told you so,” who knew all along and proved one thing – that Toe Blake was wrong when he said predictions are for gypsies.

Gerard Gallant doesn’t speak French and that might be slammed around for awhile. I’m sure the French media have their guns cocked, ready to aim and fire. Kirk Muller didn’t speak the language either as an assistant coach and was tabbed as the second coming, and most everyone it seemed, wanted Muller to move up to the head job.

He’s still talked about as what could could have been, as the the most brilliant bench boss material to come down the pipes since Scotty Bowman. But the Carolina Hurricanes, with Muller behind the bench, finished 12th of 15 teams in the east, just four points ahead of the Canadiens, and we’ll see if good old Kirk has the magic touch next season. I hope he does. I hope his team ends up just below the Habs.

I’ll be on the front lines in calling for Therrien to be fired if the team blows a tire and becomes as sad or almost as sad as last year’s edition. But for now I’m content with the decision to bring this guy back, and any other moves the team makes. I was at the point where anybody could have been brought in, a peewee coach from Chicoutimi or Rene Levesque’s illegitimate love child, it wouldn’t have mattered, because what we had wasn’t exactly working, which is an understatement, don’t you think?

 

 

 

 

 

Irving Grundman Said…

You’d have to think it’s quite odd for a GM to answer some punk’s question about getting tickets. Somehow I can’t see Pierre Gauthier or Brian Burke doing this, or any GM for that matter.

It’s one last letter from the bunch I’d lost years ago and then found recently, and surprisingly, it came from Irving Grundman, who was the Habs GM at the time.

But first, a few things about Mr. Grundman.

Irving Grundman replaced Sam Pollock as GM in 1978, and it was unexpected. Most thought Scotty Bowman would be named the new boss, but it was decided that Bowman would probably be too quick on the draw in trading players, and the bowling alley magnate Grundman was brought in, mostly because of his money-handling abilities.

By all accounts, Grundman wasn’t the greatest Habs GM there ever was, although the recent few might give him a run for his money. It was he who decided to choose Doug Wickenheiser instead of Quebec star Denis Savard in the 1980 draft, whereas Wickenheiser never became the player they thought he’d become and Savard would star in Chicago. Grundman and Jacques Lemaire disagreed on things and the star forward retired and moved to Switzerland. There were also problems finding a decent replacement for Ken Dryden in nets, and three coaches were hired and fired in Grundman’s short time at the helm.

Grundman also pulled the strings on the huge Rod Langway, Doug Jarvis, Craig Laughlin, and Brian Engblom trade to Washington for Ryan Walter and Rick Green and it was this move that is considered most responsible for the saving of the strugging Capitals franchise. Langway would win the Norris Trophy the first two years he was in Washington.

In his defence, Grundman also drafted Guy Carbonneau and Chris Chelios, which were good moves, but all in all, he was considered out of his league and should have concentrated on the bowling alley business.

After he was let go by the Canadiens, he would become a Montreal city councillor, found himself charged with corruption, and sentenced to 23 months of community service and fined $50,000.00.

Almost three months to the day after Mr. Grundman wrote this letter, he was fired by the Canadiens, and Serge Savard would take his place.

The Two On The Bread Lines

Would you want either of the recently canned coaches, Paul Maurice or Bruce Boudreau, coaching the Habs?

Because when you look at them, it’s not exactly like bringing in Scotty Bowman or Jacques Lemaire.

Boudreau can’t even be considered an experienced NHL bench boss. Four and a half years behind the bench for the Washington Capitals. Before that, it was 15 years riding buses in the minors and eating Teenburgers, which probably helped make him the round ball of jelly he is today.

He also can’t be considered a winner, although his regular season record is excellent. It’s in the playoffs where he falls short. Four years with the Caps, losing twice in round one and twice in round two. Not spectacular showings considering he had a team many felt to be the best in the east and maybe in all of hockey.

Boudreau of course is a world-class swearer, as we witnessed on HBO’s 24/7. I haven’t heard cursing like that since the days when I would wander into Orillia’s Top Hat billiard room as a young teenager and mingle among some of Central Ontario’s finest thugs and future convicts. But swearing is a non-issue. Toe Blake was banned from the Forum pool hall for his salty language. So if Toe could let loose with expletives, then Bruce can too. (Although maybe some of those scenes on 24/7 could have been sliced for the younger viewing audience).

Anyway, I’m pretty sure there aren’t many coaches out there slated for future sainthood.

Boudreau’s problem, which Montreal doesn’t have, was Alex Ovechkin, who became, like the big star on a peewee team, a sulking child when the coach decided not to play him at certain times, like 60 minutes a game, every game. Ovechkin stopped playing, stopped being one of the two best in the world, felt hard done by and persecuted, and hopefully he still lives with his mom so she can whip up some borscht and dumplings and make him feel better.

The end came fast when Boudreau lost Ovechkin.

It’s also interesting to note that I saw it explained yesterday that it was Kirk Muller, as assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens at the time, who figured out how to stop this flashy Russian by mostly keeping him to the outside, and other teams quickly followed suit. He became predictable and remains predictable now. Ovechkin’s star is fading while Sidney Crosby’s is glistening.

Oh, and maybe I should mention – this Russian, so hard done by, is in the middle of a 13 year, 124 million dollar contract.

Paul Maurice is a much more experienced coach than Boudreau, with 14 plus years under his belt in Hartford, Toronto, and Carolina. He sniffed success just once, taking Carolina to the Cup finals in 2002 before losing 4 games to 1 to Detroit. But again, like Boudreau, there hasn’t been a lot of glorious moments in this coaching career.

He’s a likeable enough fellow, it seems, but his players, like Boudreau’s, stopped playing, even though these guys are paid a king’s ransom for half a year’s work, plus all the free meals they can eat in their home city. It’s a good job. I don’t know about yours but it’s better than mine.

My feeling is the Habs don’t need either of these guys. Get rid of Jacques Martin and promote one of the Randy’s. Or entice a winning coach from elsewhere, using Scott Gomez-like money. We know Molsons has lots of cash. My friends and I have spent a vast fortune on their beer over the years.

And maybe old and retired Sovietski Viktor Tikhonov should go to Washington to help Dale Hunter. Put the fear of the gulag in Ovechkin.

The Guys Pulling The Strings

I recently read, or at least the parts they sent me, a terrific book called Behind The Moves, put together by Jason Farris, and I have to say, diving into the world of NHL general managers can be a fascinating thing indeed. All these men in suits are trying to do is win a Stanley Cup and not get fired.  Two big things, I suppose. They make backroom deals, uproot families through trades, and cross their fingers that the young guys they draft don’t turn out to be busts.

The book is comprised of interviews with these mostly high-profile general managers, which leads to a veritable smorgasbord of quotes, and instead of just rambling on, I thought I’d give you a sampling of what can be found here:

“The deals are fun. Face it, it’s the highest-stakes poker game there is. If you’re good at it you stay in the game. If not, you get canned.” Brian Burke

“There isn’t a man on that team who should make any all-star team, but as a group they are almost unbeatable. It only goes to show what harmony, loyalty, pep, and cohesion can accomplish when linked together and wisely directed.” Lester Patrick talking about the 1933 Red Wings

This is a dog-eat-dog world, the NHL. Over 170 general managers in the history of the league, so many thousands of people out there who would like to be a general manager in the league….If you don’t perform, the game will eat you up and spit you out.” Jim Devellano

“For the most part, it’s all business now and the stakes are a lot higher financially…I think the need to win today and the pressure to win today on a general manager is quite different than it was 15 years ago –10 years ago even…Montreal fans had Sam Pollock for all those years and without a doubt, that core of fans cared about what happened, but the world didn’t care. Today it’s the world, the hockey world.” Bryan Murray

“If you’re getting into this business, one of the reasons you need experience is that it’s a competitive business and you’re going to be tested at every turn as a manager. You’re going to be tested by your patience, you’re going to be teasted by the owner’s patience, you’re going to be tested by the media, be tested by your coach, be tested by your players, and be tested by your peers. They’re going to give you offers where it’s going to be a battleship for a bathtub, and I think that’s why you need the experience of being around for awhile, because when you get into that (GM) club, those people are there for a reason. They’re the best in the world at what they do.” Ken Holland

“There are lots of different stories for these guys. Circumstances have a lot to do with dictating what happens (for a GM). If we hadn’t got Gretzky out of the WHA when we did, you wouldn’t be wasting your day sitting here bullshitting with me. How do you really know…whether a guy is qualified to be a general manager in this league for a number of years or why did he lose his job after two years? It’s a lot deeper question than people have answers for.” Glen Sather

“I think the big secret is not to juggle people all the time. But it’s not easy if you don’t have a good team. Patience, I guess, is probably the most valuable asset a team can have. Take young players and all of a sudden they don’t do well, so a GM gets rid of them and they do well somewhere else. The big thing with a manager is to be careful with young players.Especially if the manager isn’t coaching and the coach is anxious to win games. So the GM and coach have to have a lot of communication (about the plans for each player) because young players can blossom.” Scotty Bowman

“We went to the Stanley Cup finals in 1999 and I can tell you I know way more now than I did in 1999. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear yet to be enough (to win the Cup) but I know way more now. It needs to be that way but you always feel like you’re racing agianst the clock Can you get something done before you run out of time.” Darcy Regier

“You always knew which ones you could trust and which ones you needed to be careful around. It’s a den of thieves. The business is such that you don’t necessarily care about the ethics if it’s going to help your hockey club.” Jay Feester

 

 

 

 

Talkin’ Bout A Few Of The Guys

Yes, indeed, P.K.Subban picked up the puck in glorious fashion in his end, whirled and dashed to the oohs and awes of me and many others, and promptly lost it to the enemy, who then took off and scored on Carey Price. It was a young man’s mistake, learned from years ago when he most certainly had his way with other teams in small buildings.

It’s a tough thing. Do you harness his energy, or do you let him be P.K? This is a young fellow still learning his craft, and with this free-wheeler, this sort of thing is bound to happen from time to time. You just hope the goalie is there to back him up.

You can be sure there were times when even Bobby Orr and Flower and Howie Morenz all lost the puck on a big exciting rush. P.K. may even do it again and I’m fine with it.  I just don’t want to see him play tentative and with less enthusiasm. He wouldn’t be P.K. if he did that. 

Carey Price was quite mediocre at best in this Avalanche game, but he’ll get his game together very soon. He’s showed many signs so far, but still hasn’t played like the Carey Price we know and love. The consistently great Carey Price. A lot of blame, though, goes to the players in front of him. Lots of opposing players are getting way too many good chances.

Price ‘ll be fine though. Look at Ken Dryden. He was far from great in the 1972 Summit Series but he was a great goalie. It’s the same with Carey. We see some brutal nights.

Erik Cole says he and Jacques Martin don’t talk and I don’t care if they do or not. Cole’s a big boy making millions, and coaches can be difficult and complex creatures. Toe Blake’s favourite whipping boy was Ralph Backstrom, who was a sensational third-line centre for the Habs. And he was only third-line because Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard were the centres on the first and second lines. Toe was hard on him, and Ralph got so mad at his coach one day he threw a skate and it stuck in the door. Ask Frank Mahovlich about Punch Imlach. And Scotty Bowman was miserable and didn’t talk to anybody.

C’mon Cole, don’t let it get to you. And one assist in four games doesn’t cut it.

Scott Gomez – ditto. One assist in four games doesn’t cut it either. I know we’ve accepted that you’re not a goal scorer, you’re a playmaker, but you’re on track for another lousy season. You’d shown so much in preseason. What happened?

Sadly, I’ve just heard that Ottawa columnist Earl McCrae has passed away. I loved reading his stuff when I lived back east, and after I had moved to the west coast, and before the internet came along, a friend would send me ten or twenty of Earl’s columns at a time because I missed him. Earl could be outrageous, funny, deadly serious, really smart, and simply a wonderful writer who entertained me and countless others. He was also a member of the Elvis Presley Society in which he swore, tongue-in-cheek, that Elvis was alive and well in Tweed, Ontario.  

So long, Earl. Thanks.

 

One Last Extra, Extra – A Great Year -1978

I’ll bet you’re tired of this. Well, don’t fret, this is the final installment of “Extra, Extra, Read All About It.”

For the last eight Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup wins, from 1971 to 1993, I managed to save the front pages and laminate them. (Although one, from 1977, is an inner page).

This final chapter looks at the great Habs Cup win in 1978, which was a lovely time indeed if you were a fan of the bleu, blanc, et rouge.

Serge Savard, after his team had had sailed to their third straight championship in 1978, lit a big cigar and reflected. “It’s something pretty special to be a Montreal Canadien, you know. We want to keep that role and the good things that go with it. But we have to work to do it because of those kids.”

And what kids were Savard talking about? Kids who played a large role in the winning of this Cup, youngsters like Pierre Mondou, 22, who assisted on two big goals in the final game a 4-1 win over Boston. It would be Mario Tremblay, 21, who didn’t play in the final until the fourth game, and scored twice. And it would be other young fellows like Brian Engblom, Gilles Lupien, Rick Chartraw, Rod Schutt, Mike Polich, Pat Hughes, and Pierre Larouche. 

And seeing these young guys play their hearts out was the motivation for the team to not rest on their laurels, not stand still, and not pat themselves on the back. There was no complacency on this team.

Scotty Bowman spoke about it afterwards during the celebration. “Having the extra guys who could play for just about any NHL club really helps in the motivation department,” said the coach. “We only have one player (Larouche, obtained in a trade with Pittsburgh) who ever played for another team.”

“Our farm system produces kids who want to play for the big club – and the guys with the big-league jobs know it. The kids are hungry, they have their agents pushing them and it makes a healthy situation.”

Larry Robinson won the Conn Smythe in this 1978 playoff year, his second in three years, (the other being in 1976), and he was awarded a brand new Ford Thunderbird from Sport Magazine for his efforts. “It’s an honour, of course,” said Robinson, “but the key to this team’s success is that it’s a real team and what one guy does is no more important than the contribution of another player.”

Montreal in these playoffs first met the Detroit Red Wings, eliminating the Wings four games to one. The Habs then swept the Leafs four straight before taking out the Bruins in the final, four games to two.

They would win one more Cup the following year before things eventually began to unravel.

Some final few words about Larry Robinson winning the Conn Smythe goes to Don Cherry (coach of the Bruins). “He deserves it,” said Cherry. “There’s nothing he can’t do. There were many four skaters on four situations in this series and at those times there was no stopping him.” 

Thanks for reading this series. Now I can hardly wait to write about our next Stanley Cup, happening next spring.