No one does nostalgia better than the Montreal Canadiens, but after a two decade Stanley Cup drought is it time for les Glorieux to stop looking back and focus on the here and now?
When it comes to North American team sports, few organizations can match the Montreal Canadiens rich history of championship success, legendary players, and cultural impact. The New York Yankees and Boston Celtics might be equal to the Habs, but le Club de hockey Canadien looks up at no one. The rafters at the Bell Centre are filled with 24 Stanley Championships banners and their retired numbers read like a Hall of Fame roll call; Richard, Plante, Beliveau, Harvey, Dryden, Lafleur. Both the NHL’s awards for most valuable player (Hart) and best goalie (Vezina) are named after members of the Canadiens from the earliest days of the league. The story of the Montreal Canadiens is the story of hockey itself, and it would be nearly impossible to escape the shadow of the colossus that is the tradition of the Habs.
But that’s exactly what they should try to do.
Much noise was made in Toronto and Edmonton this past summer about a desire to remove reminders of the team’s respective glorious pasts. Both are young teams seemingly on the cusp of making a move up the standings and there were those who wanted the focus to be on the current incarnations. While the history involved here is neither as lengthy (Edmonton), nor as recent (Toronto), as that of the Habs, it does raise some uncomfortable truths.
As 1993 fades further into the mists of time, it’s stunning to realize that an entire generation of Canadiens’ fans has never seen the team parade Lord Stanley’s chalice around the ice. It’s been almost as long since the Habs had a truly great player in Patrick Roy. Saku Koivu was pretty good and Jose Theodore had an incredible season, but neither of them were legends in the way Saint Patrick was. Without a team can only live on its past for so long, even if it’s the most storied past in the sport.
Making the transition to present day easier is that there are plenty of exciting young stars for Montreal to fixate on. PK Subban won the first Norris Trophy for the Habs since Chris Chelios in1989 and is just getting started. Carey Price might be the best Canadian goaltender in the world. Alex Galchenyuk had an impressive rookie season and has franchise player potential. The 2013-14 Montreal Canadiens are a good young team coming off a great season and the focus should be solely on their immediate future.
Lafleur, Cournoyer, Beliveau, et al should always be welcome at the Bell Centre, just not always on the center stage. The Canadiens need to turn the page and focus on building another generation of legends to celebrate.