I know this is a hockey blog, but I won’t talk about hockey today, because I don’t really care right now. Today, it’s all about football. The first sport I was interested in as a child. The first sport I seriously watched on tv. The first sport I attended in person in a stadium with my dad. Of course, with football immediately came the first team I became a fan of. The FC Nantes. The first team I witnessed winning championships and cups. The first team that regularly broke my heart too.
FC Nantes 1994-95. The team that made me love football forever.
Hockey won me over a few years ago, and I now often find myself a little more interested in the nhl than in football. Especially since the FCN has betrayed its fans and its history for the last 8 seasons. But I just can’t feel completely indifferent to this club. Yesterday, it lost yet another crucial game, and the team is now certain to be relegated, for the second time in 3 seasons (after having spent 44 consecutive seasons without being relegated, a record in France). This hurts badly. Relegation is a pain that has no equivalent in the nhl.
In the nhl, when your team sucks, at least you know it will get good draft picks, and you know it could get really exciting in a few years. Of course, there’s always the lingering fear that the team could move, if the owners are really really awful. But this is pretty impossible for the historical franchises. No one can seriously imagine the Leafs, the Habs or the Bruins will disappear, even if they suck for a few seasons in a row. In football, if your team really sucks, it can totally disappear from the elite scene for a decade. With relegation comes huge budget cuts. All your best players are immediately traded, because you can’t afford them anymore. The big sponsors leave. The tv revenues drop. A demotion also often means turmoil with an alienated fanbase, and the most passionate fans calling for change in the ownership or at least the direction of the team. And when I say calling for, I mean in a public and very vocal way. Like hostile chants and signs at every game (home and away), demonstrations, campaigns in the local media to discourage people to renew their seasons tickets, and unfortunately sometimes, violent actions too. That’s a lot of uncertainty, in a competitive environment like football. Under those circumstances, it’s pretty tough to get promoted again.
This is a really sad day for the FC Nantes. And the saddest thing is that the club deserves it. The owner, Waldemar Kita, has made terrible decisions since he took over two seasons ago. He seems largely more preoccupied by his ego than by the well being of the club. His policy of systematically erasing references to the traditions and the identity of the club have sickened the fanbase. This policy also deepened an identity crisis that had begun a few seasons before. The 8 last seasons have been awful for the fans of this once proud club. And with this new relegation, it certainly doesn’t look like we’re headed in right direction.
To me, the worst part is that I don’t recognize my team anymore. I don’t care for most of the players, I hate the owner, I don’t particularly like the coach, and I hate the way they play. This is probably what hurts the most. This club was once famous for its exciting offensive and fast-paced style of play, nicknamed “le jeu à la nantaise”. Those days are long gone. Had I not followed them for so long, this team would be dead to me.
I declare 3 days of mourning on this blog.
Ok, I think I needed a day before writing something about the end of the season. This is gonna be a long and probably not very funny post, but I’m writing this because it’s a good way to summarize my feelings about this whole season, and the way it ended, and to evacuate everything! :)
It’s not exactly clear how things went wrong exactly for the 2008-09 habs, but it certainly looks like someone in Montreal pissed off some Luck Deity.
This is not about looking for excuses, because as much as it pains me, Boston WAS the better team. But it’s hard not to think “what if?”. We’ll never know how the playoffs could have gone if Markov, Schneider and Tanguay didn’t get hurt in the last week of the season. But the team was looking pretty hot at that point, and they even had an outside chance at the 5th seed. Anyway, it’s not how things turned out, so this is pretty useless to think about what could have been.
This was fittingly a very disappointing end to a very disappointing season. Pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong:
- The PP stopped producing right from the start
- Most of the young players who had a very promising season last year made a big step backwards (the Kostitsyn brothers, O’Byrne, Chipchura never managed to stay in Montreal, Plekanec, Higgins…)
- Injuries plagued all the new guys that were brought in to reinforce the team (Lang, Laraque, Tanguay and Schneider all went through prolonged injuries. Only Metropolit escaped it)
- Kovalev had long stretches of his frustrating inconsistent play.
- Komisarek got hurt in a fight against his nemesis, and never fully recovered (I think however that his confidence has been way more affected by all this than his shoulder. He has yet to look like the player he was last season).
- Carey Price showed signs of great play, but he also was pretty inconsistent, and looked really fragile mentally this season (I’m not blaming him, given all the crap he has had to go through and the huge expectations the media and the fans have about him)
- Carbonneau was not able to help the team recover from its terrible february slump.
- Gainey couldn’t shake things up at the trade deadline (even if his trade for Schneider was pretty brilliant, and if Metropolit turned out to be really solid too), had to fire the coach, and finally couldn’t make much of a difference after he took over as coach.
- Off the ice, the controversies were aplenty. The media were all over the team all season long, and kept on throwing mud week after week on the habs. I’m still really pissed at the whole “SCANDAL!!! MAFIA!!! DRUGS!!! WOMEN!!! ALCOHOL!!!” debacle. And the rumors about the young players partying excesses have surrounded the team all season long. But we also have to remember the Lecavalier rumors, the Kovalev-staying-home-and-allegedly-dissing-his-coach-through-a-mysterious-anonymous-Russian-friend controversy, the future coach language skills debate, the usual crap about soft Europeans that lack the desire to win the cup. Overall, that was an amazing year for the media…
- The fans sometimes turned their back to the players and regularly booed them off the ice, including during the playoffs.
- The centennial celebrations proved to be a big distraction at times, and the predictably high expectations of the fans and media (I mean, when you finish first in the East the season before, it’s pretty normal to expect a promising season) looked like a burden that the team couldn’t cope with.
- When things were finally looking better, as the first line was on fire, the PP was producing, and the habs looked ready to enter the playofffs with a good momentum, they lost two of their most important players (in a game against the Leafs, of course…), and finished the season with 4 losses. This set up a series against the best team in the East, which happened to be their archrival, but also a team that they barely beat in last season’s playoffs, a team coached by their own former coach (fired by none other than Gainey), and a team that had beaten them all season long. often in devastating ways (Komisarek, Lang and Lats were all injured for long periods of times in losses against the Bruins)
Seriously, I don’t think it’s possible to think of a much worse scenario.
BUT, in spite of all this, everything was not that awful. It’s time to bring back the rosy glasses for a while:
- It obviously wasn’t enough, but the team showed at times that it could be one of the very best in the League. The habs started the season with a 8-1-1 record, and went through an often overlooked 11-2-1 stretch in january. There were some horrendous slumps this season, but the habs had their good moments too.
- We saw glimpses of promising new young players: Pacioretty, D’Agostini, Stewart, and Weber all came up and made an impact. Pacioretty and D’Ags started really well, and scored points right from the start. They eventually both went through slumps, but that’s hardly surprising for rookies in a team that was at the time in a huge collective slump. Stewart was scrappy and sometimes did the job that Laraque couldn’t do because he was injured. And Weber looks to be a promising future offensive defenseman. With the quality of some prospects coming up in the next few years in D (notably Ryan McDonagh, Alexei Emelin and P.K. Subban), that’s a good thing.
- Maxim Lapierre turned into a really nice 3rd line C. He works harder than anyone (except maybe Kostopoulos), he is scrappy, he is very good at getting under the skin of the opposition, and he is starting to contribute a little more offensively. He was definitely one of the best surprises of the season in Montreal.
- Higgins finished the season in a new more defensive role, and he did pretty well on the PK. Latendresse had a good season: he ended up with just one less point than last season in 17 less games, and finished with a positive +/- for the frst time in his career.
- Gorges turned into a scoring machine. 4 goals and 19 assists?! Woooo Hooo!! Hide your Norris, Lidstrom, Josh is coming! I’m kidding Josh, this is seriously awesome, especially since you finished with a more than respectable +12 plus/minus, and you really helped the team this season when Komisarek or Markov got injured. You know you’re my very favorite hab!
- Maybe we can hope that some of the players that struggled this season can be resigned for cheap and return to their past play. Hey, that could happen! :)
- Oh, and probably the best thing about this season: I started blogging! What do you mean, that’s another Montreal related disaster?! Hey, shut up!
Well, I’m aware this doesn’t make a lot of positive points, but… this is all we got. So where does that leave us?
There are a lot of questions marks surrounding the team now. A LOT of free agents, no coach, maybe a GM change (I hope not), maybe a change in ownership. In those conditions, it’s pretty hard to tell how the team will look in October. For now, I’m praying Gainey keeps his job, I hope they will resign Komisarek (I’m convinced he can rebound. I just hope he will resist the temptation of going for a fat contract elsewhere), and I REALLY hope we haven’t seen the last game of Koivu in a Montreal jersey.
So here it is. The 2008-09 habs are dead. And I made peace with that.
By the way, the end of the habs season seems to have pleased a LOT of people, judging from the comments I could read on major mainstream hockey blogs (Puck Daddy posted twice about it and there was quite a bit of habs bashing going on in the comments) There seems to be some dancing around the habs grave going on. Listen, I know Montreal fans can be obnoxious, and I know everyone is fed up with the centennial crap. But I’m surprised to see fans of other teams rejoicing so much (I mean, I totally understand it pleases the people in Boston and Toronto, but beyond that, I didn’t think Montreal pissed of so many folks.) Anyway, it doesn’t matter. It’s always better to provoke hate than indifference I guess!
Ok, that was way too long, and not very original, but I needed to get that out I think!
There it is. I officially give up on the 2008-09 habs. It’s the first time since I’ve started to follow hockey “seriously” that I give up on a season before it’s actually over. But I have no hope left. They won’t turn things around. And even if they do squeeze into the playoffs, it won’t make much of a difference.
5-2. At home. Against the freaking Leafs. On a supposedly must-win game. Are you kidding me?
The only thing worrying me, at this point, is wether Gainey will keep his job this summer. And if he does have to leave, will Trevor Timmins leave too? If that happens, … well let’s not even think about this…
The only bright spot of this terrible season is Max Lapierre. You rock, Maxim!
I’m torn, because watching the habs these days is kind of a masochistic experience. It’s painful, but at the same time, if I don’t watch the next ten games, I know I won’t have a chance to watch my favorite team play until… october.
I remember how last summer was terribly dull and slow, and how even the preseason games were exciting back in september. So I know that in a few months, I’ll be starving for hockey. Any kind of hockey. Even maybe this kind of hockey. And I’ll regret that I was not able to actually enjoy it while the season was still going on…
So, let this post be a reminder that sometimes, hockey sucks. Here is a note to myself, for when I reread this post on a hot and lazy day of August:
Hey Grrrreg, how’s it going? … What? … What do you mean, you’re bored to death because you miss hockey? Are you crazy man? Remember how, back in march, you were actually hoping for the season to end?! Come on, enjoy the offseason! Have a drink, and revel in your sucky-habs-free existence! Isn’t life beautiful when you don’t have to worry about the habs power play, Carey’s mental health, the results of the Carolina Hurricanes, and the french-speaking coach controversies? You actually miss this? I’m telling you, enjoy the summer my friend. It won’t last, you know… In only a few weeks from now, the habs will be back to torment you…
I think that sums it up…
When it comes to sports, I”m usually optimistic, and sometimes even delusional. But these days, it’s really hard to remain hopeful about the habs season. I only watched half of yesterday’s game, and it wasn’t pretty.
Yes, the refs were bad. But I think it’s a stretch to blame them for the loss. The habs are losing games that they should be winning. You can’t lose against the sens, the isles, or the rangers when you’re supposed to be fighting for a playoff spot. Not this late into the season. I’m slowly coming to the realization that the habs may very well miss the postseason.
- I hate to pile on Carey Price, but he was not good enough yesterday. Yes, he stopped breakaway chances, and he certainly didn’t get a lot of help from his defense, but he had a bad night.
- The defense looks awful. I love him, but Komisarek is painful to watch (for the record, I still think Bob should re-sign him as soon as possible. He’s having a terrible season, but let’s not forget how good he can be)
- The PP is pathetic.
- Kostitsyn plays like shit, especially when he’s on the same line as Kovy.
- They’re losing too many faceoffs.
- Once again, the best line was Lapierre-Kostopoulos-Latendresse. By far. It’s cool that they’re playing good, but it’s sad that they’re the only ones doing so…
- They can’t built any kind of momentum. Every time they scored last night (except the 4th goal), the Sens scored back in the next minute or so.
Beyond this season I’m starting to seriously worry that Bob will leave if the team doesn’t make the playoffs. If this happens, I think it would be a huge blow to the franchise. I don’t even want to think about it…
Boy, this post sucks, I’m sorry to sound so depressing. Usually, I let Mike Boone write the gloomy columns at HI/O after the habs lose, and I try to be funny or to speak about something else here, so that people are not inspired to slice their wrists after reading my blog. But the habs are really not helping me today…