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Eulogy: Remembering the 2013-14 Montreal Canadiens

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(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. We've asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The bloggers who hated them the most. Here is Jerard Fagerberg of Boston.com, fondly recalling the 2013-14 Montreal Canadiens. Again, this was not written by us. Also: This is a roast and you will be offended by it, so don't take it so seriously.)

By Jerard Fagerberg of Boston.com 

In times of loss, we must always ask ourselves – how do we explain this to the children? 

Though the official declaration of death for the Montreal Canadiens is still pending an investigation from Royal Canadian Mounted Police (who are currently preoccupied pressing charges of ethnic sedition against Discover), it’s best to be proactive.

In the case of the Habs – ousted by the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals – and their fanbase, we must deal with a very large, entitled, pigheaded, petulant bastard of a child. One who so richly believes in parables and phantoms and is prone to tantrums.

Obviously, this is a special case. We’re dealing with a city whose head is so far up its own ass that they don’t see the irony in lighting their arena on fire before every home game. A franchise so out of touch with reality that they tried to use their adult-diaper-wearing national anthem singer as a rallying point. A fanbase that makes less sense than Joe Haggerty at 2 a.m. on game night.

So, where conventional logic and child psychology have failed, desperate measures are necessary. To try and avoid yet another bon fire of Oldsmobiles on Saint Catherine St. and stem the tide of tears running down the border, it’s going to take tough love.

Milan Lucic-style, myth-destroying tough love.

Montreal is an enchanted city of strip clubs and gravy-slathered French fries. A city where even the thinking is magical. Every offseason, as the flames of the falafel shops dwindle, Marc Bergevin and his trusty team of revisionist historians go back to the cauldron to stir a potion that’ll pull their time-tarnished franchise out of la poubelle.

“How do we secure a Cup next year, Marc?” asks René, who was hired only because his name is René.

Bergevin replies with only a menacing grin, a Vincent Lecavalier-shaped gleam in his eye.

This is the first of the great fallacies of the Montreal Canadiens – that maintaining a quorum of native Québécois will spell success. It’s why they’ve had seven different coaches in the last ten years. That’s why they inexplicably threw $1.5 million at 38-year-old turnstyle Francis Bouillon and $4 million (!) at fourth-line paramedic Daniel Brière. Brière, who is good in the playoffs but, you know, doesn’t win trophies, came with a myth of his own that’ll surely keep the aging regular-season gopher on the Habs’ roster well past his contract expiration.

The myth of francophone purism has always been part of the Montreal narrative. It’s a well-worn fairy tale that could help has-been UFAs like Stéphane Robidas, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, or Jean-Sébastien Giguère spin straw into gold in the City of Mary this offseason. Then, when the road to El Dorado goes cold, the front office can always turtle and claim xenophobia as the culprit.

Ah, the convenience of circular logic.

But, in a city where the trophy cases could be mistaken for fixtures on Antiques Roadshow, any story will do.

When white knight Carey Price – who helped slay an ogre in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – was felled by Chris Kreider, children across La Belle Province held their breath. They had heard the legends of Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden, and the fable-sick Montreal populace was quick to joust windmills by anointing Dustin Tokarski as the heir to their mythical throne. Sight unseen, he was thrust into the fiction.

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In the end, Tokarski played admirably but looked like a crusty-eyed Rip Van Winkle when it counted. Without their deus ex machina, the Canadiens were out-gunned by a team whose top scorer in 2012-13 was Mats Zuccarello. Clearly, they were not built for a championship run, but that made their undoing no less shocking for the doe-eyed fanboys in the Bell Center.

The struggles didn’t stop there for the Socré Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge. Their hired hand Thomas Vanek – the revered Bruins killer – wasn’t quite the Beowulf they’d hoped he’d be. The talented Austrian turned pumpkin against the Rangers and will now say “au revoir,” taking a conditional second rounder and Sebastian Collberg with him for his 10-point postseason.

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Meanwhile, P.K. Subban rose as the true hero, playing like a dynamo in what was a failed effort for Therrien et al. Despite being the least-deserving gold medalist of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the divisive blueliner put on a show against Boston and, to a lesser extent, New York, tallying 14 points and eating over 30 minutes of ice time towards the end of his team’s playoff run.

This should’ve been good news for Canadiens fans. But, alas, this is a cautionary tale.

The Habs royal court had the opportunity to sign the former Norris winner before the 2013-14 season, but now Subban will climb the beanstalk into $8 million-plus territory as an RFA this summer. Sure, he was Prince Charming in the face of Twitter’s inaccurately aggregated rage and he melted hearts by giving Pierre McGuire the Sleeping Beauty treatment, that doesn’t mean this summer won’t be an epic cash grab for Malcolm’s older brother.

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Given that we’re talking about the Canadiens, a team that lists Brian “Albatross” Gionta as their captain, Subban’s payday should be a historic blunder. One big enough to cripple their roster for the next seven to ten years. This was their season to catch a Cup before his purse strings garrote Montreal’s salary cap, and they only worsened their situation by letting their dive-happy defenseman shine.

But we’ll get to Montreal’s future failures next season. Right now, let’s focus on their most recent shortcomings.

The 2013-14 season was about hashtag respect. Hashtag respect was the first thing on the minds of the Habs faithful after putting away the Bruins. As they out-classed Boston, their Twitter urged the opposition to hashtag stay classy. Meanwhile, because irony is undetectable to folks with the CH on their shirts, fans rained garbage on their opponents. Because the Canadiens have always been a paragon of class. The standard of sportsmanship in the NHL.

After getting indignant following their Game 7 win, the glass slipper shattered in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the NHL’s Rodney Dangerfields were humbled en route to a 7-2 loss. Then, the true Canadiens emerged – an archetype that isn’t captured by the local lore – a team that is absolutely undeserving of respect.

Tomas Plekanec and his turtleneck crumpled at the first stick above the waist. The local media cried foul, weeping into their hats like caricatures of themselves. Simultaneously, Brendan Gallagher proved that he’s a less talented weasel than Brad Marchand, and Brendan Prust showed that he’s the exact type of goon the Habs claim to detest. For all their proclaimed decency, the Canadiens of the Eastern Conference Finals were the whiners that the rest of the league knows them as, fulfilling a prophecy they refuse to acknowledge.

From a child’s perspective, the Montreal Canadiens put together an admirable postseason. But children are stupid. They're slaves to the tales of their fathers. They’re blinded by legends that have long since gone to rust and dust. If the 2013-14 postseason was anything for Les Glorieux, it was a reality check.

The Canadiens have been eliminated, and now it’s time for their olé-ing province of fans to grow up. I know it’s hard to lie in the bed you’ve made without a nice story to lull you to sleep, but it’s time to quit thumbsucking and face facts.

The Habs are dead, and they ain’t comin’ back. Sorry, kids.

[Many thanks to BDCwire’s Michelle Buchman who, despite being the daughter of an ardent Habs fan, defied her birthright to provide the Photoshops for this piece]

 

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