Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Protect the Language or Protect the Puck?

Hurting people’s feelings is not something any responsible person in charge of a sports team should worry about. I understand language is a sensitive topic and I am completely insensitive to it. I realize that the public has a right to a coach who speaks their language but at what cost? Do you think Bill Belichick cares what people think about him?

I’m sorry, but it’s ridiculous. Did Jacques Martin share any insight of any relevance whatsoever in his two plus years in charge of the Canadiens? No matter what language he spoke, he had nothing to say. If you want someone to spew canned nonsense in any language there are plenty of people who fit the bill. The issue of what language the coach speaks is nothing but fodder for people who want to use it to further their own agenda. I’m not willing to listen to those people, especially when it comes to hockey.

I don’t consider myself a Canadiens fan but I know how important the team is to this city. I cannot accept that if they were winning games and contending for the Stanley Cup every year that anyone would be saying this. The fact is, the Canadiens are a bad team, poorly constructed and planned and they are an easy mark for politicians and journalists who are trying to make something out of nothing. If they want to skip the Stanley Cup parade of a team with a general manager named Jim Nill and coach named Randy Carlyle in 2016 then I think they should be encouraged to do so.

I can honestly say that if I wasn’t being being paid to watch this team play hockey I wouldn’t be watching them at all.

Let’s not forget that the most important thing is that the coach is able to communicate with the players. Since almost the entire roster and every top prospect on this team speaks English fluently, that should be the only language consideration. Since the Francophone media can translate the news of the entire world, no matter what language it’s in, into something their readers can understand, I think it’s fair to assume they could do likewise with the completely innocuous material that comes from the coach of a hockey team. I recognize the right of my colleagues in the media to be spoken to in their mother tongue and I think it sucks for them. It’s too bad but wouldn’t you rather make more money covering a team on a long playoff run and maybe write a book, in whatever language you want, about that magical season?

I don’t have children but if I did, I would encourage them to cheer for a team that makes intelligent decisions based on what the brilliant people running the team want to do. People like Dan Bylsma, Ray Shero, Mike Babcock, Peter Chiarelli and so on. This team fired both Stanley Cup finalist coaches of last year. Why would I want my kid to get beaten into the ground by a team that not only has to deal with the fact that no one wants to play here because of high taxes, cold winters and ridiculous language laws, but also hires people for the most important management jobs based on what language they speak? It’s preposterous to even consider. Life is too short.

If you want players to forget about these things, put a winning product on the ice. Detroit isn’t exactly a glamourous destination but do you think top notch talent listens when Ken Holland comes calling for free agents? Since there are factors out of their control that limit their ability to attract talent, why on earth is this club imposing other restrictions on themselves?

No successful team in any sport, let alone the hyper-competitive NHL, should make any personnel decision based on anything other than whether or not the candidate is the best person to fill the job in question. That’s it. I speak French fluently and ideally, that best person should be able to as well but if it’s at the cost of a season like the Canadiens are in the midst of and what their future currently looks like, all bets are off. You cannot hire people to run your business, especially one as competitive as the NHL if you’re worried about hurting people’s feelings.

It’s too bad that this simple fact is lost on so many people. If they want to stop cheering for their favorite team because of what language the coach speaks then they should have at it. I would venture that they were never really fans to begin with.

If I’m Geoff Molson I say forget everyone. Forget the politicians trying to generate political capital from this non-story, forget the “fans” who care about more than whether their team wins. Spare me the arguments about cultural institutions and the “dying” French language. Any team in any sport in any league should speak one language: winning. Win hockey games. Don’t lose 21 of your first 34 games in a league where 53% of the teams make the playoffs every year. If you win, who cares whose feelings get hurt along the way?

This team is being run into the ground by a man so arrogant he thinks that people might actually believe some of the things he says. I can’t hazard a guess as to how involved Bob Gainey still is but the fact that Pierre Gauthier is still running this team is nauseating.

The Canadiens are heading toward their best draft pick since they had the incredible fortune of stumbling into the 5th overall choice in 2005. Think about the moves this man has made while making no attempt whatsoever to rationalize them. I would use the word “contempt” to describe the way Pierre Gauthier speaks to the media. For the love of god, Geoff Molson, don’t let this man continue to run this team. Don’t mortgage the future for the sake of this year. Don’t trade a second round pick for another rental player, even though that’s been one of the few things that have worked out for you in the last few years.

Fire Pierre Gauthier and replace him with the best man for the job, no matter what language he speaks. Let that man decide who the next coach should be, no matter what language he speaks. Then shut up and watch this team play hockey and hope for the best. That’s what the fans everywhere else do. Complain about the general manager, the coach, the players and the product on the ice all you want. Complain about the terrible pregame video that leaves the Bell Centre crowd flat after years of being the most electrifying building in the league (we miss you Ray Lalonde!).

Just don’t complain about what language the decision makers speak. You’re better than that. Don’t listen to the politicians. Don’t listen to the reactionary columnists who know less than nothing about this game. You’re better than that and so is this city. So is this fanbase.

Happy Holidays.


Mark John said...

Great title.

Graeme McDonald said...

I disagree on the question of team loyalty. I believe a fan should stick with his/her team through adversity (even if said adversity is dry rot at the management level). Nonetheless, this is a brilliant, well-written and direct assessment of the current situation. Bravo.