Monday, January 23, 2012

A Time to Speak - This is Wrong

Sports bloggers are normally fans. Most of us have day jobs.

I have been a lawyer in Montreal for 8 years. I run my own business and within that formula I have carved out the time and space needed to write on this blog with my closest friends as well as provide post-game commentary on Montreal Hockey Talk with some incredibly witty and engaging people I have had the fortune to meet this year.

My law practice pays all the bills. It's incredibly time consuming. I am a dedicated litigator and handle pretty high end/stakes divorce files. It's exhausting work both mentally and emotionally. By the time Friday rolls around, I'm pretty spent and look forward to being with my family to recycle and renew my spirits.

It's incredibly hard to tack anything on to a career in law. By definition, in litigation you're meeting people who are finding themselves in an anxious juncture in their personal or corporate lives. In the midst of separation, couples find themselves devoid of the economies of scale that made the next financial rung at home a little easier to reach. Now they are alone, afraid, lacking in basic information, anguishing at the possibility of losing custody of their children, of losing their security, their home, their sanity.

I coach my clients throughout the process. They have my cell number, and they use it. Then I have to deal with opposing counsel who may or may not be an agreeable person to deal with. And that lawyer is also managing his or her client's nerves and expectations. But most of all, I wonder what we can do to protect the children caught in the middle of a mess they never asked for. Because often enough, the parents caught up in their vitriol lose sight of the real victims. Despite tirelessly advocating an approach that favours intelligent settlements, some people get tied up in the web of anger that relentlessly fuels a need for retribution.

And so to weave through a week's work I have to field incessant waves of communications: letters, faxes, emails, phone calls, text messages, voice messages on the cell and at work. We try to erect the right barriers to ensure the inevitable spill-over doesn't eat into your family life but it's hard. Tell a mother who's afraid her 16-month old may be moving to Vancouver with her father that you'll call her in the morning.

But I embrace it. I care about my clients, about their well-being and about providing a smoother path to justice than they could ever ask for.

There is almost no time to do anything else to achieve a balance and so squeezing more out of the week which doesn't involve law requires a simple ingredient: passion. Passion will create time. They feed off each other. When you do something you're passionate about, you actually lose the concept of time.

I am passionate about my family, to no end.

And I love the game of hockey.

There are many reasons why but in the end, it's the grown-up version of a form of innocence, a perpetual cycle of love and awe. The game, when well played, is simply gorgeous. The feeling of victory when your team wins is euphoric. It has to go back to an anthropological raison d'être - men doing battle and lusting for triumph and glory. Victory.

That very feeling, in the end, may be what has always stood in the way, between journalism and I; I want to cheer. I know there are far more important things in life and every time the sports world grinds to a halt when a tragedy strikes, I'm reminded that these are only games and that they are relatively meaningless. And so the true measure of balance I think is to be able to be passionate about your team within the confines of reason, decency and respect.

I've given time to this team. I've made an investment, both financially, creatively, intellectually, emotionally. I renew my season tickets every year no matter the season's results. I have been blogging for 4 years as an à côté to the hectic life I already lead.

So why do I write? Because I honestly feel like I have something to say. It's part and parcel of the emotion that binds me to the team. Part and parcel of who I am. I am a pretty well-versed guy about many things in life, but hockey has found its way into my recurring lexicon. It's threaded itself into my fabric.

I blog because I have an opinion and want to share it. With my dedication to the conversation despite being completely swallowed whole by my core business, I think I'm entitled to speak. And I think it's time.

The 2011-2012 season is a derailment in progress.

It's not just about hockey gone wrong. The woes strike at the core of the business, social, economic, call-it-what-you-want model.

I feel like our team has been hijacked. It's a strange thing to say but it's the best way I can describe it. And it's not because the coach isn't francophone, and it's not because we're below .500. It's because I don't know where everything I came to understand and enjoy about the last years is suddenly gone with no apparent explanation to quell the disbelief and confusion.

It's because it feels like the sense of strong purpose and direction you need to steer a team is gone.

I may be wrong. I'm not on the inside. But superficially, something just feels very wrong. And it feels wrong over and over again. And it felt this way early.

At first, while the team was in the middle of a real struggle the team owner and president publicly endorsed the coach and general manager.

However, a few weeks later, the coach was fired. That's not the first pat on the back that has been followed by a quick dismissal - but both Molson's initial endorsement and the subsequent firing of Jacques Martin began to create a sense of disconnect between the team and the fans. All made easier by a terrible start to the season.

How do you replace a coach with an assistant and call that your best option, when the assistant has never coached a game in the NHL? How many assistant coaches have taken over a team and turned its fortunes around? How many rookie assistant coaches have accomplished the feat? Martin is still on the books for the duration of his contract, so if this was a cost-saving scenario (because I'm sure Randy Cunneyworth is not cashing a Phil Jacksonesque cheque) was it really necessary to pick the lowest hanging fruit you could find to coach the team and risk throwing a promising season under the bus?

Why publicly slap the interim tag on Randy Cunneyworth while in the same breath acknowledge the need for an eventual bilingual candidate and, in the process, risk destroying the legitimacy a coach needs to stand on in any professional dressing room?

Why were the Ducks, Canes and Caps all able to find viable replacements for their teams a mere days before Jacques Martin was fired? With 50 games to play was it not your duty to put the essential cog that is a head coach in place who isn't slighted and diminished by a banner that speaks to his transient status within the organization?

Why use the interim tag and publicly create the impression that your General Manager is also compromised? The feeling was that a new GM would come in at year's end and not be bound by a foreign coach and his contract. Why not plan 3 steps ahead and clean house now? The media backlash alone, and the ensuing distraction this would cause the team were reason enough to have a solid plan in execution.

Why allow your general manager to call a press conference in which he reiterates the importance of a bilingual coach, further diminishing the credibility and authority a coach lives or dies by.

If the GM is a lame duck, why is he making such important moves, such as trading the team's only legitimate proven sniper and the only player who has proven to be a capable body in the playoffs?

Why are you not coaching? Coach PK who continues to make mistakes. Coach him till he's blue in the face. Until he can't take it anymore. He looks like a wild stallion out there that no one has been able to harness. And yet, he's a gem, a rare mix of speed, skill, power, defiance and, God love him, charisma. Let him run wild, but coach him to run wild. Instead, he's been held back, held back, held back. Is PK's rebellious attitude not possibly the by-product of being stifled? It seems they have been coaching him against his natural grain.

Why have 3 game days been disrupted? An assistant coach fired hours before a game. A head coach fired the morning of. Your best player, arguably, canned during an intermission. One bad year and Cammalleri is shipped out. You didn't like his attitude? With the scoring ailments afflicting this team, you don't have the luxury to nit pick about the attitude. Goals from a distance don't go in anymore? That's your excuse, Gauthier? Cammy won't score 7 to 10 goals a year from the top of the circle anymore because the league has changed so radically since you signed him to a mega-deal THREE YEARS AGO??!!

Twice this month, the team owner and president endorsed his GM while acknowledging the need for a bilingual coach.

15 years ago, Eric Desjardins, then a Flyer, spoke out and called Montreal a nearly impossible city to play in. Over time, these reasons have faded and the natural advantage of 21 000 present fans and millions more from afar adoring your every gesture made perfect sense to a hockey player. It offset the weather, the taxes...And the team began winning again. Not championships, albeit, but games, credibility, enthusiasm.

In a few short months, the team has gone from a possible contender to one of the worst teams in the NHL. The Markov excuse is invalid. He hasn't been a member of this team in 2 years, and the Habs have or at the very least should have adapted to life without him. The coaching staff has lost its way and proven incapable of devising a sustainable system. Moves that indicate panic are being made on a regular basis. Mixed messages are being sent to the fans in the form of bizarre, vague and disconnected press conferences. The team has managed to ignite a language debate at the most improbable juncture in this province's political life - as the language issue in Quebec has been dormant for years now. Hiring an anglo isn't the problem, but the PR behind the move was nothing less than amateur. Brian Burke would not have tolerated such venom. He would have said "It's a professional sport, it's a hockey decision. PERIOD." Instead here we get a weak acknowledgement of the problem, a buying into the fringe movement that makes no sense whatsoever, an apology even.

After years spent trying to erase the tag Desjardins was speaking of, it appears the team has steered itself right back into the chasm that made it so unattractive to play here. All of this happening at once may have set the team back more than we can imagine.

All of this has happened and the rest of the league is watching. The players are watching. The image Pierre Boivin worked so hard to build is broken. The fans feel alienated. The players must feel confused. The coach has every reason to be angry. And the rest of the NHL is laughing, with the word "Montreal" soon to appear under player no-trade clauses.

The bond in the room that is so often cemented by a system the players will hurt and sacrifice for appears loose. Most players, no matter the size, are playing small. There is no overarching concept in place to believe in, to buy into, to coax the players into making a gruelling physical and emotional sacrifice. How can there be when at the outset, the team cut the man they so rapidly labelled the interim coach at the knees.

This is Montreal. We love this team. Get your business plan in place. You look disorganized, even lost. This is a city where overworked, tired attorneys start hockey blogs for the fun of it. It's a city where the passion will carry the benefits of forgiveness. But do something. Do something to show that the hockey sense that seems to have vanished from the ice is somehow alive and well a few floors above.


mr. gillis said...

That was quite the rant. Well said

Anonymous said...

we should have hired Brian Burke, at least we would have missed the playoffs in style the last 3 yertasd

KmaXXX said...

I have to agree with all you have written 4 - I've always loved your input to the blogs I've followed you on - never knew what kind of lawyer you were until today - now a lot more makes sense...but not about the Habs - for an organisation steeped in such history, it's hard to believe how poor their recent run of coaches and GM's have been. When Serge Savard became GM I wondered if things were going wrong. When Rejean Houle was hired I knew things were going wrong - and they really haven't improved that much sense. Pierre Gauthier? - I've never trusted him. RC is dead to me since he gave Gomez the shootout last week - showed me he wasn't really serious about all I really have is hope and a passion for the Habs that will never die...and bloggers like you!

juce said...

DC, Very heartfelt, passionate and so very true. I believe PG and his ilk really do not have one iota of your passion for the game, only passion for the money that lines their pockets. They are a disgrace to the Jersey.
I hold much respect for Cunneyworth, he shows integrity and professionalism in the face of what has been dealt to him, I don't know who could hold up as well in the same circumstances.

Go Habs Go!

Public Domain said...

Yes,they suck. Yes, there is rot. Yes, lawyers are right a lot of the time.

But I just want to root for more goals & some wins (maybe that should be some goals and more wins). Go Habs Go.

Am I part of the problem?!?!?

ZAZA said...

As long as the $$ keep flowing, the game of hockey is irrelevant: there will always be an excuse provided by management, well texted by professional excuse writers specialists. The Habs players act like expensive male gigolos: the come to work, execute their paid sex function, and feel no passion whatsoever!


Steve said...

Montreal Canadians, you cant start them like a car, you cant kill them with a gun. They are like the Catholic church, thousands of pedophiles cant discourage the faithful. So dont worry be happy, all thngs must pass, and we will be better, we will not become like Toronto, we are Fire on Ice and nothing, no one, no time, no loss, no misdirection can change our destiny, Les Glouix

Don's Cherries said...

@Steve: Car starters are not always used to bring animals to the museum, there are sometimes borrowed by elbows and fax machines.

moeman said...

Beauty post.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous stuff

whistlerfan said...

I too worry about the long term damage being done to the Canadiens by this baffling season. Just as we were becoming an attractive destination for free agents and as draft picks were happy to be a Canadien, all this happens. It's like Snakes and Ladders, and we slid down to square #3 again.

DarthAlexander said...

This is an excellent post.

Another thing I've noticed over the last few years is that the team doesn't seem to functioning as unit. There doesn't look like there's any real sense of camaraderie in the team.

You watch other teams and you get the feeling that they are willing to battle for each other.

When Pacioretty got hit last year no one did anything except for Gomez who talked to Chara. I can't see that happening on other teams or even the Habs back in the 70s and earlier.

We need strong leadership and I think that's something we haven't had in a very long time. If the leaders aren't there how can we expect the team to be anything but it is.

Another thing that bothers me is that the media sometimes laughs at the fans and says how we all think we know better than the team's actual management. That may be true in some circumstances but when fans seem to have a much better clue than our own team's 'leaders' do then it's very discouraging.

I also wonder if Molson is a guy who is too nice for his own good and therefore doesn't want to drop the axe like he should.

HabsFan4 said...

kmaxx, I thank you for the nice words and invite you to travel around the world in my yacht.

zaza: Well said, prostitution is a problem.

Darth, all good points.

Steve: can you repeat that?

HabsFan4 said...

And Juce, I love you too.