At the Montreal Canadiens annual pre-season golf tournament, Marc Bergevin had gotten us used to the same old line "we hope to make the playoffs". This under promise (hope to) over deliver mantra was usually followed by a number of conditions: staying healthy, Carey being Carey, our young players developing quickly, and blah blah blah. You almost wonder if management wasn't already serving up potential excuses for their players if they were to fall short of this (pathetically) low goal.
The Canadiens brass however, seemed to be taking a 180 degree turn this off season when they decided to set the bar high. Very high. Perhaps inspired by the great Michelangelo, who once said "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark", GM Marc Bergevin told fans and media that the new goal was the Stanley Cup.
In light of the Canadiens struggles these past 3 weeks, it's hard not to wonder if the bar had suddenly been raised too high. And if these heightened expectations did not put undue pressure on the team's core players.
We are after all, talking about a team which had repeatedly missed the playoffs these past few seasons, one which had collapsed under pressure in a pair of 8 game losing streaks last season. On a team with so many new players that were going to need time to gel together, were these comments really necessary? I mean, this wasn't the first time the Canadiens general manager would have been caught putting his foot in his mouth. Anyone recall his comments about if you wanted loyalty you were better off opting for a dog?
The abrupt switch from "we don't expect a whole lot, it's ok if you miss the playoffs" to "hey guys we expect you guys to be championship material" could in part explain why some of the team's key players, notably Price, Weber, and more recently Petry, seem to be struggling. After all, is it really fair to pin all the team's paltry play of late to the coaching staff and the questionable refereeing?
It just feels as though he took away their ability to "surprise" the hockey world. I mean, is it fair to expect a team that finished 24th last season (and was relatively healthy) to all of a sudden become a powerhouse because of the addition of 2 scoring wingers and a backup goalie? Was the summer playoff stint enough to certifiably say the Canadiens youngers players were ready to take a big leap forward (let's not forget Kotkaniemi's struggles last season as well as Suzuki's noticeable drop-off in the second half of the season)?
What I also find worrisome is how little fun the players appear to be having. Even when they were winning, something seemed off. And while the new coaching staff could well be the elixir that revives this moribund bunch, perhaps in the future one shouldn't be putting so much pressure on a group of athletes that frankly had had very little these past few seasons.