As another disappointing season comes to an end, the language issue surrounding this team has reared its ugly head once again.
Oh but don't get me wrong. I'm a Francophone. I get the reality of Montreal, of Quebec. I mean, some could argue, rightly, that there are hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of non-Francophone fans of the bleu, blanc, rouge around the province, country and world, but it's a moot point to most people here. The fact is, the majority of Quebecers, especially outside the GMA, have a limited grasp of the English language. They also see themselves and identify with "des gars de chez nous".
It's also critical that the Canadiens show the way, act as leaders, in giving young Francophones hope that they could one day be coaches or general managers in the best league in the world. To give young local talent role models. I get all that.
But at what point does it hinder their chances of building a winning franchise? Réjean Houle, André Savard, Pierre Gauthier, and, currently, Marc Bergevin, had zero previous experience as general managers. They came here as apprentices, and had to learn on the job. Hardly the model you would see elsewhere. Putting someone as the key decision-maker of a multi-billion dollar corporation, with their mother tongue being the most important criteria, does not seem like a strategy that would breed success. One has to wonder if the universe or pool of candidates should not be expanded when it comes to the search for a manager, especially given the rare media appearances they make in a given season. The same (language) restriction handcuffs a GM searching for the best coach possible, although here, given their daily presence in front of the media (and by extension, their fans), the "fait français" should understandably be a given.
So how much do systemic issues that are specific to the Montreal Canadiens hurt this team's chances at, well, building a winner?
Aside from the language requirement needed to coach or manage this team there are other prevalent issues that seem to hold this franchise back.
The taxes for example, the highest of all North American cities, is another significant factor. I know, some will say yes but you make US dollars and get to spend in Canadian but honestly do most of these players buy their cars, houses, luxury toys here? Once the season ends (and of late it's been quite early in the spring) do any of them actually spend the summers here? States like Florida and Texas not only offer low taxes, but they are also affordable places to live.
The education system can also be problematic to some. If your kids have already been attending (English) school elsewhere it can't be an easy task to convince the family to move here.
Throw in the frigid weather, the different language (though you would think for some it would be appealing to bask in a different culture) and the omnipresence of fans and media (cue in Carey Price's I feel like a hermit quote from a few years back), and you have players who simply want nothing to with playing in La Belle Province.
What we've seen in the last 20 years or so, is you have fewer players wanting to sign here in the offseason, with so many adding a NTC or NMC in their contract (Montreal often finding itself "prominently" high on those lists). Another significant headwind in trying to build a winning team.
And then there's the fans of Les Glorieux, who, it is said, are highly unlikely to accept a rebuild (I have my doubts though on this front). They could never digest a complete teardown and reconstruction, even if it meant a solid foundation down the road. It is quite ironic though that this belief that because we have been spoiled with all these Stanley Cups, we couldn't tolerate a few years of mediocrity, especially considering the Habs have barely been to two semi-finals in the last 30 years.
So what can be done to address these lingering issues? Your thoughts are as good as mine.
Frankly it feels like they are such a fabric of life here, such a permanent part of our reality, that it would take a lot of effort and time to even begin to see any minor changes (though I do believe that millennials, and younger generations put less value on the language issue for one).
Until then, sadly, Les Canadiens are likely to continue to be a middling team, unable to attract superstar players, and unlikely to win anything of substance for the foreseeable future.