Warning: If you are an ardent supporter of the advanced statistics movement in hockey, the following may lead to nausea, mild back pain, and/or general discomfort:
When Marc Bergevin was hired as the Montreal Canadiens’ general manager in the 2013 off season, one of his biggest points of emphasis was adding character to the organization. A franchise that had seen its fair share of polarizing figures and off ice upheavals was in dire need of a culture change, and Bergevin was intent on doing just that.
Since then, Bergevin has added “character” guys such as Mike Weaver, Dale Weise, Daniel Briere, and Douglas Murray. Every single one of the aforementioned acquisitions was heavily scrutinized by Montreal media, questioned for either taking in aging products or for simply ignoring players such as Murray’s atrocious possession statistics.
Yet in this postseason, you could make the argument that with the exception of Murray, all of Bergevin’s signings have been instrumental in getting the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Final. Whether it be the timely scoring of Briere and Weise or the inspirational shot blocking of Weaver, their contributions rank highly in the “character” department.
In Weise’s case, (another heavily scrutinized addition, as the forward was acquired in exchange for Corsi darling Raphael Diaz), his continuous taunting of Milan Lucic throughout the Boston series had to have had an effect on the Bruins mentally. Here we have a relatively unknown depth forward sticking up to the poster boy of the “Big Bad Bruins”, defying him by mocking his puzzling arm-flex taunt at PK Subban. That kind of character won’t show up on any stat sheet, but it had to have affected the team’s belief that they could beat the best team in the Eastern Conference. And if you listen to Weise’s interviews, notably at the conclusion of the series, where he mentioned that he felt that Boston had completely disrespected them, it became clear that this guy takes this stuff seriously. There was a rattled intensity to his voice; he’s not just blowing hot air about this. Does all that matter? Maybe not in an 82 game schedule, but in a seven game death match against your arch rivals, that extra rage and intensity can perhaps lead to a couple extra battles won along the boards, or maybe a penalty drawn from wreaking havoc around the net. Hell, caring a lot seems to be a generally accepted positive trait, right?
But it’s not just the depth guys that showed character against Boston, how about P.K Subban? Rising above the racist social media hell hole and water bottle spraying to deliver one of the most memorable playoff performances by any Montreal Canadiens defenseman in franchise history speaks volumes to Subban’s confidence. The guy doesn’t just rise above the negativity, he actually seems to thrive off of it. With each scandal thrown Subban’s way this postseason, he’s only gotten better. His breakaway goal out of the penalty box in Game 3 might have been the loudest the Bell Center has been due to a goal in years. He just seems to have that ability to electrify the crowd and his teammates, a fact that shouldn’t be ignored by Montreal brass during contract negotiations this summer.
All of this brings us to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. On Tuesday morning we learned that Carey Price would miss the rest of the series, and probably into the Stanley Cup Final if the Habs are to make it that far. With Peter Budaj in net, Montreal’s sloppy defense won’t be bailed out like when Price is in net. But if you look at Game 1, even with Price in net, that wasn’t even a factor. The reality is that if the Canadiens have any hope of making this a series, let alone winning it, they’re going to have to elevate their game to heights that they might not be capable of. The roster as presently constituted is still capable of beating the Rangers, but without Price, the margin of error just became nonexistent. It’s now up to coach Michel Therrien and his staff to make all the right decisions (i.e. scratch Brandon Prust A.S.A.P), a very unpredictable prospect given how Therrien has managed his lineup throughout the post season.
There’s a lot on the line here, not just for the current hopes of the Canadiens, but also for the future of the franchise. Now Bergevin gets to see how the roster he’s assembled will perform under pressure without the Carey Price safety net. And you have to believe that this will be the defining moment in the “Dwight Howard Movie: Thomas Vanek Edition” saga: he elevates his game in the face of adversity and leads the charge to the Cup Final then perhaps he claims to bleed bleu-blanc-et-rouge and stays in Montreal, or he wilts under the pressure, gets scratched by Game 3, and ends up with the Minnesota Wild this summer like ninety percent of the hockey media has been speculating since last summer. Looking at his no show performance in Game 1, the former is looking disturbingly likely. So there you have it Habs fans, you’re about to find out what your team is really made of, and if all this “character” business is actually worth all the accolades.
For more on the Canadiens follow Felix on Twitter: @FelixSicard