Montreal: Not a popular destination

It should be pretty obvious to any Canadiens fan by now, Montreal is not a popular destination when it comes to free agents. What is it exactly ?

Media Pressure ?!?
Obnoxious Fans ?!?
Income Taxes ?!?

All of the above to be honest…but there are three other reasons in my opinion as to why the Canadiens are having a hard time bringing any big names in Montreal.1 – The System…
The Canadiens are not the New Jersey Devils, but they are closer to them than they are to Pittsburgh. When you think about Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau, you think about leadership, you think about hard work and good work ethic…but you also think about defense.

How exactly are you suppose to sell a system like this to an offensive-minded player like Daniel Brière ? How is it suppose to be appealing to a Brendan Shanahan or a Patrik Elias ? Alexei Kovalev spent the whole season *****ing about the fact he didn’t have a good center to play with (and rightfully so) but he didn’t help himself by making those comments in the media. I’m not putting all the blame on Kovalev, but how are we suppose to get you the player you so desperately need if you make that kind of statement ?

Now the system itself is the problem…and the team needs to realize that, and work on their “identity”. They need to let their best players take chances, and put some points on the boards. Because right now, the general feeling around the league is that you just can’t be succesful offensively in Montreal…it just can’t happen !

2 – The Veterans…
Believe me, I’m thrilled about the young guys we have in Montreal and Hamilton, and I think we have a bright future ahead of us. And, while it should be pretty easy to sell to the players, it’s also a weakness…

I was watching TSN’s coverage today, and heard Joe Thornton saying that he personally called Ryan Smyth today. Joe Sakic did the same thing and, apparently, had a better pitch. Martin Biron and Simon Gagné spoke with Daniel Brière and it made a difference. And something tells me Brendan Shanahan did the same thing in New York, eventhough he’s an unrestricted free agent…for now.

Now I’m not even sure the Canadiens are doing this. I’m not sure they are asking Koivu and Kovalev to be involved in the process. Remember last year when the Canadiens were pushing for Shanahan. George Gillett, Pierre Boivin and Bob Gainey all met with him. But I don’t remember hearing about Koivu or Kovalev trying to sell the team to the big winger ?

And even if they did…Koivu and Kovalev can’t bring the same “credibility” than a Joe Sakic, a Rob Blake or a Steve Yzerman back in the days. And since they don’t have a young franchise player like a Corsby or an Ovechkin, they can’t sell their future as well as the Pens or the Caps.

3 – The Hometown Effect…
It used to be a factor…it’s not anymore. We saw it with LeCavalier when he signed another deal with Tampa, we saw it with Martin Lapointe when he signed with Boston, and we saw it again with Daniel Brière. Just because someone grew up watching the Canadiens, it doesn’t mean he’ll do whatever it takes to play for them.

They’re paid millions to “play” a sport, but they’re not freakin’ stupid ! You think they have no idea what kind of treatment Patrice Brisebois got ? You think they forgot how José Théodore went from hero to zero ? Guy Carbonneau, back when he was our captain, was kicked out of Montreal ! And it happened with a lot of other player during the Houle-Tremblay era.

No matter if they are born in Quebec or not, all the players in the league are pretty aware that, if they’re good, they’ll be worshipped here. But they have to be right away, from the start; ask Sergei Samsonov. Playing in front of a sellout crowd in Montreal when the team is succesful must be an awesome feeling. But the team isn’t right now, so anyone signing with the team can expect a pretty rough start…

The best and only way to go…
The Canadiens, in my opinion, have no other choice; if they want to get their hands on good players, they’ll have to trade for them. They do have some good prospects, and they can afford to trade a few of them.

The salary cap, eventhough it went up again, is the Canadiens best friend right now. With a little less than $20m in cap room, they can afford to take some salaries. The best free agents signed today, meaning that some teams out of panic (like the Canadiens last season) will start to overpay for some “big names” ala Zubrus, Guerin, Bertuzzi, Nolan, Souray, Hamrlik, etc…

Now we don’t know yet who these teams are going to be, but the Canadiens need to target them first, and make something happen. Play the waiting game; if San Jose signs someone, keep on asking about Marleau. If Calgary signs one of the remaining “big names”, ask about Tanguay who, according to TSN and RDS, could be available (although it was back when Calgary was trying to get Smyth). This is, in my opinion, the only way you can go now…because none of the remaining free agents can bring you what you need…CREDIBILITY !