2011 Heritage Classic - Spectator Plaza Day 2

Soon-to-be-former Canadiens president discusses team’s problems with language barrier

If you’ve even loosely followed the history of the Montreal Canadiens, then you’re probably aware of the undercurrent of language-related political tension that surrounded the great franchise. The most obvious moment revolved around Habs legend Maurice Richard, whose 1955 suspension generated a riot after many assumed the decision was made because of Richard’s francophone heritage.

Those tensions rarely boil over on a comparable level now, but those problems still linger under the surface.

Departing Canadiens team president Pierre Boivin discussed that (and many other issues, including social media and the shared experience the Canadiens create in that community) when he looked back at his career with the Habs in a discussion with the Montreal Gazette. Boivin spoke of the demand for French-Canadian representatives – both on the roster and in the front office – that creates what he called a competitive disadvantage.

“If you had a star francophone player, nobody would be counting. You could have two – a star and a fourth-liner, and everybody would be happy. If you don’t have the star, then they want seven or eight, because it’s all about sens d’appartenance (a sense of belonging).

“If it’s a star, a Maurice (Richard), a Jean (Béliveau), a Guy (Lafleur), a Patrick (Roy), that’s all they need to feel the cultural and linguistic connection. If they don’t have the star, they want a whole bunch (of francophones) because one day they hate them, the other day they love them.”

(snip)

The team’s general manager and coach should be bilingual, he says, which means the Habs “are severely competitively disadvantaged.”

Added Boivin: “There’s one general manager in the league this year who speaks French and he’s in Montreal. If Pierre Gauthier gets hit by a bus, what does (team owner) Geoff Molson do? Every other team says: ‘There are 29 others out there, how many contracts are up?’ Thirty assistant GMs might be prepared to step up, like a Steve Yzerman (in Tampa), and then there’s 30 AHL managers.

“So they have a pool of 90, (even if) not all are good or are available. We have a pool of three, four, five maybe? Sometimes none? It’s the same thing with coaches. And that’s a huge disadvantage when human capital is your most important asset. So we have to groom them.”

On the bright side, the Canadiens organization has indeed shown an aptitude for grooming successful coaches, even if other NHL teams often reap the benefits. The Montreal Gazette points out that three (Guy Boucher, Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault) of the four bench bosses in the 2011 conference finals coached the Habs and/or one of their farm clubs at some point in their careers.

Yet that coaching problem underscores the team’s decades-long dilemma. Leaning toward French-Canadians was fine in the team’s golden era in which they could poach young players without having to worry about the NHL draft and faced a smaller quantity of bidders for that talent. Now that the sport is more international than ever (and boasts 29 other teams), having to meet an unspoken quota of francophone players must feel like a burden.

Perhaps the team won’t be able to break through until they groom a general manager with a stubborn and unyielding view to simply construct the best team possible, regardless of cultural or political factors. That would take a very brave individual who deflects criticism with a deft touch. It won’t be easy to “groom” such a person, though.

(Be sure to check out the full article from the Montreal Gazette, which includes additional – and fascinating – insight from Boivin.)

Video: Tempers flare between Oilers and Predators, as Lucic and McLeod drop the gloves

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Things got feisty between the Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators on Friday.

It started in the second period after P.K. Subban took an elbow from Matt Hendricks along the end boards. Hendricks was immediately grabbed by Anthony Bitetto. Nothing really materialized from that, however the main event broke out between Milan Lucic and Nashville newcomer Cody McLeod.

Lucic landed some pretty heavy punches before the two players fell to the ice.

Video: Cam Ward loses it on Hornqvist, Hurricanes suffer ’embarrassing’ loss to Penguins

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Cam Ward had enough.

The Carolina Hurricanes goalie seemed particularly ticked off with Patric Hornqvist on Friday, twice taking out his frustrations in front of the net on the Pittsburgh Penguins forward.

Earlier in the game, Ward delivered a slash to the back of Hornqvist’s leg. In the third period, with the Hurricanes down five goals — that should give you an indication of what kind of night this was for Carolina — Ward snapped, delivering a punch with the blocker to Hornqvist after he slid into the Hurricanes puck stopper a split second after Evgeni Malkin jammed the puck in for a goal.

The final score? A 7-1 disaster of a loss to the Penguins, highlighted by Pittsburgh’s second-period offensive outburst. Ward played the entire game, allowing seven goals on 41 shots.

Carolina’s night also included star forward Jeff Skinner getting benched for the third period, after he took a pair of minor penalties — embellishment and unsportsmanlike conduct — in the second period.

“That’s pretty embarrassing. You don’t want to suffer a loss like that, especially in your home building,” Skinner told reporters.

The Hurricanes entered this game with a chance to jump into a wild card spot in the East.

Last week, the Hurricanes won four in a row, including a victory over Columbus, and continued their steady rise into the playoff hunt in the East. This week? It’s included losses to the Blue Jackets and Penguins.

The Hurricanes won’t have much time to think about this one. They travel to Columbus for a game Saturday evening.

With Claude Julien on the hot seat, Bruins lose late heartbreaker to Blackhawks

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The Boston Bruins have now lost three in a row, a losing streak that coincides with reports circulating that head coach Claude Julien’s job security is in jeopardy.

The bad news just keeps piling up for the Bruins: They’ve been shut out twice this week, as scoring continues to be an issue in Boston. They’re 22nd in the league in that category.

On Friday, the Bruins had their chances and once again held the edge in puck possession against the Chicago Blackhawks, finishing the game with 19 more shot attempts then the visitors, per hockeystats.ca.

But they couldn’t beat Scott Darling, who made 30 saves, and the real dagger came late in the third period when Marian Hossa scored off the rush with just over one minute remaining in regulation. Boston couldn’t even salvage a point out of this contest, losing 1-0.

The Bruins were all over the Blackhawks in the first period. They held a wide edge in shots on goal, but the Blackhawks were able to escape on the strength of some solid goaltending. They just hung around, and were able to break through in the third period.

The Bruins are still in a playoff position in the Atlantic Division. They are the top puck possession team in the league (although they have the second lowest shooting percentage at five-on-five) and Julien has had plenty of success behind that bench, helping guide the organization to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011 and a run to the Final in the lockout shortened campaign.

It would seem unfair to pin this roster’s shortcomings on the coach, especially given the offseason plans initially set out by Bruins management.

Though this loss likely puts Claude Julien Watch on high alert.

Sabres’ McCabe suffers shoulder injury, will not return versus Red Wings

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The Buffalo Sabres will be down a defenseman for the remainder of Friday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Jake McCabe has left the game due to a shoulder injury suffered during the first period and will not return, the club stated during the second period.

Signed to a three-year, $4.8 million contract extension last summer, the 23-year-old McCabe has one goal and 10 points in 44 games this season for Buffalo

More recently, McCabe drew the immediate ire of the Winnipeg Jets after he delivered an open-ice hit on rookie Patrik Laine, who suffered a concussion on the play.