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.)

Simmonds tells AV ‘I’m not a dirty player,’ says he had ‘no intention of hurting’ McDonagh with punch

Toronto Maple Leafs v Philadelphia Flyers
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Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds has taken exception to criticisms from Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, in the wake of Simmonds concussing Blueshirts captain Ryan McDonagh with a punch over the weekend.

“Vigneault can say whatever he wants. He’s the coach, that’s his opinion,” Simmonds said, per CSN Philly. “I don’t really care. I’m protecting myself; guy comes to cross check you in the head. I didn’t know what he expected. I had no intention of hurting him and I feel bad about that. That’s not what I want.

“I may play physical and I like to take the body. I fight occasionally. But by no means am I a dirty player, trying to run around and injure guys.”

Simmonds was tossed from Saturday’s game after punching McDonagh, but wasn’t suspended by the league. McDonagh missed New York’s next game — Monday’s 2-1 win over the Devils — and the lack of supplemental discipline incident irked Vigneault, who had words for both the officials and Simmonds.

“An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said following the Flyers game, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences?”

At this point, it’s probably worth noting the Flyers and Rangers play each other on Sunday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Worth circling that one on the ol’ calendar, methinks.

Goalie nods: ‘The losses have gotten to’ Dubnyk, so Wild turn to Kuemper

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Devan Dubnyk has started Minnesota’s last four games — all of them losses — so in an effort to try and right the ship, head coach Mike Yeo is going with Darcy Kuemper against Dallas this evening.

“This has definitely not been Dubnyk’s fault,” Yeo said of the Wild’s losing skid, per the Pioneer Press. “Even watching his game and evaluating it closely afterwards, I’m not going to say he’s playing badly. He’s not. But you can tell he’s grinding right now like everybody. The losses have gotten to him.

“Kuemper has been part of this, but not to that level, so he’s probably got a little bit of a different mindset and a little bit of a fresher mind coming into the game.”

Kuemper has been pretty solid this year, going 5-2-4 with a .928 save percentage and 2.06 GAA. That said, he’s only made four appearances in 2016 and his last was a brief one, playing just over 11 minutes in relief against the Isles.

For Dallas, Kari Lehtonen is likely to get the start.

Elsewhere…

— No definitive announcements out of Boston, but Tuukka Rask is likely for the Bruins, and Jonathan Quick is likely for the Kings.

— It’s Roberto Luongo for the Panthers in Buffalo. Sabres are going with Robin Lehner.

Cory Schneider‘s going back-to-back for the Devils after stopping 35 shots in a loss to the Rangers on Monday. Cam Talbot starts for the Oilers.

John Gibson is not going back-to-back after getting shelled by Pittsburgh last night. Frederik Andersen starts in Philly, Steve Mason for the Flyers.

— Columbus will keep rolling with Joonas Korpisalo as it hosts the Islanders. Jaroslav Halak gets the nod after getting hooked against the Red Wings over the weekend.

Ben Scrivens will look to win his third game in a row when the Habs host the Bolts. Ben Bishop‘s in for Tampa Bay.

— Barry Trotz heads back to Nashville and will continue rolling with Braden Holtby in goal. Trotz’s former workhorse, Pekka Rinne, starts for the Preds.

— It’s Connor Hellebuyck versus Brian Elliott as the Blues host the Jets in St. Louis.

— Good matchup in Chicago tonight, as the in-form Corey Crawford starts for the ‘Hawks. The Sharks will counter with Martin Jones.

— After Ryan Miller started the last four, Jacob Markstrom goes for the Canucks in Colorado. The Avs are starting Semyon Varlamov.

— Fresh off today’s blockbuster Dion Phaneuf trade, the undermanned Leafs are going with James Reimer in goal in Calgary. The Flames will give Jonas Hiller another start after he beat Vancouver on Saturday night.

Here’s what TCF Bank Stadium will look like for Minnesota’s outdoor game

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What you’re looking at is an architectural rendering of TCF Bank Stadium for the upcoming outdoor game between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, Feb. 21.

The current forecast for that day in Minneapolis is a high of 27° F and a low of 19° F, with only a 20 percent possibility of precipitation, i.e. snow.

Which is to say, that guy in the Toews jersey is gonna be cold. At least roll up your sleeves, man. Don’t be a hero. 

The game, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET, will be broadcast live on NBC as part of Hockey Day in America, while Hockey Night In Canada and TVA Sports will have the action for the folks up north.

50 years ago today, the NHL’s ‘great expansion’ begins

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers fight during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Penguins 8-4. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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“This is the year of the great expansion. For the first time, the league will be composed of twelve teams.”

Those were the words of former NHL president Clarence Campbell as he ushered in six new franchises to join the Original Six for the 1967-68 season.

We only mention this because it was 50 years ago today, in 1966, that the league awarded conditional teams to Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul and St. Louis.

(To read more, click NHL.com’s anniversary piece. The Los Angeles Times also has a story on the birth of the Kings, while CSN Philly remembers the Flyers’ beginnings.)

For all you youngsters out there, San Francisco’s team, originally named the California Seals, ended up playing in Oakland, but not for long due to attendance issues. The franchise would move to Cleveland in 1976, where in 1978 it ceased operations and merged with the North Stars.

The North Stars also eventually relocated, though that didn’t happen until 1993 when they moved to Dallas. The expansion Wild were born a few years later.

Of the five surviving franchises of the “great expansion,” only the Blues have never won the Stanley Cup.

The Flyers were the first expansion team to hoist the Cup. They did it in 1974.

Related: Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas