One of the most sought-after free agents this year made his triumphant first appearance in front of the local media on Thursday. Erik Cole seemingly said all of the right things as he met with the (sometimes) over-bearing Montreal media. He even said the right things in the right language. Never underestimate the importance of a few French words to make a good first impression in Quebec. While skating with some kids at a summer hockey camp, he told reporters: “I am proud to play for a team that has such passionate fans,” in a local language.
He certainly knows how to make a first impression.
He continued making friends as he spoke about his excitement to play in the Bell Centre 41 times every year. It was one of the major reasons he chose to sign his 4-year, $18 million contract with Montreal on the first day of free agency.
“Playing in that building…there was always something special about it, an aura that you sensed every time you played there. The arena, the city and the fans, there’s such an energy in Montreal. It’s nice to be here and nice to get this chance. It’s strange how things work out. I’m just thrilled.”
The excitement is certainly a two-way street. The Habs were excited to successfully land a top-end player who has proven over the course of his career to be a consistent point producer. He had 26 goals and 26 assists for the Carolina Hurricanes last season while playing a top-line role. Throughout his career he’s absolutely killed the Canadiens; when healthy, he’s a guy who’s good for 20+ goals and 50+ points. Besides, it wasn’t just the points that he put up—it was the timing of his points. He was fourth in the league with 9 game-winning goals last season.
There are certainly a few question marks around Erik Cole and his ability to withstand the pressures of a Canadian hockey market. In his only professional stint outside of Carolina, Cole struggled with only 27 points in 63 for the Edmonton Oilers in 2008-09. He was traded back to Carolina towards the end of the season and like a switch had been flipped, he picked up right where he left off the season before. Many people have openly questioned whether Cole folded under the constant pressure of the hockey media in Canada. He thinks it had more to do with a new city and less to do with the specific market he joined.
“I was a player adjusting to a new environment after being with one organization for a number of years, so it took some time to get comfortable and to figure things out and to be comfortable with the coach and what he was looking for out of me. The day I got traded, the conversation with (Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini) and (coach Craig MacTavish) was that, especially over the past couple of months, it certainly wasn’t about my play because I was playing really well. It was about managing assets and that’s what they felt they needed to do. To be perfectly honest, at the time I would have been more than happy to stay.”
We’ll find out pretty quickly if he’ll be able to withstand the pressures of the Montreal media. They may love him today for his great quotes and honesty, but honeymoon periods don’t usually last very long. If he gets off to a slow start, the critics will be questioning his contract faster than you can say “bleu blanc et rouge.”
On paper he’s exactly the type of players the Canadiens need up front. In a few months, we’ll see if he’s as good as advertised.