[This is a bit belated, since I began writing it while I was away, but I think it retains some relevance. Anyway, I've got a lot of essays/rants/hypotheses in the pipeline right now and might as well post some of them.]
After 4 points in 4 games, and earning the instant adulation of myself and countless other Canadiens fans, Maxim Lapierre was abruptly sent back down to
But something about this situation keeps nagging at me, all day, as I finish up my Christmas shopping, as I wrap presents in front of a Wolves game on local cable. The real problem, I decide, isn’t money at all. It’s space and loyalty, the deep question of what players owe to a team and what a team owes to its players, and the peripheral question of what fans owe to both.
In brief, as players recover from injuries and return to play, there aren’t enough slots for everyone. As the situation sat at that point, the Canadiens were a team with enough forwards to make 5 offensive lines. The status quo had been something to the effect of Latendresse-Koivu-Ryder, Kovalev-Plekanec-Samsonov, Perezhogin-Bonk-Johnson, and Murray-Begin-Downey. But then Bouillon and Dandenault need to get worked back into the lineup after missing a ton of time to injuries, so Carbonneau drops
It’s like a very horrible game of musical chairs. Somebody’s got to go. The only question remains who and why.
Now, every Habs fan had, and probably still has, very strong opinions about this. But I was a little shocked and troubled by my own initial position. After all my protestations of loyalty to the team-as-is, after all my disgust at the pervasive trade rumors and the mercenary nature of some fans, which I thought was so genuine, I was absolutely entranced with Lapierre and outraged that they didn’t keep him. I knew, for certain, that the consequences of keeping him would be
But it’s not that easy, it can’t be. The season is too long and the nature of individual games too variable. The same player can be the star of one game and a total embarrassment in the next. Even streaks, either the good or the bad variety, are only true until they aren’t- Latendresse went pointless for a good long while before he began to put up numbers, but has been improving and finding consistency since his first goal, becoming an important and reliable contributor. There are rewards to be had for putting faith in the right players, for patience and loyalty on the part of the team. There’s a necessary quid pro quo on every hockey team- players give their best efforts in exchange for a certain commitment from the management that they will be taken care of through their injuries and slumps. Such support never lasts forever, but it has to exist, otherwise the team loses stability and chemistry from too much turnover. Beyond this, there’s something to be said for an ethic of loyalty, a team’s willingness to place trust in its players as reward for hard work in the past. In this sense,
The personal problem for me is, as much as I love the Habs, I feel nothing for either
I think I finally understand how all those trade-fantasy-prone Habs fans feel. I used to wonder how they could be so callous towards the players who, after all, make the team what it is. After the whole Lapierre situation, I wondered even more about my own ungenerous spirit. And I don’t think I really found the answer until earlier this week, when I came across Tapeleg’s brand new manifesto on the brand new incarnation of
Serious fans, and even many unserious ones, somehow lose the ability to understand where they end and the team begins. This claiming of the team as part of ourselves, or ourselves as part of the team, isn’t just a slip or a verbal shortcut, it’s the way we really feel. And because we feel somehow so close, we feel the right to judge, to determine who is worthy of admittance to ‘our’ community, for players and other fans alike. Witness the easy willingness of fans to dismiss some in their midst as ‘bandwagoners’ or ‘puckbunnies’, two terms that exist solely to suggest that some forms of fanaticism are innately superior to others. Players, too, are judged, and I suspect that the more players one outlasts as a fan, the higher one’s standards become. The trade-happy fans aren’t cold-hearted, they just see Samsonov, or Kovalev, or Aebischer, or Johnson, or whoever, the same way I see
This may be an ugly habit, and a little bit delusional, but it is at bottom the product of an abiding and admirable devotion, it is the dark side of the same love that makes fans so important to the sport. The players, however, are even more important, and it is perhaps not too much to ask that we temper our haughtier judgments with compassion and an ethic of loyalty, even to those players we cannot bring ourselves to genuinely like. It is not as though such a moderate respect will ruin the team- remember, we have no power over them, and moreover hockey is a business that won’t keep an unproductive player around for too long when there are better options available.
So I am doing my very, very best to give Murray and Downey the basic respect they are due, even when they get it ridiculous fights, even when they slow things down. I try to give them credit for all the hard work they have put towards the team. They are, even at 5 minutes of ice time a game, a thousand times more important to the Montreal Canadiens than I will ever be.
But the worse parts of me are just killing time, waiting for Lapierre to come back.
If I wasn’t at least a little bit hypocritical, I wouldn’t be a hockey fan.