Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Things We Could and Couldn’t Do

How can you trade away a piece of your team’s heart? How can you summarily dismiss 12 years of complete loyalty? How can you turn your back on a good friend?

How can you keep an increasingly weak player? How can you value intangibles over the game on the ice? How can you build a better future team if you’re restrained by emotional commitments to the players you already have?

We who follow the Habs have known for a while that Craig Rivet might be traded, and there had already been considerable debate amongst fans about the value of that decision. It was a difficult, wrenching discussion, since it almost completely centered on the concept of ‘intangibles’. From the point of view of the game itself, moving Rivet for a younger defenseman and a high draft pick is a nearly brilliant deal, especially because many believe it is only the first step towards a bigger and better deal. Rivet is moderately expensive and one of the Habs’ many impending UFAs in the off-season, so it frees cap space and ‘gets us something’ for a player we might have lost anyway. Moreover, Rivet has been having a poor year- paired with Souray they comprised the team’s weakest defensive pair, and Rivet lacks a Souray-like upside to balance his value.

The intangibles, however, are compelling. Rivet had played 12 years with the Canadiens, longer than anyone else, an impossibly long time in Montreal. He was an alternate captain and made that mean something, had a reputation as a good leader and a ‘team guy’. He was Koivu’s best friend. He’s never played for anyone else. People said, he bleeds bleu-blanc-rouge, he would do anything for this team. It was offten suggested that, unlike any of the other Habs’ UFAs, he would have taken a pay cut to stay. Of course, like all rumors, it’s not certain whether that’s true, but it says something about the kind of person Rivet is that almost everyone believed it. If anyone was a real, unquestionable, 100% Hab, it was him.

What is the value of these intangibles? What do you pay for heart, grit, loyalty, for friendship, leadership, team spirit? How many bad turnovers do you forgive, how many misdirected passes? And when he drops his gloves to defend a teammate, do you forget a thousand tiny lapses in play because of that great passion for the team which seems to be, in the rawest moments, of such overmastering importance?

That’s the tangle of the question: For any fan who wants the Habs to do well, this is a great deal. Gorges, the new player acquired in the exchange, will likely play a similar role on the ice, although not in the dressing room, and is not likely to do any worse for us in the coming games. Given that the Habs have been without Rivet for a couple of weeks now due to pneumonia, we already know somewhat how the team looks without him. It’s a deal that manages the incredible feat of seeming like neither buying nor selling- it benefits the team’s future without compromising its present.

But no matter what the strategic value, it’s still a difficult move to stomach. Montreal is not a place where many are anxious to play, no matter what they might say. One gets the feeling sometimes that they all slightly wish they could leave- there are so many teams that could offer them more money and less pressure, better weather and a real shot at the Cup. There’s something comforting about those rare players who seem to really love being here, something romantic about the idea of a guy playing his entire career in one place. It was almost as though Rivet was both a player and a fan, a man who had the same affection for and devotion to the team that we have, who wanted to be there as much as we imagine we would, if only we were good enough.

The paradox is that the great virtue of Craig Rivet was that he would sacrifice anything for the Habs- so we were told, and so we believed- but in the end he himself was the thing that had to be sacrificed. It is, in some way, the fact that we share his ethic, his commitment, his loyalty, that we can accept this deal, because it is ultimately good for the Canadiens’ future. All we want is what’s best for the team, although we sometimes see only dimly what that is, although sometimes the choices involved are painful. And it is painful, for of all those who have played for our Montreal Canadiens, he was ours in a way that few others are. It is deeply shocking to see him in a different colored uniform, a sort of through-the-looking-glass experience that suggests the world has changed in a very fundamental way. Perhaps that, too, is part of the reason he was traded- so that we would all know that the team is changing, that it will not drift from mediocrity into mediocrity. The Canadiens, this tells us, have a direction and a purpose, they are going somewhere, and this is probably only the first of many shocks in the days, months, and years to come.

Aristotle said that change is sweet, and I hope this one proves to be. I hope that Rivet enjoys the opportunity to play with a young, talented team. The Sharks, it is said, could use a player with experience, and heart, and grit, and all those many intangibles that served our Habs so well for so long. I hope he enjoys the playoffs that he is now certain of going to, and likely to go far in. And I’m excited to see our new blue-line bachche, and what Gainey might be planning to do with that draft pick and the cap space. I am grateful, too, that I now have a reason to watch Sharks games, an anchor point in the Western Conference- because although Rivet is no longer a Hab, he is still one of my guys. Gainey decides the team’s loyalties, but not mine, not any fan's, and I do believe that, however much the trade is welcomed, he will still be loved in Montreal, and greatly missed.

Bslama, habibi. Enjoy the California stars.


Julian said...

It's the circle of life E. You'll (unfortunately?) get used to pretty soon over the next 24 hours or so.

kazmojo said...

Well put E. Somehow you always manage to corral all the conflicting emotions of being a Hab fan.

My only hope is that somehow Rivet makes it back to Montreal next year. Souray and Niinimaa will almost definitely be gone, and the Habs will need a 7th dman -- one with the veteran grit and experience that the Sharks coveted.

Julian said...

Your post actually did make me think a little more seriously that my first post might indicate E, and I ended up writing something myself which concerns how important a career one-team player might be worth to a franchise as a marketing tool or myth-creator. Using my own Oilers as an example of course.

It needs some editing, but I didn't really think about it too much beforehand and it's somewhat time sensitive.

Erik said...

It's a nice article, but I think you're seriously overestimating Gorges' value as a player. Rivet was at least a top-6 blueliner, probably a top-4; Gorges, on the other hand, barely got any time in a defensive corps a sight worse than Montreal. All he was, in this deal, was a device to pick up the 2008 pick, and not a lot more.

Julian actually brings up an interesting point with regards to the one-team player - there's a reason Steve Yzerman is so highly regarded in Detroit, and part of that is because he was Detroit through-and-through, there for his entire career. Martin Brodeur is gaining a similar legacy with the Devils because he is New Jersey through and through. Mats Sundin is technically a one-team player, but he's been with the team for twelve seasons, and he is Mr. Toronto.

Julian said...

Your post hits home even moreso now.

It's 6:30am, and i don't think i'll go to bed quite yet. Thank god tomorrow (today) is a holiday here.

There are players you just don't trade sometimes. Edmonton seems to do it anyway.

Robert L said...

Rivet was a part of the team clique and too cozy with the media about what goes on behing closed dressing room doors. That's what his benching in January was about and part of why he's gone. Coaches do not like players who think they have a run of the team. With this trade, Gainey has assured players that the boss is Carbo. I predict small pieces of dressing room dirt on the Habs eminating from San Jose soon enough.

E said...

erik- i don't think anyone knows much of anything for certain about gorges yet. i've heard all sorts of conflicting opinions, so i figure might as well be positive until i see for myself.

robert- if rivet was really leaking dressing room dirt to the media, than the habs are without question the lamest team in the league gossip-wise. all the other teams got all kinda weird gossip about sex and drugs and various delinquent behavior, but all that ever seems to circulate about the habs is stuff like souray-hates-kovalev, which i think we all pretty much knew anyway. anyway, even if rivet is a gossip, he's probably going to find a depressing lack of media interest in san jose about whatever habs-related goodies he might have to dish.

julian- i don't know what to say, except i'm so sorry.