MONTREAL, CANADA - APRIL 26: A Montreal Canadiens fan reacts to a goal being waved off in a game between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on April 26, 2011 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
In Montreal, the emphasis has quickly shifted from the on-ice success of the Canadiens to a cultural tug-of-war between societal interests. By letting those interests have a voice, the Habs are threatening their future success.
"Un Perdont De Moins."
Those few words spoke volumes as they sat stamped on the front page of Friday's edition of Le Journal de Montreal, begging the attention of anyone who would care to look.
In the background, the main photo on the page was former Montreal Canadien Mike Cammalleri, looking as forlorn as ever.
Translated, the headline reads "One Less Loser," an obvious play on Cammalleri's comments made back on Wednesday when he said the Canadiens had a "losing mentality," sitting in last place in the Division.
A losing mentality.
Perhaps Cammalleri was wise beyond his years, and he wasn't just talking about the team in the locker room that went out on the ice and played 60 minutes of hockey. Maybe he was talking about an organization that has become so fixed on what they were, that they can't leave the past behind during the bad times and look to what they could improve to be.
Instead of a front office that could thrive off their well-formed decisions and adjustments to the team, they apologize and backtrack to an old tradition that leaves more than a few players, coaches and fans scratching their heads. In fact they are so desperate to fit into the identity of the franchise that existed decades ago -- the days of the Montreal power house -- that the harder they try to get back to that, the more and more desperate and frantic they look.
And people have noticed.
Following the morning skate, Cammalleri tried to clarify his comments, saying that he was heated and his comments were taken the wrong way. Even teammate Hal Gill agreed with his comments saying, "It's truth. Unless you're winning, you're losers. We have to find a way to do the right things consistently so we can get those wins. Then we'll be winners."
Though Cammalleri went on to say he loved Montreal and hoped to spend an extended period of time there for years to come (he just finished building a house in Montreal), the damage had been done, despite the fact that players on the team said they were behind him and were sticking together no matter what.
"We talked about it with him," teammate Max Pacioretty said. "I talked about it with him. I heard his side of the story and it's always a little bit different than what you read. I think Mike has a good heart and he wants to win games. We all do. Sometimes things get spun out of control, especially when you're losing games.
"We're behind Mike 100 percent. We're behind everyone else on the team 100 percent. We've got to stick together right now, and that's going to help us win games."
Yet just nine hours later, those same teammates were left dumbfounded in the same locker room, enduring the cruelty of yet another loss, and doing so without one of their top scorers.
Cammalleri had 22 points in 38 games for the Habs but evidently was good trade fodder for GM Pierre Gauthier in the middle of Thursday's game. Though Gauthier ensured the media that the trade was not expedited by Cammalleri's comments, Cammalleri was removed from the bench after the second period of a tight 1-0 game and sent to the team hotel before the end of the game. He was traded to the Flames not long after the final horn sounded.
Though none of the Canadiens knew the situation and therefore declined to comment, one former Montreal player spoke up about watching from the outside in and seeing the struggles of the franchise this year. Current Bruins forward Benoit Pouliot, who played for the Canadiens the last two years, said that these are some of the toughest times for any team, but especially a team that has the pressure of an entire nation on their shoulders.
"They are having a tough year and it's not easy for the players and everyone else up there," Pouliot said. "But when you are in desperate mode and you don't know really what to do or what's going to happen, you make some moves or make something happen. You have to switch something up to get back in the winning column.
"It's probably good for [Cammalleri] to get out of there with everything that's happened."
Cammalleri isn't the first person to receive the boot after the flailing Habs failed to compete. Former head coach Jacques Martin said his goodbyes to the team back in December after Gauthier said many of the same comments. The team wasn't competing well, and the blame was put on Martin's style and the team's lack of finish in any given game.
Gauthier looked for answers, but when the franchise and fanbase called for blood, he stopped standing behind one of the most winningest coaches in NHL history. He simply let him go, much to the surprise of his own players.
And without so much as a blink of an eye, he named Randy Cunneyworth -- an Anglophone native of Toronto -- interim head coach.
Firing Martin was one thing, but in an attempt to make right the wrongs of the organization, Gauthier once again caved to the popular opinions of the city and created even more turmoil for the Canadiens. Without even coaching a single game, Cunneyworth was already thrown to the wolves, coming up with strategies to support his case against Montreal cultural societies instead of focusing on his real job: winning games for a hurting club.
News came out that he didn't speak French and immediately protests were threatened, boycotts were announced and Montreal seemingly no longer cared about winning hockey games. It became a soap box for cultural seniority.
Not only did they continue to lose, but it became evident that they were lost.
Instead of fielding questions about upcoming games, Cunneyworth dealt with how he was going to survive in Montreal without "knowing" Montreal. He was forced to go double duty, vowing and promising the entire province that he would learn the language on top of providing sound leadership for the hockey franchise.
And there was no point in looking for support from Gauthier either. In a press conference, he promised that the "permanent coach" would most definitely be bilingual, a clear lack of confidence for the interim coach.
And for what? To maintain and uphold the existence of French-speaking coaches in Montreal -- winning record or not.
Current Montreal forward Max Pacioretty, native of New Caanan, Conn., was one of the first to feel for his new head coach. Pacioretty, who doesn't know French, does know the culture in Montreal, and feels like when it comes to hockey, it shouldn't matter.
"I feel for him big time because on the outside looking in, it looks like a no-win situation [for Cunneyworth]," Pacioretty said. "He's a big reason for my success and the reason I'm in the NHL right now. He helped me out a lot in the minors last year and he was a good, big reason for my success at the beginning of this year. So anytime you see a guy under the radar like that who's a great guy and a great coach, it's tough to see but it just shows that us in the room have to stick together and win for him to take the pressure off him a little bit."
Pouliot, who is fluent in French, experienced playing in Montreal for two years and agreed with Pacioretty, saying that while the Canadiens having success on the ice should be the main concern for all involved.
"The way the Montreal Canadiens and Province of Quebec -- obviously they take pride in the French a lot and it's good, you wanna keep the language and everything," Pouliot said. "But, would you rather have a winning team or just, you know? It's tough, but maybe it will catch on and switch it up, but as long as the Canadiens are winning, that should their main concern."
But with the 3-7-0 record Cunneyworth has put up since his promotion, the nay-sayers have come out in full force and have even threatened to stop endorsing Molson products to get back at owner Geoff Molson. They've even gone so far as to suggest local hockey writers not address him in English -- an obvious attempt at showcasing nationalistic supremacy.
"It's miserable," Habs defenseman Hal Gill said. "Your food doesn't taste good. It affects your whole life. And it's frustrating. We want to win. We're in the business of winning. If you don't win, then things change and people get upset. It's no good for anyone. We want to win."
With the Habs record currently below .500, the Montreal fan base needs to stop looking at the past as a blue print, trying to relive the glory days of old. As with anything, they need to learn from the past, use what they have found to be vital and valuable to success while adapting to the modern-day NHL.
If the current trend continues, not only will you have a frustrated fan base and a frustrated province, but the Habs history, legacy and reputation could be lost in a disappointing future that holds no room for that tradition to grow.