Jack Todd: NHL s ugly November a reminder that winning isn t everything

Jack Todd: NHL s ugly November a reminder that winning isn t everything
First, there was Don Cherry spitting his bile into the camera, attacking “you people” for allegedly failing to buy poppies.

Somewhere in there, the ill-named Department of Player Safety dropped the ball after repeat offender Robert Bortuzzo of the St. Louis Blues repeatedly cross-checked and injured the Predators’ Viktor Arvidsson. Bortuzzo drew a laughable four-game suspension.

All that dimmed in the wake of allegations from the once-promising young player Akim Aliu, who charged Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters had verbally abused him with some of the nastiest racist comments you will ever hear. The scandal exposed some of the seamier aspects of hockey culture in ways that will be felt for a decade or more.

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien (right) speaks with associate coach Kirk Muller during practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Nov. 27, 2019. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Finally, Sportsnet trotted out MacLean to take part in a panel on diversity. So here you have the guy who for a quarter century enabled Cherry in his ceaseless attacks on every aspect of diversity — and you bring him out to talk about diversity. There are no words.

Closer to home, as the Canadiens’ winless skid reached seven games with a Saturday afternoon loss to the Flyers on home ice, fans were calling for pink slips to be issued to everyone in the organization from Youppi! to Geoff Molson.

I don’t blame the fans for being frustrated. There are some holes Marc Bergevin should have closed, especially at left defence, and Claude Julien has had better stretches behind the bench. Some games, like the odd-man-rush loss to New Jersey, are simply inexplicable. In others, particularly against Philadelphia, the Canadiens have played well and still lost. It happens.

But a GM and a coach can take a team only so far. When your goalie isn’t stopping pucks, you’re a fool. When he is, a Patrick Roy can make a Jean Perron look like a genius. If there has been a real problem this season, it’s there: in the crease.

In these parts, the fans blame everyone else — but at $15 million per season, Carey Price is supposed to cover up some of those mistakes. An .897 save percentage and a 3.19 goals-against going into last night’s game in Boston isn’t going to get it done — and it has been much worse of late.

If Price has hit the same career wall that appears to have taken down his buddy P.K. Subban, the Canadiens need to go full rebuild and hope Cayden Primeau is the second coming of Ken Dryden, that Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki can fill the net and that a couple of the young defencemen can close the gaping holes on the blue line.

Either way, it’s going to require patience. Building a championship team has never been easy. Building one in the 21st century, with a 31-team league about to expand to 32 in a multibillion-dollar business, is like trying to build the pyramids with a teaspoon: it takes patience.

Given a consistent effort, a high level of competence, a quantum of luck and a great deal of patience, your management team might get you there. A revolving door will not. There is no better recipe for failure than to start handing out pink slips every time you hit a slump.

I covered it for a decade beginning in 1994. Firing after firing, GM after GM, coach after coach, and the team kept getting worse until Bob Gainey managed to at least slow the bleeding — but Gainey himself was far too quick on the trigger in firing his coaches.

Bergevin is a good GM. He has brought in Philip Danault, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber, Max Domi, Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia — all acquired through deft trades. He was able to turn his biggest mistake at the draft table, Alex Galchenyuk, into Domi. A fair return on a No. 3 pick.

Meanwhile, does it matter Julien is a quality human being, one of the best in the game? I think it does. Now more than ever. Look at a Bill Peters and you understand immediately that winning is not everything. Peters has plunged three organizations (the Flames, the Hurricanes and the as-yet-unborn Seattle franchise) into an escalating crisis.

Julien will never embarrass your organization. He will never abuse or mistreat a player, verbally or physically. He will never be a jerk to the media or the fans. Obviously, setting the bar at “better than Bill Peters” is pretty low, but Julien has won a Stanley Cup and he is one of the most respected coaches in the league, on and off the ice.
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