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But are they French enough?

July 27, 2009

It began with Saku Koivu. He had to endure the ‘French Question’ torment for a decade. It came to the point where his teammates began defending their captain from the onslaught of the French media.

With Koivu gone (along with basically everyone else whose time was apparently done), the next captain of the Montreal Canadiens will inevitably inherit the ‘French Question’. The massive turnover that characterized the Montreal Canadiens’ 2009 free agency period saw many new faces arrive in town; none of which were remotely close to la belle province. In fact, geographically speaking, the nearest “hometown boy” is Mike Cammalleri, from Richmond Hill, Ontario (gasp).

Now, coming from a French-Canadian background and studying primarily in political science and history, I can clearly see how the importance of having French-Canadians on the team (or lack thereof) is a factor that many French-Canadians take quite seriously. Long gone are the days of the legendary French-Canadian players such as Richard, Geoffrion and Lafleur. Replacing them are the likes of Alaska’s Gomez, New York’s Gionta and, of course, Toronto’s Cammalleri. Moreover, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the NHL has become the home of an increasing number of European players as well, with Montreal being no exception.

Given today’s diaspora of players that make up the NHL, combined in part with Canada’s emphasis on multiculturalism, it is difficult to imagine that the Habs will ever be the French-Canadian superstar team of years past. Rather, the Anglophones and Europeans that make up the majority of the team should reflect a new era in hockey and a discarding of old politics.

Still, the oftentimes hardline talking heads on television will yearn for their superstar French-Canadian captain, but he may never come. The reasons vary from cultural pressure to unfeasible expectations. At any rate, and for better or for worse, this is our team for the foreseeable future. Whoever the captain may be next season (if there will even be one), he will inevitably inherit the weight of the opinions of the French-Canadians media.

Perhaps it is best that we know not who the next ‘C’ will be, less the media begin to hound him before he can ever set foot on the ice.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. July 29, 2009 9:13 am

    It certainly is a hot button issue in the province of Quebec. The team has such a rich history as an organization and a rich history of having local NHL stars.

    I think that Latendress and Lapierre will be given some important roles this year and if they succeed they will at least be able to fill the void to a certain degree.

    I think many people were hopeful Tanguay would turn into a local offensive star but it wasn’t meant to be.

    I guess only time will tell. There are a few Quebec born players coming up the ranks who could find themselves on the team in the next few years.

    We’ll see.


  2. David permalink
    July 29, 2009 3:35 pm

    I think the multicultural push may be too strong considering that a provincial sports team should focus on cycling through it’s own talents before reaching outside of it’s borders. I think multiculturalism is a great idea in sports teams- but do we have that few good Quebec hockey players? Or is this just a money game? I don’t know enough about the hockey world to be sure, but i’d sure like to see a French-Canadian born captain take the C next, else we- or maybe even the NHL might be known as the League without respect for home talent.

  3. Carp permalink
    July 29, 2009 3:48 pm

    If a french Canadian took the C for Montreal they would instantly be in one of the most stressfull positions in sports. Not only playing but leading your hometown team in front of a hometown crowd would be extremely difficult. Players tend to shy away from imense amounts of pressure (not as many players wanna play for Leafs because of the media scrutiiny). Look at Rick Nash, it was rumored that he was going to come to Toronto but then this summer ends up signing an 8 year contract to stay in Columbus. He COULD have waited till his contract ran out next summer and come home to play for a team he has always wanted to; but he is playing well in Columbus by steering clear of the limelight, so he wished to stay that way.

  4. July 30, 2009 6:25 am

    To answer your initial question, my feeling is no. Not at least in the eyes of the media zealots who will be talking about this non-stop once they start filtering back to Montreal after the summer.

    But Bob Gainey has come to a very important bit of understanding, I think.

    The answer will always be no.

    If there are only 3 roster players, there are too few French Canadians. If there are 7, there are too few. 14, too few. The people who harp on about this seem to want to do it, regardless of what else is happening around the team, and so they will.

    Understanding that it will happen no matter what he does, or who he signs, Gainey has freed himself to look at other factors. He’s a brave man to test his theory – that’s all I can say…

  5. July 30, 2009 9:44 am

    I think we should not make the mistake of mixing up “french-canadian” and “french” speaking. Nobody, and I mean no-freaking-body ever questionned Peter Stastny’s lack of french canadian roots. And nobody minded his accebt either.

    It’s the whole “been ther 10 years, can’t speak the language” that’s unfortunate, really. I think the next captain will have a few years of slack on that regard, especially if he starts mumbling stuff in french and looks like he’s kinda progressing.

  6. microfox permalink
    July 30, 2009 10:46 am

    Koivu acted in a vey stupid way by not reproducing the Gary Carter’s intelligent way of dealing with the locals. All he would have had to do is learn 20 words of French and repeat them all around and everybody would have been happy. Nobody would even have asked him to do the decent thing à la Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden or Bob Gainey.

    BTW, I’m sure he learned those words but simply decided that it was not really important to use them.

  7. mizike permalink
    July 31, 2009 1:32 pm

    Thing is, the habs don’t have a ‘god-forsaken’ right on all french players. Truth is there are now 30 NHL teams and multiply that by 23 and you get 700 NHL players, not counting all of the call-ups during the season for injuries from the AHL. Back in the days of the original 6, it was easier to get more french players because, well, they were a bigger percentage of players in the NHL and there were less teams.

    If you want to see a winning team, then there may only be 2 or 3 french canadians on the team. If you want the habs to go out of there way and trade for any quebec born player you can get your hands on, well then you arn’t being objective and going for the best player most of the time. (Nothing about french or other nationalities skills, its just numbers. There arn’t that many quebec players percentage wise).

    It makes ZERO sense in the modern day NHL. And some people are living a pipe dream and are blinded by their own arrogance (ie french media).

  8. August 5, 2009 10:29 am

    @ microfox and Olivier

    Koivu could speak French. He just didn’t have the comfort level to speak it with the city and province’s backward media.

  9. August 5, 2009 11:29 am

    Just to clarify, I realize Koivu spoke French. I think some might have gotten the impression that I was not aware of that fact. At any rate, his French was elementary at best and he did not seem overly comfortable engaging in French dialogue.


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