Admit it: We're savages here in Montreal — fans and players alike

After a tough season, the Canadiens go into the final stretch with all flags flying and the fans squarely behind them

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If Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes and Martin St. Louis have achieved a minor miracle in their relatively brief time in Montreal, it is this: Nearing the end of another lost season with an early tee time in mid-April and no real drama left until the draft lottery, the atmosphere remains buoyantly optimistic.

On the scale of hockey miracles, that’s almost up there with the astonishing Stanley Cups in 1971, 1986 and 1993.

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Face it. We’re savages here in Montreal. Fans and media alike. I remember when the 1976-77 team, arguably the finest in the history of the NHL, lost two in a row on the road because several players were down with the flu and there were calls to fire Scotty Bowman and trade Ken Dryden. I recall a compositor at the Gazette in the spring of 1986, telling me that Larry Robinson was a pylon and that the Canadiens had no chance when the playoffs began.

You don’t even have to go back in history for examples. On July 7, 2021, the Canadiens lost Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final to the Tampa Bay Lighting and on Nov. 28, less than six months later, GM Marc Bergevin was fired. Head coach Dominique Ducharme was gone by Feb. 9, 2022. (I strongly supported both firings.)

It’s what separates us from Toronto, where the mighty Maple Leafs somehow managed not to win a playoff series from 2004 to 2023 yet still command both the loyalty of their fans and the lion’s share of the coverage on our “national” sports networks night after night.

In Montreal, there’s no room for error. José Théodore jokingly flips the bird at the team photographer on photo day and triggers three days of bogus talk-show outrage. Carey Price glares at Michel Therrien and sets the whole town talking.

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For now, that has changed. There are always outliers and grumblers, but the overwhelming consensus is that Gorton, Hughes and St. Louis have the team on the right path, that the future is bright, that the core is good and getting better and that the current squad is only an elite forward or two away from serious contention.

This is partly because management has already chalked up key successes, like trading for Kirby Dach or working the Sean Monahan deals for two first-round draft picks, but it’s also because they communicate so well. Hughes and St. Louis, together the public face of the franchise, could not be better.

The players also do their part. Shea Weber was a great player and captain but when he had to deal with the press, he was as surly as a rattlesnake with an itchy rattle.

Today, the top line of captain Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovský might be all-NHL in communications. They’re upbeat, sunny, optimistic and capable of speaking in complete sentences. Suzuki brings an added dimension of thoughtfulness and self-awareness rare in a player so young.

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Why is it important? Because keeping the public on your side buys you time. True rebuilds require astute decisions, a generous measure of luck – and patience.

After a tough season, the Canadiens go into the final stretch with all flags flying and the fans squarely behind them. They compete every night. They almost never coast. Their management is far more transparent and more up-front than any of their predecessors.

And guess what? Being honest and open with the media and fans actually works. Who knew?
The brawling Leafs: Do we really need this? The NHL’s season low came Saturday evening, when the Toronto Maple Leafs tried to establish their tough-guy credentials ahead of the postseason by initiating a full-scale brawl with the Buffalo Sabres following a nasty hit from Rasmus Dahlin on T.J. Brodie.

Ten players (including the obnoxious Auston Matthews) got 10-minute misconducts for the brawl, but it isn’t nearly enough. CTE is real, brawls are ridiculous and it’s high time the NHL outgrew its WWE past.

Lies, rumours &&&& vicious innuendo: The only over-under we want to see from the nauseating sports betworks is the number of times MLB photogs will catch Shohei Ohtani on the field next to Mookie Betts, yielding “Ohtani Betts” …

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Toronto’s Zach Edey has absolutely dominated March Madness this spring. Go to the NBA draft rankings, however, and you’ll find the 7-foot-4 giant ranked between 18th and 45th. Sometimes, scouts simply out-think themselves …

Thanks to resident statistician Tim Mell for pinpointing an area where the Habs need improvement: their record against the six other Canadian teams, an embarrassing 2-7-3 for a win percentage of .292. Their only wins have come against the Winnipeg Jets, one in overtime and one in a shootout.

Heroes: Cayden Primeau, Kaiden Guhle, Mike Matheson, Nick Suzuki, Juraj Slafkovský, David Savard, Zach Hyman, Sam Reinhart, Caitlin Clark, Zach Edey, Victor Wembanyama, Jannick Spinner, Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes &&&& last but not least, Martin St. Louis.

Zeros: Mark Giordano, Auston Matthews, Rasmus Dahlin, hockey brawls, Chad Kelly, Randy Ambrosie, Pinball Clemons, FanDuel, Bet 99, Kim Mulkey, the NCAA, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

Now and forever.

[email protected]

Twitter: @jacktodd46

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