Whitby - Oct. 12, 2011 -
Webster’s Dictionary defines a leader as “a person who rules or guides or inspires others.” John C. Maxwell wrote a paper entitled “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow.” In his paper, qualities such as character, charisma, commitment, courage, focus, passion, vision, discipline and teachability are used to show what it takes for one to become a leader.
I look down the current Montreal Canadiens roster, reflect on the first eight pre-season exhibition games, on the first two 2011-12 NHL regular season games and I cannot honestly identify the team’s leader. The Montreal Canadiens matter to me and I am fit-to-be-tied with the team’s lack of urgency and energy displayed so far this season.
Nobody on this 2011-12 Canadiens’ squad has yet risen to the challenge in either coming to the defence of the team’s prized netminder Carey Price (as Price continues to get bowled over by opposing teams), nor has anyone single handedly changed the face of any one specific game, scoring timely goals when needed or has made any great defensive moves to salvage a win.
Yes, I know Brian Gionta is the current captain of the Canadiens, but can you really compare what Gionta brings to the table in comparison to those icons that came before him like Jean Beliveau, Maurice Richard, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey and Toe Blake? “Heart” is one thing; I will never question Gionta’s ‘heart’, but ‘heart’ alone won’t win the Canadiens a Stanley Cup.
It has been 50 years since the Montreal Canadiens had a true leader on its team, with no disrespect intended towards Canadiens’ present captain Gionta or any of the team’s previous captains (like Saku Koivu) following Beliveau’s tenure.
You see, for those of us lucky enough to watch Jean Beliveau during the glory years, knew they were witnessing an immortal who was selfless and humble, who always led by example. Beliveau possessed all the necessary tools needed to succeed in the NHL. He was a deceptively fast skater, was a phenomenal playmaker, knew how to stickhandle his way out of a phone booth and he also knew how to find the back of the net with a powerful backhand or accurate wrist shot in an effortless manner.
Jean Beliveau seemed to know just when to speak up that would invariably get his team or teammates out of a minor funk or slump. Jean Beliveau was a gentleman playing in a brutal, rough and tumble, team sport. He was challenged to many a fisticuffs when he first entered the league, but preferred to stay out of the penalty box.
On October 11, 1961, Jean Beliveau would succeed Doug Harvey as the Canadiens’ captain and would proudly wear the title for the decade to follow. Beliveau led the Canadiens to five Stanley Cup titles over that time frame. “Le Gros Bill” would also be hailed with many accolades including the Conn Smythe and Hart Memorial Trophy between 1961 and 1971.
For the record, I measure a team’s success by the number of Stanley Cups it wins. Without a proven leader, the Canadiens will not win another Stanley Cup--a key ingredient for any successful NHL franchise. This is the bane of my frustration. Just because you wear an embroidered “C” on your chest does not automatically make you a leader per se.
Can, or should we, blame only one or two people for the Canadiens’ lack of consistency over the past number of seasons: Coach Jacques Martin, President and CEO Pierre Boivin, the scouting staff, the players themselves?
The Habs need a leader to emerge now, not tomorrow, not in a few weeks or in a few months, or it will be too late. As former Canadiens’ Head Coach Dick Irvin introduced in 1940, “To you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high”, that verse from the First World War “In Flanders Fields” needs to be breathed, dreamed, and lived by all current and future roster players in order for the franchise to once again be successful.
Many lessons have been learned by the Montreal Canadiens organization since 1909. There have been some fantastic dynasties over the last ten decades and there have also been some labour pains along the way. This year’s version of the Canadiens, both coaching staff and players alike, need to go back to school and review the lessons learned.
Somebody on the Canadiens’ roster needs to take it upon himself, make it a deep-rooted commitment and lead by example so that the rest of his Habitant-teammates will follow in order to achieve the pinnacle of owning the ‘Holy Grail’ for the 25th time.
Until next time, play every game as if it is your last one…