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Sports Illustrated Ranking: 21
By Michael Farber
The Canadiens' Stanley Cup parade used to follow, in the
memorable words of a 1970s press release from the Montreal
mayor's office, "the usual route." But now there is hardly a
discernible path for this once great franchise, just some
meanderings that won't take them anywhere near their 25th Cup
anytime soon. The Canadiens, who remain self-important enough to
have the words of the poem In Flanders Fields ("to you from
failing hands we throw the torch") inscribed in their dressing
room, are a mess. They have no 20-goal scorer, no depth on
defense and, most alarmingly, no clear direction for escaping a
recent morass of bad trades and drafts.
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General manager Rejéan Houle seemed to be leaning toward
rebuilding last March when he traded high-scoring veterans Mark
Recchi and Vincent Damphousse. During the off-season, however,
Houle backtracked by dealing a first-round draft pick to the
Islanders for 29-year-old Trevor Linden, who scored 30 goals six
times from 1988 to '96 but has lit the lamp only 44 times the
last three seasons combined. While Montreal is gambling that
Linden has been a victim of unfortunate circumstances, it's also
possible that the 11-year veteran is simply old before his time,
not unlike the arena in which he will play. The four-year-old
Molson Centre, the unloved 21,273-seat, 135-luxury-suite
colossus, is for sale as the team and city wrangle over property
New Canadiens president Pierre Boivin, a former sporting goods
executive, has the task of repairing the cracks in the
foundation of a franchise that, for better or worse, remains, in
essence, a public trust. Goalie Jeff Hackett, who shed his
reputation for being fragile by playing splendidly (2.27
goals-against average, five shutouts) after his trade to
Montreal from Chicago last November, says, "Playing for the
Canadiens, playing in a city that cares this much, is like
becoming a father for the first time. You know it will change
your life. You just don't realize how much."
Montreal will be hard-pressed to snag a playoff berth because its
best defenseman, Vladimir Malakhov, suffered a torn ACL last
month and will be sidelined for four months. The team's best hope
for respectability would be if once productive forwards Shayne
Corson, Saku Koivu, Brian Savage, Martin Rucinsky and Linden
rebound. But the Canadiens' seven-year itch won't be scratched.
Montreal has won the Cup every seventh season since 1979, but
this year it has the look of a parade to nowhere.
Issue date: October 4, 1999
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Trevor Linden gives the Habs everything they needed: Leadership, company-man mentality and hard-nosed hockey.
Goalie Jeff Hackett played nicely after coming over from Chicago, going 24-20-9 with a 2.27 GAA.
If healthy, the forwards are a deep and creative, if not exciting, lot.
The back-up goalie situation has potential in either Jose Theodore or Frederic Chabot . . . but they were a combined 5-15 last year.|
How long does Alain Vigneault have? Not long.
Injuries, injuries, injuries. Vladimir Malakhov is already done until January.
People, Places and Things
GM: Rejean Houle
Coach: Alain Vigneault; 3rd season (69-71-24); 3rd overall
Assistants: Clement Jodoin; Roland Melanson
Last year: 32-39-11 (19th overall)
PP: 16th (14.5%)
PK: 4th (87.2%)
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Sat., Oct. 2: The Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs as the rivals meet on opening night for the first time since 1991. The home team has won each of the eight opening-night matchups.
184: The second-lowest goals-scored total in the league last year. And with the departures of Mark Recchi, Vincent Damphousse, Stephane Quintal and Jonas Hoglund, the Habs lose 40 of those goals.
"It's a special thing to see that logo and that jersey with your name on it. Going into the dressing room, it's awesome, it's great. I look at the faces and the names, the Hall of Famers they have, it's neat. In the summertime I got a couple of jerseys to give to some charities here in Vancouver and I had to have a double take myself. It was pretty special to see my name on that jersey." -- Trevor Linden