The Montreal Canadiens have always been more than a hockey team.
They have been a cultural symbol for millions of Quebeckers, a bit of hope and pride in a time where the proper respect was lacking.
They have been a constant and a unifier in a world that constantly shifts and divides.
And, for perhaps far too many of us, they have been a religion. Something to worship and ritualize on cold winter nights.
Fans of other teams will tell you that their team is just as storied, that their game night rituals bear the same meaning.
But they don’t get it. How could they?
Who else’s team canonizes their greats in a way that makes the Vatican blush?
Who else’s team sparks that kind of passion, bordering on (and often blurring with) frenzy?
Who else’s team bears the history of a people, a nation, a country?
The Montreal Canadiens are a singular franchise in North American sport, comparable with Scotland’s Celtic or Rangers soccer franchises. They mean more than just a sports team. They transcend the word sport.
Few players understand this better than the French-Canadian players that suit up in the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
Akin to a nation’s greatest honour, wearing the CH is also a great personal burden for these players who are expected to uphold the tradition of players like Richard and Beliveau, a weight that other uniformed greats of the game would have trouble bearing.
In short, external criticism is par for the course for these guys.
Even if it comes straight from the mayor’s office.
No player understands that more today than Habs’ centre David Desharnais.
In one of his first acts as mayor, the newly elected Denis Coderre attended a Habs game and tweeted, “Allo? Un billet simple pour Hamilton pour David Desharnais svp,” which translates to “Hello? A one-way ticket to Hamilton for David Desharnais, please.”
Teammates and coaches reacted the way you would expect with Max Pacioretty, Josh Georges and Michel Therrien vocally upset with the mayor’s comments, especially when they’re directed at such a stand up guy going through a rough patch.
Meanwhile, mayor Coderre has defended his comments saying that they weren’t a personal attack, just an observation, and that at the end of the day he too is a fan.
While politics and sports rarely mix, the city of Montreal and its Canadiens are somewhat unique for making political headlines on both the provincial and national levels.
Who could forget the Parti Qeubecois (a provincial political party) accusing the Hab’s century-old red jersey for being a nationalist propaganda symbol?
The thing is, like his intervention or not, Coderre is actually right.
David Desharnais has been terrible this year. Spending most of his time centring Max Pacioretty and Daniel Brierre, two players who should be near the top of team scoring, Desharnais has registered one assist in 17 games.
Meanwhile his line-mates have six points between them, 2G, 1A for Pacioretty in 18 games and 1G, 2A in 8 for the injured Brierre.
It’s not easy to be a French-Canadian player playing in Montreal. It’s even tougher to be a struggling one.
But the mayor is right. It’s time for a change and it’s Desharnais that needs to go.
Next stop, Hamilton.