The Habs May Never be Successful: A look at the Montreal Canadiens and their language issues

By Alexander Cole

If you have been living in Quebec your whole life, or even just a couple of years, it is probably obvious to you that there is a bit of a language issue in this province.

Quebec is a predominantly French province, however in Montreal specifically, there is a minority of English speakers that still manage to have a large voice in the city. Legislature such as Bill 101 has been put in place to preserve the French language and its culture. The OQLF (language police) has a strong presence in Montreal in order to ensure that businesses and other enterprises incorporate French into their workplace in some way.

These practices seem to make sense in the political sphere, however, the issue of maintaining the French language has seeped its way into hockey. Yes, our beloved Montreal Canadiens are constantly subject to ridicule and criticism when they do not have either:

  1. A French Captain
  2. A French Coach
  3. A French GM

Basically, if the Habs do not have at least one of these, the French media starts to scrutinize the team for not adhering to the French culture. One can look at how Saku Koivu was constantly ridiculed for not speaking French all that well to see what I mean. Not to mention how Randy Cunnyworth was treated when he took over for Jacques Martin just a few years ago.

While I do believe that the team should have a small French presence on the team (I mean after all, we are the only team from Quebec in the NHL), it seems as though the team is sacrificing talent/good coaching, for an arbitrary French presence.

Earlier I mentioned Randy Cunnyworth. Now I never saw him coming back to the team and that was something we all expected. What I don’t seem to understand, is why Michel Therrien was brought back to the club. Therrien had been previously fired from the team, only to be brought back by general manager Marc Bergevin.

For me, the reasons for hiring Therrien were obvious, he was a French coach, and the hire was to make the media happy.

I will give it to Therrien though, his first few seasons with the team were successful and he seemed to be doing a great job with the team. However, with the team free-falling without Price this season, I can’t help but think that Therrien’s coaching abilities were being heavily covered up by the stellar play of a goalie that last year, won almost every award you could possibly win.

Now it seems that the team is completely fed up with Therrien and that he can’t even implement his own system without the players trying something else. Therrien has been terrible when it comes to managing talent as well. Jarred Tinordi, Jiri Sekac and Alex Galchenyuk have all been victims of Therrien’s inability to deal with fresh talent.

Just look at Therrien in Pittsburgh, he made it all about himself, while players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were struggling to make a team that looked amazing on paper, look great on the ice. Eventually Therrien was fired and the Penguins won the cup. Need I say more?

So why keep Therrien? Well like I said, who else could we have? Surely not an English coach. I mean, our captain is American. Our GM is French but he isn’t at ice level so the fans and the media don’t seem to care as much.

There are so many young, aspiring coaches in the AHL and junior leagues who could do a great job at the helm of the Habs, a team with lots of young talent who are just looking for a coach they can connect with. But, once again, they are not French, so they are no good.

This is simply a troubling trend. Like I said, I do agree that we should have a French presence on the team, but I think that winning games and giving the city what it deserves, is infinitely more important than some petty language issue.

How is a team ever going to succeed if they have to be picky as to the nationality of their players and coaches. Imagine if the Chicago media and fanbase forced the Blackhawks management to only take players and coaches from Chicago. I can guarantee they wouldn’t have three Stanley Cups in the span of 6 years.

Maybe if the Nordiques come back to Quebec City, things will change. When the Nordiques were in the league, the whole language issue surrounding the Habs was non-existant. We had coaches like Pat Burns and Scotty Bowman and they did great things for the club.

In the meantime, the Habs are going to keep sacrificing talent for a French presence. Now if a French captain or coach comes a long…GREAT! I would applaud that. But the Habs need to look at talent and not language.

If the trend continues, the Habs may never win another cup. At least not in this lifetime.



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