Thanks Saku

I’ll never understand the concept of free agency in sports. Or drafting, for that matter. Sure, it makes the odds even, so that a hockey team from southern California can compete against another from Montreal even though one city has ice and the other doesn’t. But it just makes the whole system seem so fake. Much as I hate to agree with some of the xenophobic francophones who want to cleanse their country of impure races, I feel for them in the thought that a team based in Montreal should have Montrealers on it. Otherwise, what’s the difference between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs other than the city in which they play their home games. Why should fans here blindly follow the Canadiens, as if location alone gives their team an advantage?

Maybe it’s supposed to be like that. Maybe sports rivalries are supposed to be meaningless to preserve their fun. But it’s hard to think of the idea of a team when people can just come and go as contracts dictate, even sometimes when they don’t want to.

And so, just like that, Canadiens captain Saku Koivu signed a one-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks. The writing was on the wall for at least a week now (though most thought he’d be going to Minnesota to join his brother Mikko), but those crazy logic-defying fans held out hope that he’d still be here next season (at least the ones that don’t irrationally blame him for everything. We’ve now lost our C and both As (Alex Kovalev to the Ottawa Senators and Mike Komisarek to the Toronto Maple Leafs, both pouring salt into the wounds). Next year will see the biggest turnover we’ve seen in a while.

So, like Red Fisher, I will miss our captain, and thank him for his service. He spent his entire NHL career in Montreal, went through a lot (with us living it vicariously through him) and did a lot for our team and our city. He doesn’t speak French, isn’t from here (neither are Kovalev, Komisarek, Andrei Markov, Carey Price, the Kostitsyns, Tomas Plekanec, etc.), but he was an integral part of Montreal and loved by its citizens. He certainly won’t be booed by me next time he comes to town.

We’ll get a new captain, as parents explain to their young children what “salary cap” and “unrestricted free agent” mean, and why those things led to them losing their hero. But our fans will soon go back to irrationally predicting that the Canadiens will win the Stanley Cup next year (with lots of Quebec-born francophone players), because … well, just because.

Life will go on. Because hey, it’s only a game, right?

15 thoughts on “Thanks Saku

  1. Josh

    So, if not through the draft and free agency and trades how do you think teams ought to be composed? Players just pick their teams once they’re 18, and they and the teams are stuck with each other for life? Or do you have someone divvy them up at the start of each season like in a peewee league, so that there’s some parity to the league?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      In a perfect system, which I admit couldn’t exist, people would just play for their hometown teams. There would be no trades, no free agents, and set salaries for everyone. And that would mean either adding Russian teams or not having Russian players.

      But I suppose that would be just as silly. After all, this is a professional sports league looking to make money.

  2. Josh

    I guess I’d say that the answer to that is this is why we have the Olympics and World Championships. And I don’t know that I’d call your system “perfect”, even if there was some way it was workable: even the biggest Canadian hockey fans would get tired of watching Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver beat Dallas 34-0.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Exactly, and league parity is the biggest reason such a system exists. But it’s also why the Canadiens aren’t the team they used to be.

      As for constantly beating teams from the southern U.S., I wouldn’t mind giving it a try ;)

  3. Jim J.

    Also, at least in the U.S., my understanding is that teams are legally forbidden from keeping exclusive rights to a player after that player’s contract is expired. Flood v. Kuhn, 407 U.S. 258 (1972).

  4. princess iveylocks

    I’m amazed Steve hasn’t pointed out the obvious solution: establishing “CanCon” geographical quotas for each team. :)

  5. Chris

    (I wrote this as a comment on that link you provided which is such a ridiculous article that they wrote that I had to respond to their article with my own comment below)

    Wow, after being directed to this ridiculous article I can see why nobody wants to play for this team. We have 3 francophone players and they mostly suck. Latendresse should still be in the minors and was brought up too early at too young of an age. Laraque is old with a bad back and will join RDS in a year or two. Lapierre has the most heart on the team but his skills don’t match his heart. He is a 3rd line center at best and was actually cut at training camp a year ago. If you recall, in the late 90s and later we had duds such as Donald Audette, Vincent Damphousse and Theodore who did nothing for this team.

    As for Don Cherry, i’ll agree that he has a French Canadian bias but he is a man that prefers to show rough and rugged 3rd and 4th liner grinders who make big hits and block shots rather than the more skilled players. During the playoffs, he showed nothing but praise to Marc Andre Fleury and Maxime Talbot for their efforts. That’s just the way he is. The question you should be asking is why none of your francophone superstars want to play here? I’d be more than accepting if a Simon Gagne, Vincent Lecavalier, Ian Laperriere, Kris Letang, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Daniel Briere or other player wanted to join the team but everytime the opportunity opens they go and play for another team. Gainey cleaned house and has brought in younger and more skilled players that will be just as exciting as the flying frenchmen of earlier times.

    If you want good Francophone players, you need to draft them when the opportunity arises or do a better job at scouting them inside Quebec. The truth is that with the exception of 1st rd picks that were in the top 10 such as Fleury, the Quebec Major Junior League has produced less quality players in the last several years than other leagues. The Montreal Canadians scouting staff has more of an opportunity to see these young players play in Quebec and the fact that they don’t choose any of them speaks volumes. The scouting staff under Trevor Timmins has produced more NHL players that have joined the big club than almost any other scouting staff in the NHL. We now have a younger team with a fresh start, quality prospects waiting in the wings and a future all star goalie in Carey Price. Let’s hope we don’t boo him the same we that we booed Patrick Roy and set this franchise back another 15 years again.

    P.S. Koivu leaves as one of the most important captains in this team’s history and I don’t care if he doesn’t speak french. He nearly led the league in points one year, battled cancer and faced a career ending eye injury and came back stronger each time. He donated to charities and spent time helping out the community by donating medical equipment to a local Montreal area hospital. Guy Lafleur was a great hockey player but there’s a reason that he never wore the C on his chest. Koivu and Believeau will live on as two of the classiest players to play for this organization.

    [As for the comments on this site, I think the olympics and world championships and world junior championships is sufficient to see players playing in their own comfort zone for a little bit. Montreal is where they are now because of dumb management decisions and poor drafting. The trading of Patrick Roy set this team back nearly 15 years and the constant trades that the media demanded (Desjardins, Keane as examples) and that management listened to and caved in never ever worked out for the team. Kudos to Bob for at least having the balls to not cave into pressure. I don’t agree with everything that Bob has done but I can understand his reasoning behind most moves. We now have a younger team and our scouting staff has produced more NHL caliber players than almost any team with the exception of the Red Wings.

    Subban, Chipchura, Price, Weber, Pacioretty, Emelin, Kristo, Kostitsyns, Latendresse, Lapierre, Plakanec, Fisher, Leblanc and others will either step up to help this team or be moved for a larger piece of the puzzle as Mcdonaugh had been moved in the Scott Gomez trade. ]

    1. Fagstein Post author

      “the Quebec Major Junior League has produced less quality players in the last several years than other leagues.”

      Like Sidney Crosby?

  6. Josh

    For what it’s worth Steve, during TSN’s draft coverage this year, they said basically the same thing about the QMJHL, specifically that last season, the league didn’t produce a first-round draft pick.

  7. Chris

    Sidney Crosby is the exception and he played there because he’s from Halifax and that Junior league was the closest thing to his home. He could have just as easily have played junior hockey for an American college as he went to a prep school in the USA. I was referring to the amount of francophone players as was mentioned about in the xenophobic article link that you posted in your article. Josh has the same facts as I do that over the last several years there have been fewer draftees coming from this junior league while leagues from the United States such as the USHL and colleges have begun to produce more draft picks for individual teams. It’s also not surprising that out of the names I mentioned in my previous post, there aren’t many francophone players that I’ve excluded as the amount playing in the league has also dropped compared to previous years. I can’t comment on why that is but many in the media have played up the fact that francophone players (Alex Tanguay is a good example in Montreal) are too soft and don’t play a grittier style that is needed to win in the playoffs. I don’t think this is true as evidenced by players such as Maxime Talbot and Claude Lemieux for several years but that stigma still exists with many general managers in the NHL.

    Louis Leblanc is a good example. The media played up the fact that he was a local boy but he actually played in the USHL instead of the Quebec Major Junior League and plans to play this upcoming year for Harvard. The QMJHL could have had this player but for whatever reason he chose not to play in the league. It might go through a cyclical nature where maybe the QMJHL will rise again and produce more draft picks than the WHL or OHL but right now it’s the other two junior leagues that are producing the majority of the players in the last couple of drafts.

  8. YT

    Free agency just means that the players have the same rights as everyone else in the world: to work for the employer of their choice. Once your contract is up, you are free to continue working for one employer or the other. If the owners want league parity, it shhould be up to them to agree on methods for doing it. Just because hockey players make lots of money doesn’t mean they aren’t human beings who want some choice in where they work.

    What hockey needs, though, and I think you express the feeling of this, is more interprovincial and international tournaments. Soccer has many tournaments where fans can see local players together. These tournaments have raised soccer’s profile and made it the world #1 sport.

    This Imagine if the NHL organized an interprovincial tournament, with NHL players from, say, Quebec, Ontario, BC, Alberta, the prairies, the maritimes, Michigan and Minnesota on competing teams? People would go crazy for that. Imagine the jesrsey sales!

    But NHL owner are too short-sighted to understand that people crave these regional competitions. They handicap the world hockey championships by keeping their playoffs going until June and refusing to release players for international tournaments, they even threaten sometimes to not participate in the Olympics, which is hockey’s biggest-profile event. Instead, they play tons of games that no one cares about (i.e., the all-star game, eight preseason games, games in May-June) and expect people to pay top dollar for that.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      “Free agency just means that the players have the same rights as everyone else in the world: to work for the employer of their choice. Once your contract is up, you are free to continue working for one employer or the other.”

      I think that’s the problem in a nutshell. It’s a job. It’s 30 companies competing for skilled workers. It’s not people from 30 cities competing against each other to see which one is best (though they certainly market it that way). Why should I be loyal to a team composed of 18 skaters, two goalies, a handful of coaches and a bunch of reserve players whose only commonality is that they all have contracts with a certain organization at a certain time?

  9. Chris

    Your explanation would cut out about 3/4 of the players in the league since most people are Canadian. You would have an excellent team in the Canadian cities and could barely find a player to play in certain cities such as Atlanta or Dallas where hockey is non-existent from a grass routes standpoint. You would see NHL caliber teams in Canada and the Northern USA against minor league teams in the rest of the USA. There simply aren’t enough people playing hockey on a global scale to do what you would want to have done. Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany,Belarus, Switzerland and parts of Denmark, Norway and Latvia and that’s about it. The idea has always been floated about having a division in Europe but the costs and travel expenses have always made it difficult to make it happen permanently. The NHL is happy right now just expanding the game with a few regular season or exhibition games and selling their merchandise and tv rights in Europe at the moment.

    The idea could work for a sport such as soccer or basketball which are accessible to more people on a global scale where you could find enough people to play for their home town but the hockey isn’t a big enough sport to make that a possibility at the moment.


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