The Montreal Canadiens have the greatest legacy of any franchise in the entire National Hockey League. No team has captured the Stanley Cup more than the Habs record of 24 times and in fact the next closest team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, are a distant second with 13 cups to their name. That legacy has made the Canadiens one of the most popular franchises in the league and many of the organization's former players reap the benefits of their team having such a massive cultural influence, especially in the Province of Quebec, Canada.
That is in part why it was so surprising to see former Montreal Canadiens defenseman and former Montreal Canadiens general manager Serge Savard come out this week and speak poorly of the beloved franchise. Savard has indicated that things had tightened up considerably in recent years and he even hinted at the fact that the old guard of the Canadiens were no longer receiving the treatment that they were accustomed to.
"A few years back, they didn’t want anyone close to the dressing room," said Savard as per the Montreal Gazette. "We had to go through the press room to get to the old-timers room. They didn’t want us in the hall. They certainly forgot their past. We were reminded every time of our past (when we played for the Canadiens). You know the big sign we have in the dressing room, ‘carrying the torch to the next generation’ (‘To you from failing hands we throw the torch be yours to hold it high’), we were reminded of that."
Savard appears to be particularly bitter after being pushed out of the organization following the hiring of general manager Marc Bergevin, a hiring process that he himself played a key role in.
"I was part of the panel that hired him for Christ’s sake, and he never called me to say — ‘What do you think of this situation?’ " said Savard. "I was the manager for 12 years and I won a couple of Stanley Cups. I thought that I could maybe help them, to advise them on a few things. I don’t think I’d hurt them. But they never used that channel."
Savard appears to have expected he would remain on as some type of consultant following the hire, but that never happened despite claims from Savard that suggest Canadiens owner Geoff Molson offered him a job which he later reneged on.
"But today, and I say this with some disappointment, I sometimes get a strange feeling: that my loyalty to the Molsons was stronger than their loyalty to me," writes Savard in his book.
Say what you will about Savard and perhaps even about how some of these comments come off to the general public, the reality is that the Canadiens have simply not had the level of success they had during his tenure with the team. Savard won 8 Stanley Cups as a player and added 2 more to his trophy case as a general manager, and it's clear that he laments the lack of success he sees from his beloved team as of late.
"They have not had much success so far," said the former Habs GM. "They keep on rebuilding and rebuilding. At that time I thought [Marc Bergevin] was the most qualified person. He had worked in almost every position in the organization in Chicago. But you have to be disappointed. In the playoffs this year, there were (4) players that he drafted on the ice. When I won the Cup in ’86 after three years, I had nine players from my first two drafts on the team. They always talk about the future. But the core is getting old, Price and Weber. You have to win now because that’s your core."
The timing of this coinciding with Savard's release of a new book is of course no coincidence and I do wonder how these comments will play with long time fans in Montreal. Savard is of course one of the Canadiens most well respected historical figures, but I do think on some level it is unfair to expect the organization to cater to its former players forever regardless of how much impact they may have had on the team. The Canadiens do a great job of honoring their history each and every season, and I think you would genuinely be hard pressed to find many teams in the league that do a better job of it than they do. That of course doesn't mean they are perfect either, and it may very well be that Savard has good reason to feel the way he does.