With the 2010 NHL training camps only a few weeks away, I think that Habs fans are excited about the upcoming season but with all the changes over the summer, left feeling a little lost too. The question is, why? Why was this summer's upheaval so traumatic? Why do we feel like we are floating in the wind waiting for the breeze to deposit us somewhere? I'll tell you why. It's because we have no emotional attachment to the new players and, to a large extent, this team.
Now don't get me wrong, because I know that, generally speaking, Habs fans have an extremely
strong emotional attachment to our team, but that is more about being attached to being a Habs fan, than anything else. With so many new faces this year, we have not yet formed an attachment to the 2010 edition of the Canadiens. That will come with time.
I was at a sporting goods store, in Montreal, near the end of August, with my girlfriend - who is also a huge Habs fan. We were walking around the store when she pointed out three Habs jersey's hanging on the wall behind the cashier. The names on the jerseys? Gomez, Gionta and Cammalleri. With a tinge of sadness in her eye, she looked at me and said, "Who are these guys?"
Her question was rhetorical and not because she hadn't heard of these players. It was an echo of what Habs fans around the world are feeling, and that is an emotional void left by the departing players. Separation anxiety, as it were. As bad and painful as last season was, we , as fans, had an emtional attachment to most, if not all, of the players on the team. Here are just a few examples of what I mean:
Koivu - Pride/Love - heart and soul, great person, love this guy!
Kovalev - Love/Hate - makes you crazy with his laziness and bad turnovers one night and has you chanting "MVP" the next.
Price - Optimisim/anger/disappointment - so young and so talented. If only he could get his head screwed on straight.
Plekanec - Anger/disappointment - What happened to him? Where did all the success and talent go?
Komisarek - Love/monster on the blue line/future captain....which is consequently why it was SO painful to watch him walk, for nothing, to the Leafs.
Ok, those are not all emotions, but you get the picture.
The point is that as fans, our emotions were tied to the individuals on last year's team. We had seen them go through ups and downs. We bore witness to individual and team successes and failures, all of which builds up an emotional history that connects us to the team. I mean, if you think about it, that is what being a sports fan is all about. Being emotionally invested in and connected to a specific team. And if you think about your team, whether it is the Habs or not, when you think about different players that will bring different feelings or emotions to the surface. "I hate guy!"
"This guy could be great if only he would try harder."
"This guy is an all-star in the making!"
"That guy is overpaid!"
For Montreal, at the front of the emotional conga line were Koivu, Kovalev and Komisarek. When all three of them left, in the off season, fans were left feeling a little empty. From Koivu's battle with cancer, to Kovalev's 84 point season, through Komisarek's endless battles against Lucic, these guys brought out our emotions and enmeshed our love of the Canadiens with our love of these players.
Gomez? Gionta? Cammalleri? Who are these guys, indeed. Who is this Canadiens team that we are about to go to battle with? Who knows? What I do know is that the people in New York surely had an emotional attachment to Gomez which was likely along the lines of him being an underachieving, overpaid, terrible cap-hit. But now, he comes to Montreal and is cast in the role of potential leader and one of the faces of the franchise - at least for the next five years. We might not know who he is, in the rhetorical sense, but we will soon find out.
Soon, we'll be chatting around the water coolers of the city, talking about Cammalleri's hat trick or Gomez's skating ability or Hal Gill's big hit or Travis Moen's fight against Milan Lucic (I CAN'T WAIT!). Soon, our emotions will get involved again and we will start to develop a new bond with the current edition of the Habs.
I personally tend to agree with what Eric Engels wrote in his article, "Betting Against the Odds"...
...and I think that maybe, just maybe this team can surprise some people. If that ends up being the case, the positive emotions will flow freely and quickly erase the separation anxiety we have been feeling since July 1st.