If you haven't heard by now - and I'm sure you have - the Montreal Canadiens publically announced that they are parting ways with tough guy Georges Laraque, yesterday. While I can't say that this is a completely shocking move by the Canadiens, it did come as a surprise none the less and no one was taken aback more than Laraque himself. When initially - and very quickly I might add - contacted by TSN's Darren Dreger, Laraque was fuming and started taking shots at the Canadiens organization, saying the move was "classless", given all he was going through with Haiti. The Habs, however, were quick to muzzle Laraque and clearly told him what he could and couldn't say while still under contract with the Habs.
To back up a step here, the Canadiens haven't bought out Laraque's contract yet; they simply told him that his services are no longer needed. They will keep Laraque on their roster for the rest of the year and will pay him his full salary, which he will sit at home collecting. At season's end, according to Gainey, they will decide what to do with Laraque going forward but I think it is pretty certain that they will buyout the remaining year of his contract.
For those of you not familiar with how a buyout works, here's the skinny: when buying out a player’s contract, the team - in this case the Habs - get to pay the player 2/3 of their salary versus the full 100% while extricating themselves from the player’s contract. In the Laraque situation, this means that he Habs would pay him $1 Million instead of the $1.5 Million remaining on his contract, next year. In addition, they would get to split that $1 Million over two years of the salary cap. By that I mean that instead of having Laraque at a $1.5 Million cap hit next year, they would instead have him at $500K next year and $500K the following year. So in addition to getting rid of a player that they deem ineffective, there is a saving against the salary cap too.
Ok, so back to the current situation. Given that the Habs are still paying his salary until the end of the season, the Habs feel that they still have the right to be respected in the media by Laraque. This was evidenced by Laraque's press conference at 4pm yesterday in which he was much gentler towards the Habs organization and had nothing disparaging to say. His press conference was, of course, a few hours after Bob Gainey’s press conference. If you haven't seen Gainey’s press conference you need to check it out. Unfortunately, I do not have a direct link to the press conference but you can access it here.
Go to that link, click on "CANADIEN" in the left hand column, then click on the video entitled "Reaction de Gainey au depart de Laraque (1re partied)".
In the clip, you will see that Bob didn't have anything good to say about Laraque but, in typical Gainey style, you have to read between the lines to get a lot of the golden nuggets! Gainey’s two main points were that Laraque was not productive in the role he was playing and was a destructive force to the team. A distraction. Additionally, Gainey explained that he sees what others around the league do, in Laraque's role, and suggested that Laraque was lacking. He also sarcastically mentioned that he doesn't know what Laraque's code is and that he doesn't have a copy of it, but to him the code is to help your teammates and "...it is not your code it is our code...” Strong words but I can't say I can blame him as Laraque has largely been a bust since joining the Habs in the summer of 2008.
As Randy Tieman said this morning on the Team 990, if a player has three minutes of ice time during a game but is the biggest talker in the room after it, that is a distraction. The Team 990 also pointed out that while none of his teammates said anything bad about Georges, none of them struck down the notion of him being a distraction either. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire.
As for Laraque himself, I personally am with Gainey on this move. While I was happy to have Laraque come on board two seasons ago, there is no question that he has just not worked out in Montreal. From his chronic back problems to his refusal to take an instigator penalty. From his prolific interviews telling the world that he doesn't like fighting to his insistence on sticking to "the code" that few, if any, other tough guys stick to. Laraque was just ineffective in his role on this team. When the Habs signed him two summers ago, it was to fill the role of fighter and protector of his teammates. Unfortunately for Laraque, he didn't do enough of that.
Laraque's strategy for fighting is to ask players to fight instead of just jumping on them. Now, I am not an advocate of violence in life, but the best way to serve notice is to pound a Chris Neil, for example, and in the process take that instigator penalty. People around the league would notice that. However, if your strategy is to ask Neil to fight, which he wisely declines, and then move on, you are not intimidating anyone. As such, Laraque's "intimidation" was mostly limited to talking. Sorry, but we already have a do nothing talker on the team. His name is Maxim Lapierre. But I digress...
While Laraque is clearly a great human being and does a lot of humanitarian and volunteer work, this decision by the Habs has nothing to do with his character as a human being. This is about hockey and Laraque's ability to fill the limited role that he is capable of playing. I'm sorry Georges, but if you think you can be anything more than a goon in this league you are sadly mistaken!
While Laraque has size, he is too slow a skater and doesn't have the hands necessary to score. As such, he really doesn't add any value to a team unless he is fighting and intimidating people. I think that Laraque believes/hopes that he will be back in the league playing for another team however I don't think that is a realistic notion. All 30 GM's around the league saw Laraque's body of work, or lack thereof, over the last season and a half, and as such, I believe that he no longer has a place in hockey. I might be wrong, but I doubt it. Laraque is in the latter part of his career anyway and, like many tough guys near the twilight of their career, they don't feel like fighting as much. Over the last few years, Laraque has become a kinder gentler soul and a fighter who no longer wants to fight. So in essence, you have a one dimensional player who no longer wants to play that one dimension. Sorry buddy, but that equals the end of the line.
Now, to address Laraque's comments about the Habs being "classless" with "all he has going on". Ok, George, here's the deal. There is a big difference between business and personal, and this was a business decision. For anyone out there in the workplace, you know that sometimes it is hard to separate business from personal, but at the end of the day it MUST be done for the good of the company. Hockey is no different and while you can't discount the personal side, as an NHL GM, you have to make good business or hockey decisions otherwise your business won't last long. That being said, according to Gainey he DID take the personal side into account.
During his press conference, Gainey explained that his decision was made a week ago but he postponed things after the earthquake in Haiti, out of sensitivity to Laraque. That sounds personal to me. That sounds classy to me. Gainey even offered Laraque a leave of absence to take care of personal business and work on his fundraiser - raising money for Haitian relief - which Laraque turned down because he said he was ok. Hmmm, so why all the talk of "...with all I have going on..."? If you had so much going on, why not take the leave of absence. You can't have it both ways.
Either way, I think Gainey made the right move and did his best to make the timing more palatable. I, for one, don't fault him or think his timing was bad. His timing was what his timing was. Just like in business, I believe that is it important to hire slowly and fire fast. Once you have identified that someone or something is negatively affecting things, you have to cut that cancer out before it spreads. Clearly, Gainey felt that way and took the decision he felt was in the best interest of the team.
Now, Gainey is not in the clear on this whole Laraque affair, because it was him that hired Laraque two seasons ago. It was Gainey's pro scouting staff, run by Pierre Gauthier, who told Gainey that Laraque would be an excellent addition to the team. This despite the fact that half the league knew he didn't want to fight anymore and that he had a chronically bad back. Pierre Gauthier is the same guy who told Gainey that Gill and Mara and Spacek would be excellent additions to the team. The same guy who told him Streit was a 1-year wonder and that Tanguay was worth a 1st round pick.
Yes, you guessed it, the Habs have terrible pro scouting but that is the topic for another blog. Suffice it to say that Gainey is the one who assembled his executive team and he must ultimately be held accountable for their shortcomings. If this team continues to slide and misses the playoffs, Gainey will have to pay the piper at season's end. Of that much, I am sure.
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