Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bergevin is no Churchill (and vice-versa)



  When general manager Marc Bergevin stood in front of the assembly of professional second-guessers at the Canadiens practice facility in Brossard last week, I saw and heard Winston Churchill during Britain's darkest hour, after France had fallen and Old Blighty stood alone against the Nazi menace.  Obviously, the stakes are significantly less profound and there's a stark contrast in the cut of their respective jibs - Bergevin would look as ridiculous in a siren suit "onesie" as Winnie would in an electric blue sportcoat and skinny jeans - but there was more than a hint of Churchillian defiance and resolve as Bergevin assumed the burden of responsibility and vowed to stay the course in the face of a defeatist fan and media frenzy.  I thought it was a carefully-crafted battle cry designed to inspire the Canadiens to their finest hour, and I thought it would work.  I thought wrong. 

   Back-to-back losses to the dead-last Columbus Blue Jackets heading into the All Star break were hardly reminiscent of RAF heroics in the Battle of Britain, and the time has arrived to run up the white flag on the Canadiens as they are now constituted. Change is needed - not tinkering, but decisive, soul-shaking upheavel of the sort that won't come about by merely changing the coach and/or general manager, which would be the wrong move(s) anyway.  Michel Therrien hasn't lost the room, and summarily dismissing an otherwise successful executive of Bergevin's calibre on the basis of one (admittedly prolonged) slump would smack of panic and stupidity.  
   That leaves one option: a trade.  The Canadiens need offence and they're deep on defence, which is why Nathan Beaulieu's name keeps popping up, especially in rumoured talks between Montreal and Tampa Bay surrounding blue chip prospect Jonathan Drouin.  But whatever Drouin's upside, a still-unproven 20 year old is not the answer to what ails the franchise, and putting that kind of pressure on a French-Canadian kid in Montreal could ruin Drouin for good.
   My Jewel 106.7 morning show co-host, Tom Whelan, is thinking bigger - much bigger.  A passionate Habs fan, Tom admits that he's so fed up that he wouldn't care if PK Subban were traded under the right circumstances.  As unthinkable as that might seem - whether because of Subban's talent or his ties to the community - imagine what he could fetch in return.  Subban straight up for unrestricted free-agent-in-waiting Steven Stamkos isn't an outrageous proposition, if Stamkos could be persuaded to commit long-term to the Canadiens.  And if the Lightning balked at one-for-one, sweeten the pot with a top prospect or a first round draft choice.  I mean, it's Steven fucking Stamkos, for crissakes.
   That's just one of many potential scenarios, and as radical as it sounds, these are desperate times for the Canadiens and half-measures will avail them nothing.  Whatever the move, they have to make it matter and make it now. Carey Price can't save the season if they're already out of the playoff race by the time he comes back from injury.  And at this point, the buck doesn't stop with Bergevin.  It stops with owner Geoff Molson, who couldn't have been happy to see empty seats and hear boos last night at the Bell Center. A tarnished brand is bad for business.  Molson also understands that although the Canadiens are privately-owned, they are a public trust, and inaction in these circumstances is unacceptable.   
   The Hun is at the doorstep.  Bergevin's Churchillian rallying cry failed.  It's time for the King to enter the fray.

Churgevin photoshopping courtesy of the totally awesome Josie Gold of Four Habs Fans fame.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Not PK's finest hour

   The polarizing nature of PK Subban's personality manifested itself yet again on episode 4 of HBO's Road to the Winter Classic 2016, which featured the Montreal defenceman in an expletive-filled dressing room rant in the run-up to the New Year's Day game between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.  
   When I posted the video on my Facebook page and suggested it was a moment PK might have wanted back, the debate that ensued was devoid of middle ground.  Like most ideologically divisive social media threads, it quickly degenerated into the human version of dogs barking at each other unseen through a backyard fence, but the two opposing philosophies were clear: Subban's defenders adhered to the old school "boys will be boys/it's just dressing room stuff/everybody chill out" argument, which is entirely fair and credible, except that PK knew the cameras were in the room and played to them.  That's fair, too, but for a guy who's aggressively trying to cultivate a respectable, family-friendly brand, his approach missed the mark by a country mile.  
   It wasn't the swearing as much as it was the buffoonery that reflected poorly. You can drop f-bombs ad nauseam and still deliver a strong and inspiring message without resorting to embarrassing histrionics.  At a time when the team was struggling, Subban squandered what could have been a defining leadership moment.  The look on team captain Max Pacioretty's face in the video says it all. 
   Montreal is fortunate to have PK Subban - the man and the hockey player. His talent on the ice and generous community spirit are both indisputable. But scrutiny comes with the territory, and no public figure is above it.  The Montreal Canadiens are world renowned and respected for their class and dignity.  As the highest-profile representatives of the organization, it behooves Subban and his teammates to maintain those standards in the public eye at all times. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

A drunk is a drunk is a drunk


   Seamus O'Regan has already suffered his first self-inflicted setback on the road to personal recovery. 
   The Newfoundland Liberal MP and former national media personality didn't have to go public with his(?) decision to seek counselling for alcoholism.  He could have done what the overwhelming majority of recovering alcoholics do and walked into a community center or church basement, where he'd be just another drunk at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  Instead, he made a grand pronouncement on social media that he was going to a "wellness program" in pursuit of an "alcohol-free lifestyle".  
   Those sugar-coated platitudes might make for good optics, but for anyone who knows anything about real recovery, they smack of denial and violate not one but two of the fundamental traditions of AA:

- "Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films."

- "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities." 

   Contrary to outside perception, anonymity is not about protecting the alcoholic from the "stigma" of alcoholism.  It's about protecting the AA program.  "Principles before personalities" puts everyone in the fellowship on equal footing.  The only time there's a most-important-person-in-the-room is when a newcomer walks in the door, whether they're an unemployed labourer, a rock star or the honourable member for St. John's South-Mount Pearl. O'Regan has already compromised his prospects for recovery by going public with a battle that cannot be won without a significant measure of humility, which in recovery is born in no small part of anonymity. 
   How do I know all of this?  I've been an AA member in good standing for nearly 19 years.  By disclosing that, I'm violating the very traditions cited above and setting aside my own humility (or what there is of it), but when I posted on social media that O'Regan was ill-advisedly - if unwittingly - distancing himself from "regular" drunks who go to AA meetings to get sober, I was quickly set upon by AA detractors whose predictable myth-making needs to be challenged and debunked.  
   The most common misrepresentation of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it's a religious cult.  AA is not a religious program; it's a spiritual program.  There's a big difference.  Unlike organized religion, AA does not mandate that salvation can only come through certain beliefs.  The program's literature makes clear that the 12 steps to recovery are suggestions, and that they are best practiced through a God of your understanding.  Your higher power could be the biblical God.  It could be the AA group.  It could be Mother Earth, Father Time, Brother Theodore or Sister Sledge - whatever works for you.  
   The cult canard is the most easily dismissed fallacy about AA.  Cults are built around personalities, and we've already established principles before personalities as an AA cornerstone.  "Cult" also suggests forced membership, but as far as AA members are concerned, you're free to come and go as you please.  AA's detractors like to cite books and studies that demonstrate the program's low success rate, but they overlook, conveniently ignore or just flat out don't realize that people who don't make it invariably fall by the wayside because they couldn't or wouldn't put in the work.  No one who doesn't want it is going to get it.  In my experience in the program, the success rate among people who are truly willing to go to any lengths to get sober is 100 percent.   
    I can l only speak to my own experience covering most of the last two decades, and I have seen too many AA success stories - some of which I would describe as miracles - to sit idly by while people with no clue what they're talking about badmouth the program.  All that does is potentially drive people in trouble away from something that could save their family, their sanity and their life.  
   So keep coming back, and remember, as I once heard a sober but geographically-challenged member say at a meeting some years ago, "Denial ain't just a river in Panama - or wherever the fuck it is."