Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Last Time in Dallas...

The last time the Canadiens visited Dallas was the 8th of March, 2009. Kovalev scored as he recovered from his long walk, Kostitsyn made the dome after a month of criticism and overblown allegations, Carey Price won a rare game that winter and Guy Carbonneau was the coach.

It was an auspicious time, because that game was the last of a road trip, the beginning of a return to backup duty for Halak in the face of form and the last act in Guy Carbonneau's reign.

18 months on a lot has changed. Only one of the starting All-Star team from that season is actively playing for the Canadiens. The team has a new captain, a new coach, have jettisoned the Halak issue and mostly have new personnel throughout.

The last time this team was in Dallas wasn't the catalyst for all that happening, but it certainly seemed to represent some sort of deadline for Bob Gainey, a self-imposed threshold to take control and take a new direction.


That point in time was also significant for Dallas. Because just as the Canadiens used those two unexpected points to eventually vault to eighth where they would win a tie-break to make the playoffs, Dallas needed these points. The two teams were two of the sad sack stories of 2009. Montreal was defending conference champion with a complete loss of poise from January. Dallas were perennial favourites off a conference final appearance struggling through a bad start and pretty bad February themselves. A moral victory that included beating the Sharks and then the playoff rival Ducks was curtailed by the Montrealers. And losing to the laughing stock item of February in early March led to a run that was soon to become 2 wins in 11 games and no playoffs.


At the same time on the banks of the Mersey...


Both franchises also shared more than a game in time. In early 2009, they also had the shared fate of being beset with owners who leveraged their way to everything in their empires, just when leverage was going out of style in a bad bad way.

Partners in crime (the Liverpool saga was criminal, as a Reds fan I can assure you) George Gillett and Tom Hicks were only beginning after the New Year to discover that the sports jewels they held in summer of 2008, before all hell broke loose in London and New York, were going to be the millstones round their respective necks.

Gillett, who was probably on the shakier ground to begin with was the first to move. Rumours that he denied in December 2008 of a sale, were now being confirmed in March. Hicks must have known he wouldn't be far behind, as he was defaulting on loans in April. And a default on a $100 million loan is not usually something that just creeps up on you.

As a fan of the Canadiens and the Reds, I am happy to say that the Gillett days are behind us. Luckily as a football fan, I can say the same about Hicks. Yet 21 months after that last meeting, the Stars are still the property of Tom Hicks (at least formally - it's well known he's trying his best to free some cash by releasing the Stars).


And what can new owners do for you?

Well, at least initially, it seems they can ignore their own debts as they try to establish a reputation as team the fans can like. Montreal's new ownership has meant less ceremonies and better hockey, an overhaul in ethic on the team.

Dallas is winning enough now, but fate has handed them a healthy hand. If they lost Richards or Ribeiro before the deadline would Hicks' money back them replacing either one? That said, new owners aren't always that quick on the uptake in this way...


So as we watch the puck drop tonight in the Big D, downing the appropriate Molson refreshment, let's remember how fortunate we are not to be reading a piece again about the frosty looks that will be shooting between former buds Gillett and Hicks, and even that Captain Obvious ("Pas facile de gagner sur la route") is going to be renting a luxury box, not standing on one behind the bench, even if Kostitsyn is still looking for a way to be a 25-goalscorer without a no-goal game.

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