My great and good friend, the late, much-missed Red Fisher, was a skeptic. He did not deal in rumours, he did not put up with fools and he was rarely if ever misled about the quality of a hockey team.
Red was the most influential journalist in the history of the game for many reasons. Part of it was that he was not easily fooled. His mantra was simple: “show me the players.”
From the time I came on the beat in 1994 until Red left us three years ago, the Canadiens were mostly bad. A succession of GMs and coaches spent a good deal of their time blowing smoke, trying to convince the media that a sow’s ear was in fact a silk purse. Some of us bought it. Some went around slinging adjectives like “tremendous” and “magnificent” as though they were covering the 1970s Habs or the 1980s Oilers.
Not Red. The Canadiens brass would try to puff up this team or that team and when they were finished, Red would give them a withering look and say, “show me the players.”
Mind you, there were always some good players. Vincent Damphousse. Pierre Turgeon. Saku Koivu. Jose Theodore. Carey Price.
There were never enough. There was never enough depth. Even when they were somewhat good, the Canadiens through last season were always as thin as ice in April.
Then, in a span of a few months between the end of the pandemic playoffs and the beginning of this season, Marc Bergevin went out and found the players. If Red is watching, I think he would agree that the current edition is the deepest since the great teams he covered in the 1970s.
So here ya go, Red. The players:
Jake Evans: Funny place to start, I know. Fourth line centreman who came out of nowhere to claim the spot that Ryan Poehling thought would be his. But late in a fairly tight game against Vancouver Tuesday, Claude Julien had Evans out there at the start of a penalty kill to take the faceoff in his own end. That’s depth.
Corey Perry: A lot of people said Perry was washed up. They thought it wasn’t worth it to sign him for a mere $750,000. Then Joel Armia got hurt, Perry stepped in and the Canadiens didn’t miss a beat. Smart, tough, useful. Great guy to have around the young players.
Jake Allen: Goalie 1B. Something the Canadiens haven’t had since Pierre Gauthier shipped Jaro Halak to St. Louis after the 2010 playoff run that Halak led. Allen has played four of 10 games so far and has been solid throughout.
Josh Anderson: Canadiens gave him a big contract and surrendered the sometimes useful Max Domi, whose sulking had become a problem. In return they got size, a whole lot speed and the willingness to drive the net. Bargain.
Tyler Toffoli: So hot, he sizzles. Will he carry on at this pace? Don’t be ridiculous. What Toffoli does is to cause huge matchup problems for opposing teams. Which is the Canadiens top line? When can you send out your third defensive pairing? Good luck with that…
Joel Edmundson: One game, and the fans were screaming. Now they see what Edmundson is about. Making the defence deep, deeper and deepest.
Brett Kulak: (See Joel Edmundson)
Shea Weber: Larry Robinson.
Jeff Petry: Think U.S. Olympic team. How many defencemen keep getting better year after year into their 30s?
Ben Chiarot: Good. Big. Tough.
Jonathan Drouin: Oh, that’s why Bergevin gave up Mikhail Sergachev.
Nick Suzuki: Smart, smarter, smartest. Patrice Bergeron in the making.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi: Big, big talent. Going to get much, much better.
Alexander Romanov: Andrei Markov with a smile.
Carey Price: Ken Dryden.
Tomas Tatar, Phil Danault, Brendan Gallagher: On any other recent edition of the Canadiens, they would be the talk of the town. On this team, they’re simply another good line.
There ya go, Red. The players. And I hope you’re enjoying this as much as we are. How far will they go in the next round of Pandemic Playoffs?
Predictions are for fools. You taught me that. But they’ll be worth watching.