...players like Daniel Brière, Brendan Shanahan, Brian Rafalski, Marian Hossa, possibly Mats Sundin and scores of others choose to continue their careers in other cities when they see the love-fest that Saku Koivu is treated to in Montreal every year? I mean, don't they all wish for this adulation? This appreciation of a career-long commitment to a team and a community? This respect given to a man that overcame cancer and a vision-threatening eye-gouging to come back and lead his team on the ice? Why, for heaven's sake, would this not be a huge selling point to free agents?
The stuff being written and said about Koivu over his decision not to attend the Habs golf tournament is simply the latest in a long line of unjustified attacks he has been subject to over his career.
I'll never forget the day a TVA news reporter was at the Bell Centre to ask Koivu - his eye swollen shut and facing the cameras and microphones of the Habs media throng for the first time since Justin Williams had nearly blinded him in one eye - why exactly the captain of the Canadiens doesn't speak French. It's a fair question, that just wasn't the time for it to be asked, but to Koivu's credit he answered it with grace, largely because it appeared he knew it was coming (the same reporter had asked Bob Gainey the same question earlier that day).
Does anyone really think anecdotes like that one don't make their way around the league? Does anyone think this latest tempest in a teapot won't either?
If I were Gainey, I would sit down with certain members of the media and ask them to cool it, because they are making his job infinitely more difficult. Gainey often likes to say that he has no problem selling the idea of playing in Montreal to free agents, and that he has to turn players down who contact him looking for a contract. That may very well be true, but the fact is that Gainey has failed in every one of his repeated attempts to bring in a big name free agent, and though there are a lot of factors involved - income taxes, children's education in French, and the previous mediocre status of the franchise being the principle ones - the treatment of Koivu by certain members of the media has to rank right up there in the minds of a star free agent thinking of coming to the Canadiens.
Of course, Gainey would never go to a Hall of Fame writer like Bertrand Raymond, who has more hockey knowledge and experience in his pinky toe than I ever will in my whole body, and tell him what he can and can't write. And he won't go to the team's radio broadcaster CKAC and ask them to keep their talk show hosts in line.
But perhaps what certain media outlets should realize is that having a winning team in Montreal works to their benefit, because the average person on the street wants to know about a winning team, but they don't particularly care who did and who didn't show up to the pre-season golf tournament. Essentially, wins sell more papers than controversies, and tying the GM's hands when it comes to improving the club is therefore counter-productive.
I personally feel Koivu should have seen this coming, and maybe he should have made the effort to be at the golf tournament. The fact he wasn't there, probably knowing full well the consequences of his absence, makes me wonder if he even cares about what the media - and by extension the fans - think anymore.
If someone like Saku Koivu has gotten to that point, it doesn't bode particularly well for the future chances of the Habs to attract big-name talent to Montreal. It even raises the question of whether current players will want to re-up with the team, though I believe that those who live through the experience of being a winning club in Montreal are sold pretty quickly on how cool that can be.