Former Montreal Canadiens Elmer Lach and Emile Bouchard are honored by having their numbers retired during the Canadiens' centennial celebration ceremony Friday. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Sometimes, tradition can be a wonderful thing.
The Montreal Canadiens proved that Friday night, with a centennial celebration that once again made me well up in the eyeball region.
Watching legendary Montreal players Elmer Lach and Emile ‘Butch’ Bouchard radiate humility and class at center ice as their jerseys were retired was touching enough; but not until the massive team picture was taken did you truly get a sense of how much glorious hockey history has been provided by the Habs. All involved with the ceremonies ought to be mighty pleased.
However, in the same weekend, we also received a reminder of how tradition can limit certain aspects of a business operation. I speak of Hockey Night In Canada analyst Glenn Healy’s bang-on assertion the NHL should consider renaming its individual award trophies after some of the game’s biggest, best-known superstars.
The concept is one I’ve been advocating for years – and it still makes a ton of sense.
Naturally, a percentage of hockey fans – probably the same percentage that longs for a return to the game’s obstruction heyday – will shriek and stomp around at such a proposition, while holding up the tradition of the trophies as all the reason required to stick with the status quo.
The problem with this particular tradition is that it no longer resonates with the NHL’s present-day customer base.
As Healy argued, very few fans have any kind of clue about the Hart behind the Hart Trophy, or the lady behind the Lady Byng Trophy. Re-christening those and other individual awards would continue the modernization that began with name changes for the NHL’s divisions; it also would give younger fans a better feel for the game’s more immediate history.
You can talk all you want about tradition and attempt to emphasize the logo on the front of the sweater rather than the name on the back of it, but something tells me there wouldn’t have been prolonged standing ovations at the Bell Centre on Friday for a bunch of empty sweaters.
As the Canadiens demonstrated, the players are the real and lasting history of the game, not the stinking-rich patrons of NHLers who profited off their on-ice efforts.
Changing award names to reflect that reality should’ve happened many moons ago. There’s no time like the present to make up for it.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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