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The 'Gomez Problem' highlights the Habs' fatal flaw

Montreal Canadiens centre Scott Gomez. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz


So it turns out this Jeremy Lin character really can play.

But why talk about Linsanity when the main talking point (in Quebec at least), concerns another member of a cultural minority in pro sports?

We speak, of course, of Scott Gomez, the goal-shy Montreal Canadiens centre who found himself at the centre of a hail of f-bombs from assistant coach Randy Ladouceur at practice on Tuesday.

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But Gomez has been yelled at by scarier coaches in his time, like this guy and, of course, this guy, and he gave as good as he got.

The offshoot is rampant speculation in Montreal that Gomez will be a healthy scratch on Wednesday night as the Habs play host to the auld enemy, the Boston Bruins.

A couple of things occur in light of this little spat.

Firstly, if yelling at Scott Gomez was the way to light a fire under his substantial hindquarters, why wait until now, after he finally snapped a 12-month goal drought?

Secondly, isn't Randy Cunneyworth the head coach of this team, interim or not? And shouldn't he be the one putting some stick about?

Gomez has, naturally, played like an absolute dog for most of the past two seasons, and his much-publicized $51-million contract is one of the heaviest anvils in the NHL (although a strong case can be made for Jeff Carter pipping him at the finish line).

He is as deserving of the hair-dryer treatment as any Hab, but Gomez is also a key figure in the dressing room, a player who for better or worse is generally beloved by his teammates as a playoff performer and Guy Who Has Been There, with two rings to prove it.

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The season is well out of hand by this point (and it was before the Carolina debacle on Monday), so it's a little mystifying as to why this would happen now – and if it's merely an emotional outburst, what does that say about where the coaching staff's heads are?

We're tempted to view this whole caper as much as a story about inept coaching as it is about a recalcitrant millionaire underachiever not being able to get a drill straight.

That it was Ladouceur, not Cunneyworth, doing the screaming is also revealing.

The former Hartford Whalers rearguard also did his yelling bit at P.K. Subban recently (Subban, as a second-year player, has far less juice in the room), and is evidently the designated hard-ass in the Habs' coaching set-up.

That no one seems to listen to him much is, of course, an issue – and anyone suggesting Subban has turned it around since he got screamed at is ignoring another, equally important factor: the fact his ice time has been pared back.

And the episode reveals the fatal flaw in the Canadiens' set-up: Cunneyworth had been filling the role of designated good guy, player buddy, under the Jacques Martin regime, and has been unable because of various strictures (the interim tag, language issues, etc.) to stamp the kind of authority you need to get a disparate group of ego-maniacal rich kids to actually, you know, listen.

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The alternative view is that the belated acceptance that Habs are missing the playoffs this year has freed Cunneyworth to deal with the Gomez Problem (by proxy or not), and that the flare-up with Ladouceur may be just the pretext to banish him to the minors.

But that would suggest a plan is at work.

Anyone who follows the Habs will argue there has been considerable evidence to the contrary this season.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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