Friday, August 19, 2016

Réjean Houle Autographed Card

When Marc Bergevin traded P.K. Subban earlier this summer, there were many flashbacks of the doomed Patrick Roy trade that Réjean Houle had made in 1995 that set the Montréal Canadiens back for a decade.

Nowadays, Montrealers are wondering which of the two ranks as the franchise's worst of all time, with the Chris Chelios trade being thrown in the mix as well. Time will tell, but I think the Subban trade definitely will rank in the top-5 (worst), while the Roy one will prove to have been more costly, as the Habs were still a Stanley Cup contender at that point (and Roy won two more Cups and an NHL-record third Conn Smythe Trophy with the Colorado Avalanche), whereas the team isn't a true contender nowadays, with Carey Price consistently failing to perform once the playoffs start.

And though I love and respect Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov to no end and will defend them until the end of time for being the most consistent Canadiens players of the past decade, perfectly sliding to playing even smarter when their prime/speedier years were seemingly behind them, Max Pacioretty has not proven to be the leader nor the complete player winning teams must have on their top line, having spent most of the 2015-16 season at center ice waiting for a pass that would send him on a breakaway instead of helping his teammates out in the defensive zone; Alex Galchenyuk has not yet been given a full year to show he can withstand the pressure of being that top-line center he was drafted to become; Nathan Beaulieu might never become Markov's successor as two-way top-pairing defender and powerplay quarterback, and it would be unfair to expect 2016 first-round draft pick Mikhail Sergachev to do so right away as well.

There is a fine core to build around in Galchenyuk, Markov, Plekanec, true leader (and thus possibly next-in-line to get traded) Brendan Gallagher, Alexander Radulov for one year and Shea Weber for three, Andrew Shaw, 30-year-old hard hitter Alexei Emelin, Jeff Petry, Zachary Fucale, and Sven Andrighetto to name a few - but important pieces of the puzzle are still missing. Things a workhorse and showman like Subban could hide.

Already, Bergevin's tenure as GM is more fruitful than Houle's simply because of a Conference Final in 2014; it might be the extent of his success, however, and Houle's playing career was a lot more impressive.

Houle wasn't just an extra, he was an integral part of the Canadiens' teams of the 1970s that won him five Stanley Cups, a three-time 20-goal scorer, with a high of 30 in 1977-78. He also had a successful three-year stint in the WHA with the Québec Nordiques, leading the team to the Avco Cup Final (losing to the Houston Aeros) after posting 40 goals and 92 points in just 64 games; he had a 51-goal and 103-point season the following year, good for fifth and eighth in the league, respectively.

Still, he bleeds red, having spent all of his eleven NHL seasons with the Habs, then having been a Marketing VP for the team before being assigned to the General Manager position; even after his dismissal in 2000, he remained on board as a Team Ambassador, greeting fans at games and attending social events on behalf of the Canadiens' various foundations.

It was at one of these events that he signed this card for me in black sharpie, #34 from Parkhurst's 2003-04 Original 6 (Montréal Canadiens) set manufactured by In The Game:
"Peanut", as he has been referred to since his playing days, remains a terrific human being, as can be attested by this heart-wrenching story. And his easygoing and generous personality has served him well in life, everywhere except at the GM position, where his ruthless peers took advantage of him and never returned the favours he did for them.

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