Thursday, January 21, 2010

Habs Buy Out Laraque: Adieu Big Georges, Thanks For……


Well I was going to discuss Carey Price’s “George Jones” impression last night, after the Montreal Canadiens goaltender didn’t speak to the media after Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to St. Louis, but I found bigger fish to fry.

What a big one it was Thursday morning, when the story broke that the Canadiens heavyweight Georges Laraque from his contract.

Laraque was in his second year of a three-year, $4.5 million deal, and will be paid for the remainder of the 2009 season, when he is officially bought out. As part of the buy out, he will receive two thirds of his 2010-11 salary paid over two seasons.

image Laraque was the first to respond, telling TSN that he learned of the buyout on his way to Canadiens practice via phone call from GM Bob Gainey.

Laraque called the move classless, given the emotional stress he was under with the tragedies going on in Haiti, and called out coach Jacques Martin as being behind the move.

He went on to say that Martin had not discussed any of his issues with him personally.

“Jacques Martin doesn't like me and doesn't believe in toughness,” Laraque said. “To do this in the midst of all I'm dealing with in Haiti, the timing is awful. Needless to say, I'm very disappointed.”

Both Gainey and Martin voiced their side to the story at the team’s practice facility in Brossard.

Gainey states that he “met” with the enforcer, and told him the decision was made due to lack of productivity on Laraque’s part and that he was a distraction to the team.

Trading Laraque, or putting him on waivers, was ruled out by Gainey due to a no-movement clause in his contract.

Gainey went on to define the type of player he thought he was getting when he signed Laraque, based on players he’d seen before him.

“My view of a player in that roll, and is how they can be productive, and bring confidence and a comfort level to their team. Drawing away from your team is not productive.”

He also stated that the decision to release him were made prior to the Haiti earthquakes. Laraque had claimed that he was asked by the Canadiens if he needed some time off over the situation.

Like any business, an employee who experiences a close to home tragedy, won’t be fired the next day. It’s just not classy, Georges.

image Laraque visits  a donor at the Canadiens annual Blood Drive

Gainey also discussed Laraque’s infamous code when it comes to fighting.

“I don’t have a copy of George’s code, I think the code is ‘It’s your teammates that' you’re hear for’. It isn’t your code, it’s our code.”

Martin added that it was not a personal decision, but a team one.

image Laraque, at a Montreal Canadiens Children’s Charities event, in 2009.

“I don't have anything personal against Georges and I appreciate what he did for the organization, but we've decided to go in a different direction," Martin said.

"It's a hockey decision.  We felt that he was not helping our team to win games. The Red Wings, I don't think they have an enforcer and they've won some Cups. It depends on your team and where you are at in your development. The game has changed and speed has become a major factor.  It's nice to have, but it's not a necessity as some teams have proven."

“I’ll never forget the support of that fans,” a calmer Laraque told the Montreal media later Thursday afternoon, after he stopped by the team’s practice facility, to say good-bye to his teammates and wish them well for the rest of the season.

“I was proud to be putting the jersey on and been given the chance to play in front of my friends and family in Montreal.”

Canadiens to part ways with winger Laraque Georges Laraque speaks to the media after being bought out by the Canadiens

“I wish I know what ‘distraction’ means”, he added. “I always had a positive attitude, and never been a negative person, or done things to embarrass the team.”

Laraque then cited his accomplishments in the community since joining the Canadiens.

There is no question that Georges Laraque’s charitable endeavors are always there. He was always available when called on for team-related events, as seen in some of the photos seen here.


George Laraque leaves the Canadiens Brossard practice facility – AP photo

Nor did we hear any associations with criminal elements, or late-night partying in Montreal on his part…

Ok yes there was that controversial beverage drink commercial, but Laraque had his name pulled from that shortly after.

The distraction was, as Gainey noted, in his lack of productivity in his element on the ice.

In two seasons with Montreal, Laraque played 61 injury riddled games and logged in 89 penalty minutes and just five points.

Now he’s no sniper, but throughout his career Laraque was always in double digits in scoring. He even admitted embarrassment that it took until last week to register his first goal with Montreal.

Georges Laraque appeared off to a positive start in the Canadiens season opener

Laraque had 13 major penalties in his two seasons in Montreal. He had 15 in 71 games with the Penguins in 2007-08, but had over 140 penalty minutes. Clearly he was more of a presence then, even in light of the instigator and third-man-in rules of today’s NHL.

image Laraque tries to talk up the Bruins Milan Lucic into a round of fisticuffs in  November 2008. Lucic declined.

His refusal to drop the gloves when needed, or stir up the pot with a big hit finally wore it’s toll with Gainey and co. Sunday’s game against New York, where Josh Georges and Benoit Pouliot had to fend for themselves, was the final straw.

Laraque says he’ll be back in the NHL in due time. The question is, who’ll want him? Well,I think we might know one guy.

Remember when?: Laraque’s frustrations in Montreal stem back to February of 2009. At that time, he reportedly requested a trade in response to then Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau’s “limited use of his skills”.  Ironically Carbonneau acknowledged that a team needs to be tough at times. Laraque later retracted some of his comments.

Classy update: In an exchange of emails this afternoon/evening with CJAD’s play-by play man  Rick Moffat, I learned that Laraque told the media that he never called the Canadiens classless as reported earlier.

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