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Original Issue

21 Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens' Stanley Cup parade used to follow, in the
memorable words of a 1970s press release from the Montreal
mayor's office, "the usual route." But now there is hardly a
discernible path for this once great franchise, just some
meanderings that won't take them anywhere near their 25th Cup
anytime soon. The Canadiens, who remain self-important enough to
have the words of the poem In Flanders Fields ("to you from
failing hands we throw the torch") inscribed in their dressing
room, are a mess. They have no 20-goal scorer, no depth on
defense and, most alarmingly, no clear direction for escaping a
recent morass of bad trades and drafts.

General manager Rejean Houle seemed to be leaning toward
rebuilding last March when he traded high-scoring veterans Mark
Recchi and Vincent Damphousse. During the off-season, however,
Houle backtracked by dealing a first-round draft pick to the
Islanders for 29-year-old Trevor Linden, who scored 30 goals six
times from 1988 to '96 but has lit the lamp only 44 times the
last three seasons combined. While Montreal is gambling that
Linden has been a victim of unfortunate circumstances, it's also
possible that the 11-year veteran is simply old before his time,
not unlike the arena in which he will play. The four-year-old
Molson Centre, the unloved 21,273-seat, 135-luxury-suite
colossus, is for sale as the team and city wrangle over property

New Canadiens president Pierre Boivin, a former sporting goods
executive, has the task of repairing the cracks in the
foundation of a franchise that, for better or worse, remains, in
essence, a public trust. Goalie Jeff Hackett, who shed his
reputation for being fragile by playing splendidly (2.27
goals-against average, five shutouts) after his trade to
Montreal from Chicago last November, says, "Playing for the
Canadiens, playing in a city that cares this much, is like
becoming a father for the first time. You know it will change
your life. You just don't realize how much."

Montreal will be hard-pressed to snag a playoff berth because
its best defenseman, Vladimir Malakhov, suffered a torn ACL last
month and will be sidelined for four months. The team's best
hope for respectability would be if once productive forwards
Shayne Corson, Saku Koivu, Brian Savage, Martin Rucinsky and
Linden rebound. But the Canadiens' seven-year itch won't be
scratched. Montreal has won the Cup every seventh season since
1979, but this year it has the look of a parade to nowhere.


COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Koivu can't carry the talent-starved Canadiens.

Montreal was one of two teams without an overtime goal last
year. The Canadiens went 0-4-11 in the extra session. The
Canucks were also scoreless in overtime, going 0-1-12.



OFFENSE 20 Dearth of scoring talent; Linden must come
up big
DEFENSE 18 Losing the injured Malakhov hurts thin group
GOALTENDING 11 Hackett was a pleasant surprise last year
SPECIAL TEAMS 18 Power play needs Savage and Rucinsky to
COACHING 18 Vigneault's done a solid job with marginal