Montreal·Analysis

In the home of the Habs, to raise the traffic cone is to raise the Stanley Cup

In many ways Montreal's famous traffic cones are a perfect metaphor for the Montreal Canadiens run to the Stanley Cup Final

Why Montreal's traffic cones are an oddly perfect metaphor for its winning hockey team

Montreal Canadiens fans raise a traffic cone in a victory celebration. (Andrej Ivanov / AFP via Getty Images)

Just as the Montreal Canadiens weren't supposed to make it to the Stanley Cup final, the orange traffic cone wasn't supposed to become an undisputed symbol of the city of Montreal.

But when Montrealers woke up Friday after an unforgettable Fête nationale that saw the Habs punch their ticket to hockey's premier event, we were left with images of fans raising the cone above their heads in celebration.

And why not? The traffic cone is an oddly perfect metaphor for the team. Let me explain.

Symbol of a work in progress

It's been 28 years since the Montreal Canadiens last reached the Stanley Cup Final.

It's been a long and arduous build to get the team to this point and for fans, it often felt like it was a project that was never going to be completed.

Sort of the way it feels every time Montrealers drive past a construction site where no work appears to be getting done but there are cones scattered everywhere.

General manager Marc Bergevin's build didn't always look like it was going to come together.

Both GM Marc Bergevin and forward Artturi Lehkonen have faced criticism from fans, who were silenced by the team's success against Toronto, Winnipeg and Las Vegas. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

There were times when his plan looked less like a plan and more like detours around a site where the workers were sitting idle.

The job isn't done yet. But the pieces Bergevin assembled are coming together and it's becoming clear there was a blueprint all along.

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Irrational anger and misdirected passion

Who among us hasn't driven around a corner in Montreal only to spiral into an emotional tailspin at the sight of traffic cones?

The Habs bring out the best and the worst in fans and now looking back there were several times where some of the ideas that took hold in the fans base look pretty silly in retrospect.

Here are a few examples.

  • Carey Price needs to be traded because he can't steal a game in the playoffs and having a $10.5-million goaltender isn't a formula for winning a championship.
  • Artturi Lehkonen has to go because, while he has a lot of good areas of his game, he can't score.
  • The Habs' defensive core of Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson are too big and slow for today's NHL.
  • Cole Caufield development is being ruined because the Habs are rushing him to the NHL level
Goalie Carey Price blocks a shot by Vegas Golden Knights' right wing Reilly Smith in Game 5 in Las Vegas. (John Locher / AP Photo)

Like most of the things yelled at the sight of traffic cones, when we take a step back, it's clear that they probably shouldn't have been said.

The cone slows down outsiders

If you're not from Montreal, driving into the city can be a daunting task.

There are cones everywhere and even with a plan and GPS helping you, it's possible to get twisted around and hopelessly lost.

Opponents of the 2021 Habs in the playoffs can relate.

Their game plans looked great on paper. But when they got on the ice, the teams faced the Habs forwards, who have become masters of taking away speed in the neutral zone and forcing adjustments they're uncomfortable with.

Then opponents have to navigate the detours from the Habs' aforementioned bruising blueliners and their progress is slowed even more.

And if opponents are able to get through all of that, Carey Price is waiting in his goal crease with a "rue barrée" (road closed) sign for good measure.

Just as Montrealers have fumed at road closures, the Canadiens' opponents have been stymied by the team's defence, including its goalie. (CBC)

The Habs have killed off 30 consecutive power plays across 13 games. Their ability to stymie their opponents' attack in these playoffs has been the key to their success.

The cone is a symbol of the merger of old and new

The Montreal Canadiens have a rich history that the club has always done a superb job of integrating into the modern team.

Like a construction site that is integrating a heritage building into its modern facade, mixing the old with the new is also how the team has found a winning formula.

The Habs have a tantalizing array of youngsters such as Cole Caufield, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki on their roster who have sparked this run. They are anchored by the steady hands of veterans with championship pedigrees, such as Corey Perry, Eric Staal and Shea Weber.

This combination has allowed the kids to freewheel and fly on the ice while the veterans keep them on course with the experience of having been here before.

So raise the cone high, Montrealers. The final will be incredibly difficult, but maybe, after all this waiting, this is the team and this is the year.

Fans celebrating in the streets after the Habs clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup finals. (Radio-Canada)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Douglas Gelevan is a national award-winning journalist who has been a member of the CBC team since 2010. In addition to his role as host of CBC Montreal Weekend News, Doug also covers community sports and sports news.

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