Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Montreal Canadiens Season So Far: This Wasn't the Plan!

So....how's your mantra now?

"It's preseason, relax".

Still comfy with that?

How about this one:

"It's October, there's lots of time!"

Really? Is that what you tell yourself because you're a pie-in-the-sky optimist, or because you haven't yet figured out that the Canadiens need to pick up 88 out of a remaining 154 possible points just to finish with 92?

If that number doesn't shock you in to reality, then stop reading now.

There's nothing else I can say to illustrate the severity of the situation. For those still here, I thank you.

So what's important about 92?

It's the average number of points the 8th place team has needed in order to attain 8th place in the Eastern Conference since the end of the lockout. If there's any good news, it's that the low point for 8th place was 88 points just two seasons ago.

Care to guess who set that low bar? Your Habs!

So if they're lucky...really lucky, perhaps this will be another low year, and their playoff hopes are merely dreary instead of dismal. But averages being what they are, chances are they will need closer to 92 points. That's going to be tough to overcome.

So what exactly went wrong?

Too many things to count, and too much blame to go around. The players can't finish their scoring chances. That's on them, and them alone. No excuses. The ones that aren't doing what they're paid to do should be dealt with.

Benched, demoted (to a lower line, not Hamilton), or failing that, traded to a better situation. The defence has not been great, but it's not the inexperienced ones causing the majority of the pain.

Hal Gill, P.K. Subban (if we can call him experienced), and Josh Gorges have been somewhere between bad to mediocre. Spacek has missed too much time to give a grade to, but Emelin, Diaz and Weber have been, to my eyes, pleasant surprises and should not be wearing the goat horns.

It's easy to trot out "inexperienced defenders" as an excuse, but if you pinned your hopes to an aging Spacek, a huge question mark in Markov, and a scrap heap pick up in Campoli, then you probably deserve to lose. Goaltending has been solid, if not downright good, so where else can we look?

Behind the bench? Upstairs on the 7th floor? Bingo!

Jacques Martin's biggest task as Habs Coach is to put each asset in the best position to deliver, and use his resources in the most advantageous manner. So far, he has not done that:

  • Darche on the powerplay? At the expense of Kostitsyn and Cole? What?
  • Cammalleri on the penalty kill?
  • Hal Gill on the ice in overtime vs Kessel & Grabovski?
  • Not having correct personnel on the ice for key faceoffs?
  • Not using timeouts to get organized when matchups are a clear nightmare?
  • Several more too many men penalties? Figure it out, Jacques!
  • Not communicating roles and in-game changes with players?
  • Josh Gorges as a 6th attacker with the goalie pulled? Twice?
  • Not publicly accepting an ounce of accountability for the Habs worst start in 70 years?

What it boils down to is a gross misuse of resources and talent, a failure to recognize changes in the game and adjust accordingly. A stunning inability to manage matchups and keep a bench organized. Stubbornly sticking with what isn't working, despite all logic and "research".

Above all, it is the Coach's job to get the best out of his players, and to have them in positions to succeed. That isn't happening - as I've said - a defenceman isn't a forward, a 4th liner isn't a powerplay specialist and a 1st liner sniper isn't a penalty killer.

What about the GM?

Pierre Gauthier is another story.

Poor asset management, season-preserving trades, and a roster of mostly nice players that ultimately add up to today's incoherent mix that has no killer instinct, aggression, or ability to win a key faceoff.

That said, I do believe in this group's ability to be a lot better than what the Coach is getting from them. Assuming good health, Gionta, Plekanec, Cammalleri, Pacioretty, Kostitsyn and Cole ought to be locks for at least 20-25 goals each.

How many of those guys will hit those numbers this year?

It's up to the Coach to extract optimal production from them by creating a winning environment. For all their lack of killer instinct, the Coach very much doesn't help his cause. At all.

The Habs have been burning up their margin for error at warp speed, and it started at the break of camp.

The team never took it seriously, choosing instead to keep dozens of kids around while they squeeze bucks out of a bloated preseason schedule. The malaise has indeed carried over to the regular season. In the era of 3-point games, teams simply cannot afford to fall behind as the Habs have. Catching up is simply too hard, and relying on others to falter is a risky gamble at best.

Sure, the team may eventually turn it around somewhat, and maybe even come within a few points of 8th at some point around mid-season. The bandwagon will fill up again, but ultimately the injury bug will bite back and the team will predictably fade.

The apologists will say "See? If they didn't suffer so many injuries, they would have made up the ground". Yet another loser's excuse. The reality is that if they hadn't wasted so many games to start off the year, they wouldn't have to burn the midnight oil just to scrape back to 8th place.

Don't you dare tell me that once you make the playoffs, that anything can happen. In Montreal, the Cup is the goal (at least I thought it was), and if the last 17 consecutive Cup winners have shown us anything, it's that home ice advantage is required.

So what's the solution?

I think it's high time that Molson cleans house.

This management team has been conservative and glacial to the detriment of the on-ice product. They've kept the hamster wheel of mediocrity spinning, and have managed to trick us in to thinking they were close to something.

"Rise Together". So much for that. Replace the antiquated Coach and his obsolete system. With who? That's not my job to figure out. There has to be somebody out there that can create a game plan based on the tenets of speed and skill, not defence and passive counter-attacks.

Get a progressive, aggressive GM that has a better eye for pro scouting.

As for the remaining 74 games? Develop the youngsters and let nature take its course. If it results in a high draft pick for once, so be it. Enough of the big tease year-in, year-out.

It's a harrowing thought, but I never would have thought that the "Rise Together" campaign would be on life support a week before Halloween.

Kyle Roussel is the owner of cowhideandrubber.com, a sports blog primarily focused on the Habs. He can be found on twitter: @kyleroussel

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)


Welcome aboard Kyle and thanks for the post!

OK, I'm diving in...

You and I are on the same page on so many of the issues that face the Habs.

Personally, I never liked the sereptious way that Gauthier was just slid into the GMs role without doing a proper executive search.

I've never liked his style and doubled never liked his horrible pro scouting abilities.

IMO, a clean sweep is needed here and you have to think that Molson is putting out feelers.

At this point a reset is what is needed and with three huge games this week, things could move quickly if the Habs continue to slide.

..and right now, I think a reset is the best thing. The bar has been lowered far too much when squeaking into the playoffs in 8th place is a good thing.

I seriously doubt that martin is let go.

Thing about this. The average revenues for a home game in the playoffs is something like $2 million per game.

Martin has the remainder of this season and then next season at almost $2 million per season plus bonus'. Muller was making $1.25 million so ask what the 3 assitant coaches are making. A combined $2 million?

Can Molson afford to fire these guys and their combined $ 4million after having bought the team for $600?

Yes he wants to win a cup but he also must be fiscally responsible and I don;t see him parting ways with that much salary every year. Otherwise we would have already seen Gomez bought out.

@Bryan I agree that Martin won't be let go quickly, but I'm not buying the $$ argument.

Yes, he paid $600 Mil for the building and team, but he also wants to win. And sometimes, in order to win, you have to take two steps back before you can take any, forward.

So far, Molson has let PG and JM run the team as they see fit. But it's one of those "give them enough rope..." scenarios.

If he doesn't like what he sees and doesn't feel that current management can get things done he will act, regardless of the short term $ hit.

BG, PG and JM must go. For now I would forget the consultant position nand ask Serge Saverd to come in as an interim GM as Toronto did with Cliff Fletcher.I,m nervous as to what PG might do with the team to get it going.I would rather maintain the players and get another coach.Something has to be done with Gomez tho.Who sits when he comes Back? IMO, BG has to much influence with PG and he has to go to get rid of the BG culture. Fresh faces all round.

@anonymous: Bingo! We are in what, year eight of BG's five-year plan?

He still exerts a lot of influence and PG is in line with his thinking.

Nothing but a clean sweep will do, imo.

Wow...what a terrible start. I can only hope that Martin is the dead limb that is whacked off with the axe...but you know what? Even if that happens I do not believe that the player pieces are there to make a serious run at the cup. Especially this year...but even if we were to wipe the slate clean, put an offencive minded coach in...nope still can't see it. Too many mid level players..no stars.

Am I the only one who's reached a kind of zen-like state in regards to all these losses? I mean sure, losing really sucks, but maybe it's actually the best thing for the long-term success of the team? Only a historically bad situation like this would seem to maybe be able to pry Gauthier and Martin's hands off the team. So let the team do what needs to be done in order to shake things up (but hopefully in a manner that's not TOO panicky). And bonus, they could probably get a killer pick in this year's (rumoured to be very deep) draft. Just please not another David Fischer!

@anonymous (the last one): I agree. This is not a championship caliber lineup. I think that management needs to be swept out and that personnel changes are needed too.

Build around Price, Subban, Pacioretty, Gorges, etc...but, in a lot of ways, they need to start over/pick a new direction...

We need to start rebuilding again with like what Kamal said Price, Subban, Pacioretty, Gorges. I really hate the thought of finishing last but we have had one too many mediocre middle of the road picks due to not being bad enough or good enough. I say we bite the bullet finish last and get a great start on a rebuild with an amazing beast of a player in Nail Yakupov! Also throw an offer at Pierre McGuire as GM guy knows his stuff.

@jon: Good stuff! I think that finishing last is not something they'll do on purpose but could happen as a result of their play.

To be completely honest, I think it is impossible for Montreal to be as bad as they've been all season long. They do have a bunch of talent and will win some games. the problem, imo, is that Gauthier could make some moves to help them come closer to the 10th or 9th overall spot. And for what? To give away assets, still finish outside of the playoffs and get a worse draft pick?

As for McGuire, you and I are in the minority in that he would be at the top of my interview list were I the team owner.

However most, if not many, feel he doesn't have the skills.

Personally, I think he is an excellent fit as Habs GM!

I think the guy is smart and knows what the Habs need. I don't really think he can be judged until he's actually been a GM. Like i said the guys knows what he is talking about. Plus i know the Habs need francophone which is kinda unfortunate bc it limits us to a certain amount of options. But molson has a personal relationship with PM so who knows. I'm hoping for some change bc thats seemingly what we need along with a fresh start. I just hope they get to Goat before he gets rid of our young assets in trying to make a run which we wont have a chance at. No way with this team are we gonna win a cup!

@Jon: Well said! I agree, re: McGuire...but, at the same time, the argument can be made that he's interviewed for two or three GM positions and was never hired...so something must be up.

Still, I think the Habs would be doing well for themselves to bring in McGuire.

As for right now, you hit the nail right on the head...nothing would be worse than Gauthier moving assets and picks in a desperation attempt to grab the last playoff spot...

I think it would be better for the Habs to be sellers at the deadline and take one step backward in order to take two forward in a year or so.

But that's just me...

The Habs are doomed as long as they limit their choices to a Francophone GM and coach, instead of picking the *best*available* GM and coach. That's it in a nutshell. They won't win cups, but they'll be able to explain the losses to the press in both languages! Huzzah.

@Woodvid: Hah! Well said and I tend to agree. I don't think they're doomed but it is foolish business logic to limit your choices.

Why do that?

I think that anyone who complains that the coach or GM doesn't speak French (and that would be the minority) wouldn't care about language at all if the Habs were perennial cup contenders.

When the team is enduring 17-plus years of Cup-less-ness, it's easy to nitpick and complain about everything.

Ultimately, I hope that Geoff Molson will open up the search if or when it happens...but I somehow doubt it.

Pierre McGuire for GM? :-)

"Replace the antiquated Coach and his obsolete system. With who? That's not my job to figure out. There has to be somebody out there that can create a game plan based on the tenets of speed and skill, not defence and passive counter-attacks."

There is but he is in Tampa Bay now. They should have promoted him when they had the chance.

Common guys, anyone but Pierre McGuire as a replacement for Gauthier or Martin!

After reading this by Kyle, I'm left speechless. How can someone read my mind so well? After watching what JM did to a team with tons of talent here in Ottawa and then Florida, I cringed when they announced he would behind OUR bench.

We have been mired in mediocrity for years, plagued by finishing in the middle of the pack. Never good enough to attract great players and never bad enough to get decent draft picks.

Montreal has to get away from the mentality that coach and GM have to speak French and quickly. Old thinking is going to kill this team. Get the best GM and coach we can hire, Mr Molson, please.

I agree, it's time to hit the big olde reset button. The sooner the better. Please don't insult me with another dismal season full of hopes and what-if's. It sickens me to see JM behind the bench, game after game with his lack of fire and emotion. I don't want a Torts but I want someone behind our bench who can inspire the boys to dig in and give it all they've got, who can think during a game and adjust to the other team and who can show some (any) emotion when refs make a bad call.

How about this. How about we put Marky on the shelf for this year, get the cap space back and go after a d-man who will clear the front of the net. How about we package up a player or two and get a centre who can go to the front of the opponent's net with authority and not get bounced around like a little boy. How about we get a coach who can inspire, use the tools he has at his disposal to the best of their abilities, a coach who can get a lead and keep adding to it without trying to protect it.

I believe in this team because I have always been a Habs fan and always will be but please, PLEASE, DO NOT turn me into a Leaf fan who can only sit and wish and wonder...what if?

To all of you that want to clean house, I say do it today. I don't think that even if Martin rights the ship enough to get into the playoffs, that he is the right guy to coach. I was so mad when they hired him.

I am a Montrealer living in Ottawa and got to listen to his press conferences after most games. He always said the same thing, " it was a learning experience and we will be better for it" now he says pretty much the same thing here, and he still hasn't learned enough. Tampa sure did!! This past summer I read an interesting post that pointed out that in every statistical category, both Ottawa and Florida did better after he was removed as coach. During his time in Ottawa, we kept hearing that he was a poor communicator and had problems with young players. Did Gainey not have that information?

Gauthier has shown that he needs to go too! I am sick and tired of watching young players traded and having them do well elsewhere, O'Byrne and D'Agostini, both bigger bodies than most on the Habs now. Pulashaj is not panning out! I am also tired of watching Gauthier give away 2nd round picks for veteran fixes and then letting them go for nothing. It seems every other GM knows that 2nd roud picks are gold and that most of the decent players who make it were picked in the second round. Gauthier gives them away like halloween candy! He does it "just" to make the playoffs, not to build a true contender!!

I say, move them out and let the team finish lower in the standings with realistic expectations and build the Habs into a real contender for years to come. As a benefit, get a higher pick and don't waste it!!

As far as Pierre goes, I listen to him everyday on the local radio. He is knowledgable, but being a fantasy GM is not the same as being a real GM. Having said that, if Pierre practices what he preaches, I say give him the reigns and let him prove he can pull off the deals that need to be done. Then Geoff Molson, let him hire the BEST coach, not the best bilingual coach.

I am from a French family and I don't feel insulted. I am a die hard Habs fan and want a winning team every year. I don't think many complained when Toe Blake and Scotty Bowman had the team winning!!

The Habs need a GM with the vision and skills to make them a perennial contender and a coach who knows how to exploit the skills of the players he has been given. A coach that understands that keeping guys together when they are struggling will pay off with huge dividends long term in building chemistry and confidence. Constant line juggling kills cohesion and confidence. Can anyone remember John LeClair?

One last comment. Am I the only one that noticed during the introductions at the home opener that there were almost as many coaches as defencemen?

Maybe that is the reason for the confusion and too many men penalties. Since when does a team need that many coaches? I think that speaks to the ability of Martin to work with his players. Maybe that was the first step Gauthier is taking towards making the decision to move Martin upstairs or out!

In regards to Pierre McGuire I think we have to be honest and say that the guy absolutely loves himself. He seems to have an indepth knowledge of the league, and with upcoming players but he has never been a GM.

Nobody knows what sort of job he could ultimately do. It's one thing to know that this or that person is injured, it's an entirely different scenario to trade a player who you were close with or to part ways with a 1st round pick.

McGuire is the guy I have long wanted here in Montreal because of his tenacity and particuar interest in a certain type of player (i.e. gritty, in your face, canadian boys) and like Jon and KP I am a believer, despite being in the minority.

I have heard that Molson and McGuire are pretty tight so maybe that pipe dream is really not tha far away.

Question is who to find that can coach. We need someone who is familiar to the pressure of the montreal with enough gonads to stand up for what he believes.

We need a guy who can implement a system that compliments the roster that we present.

Not many otu there.

@stsicard: Good stuff! You are bang on, imo! The lack of communication, the poor in-game decisions, the lack of emotion and the inability to get the most out of his lineup mean that JM isn't getting the job done.

As for Gauthier, I was also never a fan of his hiring. He has been in charge of this team's pro scouting for years (since Gainey took over), and has made mistake after mistake in judging talent and worth.

It really is time for a clean sweep.

As for finishing lower in the standings, if that happens, it was happen naturally. No one is going to purposefully tank the season. You have to remember that the players have a tremendous amount of pride and are not about to tank to get a better draft pick.

It would be great if they did...but I don't see it!

@Bryan/stsicard: Re: McGuire...yep, no question he talks the talk but it is very different to walk the walk.

What I like about him is that he is a Montrealer and, deep down, a Habs fan. He wants this team to succeed and he feels he has the goods to get it done...and so do I.

The Molson/McGuire connection is that McGuire used to coach Geoff Molson once upon a time.

If there is a house cleaning done, I think McGuire will, at a minimum get an interview.

@kamal I didn;t mean that they should tank on purpose, but that if they fell in the standings doing the right thing to build for the future, it would be okay. Short term pain for long term gain! The bumus would be a higher draft pick. Quick question Kamal, do you know, for arguments sake, say Mr. Molson does clean house and hires Pierre (knows everything) McGuire. Would Pierre be able to interview current assistant coaches in the NHL and head coaches in the AHL?

@stsicard: Yep, understood...and I agree! My biggest complaint with this team is that for years they stretch themselves thin just to make the playoffs. Often, the "best" thing would be for them to fall short and get a better draft pick.

It's sad how low the bar has been lowered when making the playoffs is seen as success.


Excellent question re: coaches! The answer is yes and no. Yes a GM can talk to NHL assistants and AHL coaches but no, not without the permission of the team the coach works for.

Generally speaking, however, teams tend to grant that kind of permission as they don't want to "hold" someone back.

It might be a little stickier with assistant coaches in the NHL, and teams might prefer to wait till the offseason before changing parts of their staff.

That being said, I think what is important for the Habs IF they clean house, is to do a proper, exhaustive executive search for the right GM (and then coach), regardless of language.

It will be a HUGE test of the new Molson era to see how that is handled if and when they get there.

I think Ken Dryden said it best when he said that at some point, this organization would have to make a choice between being French and being a contender.

It's pretty easy to see the direction they've so far chosen...

I know that McGuire really liked Muller and predicted he would go. I therefore think Muller will be at the top of the list to return. Perhaps not as the coach but certainly as the Ass. Coach.

Realistically though it wouldn't be hard to put together a coaching staff. In a hypothetical what if McGuire wanted Robinson, Muller and Lemaire. Thats a pretty damn good staff. What about Hitchcock? I mean there are some quality guys out there as we speak.

I just want to see a GM with balls. Put a team together of guys with balls and let's make this team competitive every night instead of a team playing not to lose.

@Bryan: Couldn't have said it better myself!

Forget McGuire for a second, because ANY new GM would have to look for a new coach...

The idea was floated this week by ESPN's Pierre Lebrun that Michel Therrien would be a good reprisal. He knows the city and what it is to coach here, plus he learned a lot getting fired from Montreal and Pittsburgh.

As for Lemaire, I believe he publicly said he'd never come back to Montreal as a coach. But you never know!

I like Muller, Robinson, Hitchcock but, again, it all depends on whether the new regime will lean on the language crutch or not.

Defining times...

@Kamal: There is a similarity between the Savard/Demers ousting and the hopeful Gauthier/Martin ousting. Demers was a "line juggler " too. It spelled the end of Leclair in Montreal. I saw Leclair in an interview after he was in Philly for a year and when asked why he was successful in Philly and not in Montreal, his answer was that he would start on the first line, make a mistake, get bounced to the 4th line, sit a few shifts, then play on the 3rd. That was in Montreal under the other Jacques. Lecalir said when he arrived in Philly, he and the legion of doom were told that they would be together for 20 games no matter what and it was up to them to prove they should stay together, et voila!! chemistry and confidence!!

Does Jacques Martin study what his competators do? The great strategists of the world studied their opponents and in some cases went way back in history to study what successful peers did. Then they evolve and adjust.

I was a center when I played hockey. One year, when I was playing in an industrial league, one of the centres from another team came to me, he said, You have won every face off against me this season, how do you do it? I didn't answer, I just said, if I tell you, I may not win as much! The answer was, I practiced different ways to take the draw and never used the same way twice in a row. It was a fluke that he never beat me, but I did win a lot more than I lost because I learned from experience.

JM needs to learn how to adjust and learn from all the lessons he has learned. But, it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

I am with you, I hope Geoff Molson wants to be a winner and have a perennial contender every year, and that he has the wear with all to pull the trigger, do his due dilligence, without Gainey as an advisor, and find a GM that can do the job. No matter where they are from or if they speak French! Hitchcock is a very good coach, but I think his system is very much like that of Mr. Martin!

I will throw this out there. Maybe Gauthier brought Cunneyworth and Ladoucer up together so he wouldn't lose them like Boucher and his assistants and so he could move Martin out if things didn't work out and Cunneyworth and Ladoucer could take over. Of course Pearn would have to go being Jacques hand picked right hand man. Maybe Kostitsyn wasn't the only player concerned with Martin and his "style". Maybe the others were more professional about it and went to Gauthier quietly!

If Molson does clean house, he, or the new GM, could move Jodoin up as an assistant and bring Cunneyworth and Ladoucer back to Hamilton to save losing a couple fo coaches and having to pay them for nothing!

Thanks for the replies, everyone! I`m glad to be able to have started such a great conversation - and thanks to Kamal for the real estate, not to mention fielding replies while I grapple with the restrictions of company firewalls!

I really believe that we have not seen the last of Gainey. He`s familiar with the team, the media and the circus that is hockey in Montreal. Oh, and he`s bilingue. That edict is not likely going anywhere. But the popular candidates don`t make sense. Hartley was exposed as a lousy coach in Atlanta, Roy is the opposite of Martin and isn`t a good choice either. The summer will be the appropriate time to have a full search.

As for McGuire as GM...certainly he knows the league, it`s protocols and everyone in it. But he has no experience, and hasn`t held a job with a team in 15 years. He`s a gamble at best. For those who want anybody but the Ghost, he`s a good option. I`d like to see McGuire get a job, but I`m not sure if I want to see him here.

@kamal; So, what was that all about, fire the assistant? I guess Gauthier couldn't bring himself to sack his friend Martin and wanted to send a message to him and the players that changes will have to be made if they don't shape up. Well, they played well and won, but I still believe that Martin and Gauthier need to go. Over 2 summers the need for some skilled size with sandpaper hasn't been addressed and the decisions about the defence have been questionable. Having 2 players coming off knee surgery. Spacek should have been shopped for whatever teams were willing to offer and Wisniewski signed. He was good on the power play, fit in quickly and has an edge to his game.

Time for change, not be mislead by one solid game.

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