"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)