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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Roz's Rant: Calm Winds Blowing over Jacques Martin

Jacques Martin - Boston Bruins v Montreal Canadiens - Game ThreeJust outside of my hometown of Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland there is a stretch of highway sandwiched between the mountains and the sea where the wind blows so fiercely that it has been known to derail trains. The CN Railway used to employ a gentleman by the name of Lachie MacDougall, and would call him up to check that it was safe to run the trains through.

That was years ago and the trains and Lachie have long gone but the winds still blow so fiercely that there are times when local residents will not brave the area, and transport trucks miss their delivery deadlines because the Mounties have shut down the one highway out of town.

Why am I telling you this and what does it have to do with the Montreal Canadiens?

Well I am about to pull a Lachie MacDougall and tell you which way the wind is blowing and how hard.

Fresh on the heels of news that the Washington Capitals have parted ways with Bruce Boudreau—the Carolina Hurricanes also dropped Paul Maurice in favour of ex-Hab assistant coach Kirk Muller—came the usual cries for the dismissal of Jacques Martin from behind the Canadiens bench.

Let me put it bluntly: barring something unforeseeable such as a 10-game losing streak, Martin's job is safe.

I will admit that some of his decisions are truly head scratchers for me.

Michael Cammalleri is not, nor will ever likely be, a sound defensive player. Yet it does not deter Martin from putting Cammalleri on the penalty kill. I can only suppose that, unlike me, Martin believes that if he hammers long and hard enough, a square peg can be forced into a round hole.

Yet my dislike of this coach goes right back to the day he was announced and it stems directly from his record.

In his 1,286 games as head coach of an NHL team, he has a Win-Loss percentage of .450.

His best year was with 1998-99 in Ottawa, when he won the Jack Adams trophy for Coach of the Year, and the Sens won their division. Looking at his entire body of work though, he is a mediocre coach who had one great year.

When he was initially hired my first thought was that the Habs will continue to be a bubble team and that RDS would be happy to have a French-speaking coach.

The fans who had long griped about Canadiens' rookie coaches, would finally be getting the experience they had felt was lacking under Guy Carbonneau.

Be careful what you wish for.

A coach with over 1000 games in the NHL does not lack for experience, but his record is hardly impressive either. I found it hard to believe that his mediocre record would suddenly skyrocket in the fishbowl existence that is the city of Montreal.

Rewinding to the playoffs of two years ago, this mediocre coach, assisted by Kirk Muller, rode a red-hot goalie and some hard workers into an Eastern Conference Finals berth—Montreal subsequently lost to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Martin's had his bit of luck in Montreal too, and some of that is no doubt due to the defense first system I abhor.

Fast forward to present day and the Habs are still nowhere near the top tier of their own division or conference, let alone the league. What promise they showed almost two seasons ago has been revealed to be the aberration it was all along.

But Martin did get this team into the playoffs last season as well, and may even do so again this season.

Currently the Habs are only a couple of points out of a playoff berth, and no matter what the insightful statisticians will tell us, teams and players always point out that the playoffs are a new season and anything can happen.

Under Martin I see no great progression for this team, but then again he's not the only coach to have run the Habs bench since their last championship almost 19 years ago. So it's hardly fair to hold him up as the pariah of all the ills this team is suffering.

Injuries are also part of the reason Martin is currently safe.

This is his third season working with a depleted defensive corps and under his system they are the legs the team stands on, Carey Price included. That he even made the playoffs last season with a dozen different defensemen is entirely to his credit.

This season he's working once again with too many injuries, both on the blueline and at forward. He has problems with his powerplay, been given new assistant coaches, lost one of his long time associates and been given too many rookies to babysit.

It is a heavy load for any coach to bear.

So why is it the Canadiens have not evolved into a high level team? Other than that one post-lockout season where they finished top in the league, have they ever looked like they could reclaim Lord Stanley's trophy?

That's not all on Martin.

If the Habs are out of contention by late January there might be a coaching change. If the Canadiens inexplicably go on a double-digit losing streak there might be a coaching change.

Barring such drastic failures, he has bought his goodwill from the organization by hauling this injury-riddled, under-performing group into the post-season two years running, delighting the fans and generating massive playoffs revenue for the team's owners.

If he does it for a third consecutive year I am convinced he will ride out the fourth year of his contract as well. Jacques Martin is a competent coach. The problem for him is that he is coaching in Montreal, where mere competency is not good enough.

And as a fan I must bear some culpability for this team's fortunes too. I may want things to change, but I don't send a clear message where it counts the most.

Canadiens fans might be a generation removed from seeing the Habs routinely slide into the elite teams category, but there are still enough of us around to keep those fires burning bright when common sense would threaten to spoil our fun.

The fact is as a Habs fan I pay a premium for what is essentially a mediocre product. Or at least I did up until recently.

This year instead of my usual jaunt to Montreal to take in a game wherein I would pay Geoff Molson around $600 of my hard earned salary, I'm going to use that money to lie on a tropical beach instead.

Meanwhile it's still safe for the Jacques Martin Express to roll on threw. The winds of change aren't blowing hard yet.

---
Rosalyn used to frequent the old Forum during her early childhood when her father was a corporate season ticket holder, where she fell in love with Larry Robinson, so her lifelong obsession with the Habs is entirely his fault.

Follow Rosalyn on Twitter

(Photo by Philip MacCallum/Getty Images North America)

13 comments:

Welcome to my world Ros.

I have made the decision not to spend my hard earned money on the habs at all until they start rewarding us. Mediocrity is no longer an option for me.

Keeping a coach who bores the hell out of me is unacceptable. Staying put because it is fiscally responsible just doesn't cut it.

I have not purchased a ticket in 2 years instead relying on my social network to go to games.

Instead I choose a market every year or perhaps 2 and then watch games there. Now that the wife works for Air Canada that becomes even easier.

What beach by the way? I think I am going to keep my money and head to Florida in March with the kids.

Good stuff Roz and too true!

As much as fans want his head, JM isn't going anywhere any time soon. Well at least not right now.

He and Gauthier go back to their days in Ottawa and it will take a hell of a lot of PG to fire his old friend.

That being said, the firing of Pearn was, I think, a shot across Martin's bow. I think notice was served and I believe that if things continue to stray this season there could be some changes.

Personally, I don't think the Habs will ever win a championship with the current coach and management staff, Gainey included.

Sad, but true.

@KP
Realistically the majority of the teams in this league can say the same thing. Apart from the Red Wings, the Penguins, the Devils.....most teams are surprises when they got to the cup. Ride a possessed goaltender for 20 game.

We have been among the most consistent teams making the playoffs every year. Have been among the select few to get to the conference finals.....

Most teams in this league would kill for that opportunity with limited success.

@Bryan

Florida is lovely. Just came back from the Tampa area and the sun was just splendid. They apparently have an interesting hockey team down there as well ;)

@KP

What infuriates me with the current management and ownership group is not their lack of hockey knowledge or the fact I consider their moves to be misguided. Rather, I feel there is a lack of drive to do whatever needed to win.

Why on earth is Gomez not in Hamilton? Or Europe? Or in the Asian League for all I care?

Why is this team not aggressively pursuing potentially available, young top talent like Rick Nash or Jeff Carter? As much as the Flyers goaltending woes have become laughable, it is equally laughable that the lack of size up front has continually been ignored by management.

Just thought I'd ask where you got the idea that JM is a 0.450 career coach.

He has a win-loss percentage of 0.551 in the regular season (those 1286 games you refer to). He is indeed 0.450 in the playoffss.

I think this dichotomy is what most people see as the primary problem with jacques. He's a great regular season coach, but when it comes to the intensity of the playoffs where adaptability is more necessary, his steady approach (even stubborn) is less useful.

@Bryan - I'm actually going to Panama.

@Kamal - I agree. No drive to make this team into a top contender, at least other than lip service.

@Louis - I think sometimes that the Habs "image" thing rules all.

@Topham - I did get it off a hockey stats website. Anything near the .500 mark still makes him a mediocre coach at best, with no true record of sustained success other than that one year in Ottawa, and you nailed it with the playoffs thing.

Good article. But (you knew that was coming, right?) I have never (in more than 30 years of being a Canadiens fan) been to a game there. And while I have no great affection for JM -- and have been fairly vocal (at least on Twitter) about it, if I have the chance to go to MTL this Spring, I will. I suppose I could risk Pittsburgh, though as a Browns fan, that goes against the grain :), or Detroit or (heaven help us) Columbus (although I don't think we play there this year; will have to check) but just once I want to see the Habs in Montreal. Sorry if I'm letting the side down. :)

Janet, I think once in over 30 years warrants a pass as you have been sending your message that long. LOL If you get a chance to go, there's truly nothing like a game at the Centre Bell, no matter who the opponent is and whether they win or not. I hope you get to go and enjoy! Thanks!

@Bryan: When did mediocrity and "making the playoffs" become the bar?

When did a second round playoff exit become success?

Sure the Habs consistently make the playoffs, but who cares? They've haven't been a legit contender for decades and, while there have been some exciting series along the way, they haven't won anything since 1993.

Oh how far this organization has fallen.

Nice work, Roz. I echo many of the same sentiments.

For my part, I have not been to a game since march 2009, and at that, it was a Christmas gift. I haven't paid for tickets in years, and that is very intentional. I'm loathe to pay for tickets while the team bathes in mediocrity.

The organization has spent much money and effort in the past few years trying to distract us with past glory while preaching that a team need only make the playoffs, when "anything can happen".

In fact, as I did the research, "anything" is entirely a stretch. 5-8 seeds have not won anything since the Devils in 95. It's sheer and utter lunacy to believe that making the playoffs is some sort of accomplishment. The Canadiens have successfully managed to lower the bar for the majority of fans to just accepting anything better than 8th place. And since they seem to thrive (if we can call the occasional upset thriving) as an underdog, why strive for the upper echelon of the league?

Sure, sure. Injuries. What a cop out. I won't say that they've had no effect, but good teams plan for them and good coaches mitigate those injuries by getting the most of his players & situation. Darche on the PP? Gorges as a 6th attacker? Ignoring Cole's impact on? Terrible coaching decisions have hampered this team as much as the injuries have, and nobody will convince me otherwise.

I have nothing to back this up with, but it feels like the more tools Martin is given, the less he's able to accomplish. But take away the skill, and he can coach up a team to be competitive. That's not the path to winning a cup. That's the treadmill of mediocrity.

Kyle, thank you for your feedback and kind words. I read your excellent piece on stats for playoff teams and how 5-8 teams are longshots and I couldn't agree more.

As for lowering the bar, I find that unacceptable but this team is highly profitable so I guess Molson doesn't agree. I am quite truthfully disappointed in him, because I believed him when he said he wanted the Cup back in MTL but it seems the almighty dollar trumps all.

I was kind to JM in the post when I wrote that his decisions were head scratchers. You put it so much better. I can't figure it out and don't pretend to try anymore.

I don't think Martin and PG always see eye to eye, which is worrisome. Cole is a big, power forward with a nice pair of hands who goes to the dirty areas and JM restricts his ice time to 3rd line levels.... makes me wonder.

@Kp

Fine line here between sports and business.

For Habs fans we have been spoiled for so many years with so many cups. Just making the post season and sure we are happy but not winning the cup is seen as a disaster every year.

However what if the Expos were still around and they simply made the post season? Would we be disappointed with not bringing home the World Series? No. This city would be going crazy just for getting there because it is unfamiliar ground.

As a Habs fan simply making the playoffs should not be enough, however there are 20 teams in this league (if not mor) who see this as an accomplishment. The issue is that our bar is higher than most.

What about management? Just making the playoffs ensures profits. Obviously the deeper they go the happier they get because it ultimately generates more money however fiscal responsibility must be at the forefront for Molson and his partners.

If they bury the Gomez contract for instance then this would cost Molson something like 2 home playoffs games just to get into the black. It's a decision that really doesn't make much sense for them unless there is a guarantee to go deep in the playoffs.

In a perfect world we'd have no Gomez, no Martin, no Spacek. We'd have a ton of young up and coming players, and we'd be a dominant team in this league contending for the cup on a yearly basis.

Unfortunately the NHL is no longer a game. It's governed by economics and a CBA restricting what teams can spend. Unfortunately I think this translates into "just making the playoffs" becoming the norm.

It's tough to say this and I can't believe these word are going to come out of my fingertips BUT....

A) The Habs were in the Conference Finals two years ago.
B) Last year we took the eventual Stanley Cup champs to a coin flip Game 7.
C) The team has been ravaged by injuries.

Martin has been doing a pretty good job with glue and tape holding this team together.

Gauthier is the problem with this team. Signing Markov? Seriously? Letting Wiz go was a mistake and it has shown. This team needs another goal scorer to compliment and help Plekanec and Cammalleri. We should have gone after Brad Boyes at the trade deadline last year.

Either way, we'll be fine. Keep the faith. Our time is near.

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