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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Roz's Rant: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly Truth about the Habs

If you haven't heard yet, the Montreal Canadiens finally relieved Jacques Martin of official scapegoat...errr...head coaching duties yesterday morning.

After hours of ruminating at work and then watching my PVR recording of Randy Cunneyworth's new incarnation of the team, as usual I've got a few thoughts to share.

The Good

I've been chatting all week with a fellow Habs fan at work.

Mike doesn't "do the internet" and on a good day, he might just get around to checking his email and deleting the 100 or so messages that pile up—because he ignores his computer.

He summed up Martin's tenure like this: "The man was hardly inspiring".

It's an opinion I've long shared but in and of itself, it's not the crux of the matter.

From the moment Martin was hired, I thought it was a bad fit for the team as it was constructed. The Habs are small, fast and skilled. Martin needs big, tough defensemen and fowards all playing a trap system.

As such, the marriage was doomed from the start.

It's not that Martin isn't talented. It's not that he didn't experience some success skippering this team. It's that he's no longer experiencing any kind of success or showing clear potential to achieve it before the Habs fall out of playoff contention.

Continuing with the 'Ugly', I'll turn my attention to Randy Cunneyworth, the Habs new interim head coach. Cunneyworth had a hard row to hoe with the Hamilton Bulldogs last year, and I'm willing to wait and see if he can dig deep again with the big club.

As for yesterday's loss to the Devils, there wasn't much Cunneyworth could change so close to game time, but he clearly did a bit of tweaking. Habs defenders were jumping into the rush time and again, the team maintained a two man forecheck, had more net presence, and players were managed better in terms of their roles and ice time.

I didn't expect a different team straight out of the gate, but there were tantalizing glimpses of some untapped potential. And that's something I haven't seen in a long time from this underperforming, underwhelming crew.

The Bad

The Canadiens skated hard and fast, shooting up and down the full length of the ice—playing a solid north-south game—but only for the first two periods. Is it lack of endurance that sees them unable to play a solid 60 minutes? Is it a mental fragility? Do they require the services of Dr. Phil?

Once the third period got underway against the Devils, the Habs retreated into their usual meltdown mode.

Last season they used to do it in the second period, which at least gave them a fighting chance to get back into the game and grab some points. Not sure why this mysterious phenomenon shifted into the third period, but it's making their nonsense that much harder to overcome.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

The coaching change aside, this team is nowhere near out of the woods yet. Firing Martin is not a magic cure-all for this team's ills, no more than acquiring Tomas Kaberle or a healthy Andrei Markov would be. There is still much work to be done and Cunneyworth was fighting an uphill battle before he ever took over for Martin.

It took maybe all of ten minutes for some French media on twitter to express their disappointment with the hiring of an Anglophone coach. It took maybe one millionth of that time for me to feel disappointment with professional reporters who clearly discriminate based on language—that's actually a human rights violation in this country.

My father was a mediator and a regional manager for the Canadian Human Rights Commmision for the better part of 20 years, and that discrimination thing works both ways in Canada.

I have to wonder if the disappointed media would be as understanding about Anglophone heritage and blatant discrimination against Francophone-only coaches were any other team, even any other sport, as self-righteous and open with their prejudice.

And why exactly would an interpreter not suffice?

Good on Pierre Gauthier and Geoff Molson for not panicking, pandering to RDS and hiring whatever third-rate but available bilingual coach they could get their hands on. That wouldn't serve the team in the interim or the long run.

But the fact is Habs management made this bed in the first place and it's the team's faithful fans—who don't care about anything except winning a 25th Cup—that have to lie in the soiled sheets.

Excuse me for a second while I climb down from this soapbox—who put that there anyway?

Chris Campoli's goal aside, this was not one of his better nights. As pointed out to me, he's just back from injury and will need some time to heal. I just hope he's not going to take as long as Andrei Markov to do it. Rim shot!

The Ugly Truth

Even if Randy Cunneyworth can get all of his players to buy into whatever system he chooses to employ, this team will not contend for the Stanley Cup this year. And Cunneyworth himself, even if he does get his miracle on ice, will not last past this season.

He's not bilingual and his leash looks suspiciously like a noose just because of that one fact.

It's not fair, but in this city and running this team, that's what it is. This is also his first head coaching gig in the NHL, and the Habs don't usually do so well under rookie coaches.

Just ask Guy Carbonneau.

The Habs have too many big issues to be fixed, in what's left of this season, by this band-aid coaching change. They need more size, more skill, and less dead weight. This team has drafted middle of the road for years, dealt or bought middle of the road players, and they are a middle of the road team as a result.

They are small, breakable and injury-riddled.

They are mentally and emotionally fragile, and show few signs of the team unity and spirit that carried them through the last two seasons. They frequently appear exhausted and either cannot or will not skate a full game.

Their high-priced acquisitions are either streaky or slumping, lazy or disinterested, depending on which point of view one subscribes to. But the bottom line is the Habs are habitually firing on only one cylinder at any given time. There is precious little offensive consistency outside the line of David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole.

Defensively this team is pinning its hopes on some battered veterans, struggling sophomores and a couple of rookies on a steep learning curve. That's hardly a recipe for success on the blueline, and Carey Price's stats this season versus last season's are partial evidence of that fact.

Another Cinderella story would not serve to better this team in the long run, which is where any true success now rests. The last time it happened I bitterly and successfully predicted the Canadiens would keep Martin longer than they should, just because of the fairytale factor.

I really don't care to see that movie again, thanks. The ending just sucks.

---
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 Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)

11 comments:

Good stuff Roz!

This season is going to hell in a handbasket REAL quick! TSN's Bob McKenzie talked about how Gauthier has ownership breathing down his neck...and I think that has been going on for a while.

The usual JM/PG lockstep was broken early in the year when Pearn was fired. Then, before Martin being let go, and RDS reporter said he heard an animated confrontation between PG and Martin.

The next morning, Martin was fired.

Gauthier is obviously under a ton of pressure right now and I believe Cunneyworth being interim has more to do with Molson not wanting to commit to PG.

He doesn't want PG to name a permanent coach and then have to fire him.

Gauthier, Cunneyworth and all of the Canadiens on-ice personnel are on notice, imo. They are being watched and I think, after seeing Martin dismissed, all bets are off.

Anything can happen for the rest of the season!

If Molson does intend on firing PG and company though, why wait for the summer? If he no longer believes in his philosophy, why let it continue for the better part a year?

At the end of the day, I believe (as pointed out at EOTP) that the Canadiens could put themselves in an interesting, Flyers-like positions by selling some assets and retooling for next year.

If Molson does intend on firing PG and company he doesn't HAVE to do it now, Louis. He bought some time and pressure release with the fans by having Martin heaved out the door.

Frankly I expected them both to last until the summer, when he can conduct a more thorough search without having to resort to fill-ins. Cunneyworth is willing to take a fill-in role, but unless Molson figures out before the summer who he wants as a fixture in the offices, he's better off biding his time to figure out his vision and his own people he wants to help him achieve it.

Thanks guys!

@Louis: You make a good point about retooling and, imo, that is exactly what the Habs need to do.

Take one step back so they can take two forward. This is an organization that has been too focused not missing the playoffs.

Just get in and anything can happen.

If, at any point over the last 15 or so years, someone had the balls to sell at the deadline, miss the playoffs, get a high draft pick and rebuild properly, Montreal would be in a better place right now.

NOW is the time to do exactly that.

As for Molson firing Gauthier, I'm with Roz...he bought himself some time and, at the same time, is giving Gauthier enough rope to hang himself with.

Also, firing Gauthier now would likely mean capitulating the season. At least now there is a chance they'll still make it (although I'm hoping they don't).

If Gauthier turns things around and the team makes the playoffs/has a decent run, then Molson wins.

If Gauthier falls flat on his face and has to be fired and replaced with someone of Molson's choosing, Molson wins.

Either way, Molson has all of the options. And, in the meantime, he can start scouring the hockey world to find out if there is a candidate he wants...regardless of how the team does for the rest of this season.

A smart business man always leaves himself outs.

I just can't see things coming together well enough to move the Habs into a playoff spot -- although I could be surprised. I'm only seeing this thing through a computer screen, but the lack of energy and excitement on the part of most of the team comes through pretty strongly.

There is, IMHO, too much wrong in Habs country to fix things by firing one man. Further, (side note) it is my considered opinion that Cammy should be sitting until he gets his act together. Just sayin'.

Whether we like i or not injuries have been a major factor on this season. Markov and Gomez have been gone for most of the season.

I also firmly believe that Cammalleri is battling something major. Add Gionta, Spacek, Campoli, etc.... and we have had a shit load (pardon the language) of injuries.

How many teams can survive and strive when then have 20% or more of the possibly cap out of the line-up?

Even last season, we took the cup champs to 7 games without Markov and Gorges. Just look at the difference that Gorges is making already and ask yourselves if we are even having this conversation if he was in the line-up.

Perhaps it is time to starting finger pointing at the man who put all of these small guys on the team (cough cough Gainey) or perhaps even look at the training staff who I have doubts are doing their job.

The problem with JM was that he couldn,t develope a system that suited the kind of players that the team is made up of. IMO they should have had a strong forchecking game because they have those smaller speedy forwards. Instead they trapped and now because of the trap they aren't in shape for 3 periods of strong skating. They are in trap shape not forchecking shape for 3 periods.JM only knew 1 system so IMO he was a system guy not a coach.How often did you see him instructing players on the the bench during play??

Thanks for your thought's on the Canadiens Rosalyn especially the remarks regarding the francophone media, it bugs me to no end their attitude about coaches having to be bilingual to coach the Canadiens!!! WHY? WHY? isn't it better to have the best man for the job rather than his ability to speak french I have been around Quebec enough to realize Quebecer's speak English. I also do not believe that it is the individual ticket buyer complaining here it is quite simply the media. JM was not by along shot my choice of the man for the job, he sort of got more out of the boy's than I thought he would the first couple of years here, but you just knew it would all come crashing down. And it did surprise, surprise. Well lets hope that Habs head office get their heads screwed on straight get rid of some of these useless contracts such as Gomez's and get things back on track!!!

I am obviously an Anglo and my take is to simply hire the best coach available. I could care less if they were French, English, Swedish, Russian of Afghan. Show me wins is all that I care about.

The problem is that Quebec is different. Forget about hockey just look at the politics and opinions which govern this province.

Immigrant kids forced to learn French and go to French school, signage has to be 2/3 french and 1/3 English. I mean the views here are not of a select few but rather wide spread. Almost a need to separate from Canada via referendum

It is sad that this is what happens with a thought process that is so backwards believing that it is necessary steps to preserve a language but it is the reality.

I've had the luxury of going to France a few times and I can assure you that the French almost despise Quebec. Making fun of those who speak Quebecois.

With all this said however the fact remains that Quebec is different. The Quebecois hold onto language as a guiding force in many decisions with Les Canadiens always at the forefront.

It is sad but it is a fact that we will never be able to select the best coaches, best GM's unless they have the ability to speak French.

The majority of the people here would rather see Michel Bergeron back behind the bench then Mike Babcock.

Let's just hope that someone becomes available soon.

@Anonymous "a system guy, not a coach" is a good line and I'm inclined to agree with it. He coached the players into his system, instead of adapting his system to suit the players and their skills / talents. Most of the time coaching on the bench seemed to come from either Muller or Cunneyworth, especially when the chips were down.

Charles thank you, but according to two different surveys you get two different results: in one the majority of Quebec and Montreal believe the Habs should hire the best coach regardless of language and in the other the majority believe language should be the primary consideration.

Bryan, I get all that. I really do. But if the Habs continue to hamstring themselves like this then it makes it just that much harder to win a cup, in which case I think those whining about not winning have no legs to stand on. The Habs play plenty of tribute to the culture of their province in absolutely every possible way, day in and day out, and I don't think a translator should be such a deal breaker. And when the Cup continues to elude us because we're restricted to the Michel Bergerons and let the Mike Babcocks go and Babcock gets his Cup ring elsewhere, then will the press be happy? Cause they will have gotten exactly what they asked for from this organization.

And Bryan, seriously who do you think is out there that is a Cup winning bilingual coach who can pander to the fans and media both? Bob Hartley? Marc Crawford? The 2nd Coming of Patrick Roy with all his people skills and vast wealth of coaching experience?

I don't need to hope one becomes available soon, because Molson and the press have made it clear that it's not a priority. We're going to hire a second rate coach to lead a mediocre on-ice product and get the same results, but hope we get something different. Please forgive my lack of enthusiasm.

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