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.
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 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.
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(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)