Unfortunately, it appears I do.
Criticism of Bob Gainey's decision to poach Jacques Martin from the Florida Panthers and install him as the first experienced head coach of the Canadiens since 1995 has been pouring in from all sides, except for the large majority of the French media which have deemed the move as brilliant.
The most stinging criticism I've read came via Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber, simply because I respect his opinion so much. When he reports that every hockey executive he spoke with at the Stanley Cup final feels Gainey blew it with this hire, that has to give fans some reason for concern.
On the other end of the spectrum was La Presse curmudgeon Réjean Tremblay, who considers Martin "tailor made" for the position and gave Gainey a "Bravo" for hiring him, the same Gainey that Tremblay felt needed to be fired as recently as late April.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between, but I would have to say it is leaning ever so slightly toward the brilliant side.
First of all, like it or not, the pool of candidates is severely limited by the language issue, so a lot of the Bruce Boudreau or Cory Clouston types that are so en vogue right now could not even be considered. Add to that Gainey's insistence that the new coach have a long and proven track record in the NHL, and the potential list becomes minuscule.
Essentially, you had Bob Hartley and Marc Crawford as available candidates that fit the bill, and not a whole lot else. Martin was not available, tied to a contract to serve as GM of the Panthers until 2011-12, and therefore flew under the radar a bit.
The fact Florida CEO Alan Cohen gave no resistance to Martin's departure says a little something about what he thinks of the work he did, but much of the Panthers problems right now are tied to Mike Keenan trading away Roberto Luongo for a bag of pucks just before being fired. In fact, I would say the only reason the Panthers came within a point of the playoffs this season was Martin's shrewd move of trading away Olli Jokinen to rebuild a defence corps that was among the best in the conference by grabbing Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton from the Coyotes.
Listen, I am not and never have been a big fan of Martin's simply because, no matter what he says, he's a boring coach who champions an unattractive version of a beautiful game. But I do have to give credit where it is due, and what he accomplished in Ottawa was pretty extraordinary.
He took one dimensional wingers like Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat and turned them into complete players, plus he made Jason Spezza a pretty dominant centre, though not one I would necessarily want leading my team.
While his Senators teams were constantly being labeled as soft come playoff time, and it was largely justified, the fact remains that Martin could never rely on a dominant playoff goalie. He platooned Damian Rhodes and Ron Tugnutt in 98-99, which resulted in a first round sweep at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres. Deadline acquisition Tom Barrasso lost in six games to the Leafs in 99-00, and then it was Patrick Lalime in goal for the next four years.
Lalime's playoff numbers, you might be surprised to know, were actually pretty outstanding over those four playoff seasons. He had a 1.77 GAA and .926 save percentage, but only a 21-20 record thanks to his propensity for allowing bad goals at bad times. Nevertheless, Martin's Senators made it to the seventh game of the 2003 Conference final before losing by a goal to the eventual Cup-champion New Jersey Devils.
The one year Martin coached Roberto Luongo in Florida, he was also handcuffed with aging veterans Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Martin Gélinas and Jozef Stumpel in his lineup. Then Keenan traded Luongo away for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen and Alex Auld, leaving Martin to coach an old team with an aging Ed Belfour in nets.
Listen, I'm not trying to make excuses for Jacques Martin, but I don't really believe he's been given a fair shake for the playoff failures of the Senators. I'm also not saying that Carey Price will provide Martin with a dominant playoff goalie for the first time in his coaching career, because Price clearly hasn't shown yet that he's that guy.
All I'm saying is that Martin has accomplished a lot without necessarily having the best cards dealt to him. For instance, if you look at the Senators lineup in Martin's first full season with the team, Alexei Yashin was 22, Daniel Alfredsson was 23, Alexandre Daigle was 21, Radek Bonk was 20 and Wade Redden was 19. Yet Martin still got the team in the playoffs. Two years later, they finished second in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Canadiens obviously don't have that kind of high-ceiling young talent, but I would have to believe that guys like the Kostitsyn brothers, Christopher Higgins, Tomas Plekanec, Guillaume Latendresse, Maxim Lapierre, Ryan O'Byrne, Yannick Weber, Matt D'Agostini, Max Pacioretty and maybe even P.K. Subban will all benefit from Martin's presence and will grow far more than they would have under Guy Carbonneau.
In fact, I can see Higgins and Plekanec in particular thriving under Martin because they appear to be perfectly suited to his coaching philosophy, which hinges on defensive responsibility leading to offensive opportunities.
So let's give the guy a chance and see what he can do with what is likely to be the best roster Martin has ever had when starting a new job.
If he can't get it done by Christmas, of course, he should be fired.