Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Boucher waves goodbye

Only hours after it appeared that maybe Guy Boucher would indeed remain in the Canadiens family he so glowingly spoke about last Thursday, it appears the talented young coach is going to be joining Steve Yzerman, Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier in Tampa Bay.

Ruefrontenac.com's Martin Leclerc reported late Monday night that Boucher is indeed taking Yzerman's offer to become his first coaching hire. And it's a mighty good one, I might add.

I personally felt like the fit may be better in Columbus, but obviously Boucher disagreed. He's got two young, rising stars to build around in Stamkos and Victor Hedman and highly skilled veterans to help him sell his message, assuming they buy into it. Of course, no one I've ever spoken to who has played for Boucher has ever said a single bad thing about him, so I don't see why guys like St. Louis and Lecavalier would not jump on board. 

Frankly, it doesn't particularly matter why Boucher decided to choose Tampa Bay over Columbus, not when it comes to the Canadiens. All that matters is that the hottest coaching talent in hockey just left the organization.

But really, what were the Canadiens supposed to do? The only way Boucher would be coaching in Montreal right now would be if Bob Gainey had hired him right out of junior last summer, and bringing in a rookie coach was exactly what he didn't want to do after firing Guy Carbonneau. Experience was the number one criteria for that coaching hire (aside from that pesky language thing, of course) so Gainey was not about to hand the job to yet another rookie, even though it seemed pretty obvious back then that Boucher was destined for the NHL. Still, Gainey might very well have been roasted for hiring another coach with no experience to come and learn (read: fail) in Montreal so he could succeed elsewhere.

So Gainey went with Jacques Martin, and to lure him out of Florida he threw big money and a cushy four-year contract at him as well (which, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie, is what Yzerman is throwing at Boucher). That contract, and the fact Martin just led an injury-riddled team into the playoffs for a near-magical ride to the conference final made it so there was really no way to justify a coaching change in Montreal at this time.

And unfortunately for the Canadiens, the time to make Boucher coach was now.

I've heard a lot of people say that Boucher will be able to come back after gaining experience elsewhere, so that for once the Canadiens are not the league's coaching farm system. But I don't think Boucher will be the coach in Montreal any time soon because he's going to build something pretty great with Yzerman in Tampa Bay. It's just a feeling I have, just like I did about Claude Julien, but it's one I didn't have about Michel Therrien or Alain Vigneault. As it turns out, all three of them went on to become more than competent NHL coaches after learning the job in Montreal. 

I think it could be quite a while before we see Boucher out of a job and available at a time when the Canadiens need a head coach.  But I can assure you of one thing: should the Habs get off to a slow start and the Lightning rockets out of the gates, the heat will be on Pierre Gauthier and Martin like never before.

That's just the nature of the beast in this city.


MathMan said...

Frankly, I can see how, after the fluke ECF run, the Habs couldn't just let Martin go and fill their #1 area of need: a coach with strong developmental skills and a modern hockey system. It's sad, but I can see why that thing just isn't done.

But this is still disastrous for the Habs. No two ways around it. They let the best coach of their organization walk away so they can keep a guy who's been, frankly, terrible for them, and was only carried to where he got by sensational, unsustainable goaltending.

Of course, Halak can't be faulted for doing his job so well, but by dragging Martin to the playoffs in spite of himself then dragging him to the ECF finish, he gave him an undeserved immunity. In a sick, twisted, completely wrong sort of way, Halak may prove to be the worst thing that's happened to the Habs this decade. Forcing the Habs to keep Martin like he did may put the team in a 2-year developmental hole unless the experienced coach radically turns his game around. I will not be holding my breath.

I feel the Habs will still need to replace Martin sooner rather than later if they are to make any progress, and now the #1 candidate for a replacement has walked away. Where are the Habs going to find that developmental wizard, that modern coach? Martin isn't the solution long-term -- I contend he isn't the solution short-term, either, but the Habs are stuck with allowing him to continue his, ah, "work", at least until his luck runs out and the house of cards collapses.

When that happens the Habs will still need a better coach, as they do now... and they just let one get away.

It's hard not to be pessimistic about an off-season that starts off so very poorly. There's no reason to believe things can't possibly look up for the rest of the summer... but why am I feeling we're seeing just the start of a very, very rough offseason, followed by a season that will be very short... but will feel very long? How long does it take for the Habs to right the ship after this one?

In any case, I think Tampa finishes ahead of Montreal next year, and makes the playoffs.

Olivier said...

Ah, the language thing. Too bad we don't all speak english in this town (hell, in this province!); then things would be simpler, we wouldn't be stuck waiting for Godot/Boucher and the habs would be better.


So, Martin it is, till hell or high water. Let's see what Gauthier does in the offseason before calling the hounds.

LeMatheux said...

If Martin is the coach next year, I don't think roster moves particularly matter. I don't think there is a player who's actually a good fit for this... thing... that they're playing, the system that's supposed to be defensive and yet somehow bleeds chances against.

Sliver24 said...

@ Olivier: What Arpon is inferring with his (obviously tongue-in-cheek) comment is that it's unfortunate that the Habs have to start every search for a coach or GM with one proverbial hand tied behind their back.

So please, spare us the woe-is-me routine, at least here in Habs Land. We here in Montreal hear enough if it on a day-to-day basis. The only thing people here care about in the context of this blog is hockey and a winning Habs team.

Once you're done making your (usually insightful) comments about hockey you can go back to being exploited by the rude lady at Eaton's... uh, Eatons... that won't serve you in French.

Olivier said...

@silver24: As I said, things would be simpler (if only in habs land) if we all spoke english.

No need to be rude toward the ladies over at Eaton.