Friday, June 4, 2010

A Hab at heart

No, I'm not saying that because I feel that Guy Boucher has some insane level of undying loyalty to the Canadiens that he would turn down an NHL job in the hopes of one day coaching in Montreal.

I'm saying that because he managed to speak to reporters today for a full hour without giving the slightest clue as to what he would he do should the opportunity to grab an NHL job arise.

Boucher is a smart man, that's hardly breaking news. But after listening to him speak at length today about the rumours and innuendo swirling around him regarding a potential job in Columbus or elsewhere, I came away even more impressed with Boucher than I already was.

Here's the story I wrote today on Boucher's future and also a little bit of what makes him successful as a coach, but really, that only probably scratches the surface.

Just hearing P.K. Subban talk about the Bulldogs as his family made me understand what kind of a mastermind Boucher is when it comes to dealing with people. But today, he provided several other examples.

My colleague and good buddy from La Presse Marc-Antoine Godin asked Boucher today why he wasn't on the ice with the Canadiens prospects at the ongoing development camp in Brossard. Here's what he said:

"From above it lets me takes notes. All the scouts are there, they're the ones that know these guys, and if I'm on the ice I can't ask them questions immediately. I'm not going to skate around with a notebook so I can write down my questions to ask them later. I prefer being up there to ask my questions, and I filled out a whole notebook on each player. It lets me gather some information before having them with me next year so I'm ahead of the game. I have an approach that is individual, and that takes information on each individual. This allows me to do that."

If you had seen the drills these guys were doing, you would be wondering like I was how Boucher managed to fill out notebooks on each player. But that answer, that approach, shows Boucher is a coach of men. He doesn't coach a team, he coaches men and makes them into a team based on the individual needs of each man. This guy, clearly, understands what makes players tick. Or at least, that is Boucher's priority, not X's and O's and systems and whatnot.

That's not to say Boucher leaves tactics aside, because he's also a progressive thinker on that front, but he wants to make absolutely certain he knows everything possible about the players he will be asking to give their all for him and the team. That is new school coaching, and something I think today's player really needs.

The Canadiens are in an impossible situation when it comes to Boucher. Pierre Gauthier has made it clear the team will not stand in his way if an NHL team comes calling, which is exactly the same approach every other team in the league would take. You don't want to be known as an organization that holds coaches back, so anyone hoping the Habs would force Boucher to honour his multi-year contract can forget it.

But his loss would be a great one, simply because Montreal's young prospects are being exposed to his approach, and it's something they will carry with them forever whether Boucher is here or not. Another season of that kind of influence would mean a great deal to the organization.

I asked Philippe Lefebvre - the undrafted prospect from the Drummondville Voltigeurs that got a tryout with the Canadiens last year thanks in large part to Boucher and earned himself a pro contract - to describe the uniqueness of playing under such a cerebral coach.

"It's tough to say," Lefebvre said. "It's an experience you have to go through to understand."

That answer told me that Lefebvre was deeply impacted by coming into contact with Boucher, and whether or not he ever gets a chance to play for him again I got the impression that his contact with Boucher will stay with him forever.

Boucher dropped a bunch of hints that he's enjoying his time with the Canadiens, and he's also on record saying that someone needs to spend a lot of time in the trenches in order to make sure they are prepared for the future. He's the type of guy I could see saying to himself that perhaps he needs to experience a season in the AHL where everything doesn't turn out so well, where he doesn't win coach of the year and his team finishes with the second best record in the league and comes within a game of the Calder Cup. That maybe he needs to fail and recover at that level before moving on.

But I have trouble believing a man who has Boucher's self-confidence - and it's oozing off of him - would turn down a shot at an NHL job.

If indeed he is offered the job in Columbus, Boucher would have a team with a superstar offensive talent, some young pieces around him up front to support him, and a young goalie that still shows a ton of promise despite a rough sophomore season. He'd have a suspect defence, but that would be the only downside.

You could do worse for a first gig, because usually when you're hired as an NHL coach it's because the team is not succeeding. The new coach in Atlanta, for instance, will be walking into a situation where he is bound to fail. But Columbus has the potential to succeed even though this past season was atrocious. 

If I were him, I'd take it. But I'm not him, and he might not.



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blake said...

I think the habs should let go of martin and give boucher the head coaching job!

V said...

Another good article Arpon. Like most, I hope Boucher stays and/or is available to us when we need a new coach.

Looking at the comments to your previous post, I am surprised that some people think the Hab's regular season is a better indicator of where they really stand than the playoffs.

The regular season is nothing more than prep for the playoffs. Regular season performance is only significant when it proves to be a predictor of post-season performance. When it doesn't, you can safely disregard it. Especially with a team that struggeled with injuries and needed time to come together as a brand new group - Gorges said as much in post-season interviews.

Except for those that just hate the mangement team, I am also surprised people are worried post season success will blind management to team shortcomings. I suspect they have a very good idea for what needs to be addressed and Gauthier has been steady so far - doing no more or less than he has needed to.

Great to have you back posting. Missed you while you were on your other assignments.

MathMan said...

@V: I don't see why it matters whether we look at the Habs in the regular season and the playoffs as an indicator... they were actually equally lousy in both, but unreal goaltending and generous helpings of luck allowed them to progress to the ECF, accumulating a 9-10 record in the process. And I hope that you're right that the Habs' brass won't be blinded, and that they realize that the way the team played, they're nowhere close.

IMO letting Boucher go would be a disaster, and set back the Habs' improvement. In a perfect world, if he asks to be released from his contract, the Habs should immediately offer him the Habs' head coach job. It won't happen, of course, but Martin has been a major bust for the Habs, one that has gotten unearned immunity from re-examination purely from Halak's heroics. His playoffs have been pretty terrible as well; his "tight defensive system" was anything but, and basically could be summarized as "let's let these guys bombard our goalie and hope he saves our asses" and Laviolette soundly outcoached him for an easy series win.

Boucher may not be a miracle worker, but it's hard to envision him doing worse, and at least we know he can handle young players and make them progress... not regress and get shipped out of town as has happened to an alarming number of kids this season (Martin struck me as responsible for the ridiculous Latendresse trade, for example).

V said...


They finished 9-10 but that's misleading. They were 8-6 against two of the better teams in the league. And 1-4 against what is beginning to look like a team that is truly peaking... one that finished right where they did in the regular season.

Sure they had some luck - but so does everyone else and it's a little unfair to point to luck after defeating better opponents twice over 14 games. The goaltending was the big difference, but it's supposed to be. And all this without Markov. His ability to clear the zone and defensive game aside, the lack of a powerplay without him really hurt them against Philadelphia - with him in, who knows.

The team has a solid core of mid-aged talent (with a sprinkling of younger and older talent) and good goaltending. They appear to have a pretty solid dressing room - something Martin should be getting more credit for (remember where they were 12 months ago). They definitely need some of these young players to progress (and I lament the Latendresse trade as well - agree that there is something not working with regard to young player development at the NHL level) and they definitely have some holes, but I can't agree they are lousy.

As for Boucher, I think it's great they have him and he seems very solid - as a coach of young players. If the Habs decide to move Martin to accomodate Boucher, great. If they don't, I will be disapointed but fine with it. It wouldn't be the end of the world.

MathMan said...

@V: Yeah, that 9-10 record is misleading... they were legitimately the better team in arguably as few as two of these games (game 7 vs. PIT, game 3 vs. PHI) and only accumulated enough wins to advance because Halak stood on his head in the face of a deluge of scoring chances.

I don't think the core of the roster is bad, but it's underachieving -- this is better than an 87 point team, especially if it gets Vezina-quality goaltending like Halak provided. There's deep problems that made the Habs one of the worst 5-on-5 squads in hockey despite several good 5-on-5 players. It doesn't need a roster overhaul so much as a radical change in philosophy.

In the face of the team playing a lousy brand of hockey (almost, it sometimes seems, by design), chemistry and unity of the dressing room is a bit of a sideshow. I don't care if they're the most unified, most familial bad team in hockey. Nice of Martin for the role he had in unifying the team (if any), but he's failing at job 1 (getting the team to play well) and that makes anything else he does more than a little moot.

V said...

I respect your views MathMan - most always find you thoughtful and fair. I guess we will have to disagree on their playoff performance. I thought Martin had them playing very well without their number one defenseman. I don't think Chicago or Philly - without Keith or Pronger respectively - are where they are now under similar circumstances. You can't use the absence of Markov as an excuse for losing but I feel you have to consider it in evaluating performance.

I don't have the stats but was under the impression their five-on-five was quite good in the playoffs and it was special teams - especially the lack of power play goals after Markov went down - that hurt them.

MathMan said...

Their 5-on-5 was terrible. But they got lucky shots in and unreal goaltending, so their 5-on-5 goal stats from the first couple of series gave the impression they were doing well... even though they were being comprehensively outplayed, bleeding shots against, and generating very little offense. Some of the scoring chances numbers from some of the games, including games the Habs won, are absurdly lopsided against them. Go have a look at (an excellent French-language blog) for scoring chances counts for every game. also had several articles analysing the Habs' playoffs.

V said...

The teams they played also scored on lucky shots... from player interviews, I got the impression the uneven shots/scoring chances against was a strategy - not the result of being lousy. It was a method of play they deemed would beat high-powered offences and it worked for two rounds.

Keep in mind as well their stats were accumulated against the Presidents Trophy winner, the reigning Stanley Cup Champion (both picked as potential finalists) and a team 2 wins away from winning this year's Stanley Cup. The shots/scoring chance numbers aren't pretty, but they are inflated because of a specific strategy against some of the top teams in the league. And it is likely 20 other teams in the league might have had worse stats against that level of competition - or had better stats and lost.

V said...

... and I wonder if the stats against Pittsburg and Philadelphia would have been slightly more favourable if they were the teams playing without their best player.

MathMan said...

I do think it was a methodical strategy. I do, however, wonder how a strategy that consists of "allowing two of the most potent offenses in the NHL free reign to create high-quality scoring chances and bombard our goalie" can be viewed as effective in defense... or even sane, TBH.

The Habs have basically been methodically, intentionally shooting themselves in the foot.

It worked because the Habs were extremely lucky and the goalie stood on his head, but that doesn't make the strategy good.

V said...

Your not swaying me much Mathman and I suspect I am not having much more impact. I feel they methodically, intentionaly won two play-off series against highly ranked teams. Good talking with you about it though.

Should be a very interesting off-season beginning with what happens in the next few days with Boucher/Muller. Thanks to BG for stocking the cupboard - when it comes to coaches we appear to have more good ones than we can hold on to. Although I suspect you would suggest that's true except where it counts - at the NHL level.