Monday, August 2, 2010

The coach, the goalie and the Next One

I know I promised this quite some time ago, but I went ahead and got caught up in summer laziness. So here, without further ado, are a few thoughts on what's been going on with the Habs of late. Consider it making up for lost time.


Validation for Martin


It's rare that I agree with anything Michel Bergeron says, but I actually did agree with his take on the hiring of Randy Cunneyworth as head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs. OK, agree may be a bit too strong of a word. But a few things become clear with this decision by Pierre Gauthier, and the most important one is that the hiring was a big show of support for Jacques Martin.


As Bergeron mentions, the Canadiens have a unique dynamic when hiring a coach for their minor league affiliate because they need to continue grooming potential coaches to take over the big club. Like it or not, the Canadiens are drawing from a limited pool of coaching options because they must hire someone who can express himself in both official languages. In that sense, Cunneyworth is extremely unlikely to get promoted within the organization unless he goes out and signs up for French lessons.


When Guy Boucher was in Hamilton, there was grumbling among a large sector of the fan base to get him in Montreal as quickly as possible even though Martin had been on the job for less than one year. Much like many people didn't want Gauthier to get a French-Canadian back-up for Carey Price (assuming he's ever signed, more on that later) to avoid potential language-based controversies, hiring Cunneyworth to coach the Bulldogs takes a potential source of heat off of Martin.


Cunneyworth is a very capable coach who, having played for Martin in Ottawa, will know how to prepare players for the strict (some would say stifling) regime that awaits them in Montreal.


But Martin will no longer have to be looking over his shoulder at who's coming up from behind, because the No. 2 in the organization is simply not qualified to take the main gig.


Still, I feel Martin will have a heavy burden this season to show that he actually had a role to play in the Habs tremendous run through the playoffs last season. It's been too readily accepted that Jaroslav Halak was the one and only reason the Canadiens made the Eastern Conference final, but I believe Martin deserves some of the credit.


Just when it looked like he was repeating the same mistakes that made him a playoff bust in Ottawa - refusing to shorten his bench, losing match-up battles - Martin took his game up a notch. Down 3-1 to the Washington Capitals, Martin took it to his counterpart Bruce Boudreau and won the battle. Yes, Halak was outstanding, but there was a game plan surrounding him, one that worked to unlikely success for two playoff rounds.


Now Martin has to prove he can shape another game plan around Price and with the other pieces he's been given. He's adding P.K. Subban for an entire season, will Martin give him the liberty to express his offensive flair and creativity? Will Lars Eller be allowed to make mistakes as a rookie and play through them, or will he find himself on the bench for long stretches like Benoit Pouliot? Will Martin be able to coax something, anything, out of Andrei Kostitsyn on a consistent basis, especially now that the distraction of his little brother is gone? Will he be able to absorb the loss of Andrei Markov for the first couple of months now that it isn't coinciding with Martin having to learn about all his players for the first time?


These are all questions that Martin needs to answer this season, but he will do so secure in the knowledge there's no one in Hamilton knocking on the door looking to steal his job.


It's getting dicey with Price


Clearly, Carey Price's agent Gerry Johansson is trying to play a little hardball with the Habs, likely trying to squeeze a bit more term and money out of Gauthier. But I think Gauthier knows that ultimately, Price will have to come crawling to him and accept whatever he's offering. Will he really want to holdout when half the fan base (if not more) already resents the fact he was retained and Halak was shipped out of town?


When Gauthier last discussed the negotiations with Price, he went out of his way to mention that he is a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights. In other words, all the leverage is on the Canadiens side. The only recourse available to Price to put a little pressure on the other side is to hold out and leave Gauthier to ponder to possibility of starting the season with Alex Auld as his starting goaltender.


It really wouldn't be the smartest course of action for Price, especially if he wants to avoid the headache of getting his own fans off his back while he tries to re-establish himself as one of the league's most promising young goalies. But on the other hand, Gauthier might be wise not to be too vicious in his negotiating either, because if this is the goalie of the future any bad blood will wind up costing the team in the future.


The Blackhawks walked away from their Stanley Cup-winner today after Antti Niemi was awarded a $2.75 million contract by an arbiter. Niemi becomes an unrestricted free agent as a result, but this really has very little impact on what eventually happens to Price. Niemi is 26, Price is 22. Niemi has won a Stanley Cup, Price was won a series in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And finally, Niemi is a UFA, Price is an RFA with no arbitration rights, as Gauthier so menacingly pointed out.


And for anyone who thinks the Habs will sign Niemi and trade away Price, stop it right now. Too much time and heartache has been invested in Price at this point for the team to cut its losses. Say what you will about how he was handled, and we can see now that Price was probably rushed to the NHL, but he is not a hopeless case. The Habs need to see if he can recover and continue his development. In fact, they don't really have much of a choice because they can still come out of this investment a winner if Price blossoms as he should. To see that happen in another uniform would be simply too painful.


Leblanc sees the light


While working on a story for The Gazette on education in the QMJHL I found myself in the Montreal Juniors offices a couple of weeks ago, and the decision facing Louis Leblanc was obviously a hot topic for team president Martin Routhier. Juniors GM and head coach Pascal Vincent gave up a lot to get Leblanc's rights from Chicoutimi, former first round pick Guillaume Asselin and the team's first-rounder in 2011 (though that draft pick and another would have come back to Montreal if Leblanc decided not to leave Harvard). Routhier was adamant that the best place for Leblanc was playing with the Juniors if he hoped to have a career in the NHL.


It appears Leblanc and his agent Pat Brisson (who no longer has to be referred to as an adviser) agreed with Routhier's assessment. And frankly, so do I. Leblanc was not playing enough hockey at Harvard, and considering the talent on that team I have no idea why they did so poorly last season. Playing with the Juniors (assuming the Canadiens don't assign Leblanc to Hamilton, which would be shocking) will give Leblanc a better chance to make the Canadian junior team because he'll arrive on the same footing as everyone else. Last year Leblanc had to write an exam during the final selection camp in Regina. This year he should have no such problems, even though he would likely be taking a few courses at McGill while playing for the Juniors.


But ultimately, it will speed up Leblanc's hockey development and give him the best chance to make the Canadiens within the next two or three years. Plus, if ever hockey doesn't work out, he can always return to Harvard and finish his degree later.


It's a win-win situation for Leblanc, and a promising sign for the Canadiens.


Moore signs for a pittance


For the first time in his professional hockey career, Dominic Moore signed a two-year contract with the Tamps Bay Lightning at a very reasonable price tag of $1.1 million per season. He proved to be a valuable player in the playoffs, and at 30 years of age (as of Tuesday) still has some good hockey left in him.


I still fail to understand why he wasn't brought back to Montreal, especially at a price that is $250,000 lower than what Pouliot will pull in this season. Let's hope Maxim Lapierre continues his performance from last season's playoffs, but I got the impression that Moore played a big role in Lapierre's resurgence.


Koivu hails Markov as captain material


Speaking from Finland to Richard Labbe of La Presse, Saku Koivu feels Markov would make a fine Montreal Canadiens captain. I've been on record as saying that Markov was my original choice to fill that role, and Markov himself said he hadn't been asked and wouldn't necessarily say no if he was.


There's been a bit of a manufactured controversy lately on whether or not Markov should learn French, an issue that haunted Koivu through the latter part of his record run as Canadiens captain. But really, I don't know if that will play into Martin's final decision, because it is clearly his decision to make.


After last season's playoffs I shifted my opinion on this, and I now feel Brian Gionta is the man for the job. As far as "lead by example" leadership is concerned, Gionta is the perfect candidate because his effort level never drops on the ice, and only goes higher when the situation warrants it. In the dressing room, he is just as good as Koivu was at saying a lot to reporters without saying a whole lot. The team definitely likes that about him. 


Timmins on thin ice?   


The Canadiens hiring of former New York Islanders assistant GM and head of amateur scouting Ryan Jankowski as an amateur scout has to be a source of mild concern for Canadiens director of player recruitment and development Trevor Timmins.


Gauthier's decision to revamp Timmins' scouting staff was the first sign that his reign as the Canadiens draft guru could be coming to an end, and Jankowski's arrival could be another sign.


Then again, it could mean absolutely nothing. With Subban set to make his mark with the team this year and other Timmins draft picks like Alexander Avtsin and Leblanc coming down the pipe, maybe the Canadiens will be able to unearth an impact player from the large number of solid-yet-unspectacular players he has drafted over the years.


Speaking of which, 2010 first-rounder Jarred Tinordi (who cost the Canadiens their second-rounder as well) was cut today from the US Junior team's selection camp roster, meaning he will have no opportunity to try out for the team that will compete in Buffalo at Christmas time. Not a very good sign, especially when Brock Nelson, a big centre that would have been available at the Canadiens original slot of 27th overall, will be attending the camp.


Governance lessons from Toronto? 


Very quickly on this one, but I don't see where Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment president Richard Peddie gets off telling Geoffrey Molson he's making a big mistake by taking over from Pierre Boivin as president of his own team. 


Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Leafs are not exactly a model of governance in professional sports. I see his point, that Boivin is a good man and did a great job as president of the team, and also that owning a team while serving as president can be problematic. But I'm not sure a team that had been mired by meddlesome ownership prior to the arrival of Brian Burke should be giving out advice on how other owners should handle their own teams. Just my two cents.

37 comments:

kyleroussel said...

Nice report, Arpon.

The part that struck me the hardest was that about Tinordi. I would have certainly expected to at least be invited to the camp. I understand that the WJHC is mostly a tournament for 19-20 year olds, but to be cut in the summer has to be a bit of a concern. You'd think he would have at least been given exposure to what a camp is like.

Anything further to why he was dropped so soon?

brandon said...

Could you describe Martin's game plan during the playoffs in Xs-and-Os detail? I've heard plenty of people mention his plan, but never had it described.

Roy Orbison said...

test

Roy Orbison said...

Great post, Arpon.
I have to say, there are A LOT of things that Gauthier has done this off season that I just don't understand (I promise not to bring up the Halak trade).
1 - Signing Auld (especially in light of the Ellis trade and the low salaries more capable goalies received).
2 - Letting Moore go after giving up a 2nd pick last year.
3 - Giving up another 2nd to draft Tinordi when other "good" picks were available.
4 - Not spending more money to replenish the scouting department after he gutted it.
5 - Cutting Timmins off from the press.
6 - Not allowing the PLAYERS to select a captain.

But for me, the most glaring weakness is the inability to think creatively and cold-bloodedly to extract more value (Halak trade - broke my promise).

Having said that, PG has done some good things, like trading SK74 for Boyd and signing Avstin and Leblanc - two important prospects that did not look like they were going to develop in Montreal anytime soon.

But the negatives outweigh the positives for me, and I have that sinking feeling about this season.

Kamal Panesar said...

Great piece, Arpon. Lots to chew on!

I agree with Kyle that the Tinordi news is disappointing, but we've also got to keep it in context.

Angelo Esposito was cut the first two times he tried out for the Canadian Juniors before making/starring on the team, so we can't rule out Tinordi just yet.

As for JM, well, I got it on good authority from one of the main Habs beat-writers that by the first round of the playoffs, Muller was the REAL head coach and was running the show.

While there is no question that JM had a hand in things, according to the players he was head coach only in name by the time it was all said and done, and it was Muller's game plans that were being executed.

Pretty strong stuff, I know, and I was surprised too, given the reliablility of the source.

Either way, it should be interesting, as you pointed out, to watch JM and co with a mostly-full understanding of the arsenal that they possess from the beginning of the season.

kazmmmooooo!!!!!! said...

I think the reason Moore is gone is that he didn't win faceoffs, at least not in the playoffs. That's what he was brought in for. Gomez and Plekanec were on the wrong side of 50%, so the Habs needed someone who could take a crucial defensive zone faceoff. While Moore did ok in the regular season, he really dropped off in the playoffs.

Ellers will need playing time anyway, and the third line seems the only spot available.

Of course, we once had a captain who was excellent on faceoffs. Shootouts as well. Great locker room guy, and he kicked it up a notch in the playoffs. But somehow he was deemed expendable.

Arpon Basu said...

Hey Kamal,
I've heard the "Muller ran the show in the playoffs" theory ad nauseum, and while there is no doubt he had a big influence on making sure the players were on board, saying he took over the head coaching duties entirely is extremely hard to believe. First of all, your source is a reporter, who is never a source. A source is someone on the team, and if this reporter got it from someone on the team, why didn't he report it? Even "off the record" stuff gets out eventually in some way, especially something as juicy as that. Also, you have to question where that reporter got his information, because a lot of people have an ax to grind and will use a reporter in the hopes something negative about the coach will get out. For instance, a player who isn't getting the ice time he wants, or an assistant coach who has eyes on the top job, etc...
In any case, all this to say don't believe everything you hear, no matter how reliable you think your source is.
Jacques Martin has an ego like anyone else, particularly someone who is eighth all time in coaching victories, and to think he would simply step aside and allow Muller to completely take over the team in the playoffs is pretty ludicrous.

Matt said...

Great piece, Arpon!

I noticed that every time a time out was called in the playoffs, the cameras showed Muller speaking strongly behind the bench and JM standing there with his hands in his pockets as he always does. So I believe what Kamal said.

The biggest regret I think this team will feel in the near future is the loss of Boucher.

I understand why Moore was let go but at the end of the day he could have easily stayed and rekindled what he had with Lapierre in the playoffs. Not to mention the loss of the second round pick, but Moore and Lappy were the best players on the ice on those nights we were shut down by philly.

If it isn't broken, don't fix it. This, however does not apply to coaching, Boucher was the man for the habs.

Howard said...

Re: Richard Peddie -- this guy just like boivin doesnt know the first thing about hockey but like boivin is a businessman making a living of a sports team's teat! he was just protecting another useless colleague of his.

Re: cunnyworth- the entire organization now seems to be run by employees of gauthier when he was at ottawa before thyey fired him. martin was his coach. cunneyworth a player of gauthier's, and timmins a scout of his. at that press conference when gauthier announced the scouts who were not coming back he was asked about timmins being in jeopardy - and gauthier said "timmins will be here for a long, long time".

yeah right! molson will clean house of the lot of them starting with gauthier if this season and the price situation here goes bad!

Arpon Basu said...

Matt,
Just because an assistant coach runs a timeout doesn't mean he's running the team. In fact, many head coaches allow their assistants to run their timeouts. It doesn't mean they've relinquished power. It just means they are delegating.

One more thing on this, but Muller's role on the coaching staff is to serve as a conduit between the players and the coaches. He's the good cap to Martin's bad cop. He played the same role for Carbonneau, yet when the Habs finished first in the East, for some reason it wasn't Muller that had taken over.

Just sayin'

Kamal Panesar said...

Hey Arpon,

Point taken and don't get me wrong because I tend to take things like that with a grain of salt.

Again, that is not necessarily my opinion, just what I had been told but again, your point is salient.

K.

ju said...

If Louis Leblanc attends McGill, it's possible he loses his enrollment at Harvard and may never be able to receive that Harvard Education "after finishing his career" as many have pointed out.

It depends on Harvard's policy for letting students take courses outside their University.

D said...

Tinordi getting cut might be the best thing for him. I think it could motivate him to work that much harder, get bigger and meaner. Could also be that the US team has a very deep talent pool at D.

Jackie M. Smith said...

Hi there

Great article as always. You make sense of things other blogs or articles don't explain.

Like a "hold-out". I finally know what it means in hockey terms. If Price's agent does do this, it would be a good thing but hopefully it wouldn't affect Price's relationship with Gauthier.

I just can't wait for Price to sign his contract with the Canadiens. If he truly wants to play for Montreal, his agent should just tell him accept whatever Gauthier offers and then prove himself this season. Next season he'll be able to negociate for more money.

Jackie

Milos Coko said...

Great analysis as usual Arpon, I consistently enjoy your analysis.

I have to agree with the previous posters that raised concerns about the legitimacy of Martin's post season accomplishments. I realize the useless nature of he-said-she-said arguments but I too have a friend within the organization that mentioned something to the tune that Muller contributed more strategically that Martin. Your claim that no beat writers got a hold of this nor ran with it isn't entirely correct. I don't read too mch montreal media, but during the playoffs several networks (including RDS) certainly dedicated several intermission to showing how much more involved Muller was in timeouts come playoff time as compared to regular season. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - as long as Martin is smart enough to continue allowing Muller to run things to an extent, I don't see why Montreal can't keep up the success of the playoffs. My fear is that Martin genuinely has "the ego just like everybody else," in which case we'll have to go back to watching the consistantly inconsistant team from the regular season.

Unfortunately I also have to agree with Roy Orbison regarding Gauthier. None of his moves can be considered categorically bad thus far, but none have really shown me that he's learned from the Ottawa ordeal and that he's prepared to demonstrate why he's an expert for the job, as opposed to someone who can simply keep thing running. The one meneauver that sticks out as extremely good was the SK trade. I don't think mtl fans realy realize how poorly the k bros are considered across the league and just how much promise Dustin Boyd showed in his junior career...considering the hard-nosed nature of Boyd and the lacksadaisy approach of SK, Gauthier really made the best of a no-win situation. Everything else has been middle of the road decisions which is extremely worrying. In the NHL, middle of the road managers rarely succeed in keeping the status quo (assuming that's what Gauthier is attempting), an element of innovation is required even if you hope to just keep the course.

Finally (and especially after your piece regarding Timmins/Gainey's drafting success rate) I'm starting to doubt the suitability of Timmins for our organization. Mind you, this has nothing to do with Tinordi, who I think is precisely the type of player you can't acquire via trade and drafting is the only solution. The fact that we haven't drafted a top 6 forward since Plekanec speaks for itself. Simply said, the scouting department needs to start swinging for the fences. Angelo Esposito being a perfect example...yes, if you use the metrics that pro scouts use, he has a much higher fail rate than other stronger, more developed prospects. In fact, a player that dominates juniors might turn into a top nhl player only maybe 10% of the time. Hardly a risk worth taking....except by those numbers you could almost expect a top 6 forward from every draft.

pfhabs said...

Arpon:

-interesting read but your article did not go far enough

-let me first say that Randy Cunneyworth will be a good coach in hamilton and may someday be a great coach in the NHL although as you point out probably not in Montreal for non-hockey reasons

-your hypothesis that Cunneyworth was hired so as to not pose a challenge to Martin has tremendous credence when you look at previous actions by CH management

1. Boivin "turned over every rock" (in as bold faced a lie as an executive could make) to hire the best man possible to be the GM. really ! perhaps he just hired a current employee and supposedly a former school colleague that posed no threat to his authority as president. remember that Bob Gainey reported directly to George Gillett but now Gauthier reports to Boivin not Molson. the reporting chain is now structured as to not give direct access by the GM to the owner thereby corporately protecting the ass of Boivin.

2. Larry Robinson approaches the CH wanting to come on board as the D coach. Boivin says call back later and Larry's agent does without so much as a response from Boivin. was Pearn chosen over Robinson because Martin's shadow has as many Stanley Cups; NHL games and points as Larry ? perhaps Pearn has the winning record that Robinson has as a coach ? or maybe Robinson who is a HoF player and a winning coach that actually played the position (Pearn never played in the pros at any level) was not hired because he was seen as a threat not only because he's a better choice than Pearn but because more than likely Martin was protecting his buddy Perry and Larry probably has a coaching system that would not lend itself to Martin's stifling system

3. that brings us to Boucher who clearly comes from a different philosphy in handling players; players who all respond to his strategies and tactics and has a current aggressive coaching system and btw is completely bilingual. Boucher was simply let go because he posed a huge threat to Martin on all levels except NHL experience. but as history shows Martin's experience has won nothing even with teams superior in talent to the CH.

-so yes hiring Cunneyworth falls in line with other moves all protecting the current cabal of 'less than the best' guys covering each others' asses.

-the fly in this rancid ointment is that Geoff Molson himself has jettisoned the leader of the group-Boivin-and one hopes the rest will follow soon

-as for Muller; Arpon do some more digging and you'll find that the game planning for game 5 against Washington came from Muller. not Pearn. not Martin...whether that translated into Kirk running the show (as Kamal's source told him) I do not know but doubt that the control freak known as Jacques would have let that occur

-Arpon ask yourself this question; what organization (besides the CH) under hires so that it can protect the current encumbents ? what organization doesn't hire the best because they feel that a competitive environment is bad for success ? one that's doomed to fail is my answer. my hope as a fan is that the boot to Boivin has also translated into a very short leash for Gauthier, Martin & Pearn and that Molson has survived his intial drinking of the Boivin Kool Aid and has become the defacto boss not just a fan that owns the club.

Howard said...

@pfhabs


Very well stated.

Sliver24 said...

The Martin decision that sticks out in my mind is the one he made for the last game of the season and carried into the playoffs.

Inexplicably, Martin decided to make Marc-Andre Bergeron a 20-minute d-man, at the expense of Ryan O'Byrne.

I was at that Leafs game and when I saw what was going on I couldn't believe my eyes. Remember that we needed a point to clinch a playoff spot, and we ended up losing in OT.

In any event, guess who had the WORST +/- of all skaters throughout the playoffs. It was our buddy MAB at -12. (Next-worst on the team, interestingly enough, was a three-way tie between Gionta, Gomez and Cammalleri at -6. Next-worst on D was Gorges at -4). Not exactly a shining example of Martin's decision-making abilities.

It's long periods of inaction/indecision, broken only by those types of seemingly random decisions, that really make me wonder if Martin is qualified to coach in the NHL.

I really, really think letting Guy Boucher go was a huge mistake.

pfhabs said...

@Sliver 24:

-oooh what will the faithful do when the Bolts appear ahead of la sainte flanelle in the standings ?

-Gauthier over at least 3 francophones who are more qualified for GM (there are many anglos); Martin over Boucher and Pearn over HoF Robinson.

-fans giving standing ovations because you gained a loser overtime point in the last game against the worst team in the league to make the playoffs

-I sit here shaking my head in disbelief and disgust....what is becoming of this once great franchise ?

Patrick Moss said...

I agree with Roy Orbison, and most of the commentators here. While PG hasn't done anything disastrous, he hasn't rocked my world, either. To me, he seems like a guy who is much more comfortable making small, precise moves, step by step, rather than big moves. If he sees someone he likes (Lars Eller, Dan Ellis, Tinordi), he goes out and get him - but he pays too much.


Also, Arpon, many many reporters, including the commentators over at Versus (how I watch my Habs games now, over here in L.A.), went on record about Muller's huge role in the playoffs. Was he the "real" head coach? No one said that on the air, but what they did say, and show, was how integral he was on the special teams, overall defense and late-game strategy. A lot of the players communicated through him, as well. Muller was much much more than an assistant coach.

Howard said...

Even when they finally called up Subban who should have been called up during the stretch run. Gauthier/Martin whoever was responsible finally called him up for game 6 of the Washington series, but they could have been eliminated in game 5 and we never would have seen him. Luckily for them Habs won game 5 to force a game 6. This has been totally ignored by the media as they praise Gauthier for calling Subban up - unbelievable.

MathMan said...

I don't know whether Muller or Martin should get credit for the coaching in the Habs' playoff run. I don't think it particularly matters, there's not a whole lot of coaching credit to be had. Montreal was a bad team with great goaltending in the regular season and they were a bad team with great goaltending in the playoffs. I just don't see much difference, and I don't see that there is cause to give the coach credit for that (especially considering he had a pretty good roster).

Yeah, they cut their bench and limited the weird assignments (though Pyatt ended up with Gomez at least once, which is ridiculous). But the Habs' playoff run was much like its regular season: a team that didn't act like it was interested in a puck possession, was consistently outplayed and dominated, and was kept afloat by exceptional goaltending.

I don't see that the playoff run was much different from the regular season and I don't think the coaching did even an average job in either. Montreal isn't going to go far if it doesn't overhaul its system into something that involves more puck control.

Martin completely failed the Job One I had for him -- implement a working, effective five-on-five system -- whether it was in the regular season or the playoffs. And I think that will be key to the Habs making any kind of improvement next year. If that doesn't happen, I don't think the team will progress, and I think the playoffs are a long shot at best. And I just don't think Martin is, at this point of his career, capable of doing that. Unless he can, he's eventually going to need to be replaced, and that's where losing Boucher is going to hurt, because he looked like he was exactly what the Habs needed, and still do.

Hobie Hansen said...

People are quick to forget that Jacques Martin is the only coach the Canadiens have employed since Jacques Demers that has had any NHL coaching experience. As a direct result the Habs made it to the conference finals for the first time since the departure of Demers.
I’m sure anytime you see Kirk Muller rallying the troops for a big play during a timeout, it’s a play both coaches have worked out together prior to the situation arising. I doubt Martin has any problems having one of the best assistant coaches in the league working alongside him.
Are we going to agree with 100% of what every coach in the NHL does every night, absolutely not! Should we give a coach the benefit of the doubt when he takes a team further than they’ve been in over 15 years, absolutely!
He was a cool, calm and classy guy behind the bench last season and thanks to the system he enforced during the playoffs, we beat two of the best teams in recent memory. I can’t wait to see Martin in action this season.

pfhabs said...

@MathMan:

-agree with your assessment...only reason to credit Kirk is that post playoffs Boivin came out and said that "the run proves Martin to be a good coach"

-the King of Bullshit is as transparent as cellophane and hasn't even the balls to give credit where it is due; Muller w his in-game adjustments & motivational tactics, Halak and Cammalleri...those 3 three plus a whole bunch of arrogance on the part of Washington and lack of decent defence on the part of Pittsburg got the CH to the finals.

-this club is not even top 4 in the east let alone top 4 in the league...that they found themselves there last spring is a mirage and does not reflect their true strength as a NHL club

ck5555 said...

Hobie,
It is nice to read a voice of reason and agree with you. If I buy in to what the general consensus seems to be, Jacques Martin is so void of self confidence that we can't employ a "threat" to him at the AHL level, Kirk Muller is the real coach of the Canadiens, blah, blah, blah. Hey Gang - 8th overall doesn't happen by accident, and it doesn't happen if you're weak.

The Habs have had nothing but a history of abject failure when it comes to hiring first time NHL coaches. Maybe Boucher will pan out, maybe he won't, but on the best day this is not a city that is easy on coaches, and coaches with no reserves of experience to draw on are toast. While many of them have gone on to very productive careers in coaching, none of them could cut it here. Let's face it, this is a demanding market for any coach to work in, and it takes experience, resilience and a thick skin to be able to work here without getting sucked into the vortex. I think that's what irritates so many people when it comes to Martin; we never see him with his feather's ruffled.
Now, on to what's important. I don't think Gauthier was dealing from any strength at all with regards to Halak and if he waited until arbitration, he would have gotten exactly what the Hawks got for Niemi - NOTHING. I'm going to give Ellar until at least mid season to decide and even then won't give up on him. And let's all stop the Price whining. he has no options, his agent admits it and nobody on either side is bringing this into the media (which is also pissing off a lot of these bloggers who know more than everyone on the team and in the league). He'll re-sign, probably in the next two weeks.

While I do not think we are really much threat to be holding a parade on Ste Catherine St. next June, this was still a team that had over 50% turnover from the year before and a new coach and system to learn. I am curious, and excited, to see if the chemistry they had last May will carry over.

Patrick Moss said...

ck5555,

I am not saying that Jacques Martin sucks and that Guy Boucher or Kirk Muller is god. I am not saying he should be fired and that we know everything. But surely, there is room here to raise some legit concerns, like:

a) How Jacques Martin got the job over other candidates because of his ability to speak French and be boring.

b)How his 4-year contract basically locks the Habs into him.

c)Some of his lineup moves just don't make any sense (Pyatt on top line, then Darche, plus no hand-holding for Pouliot or O'Byrne when they needed it most)

d)How EVERY SINGLE RETURNING YOUNG FORWARD (Max Pac, D'Ags, Kostitsyns, Lapierre and Latendresse) all somehow had their worst seasons under him before getting traded / sent down / sent to the bench.

Hell, even Pleks went on record as saying the best way to try to motivate AK-46 was to TALK to him and encourage him, not yell at him. I don't think I am reading between the lines too much here in concluding that Pleks realized what coach was doing just wasn't working.

I have the same feelings about Pierre Gauthier as GM. Yes, it's great that he has experience and that he seems unaffected by the fans' chatter. But:

a) Gauthier got the job because he spoke French, when men like Dale Tallon, Steve Yzerman and Rick Dudley were all available.

b) Sorry, but there is no way in hell you can convince me that Halak for Eller is a fair trade, ever, in any universe. And there is no way you can convince me that Gauthier couldn't have stalled for an extra draft pick or two. That deal was made 8 DAYS before the DRAFT.

Now that Eller is on the team, I just hope the Habs do their best not to push him to be amazing right away - but Gauthier has put himself in an awful position here.

c) Moore: Why was he let go when he could have signed the same deal for the Habs? I don't think giving up yet another 2nd rounder for nothing is worth it.

d) I don't think giving up a 2nd rounder for Tinordi was worth it either, when other good picks were available.

e) Alex Auld as backup? Really?

Look, I am not saying Eller is going to suck, Sergei will win the scoring race and that Carey Price will be shining shoes by the all-star break. Of course I am rooting for the Habs and would love to see them kick ass.

But Gauthier hasn't given himself any margin for error, and on paper, the Habs have not improved in any on-ice areas, except for maybe defense, if Markov is healthy and PK plays well.

Milos Coko said...

After looking over these comments and talking to other habs fans, everyone that genuinely follows the team seems ambiguously (or sometimes outright) uncomfortable about martin and Gauthier at the helm.

The funny thing is that the team has seen more success in this brief tenure than in all previous 17 years. Maybe the lesson learned is that talent and hard work overcome all kinds of odds. 2010 it may've been mostly a Halak led team that was fueled with the veterans never say die attitude. As long as the latter part stays engraved in the team culture, we have a legitimate handful of promising youngsters that can fill the superstar role for 2011.

MathMan said...

@Milos Coko: There's the rub... You think last season was successful. I think it was borderline disastrous.

It all depends on how you define "success", and whether or not you care about how said "success" was achieved and what it might predict for the future.

Or in other words, some of us feel that being lousy and succeeding in spite of it is not a good omen for future success. In spite of the ECF finish, there's not much to be optimistic about for next year.

The regular season was a really bad season for Montreal; largely inferior to what Carbonneau was able to achieve with less talent. 24 regulation wins and a 39-33-10 record was well below expectations, even factoring in injuries. 88 points, usually, doesn't get you in the playoffs, but the Habs were fortunate to squeak in.

And then they go on a Cinderella playoff run, and everybody thinks everything's hunky-dory because of a 9-10 playoff record... nevermind how badly the Habs got dominated at practically every juncture.
Seriously, everyone keeps harping on about the Habs' tenacity and defensive game in their run to the ECF, but assuming they play that way all year, how likely are they to make the playoffs, really?

Look, I was as excited by the run as the next guy, but now it's done, and we need to have the honesty to look back at the whole season and see what it really tells us about our team... and if you do, it doesn't look good.

If the Habs don't get that point against Toronto, we're talking about a lousy 88-point season. If the East isn't so ridiculously weak that 88 points makes the playoffs rather than land you in 11th like it usually does, we're talking about a lousy 88-point season. If Washington wins Game 5, which but for an absolutely ludicrous performance by Halak they by all rights should have, we're talking about a lousy 88-point season. But we're not, and all because a playoff run that saw the Habs beating two teams that heavily carried the play for practically every game.

Realistically, it's still the same lousy 88-point season, though.

The team lucking its way into the ECF has a ways of blinding people to the warts, and I, for one, am a little worried that management might be falling in the same trap as the fans. ECF or not, the Habs were simply not a good team last year, and that needs to be addressed. And so far, it really hasn't been.

kyleroussel said...

Everyone should print out what MathMan just wrote and stick it to their bathroom mirror where you're sure to read it every day.

No doubt the Canadiens and most fans will use the ECF appearance as the driver for this year's predictions, which is a stupid mistake.

If you're like Randy Tieman, and subscribe to "you never know", more power to you. The fact is there were some heroic performances that defied logic. Halak's games 5-7 vs Washington, with BIG assists to the defensive play of Gill, Gorges and a pumped up Subban.

The way the Canadiens played against Washington and Pittsburgh does not scale to success in the regular season. Asking the defense to block as many shots as they did, and asking them to run around their own zone to the extent that they did would ensure that they'd all be either injured or out of gas by Christmas.

The playoffs were a mirage. A fun mirage, but it was something that we are not likely to see again. The Canadiens need to get a whole lot better in many ways before they can legitimately hope to reach the finals and challenge for the cup.

Furthermore, the 88 points were dismal. In a year when so many teams were bad, the Canadiens were just the slimmest of margins "less bad" than the others. I don't think any of this changes until they start playing a different style of game.

Milos Coko said...

All this "the playoffs were a mirage" talk seems to ignore the fact that Pittsburg and Washington are without a doubt the two most deadly teams in the east, and chicago notwithstanding, in the league. No team in the league can hope to dominate either of them over the course of a 7 game series. As a fan,to expect that is lunacy. However, you CAN expect your team to block as many shots as humanly possible, capitalize on its scoring chances and give the goaltender every opportunity to make a save. Which is what these habs did to perfection.

Lost in the disenchanting Flyers series is the fact that we chased both Theo and Fleury in the previous series. Theo, the "hottest goalie since christmas" and Fleury, "the future of team Canada." Our record was 8-6 against what I consider to be the best two teams in the NHL. I don't see how that's not cause for optimism against the other 27 teams.

MathMan said...

@Milos Coko: "All this "the playoffs were a mirage" talk seems to ignore the fact that Pittsburg and Washington are without a doubt the two most deadly teams in the east, and chicago notwithstanding, in the league."

Yep -- and the Habs got thoroughly dominated throughout both series and only pulled out series wins due to superhuman goaltending and no small amount of good fortune. Which is what "capitalize on its scoring chances" and "give the goaltender every opportunity to make a save" really amounts to when you strip it down to the nitty-gritty -- luck.

As for "blocking as many shots as is humanly possible", that's a sign of how badly dominated the Habs were. Being forced to block a lot of shots is never a good thing. It's a fine illustration of how awful the Habs' system is that Gorges and Gill were hailed for their shot-blocking heroism... and that Halak still had to be superhuman under a prolonged bombardment for the Habs to eke out a victory.

If anything, those series clearly demonstrated that the Habs, with their current playstyle, are no match for these two teams, and can only hope to survive via extreme good luck. Which they happened to do, but that's not encouraging for the future.

If the Habs play the way they played against Pittsburgh and Washington, they will lose 9 times out of 10, if not more. They got lucky this time. I don't want "hope we get lucky again" to be the team's strategy going forward.

kyleroussel said...

@MathMan - you're right on. Trying to use this spring's run of luck as a momentum-builder, or as a basis for expectations, or worse of all - how to win - is a recipe for disaster. If the Canadiens had gotten through Philly the same way as they had gotten past WSH and PGH, eventually leading to a similar-styled victory vs Chicago, we'd all be giddy and calling the Habs the best team in hockey. In reality it would be like winning the lottery, then calling yourself a hard-working self-made millionnaire.

The Canadiens defied all odds, and logic, while laughing in the faces of the hockey gods.

Some super performances masked what was an utterly crazy game plan that just happened to work. Roll those some dice again and the result would be completely different.

Sliver24 said...

MathMan and Kyle have hit the nail on the head. I just wanted to chime in on behalf of the third (and often forgotten) miracle-worker of the playoffs, Mr. Michael Cammalleri. Without his superhuman offensive efforts even Halak's exploits wouldn't have gotten us out of the first round.

Milos Coko said...

Mathman, sorry if I missed something in your argument - you're agreeing that Montreal can win a best of 7 series against WSH and PIT but would lose a best of 10 series against either team?

Bare in mind I've only talked about the playoffs - what would you have considered a successful playoff campaign? If we had outshot the Caps by an average of 15 shots/game yet lost in the first round, would that've been more encouraging for you? If Halak only faced 10 shots/game but still let in the same amount, would that mean we have a better team?

Once again, I'm not saying we're superior to the Pens or Caps on paper, but point being is we have the tools to beat them in a 7 game series. I dont' really understand the luck argument either. Are you saying the saves Halak made or the goals Cammy or scored or whatever, were outside their usual ability? Aside from the one breakaway goal that bounced off a dmans skate first, all of Cammy's goals came in his regular fashion. As for Halak, I can think of a handful of saves where he truly had to reach to barely make the save. Mind you, I appreciate the talent it takes to stay focused while facing over 30 shots a night every game, but I dont' see how you call that ability 'luck.' Both of those series were won because a combined Habs effort managed to keep the Pens and Caps superstars away from the net, which in turn showed how little the rest of their team is used to being relied upon. Unless Backstrom, Semin, Ovechkin, Green, Crosby, Gonchar, Malkin and Staal all suffered from some temporary phobia of high scoring areas in the spring of 2010, I don't see how you can attribute that to 'luck.'

This all goes back to my earlier argument. It's too bad Gautheir doesn't seem like he's imaginative enough to take some risks to create a team that can compete talent-wise with the top teams in the NHL. That's a shame for us, the fans. But as far as the team itself goes, they've proven that they're capable of doing what it takes to win against the top teams. Whether they can re-create the same dedication to the small things in the regular season remains to be seen.

Olivier said...

Milos:

Well, there is a lot of parity in the NHL, so I guess apart from staging the top-3 against the bottom-3, every team can go 4-3 on a given stretch. I mean, the habs got outshot like crazy in december (25-35 on average) and still came out of it 9-8. It happens.

By my accounting of scoring chances, we actually lucked into a Semin AND a Malkin cold spell. Semin, particularly, kept getting 5 bell chances and shoot straight over the net or into Halak's crest.

There was an astonishing effort on the team's behalf and nobody wants to belittle that. But there was enough luck that, if you replay the same series 10 times, we get blown out at least 7 of them. Without a rare level of luck, despite an outstanding and inspiring effort, there is no way we beat the Caps. Hell, if the Caps don't get cocky after game #4 they trounce us.

But I think this is just a line in the sand. I stand on this side of the line and do my best to explain it, but I see your point; I actually was on your side of the line for a while.

MathMan said...

@Milos: "Mathman, sorry if I missed something in your argument - you're agreeing that Montreal can win a best of 7 series against WSH and PIT but would lose a best of 10 series against either team? "

Not at all. I'm arguing that if you replayed the 4-of-7 series 10 times, and kept the same level of play on either side, the Habs would lose 7, 8, 9 times out of ten, and their wins will be mostly via luck. Which they did. Olivier, as usual, explains this better than I.

@Milos: "Bare in mind I've only talked about the playoffs - what would you have considered a successful playoff campaign?"

One where the team actually plays good hockey and beats teams by outplaying them and actually demonstrated that they were a quality hockey club. That last still gives you the best chance of winning a Stanley Cup someday. Of course, I'd be ecstatic if they lucked into the Cup, and I'd consider that success of a sort, but let's be realistic here. There's precious little real difference between how they played in the regular season and how they played in the playoffs.

@Milos: "If we had outshot the Caps by an average of 15 shots/game yet lost in the first round, would that've been more encouraging for you?

Yes, because that means that the Habs are quite probably better than the Caps, and have a high likelihood of having a great regular season and doing well in the playoffs in future years.

@Milos: ""If Halak only faced 10 shots/game but still let in the same amount, would that mean we have a better team?"

Yes, because then you could swap the goalie and immediately improve.

@Milos: "but point being is we have the tools to beat them in a 7 game series."

Maybe the Habs do have the tools. I happen to think they have a pretty good, but badly misused, roster. Be that as it may, in these playoffs they used only two: goaltending, and luck. I think that relying on these two to carry you to a Cup is a bad policy. The Habs need more.

@Milos: "Are you saying the saves Halak made or the goals Cammy or scored or whatever, were outside their usual ability?"

Absolutely. Halak isn't a .925 goalie usually, and Cammalleri isn't a 20%+ shooter usually. It's pretty obvious they were either lucky or performing at unsustainably high levels. IOW, luck or career year, you just can't expect this to happen again.

This all goes back to my earlier
@Milos: "argument. It's too bad Gautheir doesn't seem like he's imaginative enough to take some risks to create a team that can compete talent-wise with the top teams in the NHL."

Well what would you have him do? The campaign clearly demonstrated that the gap in level of play is big. The playoffs demonstrated the same. It's unrealistic to think you can tweak the Habs and have a top team. You'd need to change something radically to get there.

One thing he absolutely cannot do is fall into the trap of thinking he has a team that can compete with the Caps and the Pens, because the playoffs clearly demonstrated he doesn't -- and lucking into 4-3 series wins against them doesn't change that.

Ultimately, while a Cinderella run can be construed as success, it's still just a luck-based spike in results. It is, empathically, not something a team can actually build on.

Milos Coko said...

I guess you can sum up our entire argument in that "Halak isn't a .925 goalie usually, and Cammalleri isn't a 20%+ shooter usually"

Not to repeat myself but my point is that they didn't reach these stats based off of flukey plays, fortunate injuries or supsensions (the only three factors i consider fall in the category of "luck"). Cammy did't score any particular goal outside his usual abillity and Halak may've made 5 saves that were outside his usual ability. That suggests to me that the rest of the team played better around them than they did during the regular season. Maybe this is a moot point as we clearly have different interpretations of luck.

Regardless of his evaluation of last year's campaign, Gauthier had an interesting hand of wildcards to play this summer. I'm not saying that any of the "no-decisions" he made were bad ones but one can't help but feel curious as to what the team would look like with Boucher, Robinson and Muller behind the bench, a quality back-up, a quality player in place of Hammer's salary and O'Byrne with a regular starting spot.