Sunday, 18 December 2011

One Step Forward... Two Steps Back.

Yesterday the Montreal Canadiens fired their head coach, Jacques Martin. For full disclosure, I was never carrying a pitchfork with the rest of the mob calling for the head of The Count. He has a long, successful track record as an NHL head coach and brought the Canadiens as far into the playoffs as they've been since they last won the Cup. Of course, his tactics never impressed the fans and was doomed to be unpopular from the start; even more so after seeing the Habs let Guy Boucher and Kirk Muller walk away in consecutive seasons.

While I never thought Martin earned the vitriol directed his way, such is life as the Canadiens head coach. If you haven't won the Cup within two or three years, don't answer that 6:00 AM phone call. (Or if you're an assistant coach, stay on the ice a little extra after that game day skate. At least until the GM leaves.) But more importantly, just like no one should be untouchable in a trade, if management thinks it can improve a team by bringing in another head coach, by all means do so. Clearly, there is room for improvement. Unfortunately, this is also where the problem lies. They did not improve.

Randy Cunneyworth seems like a fine man and had a distinguished playing career. A "real hockey guy" as we're sure to hear repeatedly. And he's more than earned his chance to be an NHL head coach after almost ten seasons running an AHL bench. I just don't think the time and place are right now and Montreal. The last three coaches they've hired with no NHL coaching experience (Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien, Claude Julien) lasted an average of three seasons each and aside from a few playoff upsets, didn't have all that much success. And all have gone onto the Cup final with another team. This simply isn't the right town to bring in a rookie head coach unless he has a PhD in Habsology (Carbo, Muller) or has a clear force of nature personality (Boucher).

When people said the Kaberle trade reeked of desperation, it's only because they caught an early whiff of this move. If you're going to make a coaching change, you don't just hand the team over to the dearly departed's assistant. Hell, Cunneyworth even played for Martin in Ottawa. All signs point to a disciple. But what bothers me most of all about of this is that Gauthier immediately announced that Cunneyworth is interim head coach for the rest of the season. Why would you limit yourself like that? If the right coach is out there then you go get him now. The Ducks didn't hesitate to fire Randy Carlyle and bring in Bruce Boudreau once he was available. The Kings never promised John Stevens the whole year and worked something out with Darryl Sutter. In contrast, the Habs decided Martin shouldn't coach but they aren't sure what to do next and they need another five or six months to think about it. It's one thing to have a direction and stick to it for better or worse. To shrug your shoulders and throw your hands in the air is entirely unacceptable and exposes the higher management as unwilling to do what's necessary to both win at all costs and to dedicate resources to future seasons.

Most pundits seem to agree that naming Cunneyworth for the rest of the season is meant to give him a chance to succeed. That's bullshit. It's purely because Geoff Molson doesn't have enough faith in Pierre Gauthier to go out and hire another head coach. You don't need sources to figure that out. And if Molson doesn't have enough confidence in Gauthier to do his job, he should have taken him out back as well. As far as I can tell, there has been no real reason to like or dislike the current Molson era until now. Unfortunately, he's earned himself a detractor as he's seen fit to leave the good ship CH rudderless the rest of the season.

The most disturbing part of last night's loss to the Devils is that the man who should have been coaching the Habs was standing right behind the bench. It was just on the visitor's side. And if someone from Habs management didn't give Larry Robinson a wink and a handshake last night, then they simply aren't doing their job properly.

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