Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Ship is Sinking While the Captain Smiles

I was going to write something about "the good ship CH foundering on the shoals..." when a verse of Stan Rogers' "Barrett's Privateers" came to mind:

"Oh, the Antelope sloop was a sickening sight...with a list to the port and her sails in rags and the cook in the scuppers with the staggers and jags. Goddamn them all!..."

Unfortunately, it's not too difficult to see the similarities between the ill-fated Antelope and its hopeless captain Elcid Barrett and the ragged, listing Montreal Canadiens. What a disgrace this team has become. I watched a group of completely detached, disinterested individuals skate around a rink in Georgia last night, looking like they were only there because that's where the bus had dropped them. The only indication that any of them had previously met each other was the fact that they were all wearing the same white shirt.

Okay...I shouldn't say none of them came to actually play a game of hockey. Carey Price, perversely, played the best game he's played in six weeks. Too bad for him the rest of the guys in the white shirts had more interest in the dancing Thrashettes than they did in scoring goals. But, amazingly, in his post-game comments Guy Carbonneau said he thought the team didn't look all that demoralized. He thought they gave a sixty-minute effort. He said if the team keeps working like it did last night, it'll be okay. Really...he said that.

Maybe Carbonneau's playing little games with the media. It's the only explanation I can think of for such baseless optimism on his part. His team's great effort resulted in 5 second-period shots against one of the worst teams in the league. His team's "working" resulted in eight minor penalties against, most of them of the lazy, unnecessary variety. His team was shut out by a goalie who has a 3.11 goals against average. He watched his biggest player pummel an 18-year-old rookie, to no apparent betterment of his team's level of interest in the game. His team laid only five hits on the lowly Thrashers. Yet, he continues to claim there were bright spots.

The fact is, Carbonneau's team is sinking faster than the Antelope in Rogers' song. It's not only failing to win the games it must to maintain a playoff position, but the players are showing no sign of caring that they'll be golfing in six weeks. They look like they just want to get it over with. It makes no sense to me. These are players who need to put up numbers because so many of them will need contracts next season. And make no mistake, the days of pulling a Ryder...tanking in your contract year and still scoring your best contract from the East-leading team...are over. Next year there will be smaller contracts and teams will be warier about whom they sign and for how long because of the troubled economic climate. And yet the Canadiens skate aimlessly, with no obvious concern about their personal futures, let alone the team's.

It all points at a team that's quit on the coach. In some ways I can't blame them. Carbo's made a lot of mistakes. His stubborn refusal to separate Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Kovalev, when the stats show a dramatic improvement in Kostitsyn's play with other linemates. His insistence on rolling four lines with relatively equal icetime, even when injuries have reduced the bottom two lines to no more than six grinding, talentless scrubs. His use of Tom Kostopoulos in situations where goalscoring is required. His fall-back on mixing up the lines as his only proactive move when things are going wrong. His public reluctance to give credit where it's due, while showing no hesitation in casting blame. His apparent confusion about what might be wrong with his team. His employment of a one-forechecker system and a collapsing defence. His decision to bag skate a tired, sick, demoralized team at this point in the season while giving them days off after bad efforts earlier in the year. There are others.

In a perfect world, though, it wouldn't matter what the players thought of the coach. In a perfect world, they'd band together and do it for the guys sitting in the room with them. But there's a divide there too, and the cameraderie we saw on the ice last year isn't apparent this time around. And now, with the trading deadline past, it comes back to the coach.

We know Bob Gainey loves Carbonneau and chose him specifically for the job. But I wonder how friendship and professional pride balance out on Gainey's mental and emotional scales? I wonder if he's decided the Centennial is a wash and is ready to lower the sails, letting the ship go down intact?

Somehow, I think he's not. Even though the team looks awful right now, we know the talent is there. This is the same group that looked fantastic last season. Gainey's not one to stand by and give up when he thinks he has the tools to be better. So, if the problem really is the coach, the GM has three choices. He can go into the room, announce he's got his coach's back and step behind the bench himself as a symbol of the solidarity of the team's senior officers. He can pull a 1986 and call a meeting of the team's key veterans, in which he asks them to take the team on their backs and help the coach out. Or he can fire Carbonneau and bring in a new face in the hope "new coach syndrome" will scare a few extra wins out of this team. Of those choices, the most likely...if Gainey actually hasn't given up...is the first one. Gainey's loyal and won't throw his friend to the wolves at this point in the season. But if he wants to shake things up without losing the coach, he'll have to step in himself.

It's very sad the year has come to this. It was so promising back in September. But, as Stan Rogers wrote:

"Goddamn them all! I was told we'd cruise the seas for American gold. We'd fire no guns, shed no tears. Now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier. The last of Barrett's privateers."

We didn't think we'd be shedding tears in March, but here we are. Goddamn them all, indeed. Your move, Captain Gainey.

5 comments:

Paul said...

There are many things that frustrate me about this team but the one things that nags at me the most is seeing Andre Kostitsyn stuck on that line with Kovy.Andre can,and should be,a star player.I've said many times Kovy is stunting his growth.I'm starting to wonder if Kovy insisted to Bob and Guy to keep him there in some warped desire to keep him down so as not to take the spotlight away from himself.
Andre needs to be the "go to" guy on his own line.Put him on a line with mobile play-makers like Koivu and Tanguay and see what happens.
As far as Higgins and Koivu are concerned,it seems to me the only reason it worked in the past was the presence of Ryder.Even when Ryder wasn't scoring last year the threat was there which gave all three of them more room to maneuver.
As far as Gainey's 3 choices are concerned I pick #3.As long as Carbo is in the picture nothing is going to change.

Denis said...

I still think someone is going to be stupid enough to pay Komisarek way over what he is really worth, comes July 1st. I still think some GM's are going to give way too much money to the players Gainey will have chosen to ignore, except maybe a Dandeneault or two.

When asked in mid-January what had been his best move since his appointment as GM for the Habs, Gainey immediately answered, Guy Carbonneau. Does anyone believe that less than two months later, he's going to fire his coach saying "you know, back in January, I was only joking" ?

Obviously, Carbonneau can be stubborn, but I still believe that most decisions involving the day to day managing of the hockey club (not those decisions taken during the games) are taken by committee. That includes the use of the 4 lines and the choice of players who are going to dress or not as well as the line-making decisions.

I'm not sure what Gainey's involvement is in that decision making process but he certainly has the option to somehow intervene when something does not please him.

I blame the players and mostly the players for their lack of involvement, dedication and grit. And for the first time in my life, at the risk of making a Don Cherry of myself, I'm starting to question the choice of that many European players in the line-up. In this league, talent isn't everything. One must be willing to "bleed" in order to achieve some success and it sure doesn't look like these guys (there are always some exceptions) think the Stanley Cup is worth the sacrifice.

Firing coaches every two or three years has certainly not been the answer, so far.

Anvilcloud said...

I agree with Stan: "Goddamn them all!..."

Actually, if they're such good friends, Bob should put Guy out of his misery. It's the humane thing to do.

Douglas said...

I have such utter disdain for this team, but it comes down to the coach. He has got to go, and I don't think what you've called the most likely scenario has ever occurred before .

Thought you might enjoy this as well, JT: verbatim advice from my six year old twin boys who are upset after watching last night's game today despite my telling them that they shouldn't:

- 'Price played well but it isn't right if Halak wanted to play; I think Price should retire.'
- 'Lang and Brisebois are old and should retire. Lang's not going to be able to skate. Schneider should retire too but he's mommy's favorite player.'
- 'I don't want to watch the game against the Stars. They don't try hard enough and it makes me too upset.'
- 'Can I root for Florida or the Blackhawks? They try hard, and Toews is awesome.'
- 'I can't believe Mark Recchi scored twice today. He's that new defenseman, right? Is it okay if I cheer for the Bruins if they're playing a team they need to beat for us like Carolina, Buffalo, or New York?'
- 'I'm very sad. I don't want to watch the Canadiens any more. Let's watch other sports.'

darren said...

Hey J.T.,

What do you think of Carbo's decision to play Price against Dallas tonight? Seems like a bad move. I'd like to see Bob step behind the bench--with or without carbo standing beside him. But if BG should fire Carbs, who do you think would be the best replacement?