Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Summer Solutions: Coaching

Once the GM (again, we'll go with the assumption that Gainey's staying) has solved his centre problem, the next thing he's going to have to address is the coaching situation. I liked a lot of things about Guy Carbonneau and I think now that he's had his stint in the coaching kindergarten that is Montreal, he's eventually land on his feet, as predecessors Claude Julien, Alain Vigneault and "Mike" Therrien did.

But, just as those guys were hired at least partly for their ability to speak French as well as their minor-league coaching experience, Carbonneau, like them, came into the job with no NHL head coaching on his resume. I'm getting a little tired of seeing guys learn the ropes in the big leagues by practicing on the Habs. Now, Bob Gainey has hinted he might not be adverse to continuing as coach of the team. I'm not in favour of that idea, not because I think Gainey's a bad coach, but because I watched him get more and more frazzled and snippy with the media the longer he spent behind the bench. I can't help thinking part of Gainey's success has to do with his aura of calm competence, and the more frustrated exposure he gets, the more that aura is tarnished. For that reason, among others, I think the coach needs to be someone other than the GM.

So, if the organization must start from scratch with the head coach I think it must start from scratch with the entire staff.

Doug Jarvis: He was a very good defensive forward in his day, and he's Bob Gainey's former linemate, roomate and friend. He's followed Gainey from Minnesota to Dallas and now to Montreal. But at this point, one must wonder how much his coaching ability has to do with his longevity behind the bench, and how much he owes to his friendship with the boss. Honestly, if Jarvis' responsibilities this last season included the powerplay and the performance of the defence, and he were to be judged solely on the fulfillment of those responsibilities, he'd surely have to be let go. He did no better at his job than Carbonneau did at his.

Kirk Muller: He's the guy Carbo hired to be his friend and assistant...to have his back in the harsh spotlight in Montreal. He was allegedly responsible for the PK, which has been fairly mediocre, but seemed to be more like the official team cheerleader. In all the descriptions I heard about player interaction with the coaches, it appeared Muller's role was to translate Carbonneau's instructions for players who needed their hands held in order to perform. With Carbonneau gone, it would seem Muller's services, with his one year of university head coaching experience, won't be required any longer either.

Rollie Melanson: A lot of goalies, like Huet and Halak, say Melanson really helped them with the technical aspects of their games. But considering the regression of Carey Price this year, you have to wonder if Melanson is the right coach for him. Watching video of the kid during his junior career and his great WJC performance, and comparing it to the way he looked during the latter half of this season, it's obvious his style has changed dramatically, and not with better results. Considering the amount the organization has invested in Price, it's conceivable the team may dump Melanson for no better reason than to keep Golden Boy happy. After all, if the head coach can be sacrificed for an underachieving team, why shouldn't the goalie coach be axed because of an underachieving netminder?

So, if the team is going to clear the decks in the coaching department, who'll take those jobs for next season? Looking at the head coaching position, I think, as I've said before, that management must choose a coach based on pro-coaching experience, approach to the game, bench-management skills and ability to communicate with and develop young players at the pro level. This last is the most vital requirement in a potential head coach in Montreal. The team is building through the draft and is deeply dependent on the progression of its young players. This season we saw young players like both Kostitsyns, Ryan O'Byrne, Chris Higgins and Tomas Plekanec either stall or take big steps backward in their development. In the cases of Sergei Kostitsyn and O'Byrne, and Carey Price last year, they had to return to Hamilton to get back on track. It might have been the chance to get out of the limelight in Montreal, but I think it was more likely the chance to return to a more nurturing coaching environment that helped them get better. The difference between AHL O'Byrne and NHL O'Byrne was particularly noticable. For this reason, I think Don Lever should be the new head coach. He knows the young core of the team and guided them through the early stages of their pro development. He's well-respected. He's got years of pro coaching experience in the AHL, where he won a championship with a lot of these same players, and as an NHL assistant. I have it on good authority that after Carbo's firing, Lever assisted Gainey in making some of the smarter moves of the latter's post-Carbo tenure as coach, notably in putting the Koivu, Kovalev, Tanguay line together. And most laudable of all, Scotty Bowman himself, when asked his opinion on Lever, said the Habs couldn't find a better man to take over behind the bench. That's good enough for me.

Jarvis should be replaced by a defence coach who can guide the development of the raft of young Ds who'll be entering the organization this year. The team needs a coach who's actually played defence and who knows what he's talking about when he tells the players what to do. The ideal candidate would be Larry Robinson, but he's spoken for in New Jersey. Next would be Jacques Laperierre, but he's taken as well...you guessed it...by Jersey. (Is there any wonder why the Devils play such a consistently smothering defensive system?) There are other good candidates (not Breezer!) out there, but I think, if the Red Wings don't offer Chris Chelios another playing contract next year, he might be worth a try in the coach's role. He knows the challenging, physical style fans would like to see the Habs' D play. He's experienced and wily and knows all the tricks of the game. He's also been steeped in the winning system in Detroit and is used to having young players look up to him and ask him for advice.

Some have said they'd like to see Melanson replaced by Patrick Roy. I'm not sure that's a great idea, for several reasons. Not least among them, Roy's hotheadedness is an even bet to get him in trouble before the season is out. Also, Roy's ego isn't well-stroked if he's toiling away in the shadows as goalie coach. I think, with him, it's head coach or nothing. And there's the question of whether Roy would even be able to translate what made him great into a language he can teach a young goalie. Gretzky can't seem to do it with his young players in Phoenix. So, in lieu of Roy, I'd look at hiring the guy who made Roy famous in the first place: Francois Allaire. Allaire's under contract with the Ducks right now, but his deal ends this summer and he's mentioned publicly that he finds it difficult to be so far away from his home in Quebec. No one can deny he's done a great job with Giguere and now with Hiller, and even though he's known as the guru of the butterfly, he's not the type of coach that tries to force every goalie into a cookie-cutter style. I think Allaire could be the guy who could help Carey Price reach his potential, which is something the Habs are desperate do to.

And, that's how I'd solve the coaching situation.

19 comments:

Howard said...

I hope that Bob Gainey or whoever is the next Hab GM (Pierre Mcguire?) read this JT. Great choices!

Denis said...

The next coach will be Bob Hartley and the next Bulldogs coach will be Guy Boucher.

pierre said...

Gainey, despite being a quality person doesn't deserve an extension as GM of the Montreal Canadien.... I simply dont like the product of his work.... if he was an architec I wouldn't ask him to built me a home.... unless I wanted it to be dysfonctional and to look funky.

I hope to see a career coach behind the team's bench next season, ideally one that has multiple years in the NHL, one that have been throught some playoffs series.... Bob Hartley has that and he even won the Stanly Cup once.

Dany Dubé or Don Lever would be great choices as Assistant Coach while Eric Desjardin would be most welcome for our growing D coaching needs.

Rushing Price into unfavorable situations were not approved by Melançon and I dont think he should be blamed for something that was out of his control.

Lest hope that the sale of the CH will be a done thing soon and that the joy of cheering for a good team lies just around the corner.

J.T. said...

@Pierre: Desjardins is already working for Philly and appears to have little interest in returning to Montreal. Hartley certainly has a winning track record (albeit with a stacked Avs team and a few superstars in Atlanta), but is known as a hard-ass who eventually alienates his players. I'm interested in whether you'd still think he was the ideal coaching candidate if he didn't speak French.

@Denis: Why do you believe those guys will get those jobs?

ganderhab said...

What about Marc Crawford, who has workable french abilities from his time in Quebec, with Patrick as an assistant? They have a relationship from their time in Colorado, and both might help attract free agents. I find it strange that even after a week the persistant press has not been able to solicit a reaction from Patrick on Price's imitation of him in the last game. The only reasons I can see for his silence is either a reluctance to get involved in this sticky situation after the team retired his sweater, or there is something in the works for him to join the organization after Quebec was eliminated from the qmjhl playoffs.

Denis said...

I realize that 15% of the people of Quebec and a few hundred fans living outside this Province, desperately want an English speaking coach but I just don't think it will happen. The organization, including Molson and their 19% just can't afford to alienate that many people who are completely devoted to them.

This time however, they absolutely an experienced coach and Hartley fits the bill all the way. Not only is he a proven winner, like Pat Burns after Jean Perron, he also will put a stop to the half-hearted efforts that too many players on this team give night after night.

As for Boucher, a simple look at his record and his achievements is more than enough to predict he'll be the next Therrien, Julien, or Burns being groomed in the minors for when the next coach is fired in Montreal.

J.T. said...

Crawford wouldn't be a bad choice, Roger, although I don't see Roy fitting in well as an assistant. He's too much an all-or-nothing type of guy. Intriguing idea on his silence about Price. I wonder...

J.T. said...

Fair enough, Denis. I was curious about your reasoning. One thing though, I disagree there are many people with their hearts set on an English-speaking coach. I think the vast majority of Canadiens fans just want a good, experienced coach who'll get the best out of these guys. We want a winning team, and the language of whatever coach makes that happen doesn't matter a whit.

pierre said...

@ J.T.

Boivin, CH President, has allready stated that the futur head coach of the Club will be able to communicate in French.... so yes, it is from such premises that I thought Bob Hartley would be a good candidate.

Unlike Dany Dubé I dont know the specifics about his own thoughts on hochey but above the general profile making him a good candidate I like the fact that he is well articulated when he expresses himself..... after 3 years with Carbo I am longing for someone who displays a good cerebral disposition maybe in the hope that the better the intellectual capacity of a coach the better are the chances for him to be more creative and better adapt in finding nuanced solutions for nuanced problems.

Another reason as to why I think he could be a good candidate is the fact that Pat Burns gaved the idea a thumb-up...... saying " it would be perfect ".

On the other hand Burns didn't object against Patrick Roy when asked..... saying that his coaching experience of the last two years is all that is needed if he was meanted to be a good coach to start with......... I personally dont fancy him behind the bench of my Canadiens...... I might have less objections if he ended-up being the GM..... but that is another topic altogether.

Too bad that Desjardin is already tied-up with Philly but Chelios would be a fantastic choice and his experience with the nuts and bolts of the Wings system makes things that much sweeter....... the problem is that D coaching doesn't pay well and I doubt that he would be interested.

Short of being head coach in MTL Don Lever would be perfect as assistant coach...... I guess there is probably more money in it than being head coach in Hamilton.

Who would have thought at the beginning of our season that today's topic was going to be the fans' central theme of discussion at this time of the year.

Denis said...

As much as I like the way you write, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on some subjects. After all, you and I come from two different worlds. Dare I even say two different solitudes ?

A coach that could not speak French could never last more than a few months in this day and age, in Montreal. The fans and the French media would make his life totally unbearable. Notwithstanding the fact that simply thinking about hiring an unilingual coach would represent a total lack of decency and respect for the majority of the fans.

There have always been very decent coaches coming from the Province of Québec and I don't see the day when this will stop. Consequently, I don't see the need to look elsewhere.

As much as I dislike Therrien, Vigneault and Julien, they are nevertheless more than decent NHL coaches, , that maybe would never have been in the NHL if the Canadiens didn't give them a chance. Burns, Lemaire,Demers, Bowman, Hartley, Claude Ruel, Toe Blake a few others are also living proof that speaking French is not a handicap. Well, Toe Blake may not be so much living anymore but you get my drift...

J.T. said...

@Denis:
Don't get me wrong. If the best coach available also happens to speak French, I think that's great. It's undeniably an asset to have in Quebec when it comes to answering media questions and making public appearances. However, my beef is with hiring a coach who's less than the best available solely *because* he speaks French and another, maybe better, guy doesn't. I have nothing but respect for the great coaches of the past who were French or who spoke French. But I'm really tired of the modern Canadiens hiring new coaches for their language skills, then firing them and having them use the hockey skills they acquired in Montreal put to use elsewhere. Better hire a guy who's already learned the ropes, no matter what language he speaks.

Honestly, when it comes down to it, all the players speak English or learn it when they arrive in the pros. It's the common language of the NHL, and I'm fairly certain that while Carbonneau might have addressed Lapierre or Dandenault in French, he certainly addressed the team as a whole in English. So the problem with language isn't one within the team setting. It's a problem only for fans and reporters who want to hear the coach answer questions in French. I don't even think the majority of the fans would be bothered. How many people in Montreal don't understand English?

As for the majority of the fans being francophone, I'm not even sure of that. The Canadiens are special in that their fanbase isn't just confined to their geographical area. There are many, many anglophones and allophones who live in many parts of the country and the world who identify themselves as Canadiens fans. They buy RDS because RDS provides all the games, and they learn to understand what's happening in French. They buy the jerseys and merchandise, and they travel to Montreal to watch games live.

I guess I have a problem with the idea that the Habs belong solely to Montreal, and mostly to the French of Montreal. I know the team represents different things for different groups in a social sense, but it doesn't mean the devotion of fans outside Quebec is any less passionate.

Denis said...

How does one know who the best available coach is ? As far as I'm concerned, Dany Dubé is the best hockey mind available, anywhere. Is his knowledge of the English language, sufficient not to make him the target of some one track mind players, I'm not certain.

I'm sure that for you he is not the best available candidate. Heck, you possibly don't even have a clue who he is. That doesn't mean I'm right or that you're wrong.

If you ask every Canadiens fan who's the best, I'm sure you'd get dozens of different and coherent answers.

Before becoming the coach of the Canadiens, Toe Blake was coaching some very minor team in Valleyfield. Was he the best available coach at that particular time ? Pat Burns won three Adams with three different teams. When Savard gave him his first chance, was he the best available coach ?

You claim Lever would be the candidate of choice. Fine. But how much experience does he have coaching players earning more than ten times his salary. The biggest earner he must dealt with in the minors was probably earning less than $100,000.00 a year.

Do you handle "l'artiste" or a very moody Koivu the same way you deal with a young Mathieu Carle or Cédric Desjardins ?

I was born in Montreal and my first ever hockey souvenir is listening to the radio while just about a mile away from my home the biggest riot ever to hit Montreal, was taking place. The first five years I watched hockey on TV the Canadiens won the Cup. Then Dalton McArthur stole the Cup away from us to hand it over to Rudy Pilous and the Black Hawks after a more than dubious goal in overtime. When that happened, my father had to explain to me why the Cup did not belong to the Canadiens.

So, I'm a long time fan and I fail to see why I would give my support to another team.

While I may also understand that many fans ran away from the Province in the late 70's and have remained faithful to their teams, I seriously doubt your allegations of "There are many, many anglophones and allophones who live in many parts of the country and the world who identify themselves as Canadiens fans."

A few hundreds sure. More than that, I would have to get some proof. Why in the world would there be more than a handful of people in Pennsylvania that support a Montreal team when they have two teams of their own. The New York residents have 4 teams to cheer. Don't tell me the people of Trawna favour the Canadiens. Some people out West are still nostagic of the good old days when there were only two Canadian teams but even there, I'm sure that in their heart they still prefer the Canucks, Flames and or Oilers.

J.T. said...

First of all, of course I know who Dany Dube is! I watched him coach the Canadian team in Lillehammer. And I agree he's a really smart hockey guy. Maybe he's the best choice according to Habs' management, which, after all, is the only definition of "best" that counts. Maybe he's not.

However, I suggested Lever because he's an experienced coach who's played the game and who's spent fourteen years behind an NHL bench and in the room with those millionaires who play. At the same time, he's got a reputation for developing young players...specifically the Canadiens' young players...which I think is the single most important quality the new coach must have.

As for there being Habs fans outside of Montreal, of course there are! Just because you live in New York doesn't mean you like any of the teams there. And half the population here in Atlantic Canada roots for the Habs. I can't provide proof for you without serious research...but a good starting place might be checking to see how many subscribers RDS has outside Quebec, because you can be guaranteed people aren't paying to watch poker. And what about sites like Habs Inside/Out or Hockey's Future? Those sites get millions of hits a month and the people who visit them are from all over the world.

The irony of this conversation for me is that my first experience with the Habs was as a kid, listening to the games on the radio, on a Montreal broadcast that was picked up by a repeater in Antigonish, Nova Scotia and passed on to me. And it was in French.

Denis said...

According to Wikipedia : "The population of the Atlantic provinces was 2,332,535 in 2007"

I must admit my ignorance and offer my apologies to the people of Eastern Canada. Even though I have traveled across three of the Maritimes Provinces (exception is Newfoundland), I had never realized there were so many people living there. I guess I was dumbfounded by Peggy's Cove.

So, OK, I now realize there could be more than a few hundred Canadiens fans living outside this Province.

It does not change the fact that wether you and I like it or not, an unilingual coach would be chased out of town in a matter of months, in today's reality. Ask Al Mcneil if he would want to come back as coach of Les Canadiens.

By the way, I think Lever would make a very good assistant coach in Montreal. And I don't think for a minute that Dany Dubé would ever be considered for a coaching position, anywhwere in the NHL. Which is too bad, IMHO.

J.T. said...

You're probably right in that a unilingual coach would be crucified by the Rejean Tremblays of the world. But if that's today's reality, then today's reality sucks.

Howard said...

How about an idea of having Don Lever as the coach and having a francophone as associate coach to deal with the media?

shmulik said...

What about pat quinn, he has a lot of experience and has a great record..thoughts anyone?????

Jay in PA said...

Dammit, Shmulik! I was going to suggest Pat Quinn! If Paul Maurice can flip the bird at the leads by taking Carolina to the second round, imagine what Pat Quinn could do with the Habs!

Yes, I know that makes no sense whatsoever.

Denis said...

Oye, Oye, Late bulletin

According to RDS, Larry Robinson would apparently be interested in coaching the Canadiens.

If true and if it happens, I guess that would satisfy a large majority of the fans.