Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Boucher!

The AHL today announced Guy Boucher as its choice for coach of the year. The Bulldogs' rookie bench boss has guided his team to a 51-17-10 record, good for second-best in the league, and has his players buying into a defensive system without sacrificing goals. The 'Dogs have allowed the fewest goals per game in the A, while scoring the third-most. All this has happened without any big budding superstars carrying the team...unless you can consider a coach a superstar.

Every player who's come up from Hamilton, with the exception of Ben Maxwell, has shown promise and big-league basics in Montreal. Boucher gets rave reviews too. Mathieu Darche credits Boucher with his revival as an NHL player. PK Subban praises Boucher's systems and communication skills. Mathieu Carle says Boucher is a great teacher.

For Habs fans, this is all very good news. It's nice to see the Bulldogs' coach get the credit so many say he deserves. It's also great to have such a good man guiding the organization's youngsters at a critical stage of their development. We look forward to him being the Canadiens' head coach one day.

The question most of us have is how quickly that might be possible. Boucher is signed for two more years in Hamilton. Up until his contract there runs out, any other NHL team wishing to hire him must ask the Canadiens' permission to make him an offer. That's all well and good, but what if some team does want to hire him? What can the Habs say? They've already got a head coach, two assistants and an ex-coach on the payroll. Pierre Gauthier can't very well say, "Oh, just hold on until we get tired of Martin, then we'll make room for you." I don't think that would happen. They can just outright refuse other teams a chance to talk to him like the Wings have done with assistant GM Jim Nill. I can see that chafing at Boucher if he really wants an NHL job next year or the year after. So, if the Habs are serious about Boucher eventually taking over from Martin, they'd be wise to move sooner rather than later.

I, for one, think Jacques Martin's methods aren't working well for the team he's handling. The Habs are a fast team, but don't use their speed. They're a talented offensive team, but sit on slim leads instead of pushing for more goals. They have trouble breaking out of their zone and their PP is dreadful. Some of the blame for those problems obviously must fall on the players. But it's interesting to see Boucher handling them differently than Martin does, with better results. More concerning with Martin, though, is his decision-making. Not taking time outs when the team is reeling, having the fourth line and bottom D pair on the ice against the other team's top line when he's got last change, punishing young players who make mistakes while doing nothing about similar errors made by veterans and consistently sending one man in on the forecheck are all questionable decisions. Martin, like every coach except Lindy Ruff, will be fired. It's just a matter of when.

The problem is the cost of firing coaches. Martin's got a four-year contract and you can be sure the pay isn't peanuts. He didn't leave a cushy GM job in Florida to take over Montreal's bench unless he was very well compensated. The team also has Guy Carbonneau under contract for another season after this one, for good money. Expecting the Molsons to pony up another million-plus contract for a third coach is a lot to ask. Plus, Martin is Gauthier's man. The two of them have a history and hockey guys don't fire their buddies easily. (Carbo and Gainey notwithstanding.)

There's an easy answer, though. Gauthier hasn't hired an assistant GM. It would be a simple matter to bump Martin upstairs into that role, with vague promises of being Gauthier's successor. That would open the coaching job for Boucher after next season, when Carbo comes off the books. Boucher would get one more year to learn the pro game and test his theories in Hamilton. He'd also have another year to work with the kids he'll be coaching in Montreal and build up their loyalty. That plan would give the Canadiens something concrete to say to Boucher when he wants to know why they won't let him talk to other teams.

Maybe it's wrong to say a coach can be a star, but I think in Boucher's case, he's got a lot of promise. His AHL coach of the year award says he's already skilled at his job. The faster he's ready for Montreal, the better.

14 comments:

moeman said...

I agree 100%. The only real unknown is Boucher's loyalty to the Habs but methinks Bob Gainey giving him his pro debut matters but I wouldn't be surprised if he gets an offer or two. One more AHL year seems like the right route.

Anonymous said...

I agree. We'll have to wait and see. It's a wait and see game. Especially the way the season went. Can't blame Boucher for anything. It's sad really, but true! Never thought I'd say that, but here I am saying it. JM was right though.

commentvatonclub said...

Before taking on the Montreal job, some NHL teams approached Boucher and offered him an assistant coach job. He didn’t take it, which means the guy wants to climb the ladder is own way. As a Habs fan, I think that’s promising. He’s intelligent enough to know that it’s easier to take on a team where you know some of the players (think of Dan Blysma in Pitts.)

Like you, I think that Martin will eventually become Gauthier’s assistant and that they’ll take Boucher to coach the team, probably after next year, when Carbo gets off Montreal’s book.

I really hope so (picture me praying on my knee).

Kyle Roussel said...

When we talk about prospects down on the farm, we rarely mention coaches, but in this case, Boucher is really the best prospect that the Canadiens have.

Not to distract from your blog, J.T., back in early February I posed the question on my blog on whether or not Boucher was ready for Montreal (can be found here if anyone is interested: http://trunc.it/6zo24). I don't know if I answered the question, but I think I came close.

Boucher's rise from the junior ranks to near-NHL has been quick. Perhaps too quick for some, but Boucher is a very very smart guy. He's not just an x's and o's coach. He has Arts and Engineering degrees from McGill and a Master’s degree in Sports Psychology from the University of Montreal. He's no dummy.

What I appreciate about your blog J.T. is that it comes AFTER Gainey's departure from the team, which allows you to make the very sage assumption that Martin could indeed move upstairs with Gauthier and let Boucher take over as coach in Montreal.

One thing that I still am adamant about is that if you're going to go with an unproven guy at the NHL level with Boucher, he's got to be given time to develop. For years the Habs pollinated the league with guys like Vigneault, Therrien, Julien, and now Carbonneau (who will no doubt work as a head coach in the league again some day). I would be sick to my stomach if Boucher comes in as a white knight, only to be canned 2 years later for not winning the cup. I'd like for the Canadiens to go down Lindy Ruff lane and stick with a guy for a decade. Especially if Boucher is the gem we all think he is.

Excellent work as always. I love spending time here!

V said...

The news that Boucher won the AHL Coaching award was a little tainted by seeing Mike Milbury on the list of former winners... then again it isn't a general management award. He might have been a good coach.

Lots of good names on that list. And I like your suggestion on how the Habs get him to the Bigs.

Paul B. said...

Let's just hope that not only you're a brilliant writer but that you also have clairvoyant skills.

MathMan said...

The trick that Olivier pointed out is that while Martin may make a mint, Boucher, with no NHL experience, isn't going to cost a fortune as a NHL head coach. Paying Carbo + Martin + Boucher isn't going to be a HUGE additional cost over playing just Carbo + Martin.

If Gauthier realizes Martin is a bust (unlikely, because they're tight, but possible, particularly if the coach has the team desperately clinging so as to not fall down from the level of mediocrity again next year) then the financials may not be as much an obstacle as they're made out to be.

James Parent said...

The only scary part about your scenario is thinking of JM as an assistant GM...
Quickly looking at his track record as Florida GM (poor to terrible drafting, poor to terrible player development, average pro scouting), that's slightly unnerving.
Maybe as an assistant GM he'd do better, who knows...

J.T. said...

@mathman: The point about the cost is well-taken. But, I think the point about the relationship between Martin and Gauthier is more at the crux of the problem. Gainey, being a team-first guy who had first-hand experience on the ice and in the room, was able to separate his personal relationship with Carbo from what he felt was best for the team. Gauthier has none of that "feel" for a room or a team's psyche that Gainey brought with him. He's much more likely to let his friendship come first, in my opinion. Until it starts costing the team significantly in the standings or at the gate that is.

The only problem with that caveat is we, the fans, will have to wait until the balance between friendship and the good of the team tips against Martin. There could be two or three seasons of mediocrity with him in charge before that happens. In light of that, I think having Boucher in the wings is a blessing. Gauthier can save both his and Martin's public face by "promoting" Martin and bringing in the carefully-groomed new coach. Otherwise, he'd eventually *have* to fire Martin, and I'm sure he doesn't want to do that.

V said...

I guess one fly in the ointment for me about your whole elevating Boucher asap thing is the notion that Gauthier as GM and Martin as coach have actually been pretty good.

JT, in your article you talk about some of the frustrations with Martin, i.e. sitting on leads, forth liners on in critical situations against first liners, etc. (and of course his ties) Some of that is valid (especially the ties) and also pretty irrelevent really.

Together (and I say together because Gauthier did well to pick up Moore and nothing else) they have the team 7 games over .500 (would be at least 10 games over if they knew how to score or defend in a shoot-out). All this despite very bad injuries to key players. Say those injuries cost us 5 games this team would otherwise win. (not an outlandish idea since there have been recent articles over at Daily Hab-it proposing something similar and we have a significantly better record since injuries healed) That's 12 games over .500 - 93-94 points with two games left and all with a brand new squad.

I'm sorry, but that just does not sound like something to be too unhappy with. Sure, it's not Boucher's record, but the circumstances are entirely different.

Now none of this is to discredit what Boucher did... fantastic work. Just don't want to join the bandwagon building on Martin that says he has not done a good job. I think he has. Right down the line. Not always pretty (there are those ties again) but sometimes sublime, i.e. 3-0 agains Buffalo.

Doesn't mean your plan is bad - he could be elevated for good work as quickly as for bad, maybe sooner.

Just saying is all.

Anonymous said...

Why not fire Gauthier for the good of the team? Why is he so valuable? Then maybe the Habs can move forward like Phoenix, Colorado and Nashville have this season and Tampa surely will with yet another lottery pick.

J.T. said...

@Mark: Nice to have you...hope you stick around. As for Graham Rynbend, you might try just emailing him at grynbend@canadiens.com Most of the support team uses that email form.

DKerr said...

"Maybe it's wrong to say a coach can be a star"

In many cases that is true, but there are those guys who have the track record that immediately gives a fan hope. Scotty Bowman, Lindy Ruff, Jaques Lemaire (makes a team solid fast) and in their day, the late Badger Bob and Herb Brooks come to mind as guys who could fit that billing.

Look at what Blysma did last year. Unshackled a talent laden team from a system-guy (I guess that was Therrien's MO). Give Boucher another year of developing our youngsters, many of them will grow right into the Habs line-up. It appears he would be a great choice to groom the youngsters on the Habs.

pfhabs said...

JT:

-as some say from your lips to God's ears...as soon as they move Martin out and Boucher in the team becomes instantaneously better

-as for a Martin and Gauthier tandem I'd sooner have Bob back...Martin has shown his GM'ing skill via the Bouwmester deal and Gauthier has shown his skill over the last 6 years...nuff said