Okay, I confess, I didn't like the Jacques Martin hiring when Bob Gainey announced it last year. I didn't like his reputation for making his team play boring hockey or his dour demeanor, or the fact that he was hired largely because he was the best French-speaking candidate available. I wanted somebody young and dynamic with new ideas, who liked fast, exciting hockey, regardless of language. I wanted someone like Cory Clouston or Dan Bylsma or even a tough, charismatic SOB like Lindy Ruff. Still, I figured everybody deserves a chance. Bob Gainey made some dumb decisions as GM, but when it comes down to it, he knows hockey. So, I thought I'd give Martin the season before I came to any conclusions about him. Now we're at the last game of the year and I've decided: I can't stand him. Here are the top reasons why:
10. His clothes. Seriously. Mark Twain said "clothes make the man," and he wasn't wrong. A smart man dresses for his role. It's a status thing. More than that though, the choices a person makes in how he presents himself reveal something of his personal style. Martin's boring suits and terrible ties tell the world he's got no style at all. He just throws on whatever's at hand and isn't too concerned about the look of it, kind of like the team he sends out on the ice.
9. His grudges. I know Sergei Kostitsyn can be maddening, but the kid hasn't been bad when he gets a chance to play. At least no worse than most of teammates have been on occasion, and he shows a great deal more ability than a lot of them. Martin singled out Kostitsyn in training camp, cut him, and has never accepted him back on the team since his recall from Hamilton. Admittedly, Sergei himself didn't handle things well either. But he's a kid. The organization didn't ship him out, so it falls to the coaching staff to get the best out of him. It's funny Guy Boucher had no trouble with him in Hamilton, but as soon as he came back to Montreal he was in the doghouse again. Martin withholding power play time and benching Kostitsyn for every mistake when other players get away with so much more is a stupid, petty way to coach a talented, if headstrong, player.
8. His predictability. Or, more accurately, his lack of imagination. When other teams are foiling the Canadiens' PP, or they're getting over-run against heavy forechecking, Martin has no answers. He tries the same things every time, and can't creatively solve other coach's tactics in-game.
7. His blandness. I think if a team is going to play with passion and determination, it has to have a determined, passionate coach. I look at Ruff in Buffalo or Babcock in Detroit. Those guys can almost *will* their teams to win, and I wouldn't want to be in the line of fire if they started yelling. I can't imagine Martin yelling, or the players not laughing at him if he did. Carbonneau was overly passionate in his yelling at the refs and his often emotional post-game interviews. I thought it was too much sometimes, but I wish Martin had even a spark of Carbo's fire.
6. His poor decision-making. From choosing the wrong players in a shootout to sending Hal Gill out with the fourth line against the opposition's best players when the Habs have last-change advantage, Martin's decisions often leave us scratching our heads. We wonder why he plays the guys he does where and when he does, and we wonder why he benches the players he sits. So many of his decisions don't make sense and some of them cost points, like his choice to have Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn defending a one-goal lead against Buffalo in the last minute of that game.
5. His history. A Jacques Martin team has never won anything. Sometimes you can say the players didn't perform or they had no heart, but when you have a whole bunch of seasons coaching different teams and different sets of players, can they all have no heart? Martin has had lots of talent in his hands, but he's never been able to inspire any of it to win in the playoffs. Regular season, sure. Talent will show and talented teams will put up points. But in the playoffs, the team has to buy into what its coach wants and it has to be motivated to make sacrifices. That's never happened to a Martin-coached team.
4. His contract. I admit, this isn't his fault. But it's infuriating to know that he's signed to a hefty, four-year deal that's going to figure into when the team can replace him. Because of the contract, we're likely stuck with him for at least another year.
3. His punishments. Sometimes a player is dogging it all game, and he deserves to sit. I have no problem with a coach deciding to strip a guy's ice time if he's not earning it. What I *do* have a problem with is when a guy is actually trying hard, then takes a penalty or makes an error and gets benched for it. Ryan O'Byrne comes to mind. He took an accidental high-sticking penalty in the famous blown Sabres game, but it wasn't indicative of laziness or lack of effort. It was a bloody high-sticking penalty. The guy's stick slipped when he was trying to corral the puck-carrier. It could happen to anyone, but O'Byrne got benched for it. How is a player supposed to learn anything from that? What's he supposed to say? "Oh, sorry coach, I won't take another penalty?" All it does is make players worry about screwing up. And if they're worried about making mistakes, how are they supposed to concentrate on the game? It's a stupid, bullheaded way to handle players.
2. His treatment of young players. There's obviously a two-tiered reward system in Martin World. The above-mentioned punishments are always against young players. Veterans like Gomez or Gill can apparently make all the bone-headed giveaways in the world with impunity, while a kid, who's trying to learn the ropes and get better, gets benched for every shortcoming.
Under Martin, Kyle Chipchura, Guillaume Latendresse and Matt D'Agostini failed to progress and got traded. Chipchura is now a regular third-liner with heart and size for the Ducks and Latendresse has scored 25 goals for the Wild. I'm not saying I miss any of those players, but the point is, they obviously have the ability to play on an NHL team. Why were coaches in other cities able to help those players find that ability and make the most of it? Ben Maxwell is doing nothing either. I wonder if PK Subban would have had all the life sucked out of him as well, if he'd played in Montreal for more than two games.
Back before the season started, Martin made a great gesture to travel to Calgary and visit with Carey Price. It was a promising sign because Price had had such a hard season last year, and it seemed as though the new coach wanted to help him have a new start. But, Price was the only one who got such treatment. Martin didn't make an effort to meet with Halak, for example. In fact, when discussing the team before the season, Martin couldn't remember Halak's name and called him "the other goalie." Then, when the season proved Halak to be the number-one netminder, with fans booing Price undeservedly, Martin defended the fans' right to boo instead of the young player he was supposedly so interested in helping earlier in the year. How is that supposed to build any trust or respect in the minds of the kids he's charged with developing?
I look at Benoit Pouliot, who went through the screw-up-and-get-benched style of coaching in Minnesota...to his detriment...going through it again now and regressing. We've seen what he can do when he's playing with joy and freedom. A coach needs to keep inspiring him to do that. Benching him, or O'Byrne or Sergei Kostitsyn doesn't help the players learn the game, develop confidence or improve.
Blaming the young guys for a team's losses, while letting the veterans go without criticism is gutless and unproductive. It takes a coach with balls to call out a vet, which is why Martin would rather blame Kostitsyn or O'Byrne.
1. His System. What can I say that you haven't seen for yourself? The team plays a passive game. It's a fast team that doesn't use its speed. It's an offensively-talented team that doesn't score. The players hang back in their own zone and spend way too much time standing still. They have a one-man forecheck most of the time, which makes it extremely easy for the pressured D to move the puck away and out. They sit on small leads and try to clog the neutral zone to prevent a goal instead of staying on the attack. The players have to take responsibility for their own performances, but it doesn't help when they're being instructed to play a style to which their skills aren't suited. Players like Gomez, Gionta, Cammalleri and Spacek have played good, productive hockey elsewhere. They don't just forget how to play the game because they change cities. I blame the coach. He's not the only problem with this team, but he's the biggest one.