Friday, April 9, 2010

Top Ten Things I Hate About Jacques Martin

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.

22 comments:

Chagnon said...

This.

You are right about everything.

Carbo was probably a little worse, though.

I did not have any of those grudges against past coaches, such as Julien or Therrien.

Martin is the wrong guy for this team.

JT UTAH said...

I just feel we will never be happy with the Habs coach.

Lyse said...

The best case for the cause I've read all day. Well done J.T.

(once more: you should be on Twitter)

Chagnon said...

@JT

Probably not as long as they suck.

But seriously, how many times in the past 3 years have you yelled at your Tv for the coach to take certain players off the ice in critical situations, only to be proven right 30 seconds later?

Or begging for a timeout at an appropriate moment?

Or to stop trying to protect a 1 goal lead with 20 minutes to go?

Or to stop putting Pyatt on the second line or Kostopolous on the 3rd, or Smolinski on the PP?

Coaching has been pure shite in the past 3 years.

And yes, it has been pretty much caused by the need for a French-speaking coach. There are excellent ones, but none were available at the time. At least we have Boucher to look forward to.

Larry said...

Sigh...as usual you`re right on, JT. It's depressing to think that we have to endure more of JM's coaching for maybe years to come. If it were successful, we might tolerate the boredom, but it's not. The idea of seeing thoroughbred, fast skaters denied the freedom to wheel north and south at abandon makes me cry. Pouliot, Sergei and OB can obviously do the job but get punished into losing spirit...stars are free to dog it with impunity...it`s maddening and saddening.

Harry said...

JT you are so spot on. Grudges,punishments,treatment of young players are all my pet peeves too..
I just hope he doesn't ruin O'Byrne !!
JM has no clue when it comes to the PP-it's not working so try something different, surely Muller has ideas.
Who to put out in the shootout ? Someone who knows nothing about hockey could just pick three names and do as good a job.
I almost wish they would lose and JM would get fired but as long as PG is there so is JM....
The team does not deserve to be in the playoffs based on the last couple of weeks.
Thanks for the Blog-it keeps me sane

DB said...

Why stop at only 10? Here's a few other items:

1. Routinely puts the players to sleep before the game starts. It usually takes them a period to wake-up.
2. Coachs like it's still the pre-lockout era when interference was allowed.
3. Doesn't believe it's insanity to do the same thing over and over (like sitting on a lead)while expecting a different result.
4. Inspires players to worry about making mistakes.
5. Hair reminds me of the Alberta oil sands.
6. Hasn't coached a team that's reached 90 points since he left Ottawa.
7. Reminds me of Potsie from Happy Days.
8. Martin just sucks the excitement out of the game.
9. He can't even match The Hab's record in Carbo's worst year.
10. The completely pathetic effort he got out of the team in games that could have cinched a playoff spot.

Anonymous said...

The Montreal Canadiens loosing streak is making you a hateful person! Stop loosing Montreal, stop!!

David said...

I hope to gods someone is sending this stuff to the Habs' front office. JT for GM.

Anonymous said...

Pure passion... something this blogg is full of but the team we cheer has none.

The skill is there but in 81 games we have yet to see all 20 players show passion in the same game.

HH

Patrick said...

Two words : Guy Boucher. Let's hope he won't get plucked by another team before the Habs promote him.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree with everything you've said, especially about the system and the benching of young players for mistakes. This treatment will either ruin them or make them go elsewhere. The Kings are a team that have been developing a lot of good young players in recent years and have missed the playoffs until now partly because they've been patient and decided to live with rookie mistakes rather than punishing the players. We never really give our young players a chance. We give them limited ice time, bench them for mistakes, and sign aging, overpaid veterans to do the job rather than allow the rookies to learn it. This isn't Martin specifically, it's the whole organization, but his punishment system does not help. Both Pouliot and the Kostitsyns would benefit greatly from different treatment.

As for the famous system, it's probably lost us as many games as it's won us; and all too often, Martin's lack of passion seems to rub off on the players. If that happens tonight, I think Martin should be fired regardless of his contract.

Anonymous said...

Everyone accepts that Martin must stay because of so many poor coaching choices and because the Molsons are paying cash for them? I don't myself understand that. There is no cap on coaches. If you accept that point of view then MAB and his short stick/reach has to stay because he is cheap.

The only reason Martin is coaching the Habs is because he was born under the lucky star. Until a Quebec native comes along who can coach at the NHL level (please Boucher please for the love of all that is holy please do not be a hyped not ready for prime time creation of marketing).

This isn't about winning. This is all about preserving market share long range. Fans are exposed to other sports, other teams, and other players at an unheard of rate now. The Habs must represent to survive in some people's views. Myself, I disagree. A historical championship team always draws and sells, but Quebec is a smaller, a provincial so to speak market. I honestly believe what the Habs owners and management fear is not Crosby or Ovechkin, but simply another Quebec city franchise.
New

Anonymous said...

I don't know, this is all kinda mysterious to me. I'm so curious on one hand but on another, who cares! I was discussing this with a buddy yesterday and he agreed. Well, all most. He thought a little differently about the team and long time ago, he said, and that has to change, for the better if you know what I mean. I'm tired of mystery. I need something new to believe in. Let it go, that's what I say, that's what I believe in because when the going gets tough, move out of the way. It'll all take some time, but hell, the way I see it is we all have the time to wait. Pyatt's under the weather, anyway, and that Sergei guy, what the hell is with that?

dwgs said...

I've long said that the demise of the Nordiques was the worst thing that could have happened for the Habs.

Anonymous said...

What system?? Have the players sit back and play kitty bar the door like they did with leads under Carbo? System is the most overused word in hockey. They have the puck? Go get it back !! Use your speed, get into openings, give and go, be creative, use the body to rub guys out. It is a simple game . The Habs have the speed to play with any team. Are they the best ? NO . But Martin has clearly stifled this team. They are hamstrung by his 4 yr contract no doubt.

Good column J.T>

Anonymous said...

There's still on point missing, and I think it's the worse of all: The possibility of losing Guy Boucher to another team because Martin is signed for years to come...

DB said...

What would inspire the players more tonight:

A. Martin saying he'll quit if the team loses; or

B. Martin saying he'll quit if the team wins tonight.

Anonymous said...

Habs lose 4-2 tonight. Flyers beat Rangers 6-2 tomorrow. Habs celebrate making the playoffs. Caps outscore Habs in the first round 25-5 winning all 4 games by at least 3 goals. Martin gets a contract extension and Pleks turns down more money to play in Phoenix.

Rookie said...

You're so spot-on, JT. I'm hoping that this was the transition season we'd been warned about in the offseason, and I feel like the players have a better sense of how to be part of this organization than JM (who is FROM this province, and older than any of the players) does.

I'd love to see some more passion out of him. I feel like everything about him that we don't like is what he doesn't do: the calls he doesn't make, and the things he doesn't say. Just once, I'd like to be frustrated because the coach went too far. Instead he's barely out of the driveway.

At least he's working on brushing his hair a little better.

Anonymous said...

A lot of these things have started with questionable signings by Gainey before he left. Long term contracts to Martin, Gil and Spacek. I have to say that Hamrlik is like an awesome truck with 400 000 miles on him.
Our defensive core is weak.
You are also correct with the way he treats the younger players. They will make mistakes and that is how they learn. Martin is stodgy and stuck in his old ways. Then we end up losing young talent.
Are the fans ready for a young team to be at the the bottom of the barrel and work their way up for 2-3 years.
Until the fans stop going to the games and buying the merchandise the team will always continue to be treated as a business. Millions of dollars can't be sitting on the bench.
Maybe we have to start going to Bulldog games instead.
We also have some responsibility in this.

Anonymous said...

JT -

On language being a key factor in Martin's hiring: come on! Haven't you listened to these press conferences and interviews? Martin's annoyingly bad French sounds like the product of a lousy word-by-word instant translation software :-)

All kidding aside, the language tokenism argument may be comforting to some, but language was not the #1 factor in Martin's hiring. Remember that Jacques Lemaire (probably the best coach in the league)was available at the time of Martin's hiring.

Former NHL coaches like Hartley and Robinson (French-speaking Cup winners)or highly-respected young ones like Benoit Groulx or Guy Boucher would also have made more sense in a language-driven scenario. And BTW, it is plain normal that the head coach should be capable of communicating with the fans and the media outlets of the city. There is no need to turn this into a political cause célèbre.

The main reason why Martin got the job was the buddy/crony system, namely that his good friend and colleague Pierre Gauthier got him the job.

My feeling is that out of respect, it was decided that Gainey would not be canned after last season's debacle but that he would be allowed to go somewhat gracefully during the current season. The implications of this are:

1- That Gauthier most likely had a huge part in the offseason personnel moves (good and bad) and the decision to hire Martin.
2- I don't see Gauthier coexisting well with someone like Lemaire, who has more experience, credibility and - dare I say it - competence than he does.
3- Once New Jersey made the necessary moves to get Lemaire signed and keep Larry within the orbit, there were three options left on the table: Hartley, Martin or one of the kids (Groulx or Boucher).
4- Because the organization wanted a coach with NHL experience, this left Martin or Hartley as the available options.
5- Martin being a longtime associate of Gauthier, his hiring became a foregone conclusion, and you can expect him to stay in the saddle for a while (at least as long as Gauthier is there). SIGH....

I am not saying that Bob Hartley would automatically have done a better job than Martin, but those press conferences would have been a lot more entertaining.