Sunday, June 6, 2010

Where Have All the Coaches Gone?

A friend who spent some time around the Canadiens during the playoffs told me he was really impressed by Kirk Muller's performance. It turns out that behind the boyish grin is a keen, strategic mind, and underneath the natty suits boils a cauldron of passion he's able to use to inspire others. I know it shouldn't have been a surprise to be told it was his plan the players were following in the first two rounds, or that he was their most ardent cheerleader. He had the reputation of being able to drag a team to greater heights by the sheer force of personality when he was team captain too. However, I do own up to being a bit surprised by the idea that he has brains as well. I guess he does such a good impression of the always-smiling, slightly goofy, boyishly handsome sidekick, it's easy to overlook the toughness and smarts he keeps hidden. Unfortunately for the Habs though, my friend wasn't the only one impressed by Muller's mastery of x's and o's, as well as players' emotions during the playoffs.

If there's any truth to the rumours swirling around the Habs right now, Muller is in contention for a couple of NHL head coaching jobs, in Tampa and in New Jersey. He's also been offered the head coaching position in Hamilton if Guy Boucher decides to accept the Columbus Blue Jackets' top job, although rumours also suggest Captain Kirk doesn't want to coach the 'Dogs. Either way, the chances that Muller will soon move on are increasing. I'm convinced we don't know the full extent of his value to the Canadiens, and we won't until he's gone somewhere else. I want the Habs to keep him, but if his ambitions extend beyond being an assistant coach, the sad truth is the Canadiens have nothing to offer him. Normally, a quality assistant like Muller would be the heir-apparent when the current head coach inevitably gets axed. In Montreal that's not the case because of the self-imposed glass language ceiling. If Muller can't speak French, even if he's cut his coaching teeth within the organization and he's a desirable candidate for at least two other NHL teams who are looking for coaches, he'll never be considered in Montreal.

This brings me to Boucher, who *was* the heir-apparent to Jacques Martin. He's going to tell the Jackets tomorrow whether he accepts their offer to coach. It seems overly optimistic to hope he'll turn it down. A thirty-eight-year-old guy doesn't get approached to coach in the National Hockey League every day, and Columbus has a nice, quiet media and a yaffle of young, talented players to mold. The money and benefits beat the hell out of the AHL too.

Boucher is, by all accounts, something special. He's smart, well-educated, a great communicator and a creative systems guy. He even speaks the right language. He's young, and he understands the mindset of guys who grew up with the right to ask questions and have a say about the answers. He's everything the Canadiens need. Obviously, though, the team can't stand in the way of an employee's opportunity to advance his career. Assuming he makes the expected choice and goes to Columbus, we can always hope the stars will align and he'll somehow be available when it's time for Martin to go. That's a lot for which to hope.

That's why I think the Habs are failing themselves in a very important area. A coach sets the direction a team will follow, and if you want a winning team, you need a coach who's smart enough, passionate enough and empathetic enough to win. Guys like that aren't thick on the ground. When you find one, whom you know is right for your team, you have to work harder to keep him. Kirk Muller is a guy like that, but if he wants to be a head coach he'll eventually leave because Gauthier and his French-first mantra will stifle him. Guy Boucher is another one, but the Habs are doing nothing to retain him. I think, if he's as special a coach as we've been led to believe, the Habs need to take a chance with him. Move Martin up to the assistant GM job and hire Boucher now. Offer Boucher a ton of money and a promise he'll be Martin's successor in a year or two. Just do something.

I think a coach is just as important as any player on a team. You wouldn't let your a top prospect walk without at least trying to negotiate with him. When you find a guy who has the potential to be a really great coach, you can't let him go without trying to hold on to him either. The Habs should know this better than most teams. It's been a long time since they've had an all-star coach, and they've filled the role too many times with rookies who weren't right for the job aside from their bilingualism. When the chance to hang onto a promising young coach like Boucher comes, they need to jump at it.

Martin might be Gauthier's buddy, but no coach sticks around forever. When the Habs continue to play mediocre hockey, somebody's got to take the blame and Martin will eventually be moved up or out. When that day comes, you want a guy like Kirk Muller or Guy Boucher to be ready to step in. If those guys are allowed to go coach other teams, the Habs had better have a plan B ready. Coaching the Montreal Canadiens is a tough job and many guys have proven they can't handle it. It's as rare as finding a Jaro Halak in the ninth round of the draft to find a coach who can. The Habs have two of them, and are probably just going to let them go.

If that happens, who's going to be inspiring the team in next year's playoffs?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have to agree a little Muller was the brains behind that operation. But I have to keep coming back to the point of system. Mostly overused. But if Boucher has installed a system and persuaded the players to follow it , it would seem that they should let him take the reigns. Never liked Martin and agree that when the Habs need a coach they might be kicking themselves if they let these two get away.

Martin's hiring was as much of a PR thing as anything. But I don't believe he can lead to the promise land. I think you mentioned it here that the guy is so stoic and hardly ever showed emotion. At times the coach has to show something, maybe not to the degree of a throat slash like Michel Therrien....

kyleroussel said...

I can't remember where or when during the playoff run when I wrote it, but I said that Halak and the Habs may be doing an incredible disservice to themselves in the long run. Once the upset over the Caps was complete, it was assured that Martin was going to stick around.

So while we have some nice memories to hang on to, we are losing the best 2 coaches in the organization and sticking with the 1 guy who was lucky to have been handed a reprieve by a team willing to die for each other.

Once they leave, we can be sure to hear Boivin and Gauthier spew how they are happy with Martin and Pearn and believe the coaching staff is stable and well stocked.

In retrospect, perhaps a better move would have been to promote Boucher directly from Junior to an assistant coach with the Habs. Anything would be better than aligning the stars for him to go elsewhere.

There *is* is a faint point to the argument that Boucher will someday be available to coach the Habs with head coaching experience under his belt, but I think it's way wiser not to let blue chips and "geniuses" as some have called him simply walk away.

I hate to be negative, but I think there's a reasonable chance that this past playoff run may be the best thing we'll see for another several years.

Anonymous said...

I think both Muller and Boucher have something Martin does not have. They are not the head coach of the Canadiens. Both are like a high draft pick, full of promise, their strengths widely acknowledged, and yet neither has played a NHL game. Martin is a vanilla commodity, well known, no surprises.

Coaches are rated on their team's performance, and performance includes the playoffs. Only the players know who brought them up for the playoffs, and who could not get them past the Flyers. Likewise the Bulldogs will know if they liked playing for Boucher because he is a great coach or just because they were winning.

Is being a francophone a necessary requirement to coach the team? Not if you are undefeated. Muller could slide in under the Gainey rule if he speaks decent Quebec french, but I don't know if he does. I have not heard him speak french, but then I have not been listening. So really Muller is gone if there are offers because I don't think he envisions himself as an assistant for life, or as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens holding forth for 30 minutes on RDS.

Boucher is a coach with a system, and a sports psychologist. If any team in the league needs a psychologist, sports or otherwise, it is the circus that calls itself the Canadiens. I don't think he is a card carrying member of Boivin's clique. He has never played in the NHL, or coached within the NHL. That is a lot of learning to do.

I would not like to see either leave the organization. Can I say I feel the same way about Martin? Nope, but then he has a track record. Both Lavoilette and Quenneville have been with other NHL teams. Ideally the Canadiens would get something in return for other teams raiding their lockers, and ideally Boucher might come back one day.

But you know what? The Canadiens let Bowman cut his teeth in St Louis, then let him walk on a broken promise. Ego's are pretty big things, especially in Montreal. So I'm figuring both Muller and Boucher are gone for no return, never to be seen in Montreal again, and that the Habs have a top five pick next season.

V said...

Lots of assumptions behind these posts people. That's OK I guess.

But assuming that Muller is the man behind the play-off success and assuming Boucher is better than Martin for coaching NHL veterens (when he got no further than Martin did in his respective playoffs coaching prospects) is hanging your arguments on pretty thin evidence.

It's easier to be an assistant than it is to be head coach. It's easier to coach in the minors than the majors. And it's unfair to assume the Habs are not working hard to keep them both - we don't know what is going on behind the scenes and likely won't, whether they both stay or both go.

Not saying Boucher and Muller don't have great potential - just saying we should not assume they're better than Martin because of his (lack of) taste in ties or his media presence. Let's give the man some credit for getting this brand new and oft-injured team to the playoffs and a strong run once they got there.

Final thing. Love what anonymous said above about Muller holding forth 30 minutes a night in broken french on RDS. Just the thought of it is pleny justification for french speaking Habs head coaches.

MC said...

The Habs are in a no win situation with Boucher and Martin. The only true way to retain Boucher is to offer him the head coaching job, but since the Habs just signed Martin long term, it would be seen as very brutal to sack Martin given the team's playoff succcess, and Boucher might not be interested in an organization who treats people that way. The notion of moving Martin to assistant GM is a nice thought, but considering JM left a GM job to go back to coaching, I suspect he would rather be fired than to move upstairs. The Habs could have not permitted other teams to talk to Boucher, but again that is not considered to be the right way to treat people in your organization. The only thing they can do is treat people right as wish them the best if they choose to leave. At least this way they may be willing to come back.

V said...

On the subject of successful AHL coaches and Habs assistant coaches who don't speak french but are considered by fans as the next coming of our Lord and Saviour, does anyone know what Don Lever is up to?

Anonymous said...

Muller will go to New Jersey and do a great job.
Boucher will take the Jackets to the playoffs and the Habs will be a bubble team for the foreseeable future. As a Habs fan, I enjoyed the first two playoff rounds but the Flyers exposed the Canadiens for what they truly are, a soft team with only one line. It will be a struggle to make the post season next year without major changes which will not be forthcoming.

The Hawks and Flyers have the luxury of being able to hire good coaches and it's been fun watching the adjustments from game to game. Too bad the Habs will never be able to compete at that level.

David said...

McKenzie has an interesting twist on this: Maybe Boucher and Muller could switch places for a year: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=323784

Anonymous said...

Anyone expects the Habs to beat Tampa Bay, New York x2 and the likes next year and to make the playoffs? I do not think we will be in the playoffs next season, then again, I expect some changes in the next weeks to convince me of the contrary.

Anonymous said...

Who says they aren't trying to retain them?

pfhabs said...

JT:

-one of many interesting posts you'll be writing in the weeks to come up to and including july once the draft is done and free agency is in the 'picking between the dregs' stage

-some see the danger of losing superior talent and some continue to believe that the sun shines out the asses of Boivin and Gauthier. they would only believe what you've stated if the truth somehow showed itself to them directly. I was told the same information you received by 2 independant sources with connections to the club as to Kirk's involvement in game planning and in-game adjustments

-the sycophants, apologists, rubes and ostriches only want to believe that all is well on the good ship bleu, blanc et rouge and that the potential loss of Muller & Boucher is unfortunate but we have Martin and didn't he just lead the club to eastern conference finals !

-moment of truth: Jaro Halak and a unrepeatable +.940 average and wingers named Cammalleri and Gionta were the real reasons the CH got where they got. sure others had involvement and get some credit but nothing beats an unbeatable goalie. once Jaro became human again the CH reverted to regular season form getting shutout 3 out of 4 games...in the end they are still a bubble team that caught lightening in a bottle for 2 rounds. Slovak lightening called Jaro

-I've seen Martin's act in ottawa for 8 years and 1 year here in Montreal--I'd sooner see you behind the bench than Jacques.

-I've seen Gauthier in action for 7 plus years and I'm not impressed by his continuous hit and miss track record as Head of pro scouting. what is there to believe his record will improve now that he is fully in charge ?

-the President is basically a liar and Bob is looking for solace away from the daily hanging judges

-for me this is but the beginning of a very interesting time frame in the current history of the club....the decisions made in the next few weeks with those made last July will largely form this club for the next 4+ years. the cap issues created last July will not disappear and the future starts on that foundation.

-I cannot speculate what will happen with management decisions on coaches and players
but track records do not leave me with a warm fuzzy feeling that we are on the edge of building a Cup contender as opposed to a one hit wonder with cap problems.

pfhabs said...

JT:

-tweet from sportswriter in Columbus a few moments ago (4:32 pm EDT) stated that Boucher just turned down Columbus job....if it comes to pass; the guy, Guy is as smart as everyone says he is

V said...

JT.

I support management. Therefore I am one of the 'syncophants, apologists, rubes and ostriches' referred to above. In previous posts that poster has also referred to me directly as a PR hack for the team. All because I am unabashed in my support for the team - which he consistently equates with stupidity and lack of hockey knowledge.

These tactics are just a way to get people like me to keep our opinions to ourselves... afterall, when your argument isn't working, try shouting down your opposition.

Is this the type of dialogue you want in your comments section? I assume you're OK with it or wouldn't approve the post. But I thought I would check. I don't mind vigourous debate, but the name calling and childless attacks on people because they don't agree with your position is what a lot of us came here to get away from.

On another note, it looks like Boucher has turned Columbus down. Not yet sure what it means - he could still go elsewhere. But if he doesn't leave, it would be nice to see some of those attacking management over his potential loss open to crediting management if he stays.

pfhabs said...

@V:

-very carefully worded revisionistic view of history

-your "unabashed...support" is in stark contrast to my, and others, questioning of what the CH brain trust is doing on and off the ice

-any attribution to you directly is in your mind. collectively perhaps if you feel you fall into the group of unabashed supporters but only to the extent that those of us that do not support without question fall into the other category.

-perhaps your last post is a reflection that your support of the CH is not reciprocated by the club in the decisions they make and the future they are carving out for this club. rest assured that your views and those similiar to yours only provide a point of departure for discussion but in the greater scheme of things are really not that important

-as for being a CH PR hack I wouldn't know nor would it be of any significance as your thoughts stand on their own merit

-btw, seems Boucher and his entire staff in Hamilton are on their way to Tampa Bay...good work Mr Gauthier ! one of what may be a number of disappointing decisions to come over the next few weeks...but no fear we have Martin and Pearn...men from a generation of the NHL already gone