Earlier this week, Georges Laraque decided to be really classy and slam his former team (the one from which he's still shamelessly stealing a salary) while it was on the worst losing streak of the season. He said, among other things, that a player "source" confided nobody wants to play for Jacques Martin anymore. The team, it seems, has quit on its coach.
Laraque, unsurprisingly, got it wrong. The team hasn't quit on Martin. It's taking advantage of him. Jacques Martin has been very, very good to his veteran players. He's hung his reputation and chance for success on those guys, along with Carey Price. He's given them ice time, power play time, days off and an easy ride in the media. Meanwhile, the rookies and younger players get scratched or benched for the slightest mistake. They get bounced from one line to another and get little prime ice time. Martin, in effect is running an aristocracy, not a meritocracy.
It wasn't necessarily a bad approach for a coach in as intense an environment as Montreal. Winning is a must, or life becomes unliveable and job security tenuous at best. So, weighing his odds, Martin went with the guys who'd proven themselves in the past. Gomez, Gionta, Cammalleri, Gill, Plekanec and Hamrlik were the safe options. It was certainly those guys who got him to the third round of the playoffs last season. Now, though, one of two things has gone wrong.
Either Martin has relied so heavily on his vets that he's actually skated them into the ice, or he's given them such a sense of security they've grown complacent. I suspect it's a combination of the two.
Tomas Plekanec can never be accused of taking the easy way out. He is, and has always been, one of the hardest-working Canadiens. After 70+ games with more than 20 minutes of icetime against tough opposition, however, he's playing hurt and he looks drained. Carey Price, who got pulled once in his first 60 starts has been yanked after collapsing three times in his last nine.
Then there are Gomez and Cammalleri. Both of them have big, long-term contracts and they both know that no matter how poorly they play, they'll still get prime ice time and the best available linemates. It would be wrong to say they don't care...they are respected professionals, after all...but they're human. Without a sense of consequence for bad play, there's a natural tendency to get comfortable with it.
So here we have a team of tired and/or complacent veterans and young guys playing in trepidation of making a mistake. The success of last playoffs (although there used to be a time when winning only two rounds wasn't considered success) has disguised the fact that this aristocracy has resulted in the departures of young players who couldn't live up to the standard of perfection required for them to get ice time. It's also produced veterans who have the coach's trust and support, but who are almost all performing more poorly than they did last year. In the end, it adds up to a dysfunctional group unable to score or keep the puck out of its own net.
The playoffs this year are still not a given, and last night's game reconfirmed that even if they were, they probably won't last long. The "anything can happen" theory can take you so far, but it's not likely the Canadiens, as currently constructed, will win much. Down the stretch, Jacques Martin needed the veterans he's spent all season coddling to take their effort level higher. They've failed to do that, and Martin's investment in them has left him with few options as the downward spiral picks up speed.
Some coaches, at this point, would have a revolution and the rich veteran nobility would lose their social standing in favour of the idealistic peasant upstart rookies. So what if Yannick Weber makes a mistake? He's better than Brent "Danger" Sopel. And if Lars Eller gets caught on a bad turnover, who cares? He's working a lot harder than the lazy Scott Gomez. Martin's not an "off with their heads" type of coach, though. He's loyal and he's doggedly persistent. That's why P.K.Subban, although the only guy scoring on the PP, doesn't get time on the man advantage while the coach uses a veteran forward on the point instead. Martin will dance with the ones what brung him, and he'll go home with them too. Probably a lot earlier than fans were hoping they would.
Georges Laraque, in taking his semi-annual cheap shots at the Canadiens, blames the players for quitting on Martin. That's not really likely as long as the veterans the coach has supported are still enjoying their aristocratic privileges.