Thursday, March 31, 2011

Aftermath: The Aristocracy

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.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed. The veterans are way too comfortable.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the young players have quit on the coach? It is the young players who despite lacking prime time who are leading this team.
Some of us "trolls" said months ago that JM's favoritism for the vets was a recipe for disaster and would lead to dissent. Some of us "trolls" said playing Price more than 65 games was dumb. But JM has the credentials and is beyond criticism from the "trolls". 18 years treading water and counting.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog...

Superman6868

DB said...

Question: What do Laraque, street gangs, The Mob, and Dexter have in common?

Answer: They all have Codes to try to justify the unjustifiable.

Question: What do Gomez and Martin have in common?

Answer: They are both predictable and inflexible.

Over the last 6 or 7 years the game has changed a lot; Gomez's game hasn't. He still tries the same moves that worked for him in 2004, but now the moves don't work because the opposition knows what he's going to do.

Who was surprised when Eller was benched last night? I wasn't because I've seen it so many times before. A young player makes a play Martin doesn't like and he's nailed to the bench for the rest of the game.

Martin just has to look at Subban to see that letting a young player make mistakes is better for his development and the team than benching him. Yet this lesson seems lost on Martin.

I look at PK and wonder where his game would be if injuries didn't force Martin to keep playing him. My guess is he would have been riding the pine a lot more than he has.

V said...

JT, good job calling out Laraque. The guy was given a dishonourable discharge and sentenced to life as a non-member of the Canadiens family. He is just not credible.

But I am disapointed (and that is relative - love your writing and when I say disapointed, I mean disapointed like it's drizzling outside) that you and others continue to think it's unfair that Martin treats veterans and rookies differently. He treats the rookies like the veterans were treated when they were rookies. It's one of the ways they learn - in any business.

Furthermore, the NHL is about winning. Nothing but. And given a choice of going down with bad veteran play versus rookie mistakes, he would be a fool to put his money on the rookies. It isn't fair to anyone - including the rookies - to expect them to carry anymore of the the load than they are already carrying. The rookies have been great, but we will go as far as the veterans can take us.

Anonymous said...

Funny when you think of it. BGL talking about someone quitting. I thought he was supposed to be a green party guy or something? Shouldn't he be commenting on political matters and not on one of the last companies that fired him?

You're right of course. They expect to turn it on in the playoffs. Maybe they will. But it is sort of like the let down cup teams have sometimes. That one where the second one is harder than the first. The team thinks they accomplished something last year. They will likely be surprised when it doesn't come together this season. There will be all sorts of excuses and the team will let Hammer go. Which is too bad because he is one of the few willing to call it like it is. But you toe the party line, tell the press what they want to hear, it gets repeated, and the myth lives on.

Anonymous said...

V:

Sidney Crosby was 21 when he Captained a Cup winning team. Last year a 22 year old Jonathan Toews lead the Hawks to the Cup. This is a new NHL with youth leading the charge. The old days when rookies sat at the back of the bus are OVER. We will WIN or LOSE with our young players. Unfortunately Montreal management still thinks it is 1970.

MC said...

Martin came in, then Laraque was sent packing. I think Big George has a bit of an axe to grind. Even if he's right, he has no credibility.

V said...

Anonymous, if we had Crosby or Toews I might agree. Our rookies are not of that calibre.

And the two instances you cite are rare. Look at the favorites for the cup this year - veterans leading the charge in most every case. Look at the teams at the bottom of the standings... led by youth.

Anonymous said...

V:

I predict Pittsburgh to come out of the East if Sidney is back for the playoffs. Out of the West I predict Anaheim to make it. So two teams lead by youth. Favorites only mean they had a good regular season. I look for a team with character and toughness gained through hard times. Pittsburgh and Anaheim have that.

It is only rare because we are still fresh into the Cap NHL. It will become a commonplace thing going forward. A team with older high priced talent is the new dinosaur.

V.J. said...

Georges Laraque has more credibility than all these bloggers put together - he put it on the line every night against anybody. Anyone who knows him would recognize that he does not know how to carry a grudge. Martin is a beadbeat "coach" who has left his last 2 teams in ruins, not to mention Mike Keenan who did what he will never do - win the prize. No coach in history has won so many games without winning the final one of the season. If the Habs have not tuned him out, then how does one explain 5 goals in 5 games - including 3 whitewashes?

Stop being apologists because you only compound the nonsense. If they make the playoffs, they are gone in 4-5 games.

V said...

Anonymous, I agree completely with your argument if by 'youth' you mean 'superstar youth'.

But if you don't have those generational talents (or something close to them) on your team, you have to take a different path. We potentially have one player who is close to a generational talent - Carey Price - and we are building our team and style of play around him.

Dave said...

Well said Leigh Anne.
Assuming your analysis holds water and I believe it does, why hasn't senior management done something about the issue? One answer is that they don't see Martin and his system as the problem. Another is that they do but don't want to rock the sinking ship. The third, coupled to the second, is that they will wait until late Spring; after all the fans still fill the Bell Centre.

punkster said...

I enjoy your articles and your style. I don't agree with a few of your assumptions. First, playing rookies instead of vets, unless those rookies are elite calibre or the vets are press boxed due to injury, is no recipe for success. We have no elite youngsters apart from PK. We do have injured vets and that is likely the only area where a substitute would have been acceptable. I also don't agree with your view on benching the youngsters but that's likely an age and experience thing on both our parts. I'm admittedly a bit old school when it comes to coaching and teaching young people and don't see a problem with that sort of mild punishment. It tends to produce the desired results over time and rarely affects the youngster's psyche. Not saying it's the best way to handle every situation but it is generally quite good.

Number31 said...

Frankly staff management hasn't been one of Martin's forté.

For one, when the team needs a goal and a rare powerplay opportunity appears, one would think the formula of Wiz+PK=GOALS was simple enough but apparently isn't. Hamr should never play back-to-back games as he's always terrible in the second game and frankly they have at least one healthy spare part to insert in his place (Weber). And now is seriously not the time to handcuff your team by benching Eller down to 4 minutes of ice time. He was probably the best centerman on this team in these final months (L'Antichambre will say it was Desharnais but I would put him as #2) and ONE mistake locks his behind on the bench? Yes he's young, but he's healthy, feisty, and actually wants the puck. And you would think by now that back-to-back games would put Auld in nets for the 2nd one eh. Usually when the team sees the backup in nets they at least try to stay extra sharp defensively, which would have been useful the last game as they were downright terrible. (Same in the Rangers game, they looked stunned and weren't even looking the right way in the first place. It's so EASY to play against the Habs). Yes they've been terrible in their own end for a very long time, but that failure to recognize this by the coaching staff is a little disturbing.

As for Laraque... He's one to talk. Even when he was a playing member for the team, he did nothing so what exactly was the team supposed to do with him? And that's when he was even able to dress. An enforcer that doesn't want to enforce is useless.

dusty said...

I think JM is between a rock and a hard place. He has to win with this team and simply doesn't have the horses. If the team was in a developmental stage, he could play the younger players and damn the results. This wouldn't fly in Montreal. So he has to play the overpriced underachievers and if they continue to stink, there's not much he can do about it. The young players in Montreal are ordinary and if given serious ice time the team would really be horrible. I'm not a JM fan but the fact is the problem is with the GM's we have had. Love Bob Gainey but he wasn't able to get the Habs to the top third in the standings and PG is not developing a plan that will be successful either. All this talk of the system being the culprit is a lot of nonsense. Maybe the young players in the pipe will turn the team aroung in the next couple years but probably not.

The Habs need a top notch GM like Philly, Pittsburgh and any number of other teams that seem to improve. The Habs are treading water and don't seem interested in make real changes. Get used to it.

Dave said...

Another not-so-fearless prediction: Habs lose tonight. On the road, against the red-hot Devils, Marty Brodeur, etc, there's no other possible outcome. Where will that leave us?

Carolina will most likely beat the Islanders, so they'll be three points back of us in 9th place, with a game in hand. Yikes.

Buffalo will have their hands full with the Caps, so they might stay 2 points behind us -- but still with a game in hand.

Rangers don't play, so they'll finish the night still two points behind us, but with a newly acquired game in hand.

It doesn't look good -- but frankly I'd rather see the Habs miss the playoffs than embarrass themselves at this point.

Not to mention, I think the Rangers or Buffalo (maybe even Toronto, the way they're playing) could surprise Philly or the Caps in the first round.

Stuff to think about.