Many Canadiens fans are celebrating today, and not because Christmas is only a week away. The Jacques Martin era, much maligned by those disgruntled enough not to care who replaced him, is over.
Martin's dismissal, on its own, won't do a whole lot to change the Canadiens' fortunes unless Randy Cunneyworth steps into the top job with a radically different approach to the game. As mentioned here before, Martin wasn't necessarily a bad coach. There are, however, several indications that he wasn't the right coach for this particular bunch of players. And, while nobody will admit to having quit on Martin, there's a chance some of the offensively-inclined players under his charge might have been getting sick of the style they were required to play.
The thing about Martin is, up until now, he was able to take a diminished group and, through tightly controlled defence, help it overachieve. He began to lose control when his defence was so badly depleted through injury that it exposed the weaknesses of the forwards hobbled by The System. It's one thing to be unable to score more than two goals when the D keeps the other team to just a single. When the defence, however, gives up three or four, the losses begin to pile up.
Pierre Gauthier said today that pre-game preparation was an issue in Martin's firing, as was sustained compete level throughout the game. All those statements mean is that Gauthier is a shithead. Nobody can reasonably believe a coach who's been behind the bench for as many games as Martin has suddenly lost the ability to formulate a game plan. And there's no way he's been telling the team to slack off when it's up a goal with fifteen minutes to go. Pierre Gauthier, the same as countless GMs before him, has no answer to the dismal performances of the players he's acquired...other than to blame the coach.
Cunneyworth may benefit from the early post-firing soul searching most players experience. They feel guilty, knowing Martin probably couldn't do a whole lot more than he did, and so they'll start looking at themselves for a moment. Mike Cammalleri must know if he was scoring goals, his coach might not have lost his job. Ditto Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.
In the end, though, the early guilt-fuelled energy following a coach's dismissal doesn't last long. When it passes, all the excuses are gone. All the "If only the team had a different coach...different system...different philosophy" lamentations have been realized. Now we'll know what we've got here. And what it'll come down to is that the Habs aren't really that good. Cammalleri isn't Claude Giroux. David Desharnais isn't Martin St.Louis and Josh Gorges isn't Shea Weber. Outside Carey Price, this team doesn't have a star. They are what they are and their only hope is to find a way to work together to be better collectively than the sum of their parts should be. That's not outside the realm of possibility, of course. Other teams have done it and gone far with that kind of strength-in-numbers approach.
We'll see if Gauthier's sacrifice of Martin is worth it. Cunneyworth is in the spotlight now and he's got a fair piece of work cut out for him. He'll have to convince the Canadiens that whatever their individual talents or the system they're asked to play, they have to buy into working together. Otherwise they can book their early-April tee times now, regardless of who's behind the bench.