I have a confession to make. My excitement regarding the Canadiens' season has been reduced to the moment each morning when I check my email news alerts to see whether Jacques Martin has been fired yet. When I learn that he hasn't, the sense of disappointment caused by knowing almost from the moment the season started that the Habs won't be in the playoffs is renewed.
The funny thing is, I don't think Martin is necessarily a bad coach. In fact, not knowing much about what really goes on inside an NHL dressing room, I would guess he's at least as good as most and probably better than some others of his colleagues. Sure, he makes inexplicable personnel decisions, is stubborn to a fault and is as emotionally demonstrative as a stone Buddha, but those things don't necessarily make him irredeemable as a coach. He probably wouldn't have spent as much time as he has in the NHL if that was the case, especially when he's got no credibility as a player to fall back on.
No, the reason I look with anticipation for Martin's dismissal is because I'm hoping something will happen to shake up the bunch on the ice before it's too late. Perhaps it's not fair that a coach should have to pay the price for failing to motivate a bunch of men overpaid to play a boy's game, but when those man-boys lose enough games, something's got to give. Maybe the guilt of knowing they cost a man his job will inspire them to actually hold onto a lead for once.
This is getting depressing to watch. All the excitement we should be feeling and the fun we should be having watching hockey is absent. The end results...blown leads, wasted PPs, futile shootouts, too-many-men, Carey Price left hanging...are becoming so predictable, the only thing the Habs are inspiring is Geoff Molson's accountant. This is the first fall in the last five in which I didn't go to Montreal to take in a game at the Bell Centre. Having seen some of the dismal performances the team has handed in at home and comparing the results to the inflated cost of a ticket, I couldn't justify it.
There are injuries, of course, and replacement players who are either not ready or not very good, but few teams have escaped without those issues. The difference between winning teams...even those with less talent than the Canadiens have on paper...and losers is that they have a plan and they work together to execute it. The Habs aren't not working, precisely. Most of them appear to be trying. The thing is, they look like they're trying all by themselves. It's like watching a tug-of-war with three people on one side and fifteen on the other. The team that's pulling together inevitably wins. They're able find the extra bit of energy when they're down a goal or two, and the Canadiens, hauling like hell in five different directions, don't.
Judging by the amount of writing he does in his little notebook, Jacques Martin probably has a plan. If he does, however, the team isn't executing it. The question is, why not? If it's because they don't understand it and what they're supposed to do, it's up to Martin to find a way to get the message across. If it's because they don't have the manpower to follow the plan, then it's Martin's job to change the plan to suit the people he's got available. In either case, the spotlight's got to shine on Martin and what he's doing to give the team a clear blueprint for winning. Using the abyssmal power play as a glaring example, there's obviously a breakdown between the plan and the execution. It's probably not helping that players are rarely on the ice with the same teammates for more than a game or two. There are legitmate questions Pierre Gauthier should be asking Martin right about now.
It always comes back to the coach in any case, because a GM can't fire a player like Michael Cammalleri, who, for the low, low price of six million a year is weak as watered wine in his own end and isn't producing points either. He might be money in the playoffs, but this team, as it stands, is not going to be in the playoffs. Something has to change immediately because the team is rapidly approaching the tipping point at which post-season hopes disappear.
People will scoff at that and say the Habs are only a point behind Ottawa for eighth place. They fail to point out that there are two other teams a point out of eighth as well, both of which have played fewer games than the Canadiens. One of those is Washington, which can reasonably be expected to pick up points at a better pace than they have been doing recently. The Canadiens have an uphill battle to the post-season, make no mistake about it. And that's only IF they turn things around right now. They're more than a third of the way into the season and things only get tougher as more teams feel desperation setting in.
Whether Jacques Martin is a good coach or not is immaterial at this point. The team needs a kick in the ass and he's not providing it. Perhaps his removal would do the trick. If not, well, this team is losing with him and can lose just as well without him. The hope that maybe a change in the coaching department would spark some kind of turnaround is becoming enough of a reason to let Martin go. Whether Molson feels the same way, knowing he's on the hook for a year and a half of Martin's salary and reported early-dismissal penalty of two million, remains to be seen. The looming loss of playoff revenue may help him make up his mind.
Some fans aren't too worried because they figure a playoff miss will mean big, positive changes in management and on the roster, as well as a good draft pick. The problem is, they're not bad enough to beat out Carolina or the Islanders for a lottery pick and yet another middle-of-the-pack Trevor Timmins special won't change a thing. It's time for action now, if the team has any hope of clawing its way to the top half of the conference. Now, I've got to go check my email and see if there's any news.