Saturday, November 8, 2014

System Upgrade

Imagine you run a hockey team and your number-one centre is a decent player who puts up 60 points a year, doesn't take many dumb penalties and wins more faceoffs than he loses. You'd probably be happy enough with that guy. Then, imagine it's free agent time and a big, strong centre who dominates on the draw, skates like the wind and puts up 80 points a year hits the market. You have cap space enough to sign him, but if you do, you then have too many centres on your team. So, you have a decision to make. Do you trade your 60-point man and sign the new guy, or do you let the 80-point guy go to the leafs because you don't have a roster spot available for him? Assuming the more productive player isn't a jerk, most of us would go for the upgrade.

It's the same for any position on a team. If Dustin Tokarski is ready to play, you trade Peter Budaj. If Daniel Briere isn't productive, you move him and bring in P.A.Parenteau instead. If you can somehow acquire Thomas Vanek at the deadline, you go for it. Marc Bergevin's job is to make sure he's got the best person available in every position because a team only gets better by wisely and opportunistically upgrading its personnel.

That mindset should be the same for coaching staff. The old saying that a coach is "hired to be fired" is inevitably true for every guy behind the bench, whether he lasts a year like Tortorella in Vancouver or fifteen like Barry Trotz in Nashville. Sooner or later coaches get fired, and most of the time it's because their teams aren't getting results. Rarely does a team can a coach just because there's a better option available, but perhaps they'd be better off if they did. At least they'd be choosing an upgrade versus dumping an underperformer or scapegoat mid-season and being stuck with whomever is available at that time.

There's a chance Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings will part ways this summer. The rumour mill says the coach wants more money and team management doesn't want to pay it. Of course, there's also the fact that the Wings core is aging and they're no longer perennial contenders. Or Babcock may simply want to rejuvenate his career by taking on a new team whose Cup window is just about to open. One thing is certain: if Babcock becomes available, Marc Bergevin should court him.

Michel Therrien was hired for a second go-round behind the Habs bench because Bergevin was a brand-new GM who needed an experienced coach. He was also one of the few francophone options available. In his time as Canadiens coach, the team has achieved some good results, winning their division in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and making the Eastern Conference final in last year's playoffs. Even so, the Canadiens powerplay is dreadful and its possession stats alarming. If they'd made the Finals last year, they would have been crushed by the Kings. They don't score much, and they allow much too much pressure on Carey Price. The coach's insistence on overusing veterans who don't produce and limiting the minutes of young players who do is not a great winning strategy. Nor is benching some players for making mistakes and forgiving others.

Of course, no coach is perfect and the scrutiny Montreal's coach receives exposes his flaws in a way most of his colleagues don't experience. Therrien isn't a terrible coach. He's also not the best in the league. He makes mistakes, but so does every other coach. The question Bergevin needs to answer is, if there's a better option available, which may happen this summer, will he be willing to replace Therrien, even if his results aren't terrible? If he's the proactive GM the Canadiens need to build the best team possible, he must consider it.

Babcock is a rock star in the coaching ranks. He comes from an organization that knows how to win. He's got a Stanely Cup, two Finals appearances, a World Championship and two Olympic gold medals on his resume. He's consistently coached the Wings to playoff berths and kept them competitive even when dealing with injury and retirements. This is the kind of coach the Montreal Canadiens deserve.

Michel Therrien deserves some respect as a guy who's coached more than 600 NHL games. Yet, if there's a chance to hire someone who's had more success at his position, the Habs would be wrong not to explore that. These are the Montreal Canadiens, not the Columbus Blue Jackets. Habs fans have been waiting for 22 years for a Stanley Cup win, and they're tired of hoping in vain. Part of creating a winner is making sure every position is filled with the best possible person. That includes the coach.


Harry said...

I agree,it seems that all the coaches both for the Habs and the Bulldogs are French,surely there are some worthy english coaches..who cares what language they speak,can they coach is the only question that is important.Its time for Montreal to get a new coach.
Hope its soon-thanks for the Blog

Steve said...

Therrien is like a movie I cant figure out. He just seems to do such stupid things all the time. Yet must be considered successful. On the other hand a coach like Babcock is a special talent. The wings always play like a sympony in motion. Very good agruments JT.

dra58 said...

Fantastic writing. Hopefully M/B will see this and do the right thing next Spring if he is available. A conspiracy theorist would say that when Crosby praised M/T upon his hire here he was only doing so sarcastically since he knew what our trouble would be. We could say the same thing if the Penguins were to ever hand over the keys to the team to J Martin.
Go Habs Go!
We will be a better team once M/T is back working for RDS.

VJS said...

Purely hypothetical and, honestly, not a worthwhile read - especially coming after the excellent piece on goalies. If wishes were horses etc. What is offensive though, is the insinuation that if Babcock would be available at season's end the Habs would not hire him because he is not francophone. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of this debate and it has become cheap and nauseating.

Babcock's reputation has been built on being surrounded by outstanding talent on Detroit and Team Canada. He took over a Detroit team with future hall-of-famers and has won nothing since Lidstrom retired, even with Zetterberg and Datsyuk etc. I'm no fan of Therrien and I believe that he was hired ahead of a superior coach - Hartley. Yeah, he is francophone, but a couple years ago 3 of the last 4 coaches in the semi-finals were/are francophone. Plus Hartley has a cup under his belt and is doing a great job in Calgary with a team that is thin on talent.

J.T. said...

Thanks all, for the comments. @VJS: I say nothing about the Habs not hiring Babcock because he's not French. I agree, that debate is tired, which is why I didn't make that argument.