Saturday, April 4, 2015

I Can't Like Therrien

Okay, to be honest, I haven't tried really hard to like the Habs re-tread coach. I strongly disliked him on his first go-round behind the bench and I was deliriously happy when he got canned. So, it was like an E.coli-fueled hallucination to see him given another chance to turn the Canadiens into an unimaginative squad of interchangeable drones who futilely dump and chase a puck they rarely actually retrieve.

I'm aware not everyone feels this way. A lot of fans look at the team's lofty record this season and its third-round playoff trip last year and believe Therrien must be doing something right. Maybe he is, although I can't actually define what that good thing might possibly be. On the other hand, I have no trouble listing the reasons why I will never...can Michel Therrien as the coach of the Habs.

10. His staff. I understand the desire to have French-speaking coaches in Montreal. I really do, in a way I never used to before I recently read a nice piece about all the things the Canadiens do for the community and the province of Quebec. They are part of the fabric of the city, beyond their existence as a hockey team. So, to have coaches who are steeped in the culture and tradition of that relationship, including their language, makes sense. That said, Therrien didn't just hire good people who happen to be bilingual. He hired his buddies, who may or may not have had a chance of employment with any team other than the Habs. He also hired people extremely unlikely to succeed him, or offer Marc Bergevin a viable option to replace him should the need arise. In essence, he surrounded himself with people who are no better or more creative than he is himself, ensuring limits on original thought within the coaching staff. The exception is Stephane Waite, who was a Bergevin, not a Therrien, selection.

9. His inexplicable decision-making. How many goals have we seen scored against the Habs by the opposing team's top line, which happens to be on the ice at the same time as the Canadiens fourth line and third defence pair? At the Bell Centre when Therrien has last change? Sadly, more than one, which isn't a good thing.  How often have we seen Tom Gilbert or Alexei Emelin struggle in a game, yet be sent out to start a crucial penalty kill with the score close? Scotty Bowman once said the most important thing a coach can do is make sure the right players are on the ice at the right time. I wonder what Scotty thinks of some of Therrien's personnel choices?

8. Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk was eased into the NHL as an eighteen-year-old with limited ice time in protected situations during a shortened season. The next year, you'd expect a kid who'd gotten his feet wet and knew what to expect would get a little more responsibility. Maybe you'd even expect him to move into the centre position the Habs had in mind for him when the picked him third overall. That didn't exactly happen, but he did get slight increases in ice time and got some minutes on the PP as well. Finally between games 30 and 40 this year, Therrien decided to try Galchenuk at centre with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. In that ten-game stretch, after a couple of games to adjust, Galchenyuk put up 9 points. Yet, inexplicably, Therrien decided to abandon the experiment and put David Desharnais back at centre and move Galchenyuk to the wing. Galchenyuk needs to work on his defensive game, of course, but he was proving he can play effectively in an offensive role when Therrien took that away from him. As a comparable, Filip Forsberg was a fellow 2012 first rounder, and he's getting more ice time, more responsibility and more points on a defensively-tight Nashville team. It was fine for Therrien to ease Galchenyuk into the NHL, but he needs to let him fly now, and won't do it because it might mess with the system.

7. The PP. At the moment, the Canadiens power play ranks 23rd in the league, with a success rate of 16.6%. That ranks them slightly lower than the leafs. The leafs. Think about that. Even the layest of lay people who see the Habs play with the man advantage can see there's something wrong. There's little movement among the forwards who seem to think their reason for being is to get the puck to P.K.Subban on the point. Subban's options are then a broadly-telegraphed slapshot, another pass with another chance to be intercepted or a rush to the net through the defending box. There's nobody in front of the opposing goalie most of the time. And, David Desharnais has tallied an average of 2:20 per game on the PP, with a grand total of 11 PP points in 79 games. More on that later, but the problem isn't just that the Habs PP isn't producing. It's that it's not been producing for the better part of two years and Therrien and his staff have done nothing to change things. From starting every PP with Desharnais, to playing the same lines as at even strength almost without exception, to failing to instill net presence, the PP is a fail. It's the kind of deep, systemic problem that reveals the weaknesses of a team whose record otherwise hides a multitude of sins. And it's the kind of problem that derails a playoff run when goals are hard to come by and encourages opponents to take liberties when they know there'll be no scoreboard retaliation.

6. The lines. The Habs have played 79 regular-season games and Therrien still doesn't have a first or second line that's played together more than ten games in a row. His only solution when the Habs are facing adversity is to switch right wingers. After moving Desharnais to the second line with Galchenuk and P.A.Parenteau, and Tomas Plekanec to centre with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher during game 76 of the season, Therrien seemed surprised at the instant improvement in the way the lines attacked. The fact that Plekanec and Pacioretty showed great chemistry on the PK for most of the year didn't inspire him to use that pair at even-strength, or during 4-on-4 OT.

5. His history. Therrien is in his third stint as an NHL coach, and the one thing his teams all have in common is a below-average ability to possess the puck. As the numbers show, every time Therrien gets fired, the team immediately gets better at holding on to the puck and creating offence. In 2009, the Penguins turfed him, though they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals the season before. Even with a lineup including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins were bad at puck possession and choked by the defence-first system they were unsuited to play. As then-GM Ray Shero said at the time of the firing, "I didn't like... the direction the team was going. I've watched for a number of weeks and, at the end of the day, the direction is not what I wanted to have here. I wasn't comfortable, and that's why the change was made. It wasn't so much the outcome, it was how the game was played." How the game was played, he said. Well, at the time, the Pens were playing a dump-and-chase, grinding game that failed to take advantage of the players' offensive skills and creativity. It required them to collapse in front of Marc-Andre Fleury and protect the net, giving up tonnes of scoring chances and shots against. It all sounds sadly familiar, with the exception being that Shero recognized the futility of playing that system with those players and took action.

4. His influence on his boss. Which brings us to the fact that it's unlikely Bergevin will be parting ways with his friend Mike any time soon. When he brought Therrien on board, Bergevin talked about how he was the right man for the job and reinforced his support with last summer's four-year extensions for Therrien and all his staff. Meanwhile, Bergevin had to trade Travis Moen and Rene Bourque at least in part because Therrien insisted on playing them over young players who needed to develop. Therrien wants to play a grinding style and didn't think Jiri Sekac fit in with that, so Bergevin obliged his coach and traded Sekac for Devante Smith-Pelly. The latter has a stellar one assist in 17 games for the Habs. It's concerning if Bergevin places enough weight on Therrien's opinion that it skews his vision for the team and influences his personnel decisions.

3. His lack of accountability. Therrien has said after losses that he needs his top line to be better, or Lars Eller to be better, or his PP to be better, or his D-corps to be better. He never, ever says the coaching staff needs to be better, starting with himself and his own decisions.

2. Carey Price. Price is, right now, the best goaltender in the world. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail recently crunched the numbers and concluded if the Habs had even an average-to-good NHL goalie in Price's place they probably wouldn't make the playoffs. Price has entered his prime years now, and is sustaining Therrien's system, despite the fact that the Canadiens give up 30.3 shots per game, good for 23rd in the league. They also rank 23rd for goals per game, with just 2.57 scored. That doesn't leave a lot of room for goalie error. Combine that with the defensive inability to clear the puck without incurring an icing or a giveaway on many occasions, and it's pretty clear the Habs win because of Price and despite Therrien. Which means, even though Price will do his best in the playoffs, he'll have to be superhuman to drag this team through a successful run. With Therrien's four-year extension, however, it's conceivable Price will allow him to keep his job and this futile system for the entirety of Price's best years.

1. David Desharnais. I have always been a Desharnais supporter. Back in 2010, after he'd recently been cut from Habs camp, to his great disappointment, I was impressed when I spoke to him about his determination to get back to the NHL. He's a hard-working, friendly guy who probably surprised a lot of people when he did make it back to the big time, and put up an impressive 60 points in the Canadiens dreadful 2011-12 season. Desharnais has a lot to recommend him as a person and a player, but he is not, unfortunately, an NHL top-line centre. Yet, Therrien insanely pairs him with the team's best winger and, until recently, started them together on every power play. This year, Pacioretty has 7 PP goals. Desharnais has assists on only two of them. Of Pacioretty's 37 total goals to date, DD figures in eleven. Dale Weise has points on 8, Subban on 12. These numbers do not suggest that Pacioretty needs Desharnais to produce. Yet, Therrien continued for almost the entire season to keep those two together, even during long stretches when neither of them scored. Anyone else on the team who fails to perform gets moved, but not Desharnais. His offensive starts are the most generous of any Canadiens player. He doesn't play the PK. And he's on pace for fewer than 50 points. Plekanec, who plays with a revolving door of lesser wingers as well as two minutes a night on the PK, is on pace for 56. Eller, who spends half his time in Therrien's doghouse on the third line, who gets no PP time and fewer even-strength minutes than Desharnais, is tied with him in goals with 13. Yet, no matter what, Therrien gives Desharnais every possible chance he'd never give anyone else. It's blatant favouritism and it's reached the point at which Canadiens fans hate a player who's a good guy, just because he's the teacher's pet.

The bottom line in all of this is the Canadiens have the ability to play a more offensive, aggressive style than they are currently doing. Therrien plays the safe way because it keeps him in a job, but the Habs will not win with his system. It's just a question of when Bergevin finally wakes up and recognizes the fact. I've been waiting 21 years for the Canadiens to win their 25th Cup, and as long as Therrien's behind the bench, I'll be waiting longer. That's why I can't like Michel Therrien.


Scott said...

Awesome article. I couldn't agree more.

moeman said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent.

Orangeman said...


The thought of the Habs losing the prime years of Price, PK, Galchenyuck, Gallagher, Patches while also screwing up the development of the younger guys keeps me up at nights.

Alexis Russell said...

Hey J.T ! I'v been reading your blog for the last few years and this is probably the most spot-on article i have red about the whole Michel Therrien experience ! Particularly the part on Galchenyuk !

Keep up the good work !

juce said...

Thanks for saying what we all feel.

K3X said...

JT, as is always the case, you have put into words what everyone is thinking and most have known for quite a while. All we can hope now is that someone who matters reads this and decides to take action. I suspect that nothing will be done this year but hopefully, after the 1st or second round exit, someone takes stock and makes the changes needed. We can but hope. Great read!!

BASH said...

The barely disguised criticism here fall squarely on the head of Bergevin. In the end he is the boss isn’t he? At what point does he change this ugly situation? Why the four year deals?
This is the real frustration. After years of questionable management we put a lot of faith in MB.
Does he see something we don’t? I used to think he did. Maybe that we could not win right now and this year is only about the growth of some key players with big changes to come. Now I am not so sure.

Ian said...

Well said, Leigh Anne. That's about as accurate a review of MT's failings as I have ever read.

I haven't been an MT fan since he was hired. I have complained and criticized him in many previous comments on your blog.

With the Habs' record last year and this year, it has made me wonder if I have been wrong about him. Is it possible, I ask myself, that I have been too critical of him? After all, just check the standings. He must be doing something right? Right?

But no, the team's record is in spite of him, not because of him. He frustrates the crap out of me. His decisions make me scratch my head. You have identified many of his flaws so thoroughly, so I won't go into a recap of them.

Suffice it to say, the team would be better prepared and more functional with many other coaches. And some of the young guys might actually not have had their confidence destroyed by him.

I also wonder why MB keeps allowing this destruction to continue. Or is he just looking at the standings, not what is happening on the ice!

How can this team not have a power play? Surely there is more than enough talent on it!

Let's be honest with ourselves. The Habs' rank in the standings is because of individuals like CP, MP, and P.K. It is not because of the coaching staff. Again, it is in spite of them.

A great blog, Leigh Anne, and so full of truth.

Francois Blain said...

A few counterpoints:

10. Staff
Not sure too many head coaches hire a guy who is clearly seen as a replacement right away but maybe I'm wrong. Aside from Lacroix, who doesn't seem to have a clue about running the PP, I'm not sure the others are all that bad.

8. Galchenyuk
I'm willing to go until next year with how he is being used but if it continues next year, then I'll be off that wagon. We've been waiting for C like him for years now - let's try him there for an extended period before deciding to put him on the wing.

4. Influence
Not sure MB is so totally tied to him. Of course when a GM hires a HC, he'll be touted as the right guy for the job....what should the GM say...that he doubts he's the right choice? As far as Sekac goes, do we really have something clearly pointing to MT demanding that he be sent away? And I'm willing to give that one until next year before calling that trade good or bad. On moving guys like Moen because MT insists on playing them over kids, how do you then explain keeping De La Rose and playing him over say Malhothra?

3. Lack of Accountability
To me, when MT says that they have to do better on the PP, I see that as including the coaching staff

2. Price
Yep, he's good. Is that MT's fault?

1. DD
Pretty much in agreement there. Not sure where the admiration comes from. If he's still holding back Galchenyuk next year, I'll be miffed.

Personally, I still think that MT, like almost any coach, is on a short leash; it's very much a what have you done for me lately business. I still don't think MB thought the Habs would do as well as they did last year and I think this started the expectation counter on MT earlier than expected. A first round exit this year would mean a very short leash next year.

But here's the thing: last year, like this year, the Habs have played 1-2 periods in most regular season games. The big difference is that Price has been otherwordly this year. But when the playoffs started, the Habs were playing three periods and surprised every one by becoming very very tough to play against. I'm willing to bet you'll see the same story this year, especially with signs that Eller is waking up and the D-Men suddenly jumping into the play over the last few games. Hoping this is a harbinger of things to come....

HardHabits said...

My sentiments exactly. Great article JT.

booger said...

You were sailing along just fine, until you came to your last point, which of course, knowing you, was bound to happen. I agree with you that MT is not utilizing players properly, not implementing a system that plays to players strengths; however, in DD's case, here we have a guy who in an off year, or a so-so year, is close to 50 points and this without a right winger that really complements that line. What I mean by that is, while cole was ok and had size and speed, he didn't have the muscle or game to bang with skill...and while gallagher has the heart and determination, he lacks the size and high end skill for that role. Now, do I think DD is a # 1 center on most NHL teams? No, certainly not. But on this team, at this time, he is. If bergevin really wanted to get the most out of DD in his current role, the best thing he could do would be to go and get a winger for that line say like oreilly who has the skill, grit, determination and size to, along with pacc, open up the space for a guy like DD to maximize his skill. If DD can get 60 and 50 pts with second rate first line wingers, imagine what he could do with a real first line right winger. One also has to factor in that when DD got 60, he was a paccioretty that had not yet evolved into what we are seeing today. How did DD do that with an un-evolved and still somewhat raw pacc? He did it because cole was decent enough to make the line go. Get O'reilly on that line or another top end right winger along with pacc and DD becomes a 3.5 million guy producing 70-75 pts. Demoting him is not the answer. Getting the proper right winger for that line is. If bergy doesn't go and do that, then you have to consider trading DD 'if' galchenyuk becomes your #1 center and pleks remains with the team as the #2. Personally speaking, I would fire therrien, use pleks, eller and emelin along with tinordi and a combo of prospects and draft's, to go and land o'reilly and eberle. Then you could go with;

Pacc DD O'reilly
Scherbak Galchenyuk Eberle
Gallagher De la rose Andrighetto
McCarron Prust Pelley

Now that is a dynamic young talented lineup.

n.b. Gallagher on 3 spreads out the offense and really is a grinding type of guy...scherbak is more talented and in time, would roll nicely with the skill of galchenyuk and eberle.

I'm also hoping that one of McCarron or Crisp will make the team next year for their size, and that among Carr, Reway, Hudon, Lekhonen, Scherbak, Bozon and Gregoire, a few of those will push for spots in 1-2 yrs.

Jeff Dodick said...

11. Motivation. The Habs, in at least 2/3 of their games, play from behind. To me this means that they are unprepared and unmotivated for games. Only in the 3rd period do they play with more energy. A coach has 3 basic responsibilities: overall strategy, line combinations and motivating the players. You showed (excellently) how MT fails on the first two. I say he fails on the third and the Habs have such good third periods because in desperation they abandon their ugly chip and chase strategy and play as the possession based club that Beregvin has built. The tragedy is that MB doesn't see this problem and can MT immeduately.

CLHabs said...

H is for Hockey, not to Hate the coach, so lets use the H in a good manner and support the Habs to the ultimate prize

Norm Noel said...

Garbage. Just garbage.

Bart van Eyk said...

Agree totally. MT seems to be on a mission to break Eller. The EGG line was dynamic....MT breaks them up. Andrighetto had chemistry with Eller....MT puts Andrighetto on the 4th line. Of all the insane misuse of player talent! JDLR plays well, has chemistry with Eller....only to be moved to the 4th line. I could write a book about the abuse of Sekac! My point is simple: MT does not want Eller to succeed! He knows Eller has confidence issues and has a fragile psyche; so why does he seem intent on making Eller fail?? Wake up MB.

Steve said...

He drives me batty as well. But he wins, maybe

Garjo said...

Bang on !!! and then bout he comes across as swarthy and uncaring of other's opinion on matters.......the sad fact is Bergervin should never have been in a position to make the hire of this clown; if Pierre McGuire had been in place if we had a retread it would be Alain Vingneault or Guy Bouche, Thanx, Garyjoseph

Kerry Clark said...

A very well written article and I couldn't agree more..I can't say I've been paying much attention to the coaching but, that's been due to my work demands. I get "glimpses" like your article and the one thing that hits home is what was said about the team winning in SPITE of MT! That about sums it up and it also speaks volumes about the kind of talent they have..if only they were used to their full potential!

Harry said...

Great article,Leigh Anne,thanks again.I have stated many times that I don't like MT and never will.
I also agree that the Habs win in spite of him,not because of him.
If I were Eller,I would ask for a trade,but I would really hate to lose him.
So glad that you didn't throw in the towel,a few years ago with this blog !!!!