Friday, December 9, 2011


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.


Anonymous said...

I lost all faith in the Habs over the last decade or so. They no longer represent that little extra, that mystical charm that gets people dreaming, makes people marvel at the assembled group that constitutes a team and then some. It's all gone, God knows where. Don't say Colorado, but it just might be. Safe for PK and Price this current incarnation of the Habs is a bleak, dreary group of mediocre athletes, overpaid to perform a simple job, man, this is all so sad to watch. As a spectator that was raised on the specialness of the Habs, on their excellence, on their being special and the good guys in the beautiful red shirts, I gotta say that I'm heartbroken and disappointed. I feel as if even current management doesn't understand what being a Hab means, that they are too complacent, too satisfied with being just another team that kinda tries really hard.
Thanks for listening.

Kyle Roussel said...

Well said. I've spent a lot of time and energy ranting about Martin's flaws, but the truth, as you said is that he isn't a bad coach. I, and many, many others just feel like he's the WRONG coach. He would be fine with a team like Columbus, or some other team that had middling talent. It feels like he can coach a team with little talent UP to a certain point, but give him a bit of skill, and he tries to dumb it down so that it fits in to his outdated template.

I think more than a kick in the ass is needed for this team. They need a modern system behind the bench; one not fixated on how you play "without the puck" and one that focuses on what you do WITH the puck.

People who say there's still 50+ games left are kidding themselves. There's 50+ games left for everybody and if your plan is to wait for somebody to falter, you probably deserve to miss the playoffs.

Besides, the 5-8 slots bear such little fruit, that there's little point anyway.

I think that as much as the last week has been a low-point with humiliating losses to Anaheim, and Columbus, as well as blown lead losses to San Jose and Vancouver, the salt in the wound was in watching a home and home series with the Leafs and Bruins and being entertained. There's nothing worse than watching your team lose in every-which-way AND be bored at the same time.

J.T. said...

@Kyle: Exactly. Martin is just not the guy for this particular group of players. The question then becomes, who IS the right guy? Then, is he available? And finally, and unfortunately, does he speak the right language?

Steve said...

This defence uber all is killing the game. Martin is a master of this chess game, but the players boredom is evident.

Kyle Roussel said...

And therein lies the mess that Molson find in his lap. Does he repeal the "policy"? Unlikely. The French media would tear any anglo coach to pieces the moment he loses back to back games. Who, then can salvage this, because it's clear that Martin cannot? Lemaire? Does Gainey step back in and let nature take its course? I perish that thought. Keep the puke bucket close for suggestions like Roy and Hartley. This is *exactly* the problem with "the policy" and it's astounding that the French media haven't begun to bang the drum. Surely they see it, but don't want to talk about it because they don't want to have their own jobs made more difficult.

It should be evident by now that Martin's hiring was a desperation hail mary because he was "professional" (able to deflect media glare), bilingual (appeasement), and experienced (not fiery like Carbo, Julien, Therien). How else do you justify prying him out of Florida and then handing him a fat 4 year contract?

As for who's available to replace...maybe the Habs are waiting for their feeder system to kick back in. They pollinated the league with Vigneault, Therien, Carbo, and now maybe they're waiting for some of those names to become available once again. That's obviously a reach on my part, but maybe it's exactly what's going on. After all, when you restrict yourself to the shallow end of the pond in terms of coaching (and managerial) talent, you have to settle for minnows or wait until a bigger fish is introduced, then snag him before anyone else does. Sadly, the Habs don't seem to be that agile or quick...or willing.

dusty said...

I'm not a supporter of JM but PG is the problem here. Awoke from another blown lead and predictable shoot out loss to find that PG has traded Spacek for Kaberle. Why do Montreal GMs bail put other GMs mistakes? We had an aging D-man's unproductive 3 year contract winding down and so now we pick up another one? WTF's up with that? The Bruins and leafs must be in stitches. The Habs just got softer if that's possible.

This move might signal that Markov is out for the year or maybe more. Nothing else makes sense. Why acquire a so called PP quarterback for 4+ mil a year otherwise?

Don Hickey said...

Unfortunately with the current draft system and "Cap" world, there will likely never be a Dynasty ever again, even in Montreal. The Habs glory days were very different times. They had the rights to practically every french canadian player, and everyone that wasn't french wanted to play there too. Those days are gone, gone, gone.
So what's to be done in this modern sports enviroment, where there is little to no loyalty, grossly overpaid athletes, and a league that is more concerned with putting franchises in "non-hockey" markets, than ensuring the health of exisiting franchises, and overall parity in the league?
Smart management. If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got. Unfortunately that's exactly the case for the Canadiens.
Some radical philosophical changes need to take place, including; scouting & drafting, general management & last but not least, coaching.
Habs fans have never been ok with status quo, yet that seems to be what we've been given for almost 20 years now.
Montreal needs a plan to re-build slowly towards a team that is a legitimate Stanley Cup Contender. Keeping players that "might" be better next year, cause they're do...or signing lengthy deals with the likes of Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri, will not get the job done.
Why is it that for many years now we ice one of the smallest teams in the NHL? including defense?
It doesn't work! Even if we manage to make the playoffs, it's then a much more physical game where nothing is called, and the strong seem to survive more than the skilled (ie:Boston)
Surely management can see this too???????????
Look how well Cole and Paccioretty (big forwards)are doing.
And why the love affair with mediocre players like; Lars Eller, Andre Kostitsin, and Mathieu Darche? And watch when Ryan White is healthy again he'll replace a talented kid Like Louis Leblanc, who should be staying up with the big club.
Yes, a major overhaul is needed, and it needs to start getting rid of the entire management group.
To do that however the Molson's will have to make a very tough decision. Hire who's best for all positions, not only bi-lingual candidates.
If Canadiens fans, particularly those living in Montreal, want a winning franchise once again, they may have to concede that it's not always going to be a french canadian that's right for the job.
The fact that language is even an issue in this day and age is completely pathetic.
Half the players in the NHL are from other countries where english is spoken as a second language, and most even struggle with that. But to play in Montreal they should learn a 3rd language? Give your head a shake? So why should the coach or GM have to be french or Bilingual? If so, maybe it should be english & russian....
You can't expect a winner, yet handicap your odds at every turn.
So yeah, start with getting rid of Martin, a man who lacks so passion so much he should be ashamed to call himself a french canadian in the first place, and let Gauthier know he's next.

Anonymous said...

Resignation is exactly the emotion I feel as well.

I see a coach that keeps certain players like Weber on a very short leash because he doesn't seem to trust them. With some players like Chipchura and Maxwell Martin has been proven right. However, there is a longer list of players (O'Byrne, Laps, Lats, SK, D'Ags) that have done well once released from Martin's leash.

I see a team that has allowed numerous goals this year because of poor line changes.

I see a team that has blown several leads late in games because it sits back and goes into defensive shells.

I see a team that doesn't forecheck aggressively.

I see a team that looks flatter than a week-old glass of beer on many nights.

I see a coach blaming younger players for goals and poor plays when the veterans have been no better.

And today I see the GM has traded a stale-dated Czech for a bad Czech.

Man this is going to be a long winter.


dusty said...

I see a team with a small first line, Pleky, Gionta and Cammalleri that can be countered easily by a bigger checking line which often cycles for the entire shift in the Habs end. Compounding that, all three are used to kill penalties tiring them out and making them even less effective.

I don't think that the Habs go into a shell to protect a lead. I think it's more the opposition imposing their will to win as was clearly the case last night. The Habs hardly touched the puck after the shorty and that's because they just aren't very good not because they were trying to protect a lead.

Anonymous said...

I too believe Martin's game plan is well thought. The only real drawback is that it doesn't work. You can't grab a quick blitz lead then sit on it for two or two and a half periods. Playing in your end of the ice more than the other end always leads to bad things.

The worst thing is this loser point BS. You have fans, media, and coaches claiming you are at "500" after you lose, lose in a shootout, and win in a shootout. Sure on paper it looks like you got 3 of 6 points but in fact you got 3 of 8. Gradually and steadily falling farther and farther behind. Playing not to lose is a sucker bet.

I am very surprised the Habs fall for it, however they are not the Montreal Canadiens, just the Habs.

Ian said...

You captured my feelings perfectly. I haven't had fun watching a game or waiting to hear the result the next morning, on pins and needles, and then getting jabbed with the needles.

I bleed red, white and blue for my team. It hurts me to see where we are.

I have tried to be patient with JM, more than patient, but it's all gone now. Too many high priced long term stars have tuned him out. They can't all go (unfortunately). Which leaves JM.

I hate calling for someone to lose their job. I've been a fan for over 50 years and I never want a person to be sacrificed, but this ship has to turn around NOW or it's going to sink to depths from which they cannot recover.

Missing the playoffs to get action does not sit well with me. We have too much talent 'on paper' that is lacking direction and dare I say, heart!

the Baruch said...

Well said as always JT. What is unbearable to watch is the lack of energy. JMs system may be strategic, it worked wonders in the playoffs two years ago when we were outplayed game after game and still won. I think he is still playing that cockamamie system... I agree with Kyle too, ok coach, perhaps, wrong team. But most of all, as you said so well JT, the way they are playing just saps the pasion right out... I even watch Leaf games now, at least they play to win.

Ralph said...

I have less faith in Martin than you do, JT. I don't doubt he has the technical aspects down pat, but where he really fails is in the emotional parts of leadership. Your team needs to see you defending them, so when a ref blows a call, you have to let them know they've blown it. Sitting back and fuming hasn't won any brownie points with officials and it certainly hasn't give the players anything to rally around or of which to be proud. You never see him talking to a player. I appreciate there are things going on in the game that you have to deal with, but when a guy makes a great play, pat him on the back, tell him, "great play". Boost his ego. Leadership inspires and lack of leadership conspires (I just made that up). JM doesn't seem to know how to talk to people or when to talk to them. The term 'mannequin' unfortunately, seems to fit too well.

Raj said...

Et tu, JT? Then fall Martin!

You're right that the coach is ultimately responsible for how the team performs. By that measure, he hasn't had a good season. But how much can be ascribed to him alone?

I became a Habs fan in 1970-1971. The most painful era was that of Houle-Tremblay. I have some guilt over that because, like the huge majority of the fansbase in 1995, I wanted Serge Savard and Jacques Demers gone. For fans spoiled by the success of the teams of the 70s, 2 Cups in 7 years seemed mediocre. What I wouldn't give to have 2 Cups in 7 years now...

I'll say it -- I think Martin has been a good coach. His bench management (notwithstanding the TMM penalties), TOI allocation and overall strategy have been good. The team has good ES possession stats and has been competitive in the playoffs. Players who need to sheltered have been. The PP has struggled his year but that is atypical. (BTW, Scotty Bowman's 70s teams had quite ordinary PPs). The PK has been outstanding but we don't give JM credit for that. This year, Martin has had to work with a team that (with injuries) may not have been even at the cap floor. On defence, he's had to play 3 rookies (if you include Weber, which I think is fair) and 1 sophomore, who's definitely having "growing pains."

I don't think the players have quit on him or tuned him out, despite his demeanor behind the bench. IMHO, they're professional enough not to let their personal views of their coach influence their play. I don't know if Cammy or Gionta's struggles this year can be attributed to JM -- if anyone has objective data that he is indeed responsible, then he should go. I think their play is more likely b/c of injuries or random statistical variation, or "luck."

Who else is available? Please, not Hartley or Crawford. Not even St. Patrick. Let's not also delude ourselves that a coaching change is a reliable catalyst for improved play. The jury is still out on Dale Hunter and even on my dream replacement for JM, Kirk Muller. Ken Hitchcok did NOT turn the Blues around. They has good possession stats even before he took over from Payne. Their luck was bound to turn sometime. Guy Boucher's current record in Tampa shows how much a coach can be unfairly credited when the team plays well and just as unfairly maligned when it plays poorly. Let's not forget Mario Tremblay had a winning record and, if memory serves, won several consecutive games after taking over from Demers -- but by no means does that mean he was a good coach.

Let's not be reactive. 1995 was too painful for me to forget that it's sometimes best not to get what you wish for. Let's wait for our injured players to return. If the team fails then, and has poor possession stats to boot, I'll join you in clamoring for JM's head.

Anonymous said...