Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Ten years ago, the Montreal Canadiens were a pretty bad team. Yanic Perreault was the top scorer, with just 56 points. Karl Dykhuis and Patrick Traverse took regular turns on D. Captain Saku Koivu missed all but the last three regular-season games while fighting cancer. Until the last two weeks of the schedule, it looked like the Canadiens would go a fourth consecutive year with no playoffs. I remember that desperate stretch run leading up to the 2002 post-season very well. Goaltender Jose Theodore stood on his head for the last three weeks of the season, running off seven consecutive wins that culminated in the unexpected comeback of Koivu. The captain's return sparked a rush of emotion and passionate support for the team, and even though the Canadiens barely scraped into eighth place, the stellar goaltending of Theodore and the players' new-found sense of purpose, pushed them past the first-place Bruins in the opening round.

Then came Carolina. The Habs got the split they wanted on the road against the Hurricanes. Back at the Bell Centre, they won a very tight Game Three in overtime. Game Four would set the tone for the remainder of the series. Either the Canadiens would put a stranglehold on it, pushing the Hurricanes to the brink, or they'd lose and let the 'Canes back in it. Rarely have I been as angry during a Habs game as I was that night. The Canadiens had a 3-0 lead after two and looked like they'd take the game easily. Then, at 2:40 of the third period, Stephane Quintal took a cross-checking penalty.

That wouldn't have been too bad, as the Habs had killed off four previous penalties (two of them to Quintal) earlier in the game. Unfortunately, that's when Michel Therrien decided to lose his mind. In an angry tirade to protest the call, he bellowed obscenities across the ice at referee Kerry Fraser. Fraser, not being one to sit quietly and take any crap, assessed Therrien a bench penalty for abuse of officials. The Hurricanes scored on the two-man advantage and got back into the game. That goal turned momentum entirely in their favour. They scored another halfway through the period and Erik Cole, Habs Killer, sent it to OT with 41 seconds to go. Three minutes into the extra period, Niklas Wallin, on a shot to the heart of the Habs playoff hopes, scored to tie the series. Two thumpings later, the 'Canes sent the Canadiens packing and rolled all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. For the Habs, that loss in Game Four erased the fragile confidence built by Koivu's return, Theodore's excellent play and the victory over the Bruins. I, as so many fans did, blamed Therrien. I hated him all that summer, and when he got fired the next season, I was glad.

That's why I decided to take a day to absorb this hiring before immediately condemning it, as my instinct demanded. A day later, I still don't like the hiring much. History, when made, can't be rewritten. However, the beauty of sport is that there's always another season, another game, another period, and each of those "anothers" gives a team a chance to make new history. While I strongly feel the choice of coach doesn't match the fresh, new feeling we were getting from the front-office revamp, he is the coach.

Marc Bergevin has decided to go the Therrien route, so we, as fans, either throw in the towel based on history and condemn the G.M.'s first big move, or we get behind it and give it a chance. I don't really feel like giving it a chance, but that choice is more palatable than looking at a fresh new season with instant pessimism. So, with that in mind, I will wait until the Canadiens are 20 games into the new season before I say anything else about Michel Therrien. Perhaps Bergevin is smarter and more hopeful than most of us. And, perhaps, Therrien really has learned from the mistakes in his past and has developed into the kind of coach who won't ruin P.K.Subban or divide the team when it most needs unification.

It's wrong to judge a person based on a temper tantrum ten years in the past, even if that moment cost his team dearly. I'll have more to say around mid-November. Until then, Therrien has a better cast than he had in his first go-round in Montreal. It's up to him to prove he's got the tools and the smarts to handle it.


Anonymous said...

Therrien would need a major personality change to become a really good coach. He is who he is and is a very disappointing choice.

Molson just stuck a very big pin in the baloon of hope in Habland.
If Therrien doesn't speak french...

That said, Hartley and Crawford would be no better.

Was really looking forward to the draft. Now, not so much.

Jerry in NY said...

I like that: "I don't feel like giving it a chance but I will."

Really, you don't have to. Like someone not too long ago said, there ate 29 other teams. You don't want to bring pessimism in at the start? You already did. Your post also sounds like this: don't screw up because if you do, you'll be the blame guy.

Canadians. The most negative people. I know.

You hold a grudge against his display of emotions against the Canes. You complained about JM's lack of emotions.

Enough. Just enough. Please.

StuartInAlberta said...

Aargh. I thought I'd expunged that game from my memory. But, you hit the damn nail on the damn head. I can still see his numb expression staring out over his players. If I recall correctly, he never even called his timeout. Incroyable.
He descended to the depths shared only by Irving Grundman.
Will he climb back out?
Well, start with Grundman and ask if returned from those depths? As I recall, he was convicted of at least one crime as an alderman.
And while Therrien hasn't committed any crimes, the climb will be long and hard (for us all).

Anonymous said...

I hear you but Theodore was playing over his head. He would later go on to prove it was a pattern. They lost because the bubble burst.

The Canadiens have to do something different. There is an old saying that you can't tell which way is up until you hit the bottom. The stress on Therrien is almost unimaginable for us now. How will it be in September when camp opens if the whole world is waiting for him to be fired? Will young players (and by my standards they are all young) listen to a lame duck coach?

Fans and media drove a lot of players out of Montreal and have kept many UFA away. It isn't the money, the taxes, or the language. It is the a**hole attitudes displayed by so many people regarding the team.

Montreal used to be the mecca of hockey. Then again Mecca used to be a different thing as well.

Twenty games will tell what the team is like but not what the coach is like. Besides don't the Canadiens want a shot at MacKinnon:-)

Anonymous said...

I am not too thrilled at the moment but I feel MB is the real deal and knows what he is doing.
I just hope that they bring in Robinson to mold the D into what it should be .
I have not watched any of the LA games but I keep hearing the word 'Big' being mentioned,lets hope MB also hears that word.

the Maritimer said...

It's only June and I've already written off next season. A leopard doesn't change its spots. Bad call on Bergevin's part. I'm not going to give Therrien any chance. He hasn't coached even a peewee team in the last four years but suddenly he's the best coach available? Horse hooey. He's French. End of story.

Raj said...

@Anon (the second one): I wouldn't mind a shot at MacKinnon.

@Jerry in NY: You know very little about Canadians (or Canadiens fans) if you make such a sweeping generalization. If you really were a Habs fan you would know how much emotion we invest in this team and how much we agonize over decisions made by management. No-one makes us do it -- it's part of the DNA of every Habs fan. If you were even a Yankees' fan, you would understand. Did the Yankees' fanbase like the comical hiring, firing and re-hiring of Billy Martin during the George Steinbrenner era? I think not. Other teams might resort to such cheap strategems but not the Yankees. Similarly, not the Canadiens.

Good post, JT. I don't like the hiring, either. The Habs will not do well this season. I don't necessarily buy, as some have suggested, that the hiring was a Macchiavellian move done to avoid exposing a young coach (the "real", eventual coach) to the criticism that will inevitably erupt during a difficult season. Any young coach worth his salt doesn't need to be so protected, nor does it speak well of Bergevin, if that were his motive, to deliberately set up Therrien to fail. After all, wasn't Cunneyworth set up to fail? Must we go through that again? Is Therrien so desperate he would settle for that? If he is, do we want him as coach?

So, I'm afraid there is no good rationale (or rationalization) for the hire. It doesn't reflect a desire to hire the best available, regardless of language skills. It smacks of the same old-boy-club mode of thinking, with the requisite lip service being paid to "hard work", and "discipline." As if those traits being lacking were the root causes of the Habs finishing last in the East this past season.

It's going to be a long season, again. If Nathan Mackinnon is the prize, it will have been worth it. If we finish 15th in the East and get neither playoffs nor Mackinnon, what would be the point?

V said...

I am really surprised that people are girding themselves for a shot at MacKinnon next season almost 4 months before the season even starts. And most of the pessimism because of a coach hiring.

I don't like his temper tantrums either, but he's a pretty experienced coach.

Jerry in NY said...

@ Raj -- not wanting a coach to be re-hired because he was considered the main cause of the Habs losing to the Canes "way back when" is petty. If you can't move forward because of that incident than that, my friend, is not a fair judgement of what the new coach CAN do.

Honestly, I don't think that's why JT doesn't want him there. You, me, her and the rest of the world know the real reasons.

The debate gets old in my opinion. Besides, none of you know what the roster will be. Remember those guys? The ones that actually skate on the ice?

Enough about the language issue. The rhetoric gets old. Move beyond that and this is why I say the lot of you are negative.

I'm probably a bigger Habs fan than you are, in that I support them no matter what.

And you should too.

Dave White said...

Right on JT even though you brought back an awful vivid memory of the Carolina debacle. Despite my similar reservations about Michel Therrien, I think we have to give him a chance. Bergevin impresses me and it seems that an extensive due process was followed. Therrien obviously had good interviews.
Btw - I like Raj's reaction to "Jerry in NY"; Jerry doesn't have a clue what means to be a real Habs fan. It's the DNA thing you know.
On a personal note - as one Newfoundlander to another, I thoroughly enjoy your regular analysis. Keep them coming. Let's hope for a better season coming up.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the hire. I was prepared to tolerate Hartley and even Crawford. But truthfully, there was exactly no one out there, French or English speaking, that I was desperate for Bergevin to sign. The sparsity of options is evident in the Calgary hire, and the Edmonton vacancy. Bergevin is a rookie GM who went with a guy he knew when options weren't so plentiful. As fans, we need to suck it up, hope he accomplishes some building in his brief shelf life, and that someone better will be available in a couple of years when our prospects are ready.

Anonymous said...

The definition of insanity is repeating an action and expecting a different result, or words to that effect.

No hope in Habville.

Wayne D. said...

@anon: So much for the expression "If it doesn't work the first time, try, try again."

Steve said...

I was never hot or cold about MT. The more I have read, the more I am hopeful, after all who is more hopeful than a Montreal fan, well maybe a leaf fan.