June 8, 2010
The Montreal Canadiens are very fortunate to have two young goaltenders, Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. They may be unproven but all signs point to them having excellent potential. There is another goalie in the system, Curtis Sanford, who actually has more NHL regular season starts than Halak.
Sanford's career NHL numbers are mediocre, with a record of 37-37-11, a 2.76 goals against average and a .901 save percentage. But approaching 31 years old, Sanford is a veteran. He may not be a sexy pick, but you certainly know what you are getting.
Let's assume, for sake of argument, that Sanford's family name is St-Fort. Imagine, if you will, that the Canadiens' brass, in their wisdom decided to release Halak or Price (or both) in order to protect their beloved St-Fort?
Would that make sense to anyone other than president Pierre Boivin and his confreres?
But more importantly, is this analogy starting to ring any bells for you?
It has been reported that the former head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs, Guy Boucher, has bolted to assume the reins of the Tampa Bay Lightning. This past season Boucher was named the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award winner as the AHL’s outstanding coach. Hamilton set franchise records in wins and points and came within one game of competing for the Calder Cup.
Astonishingly, the 2009-10 Bulldogs set or tied 61 franchise and AHL records.
Naturally, Boucher's success in Hamilton vaulted him onto the radar of teams in the market for a new head coach. Boucher is seen as being at the top of the list of new breed coaches who brings different philosophy to the rink.
Boucher teaches an aggressive approach to the game. He is seen as an excellent communicator with his players and understands that a variety of approaches are needed to motivate and bring the best out of his charges. Boucher is also creative and has brought innovation to schemes, particularly his power-play.
While Boucher can be described as bright, young, innovative, motivating, and aggressive, a recruiter would be crying foul if any of the characteristics appeared on coach Martin's resume. Martin has also experienced difficulty getting through to his players and has relied on assistant coach Kirk Muller to be his link.
Perhaps I was too harsh in my opening example of Mr. Martin, errr St. Fort, errr Sanford. Rather than undersell Martin's talents, I'd be willing to elevate him to an Andrew Raycroft level in the story.
Let's face it, Jacques Martin is a mediocre coach whose best days are behind him. He is stubbornly clinging to an archaic system that most discarded after the lockout. Martin never was good at connecting with younger players (can we say Jason Spezza?) but is even further out of touch as the age gap has widened.
Under Martin's tutelage, two Canadiens' skaters had career seasons, Tomas Plekanec and Tom Pyatt. One can argue that, Plekanec simply rebounded after being unburdened with Alex Kovalev's departure. It's also not surprising to see a player perform in his maximum in a contract season.
Congratulations to Pyatt for making a contribution when no one expected it but with all due respect, he isn't going to be leading the team to Cup number 25. I would much rather that the Habs employed a coach who could be getting the maximum potential from the Kostitsyns, Scott Gomez, Benoit Pouliot, Ryan O'Byrne and P.K. Subban.
We should also stop pointing to the Canadiens' playoff success as proof positive of Martin's genius. Coach Martin's system consisted of piling five skaters like cord wood around Halak to absorb the opposition arsenal. In the first two rounds, the Habs won on offense supplied by the power-play and opportunistic 5-on-5 goals.
We should also give full credit to Kirk Muller, who was solely responsible for making the key adjustments that were critical to the Canadiens' advancing beyond two rounds of the playoffs.
In the third round, the Canadiens were forced to dismantle the fortress and play a more offensive style the when the power play success dried up. Without the support, their star goaltender was exposed and finished the conference final with an .880 save percentage.
The Martin-system was not sustainable, and certainly not practical for an 82-game regular season. We witnessed the roller-coaster this past year with players struggling to buy-in. The current roster of the team doesn't lend itself to play a rugged, defense-first type game.
So to some forward-thinking Habs' fans, the writing was on the wall. The Canadiens would bump their veteran head coach up to the head office with his fellow dinosaurs to fill the vacant position of assistant GM. Boucher, who is a much better match for the current personnel, was the dynamic young coach primed to take over, perhaps in tandem with the other rising star, Kirk Muller.
(I'll let you decide your own pairings to complete the analogy with respect to Halak/Price and Muller/Boucher.)
Instead the Canadiens have let Boucher walk. Will Muller be next? It's all in an effort to protect head coach Martin (aka Sanford).
Canadiens President Pierre Boivin has always been more comfortable fishing in a shallow pond. Naturally the talent pool is diminished.
Don't believe me? Take any characteristic, unrelated to coaching found only in a small percentage of NHL coaches for your selection criteria. How about moustaches? There is a chance you get a good one like Joel Quenneville but more often than not you bypass the best coaches in the NHL by placing an irrelevant requirement above all others.
Similarly, Boivin's cultural-myopia doesn't allow himself to consider the league's cream of the crop when filling a vacancy. But how poor does your eyesight have to be to allow the hottest coaching property in hockey to swim away from your own shallow pond?
Those who reference a lack of NHL-experience as the reason that Pierre Gauthier couldn't promote Boucher to the big club are missing the point. Mario Tremblay and Guy Carbonneau had zero coaching experience in the NHL or elsewhere which is a major reason each of them were a disaster behind the Canadiens' bench.
But we are comforted by Montreal radio personalties, Denis Casavant, Francois Gagon, and Tony Marinaro that in three years, Guy Boucher will be better equipped to be coach of the Canadiens after a stint with Tampa Bay. This makes me wonder what advice the trio of gents would give to their sons. After finding the right girl, should he send her to the arms of another to get more 'experience' before offering a ring?
Besides, if after three years, Boucher has success in Tampa, why would he want to come back to Montreal? And if he doesn't, why would the Canadiens be interested?
The worst part is that the Habs are saddled with coach Martin for another three years trying to implement the same stale system. One wonders how many careers of young players will be sacrificed in the process?
The wealth of organizational coaching talent has also been diminished. Boucher, the innovator, is gone. Muller, the communicator, may be next.
Let's not forget the other superb coach that was unceremoniously dumped to make room for Boucher in Hamilton. Don Lever has enjoyed success at every level and came with the strong endorsement of Scotty Bowman. 'Scotty who?' said Boivin.
That's a lot of talent to lose from an organization who hasn't had coach earn a Jack Adams award behind a Canadiens' bench in over 20 years.
So now the duo of Boucher and Steve Yzerman set up shop in Tampa Bay. Both were interested in careers with the Canadiens. Both were told, 'No thanks!'
It ensures, for now, that mediocrity is in place in the positions of the coach, general manager and president of the organization. Combined with the sacking of six scouts, it hasn't been a good start to the Canadiens' off-season.
Is this the group that we trust to make the right move on Price/Halak and the handful of other major decisions facing the Habs in the months ahead?
I know where I'm leaning.
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