Is life just sweet and dandy in the Habs Nation now that Michel Therrien is on the trash heap of history and Claude Julien is comfortably ensconced in the highest-profile job in Quebec?
Well to begin answering that question, I’ll throw out another query at you. Did the players give up on Therrien? Is that what happened? Is that why the kindly ol’ coach was fired even though his record over the past five years was 194-121-37 and his team was still sitting in the No. 1 spot in the Atlantic division?
If the Habs players did indeed stop playing for their coach, then maybe all is right in the world for Canadiens fans and beginning Saturday afternoon against the Winnipeg Jets, Nos Glorieux will go right back to their winning ways. But if in fact they didn’t give up, if au contraire they were still giving their 110 per cent for Mike T, then we – meaning Marc Bergevin, Julien, and all of us who care about the team – have a problem on our hands.
Because no players got fired this week – sadly enough. Philip Danault is still your No. 1 centre – or maybe the No. 2 guy down the middle if the new bench boss decides Alex Galchenyuk gets the top-centre gig. Andrew Shaw presumably hasn’t become a smarter hockey player since Tuesday.
So which scenario is it? Were they throwing games to oust the coach or are they simply a not-very-good team? I know, neither scenario is particularly great.
I’d say the answer is blowing in the wind somewhere between the two scenarios. I can’t believe any NHL player would actually deliberately play badly just because they don’t like the coach. Carey Price doesn’t arrive at the rink with the notion of letting in as many goals as possible.
But they definitely might play with a little less intensity if they’re peeved with their coach. It’s like in any workplace. If you don’t like your boss, you’re less likely to put everything on the line for him or her. A friend was talking about how players start to feel less of a bond with the team leader and it affects the decisions they make.
The fact is that Therrien has lost The Room twice in a row, once in Pittsburgh in 2009 and now in Montreal. Maybe it happens to every coach this side of Scotty Bowman. The coach has a bag of tricks and eventually he finds the bag is empty. You’re yelling and no one’s listening. You’re tearing a strip off a young player and as you do so, several of the other players stand up and walk out in disgust.
If that’s what happened, all is not lost. As was the case in Boston and St. Louis, the Canadiens will likely show at the very least a short-term bounce and pick up a few Ws. But did Bergevin wait too long to axe his pal? As of Thursday afternoon, Montreal was just six points ahead of its closest rivals in the division, Ottawa and Boston, and the Sens have four games in hand.
If things don’t improve fast, it is still possible they won’t make the playoffs. In hindsight, it was a mistake to wait. Jury’s in – they should’ve fired Therrien at the end of last season. Now they’re going to have to fight tooth-and-nail to make it to the post-season.
Going forward, senior management needs to figure out what went oh-so-wrong. One clear mistake is how Therrien handled his superstar. Price has been brutal for two months and most suggest that started Dec. 16 when he gave Therrien the stinky eye after being pulled during a game against the San Jose Sharks. After that pathetic 4-0 loss to the Bruins Sunday – Therrien’s last stand as coach – Price said the team had lost its identity, a direct slap in Therrien’s face.
So Julien obviously has to figure out how to work with his all-world netminder. For decades now, Montreal has built its team around its goalie and, sadly, this team only goes as far as Price carries it.
To come back to the original question, yeah the players were obviously giving less than 110 per cent and so they’ll be upping that intensity under the watch of Julien and that’ll help. But is that enough? I’d say it’s enough to get them into the playoffs but beyond that, I’m not so sure.
This collapse proved there are still leadership issues in that room. Shea Weber was supposed to be the solution in that department but the only advance billing he’s lived up to is what his critics predicted – a slower older guy who fades as the season progresses.
The funny thing is that the Greek tragedy that unfolded this week is tied to that Weber/P.K. Subban deal last summer. The failure to succeed here with P.K. was fundamentally Therrien’s failure but The Trade looked like a way to forget all that and, better yet, bring in a taciturn blue-collar lunch-bucket guy, precisely the sort of player Therrien lives for.
When things went belly-up even after hand-crafting a team specifically for Therrien, there really was only one decision for the boss to make. That decision saves Bergevin’s job but will it be enough to save the Habs’ season? Only the players can answer that question – beginning Saturday afternoon.