by PuckStopsHere on 12/17/11 at 07:52 PM ET
The Montreal Canadiens have become the sixth team in the league to fire their coach this season. Jacques Martin has been fired after about two and a half seasons on the job. He is replaced by assistant coach Randy Cunneyworth.
This is the latest move from a Montreal team in panic mode. This is a team that already fired assistant coach Perry Pearn just before a game in late October. Montreal is a team that has been unable to make a serious run this year. In a demanding market, GM Pierre Gauthier has been firing from the coaching staff to try to buy himself time and placate the fans.
I do not expect that a new coach is going to make much of a difference to Montreal, with the possible exception of a short term boost. Coaching was not the big problem in Montreal, so it isn’t the solution either.
Montreal is in eleventh place in the East Conference. They are only two points back of eighth place and a playoff berth. Perhaps they haven’t done as well as that record suggests as they have a 13-19 record with a league leading seven regulation tie points. Without those regulation tie points, Montreal would be well back in the East Conference.
Cunneyworth has been an NHL assistant coach in Montreal and with the Atlanta Thrashers. He also has several years experience as an AHL head coach in both Hamilton and Rochester. He isn’t really a big change for the Habs since their new coach is their former assistant coach. This looks like a move made out of panic. It is easier to fire a coach than to make more serious changes.
Montreal’s problem is that they do not have the talent to be a top team. Tomas Plekanec is their top scorer with 25 points so far this season. That places him 44th in the league in the scoring race. In a thirty team league that isn’t good enough. Their top defencemen in terms of ice time have been PK Subban, Josh Gorges and Raphael Diaz. There is no all star in the bunch. Montreal does not have a position player who is clearly playing at all star level. Last season Carey Price played at this level in goal. He almost received a Vezina Trophy nomination last season. Price has been an average starting goalie this season, which is a step back from last year. As a result, Montreal has dropped a bit in the standings.
The biggest hope for the Habs is that their existing veterans play better than they have. Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri are all performing below their established levels in the past. Tomas Kaberle is a newly acquired piece of their defence who has performed well in the past, though he has struggled so far this season. There is hope that Andrei Markov can return from knee surgery and make an impact before the season ends. The problem is this is largely a group of veterans who are starting to show they are into their NHL declines. That isn’t a group to build a team around. The blame for that should fall upon management, both Pierre Gauthier and Bob Gainey before him. The blame has fallen upon coaching. Jacques Martin took the fall today.
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