by PuckStopsHere on 02/06/12 at 02:52 PM ET
The Montreal Canadiens have been a playoff team for the last four seasons. They won at least one round in two of them. It looks like that streak will end this season. Montreal is currently tied for last place in the East Conference with 49 points. They have a 20-33 record with nine regulation tie points. Only Anaheim and Columbus have fewer wins than they do. What has gone wrong?
The biggest problem surrounding the Habs is the uncertainty of who is in charge. In December Jacques Martin was fired as coach and replaced by Randy Cunneyworth. This soon led to controversy as Cunneyworth does not speak French and this angered some Quebec language activists’. This situation was handled badly as owner Geoff Molson went on record to say that Cunneyworth is only an interim coach. Montreal would hire a French speaking coach for next year.
With the coach sufficiently undermined, it was time to undermine the general manager. Pierre Gauthier created the situation, so he too must be on thin ice. Most people expect he will not be back in Montreal next season either.
Montreal will avoid hiring the best available candidate for coach or GM and instead focus on hiring a French speaker. This failure to focus on the bottom line of winning will keep the team from contending in the future. A successful coach need only speak “hockey” in order to win. This is clearly shown by the North American coaches who have succeeded in Europe. The players are a multilingual bunch who expect practise to be conducted in English. If that offends language activists who are unrelated to the Montreal Canadiens that shouldn`t be the Habs concern, but it is. It has been allowed to change the way things are done in Montreal.
When we look at the team on the ice, Montreal isn`t as bad as their record suggests. They have only allowed eight more goals than they have scored. Those numbers, while not great, should allow them into playoff contention.
Montreal is not much worse than they were last year when they made playoffs. Carey Price returns in goal. He isn`t having quite as good a season as he did last year, but he is playing well. Montreal does not have any huge offensive talents. They didn`t have any last year either. That said Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais are scoring. PK Subban, Josh Gorges and Raphael Diaz lead a workable defence. This is a team that has the talent to be in the playoff race. They may not be good enough to make the playoffs annually, but they should be close. This season is an aberration.
The problem is the aberration is leading to some bad moves. These moves are not only coaching and management uncertainty. They are on ice moves. Mike Cammalleri was traded to Calgary for Rene Bourque. This is a downgrade in talent that was made when Cammalleri went to the media with his frustrations with the Habs situation. Tomas Kaberle was taken on in a trade. He has been ineffective since leaving Toronto and looks like a waste of salary cap space. In short Montreal is making moves out of panic. The Montreal media expects moves so moves are made. The problem is the moves are poorly thought out and have no overarching plan.
Montreal needs a general manager and a coach who are strong enough to ignore the external pressures. It doesn`t matter if they speak English or French or Swahili as long as they are competent hockey men who will not bow to the media whims. Until that happens the Habs will not be serious contenders. However even if that doesn`t happen, i expect that the team makes a partial recovery from their current low point. They are better than their record would show.
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