Tuesday June 2nd, 2009

You have to admire a man who learns from his mistakes. And after the Montreal Canadiens had seen their Stanley Cup drought stretch to 16 seasons under learn-on-the-job coaches like Mario Tremblay, Michel Therrien and Guy Carbonneau, general manager Bob Gainey finally recognized the value of experience in his hiring of Jacques Martin.

Martin's been there all right. But has he done all that?

In the wake of that dispiriting first round sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins, Montreal's most glaring need was identified as a cohesive and disciplined structure. They'll get one from Martin.

In hiring the 29th coach in franchise history on Monday, Gainey went with a man whose reputation for spirit-crushing defense was well established. With the fate of 10 potential free agents still to be decided, it's hard to say who'll be wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge next season. But when that roster is finalized, you can bet they'll be in lock-step executing a passive scheme that'll make the Bell Centre neutral zone look like the streets surrounding Concordia University.

The Martinized Canadiens will be a tougher out, that's for sure, and they'll certainly make life easier on young Carey Price (last seen waving at high heat with his Buckner-esque glove hand). But is that really the vision Gainey has for this franchise? And if it is, has he paid any attention to the type of hockey that propelled the Penguins and Red Wings to the Cup final? A commitment to defense plays a pivotal role in their success, but it looks nothing like the trapping style that Martin's history suggests he's likely to employ.

Of course, the playoffs have always been something of an afterthought when discussing Martin. Oh, he's a tiger in the winter, alright. After two seasons in St. Louis, nine in Ottawa and three in Florida, Martin stands 10th on the all-time wins list with 517 and is one of just 12 coaches in NHL history to spend at least 1,000 games behind the bench. He won the Jack Adams Award in 1999 and was a finalist on three other occasions. With a record like that, he's clearly capable of doing a job.

But is he capable of doing the job, the one that really matters in Montreal? Going by his lack of springtime success, there's no reason to think so.

In Martin's 14 years patrolling NHL benches, his team either missed the playoffs completely or served as a one-and-done speed bump in 10 of them. Only once, in 2003, did he come within a sniff of the final, guiding his Senators to a Game 7 loss to the eventual Cup-champion New Jersey Devils.

To be fair, some of Martin's teams were done in by a dearth of talent. But others, especially his Senators clubs earlier this decade, were widely regarded as underachievers. They were teams that were unable to adjust or take it up a level when it counted.

But maybe that's not the biggest concern for Gainey (although to suggest as much would be sacrilege, ne c'est pas?). Maybe he doesn't see Martin as Mr. Right...but Mr. Right Now.

To paraphrase Mickey Dolenz (and Johnny Rotten), maybe he's their stepping stone. That's his legacy in Ottawa, a town where Martin took a hopelessly floundering bunch of kids and managed to get them all rowing in unison. And maybe that's all that's being asked of him here. Get a system in place and in a few years they'll let someone else take over and finish the job.

Will Montreal's fans accept a few seasons of dishwater hockey if they bring that next Cup a little bit closer?

We'll soon find out.

Of course, this hiring is a two-sided coin. For the Florida Panthers, Martin's departure likely will be read as a case of addition by subtraction.

Considering that the Panthers authored four straight DNQs under his watch (the final one as GM after being booted from the coaching position in favor of the impressive Pete DeBoer), it's hard to imagine that Martin will be missed by the fans or the franchise. That the Panthers were willing to free him from the three years remaining on his contract extension he signed last May hints at how clearly they understood that he was simply biding his time until he found an opportunity to get back behind the bench -- as well as their own lunacy in putting a man in a position for which he apparently lacked passion.

DeBoer's not going anywhere after a season in which he earned some Jack Adams buzz, so the new GM will have to be comfortable working with someone else's man. Among the candidates likely to get long looks:

Jay Feaster -- the architect of Tampa's 2004 Cup win campaigned openly for the recently-filled Minnesota job.

Les Jackson -- dragged into the mud by the Brett Hull/Sean Avery fiasco, he managed to emerge relatively clean. He's an astute judge of talent who deserves a shot on his own terms.

Pierre McGuire -- the TSN/NBC analyst impressed during his interviews for the Wild job.

Tom Lynn -- well thought-of as assistant GM in Minnesota, but new GM Chuck Fletcher may want to bring in his own people.

Randy Sexton -- the Panthers' current assistant GM likely is in the mix, but he'd be the least sexy choice. Unfair perhaps, but for a more exotic name makes more sense for a team that could use some positive local buzz.

One thing you can count on: whoever the new man is, he won't give the team a leg up on retaining the services of Jay Bouwmeester. The Panthers may yet re-sign their best player after July 1, but he remains committed to at least testing the waters of free agency.

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