NHL roundtable: What to do with Michel Therrien
Every Friday, a trio of SI.com staffers sits down for a discussion of the hockey world’s hot-button issues. This week, Michael Blinn, Sam Page and Al Muir dig into Michel Therrien's future in Montreal, Dennis Wideman's suspension appeal, Canada's playoff woes and some quick thoughts on the trade deadline. First up:
You are Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. Given everything that's happened this season in Montreal, what's your stance on coach Michel Therrien?
Sam Page: Well, I can honestly say my stance on Michel Therrien hasn’t changed this season. I thought the Habs could do better before the year even started and I still think that. His blaming P.K. Subban for that loss to Colorado was lame but hardly the worst offense, or even out of character. My issue has always been with his tactics. This whole season could end up being a case of the wrong reasons (blaming him for an unwinnable situation without Carey Price) leading to the right results (firing him).
Al Muir: Bergevin's affection for Therrien and his methods isn't entirely unreasonable. I mean, the guy won 96 regular season games and three playoff rounds over the past two years, so he's had some success. If Bergevin decides to let Therrien finish off this season, I won't be surprised. And if he's still behind the bench next season, that won't surprise me, either. But Bergevin has to sense the growing frustration in the Bell Centre. I mean, these are the smartest fans in the league. If they're turning their backs on the product, that should tell him something. They see a coach whose focus is on not losing, which is fine for an expansion team. But these are the Montreal freakin' Canadiens. They should be playing to win. Therrien might be the right coach for some team, but not this team. Not now.
Michael Blinn: I’m not sure the success really belongs to Therrien. Losing Carey Price for the majority of the season has been one long, painful band-aid removal that’s showing just how bad of a coach Therrien is–CTV’s Brian Wilde makes it pretty clear that the Habs coach is straight-up ignoring what works. I can only assume he’s feeling the heat and trying to pass it on to his best player in a shallow attempt to save his own hide. There’s a whole lotta excuses for what’s going wrong in Montreal this season, and with the exception of Price’s injury, everything points to Therrien’s failings. Call this season what it is (a wash), fire Therrien, get a lottery pick and come out guns blazing next season.
Dennis Wideman will be the first player to grieve his suspension in front of an independent arbitrator. How do you see that playing out?
SP: I really have no idea, but I’d guess the suspension gets reduced but not eliminated. It’d be easy for an independent arbitrator to conclude that the NHL has ulterior motives for denying the concussion angle.
AM: Right there with you. I have a real problem with the way the league dismissed the concussion defense out of hand. And I have to believe an independent party will be much more sympathetic, especially considering the league's own concussion spotter noted a potential issue after Wideman was rocked by Miikko Salomaki. Taking Bettman out of the equation, I could easily see Wideman's suspension cut in half or even to time served, especially if the NHLPA rounds up more compelling expert witnesses to paint their picture than the duo who showed up for Wideman's appeal with the league.
MB: We all seem to be forgetting a pretty big thing: Wideman’s text message. ’[T]he only problem and the only reason I'm here is cause the stupid refs and stupid media’ seems to fly in the face of his contrition, and I’m starting to think he’s playing the concussion card because it can help his case, not because he believes it was an actual factor. I’ll expect a reduced suspension along with the both of you, but I’m not sure it’ll be as drastic.
Seven of the nine worst teams in the NHL standings are based in Canada. Coincidence, or is there something going on that affects their ability to be competitive?
MB: Put me down for coincidence. Don’t get me wrong, I see a lot of asset mismanagement as a running theme with a lot of these teams, but having it catch up to all of them at the same time is a pretty incredible feat.
SP: In the short term, I think it’s a coincidence — the Oilers, Leafs, and Flames could all be good soon. But there is a problem with Canadian teams not having incentives to be good. Would Winnipeg and Ottawa actually try to improve their rosters if they faced the same pressures as Sun Belt American teams? And would the Leafs and Canadiens be so slow to make management changes if they each had another team in their city? Move the Coyotes to Toronto and suddenly the Maple Leafs will stop pretending to be the Yankees and work hard to be the Mets.
AM: That's a pretty solid analogy there, Pager. Nicely done. There's definitely something to what you're saying about pressure, but I think you're overlooking some overarching issues as well, especially when it comes to signing the free agents that make a team competitive/put it over the top. Taxes are going to be a factor when a player weighs competing offers. So's the weather. We all know how hard it is to attract top talent to Winnipeg. We've heard stories of wives vetoing deals that would bring a guy to Edmonton or Calgary. And living in the fishbowl of a hardcore hockey town like Toronto or Montreal isn't for everybody. This situation with all seven struggling? That's coincidence, but there are real problems here that could make it tough for some of these teams to drag themselves out of the cellar.
Okay, time for the lightning round. We'll give you the name of a player who is on the verge of free agency. Do you trade him or keep him?
SP: Keep…but this is the toughest one. The Bruins are building for the future and aren’t a powerhouse this year. But no team is—parity gives them a chance in the East.
MB: As a Bruins fan, this question keeps me awake at night. Given his cap hit ($4.25M), his current value and all the pending free agents and holes this team will have to fill in the offseason, trade him.
AM: Trade. Look, in a perfect world, he's with this team until he retires. The guy is a perfect Bruin. He's battled hard since taking that cheapshot from John Scott (Hey, remember when Scott was a bad guy?) and is having his best season since arriving in Boston. But if he's looking for five years at $30 million as I've heard, then I don't see how they can afford him. Don Sweeney just got this team out of salary-cap hell by ditching Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton last summer. He can't afford to send them there again.
MB: If anyone needs me, I’ll be openly weeping under my desk.
SP: Keep. The Panthers should see how long this run can go. He’s not going to get another $7 million contract next year either, so re-signing him in the summer would seem to be an option.
AM: Keep. The Panthers owe it to their long-suffering fans to ice the best possible team down the stretch. There's nothing they'd get in exchange for Campbell that would make them more competitive this year, so keeping him around is an easy call. Think you're right about him re-signing with the team, at a much lower cap hit, in the offseason.
MB: How many playoff-bound teams have the ability to absorb a $7 million-plus cap hit on a 36-year-old blueliner for a two-month run? I’m not sure they have much of a choice here.
MB: Trade him. It’s clear the Leafs want Bernier as their man (or is it?). If you’re gonna tear it down, tear it down already.
SP: Keep. I think the Leafs want to be competitive sooner than later and you don’t want to be desperately looking for a goalie when that time comes.
AM: Trade. The only reason to keep Reimer is if they believe he's the guy that can lead them to a Cup down the road. I don't think they see him that way at all. Makes more sense to explore his value and maybe pick up an asset or two that can help them get to that goal.
SP: Trade. The era of Alex Burrows being a key complementary player on dominant Canucks teams have long since passed. Vancouver should be building for the post-Sedin era.
AM: You kidding? If I'm Jim Benning I'm holding on tightly to Bo Horvat, Jared McCann, Thatcher Demko and Jake Virtanen. Anybody else, make me an offer, and that includes the Sedins. I like Burrows, but outside of his NTC I can't see any reason why a team that needs to skew younger wouldn't move a 34-year-old.
MB: You're both spot on. If it’s not nailed down in Vancouver, it’s time to sell it.