Before he was fired over the weekend, Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo had led his team to 13 points in 19 games since the calendar turned to 2016. In roughly the same time frame, the Montreal Canadiens extracted 14 points from 18 games. Roughly the same rate of success (?) with one coach out of work, the other still firmly entrenched in a foxhole with his GM.
What is wrong with the Montreal Canadiens? No seriously, what is wrong with the Montreal Canadiens? There’s an old saying in hockey that you are what your record says you are, but the Canadiens were not that good when they came out of the gate with a 9-0-0 record and are not as bad as the team that has just one regulation win on the road since losing Carey Price.
One year after they were one of the worst possession teams in the league, the Canadiens have vastly improved in that area of the game, to the point where their shot attempts for and against in close games is eighth best in the league. Their penalty killing is among the league’s best, their power play is mediocre, they generate a lot of shots and are very good at keeping their shots against to a minimum, their shooting percentage is terrible (likely because they don’t have the size to take enough shots from dangerous areas) and their goaltending without Price is below average.
You put all that together and there’s no way you come up with an outfit that is as bad as the Canadiens are right here, right now. Two things have come up of late to explain the Canadiens’ ineptitude. One is that they aren’t drafting and developing well enough and the other is that GM Marc Bergevin has done a bad job of forming his roster.
With respect to the former, are you serious? Of the 20 players who suited up for the Canadiens 6-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes Monday night, 12 of them were homegrown players. And the 13th of those players is Price. Their top six scorers were all Canadiens draft picks and the seventh, David Desharnais, was signed by the Canadiens to his first NHL contract out of the minors. That is the kind of development a lot of teams would envy. And yes, Bergevin has not done an outstanding job of supplementing his bottom-six forwards, but there are a lot of teams in the NHL that are top-heavy and bottom-deficient. Nobody was calling Bergevin out when he signed Jeff Petry over the summer, nor were they maligning the man who pulled off a blockbuster for Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline two years ago (then wisely passed on re-signing him) or when he locked Brendan Gallagher into a ridiculously team-friendly contract.
The Canadiens roster is indeed flawed and those flaws look like boulders without Price in the lineup. But it is not this flawed. There are teams with less that are doing a lot more than the Canadiens are right now.
Which brings us to coaching. For all those who howl that the Canadiens are only as good as Price and that the GM hasn’t put together a good enough roster, there are an equal number of critics who would turn both barrels directly at Michel Therrien. There have been a host of curious coaching and personnel decisions this season, including giving way too much ice time and responsibility to the likes of Desharnais and a 37-year-old Andrei Markov. The Alex Galchenyuk is-he-a-winger-or-centerman experiment has been a complete disaster and Therrien seems not to grasp that the Canadiens will not know what they have in Galchenyuk until they put him in the middle and play him with capable wingers. There have been really strange line combinations and Therrien’s refusal to play certain players together has bordered on bizarre.
But perhaps the biggest indictment of Therrien is the fact that the Canadiens have no life under him anymore. The slightest bit of adversity seems to bury them. As disturbing as the Canadiens loss to Arizona was from a Canadiens perspective, it had to be particularly galling to see them get pushed around and generally manhandled, them publicly admit after the game that they didn’t show up.
The Canadiens looked a lot like a team that was playing to have its coach fired. That may be harsh, but it’s crystal clear that Therrien and his staff have run out of options and answers. It is time for him to go. Unless the Canadiens hope to play out the season and drop themselves into the lottery, the time is now for them to instill a new culture and install someone who is willing to wipe the slate clean and give ice time and roles based on merit only. It is time for a fresh voice.
Michel Therrien has clearly lost his team. And when that happens to an NHL coach, he never, ever gets it back. If you want to blame Bergevin for anything, forget about his roster moves. His biggest mistake has not been expelling Therrien from the foxhole before now.