Dearest Jacques: An Open Letter to Habs Coach Martin

My dearest Jacques,

What the Hell happened? I thought you were supposed to be making adjustments? I thought that the you weren't going to allow the Montreal Canadiens to drop two games in a row for the first time on Tuesday? I thought you were supposed to be angry going into the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, having lost to the team that used to employ you? I thought you were finally getting the message...

But instead, I find the exact same ideas, the exact same worries and the exact same concerns running through my head about your team that have been running through my head since early last season. I find myself concerned about the aging defensemen, about the lack of depth or ability for you to get an entire 20 man roster to show up for a game, about the powerplay. Even a very small part of me is starting to get worried about Carey Price's confidence again.

Sure, we've all documented Price's good start. Through 11 games, he has a decent 6-4-1 record, with a .909 save percentage and a 2.44 goals against average. Not to mention, he really hasn't been bad in any single game, and has had to stand on his head in order to lead the Habs to victory on some nights, or even to keep the Canadiens from falling into a deep, dark hole. But here's what no one is talking about; Price really wasn't all that bad last season either. While his 13-20-5 record didn't leave much to be desired, the rest of his individual stats were really pretty decent. A .912 save percentage was actually better than what he's averaging now.

What contributed to the events of last years were the team giving up in front of him, especially the defense, and Jaroslav Halak simply being better than him and stealing the starting job. Your buddy Pierre Gauthier did a pretty good job of making sure the latter part doesn't happen again, essentially replacing Halak with Alex Auld, a serviceable backup that could play a long string of games if needed, but is in no way a number one goalie. But the first part? About the defense giving up in front of him... well Jacques, I don't know if we're watching the game games, but it seems as if the exact same thing is happening in front of Price, just like it did last year.

On Tuesday night, all three goals could be attributed to defensive lapses. Gill being eaten alive the Columbus forecheck all night, ending up a -2 and being on the ice along with Josh Gorges for all three goals. Last year's defensive revelation in the Gill-Gorges tandem is now a team worst combined -7 on the season. While Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik are each +2 on the season, Spacek has been completely ineffective, putting up but two assists on the year and looking like a beer league player amongst NHL studs, and Hamrlik, is, well, Roman Hamrlik, but an aging Roman Hamrlik at 36 years old. Andrei Markov has yet to get anything going in two games, and while PK Subban has likely been the best defenseman on the team (+5 differential), he is still a rookie that has been making a fair amount of mistakes. To put it all in a nice little package with a bow on top, the team leader in +/-, Alexandre Picard, has been sitting for the last two games, and Ryan O'Byrne, who's confidence is likely shot at this point, has only played three games on the year.

So what to make of all of this, Mr. Martin? I thought that you were finally getting the message with rumors that you were going to sit Spacek and give Picard a chance with Markov, but that didn't happen. And why? Because Spacek is a veteran? Because he makes more money? Because the Habs are stuck with him until the end of next season? Come on Jacques. At this point, I'm sure you're seeing the exact sames things we are. Give him a rest and try to get your team winning, or else it's Price and the rest of the team, not to mention the fans, that are going to suffer for it! You preach a defensive system, you preach responsibility, defending leads, and playing smart, well, how can you ask your players, especially on defense, to play smart, if you're not coaching smart?

Is it really that difficult to get that Jaro Spacek shouldn't be playing in the NHL right now? That maybe you need to send him, and the rest of the team a message by sitting him? It's pretty evident that you seem to be satisfied with the status quo, with playing the players who make the most money, who have the most experience, no matter the effort or quality of play that they put out there. The result? Guys like Spacek, like Gomez, like Hamrlik, they don't think it matters if they aren't playing as well as they should be, because, obviously, under your system, their job is safe.

Yet Alex Picard, Dustin Boyd, Ryan O'Byrne, all have to sit in the press box because they're younger? Because, somehow, they haven't paid their dues or earned a permanent spot. It's almost reverse ageism!

I touched on the Boyd, Gomez, and the forwards a little bit above, but let's take a deeper look into what's become of this team's scoring lines, shall we?

You can't possibly expect Tomas Plekanec and his linemates to perform the way they started every game. After amassing 10 points, Plekanec is pointless in the last two games. Kostitsyn has none in the last three. And after scoring two in his debut this season, Mike Cammalleri has managed but a single measly goal in 10 games. They need to step it up, knowing that the line behind them is actually much worse.

Scott Gomez is now pointless in 5 games, and has but 3 points on the season. And while Brian Gionta is among the league leaders in shots, he's in exactly the same boat. Jacques, it's beyond finding a suitable linemate for them. It's beyond being "snake-bitten" or bad luck. At this point, you gotta do something to either get them going, send them a message or simply ensure that your team starts scoring - with or without them.

The effort with Gionta is there, but it's clearly not working out with Gomez. Do you think it's about time you put him on the 3rd line? Lars Eller has been SCREAMING at you for a shot, so why not give him a try on the 2nd line? He's a good passer, he's skilled, maybe he can do something for Gionta. Put a Boyd or a Lapierre on the left wing and you might actually be able to get something going. And as for Gomez, let him learn a lesson on the 3rd or 4th line. Let him play with Travis Moen, Matt Darche or Jeff Halpern, or Tommy Pyatt. Who cares if he's making $7.5 million? He certainly isn't earning those dolalrs, so Jacques, you gotta do something!

And if that doesn't work out, split up the Plekanec line, because even they've been inconsistent, as mentioned above. Play Plekanec with Gionta and Cammalleri, and play Kostitsyn with either Eller or Gomez.

My dearest Jacques, the possibilities are seriously endless. You have a talented team, a diverse team, and the players to make it somehow work. You can't just expect the same exact lines, the same exact players to always have chemistry with one another. You have to make changes, you have to be creative and try different things. No one cares that you're one of the longest serving coaches in the NHL, because you have nothing to show for it. The greats of all time behind the bench, the Bowmans, the Irvings, the Blakes, the Arbours, the Burns', and even guys like Babcock and Ruff that are still in the league, they've been able to change with the times and adapt to the ever-changing atmosphere, the ever-changing technologies, adaptations and advancements in the sport. Jacques, you've coached nearly 1,200 games, and it seems as if you've coached every single one of those games the exact same way, ever since your first season in St. Louis in 1986.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but the NHL today is much different than it was in 1986. The game is faster, more offensive, tougher, higher octane and more intense. And while you've clearly shown that you can go a fairly long distance by coaching and playing the exact opposite way, it's clearly not enough. Do you think that if your team plays the way it did last year it's somehow going to magically get through Philadelphia the next time they inevitably face each other in the playoffs? Do you think that if you try and contain the obvious explosiveness of your top forwards, they're going to magically comply to your defensive system, all the while continuing to rack up the points? How do you think PK Subban is going to take it the moment you start berating him for his style? Obviously it hasn't happened yet, but you can sense it coming. It's inescapable.

It's all unraveling in front of our eyes Jacques. The same mistakes, the same patterns, the same frustrations, and it really shouldn't be the case. It may not be as easy to fix as I've made it sound, but what's the harm in trying to do something different? You're not winning anyway, you're not even scoring goals! Do something! Anything! Show a sign of life! Throw your team some life preservers and get things going!

Tomorrow, you're in Buffalo to face a struggling and angry team, one that's missing their goaltender and will do everything they can to prove they can win without them.

Then not even 24 hours later, you're back in Montreal to face the Senators, who are beginning to streak and will be angry about losing two in a row to you. Alex Kovalev is starting to play better, and he will be looking to embarrass his former team in his former town. And with Vancouver, Boston and Carolina on the slate for next week, it isn't going to get any easier. You had a chance to give your team some confidence with wins over the Panthers and Jackets the last few days, and you blew it. Don't blow it again, Jacques.

Love it or hate it, we know that you're here to stay. And I'm begging you... pleading with you... make the changes, Jacques. Get things going. Send a message. And let's start winning some games again, before this thing gets out of control!

Sincerely, your friend,

George Prax
www.twitter.com/GeorgePrax

Also See:

- Live blog details: Habs @ Sabres, Friday, November 5th, 2010.

- Iain Carnegie Introduces Himself, Details on upcoming Habs Panel.

- Patrick Storto reveals some Sign your team might be digging a hole.

- Week 4 Recap: Between the Pipes by Alex Muller.

- Adam Pardes debuts with TCL with NHL Goalies: Another One Bites the Dust.

5 Comments

Iain Carnegie's picture

Many things that Jacques could listen to and implement here. He doesn't have to do it all, but some changes are necessary. I think one of the most pertinent points in this letter, is addressing the lack of change that Martin has encompassed - not just with the Montreal Canadiens - but over his entire career. There is a reason that many coaches had both longevity AND success in this league, and that's because they have been willing to adapt.

I agree - There HAS to be a shake-up of the top two lines. I don't agree that Gomez needs to go 4th line - but maybe he could be a powerful leader on the third. Time to move Eller up and get youth with strong hockey skills in the top 6. I also agree that a players salary should NOT dictate where he's placed in the line-up.

Defensively ... Just because Gill and Gorges had a great season last year, doesn't mean that it'll continue forever. Gill is getting older and slower. Switch it up. But Hamrlik and Spacek together? What kind of a joke is that?

Now put this letter in an envelope, walk across to the the Bell Center, and stuff it into his hands George. And don't walk away till you're sure he's read it!

George Prax's picture

Well 3rd of 4th line for Gomez, doesn't make a difference to me. So long as they cut his minutes and try and send him a message that he has to get things going.

Totally agree with you on the defense too Iain. Spacek just needs to sit in the pressbox, and they need to switch things up.

Like I said, Jacques is satisfied with the status quo. And if we make the playoffs, we can't say anything about it because to some degree he got us there. It's ridiculous.

Tyg's picture

You did a great job of summing up why I never wanted Jacques coaching the Habs in the first place. How's a dinosaur supposed to lead a team of racehorses? After the total humiliation that was served up to them by Columbus, the team deserved a bag skate. Instead they got the day off. Why? The already took the day off before without letting a little thing like a hockey game stand in their way.

Jacques is shuffling the lines in practice today, and stating that it's time for some experimentation. I dunno if he read your letter and/or my blog, Prax, but if he does change it up and it works, we may have to eat some crow. Even if it does work and he gets lucky here I still think he's the wrong coach for this team, and with him at the helm we're not going to see Cup No. 25. We're look at another 3 years of JM. I can't bear the thought.

George Prax's picture

Tyg, when Martin came on, we finally got what most of us were asking for... an experienced head coach. In retrospect, it's sort of amusing how they went from one extreme (a string of rookie coaches) to the other (one of the oldest, most experienced coaches in the league) but in the end got the same thing - essentially, a loser. The expression, don't know what you got until its gone comes to mind. I would much rather have a Carbo with his erratic line changes right now than a Martin with his status quo. I was willing to give him his fair shot but he's clearly not willing to change.

And I didn't even address the fact that he gave them the day off yesterday... makes no sense.

I would actually welcome to be proven wrong on this. But I thought he was going to make adjustments on Tuesday, and he rescinded most of those changes. So I don't know about the lines at practice today and frankly they aren't that much different and if they work, we'll see if they last. He'll likely go right back to what he's used to when we start losing again.

I hate to say it, but a small part of me kind of hopes we go on an extended losing streak and Gauthier's hand is forced or something and we change coaches and we turn it around like the Pens did 2 years ago... but enough about my wet dreams Tongue