Out With The Old, In With The Old
George Prax on Tue, 2012-06-05 13:50
Here's the thing. Very few people reading this blog, if any, quite frankly, are in any position to judge what it takes to be a head coach in the NHL, a head coach in Montreal, and the type of coach required to lead the pack of players Marc Bergevin inherited when he was announced as the new General Manager of this team last month. That, of course, includes myself.
But it also doesn't take a genius to figure out that what didn't work once before, likely won't work a decade later under eerily similar circumstances. I'm more than certain that Bergevin and their staff did their homework with the new (old) coach of the Montreal Canadiens, Michel Therrien, that they interviewed him and got an idea of what he would bring to the team and how he would mesh with the players, but I still can't understand it.
Since the news was leaked last night, the response from fans and analysts alike has been resoundingly negative -- at best, listless. The one argument you've probably heard all morning is that if Therrien couldn't take the two best players to the Cup (in fact, firing him is what won the Penguins the cup), then what in God's name is he going to do with a last place team? Whether or not he's more experienced and savvy now, all these years after his previous sting with the Canadiens, Therrien is still a failed experiment in this city, and probably the last person the Canadiens should have hired, if for nothing other than symbolic reasons.
The main theme of this off-season was supposed to be change. It was supposed to be a new start. New GM, new advisers, new, winning attitude. Marc Bergevin was hired to make these changes and get rid of all the rotten ends of this organization. The people who plagued this organization for years were thrown out on their asses, and we all hoped that this idea that anyone the Canadiens' hired needed to be a former Francophone player with the team was out the window. Instead of doing something new, something exciting, something that may have turned some heads and put the Canadiens back on the map with the coaching position, Bergevin went with Michel Therrien, the lowest common denominator.
Like I said earlier, none of us can really speak of what Therrien's coaching skills are like today, in 2012, after a decade of coaching and observing the league, but it's the symbolism behind this appointment that bothers me. To me, Therrien's hiring means that the organization simply couldn't look past this whole French nonsense, and that they didn't want to go with a ballsy choice like Patrick Roy either. Maybe all the rumors were right, and Hartley was their guy and they simply sat on that too long, but I can't understand how a GM's first move in one of the toughest markets in all of sports would be to hire a guy that everyone ran out of town ten years ago. It was an easy hire, it was a copout, and I don't think anyone in this city should have to accept it, after everything this team put them through over the course of one of the most embarrassing seasons in the Habs' 100-year history.
Maybe we're being hard on Therrien. Maybe he's learned a lot from his failures, and maybe he's a better coach now than he was the last time in Montreal, or even in Pittsburgh. Maybe we should give him a chance, and wait and see what Bergevin does at the draft and in free agency, not to mention what next year's team does on the ice when October rolls around. We'll only know for sure when we finally get to see the Canadiens in action in the fall. But based on everything this move symbolizes and represents, it doesn't instill a single ounce of confidence into what I think of this team's chances.
If we have to look at this move from another angle, maybe the Canadiens are taking a longer route to success. Maybe they want to rebuild and wait for a better coaching candidate, or maybe they figure that the coach for the upcoming season doesn't matter if they want to bottom out and get another top pick. In a way, it's almost as if the Canadiens hired Therrien so they could have an easier time firing him somewhere down the road.
In another sense, Therrien could be here to play the role of a motivational coach, so to speak. We all know him as a tough, in your face coach who isn't afraid to air dirty laundry and get emotional behind the bench. Considering the previous regime was essentially ousted thanks to a slow-brewing mutiny among the players that lead to apathy on the ice and a bad attitude off the ice, Therrien might be the kind of guy the team needs to rebuild discipline. He's not going to be auditioning for an android role in Prometheus like Jacques Martin was for three years, that's for sure.
We're a long ways away from figuring any of this out, and while Therrien's hiring could have some hidden positives depending on motive, it's hard to spin a move like this after seeing a parade of better coaching candidates get shown the door under this team's previous regime.
Therrien will have an uphill battle as his tenure (re)starts behind the Canadiens' bench, and no one, from the players, to management, to the fans and the media, are going to make it easy for him. Let's hope, at least, that he's better equipped to handle the pressure the second time around.