Out With The Old, In With The Old


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.



Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

Therrien has a way of forcing players into certain roles. He always plays the bad guy and creates a team that is more unified. In Pittsburgh he did just that, the problem was his system was not compatible with the players that he had at his disposal.

He is tough and doesn't take crap from players. I think this is just a step for the Canadiens. He will aid big time in the growth of some young guys like Subban and Pacciorety. He is a great teacher and disciplinarian, but I had the same thought as you, it is part of a bigger plan.

I don't think he can get Gomez going or somehow get Markov healthy, but what he can do is set a system that grows a team. I think the canadiens realized that they needed a stepping stone to get back into things and Therrien is a pretty good coach for that. I don't expect him to be there more than three years.

Also, he always assembles a great set of coaches around him. There are a few of his former assistants that are AHL head coaches and one NHL head coach.

George Prax's picture

That's a rational way of thinking of it and it sort of occurred to me as I was writing, which is why I added that bit about the motivational speaker thing. But I don't think it sends the right message to this team and the fans even if he can make the most of it, after they made such a big deal out of firing everyone.

Tyg's picture

Just because no one's legitimately qualified to judge won't stop us, and so many of us have been watching this team struggle for years that it's now impossible not to at least have a valid basis for some of the negative reaction I've been encountering. I'm trying for patience but it's not something I possess, and certainly not after the past few years.

Martin as an android is an apt comparison, and perhaps Therrien is a livelier fellow but at the end of the day what helped to sink Martin was a lack of ability to communicate or engage with his players, something that was also never Therrien's strong suit either. Has his work in the press really allowed him to grow in that area? I sure hope so, and I hope to hell Bergevin knows what he's doing here.

I remember when Martin was hired and he said the right things all the time right out of the gate and at the end of the day whatever Therrien says and Bergevin say - some of which I outright dislike - is completely irrelevant. If they are indeed content with having merely making the playoffs as their ideal (something Bergevin said that I originally attributed to Therrien) then nothing has changed at all and it's all more smoke and mirrors.

This doesn't speak change or progress to me, but what choice as a fan do I have but to wait and see? Therrien will sink or swim by his own efforts, and I can gripe and moan but honestly I'm just tired of it all now. There's no one universal candidate Bergevin could have picked who would have pleased us all.

George Prax's picture

I'm just trying to put things in perspective. It's been a LONG time since Therrien coached, even for Pittsburgh, so it's not for any of us to say what he's capable of behind a bench in 2012. That isn't to say that there isn't a valid basis for the reaction, as you said, but I just wanted to put it out there that I'm in no position to judge a man who's coached for 10 years in the NHL and gone to a cup final, from an actual coaching POV. All I can do is look at his track record, so I just think we need to be fair in certain regards to that.

My issues with the hiring is more what it represents and what it says to the fans. It's almost like they're inviting failure, and I'm not sure whether I like that or not. On one hand it gives the Habs a scapegoat and allows them to steer away from the question of whether they're rebuilding. Therrien will be an easy fire if things don't go well. On the other hand if they're serious about him as coach then that's frightening.

I think that the move was sort of a step back strategically taken so that they can take 2 steps forward in a year or two, but I'm not sure if it'll work. I'm weary about it, but I'm willing to wait and see how they handle everything else.