Time To Say Goodbye to Uncles Jacques and Pierre

102 years.

That's how long the Montreal Canadiens have been a hockey organization. Longer than any other team currently in the NHL. Longer than the league itself.

And in all those years, throughout an entire century, the Canadiens have never suffered as embarrassing a start to the season as the one they are currently going through.

Eight games. One win. Six losses, one in overtime, the last of which came Monday night at the Bell Centre, at the hands of the Florida Panthers (Laura Kenney's recap).

I repeat, one win, on the road, against the Winnipeg Jets, a team that's just about as bad as the Habs. Through eight games, one measly win, and, by the way, none at home through five games, a franchise record (and I repeat again, this team is over a century old). Overall, the record is the worst for the team since the 1940s.

So, who's to blame for all of this? What's the reason the Canadiens have already practically mailed-in the season? Is it because of injuries? Is it because they're just not good enough, playing over their heads in recent seasons? Is their success really all that contingent on Carey Price bringing his A-game?

If you follow me on twitter, you'd know that the answer is relatively simple. All you have to do is look to the two people currently in charge of running the team.

On the ice, from behind the bench, we have Jacques Martin, experienced, seasoned coach who came to Montreal with 500 wins under his belt (currently sitting at 601), coaching the Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues and Florida Panthers. Despite this impressive pedigree, Martin has never won the Stanley Cup or even made the cup final, only making the conference finals twice, once with Montreal, once with Ottawa. His 16 years as an NHL coach include seven first round exits, and four seasons where his teams didn't even make the post-season.

High above the ice surface, in the Bell Centre's executive offices, we find Pierre Gauthier. The 58-year-old manager also came to the Canadiens with a wealth of experience, having managed both the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks, not to mention scouting for the Nordiques for over a decade. Before becoming the General Manager of the Canadiens in their centennial year, Gauthier spent seven years as Bob Gainey's right-hand man, slowly acquiring more and more responsibility before taking the job away from his mentor in February of 2010.

Since these two men have taken over the reigns of the Montreal Canadiens, there has been some good, some bad, but generally, a lot of disappointment. The team did manage to make the conference finals under the duo in 2010, and they took the eventual Stanley Cup champions to seven games in the first round of last year's playoffs. But as a whole, their years with the Canadiens have been plagued with injuries, under-performance and mediocrity.

Forget the Canadiens' trek to the conference finals. That wasn't a result of anything Gauthier and Martin did, that was done in spite of them, thanks to a hot goaltender and several determined defensemen. Forget last year's seven game performance against the Bruins. Regardless of what Boston went on to do, they lost, so it's meaningless.

It's obviously easy to criticize when things are going wrong, but the blame has to go somewhere. And it isn't because of injuries, or because the players that this team has sucks. Even if you could use those as legitimate excuses, then someone has to be blamed for not properly stocking the cupboards, or for not making the proper adjustments to "the system".

There's a disconnect somewhere within this organization. The general manager is acquiring players that the coach doesn't want to use (Erik Cole, Mr. 3 Powerplay Goals himself; Alexsei Yemelin, who's practicing AS A FORWARD today; most recently, Petteri Nokelainen, who barely played 7 minutes despite going 100% in the faceoff circle). The coach is clearly biased towards certain players, against others, and unwilling to play his team to their strengths. 

The end result? The worst start in Canadiens history. Severe underperformances form some of the team's best players, including Mike Cammalleri, PK Subban, and even Carey Price, who has been stuck on the verge of making history with a 100th career win since October 9th. Travis Moen, TRAVIS MOEN, is this team's leading scorer, and the injuries are continuing to pile on.

No matter who you blame, no matter what the true reason for this team's dismantling is, it can't continue. I don't care who replaces them, there's no way that it can get worse. I don't care if it's Jacques Lemaire, Bob Hartley, Pierre McGuire, the ghost of Pat Burns... it doesn't matter. There's something toxic in the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room. The venom needs to be sucked out, and it needs to be done quickly, or the season will quickly move into hopeless territory, if it hasn't already.

The Habs are playing back to back games against the Flyers and Bruins the next two days, before another game against the Bruins on Saturday. Odds are, if they can't win at least two of those games, the season will already be on life support. And who are we kidding, if they can't beat the Leafs or Panthers, they're not going to beat the Flyers or Bruins. It's doubtful that you'll se a coach fired before such a crucial series of games.

But after they play Boston on Saturday, the Canadiens have six days off, before playing four of their next five games on the road.

October 29th to November 3rd. That's your realistic range for potentially, finally seeing true change with this team. Unfortunately, no one knows what's going on through the mind of Geoff Molson and the rest of this team's higher ups. We can only hope that Geoff Molson's anonymous twitter trolling has led him to certain people's takes on the matter. If not mine, then at least, I don't know, Kyle Roussel, who recently added another 10 reasons to fire Jacques Martin.

I've seen even the most die-hard Habs apologist start to turn around over the last week. The time for change is now. It's clear as day. There are no more excuses, no more reprieves.

It's time to say goodbye to Uncle Jacques and Uncle Pierre.

I don't even care who replaces them. Pierre McGuire, Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson, Bob Hartley, Hell, Guy Carbonneau would be better at this point. Just make it stop.





Mark Trible's picture

You killed this Praxy, well done boss.

habbykins's picture

Well done - I predict Friday actually so newbie may get a coach fired bounce to try and salvage a game.

George Prax's picture

IMO it's tough to ask a coach to come in a day after getting hired to a home game against the team's top rivals. But we'll see. Obviously it's contingent on the back-to-back as well.

Phil T's picture

That's why bringing back Kirk Muller as head coach makes the most sense. He already knows the team, the players know and respect him, and he could turn things around pretty quickly with a different approach.

Besides, didn't he leave the Habs for the only purpose of one day becoming an NHL head coach? Here's his chance.

George Prax's picture

Depends on whether he has an out-clause with the Preds.

Kim Pollock's picture

I'm not even a Habs fan (obviously), but jeez. Some of these guys deserve better. Maybe a coaching/GM overhaul is what they need.

Phil T's picture

"Maybe" ?

Mark Trible's picture

I have been harping on someone hiring Muller for a couple of years now. I felt he absolutely could've and should've had some of the openings in the NHL. He's a brilliant young mind and if the Habs finally get rid of Martin, he'd be the best possible hire. Without a doubt.

George Prax's picture

I actually kind of get the argument that he doesn't have much experience. His only pro job at any level was with the Habs as an assistant, no matter how many responsibilities or how much success he had. Maybe it was just timing, but there were a few jobs open this summer and he had to settle with coaching in the AHL. Still, I'd take him back in a heartbeat as a head coach. Frankly I wouldn't mind if they kept a couple of the assistants (outside of Perry Pearn).

Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

I think the injuries right now are killing the habs, but a coach can only do so much with the talent he has to work with. Right now big contracts to under achievers and injury plaugued players are killing this team. It's hard to put a winner on the ice every night when you don't really know who is going to play and how long they can keep it up. If anything, Piere is the most responsible for not bringing in a top quality player or at least a rock in that line up. I know that Cole is a good player and Betts was a big move, but that team needed a solid defensemen waiting in the wings with their injuries. I expect them to go get a defensemen and I believe McCabe is still available, which would be a boost to their depth on the blueline.
Well written article as usual Prax.

George Prax's picture

I was on board with the injuries excuse up to the point where they were about 1-4. If they were 4-4 now or even 3-4, hell, even if they had 2 wins, I'd buy it, but it's well beyond injuries at this point. They stocked up on offense this summer so that this wouldn't happen, and they placed too much faith on Markov. Markov didn't start the year, so that's a managing fault, and the forward talent was there even with injuries and they didn't perform, so that's a coaching fault. It ends at the fact that Martin isn't even using Cole.

It's one thing to struggle, it's quite another to have the worst start in franchise history. This is a trend that's been developing and things are finally imploding.

Marco Perruzza's picture

This team has been blessed with some of the best goaltending in the league the last two seasons. Carey Price has a 3.13 GAA and a .878 save pct compared to a 2.35 and .923 from last season. That is why the Habs are struggling. Martin is not at fault, in fact I remember this statement from one of your past comments in regards to the Habs:

" Some fans may not like it but Jacques Martin's system is what kept this team floating for a large part of two years"

Gauthier is definitely responsible, he has made some terrible signings (Eric Cole) and let key players leave (Roman Hamrlik). However with his current roster Martin can only go as far as his goalies will take him. People are scared to place the blame on Price's shoulders, yet he was outplayed by Jonas Gustavsson Saturday night.

George Prax's picture

While there's no doubt that Price (and before that Halak) were definitely large contributors to whatever success the Habs had, there's more to it than just that. They also got incredible work on defense by (2 years ago) Gill and Gorges, and this past year from Subban and to a lesser extent Hamrlik. Last year, the team had to deal with no Gorges and Gill in a smaller role, and this year, Subban is struggling and Hamrlik is gone while Gorges tries to pick up the slack paired with rookies most nights. In that sense, it's Gauthier's fault for not anticipating problems.

Martin did some good work with this team when they were ravaged by injuries, and I painfully admitted that in the past, but it's clear now more than ever that the reality was that this team's top players were the ones doing most of the work. He doesn't play players to their strengths, he doesn't allow them to contribute as best they can, and he's unwilling to budge on archaic coaching techniques, playing every game as if half the line-up is out with injuries and every moment of those games as if the Canadiens are winning by a goal. Call me crazy, but if I had a couple defensemen out, particularly an offensive defenseman the team was going to rely on for offense throughout the season, not to mention a top scorer, I'd let guys like Cole, Gionta, Plekanec spread their wings offensively to make up for it.

It goes beyond injuries. Special teams, which Kirk Muller was in charge of last season, and which have been top 10 in the league for several years running, are now so bad that if you added the Habs PP and PK, there would be five teams that would still have a better number for just their PK. They don't know how to cycle, they play a passive resistant dump and chase / point game on the powerplay, and their PK is just inept. How is that not a coaching issue? Moreover, you can see it on the players' faces, they're frustrated, they're annoyed, they're fed up.

I'm sick and tired of you slagging on Cole. Despite inexplicably being in the doghouse, he's actually played well over 8 games now and just contributed the Habs only goal the other night. Even if it was a bad signing, which it wasn't, the sample size is too small to make that assessment.

As for Price, are you serious? Gustavsson was shit, and the Habs barely even tested him outside of those 3 goals. Price just got no support. He hasn't been great, but he's hardly at fault.

Management is the problem here, and any success they've had under this joke of a coach has been in spite of him.