Canadiens Get It Right Firing Ducharme, Hiring St. Louis

The Montreal Canadiens took the hockey world by storm Wednesday afternoon when they announced retired NHL star Martin St. Louis would replace Dominique Ducharme as head coach.

Ducharme’s removal was inevitable. He coached the Canadiens to a league-worst 8-30-7 record this season. The team had given up 33 goals in its last five games and surrendered three or more goals for almost two months. The last time Montreal gave up fewer than three goals was against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 16. While Ducharme was a victim of his circumstances, something had to give, and unfortunately, for the former head coach, that something was his job.

Sign up for our regular 'Habs Newsletter' for all the latest.

For the past few weeks, Canadiens fans have been chomping at the bit, wondering what that first franchise-altering move would be under the new Kent Hughes regime. Some were growing impatient, wondering why Montreal had not made a move during the All-Star break. Hughes silenced those concerns Wednesday, and while there are many questions left unanswered, one thing is clear: this era is going to be different, and the timing of this much-needed change could not have been better.

St. Louis Hired at Perfect Time

It’s no secret the Canadiens are in tank mode this season. They are over 30 points back of a wild card spot and trailing the division-leading Florida Panthers by more points (46) than they have games played (45).

Losing was never the issue. Montreal has lost so many players due to injury/COVID-19 protocol this season that even a Scott Bowman-led team would struggle to make the playoffs. It was not that the Canadiens have lost. It is the way they have lost. The team had been disconnected for the longest time under Ducharme. There was no structure. No pushback. Montreal was getting outshot and outplayed by substantial margins every game. As TSN 690’s Tony Marinaro put it, they were cashing their checks while pretending to care.

Martin St. Louis (Icon SMI)

When toxicity starts to fester in a locker room, it carries over to the ice. And when it carries over to the ice, everyone starts to notice. Tanking for high draft picks is fine but doing so with no compete level promotes a losing culture that can keep a team in the basement for years; just ask the Buffalo Sabres. It was time for a new voice and fresh perspective.

Enter Martin St. Louis.

There are certainly question marks surrounding Montreal’s new head coach. The 46-year-old’s coaching experience does not go beyond the U13 AAA level. He acted as a Special Teams Consultant for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019. And that’s about the extent of his resume. Concerns about St. Louis’ experience are valid. He has not coached in the NHL and doesn’t even have experience at the college or minor league levels. To say this was an outside-the-box pick would be an understatement.

Related: Montreal Canadiens Hire Martin St. Louis as Interim Coach

With that said, Montreal has nothing to lose. The Canadiens are out of the playoff race at this point and have been losing games in epic fashion. Their defense is bad. Their goaltending is bad. Their offense is inconsistent. Everything that could go wrong this season has. There is no better time for a rookie coach to step in and see what he can do to right the ship—a half-season tryout, if you will, with no pressure and no strings attached. Worst-case scenario? It doesn’t work out and general manager Hughes finds St. Louis’ replacement in the offseason.

Having a coaching resume is important, but it would be a disservice to St. Louis not to highlight what he can bring to the table that goes beyond having a coaching background.

St. Louis Fits Hughes/Gorton’s Vision

If you were a hockey fan in the 2000s, it would be difficult not to know the name “Martin St. Louis”. The six-time All-Star was best known for his illustrious career with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Having won the Stanley Cup in 2004, along with prestigious awards, like the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy, St. Louis made a name for himself early on in his career. He was an offense-first right winger with an explosive transition game—a player who perhaps mimics the offensive team Hughes/Gorton envision.

But it was not all sunshine and rainbows for the 5-foot-8 forward.

Often criticized for his size (or lack thereof), St. Louis went undrafted early in his career. His first two seasons in the NHL weren’t standouts either, as he amassed 20 points in 69 games with the Calgary Flames and was bought out shortly thereafter. The adversity the 46-year-old Quebec native faced is well documented, and while it served St. Louis (the player) to learn from that difficult stretch, it could prove even more valuable for St. Louis (the coach) today.

There’s an unavoidable parallel being drawn between St. Louis and Cole Caufield for obvious reason. Both are small offensive-minded players who thrive in transition and can shoot the puck. Both also have eerily similar goal-scoring paces early in their careers, with Caufield notching five goals in his first 40 games and St. Louis with four goals in his first 69 games. St. Louis needed to change teams to realize his potential, but for Caufield, perhaps it’s a change in voice that will spark the breakout fans have been yearning for.

But it’s not just Caufield who can benefit from this change in voice.

Martin St. Louis 2018 Hockey Hall Of Fame
Martin St. Louis takes part in a press conference and photo opportunity at the Great Hall in the Hockey Hall Of Fame on November 09, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

St. Louis understands what the Canadiens are going through right now because he’s gone through it himself. He’s been on atrocious teams. He’s suffered through rebuilds and overcome adversity. And most importantly, he can relate to what every single player in that locker room is going through. There’s a presence about St. Louis that screams leadership. He’s passionate but likable, confident but not cocky, and fits like a glove into Hughes’ vision of an offensive-minded, analytically driven team.

The Canadiens have hired coaches from their limited “old boys club” pool for years. Coaches who are stubbornly stuck in their tired ways with systems about as flexible as a thick piece of wood. St. Louis comes in pliable and ready to be molded, and now is as good a time as any to roll the dice.