Clearly, the Montreal Canadiens must change something to get out of this hole they’ve dug themselves early this 2021-22 season. Firing head coach Dominique Ducharme won’t be it, though.
Logically speaking, the Habs will not fire a head coach they not only just re-signed to a three-year contract but one who just coached the team to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. It’s about as likely as Patrick Roy returning to Montreal, but only to tend goal. As enticing as that might be for Canadiens fans, with Carey Price unavailable, Jake Allen is not the problem here.
Yes, rumors are running rampant that Roy will join the Habs in some capacity, but that could just as easily be code for general manager. In fact, for Ducharme to be on the hot seat himself, it would have to be, because there is no way current GM Marc Bergevin is pulling the trigger, after having fired both Claude Julien and Michel Therrien before him.
Buck Stops with Bergevin
True, rumors to the effect that Bergevin is on his way out are running just as rampant, if not more so. In such an instance, it may not matter to him to lose his job as a result of not being able to find a long-term solution behind the bench after a decade’s long tenure as GM.
However, one could argue he’d be more inclined to keep Ducharme. Why not save the dirty work for his successor, who’d likely want to hire his own guy anyway? He could then happily ride off into the sunset as the GM who replaced two separate head coaches instead of three.
Ultimately, Ducharme answers to Bergevin and this is Bergevin’s team warts and all. All Ducharme can do is his best with what he’s got, which, in this season’s early going, appears akin to going to the local SAQ and finding nothing but Two-Buck Chuck. The Habs’ lack of a mobile defense is all on Bergevin, just as no one should be able to take away its successes from him, like last summer’s playoff run.
Bergevin Signs Savard to Take Weber’s Spot
It’s not Ducharme’s fault he really only has one offensively capable defenseman in Jeff Petry, however good that one option is. It’s not Ducharme’s fault Shea Weber is out, nor is it Bergevin’s to be fair, but it is the latter’s that David Savard is in his spot in the lineup, as he replaced one non-fleet-of-foot defenseman with another, just minus the power-play prowess
Related Link: Likeliest Canadiens Defensemen to Partner with Chiarot
Of course, Ducharme doesn’t have to play Ben Chiarot with Savard, as the team’s most commonly used pairing this season. He could instead opt for two defensemen with more complementary skill sets. After all, deployment decisions are his repertoire.
It’s easy to blame Chiarot and/ or Savard for the team’s lack of offense, i.e. three goals in four games heading into action Thursday night. However, they’re just doing their jobs to the best of their ability, playing their respective games. If you’re popping the latest edition of EA Sports’ NHL series into a first-generation PlayStation, you shouldn’t expect it to work.
However, from the coach’s perspective, his options are limited to get the offense going from the back-end. To his credit, Ducharme has shifted the lines to split Chiarot and Savard up, partnering them each with defensemen who are more mobile.
Maybe it took more time than many would have liked, but Ducharme is adjusting his strategy and should be commended for it, even if giving Chris Wideman more minutes reeks of desperation like a room of citrus after you’ve just peeled open an orange. However, who else is he going to partner with Chiarot now? There are literally no other options, and that’s Bergevin’s domain.
Bergevin, Not Ducharme Under the Gun
There’s an argument to be made Ducharme should not be coach of the Canadiens, that Bergevin was wrong to fire Claude Julien in the first place, but ultimately the Habs were trending downward at the time of the latter’s dismissal and something needed to be done then. Bergevin opted for a coaching change in that instance.
Maybe it didn’t work right off the bat, but Ducharme proved himself at the very least to be a competent NHL coach, guiding the Habs to the Stanley Cup Final. Now that arrow in Bergevin’s quiver has been spent. He can’t realistically return to that well. There’s little other choice but for him to place faith in the decisions he’s already made, especially seeing as he’s gone on record saying a roster move is unlikely.
“There are some pretty good hockey players downstairs that are not playing up to their potential and until they do there’s nothing that I am going to do to make a change just to make a change. Change a fourth-line player just to say I’m making a change, I don’t believe in that,” Bergevin said at his impromptu press conference earlier this week.
True to his word, Bergevin’s stayed away from making earth-shattering moves during the season, over his 10 seasons on the job. His biggest in-season trades were arguably to acquire Jeff Petry in 2015 and Thomas Vanek in 2014, both at the trade deadline. Needless to say, there won’t be a need to make a move of a similar stature next deadline if the Canadiens continue to play this way, which is why the mock suggestion to change a fourth-line player is so odd. A fourth-line player alone won’t save this team.
More to the point, neither will a coaching change, even if Bergevin could. Without Weber and Price, the Canadiens are just objectively worse than they were last season, when they just barely squeaked into the playoffs. They are admittedly probably a better team than their recent performances might indicate, and Ducharme must find a way to get the most out of the players he’s got. For now, it’s making different line combinations. That’s the only change fans should expect for the foreseeable future. If this team Bergevin has constructed really is as capable as he believes, it should be enough.
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After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.