The Canadiens’ Current Situation:
The Montreal Canadiens have been sliding down the standings as of late, and their head coach, Michel Therrien, is taking the brunt of the blame. Therrien is in his second stint with the Habs, and has been the team’s head coach since 2012. His first job with the Canadiens was from 2000 to 2003, before he was replaced by Claude Julien.
Being a head coach in one of the most hockey crazed markets in the world isn’t easy, as the coach always seems to be under the microscope of analysts and fans alike. The Habs are losers of eight of their last ten, and they are currently finishing off one of their most gruelling road-trips of the season with the 2016 Winter Classic in Foxborough.
The easy scapegoat in a situation like this, is the head coach, though it may not be fair to put all the blame on Therrien. Despite the fact that Michel Therrien’s coaching tactics are often brought into question, there are numbers that cannot be disputed. Through his last three complete seasons behind the Canadiens’ bench, Therrien has coached his team to the top-10 of the league consistently. The Habs had 63 points (48 game season) in 2012-13, 100 points in 2013-14, and 110 points in 2014-15.
Michel Therrien has proven that he can coach a team to the top of the standings in the past, but this season seems to be a challenge for the coach. Other than points, there are aspects of the Canadiens’ play that are quite disconcerting to fans. A couple of examples are: the active line juggling by the bench boss, the lack of power-play success, and the questionable ice-time for skilled players. Lately, Therrien has been getting lots of heat for not giving gifted centre, Alex Galchenyuk more ice time. Below, Arpon Basu, who is the managing editor for NHL.com, gives his opinion on Galchenyuk’s ice time recently.
I kind of understood limiting Galchenyuk's minutes earlier in the season as he adapted to a sort of new position. I don't anymore.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) December 22, 2015
The Montreal Canadiens were considered a Stanley Cup contender prior to the NHL season. Now, however, the Canadiens are struggling to win any games at all. They looked to prove that they had ‘character’, after two of their most important players went down with injuries. Brendan Gallagher suffered two fractured fingers in a game in late November, and Carey Price re-aggravated an existing knee injury around the same time. Gallagher will be returning at the Winter Classic, while Price is slated to return in the coming weeks.
The Solution to the Problem:
The solution to the Canadiens’ problem isn’t so simple. Missing two of their most valuable contributors is taking its toll, as the Canadiens players, fans, and management count down the days until they see both Gallagher and Price back with the team.
So what is the solution? The Montreal Canadiens should stick to the basics. When all else fails, which it has, the Habs must put pucks to the net and create traffic in front. Being one of the smaller forward groups in the league, the Canadiens might not find this a favourable strategy, but it is one that will ensure that chances are created. The fact is, losing eight of ten in a city like Montreal is unacceptable, and eventually, the pressure from the hockey community may force Habs’ GM, Marc Bergevin, to make a move. That said, eventually isn’t today.
Many Habs fans would rightfully argue that Michel Therrien should be able to guide his team to victory at least a couple of times in the absence of star players. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. Taking Therrien’s track record of three constant years of success into account, it is doubtful that the Canadiens’ management decide on his future with the club right now. If a time comes where both Price and Gallagher return, and the Habs continue to struggle, a move would be expected, and probably completed.
Why Not Fire Michel Therrien Now?
Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin will most-likely wait until the two key pieces, Gallagher and Price, have returned to the lineup before making any decisions. It is unfair to judge a coach based on the way that his team has played while missing two of his most valuable players. As is continually proven, the Canadiens have a tough time winning without Carey Price. What we learned this year, though, is that the Canadiens are having an extremely difficult time scoring without Brendan Gallagher.
The big reason for the lack of success recently is the lack of offence. Some Habs fans refer to the beginning of the season, when scoring goals wasn’t an issue. The Canadiens had consistent contributions coming from all four of their lines, and coach Therrien had the privilege of rolling all of his lines comfortably, and almost evenly. But looking back, did anyone really expect all four lines to continue contributing at the same rate? If that was the case, players like Torrey Mitchell would end the season with twenty goals.
The lack of offensive firepower in the Habs’ lineup is no secret, and it is widely known that Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin has been searching for a top-six forward for some time now. Habs fans have to realize that it is normal that the fourth line isn’t contributing as much anymore, and that’s because they’re the fourth line – their job isn’t to score. Michel Therrien shouldn’t be completely to blame due to the fact that the Habs can’t score goals, as he doesn’t exactly have an offensively gifted lineup to work with.
Marc Bergevin was clear. The futur of Michel Therrien is not in doubt. By the way, blaming the coach is not knowing what the real issue is.
— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) December 28, 2015
If circumstances were different, and the Habs were losing games with all of their stars in their lineup, and with some extra scoring depth, maybe firing Michel Therrien would be the right move. For now, however, whether the fans like it or not, the Therrien line juggling will most-likely continue.
I’m a Montreal Canadiens columnist and lifelong Habs fan. Follow me on Twitter (@gregkatz19) for all kinds of hockey talk, and to be up to date on my newest articles. I previously wrote for Too Many Men on the Site, a part of Fansided NHL.