Canadiens Head Coach Martin St. Louis Not Another Mario Tremblay

For starters, there’s no Patrick Roy in nets for Montreal Canadiens interim head coach Martin St. Louis to embarrass. Of course, the way some proponents of Roy taking over for Dominique Ducharme are handling the situation, you’d think St. Louis ran over Roy’s dog at the very least.

Martin St. Louis 2018 Hockey Hall Of Fame
Montreal Canadiens interim head coach Martin St. Louis – (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Truth be told, there are some similarities between St. Louis and ex-Habs head coach Mario Tremblay, who headed up the bench for a few seasons in the mid-1990s. Both are former players with no previous NHL coaching experience. Both also effectively took over for head coaches that reached the Stanley Cup Final, although Jacques Laperriere did briefly serve as interim head coach between Jacques Demers and Tremblay, for what it’s worth.

Key Difference Between St. Louis and Tremblay

And therein lies the obvious difference between St. Louis and Tremblay. St. Louis is an interim head coach too, although you have to believe the search for a new head coach has been put on hold for now and Canadiens management has entrusted St. Louis to run the clock out on the season (at the very least).

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When Tremblay was hired, the hope had been to immediately compete again. And, for what it’s worth, the Habs did reach the playoffs after missing them in 1994-95 under Demers, who started off 1995-96 at 0-4, which led to his and then-general manager Serge Savard’s dismissal.

Jacques Lemaire Mario Tremblay Minnesota Wild
Ex-Minnesota Wild assistant coach Mario Tremblay with ex-head coach Jacques Lemaire – (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images/NHLI)

In this current situation, standards are simply different. And that’s not a knock on St. Louis, who had only coached a U13 AAA team in Connecticut up to this point (having also served as a special-teams consultatnt with the Columbus Blue Jackets). It’s more a knock on how the Canadiens have played this season, as one of the worst squads in Habs franchise history, literally.

Sure, the Canadiens are technically still in the running for a playoff spot mathematically speaking. However, they would have to run the table and win their remaining 36 games to stand a chance. Even then, they’d finish with just 95 points. They missed the playoffs in 2018-19 with 96.

For some additional context, the 2019-20 edition was a really bad team by all accounts, one that made the playoffs on a technicality (i.e., the pandemic). They were .500. These Canadiens are half as good, rocking a .250 points percentage, meaning they would technically be lucky to win 10 more games the rest of the way.

Early Returns for Canadiens Under St. Louis

So, aside from a bunch of other games, the Canadiens have nothing to lose this time around. This is undeniably an experiment of some sort, but one that has nothing but upside, as the Habs try to regain some semblance of a winning culture and start having fun again. Judging by the reaction of the players so far, it’s already working.

According to Elliotte Friedman, GM Kent Hughes and executive vice president Jeff Gorton also wanted St. Louis in place for more of an up-close assessment of who should stay and who should go. So, even though Gorton had said Ducharme would stay the rest of the season, it’s understandable they would make a change now, with the trade deadline (March 21) rapidly approaching, especially when the Canadiens had just gotten blown out 7-1 by the New Jersey Devils, coming out of the All-Star break. It should have in some ways been a fresh start for the Habs, but same result.

In a way, it’s not the results that matter from here on out, but how the Canadiens get there. They’re no doubt going to lose a lot more games than they win the rest of the season, but, if they show more resolve trying to win, St. Louis will have been the right hire for Hughes’ purposes.

Martin St. Louis
Ex-Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis – (Icon SMI)

That interim tag is key, because it may very well not work out, but the hope is that it does, even long term, with St. Louis going on record as saying that he wants to stay. Of course, anyone in his position probably would say similar, but the point is, even if it doesn’t, Hughes has given himself an out. Maybe just maybe he knows what he’s doing. Maybe just maybe, even though he has as much GM experience as Rejean Houle when he and Mario Tremblay got hired, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Related: 3 Canadiens Coaching Candidates if Ducharme Is Fired

St. Louis does too. Keep in mind, in spite of Tremblay’s shortcomings, the Canadiens did go 12-1-1 to start his coaching career and he for all intents and purposes got the job done, reaching the playoffs in both his seasons. Granted, the way he got there? Maybe less than ideal, but St. Louis’ lack of experience should not be a disqualifying factor, especially when no one is expecting much in terms of wins and losses.

Look at it this way: St. Louis can realistically only improve on how the season has gone so far, compared to how it went under Ducharme. If people are indeed comparing him to Tremblay too, looking at how the latter’s tenure went overall? Ditto. Really, it’s not a bad situation for St. Louis to be in. Neither is it for the Canadiens themselves.